It was in 2019 that I have first heard of Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk when she was declared the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. While she is a household name in her native Poland, it was until recently that she started gaining global recognition. The advent of her global success was often credited to her fragmentary novel, Flights. It won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, making Tokarczuk the first Polish writer to win the prestigious award. A philosophical novel, Flights is a meditation on travel, our need to be in constant motion. Traveling was the nucleus of the novel but it is also brimming with information and quotable passages about a plethora of subjects, from life to schools to afflictions to our reliance on the internet and even on human anatomy. I have rounded up some of these memorable and interesting lines in this quotable quotes post.
Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.
“As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project. It is frank about the fact that all the information we have about the world comes straight out of our own heads, like Athena out of Zeus’s. People bring to Wikipedia everything they know. If the project succeeds, then this encyclopaedia undergoing perpetual renewal will be the greatest wonder of the world. It has everything we know in it – every thing, definition, event, and problem our brains have worked on; we shall cite sources, provide links.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“Without the bells and whistles, its description boils down to the insistence of one’s consciousness on returning to certain images, or even the compulsive search for them. It is a variant of the Mean World Syndrome, which has been described fairly exhaustively in neuropsychological studies as a particular type of infection caused by the media. It’s quite a bourgeois ailment, I suppose. Patients spend long hours in front of the TV, thumbing at their remote controls through all the channels till they find the ones with the most horrendous news: wars, epidemics and disasters. Then, fascinated by what they’re seeing, they can’t tear themselves away.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“It turned out it was true what some people said about psychology being a degree you choose not because of the job you want, or out of curiosity or a vocation to help others, but rather for another very simple reason. I think all of us had some sort of deeply hidden defect, although we no doubt all gave the impression of intelligent, healthy young people – the defect was masked, skilfully camouflaged during our entrance exams. A ball of tautly tangled emotions breaking down, like those strange tumours that turn up sometimes in the human body and that can be seen in any self-respecting museum of pathological anatomy.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us – we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It’s hard to imagine, but English is the real language! Oftentimes their only language. They don’t have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt. How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures – even the buttons in the lift! – are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them – they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for them.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“I want to know, and not give in to logic. What do I care about a proof from the outside, framed as a geometric argument? It provides merely a semblance of logical consequence and of an order pleasing to the mind. There’s A, and after A comes B, some supplementary conclusions – and you might have the impression that such command is reminiscent of a wonderfully sketched etching in an atlas, where with letters particular sections are marked, where everything seems so clear and transparent. But we still don’t know how it all works.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“Here we are taught that the world could be described, and even explained by means of simle answers to intelligent questions. That in its essence the world was inert and dead, governed by fairly simple laws that needed to be explained and made public – if possible with the aid of diagrams. We were required to do experiments. To formulate hypotheses. To verify. We were inducted into the mysteries of statistics, taught to beleive that that equipped with such a tool we would be able to perfectly describe all the workings of the world – that ninety percent is more significant than five.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“Description is akin to overuse – it destroys, the colors wear off, the corners lose their definition, and in the end, what’s been described begins to fade, to disappear. This applies most of all to places. Enormous damage has been done by travel literature – a veritable scourge, an epidemic. Guidebooks have conclusively ruined the greater part of the planet; published in editions numbering in the millions, in many languages, they have debilitated places, pinning them down and naming them, blurring their contours. Even I, in my youthful naiveté, once took a shot at the description of places. But when I would go back to those descriptions later, when I’d try to take a deep breath and allow their intense presence to choke me up all over again, when I’d try to listen in on their murmurings, I was always in for a shock. The truth is terrible: describing is destroying.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“The internet is a fraud. It promises so much – that it will execute your every command, that it will find you what you’re looking for: execution, fulfillment, reward. But in essence that promise is a kind of bait, because you immediately fall into a trance, into hypnosis. The paths quickly diverge, double and multiply, and you go down them, still chasing an aim that will now get blurry and undergo some transformations. You lose the ground beneath your feet, the place where you started from just gets forgotten, and your aim finally vanishes from sight, disappears in the passage of more and more pages, businesses that always promise more than they can give, shamelessly pretending that under the flat plane of the screen there is some cosmos.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“Constellation, not sequencing, carries truth. This is why travel psychology envisions man in equivalently weighted situations, without trying to lend his life any—even approximate—continuity. Life is made up of situations. There is, of course, a certain inclination toward the repetition of behaviors. This repetition does not, however, mean that we should succumb in our imaginations to the appearance of any sort of consistent whole.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“The other state of mind strengthened his conviction that actually he was better, unique, exceptional. That he was the only one who sensed and understood the truth, that only he was capable of being exceptional. And he sometimes managed to spend a number of hours in this elevated self-esteem, and even days, when he felt, let’s say, somehow happy. But then it faded, like intoxication. And by way of a hangover there appeared the terrifying thought that in order to seem like a person worthy of respect, he had to continually fake it in these two days and that – worst of all – someday the truth would come out; it would be revealed that he was no one.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“That life is not for me. Clearly I did not inherit whatever gene it is that makes it so that when you linger in a place you start to put down roots. I’ve tried, a number of times, but my roots have always been shallow; the littlest breeze could always blow me right over. I don’t know how to germinate, I’m simply not in possession of that vegetable capacity. I can’t extract nutrition from the ground, I am the anti-Antaeus. My energy derives from movement—from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“At first you always see what’s alive and vibrant. You’re delighted by nature, by the local church painted in different colours, by the smells and all that. But the longer you’re in a place, the more the charm of those things fades. You wonder who lived here before you came to this home and this room, whose things these are, who scratched the wall above the bed and what tree the sills were cut from. Whose hands built the elaborately decorated fireplace, paved the courtyard? And where are they now? In what form? Whose idea led to these paths around the pond and who had the idea of planting a willow out the window? All the houses, avenues, parks, gardens and streets are permeated with the deaths of others. Once you start feeling this, something starts to pull you elsewhere, you start to think it’s time to move on.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“At first you always see what’s alive and vibrant. You’re delighted by nature, by the local church painted in Just when estuaries started to blend into the open waters of the seas, just when he’d enlist for a ship heading home, suddenly some new opportunity would arise, more often than not in the exact opposite direction, and if he did hesitate for a moment, he would usually come to the conclusion that the truest argument was an old one—the earth is round, let us not be too attached, then, to directions. And this was understandable—to someone from nowhere, every movement turns into a return, since nothing exerts such a draw as emptiness.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
“Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel knows what an arduous task it is, undoubtedly one of the worst ways of occupying oneself. You have to remain within yourself all the time, in solitary confinement. It’s a controlled psychosis, an obsessive paranoia manacled to work completely lacking in the feather pens and bustles and Venetian masks we would ordinarily associate with it, clothed instead in a butcher’s apron and rubber boots, eviscerating knife in hand. You can only barely see from that writerly cellar the feet of passers-by, hear the rapping of their heels. Every so often someone stops and bends down and glances in through the window, and then you get a glimpse of a human face, maybe even exchange a few words. But ultimately the mind is so occupied with its own act, a play staged by the self ofr the self in a hasty, makeshift cabinet of curiosities peopled by author and character, narrator and reader, the person describing and the person described, that feet, shoes, heels, and faces become, sooner or later, mere components of that act.”~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
And that’s it, fellow reader. Have you read this work by the Nobel Laureate in Literature? How did you find the book? What were your favorite lines from the book? I hope you could share it in the comment box. For now, have a great end to the week! And as always, stay safe and happy reading!
Jennifer Croft ‘s translation is wonderful, one of the best translations I’ve ever read. Lovely passages, acute but colourful observations. But ‘Flights’ was too slow-paced and lugubrious for my liking. However, the underlying theme of running away is unique.