Quotations about   obscurity

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Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) American actress, writer
Wishful Drinking, stage show (2009)
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Added on 18-Feb-21 | Last updated 18-Feb-21
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Real power begins where secrecy begins.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12, sec. 1 (1951)
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Added on 16-Jun-20 | Last updated 16-Jun-20
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There’s nothing like studying the bestseller lists of bygone years for teaching an author humility. You’ve heard of the ones that got filmed, normally. Mostly you realize that today’s bestsellers are tomorrow’s forgotten things.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is timid and dislikes going into the water.

[Tief sein und tief scheinen. — Wer sich tief weiss, bemüht sich um Klarheit; wer der Menge tief scheinen möchte, bemüht sich um Dunkelheit. Denn die Menge hält Alles für tief, dessen Grund sie nicht sehen kann: sie ist so furchtsam und geht so ungern in’s Wasser.]

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], Book 3, §173 (1882) [tr. Kaufmann (1974)]

Also known as The Joyful Wisdom or The Joyous Science. (Source (German)). Alternate translations:

To Be Profound and to Appear Profound. -- He who knows that he is profound strives for clearness; he who would like to appear profound to the multitude strives for obscurity. The multitude thinks everything profound of which it cannot see the bottom; it is so timid and goes so unwillingly into the water.
[tr. Common (1911)]

Being Deep and Seeming Deep. -- Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd takes everything whose ground it cannot see to be deep; it is so timid and so reluctant to go into the water.
[tr. Nauckhoff (2001)]

Being Profound and Being Thought Profound -- Whoever knows that he is profound strives for clarity; whoever would like the crowd to think he is profound strives for obscurity. The reason for this is that the crowd thinks something is profound whenever it cannot see to the bottom of it; it is afraid of the water and hates to get its feet wet.
[tr. Hill (2018)]

Being Deep and Appearing Deep -- Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.
[Source]

Whoever knows himself to be deep strives for clarity; whoever wants to appear deep to the masses strives for obscurity. For the masses consider anything to be deep that they cannot see the bottom of.
[Source]

Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 18-Nov-21
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Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
Beyond Good and Evil, 169 (1886) [tr. Kaufmann (1966)]
Added on 6-Apr-17 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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Don’t express your ideas too clearly. Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what they do not.

[No allanarse sobrado en el concepto. Los más no estiman lo que entienden, lo que no perciben lo veneran. Las cosas, para que se estiman, han de costar; será celebrado cuando no fuese entendido.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 253 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1982)]

Alt. trans.: "Do not Explain overmuch. Most men do not esteem what they understand, and venerate what they do not see. ... Many praise a thing without being able to tell why, if asked. The reason is that they venerate the unknown as a mystery, and praise it because they hear it praised." [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 4-Apr-22
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I could name all day, those women I deem great in Greece alone and the records would scarcely be complete. And what of Joan of Arc and Emma Goldman? Kate Richards O’Hare and Sarah Bernhardt? Katherine the Great and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? H.D. and Sara Teasdale? Isibella of Spain who pawned her gems that Columbus might sail, and Edna St. Vincent Millay? And that queen, Marie, I think her name was, of some small province — Hungary I believe — who fought Prussia and Russia so long and so bitterly. And Rome — oh, the list is endless there, also — most of them were glorified harlots but better be a glorified harlot than a drab and moral drone, such as the text books teach us woman should be. Woman have always been the inspiration of men, and just as there are thousands of unknown great ones among men, there have been countless women whose names have never been blazoned across the stars, but who have inspired men on to glory.

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
Letter to Harold Preece (c. Dec 1928)
Added on 31-May-16 | Last updated 31-May-16
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True bravery is shown by performing without witness what one might be capable of doing before all the world!

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Maxims], #216 (1665-1678)
Added on 11-Dec-15 | Last updated 11-Dec-15
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Not a day passes over the earth but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows.

Reade - of no note - wist_info

Charles Reade (1814-1884) English novelist and dramatist
The Cloister and the Hearth, ch. 1 (1861)
Added on 25-Nov-15 | Last updated 25-Nov-15
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There is nothing more dreadful to an author than neglect, compared with which reproach, hatred, and opposition are names of happiness.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, # 2 (24 Mar 1750)
Added on 7-Mar-14 | Last updated 7-Mar-14
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Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.

Kingman Brewster, Jr. (1919-1988) American educator, diplomat
Speech, British Institute of Management (13 Dec 1977)
Added on 23-Sep-13 | Last updated 17-Mar-16
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The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Moving Pictures (1990)
Added on 19-Mar-08 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill will, or hypocrisy, or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.

[Μὴ τιμήσῃς ποτὲ ὡς συμφέρον σεαυτοῦ, ὃ ἀναγκάσει σέ ποτε τὴν πίστιν παραβῆναι, τὴν αἰδῶ ἐγκαταλιπεῖν, μισῆσαί τινα, ὑποπτεῦσαι, καταράσασθαι, ὑποκρίνασθαι, ἐπιθυμῆσαί τινος τοίχων καὶ παραπετασμάτων δεομένου.]

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 3, #7 [tr. Hays (2003)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Never esteem of anything as profitable, which shall ever constrain thee either to break thy faith, or to lose thy modesty; to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to dissemble, to lust after anything, that requireth the secret of walls or veils.
[tr. Casaubon (1634), #8]

Don't be fond of any thing, or think that for your interest, which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, be of a dissembling, suspicious, or outrageous humor; which puts you up on hating any person, and inclines you to any practice, which won't bear the light, and look the world in the face.
[tr. Collier (1701)]

Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall compel thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything which needs walls and curtains.
[tr. Long (1862)]

Think nothing for your interest which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, hate, suspect, or curse any person, or inclines you to any practice which will not bear the light and look the world in the face.
[tr. Zimmern (1887)]

Never esteem anything as of advantage to thee that shall make thee break thy word or lose thy self-respect.
[tr. Morgan, in Bartlett's (1894)]

Never value as an advantage to yourself what will force you one day to break your word, to abandon self-respect, to hate, suspect, execrate another, to act a part, to covet anything that calls for walls or coverings to conceal it.
[tr. Farquharson (1944)]

Never value the advantages derived from anything involving breach of faith, loss of self-respect, hatred, suspicion, or execration of others, insincerity, or the desire for something which hast to be veiled and curtained.
[tr. Staniforth (1964)]

Never value as beneficial to yourself something that will force you one day to break your word, abandon your sense of shame, hate, suspect, or curse someone else, pretend, or desire something that needs the secrecy of walls or curtains.
[tr. Gill (2013)]

Value nothing which compels you to break your promise, to abandon your honor, to hate, suspect or curse anyone, to be a hypocrite, or to lust after anything which needs walls or decorations.
[tr. @sentantiq (2019)]

Some causes will force you to betray faith, abandon shame, hate or suspect another person, call down curses, put forward explanations, or desire something that requires walls and fences. Do not regard these causes as necessary or beneficial to yourself.
[Source]

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Mar-21
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If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing — court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statemen, “William H. Seward” (1916)
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Variants show up elsewhere in Hubbard's writings and and his quote epigrams.
  • To escape criticism -- do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
  • To avoid unkind criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
  • There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.
Often misattributed to Aristotle.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Oct-19
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Words, like glass, obscure when they do not aid vision.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]

Alt. trans.: "Words, like eyeglasses, obscure everything they do not make clear."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-May-16
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