Thursday, July 23, 2009

Minority Report (1). Mencken.

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (1). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1956.

Why read it? One of the most celebrated curmudgeons in American history. Mencken writes in half-truths. He’s half wrong, but he is also half right. His style jolts the reader. He will make you think. The topics are random, from a collection of ideas that had gathered dust over the years but which he had never developed into full-blown essays. Reading these quotes again, I am thinking of the irreverence of the television show, All in the Family. Mencken might be a great Archie Bunker, if Archie Bunker could write.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” p. 3.

“A dull, dark depressing day in winter: the whole world looks like a Methodist church at Wednesday night prayer meeting.” p. 3.

“The astounding thing about marriage is not that it so often goes to smash, but that it so often endures.” p. 3.

[In favor of sterilization of criminals]: “Even if it is argued that their criminality is thus the product of environment rather than of heredity, it follows that the environment they themselves provide for children is very likely to produce more criminals.” p. 7.

“What they [average people] mistake for thought is simply repetition of what they have heard.” p. 10.

“Human life is basically a comedy.” p. 11.

“To fight seems to be as natural to man as to eat.” p. 12.

“It is what men esteem that determines their conduct.” p. 15.

“No one can ever really avoid [doing] what he holds to be evil.” p. 17.

“The Catholic is fortunate in the fact that the sinner can go to a priest and get rid of his sense of guilt.” p. 17.

“…the only sort of man who is really worth while…the man who practices some useful trade in a competent manner, makes a decent living at it, pays his own way and asks only to be let alone.” p. 17.

“[The writer] must plod his way through many days when writing is impossible altogether—days of doldrums, of dead centers, of utter mental collapse.” p. 19.

To be continued.

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