Friday, July 24, 2009

Minority Report (2). HL Mencken

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (2). 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:

“Into those writings, if he lives long enough, he [the writer] gradually empties all his fears and hatreds and prejudices—all his vain regrets and broken hopes—all his sufferings as a man, and all the special sufferings that go with his trade.” p. 20.

“The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues.” p. 20.

“…even in the best society, manners are immensely important.” p. 21.

“All poetry is simply an escape from reality.” p. 22.

“The five-day week…has given…more time to listen to the radio and look at movies. No sign whatever that any considerable number of the underprivileged have put their new leisure to profitable use. Just as stupid as they were before they had it. Some reason to believe that they are more stupid.” p. 22.

“It seems to be inevitable for all men, after they are put in positions of authority, to exercise it in a brutal and inequitable manner.” p. 23.

“The moral bully is the worst of all; Puritanism is completely merciless.” p. 23.

“…men delight in work because there is a sense of relief and pleasure in getting something done…offers an escape from boredom…. Nothing is harder to do than nothing.” p. 24.

“God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable; God will set them above their betters.” p. 24.

“…what men value in this world is not rights but privileges.” p. 25.

“The Russian system collides with certain irremovable facts of human nature.” p. 26.

“The exercise of free speech must inevitably benefit fools quite as much as sensible men….” p. 27.

“[Intellectuals] believed as a cardinal article of faith that there was a remedy at hand for every conceivable public ill….”p. 28.

To be continued.

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