Recent Commonplace Entries


“He [Pope Leo 1] also struck a form of deal with the (Christian) vandals in 455, so that although they comprehensively sacked and looted Rome for a fortnight there was comparatively little violence or destruction.” (Anne de Courcy, in review of Jessica Wärnberg’s City of Echoes: A New History of Rome, its Popes and its People, in the Spectator, August 26)

“Pournelle’s [Iron] Law [of Bureaucracy] states that ‘in any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals that bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence or are eliminated entirely’.” (Rory Sutherland in the Spectator, August 26)

Myths on ‘Kinship’

“A fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who also lives in India, Chatterji was fed xenophobic myths about Pakistan during her childhood. Only as a student in England did she realize that people across the border had similar customs and culinary habits, and that they all shared a kinship as fellow South Asians.” (Hirsh Sawhney in review of Joya Chatterji’s Shadows at Noon, in the TLS, September 1)

“While many South Asian immigrants face discrimination in the United States, those with Dalit ancestry — once deemed to be ‘untouchable’ from birth — say they must also overcome being ostracized by fellow South Asian immigrants who cling to a social stratification that dates back millenniums. That has occurred even though untouchability and caste-based discrimination have been outlawed in India and Nepal for decades.” (from report in NYT, September 10)

“If it hangs from the wall, it’s a painting. If it rests on the floor, it’s a sculpture. If it’s very big or very small, it’s conceptual. If it forms part of the wall, if it forms part of the floor, it’s architecture. If you have to buy a ticket, it’s modern. If you are already inside it and you have to pay to get out of it, it’s more modern. If you can be inside it without paying, it’s a trap. If it moves, it’s outmoded. If you have to look up, it’s religious. If you have to look down, it’s realistic. If it’s been sold, it’s site-specific. If, in order to see it, you have to pass through a metal detector, it’s public.” (from Ben Lerner’s Angle of Yaw, quoted by Marjorie Perloff in the TLS, September 1)

“It’s more that when fact and fiction are blended, both are undermined. We know rock’s historical record so well that when a novelist introduces a series of made-up names and incidents their world-building falls apart. It feels artificial.” (Jude Cook, in review of D. J. Taylor’s Flame Music: The True Story of Resurgam Records by One Who Was There, in Literary Review, September.)

“As the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, later mused: ‘His [Nixon’s] use of the CIA, the FBI, and the considerable powers of his own office to remain in the White House was considered in the Soviet Union at the time a fairly natural thing for the chief of state to do. Who cared if it was a breach of the Constitution?’ In Beijing, Mao wondered what ‘all the fuss’ was about.” (from Calder Walton’s Spies, p 331)

We??  “In fact, Geertz described culture – accurately, in my opinion – as the name we give to the common ways we all make sense of each other, the way we infer what is going on the social world and what we learn from that in order to succeed. All people are in effect anthropologists, figuring out what’s meaningful and why that meaning matters. We who are anthropologists proper just make second- and third-order interpretations on top of that. We write scratch notes, then fieldnotes, then draft upon draft. At one point Geertz compares anthropologists to people who strain to read over the shoulders of the people they are trying to understand. It is a brilliant description of what ethnographers do. It captures something deep about how fieldwork changes people – how they become able to hold in their minds very different moral understandings and social commitments.” (T. M. Lurhmann, in article on Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures, ‘fifty years on’, in TLS, September 8)

“You can know more than you can ever prove.” (Richard Feynman, in lecture at California Institute of Technology, as recalled by Marcus Chown in Prospect, October)

“Ultimately, galaxies are less like machines and more like animals – loosely understandable, rewarding to study, but only partially predictable. Accepting this requires a shift in perspective, but it makes our vision of the universe all the richer.” (Dr. Andrew Pontzen in The Universe in a Box: Simulations and the Quest to Code the Cosmos, quoted by Dennis Overbye in the NYT, September 12)

“Clamping the past on to the present, turning history and art into exact topography, makes no appeal to me; I do not care where the battle was fought or the queen slept, nor out of what window the poet looked; but a landscape rich in these vague associations – some of them without a name – gives me deep pleasure, and I could cry out at the lovely thickness of life, as different now from ordinary existence as plum pudding is from porridge.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 35)

“ . . . most of the audience consisted of communists, who stolidly sang their dreary hymn the International. (I think it was that. And why is it always ‘the masses’? Who cares about masses? I wouldn’t raise a finger for ‘the masses’. Men, women and children – but not masses.) (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 43)

“But for my part, I like life and art to be neither Birmingham nor Burne-Jones, but to travel on the honest roads that march between the deacons in counting-houses, on the one side, and the drooping maidens in hot-houses on the other. In fact I like life and art to have much more in common with that other school of painting so well represented here, that of the good old English wataer-colourists, who, whatever their private lives may have been, always impress me as being the happiest set of men who ever lived in this country.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 82)

“All I ask is that they should not pretend to be solemnly doing their duty when in reality they are indulging and enjoying themselves. The fox-hunter who begins mumbling excuses, who tells you that he hunts to rid the countryside of foxes, that hunting is valuable because it improves the breed of horses (i.e. hunters), is a contemptible fellow. But I am prepared to respect the hunting man who looks you straight in the eye and declares in downright fashion: ‘I hunt because like it. Hunting’s the most glorious sport in the world, and I live for it. It may be extravagant, cruel, antisocial, anything you like, but I don’t give a damn. And as long as society allows me to hunt, I shall hunt. Halloo!’ But I have not met him yet.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 107)

“Behind all the new movements of this age, nationalistic, fascistic, communistic, has been more than a suspicion of the mental attitude of a gang of small-town louts ready to throw a brick at the nearest stranger.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 141)

“Bluntly, the position is this: the good old-fashioned English Sunday – the Sabbath, as it is called by a great many people who do not seem to realis, first, that they are not Jews, and second, that anyhow they are a day out in their calculations -is still being imposed upon large numbers of people, especially younger people, who no longer want the old-fashioned Sunday, and more than they want the good old-fashioned English side-whiskers, thick underclothing, or heavy meals.. It is imposed on them legally and by force, not by mere suggestion; and the reason that the imposition is still successful is that in most provincial towns the authority is largely in the hands of elderly men who are not in sympathy with the desires of newer generations.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 158)

“There is no escape. We may be under fifty different national flags, but we are compelled to serve now under one economic flag. We do not know who designed it and ran it up, but there it is, and the more often we try to desert from it the more brutally we shall be starved into submission.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 227)

“His Communism is not a reasoned alternative to a social machine that is wobbling and running down, is not a transition from an obviously incompetent and unjust system to an order of society that embodies our ideas of competence and justice: it is the entrance into a Human Paradise and anew Golden Age, from which, by some mysterious means, all the selfish wickedness of the present world will be banished. Nobody could be more cynical than he is about elected persons and men in authority here and now, but he has no difficulty in persuading himself that in a Communist England all elected persons and men in authority would acquire a new mystical virtue.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 246)

“All over the world the shutters are being closed, the blue pencils are being sharpened, the gags and seals and chains and warrants for summary arrest are being brought out. Yet there is some liberty still in England. Milton could be living at this hour. A good number of my fellow-authors who are forever sneering at liberal democracy have still sense enough to keep within its tolerant boundaries, and do not venture into those admired territories where they would soon find themselves kicked about by uniformed hooligans or shoved into a gaol that new nothing of habeas corpus.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 333)

“What is protested against as a crushing tyranny in one country is tolerated as a necessity in another. Some of my friends rage against the absence of liberty in Italy and Germany but quite overlook its absence in Russia. We English do not let our imaginations travel as far as India.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 333)

“I never meet members of that House without feeling that they simply belong to a rather amusing, rowdy club in Westminster. I have dined at the same table with prominent Tory and Labour politicians, and found that they had far, far more in common with one another than they had with me, being members of the same club.” (J. B. Priestley, in English Journey, p 334)

“We know rock’s historical record so well that when a novelist introduces a series of made-up names and incidents their world-building falls apart.” (Jude Cook in review of D. J. Taylor’s Flame Music: The True Story of Resurgam Records by One Who Was There, in Literary Review, September)

3 Responses to Recent Commonplace Entries

  1. Pingback: On Privacy and Publicity | Coldspur

  2. Michael

    Not sure where to find on the map “his . . . redbrick house at Purely with its back-garden tennis-court”. Just south of Corydon, perhaps? And a few other typos this month, which are I believe abhorred by you.

    • coldspur

      Thank you, Michael. That damned autocorrect feature, I am sure. I have rebuked my Chief Editor, Thelma. But I am responsible: the buck stops here.

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