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Showing posts from 2014

The Fatigue

"The abstract intelligence produces a fatigue that’s the worst of all fatigues. It doesn’t weigh on us like bodily fatigue, nor disconcert like the fatigue of emotional experience. It’s the weight of our consciousness of the world, a shortness of breath in our soul. Then, as if they were wind-blown clouds, all of the ideas in which we’ve felt life and all the ambitions and plans on which we’ve based our hopes for the future tear apart and scatter like ashes of fog, tatters of what wasn’t nor could ever be. And behind this disastrous rout, the black and implacable solitude of the desolate starry sky appears. The mystery of life distresses and frightens us in many ways. Sometimes it comes upon us like a formless phantom, and the soul trembles with the worst of fears – that of the monstrous incarnation of non-being. At other times it’s behind us, visible only as long as we don’t turn around to look at it, and it’s the truth in its profound horror of our never being able to know it.…

Buddha's Palace

"Buddhism is a deeply psychological tradition and the Buddha's pleasure palace is a striking image of the mind in denial. We naturally want to hold suffering at bay and it is tempting to protect ourselves in a carapace of heartlessness. But our own and other people's pain will always penetrate our defences and break our hearts. Only then, the myth tells us, can our spiritual quest begin."
Karen Armstrong reviews In Search of the Christian Buddha

Procreation and Morality

Given that serious harm in life is practically inevitable, is it better to have lived than not to have existed at all? David Benatar makes a strong case in favor of non-existence, particularly when it comes to the issue of procreation. He believes that the morally responsible thing to do is not to procreate, because "the only way to prevent harm altogether is to desist from bringing children into existence". Here is a summary of Benatar's position in his own words.
As anticipated by Benatar, my immediate impulse is to argue that there is significant good in life that justifies existence even if it doesn't outweigh the harms, but on reflection I recognize that to believe (baring exceptions) that it is better to be alive than not is essentially a value-judgement, and it is a value-judgement that springs not from pure rational considerations but rather from the brute, biological will to live.
There is another way to frame this question aside from the context of procrea…

Sin

"The worst sin in heaven is blindness."
Often times psychotic patients make statements that sound poetically meaningful when taken in isolation, but can become nonsensical when considered in context. For example, the above statement (which strikes me as quite profound) was immediately followed by "And the second worst sin is cancer".
Looks like posting patient quotes is becoming a common thing on the blog. So, there is a tag for it now. Enjoy!

Psychosis

"When I walk on grass, 
         it makes me allergic to Haldol. 
I don't see the dew 
        when I am not wearing glasses. 
I walk on the wrong colors 
        of rainbow."

(From a patient interview)

Damned

Jean-Luc Picard: If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1x01

Homosexuality and The Politics of Diagnosis

The declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder by American Psychiatric Association in 1973 remains a significant moment in the history of psychiatry, not simply from the perspective of human rights but also because it forced psychiatrists to confront the complex and deep-seated conceptual issue of what it means to say that a condition is a 'mental disorder'. It was following this debate that DSM under Robert Spitzer, for the first time, attempted to provide a definition of mental disorder. Also, what is less apparent to many is how politically-driven APA's decision was. What is seemingly a scientific question, the pathology or non-pathology of homosexuality, was eventually settled by a democratic vote, a referendum of the full APA membership, following a bitter controversy.
Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis by Ronald Bayer is a political analysis of this historic event. It recounts in details the socio-political background and the…

Semicompatibilism

Semicompatibilism is the philosophical position that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism, while being agnostic about the compatibility of free will and determinism. More here and here.

Got introduced to it from a recent interview of John Martin Fischer at 3:AM Magazine.

Attitude

Character: There is no God. Hannibal: Certainly not with that attitude!
Hannibal, Episode 2x02

There is no difference

'[Thales] held there was no difference between life and death. "Why then," said one, "do you not die?" "Because," said he, "there is no difference."'
Narrated by Simon Critchley in The Book of Dead Philosophers

Some days...

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Dr Manhattan from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen

Art Without Author: Interpreting Poetry

Recently Cambridge students were asked in an exam to write about a poem consisting only of punctuation, Tipp-Ex-Sonate by the South African writer Koos Kombuis. Jon Kelly discusses how to make sense of such a poem. Apart from the general discussion of interpreting such poetry as anti-art or typographic trickery, the article mentions something specific about the poem:
'In fact, according to Kombuis, a long-standing anti-apartheid activist, Tipp-Ex-Sonate was a protest against censorship laws imposed during white minority rule. "If you know about the historical and political context you could make sense of it as an inability to use a language that's tainted by apartheid," says Ford. But assuming undergraduates did not have access to an internet connection, it would be difficult for them to work out the poem's intended meaning, he adds.'
This reinforces an opinion that I have expressed on this blog several times: a proper understanding and interpretation of art…

A Theory of Jerks

Eric Schwitzgebel presents a theory of jerks:
"I submit that the unifying core, the essence of jerkitude in the moral sense, is this: the jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. This failure has both an intellectual dimension and an emotional dimension, and it has these two dimensions on both sides of the relationship. The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him. He can’t appreciate how he might be wrong and others right about some matter of fact; and what other people want or value doesn’t register as of interest to him, except derivatively upon his own interests. The bumpkin ignorance captured in the earlier use of ‘jerk’ has changed into a type of moral ignorance."

Universal Imperfection

"The primary error of the crush lies in overlooking a central fact about people in general, not merely this or that example, but the species as a whole: that everyone has something very substantially wrong with them once their characters are fully known, something so wrong as to make an eventual mockery of the unlimited rapture unleashed by the crush. We can’t yet know what the problems will be, but we can and should be certain that they are there, lurking somewhere behind the facade, waiting for time to unfurl them.
How can one be so sure? Because the facts of life have deformed all of our natures. No one among us has come through unscathed. There is too much to fear: mortality, loss, dependency, abandonment, ruin, humiliation, subjection. We are, all of us, desperately fragile, ill-equipped to meet with the challenges to our mental integrity: we lack courage, preparation, confidence, intelligence. We don’t have the right role models, we were (necessarily) imperfectly parented,…

The Oppressed Sex

Facebook rant:
There is a narrow social space within which Pakistani women are expected to navigate their lives. With every milestone of their lives (marriage, motherhood, etc), they become more and more trapped. Those who deviate are threatened with dishonor and destruction, are emotionally blackmailed and infected with moral guilt. In such circumstances, the ones who thrive are either those who happily play along with the social roles they are offered or the ones who are fortuitous enough to have found a family that values the ideals of personal freedom and growth. There is no honor in the burden of "honor" that the society places on the shoulders of female sex the moment one is born. Our social moral values are built on centuries of systematic oppression of women; what good is an edifice of virtue whose foundations are rotten with vice? Set it on fire, let it burn, let it crumble! In many cases the oppressed sex does not even possess a language with which to vocalize her…

Memory of First Love

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Edvard Munch, The Voice/Summer Night, 1896 (click to expand)
According to Munch, this painting refers to his memory of first love. (Contrary to the calm serenity of the painting, it was a tumultuous affair with a married woman, Milly Thaulow.)
"I stood before the Mystery of Woman - I looked into an undreamt-of World..." (Munch's manuscripts)

Haunted by Transcendence

"One cannot be much of a philosopher without a good measure of detachment, even alienation. To see the Cave as Cave one must be in it, but not of it. One who dwells comfortably in the human-all-too-human may make brilliant contributions to logic and linguistics, say, but will never get the length of an Augustine or Spinoza. A philosopher is one who is haunted by Transcendence, whether in the form of the really real, authentic existence, or genuine knowledge."
William Vallicella, Starting with Nothing. From the book Falling in Love with Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk about Their Calling

God and Logical Necessity

Gary Gutting: "I agree that no theistic arguments are compelling, but I don’t agree that they all are logically invalid or have obviously false premises. I think the best arguments (especially, sophisticated versions of the cosmological argument) are dubious only in the sense that they use premises (e.g., any contingent thing requires a cause) that are not obviously true but that a rational person might properly believe."
The Case for ‘Soft Atheism’, Gary Gutting interviews Philip Kitcher
Gutting succinctly states what I have myself believed for the last few years with regards to the philosophical arguments for God's existence, a (sane) position which I feel has been largely ignored in the debates surrounding New Atheism. There is no logical necessity to believe (or disbelieve) in God, but given certain premises (which are not unreasonable) there are logically valid arguments for God's existence. I do not accept the either extreme position endorsed in popular debates …

Applied Ethics and Insolubility

Maverick Philosopher describes his approach to philosophy as radically aporetic. That is, he holds that the central problems of philosophy, although genuine, are insoluble. I asked him whether this applies to the applied problems of ethics as well. Here is his response.

Death and the Maiden & Thoughts on Appreciating Art

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Edvard Munch, Death and Life, 1894 (Also titled as Death and the Maiden)
I have seen Munch's Death and Life several times before but I never knew until just now that what is depicted on the left is a stream of sperms. (See here, click on Details.) This is a difficulty I experience repeatedly in my pursuit of appreciating art properly... how can one ever know such things about a work by just looking at the image, when, once known, it is apparent that such facts are crucial to a proper appreciation of the painting? Appreciating art, it seems, entails more than just looking at the painting; it also requires reading and researching about it.

Life has tamed us

In conversation with a friend
Me: With passing years I am realizing I'm making peace with life's absurdity. I don't fight or struggle with it philosophically like before. Nor am I plagued with existential anguish as a result. It's a resignation of sorts, or perhaps an exhaustion. I realize my life will probably never amount to much in a historically significant way, but I live on, often happy and satisfied. The thought would've been excruciating for the adolescent me.... Life has tamed us. Z: Like so many before us.

Losing a City

"These stories, I realized, were lost. Nobody was going to know that part of the city but as a place where a bomb went off. The bomb was going to become the story of this city. That's how we lose the city - that's how our knowledge of what the world is is taken away from us - when what we know is blasted into rubble and what is created in its place bears no resemblance to what there was and we are left strangers in a place we knew, in a place we ought to have known."
Bilal Tanweer, The Scatter Here is Too Great

Moral Emotions and Moral Reasoning

Morality, it appears to me, springs fundamentally from emotions - moral emotions, such as compassion, sympathy, empathy etc - and not from reason, although reason definitely plays an vital role in its development. Much of philosophical discussion of morality, on the other hand, seems to be centered on the rational agent. We ponder and ponder over how a rational agent ought to behave in so and so circumstances, but is a rational agent equivalent to a moral agent? I suspect the hope of reducing morality down to reason is doomed to fail. What is left of morality if you take compassion and empathy out of it? Individuals in a population of rational agents driven only by individual self-interest may act in ways that appear to be moral, but I am inclined to think that such behavior only mimics morality.
At the same time, there is little doubt in my mind that much of moral development of humanity has been the result of increase in rational thought rather than, or at least in combination with…

Ouch

"The result is that much reading robs the mind of all elasticity, as the continual pressure of a weight does a spring, and that the surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book every time you have a free moment."
Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (Translated from Parerga and Paralipomena by R. J. Hollingdale)

Everything and Nothing

Thrasymachus: To sum up, what shall I be after my death? Be clear and precise! Philalethes: Everything and nothing.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (Translated from Parerga and Paralipomena by R. J. Hollingdale)

Self-Fulfilling Fears

"They are insecure and as parents emotionally dependent on their children. This is how emotions become destructive and self-fulfilling: Your parents are afraid of abandonment. They want to hold on to their children desperately. Yet, in that desperation they hold too tight, suffocating the children, riddling them with emotional guilt of a crime yet uncommitted. This naturally only serves to alienate the children. The desperation and fear of abandonment leads precisely to that. They push away through folly what they so desire to keep close. That is the hallmark of neurotic relationships."

Fellow Sufferers

Almost surprising that the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer entails such a morality:
"... the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not monsieur, sir but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misères. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes."
Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms (Translated from Parerga and Paralipomena by R. J. Hollingdale)

Meaning

"Talk to me. Let me give meaning to your madness."

The Perplexing Silence

"Certainly, it can come as a jolt to discover that, with a single exception, we have no extant descriptions of the Battle of Badr that date from before the ninth century AD. We do not even have Ibn Ishaq’s original biography of Muhammad—only revisions and reworkings. As for the material on which Ibn Ishaq himself drew upon for his researches, it has long since vanished. Set against the triumphal hubbub raised by Arab historians in the ninth century, let alone the centuries that followed, the silence is deafening and perplexing. The precise state of play bears spelling out. Over the course of almost two hundred years, the Arabs, a people never noted for their reticence, and whose motivation, we are told, had been an utterly consuming sense of religious certitude, had set themselves to conquering the world—and yet in all that time, they composed not a single record of their victories, not one, that has survived into the present day. How could this possibly have been so, when even …

Gustav Klimt, Medicine

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Oil Sketch for ‘Medicine’ by Gustav Klimt

A black and white photograph of the original painting which was destroyed
It was part of a trio of paintings (Philosophy, Medicine andJurisprudence) made by Klimt for the ceiling of the University of Vienna's Great Hall.

Life Trap

"See, we all got what I call a life trap, this gene-deep certainty that things will be different, that you'll move to another city, and meet the people that'll be the friends for the rest of your life, that you'll fall in love and be fulfilled. Fucking fulfillment, heh, and closure, whatever the fuck those two... Fucking empty jars to hold this shitstorm, and nothing is ever fulfilled until the very end, and closure... No, no, no. Nothing is ever over."
True Detective, Episode 1x03

Misotheism

"My own preferred term for the enemy of God is misotheist. [...] Since God is not a person or an interlocutor, to be hostile to God means really to marshal the negative emotions of hatred toward an entity that is absolutely outside the human sphere, something intangible [...] Thus, the most immediate effect of God-hatred is on the misotheist himself, for whom it serves a therapeutic function. Although seemingly directed at the figure of God, misotheism reflects a passionate concern for the affairs of man. [...]
Simply put, misotheism is a response to suffering, injustice, and disorder in a troubled world. Misotheists feel that humanity is the subject of divine carelessness or sadism, and they question God's love for humanity [...]"
Bernard Schweizer, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism

Prisoner

"The position of the psychiatrist around 1900 was not a particularly happy one. Although he was better able to classify the psychosis and predict their outcome than his predecessors a century before, he still suffered from the same ignorance of the causes of mental illness and he still had to be content with the same miserable methods of treatment. If he worked in an institution or a clinic he saw only severe and hopeless psychoses, and although anatomy and physiology had been so helpful to his medical colleagues, they had failed to teach him anything about the nature of these illnesses except in the case of general paresis. His patients were prisoners, and in a way he himself was a prisoner caught up in the difficulties of the field in which he had chosen to work."
Erwin H Ackerknecht, Short History of Psychiatry (1959)
The state of psychiatry now is, of course, dramatically better from what it was in 1900. Our treatments, although far from curative, have restored majority…

Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5

My article 'Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5' has been published in the February 2014 issue of Psychiatric Times. 
Unfortunately (free) membership is required to read the article on the website, but if you are even remotely interested in psychiatry, and you are not already a member, it would be worthwhile to sign up for Psychiatric Times, as it is a popular online resource and one of the most widely read psychiatry journals. 

Eternal Homes of the Transient Heart

“But we are alone, darling child, terribly, isolated each from the other; so fierce is the world's ridicule we cannot speak or show our tenderness; for us, death is stronger than life, it pulls like a wind through the dark, all our cries burlesqued in joyless laughter; and with the garbage of loneliness stuffed down us until our guts burst bleeding green, we go screaming round the world, dying in our rented rooms, nightmare hotels, eternal homes of the transient heart.” 
Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms

I'm sorry I won

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Screenshot. Suits 1x07

Anxiety and the Well-Lived Life

"Needless to say, our fixation on the ideal of happiness diverts our attention from collective social ills, such as socioeconomic disparities. As Barbara Ehrenreich has shown, when we believe that our happiness is a matter of thinking the right kinds of (positive) thoughts, we become blind to the ways in which some of our unhappiness might be generated by collective forces, such as racism or sexism. Worst of all, we become callous to the lot of others, assuming that if they aren't doing well, if they aren't perfectly happy, it's not because they're poor, oppressed, or unemployed but because they're not trying hard enough.
If all of that isn't enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it's precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not las…

The Alienated Groom

More than 5 years ago, I wrote about my perception of weddings in Pakistani society:
"The ceremony has become more about appeasing the society than about celebrating the union of two people. [The wedding] has lost its purpose in this manner, and hence it is not surprising that the feeling which I have most markedly noticed while attending any [wedding] is that of absurdity.
Weddings have never been enjoyable for me, even as a child. Perhaps because the wedding ceremony appears to me to be the perfect example of the superficialities and hypocrisies of our culture; it has become a symbol for me of whatever I hate about our society."
It is only fair that I should approach my own wedding now with the same marked sense of absurdity. Aside from that, there is also in my own case, a distinct taste of alienation. In a concrete sense, my wedding is about me, but in a larger, abstract and more important way, my wedding is not my own. My presence is a nominal formality, an excuse for …

The Emptiness Where God Would Be

From Anne Carson's interview at The Paris Review:
Interviewer: Do you think of yourself as having a relationship with God?
Anne Carson: [...] reading a lot of mystics, especially Simone Weil, I’ve come to understand that the best one can hope for as a human is to have a relationship with that emptiness where God would be if God were available, but God isn’t.
As Carson talks of a relationship with the emptiness where God would be, it seems she has developed a relationship with another sort of a emptiness... the empty poetic spaces we have in Sappho's poetry, poetry of which we have inherited only fragments. Just like God, those missing slivers of verses are unavailable (while existing in a sense), but the readers and interpreters are invariably drawn into a relationship.
Anne Carson: [...] this is the magic of fragments—the way that poem breaks off leads into a thought that can’t ever be apprehended. There is the space where a thought would be, but which you can’t get hold of. I …

Her

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Here is a philosophical analysis of the critically-acclaimed film Her, in which a male character develops a romantic relationship with an artificially-intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). While brilliantly depicting the quirks and pitfalls of human relationships by making them more poignant by this peculiar sort of romance, the film is also an account of the development of artificial intelligence, and how they may evolve rapidly to a state beyond human comprehension. Highly recommended.

Diagnosis

"So what do you think is your diagnosis?"
"I am a human being and I have symptoms of humanity."

(actual quote from a patient)

'Aging Disorder'

What can be more 'normal' and universal than aging? And yet, what can be more ripe a target for medical intervention? Aging will soon (if it is not already) be conceptualized as a 'medical condition', a 'disorder', a 'disease'. As more and more options become available for us to slow, delay, halt, or perhaps even reverse, the process of aging, aging as we currently understand it will become the outlier of 'normal' functioning. Eternal youth, that is how we see the normal state of health. The modern insistence on maintaining one's social and occupational functioning within the expected norms will see to it that anything outside these expected norms is pathologized and subjected to treatment.
Consider these matter-of-fact statements taken from the web: "Aging is a medical condition because an aged body does not function properly. A body that does not function properly has a disease. A disease is a medical condition." I'm sure it…

Pretext

Pretext
Awais Aftab

I wish I were such a poet
who could conjure poetry on request
not just any request
- a love poem,
not of growth pains of relationships
or everyday delusions of intimacy
- a poem of tenderness
long-distance heartache
an I-love-you note
a blow-me-a-kiss
perhaps I could, but
the rose is obsolete, WCW says
(ask me instead to quote Neruda, my darling
'I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.')
In the warmth of our embrace
we no longer need the pretext of poetry
and so it would seem
poetry no longer needs the pretext of our embrace

Madness and Reason

"In the midst of the serene world of mental illness, modern man no longer communicates with the madman: on the one hand is the man of reason, who delegates madness to the doctor, thereby authorising no relation other than through the abstract universality of illness; and on the other is the man of madness, who only communicates with the other through the intermediary of a reason that is no less abstract, which is order, physical and moral constraint, the anonymous pressure of the group, the demand for conformity. There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only …

The Alchemy of Capitalism

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #13: The Capitalist Creed
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
The most unique and important characteristic of the modern capitalist economy is growth. The total global production of goods and services – ‘the economic pie’ – is constantly increasing and has been increasing since the emergence of capitalist economy. 
Consider a simple example. People deposit their earnings in the bank, and the bank loans out that money to investors. Suppose you want to start a bakery. You go to the bank and ask for the loan. A big contractor has deposited 1 million dollars in cash in his new bank account. The…

Despair

3 years ago on this day I gave up on my country. 
The assassination of Salman Taseer and the subsequent reaction of the populace exposed the extent to which the poison of religious fanaticism has percolated to the roots of this nation. These three years have done nothing to change that judgement. The national mindset is diseased beyond healing. I don't even know any more if it even deserves healing.
I have friends who still live in Pakistan, and who will continue to try to reform the society in whatever ways they can. I admire and support their efforts, and wish them well, and I hope that they do not suffer when this society collapses under the collective weight of its self-inflicted sins.
"If this is what has beaten us... the guilt is ours." (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

How one believes

"Russell sometimes seems to be moving towards the view that how one believes, and not just what one believes, is ethically significant – a view that will be embraced by any reflective religious person."
Clare Carlisle, Bertrand Russell the agnostic

Mortality

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Mortality is Christopher Hitchens's account of confronting his own death, hopeful till the end that he may yet escape its clutches but at the same time very realistic about his prospects of failure. Hitchens was a strong-willed man, unwavering in his materialism, deflecting the prayers and condemnations of the faithful, and retorting with jabs of wit and sarcasm, even as the last remaining drops of physical strength in his body were being sucked by the cancer and its treatment alike. It's a short book, you can read it in a single sitting, and its aphoristic quality well-represents the dignity Hitchens maintained till the end. To do so without wallowing in self-pity and without perceiving oneself to be a victim of an indifferent universe, or engaging in dialogue with a cryptic deity, is no mean feat:
* 'To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?'
* 'It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposi…

A Rejection of Self-Pity

"If life were merely a habit, I should commit suicide; but even now, more or less desperate, I cannot but think, ‘Something wonderful may happen.’ It is not optimism, it is a rejection of self-pity (I hope) which leaves a loophole for life… I merely choose to remain living out of respect for possibility. And possibility is the great good."
Frank O’Hara, Early Writing