Tag Archives: literary oddities

Voltaire on Stupidity and Etiquette

“To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.”

Voltaire

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

The Doubter’s Companion: Abasement

“Abasement: In a society of courtiers or corporatists, the question is not whether to abase or to be abased, but whether a favorable balance can be struck between the two.

Simple folk may have some difficulty mastering the skills involved, but the sophisticated innately understand how the pleasure of abasing others can be heightened by being abased themselves.

The illusion among the most skilled is that they can achieve ultimate pleasure through a type of ambition or drive, which they call competence. This causes them to rise higher, and so to win ever-greater power. But what is the value of this status in a highly structured society devoid of any particular purpose except the right, for a limited time, to give more orders than are received? Courtiers used to scurry around palace corridors with much the same illusion of importance.

When the time comes to retire from the functions of power, many collapse into a psychic crisis. They feel as if they have been ejected into a void. This is because society has not been rewarding them for their competence or their knowledge, but for their occupation of positions of power. Their very success has required a disembodied abasement of the individual. And when they leave power, the agreeable sense of purpose which it conveyed simply withers away.

Of course, power must be wielded or there is no civilization. But in a society so devoted to power and run by hierarchies of expertise, the elites are unconsciously addicted to an abstract form of sadomasochism. This may explain why success so often translates into triumphalism and constant complaints about the incompetence of others. The underlying assumption of most civilizations, including our own, is the exact opposite. Success is supposed to produce a flowering of modesty and concern for others.”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Write It Right: Decidedly for Very, or Certainly

Decidedly for Very, or Certainly. “It is decidedly cold.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

Peter Ustinov on Experts

“If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.”

Peter Ustinov

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007

Charles Schultz on Misanthropy

“I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”

Charles Schultz

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Dave Barry on Meetings

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.”

Dave Barry

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Write It Right: Individual

“Individual. As a noun, this word means something that cannot be considered as divided, a unit. But it is incorrect to call a man, woman, or child an individual, except with reference to mankind, to society, or to a class of persons. It will not do to say ‘An individual stood in the street,’ when no mention of allusion has been made, nor is going to be made, to some aggregate of individuals considered as a whole.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

Elbert Hubbard on Editors

“Editor: A person employed on a newspaper whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff and to see that the chaff is printed.”

Elbert Hubbard

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.

Rotten Reviews: A Moveable Feast

“Judging by this memoir, it would seem the Hemingway estate is prepared to dribble out some very small beer indeed in the name of the master. This book was apparently completed in Cuba in 1960 and, for all the good it is likely to do Hemingway’s reputation, it could very well have stayed there—permanently.”

Geoffrey Wagner, Commonweal

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.   

The Algonquin Wits: Edna Ferber’s Storied Riposte to Noel Coward

Miss Ferber, who was fond of wearing tailored suits, showed up at the Round Table one afternoon sporting a new suit similar to the one Noel Coward was wearing. ‘You look almost like a man,’ Coward said as he greeted her.

‘So,’ Miss Ferber replied, ‘do you.’”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.