Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.
Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically compiled for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.
In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time, we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.
The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.
Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.
We start the year 2024 with this, the forty-first chapter in Other People’s Thoughts.
— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
28 January 2024
More Other People’s Thoughts:
- Other People’s Thoughts, China Heritage
Other People’s Thoughts, XLI
Forty Years Ago
On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’.
— Apple Macintosh advertisement, Super Bowl, 1984
Wetware, Software, Malware
The threat is that we shrink ourselves to the scale of our machines’ limited capabilities; the threat is the sanding down of human thought and life to fit into ever more standardized data sets.
A.I. cannot innovate. All it can produce are prompt-driven approximations and reconstitutions of preexisting materials. If you believe that culture is an imaginative human endeavor, then there should be nothing to fear, except that — what do you know? — a lot of humans have not been imagining anything more substantial. When a TikTok user in April posted an A.I.-generated song in the style (and voices) of Drake and the Weeknd, critics and copyright lawyers bayed that nothing less than our species’s self-definition was under threat, and a simpler sort of listener was left to wonder: Was this a “real” song? (A soulless engine that strings together a bunch of random formulas can pass as Drake — hard to believe, I know….)
An apter question is: Why is the music of these two cocksure Canadians so algorithmic to begin with? And another: What can we learn about human art, human music, human writing, now that the good-enough approximations of A.I. have put their bareness and thinness on full display? …
I remain profoundly relaxed about machines passing themselves off as humans; they are terrible at it. Humans acting like machines — that is a much likelier peril, and one that culture, as the supposed guardian of (human?) virtues and values, has failed to combat these last few years.
— Jason Farago, A.I. Can Make Art That Feels Human. Whose Fault Is That?, The New York Times, 28 December 2023
Eleven Years of Winning
Red Suede Shoes
One for the money two for the show, CCP go go go … Little pink, little pink, you stink stink stink!
— Dr K (Brendan Kavanagh), 27 January 2024
Plagiarism, aka fraud, by any other name; ‘duplicative language without appropriate attribution’; ‘academic sloppiness’; ‘technical attribution issues’; ‘careless cutting and pasting’; ‘repeating banal phrases’; ‘inadvertent missteps’; ‘omitted quotation marks for certain work that I used’
— various online sources
Bill + Wife = Plagiarism = Gay + Harvard
‘It’s called KARMA, and its pronounced haha fuck you’
What’s Not to Hate?
People hate Jews because they are communists, capitalists, foreigners, residents, immigrants, elitists, have strange ways, are unassimilated, too assimilated, bankroll the left (like George Soros) or bankroll the right (like Sheldon Adelson). People hate Jews because they are weak and stateless, or because they are Zionists and defend Israel.
— Rabbi David J. Wolpe, On the Hatred of Jews, The Harvard Crimson, 29 December 2023
Who Will We Be?
And it’s not that our situation was wonderful on October 6. Already then, fascist-racist movements had achieved a foothold in the Israeli political system. Already then we had experienced 15 years of unbridled exacerbation of incitement against anyone voicing criticism of our treatment of the Palestinians and the government policy regarding the conflict with them. …
Long before the accursed Shabbat [7 October 2023] we were at the height of a culture war that the government declared against anything that radiates humanist and universal values, while enforcing an ultranationalist and religious agenda. After October 7 it seemed for a moment that these battles were suspended, because after all, only “Together We Will Win,” right? Well, no. The spread of these festering wounds has only been accelerated under the sponsorship of the disaster and the war.
— Michael Sfaad, Who Will We Be After the War in Gaza Is Over?, Haaretz, 26 December 2023
What Price Ignorance?
It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.
— Upton Sinclair
Santa Fe Institute Operating Principles
Scientific work at SPI is always pushing creativity to its practical limits. We always court a high risk of failure. Above all we have more fun than should be legal.
We are absolutely relentless at hammering down the boundaries created by academic disciplines and by institutional boundaries.
If you know more than anybody else about a subject we want to talk to you. We don’t care what the subject is.
We are beyond relentless in seeking out the best people in every discipline. We will get you here. No matter what. And we will give you the space and the resources that you need.
We don’t care how young you are.
We have in general avoided becoming involved in matters of policy.
But if you are working on a program that involves sustainability or the environment or human welfare and you think we might have something you can use pick up the phone.
The educational opportunities that we offer — especially for young people — are simply not available elsewhere. Period.
Occasionally we find that an invited guest is insane. This generally cheers us all up. We know we’re on the right track.
— Cormac McCarthy
Franz Kafka on Being Jewish
What do I have in common with the Jews? I don’t even have anything in common with myself, and really ought to go stand myself perfectly still in a corner, grateful to be able to breathe.
要說人話； 要接地氣； 要乾實事； 要知禮義廉恥； 要講良心誠信； 要對得起工農大眾； 要對得起衣食父母；要對得起列祖列宗； 要對得起數百萬先烈； 要對得起前任，前前任，前前前任，前前前前任……
不要好高鶩遠； 不要白日做夢； 不要不懂裝懂；不要說一套做一套； 不要貪天功為己有； 不要掛羊頭賣狗肉； 不要日日上電視； 不要每期都發署（掛）名文章； 不要一心只想當酋（球）長；不要等人家操你祖宗八代了，你還一臉朦逼，無自知之明。
The God Delusion
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
— Richard Dawkins
‘A person who hates people yet had to be amongst them.’
— Larry David
Living with the way you think
“We’re always selecting what we say and what we don’t,” says the narrator of “The Land of Green Plums,” the Romanian author Herta Müller’s exacting 1994 novel about dissident students tormented by both the Securitate and their own anxieties. “Why do we say one thing and not the other? And we do this instinctively, too, because no matter what we’re talking about, there’s more that doesn’t get said than does.”
That kind of state control may be over, even in illiberal Hungary. East Berlin has become the art world’s Shenzhen, a low-paid back office for a global cultural industry. Pace Edward Snowden, there is no comparison between the surveillance of the Eastern bloc and today’s ambient digital monitoring. But the selective silence of artists, writers, intellectuals: that feels all too familiar. These artists were asking, like Müller’s narrator, a question that is not at all historical: “How do you have to live, I wondered, to be in harmony with what you honestly think?”
— Jason Farago, Daring to Create Art Freely Behind the Iron Curtain, The New York Times, 11 January 2024
A Thousand and One Voices
We live in a time I did not think I would see in my lifetime, a time when freedom — and in particular freedom of expression, without which the world of books could not exist — is everywhere under attack from reactionary, authoritarian, populist, demagogic, narcissistic, careless voices; when places of education and libraries are subject to hostility and censorship; and when extremist religion and bigoted ideologies have begun to intrude in areas of life in which they do not belong. And there are also progressive voices being raised in favor of a new kind of bien-pensant censorship, one which appears virtuous, and which many people have begun to see as a virtue. So freedom is under pressure from the left as well as the right, the young as well as the old. This is something new, and made more complicated by our new tool of communication, the Internet, on which well-designed pages of malevolent lies sit side by side with the truth, and it is difficult for many people to tell which is which; and our social media, where the idea of freedom is every day abused to permit, very often, a kind of online mob rule, which the billionaire owners of these platforms seem increasingly willing to encourage — and to profit by.
What do we do about free speech when it is so widely abused? We should still do, with renewed vigor, what we have always needed to do: to answer bad speech with better speech, to counter false narratives with better narratives, to answer hate with love, and to believe that the truth can still succeed even in an age of lies. We must defend it fiercely and define it as broadly as possible, so, yes, we should of course defend speech that offends us; otherwise we are not defending free expression at all. Let a thousand and one voices speak in a thousand and one different ways.
To quote Cavafy, “the barbarians are coming today,” and what I do know is that the answer to philistinism is art, the answer to barbarianism is civilization, and in any war it may be that artists of all sorts—filmmakers, actors, singers, and, yes, those who practice the ancient art of the book—can still, together, turn the barbarians away from the gates.
— Salman Rushdie, If Peace Were a Prize
‘In the afterlife, we’ll sit around talking about the good old days, when we wished that we were dead.’
— Samuel Beckett
— 寇準 (北宋)
Habermas Does For Gaza
If Habermas has not an iota of space in his moral imagination for people such as Palestinians, do we have any reason to consider his entire philosophical project as being in any way related to the rest of humanity — beyond his immediate tribal European audiences?
— Hamid Dabashi, Thanks to Gaza, European philosophy has been exposed as ethically bankrupt, Middle East Eye, 18 January 2024
‘The special military operation has united our society like never before and contributed to the cleansing of people who do not feel they belong to Russian history and culture.’
— Sergei Lavrov, 18 January 2024
I’ve never seen it so broken
A lot of people have been asking me lately like — I tend to be a positive person. I try to be solution oriented — how does this end? And I just tell everybody, I have no idea. I have no idea how this ends. I’ve never seen it so broken.
Ezra, it was like we were putting 1,000 piece puzzle together, and somebody came and overturned the table, poured coffee on them. And the dog is now chewing on half of them. And someone’s saying, well, go put that puzzle back together again.
— Thomas Friedman in conversation with Ezra Klein, The New York Times, 19 January 2024
A Poor Thing
‘It isn’t long into Poor Things that you start to feel as if you were being bullied into admiring a movie that’s so deeply self-satisfied there really isn’t room for the two of you.’
— Manohla Dargis
Decline and Fall
The best part of this experience came after the fact — my wife gave me a beautiful edition in three volumes of the magnificent original unabridged Decline and Fall, and since then the pleasure and profit have been all mine as I enjoy the wonderful language, organization and scope of this masterwork. Here are just some of the ways I benefit:
- I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.
- I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins — military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial — are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
- The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.
- I find out how little I know.
- I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things.
- I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world
— Iggy Pop
Song Meiling on Song Qingling, her sister
Last Lines of the Last Poem
The times are such that there is no standing up
Or lying, or sitting down, screaming, or cursing.
You wake up in the night because your bed
Is sinking, and you are sinking with it
— Lev Rubenstein, quoted in Masha Gessen, Lev Rubinstein, a Devoted and Defiant Lover of Language, The New Yorker
Empires über Alles
The world of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It is a world order that is based on empires. China, is not a nation, it’s a civilisation. India is not a nation. The US is also an empire, more than a nation. And then finally the Russian Federation. The world of tomorrow is a world of empires in which we Europeans, and you British, can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together, in a European framework and in the European Union.
— Guy Verhofstadt, The Spectator, 15 September 2019
A Known Quantity
What can I add that has not already been said? A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them’…
A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about…
A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.
There is nothing more that can be said. God help us.
— John Kelly, the longest-serving White House chief of staff for Donald Trump
— Mao Yushi 茅于軾，13 January 2024, Vancouver
‘I refuse to believe that more violence will bring security, I refuse to take part in a war of revenge. I grew up in a home where life is sacred, where discussion is valued, where discourse and understanding always come before taking violent measures. In the world full of corrupt interests in which we live, violence and war are another way to increase support for the government and silence criticism.’
— Tal Mitnick, 26 December 2023
“I call it the ‘holy slap’ now,” purred Jada Pinkett Smith of her husband’s decision to lamp Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars two years ago, “because so many positive things came after it.” God love ’em and everything, but aren’t celebrities incredible? There really is nothing – no incident too blatantly ghastly and embarrassing – that cannot be folded into some kind of aspirational narrative of personal growth. Just as Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” offered an opportunity for Her Vajesty to get gorgeously divorced in a way normies could never, so Jada would have you believe that public assault lies on the other side of the glass against which the likes of us can only press our envious snotty noses.
— Marina Hyde, Hooray for Barbie and Oppenheimer, The Guardian, 23 January 2024
“China feels like a space in which the ceiling keeps getting lower,” one person told me. “To stay means that we have to walk around with our heads lowered and our backs hunched.”
He achieved nothing. He gave us nothing. He left our nation the poorer for his stain upon it. A charlatan and a pitiless, second-rate actor, he will not be mourned. Nobody will mourn him. There is just a darkness in our country where he once used to be.
— RonniSalt, Requiem for a lost country, The Shot, 27 May 2022
Tout le monde
The irresistible proliferation of graphomania shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: we are all writers! for everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. one morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.
— Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting