10 quotes Eli can’t stop revisiting

Every so often, you come across a passage that makes you thump the arm of your reading chair and yell “EXACTLY!” Below, Eli shares 10 quotes he’s found particularly significant.  



“A question–from other black writers and readers and a voice inside me now began to hover over my work–Why do white people like what I write? The question would eventually overshadow the work, or maybe it would just feel like it did. Either way, there was a lesson in this: God might not save me, but neither would defiance. How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you? What does the story you tell matter, if the world is set upon hearing a different one?”
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

Eli says: This question is central to so much of TNC’s work and a big part of why I think his tone is so important in his writing – he gives the sense that he knows people are reading, but not necessarily understanding his writing.


“Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighed, it must finally be established that this pronouncement ‘I am, I exist’ is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind.”
— Rene Descartes, Meditations, Objections, and Replies

Eli says: Cogito ergo sum is so familiar now that it seems simplistic, but Descartes was a true visionary for codifying this idea in words, and in the context of blackness/otherness and the American history of who is considered “human,” this statement has new gravity.


“As if it were some noble thing,
She spoke of sons at war,
As if freedom’s cause
Were plead anew at some heroic bar,
As if the weapons used today
Killed with great élan,
As if technicolor banners flew
To honor modern man –
Believing everything she read
In the daily news,
(No in-between to choose)
She thought only
One side won,
Not that both
Might lose.”

— Langston Hughes, The Panther and the Lash 

Eli says: Self-explanatory – Hughes at his most radical, economical, lyrical.


“It is important, however, to tell the black man that an attitude of open rupture has never saved anybody; and although it is true that I must free myself from my strangler because I cannot breathe, nevertheless it is unhealthy to graft a psychological element (the impossibility of expanding) onto a physiological base (the physical difficulty of breathing).”
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks 

Eli says: This quotation from Fanon is eerie to consider in light of Matt Taibbi’s new book,  I Can’t Breatheand the tragedy it details: the strangulation of Eric Garner.


“It wasn’t in me. It went out and in.
I wanted to hold it. It held, with Wine.
(I no longer know what it was.)
Then Wine held this and held that for me
till I came to depend on him totally.
Like an ass.
Now I’m playing his game and he deals me out
with a sneer on his lips, and maybe tonight
he will lose me to Death, that boor.
When he wins me, filthiest card in the deck,
he’ll take me and scratch the scabs on his neck,
then toss me into the mire.”

Eli says: Just one example of the strength and depth of Rilke’s poetry – even in translation we are treated to rhyme, rhythm, and macabre meditation.


“Then out of the night
came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift;
the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,
all except one; it was widely understood
that as long as God disallowed it,
the fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.
One man, however, was in fighting mood,
awake and on edge, spoiling for action.”
— anonymous, Beowulf 

Eli says: One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite poems Seamus Heaney [the translator] does a wonderful job of maintaining the rhythm and alliteration of the Old English verse, while lending the language a modern, familiar flare.


“As you see it it is, while the seeing lasts, dark nightmare-history, time-as-coffin; but where the water was rigid there will be fish, and men will survive on their flesh till spring. It’s coming, my brother. . . . Though you murder the world, transmogrify life into I and it, strong searching roots will crack your cave and rain will cleanse it: The world will burn green, sperm build again.”
— John Gardner, Grendel

Eli says: Like Gardner’s entire novel, Grendel, this passage is a beautiful and strange piece of writing that sticks in the mind and reveals as much as it conceals.


“‘In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them–‘
‘You beat them.’ For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.
‘No, you don’t understand. I destroy them.'”

— Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game 

Eli says: Card borrows and streamlines an idea from Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, and puts it into terms that a child can understand on a profound, visceral level.


“Don’t tell them ‘no.’  Don’t let them see you mad. Just say ‘yes, sir.’ Then go ‘head and do what you want to do. Might have to take a whippin’ for it later on, but if you want it bad enough, the whippin’ won’t matter much.”

— Octavia Butler, Kindred

Eli says: An attitude that is necessary and applicable in so many avenues of life.


“The moon is a sow
and grunts in my throat

Her great shining shines through me
so the mud of my hollow gleams
and breaks in silver bubbles
She is a sow
and I a pig and a poet
When she opens her white
lips to devour me I bite back
and laughter rocks the moon
In the black of desire
we rock and grunt, grunt and

— Denise Levertov, The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov

Eli says: A beautiful, profane portrait of divine femininity that isn’t constrained to the classically “feminine.”


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