From Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying: An Observation:
Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and, having done so, passes on to other things. Nature, upon the other hand, forgetting that imitation can be made the sincerest form of insult, keeps on repeating this effect until we all become absolutely wearied of it. Nobody of any real culture, for instance, ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset. Sunsets are quite old-fashioned. They belong to the time when Turner was the last note in art. To admire them is a distinct sign of provincialism of temperament. Upon the other hand they go on. Yesterday evening Mrs. Arundel insisted on my going to the window, and looking at the glorious sky, as she called it. Of course I had to look at it. She is one of those absurdly pretty Philistines to whom one can deny nothing. And what was it? It was simply a very second-rate Turner, a Turner of a bad period, with all the painter’s worst faults exaggerated and over- emphasised.
This passage is better known for the Turner quip but I more enjoy Wilde’s stumbling directly onto what I always find his own artistic and intellectual failing – “Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and, having done so, passes on to other things. [Wilde]…. keeps on repeating this effect until we all become absolutely wearied of it.”
From Saki’s The Stampeding of Lady Bastable. My wife reminded me of this quote on the walk home from a cocktail dinner but I was too many drinks in to now remember the connected context.
On this particular morning the sight of Lady Bastable enthroned among her papers gave Clovis the hint towards which his mind had been groping all breakfast time. His mother had gone upstairs to supervise packing operations, and he was alone on the ground-floor with his hostess – and the servants. The latter were the key to the situation. Bursting wildly into the kitchen quarters, Clovis screamed a frantic though strictly non-committal summons: “Poor Lady Bastable! In the morning-room! Oh, quick!” The next moment the butler, cook, page-boy, two or three maids, and a gardener who had happened to be in one of the outer kitchens were following in a hot scurry after Clovis as he headed back for the morning-room. Lady Bastable was roused from the world of newspaper lore by hearing a Japanese screen in the hall go down with a crash. Then the door leading from the ball flew open and her young guest tore madly through the room, shrieked at her in passing, “The jacquerie! They’re on us!” and dashed like an escaping hawk out through the French window. The scared mob of servants burst in on his heels, the gardener still clutching the sickle with which he had been trimming hedges, and the impetus of their headlong haste carried them, slipping and sliding, over the smooth parquet flooring towards the chair where their mistress sat in panic-stricken amazement. If she had had a moment granted her for reflection she would have behaved, as she afterwards explained, with considerable dignity. It was probably the sickle which decided her, but anyway she followed the lead that Clovis had given her through the French window, and ran well and far across the lawn before the eyes of her astonished retainers.
Lost dignity is not a possession which can be restored at a moment’s notice, and both Lady Bastable and the butler found the process of returning to normal conditions almost as painful as a slow recovery from drowning. A jacquerie, even if carried out with the most respectful of intentions, cannot fail to leave some traces of embarrassment behind it.
From vol. 2 of Conversations, interviews in the early 1980s between Osvaldo Ferrari and Jorge Luis Borges (pg 49-50).
Ferrari: Talking about that – courage seems to be another of her characteristics. One has to remember the telephone calls!
Borges: Yes, she once received a telephone call and a duly coarse, menacing voice said to her, “I’m going to kill you and your son.” “Why, senor?” my mother asked with a rather surprising courtesy. “Because I’m a Peronist.” “Well,” my mother said, “as far as my son is concerned, he leaves the house at 10 every morning. All you have to do is wait for him and kill him. As for me, I’m now (I don’t remember what age she was) 80-something years old – I would advise you not to waste your time talking on the telephone! Because if you don’t hurry, I’ll die before you get to me.” Then the voice put the phone down. I asked her the day after, “Did someone call last night?” “Yes,” she said, “some fool called me at two in the morning,” and then she repeated the conversation. After that there were no more calls. Of course, that nuisance-caller terrorist must have been so shocked that he didn’t dare repeat his offence.
Students and learned men of every kind and every age go as a rule in search of information, not insight. They make it a point of honour to have information about everything: It does not occur to them that information is merely a means toward insight and possesses little or no value in itself. When I see how much these well-informed people know, I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading!
From the Penguin anthology – Essays and Aphorisms (pg. 220).