Things People Said


Among the pleasures of reading is the encounter with remarks and observations that are witty, perceptive, intriguing, amusing, or simply relevant to some current affair or interest. I would like to share a few that have struck my fancy of late in the hope that readers will also find them engaging.

Aristotle held that there are three qualifications required of those who have to fill the highest political offices: loyalty to the established constitution, the greatest administrative capacity, and virtue and justice proper to the form of government. (Politics, Bk. V, Ch. 9). At which my first thought is, we have Donald Trump.

When asked if he worried about plagiarism, Hunter Thompson replied that he took pride in having the wisdom and taste to steal from the right people, among them Conrad, Fitzgerald, Marquis de Sade, Isak Dinesen, Coleridge, and Anne Rice, adding that these were the people he learned from, leading to this exchange:

Spin: Are there other authors you're partial to?

HST: Jim Harrison is one of the really good writers in this country. I like everything Harrison does. ... Spin: Do you still crank everything out on your typewriter or have you started using a computer?

HST: I don't like the little screen. It's good for short stuff, but I think in terms of tangible weight. If I could get a big screen and show ten pages at once, but that kind of defeats the purpose. I suppose if I really got into it, it would help, or if I thought Harrison worked on a computer or he persuaded me I should, maybe I'd try it. (Spin Magazine, May 1993, interview by Kevin P. Simonson, in Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson, Da Capo Press, 2009)

Thompson was a fine prose stylist and astute political observer until he went off the rails somewhere along the way after Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, periodically at first, then more and more as his writing became progressively sketchy. Interviews indicate that he lost interest. There was the effect of becoming a cartoon character in Doonesbury (Uncle Duke). Some people seemed to think he was Duke. This baffled and bugged him. Journalism became more difficult, subverted by fame that made Thompson, or maybe even Duke, the story instead of what he was covering. People flocked to him for autographs when he showed up at events during Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in 1976. Gonzo journalism was about being part of the story, but not like that. The bent toward twisted excess levied its own toll as it played out in the legend, the cartoon, and the trajectory of Thompson's life and work.

This is not the place for a critical assessment of Thompson. My interest for this piece is Thompson's endorsement of Jim Harrison (1937–2016) as one of the really good writers in this country. I have long regarded Harrison as among the finest writers of our time. His taste for fine food and drink coupled with his craft as a writer no doubt made him a man after Thompson's own heart. Who knows, would it be going too far to wonder if Thompson might have also admired and maybe envied a little bit Harrison's discipline. For all his bouts of excess Jim Harrison put in the time at his desk and gave us a substantial body of work, poems, novellas, novels, and essays that are among the best we have. (For more about my appreciation of Jim Harrison, see Jim Harrison and the Dream of Being an Artist.)

In the documentary film Albert Camus: The Madness of Sincerity, Catherine Camus relates that her father was subject to doubt. He always said that if he ever joined a party, it would be the party for people who are not sure they are right. That would be my party.

#LiteraryampIntellectual

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David Matthews

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