Sunday, October 22, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

John Leonard (1939 – 2008)


American literary, TV, film and cultural critic.
John Leonard
It may be that the Greeks had it easy, with their light and their mountains and their plains and their islands waiting around for tourists. It was easy for them to believe that man fit in rather well. This fittingness may have given them the idea that we are seemlier than other evidence suggests. The heads of Rameses II at Abu Simbel and, for that matter, the skyscrapers of New York, have another idea of man. So do the artifacts of Albert Speer. It is depressing to wonder whether the Greeks just happened to be lucky, and the dream they left us is a lie about ourselves.
Leonard quotes
It makes me itchy, this wry fatalism, but it doesn't make me itch nearly as much as the heroes of so many other modern novels for whom stalking the savage libido is more fun than kinship or community; who will leave town either to find their callow selves, as if they'd lost anything important, or, more transgressively, to kill a bear, a bull, a whale, a unicorn, a hippogriff, a signifier or, preferably, their fathers.
Leonard
Every intelligent child is an amateur anthropologist. The first thing such a child notices is that adults don't make sense.




Leonard John quotes
We are getting to be of an age when it is difficult to grow new friends; we haven't the energy, the time to cultivate; each one gone is a permanent impoverishment.
Leonard John
When the state murders, it assumes an authority I refuse to concede: the authority of perfect knowledge in final things.
John Leonard quotes
Run from the Furies, and they find you, as if fear were a homing device, as if literature itself, on contemplating the abyss, were an invitation to jump into it, while Wagner whistles.
John Leonard
My whole life I have been waving the names of writers, as if we needed rescue. From these writers, for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock, and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy, and amazing grace. At an average of five books a week, not counting all those sighed at and nibbled on before they go to the Strand, I will read 13,000. Then I'm dead. Thirteen thousand in a lifetime, about as many as there are new ones published every month in this country.
It's not enough, and yet rich to excess. The books we love, love us back. In gratitude, we should promise not to cheat on them ó not to pretend we're better than they are; not to use them as target practice, agit-prop, trampolines, photo ops or stalking horses; not to sell out scruple to that scratch-and-sniff info-tainment racket in which we posture in front of experience instead of engaging it, and fidget in our cynical opportunism for an angle, a spin, or a take, instead of consulting compass points of principle, and strike attitudes like matches, to admire our wiseguy profiles in the mirrors of the slicks. We are reading for our lives, not performing like seals for some fresh fish.
Leonard John quotes
Suppose, deep down, you suspect that you are dull, and your public works are a form of vengeance. You talk a good poem, and think by numbers. Once upon a time, you were interesting; then Mother died and you had to give it up.
Leonard
Every fall I imagine once again that something wonderful will happen at a party. This is like imagining that the telephone book will prove to be a wonderful novel.
Leonard John
Somewhere in the Bill of Rights is a Pig Amendment; our freedom to stuff ourselves cannot be abridged. Having so stuffed, we demand a technological solution to the fat problem. Give me cyclamates, or give me death! This is not only immoral; it is also boring.
John Leonard
Everybody is forever saying that the essay is dead. This is always said in essays.




John Leonard quotes
The life, no matter how traumatic, never explains the work, if the work is any good. W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Doris Lessing, and Saul Bellow variously believed in faeries, funny money, flying saucers, and orgone energy accumulation, but so have millions of other people who never got around to writing even a mediocre poem or novel.
John Leonard
Prisons are a growth industry in a country that has stopped building schools because we would rather not pay our property taxes. And we seem remarkably comfortable with a criminal-justice system that locks up and "disappears" people we fear or hold in contempt ó with prisons as closets to hide our unmentionables and as factories for processing spare human parts until there is nothing left but waste.
Leonard quotes
Rimbaud gave up poetry when it failed to change the world. Orwell at the end must have had his doubts about language, too, or he wouldn't have dreamed up Newspeak. Neither is remembered for his hard work at identity-making. Instead, the poet's name is worn by freaks, geeks and videodrones as if it were a logo on a T-shirt or a jet-propelled sneaker, and the novelist is propped up on a horse like the dead El Cid to frighten the Moorish hordes. They have both been turned into the standard-issue celebrity flacks of this empty, buzzing time, selling something other than themselves, unattached to honor, glory, kingship, sainthood or genius. They join a talk-show parade of the power-mad, the filthy rich and the serial killers, the softboiled fifteen-minute Warhol eggs, the rock musicians addled on cobra venom, the war criminals whose mothers never loved them and the starlets babbling on about their substance abuse, their child molestations, their anorexia and their liposuction. "I have never belonged to this race," said Rimbaud.
Leonard John
Military people have a heavy investment in rules against torture, not only because we want to protect our own POWs from reciprocal brutalities, as a former general counsel for the Department of the Navy explains here, but also because war is so terrible that it desperately requires any limits anyone can agree on, any gesture toward dignity, any mitigation suggesting civilized scruple. There isnít even persuasive evidence that torture makes its victims tell their secrets, instead of saying whatever we want to hear. From an international leader in the cause of human rights and democratic values, the U.S. has turned into an unaccountable bully.
Leonard John quotes
Granted, religion is wishful thinking, but there is no other kind of thinking.
John Leonard
In God's body shop, each of us was customized. But science came along to substitute statistical inference for free will. We are now a tribe of likelihoods.
John Leonard quotes
One advantage of remorse is that it sets the stage for consolation.
John Leonard
Everybody remembers his or her first magic show. Mine was in a garage in the dark. I passed out bowls of peeled grapes and described them as the devil's eyeballs. After that, by the light of a lantern on a wall of cinderblocks, there were card tricks and some pigeons we pretended to decapitate. The attraction of magic, to the amateur magician, derived from the fact that it wasn't magic at all; it was science in the service of illusion. Having sent in the magazine coupon and received our kit, we knew how everything worked toward achieving the ecstatic grasp.
Leonard John
You can't invent yourself as you maunder on. Your fabrications aren't going to impress the blood test, the urinalysis or the chest X-ray. Science is not amused.


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