Quote: During the student revolts that shook the world in the late 1960s, one of the slogans shouted at the lecturers at the University of Heidelberg was Here wird nicht zitiert!, “No quoting here!” The students were demanding original thought; they were forgetting that to quote is to continue a conversation from the past in order to give context to the present. To quote is to make use of the Library of Babel; to quote is to reflect on what has been said before, and unless we do that, we speak in a vacuum where no human voice can make a sound.
— Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night
The Quote illustrates part of the reason I chose to blog about quotes. As Alberto Manguel says, to quote is to continue a conversation from the past in order to give context to the present.
Context determines meaning; without it we are doomed.
She stomped down hard and everyone applauded means one thing if she stomped as part of a flamenco dance, another if she stomped on a snail, yet another if she stomped on the fingers of her opponent in a fight to the death.
Contrary to appearances, the two rhetorical devices are not at odds: the soft fiction of prosopopoeia and the hard fact of testimony overlap in many places, some obvious, some unseen: the way the sea meets the coast at the beach, at the cliff, and in the deep, where the continental shelves kiss. Most non-fiction is built directly on testimony, most fiction on prosopopoeia—but they are inseparable. (I discuss their hybrids in this post.)
On a grand scale, testimony guards the gateways of Memory, and prosopopoeia is the figure of Fiction, the magic wand that allows us to conjure up masks for us and others. As such, the prosopopoeia of today can become the testimony of tomorrow, and all the more readily if written down.
Therefore, to be remembered, write.
- The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel.
- Tolkien’s Fox, QQ. A curious example of prospopoeia in fiction.
- Allegory meets Tolkien’s Fox, QQ. A couple of examples of prosopoeia and testimony hybrids.
- Opium Meets Classical Readers, QQ. A study of testimony in De Quincey’s book on opium.