PRINT October 1996

Q & A

Quotable Quoters

IF EMERSON REGARDED QUOTATIONS as lazy dross produced from an uninspired brain (“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”), for some of us there is nothing more sublime than the purloined line. Repeating another’s words is more complex than not wanting—or being able—to tell “what you know.” In the hands of a true artisan, borrowed lines become bits of homage or love—thick parcels of new meaning. The chosen phrases dressed in quotation marks that sparkle one’s diary, clarify one’s argument, or dance in one’s head long after one has put down a book are less lazy moments of an infirm mind than instances in which bemused and epiphanic conversations occur between readers, histories, and texts. In this sense, I like to think of quotes as supreme flashes of conjugal bliss, bred of communion, irony, and insight. To quote is to converse, not to be spoken for.

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