Life of the Mind

Some pretentious Proustian said "I live the life of the mind" the other day. It was all I could do not to bop him with my parasol and say "mind this, fuckwit".

I despise that kind of intellectual pretension. Ya sure I read Beowulf and take a stab at Joyce 's Wake once a month, and I've been known to blather on about the importance of the canon but don't think for one minute I "live the life of the mind". Nosirreeebobbypins.

A happily significant part of my life is engaged in the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and the location of the best cupcake, not to mention the softest comfiest pillow and sandals that don't make me reach for the wheelchair.

There's not much intellectual rigor attached to those activities but it sure doesn't make them less interesting, important or fun than say..reading Proust.

People who get all holier than thou about what they read, and how above the fray they are are the worst sort of intellects. They're dishonest. The life of the mind is in no way disconnected from the corporeal world, and all you need to do to know this is stand in front of Jackson Pollock painting and feel the frisson of energy. You don't have to understand to feel it, but it's important to understand that not FEELING it means you don't understand it.

Life of the mind, my ass.


Anonymous said...

I know the guy's wife. I told her I live the life of the body.

magz said...

You are so totally THERE, Your Snarkiness!

Lyle Lovett (World's Kewlest Homely White Boy) wrote a song a couple years back called 'I Live In My Own Mind, (aint nuthin but a Good Time)

which remains utterly profound via it's simplicity. Like a lotta good books; ie, fun.

Werd verf: moemwt. Live in the Moemwt!

Precie said...

Ever seen the film "Barton Fink"? Quite a vivid take on this subject. The image of John Goodman running through a hotel hallway, bellowing repeatedly "I WILL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND!" is unforgettable.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I live the life of the duct tape. It's seen me through all sorts of trauma, from squeezing the assets into fashionable attire to keeping my kids in their carseats. It plugs holes, fixes backpacks, and keeps the glasses straight until I can get them repaired. Imagine how Proust might have seen the world, had he had duct tape.

MTV said...

"Life of the mind" is it? I Should say my lady that most today, while not particularly driven to profess their journey in such words, do live as if bottled up in their heads. It is us, writers and artists, using the simple conventions of the world, that attempt to release them from their prisons, those predestrian models for their existence. We strive to bring them to their emotions, to feel. In that feeling lives the true power of the universe. In that feeling we learn to love ourselves.

I kinda like the supercilious tone, huh?

Thanks Miss Snark - that was a definite inspiration. It is so true. True art causes the mind to go silent. There is nothing to say. No words can express the complexity of emotions that are evoked. The art becomes you and you become the art. Truly a Zen moment. And, so, as you Snarkily and accurately stated - "mind this (blan)kwit".

Eileen said...

Someone once said to me with a straight face "The English language is my playground."
(Please add faux English accent when reading)

This made me crack up and now I look for opportunities to say it.

Feisty said...

Try Naot or Merrell sandals. You won't need a wheelchair.

And the word verification "poion" was a no pass.

Simon Haynes said...

Someone once said to me with a straight face "The English language is my playground."

You should have told them they looked a bit old to be hanging around with pre-schoolers.

Kate Thornton said...

If I went around saying "I live the life of the mind" or "The English language is my playground," the other inmates would pound me so hard I would, eventually, see the light. Or some light.

James K. Swivet said...

What a joy to find this spokewoman for literature cherishing the very spite that makes our President such a charmer at the press conferences!

Bravo to the self! It's the only great standard!

Down with the ages when learning was respected! Down with the places where intellectuals hold office! Down with snobs! Up with Doritos and orgasmic common sense! The Founders in their caskets gyrate a happy death-dance! You can see the ground buckle in the graveyards of Boston and Charlottesville! Thomas Jefferson loves you! You are the fruits of the plants he watered so carefully with humanism!

Join me and Miss Snark in the parade of proud, automous mediocrity! Revel on the self-satisfied plain! Dollars and pants and that warmth in her bosom matter more than the attention of readers a thousand years hence! Hurray for the arrogant, fleeting present, about which nobody will care in six years - in six hours! Hurray for cookies! Yes to oblivion and stupidity! Yes!

Poohba said...

This is part of the reason why I decided pursuing a M.F.A. was definitely not for me.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy well-written books. But books that place beautiful words and phrases ahead of character and plot don't do much for me. I decided long ago I'm not a very analytical person. Give me a solid situation to ponder and I'm good. Just don't ask me to analyze something theoretical.

Nicki Greenwood said...

I feel so much better now, Miss Snark, considering I sat through an episode of "South Park" last night. Good to know there's still hope for me. :-D

roach said...

While bopping him on the head, hand him a copy of Against the Grain by Huysmans.

I hate, hate, hated that book when I was forced to read it for a college lit class. I like the idea of inflicting it on pretentious nobs.

Malia said...

I live the life of fantastic sheets, chilled chardonnay, entertaining movies and enthralling novels. So sue me!

Anonymous said...

I appreciated the comment of Mr. Swivet.

Not every intellectual is a pretentious fuckwit, yanno, and writers ought to be among the first to realize this fact. Do you really want to live in a world where anyone who doesn't necessarily embrace the common culture is criticized as being a snob?

You may not like James Joyce, but that doesn't make everyone who does either a liar or an elitist.

ckltoc said...

Definitely needed a bevvy alert.

Stacy said...

I've never tasted Chardonnay. I clearly don't live that life.

And I come from a family that thinks science fiction is at best stupid, at worst EVIL(maniacal laugh here). And if a book/movie/tv show isn't educational/religious/funny, then it makes no impact on them whatsoever.

By their standards, I am certainly living some weird, snooty, think-I'm-better-than-them life of the mind. Apparently even the way I watch cartoons is weird, and I'm raising my child wrong too. Damn this life of the mind!

Jude Hardin said...

I got into a heated online debate a while back with a bonehead English prof who criticized Dean Koontz's prose as "mind-numbingly bad" (you out there Rob? You're still wrong). His was the same type of pretentious attitude as the person who wrote "I live the life of the mind". I think he had either never bothered to actually read Koontz, or that he simply doesn't know the meaning of the word "prose". Yeah, that academic holier-than-thou attitude drives me nuts too, Miss Snark.

WitLiz said...


Carry a hatpin with you. More subtle and just as painful. Of course, they don't make hatpins like they used to. You know, the kind that you used to could stick in your ear and instantly stop all signs of life.

It can get worse! Imagine having to autopsy one of these pretentious intellectual philosophers. Whewee..

The only time I have need of Proust or Sartre, is at the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, NM.

nir said...


It's okay to entertain, and be entertained. All the highbrow stuff puts me to sleep, anyways.

the green ray said...

Miss Snark, I thought you were doing a take-off on Sam Shepard's play, A Lie of the Mind. Sam lives in my neighborhood and always seems to be in search of the perfect cupcake himself. I'm not sure; he doesn't seem to want to say hello. Anyway, you probably know that bakery on the corner of Bleecker and Bank, I forget the name: oh - Magnolia, I think, it just came to me. I think they're the best around, other than my mother's, but you'd have to go to Florida for hers.

December Quinn said...


I live the life of the mind/the English language is my playground(snerk), indeed.

Personally, I think anyone who thinks those statements are an indication of actual intelligence probably isn't very smart themselves.

Living a life of the mind means you do not feel. If you don't feel, you don't understand your fellow humans or anyone or anything else.

Yes...very smart.

There's a difference between learning and enjoying it for its own sake or enjoying various cultural and intellectual pursuits and being a pretentious git who always has to prove his or her superiority. I wish more people knew that difference.

Anonymous said...

I laugh at death.

Ken Boy said...

James K Swivet: Are we to believe you don't like cookies? Are we to believe you wouldn't set aside your mind life for a moment of passion with Ashley Judd or Mr. Clooney (as per personal preference)? Are we to believe you actually tell yourself these lies?

Or are we to believe you think we'll believe anything?

Anonymous said...

The reason academic and tenured intellectual prose is so dull and listless these days is because these slogs are living only in their minds. If you never eat, you only pass gas. The irony here is that, if you actually examine the lives of the scribblers who became heavy hitters, most of them did some serious living at some point in their lives. The formula of action/ideas/art seems to be the standard one for the greatest work. Those only living the life of the mind leave us dry farts to feed our souls.

Jude Hardin said...


It's not about what you like or don't like, or how smart you are. It's about the attitude.

I like James Joyce. I also like John D. MacDonald and Stephen King. I don't read romance, just not my cup of tea, but I'm sure there are many well-written books out there in that genre. Same with westerns, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. I would never adopt the attitude that any of these genres is somehow beneath my intellect.

IMO, a work of fiction must first entertain. Literary merit (which is, of course, largely subjective), while appreciated by many of us, is secondary.

Deborah Hern said...

I review books. So I suppose, in some twisted way, I live a life of the mind. Or perhaps, I only live a life in my head. Yeah, that sounds closer to the truth.

Some of the books I get for review are lyrical and literary and beautiful. Some are literary and pretentious and stuffy. Some are fun "mind candy." Some are a sort of celebration of dumbed down-ness, and make me sad.

I submit that there's room for both the literary novel and the beach read in anyone's mind. Sometimes you want champagne and sometimes you want grape juice. Without the choice, life would be sad, indeed.

Bugwit Homilies said...

How do you suppose a person manages to walk down the street with his great, prize-winning pumpkin of a head wobbling about on his teeny human-sized neck?

He must have the balance of a Chinese acrobat.

fusenumber8 said...

"Fuckwit" is now the official word I will be using to describe those who vex me.

J. Smith said...

There's a difference between being intelligent and being a snob.
Apparently, Mr. Swivet cannot make that subtle distinction. A funny post, Mr. Swivet, in more ways than one.

word ver: ybonhxs (ebonics? how ironic.)

Ballpoint Wren said...

Mr. Swivet, Miss Snark isn't dancing on the grave of western European literature; she's just aiming her parasol at those who find no value in any other literary "tradition."

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Miss Snark.

Swivet, you don't get it. It's not about being anti-intellectual, it's about being anti-faux-lectual. The type of person Miss Snark is talking about is the type who is too insecure to revel in a little messy humanity and instead hides behind a tome that someone in a blazer once told them was important.

If you don't like Cheetos, fine. Neither do I. But I live in the WORLD, and the world is overflowing with good stuff. And it comes from everywhere, not just 100 year old books and uh, that guy in the blazer.

Your overreaction shows that you aren't able to see the grey. You think it's either Proust or Cheetos? You think you can't respect learning and also like cookies? What a flat and simplistic way of looking at the world. Back to your ivory tower! Back!

Corn Dog said...

Ditto, M. G. I just duct taped my bird feeder back together. My brother taped his flapping soles back on his sneakers in his youth. I taped a fallen hem onto my skirt one day. Don't try this. The dryer objects. I have a telephone jack retaped to the wall. It lost a battle with the vacuum. I too live the life of duct tape or as I like to call it, "duck tape." The next best thing is Krazy Glue, until you glue 2 fingers together.

Chiron O'Keefe said...

I love it!

The responses too have been quite the eye-opener.

The other night, hubby and I were discussing this very subject. How people get caught up in this fixation on "What Is Done" (or perhaps in this case, "What Is Read").

What I mean, of course, is that we all adopt preconceptions that become so integrated into our chosen identity that we are in danger of narrowing our focus dramatically—sometimes to the point of becoming caricatures. As writers we struggle to flesh out our characters to avoid stereotypes, yet in everyday life the "character" we choose to embody holds that same nefarious potential.

To me the key is to have enough self-awareness that we can chuckle heartily over our own pretensions.

For example, I greatly admire Herman Hesse. I've re-read "Demian" till the cover is tattered. But I revel in my old Heinlein books, howled through Piers Anthony's puns, and wait eagerly for the next Stephanie Plum novel. I sneer with nose high in air at Reality programs (as a writer, I invest heavily in plots, after all), and admit with mischievous glee to being a fan of "Charmed" and "The Simpsons". "Deadwood" is brilliant—Shakespeare in the old west!—but the boys on "Entourage" just crack me up!

And yes, I would much rather have written "Groundhog Day" than "Cold Mountain."

My closest friends are as comfortable discussing the nature of reality, as they are engaging in a bad pun contest.

Does that mean I revel in proud, automous mediocrity? *shrugs* My theory is simple. We can debate the purpose of life indefinitely, but the purpose of an individual life can only be defined by the individual. MY Purpose in life is to be open—to experience, to knowledge, to wit, to life itself (and of course, To Be Published!! Hah!) Labels are fine, if we recognize that definitions of self can be useful but also confining. Pretensions are like costumes—great fun but rather embarrassing if others aren't playing "dress-up" too. *cough*

*steps off soapbox*

PS to Miss Snark… I swear by SAS sandals! *wiggles toes ecstatically*

Nessie said...

I know what you mean. There are some classics that I love - P&P, everything Dumas, Wells... Iread them because they are just damn good books like all the other from today & not so many yesterdays ago. Just because 100 years has past doesnt mean that its necessarily good. I recently met someone who refuses to recognize everything is illuminated, gone with the wind, or even 100 Years of Solitude as fiction. Since they are not classics they are under the label of bad books. Bad my ass! I hate that with such a passion it really gets a rise out of me.

Bay said...

I was going to say something pithy, but then I found a Jello pudding pop in the back of the freezer and decided my energy was better spent keeping cool and full. Now the keyboard's all sticky.

Claudia said...

Blinking over here, James! Even though I think I agree with you...or don't I? I'm so confused!!

Lorra said...

I've known a good number of extraordinarily bright and well read people in my life who are just as comfortable watching South Park or chasing down the ideal chocolate chip cookie (I can't imagine anyone finding fault with that - especially if the cookie is still warm)as they are reading everything from Proust to Robin Cook.

Their egos don't require that they join MENSA or spout intellectual drivel. They're great fun to be with because they're funny and down to earth. Still, their brilliance is without equal.

I have the sense that MS would be a riot to hang out with. BUT, if you dared go head to head with her on literature -- even if she'd already drained the gin pail -- I'm fairly sure she would not only hold her own, but likely bury most of us.

bordermoon said...

You want fun? You want "holier-more-literary-than-thou"? You want to find out what genre apparently grants total strangers the right to ask you "How can you read that horrible stuff?"

Read a romance in public. No hiding the cover.

Oh, yes -- the person who takes you to task has always "...read a Harlequin romance once, about 20 years ago, and it was awful" -- so, ergo, any and all romances must be awful.

Apparently JANE EYRE doesn't count as a romance....

Elektra said...

I think the phrase is kind of sad. I've been known to live in my head too often, and it's always felt like a sort of failing--a laziness on my part to get to know my fellow creatures--and one which has caused me to miss out on a great many things.

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practising."

Anonymous said...

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie is to be found at the Burbank Airport at the Airport restaraunt. Really. They're made fresh everyday, and usuall served with ice cream, but try one all on it's own.

Unless you're opposed to nuts; these do have walnuts.

Anonymous said...

Holy press conference talking points Batman.

Before we trash all who are employed at Title IV, VI, and VII colleges and universities, by slinging around that appellation "academic," let me thank all the professor/practitioners and graduate assistants who tolerated and mentored me through my humane education. Without them, I would be both far less able to find the gluttonous human joy in a fine crab cake and wholly unable to engage in the intellectual activity of describing that experience in prose.

Swivet: Pantagruel? Falstaff? Just asking. I don't think anyone you're indicting would find themselves standing in front of a Jackson Pollock, at least not on purpose.

Ms. Snark: Much of your ire is otherwise directed at slush subbers who suffer from too little introspection. Oracular fiat?


Termagant 2 said...

All people live the life of the mind. Unless they haven't got one.

Or, in the immortal words of one of our greatest ex-vice-presidents, J. Danforth Quark, "What a terrible thing it is to lose one's mind. Or, not to have a mind."

I mostly life the life of coffee, chocolate, and butt in chair writing stuff.

T2, whose verification word is tbrlwroo, obviously having something to do with great Australian chocolate

Eric Nabity said...

It seems to me that Mr. Swivet doesn't understand the disdain for the pseudo intellectual, of which the buffoon that Ms. Snark was referring to is a prime example. There is plenty of respect for intellect in the U.S., that is why if you look up the most prestigious professions on google, you will find scientists, doctors and teachers at the top. Funny that they don't have listed any intellectual dilettantes that walk around calling themselves intellectuals. People just realize that idiots that define their intellect by their leisure activities really don't have the horsepower to get it done when it counts.

Kim said...

I live the life of rocking the baby back to sleep at three in the morning, wrestling my five year old to the gound to comb her hair out every day, and keeping the dog hanging herself on her leash every time she sees a rabbit (she says hi to KY!). My bookshelf is overloaded with the good, the bad, and the ugly and sometimes I just want to read for enjoyment, not so I can tell everyone how intellectual I am (such as it is)- those people need to get a life!

whitemouse said...

Mr. Swivet,

The anti-intellectualism that you describe is just the flip-side of the pretentiousness Miss Snark describes. Both behaviours are the tactic of someone who wants to feel superior to others by suggesting that most other people are inferior to themselves.

I did graduate studies in physics, and had the honour of working with a large research group of absolutely brilliant people. I also got to meet some truly staggering geniuses when they visited the institution, including a nobel laureate.

All of these incredibly intelligent people were also thoroughly nice human beings - occasionally egg-headed, but never pretentious. They weren't even arrogant, despite the fact that they genuinely were among the most brilliant human beings on the planet, and thus had arguably earned the right to be arrogant.

Being pretentious seems to be something lesser intellects do. I've met true geniuses, and they can be anything from gracious to short-tempered with people who are less sparky than they are, but as a rule, they don't act like snobs.

And for the record, despite the fact that all my brainiac professors were very definitely living a life of the mind, they also fully lived lives of the body as well. Four of the profs in the department ran marathons regularly, and one did triathalons. There were several rock climbers, many musicians and the Dean of Science was a painter. My supervisor designed and cast his own wedding rings. These people do things, with their hands, their bodies and their minds. They are not snobs about anything.

Pretentiousness is usually a cover-up job; the person is trying to hide the fact that they are incompetent at something, by claiming that the activity has no worth and is thus beneath them. Rather than admitting they're incapable, or humbling themselves enough to learn how to succeed at that activity, they tell a grating lie.

Pretentiousness is all about a person's ego, not about their actual merit.

*rant off*

Dave Kuzminski said...

If you want to play like you're Jackson Pollock, go to Jackson Pollock and experiment a little with your mouse and its buttons.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

If everyone were honest, their favorite book would be akin to "The Three Little Pigs."

Mine starts, "Mother I feel sick, send for the doctor quick, quick quick ..."

Maybe I'm wrong. It may be that I've just read too many kid's books to too many kids.

Still, Mother, Mother I Feel Sick is a pretty darn good read! Tight prose, intellectually superior writing, excellent and thought provoking illustrations ... and it keeps the seven and under set on the edge of their seats. You cannot beat that!

Miss Snark said...

Olivia Goes to the Circus!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Absolutely perfect books. The fact that Olivia is a pig and the intended audience is 6 matters not a whit.

I heart Olivia with ALL my heart.

Just Me said...

I think Whitemouse is right all the way. People who are truly intelligent, or truly intellectual, don't think it's a huge big deal. They just live it and enjoy it. It's the second-level intelligences who need to make sure everyone knows how amazingly brilliant they are.

And I think it's all about balance. I want to be able to enjoy the finest literature AND the silliest beach read, filet mignon AND greasy doughnuts (not together). I don't see why I shouldn't. And anyone who thinks that enjoying either one of those makes me inferior can stick it up his nose and ram it home with a clue stick.

That's what I got from Miss Snark's post, as well: that it's ridiculous to imply that the two sides are somehow mutually exclusive.

Richard Lewis said...

Those who live the life of the mind tend to step in dog poop.

Alice said...

re: Mr.Swivit

re: the Jackson Polluck site
Thank you!!! What great fun!!!

re: great children's lit
My folks got me this book about an airplane. I don't remember what it was about, it's been half a lifetime, but I remember I just loved it. It was the first book I could read all by myself.

word verification: tdvdu doo be doo be doo!

Bella Stander said...

By necessity I've been living the life of the mind for the past 2-1/2 months while waiting for my various injuries heal. And I must say it's getting a bit tiresome.

I'm currently reading TENDER IS THE NIGHT--slowly--for the first time (see my blog for links to other recent reads). But last night I enjoyed watching the "Tom Cruise in the Closet" episode of South Park. And today I watched the "Lenny Bruce Performance Film" and his "Thank You, Masked Man" cartoon. (Hooray for Netflix!)

Yesterday I also exercised my exquisite intellectual sensibilities by playing Kinky Friedman & The Texas Jewboys. Loud.

Incidentally, Against the Grain (Au Rebours in French) was the corrupting "yellow book" referred to in Picture of Dorian Gray.

s.m.o'shea said...

While I understand and, to some degree, agree with what a lot of people said about Swivet's comment, I do feel somewhat compelled to defend him.

There are plenty of showoffs in the world. The same types of people are found in every niche in society. Pseudo-intellectuals who wave their Byron in your face just to look smarter, art snobs who name drop at any turn just to prove they know them... to use a trendier example, scene kids who show off in any way possible and look down their noses at all the other little "trend followers." Ms. Snark's point, or at least what I'd like to read into it, is that elitism for the sake of public opinion is annoying and hypocritical.

At the same time, however, after reading the list of comments, I found myself thankful for Mr. Swivet's comment. While a showoff like that is to be taken lightly and not necessarily at his word, disdainful mocking can be taken too far. The thing is, while I agree that people shouldn't be such showoffs, when everyone starts mocking it gains this awful, clumsy, thudding momentum. It's like a boulder rolling down a hill to a cliff. Left on its own it's not going to stop until it throws itself off. Mocking that "intellectual's" ridiculousness is one thing, but making a great, fun habit of it is eventually going to lead to certain doom and choking anti-intellectualism. Books, learning and culture have to be important to people, or they'd die out completely. I find it hard to believe that the same people on one hand would scorn the demise of the English language, and on the other, mock the people who truly value it.

The way I figure it, even if the guy is an ass, it's not the worst thing in the world. Even if he "lives the life of the mind," at least literature, art, culture and learning are still important to him. That should count for something, shouldn't it?

Mama Rose said...

Thanks, Dave. I really needed another random time-waster in my life. ;) So, like any good mother, I sent it to my kids, the ultamite appreciators of wasting time. lol :)


Elektra said...

Sha'el, did you ever read The Very Bad Bunny?

Nick said...


Ahh, it seems "the life of mind" isn't very popular these days. Too bad, there goes the need for my minor in philosophy. It really bites when that happens. Those classes were so fun for me.

Thank you for the Demographic!
Take Philosophy of Sex--if you ever feel the need to change your mind.

Sal said...

Children's books, known and loved, and remembered:

Mother, Mother I Feel Sick

Olivia Goes to the Circus!

Chatterlings in Wordland - Michael Lipman (Wise-Parslow Company, 1935)

Boy. Did that book have an effect on me as a kid. I had a hand-me-down copy. From my uncles, I think.

The Chatterling prince is banished, sent off on a mission to find two words identical in meaning. He keeps returning to his parents with pairs of words. "Nope," the King and Queen say, and they explain the difference between the words.

The story goes on and on, making the reader aware of just why words are important and why a stone is not a rock and why twine is not string, or whatever. (The words themselves I've forgotten over the years.)

The poor Prince wants to come back from his banishment but keeps getting sent back because the two words he brings back are not quite the same.

The end (shall I spoil the ending? well, yes, I shall) comes when the Princeling ends his quest with


Great story.

whitemouse said...

S. M. O'Shea:

I agree with you, and I applaud your positive and sympathetic view of the matter, but some of this is not people hopping on the dump-on-James bandwagon so much as a lot of people giving individual answers.

I posted my comment well in advance of the comment trail getting this long, but it ended up waaaaaay down the stack by the time it was approved. Miss Snark gets a lot of readers, and if 5% of us whip off a quick comment, completely irrespective of what anyone else has done, it can wind up looking like a pack attack.

Mr. Swivet is not consoled by this, I'm sure, but it isn't as nasty as it looks.

Bernita said...

"attention of readers a thousand years hence...?"
Now that's optomistic - or remarkably conceited.

Snarkling #1555 said...

shea, there are is something wrong with pseudo intellectualism. I know because I use to be one. I read all the Great Classics. And yeah, they were good. I liked them. But I didn't like the books as much as I liked telling people that I'd read them.

Now, I read lots of awsome fantasy and sci fi books. I don't feel pressured to read all the classics, and show other people how smart I am. Instead, I read books because I like the books, and I feel I can learn something from them. I like reading the books more than boasting to people about the fact I read them.

There are some books that I can't sit through, because IMHO they're full of meaningless drivel. But if I had gone with "living the life of the mind" (not seeing past the classics) my education would never have progressed beyond the world of the legendary "Ivory Tower".

Trust me, that "Ivory tower" is nice. But if you believe that the entire world is combined to a single tower, you're missing something. Wisdom goes beyond what you read in school. It's also honesty, the ability to be a hedonist at times, experiance, and the stuff you read in not so classical literature. And if someone doesn't see that, they're seriously missing out, and totally should be laughed at by the likes of Miss Snark :).

archer said...

Well I got a query letter that starts out, "It's fine to live the life of the mind. But what if you do that and you're stupid?"

Anonymous said...

For more synthesis on this arg about mind/body-- do any of you serious fantasy fans know Silverlock?

A freind from a far away place handed me a copy long, long ago. Harry Potter could learn much from it.


James K. Swivet said...

Name for me the famous tenors of the nineteenth century! Name the most popular comic strip of 1909! Name the troubadour whose fame all of Nice sang in 1456! Prove to me the eternal value of your favorite contestant on Survivor!

In 1667, epic poet John Milton was having a conversation with ol' Virgil, who was living in 10 BC. Is Paradise Lost BORING? Are you totally BORED? Did you hate Mr. Stukey, in senior-year English class, for BORING you?

Enjoy your tenure in heaven with Shel Silverstein then, and your memories of your great suburban nullity! Your dog, Mariah, will be there too!

I drink Miller Lite, and love it! I listen to Bryan Adams, and get lachrymose when it cuts like a knife! I shampoo my hair, and discuss Life of Pi at the book club! I bask in the living death of shadowy forms!

There are dead people who still sound like they're talking to you. There are living people who already sound dead. You can hear the fashion in their prose like you can see the bangs in my sister's high school photo from 1985!

It makes money, them prose-bangs! And money buys cookies! And shoes! And I love cookies! And shoes! And being wiped from the surface of Earth without trace!

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, you little trouble maker,you. Snark loves to push our buttons and see what she can get. She's clever that way. The life of the mind? Ha! Who gives a damn? What would Twain have said? I can only guess. Once, in another life I sold art. Now, I won't tell you what kind of art, but quite expensive art. I had so many friends; they sent me expensive gifts and loved me to death. Every Christmas and birthday UPS was at my door. And then, I lost all my money. I won't tell you why. Do you know where all my friends went? Neither do I. My father experienced a similar fate (forgive me if I mispell, I can only write on a 6th grade level and sometimes I doubt that)lost his fortune, auctioned off his airplanes, house, and this was all before he ran off with a girl half his age and lost his mind. Yes, he really lost his mind, and no, this is not a novel. Mother, was left with 700.00 a month to live on at the age of 52. Today, she is 72 and has net assets of over 38 million. Father told her he would see her in the gutter. Well, he was there, but she was no where to be found. Smart woman, graduated top of her class. Not too motherly. Back to me, pulled one daughter out of a crack house last year, another daughter raped at 14, and a son mid twenties that quit school senior year has worked for a large company and for last 6 years has made 190k per year. It don't matter he's broke as a convict and is asleep on my sofa this morning.He's also a seriouss alcoholic. We are a shattered bunch. I could tell you about the rest of my family, but I don't have the time nor you the patience. Me, lost and trying to find her way back. The point is: I have seen it all. In the end all that matters is how you treat other people and what lessons you can learn from this life. This crap makes me sick. As Miss Snark would say, "Who gives a fuck!" And no, I don't live off the 38 million. I live one step away from poverty. A writing professor told me last year that I live on the edge. Yeah, I guess I do, but I'm working hard to get off.

Georgia Girl

It don't matter what you read, but what you get from it.

Ken Boy said...


The point is that Swivet is an affectatious ninny. He ridiculed cookies(!), clearly a comeback to Miss Snark's A happily significant part of my life is engaged in the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

The man wants us to believe he doesn't deign to look for delicious cookies, or that when he does he's thinking about Dante in the original Italian.

What a . . .

Ken Boy said...


The point is that Swivet is an affectatious ninny. He ridiculed cookies(!), clearly a comeback to Miss Snark's A happily significant part of my life is engaged in the quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

The man wants us to believe he doesn't deign to look for delicious cookies, or that when he does he's thinking about Dante in the original Italian.

What a . . .

James K. Swivet said...

I don't know Italian.

Ken Boy said...


Ever hear the story of Faulkner at Ole Miss? His literature instructor asked him what was meant by a certain speech in a Shakespeare play. Faulkner said something like, "How do I know? It was four hundred years ago and I wasn't there, and neither were you."

Greater minds than yours have been bored in literature class.

Anonymous said...

Georgia girl - I sure hope you made most of that up! I've been toying with sending a similar missive out as my "Christmas Letter" as a foil to "Missy did this" and "Tripper did that." You sure you didn't steal my xmas card idea? For your sake I hope so.

Miss Snark said...

Virgil does not appear in Paradise Lost. Milton may have been conversing with him, but it was Dante who included Virgil in The Inferno.

James K. Swivet said...

I thought Virgil appeared in Paradise Lost as an actuary, or a scraper of verdigris. I must be thinking of The World According to Garp.

Falconer, Rachel A. E. "Some Aspects of the Influence of Virgil on Milton's Style." Diss. Oxford, 1989.

s.m.o'shea said...

I KNOW that there is something with pseudo-intellectualism. But there is also something wrong with throwing out all of the classics, all of the history and all of the things that brought us to where we are now just because they're old, boring or snooty.

I don't advocate showing off. I think it's annoying. But, of late, there has been a rather frightening trend where we scorn the classics just because our eighth grade teacher forced us to read them and, in eighth grade, it was horribly boring.

This is a subject to be treated with caution. Yes, there is a certain amount of dignity and honesty to be maintained, but if we mock the affectatious ninnies of the world too quickly, we're bound to burn the good things with the bad.

Personally, I find some consolment in the fact that reading the classics, learning, appreciating the arts is still something to brag about at all. If people are using it just to make themselves look better yes, it's irritating and stupid, but it still reflects a certain value we place on it all to begin with. And if we go to far mocking it, we're going to end up scorning the classics themselves, saying, "Only snooty pseudo-intellectuals like history and classic literature. Only showoffs listen to Mozart and watch performances of Shakespeare. Who cares about any of that?"

There is good and bad in almost everything. Even this. I fully advocate reading romance, sci-fi, fantasy or whatever floats your boat. If you really like it, go for it. But that's no reason to scorn the old stuff.

Anonymous said...

And being wiped from the surface of Earth without trace!

Is that really your ish here? Immortality? Toward the teleological goal of what? A world without suburban consumers?

We're just trying to make a living, babe. Milton survives why? Because he grew up in a neighborhood of tradesmen in the process of creating a hegemonic world economic power, driven by (a new, banal cohort of) middle-class consumers?

In his own time, Shakespeare was regarded as low-brow as Survivor. That's why the commoners had to cross the river to the theatres--they were over there on the outskirts with the drunks and the prostitutes.

I believe it also took Milton past the age of 29, when he lived with his mom, to come to grips with the maxim that canonical art is a luxury, possible only when supported by money and power, the sources of which are a hand whose preferences do not include being bitten. Ask the Alexandrians about their library.

Cookies, however, along with the clothes and books made by Milton's neighbors, abound among the dead, and I love every sale made by a zombie cookie merchant who reads low books, or who does not, but whose taxes pay for our defense, so that we may luxuriate in cookies and argument.


Stacy said...

It all boils down to being insecure, I think. If you think that other people are not as groovy as you are because they don't read the right books/drive the right car/live in the right neighbourhood, then you have somehow misplace your own sense of worth.

For instance, I comfort myself by thinking about how smart I am when I am reminded how much I suck as a housekeeper/cook/singer. Sure, her home is spotless and she sings like an angel, but can she read 'L'Etranger' in the original French? I think not!

Jude Hardin said...



Bitchin' word, dude.

Elektra said...

James K., you seem to think that literature, and living the life of the mind, is the only way to make an imprint on the world. Is Martin Luther King, Jr. known for his fantasy trilogy? Is everyone waiting to rush in and grab the next Bill Gates novella? Is Lucille Ball forever doomed for having the nerve to perform slapstick?

Elektra said...

And Mrs. Fields. I forgot to add Mrs. Fields.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

My life in the mind is peopled with Dragons and such.
It comes from reading too much ...

Reading you say?
Wouldn't you rather go play?
Aren't dragons passe?

You should read the classics; it's true.
Didn't they teach you in school?
Or did you go to the zoo and swimming pool?

But I like dragons.
They're so interesting and deep.
When I read about great fiery dragons
– You know, the one with the heads and the crowns?
– I don't utter a peep.

And then there is Leviathan the Great
Who wallows in the stream.
This great monster makes me want to scream!

I know what your thinking.
I understand the frown.
You think I've been reading comics
And that I'm a clown.

But, I love to read about that great void,
That great unfinished thing of foul exhalation.
When it's vanquished, I always feel the exaltation.
Don't you?

No, you say? No? Because you only read the classics you say?

Well, dear heart with all its dragons and beasts;
With all it's multi-horned creations;
And with all its multitude of divine beings and wicked queens with moral hesitations ...

Isn't the Bible on your list of things to read?

A half-baked InstaPoem by Rachael.
Hey! What did you expect on the spur of the moment.

Classics indeed. Pshaw! What did Mark Twain say about the classics? Something about them being what everyone thinks they should read but don't?

The classics aren't what many take them to be. They're good stories and often well written. But knowing them isn't a measure of moral stature, wealth, or good judgment. Is it?

Isn't a "life in the mind" without a good solid and ethical life "in society" useless?

Anonymous said...

Is this a blog about social activism, technology, comedic acting, or...WRITING?

Anonymous said...

I could blabber endlessly about the intricacies of a Beethoven Sonata or theories on the spread of prion diseases or off-label uses for Cyclosporine - and even though I have discussed all three with likeminded friends on occassion, I frankly find subjects like: "so WHY haven't we had a chance to see Tom's new baby?" or "Who do you think will buy it in the last episodes of The Sopranos?" more interesting most of the time.

That doesn't mean I don't embrace every form of classical music or study and ponder curious scientific phenomena. It just means that I don't foist my personal interests on others unless I'm sure they share my passion for a particular subject.

As a result, I have a broad spectrum of friends, all of whom have added greatly to my life.

Just Me said...

Pretentiousness cuts both ways, equally sharply.

There are pretentious snobs who go around telling people they live the life of the mind, carrying copies of Proust with the title carefully turned outwards, and sniggering at anyone who reads Agatha Christie. But there are also pretentious snobs who go around claiming that anyone who reads those boring classics must be a dried-up passionless intellectual who is completely out of touch with Real Life (whatever that is).

Both are complete affectations. Both are, IMO, pathetic.

I love Shakespeare with a passion. I also love Scrubs, ice cream cocktails, various kids' books, Euripides, Wilfred Owen, and a whole lot of stuff in between. Anyone who tries to define me as somehow inferior or limited for loving any of those things needs to get over both his adolescence and himself.

blaironaleash said...

Ah, Bella Stander, 'Tender is the Night', I remember it well - or not very well actually. It's a long time since my last brush with it. All that stays with me now is the line about bread and salt, how only spiritual peasants, coarse and brutal, can take pain like salt on their bread and be real artists.

Fitzgerald, whatta guy, whatta writer. Nearly as truly immortal as any ep of Buffy you care to mention.

Ken Boy said...

s.m.o'shea, we are not bound to do anything, no matter whom we mock.

It's not that only snooty ninnies read the classics, it's that only snooty ninnies think that means you shouldn't be seen striving for cookie nirvana. (Yes, seen I'm sure is the right word.)

James K. Swivet said...

I love cookies!

Snarkling #1555 said...

Shea: There are many shades of grey.

1) People living "The life of the Mind": These people want to show off the fact that they read CLASSICS. They don't read anything BUT CLASSICS. They probably wouldn't really enjoy the CLASSICs that much either, if they weren't so prestigious.

2) Some people read only classics, BUT they don't read classics just to say that they have read them. They read classics because they fully appreciate the wisdom to be gleaned from them, and enjoy and love the writing they are reading. BUT if they still believe that other types of writing don't even deserve to wipe the butts of CLASSIC novels, they're still not really well rounded individuals.

3) People who will read both classics and other, more modern types of writing. This is exciting, because many good modern writers have read the classics. If you read close enough there are marvolous literary allusions in many novels people who live "the life of the mind" will never know about. Think about it: some modern writers are just now penning the classics of the next century. God, it excites me to think about it! Think of everything all those snooty people who only read old books are missing. They're missing the BIRTH of NEW classics. Ha! I'm glad I escaped college with my mind still intact, because to witness these new authors and genre's beginning to flourish... Think of all the realism in the last few hundred years. Now think.. it hasn't been so long since Jules Verne and Tolkien. And already there are branches and sub branches of Science Fiction and Fantasy that show such depth and variety! And also, who knows, one of those harlequin romance novels might be the next undiscovered Jane Eyre or Pride and Predjudice! Film theory itself is only now gaining merit as a scholarly subject... and no matter how many trashy movies are out, there is always one or two that seems like it will make an impact on future generations. Think about music coming into its own... song lyrics are kinda like poems. I'm not inspired by the new music out now, but who knows what will happen in years to come? And think of the lyrics of Hendrix, U2, The Doors...

*Ahem*, I could go on all day. but essentially what I'm trying to say is that to appreciate art, one must appreciate and acknowledge ALL kinds of art. Not just old art, or just new art.

I think you see what I mean by shades of gray. There are other shades, but if I keep going, I'll never stop! :)