Tag Archives: Eric Hoffer

Marginalia, no.352

When men are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

~ Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind

Should we find this dismaying? Our habits of imitation may be explained on the one hand by the uniformity of human desires and, on the other, by the diversity of human interests. Nature in each of us wants the same things. Food, shelter, sex, influence, books; the catalog isn’t long. And no matter how far afield our curiosity moves us (even so far as the gut flora of dust mites), we can be sure that someone else has already cut a path. We inevitably find company, even when we don’t want it.

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Marginalia, no.173

Belief passes, but to never have believed never passes.

~ Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

It seems an unlikely coincidence the way Hoffer’s statement echoes Leon Bloy: “Suffering passes, but the fact of having suffered never passes.” If Hoffer intended some kind of comment on Bloy’s idea, I’m not sure what it was. But then Hoffer may never have read Bloy at all. It’s a tempting rhetorical construction for persons given to gassy sententiousness, whether in the negative (Hoffer) or affirmative (Bloy). I hereby adopt it: Blueberry pie passes, but to never have eaten blueberry pie never passes. Skateboarding passes, but the fact of having skateboarded never passes.

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Marginalia, no.154

There are no chaste minds.  Minds copulate wherever they meet.

~ Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

I offer no thoughtful notes on the mechanics of contemporary fiction, no really dutiful explorations of any particular book or author.  I am a shallow reader, lazy, given more to a moment’s lust than a lifetime’s devotion.  The friction of minds is all that I crave.  This is only the record of my perpetual orgy, my innumerable debasements.

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More Gushing Enthusiasm

Another exhibit in the Chronicles of Gallic Effusiveness, previously addressed here.  This one comes from Proust’s second volume.  The young narrator has been to see the great Berma performing Racine.  It was the realization of a hotly cherished dream, but he was more impressed with the bit parts played by secondary actresses than by Berma herself.  Until, that is, he reads the following review and revises his memory of the experience accordingly:

The performance of Phedre, given this afternoon before an enthusiastic audience which included the foremost representatives of the artistic and critical world, was for Mme Berma, who played the heroine, the occasion of a triumph as brilliant as any that she has known in the course of her phenomenal career…It constituted the purest and most exalted manifestation of dramatic art which it has been the privilege of our generation to witness.

I was surprised to see that Eric Hoffer in his unpublished notebooks (h/t Patrick Kurp) comments on the phenomenon:

It is the Frenchman’s readiness to exaggerate that is at the root of his intellectual lucidity and also of his capacity for acknowledging merit.  The English were not afraid to exaggerate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they were then not far behind the French in the lucidity of their thinking… There is hardly a single instance of cultural vigor marked by moderation of expression.

Precisely what Hoffer meant by ‘lucidity,’ I’m not sure.  But if the French have a greater capacity for acknowledging merit it may be because they were relatively less infected by the leprous touch of Calvin, the idolatrous fandoms of whose English disciples were checked by the assurance that even the most accomplished among them were, after all, totally depraved in flesh and spirit.  Hoffer’s date for the decline in English intellectual vigor coincides well enough with the Puritan Revolution.
A capacity for sustained enthusiasm may also explain why so many of the English-speaking world’s former celebrities retire to France.  They know that among their Gallic admirers they’ll never have to stoop to touring Indian casinos and small-town community centers for rent money and faint echoes of the adulation they enjoyed in their prime.


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