John le Carre quotes and sayings
October 19, 1931
In every war zone that I've been in, there has been a reality and then there has been the public perception of why the war was being fought. In every crisis, the issues have been far more complex than the public has been allowed to know.
The creation of George Smiley, the retired spy recalled to hunt for just such a high-ranking mole in 'Tinker, Tailor,' was extremely personal. I borrowed elements of people I admired and invested them in this mythical character. I'm such a fluent, specious person now, but I was an extremely awkward fellow in those days.
I don't think that there are very many good writers who don't live without a sense of tension. If they haven't got one immediately available to them, then they usually manage to manufacture it in their private lives.
All power corrupts but some must govern.
No problem exists in isolation, one must first reduce it to its basic components, then tackle each component in turn.
More particularly, having a largely German-oriented education has made me very responsive to 19th-century German literature.
But I think the real tension lies in the relationship between what you might call the pursuer and his quarry, whether it's the writer or the spy.
My novels introduce levels of intelligence ... moral doubt and self-doubt, which may not pertain to real-world espionage.
The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America's Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.
For better or worse, I've been involved in the description of political conflict.
Blackmail is more effective than bribery.
When I was 16 or 17, anyone could have had me if they sang the right song and recruited me in the right way. Which is why I've always had a sneaking understanding for people who took the wrong route. That doesn't mean to say I took it or even contemplated it myself.
I do believe very much in movie as a one-man-show. I think that where I've watched movie go wrong, it's usually because the dread committee has been interfering with it.
You can't make war against terror. Terror is a technique of battle. It's a tactic that has been employed since time immemorial. You can conduct clandestine action against terrorists, and that must be done.
I was quite able at the insignificant work I did in MI6, but absolutely dysfunctional in my domestic life. I had no experience of fatherhood. I had no example of marital bliss or the family unit.
Americans believe that if you know something, you should do something about it.
I was the British spy who had come out of the woodwork and told it how it really was, and anything I said to the contrary only enforced the myth. And since I was writing for a public hooked on Bond and desperate for the antidote, the myth stuck.
When it's going well writing goes terribly fast. It isn't at all surprising to write a chapter in a day, which for me is about twenty-two pages. When it's going badly, it isn't really going badly; it's just the beginning.
It's necessary to understand what real intelligence work is. It will never cease. It's absolutely essential that we have it. At its best, it is simply the left arm of healthy governmental curiosity. It brings to a strong government what it needs to know. It's the collection of information, a journalistic job, if you will, but done in secret.
The monsters of our childhood do not fade away, neither are they ever wholly monstrous. But neither, in my experience, do we ever reach a plane of detachment regarding our parents, however wise and old we may become. To pretend otherwise is to cheat.
I don't know whether it's age or maturity, but I certainly find myself committed more and more to the looser forms of Western democracy at any price.
If there is one eternal truth of politics, it is that there are always a dozen good reasons for doing nothing.
To possess another language, Charlemagne tells us, is to possess another soul. German is such a language. Once you have it in your head, you can go there anytime, you can close the door, you have a refuge.
Let's all pretend to be someone else, and then perhaps we'll find out who we are.
Yet it's not for want of future that I'm here, he thought. It's for want of a present.
How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre.
Treason is very much a matter of habit, Smiley decided.
It was man who ended the Cold War in case you didn't notice. It wasn't weaponry, or technology, or armies or campaigns. It was just man. Not even Western man either, as it happened, but our sworn enemy in the East, who went into the streets, faced the bullets and the batons and said: we've had enough. It was their emperor, not ours, who had the nerve to mount the rostrum and declare he had no clothes. And the ideologies trailed after these impossible events like condemned prisoners, as ideologies do when they've had their day.
In every operation there is an above the line and a below the line. Above the line is what you do by the book. Below the line is how you do the job.
Out of date, perhaps, but who wasn't these days? Out of date, but loyal to his own time. At a certain moment, after all, every man chooses: will he go forward, will he go back? There was nothing dishounorable in not being blown about by every little modern wind. Better to have worth, to entrench, to be an oak of one's own generation.
By repetition, each lie becomes an irreversible fact upon which other lies are constructed.
It's part of a writer's profession, as it's part of a spy's profession, to prey on the community to which he's attached, to take away information - often in secret - and to translate that into intelligence for his masters, whether it's his readership or his spy masters. And I think that both professions are perhaps rather lonely.
I think the greatest single enemy is the misuse of information, the perversion of truth in the hands of terribly skillful people.
Survival...is an infinite capacity for suspicion.
A dead man is the worst enemy alive, I thought. You can't alter his power over you. You can't alter what you love or owe. And it's too late to ask him for his absolution. He has beaten you all ways.
When a problem threatens to engulf you, there's nothing like irrelevant detail to keep your head above water.
When the world is destroyed, it will be destroyed not by its madmen but by the sanity of its experts and the superior ignorance of its bureaucrats.
The things that are done in the name of the shareholder are, to me, as terrifying as the things that are done - dare I say it - in the name of God.
What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.
The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat's mat is a story.
The Secret Intelligence Service I knew occupied dusky suites of little rooms opposite St James's Park Tube station in London.
There is no such thing as a secure writer: every novel is an impossible mountain.
If you're growing up in a chaotic world without reason, your instinct is to become a performer and control the circumstances around you. You lead from weakness into strength; you have an undefended back.
The trouble is, when professional spies go out of their way to make a definitive statement about one of their own, the public tends to believe the opposite: which puts us all back where we started.
I think that where I've watched a movie go wrong, it's usually because the dread committee has been interfering with it.
A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.
Wives?" she asked, interrupting him. For a moment, he had assumed she was tuning to the novel. Then he saw her waiting, suspicious eyes, so he replied cautiously, "None active," as if wives were volcanoes.
I have a theory which I suspect is rather immoral,' Smiley went on, more lightly. 'Each of us has only a quantum of compassion. That if we lavish our concern on every stray cat, we never get to the centre of things.
I made a series of wrong decisions about moderately recent books, and I've sold the rights to studios for ridiculous amounts of money and the films have never been made. That's the saddest thing of all, because they're locked up and no one else can make them.
I happen to write by hand. I don't even type.
I mean, you can't be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government's policy is benevolent, can you now?
Tyranny is like the electric wiring in an old house. A tyrant dies, the new tyrant takes possession, and all he has to do is drop the switch.
Most of us live in a condition of secrecy: secret desires, secret appetites, secret hatreds and relationship with the institutions which is extremely intense and uncomfortable. These are, to me, a part of the ordinary human condition. So I don't think I'm writing about abnormal things. ... Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.
It is my writing dilemma. The world of spying is my genre. My struggle is to demystify, to de-romanticise the spook world, but at the same time harness it as a good story.
It's a principle of mine to come into the story as late as possible, and to tell it as fast as you can.
If you see the world as gloomily as I see it, the only thing to do is laugh or shoot yourself.
People who've had very unhappy childhoods are pretty good at inventing themselves. If nobody invents you for yourself, nothing is left but to invent yourself for others.
We've had enough." He took back the report and jammed it under his arm. "We've had a bellyful, in fact." "And like everyone who's had enough," said Control as Alleline noisily left the room, "he wants more.
Life was to be a search, or nothing! But it was the fear that it was nothing that drove me forward. Every encounter was an encounter with myself.
Our power knows no limits, yet we cannot find food for a starving child, or a home for a refugee. Our knowledge is without measure and we build the weapons that will destroy us. We live on the edge of ourselves, terrified of the darkness within. We have harmed, corrupted and ruined, we have made mistakes and deceived.
Smiley was soaked to the skin and God as a punishment had removed all taxis from the face of London.
I don't think it is given to any of us to be impertinent to great religions with impunity.
On one hand we go like hell for every terror cell we can find, we penetrate it, we destroy it. On the other hand, there is a much bigger need for a political solution.
My definition of a decent society is one that first of all takes care of its losers, and protects its weak. What I see in my country, progressively over these years, is that the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer. The rich have become indifferent through a philosophy of greed, and the poorer have become hopeless because they're not properly cared for. That's actually something that is happening in many Western societies. Your own, I am told, is not free from it.
History keeps her secrets longer than most of us. But she has one secret that I will reveal to you tonight in the greatest confidence. Sometimes there are no winners at all. And sometimes nobody needs to lose.
There was an ITV television production of the second novel I wrote, called 'Murder of Quality.' It was a little murder story set in a public school - I'd once taught at Eton, and I used that stuff.
People are very secretive - secret even from themselves.
The good pupils are often brilliant, and they keep you on your toes and take you to the limits of your knowledge. The worst pupils provide a unique insight into the criminal mind.
When it comes to recruiting people for the secret world, what the recruiters are looking for is pretty much what I had. I was unanchored, looking for an institution to look after me. I had a bit of larceny. I understood larceny. I understood the natural criminality in people - because it was - it was all around me. And I have no doubt there was a chunk of it inside me too. Once I found that identity, it took root in me. It exactly - it gelled with the world that I'd known in the past.
I suffer from the same frustration that every decent American suffers from. That is, that you begin to wonder whether decent liberal instincts, decent humanitarian instincts, can actually penetrate the right-wing voice, get through the steering of American opinion by the mass media.
There is a big difference between fighting the cold war and fighting radical Islam. The rules have changed and we haven't.
I once heard someone say morality was method. Do you hold with that? I suppose you wouldn't. You would say that morality was vested in the aim, I expect. Difficult to know what one's aims are, that's the trouble, specially if you're British.
The pharmaceutical corporations are engaged in the systematic corruption of the medical profession, country by country.
'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' was the work of a wayward imagination brought to the end of its tether by political disgust and personal confusion.
All men are born free: just not for long.
Completing a book, it's a little like having a baby.... There's a feeling of relief and satisfaction when you get to the end. A feeling that you have brought your family, your characters, home. Then a sort of post-natal depression and then, very quickly, the horizon of a new book. The consolation that next time I will do it better.
Those who are not with Mr. Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I'm dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam's downfall -- just not on Bush's terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.
For all the flailing and huffing and puffing, there is a kind of fatality about the process of war-making and the excuses we find for it, the consolation of belligerence in politics.
I mean, I'm in the business of storytelling, not message making.
I've always had difficulties with female characters.
By the age of 9 or 10, I knew that I had to cut my own cloth and make my own way.
Unfortunately it is the weak who destroy the strong.
Gerald Westerby, he told himself. You were present at your birth. You were present at your several marriages and at some of your divorces, and you will certainly be present at your funeral. High time, in our considered view, that you were present at certain other crucial moments in your history.
I move my lips when I read -- I'm painfully slow -- so I like really good English.
I remain terrified of the capacity of the media, the capacity of spin doctors, here and abroad, particularly the United States media, to perpetuate false lies, perpetuate lies.
Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.
People like you should be stopped, Mr. Woodrow,' she mused aloud, with a puzzled shake of her wise head. 'You think you're solving the world's problems but actually you're the problem.
Mehmet Murat Ildan
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
H. L. Mencken
Charles Caleb Colton
D. H. Lawrence
Orson Scott Card
Robert A. Heinlein
Jonathan Safran Foer
Ursula K. Le Guin
Alain de Botton
Laurell K. Hamilton
Rita Mae Brown
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
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