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)

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)