Last modified on 15 April 2014, at 02:39

Stig Dagerman

Stig Dagerman (5 October 19234 November 1954) was a Swedish author and journalist.

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A Burnt Child (1948)Edit

  • It may be true that death is a large empty hole and that sorrow is knowing just how deep the hole is, but it is only true when one is sober. If one has snaps one can fill up the hole with all the beautiful thoughts one can think of, and all the fine words one can hit on. One can fill it right up to the brink, and then put a stone there.

    He loved her because she loved him, and if one is loved, one loves in return, otherwise one is a fool. (p. 30)

  • Parents always live a less pure life than their children, because they condone everything they do. The ability to condone everything in oneself but practically nothing in one's children is the boon that "experience" bestows on humanity. What parents call experience is really nothing but attempts, successful to the point of sheer cynicism, to belie everything which they found pure, true and right when they were young. They themselves don't notice the awful cynicism behind this incessant talk of "experience" being the highest aim in life: they only notice "inexperience" in their children, that is, the form of inexperience called purity and integrity, and then they get annoyed. (p. 135)
  • I am still fairly convinced that as a theory it's true enough: to live, really only means to put off one's suicide from day to day. You have probably had some experience of this too; even if you are not able to put it into words, you must have been subconsciously aware of it. (p. 181)
  • Do you think I'm seventeen, he remembered she had said. Not very loudly, but she had said it, though she was not annoyed any more. It had sounded more as though she was sorry she was no longer seventeen. (p. 187)
  • They knew that if they let each other go they were lost, but if they went on holding each other they were also lost. (p. 188)
  • It made her pure, and those we love must be pure, otherwise we can't love them. But loving a person is also making her pure. (p. 189)
  • Nothing is so beautiful as the first few minutes alone with someone who might love one and someone whom one might love. There is nothing so quiet as those minutes, nothing so saturated with sweet expectancy. It is for the sake of those few minutes that one loves, not the many that follow. Never again, they knew, would anything so beautiful happen to them. They would be more joyous perhaps; more ardent too, and immeasurably content with their own bodies, and each other's. But never again would it be so beautiful. (p. 190)
  • They talked quietly, lying on their backs and letting the words float up to the ceiling as though they were talking to themselves. By reason of their calmness they could tell each other everything without shame, without its sounding like a confession. Nor were they surprised at what they found out about each other. (p. 191)
  • Browsing in books as lovers do, they were only being considerate, because their tenderness to each other made them tender towards others as well. (p. 192)
  • I am sufficiently intelligent to be able to differentiate between real falsehood, which is aimed at hurting people, and a wise moderation of so-called truth, whose only object is to simplify life for all concerned. (p. 198)
  • I come to understand what purity is: it means to feel something so wholeheartedly that it shrivels up all doubts, all cowardice and all considerations within one. (p. 199)
  • The worst of his life is not that he thinks that it is living, but that he is satisfied with it, and the most awful thing of life is that he thinks that is how it should be. He can't understand anyone who thinks differently from him, and when he can't understand anything he says: I'm sorry, but I'm only a humble joiner. It's all he can do to accept that fact that I am studying the history of literature and Scandinavian languages: he accepts it not because I will thereby become mentally enriched, but because he thinks that it will enable me to live an easier life that he. Easier but not different. (p. 200)
  • All my life I have, more of less consciously, sought an alternative way of life to his, one which is purer, one which is more intense and pays less regard to others, which is more exacting, which burns more dangerously, which gives one everything except a flabby happiness. (p. 200)
  • They told me that everybody must think of his future and what is more that everybody did. Then I found that they were right: I looked round me among those who believed as they and I did, and couldn't find a single one who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of his belief. For a little while perhaps they were prepared to sacrifice something, but when their personal dreams of the future came into conflict with their faith, they chose the dream. Those who had the luck to be officials came off best. They had no need to renounce their faith, it cooled off a bit perhaps, but they had no need to renounce it; not was there any need for them to renounce for dream of their personal happiness, for officials with cold faith can get as far as they like. So I soon stopped sacrificing everything for my faith, because anyone sacrifices everything all by himself is just stupid. (p. 202)
  • When you're called up you don't need many personal belongings — not when you love either. (p. 203)
  • Once they knew each other it was more difficult, because it is difficult to love those we know well. To be in love is to be curious. A thing is only beautiful if we do not have surfeit of it, perhaps only what is new is beautiful; in any case we can only love what is new. In order to love people we have got to know too well, we must first of all forget them, not altogether but very nearly. This they learnt during the fortnight. They didn't tell each other that they had learnt it; they were careful, that is, untruthful. To be able to love someone a long time one must lie, quite often to oneself, but mostly to the person one loves. (p. 206)
  • One way of poisoning love is to mingle it with hate. It is the best way but in some ways the most dangerous. Love and hate are the cat and mouse of our emotions, sometimes the cat chases the mouse, often the mouse chases the cat; but when both cat and mouse are tired of chasing each other there is little left to do. All one can do then is to admit the most bitter truth of all, the most bitter but also the best: that two people in love with each other can not be alone on an island without ceasing to love; that they can not be an island, they need contact with the mainland, they need other people. It is cold comfort for those who believe that love is an island in the sea, and when we have grown tired of islands very little consolation remains. When we have grown tired of loving we are glad that the one we love is not the only person in the world. (p. 206)
  • To increase his suffering he now accused her, asserting that she didn't love him, and that is always a dangerous thing to say: If one wants somebody to love one, one should not ask her to consider whether she "really": does. When all is said, we "really" do very few things. If one probes very deeply one realizes that the weight never reaches the bottom, and then one grows afraid of the depths inside one. But it is not until one understands that another name for deep is emptiness that one becomes really afraid. (p. 222)
  • A little remorse they felt too in front of those who knew nothing, but it made their memories all the sweeter, for remorse is the best spice of all. (p. 243)
  • To die is to become like a child, at last one knows nothing, nothing of death and nothing of life, only that all distances are equally long and all words unintelligible but beautiful. (p. 251)
  • I'm tired of living, tired of living here in this land of small dogs, small feelings, small pleasures, small thoughts. One has to be satisfied, but I don't want to be satisfied. I won't be satisfied like a little dog, there's nothing more repulsive that small dogs when they come home frightened and satisfied from their small doggy adventures. I myself have been a big dog, but I won't be a big dog either, even if it is better to be a big dog than a little one. There's nothing between being a big dog and being a little one.

    I have been a big dog because I have deceived you all. I have also been a little dog because I have deceived myself. In the land of small dogs we all deceives ourselves, we all dream of small doggy adventures, but we are afraid of the greatest adventure of all. The small dogs have a panic-stricken horror of living a pure life, for the only adventure which is not small, because they think the only things worth living for are the moderately dirty ones. In the land of small dogs indecency is worse than immorality, people there don't know that only one thing is immoral: consciously wanting to hurt somebody. In the land of small dogs, therefore passive evil is more respected than active goodness. (p. 257)

  • In the land of small dogs we are all card-sharpers, we do everything in fun: in fun we feed all the small dogs with the crumbs of our feeling; in fun we make out we love every little dog we meet, and no one therefore can love properly in the land of small dogs; there is nothing genuine. Not even falsehood is genuine. (p. 257)
  • The only current happiness is indifference, the only current feelings are the very small ones, the only current thoughts are smaller still. The only beautiful things are small feelings. Commons sense is never beautiful. People can never understand that the only thing which makes the small dogs' position at all bearable is that the big dogs' reason can analyse it. (p. 258)
  • For anyone who feels our of place in the land of small dogs the only thing left is to become a big dog, and the only advantage in being a big dog is that one is not then ashamed of dying. Not even a big dog can help feeling shamed of living, a big dog least of all. (p. 258)
  • The opera-glasses she stole from the bookcase so that each morning she could look through them down into the street in order to make people bigger and bring them close to her in order to feel less lonely. (p. 263)
  • After a volcano has erupted our landscape is filled with silence. A moment ago it was on fire, now the rapid ashes are warming our feet. a moment ago it was dazzlingly light, now it is blessed twilight, kind to our eyes. All is at rest. The volcano is asleep, even our poor nerves are asleep. We are not happy, but we have a momentary peace. A moment ago we have seen the desert of our life in all its appalling vastness, now we see that the desert is in flower. The oases are few are afar between, but they do exist; we know that the desert is vast, but we also know that in the biggest deserts are the most oases. To gain this knowledge we must pay dearly, and an eruption is the price; it is high; but there is no lower one. That is why we should bless the volcanoes, thank them because their glare is so strong and their first so hot. Thank them for having dazzled us, for only then do we acquired our full sight; thank them, too, for having burnt us, for only as burnt children can we warm each other.

    But moments of peace are short. All other moments are much longer, and to know this is also wisdom. But because they are so short we must life in those moments as thought it were only then we lived. They knew this too. (p. 263)

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