By Anne Matthews
March 11, 2014
In every man, of course, a demon lies hidden.
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1880
Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. … Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
—Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, 1965
White shall not neutralize the black, nor good
Compensate bad in man, absolve him so:
Life’s business being just the terrible choice.
—Robert Browning, “The Pope,” The Ring and the Book, 1868
I enjoyed perfect health of body, and tranquillity of mind; I did not feel the treachery or inconstancy of a friend, nor the injuries of a secret or open enemy. I had no occasion of bribing, flattering, or pimping, to procure the favour of any great man, or of his minion; I wanted no fence against fraud or oppression: here was neither physician to destroy my body, nor lawyer to ruin my fortune; no informer to watch my words and actions, or forge accusations against me for hire: here were no gibers, censurers, backbiters, pickpockets, highwaymen, housebreakers, attorneys, bawds, buffoons, gamesters, politicians, wits, splenetics, tedious talkers, controvertists, ravishers, murderers, robbers, virtuosos.
—Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, 1726
Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, then eat, males of a different species? What about those animals that make their livings by deception—the biological mimics, the pretenders, the fish dangling bits of their flesh as bait in front of their jaws, the malingering birds limping along to lie about the location of their nests, the peacock, who is surely not conceivably all that he claims to be?
—Lewis Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, 1984
I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that look like palaces under the colors, the circular drive-ins as gay as circuses with the chipper hard-eyed carhops, the brilliant counters, and the sweaty greasy kitchens that would have poisoned a toad. … I meet nice people, with or without ice picks in their necks. I leave, and I leave myself wide-open too.
—Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister, 1949
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
—Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894
My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.
—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968
What is huyou? Originally it meant “to sway unsteadily”—like fishing boats bobbing in the waves, for example, or leaves shaking in the wind. Later it developed a new life as an idiom particularly popular in northeast China, derived from another phrase that sounds almost the same: “to mislead.” … Hyping things up and laying it on thick—that’s huyou. Playing a con trick and ripping somebody off—that’s huyou, too. In the first sense, the word has connotations of bragging, as well as enticement and entrapment; in the second sense, it carries shades of dishonesty, misrepresentation, and fraud … [when a huyou comedy routine] was performed in CCTV’s Spring Festival gala—the most-watched television program in China—the word “bamboozle” immediately took the nation by storm … as phenomena long existent in Chinese society—boasting and exaggerating, puffery and bluster, mendacity and casuistry, flippancy and mischief—acquired greater energy and rose to new heights in bamboozle’s capacious ocean.
—Yu Hua, “Bamboozle,” China in Ten Words, 2012
We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.
—Tennessee Williams, Camino Real, 1953
Until that time, her betrayals had filled her with excitement and joy, because they opened up new paths to new adventures of betrayal. But what if the paths came to an end? One could betray one’s parents, husband, country, love, but when parents, husband, country, and love were gone—what was left to betray? Sabina felt emptiness all around her. What if that emptiness was the goal of all her betrayals? Naturally she had not realized it until now. How could she have? The goals we pursue are always veiled.
—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988
I went home with the waitress, the way I always do
How was I to know she was with the Russians too?
I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk.
Send lawyers, guns and money
Dad, get me out of this.
—Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Excitable Boy, 1978
A great friend of mine at the beginning of our friendship (he was himself a poet) said to me very defiantly, “I have to tell you that I loathe children’s books.” And I said to him, “Well, won’t you just read this just for my sake?” And he said grumpily, “Oh, very well, send it to me.” I did, and I got a letter back saying: “Why didn’t you tell me? Mary Poppins with her cool green core of sex has me enthralled forever.”
—P. L.Travers, The Paris Review, 1982
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.