Friday, March 6, 2015

Authorial significance: quoting versus reading

I just posted There is always another one walking beside you. Considering Eliot, it sparked a thought. Is there some sort of index that measures how much an author is read versus how much an author is quoted?

For example, I have read perhaps a dozen Shakespeare plays but only Julius Caesar and Macbeth have I read multiple times (let's say four times each) and have also seen movie and play versions and listened to in audio form. I quote Shakespeare perhaps a dozen times a year, half being Julius Caesar and Macbeth quotes and half being from other plays, including ones I have never read.

Over forty years then:
10 plays read once each
2 plays read four times each
480 times quoted Shakespeare
From a personal perspective, I would say that the two plays I have read multiple times have had a real, though probably unmeasurable impact on me, forcing me to think through concepts and ideas such as fate and friendship, free will and destiny, art and action, etc. I would guess that the other ten plays may have had some unconscious impact, but I can't say what that might have been.

From a societal perspective, my use of Shakespeare quotes helps both convey general hand-me-down cultural wisdom and raises the probability, in some small amount, of the survival and circulation of the works of Shakespeare.

What set this train of thought in motion is that reference to ELiot. I have never read Waste Land in its entirety though I occasionally quote passages from it. I think I have read all of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats but I only occasionally quote from it. I am pretty certain there are few or no other Eliot works I have read in toto. In contrast to Shakespeare, I quote Eliot to a much greater extent than I have read him.

Not sure where I am headed with this other than a sense that there are some authors whose wisdom gets much more tightly bound up into a culture than the actual reading of their works might otherwise indicate. Just taking some Eliot quotes at random, I think most college educated people would either recognize or have a vague familiarity with a good portion of these, even though only a vanishingly small number would have read any of them:
“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
- Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
― T.S. Eliot, Hollow Men

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”
― T.S. Eliot

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

“For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Others

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”
― T.S. Eliot

“Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
― T.S. Eliot

“You are the music while the music lasts.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life, then you must accept the terms it offers you.”
― T.S. Eliot

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow”
― The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot, Poems: 1909-1925

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