The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.

– Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow (1921)


A bubble is a fragile thing, and often in the evening the professors talked worriedly about its bursting. They worried about political correctness, about their colleague on TV with a twenty-year-old female student screaming abuse into her face from a distance of three inches because of a disagreement over campus journalism, their colleague in another TV news story abused for not wanting to ban Pocahontas costumes on Halloween, their colleague forced to take at least one seminar’s sabbatical because he had not sufficiently defended a student’s “safe space” from the intrusion of ideas that student deemed too “unsafe” for her young mind to encounter, their colleague defying a student petition to remove a statue of President Jefferson from his college campus in spite of the repressible fact that Jefferson had owned slaves, their colleague excoriated by students with evangelical Christian family histories for asking them to read a graphic novel by a lesbian cartoonist, their colleague forced to cancel a production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because by defining women as persons with vaginas it discriminated against persons identifying as female who did not possess vaginas, their colleagues resisting student efforts to “de-platform” apostate Muslims because their views were offensive to non-apostate Muslims. They worried that young people were becoming pro-censorship, pro-banning-things, pro-restrictions, how did that happen, they asked me, the narrowing of the youthful American mind, we’re beginning to fear the young.

– Salman Rushdie, The Golden House (2017)

Those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval.

But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks.

What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or a movie theater, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveler, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.

– Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)


With most women his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion. The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement. He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair. The conventional parabola – sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears and the final bitterness – was to him shameful and hypocritical. Even more he shunned the mise en scène for each of these acts in the play –the meeting at a party, the restaurant, the taxi, his flat, her flat, the weekend by the sea, then the flats again, then the furtive alibis and the final angry farewell on some doorstep in the rain.

– Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953)



The James Bond or Don Juan legends would be much less interesting if these famous Lotharios had sex with literally any woman they meet. But James Bond and Don Juan are sexual “heroes,” that is, fulfillments of male sexual fantasy, because they are successful with many of the most attractive women, not just any women. […] In contrast to humans, all other male apes exhibit an open-ended sexual appetite that does not refuse any fertile sexual opportunity. Gorilla, chimp, and orangutan males will pursue every sexual liaison available to them. Men are conspicuously different. The sexual pickiness of human males is a derived feature that arose on the exclusively human branch of the ape family tree. So, contrary to the evolutionary psychologists’ eagerness to supply a reason for male sexual profligacy, we actually need an evolutionary explanation for the opposite quality.

– Richard O. Prum, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us (2017)

Medieval England appears to be a particular problem for the historian of sexuality: as Bernard O’Donoghue notes, the language itself seems uncomfortable with sex, ‘the unease of English with both the terms and the concepts of European love-poetry’ prompting a necessary evaluation of the English concept ‘of love itself’. The English recalcitrance about sex can be illustrated by a story about Henry VI, a notoriously spiritual (some might say prudish) monarch. John Blacman, Henry’s priest, approvingly relates how Henry storms from the room when a courtier presents him with a spectacle composed of bare-breasted women dancing: Henry is too pure to enjoy such a lascivious spectacle. The puritanical streak shown by the king and his biographer (even if the court’s centre does not quite accord with the tone of the court itself) seems to be echoed throughout medieval English society: if there is sexuality present in medieval literature, goes the argument, it isn’t happening in England.

– Cory J. Rushton and Amanda Hopkins, The Erotic in the Literature of Medieval Britain (2007)

“What will we say,” he asked his father, “when they inquire, where did you come from?”

The old man’s face entered a condition of scarlet vehemence. “This, I’ve answered before,” he cried. “Tell them, screw the identity parade. Tell them, we are snakes who shed our skin. Tell them we just moved downtown from Carnegie Hill. Tell them we were born yesterday. Tell them we materialised by magic, or arrived from the neighbourhood of Alpha Centauri in a spaceship hidden in a comet’s tail. Say we are from nowhere or anywhere or somewhere, we are make-believe people, frauds, reinventions, shapeshifters, which is to say, Americans.”

– Salman Rushdie, The Golden House (2017)


Sometimes, watching him, I thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a simulacrum of the human that entirely failed to express any true humanity.

– Salman Rushdie, The Golden House (2017)

The art of any culture will show a wide differential of talent. But in no other culture is the difference between ‘masterpiece’ and average work so large as in the tradition of the oil painting. In this tradition the difference is not just a question of skill or imagination, but also of morale. The average work – and increasingly after the seventeenth century – was a work produced more or less cynically: that is to say the values it was nominally expressing were less meaningful to the painter than the finishing of the commission or the selling of his product. Hack work is not the result of either clumsiness or provincialism; it is the result of the market making more insistent demands than the art. The period of the oil painting corresponds with the rise of the open art market. And it is in this contradiction between art and market that the explanations must be sought for what amounts to the contrast, the antagonism existing between the exceptional work and the average.

– John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)

The Oxford English Dictionary retains a quiet pride in the lexical lengths to which it will – indeed, must – go. Some time in the late 1980s, John Simpson asked the poet Benjamin Zephaniah about the origins of the noun “skanking”. Zephaniah decided that the only way to explain was to come to OED headquarters and do a private, one-on-one performance. Skanking duly went in, defined as “a style of West Indian dancing to reggae music, in which the body bends forward at the waist, and the knees are raised and the hands claw the air in time to the beat”.

The tale touches something profound: in capturing a word, a sliver of lived experience can be observed and defined. If only you were able to catch all the words, perhaps you could define existence.

– Andrew Dickson, “Inside the OED: Can the World’s Biggest Dictionary Survive the Internet?”

The slave ship was a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory. Loaded with cannon and possessed of extraordinary destructive power, the ship’s war-making capacity could be turned against other European vessels, forts, and ports in a traditional war of nations, or it could be turned to and sometimes against non-European vessels and ports in imperial trade or conquest. The slave ship also contained a war within, as the crew battled slaves, the one training its guns on the others, who plotted escape and insurrection. Sailors also “produced” slaves within the ship as factory, doubling their economic value as they moved them from a market on the eastern Atlantic to one on the west and helping to create the labour power that animated a growing world economy in the eighteenth century and after.In producing workers for the plantation, the ship-factory also produced “race.” At the beginning of the voyage, captains hired a motley crew of sailors, who would, on the coast of Africa, become “white men.” At the beginning of the Middle Passage, captains loaded on board the vessel a multiethnic collection of Africans, who would, in the American port, become “black people” or a “negro race.” The voyage thus transformed those who made it.

– Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007)