Other People’s Thoughts, XXXIV

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 character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

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.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
14 April 2023


More Other People’s Thoughts:

Other People’s Thoughts, XXXIV


‘Jesus, you’re such fucking dopes. You are not serious figures. I love you, … but you are not serious people.’

— Logan, Succession, Season 4 Episode 2


It just so happens that people who value freedom the most are often deprived of it.

– from Ales Bialiatski, 2022 Nobel Peace Prize lecture

Chinese AI

We need to teach machines not only how to speak, but also how not to speak.

— tech joke quoted by Li Yuan, The New York Times, 17 February 2023

Noel Coward

‘He must have been an incredibly good shot.’ — retort to the news that a dim acquaintance had ‘blown his brains out’.

‘like strychnine trying to smile’

My own experiences of Bacon were few, but one afternoon in Muriel’s he was pouring champagne and it spilled on to his hand. He turned and thrust it down the inside front of my trousers. I always loved being groped, but was also ticklish, and burst into laughter; ‘Gedoff!’ and yanked out his paw. Bacon said ‘I was only drying my hands’, not bitchily, but with a weird, simpering expression and wobble of his head — it was like strychnine trying to smile. We were not meant for each other.

— Duncan Fallowell, More scenes from my life with Francis Bacon, The Spectator, 12 January 2019

Ignore tyrants, tumble zealots

Aged six, Terry happened innocently on the sole relic of Eileen’s Catholicism – a small, cheaply produced wooden crucifix on the dressing table in his parents’ bedroom – and he gathered it up and carried it to her with the immortal line, ‘Mum! I’ve found a stick with an acrobat on it.’

Even then, Eileen’s corrective explanation was apparently so circumspect that Terry barely gave this strangely suspended and wounded figure in his loincloth another thought. However, that crucifix was to find an unobtrusive but safe spot in every house in which Eileen lived, including the room in the care home in Salisbury where she spent her final days. …

‘I do not know what solace she found in the tiny, stricken face,’ Terry said, ‘but now I see the face of a humble carpenter who was moved to tell people to be kind to one another – the golden rule of so many wise men – and for his pains was tortured to death by a tyrant at the behest of zealots. Perhaps the message may be to ignore tyrants and tumble zealots.’

— Rob Wilkins, Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes, 2022

‘Your job is to read, read, read and occasionally write.’

Half the world is at war or preparing for it or recovering from it. Moreover, a sizeable portion of the good people of the world are in political prisons of one kind or another, and a fourth are starving; and we are contemptuous not only of human life but all life on the planet, if not the universe; and we are in a kind of trap, and coldness of heart has become the dominant mode, and the life we force ourselves to lead is degrading; and almost all governments are inept and corrupt and brutal; and we live by delusion, and there is very little dignity left and very little awe; and we may perhaps indeed be evil or indifferent creatures altogether, as the cruel incendiaries among us have for centuries suggested; and in my own country ugliness is apotheosized, and money is worshipped more than ever before; and we elect weasels to office; and we carefully destroy most of what is good from the past; and we murder and rape and thieve with ease; and we bore ourselves to death; and we either believe in dark and mindless things or pretend to be governed by systems and rules we neither understand nor believe in; and we hate the brain; and we are deeply pessimistic. Although there are some pockets of resistance: we produce art and we are somehow great in medicine and astronomy; and we dance and write poetry; and we still live for the future; and for one drop of water, the thirsty among us would gather and weep.

— Gerald Stern, quoted in Chris Hedges, Death of an Oracle, 31 October 2022

After Shoah

We remember the famous words that after the Holocaust, after Shoah, there can be no poetry. The alternative is, after Shoah there can be only poetry.

— Gerald Stern (1925-2022), as quoted in an obituary published by The New York Times, 20 October 2022

Christopher Hitchens on Religion

Religion is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life, before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you’re dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I’ve been to North Korea. It has a dead man as its president, Kim Jong-Il is only head of the party and head of the army. He’s not head of the state. That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-Sung. It’s a necrocracy, a thanatocracy. It’s one short of a trinity I might add. The son is the reincarnation of the father. It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can f#$%ing die and leave North Korea!





— China online, 2019

Cohen on Dylan

On Thursday, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, sparking controversy among musicians, novelists and fans. That evening in Los Angeles, his songwriting peer and friend Leonard Cohen gave his thoughts on Dylan’s award. “To me,” he said, “[the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.”

The Guardian, 14 October 2016

A Day in the Life

In her book Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, biographer E. Jean Carroll starts the first chapter with a detailed account of the excess of her subject. Here’s what Carroll reports as a sample daily routine for the gonzo journalist (note that it begins at 3 p.m.):

3:00 p.m. rise
3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
3:45 cocaine
3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill
4:15 cocaine
4:16 orange juice, Dunhill
4:30 cocaine
4:54 cocaine
5:05 cocaine
5:11 coffee, Dunhills
5:30 more ice in the Chivas
5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.
6:00 grass to take the edge off the day
7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jig­gers of Chivas)
9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously
10:00 drops acid
11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass
11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.
12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write
12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo
8:00 Halcyon
8:20 sleep

— E. Jean Carroll, Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, 1993


Happiness is almost definitionally a condition of which you are not aware at the time. To inhabit your own contentment is to be wholly present, with no orbiting satellite to take clinical readings of the state of the planet. Conventionally, you grow conscious of happiness at the very point that it begins to elude you. When not misused to talk yourself into something — when not a lie — the h-word is a classification applied in retrospect. It is a bracketing assessment, a label only decisively pasted onto an era once it is over.

— Lionel Shriver, 2013


Liz Truss — a bland talentless ferret with the lopsided grin and glossy-eyed look of a person embarrassed to ask for directions. I’ve hiked snotty greeners onto the pavement that had better political instincts than the vapid flap of skin that was Liz Truss. I’ve done more charismatic turds.

Jonathan Pie, 21 October 2022


If history is to do its proper job, preserving forever the evidence of past crimes and everything else, it is best left alone. When we ransack the past for political profit—selecting the bits that can serve our purposes and recruiting history to teach opportunistic moral lessons—we get bad morality and bad history.

— Tony Judt, The ‘Problem of Evil’ in Postwar Europe, New York Review of Books, 14 February 2008



— anon

Ralph Nader on the Duopoly

The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That’s the only difference.

— Ralph Nader

The Australian Hoax

‘Australia is not real. It’s a hoax, made for us to believe that Britain moved over their criminals to someplace. In reality, all these criminals were loaded off the ships into the waters, drowning before they could see land ever again.

‘It’s a coverup for one of the greatest mass murders in history, made by one of the most prominent empires.

‘Australia does not exist. All things you call “proof” are actually well fabricated lies and documents made by the leading governments of the world. Your Australian friends? They’re all actors and computer generated personas, part of the plot to trick the world.

‘If you think you’ve ever been to Australia, you’re terribly wrong. The plane pilots are all in on this, and have in all actuality only flown you to islands close nearby – or in some cases, parts of South America, where they have cleared space and hired actors to act out as real Australians.

‘Make it known, that this has all just been a cover-up. The things these “Australian” says to be doing, all these swear words and actions based on alcoholism, MDMA and bad decisions, are all ways to distract you from the ugly truth that is one of the greatest genocides in history. 162,000 people was said to have been transported to this imaginary land during a mere 80 years, and they are all long dead by now. They never reached that promised land.’

Shelley Floryd, Swedish Facebook personality




Cat Tails and the Art of Zen

Q: Is it right that early on Zen was an influence on your acting?

A: In the ’70s when I was young and everybody was meditating, I probably went through my Zen phase. I tried meditating, but I would get into position and breathe and then my cat would walk in the room and run its tail across my face and that would be the end of my meditation. I wasn’t a good meditator. I don’t think I’m very Zen. First of all, I’m not quite sure what Zen is. When people talk about Zen — I’ve read the books: “Zen in the Art of Archery”; “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” There’s a very interesting book called “The Still Point.”

I read all that but like I say, every time I think seriously about it, my cat comes and swipes his tail across my face.

Christopher Walken



— 周孝正

Equal Opportunity

[I]n the olden days if you didn’t like something on television you just didn’t watch it, but in our enlightened times you make damned sure no one else can watch it either.

— Lionel Shriver, The Spectator, 23 October 2021

Camille Paglia to Julie Burchill

A friend of mine calls a style like yours — which we have seen a thousand examples of — “alcoholic prose”. There is a heavy, grinding ponderousness pull on the sinking syntax, a noisy blathering sound, a bitter, maudlin self pity breaking through the false bravado and cynical posturing. It is probably a style you learned at home. It is palpably 30 years out of date.

Apparently you are someone who once made a claim for yourself on the basis of her working class roots. This may have been useful once, but obviously several decades have passed and the hypocrisy of your present position is becoming all too clear. Blow your old, dusty proletarian tuba with all your might, but the unhappy truth is that for many years your life has been one of coterie privilege and dining clubs, a cozy, smug, chic literary insiders’ set that would turn the stomach of any authentic member of the working class. You have become a sheltered, pampered sultan of slick, snide wordplay, without direct experience of life of any kind. As a writer approaching midlife, you lack vision and deep insight.

Camille Paglia
24 March 1993

Julie Burchill to Camilia Paglia

Dear Professor Paglia,

Fuck off you crazy old dyke.

Julie Burchill

In My Day

Dave Shutton:
 What’s your name, son?
Bart Simpson:
 I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?
Dave Shutton:
 I’m Dave Shutton. I’m an investigative reporter who’s on the road a lot, and I must say that in my day, we didn’t talk that way to our elders.
Bart Simpson: 
Well, this is my day, and we do, sir.

8 April 2023, fiftieth anniversary of Picasso’s death

In Paris during the Occupation a Nazi officer came to him and said—admiringly—“Are you the man who made Guernica?” Picasso said: “No. You are.”

A Pygmy’s Straw

Through tattered clothes small vices do appear.
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks.
Arm it in rags, a pygmy’s straw does pierce it.

King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6

Going on Seventy

Going on seventy, one doesn’t want to read badly any more than live badly, since time will not relent. I don’t know that we owe God or nature a death, but nature will collect anyway, and we cer­tainly owe mediocrity nothing, whatever collectivity it purports to advance or at least represent.

— from Harold Bloom, How and Why to Read