Category Archives: Friedrich Nietzsche

The Existence of Forgetting Has Never Been Proved

Friedrich Nietzsche? Thomas De Quincey? W. H. Auden? Louis Kronenberger? Apocryphal?

memory08Dear Quote Investigator: A provocative comment about human memory has been attributed to the controversial philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to mind when we want them.

This statement suggests that human memory is more capacious than we imagine, but recollection is hampered because retrieval is sometimes difficult. As an experimental psychologist researching the plasticity of human memory I find this perspective fascinating, and I would like to include the statement in an article under preparation. Unfortunately, the lack of a good citation is problematic. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Friedrich Nietzsche released “Morgenröthe: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurtheile” which has been given the English title “The Dawn of Day”. The work consisted of more than 550 short numbered sections, and in the 126th Nietzsche discussed memory and forgetfulness. The beginning of this excerpt from a 1911 translation by J. M. Kennedy strongly matched the quotation under examination. The full passage was somewhat convoluted. Boldface has been added to excerpts 1 2

FORGETFULNESS.—It has never yet been proved that there is such a thing as forgetfulness: all that we know is that we have no power over recollection. In the meantime we have filled up this gap in our power with the word “forgetfulness,” exactly as if it were another faculty added to our list. But, after all, what is within our power? If that word fills up a gap in our power, might not the other words be found capable of filling up a gap in the knowledge which we possess of our power?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1911, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, Volume 9: The Dawn of Day, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by T. N. Foulis, Edinburgh. (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1924 (Copyright 1911), The Dawn of Day by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by J. M. Kennedy, Section 126, Quote Page 131, Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London. (Reprint of 1911 edition) (Internet Archive) link link

Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music

Friedrich Nietzsche? Megan Fox? Anne Louise Germaine de Staël? John Stewart? Norman Flint? Science Fiction fans? Angela Monet? Rumi? George Carlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is credited to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Yet, I have never seen a precise pointer that stated where in the works of Nietzsche this quotation appeared. I know that Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, so he may have been sympathetic to individuals who were labeled insane. I also know that music was very important in his thoughts and philosophy.

The quotation is so popular that the actress and supermodel Megan Fox decided to get the words tattooed across her back and side. Astutely, Fox did not include an attribution for her tattoo. If she wanted to append a credit whose name should be rendered in ink?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet located substantive evidence that Nietzsche wrote or said the statement given above. In 2003 a message in the large distributed discussion system called Usenet attributed the quote to Nietzsche. The message appeared in the alt.quotations newsgroup. 1 But Nietzsche died in 1900, so 2003 is an extremely late date.

A precursor to this statement appeared in the early Nineteenth century. In 1813 the influential writer Anne Louise Germaine de Staël published the work “De l’Allemagne” in French. The English title was “Germany”, and in 1814 an excerpt was printed in “The Universal Magazine”. Madame de Staël envisioned herself watching a ballroom filled with dancers, and she imagined her reaction if she had been unable to hear the music: 2

… sometimes even in the habitual course of life, the reality of this world disappears all at once, and we feel ourselves in the middle of its interests as we should at a ball, where we did not hear the music; the dancing that we saw there would appear insane.

This figurative language was employed powerfully to illustrate an episode of dissociation. Madame de Staël was temporarily alienated from the normal rush of living, and the actions of those around her seemed purposeless and absurd.

In 1927 a version similar to the common modern examples was printed in “The Times” newspaper of London where it was labelled an old proverb. This concise instance used the word “mad” instead of “insane”: 3

They who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. The truth of the old proverb was never more surely borne out that it is just now.

This phrasing is distinct, but the core idea is the same. In recent times, the comedian George Carlin helped to popularize the phrase as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2003 August 28, Usenet Newsgroup: alt.quotations, Subject: IM Friedrich Nietzsche, From: dougk. (Google Usenet groups archive; Accessed June 5, 2012) link.
  2. 1814 April, The Universal Magazine, “On the Moravian Mode of Worship by Madame De Stael [From her ‘Germany’]”, Start Page 296, Quote Page 296, Column 2, Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London. (Google Books full view) [Thanks to poster RobotWisdom who shared this cite at the “Shortcuts” blog of the Guardian newspaper here] link
  3. 1927 February 16, The Times (UK), The Dance, Page 15, Column 4, London, England. (Times Digital Archive GaleGroup)

Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed

Thomas Wolfe? Red Smith? Paul Gallico? Friedrich Nietzsche? Ernest Hemingway? Gene Fowler? Jeff MacNelly? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I have trouble writing I am reminded of a brilliant saying that uses a horrifyingly expressive metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition:

Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.

Here is another version of the saying that I found while Googling:

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

I have seen statements like this credited to the prominent sports columnist Red Smith and to the literary figures Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Could you explore this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is significant evidence that Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith used a version of this quote by 1949. In April of that year the influential and widely syndicated newspaper columnist Walter Winchell wrote. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

This is the earliest known attribution to Smith and it was located by top-notch researcher Bill Mullins. But a few years earlier another novelist and highly-paid sportswriter used the same metaphor to describe the often arduous task of putting words down on paper. In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: 2

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.

Today Gallico is perhaps best known for the novel The Poseidon Adventure which was made into a blockbuster disaster movie in 1972. The popular work was remade for television and for theatrical release in the 2000s. He also wrote the 1941 story Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees that was made into the successful film The Pride of the Yankees.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1949 April 06, Naugatuck Daily News, Walter Winchell In New York, Page 4, Column 5, Naugatuck, Connecticut. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1946, Confessions of a Story Writer by Paul Gallico, Page 576, A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper; Thanks to Stephen Goranson for checking this cite on paper) link