I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Jean Cocteau? Pablo Picasso?  Herbert V. Prochnow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The life mission of an artist is paradoxical. Masterpieces are not subservient to narrow facticity. Representing truths and insights requires the imaginative transformation of raw materials. Here are two versions of an energizing maxim for artists:

  • I am a lie that always speaks the truth.
  • I am a lie that always tells the truth.

The saying above has been attributed to the French poet Jean Cocteau who has also been credited with this variant statement:

  • The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: An important precursor of this remark appeared in 1922 within “Le Secret Professionnel” (“Professional Secrets”) by Jean Cocteau. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

On a coutume de représenter la poésie comme une dame voilée, langoureuse, étendue sur un nuage. Cette dame a une voix musicale et ne dit que des mensonges.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

It is customary to portray poetry as a veiled, languid woman reclining on a cloud. This lady has a musical voice and says nothing but lies.

Another interesting precursor was crafted by the prominent painter Pablo Picasso when he was interviewed by the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine” in 1923. His responses in Spanish were translated into English:

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.

A QI article about Picasso’s statement is available here.

Between 1925 and 1927 Cocteau composed a collection of poems published as “Opéra”. The disease of leprosy was used metaphorically to depict mental disintegration and despair within the poem “Le Paquet Rouge” (“The Red Package”) which included a line that matched the quotation under examination. An excerpt from the poem appeared in the Paris newspaper “Comœdia” in 1927: 2

J’ai lâché le paquet. Qu’on m’enferme. Qu’on me lynche. Comprenne qui pourra : je suis un mensonge qui dit toujours la vérité.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

I dropped the package. That shut me up. Let me be lynched. Understand who can: I am a lie who always tells the truth.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1922, Book Title: Le Secret Professionnel, Author: Jean Cocteau, Quote Page 57, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Place du Théatre Français, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. Date: Novembre 1, 1927, Newspaper: Comœdia, Article: Jeune Poésie: II. L’autre royaume: En marge de Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Author: Eugene Marsan, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Location: Paris, France. (Gallica)

Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Dorothy Allison? Henry A. Murray? Peter De Vries? Albert Camus? Julie Burchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Art works such as novels, paintings, and sculptures embody a stylized and distorted representation of the world. Yet, deep truths can best be expressed by deviating from the straitjacket of verisimilitude. Here are four versions of a paradoxical adage:

  1. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
  2. Art is a lie which allows us to approach truth
  3. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth
  4. Art is the lie that reveals truth.

Different versions of this maxim have been applied to fiction, poetry, and drama. The saying has been attributed to the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the French existentialist Albert Camus. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art” interviewed Pablo Picasso. His responses in Spanish were translated into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over his lies, he would never accomplish any thing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Notes:

  1. 1923 May, The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art, Volume 3, Number 5, Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist (Note accompanying text: Picasso gave his interview to “The Arts” in Spanish, and subsequently authenticated the Spanish text which we herewith translate), Start Page 315, Quote Page 315, The Arts Publishing Corporation, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

It Is Difficult, After Knowing Opium, To Take Earth Seriously

Jean Cocteau? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent French artist Jean Cocteau crafted the most insightful remark about addiction that I have ever read. Some drugs permanently shift one’s perception of pleasure and purpose in the world. Would you please help me to find Cocteau’s comment about the difficulty of taking the world seriously after using opium?

Quote Investigator: Jean Cocteau’s work “Opium: The Diary of a Cure” was based on a set of notes he wrote in 1929 with significant additions made in 1930. A translation from the French to English by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road appeared in 1957. Cocteau wrote the following about opium’s power, Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 1

It is difficult to live without opium after having known it because it is difficult, after knowing opium, to take earth seriously. And unless one is a saint, it is difficult to live without taking earth seriously.

Image Notes: Picture of a field of poppies from Schwoaze at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1957, Opium: The Diary of a Cure by Jean Cocteau, Translated from the French by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road, Quote Page 93, Peter Owen Limited, London. (Verified with hardcopy)

One Starts To Get Young at the Age of 60 and Then It’s Too Late

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Derek Prouse?

Dear Quote Investigator: The proficiency, creativity, and potency of an artist can grow for decades. Yet, painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso apparently said the following about his change in mentality as he became older. Here are two versions:

  • One starts to get young at 60 and then it is too late.
  • One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Derek Prouse interviewed the prominent French literary figure and film maker Jean Cocteau shortly before the artist died, and the conversation appeared in “The Sunday Times” of London in October 1963. Cocteau repeated a remark he had heard recently from Pablo Picasso. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Of course, the artist’s life has always been a struggle. Picasso said to me the other day: ‘One starts to get young at the age of 60—and then it’s too late.’ Only then does one start to feel free; only then has one learned to strip oneself down to one’s essential creative simplicity.”

Thus, the evidence for this quotation is indirect. Cocteau reported the words he ascribed to Picasso during an interview published in “The Sunday Times”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading One Starts To Get Young at the Age of 60 and Then It’s Too Late

Notes:

  1. 1963 October 27, The Boston Sunday Globe, Cocteau’s Last Observations: One Is Getting Young At 60 … It’s Too Late by Derek Prouse, Quote Page 6A, Column 1 and 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (The interview originally appeared in “The Sunday Times” of London on October 20, 1963) (Newspapers_com)

A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Paul Valéry? W. H. Auden? Anaïs Nin? Maya Deren? Jean Cocteau? Gore Vidal? Marianne Moore? George Lucas? Oscar Wilde?

Dear Quote Investigator: A creative person who is absorbed with the task of generating an artwork hesitates to declare completion. Reworking and improving a piece are always tantalizing possibilities. Here are five versions of a saying about unavoidable incompleteness:

  • A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
  • A work is never completed, but merely abandoned.
  • A work of art is never completed, only abandoned.
  • Books are never finished—they are merely abandoned.
  • Films are never completed, they are only abandoned.

The prominent poets Paul Valéry and W. H. Auden have both received credit for this adage. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In March 1933 Paul Valéry published an essay in “La Nouvelle Revue Française” (“The New French Review”) about his poem “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Cemetery by the sea”). The saying under analysis was included in this article although the exposition was lengthy. Over time Valéry’s words were streamlined and modified to yield the current set of expressions. Here is the original French followed by a rendering into English. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.

The following translation by Rosalie Maggio appeared in the valuable reference “The Quote Verifier”: 2

In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Work of Art Is Never Finished, Merely Abandoned

Notes:

  1. Date: Mars 1933 (March 1933), Periodical: La Nouvelle Revue Française (The New French Review), Article: Au sujet du Cimetière marin (Concerning the Cemetery by the Sea), Author: Paul Valéry, Start Page 399, Quote Page 399, Publisher: La Nouvelle Revue Française, Paris, France. (On February 23, 2019 QI accessed image showing Table of Contents via gallimard.fr; QI has verified that Table of Contents for March 1933 lists the article; also text is visible in multiple snippets within La Nouvelle Revue Française in Google Books, but QI has not yet accessed the issue directly to view the article) link
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Entry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”, Quote Page 167 and 317, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

I Believe I Would Take the Fire

Jean Cocteau? André Fraigneau? Harold Acton? Ned Rorem? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A top literary figure whose home was packed with valuable manuscripts and art objects was once asked to choose a favorite item. A vivid and heartbreaking scenario was proposed by an interviewer. The reply described the perfect salvation:

Suppose flames were consuming your home and time was precious. What one thing would you carry away?

I would carry away the fire.

The discourse above is approximate because I do not recall the exact phrases. Taking the fire would save the valuable items. In addition, the action alludes to Promethean inspiration. Would you please help me to identify the interview participants and a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1951 André Fraigneau conducted a series of radio interviews with Jean Cocteau. Transcripts of the discussion were published in 1965 and again in 1988 in a volume titled “Entretiens: Jean Cocteau et André Fraigneau”. Here is an excerpt from the French dialog. Emphasis added by QI: 1

André Fraigneau. — Parmi ces objets il y en a bien certains auxquels vous tenez particulièrement? Si par exemple, je ne sais pas, enfin, s’il y avait le feu chez vous, quel est l’objet que vous préféreriez et que vous emporteriez ?

Jean Cocteau. — S’il y avait le feu chez moi ?

André Fraigneau. — Oui.

Jean Cocteau. — Je crois que j’emporterais le feu.

Here is one possible English translation of the dialog:

André Fraigneau. — Among these objects there must be some that you are particularly attached to? If, for example, I don’t know, well, if there was a fire in your home, which object would you prefer, which object would you take with you?

Jean Cocteau. — If there was a fire in my home?

André Fraigneau. — Yes.

Jean Cocteau. — I believe I would take the fire.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Believe I Would Take the Fire

Notes:

  1. 1988,Title: Entretiens: Jean Cocteau et André Fraigneau, Authors: Jean Cocteau & André Fraigneau, Editeur: Jean-Paul Bertrand, Collection: Alphée, Description: Interviews of Jean Cocteau conducted by André Fraigneau; front flap of dust jacket states interviews were broadcast January 26 to March 28, 1951, Quote Page 80 and 81, Publisher: Editions du Rocher, Le Rocher, Monaco. (Verified with scans; thanks to Claire Lauper in Paris)

First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Mohandas Gandhi? Jean Cocteau? Robbie Williams? Julian Beck? Earl B. Morgan? Tony Benn? Peter D. Jones? Louis Agassiz? Arthur Schopenhauer?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi famously employed nonviolent strategies during the struggle for Indian independence. A quotation often attributed to him asserts that popular movements pass through four stages:

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Are these really the words of Gandhi?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in Gandhi’s oeuvre without success. The saying was ascribed to him by 1982, but Gandhi died decades earlier in 1948.

The earliest known substantive match occurred in a speech delivered by Nicholas Klein at a convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Typically, a successful social movement is based on a proposition extolled as a truth. For example, the Gandhian movement was based on the assertion that India should be an independent nation. These propositions face opposition and a harsh reception. QI believes that the saying under analysis fits into a large and evolving family of statements about the multi-stage difficulties obstructing new ideas and truths.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Notes:

  1. 1918, Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: 1916-1918, Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, (Held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 13 to May 18, 1918), Address given in Fourth Session on Wednesday, May 15, 1918, Address of Nicholas Klein, Start Page 51, Quote Page 53, Published by Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. (Special note on dating: The dating on the document was confusing. In some locations the year 1919 was listed. In other locations 1918 was listed. I checked the day of the week for May 15, 1918 and May 15, 1919 and only the earlier date matched the specified weekday of Wednesday) (Google Books Full View) link

A Great Literary Masterpiece Is Only a Dictionary in Disorder

Jean Cocteau? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent French writer Jean Cocteau has been credited with the following humorously skewed definition. Here are three versions:

  1. A great literary masterpiece is simply a dictionary in disorder.
  2. The greatest masterpiece in literature is only a dictionary out of order.
  3. Masterpieces of literature are nothing more than the alphabet in disorder.

Would you please help me to find the original citation in French?

Quote Investigator: The statement appeared twice in the Cocteau’s 1924 work “Le Potomak, 1913-1914: Précédé d’un Prospectus 1916”. The section “Première Visite au Potomak” contained this text: 1

Si Hugo vous avait confié son oeuvre inédite, sans doute lui eussiez-vous rendu le dictionnaire Larousse, car, songez-y, Argémone, un chef-d’oeuvre de la littérature n’est jamais qu’un dictionnaire en désordre.

The section “Prospectus” referred to the text above: 2

Mes poètes furent: Larousse, Chaix, Joanne, Vidal de La Blache. Mes peintres: l’afficheur. La moindre impulsion suffisant à ma paresse de goinfre. A cette date, je notais (POTOMAK, p. 244): « Le plus grand chef-d’oeuvre de la littérature n’est jamais qu’un dictionnaire en désordre »

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading A Great Literary Masterpiece Is Only a Dictionary in Disorder

Notes:

  1. 1924, Title: Le Potomak, 1913-1914: Précédé d’un Prospectus 1916, Author: Jean Cocteau, Edition: 1924 Septième Edition, Texte Définitif, Section: Prospectus, Quote Page 14 and 15, Section: Première Visite au Potomak, Quote Page 243 and 244, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Delemain, Boutelleau & Cie, Paris. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1924, Title: Le Potomak, 1913-1914: Précédé d’un Prospectus 1916, Author: Jean Cocteau, Edition: 1924 Septième Edition, Texte Définitif, Section: Prospectus, Quote Page 14 and 15, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Delemain, Boutelleau & Cie, Paris. (Verified with hardcopy)