“In a real sense, we are what we quote — and what can any of us hope to be but a tiny component of that hubbub of voices distilled by books of quotations and epigrams? I have always found such volumes the most irresistible reading. They make it possible to channel-surf millenniums of cultural history, moving forward or backward at will, and plucking out whatever perfectly formed fragment turns out to be precisely what you were looking for. The endlessness of it all is enough to make your head spin, but that dizziness is arrested by the steadying compactness and solidity of the ideal quote — the one that stands there bare and isolated and unencumbered, tiny enough to be grasped all at once, yet unfathomably wide and deep.
At a certain point, in a necessary act of appropriation, you make it part of who you are, whether or not you ever quote it to anyone but yourself. Culture then is not a wall “over there” but the very tiles out of which your own thoughts are constructed. The tiles are variegated and of different ages and subject to every kind of manipulation and juxtaposition. They take their place finally among quotes of a different kind — the quotes that are quotes to no one but you, all the things that friends and lovers and family and strangers and random voices on radio or television have said that cling to your memory and come back at odd hours of day or night, the words that become part of an alternate canon of what has not yet been written down. Out of all that mixing, with luck, might come the rarest thing of all, a new thought or fresh insight that can take its place with all those other sentences, a quotation that waited until just this moment to declare itself.”