Apposite Quotations



Knowledge is power.
by Francis Bacon (Baron Verulam, Viscount Saint Albans) ["For also knowledge itself is power"] [cf: "Information is power." by Arthur Sylvester]


Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy as dark as a buried Babylon.
by George Eliot [Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans]


We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It is said that knowledge is power, and the like. Methinks there is equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a higher sense: for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is often our positive ignorance; ignorance our negative knowledge.
by Henry David Thoreau


We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.
by B.F. Skinner


Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


It ain't what a man doesn't know that makes him a fool, but what he does know that ain't so!
by Josh Billings [Henry Wheeler Shaw] [also: "It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so." by Josh Billings; "Better know nothing than half know many things." by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; "It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong." by John Maynard Keynes]


Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
by Wm.P.A. "Will" Rogers


The admission of ignorance is the essential first step toward knowledge.
anonymous


Learning cannot inform invincible ignorance, neither can writing redeem intractable prejudice.
anonymous [probably derived from Thomas Aquinas]


Seriousness is stupidity sent to college.
by P.J. [Patrick Jake] O'Rourke


Besides the education which schools and colleges impart, there is still another kind necessary to completeness. It is that which has for its object a knowledge of polite literature. In the intercourse of polished society a young person will more frequently need an acquaintance with the creations of fancy than with the discoveries of science or the speculations of philosophy.
by Thomas Bulfinch


Don't forget that the only two things people read in a story are the first and last sentences. Give them blood in the eye on the first one.
by Herbert Bayard Swope


The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.
by Blaise Pascal


Each great story begins with a single word.
anonymous parody of the ancient Chinese maxim: "Every long journey begins with a first step."


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1, King James Version (KJV) Bible


In the beginning was the word, the word
That from the solid bases of the light
Abstracted all the letters of the void ....
by Dylan Marlais Thomas


The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Mark 13:31, Matthew 24:35, Young's Literal Translation (YLT) Bible


Words are the daughters of earth, and deeds are the sons of heaven.
adage from India recorded by Sir William Jones [also: "Words are men's daughters, but God's sons are things." by Samuel Madden (allegedly inserted into "Boulter's Monument" in 1745 by Samuel Johnson); "Words are women, deeds are men." by George Herbert]


Facts speak for themselves. Truth is unutterable. Words are for lies. Reality is fabulous enough that nothing is indisputable.
anonymous [cf: "A fact is like a sack-it won't stand up if it's empty. To make it stand up, first you have to put in it all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place. by Luigi Pirandello; "An empty bag cannot stand upright." by Benjamin Franklin (Richard Saunders)]


Many heroes lived before Agamemnon; but all are unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night, because they have no spirited chronicler.
by Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus]


Civilization is a great city to which every author has contributed a stone, and by which every reader redecorates a home or remodels the world.
paraphrase of "Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone." by Ralph Waldo Emerson


And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men built. And the Lord said, "Behold, the people are one and they have all one language, and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be withheld from them which they have imagined to do. Come, let Us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off building the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel [Confusion], because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
Genesis 11:1-9, 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) Bible


If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.
by Peter Handke


A man who tells secrets to stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers. Everyone takes what he wants or can from it, and thus changes it to his measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh of prejudice, some paint it with their own delight. A story must have some points of contact with the reader, to make him feel at home in it. Only then can he accept wonders.
by John Ernst Steinbeck [Winter of Our Discontent (1961)]


As is known to any teller of stories who eventually tries to put a few of them down in writing, the act of writing changes them greatly.
by Norman Maclean


"Well anyway, if ya hafta explain a story, it means your audience not be up to your standards no how."
by Gene Hackman & Daniel Lenihan [Wake of the Perdido Star (1999)]


The old stories must be retold to each new generation, with new words and updated settings, because narratives reveal a straight road where life presents many crooked paths. Evidence structures the perceived world, but narratives give meaning to the living world. All scientific data are liable to substantiation, but the details of most narratives are not susceptible to verification. The measure of logical attainment is demonstrable achievement, but the measure of artistic attainment is manifest spirituality. While facts can purify superstition, faith can purify idolatry; and Errors are only detectable in hindsight. We only discover that we've wandered away from the trail by looking back at the story line.
anonymous


Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.
Revelation 1:19, King James Version (KJV) Bible


The moving finger writes,
And having writ, moves on;
Nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back
To cancel half a line.
by Omar Khayyám


As good almost kill a man as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.
by John Milton


The Brahmins say that in their books there are many predictions of times in which it will rain. But press those books as strongly as you can, you can not get out of them a drop of water. So you can not get out of all the books that contain the best precepts the smallest good deed.
by Leo Tolstoy [Count Lev Nikolaevich]


Books nourish the soul, but you need nourishment for the body as well. One beauty about books is that when the world calls you away, everything remains suspended in place until you return.
by Elmer Kelton


There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry.
by Emily E. Dickinson


A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.
by Raymond Thornton Chandler


Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.
by Henry David Thoreau


The book which the reader now holds in his hands, from one end to the other, as a whole and in its details, whatever gaps, exceptions, or weaknesses it may contain, treats of the advance from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsity to truth, from darkness to daylight, from blind appetite to conscience, from decay to life, from bestiality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from limbo to God. Matter itself is the starting- point, and the point of arrival is the soul. Hydra at the beginning, an angel at the end.
by Victor Marie Hugo


Classic: A book which people praise and don't read.
by Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens]


... a book is something more than a locus of data, paper, glue, and ink. A book has supersensible power, and a great collection draws down a resonance endowing the reader of any book in it with special faculties of understanding.
by George Peabody


Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
by Henry David Thoreau


To read a newspaper is to refrain from reading something worth while. The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter.
by Aleister Crowley


It is said that truth comes from the mouths of fools and children: I wish every good mind which feels an inclination for satire would reflect that the finest satirist always has something of both in him.
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


Satire: An obsolete kind of literary composition in which the vices and follies of the author's enemies were expounded with imperfect tenderness. In this country, satire never had more than a sickly and uncertain existence, for the soul of it is wit, wherein we are dolefully deficient, the humor that we mistake for it, like all humor, being tolerant and sympathetic. Moreover, although Americans are "endowed by their Creator" with abundant vice and folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities, wherefore the satirist is popularly regarded as a soul-spirited knave, and his ever victim's outcry for codefendants evokes a national assent.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers....
The second thing, let's behead Lord Saye....
Thou [Lord Saye] hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school.
Whereas, before, our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be used, and, contrary to the King, his crown, and dignity, thou hast built a paper-mill....
It will be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear.
by William Shakespeare


But the nature of our civilized minds is so detached from the senses, even in the vulgar, by abstractions corresponding to all the abstract terms our languages abound in, and so refined by the art of writing, and as it were spiritualized by the use of numbers, because even the vulgar know how to count and reckon, that it is naturally beyond our power to form the vast image of this mistress called Sympathetic Nature.
by Giambattista Vico [para 378 bk 2 The New Science (1744; tr 1984)]


The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Nobody has any conscience about adding to the improbabilities of a marvelous tale.
by Nathaniel Hawthorne


All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you are finished reading one, you will feel that it all happened to you, and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.
by Ernest M. Hemingway


Every time a man unburdens his heart to a stranger he reaffirms the love that unites humanity.
by Germaine Greer


So it must be love that keeps the form alive ... the writer's love for the work. It has been said that jazz and the short story are the two American contributions to the world of art; and they do seem to have this one thing in common: both are engaged in by the practitioner primarily for the love of doing it. There's another link as well between the short story and jazz: both are exemplified by the extended riff on a clean and simple motif. What the novel is to the symphony, the short story is to jazz. Like the best jazz solos, what the best short stories have to offer is a sense of vibrant imagination at work within a tightly controlled setting. That's what turns the writers on ... and that's what maintains for the form a strong and knowledgeable readership. There is a joy in watching economy of gesture when performed by a real pro, whatever the art.
by Donald E. Westlake


Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
by W.H. Auden


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
by Francis Bacon


If some books are deemed most baneful and their sale forbid, how, then, with deadlier facts, not dreams of doting men? Those whom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, not books, should be forbid.
by Herman Melville


Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed.
by Dwight David Eisenhower


Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as liberty without freedom of speech.
by Silence Dogood [Benjamin Franklin (1722)]


Wisdom is wealth, and every good book is equivalent to a wise head — the head may die, but the book may live forever.
by Joseph Wheeler [Feb 1883 speech to U.S. House of Representatives on constructing the Library of Congress]


All men must die; it was their single common heritage. But a book need never die, and should not be killed. Books were the immortal part of man.
by Robert Anson Heinlein [also: "The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all." by William Dean Howells; "People die, but books never die." by Franklin Delano Roosevelt]


The crime of book purging is that it involves a rejection of the word. For the word is never absolute truth, but only man's frail and human effort to approach the truth. To reject the word is to reject the human search.
by Max Lerner


To a poet the mere making of a poem can seem to solve the problem of truth ... but only a problem of art is solved in poetry.
by Laura Riding


Nor do they trust their tongue alone,
But speak a language of their own;
Can read a nod, a shrug, a look,
Far better than a printed book;
Convey a libel in a frown,
And wink a reputation down.
by Jonathan ("Isaac Bickerstaff") Swift


As a poet there is only one political duty, and that is to defend one's language against corruption. When it is corrupted, people lose faith in what they hear and this leads to violence.
by W.H. Auden


We write frankly and freely, but then we "modify" before we print. This is what we now call "self-censorship".
by Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens]


Publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.
by Donald R.P. Marquis


Publication is the auction of the mind.
by Emily E. Dickinson


Publishers are demons, no doubt about it.
attributed to William James


Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; [strong] electric light the most efficient policeman.
by Louis D. Brandeis


A magazine or a newspaper is a shop. Each is an experiment and represents a new focus, a new ratio between commerce and intellect.
by John Jay Chapman


The hand that rules the press, the radio, the screen, and the far-spread magazine rules the country.
by Learned Hand


We live under a government of men and morning newspapers.
by Wendell Phillips [28 Jan 1852 speech]


[Television:] A medium, so called because it is neither rare nor well done.
by Ernie Kovacs


Because television can make so much money doing its worst, it often cannot afford to do its best.
by Fred W. Friendly


Most of the other provisions in the Bill of Rights protect specific liberties or specific rights of individuals .... In contrast, the free-press clause extends protection to an institution. The publishing business is, in short, the only organized private business that is given explicit constitutional protection.
by Potter Stewart


The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
by George Mason [Virginia Bill of Rights (12 June 1776)]


The liberty of the press is essential to the security of the state.
by John Adams [Free-Press Clause of Massachusetts Constitution (1780)]


Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press.
by James Madison


Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
by Thomas Jefferson


Where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.
by Winston L.S. Churchill


It is better to leave a few of its [the press's] noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.
by James Madison


The first duty of an editor is to gauge the sentiment of his readers, and then tell them what they like to believe .... His second duty is to see that nothing is said in the news items or editorials which may discountenance any claims made by his advertisers, discredit their standing or good faith, or expose any weakness or deception in any business venture that is or may become a valuable advertiser.
by Thorstein Veblen


Lickspittle: A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper. In his character of editor he is closely allied to the blackmailer by the tie of occasional identity; for in truth the lickspittle is only the blackmailer under another aspect, although the latter is frequently found as an independent species.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.... Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some way such as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the first, Truths. Second, Probabilities. Third, Possibilities. Fourth, Lies. The first chapter would be very short.
by Thomas Jefferson


Doctors bury their mistakes. Lawyers hang them. But journalists print theirs on the front page.
anonymous


For the most part our credentials simply stemmed from the fact that we were there. But we all had one thing in common: we were absolutely mesmerized by what was going on around us. None of the journalists whom I knew wanted to leave the war, ever. None of them felt that it was anything less than the most important event in their lives. I still don't fully understand why that may be. What is this fascination that roots firefighters in their tracks while three hundred foot flames twist out of a stand of spruce? Why do journalists (I've done this myself) crawl up to front lines, even though there's almost no information of any journalistic value there? It's tempting to draw some dreadful conclusion about the inherent voyeurism of humans, but I think that would be missing the point. People are drawn to those situations out of an utterly amoral sense of awe, that has nothing to do with their understanding of the larger tragedy. Awe is one of those human traits, like love or hate or fear, that overpower almost everything else we believe in ... at least for a little while. Some people experience awe when they are in the presence of what they understand to be God. Others experience it during a hurricane or a rocket attack. In a narrow sense, these situations are all the same. They completely override the concerns of our puny human lives.
by Sebastian Junger


Journalists are like barnacles. They can't do anything for themselves, so they attach themselves to others, and go along for the ride.
by James W. Huston


"Too bad [you can't quote me as a reporter]. Just for the hell of it, I'd like to see somebody try to get that simple, elementary, fact of life into the papers," he paused and snorted, "eh, nobody'd print it — afraid to."
by Raymond Thornton Chandler


Reporter: A writer who guesses his way to the truth, and dispels it with a tempest of words.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


You cannot hope to bribe or twist
(thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there's no occasion to.
by Humbert Wolfe


I am a journalist and, under the modern journalist's code of Olympian objectivity (and total purity of motive), I am absolved of responsibility. We journalists don't have to step on roaches. All we have to do is turn on the kitchen light and watch the critters scurry.
by P.J. [Patrick Jake] O'Rourke


I hesitate to say what the functions of the modern journalist may be, but I imagine that they do not exclude the intelligent anticipation of events before they occur.
by George Nathaniel Curzon


I deplore ... the putrid state into which the newspapers have passed .... It is, however, an evil for which there is no remedy.
by Thomas Jefferson


The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress. The square, overpopulation, the bourgeois, the bomb and the cocktail party are variously identified as sources of the grudge. There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and a modern satirical novel is born.
by Renata Adler


An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children.
by Benjamin Disraeli


Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It's like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backward trying — only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald


I hate the actor and audience business. An author should be in among the crowd, kicking their shins or cheering them on to some mischief or merriment.
by David Herbert Lawrence


There's no journalism more soul-endangering to write than journalism that aims to please.
by Sherman Alexie


Evidently there are plenty of people in journalism who have neither got what they liked nor quite grown to like what they get. They write pieces they do not much enjoy writing, for papers they totally despise, and the sad process ends by ruining their style and disintegrating their personality, two developments which in a writer cannot be separate, since his personality and style must progress or deteriorate together, like a married couple in a country where death is the only permissible divorce.
by Claud Cockburn


Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilirating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!
by Edna Ferber


Careful with your fingers. Don't touch writing. You don't know what it is to write. It's a crushing task. It bends your spine, blurs your eyesight, creases your stomach, and cracks your ribs.
anonymous [late Medieval manuscript]


Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.
by Olin Miller


He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him, he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak, he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income tax demand printed in red. Needless to say this person is a writer.
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.
by Ernest M. Hemingway


Composition is, for the most part, an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by necessity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amusements.
by Samuel Johnson


Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir.
by Emily E. Dickinson


Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, goddamn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive.
by Raymond Thornton Chandler


Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, "How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?" and avoid "How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?".
by James Grover Thurber


An editor is a craftsman and a teacher, instructing his writers in the craft of making something as shapely and harmonious as a fine book from the raw material, often from the seemingly themeless thoughts and insights and judgements of the writer's mind and pen.
by George F. Will


Proof of the efficacious deterrence of the retributive death penalty is the simple fact that, despite all manner of unwarranted provocations, I have not yet murdered any of the eminently deserving editors.
attributed to Thomas Sowell


[Editor:] A person employed on a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff and see to it that the chaff is printed.
by Elbert Hubbard [re: "Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search." by William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice act 1 sc 1 ln 115-8 (1595)]


The difference between burlesque and the newspapers is that the former never pretended to be performing a public service by exposure.
by I.F. Stone


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.
by A.J. Liebling


Only a fool expects the authorities to tell him what the news is.
by Russell Baker


All I know is just what I read in the newspapers.
by Wm.P.A. "Will" Rogers


People everywhere confuse What they read in the newspapers with news.
by A.J. Liebling


[Journalism:] The first rough draft of history.
by Philip L. Graham [Also cited as: "News is the first rough draft of history."; both of which have been inaccurately attributed to Ben C. Bradlee, who has credited his former boss with the precept, when addressing correspondents in London: "So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand."]


Afflict the comfortable; comfort the afflicted.
journalism maxim


In journalism it is simpler to sound off than it is to find out. It is more elegant to pontificate than it is to sweat.
by Harold Evans


One concept that [the journalist] had retained from [working on a newspaper] was that the story is never really the story — the story is just the doorway that lets you get inside to find and cover the real story, the story you want to cover.
by Donald E. Westlake


Most journalism is compiled by people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read.
paraphrase of "Most rock journalism is people ...." by Frank Zappa


It is the fate of those who dwell at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward. Amoung these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries.
by Samuel Johnson [from the same Preface to Dictionary of the English Language (1755): "Every other author may aspire to praise, the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few."]


How can I know what I mean until I've seen what I said?
by Edward Morgan Forster


The writer probably knows what he meant when he wrote a book, but he should immediately forget what he meant when he's written it.
by William G. Golding


Even in my own writings I cannot always recover the meaning of my former ideas; I know not what I meant to say, and often get into a regular heat, correcting and putting a new sense into it, having lost the first and better one. I do nothing but come and go. My judgement does not always forge straight ahead; it strays and wanders.
by Michel [Eyquem, Seigneur] de Montaigne


Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world — in order to set up a shadow world of "meanings".
by Susan Sontag


It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury;
Signifying nothing.
by William Shakespeare


We can say nothing but what hath been said. Our poets steal from Homer. Our story-dressers do as much; he that comes last is commonly best.
by Robert "Democritus Junior" Burton [re: "There is nothing said which has not been said before." by Terence (Publius Terentius Afer)]


Talking and writing are mutually consuming gifts — one must win over the other, for there cannot be action and at the same time contemplation.
by Ben Robertson


Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
by Robert C. Benchley


It is a good practice to leave a few things unsaid.
by Elbert Hubbard


Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
by George Eliot [Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans]


When you have nothing to say, say nothing.
by Charles Caleb Colton [also: "Those who have nothing to say chatter endlessly." Chinese proverb; "And believe me, I was very lousy yesterday. I had nothing to say, and, by God, I said it." by Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith]


Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.
by David Herbert Lawrence [cf: "He who knows the true Way, does not speak about it; he who is ever ready to speak about it, does not truly know the Way." by Lao-Tse; "Journalists write because they have nothing to say, and have something to say because they write." by Karl Kraus]


Writers who have nothing to say always strain for metaphors to say it in.
by Florence King (re: Parachutes & Kisses by Erica Jong) [cf: "I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add." by Gore Vidal]


Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses' necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man who solicits insurance!
by Dorothy Parker


Men would rather speak ill of themselves than say nothing of themselves at all.
by Duc Francois De La Rochefoucauld [cf: "To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves. Nothing is often a good thing to say, and always a clever thing to say." by Will Durant]


Even if you have nothing to write, write and say so.
by Marcus Tullius Cicero [also: "It is wisest to speak when you are spoken to. I will now endeavor to reply, at the risk of having nothing to say." by Henry David Thoreau; "There is nothing to write about, you say. Well, then, write and let me know just this, that there is nothing to write about; or tell me in the good old style {This comes to inform you that I am in a perfect state of health, hoping you are in the same.} if you are well. That's right. I am quite well." by Pliny the Younger]


It is no great art to say something briefly when, like Tacitus, one has something to say; when one has nothing to say, however, and none the less writes a whole book and makes truth ... into a liar — that I call an achievement.
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


This is a true story ... it just hasn't happened yet.
by Troon McAllister


In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.
by Ernest M. Hemingway


It's true that a man's reach should exceed his grasp. I can forgive the shortcomings of this composition because, by overreaching, it has implied what might have been. And that which is unsaid is a far better thing.
anonymous literary critic


We never say so much as when we do not quite know what we want to say. We need few words when we have something to say, but all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice when we have nothing to say and want desperately to say it.
by Eric Hoffer


Tzetze (or Tsetse) Fly: An African insect (Glossina morsitans) whose bite is commonly regarded as nature's most efficacious remedy for insomnia, though some patients prefer that of the American novelist (Mendax interminabilis).
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are these, "It might have been!"
by John Greenleaf Whittier [also: "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone." by Harriet Beecher Stowe]


I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.
by Umberto Eco


A poem should not mean
But be.
by Archibald Macleish


To read a poem is to hear it with our eyes;
To hear it is to see it with our ears.
by Octavio Paz


If you [poets] call painting "dumb poetry", then the painter may say of the poet that his art is "blind painting" ... consider which is the more grievous affliction: to be blind or dumb.
by Leonardo da Vinci


All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.
by William Wordsworth [also cited as `... emotion remembered in tranquillity.'; cf: "Humor ... is emotional chaos remembered in tranquillity." by James Thurber]


We must believe that "emotion recollected in tranquillity" is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not "recollected" and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is "tranquil" only in that it is a passive attending upon the event.
by T.S. Eliot


That which makes someone a good poet also makes them a poor soldier; but if the good soldier can survive his terrible education, then he will have also learned how to be a good poet or parent or priest.
anonymous


I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of beauty. Its sole arbiter is taste .... Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever with duty or with truth.
by Edgar Allan Poe


Do not depend upon the bard for an accurate history.
anonymous


A poet’s object is not to tell what actually happened but what could or would happen, either probably or inevitably .... For this reason, poetry is something more scientific and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths, while history gives particular facts.
by Aristotle


We are all familiar with the Aristotelian argument about the relation of poetry to action. Action, or praxis, is the world of events; and history, in the broadest sense, may be called a verbal imitation of action, or events put in the forms of words. The historian imitates action directly; he makes specific statements about what happened, and is judged by the truth of what he says. What really happened is the external model of his pattern of words, and he is judged by the adequacy with which his words reproduce that model. The poet, in dramas and epics at least, also imitates actions in words, like the historian. But the poet makes no specific statements of fact, and hence is not judged by the truth or falsehood of what he says. The poet has no external model for his imitation, and is judged by the integrity or consistency of his verbal structure. The reason is that he imitates the universal, not the particular; he is concerned not with what happened, but with what happens.
by Northrop Frye


He has lived heroic poetry, and he can, therefore, afford to talk simple prose.
by William Dean Howells [referring to a Madison Square Garden Concert Hall speech by Booker T. Washington on 4 Dec 1899]


Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
by T.S. Eliot


There are so many ways to ruin a poem it's quite amazing good ones ever get written.
by John Berryman


Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
by William Strunk


I have only made this [letter] longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
by Blaise Pascal


I get up in the morning with an idea for a three-volume novel and by nightfall it's a paragraph in my column.
by Donald R.P. Marquis


As I take up my pen I feel myself so full, so equal to my subject, and see my book so clearly before me in embryo, I would almost like to try to say it all in a single word.
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


It was one of those evenings when men feel that truth, goodness and beauty are one. In the morning, when they commit their discovery to paper, when others read it written there, it looks wholly ridiculous.
by Aldous L. Huxley


Plagiarism: A literary coincidence compounded of a discreditable priority and an honorable subsequence.
Plagiarize: To take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Most writers steal a good thing when they can.
by Barry Cornwall [Brian Waller Procter]


Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
by T.S. Eliot


If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; but if you steal from many, it's research.
attributed to Wilson Mizner


When we see a natural style we are quite amazed and delighted, because we expected to see an author and find a man.
by Blaise Pascal


Good style should be unnoticed, like that consummate skill which is seemingly natural and unpracticed, but this affective style, undetected by sensibilities, exists to support and sustain what is expressed through it.
anonymous


Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.
by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov


The discipline of writing about captivating the audience should be its own punishment, as the structure of writing about capturing the moment should be its own contradiction; but deceit has never impeded feckless scribblers.
anonymous


Write to the point: say immediately what you want to say most, even if it doesn't come first. There are three reasons for doing this. First, you will then have said it, even if nothing else gets said. Second, your readers will then have read it, even if they read no more. Third, having said it, you are likely to have to say something more, because you will have to explain and justify what you chose to say.
by Bill Stott


Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.
by Elie Eliezer Wiesel


A writer is not a craftsman, excising verbal dross and winnowing grammatical chaff in the manufacture of a published widget. An author is not an artist, assembling syntactic detritus and larding fecund allusions into a synthetic evocation of eclectic synergism. Rather, a wordsmith is a day-laborer in an idea factory, constructing cerebral indulgences and producing intellectual property.
anonymous


It is a [grammatical] rule up which we should not put.
by Winston L.S. Churchill


Somebody said that a man with bad grammar wasn't necessarily stupid, but a man without vocabulary couldn't appreciate anything subtler than a smack in the kisser.
by Robert Campbell (1991)


Rhetoric, all by itself, is too abstract; it needs punctuation.
by John D. MacDonald


Grammar, with its mixture of logical rule and arbitrary usage, proposes to a young mind a foretaste of what will be offered to him later on by law and ethics, those sciences of human conduct, and by all the systems wherein man has codified his instinctive experience.
by Marguerite Yourcenar


But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


Writing is not about the story line or scenario, which are merely some of the elements available in the composition. The results cannot be predicted from the ingredients, because what has been done is not as important as how it was done. Just as a bad cook can ruin a wonderful recipe, so a good writer can create a masterpiece with nominal props and meager resources, with uncommon labor and raw talent.
paraphrase of Sharyn McCrumb


There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
by Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith


I never see a pen but what I think of a snake.
by Nathan Bedford Forrest


Goose: A bird that supplies quills for writing. These, by some occult process of nature, are penetrated and suffused with various degrees of the bird's intellectual energies and emotional character, so that when inked and drawn mechanically across paper by a person called an "author", there results a very fair and accurate transcript of the fowl's thought and feeling. The difference in geese, as discovered by this ingenious method, is considerable: many are found to have only trivial and insignificant powers, but some are seen to be very great geese indeed.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
by Robert L. Frost


Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.
by Adlai Ewing Stevenson


Man does not live by bread alone, but principally by catchwords.
by Robert Louis Stevenson


News reports stand up as people, and people wither into editorials. Cliches walk around on two legs while men are having theirs shot off.
by Karl Kraus


Controversy: A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannon-ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


When words fail, war begins; and when dispute fails, words make peace.
paraphrase of "When words fail, wars begin. When wars finally end, we settle our disputes with words." by Wilford Funk


Logomachy: A war in which the weapons are words and the wounds are punctures in the swim-bladder of self-esteem — a kind of contest in which, the vanquished being unconscious of defeat, the victor is denied the reward of success.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


In a time of war the nation is always of one mind, eager to hear something good of themselves and ill of the enemy. At this time the task of news-writers is easy, they have nothing to do but to tell that a battle is expected, and afterwards that a battle has been fought, in which we and our friends, whether conquering or conquered, did all, and our enemies did nothing.
by Samuel Johnson


It took nine years, and a great depression, and two wars ending in defeat, and one surrender without war, to break my faith in the benign power of the press. Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing: a habit.
by Martha Gellhorn


Newsmen believe that news is a tacitly acknowledged fourth branch of the federal system. This is why most news about government sounds as if it were federally mandated — serious, bulky and blandly worthwhile, like a high-fiber diet set in type.
by P.J. [Patrick Jake] O'Rourke


Reading someone else's newspaper is like sleeping with someone else's wife. Nothing seems to be precisely in the right place, and when you find what you are looking for, it is not clear then how to respond to it.
by Malcolm Bradbury


Everything known before it happens; and headlines twice the size of the events.
by John Galsworthy


The heroes of obtrusiveness, people with whom no soldier would lie down in the trenches, though he has to submit to being interviewed by them, break into recently abandoned royal castles so that they can report, "We got there first!" It would be far less shameful to be paid for committing atrocities than for fabricating them.
by Karl Kraus


It is unfortunate to have views different from the rest of mankind. It secures abuse.
by Daniel Harvey Hill


A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing [by writing] is to inoculate the world with a virus of his disillusionment. No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in.
by Henry Miller


Often I think writing is a sheer paring away of oneself leaving always something thinner, barer, more meager.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald


In most cases a favorite writer is more with us in his book than he ever could have been in the flesh; since, being a writer, he is one who has studied and perfected this particular mode of personal incarnation, very likely to the detriment of any other. I should like as a matter of curiosity to see and hear for a moment the men whose works I admire; but I should hardly expect to find further intercourse particularly profitable.
by Charles Horton Cooley


I am no longer an artist, interested and curious. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it bum their lousy souls.
by Paul Nash


The men with the muckrakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck, and to look upward to the celestial crown above them .... If they gradually grow to feel that the whole world is nothing but muck, their power of usefulness is gone.
by Theodore Roosevelt


Their constant yelping about a free press means, with a few honorable exceptions, freedom to peddle scandal, crime, sex, sensationalism, hate, innuendo and the political and financial uses of propaganda. A newspaper is a business out to make money through advertising revenue. That is predicated on the circulation and you know what circulation depends on.
by Raymond Thornton Chandler


The more journalism I commit, and the more journalism I read and hear and view, the more convinced I am that beyond newspapers and magazines and broadcasting, a fourth medium retains its supremacy. Books are still the primary carriers of ideas. And it is still true that ideas not only have consequences, only ideas have large and lasting consequences.
by George F. Will


And I discovered to my great pleasure that this batch was literate — they had read books, actual books! They had all read one of the great books, and were willing to continue reading for the rest of their lives. They'd all been exposed to a worthy teacher back home in the public school system; and he had the conviction, amidst a nation floundering in the functional illiteracy of pre-chewed pulp and pre-digested pap featured by the mass media, to inspire them to exercise their mental muscles. It heartens me to know that here and there are little groups of youths who have caught the scent of curiosity — who know what an original idea tastes like — who appreciate the flavors of development. I'm gratified that they've learned that the written word is the only possible vehicle for transmitting a complex concept from mind to mind. By continually flexing the muscles in their heads they grow stronger, and will run the world one day. And they won't ever need to go around acting up or acting out, breaking in or breaking down in order to find or express themselves. A strong mind is a powerful tool that will not let itself be victimized by artificial boundaries and unreasonable restraints.
paraphrase of John D. MacDonald


Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
by Austin Phelps


Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
by Arthur Schopenhauer


Literature is my utopia.
by Helen A. Keller


A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.
by Joseph Conrad [Teodor Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski]


The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it.
by Elizabeth Drew


A literary work is any work of imaginative writing — prose, poetry, or drama — that is inherently more interesting — rich, complex, mysterious — than anything that could be said about it.
by James Hynes


Literature is the orchestration of platitudes.
by Thornton N. Wilder


The art of newspaper paragraphing is to stroke a platitude until it purrs like an epigram.
by Donald R.P. Marquis


He would stab his best friend for the sake of writing an epigram on his tombstone.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Ink: A villainous compound of tannogallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime. The properties of ink are peculiar and contradictory: it may be used to make reputations and unmake them; to blacken them and to make them white; but it is most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones of an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material. There are men called journalists who have established ink baths which some persons pay money to get into, others to get out of. Not infrequently it occurs that a person who has paid to get in pays twice as much to get out.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the gallon; because defending a good reputation can be almost as difficult as proving a negative proposition.
anonymous


It is harder to kill a whisper than even a shouted calumny.
by Mary Stewart


Words are easy to kill — they're being tortured and slaughtered all the time — but the ideas they represent are almost impossible to murder.
anonymous


The significance of language for the evolution of culture lies in this, that mankind set up in language a separate world beside the other world, a place it took to be so firmly set that, standing upon it, it could lift the rest of the world off its hinges and make itself master of it. To the extent that man has for long ages believed in the concepts and names of things as in aeternae veritates he has appropriated to himself that pride by which he raised himself above the animal: he really thought that in language he possessed knowledge of the world.
by Friedrich W. Nietzsche


Language may be adequate to express the ordinary conditions of life, but it cannot possibly express any of the conditions of so enormous a [natural phenomenon]. It would have been better if I had stuck by my original intention of not attempting a description.
by Jack London


The sound of the waterfall
has for a long time ceased,
yet with its name
we can hear it still.
by Fujiwara no Kinto [nb: an alternative translation of this traditional haiku is: Though the waterfall / Ceased its flowing long ago, / And its sound is stilled, / Yet, in name it ever flows, / And in fame may yet be heard.]


When you see a hen's egg, you already expect to hear a cock crow. When you see a sling, you are already expected to have broiled pigeon. I will say a few words to you at random, and do you listen at random?
by Chuang-Tzu


A language is a dialect that has an army and navy.
by Max Weinreich


We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


English spoken here. American understood.
anonymous [sign posted in an overseas emporium]


Nothing can be more depressing than to expose, naked to the light of thought, the hideous growth of argot. Indeed it is like a sort of repellent animal intended to dwell in darkness which has been dragged out of its cloaca. One seems to see a horned and living creature viciously struggling to be restored to the place where it belongs. One word is like a claw, another like a sightless and bleeding eye; and there are phrases which clutch like the pincers of a crab. And all of it is alive with the hideous vitality of things that have organized themselves amid disorganization.
by Victor Marie Hugo


What has a writer to be bombastic about? Whatever good a man may write is the consequence of accident, luck, or surprise, and nobody is more surprised than an honest writer when he makes a good phrase or says something truthful.
by Edward Dahlberg


There is, in writing, the constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident when finding that perfect word, that verbal delicacy by a painful search.
paraphrase of Henry Louis Mencken


He couldn't put this in words, of course, for words were tricky things and never meant exactly what they said; or worse, never said exactly what they said; or worse, never said exactly what was meant.
by Stephen Hunter


For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.
by Catherine Drinker Bowen


Because politicians make words mean everything, philosophers make words mean anything, and lawyers make words mean nothing; writers must make words mean something beyond themselves!
anonymous


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
by Lewis Carroll [Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]


The only chance for victory over the brainwash is the right of every man to have his ideas judged one at a time. You never get clarity as long as you have these packaged words, as long as a word is used by twenty-five people in twenty-five different ways. That seems to me to be the first fight, if there is going to be any intellect left.
by Ezra Pound


The word is not the thing, but only its referent; and it has only the meaning or power with which we imbue it. Words are nothing if they do not evoke reality; but words, at best, can only convey the significance of important parts — when their meaning is understood, they can be thrown away!
paraphrase of Frederick S. "Fritz" Perls


Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
Genesis 2:19-20, 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) Bible


What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
by William Shakespeare [cf: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." by Gertrude Stein (1913) referring to a painting by artist Sir Francis Rose in her Paris drawing room]


Should the work be interrupted by my death, then what is found can only be called a mass of conceptions not brought into form; but as these are open to endless misconceptions, they will doubtless give rise to a number of crude criticisms: for in these things, every one thinks, when he takes up his pen, that whatever comes into his head is worth saying and printing, and quite as incontrovertible as that twice two make four.
by Karl von Clausewitz


Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.
by E.M. Cioran


In our day the conventional element in literature is elaborately disguised by a law of copyright pretending that every work of art is an invention distinctive enough to be patented.
by Northrop Frye


Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.
by Henry James


I had seen so much of real suffering, of conflict, danger and death, that for years I could read neither romance or history, for nothing equalled what I had seen and known. All tales of war and carnage, every story of sorrow and suffering paled before the sad scenes of misery I knew of.
by Cornelia Peake McDonald [April 1865 diary entry]


Nothing changes more constantly than the past; for the past that influences our lives does not consist of what actually happened, but of what men believe happened.
by Gerald W. Johnson [cf: "If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death ... 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.'" by George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948)]


It's an unfortunate concomitant of the transition from orality to literacy that mankind's myths have displaced historic chronicles. There has never been only one perspective; and there have always been a multiplicity of interpretations. Initially, documentation verified a dubious reality which had been inadvertently created out of chaos. Subsequently, an authenticated reality has been creatively documented out of an inadvertent chaos. Personal experience no longer substantiates but now manipulates the varieties of truth. The new legends are more palatable than impartial reality, and an artificial ethos is presumed to be better than disbelief.
anonymous


There is nothing real in this [apocalyptic] story [about post-cataclysmic survival]; but everything in it is true.
attributed to R.E. Klein


The times are so peculiar now, so mediaeval so unreasonable that for the first time in a hundred years truth is really stranger than fiction. Any truth.
by Gertrude Stein


The most significant thing about writing is that it makes possible the detachment of affirmation from the speaker. Without writing, all speech is context-bound: in such conditions, the only way in which an affirmation can be endowed with special solemnity is by ritual emphasis, by an unusual and deliberately solemnized context, by a prescribed rigidity of manner. But once writing is available, an affirmation can be detached from context. The fact that it is so detached in turn constitutes a very special context of a radically new kind. In a sense, the transcendent is born at that point, for meaning now lives without speaker or listener. It also makes possible solemnity without emphasis, and respect for content rather than for context.
by Ernest Gellner


Fly-speck: The prototype of punctuation. It is observed by Garvinus that the systems of punctuation in use by the various literary nations depended originally upon the social habits and general diet of the flies infesting the several countries. These creatures, which have always been distinguished for a neighborly and companionable familiarity with authors, liberally or niggardly embellish the manuscripts in process of growth under the pen, according to their bodily habit, bringing out the sense of the work by a species of interpretation superior to, and independent of, the writer's powers. The "old masters" of literature — that is to say, the early writers whose work is so esteemed by later scribes and critics in the same language — never punctuated at all, but worked right along free-handed, without that abruption of the thought which comes from the use of points. (We observe the same thing in children to-day, whose usage in this particular is a striking and beautiful instance of the law that the infancy of individuals reproduces the methods and stages of development characterizing the infancy of races.) In the work of these primitive scribes all the punctuation is found, by the modern investigator with his optical instruments and chemical tests, to have been inserted by the writers' ingenious and serviceable collaborator, the common house-fly — Musca maledicta. In transcribing these ancient MSS, for the purpose of either making the work their own or preserving what they naturally regard as divine revelations, later writers reverently and accurately copy whatever marks they find upon the papyrus or parchment, to the unspeakable enhancement of the lucidity of the thought and value of the work. Writers contemporary with the copyists naturally avail themselves of the obvious advantages of these marks in their own work, and with such assistance as the flies of their own household may be willing to grant, frequently rival and sometimes surpass the older compositions, in respect at least of punctuation, which is no small glory. Fully to understand the important services that flies perform to literature it is only necessary to lay a page of some popular novelist alongside a saucer of cream-and-molasses in a sunny room and observe "how the wit brightens and the style refines" in accurate proportion to the duration of exposure.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


In the world of art, all borders are arbitrary, and all endings are contingent or artificial.
paraphrase of Susan Sontag


To note an artist's limitations is but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.
by Willa S. Cather


Nowadays three witty turns of phrase and a lie make a writer.
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.
by James Baldwin


Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness.
by Georges Joseph Christian Simenon


What an occupation! To sit and flay your fellow men and then offer their skins for sale and expect them to buy them.
by J. August Strindberg


Gentlemen, you must not mistake me. I admit that he is the sworn foe of our nation, and, if you will, of the whole human race. But, gentlemen, we must be just to our enemy. We must not forget that he once shot a bookseller.
by Thomas Campbell [excusing himself in proposing a toast to Napoleon at a literary dinner]


The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.
by George Sand [Amandine-Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant]


Let's face it, writing is hell.
by William Styron


A writer's modus operandi relies upon creative torment, emotional anxiety, mental cruelty, and physical abuse so as to achieve the coveted mark of distinction heralding talent: rejection by some of the finest and most exclusive publishers! Writers need to apply for an irrevocable letter of marque for reprisal on entrenched editors!
anonymous


The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.
by Robert C. Benchley


You must not suppose, because I am a man of letters, that I never tried to earn an honest living.
by George Bernard Shaw


If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.
by William Faulkner


I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.
by James A. Michener


It's the same for most fight guys; but that hasn't stopped me any more than not making money in writing has. Both are something you just do; and you feel grateful for being able to do them, even if both keep you broke, drive you crazy, and make you sick. Rational people don't think like that.
by F.X. Toole


All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?
by Ernest M. Hemingway


The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
by Samuel Johnson


Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand — a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods — or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.
by Willa S. Cather


The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
by Muriel Rukeyser


Humor is ordinarily individualistic, but comedy may be qualified. Wit is laughing at other people. Satire is laughing at the world. Cynicism is laughing at one's self.
paraphrase of "The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself." by James Thurber


If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.
by Quentin Crisp


Writing is conscience, scruple, and the farming of our ancestors.
by Edward Dahlberg


There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.
by Willa S. Cather


Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves — that's the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives — experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald


I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious.
by T.S. Eliot


Poetry is a search for the inexplicable.
by Wallace Stevens


We need not search for mystery or complexity, for life itself is inexplicable — poetry is one of the ways we celebrate it.
anonymous


Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement ... says heaven and earth in one word ... speaks of himself and his predicament as though for the first time. It has the virtue of being able to say twice as much as prose in half the time, and the drawback, if you do not give it your full attention, of seeming to say half as much in twice the time.
by Christopher Fry


When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and lustre have been given by the attrition of ages. Bring me the finest simile from the whole range of imaginative writing, and I will show you a single word which conveys a more profound, a more accurate, and a more eloquent analogy.
by Oliver Wendell Holmes


Lexicographer: A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods. For your lexicographer, having written his dictionary, comes to be considered "as one having authority", whereas his function is only to make a record, not to give a law. The natural servility of the human understanding having invested him with judicial power, surrenders its right of reason and submits itself to a chronicle as if it were a statue. Let the dictionary (for example) mark a good word as "obsolete" or "obsolescent" and few men thereafter venture to use it, whatever their need of it and however desirable its restoration to favor — whereby the process of improverishment is accelerated and speech decays. On the contrary, recognizing the truth that language must grow by innovation if it grow at all, makes new words and uses the old in an unfamiliar sense, has no following and is tartly reminded that "it isn't in the dictionary" — although down to the time of the first lexicographer (Heaven forgive him!) no author ever had used a word that was in the dictionary. In the golden prime and high noon of English speech; when from the lips of the great Elizabethans fell words that made their own meaning and carried it in their very sound; when a Shakespeare and a Bacon were possible, and the language now rapidly perishing at one end and slowly renewed at the other was in vigorous growth and hardy preservation — sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion — the lexicographer was a person unknown, the dictionary a creation which his Creator had not created him to create.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.
by John Maynard Keynes


All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
by G.K. Chesterton


Obsolete: No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attitude toward "obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.
by Raymond Thornton Chandler


Some yarns are spun with linen thread
And some are wove with verse
The latter lingers in your head
But does not fill your purse
by Trefor Morgan


If there's no money in poetry, neither is there poetry in money.
by Robert R. Graves


When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.
by John Fitzgerald Kennedy


Poetry, what is it? Just a voice, a bit of an eddy in the air, and gosh, what use would that be against machineguns?
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


Most people ignore most poetry
Because
Most poetry ignores most people.
by Adrian Mitchell


We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
by W.B. Yeats


Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.
by Plato


There is the view that poetry should improve your life. I think people confuse it with the Salvation Army.
by John Ashbery


The price of justice is eternal publicity.
by Arnold Bennett [corruption of "The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance." by John Philpot Curran; "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." by Wendell Phillips]


Luminary: One who throws light upon a subject; as an editor by not writing about it.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


The job of the press is to encourage debate, not to supply the public with information.
by Christopher Lasch


There is much to be said in favour of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By invariably discussing the unnecessary, it makes us understand what things are requisite for culture, and what are not.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?
by E.C. Bentley


We need not be theologians to see that we have shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman.
by Daniel J. Boorstin


Newspapers ... give us the bald, sordid, disgusting facts of life. They chronicle, with degrading avidity, the sins of the second-rate, and with the conscientiousness of the illiterate give us accurate and prosaic details of the doings of people of absolutely no interest whatsoever.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Let us not underrate the value of a fact; it will one day flower into a truth.
by Henry David Thoreau


There is no news in the truth, and no truth in the news.
anonymous


For truth there is no deadline.
by Heywood Broun


What appears in newspapers is often new but seldom true.
by Patrick Kavanagh


News, if unreported, has no impact. It might as well have not happened at all.
by Gay Talese


Journalists declare that: if something hasn't been reported, then it never happened. Politicians proclaim that: whatever happens can be made into something else. Historians state that: an exception cannot refute the mass of evidence. Philosophers remark that: a coherent system of lies can be as effective as truth. People say that: they never get it right anyway, so why not rip them off?!
anonymous


The most important service rendered by the press and the magazines is that of educating people to approach printed matter with distrust.
by Samuel Butler


Journalist: a person without any ideas but with an ability to express them; a writer whose skill is improved by a deadline: the more time he has, the worse he writes.
by Karl Kraus


It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the brickbat. They at once sought for the journalist, found him, developed him, and made him their industrious and well-paid servant. It is greatly to be regretted, for both their sakes.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Everyday that the pen reigns is fateful. The pen is indubitably mightier, because it sends the sword forth to do its bidding; then blames the sword for what no pen could accomplish, and takes credit for every hard won success!
anonymous


Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.
by Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton [also: "So far had the pen under the king the superiority over the sword ..." by Comte de Saint-Simon; "The pen worse than the sword." by Robert "Democritus Junior" Burton]


A bookseller is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller, surrounded by a thousand minds, all done up neatly in cardboard cases. Beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds ... all sorts and conditions. And there'll come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love ... and to the best of his ability, he satisfies them all. It's a great vocation ... immeasurably greater than the writer. A writer has to spin his work out of himself, and the effect upon his character is often disastrous. It inflates the ego. The bookseller sinks his own ego in the thousand different egos that he introduces one to the other. Moreover, his life is one of wide horizons. He deals in the stuff of eternity, and there's no death in a bookseller's shop. Plato and Jane Austen and Keats sit side by side behind his back. Shakespeare is on his right hand and Shelley on his left. Writers, from what I've seen of them, are a very queer lot; but booksellers are the salt of the earth.
by Elizabeth Goudge (1936)


Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.
by Janet Malcolm


The power of the journalist is great, but he is entitled neither to respect nor admiration because of that power unless it is used aright. He can do, and he often does, great good. He can do, and he often does, infinite mischief. All journalists, all writers, for the very reason that they appreciate the vast possibilities of their profession, should bear testimony against those who deeply discredit it.
by Theodore Roosevelt


To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it and read it are old women over their tea.
by Henry David Thoreau


The press today is an army with carefully organized weapons, the journalists its officers, the readers its soldiers. But, as in every army, the soldier obeys blindly, and the war aims and operating plans change without his knowledge. The reader neither knows nor is supposed to know the purposes for which he is used and the role he is to play. There is no more appalling caricature of freedom of thought. Formerly no one was allowed to think freely; now it is permitted, but no one is capable of it any more. Now people want to think only what they are supposed to want to think, and this they consider freedom.
by Oswald Spengler


In old days men had the rack. Now they have The Press.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
by Henry David Thoreau


Man invented paper to conveniently preserve and facilitate the communication of ideas. Some men have ignited spirits with it. Some have started fires with it. And some have started wars with it. It's the medium of treaty and decree, of concession and appeal, of testimony and litergy; but few have made more than hope with it.
anonymous


Your American professors, even those in cassocks, can shrivel the soul of the hardiest poet. They hate thought. They hate it because they are threatened by it. They form committees to break an idea upon the rack of discussion, murder it with a diagram, and bury it in a textbook.
by Andrew Jolly [A Time of Soldiers (1976)]


Ideas must circulate freely if they're to trigger new ones. The velocity of ideas is as important to culture and technology as the velocity of money is to the economy. Barriers inhibit exchange, but the exchange of goods and services past barricades, of manners and people across boundaries, introduces new ideas.
paraphrase of Michael Flynn


His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.
by William G. McAdoo [re: Warren G. Harding]


You can cage the singer but not the song.
by Harry Belafonte


Nothing is so galling to a people, not broken in from the birth, as a paternal or, in other words, a meddling government, a government which tells them what to read and say and eat and drink and wear.
by Thomas Babington, Baron Macaulay of Rothley


Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God.
by Franklin Delano Roosevelt


In a nominally egalitarian society the ideal situation (socially speaking) is one in which the members of the "wrong" groups have the freedom to engage in literature (or equally significant activities) and yet do not do so, thus proving that they can't. But, alas, give them the least real freedom and they will do it. The trick thus becomes to make the freedom as nominal a freedom as possible and then (since some of the so-and-so's will do it anyway) develop various strategies for ignoring, condemning, or belittling the artistic works that result. If properly done, these strategies result in a social situation in which the "wrong" people are (supposedly) free to commit literature, art, or whatever, but very few do, and those who do (it seems) do it badly, so we can all go home to lunch.
by Joanna Russ


I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the conscience of mankind.
by W.B. Yeats


While ancient arts developed with civilization, the modern forms were created entire. They could say everything before they had anything to say; and these artistic young savages could not be informed, because they already knew it all!
paraphrase of "A strange thing has happened — while all the other arts were born naked, this, the youngest, has been born fully-clothed. It can say everything before it has anything to say. It is as if the savage tribe...." by Adeline Virginia S. Woolf


There should be a law that no ordinary newspaper should be allowed to write about art. The harm they do by their foolish and random writing it would be impossible to overestimate — not to the artist but to the public .... Without them we would judge a man simply by his work; but at present the newspapers are trying hard to induce the public to judge a Sculptor, for instance, never by his statues but by the way he treats his wife; a painter by the amount of his income and a poet by the colour of his necktie.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


There is the production of superlative craftsmanship, and there is art for its own sake, but the objective of a writer is not to write as well as possible ... a writer's real job is to be read!
anonymous


Authors are told that the primary purpose of writing is publication; but that's like declaring the purpose of ingestion to be defecation! Don't these bourgeois conformists know that cooking is an art? ... whether the consumers have discriminating palates or not? ... whether the dishes are cast into the garbage or not? If one must sell food to the philistines to keep body and soul together, then any of the popular swills will serve. But if one wishes to educate a talent into a lifestyle, then eggs must be broken in an endless series of exquisitely intricate experiments. Writing can be an acquired taste or all consuming, but it usually devours its creator. The real purpose of writing is to nourish the spirit.
anonymous


Just as God sends corn to feed our bodies, so He sends books to feed our minds; and the farmer and the bookseller, who act as intermediaries, are the most blessed among men.
by Elizabeth Goudge (1936)


By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste.
by Alexis C.H.M.C. de Tocqueville


Already the writers are complaining that there is too much freedom. They need some pressure. The worse your daily life, the better your art. If you have to be careful because of oppression and censorship, this pressure produces diamonds.
by Tatyana Tolstaya


They use thought only to justify their injustices, and speech only to disguise their thoughts.
by Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire


Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.
by Lily Tomlin


The phrase-maker, the phrase-monger, the ready talker, however great his power, whose speech does not make for courage, sobriety, and right understanding, is simply a noxious element in the body politic, and it speaks ill for the public if he has influence over them. To admire the gift of oratory without regard to the moral quality behind the gift is to do wrong to the republic.
by Theodore Roosevelt


Writing is the continuation of politics by other means.
by Philippe Sollers


For the poet the credo or doctrine is not the point of arrival but is, on the contrary, the point of departure for the metaphysical journey.
by Joseph Brodsky


There is an incompatibility between literary creation and political activity.
by Mario Vargas Llosa


Literature does not exist in a vacuum. Writers as such have a definite social function exactly proportional to their ability as writers. This is their main use.
by Ezra L. Pound


If you have to write good before anyone will notice if you can write well, then you're not creating literature, because you're composing propaganda!
anonymous


Propaganda has a bad name, but its root meaning is simply to disseminate through a medium, and all writing therefore is propaganda for something. It's a seeding of the self in the consciousness of others.
by Elizabeth Drew


I have never known a novel that was good enough to be good in spite of its being adapted to the author's political views.
by Edith Wharton


The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature.
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.
by Graham Greene


Journalism is just a good way to convert enemies into cash.
paraphrase of "Journalism could be described as turning one's enemies into money." by Craig Brown


Writing fiction is just a good way to get paid for telling lies.
paraphrase of Donald E. Westlake


Every sentence that she has ever written has been a lie, including each preposition and conjunction, each article and auxiliary, each dot and tittle!
paraphrase of "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." by Mary Therese McCarthy referring to Lillian Florence Hellman


Romance: Fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of Things as They Are. In the novel the writer's thought is tethered to probability, as a domestic horse to the hitching-post, but in romance it ranges at will over the entire region of the imagination — free, lawless, immune to bit and rein. Your novelist is a poor creature, as Carlyle might say — a mere reporter. He may invent his characters and plot, but he must not imagine anything taking place that might not occur, albeit his entire narrative is candidly a lie. Why he imposes this hard condition on himself, and "drags at each remove a lengthening chain" of his own forging he can explain in ten thick volumes without illuminating by so much as a candle's ray the black profound of his own ignorance of the matter. There are great novels, for great writers have "laid waste their powers" to write them, but it remains true that far and away the most fascinating fiction that we have is "The Thousand and One Nights".
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Let him never touch a novel. They print beauty more charming than nature, and describe happiness that never exists. They will teach him to sigh after that which has no reality, to despise the little good that is granted us in this world and to expect more than is given.
by Robert E. Lee [in a letter to Mary Custis Lee about their son W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee]


A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


The agitator seizes the word. The artist is seized by it.
by Karl Kraus


Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.
by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn


Newsmen have a very short attention span. It is a prerequisite in the business. That is why the news accounts of almost anything makes sense to all ages up to the age of twelve. If one wishes to enjoy newspapers, it is wise to halt all intellectual development right at that age.
by John D. MacDonald (1967)


Newspapers are good for nothing, except to hash things up so nobody could unhash them.
by Samuel Dashiell Hammett


News reports don't change the world. Only facts change it, and those have already happened when we get the news.
by Friedrich Dürrenmatt


A great calamity ... is as old as the trilobites an hour after it has happened.
by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr


The greatest felony in the news business today is to be behind, or to miss a big story. So speed and quantity substitute for thoroughness and quality, for accuracy and context. The pressure to compete, the fear somebody else will make the splash first, creates a frenzied environment in which a blizzard of information is presented and serious questions may not be raised.
by Carl Bernstein


So much has already been written about everything that you can't find out anything about it.
by James Grover Thurber


The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.
by Thomas Jefferson


Imagination: A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


The written word endures.
anonymous [Litera scripta manet.]


The strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink.
ancient Chinese proverb


And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know.
by William Rose Benet


Bad art is a great deal worse than no art at all.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


One showing is worth a thousand tellings.
ancient Chinese proverb


We do not see nature as it is, but only as a consequence of the questions we put to it.
by Werner Karl Heisenberg


Understanding is nothing else than conception caused by speech.
by Thomas Hobbes


The word makes men free. Whoever cannot express himself is a slave. Speaking is an act of freedom. The word is freedom itself.
by Ludwig Feuerbach


Faction is stranger than fiction. If authors don't express some plausible aspect of reality or represent some conceivable variant of existence, then one more disservice or injustice has been perpetrated by such lies. Every time a lie is pandered to a gullible or indiscriminate audience as a more entertaining substitute for mundane reality, with a willing suspension of disbelief, then the possibility for authentic insight, the opportunity for genuine actualization, the potential for ultimate understanding is postponed, if not entirely prevented. Lies need more lies to reinforce their corruption. The truth is liberating ... there's no profit margin in freedom.
anonymous


Art is a lie that helps us discover the truth.
paraphrase of "We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies." by Pablo Picasso


For a creative writer, possession of the "truth" is less important than emotional sincerity.
by George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair]


Man's brain, enlarged fortuitously, invented words in an ambitious effort to learn how to think, only to have them usurped by his emotions; but we still try.
by Rex Stout


The highest cultural achievement of any nation, the arts not withstanding, is its language.
by Edward G. & Richard S. Gannin


Spartans, stoics, heroes, saints, and gods use a short and positive speech.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson ["The Superlative" lecture]


Art, it seems to me, should simplify ... finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole — so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page.
by Willa S. Cather


Much is preserved when little is written, but little is preserved when much is written.
anonymous


Everyone hears only what he understands.
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


It is not only true that the language we use puts words in our mouths, it also puts notions in our heads.
by Wendell Johnson


Communication demands linguistic conformity, and so it has been said that words are our masters; otherwise there would be no communication. Yet it has also been said that we are masters of words; otherwise there would be no poetry.
by Geneva Smitherman


Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.
by W.H. Auden


Have pity on the copy for the sake of the original, and always bear in mind when you see a translation that you are only looking at a feeble print of a great picture.
by Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire


Language most shows a man ... speak that I may see thee.
by Ben Johnson [may be paraphrased from "Speak so I may observe you, as I want to listen even with my eyes." by Socrates]


A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.
by Thomas Carlyle


If a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written.
by Samuel Johnson


It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


Backbite: To "speak of a man as you find him" when he can't find you.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


My belief in free speech is so profound that I am seldom tempted to deny it to the other fellow, nor do I make any attempt to differentiate between that other solo right and that other fellow wrong, for I am convinced that free speech is worth nothing unless it includes a full franchise to be foolish and even to be malicious.
by Henry Louis Mencken [My Life as Writer and Editor (1991)]


If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.
by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr


If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds.
by Thurgood Marshall


If writers are the kind of people who always think of the proper retort long after the appropriate time, and if the fine craft of expressive composition is not supposed to be a form of martial art, then the publication of cowardly monologues and other venomous diatribes is a deliberate constraint of access for rebuttal as a right of free speech!
anonymous


Slander-mongers and those who listen to slander, if I had my way, would all be strung up, the talkers by the tongue, the listeners by the ears.
by Titus Maccius Plautus


I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.
by Albert Camus


Biography is a very definite region bounded on the north by history, on the south by fiction, on the east by obituary, and on the west by tedium.
by Philip Guedalla


If the reviewing of books be ... "an ungentle craft", the making of them is, for the most part, a dishonest one — and that department of literature which ought to be entrusted to those only who are distinguished for their moral qualities is, not infrequently, in the hands of authors totally devoid of good taste, good feeling, and generous sentiment. The writers of Lives have, in our time, assumed a license not enjoyed by their more scrupulous predecessors — for they interweave the adventures of the living with the memoirs of the dead; and, pretending to portray the peculiarities which sometimes mark the man of genius, they invade the privacy and disturb the peace of his surviving associates.
by John Cam Hobhouse


The newspaper has debauched the American until he is a slavish, simpering, and angerless citizen; it has taught him to be a lump mass-man toward fraud, simony, murder, and lunacies more vile than those of Commodus or Caracalla.
by Edward Dahlberg


Journalism wishes to tell what it is that has happened everywhere as though the same things had happened for every man. Poetry wishes to say what it is like for any man to be himself in the presence of a particular occurrence as though only he were alone there.
by Archibald MacLeish


Formerly we used to canonise our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarise them. Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable.
by Oscar Wilde [Fingal O'Flahertie Wills]


If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.
by Benjamin Franklin


Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made. That is sad, until one recalls how many bad books the world may yet be spared because of the busyness of writers.
by Gore Vidal


You try to write, but you don't succeed. I respect and admire your failure. I know what you write. I can see it with half an eye. And there's one ingredient in it that shuts it out of the magazines: it's guts. And magazines have no use for that particular commodity. What they want is wish-wash and slush, and God knows they get it. But not from you.
by Jack London [Martin Eden (1909)]


If it's true that no gentleman is a hero to his valet, then certainly no writer is a genius to his typist.
by Nelson DeMille


Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.
by Adeline Virginia S. Woolf


Great writers arrive among us like new diseases — threatening, powerful, impatient for patients to pick up their virus, irresistible.
by Craig Raine


The only living works are those which have drained much of the author's own life into them.
by Samuel Butler


The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads to madness.
by Christopher Morley


The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.
by W.B. Yeats


Life is not a book. The people around us are not characters. The events which occupy us are not chapters. Our encounters are not scripted. There is no preface, no intermission, and no happy ending.
paraphrase of Joe Gores


When we talk about the writer's country we are liable to forget that no matter what particular country it is, it is inside as well as outside him .... The writer's value is lost, both to himself and to his country, as soon as he ceases to see that country as a part of himself, and to know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility, and this is not a virtue conspicuous in any national character.
by [Mary] Flannery O'Connor


I only knew that she was loveable in a way that no human could quite be, since being a creature of art, she had been created out of pure love. As I watched those rehearsals, I used to think a good deal, sometimes comically, sometimes sentimentally, about the relation of art to life. In writing [those stories], I destroyed a certain portion of my real past. I did this deliberately, because I preferred the simplified, more creditable, more exciting, fictitious past which I'd created to take its place. Indeed, it has now become hard for me to remember just how things really had happened. I only knew how I would liked them to have happened — that is to say, how I had made them happen in my stories. And so, gradually, the real past had disappeared, along with the real me of twenty years ago — only the me of the stories remained.
by Christopher Isherwood (1954)


"I wish," said Mr. [Fulke] Greville, "men would not pretend to write of what they cannot be masters of. Another country — it is impossible they can be judges; and they ought not to aim at it — for they have different sensations, are used to different laws, manners and things, and consequently are habituated to different thoughts and ideas — 'tis the same as if a cow was to write of a horse — or a horse of a cow — why they would proceed on quite different principles, and therefore certainly could be no judge of one another."
by Frances Burney (1768)


One of the chief privileges of man is to speak-up for the universe. ... you will be ready to write if first you can find the right friend to listen to your opening paragraph.
by Norman Maclean


Someone once said that an author who shows early drafts of his manuscript is like someone passing around samples of his sputum ... true enough, but someone's got to look at the stuff that's coughed up first.
by Nelson DeMille


I perceived that to express those impressions, to write that essential book, which is the only true one, a great writer does not, in the current meaning of the word, invent it, but, since it exists already in each one of us, interprets it. The duty and the task of a writer are those of an interpreter.
by Marcel Proust


A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
by Emily E. Dickinson


Great writers are the saints for the godless.
by Anita Brookner


In other words, the man had been far from a hack. I had underestimated his talents because I thought him a dunce; but then the creative juices have no relation to intelligence, personality, or character, do they?
by Lawrence Block


The writer is either a practising recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one; or both. Usually both.
by Susan Sontag


Writers and artists are not driven into early retirement by compulsory regulations, but by the more cruel and capricious judgement of public opinion. There is no appeal or redress for the miscarriages of a fickle audience.
anonymous


Posterity: An appellate court which reverses the judgment of a popular author's contemporaries, the appellant being his obscure competitor.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Oblivion: The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy.
by Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce


Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
by Ernest M. Hemingway


If you get mixed up with [the misrepresentation/exploitation of] writers, or even somebody like me who thinks she's a writer, that's the chance you take. They'll try to steal a part of your soul.
by Irwin Shaw


Like all writers, he measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned.
by Jorge Luis Borges


The writer may very well serve a movement of history as its mouthpiece, but he cannot of course create it.
by Karl Heinrich Marx


WE are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.
by Arthur O'Shaughnessy