A small, gray box tucked into a shelf in my father's messy study bears an alarming, red label. It's possible that common sense—or nonsense—pissed off William Heckscher so much that he actually made a file for it. While the exterior is labeled Common Sense/Nonsense, the interior decidedly equates the two phenomena.
As I thumb through the index cards, most of which are covered in my father's spidery, indecipherable scrawl, the specific purpose of his box becomes more complex and elusive.
At times, my father employs a Socratic Q&A format.
|Yes, the oldest profession...|
"Has it ever struck you that the oldest profession is apple-picking?"
|Do Cupid & Psyche have a child?|
Yes, their legitimate daughter is called Voluptas.
Cher called her daughter Chastity.
|Did you idiotae know that in ancient times urine was habitually used for washing of clothes & other objects. Urine was also used for the cleaning of teeth|
|"The thought of being President frightens me. I do not think I want the job."|
Reagan kept company with Louis XIII, who was also exemplified for his lack of common sense.
|The bath of Louis XIII had "submerged cushions and drapery|
trimmed with lace," p. 98 of Lawrence Wright, Clean & Decent,
|Thomas Edison was both tone deaf and hard of hearing|
Hypocrisy, particularly in idealogues, is a form of nonsense subject to ridicule.
|Lenin had a Rolls Royce vintage 1919|
now in Lenin Memorial Museum
|Abraham Lincoln was deeply ashamed of his log-cabin origins, and|
he had "a shrill, high-pitched voice."
|NY Times, Feb. 12, 1977, p. 21|
|Carl von Linné w/his great all-embracing love of nature utterly disliked fish.|
|Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, he hated the sight of blood,|
his penis measured 1 1/2 cm
How do croissants fit in, you ask?
|The first 'croissants' were baked in Vienna in 1689 as a sign|
of victory over the Turks & known, originally,
In fact, the Pyramids are acceptable to Heckscher, but perhaps Arabs are less certain.
|The road to the pyramids is lined with nightclubs with outrageous prices|
(mostly belly dancers in body stockings ogled by Arabs)
|A sixpence fine or "Whippinge a Jewishe man"|
Very high: because it is "three times the rate for whipping a Welshman"
See: Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England.
|William the Conqueror had a Flemish mistress called Matilda|
|Mussolini was baptized Benito after the Mexican radical|
Benito JuárezMussolini's father was himself a political radical of the left.
Instances of historical irony are found in the box.
|Marx declared that he was not a Marxist.|
|None of the apostles was baptized, except for St. Peter|
see: H.A. Echle, "The Baptism of the Apostles."
|The Statue of Liberty stands in New Jersey waters.|
My father also appears to enjoy correcting the historical record.
|Emperor Nero who fiddled when Rome burned didn't have a violin but—according to [illegible] played the 'tibia ultricularis'—i.o.w. the bagpipes|
Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism, Emannuel Winternitz, p.69
|Mozart's dreadful Klamauk ('din' or 'uproar 'in English), 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,'|
was never performed during his lifetime.
|Marcel Proust who could not sleep when his mother wasn't present loved life in the army; he referred to it as 'paradise'|
The military was a particularly onerous example of mindless or evil conformity and I think my father may also have disliked Proust's tendency towards the long-winded and effeminate.
Wordsworth is also in trouble.
|Wm Wordsworth (1770-1849) was incapable of writing: "when he held a pen it brought on painful trials—perspiration, nervousness, pain in the chest; his wife, Mary, & his sister, Dorothy, acted as his secretaries.|
"Anybody deserving the name of a student must learn to mistrust what passes as general knowledge..." Ernst Gombrich, The Tradition of General Knowledge.
Why wasn't an entry for Heckscher, William S. included in the little gray box? For decades my father worked in just the kind of institutional bureaucracy he condemned, as a university professor. What's more, he was very popular with his students.
I think he liked the lyricism of the name Common Sense/Nonsense, but Varieties of Annoying Bullshit would have nailed it, too. Specificity of purpose (or strict adherence to it) would have been too confining for William. What he meant by common sense and nonsense was completely idiosyncratic. He wanted to fill a little gray box with paradoxes, and that's exactly what he did.
The Common Sense and Taboo boxes weren't secret, but they were private. He took these notes as he was reading a book or a newspaper, or watching TV; his notes were documented in a spirit both scholarly and personal. How odd that these minor bursts of epiphany were meaningful enough to him that he felt compelled to record them. In that sense, it's almost like reading an intellectual (rather than emotional) diary, outrage and amusement notwithstanding. I imagine that he was afraid of losing any of these fragments of knowledge and opinion, like a splintering of self—or perhaps it was the opposite. Maybe these little shards of information and irritation got stuck in his consciousness until he was able to unburden himself onto index cards and file them away.
He was also capable of questioning his own facts.
George Washington was a trained dental technician; dental instruments
w/which he repaired his false teeth & those of his servants.
Preserved at Mount Vernon
This seems to be wrong! He wasn't.
|Left & Right—|
See also: Common sense: nonsense—
a.) Anatole France's brain was inordinately light in weight (1844-1924), 2 lb. 4 oz. against:
b) Turgenev whose brain weighed 6 lb. 9 oz. (1818-1883)
i.o.w.-its weight is meaningless
|Einstein's brain at Montefiore Hospital in New York|
not much to look at
"an average brain"
|I grew up in Northern Europe, ages 1-13 in Germany, 13-23 in Holland.|
when in 1932 I arrived in New York, German-American friends served sauerkraut
which I had neither tasted nor seen!
|The Princeton Tiger on Palmer Square looks like a panther.|
Observed by WSH, May 14, 1978
|ca. 1534 potatoes came to Europe|
but only as ornamental plants
|That no manmade objects can be seen from the moon; the exception is:|
China's Great Wall, 3,600 miles in length.
|Edgar [illegible], an American, walked its|
entire length in 1909
NY Times, 8 March, 1983, p. A-30