Thursday, April 29, 2010

Potent Quotables

Came across this article from the Guardian. If you know me well you'll know that the probability of quoting someone else's line approaches one as time approaches infinity. Here's my favorite snippet:

Me and my friends could have entire dialogues consisting of nothing but apposite quotes. And the thing is, it will still make sense as a proper conversation. These aren't just random lines blurted into the ether between us; the best one is identified and selected, completely fit for purpose, in a millisecond, by some super-computer of the mind.

Indeed, sometimes you don't even need a quote but just the suggestion of one. The other day I was chatting to someone on the phone and threw in a line which sounded like something from Predator, but wasn't – I had got the line wrong. But he was so in tune with the "language" of action movies that he replied back with a Predator quote; he still got the reference and replied to it.

And I find it interesting that quoting isn't recognised as being a large part of the modern demotic. I once got a reply from a literary agent, who'd read a novel I had written, in which she said the dialogue wasn't believable because the (Irish) characters at times spoke like they were in an American movie.

But that was the whole point. The dialogue was real, because that's how those people would speak: in between their formal and informal language, their local slang and Irish idioms, their Hiberno-English and Queen's English, would be a flood of quotes from (mainly) US movies and TV shows.

Has anyone out there seen any serious work dedicated to this? I can't say I have, and yet it seems to be the mainstay of many. Nor is it a modern phenomenon; today's paeans to popculture remind me, quite often, of the devotionals penned by the saints. Not in terms of quality, of course, but because both go to great lengths to reference authorities (be they spiritual or temporal).


  1. In today's New York Times, there was an opinion article about the Arizona Immigration Legislation, and how essentially, America really needs to enforce its immigration laws for the sake of the country's prosperity, out of fairness to those who have immigrated legally, and to protect the dignity of those who are trying to immigrate here. Ross Douthat's clincher? "[Enforcement] has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried." I thought immediately of CS Lewis and you. And I believe it fits with this post quite nicely.

  2. (Sry about the lapse)
    I'm sure C.S. Lewis is happy you thought of him, because he would be proud to have been confused with G.K. Chesterton (except perhaps on Romish issues).