Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Minority Report (4). HL Mencken

Minority Report: HL Mencken’s Notebooks (4). 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:

“Human beings never welcome the news that something they have long cherished is untrue: they almost always reply to that news by reviling its promulgator.” p. 65.

“It was not until skepticism arose in the world that genuine intelligence dawned.” p. 67.

“People soon find by experience that the ecstasy of sex, like any other powerful emotion, is self-limiting, and that after it has passed off they are substantially unchanged.” p. 68.

“…the average man simply spends his leisure as a dog spends it.” p. 70.

“The relativity of moral ideas is proved anew every time there is a war.” p. 72.

“Men are the only animals who devote themselves assiduously to making one another unhappy.” p. 76.

“There are Englishmen, of course, who pretend to friendliness for the United States, but it always turns out on brief investigation, that they are trying to sell something.” p. 76.

“The only cure for contempt is countercontempt.” p. 77.

“Every rebel believes that he is bringing in a new day that will last.” p. 78.

“The literature of the world is not written by…joiners.” p. 80.

“Literature is the exclusive product of independent men" [and women].

“Can the United States ever become genuinely civilized?” p. 81.

To be continued.

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