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Elizabeth Hand

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I always thought of muses as sacrificial lambs, tamping down their own unwieldy creative impulses as they offer themselves for delectation by male geniuses. But Elizabeth Hand suggests in a recent essay that the connection is perilous for both parties: "The threat of one being consumed or obliterated by the other is constant. Yet it is precisely this tension, this tango macabre, that underscores the erotic nature of the relationship between artist and muse, suspended as it is between longing and dread, the yearning to possess and the knowledge that capture is so often destructive of the very object of desire."
This tango macabre is the core of Mortal Love, Hand's latest novel. ... Calling Mortal Love "an imaginary tree with roots in the real world," Hand laces the novel with real historical figures like Algernon Swinburne and Lady Wilde (Oscar's folktale-spinning mother) and drops in amusing literary allusions and references to artists like Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain, who have themselves been scorched by the muse. ... The novel succeeds as both a thriller and a meditation on the mysterious nature of inspiration.
--
Joy Press, in "Cling Muse" in The Village Voice (20 July 2004)

 
Elizabeth Hand

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"It's a tango." Marco maneuvered me out among the dancers. "I love tangos." "I can't dance." "You don't have to dance. I'll do that dancing." Marco hooked an arm around my waist and jerked me up against his dazzling white suit. Then he said, "Pretend you are drowning." I shut my eyes, and the music broke over me like a rainstorm. Marco's leg slid forward against mine and my leg slid back and I seemed to be riveted against him, limb for limb, moving as he moved, without any will or knowledge of my own, and after a while I thought, "It doesn't take two to dance, it only takes one," and I let myself blow and bend like a tree in the wind. "What did I tell you?" Marco's breath scorched my ear. "You're a perfectly respectable dancer."

 
Sylvia Plath
 

Persons are not known by intellect alone, not by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action. To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as an other self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and to abstract "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, it demands. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused. To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights and his integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as similarly accused along with him ... and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved. Then, instead of pushing him down, trying to climb out by using his head as a stepping-stone for ourselves, we help ourselves to rise by helping him to rise. For when we extend our hand to the enemy who is sinking in the abyss, God reaches out to both of us, for it is He first of all who extends our hand to the enemy. It is He who "saves himself" in the enemy, who makes use of us to recover the lost groat which is His image in our enemy.

 
Thomas Merton
 

I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to kiss me: but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen."
"What is love?" I asked.
She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.
I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"
"No," said my teacher.
Again I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.
"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction from which the heat came. "Is this not love?"
It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.

 
Helen Keller
 

While doing justice to the intellectual power with which a few Circles have for many generations maintained their supremacy over immense multitudes of their countrymen, he believes that the facts of Flatland, speaking for themselves without comment on his part, declare that Revolutions cannot always be suppressed by slaughter, and that Nature, in sentencing the Circles to infecundity, has condemned them to ultimate failure "and herein," he says, "I see a fulfilment of the great Law of all worlds, that while the wisdom of Man thinks it is working one thing, the wisdom of Nature constrains it to work another, and quite a different and far better thing." For the rest, he begs his readers not to suppose that every minute detail in the daily life of Flatland must needs correspond to some other detail in Spaceland; and yet he hopes that, taken as a whole, his work may prove suggestive as well as amusing, to those Spacelanders of moderate and modest minds who speaking of that which is of the highest importance, but lies beyond experience decline to say on the one hand, "This can never be," and on the other hand, "It must needs be precisely thus, and we know all about it."

 
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Robert E. Howard
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