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erasmus-folly
“Dame Folly Speaks” by Fritz Eichenberg

When it comes to marching many do not know
That their enemy is marching at their head.
The voice which gives them their orders
Is their enemy’s voice and
The man who speaks of the enemy
Is the enemy himself.

– Bertolt Brecht, War Primer (1955)

I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.

– Susan Sontag, “The Art of Fiction No. 143,” The Paris Review (No. 137, Winter 1995)

“One of the greatest dangers of the internet, noted by Daniel Kahneman in his valuable book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), arises from the fact that ‘people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.'”

“Readers who have not already done so must rid themselves of notions that women’s politics are always kinder, gentler, and less racist than men’s.”

Geoff Dyer: “My greatest achievement as a writer is undoubtedly the highly refined autocorrect settings on my laptop.”

Taste has become so debauched in the thirty years I’ve been writing that now simply to defend the idea of seriousness has become an adversarial act. Just to be serious or to care about things in an ardent, disinterested way is becoming incomprehensible to most people. Perhaps only those who were born in the 1930s—and maybe a few stragglers—are going to understand what it means to talk about art as opposed to art projects. Or artists as opposed to celebrities.

– Susan Sontag, “The Art of Fiction No. 143,” The Paris Review (No. 137, Winter 1995)

How did the nation’s home-dwellers, whether homemakers or not, spend their free time? Not on the whole in reading, let alone self-improving reading. A Mass-Observation survey in the summer of 1947, carried out among almost a thousand Tottenham residents, revealed that ‘“reading” was given as the favourite hobby by three in ten of the middle class, by two in ten of the skilled working class, and by one in ten of the unskilled’. Almost half the sample said they never read books at all, but only one in ten went without reading a daily paper (the Daily Mirror, the News Chronicle, the Daily Herald and the Daily Express being the most popular), and a mere one in 20 did not read a Sunday paper (with three out of five favouring the News of the World).

– David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (2007)

Enid Palmer was in her late 20s when in April 1948 – after military nursing service in India and Burma followed by a lengthy stay with her parents in Kenya – she disembarked at Liverpool and caught the train to London. […] ‘England’s countryside is beautiful,’ she wrote, ‘but there are too many restrictions – everything is crowded & there are queues everywhere.’ And: ‘Life is narrow and bound by documents.’ And again: ‘There is one standard topic of conversation in England – “coupons”, “food”, “clothes”.’ She was also rather dismayed by the lack of hygiene, and one day in London, finding herself near Victoria station, she did the enterprising thing:

I found a public Baths building – after queuing for an hour got a good hot bath for 6d. It was most enjoyable as it was 6 days since I had had one. They are short of coalite here. Today Uncle George said, ‘You may have a bath today’. I am afraid he runs this house. I was rather amused at being told when I may have a bath. Nobody else seems to have a bath except Uncle George who has one on Sunday night.

– David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (2007)

“If you want to get back at somebody you consider your enemy, give them a column in the New York Times. Because over time all of their weaknesses and faults are going to become glaringly obvious.”

Is this the most successful sound in television history?

“By 1961, fully one-sixth of the population of Ireland was living in Britain. […] Wills describes an Irish missionary priest who was asked by a family to check on their emigrant daughter, who gossips claimed had been led astray. He describes what happened when he rang her doorbell: Beside her stood a little mite of perhaps three years, with a ribbon in her hair. The girl admitted that she was married in the registry. ‘Is that little girl yours?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What’s her name?’ ‘Fatima.’ ‘That’s a nice Catholic name.’ ‘Not at all; it’s the name of the Prophet’s daughter.’”

Amit Chaudhuri: “‘To escape the Eiffel Tower,’ Maupassant suggested, ‘you have to go inside it.’ Similarly, the main reason for a novelist wanting to win the Booker prize is to no longer be under any obligation to win it, and to be able to get on with their job: writing, and thinking about writing.”

‘Programmes must at all cost be kept free of crudities, coarseness and innuendo,’ insisted the BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide For Writers & Producers (generally known as ‘The Green Book’), a long-lived document assembled and taking force during the second half of 1948. ‘Humour must be clean and untainted directly or by association with vulgarity and suggestiveness. Music hall, stage, and to a lesser degree, screen standards, are not suitable to broadcasting . . . There can be no compromise with doubtful material. It must be cut.’ The following were the subject of ‘an absolute ban’:

Jokes about –

Lavatories

Effeminacy in men

Immorality of any kind

Suggestive references to –

Honeymoon couples

Chambermaids

Fig leaves

Prostitution

Ladies’ underwear, e.g. winter draws on

Animal habits, e.g. rabbits

Lodgers

Commercial travellers

Extreme care should be taken in dealing with references to or jokes about –

Pre-natal influences (e.g. ‘His mother was frightened by a donkey’)

Marital infidelity

Good taste and decency are the obvious governing considerations.

The vulgar use of such words as ‘basket’ must also be avoided.

Religion, politics and physical infirmities were all heavily restricted areas, though ‘references to and jokes about drink are allowed in strict moderation so long as they can really be justified on entertainment grounds’. As for expletives, ‘they have no place at all in light entertainment and all such words as God, Good God, My God, Blast, Hell, Damn, Bloody, Gorblimey, Ruddy, etc, etc, should be deleted from scripts and innocuous expressions substituted’.

– David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (2007)

A comparative sociological study of East and West Germans conducted after reunification in 1990 found that Eastern women had twice as many orgasms as Western women.

“Never yuck on someone else’s yum.”

“Here is a fascinating conundrum: Freud, the creator of a scientifically delegitimized blueprint of the human mind and of a largely discontinued psychotherapeutic discipline, retains the cultural capital of history’s greatest playwright and the erstwhile Son of God.”

While someone who has a gay identity is doing more than simply acknowledging the fact that he has homosexual desires, and someone who has an identity as a black person, identifying with his or her African American identity, is doing more than simply acknowledging an African ancestry, it is nevertheless true that they are responding to a fact (about desire or ancestry) that is independent of their choices, a fact that comes, so to speak, from outside the self.

– Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity (2005)

The names are excellent—an atmosphere of legendary melody spread over the land. Older than all epics and histories which clothe a nation, this undershirt sits close to the body. What history too, and what stores of primitive and savage observation it enfolds! Cambridge is the bridge of the Cam; Sheffield the field of the river Sheaf; Leicester the castra, or camp, of the Lear, or Leir (now Soar); Rochdale, of the Roch; Exeter or Excester, the castra of the Ex; Exmouth, Dartmouth, Sid-mouth, Teignmouth, the mouths of the Ex, Dart, Sid and Teign rivers. Waltham is strong town; Radcliffe is red cliff; and so on—a sincerity and use in naming very striking to an American, whose country is whitewashed all over by unmeaning names, the cast-off clothes of the country from which its emigrants came; or named at a pinch from a psalm-tune.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, English Traits (1853)