[Pauline] Kael never gave anyone credit for good intentions. “Art,” as she put it back in 1956, “perhaps unfortunately, is not the sphere of good intentions.” She wasn’t interested in abstractions like “social significance” or “the body of work.” She had to be turned on all over again each time. Her favorite analogy for the movie experience got seriously overworked, and was lampooned as a result, but it ddoes have the virtue of simplicity: a movie, for her, was either good sex or bad sex. For the quality of sex doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the glamour of the partner. The best-looking guy in the room may be the lousiest lover—which is why nothing irritated Kael more than a well-dressed movie that didn’t perform. “If a lady says, ‘That man don’t pleasure me,’ ” she explained to the readers of Holiday in 1966, “that’s it. There are some areas in which we can still decide for ourselves.” She thought that people who claimed to enjoy 2001: A Space Odyssey more than The Thomas Crown Affair were either lying or were guilty of sex-in-the-head. There were a lot of people like that around before 1967. “What did she lose at the movies?” asked a puzzled Dwght Macdonald when he reviewed I Lost It at the Movies, in 1965. Case in point.
Japan’s biological weapons program was born in the 1930’s, in part because Japanese officials were impressed that germ warfare had been banned by the Geneva Convention of 1925. If it was so awful that it had to be banned under international law, the officers reasoned, it must make a great weapon.
(Source: The New York Times)
The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe—that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power, and hence a fraud.
—H. L. Mencken, “The Iconoclast”
“[Clarence Darrow’s] almost insane desire is to save life.”
— Erskine Wood, one of Darrow’s closest friends
Here’s Clarence Darrow in the Leopold and Loeb trial (the bold emphasis is mine):
Now, I must say a word more and then I will leave this with you where I should have left it long ago. None of us are unmindful of the public; courts are not, and juries are not. We placed our fate in the hands of a trained court, thinking that he would be more mindful and considerate than a jury. I cannot say how people feel. I have stood here for three months as one might stand at the ocean trying to sweep back the tide. I hope the seas are subsiding and the wind is falling and I believe they are, but I wish to make no false pretense to this court. The easy thing and the popular thing to do is to hang my clients. I know it. Men and women who do not think will applaud. The cruel and the thoughtless will approve. It will be easy today; but in Chicago, and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land, more and more fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding and asking questions not only about these poor boys, but about their own,—these will join in no acclaim at the death of my clients. These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more. But, your Honor, what they shall ask may not count. I know the easy way.
I know your Honor stands between he future and the past. I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past. In doing it you are making it harder for every other boy who in ignorance and darkness must grope his way through the mazes which only childhood knows. In doing it you will make it harder for unborn children. You may save them and make it easier for every child that some time may stand where these boys stand. You will make it easier for every human being with an aspiration and a vision and a hope and a fate. I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgement and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.
I feel that I should apologize for the length of time I have taken. This case may not be as important as I think it is, and I am sure I do not need to tell this court, or to tell my friends that I would fight just as hard for the poor as for the rich. If I should succeed in saving these boys’ lives and do nothing for the progress of the law, I should feel sad, indeed. If I can succeed, my greatest reward and my greatest hope will be that I have done something for the tens of thousands of other boys, for the countless unfortunates who must tread the same road in blind childhood that these poor boys have trod,—that I have done something to help human understanding, to temper justice with mercy, to overcome hate with love. I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all:
“So I be written in the Book of Love
I do not care about that Book above.
Erase my name or write it as you will,
So I be written in the book of Love.”
Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is The Catcher in the Rye on speed: the lost weekend of a disaffected loser who tells his story in a mordant style that is addictively appealing to adolescents with a deep and unspecified grudge against life.
Once you understand the target, the thematics make sense. Sexual prowess is part of the Thompson mystique, for example, but the world of his writing is almost entirely male, and sex itself is rarely more than a vague, adult horror; for sex beyond mere bravado is a subject that makes most teenage boys nervous. A vast supply of drugs of every genre and description accompany the Thompson persona and maintain him in a permanent state of dementia; but the drugs have all the verisimilitude of a 14-year-old’s secret spy kit: these grown-ups don’t realize that the person they are talking to is completely out of his mind on dangerous chemicals. The fear and loathing in Thompson’s writing is simply Holden Caulfield’s fear of growing up—a fear that, in Thompson’s case as in Salinger’s, is particularly convincing to younger readers because it so clearly runs from the books straight back to the writer himself.
— Louis Menand, “Life in the Stone Age”
His specialty is not, in this critic’s opinion, logic. You can take him up to the peak of a syllogism, shove him gently down its slope, and before your eyes he will loop-the-loop. His enemy is Euclid, and Euclid has never been so insecure.
—William F. Buckley Jr., referring to Murray Kempton
The writer who defines his audience by its limitations is indulging in the unforgivable arrogance. The writer must define his audence by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them.
—Lionel Trilling, “The Function of the Little Magazine”
If a new or heterodox idea is worth anything at all it is worth a forceful overstatement [because that] is one of the conditions of its being taken seriously.
—Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians
Tom Bissell on watching the creators of sitcom Mike & Molly burst into laughing fits as they shoot a scene:
“These men had seen thousands of sitcom rehearsals between them. Hearing them laugh at such easy slapstick felt like encountering Henry Ford, near the end of his career, whistling in awe as another Model T rolled off his assembly line.”