Joseph Epstein


  • ''The pleasure of jogging and running is rather like that of wearing a fur coat in Texas in August: the true joy comes in being able to take the damn thing off.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. Familiar Territory, "Running and Other Vices," Oxford University Press (1979).
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  • ''What, really, is wanted from a neighborhood? Convenience, certainly, an absence of major aggravation, to be sure. But perhaps most of all, ideally, what is wanted is a comfortable background, a breathing space of intermission between the intensities of private life and the calculations of public life.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. Familiar Territory, "Boutique America," Oxford University Press (1979).
  • ''The best joke-tellers are those who have the patience to wait for conversation to come around to the point where the jokes in their repertoire have application.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. Familiar Territory, Oxford University Press (1979).
  • ''I should prefer to die laughing, and, on more than one occasion, thought I might.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. Familiar Territory, "Jokes and Their Relation to the Conscious," Oxford University Press (1979).
  • ''Food has it over sex for variety. Hedonistically, gustatory possibilities are much broader than copulatory ones. Literarily, reading about food is more interesting than reading about sex. The authors of The Physiology of Taste and of Histoire d'O, for example, are writers equally obsessed, but how charming is Brillat-Savarin's obsession, how sickening Reage's! Similarly, how delightful it is to hear someone describe a magnificent meal, or comical to hear a botched one described, whereas listening to the same person describe a seduction is almost invariably boring, if not repulsive. Perhaps the reason for this is that eating is the more social function, sex the more personal, and as such eating shows people in a greater multiplicity of poses, moods, and characters than does sex. Modern psychologists to the contrary, there is more going on at the table than in bed.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. author, editor. "Foodstuff and Nonsense," Familiar Territory: Observations on American Life, Oxford University Press (1979).
  • ''How might one describe Max Beerbohm to someone who knows nothing about him? Well, for a start, one might imagine D.H. Lawrence. Picture the shagginess of Lawrence, his thick beard, his rough-cut clothes, his disdain for all the social and physical niceties. Recall his passionateness—his passion, so to say, for passion itself—his darkness, his gloom. Think back to his appeal to the primary instincts, his personal messianism, his refusal to deal with anything smaller than capital "D" Destiny. Do not neglect his humorlessness, his distaste for all that otherwise passed for being civilized, his blood theories and manifold roiling hatreds. Have you, then, D.H. Lawrence firmly in mind? Splendid. Now reverse all of Lawrence's qualities and you will have a fair beginning notion of Max Beerbohm, who, after allowing that Lawrence was a man of "unquestionable genius," felt it necessary to add, "he never realized, don't you know—he never suspected that to be stark, staring mad is somewhat of a handicap to a writer."''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. author, editor. "Max Beerbohm," The New Criterion (September 1985).
  • ''Although there have been witty big men—Oscar Wilde comes first to mind—wit and humor seem more in the province of the smaller man. Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers were all small men. We expect a comedian to be small. He may also be fat. W.C. Fields was fat; so was Oliver Hardy. Fat is funny, small is funny. Lou Costello, of Abbot & Costello, was small and fat—a winning comic combination. Tall isn't funny, perhaps owing to its being too imposing, even slightly menacing. Tall and handsome conjoined are especially unfunny. One can always fall back on being the tall and silent type, of whom, in the movies, Gary Cooper was the apotheosis. But if one is small and silent, one is likely merely to be counted shy. Small men are under an obligation to do more talking; perhaps this is why so many of them are always joking.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. author, editor. "ShortSubject," American Scholar (Autumn 1988). Pen name, Aristides.
  • ''Generalization, especially risky generalization, is one of the chief methods by which knowledge proceeds... Safe generalizations are usually rather boring. Delete that "usually rather." Safe generalizations are quite boring.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. The Middle of My Tether, "But I Generalize," W.W. Norton (1983).
  • ''I am afraid I am one of those people who continues to read in the hope of sometime discovering in a book a single—and singular—piece of wisdom so penetrating, so soul stirring, so utterly applicable to my own life as to make all the bad books I have read seem well worth the countless hours spent on them. My guess is that this wisdom, if it ever arrives, will do so in the form of a generalization.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. The Middle of My Tether, "But I Generalize," W.W. Norton (1983).
  • ''One serious drawback about letters is that, in order to get them, one must send some out. When it comes to the mail, I feel it is better to receive than to give.''
    Joseph Epstein (b. 1937), U.S. writer. The Middle of My Tether, "A Man of Letters," W.W. Norton (1983).

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