Famous for Being Famous

Daniel J. Boorstin? Andy Warhol? Charles Godfrey Leland? Marshall McLuhan? Raquel Welch? David Brinkley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving fame required some significant accomplishment or impressive quality in the past. Now it seems that people are deemed notable for absurd reasons. Here are three phrases describing the self-referential nature of modern celebrityhood:

  • Famous for being famous.
  • Well-known for being well-known.
  • Notorious for their notoriety.

This concept has been attributed to historian Daniel Boorstin and Pop-Art fabricator Andy Warhol. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Intriguingly, this notion was mentioned back in the nineteenth century. In 1896 U.S. humorist Charles Godfrey Leland published a collection of re-told stories titled “Legends of Florence”. A character named Flaxius employed the saying while commenting on the motivations of some extravagant people. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . whole life and highest aim is really not to win gold for real pleasure, or even for avarice or aught solid, but merely to live in its glitter and sheen—to . . . jingle jewels, in a kind of fade ostentation, as doth a professional beauty or an actress famous for being famous, nothing more . . .

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Famous for Being Famous

Notes:

  1. 1896, Legends of Florence: Collected from the People and Re-told by Charles Godfrey Leland (Hans Breitmann), Second Series, Chapter: La Via del Gomitolo del Oro, and How it got its Name, Quote Page 229, Macmillan and Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The Greatest Obstacle to Discovery Is Not Ignorance—It Is the Illusion of Knowledge

Daniel J. Boorstin? Stephen Hawking? Henry Thomas Buckle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Widely accepted false beliefs can hinder progress and new discoveries. For example, the mistaken belief that heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible or impractical deterred requisite financing and investigation. This thought has been expressed as follows:

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.

The famous physicist Stephen Hawking and the Librarian of the U.S. Congress Daniel J. Boorstin have both been credited with this statement, but I am having trouble finding good citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This saying was attributed to Stephen Hawking by 2001, but QI has been unable to find substantive evidence that he actually employed it.

The best-selling author, educator, and librarian Daniel J. Boorstin was interviewed in “The Washington Post” in January 1984. He modestly referred to himself as an amateur historian because his primary background was the legal profession. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

What an amateur is, is a lover of a subject. I’m a lover of facts. The fact is the savior, as long as you don’t jam it into some preconceived pattern. The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.

Boorstin employed different versions of the saying over the years, but he did not assert that the underlying idea was his own. Indeed, he once ascribed a similar notion to the well-known historian Edward Gibbon, and on another occasion, he called it an aphorism. Detailed citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Greatest Obstacle to Discovery Is Not Ignorance—It Is the Illusion of Knowledge

Notes:

  1. 1984 January 29, The Washington Post, The 6 O’Clock Scholar: Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin And His Love Affair With Books by Carol Krucoff, Start Page K1, Quote Page K8, Column 2, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)