“Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes” — Nicolás Gómez Dávila


In his library ... where else?

This is too much fun to pass up.  Ever hear of Nicolás Gómez Dávila (a.k.a. “Don Colacho“)?  I hadn’t, either. So thanks be to Anecdotal Evidence and Patrick Kurp for bringing him to my attention.  (There’s a super-duper website on Gómez Dávila here.)

The Columbian writer (1913-1994) led a life of leisure:

“Gómez Dávila generally only visited the office once a week at midday for about ten minutes, in order to tell the business manager to increase profits, before going out to lunch with friends at the Bogotá Jockey Club, where he was an active member, playing polo and even serving as an officer for a while. (He had to give up polo, though, after injuring himself on his horse—he was thrown off while trying to light a cigar.)”

He is known mostly for his aphorisms:

“Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes.”

“Why do people write when they have nothing worthwhile to say and are unable to say it? The same reason we sing in the shower, when at least we have the courtesy to keep the door closed.”

“Clarity is courtesy. Muddle is ill-mannered.”

“The soul grows inwards.”

“Modern man deafens himself with music in order not to hear himself.”

“Journalism is writing exclusively for others.”

“Among the inventions of human pride, one will finally slip in which will destroy them all.”

“A genuine vocation leads the writer to write only for himself: first out of pride, then out of humility.”

“Whoever says that he ‘belongs to his time’ is only saying that he agrees with the largest number of fools at that moment.”

“The criterion of ‘progress’ between two cultures or two eras consists of a greater capacity to kill.”

“The word ‘modern’ no longer has an automatic prestige except among fools.”

“Individualism is the cradle of vulgarity.”

“Our last hope lies in the injustice of God.”

Patrick ends with a quote from Yvor Winters,  from his introduction to The Quest for Reality: An Anthology of Short Poems in English (1969), which he edited with Kenneth Fields:

“Our best writers live fully in the knowledge that language is at once personal and public; they know that only by precisely controlling the public medium of language can they realize private experience. For each of us language is the essential intermediary between the isolated self and the world of others; rather than trammeling the mind and affections, it sets them free, giving them proper objects.”

Let me end with a final aphorism that intrigued me:

The artist does not compete with his fellow artists; he does battle with his angel.

It reminded me of a similar thought Robert Hass told me a decade ago:

You know, to write a book of poems is to wrestle with an angel, and the first part of the task is to figure out what angel you are wrestling.

More on Gómez Dávila here.  And more from my Hass interview in my forthcoming book, An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz.

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8 Responses to ““Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes” — Nicolás Gómez Dávila”

  1. Elena Danielson Says:

    thanks for the memorable quotes

  2. Sharon Heinz Says:

    Nice and curmudgeonly.

  3. Bill Sigler Says:

    What angel you are wrestling, indeed. The highest ones are always the further away.

    I loved the Chesterton quotes on Evolution. It’s a shame we can’t roll those ones out at parties anymore.

    I found this through your comments on Patrick’s blog, and will return.

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Nice to see you here, Bill!

  5. Maria Balducci Says:

    I cannot agree more with the first quote – too many writers nowadays, too much low quality literature mass-produced. Just recently I had several failed attempts to read books that everyone is raving about. I couldn’t finish any of them… What’s the point of wasting my time and money? Nothing gets me more annoyed than reading a poor written text with no deep meaning behind. Or when everything is spelled out to you in a most primitive manner so that there’s nothing left to contemplate about. And then you finally get your hands on a really good meaningful book written by an under-rated by obviously talented author – and you get your relief: ah, that’s what reading should feel like.

  6. Grace Phelps Redlands Chiropractor Says:

    I also like the quote from him “To live with lucidity a simple, quiet, discrete life among intelligent books, loving a few beings.”

  7. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I like it too, Grace.

  8. Drew Byrne, Esq. Says:

    In answer to Don Colacho’s concise little line, “Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes,” I’d say he’s got a point there…and possibly a self-fulfilling prophesy too.