Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Oscar Wilde? Michael Cunningham? Robert Klitzman? Robert Michels? Frank Underwood? Kevin Spacey? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the precipitous downfall of an influential literary tastemaker and powerbroker at “The Paris Review” I encountered once again a remark attributed to Oscar Wilde. Here are three versions:

  • Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
  • Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.
  • Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.

The Wilde ascription is often labeled apocryphal. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this remark. It is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the “Provincetown Arts” journal of 1995. Author Michael Cunningham employed the saying during an interview conducted by fellow author Paul Lisicky. Cunningham is now best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

If you’re writing about what people do to and with one another, it’s sort of crazy to leave sex out. I think Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in human life is really about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” And I think he’s got something there.

Cunningham disclaimed coinage and provided an attribution that was both tentative and implausible. Hence, the saying remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, Quote (Quotation is absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1995, Provincetown Arts, Volume 11, Conversations: A Talk with Michael Cunningham by Paul Lisicky, Start Page 36, Quote Page 39, Column 3, Published Annually in July by Provincetown Arts Inc., Provincetown, Massachusetts. link (Internet Archive at archive.org accessed June 5, 2018)

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing the World He Didn’t Exist

Christopher McQuarrie? Charles Baudelaire? Kevin Spacey? Verbal Kint? Keyser Söze? John Wilkinson? William Ramsey? John Fletcher Hurst? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1995 movie “The Usual Suspects” contains a memorable line spoken by a guileful character about the existence or non-existence of the Devil.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Apparently, the prominent French literary figure Charles Baudelaire said something similar. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Charles Baudelaire did write a story that appeared in the Paris newspaper “Le Figaro” in 1864 that included a comparable statement. The precise citation is given further below.

Interesting precursors occurred even earlier; for example, the 1836 book “Quakerism Examined” by John Wilkinson contained the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist: another, perhaps equally fatal, is to make them fancy that he is obliged to stand quietly by, and not to meddle with them, if they get into true silence.

In 1856 “Spiritualism, a Satanic Delusion, and a Sign of the Times” by Pastor William Ramsey included this passage: 2

One of the most striking proofs of the personal existence of Satan, which our times afford us, is found in the fact, that he has so influenced the minds of multitudes in reference to his existence and doings, as to make them believe that he does not exist; and that the hosts of Demons or Evil Spirits, over whom Satan presides as Prince, are only the phantacies of the brain, some halucination of mind. Could we have a stronger proof of the existence of a mind so mighty as to produce such results?

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing the World He Didn’t Exist

Notes:

  1. 1836, Quakerism Examined: In a Reply to the Letter of Samuel Tuke by John Wilkinson, Chapter 4: Is the Sacrifice of Christ Held in Proper Estimation by the Society of Friends?, Quote Page 239 and 240, Thomas Ward and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1856, Spiritualism, a Satanic Delusion, and a Sign of the Times by William Ramsey (Pastor of the Cedar Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia), Chapter 2: The Case Stated, Quote Page 33, Edited by H. L. Hastings, Published by H. L. Hastings, Peace Dale, Rhode Island. (HathiTrust Full View) link