wit


Every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects … to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story.

Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instinct to be manipulated…. To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls….

I appreciate an old work for its novelty. It is only contrast that links us to the past….

On the one hand there is a [present] world tottering in its flight, linked to the resounding tinkle of the infernal gamut; on the other hand, there are: the new men. Uncouth, galloping, riding astride on hiccups.

– Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto 1918“.

A work is cultivated when it is everywhere sharply delimited, but within those limits limitless and inexhaustible; when it is completely faithful to itself, entirely homogeneous, and nonetheless exalted above itself. Like the education of young Englishmen, the most important thing about it is le grand tour. It should have traveled through all three or four continents of humanity, not in order to round off the edges of individuality, but to broaden its vision and give its spirit more freedom and inner versatility; and thereby greater independence and self-sufficiency.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 297 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

…. Speculation en detail is as rare as abstraction en gros, and yet it is these that beget the whole substance of scientific wit, these that are the principles of higher criticism, the highest rungs of spiritual cultivation. The great practical abstraction is what makes the ancients–among whom this was an instinct–actually ancients. In vain did individuals express the ideal of their species completely, if the species themselves, strictly and sharply isolated, weren’t freely surrendered, as it were, to their originality. But to transport oneself arbitrarily now into this, now into that sphere, as if into another world, not merely with one’s reason and imagination, but with one’s whole soul; to freely relinquish first one and then another part of one’s being, and confine oneself entirely to a third; to seek and find now in this, now in that individual the be-all and end-all of existence, and intentionally forget everyone else: of this only a mind is capable that contains within itself simultaneously a plurality of minds and a whole system of persons, and in whose inner being the universe which, as they say, should germinate in every monad, has grown to fullness and maturity.

– Excerpt of Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 177 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.

Many witty ideas are like the sudden meeting of two friendly thoughts after a long separation.

– Friedrich Schlegel’s fragment no. 37 from the Athenaeum Fragments (1798), trans. by Peter Firchow.