You May Not Be Interested in War, But War Is Interested in You

Leon Trotsky? Fannie Hurst? James Burnham? O. H. Steiner? Marshall Berman? Michael Walzer? Donald Barthelme? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several sayings have employed the following templates:

(1) You may not be interested in X, but X is interested in you.
(2) We may not be interested in X, but X is interested in us.
(3) They may not be interested in X, but X is interested in them.
(4) I may not be interested in X, but X is interested in me.

Various terms have been substituted for X including war, politics, dialectics, strategy, and absurdity. I am interested in the version using the word “war” which has often been attributed to the revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky who was assassinated in August 1940. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match using “war” located by QI appeared in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1941. The popular author Fannie Hurst used the expression while addressing a “Freedom Day” rally in Cleveland. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“We may not be interested in this war, but it is interested in us. I’m not trying to sell it to you, but no one can evade the fact that we are in the path of the storm. We dare not be disunited when liberty, the most precious jewel in our national strongbox, is at stake.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You May Not Be Interested in War, But War Is Interested in You

Notes:

  1. 1941 November 17, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6,000 Here Assail Hostage Slayings (Continuation title: 6,000 Hit Strikes In Freedom Rally) by George Z. Griswold, Start Page 1, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

While We Read a Novel, We Are Insane—Bonkers

Ursula K. Le Guin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Apparently the acclaimed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin stated that the people who read her books were insane or bonkers. This is an odd thing to say. Did Le Guin really say this?

Quote Investigator: In 1969 Ursula K. Le Guin published the popular prize-winning novel “The Left Hand of Darkness”. In 1976 she penned a new introduction to the oft reprinted book which discussed the remarkable mental state required of fiction readers. Boldface added excerpts by QI: 1

In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.

Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?

Le Guin was making an observation about the temporary frame of mind of fiction readers. She was not commenting specifically about her readers. To immerse oneself in an artificially constructed universe the suspension of disbelief is necessary.

Le Guin did not consider herself a seer or forecaster. She continued the excerpt above with the following statement:

But our society, being troubled and bewildered, seeking guidance, sometimes puts an entirely mistaken trust in its artists, using them as prophets and futurologists.

In conclusion, Ursula K. Le Guin deserves credit for the words she wrote in her 1976 introduction to “The Left Hand of Darkness”.

Notes:

  1. 1977 (1969 Copyright), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Introduction (1976 Copyright), Unnumbered Page; (Third Page of Introduction), Ace Books: Grosset & Dunlap Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

My Life Is My Message

Mohandas Gandhi? Charles E. Garst? Laura DeLany Garst? Jerome D. Davis? Karl Quimby? Deton J. Brooks? Harold Ehrensperger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A visitor once met with a revered leader and asked for guidance:

“Do you have a message for the people?”
“My life is my message.”

This reply has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but I haven’t been able to find a precise citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This statement has been employed by multiple spiritual figures. The earliest match for Gandhi located by QI appeared in a 1942 book published by the Methodist Church titled “I Join the Church: A Church Membership Manual for Adults” by Karl Quimby. The name Gandhi was spelled as “Ghandi”. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

Recently a church leader spent a day with Ghandi. As he was about to leave he asked Mr. Ghandi for a message to the American people. Mr. Ghandi replied, “Why should I send any message? My life is my message.” So it is with us—our lives become our message, and may it be extraordinary—above the average!

Citations indicate that Gandhi employed this response more than once. See the details given further below.

A few decades before the remark was linked to Gandhi it appeared in a book about Charles E. Garst who was a Christian missionary in Japan. Garst died in 1898, and the 1913 biography “A West-Pointer in the Land of the Mikado” described the remarks he made near the end of his life: 2

“Tell the children I have loved them so, and I am sorry I cannot perform a father’s duty to them; but they must obey you and do what is right before God; that they must trust in the Lord and do good.” Later, when asked if he had further messages, he said, “My life is my message.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Life Is My Message

Notes:

  1. 1942, I Join the Church: A Church Membership Manual for Adults by Karl Quimby, Chapter XIV: The Christian Grows, Quote Page 80, The Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1913 Copyright, A West-Pointer in the Land of the Mikado by Laura DeLany Garst, Chapter 14: The End Approaching, Quote Page 270, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

It Is Good To Have an End To Journey Towards; But It Is the Journey That Matters, in the End

Ernest Hemingway? Ursula K. Le Guin? Lynn H. Hough?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is natural to assign meaning or purpose to the terminus of a long journey, but the value truly lies within the journey itself. This notion has been expressed as follows:

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

The famous author Ernest Hemingway and the award-winning speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin have both received credit for this statement. Would you please determine the correct authorship?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Ernest Hemingway said or wrote this. He died in 1961, and was given credit by 2010, a very late date.

In 1969 Ursula K. Le Guin published “The Left Hand of Darkness” which explored gender roles and relationships on an alien planet. The popular work won the Hugo and Nebula awards. During a long trek in a frigid region two characters encountered a remarkable scene of pinnacles, cliffs, smoke, fire, and rubble near a massive glacier: 1

Across those valleys a great wall stood, a wall of ice, and raising our eyes up and still up to the rim of the wall we saw the Ice itself, the Gobrin Glacier, blinding and horizonless to the utmost north, a white, a white the eyes could not look on.

The travelers placed a high value on their experiences during the journey. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Estraven stood there in harness beside me looking at that magnificent and unspeakable desolation. “I’m glad I have lived to see this,” he said.

I felt as he did. It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Good To Have an End To Journey Towards; But It Is the Journey That Matters, in the End

Notes:

  1. 1977 (1969 Copyright), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Chapter 15, Quote Page 219, Ace Books: Grosset & Dunlap Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977 (1969 Copyright), The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Chapter 15, Quote Page 220, Ace Books: Grosset & Dunlap Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

You May Not Be Interested in Absurdity, But Absurdity Is Interested in You

Donald Barthelme? Fannie Hurst? Gore Vidal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A wide variety of sayings have employed the following template:

You may not be interested in X, but X is interested in you.

Different terms have been substituted for X including: war, politics, dialectic, and strategy. In addition, variant templates have occurred:

We may not be interested in X, but X is interested in us.

I am interested in a version used by the postmodern storyteller Donald Barthelme with the word “absurdity”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1963 Donald Barthelme published the short story “A Shower of Gold” in “The New Yorker”. The character Mr. Peterson applied to appear on a television show called “Who Am I?”, and he was interviewed by Miss Arbor. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“What I want to know now, Mr. Peterson, is this: are you interested in absurdity?”

“Miss Arbor,” he said, “to tell you the truth, I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in it.”

“Oh, Mr. Peterson!” Miss Arbor said, shocked. “Don’t say that! You’ll be …”

“Punished?” Peterson suggested.

“You may not be interested in absurdity,” she said firmly, “but absurdity is interested in you.”

As the story progressed Peterson changed his viewpoint: 2

I was wrong, Peterson thought, the world is absurd. The absurdity is punishing me for not believing in it. I affirm the absurdity. On the other hand, absurdity is itself absurd.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You May Not Be Interested in Absurdity, But Absurdity Is Interested in You

Notes:

  1. 1963 November 12, The New Yorker, A Shower of Gold by Donald Barthelme, Start Page 33, Quote Page 33, Column 2, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Scans at newyorker.com; accessed July 28, 2021)
  2. 1963 November 12, The New Yorker, A Shower of Gold by Donald Barthelme, Start Page 33, Quote Page 37, Column 1, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Online New Yorker archive at newyorker.com; accessed July 28, 2021)

The Center Will Not Hold If It Has Been Spot-Welded by an Operator Whose Deepest Concern Is His Lottery Ticket

Donald Barthelme? William Butler Yeats?

Dear Quote Investigator: A poet once proclaimed with despair that the center cannot hold. The postmodern storyteller Donald Barthelme quipped that the center would not hold if it was welded together by a distracted worker. Would you please help me to find a citation. Also, I cannot recall the name of the poet. Can you help?

Quote Investigator: Donald Barthelme’s short story “At The End Of The Mechanical Age” appeared in the 1981 collection “Sixty Stories”. The following line was included. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

The center will not hold if it has been spot-welded by an operator whose deepest concern is not with the weld but with his lottery ticket.

Below is one additional citation and a conclusion.

Continue reading The Center Will Not Hold If It Has Been Spot-Welded by an Operator Whose Deepest Concern Is His Lottery Ticket

Notes:

  1. 1982 (1981 Copyright), Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme, Short Story: At The End Of The Mechanical Age, Start Page 272, Quote Page 278, Dutton, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Thing About Books Is, There Are Quite a Number You Don’t Have To Read

Donald Barthelme? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a young child I found the number of books in my local library overwhelming. I wondered how one could find the time to read so many books? When I was a slightly older child, I concluded that there were a enormous number that you don’t have to read. Donald Barthelme, the master of postmodern short fiction, apparently made this same point. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Donald Barthelme died in 1989, and his novel “The King” was published posthumously in 1990. Barthelme retold an eccentric version of “Le Morte d’Arthur” set in the early days of World War Two. During one scene Launcelot and the Black Knight, Roger de Ibadan, discussed military technology. Sir Roger highlighted the importance of the stirrup for mounted combat. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Never thought about it,” said Launcelot. “I thought saddles had always had stirrups.”
“First appeared in North Korea in the fifth century,” said Sir Roger. “Books have been written about the influence of the stirrup on warfare. Not that I’ve ever read one. The thing about books is, there are quite a number you don’t have to read.”
“Never been much of a one for books,” said Launcelot.
“I’ve read a great many,” said Sir Roger.

In conclusion, a character in Donald Barthelme’s book “The King” did make this remark although QI thinks the notion is quite old.

Image Notes: Public domain painting titled “The Librarian” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo circa 1566. Image has been cropped, retouched, and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1990, The King by Donald Barthelme, Quote Page 35, An Edward Burlingame Book: Harper & Row Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)

A Healed Femur Is the Earliest Sign of True Civilization

Margaret Mead? Paul Brand? Philip Yancey? Steven C. Beering? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A primordial human who fell and broke a femur (thigh bone) would have faced terrible odds of survival. A vulnerable individual who was unable to walk and gather food would probably expire. Yet, a caring and supportive culture would enable recovery. An injured individual would be supplied with food and would be nursed back to health.

Apparently, an influential scientist asserted that the earliest sign of true civilization in the fossil record of humans was a healed femur because it indicated the existence of a compassionate society. This assertion has been attributed to the prominent anthropologist Margaret Mead. Of course, many societies simultaneously display compassion, indifference, and cruelty. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The first match known to QI appeared in the 1980 book “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Surgeon Looks at the Human and Spiritual Body” by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Acclaimed physician Brand described a lecture given by Margaret Mead that he attended. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To her, evidence of the earliest true civilization was a healed femur, a leg bone, which she held up before us in the lecture hall. She explained that such healings were never found in the remains of competitive, savage societies. There, clues of violence abounded: temples pierced by arrows, skulls crushed by clubs. But the healed femur showed that someone must have cared for the injured person—hunted on his behalf, brought him food, and served him at personal sacrifice.

Margaret Mead died in 1978, and the accuracy of this anecdote depends on the memory and veracity of Brand.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Healed Femur Is the Earliest Sign of True Civilization

Notes:

  1. 1980 Copyright, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Surgeon Looks at the Human and Spiritual Body by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, Chapter: Bones: A Frame, Quote Page 68, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans)

Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Maya Angelou? Bertha Flowers? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Rhyme and rhythm often produce a lovely euphony in poems. This notion has been expressed as follows:

Poetry is music written for the human voice.

These words have been attributed to Renaissance woman Maya Angelou, but some people assert that she disclaimed credit. Would you please help me to find a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: Traumatic experiences during Maya Angelou’s childhood caused her to stop speaking when she was young. Family friend Bertha Flowers encouraged Angelou to read novels and poetry aloud to achieve a greater understanding. This eventually led Angelou to begin talking again.

In 1982 U.S. public T.V. broadcast a 17-part series called “Creativity With Bill Moyers”. A reviewer in the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois described the premiere episode during which journalist Moyers spoke to Angelou who presented an insight from her mentor Bertha Flowers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Poetry is music written for the human voice—she must have told me that 50 times,” Angelou says.

Mrs. Flowers also told her to go home and read poetry, and she did, under her grandmother’s bed at first, and eventually she started speaking again. Now she speaks and reads and performs her poetry all over the world, but she’ll never forget Mrs. Flowers.

Thus, Maya Angelou popularized the expression under examination, but she attributed it to her respected guide Bertha Flowers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Notes:

  1. 1982 January 8, Chicago Tribune, Moyers’ ‘Creativity’ is a rare gift by Marilynn Preston on TV, Section 3, Quote Page 12, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

Life Is Uncertain. Eat Dessert First

Ernestine Ulmer? Arthur Murray? Earl Wilson? Leopold Fechtner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: T-shirts and bumper stickers present a modern proverb about the precariousness of existence. Here are two versions:

  • Eat dessert first because life is uncertain.
  • Life is uncertain, so eat dessert first.

Ernestine Ulmer often receives credit although that name is somewhat obscure. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Earl Wilson in 1962. The well-known ballroom dancer and entrepreneur Arthur Murray received credit. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Arthur Murray says he always eats dessert first, because life is so uncertain.

The statement above referred to a single person; hence, it was not in proverbial form, but the phrasing evolved over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is Uncertain. Eat Dessert First

Notes:

  1. 1962 July 18, The Lima News, Eydie Gorme Will Work, Hubby Steve Explains by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Lima, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)