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Week 2/9/20

PUBLISHED: February 21, 2020

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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The passion project is work that comes at personal cost without the guarantee of a social reward; it is sacrifice that leads to no certain redemption. To undertake a passion project is often to move outside of one’s field of expertise or specialization, to labor in a foreign land and to do so for love. It is to pursue desire over practicality, affect over intellect, amateurism over professionalism. It is work in the service of unreasonable pursuits: memory, legacy, the future world. The passion project is a promise to oneself or another that begins in private but continues in an imagined public. And as it originates at that scale, its ultimate goal is an intimate one. This project will, in essence, matter because it matters to this intimate, maybe even impossible, audience. And it is perhaps the unavoidable tragedy of the passion project that so many of them remain unfinished. Because they exist outside the lines of ordinary genres, because they strive toward an ethereal goal, because they are frequently last on the existential bucket list, they are often left behind unassembled, askew, incomplete, or unpublished. But even as these projects eschew world-historical ambitions, the purity of their conception lends them a power and potentiality absent from other, earlier works.

Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from The Passion Projects: Modernist Women, Intimate Archives, Unfinished Lives by Melanie Micir


Well then, what is litost?

Litost is a state of torment caused by a sudden insight into one’s own miserable self.

One of the standard remedies for personal misery is love. The recipient of an absolute love cannot be miserable. All his faults are redeemed by love’s magic eyes, which make even uncoordinated thrashing and a head jerking back and forth above the water look charming.

The absolute quality of love is actually a desire for absolute identification. We want the woman we love to swim as slowly as we do; we want her to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But as soon as the illusion of absolute identity falls apart (the girl looks back happily on her past or picks up speed), love turns into a permanent source of that great torment we call litost.

Anyone with broad experience in the general imperfectability of mankind is fairly well protected against its excesses. He accepts insights into his own miserable self as ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, in other words, is characteristic of immaturity. It is one of the ornaments of youth.

Podcast Producer Robert Armengol
Excerpt from The Book of Laughter and Forgettingby Milan Kundera


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