Monday, March 11, 2013

An Impossible-to-Use Quotation

If there is a proper response, a truly wise response, to the narrative of this book, it surely begins with the recognition that if everyone is bad to the bone -- if all of us strut and fret our hour upon the stage, filled with the consciousness of our injured merit, fairly glowing with self-praise -- then our condition is, first and above all else, comical.
This is the last sentence of the last chapter of Alan Jacobs' book Original Sin. It is what I would call an (almost) impossible-to-use quotation, at least as I like to use short quotations (without their context and as little nuggets of wisdom).

You have to read almost the whole book, and definitely the last chapter, to appreciate the quotation. Jacobs is using the last word, "comical," in a technical sense related to theater and poetry. His evaluation of humanity's depraved condition, of the sin we all inherit and participate in, is profound. What else can I say? Read the whole book!


  1. Loved that book. My favorite quote from the book that's impossible to use is this one, taken from Rebecca West's description of a stuffed, two-headed calf she saw in a museum during her tour of Yugoslavia:

    "To have two heads, one that looks to the right and another that looks to the left, one that is carved by grace and another that is not, the one that wishes to live and the other that does not; this was an experience not wholly unknown to human beings. As we pressed our faces against the case, peering through the green dusk, our reflections were superimposed on the calf, and it would not have been surprising if it had moved nearer the glass to see us."

    You have to do so much explaining that the quote can't be used, but it has powerfully affected me since the moment I read it.

  2. Great quote. I guess Jacobs knows how to tie everything together so that you just have to read the whole book.