Self-Consciousness Is the Enemy of All Art

Ray Bradbury? Erica Jong? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The science fiction luminary Ray Bradbury relied deeply on his intuitions and his imagination to compose lyrical prose. He believed that creativity was obstructed by over-thinking and intellectualizing. The following two statements have been attributed to him:

  • Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art.
  • Thinking is the enemy of creativity.

Are these quotations genuine? Would you please help me to find citations?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 Ray Bradbury wrote an essay titled “The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword” which discussed his seven month sojourn in Ireland where he succeeded in his primary goal of co-authoring the screenplay of “Moby Dick”. Bradbury also learned about the Irish people which later inspired the short play “The Anthem Sprinters”. His essay featured musings on the creative process. Bradbury stated that an artist should not attempt to explain an artwork while it is being created. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To try to know beforehand is to freeze and kill.
Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

In 1971 Bradbury addressed the opening banquet of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association held in Park City, Utah. He presented guidance for writers: 2

The speaker said television is the place you learn how to be mediocre. You learn from it, you grow from it, you learn how not to do things.”

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You cannot intellectualize creativity. You can think about something before or after — but not during,” he declared.

These two citations provide solid evidence that Bradbury employed both of the statements mentioned by the questioner. Further, the citations below show that he reiterated these observations later in life.

Continue reading Self-Consciousness Is the Enemy of All Art

Notes:

  1. 1963, The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics by Ray Bradbury, Chapter 5: The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword by Ray Bradbury, (Essay date: July 31, 1962), Quote Page 154, Apollo Editions: The Dial Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1971 April 16, The Salt Lake Tribune, ‘Instill Fun,’ College Writers Urged (Special to the Tribune), Quote Page 4B, Column 6 and 7, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Newspapers_com)

A Reputation Is Like a Death Mask. I Wanted To Smash the Mask

Graham Greene? Doris Lessing? Erica Jong?

Dear Quote Investigator: An artist who has achieved a distinctive reputation with critics and the general public is placed into a metaphorical strait jacket. Newly fashioned artworks are expected to be similar to previous artworks. Change and innovation are frowned upon. This notion can be expressed using a harsher analogue:

A reputation is a death mask.

A death mask is a rigidly fixed depiction of an impassive human face obtained via a wax or plaster mold after death. This vivid phrase about reputation has been attributed to three literary figures: Doris Lessing, Graham Greene, and Erica Jong. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Graham Greene acquired a strong literary standing with works such as “Brighton Rock”, “The Power and the Glory”, and “The End of the Affair”. Yet, he did not want his creativity to be constrained by this series of successes. So he changed his style and released a light-hearted work titled “Loser Takes All” in 1955. He described this pivotal episode in his autobiography “Ways of Escape” in 1980. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The mood of escape . . . took me . . . to Monte Carlo . . . to write what I hoped would prove an amusing, agreeably sentimental novella—something which neither my friends nor my enemies would expect. It was to be called Loser Takes All. A reputation is like a death mask. I wanted to smash the mask.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Reputation Is Like a Death Mask. I Wanted To Smash the Mask

Notes:

  1. 1980, Ways of Escape: An Autobiography by Graham Greene, Chapter 7, Quote Page 224, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)

Humor Is One of the Most Serious Tools We Have for Dealing with Impossible Situations

Erica Jong? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Humor is a helpful tool for understanding and accepting events that are difficult to process emotionally such as divorce or death. I think the U.S. novelist Erica Jong made an observation similar to this. Would you please help me to locate her comment?

Quote Investigator: In 1984 Erica Jong sent a letter to “The New York Times Book Review” because she was unhappy with the recently published critique of her latest book. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

In his review of my book, “Megan’s Book of Divorce” (July 1), Anthony Brandt makes a common mistake: that humor cannot be serious. On the contrary, humor is one of the most serious tools we have for dealing with impossible situations (like divorce).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Humor Is One of the Most Serious Tools We Have for Dealing with Impossible Situations

Notes:

  1. 1984 July 29, The New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, Letters: Serious Humor by Erica Jong of Weston, Connecticut, Quote Page BR27, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)

Bigamy Is Having One Spouse Too Many. Monogamy Is the Same

Erica Jong? Oscar Wilde? Robert Webster Jones? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: As a single person I enjoy the following joke about bigamy. Here are two versions:

(1) Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.

(2) Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.

The first has been attributed to the best-selling novelist Erica Jong, and the second has been credited to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. I haven’t been able to find this remark in the works of Wilde. Are these ascriptions accurate?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Erica Jong published a scandalous blockbuster titled “Fear of Flying” and the first chapter used the following as an epigraph: 1

Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.
—Anonymous (a woman)

Note that Jong did not credit herself indicating that the joke was already in circulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this joke. The variant using “wife” instead of “husband” does have a long history. In 1922 the book “Light Interviews with Shades” by Robert Webster Jones included a quip that displayed several points of similarity including the use of matching vocabulary terms “bigamy” and “monogamy”: 2

They say bigamy means one wife too many; but so does monogamy sometimes.

Precursor jokes on this theme were being disseminated by 1841 as shown below. QI believes that the modern quip evolved from these antecedents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Bigamy Is Having One Spouse Too Many. Monogamy Is the Same

Notes:

  1. 1973, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, (Epigraph of Chapter 1), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified on paper in 3rd printing July 1974)
  2. 1922, Light Interviews with Shades by Robert Webster Jones, Chapter 1: Bluebeard Tells Why He Killed Wives, Quote Page 18, Published by Dorrance & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link