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The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Modern Academia


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#1 Cadence

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 02:47 PM

I have posted this thread because this discussion was brought up in an unrelated post, and I wished to continue the conversation.

The original post was in regards to a Fiction Writing Course that a member is trying to sell - he commented that a professor wasn't interested in buying it because it may be "out-of-date." Another user commented that he would purchase it precisely because of its outdatedness.

I replied this -

"Take any modern writing course and you'll hear a bunch of junk about "the human condition" and honing in on your "muse." "Experimental" Fiction is all the rage of the typical professional "intellectual." I had to read a book called "A Thousand Acres," where all of the main characters were manipulative liars, and their dad - who was supposedly a hard-working farmer - raped them when they were young girls. Most of the main characters ended up dying/committing suicide. The author liked to go on rants for two pages about the contents of a drawer. I told the professor that I didn't like the story because the theme suggested that all humans were depraved and inherently flawed. He replied something along the lines of, "I've never met anyone who wasn't." By the way, this book won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

I worked in the Writing Center of a public college for a year or so, and they call Ayn Rand a "second rate writer." One of them (an English professor) said that his life philosophy revolved around the statement, "Treat each other excellently, and party on dude." He was also a logic professor that attempted to convince me that reality was subjective, and that the creation of the rocket ship was an insignificant accident."

Another user replied, who I welcome to repost his reply on this thread.

In reply to his post:

Those things used to bother me severely - I would argue with them for 30+ minutes in an attempt to convince them that they were wrong. I finally realized that it was a waste of my time and energy, and told them that I didn't wish to have any more conversations with them. Most of the people there absolutely disliked me because they knew that I was a student of Objectivism - one of my fellow student workers posted an article in the back room that proposed a sad excuse of a critique of Ayn Rand (lots of ad hominem, straw man arguments - an article from the 1960s) to harrass me. Another one of the tutors was talking about "arrogance," and snidely commented to me "What do you think about people thinking that they're better than others, CADENCE?" (They liked to poke fun at me because I changed my name recently; it was also a personal attack, because I wasn't "buddy-buddy" with them because I didn't have respect for them; I was just polite, whereas everyone else acted like they were all best friends). I said - "It depends on whether they deserve to." She replied angrily "ANYONE WHO ACTS LIKE THAT IS JUST HORRIBLY INSECURE AND HAS SOMETHING TO HIDE." I wonder if she realized that the only thing that that statement accomplished was revealing something very embarrassing about her character.

Before I decided that I didn't respect him, the logic professor (he was quite a fraud, like a less intelligent Ellsworth Toohey) and I had a discussion/disagreement about art. I was not very articulate on the subject, but I said that I didn't like such and such poem because it had an ugly message. I said something along the lines of, I don't understand why someone would write with such a beautiful style, but have such an ugly message. He said something like - judging theme over style is elementary and amateur (he said it in a much calmer, more "nice" way - he always was concerned with trying to make people think that he was this calm, nice, open-minded guy).

When I first started reading the Fountainhead (it was the first thing that I read by Ayn Rand), I asked one of the Writing Tutors what he thought about it (I had a certain level of respect for the before I started actually having standards to judge people). His reply was that she was a "fascist" (? I don't understand where people come up with this accusation) and a "terrible writer" (he liked William Faulkner - who I think has a hideous sense of life) The next conversation that I had with him, he ended up storming out of the room, telling me that I'd "learn when I get older." ANOTHER tutor, who happened to be a lawyer and a Harvard graduate (supposedly), claimed that he liked Ayn Rand once but eventually "learned" that "the real world" isn't "like that." It's like I was working with a bunch of immature teenagers with degrees.

Does anyone have any thoughts about modern professional intellectuals, or any experiences to share? Why is this such a common attitude among alleged "intellectuals"? I find it ridiculous that I am more intelligent and integrated at 21 than 50 year olds who have been studying and reading for most of their adult lives.

#2 Carlos

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 05:09 PM

...
I worked in the Writing Center of a public college for a year or so, and they call Ayn Rand a "second rate writer." One of them (an English professor) said that his life philosophy revolved around the statement, "Treat each other excellently, and party on dude." He was also a logic professor that attempted to convince me that reality was subjective, and that the creation of the rocket ship was an insignificant accident."
...
Does anyone have any thoughts about modern professional intellectuals, or any experiences to share? Why is this such a common attitude among alleged "intellectuals"? I find it ridiculous that I am more intelligent and integrated at 21 than 50 year olds who have been studying and reading for most of their adult lives.

Nearly all of this can be summed up into one word: envy.

Many people in English departments are only there because their writing was poor enough that they couldn't survive as an author. Here you have the spectacle of "intellectuals" writing books that no one wants to read, and then lashing out with hatred at the beloved authors of the "masses", whose "simple", "superficial" books sell like hotcakes.

In a much broader sense, most of what goes on in the Humanities side of the university is sheer, purposeless nonsense. When something lacks substance, the quickest substitute is style and defensive hostility. They know that their "modern" field of study and themselves are at the core utterly petty and insignificant, and all they can do for at least pseudo self-esteem is to cover all their doings in a distracting veneer of fancy words and stylish sophistication, and lash out at anyone or anything outside their field that is of value.

They are small people who feel insignificant, and can only feel big by chopping down the truly big things in this world. They are disgusting, and the only justice I can offer in return is that the hatred and bile they offer to good things in the world is probably more than rivaled by the disgusting messes they make of their own minds and lives.

Forget about them and focus on the things that matter to you.

#3 Cadence

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 05:24 PM

...
I worked in the Writing Center of a public college for a year or so, and they call Ayn Rand a "second rate writer." One of them (an English professor) said that his life philosophy revolved around the statement, "Treat each other excellently, and party on dude." He was also a logic professor that attempted to convince me that reality was subjective, and that the creation of the rocket ship was an insignificant accident."
...
Does anyone have any thoughts about modern professional intellectuals, or any experiences to share? Why is this such a common attitude among alleged "intellectuals"? I find it ridiculous that I am more intelligent and integrated at 21 than 50 year olds who have been studying and reading for most of their adult lives.

Nearly all of this can be summed up into one word: envy.

Many people in English departments are only there because their writing was poor enough that they couldn't survive as an author. Here you have the spectacle of "intellectuals" writing books that no one wants to read, and then lashing out with hatred at the beloved authors of the "masses", whose "simple", "superficial" books sell like hotcakes.

In a much broader sense, most of what goes on in the Humanities side of the university is sheer, purposeless nonsense. When something lacks substance, the quickest substitute is style and defensive hostility. They know that their "modern" field of study and themselves are at the core utterly petty and insignificant, and all they can do for at least pseudo self-esteem is to cover all their doings in a distracting veneer of fancy words and stylish sophistication, and lash out at anyone or anything outside their field that is of value.

They are small people who feel insignificant, and can only feel big by chopping down the truly big things in this world. They are disgusting, and the only justice I can offer in return is that the hatred and bile they offer to good things in the world is probably more than rivaled by the disgusting messes they make of their own minds and lives.

Forget about them and focus on the things that matter to you.


Thank you!

#4 Cadence

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 05:27 PM

"They are small people who feel insignificant, and can only feel big by chopping down the truly big things in this world. They are disgusting, and the only justice I can offer in return is that the hatred and bile they offer to good things in the world is probably more than rivaled by the disgusting messes they make of their own minds and lives."

Perfect embodiments of Lillian Rearden and James Taggart. I will take this chance to say that it is amazing how well Ayn Rand understood ideas and their effects on human lives and actions.

#5 Karl

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 01:28 AM

1 year of a Bachelor's degree in Music Composition: $28,000 (x 4 = $112,000)
Post-Graduate texts for four years: $2000 (or so.)
=
I just dropped out.



A history teacher that talked about things I had learned on Wikipedia. But I "benefited from the classroom atmosphere," where I got to "share my thoughts." She is payed around $90,000 a year, and runs the department.

A piano teacher that sat absent-mindedly at his desk all day while I practiced a piano. He is payed around $72,000 a year. I received a brief lesson on technique after I "bothered" him.

A private composition professor who doesn't compose. (He conducts.) Tangentially, I spent our weekly lessons teaching him Objectivism and talking about philosophy. On the hilarious upside, I am now composing a piece for his semi-professional orchestra.



The older members of my family are now terrified "for me." Their "smartest, most successful kid" just dropped out. (Ha.)

#6 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 03:53 AM

The older members of my family are now terrified "for me." Their "smartest, most successful kid" just dropped out. (Ha.)

So where do you go from here?
Betsy Speicher


Betsy's Law #1 - Reality is the winning side.

Betsy's Law #2 - In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve.

#7 ewv

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 01:11 AM

The older members of my family are now terrified "for me." Their "smartest, most successful kid" just dropped out. (Ha.)

So where do you go from here?

Not every school of music is that bad.

#8 Karl

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 03:52 PM

So where do you go from here?


Education:
1. Aforementioned books. (E.x., http://mitpress.mit....u...2&tid=10903 )
2. Correcting lots of false methodology and compiling a, more, objective theory of music.
3. Application to composition.
4. Potential marketing of ideas.

#9 Karl

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 03:59 PM


So where do you go from here?

Not every school of music is that bad.


No, but they are bad. You will always be paying for something you could teach yourself, at lower price, and significantly more effective pace. I should have known better a year ago.

#10 L-C

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 11:40 AM

Where do you live, Karl? It bring about some interesting views and experiences of your domestic academia.

#11 JJPierce

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 12:06 PM

Here's the tale of a hilarious encounter between some computer geeks and the academic literary establishment:

http://www.info.ucl....~pvr/decon.html

This was years before Alan Sokol took in the editors of Social Text with a fake essay about physics. But the principle is the same: these academics couldn't tell the real from the fake. I don't know whether anybody here would want to take the trouble that Sokol and Chip Morningstar did in exposing the emperor's lack of clothing. But ridicule for what deserves to be ridiculed is a powerful weapon. I highly recommend it.
John J. Pierce

Let us dedicate ourselves to our dreams, and to our love, and to the things we fashion from them.

#12 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 07:08 PM

Here's the tale of a hilarious encounter between some computer geeks and the academic literary establishment:

http://www.info.ucl....~pvr/decon.html

This was years before Alan Sokol took in the editors of Social Text with a fake essay about physics. But the principle is the same: these academics couldn't tell the real from the fake. I don't know whether anybody here would want to take the trouble that Sokol and Chip Morningstar did in exposing the emperor's lack of clothing. But ridicule for what deserves to be ridiculed is a powerful weapon. I highly recommend it.

Me too! That was insightful and delightful.
Betsy Speicher


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Betsy's Law #2 - In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve.

#13 alann

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 11:14 PM

Here's the tale of a hilarious encounter between some computer geeks and the academic literary establishment:

http://www.info.ucl....~pvr/decon.html

This was years before Alan Sokol took in the editors of Social Text with a fake essay about physics. But the principle is the same: these academics couldn't tell the real from the fake. I don't know whether anybody here would want to take the trouble that Sokol and Chip Morningstar did in exposing the emperor's lack of clothing. But ridicule for what deserves to be ridiculed is a powerful weapon. I highly recommend it.

What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected. What's more, it's not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. ...

ROFL! Thanks JJ! That was beautifully written and quite benevolent, when you consider Morningstar's obvious brilliance and cheerful willingness to give these mental lilliputs the opportunity to explain and, thus, hang themselves.

As far as the issues discussed in this thread, I loved school and education... but I graduated from high school in '71, undergrad in '76 (with 256 units, enough for another couple degree), and grad school in '78 (UCI), so I only caught the foam of the wave of the complete abandonment of any pretense to rational discourse in the humanities. I graduated in Biology and Chemistry, with a minor in Art History, but, after a pre-college immersion in theater, in acting and musical performance, I was informed that I would not be allowed to take any core courses in the Arts unless I was a major in the Arts. Art History was a wonderful exception and I was lucky enough to study for 3 years with a great professor flown in from the hills Berkeley every week (the late Phil Lieder). I was sang with the Irvine Master Chorale (now the Pacific Chorale), a premier chorus in OC, performed in coffee bars, played "around town," etc., never having the sanction of academia.

It wasn't until I got into the post-college world of work, IT (for which I had only a couple of classes worth of academic education), that I really stepped up my learning. All my significant technology education was private, at IBM System Sciences Institute, IBM Adv. Ed. Ctr., various vendor-provided courses, most of the earlier ones extremely intense and informative and useful. I'm at the top of the Data Architecture field (or was; brain cells are flaking off every time I shampoo) and I never had an academic course in the discipline.

I studied acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse for 7 years, and those I met there who came from top universities said that they learned more there in a month than they had in 4 years of college acting and theater courses. I didn't have the comparison, but I certainly know the difference between a focused, principled, practical education and post-modern posturing. I also studied improv with Second City and The Groundlings and I don't think there's an analog for that in-depth work in any university. For Shakespeare and for Stand-up Comedy, I learned in private workshops with great teachers. There's something for almost every specialty if you look for it.

Most importantly for me, I took one singing class in college, an extension class, in which I learned absolutely nothing about singing, only one song I was assigned to sing and sung, with applause and no useful critique from the teacher. After taking two extension Opera Workshops, one at UCLA, one at USC (OK, both of these were excellent, but I later learned that these night school classes were not part of the regular daytime program, in which the students were reportedly far below the level required for the operas we were staging. Some graduate students did attend these classes, but no undergraduate. I studied singing privately, for years, after college. And got hired and paid to perform and create under great directors and conductors and learned from every experience. And that is the way most musicians, I believe, have always learned their craft. At USC, you could study "under" Jascha Heifetz, but that meant that you studied on the first floor and his office was on the second. Students could audition for him and he accepted a handful. USC was just a reciprocal marketing opportunity for him and USC and a stable stipend for him. My musical education was thru private study, ongoing discussion with other musicians, and my own extensive reading. I knew more about the history of classical singing in my first year of independent study than any of the graduate students I encountered at either UCLA or USC.

By reputation and what I've heard, at Julliard, Eastman, or Philadelphia it's a different story. And there are schools like Berklee School of Music or Art Center College of Design, for commercial art, or Brooks Institute, for photography, which are essentially a private trade school that provides a highly competitive model for professional training. I loved my education in the sciences at UCI. I don't know every university program. But learning is life-long and there are many cases in which a better education can be had outside academia. And then there are those exceptional teachers that can hide out in a college or university and heretically inspire students and save their intellectual lives by stimulating real learning.

Once you know what you want to know there are a lot of ways to learn it. The university is only one option.

#14 RayK

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 03:05 AM

...Once you know what you want to know there are a lot of ways to learn it. The university is only one option.

Thank you for the insight into your past as I enjoyed reading it. And I especially agree with this last paragraph.

#15 JJPierce

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 01:23 PM

More than 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton spoofed a certain segment of academia in The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), in which a fake professor gets the better of a famous German nihilist:

<<Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I replied with something which I could not even understand myself. ‘I don’t fancy,’ he said, ‘that you could have worked out the principle that evolution is only negation, since there inheres in it the introduction of lacuna, which are an essential of differentiation.’ I replied quite scornfully, ‘You read all that up in Pinckwerts; the notion that involution functioned eugenically was exposed long ago by Glumpe.’ It is unnecessary for me to say that there never were such people as Pinckwerts and Glumpe. But the people all round (rather to my surprise) seemed to remember them quite well, and the Professor, finding that the learned and mysterious method left him rather at the mercy of an enemy slightly deficient in scruples, fell back upon a more popular form of wit. ‘I see,’ he sneered, ‘you prevail like the false pig in Æsop.’ ‘And you fail,’ I answered, smiling, ‘like the hedgehog in Montaigne.’ Need I say that there is no hedgehog in Montaigne? ‘Your claptrap comes off,’ he said; ‘so would your beard.’ I had no intelligent answer to this, which was quite true and rather witty. But I laughed heartily, answered, ‘Like the Pantheist’s boots,’ at random, and turned on my heel with all the honours of victory.>>

Fortunately, there is more intelligent critical writing out there. Here is Jo Walton, speaking of science fiction, and coming up with a new term ("incluing") that actually means something -- while poking fun at the standard sort of approach that Chip Morningstar and others have spoofed:

http://www.tor.com/b...ading-protocols

As far as learning outside of the university, that's mostly been the case with me. I learned more about what "literature" means from C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism than from ant course I ever took, and I learned next to nothing about music in school -- to this day I can't read a note. I learned by listening, from the time my mother took me to see Disney's Fantasia at age two (Of course, it took the Joffrey ballet's version of The Rite of Spring to get the dinosaurs out of my head!). But lack of a formal education can inhibit discussion of a subject. I'm sure we can all tell the difference between a waltz and a tango, but most of us would be hard put to explain how we know this, and even harder put to explain the difference between a Strauss waltz and Khatchaturian's waltz from Masquerade:



Or between a classic tango and Badalamenti's take on it:

http://www.youtube.c...be_gdata_player

I have no idea what to call the technique of layered rhythm/melody in different tempos (like the biological tempos of heartbeat and breathing) in works like this from Jon Brion:

http://www.youtube.c...be_gdata_player

For that matter, I don't have a name for the narrative style-technique of Robert A. Heinlein as emulated by Joe Haldeman, David Gerrold, Allen Steele and John Scalzi. But I can recognize it. Pattern recognition is something built into us. I think. It would help if formal education could build more on that.
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Let us dedicate ourselves to our dreams, and to our love, and to the things we fashion from them.

#16 JJPierce

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 01:58 PM

Scuse me, wrong link in this bit of my post:

I have no idea what to call the technique of layered rhythm/melody in different tempos (like the biological tempos of heartbeat and breathing) in works like this from Jon Brion:



For that matter, I don't have a name for the narrative style-technique of Robert A. Heinlein as emulated by Joe Haldeman, David Gerrold, Allen Steele and John Scalzi. But I can recognize it. Pattern recognition is something built into us. I think. It would help if formal education could build more on that.


John J. Pierce

Let us dedicate ourselves to our dreams, and to our love, and to the things we fashion from them.

#17 Cadence

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Posted 26 August 2010 - 02:09 PM

Here's the tale of a hilarious encounter between some computer geeks and the academic literary establishment:

http://www.info.ucl....~pvr/decon.html

This was years before Alan Sokol took in the editors of Social Text with a fake essay about physics. But the principle is the same: these academics couldn't tell the real from the fake. I don't know whether anybody here would want to take the trouble that Sokol and Chip Morningstar did in exposing the emperor's lack of clothing. But ridicule for what deserves to be ridiculed is a powerful weapon. I highly recommend it.


I've started a thread specifically about Chip Morningstar here, if anyone is interested.

#18 Karl

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 02:48 AM

Where do you live, Karl? It bring about some interesting views and experiences of your domestic academia.


Minnesota, but I went to school in Seattle. Cornish College of the Arts, home of John Cage and Merce Cunningham. (I had applied and finalized before even hearing of Ayn Rand.)

The primary benefit of an academic institution was its pool of performers for putting together pieces. ( A good friend of mine is a Counter-tenor. His range stops at C6, and then begins with whistle-tone an octave up and goes for about a sixth. I love you Mariah, I mean. . . Jimi. . .) ;) ( Hilarious watching him go louder than a Soprano in the upper range. )

#19 JJPierce

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 11:36 AM

Here's the tale of a hilarious encounter between some computer geeks and the academic literary establishment:

http://www.info.ucl....~pvr/decon.html

This was years before Alan Sokol took in the editors of Social Text with a fake essay about physics. But the principle is the same: these academics couldn't tell the real from the fake. I don't know whether anybody here would want to take the trouble that Sokol and Chip Morningstar did in exposing the emperor's lack of clothing. But ridicule for what deserves to be ridiculed is a powerful weapon. I highly recommend it.


I've started a thread specifically about Chip Morningstar here, if anyone is interested.


Here's something thematically related:

http://www.nytimes.c...?pagewanted=all
John J. Pierce

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#20 JJPierce

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 03:20 PM

Yet another example, but from a long time ago – in G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), in which a fake professor goes up against a "real" one, a celebrated "German nihilist:"

<<"I need hardly say there was a collision. The pessimists all round me looked anxiously from one Professor to the other Professor to see which was really the more feeble. But I won. An old man in poor health, like my rival, could not be expected to be so impressively feeble as a young actor in the prime of life. You see, he really had paralysis,
and working within this definite limitation, he couldn't be so jolly paralytic as I was. Then he tried to blast my claims intellectually. I countered that by a very simple dodge. Whenever he said something that nobody but he could understand, I replied with something which I could not even understand myself. 'I don't fancy,' he said, 'that you could have worked out the principle that evolution is only negation, since there inheres in it the introduction of lacuna, which are an essential of differentiation.' I replied quite scornfully, 'You read all that up in Pinckwerts; the notion that involution functioned eugenically was exposed long ago by Glumpe.' It is unnecessary for me to say that there never were such people as Pinckwerts and Glumpe. But the people all round (rather to my surprise) seemed to remember them quite well, and the Professor, finding that the learned and mysterious method left him rather at the mercy of an enemy slightly deficient in scruples, fell back upon a more popular form of wit. 'I see,' he sneered, 'you prevail like the false pig in Aesop.' 'And you fail,' I answered, smiling, 'like the hedgehog in Montaigne.' Need I say that there is no hedgehog in Montaigne? 'Your claptrap comes off,' he said; 'so would your beard.' I had no intelligent answer to this, which was quite true and rather witty. But I laughed heartily, answered, 'Like the Pantheist's boots,' at random, and turned on my heel with all the honours of victory.">>
John J. Pierce

Let us dedicate ourselves to our dreams, and to our love, and to the things we fashion from them.




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