Our Most Beloved Paradoxes
In our very first issue ---
published in the Winter of 1994 - 1995 ---
we presented the first
"Official RALPH Paradox-of-the-Month."
It was a quote from André Malraux,
We are in the cosmic realm,
a realm older than religion.
The idea of the creation of the world
has probably not yet been conceived.
They kill in the eternal.
The gods have not yet been born.
Since then, we have dug up a
new mystery each month ---
a droll statement, an obscure fact,
an elusive epigram ---
that should serve to perplex if not
enlighten our readers and ourselves.
Here, then, is a collection of
those we believe to be
the best bafflers from
all our past issues.
We list them here
in declining order of mystery.
The Trouble with Our TimeThe trouble with our time is that
the future is not what it used to be.--- Paul Valéry
Nuts to Bridge
A composer friend of mine
who spent some time in a mental rehabilitation center
was encouraged to do a good deal of bridge playing.
After one game, his partner was criticizing his play
of an ace on a trick which had already been won.My friend stood up and said,
"If you think I came to the loony bin to learn to play bridge,
you're crazy."--- Silence
Edited by Kyle Gann
©2011 Wesleyan University Press
There!This is the transcript of a radio conversation between a U. S. Naval ship
and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland, October 1995Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is a captain of a U. S. Naval ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert your course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Missouri. We are a large warship of the U. S. Navy. Divert your course now.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.--- As reported in
Abortion vs. Normal ChildbirthIn the U. S., the fatality risk with mifepristone [RU-486]
is slightly less than 1 per 100,000 cases,
compared with 0.1 per 100,000 for surgical abortion
at eight weeks or less.Pregnancy itself
carries a fatality rate of
11.8 per 100,000.--- Consumer Reports
How To Become
A SaintTo: email@example.com
I've asked my spiritual director to show me how to become a saint.
He suggested I write to you for such a book providing it's simple, and easy to understand written
either in English or in French.
Thank you in advance.--- Deacon Joseph Jolin
firstname.lastname@example.orgDear Deacon Joseph Jolin:You don't need a book.
The how-to-do-its on becoming a saint are out there, floating around like stars.
All you have to do is to observe them without trying to catch them. This requires that you:
 Recall who you were before you were.
 Remember why they sent you here.
 Follow the advice of the Master: Love many, Trust few, Paddle your own canoe.
 And, finally, don't forget the Four Great Truths as they were originally written:
- There is suffering in this world, one has to understand it, but actually there is nothing to understand.
- There are causes of this suffering, and one has to eliminate them, but actually there is nothing to eliminate.
- There is cessation of suffering, and one has to attain it, but actually there is nothing to attain.
- There are ways to reach the cessation of suffering, and one has to work upon them, but actually there is nothing to work upon.--- Signed,
BarbarismCivilization brings religion, science, philosophy, art,
and a social order that allows individuals
the freedom, security and leisure to
explore ideas and means of self-expression.
Barbarism means violence, triviality, lies ---
all the base values that pervert and
eventually destroy the work of civilization.But because civilization must incorporate
certain elements of barbarism
to maintain and defend itself ---
armies, police, the state ---
it is eventually overrun by these
and finds itself more and more motivated
by the values of barbarism,
rather than its own values.--- From In Search of P. D. Ouspensky:
The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff
©2004 Quest Books
LobstersThe four most overrated things in life are
champagne, lobsters, anal sex and picnics.--- From "A Profile of
The New Yorker
16 October 2006
TrackEven if you're on the right track......you'll get run over
if you just sit there.--- Will Rogers, as quoted in
The Boy Who Invented
Be LightAt first there was nothing.
Then God said,
"Let there be light."Then there was still nothing ---
but you could see it.--- From The Blob that
The Question of
Life and DeathJohn Daido Loori was a monk at the Los Angeles Zen Center. One day he said to Maezumi Roshi: "I have resolved the question of life and death."
Maezumi: "Are you sure?"
Maezumi: "Are you really sure?"
Maezumi threw himself violently upon Loori and began to strangle him. Loori struggled to escape, but to no avail. Finally he swung back his fist and struck his teacher, knocking him aside.
Maezumi rose to his feet and brushed himself off. "Resolved the question of life and death, eh?" he said, and walked off.Later, Loori passed a senior monk, Genpo Sensei. Sensei saw the marks of his teacher's fingers on Loori's throat.
"Told Roshi you'd resolved the question of life and death, did you?" he said.--- From One Bird, One Stone
108 American Zen Stories
©2002 Renaissance Books
Reprinted in The Sun Magazine
WishI wish I didn't know now
what I didn't know then.--- Bob Seger
MeI had been born in order to fill
the great need I had of myself.--- Jean-Paul Sartre
QuestionWhy is there something
instead of nothing?--- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz
The Correct Way To DieThe worst thing that can happen to your career
is to be shot out in an open field.
You've got to be in the right position to die dramatically,
against a wall, near something to hang onto.
Never close your eyes. Glaze them.
You can't go wrong bringing something down with you
when you fall.
A tablecloth is excellent.
Preferably with a meal on it.--- George Plimpton
26 September 2003
Paradox"What a glorious thing must be a victory, Sir."
"The greatest tragedy in the world, Madam, except a defeat."--- Suggested by J. A. A. Joyce
Phillip the Innocent's
HeartPhillip the Innocent was responsible for the death of some 15,000 opponents at the Massacre of Deuxchamps, in 1259.
His method of dispatching the opponents was so virulent and brutal that the word "Deuxchamps," for years, was the word in French equal to "horror" and "bloody nightmare."When Phillip the Innocent died towards the end of the thirteenth century,
it was found that his heart was no larger than the heart of a wren.--- French Politics
Before the Renaissance
P. N. Lipschitz
Everybody in Hollywood wants to be just like Gandhi.Thin, tan, and immortal.--- Martin SheenLearning to Love Dick CheneyNew York Times: What do you think about when you meditate?
Robert Thurman: Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive.
For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.New York Times: You mean you fantasize about being breast-fed by Dick Cheney?
Robert Thurman: It's a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection.
It's a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side,
finding the mother in Dick Cheney.--- From an Interview with Robert Thurman,
The New York Times Magazine
29 June 2008
Getting the Light"I want to join the community and work to attain enlightenment. How long will it take me?"
"Ten years," replies the master.
"Well, how about if I really work and double my efforts?"
"Hey, just a moment. That's not fair! Why did you double it?"
"In your case," says the master, "I'm afraid it will be thirty years."--- Jack Kornfeld, in
After the Ecstasy,
Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair,
offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity
that we should like to stretch out
over the whole of time.--- Albert Camus
Eternity and Time
Eternity is in love...
...with the production of time.--- William Blake,
The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell
Short Wave Radio
(Music in the Night)As I lay down, I turned on the radio set standing on the wine crate beside the bed. The names of cities and radio stations with which I used to link the most exotic ideas in my childhood appeared on its round, illuminated dial --- Monte Ceneri, Rome, Ljubljana, Stockholm, Beromünster, Hilversum, Prague, and others besides. I turned the volume down very low and listened to a language I did not understand drifting in the air from a great distance: a female voice, which was sometimes lost in the ether, but then emerged again and mingled with the performance of two careful hands moving, in some place unknown to me, over the keyboard of a Bösendorfer or Pleyel and playing certain musical, passages, I think from the Well-Tempered Clavier, which accompanied me far into the realms of slumber.When I woke in the morning, only a faint crackle and hiss was coming from the narrow brass mesh over the loudspeaker. Soon afterward, when I mentioned the mysterious radio at breakfast, Austerlitz told me he had always imagined that the voices moving through the air after the onset of darkness, only a few of which we could catch, had a life of their own, like bats, and shunned the light of day. In the long, sleepless nights of recent years, he said, when l was listening to the women announcers in Budapest, Helsinki, or La Coruña, I often saw them weaving their erratic way far out in the air, and wished I were already in their company.--- From Austerlitz
W. G. Sebald
Translated by Anthea Bel
RainmakerThere was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker.
And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.
In true European fashion he said: "They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?" And the little Chinaman said: "I did not make the snow, I am not responsible." "But what have you done these three days?" "Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came."--- From The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung
©2002 North Atlantic Books
in ChinaThere was a fisherman in China
who was using a straight hook to fish for forty years.
When someone asked him,
"Why don't you use a bent hook?"
he replied, "You can catch ordinary fish with a bent hook,
but I will catch a great fish
with my straight needle."Word of this came to the ear of the Emperor,
and he came to see this fool of a fisherman for himself.
The Emperor asked the fisherman, "What are you fishing for?"
The fisherman replied, "I was fishing for you, Emperor."--- From Holding the Lotus to the Rock
The Autobiography of Sokei-an,
America's First Zen Master
Michael Hotz, Editor
©2002 Four Walls Eight Windows
Important Investment Advice
In Time of War
Buy at the sound of cannons.
Sell at the sound of trumpets.--- Barrons
Three weeks after
the WTC attacks
ElephantPlenty of postwar writers, from J. D. Salinger and Vladimir Nabokov to Thomas Pynchon, had little or nothing to do with writing programs. Nabokov taught a course on the novel at Cornell, in which Pynchon was a student, but he never taught creative writing.Harvard once considered hiring Nabokov to teach literature; Roman Jackson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.--- From "Show or Tell"
The New Yorker
June 8 & 15, 2009
The TerrorA Jacobin radical bursts into his study during the Terror
and Tallyrand gives him a glass of cognac,
which he immediately starts to guzzle.
Tallyrand stops him:
"No, no, no, that is not the way to drink cognac.
One does it like this.
One takes the glass in the hollow of the hand,
one warms it,
one shakes it with a circular motion to liberate the scent,
then one raises it to one's nostrils,
one breathes it in."
"And then?" sighs the panicked visitor.
"'And then, Sir, one puts one's glass down and one discusses it."--- David A. Bell
From a review of Napoleon's Master
London Review of Books
16 November 2006
One day I went to the dentist. Over the radio they said
it was the hottest day of the year.
However, I was wearing a jacket, because going to a doctor
has always struck me as a somewhat formal occasion.
In the midst of his work, Dr. Heyman stopped and said,
"Why don't you take your jacket off?"
I said, "I have a hole in my shirt and that's why I have my jacket on."
He said, "Well, I have a hole in my sock, and, if you like,
I'll take my shoes off."--- Silence
Edited by Kyle Gann
©2011 Wesleyan University Press
The UniverseI, too, felt ready to start life all over again.
It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and,
gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars,
for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.To feel it so like myself, indeed,
so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy,
and that I was happy still.
For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely,
all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution
there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that
they should greet me with howls of execration.--- From The Stranger
Stuart Gilbert, Translator
©1946 Alfred A Knopf
A Testament"I consider Mr. Maxim to be one of the greatest benefactors the world has ever known.""You have prevented more men from dying of old age than any other man that ever lived."--- Lord Salisbury,
in a dinner held in 1900
to honor Hiram Maxim,
inventor of the machine gun,
as quoted in the
London Review of Books,
10 January 2011
AnimalsAccording to the American Animal Hospital Association, 80 percent of American pet owners consider their pets to be their children rather than "companion animals," a point of view that provides the organic pet food industry with a large potential market. Every year Americans spend four times more on pet food than on baby food. In America, there are 70 million pet cats, 60 million pet dogs, 10 million pet birds, 5 million pleasure horses, and 17 million exotic pets such as rabbits, snakes, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, and skunks.In addition, although they are not yet sold in Whole Foods Markets, organic worms are available for environmentally focused fishers. Currently available are organic red wigglers and European and African night crawlers. The African variety is touted as a "good trolling worm" but is not recommended for ice fishing.--- From America's Food
What You Don't Know
About What Your Eat
©2008 MIT Press
PastIt is believed by most that time passes.In actual fact, it stays where it is.--- Zen Master Dogan
As quoted in
The Armillary Sphere
(Ohio University Press)
Of the HeartEleven times the muscle of my heart contracted while I was writing the four words of the preceding sentence. Perhaps six hundred times since I began to write this little chapter. Seven hundred thirty-two million, one hundred thirty-six thousand, three hundred twenty times, since I moved into the hotel. And no less than one billion, sixty-seven million, six hundred thirty-six thousand, one hundred sixty times has my heart beat since a day in 1919, at Fort George G. Meade, when an army doctor, Captain John Frisbee, informed me, during the course of my predischarge physical examination, that each soft beat my sick heart beat might be my sick heart's last.Having poured my drink, I may not live to taste it, or that it may pass a live man's tongue to burn a dead man's belly; that having slumbered, I may never wake, or having waked, may never living sleep. Having heard tick, will I hear tock? Having served, will I volley? Having sugared will I cream? Having eithered, will I or? Itching, will I scratch? Hemming, will I haw?--- From The Floating Opera
©1956 Bantam Books
Sylvester Stallone"Yo. I'm astounded by people
who take 18 years to write something.
That's how long it took that guy to write
And was that even on the best-seller list?
No. It was a lousy book,
and it made a lousy movie."--- Sylvester Stallone
As quoted by
1 May 2003