Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mean Quotes

From Paul's Poisoned Pen...

Two days ago, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, author and Professional Nasty Person Gore Vidal was asked:
How did you feel when you heard that [William F.] Buckley died this year?

I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.

Forty years ago, Buckley and Vidal nearly came to blows when debating the First Amendment -- there's a joke in that, I'm sure -- on live network television. Gore called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and Buckley replied: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll punch you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

You can watch the extraordinary film clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYymnxoQnf8

The feud never ended, not even with Buckley's death. Writers have long sharpened their steak knives on the flanks of other writers. Herewith a few examples, beginning with the classic shot at Lillian Hellman by Mary McCarthy:

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'

Then there's...

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." William Faulkner regarding Ernest Hemingway

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner

Faulkner was particularly nasty. He called Mark Twain a "hack writer" and said that Henry James "was one of the nicest old ladies I ever met."

Virginia Woolf described James Joyce's "Ulysses" as "the work of a queasy undergraduate squeezing his pimples." [Ah, so now I understand that confounding book!]

And this...

"The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg." Edmund Wilson

But then...

"Edmund Wilson's careful and pedestrian and sometimes rather clever book reviews misguide one into thinking there is something in his head besides mucilage." Raymond Chandler

Finally, perhaps the most well known literary put-down of our time: Truman Capote's description of Jack Kerouac's work: "That's not writing; that's typewriting."

That's all the typewriting for today, folks. Feel free to take a shot at any writer (or anyone else), if you so desire.



  1. Very amusing stuff, which brings up an interesting point. We don't see this type of snarky writerly back-biting anymore, except, I suppose, in hushed, private conversations. Why is that, I wonder?

  2. I think because today, people can't usually keep even a shred of civility in it.

    A writer makes a comment about another, the other goes out and starts a malicious crusade... gathering all their supports who do the same.

    Nobody seems to know how to shrug off a slight (or a difference in taste). In my opion at least.

  3. Probably there was quite a bit more drinking and brawling, literal and figurative, in the good old days. Dorothy Parker and W. Churchill were famous for their pithy and withering putdowns.

  4. My favorite Churchill putdown was when a woman told him he was drunk, and he replied, "but I will be sober in the morning, whereas you will still be ugly."

  5. In keeping with Paul's issue[s], and his penchant for the NYTimes, read this new take on crime and punishment:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/opinion/08sun4.html

    Since Go-Lo, Cornelia, and "our J" are truly the bees knees, I proffer up the following:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/06/04/scibees104.xml....you'll see the connection of this article with today's theme......to quote that great King, no not Martin Luther, but Rodney, "Can't we all just get along."

    Hope this won't stir anyone to want to punch me in my goddamn face and make it stick.


  6. I think Clair hit it on the head. Everything from sports to politics breeds zealots on each side that refuse to give the other side any credit what so ever.

    I prefer snark in the open.


  7. Well, let me just get my claws sharpened and have a big old slurp of cream ...

    Actually, nothing iffy to say about anyone. As far as I'm concerned, knowing what it takes to write a book, any book, I'll keep my opinions to myself unless they're good opinions. I just know how I feel when someone says something not terribly flattering about my work. I never did get that thick skin that my Dad told me it would be a good idea to acquire, when I was a kid.

    And that typewriting of yours is pretty bloody good, Our Paulie.

    Jon, thanks for the link - the latest buzz on how communication should work for all of us.

  8. If we had only known...they could have blogged together, and been one big, happy family.

    Perhaps the market was a wee bit more competetive in those days.

  9. "if you can't say anything good about somebody, don't say anything at all!"
    that's what our parents always told my brothers and me - and it's not a bad piece of advice.


  10. Cornelia Read is to writing what George Michael is to hemorrhoids.