From the Cynics Sanctuary
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) A zealous and solitary idealist, this indisputably brilliant German philosopher exhibited an overabundance of cynicism in his utter contempt for the human “herd.” He called for a new breed of “superman” who would break the shackles of Christianity and inaugurate a heroic age. He died insane. Though no anti-Semite, Nietzsche was posthumously adopted (and his ideas perverted) by the Nazis in their campaign to forge a master race. Dip into Thus Spake Zarathustra or Beyond Good and Evil for a taste of his mesmerizing mind.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) This Anglo-Irish writer is probably more famous for his flamboyant public persona than he is for his elegant comedies and fiction. He won early fame as a quotable dandy and enjoyed the company of the “best” society — until he was tossed into prison as the result of a homosexual affair. A broken man, he died in exile in France. Although Wilde can be predictably perverse in his pronouncements (e.g., “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”), he deserves recognition a daring, funny and liberating spirit.
“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
W.C. Fields (1880-1946) That glorious scalawag, that crustiest of curmudgeons, that mumbling mountebank with the incomparable drawl uttered some of the most memorable lines in the history of film. His face, his voice, his manner, and his words (he penned most of his own screenplays under such pseudonyms as Mahatma Kane Jeeves and Otis Criblecoblis) all converged into a harmonious portrait of the cynic’s cynic: a fundamentally decent man whose sarcasm and chicanery helped him preserve his dignity in an unkind world.
[On being asked if he likes children]
“I do if they’re properly cooked.”
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) Let me go out on a limb: the Sage of Baltimore was the most exhilarating American writer of the 20th century. The verbal acrobatics, the high spirits, the unbridled freedom of his ideas, the merry contempt for yahoos and respectables alike… all that Menckenian gusto sweeps you up in a tornado of words. Here was a man who genuinely relished being cynical. What makes him even more amazing is that most of his work was produced under the daily deadline pressures of professional journalism. If you haven’t read anything by him, get hold of a short anthology like The Vintage Mencken… and get intoxicated!
“The universe seems to be in a conspiracy to encourage the endless reproduction of lodge-joiners and Socialists, but a subtle and mysterious opposition stands eternally against the reproduction of philosophers.”