Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wise guy responses to classic quotes

One way to keep your intellectual appetite whetted is to duel with famous wise guys from history. Each attributed quote is followed by my response. The plan is to prove that classic wisdom isn’t always classic. OK, so it’s a pugnacious little premise. I don’t care. It’s fun.

“My definition of a philosopher is of a man up in a balloon, with his family and friends holding the ropes which confine him to earth and trying to haul him down.” – Louisa May Alcott
“My definition of a drudge is one perpetually hauled to earth,” I told her. We’d clashed before. I deeply resented her habit of pouring tea onto my trousers.
“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” – Profirio Diaz
I asked Diaz, “Would Mexico’s lot be improved by adjacency to, say China?” The plain truth startled him. In tequila veritas, I shrugged.
“There is a Northwest Passage to the intellectual world.” – Laurence Stern
“And an exit that’s like one of those flume rides at a theme park,” I observed.
“The public be damned.” – William Henry Vanderbilt
Now look, Mr. V, I’m guessing that you don’t mean it … that you’re in a mood, that you’ll retract immediately, right? … What? ... Oh. Well same to you!
“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.” – Albert Camus
Camus was spouting nonsense. “That which makes no sense is almost impossible to refute,” I told him, illustrating with plot nuances from the Three Stooges whom Camus dismissed as irrelevant.
“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” – William Tecumseh Sherman
And, to make it more Shermanesque, if dragooned to the Inaugural Ball, I will not dance.
“What a horrible invention, the bourgeois, don’t you think?” Gustavo Flaubert
“What would you propose, Gustave – a nation of boulevardiers?” He was shocked at my prescience, having thought me a dolt, and hurried away surely to write Maupassant in whom he confided his intellectual crises.”
“I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.” – Samuel Johnson (1778)
That’s an insult, right? Because seriously Dr. Johnson, a lot of us Americans would pay to come and be insulted by the Great Dr. Johnson in a real London coffeehouse. Oh, and if the Germans ever give you guys any trouble, who you gonna call?
“I love creditable acquaintance; I love to be the worst of the company.” – Jonathan Swift
As do I. It becomes tedious: I smash a flagon of ale; Swift smashes two. I comport myself as a jester; Swift becomes a blithering idiot. Let it end.

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