One Idiot Is One Idiot. Two Idiots Are Two Idiots. Ten Thousand Idiots Are a Political Party

Franz Kafka? Leo Longanesi? Robert Browning? Jean Anouilh? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A derisive remark aimed at politically motivated groups of people has been attributed to the influential short-story writer Franz Kafka. Here is the German version followed by an English translation:

Ein Idiot ist ein Idiot. Zwei Idioten sind zwei Idioten. Zehntausend Idioten sind eine politische Partei.

One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political party.

I have been unable to find a solid citation, and I am skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the attribution to Kafka. Instead, QI believes that the statement evolved from a remark published in 1947 by Italian satirist and journalist Leo Longanesi within his book “Parliamo dell’Elefante: Frammenti di un Diario” (“Let’s Talk About the Elephant: Fragments of a Diary”). A near match appeared in an entry dated December 15, 1938. Here is the Italian text followed by one possible English translation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fanfare, bandiere, parate.
Uno stupido è uno stupido. Due stupidi sono due stupidi. Diecimila stupidi sono una forza storica.

Fanfare, flags, parades.
One fool is one fool. Two fools are two fools. Ten thousand fools are a historical force.

During the ensuing decades variants began to circulate in multiple languages. The phrase “historical force” was changed to “political party”, and the ascription was changed to Kafka.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Idiot Is One Idiot. Two Idiots Are Two Idiots. Ten Thousand Idiots Are a Political Party

Notes:

  1. 2017 (First published 1947), Parliamo dell’Elefante: Frammenti di un Diario (Let’s Talk About the Elephant: Fragments of a Diary) by Leo Longanesi, Diary Date: 15 dicembre 1938 (December 15, 1938), Published by Longanesi, Milano, Italy. (Digital Edition)

Plenty of Hope; Infinite Hope; Just Not for Us

Franz Kafka? Max Brod? Jonathan Franzen? Josef Paul Hodin? Georg Lukács? Harold Bloom? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2019 acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay in “The New Yorker” that began with the following remark of despair attributed to the influential Prague-born writer Franz Kafka.

There is infinite hope; only not for us.

Here are two longer versions I have seen:

(1) Oh, hope enough, infinite hope, — just not for us.
(2) Plenty of hope—for God—no end of hope—only not for us.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Max Brod was a friend and a biographer of Franz Kafka. In 1921 he published a piece titled “Der Dichter Franz Kafka” (“The Poet Franz Kafka”) in the literary journal “Die Neue Rundschau”. Brod described a conversation he held with his friend in 1920. Below is an excerpt in German followed by one possible translation into English. Boldface added by QI: 1

„Wir sind,“ so sagte er, „nihilistische Gedanken, Selbstmordgedanken, die in Gottes Kopf aufsteigen“. Mich erinnerte das zuerst an das Weltbild der Gnosis: Gott als böser Demiurg, die Welt sein Sündenfall. „O nein,“ meinte er, „unsere Welt ist nur eine schlechte Laune Gottes, ein schlechter Tag.“ — „So gäbe es außerhalb dieser Erscheinungsform Welt, die wir kennen, Hoffnung?“ — Er lächelte: „Oh Hoffnung genug, unendlich viel Hoffnung, — nur nicht für uns.“

“We are,” he said, “nihilistic thoughts, suicidal thoughts that rise up in God’s head”. This reminded me of the worldview of the Gnostics: God is an evil demiurge; the world reflects his fall into sin. “Oh no,” he said, “our world is just a bad mood of God, a bad day.” — “So outside of this world manifestation, which we know, would there be a world that knows hope?” — He smiled: “Oh, hope enough, infinite hope, — just not for us.”

The correctness of this quotation is dependent upon the veracity of Max Brod. In addition, the precise phrasing in English varies because of the inherent imprecision of translations.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading Plenty of Hope; Infinite Hope; Just Not for Us

Notes:

  1. 1921 November, Die Neue Rundschau (The New Rundschau), Der Dichter Franz Kafka (The Poet Franz Kafka) by Max Brod, Start Page 1210, Quote Page 1213, Fischer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Don’t Bend; Don’t Water It Down; Don’t Try to Make It Logical; Don’t Edit Your Own Soul According to the Fashion

Franz Kafka? Anne Rice? Russell Brand? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian and controversial wild man Russell Brand released the bestselling autobiography “My Booky Wook” in 2007 and the sequel “Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal” in 2010. The sequel had a fascinating epigraph on the first page: 1

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

This statement was attributed to the powerful and singular author Franz Kafka. But I haven’t been able to locate it in Kafka’s writings. Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. QI has located no substantive evidence that Franz Kafka said or wrote the passage above. QI believes the actual author was the prominent horror writer Anne Rice whose books about vampires and witches have been very popular.

In 1995 a collection of short stories by Kafka that included influential works such as “The Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony” was published by Schocken Books. The foreword was written by Anne Rice who stated that Kafka’s tales provided her with a guidepost and a decisive form of encouragement. Boldface has been added to the following excerpt: 2

Kafka became a model for me, a continuing inspiration. Not only did he exhibit an irrepressible originality—who else would think of things like this!—he seemed to say that only in one’s most personal language can the crucial tales of a writer be told. Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Only if you do that can you hope to make the reader feel a particle of what you, the writer, have known and feel compelled to share.

Anne Rice did not use quotation marks in the passage above because she was not quoting Kafka. She was presenting her perception of the motivating force behind Kafka’s literary works. In fact, QI believes that the philosophy of creativity outlined above is the one that Anne Rice has adopted based on the stimulation she experienced from reading Kafka’s stories.

Here are three additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Bend; Don’t Water It Down; Don’t Try to Make It Logical; Don’t Edit Your Own Soul According to the Fashion

Notes:

  1. 2010, Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal by Russell Brand, (Epigraph on first page), Quote Page 1, HarperCollins, London. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1995, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, Translation to English by Willa and Edwin Muir, Foreword by Anne Rice, (Foreword is dated June 1995), Start Page 1, Quote Page 3, Schocken Books, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Beaufort County Library system of South Carolina)