Thursday, January 10, 2008

Selective quoting

I quote a lot on this blog. I see something which interests me and either just quote it and leave it at that, or offer my thoughts on it. Quoting can be a dangerous pastime, however.

Quoting out of context is the most obvious mistake, of course. I think I'm pretty fair in the way I quote people: I try very hard not to select a sentence or segment which unfairly represents them.

A greater difficulty, though, is with selective quoting, what might almost be called quoting in context. Take this quote from Nietzsche's Beyond good and evil:

146 Anyone who fights with monsters should make sure that he does not in the process become a monster himself. And when you look for a long time into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

Now that appeals to me. It makes me (and probably most people) think instantly of Bush and Blair. I could easily imagine myself quoting that one regularly. However, this is the aphorism immediately before that one:

145 In comparing man and woman in general we can say that woman would not have the genius for finery if she did not have the instinct for the secondary role.

And the one before that:

144 When a woman has scholarly inclinations, then something is usually wrong with her sexuality. Infertility itself tends to encourage a certain masculinity of taste, for man is, if I may say so, "the infertile animal."

Those are two quotes that I could not ascribe to. And yet the one after is one that I would like to share with people. So what to do? Is it possible to just pick and choose? To consider Nietzsche a genius when he writes something I like but draw a veil over stuff I actually find objectionable? Is that not what the Nazis did when they - quite incorrectly - appropriated Nietzsche for one of their own? There are quotes aplenty from Nietzsche which are unflattering about Germany and which offer unequivocal support to Jewish people, but the Nazis only ever quoted the "superman" stuff.

It's a tricky one. I guess the answer has to be whether the objectionable quotes say anything which would make you reconsider your opinion of the favourable one: is there any sort of connection, so that the former throws a darker light on the latter? In this case I think no, so I feel justified in quoting the aphorism I like.

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