“Isn’t there a convention that if you don’t know the author of a quote, you can always attribute it to Churchill?” one character asks another in Zia Haider Rahman’s novel ‘In The Light of What We Know.’
“I suppose you’re right,” the other replies. “In fact, as Churchill himself said, the false attribution of epigrams is the friend of letters and the enemy of history.”
“Churchill said that?”
That’s just an amuse-bouche from Rahman’s novel, which I’ll write more about soon. But it seems to me that the epigram convention could as well apply to Kafka as to Churchill. I suspect this might be the case in the following quote invariably attributed to Prague’s ur-existentialist:
— “The meaning of life is that it stops.”
I love the mordant humor of that (and have never heard it attributed to Churchill.) My problem with it is that I can’t figure out where it comes from. Was it really Kafka? Kafka fan sites (a Kafkaesque notion in itself) list hundreds of quotes, but few bother to source the quotes precisely, and even on those few, this particular one goes unsourced. A friend says it sounds more like Oscar Wilde, and it does have that sardonic Wildean touch.
So herewith, an appeal: if you know where Kafka said it (or Wilde, or even Churchill come to that), please do let me know, so that I can give credit where it’s indubitably due.
And talking of crediting quotes, I’m still casting my net for the source of this brilliant definition:
— “Forgiveness is abandoning all hope of a perfect past.”
At first blush, this sounds quite Wildean too, but it has a resonance — an afterlife in the mind — that speaks of deep sagacity, though the sage in question remains a mystery. So again, if you know who said it (perhaps that should be written as whoseddit, as in whodunnit), do let me know.
In the meantime, here’s a sprinkling of well-sourced quotes that have been circling my head this past month:
— “I have decided to stick with love; hate is too great a burden to bear.” — Martin Luther King
— “To be free of belief and unbelief is my religion.” — Omar Khayyam
— “We don’t even know for sure that our universe really had a beginning at all, as opposed to spending an eternity doing something we don’t understand.” — physicist Max Tegmark
— “I look forward to surviving. If I don’t, remember that I wasn’t Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.” — Mohammed Suliman, Gaza City
— and again from Zia Haider Rahman: “Listening is hard, because you run the risk of having to change the way you see the world.”
That quote on forgiveness? Identified!
Many thanks to AT reader Nuzhat (see comments), who traced it to… not Wilde, not Kafka, not even Churchill, but to a wonderful and totally unexpected source: the wisdom of comedy in the form of Lily Tomlin!