My seven favorite books with the word “veil” in them:1
The New Testament (various authors)2
“And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.”
– Matthew, 27:50-54
The Journals of George Fox3
“When at any time my condition was veiled, my secret belief was stayed firm, and hope underneath held me, as an anchor in the bottom of the sea, and anchored my immortal soul to its Bishop, causing it to swim above the sea, the world, where all the raging waves, foul weather, tempests and temptations are. But O! then did I see my troubles, trials, and temptations more clearly than ever I had done.”
The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche4
“Where might one escape this veiled look, which leaves one with a deep feeling of sorrow as one walks away, that introspective look of the man deformed from the outset, a look which reveals the way in which such a man speaks to himself — that gaze which is a sigh! ‘I wish I were any else but myself!’ this gaze sighs: ‘but there is no hope of that. I am who I am: how could I escape from myself?”
Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel5
“The jackal moans when it is hungry, every fool is foolish enough to be unhappy, and only the wise man rends the veil of existence with laughter.”
Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet6
“It was therefore natural for me to imagine what his penis would be if he smeared it for my benefit with so fine a substance, with that precious cobweb, a tissue which I secretly called the veil of the palace.”
The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin7
“Sometimes she was an ancient Briton, one of that old Celtic tribe who painted themselves blue, or she dreamed of Mardi Gras, fabulous celebrations, the holiday makers behind incredible disguises, her own blue skin almost ordinary among the brilliant hues and shades of the gaudy, garish celebrators. Or was a huntress, a warrior, the bright blue cosmetics of her pigmentation there for war paint and terror, the honorable acceptable hues of murder. Or at court at masquerades, or gloved at beaux arts balls behind soft veils or holding a lorgnette against her eyes like a stiff, slim flag.”
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem8
“In twenty-four hours — it was only slightly more than that since Gilbert and I had parked at the curb outside the day before — my confusion at the Zendo’s significance had doubled and redoubled, become veiled in successive layers.”
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1. Look, I used the footnote before David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” OK, and I urge readers of my short story collection, “The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven,” to verify this by checking the copyright date and comparing it with Wallace’s novel.
2. The Old Testament uses the word “veil,” too, as when Moses comes down from visiting with the burning bush. But I think the Old Testament just encourages poor reading and interpreting habits among fundamentalists, so I’m leaving it out here in favor of the more interesting N.T.
3. Fox was the “founder” of the Society of Friends, that is, the Quakers. His journals are very strange and beautiful. He was often beaten and thrown in jail but he never seemed to let it stop him.
4. This passage, like most of the rest of the book, amounts to a deeply contradictory investigation of what identity is and how history erodes identity.
5. Many people think Chekhov is the greatest Russian writer of short stories, but I am not one of these people.
6. This quotation might be from “Miracle of the Rose,” I’m not sure. I can’t remember which one I was reading when I took down these lines, but both books are really good.
7. This was the first novel I read by Elkin, the great stylist of the experimental movement of the ’60s and ’70s. The story concerns a guy who takes a group of terminally ill children to Disney World, and, as such, it is incredibly funny.
8. Perhaps the least interesting usage of the word “veil” on this list, but, nonetheless, the passage comes from the most compassionate and engaging of recent novels by writers of my generation.
Veils, meanwhile, are about concealing and revealing, about knowing and not knowing, about grief, remorse and celebration (as when worn in the wedding ceremony), and, therefore, veils are about human consciousness. No wonder writers use the word so often.