Children are often under a long delusion concerning the material of which dolls are made. Even long after it is known that they are wood, wax, etc., it is felt that they are of skin, flesh, etc. To find a doll’s head hollow or that it is sawdust, while it suggests to very young children the same as contents of their own body, is with older children a frequent source of disenchantment and sometimes marks the sudden end of the doll period.

– G. Staley Hall and A. Caswell Ellis, A Study of Dolls (1897)


Each of the three central ethnic identities of modern Nigerian political life—Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo—is a product of the rough-and-tumble of the transition through colonial to postcolonial status. David Laitin has pointed out that “the idea that there was a single Hausa-Fulani tribe . . . was largely a political claim of the NPC [Northern Peoples’ Congress] in their battle against the South,” while “many elders intimately involved in rural Yoruba society today recall that, as late as the 1930s, ‘Yoruba’ was not a common form of political identification.” Nnamdi Azikiwe—one of the key figures in the construction of Nigerian nationalism—was extremely popular (as Laitin also points out) in Yoruba Lagos, where “he edited his nationalist newspaper, the West African Pilot. It was only subsequent events that led him to be defined in Nigeria as an Igbo leader.” Yet Nigerian politics—and the more everyday economy of ordinary personal relations—is oriented along such axes, and only very occasionally does the fact float into view that even these three problematic identities account for at most seven out of ten Nigerians.

When it is not the “tribe” that is invested with new uses and meanings, it is religion. Yet the idea that Nigeria is composed of a Muslim North, a Christian South, and a mosaic of “pagan” holdovers is as inaccurate as the picture of three historic tribal identities. Two out of every five southern Yoruba people are Muslim, and, as Laitin tells us:

Many northern groups, especially in what are today Benue, Plateau, Gongola, and Kwara states, are largely Christian. When the leaders of Biafra tried to convince the world that they were oppressed by northern Muslims, ignorant foreigners (including the pope) believed them. But the Nigerian army . . . was led by a northern Christian.

It is as useless here, as in the case of race, to point out in each case that the tribe or the religion is, like all social identities, based on an idealizing fiction, for life in Nigeria or in Zaire has come to be lived through that idealization: the Igbo identity is real because Nigerians believe in it, the Shona identity because Zimbabweans have given it meaning.

– Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992)

Mother, monogamy, romance. High spurts the fountain; fierce and foamy the wild jet. The urge has but a single outlet. My love, my baby. No wonder those poor pre-moderns were mad and wicked and miserable. Their world didn’t allow them to take things easily, didn’t allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, what with the prohibitions they were not conditioned to obey, what with the temptations and the lonely remorses, what with all the diseases and the endless isolating pain, what with the uncertainties and the poverty–they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly, how could they be stable?

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

In our returns are 41 distinct cases of punishment by being sent to bed, 34 spanked, 32 whippings, 25 scoldings, 20 put in closet, 13 kept in, 12 shut up, 17 made to sit down, 11 shaken, 7 slapped, 7 severely talked to, 5 deprived of food, 2 tied to a post, 1 made to stand up and sing, 1 sent home from school, 1 had cayenne pepper put on its tongue, 1 was punched, 1 had its legs pulled, 1 had its face covered, 1 was fed on bread and water, 1 was thrown down stairs, 1 made to sit on the door knob, 1 had to go to bed in the dark, 1 was hung, with due ceremony. Rewards are in the following order of frequency: take out walking, visiting, sit up late, go riding, be kissed, go without nap, go shopping, told a story, taken to party, given candy, cake, clothes, ribbons. Rewards are often promised or punishments are often threatened, but not given. There seems little disposition to make the punishment fit the crime.

– G. Staley Hall and A. Caswell Ellis, A Study of Dolls (1897)

Monsters have long been stereotyped by a propensity for inarticulate grunts, when, in fact, they are often capable of expressing themselves quite eloquently. Most incarnations of Frankenstein’s monster would scarcely be recognized by his literary progenitor, Mary Shelley, who originally gave him an excellent knowledge of French (rendered in English for her readers of 1818) and an impressive familiarity with translations of Paradise Lost, Plutarch’sLives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. Yet, the monster’s literacy and volubility have been of scant interest to stage and screen adaptors.

– David J. Skal, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Monsters”, Speaking of Monsters: A Teratological Anthology (2012)

I see the winter approaching without much concern, though a passionate lover of fine weather, and the pleasant scenes of summer, but the long evenings have their comforts too, and there is hardly to be found upon earth, I suppose, so snug a creature as an Englishman by the fireside in the winter. I mean, however, an Englishman that lives in the country, for in London it is not easy to avoid intrusion.

– William Cowper, The Life and Letters of William Cowper, Esq (1809)

The Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend offers evidence that the practice of ridding communities of disease by means of a scapegoat was widespread. Until recent times the Quechua and Aymara Indians used methods for this purpose which can be traced back to the Incas. When a village was suffering from an epidemic, a black llama was loaded with the clothing of the sick and driven from the village, carrying the disease with it. The dictionary also notes that the medicine men of the Quechua and Aymara usually, though not always, transferred the diseases of their patients to a guinea pig. The unfortunate animal was then killed and burnt.

– Tom Douglas, Scapegoats: Transferring Blame (1995)

A man may be puffed and belauded, envied, ridiculed, counted upon as a tool and fallen in love with, or at least selected as a future husband, and yet remain virtually unknown—known merely as a cluster of signs for his neighbors’ false suppositions.

– George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871)


I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

– Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner (1982)



I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen anal-red leisure suits with flared lapels. I have smelled what suntan lotion smells like spread over 21000 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have watched 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced and a tropical moon that looked more like a sort of obscenely large and dangling lemon than like the good old stony U.S. moon I’m used to. I have (very briefly) joined a Conga Line.

– David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997)



“You’ve had all these fabulous experiences. I wish mine would show me something.”


“The experience, the experience. Haven’t you learned?”

Profane didn’t have to think long. “No,” he said, “offhand, I’d say I haven’t learned a goddamn thing.”

– Thomas Pynchon, V. (1961)