The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Bernard Malamud? Albert Camus? Harris Wofford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Having a grand mission to achieve with your life helps to generate a powerful motivational force. Apparently, one scribe asserted that:

The purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

This remark has been credited to the famous existential philosopher Albert Camus and to the prominent novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In December 1957 Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and while delivering the Banquet speech he made a point that partially matched the quotation under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

The above remark was not specifically about writers; instead, Camus referred to his entire generation. More information about his statement is available here. Camus delivered his speech in French.

In September 1958 Bernard Malamud was interviewed by the journalist Joseph Wershba of “The New York Post”, and he delivered a line that exactly matched the statement under investigation: 2

“The purpose of the writer,” says Malamud, “is to keep civilization from destroying itself. But without preachment. Artists, cannot be ministers. As soon as they attempt it, they destroy their artistry.”

Malamud may have heard the comment from Camus before he constructed a similar exhortation particularized to writers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself


  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed on November 6, 2019) link
  2. 1991, Conversations with Bernard Malamud, Edited by Lawrence M. Lasher, Series: Literary Conversations, Not Horror but Sadness by Joseph Wershba (Article dated September, 14 1958; reprinted from “The New York Post”) Start Page 3, Quote Page 7, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

The First Draft of Anything Is Shit

Ernest Hemingway? Arnold Samuelson? Bernard Malamud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prose style of the famous author Ernest Hemingway was spare and direct, but to achieve that form he often worked through multiple drafts. A pungent remark about rewriting has been attributed to the Nobel Prize winner. Here are three versions:

The first draft of everything is shit.
The first draft of anything is shit.
The first draft of anything is rubbish.

What do you think? Authentic? Apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: Ernest Hemingway died in 1961, and the first published evidence of this remark known to QI appeared in the 1984 posthumous memoir “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba” by Arnold Samuelson. In 1934 the nineteen-year-old Samuelson journeyed to Key West, Florida to meet Hemingway whose works had deeply impressed the young man. Hemingway needed a deck hand for his fishing boat, The Pilar, and Samuelson desired a literary tutor and guide. He accepted the job and worked with Hemingway for 10 months.

Samuelson created a manuscript that recorded his experiences, but it was not published during his lifetime. When he died in 1981 his sister found the document and edited it for publication which occurred in 1984. The following advice was given by Hemingway to the aspiring writer. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.

Apparently, this was written while the guidance was still fresh in the mind of Samuelson. The accuracy depends on the correctness and probity of Samuelson and his sister.

The key citation above was identified by top researcher Barry Popik, and his discussion of this topic is available here.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The First Draft of Anything Is Shit


  1. 1984, With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba by Arnold Samuelson, Quote Page 11, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Paint with My Prick

Pierre-Auguste Renoir? Jean Renoir? Ōe Kenzaburō? Jeanette Winterson? D. H. Lawrence? Bernard Malamud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The master painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir is my favorite Impressionist artist. For many years he has been credited with the following outrageous facetious quotation:

I paint with my prick.

Recently, I was surprised to discover that the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has placed this phrase in their Misquotations section. This important reference work presented the following phrase attributed to Renoir in 1919 and suggested that the quote above may have been inaccurately derived from it [OXPR]:

It’s with my brush that I make love

Could you explore the provenance of these phrases?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence connecting Pierre-Auguste Renoir to both of the quotes listed above. QI believes that the first quote is based on a conversational exchange that occurred between Renoir and a journalist that was witnessed by several individuals and reported by his son. In 1962 Jean Renoir, the prominent filmmaker and son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, published a biography of his father. An English translation was also released in 1962, and it contained the following significant passage about the elder Renoir [JRAR]:

Once, towards the end of his life, I heard him make the following rejoinder to a journalist who seemed to be astonished by his crippled hands:
“With such hands, how do you paint?” the man asked, crudely.
“With my prick,” replied Renoir, really vulgar for once.

It took place in the dining room at Les Collettes. There were a half-dozen or so visitors present. No one laughed at his quip. For what he said was a striking expression of the truth; one of those rare testimonies, so seldom expressed in the history of the world, to the miracle of the transformation of matter into spirit.

The quotation ascribed to Pierre-Auguste Renoir can be constructed by compressing the dialog of the journalist and the painter into a single direct statement. The elder Renoir died in 1919, so the episode described above occurred decades before the biography was released. However, there is additional evidence for the quotation that was published much earlier. The notorious 1928 erotic classic “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D. H. Lawrence contained the following passage in chapter four. The ellipsis appeared in the original text [CLDL]:

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis . . . he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Paint with My Prick