Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Every spurious quotation circulating on the Internet aspires to be attributed to Winston Churchill."

-- De Tocqueville [or possibly Santayana]

Research has uncovered an entertaining exercise in forensic scholarship at Quote Investigator, just waiting around waiting to be stolen.

In this case the task of providing the quotation with its ultimate apotheosis fell to a NRO columnist, in a 2006 article ostensibly written about his unwillingness to distinguish between fictional characters and reality. He knew that the Winston attribution is not just 'supposedly' but certainly apocryphal because it was his own National Review colleague Kate O’Beirne who had earlier ascribed it to Orwell... explaining his conscience-salving invocation of anonymous Others who are 'often quoting'. Many more sentences like that and world stockpiles of Passive Voice would run dangerously low.

So Kate O'Beirne is the first documented writer to ventriloquise George Orwell's corpse and force the sentence in question out of his rotting cakehole:
George Orwell displayed more understanding of the reality of combat in one sentence: “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Floodgates opened
It is fortunate that O'Beirne had enough combat experience to let her vouch for the accuracy of Orwell's observation. Anyway, this 1997 attribution opened the floodgates to its widespread acceptance among camo-fetishist rightwing hacks and duckspeakers, notably George Will. It turns out, however, that she was only the second link in the human centipede.

The first link was a neocon writer in the Moonie Times, who made it clear that the words were his own, summarising Orwell's position. Or one of Orwell's positions, at least (he was never one to allow recollections of his stance at time A to imperil his steadfast certainty in the absolute moral superiority of his contrary stance at time B). O'Beirne's contribution was to add the quote marks.

The whole process bears an uncanny resemblance to Delvoye's Cloaca Machines for transforming food scraps into turds.

Now here at Riddled Research Laboratory, there have been setbacks with our ongoing efforts to reconstruct the complete works of Shakespeare using a large enough room full of monkeys and typewriters. It did not help when the monkeys organised themselves into a Workers' Cooperative, refused to answer to any name other than "Pierre Menard" as a collective monicker, and announced that they would henceforth focus their efforts on reconstructing Don Quixote. The pygmy elephant we brought in to replace them tried valiantly enough but you could tell that it would rather be back on its previous assignment of sitting in the corner of the room.

Nor did it help that the typewriters keep metamorphosing into beetles (everyone denies fiddling with the Evolvamat), which is all very well if the goal were to reconstruct the complete works of Franz Kafka, but hello, it isn't. It has all been quite dispiriting and sometimes we wonder if it wouldn't just be easier to buy a copy of the book.

But in the nick of time, Plan B has occurred to us, which is to route the output from the monkeys directly to the Washington Times and NRO word processors. That way, whatever they write, it'll end up attributed to Shakespeare anyway.
Not Cloaca machines


ckc (not kc) said...

...who really wrote this post?

The monkeys said...

asdflkijur v ioaoxzkzvb ....23J3 V;P

Substance McGravitas said...


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

If you simply got yourselves a trained black mamba, you'd have that elephant doing whatever you required of it.

Scott Chansoder said...

Your spurious quotation quotation appears to be Churchillian

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

But in the nick of time, Plan B has occurred to us, which is to route the output from the monkeys directly to the Washington Times and NRO word processors

Monkeys would be a step up from the usual crew.

fish said...

Even if Orwell did actually say it, based on his politics, I would guess he meant it in a very different way than they are now interpreting it. I suspect his real meaning was probably very anti-empire in nature...