Quote Unquote

I was struck by this piece in Cinematical, for two reasons. Firstly, the piece in the Onion A.V. Club which it references is, after some preamble, in praise of The Rocketeer, a film I’ve always thought had a rough deal. Notwithstanding some slightly bland casting, it’s inventive, playful, and wonderful to look at. Secondly, the Cinematical piece takes time in passing to praise the quality of the writing in the Onion — in this case by Nathan Rabin. At the time I was taken myself by this line from Scott Tobias’s review of Michael Haneke’s own remake of Funny Games:

Haneke’s film, by contrast [with Gus van Sant’s remake of Psycho], doesn’t play the audience like a piano so much as rap its fingers for touching the keys

That’s as elegant as it is incisive; it has a standalone quality, as if on the page of some dictionary of quotations.

Which gives me the opportunity to pop something I’ve had on my blog stack for a while: my hatred of the exaltation of quotations to the level of mystical wisdom. The misguided elitism inherent in the gathering of Important Words by Important People obscures the fact that there’s wisdom everywhere, and that it doesn’t need to be synonymous with fame. There’s insight in the New Yorker and the Onion both, and good writing in both. Quotation gathering becomes an exercise in taking the pith from the already-famous, rather than recognizing the worth in writing of all forms. The merit of the words, which ought to derive from their intrinsic value and beauty, is borrowed from the standing of their author. It’s a form of argument by authority. If reference works of quotations have any value, it ought not to be significantly diminished with the names of the authors removed.

But, of course, in most situations the authors of quotations are the specific point. When I see posters or bumper stickers from Einstein’s quote-whore period, the odds are far better than even that the intention will be either anti-science or dismissive of science, so his weighty approval is crucial. I’m weary of seeing “Imagination is more important than knowledge” stripped of its context and its underlying complexity – a recognition that, from a solid and rigorous base of knowledge, leaps of intuition can take us to new areas of conceptual space which we can then acquire rigorous knowledge of (essentially Margaret Boden’s model of creativity) — such that what’s left is a licence to sneer at the bean-counters of fundamental science. That’s only possible by co-opting his massive reputation. The words alone aren’t enough.

Having said all of that, here’s a quotation I particularly like:

The problem with communism is that its supporters think it works, but it doesn’t. The problem with capitalism is that its supporters know it doesn’t work, and they don’t care.
— John Kenneth Galbraith

Actually, that wasn’t Galbraith. I made it up. Come friendly GOOG and search North Gare. There’s naught but fake quotations there.

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