A Copy of the Universe Is Not What Is Required of Art; One of the Damned Thing Is Ample

Rebecca West? Virginia Woolf? Nelson Goodman? Noam Chomsky? Vita Sackville-West? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Quantum mechanics has an interpretation that envisions many worlds. Also, modal logic has a semantics that features many possible worlds. Yet, the expansive idea of many universes or worlds has waggish detractors. One comical response to this plenteous philosophy states:

One of the damn things is enough.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI occurred in a 1928 collection of essays by the prominent British author and critic Rebecca West. Her piece titled “The Strange Necessity” discussed the fidelity of representation within artworks. She believed it was wrong-headed for an artist to unduly concentrate on achieving verisimilitude. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We feel impatient with Royal Academy stuff of that sort because really the makers of it ought to have learned by this time that a copy of the universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned thing is ample.

West’s barb about artistic realism was not really aimed at the many worlds of quantum mechanics or modal logic. Modern expressions typically use the word “enough”, but West used the word “ample”. In addition, she used the singular “thing” instead of ‘things”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Copy of the Universe Is Not What Is Required of Art; One of the Damned Thing Is Ample

Notes:

  1. 1928, The Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews by Rebecca West, Essay 1: The Strange Necessity, Start Page 13, Quote Page 131, Jonathan Cape, London, England. (Verified with scans)