Pearls: Quentin Crisp (Director’s Cut)

Normally in this spot we draw succour and counsel in the form of a single quotation from the wise if wayward souls who went before us. But when it comes to Quentin Crisp (who died on this day in 1999), who couldn’t part his painted lips without a profound, articulate observation on the human condition falling out, the pearls of wisdom are far too numerous to choose just one. Even keeping the choice down to 20 means confronting what is known around these parts as die Qual der Wahl (literally, “the agony of choice”). Here, nonetheless, is a string of Crisp’s most insightful epigrams.

In the beginning was the word. Once we know the words, we are halfway to ruling the world—or at least the society in which we move; we become the masters of ourselves, because words are the salve with which we heal the wounds inflicted on us by our actions.

Prejudice is like a cactus: it flourishes without any discernible source of nourishment.

The essence of happiness is its absoluteness. It is automatically the state of being of those who live in the continuous present all over their bodies. No effort is required to define or even attain happiness, but enormous concentration is needed to abandon everything else.

You have no obligation to others, except to try not to tread on their toes. Try not to be a nuisance. Try not to get in their way. Try not to obtrude yourself when the situation belongs to them. And you offer your style as a form of entertainment and they are able to enjoy it or reject, and if they reject it you can’t complain or show that you are annoyed. Otherwise, I don’t think you owe anything to anyone else. In fact, more harm is done by those who know what is right for others than by anybody.

The time comes for everybody when he has to do deliberately what he used to do by mistake, and then the joke comes into your hands instead of theirs.

It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.

In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast.

Sooner or later the time comes for almost everybody when, although he has sworn to himself that he will never utter such sentiments, he declares that the country is going to the dogs, that life has become louder, public manners cruder, and art totally incomprehensible. Where, he asks himself, will it all end?

The expression “role model” is comparatively new to me. In my earlier years there arose public icons, but I do not recall any exhortations from my elders to emulate such men. Perhaps such admonitions were uttered, but in my case they fell on deaf ears. For me to want to be like some famous sportsman, some renowned philanthropist, or even some great artist would be living beyond my income of dreams.

From the moment I stepped out of my cradle, I knew what my problem was and so did everybody within a ten-mile radius. I lived in danger, but not in doubt.

The reason why style is so important is because if you are sure of yourself you do not seize upon a group style—your class, your nationality, your sex. You can avoid this pitfall if you never use the word “we” except to mean yourself and the person to whom you are speaking. It is a mistake to say or even to think “we lost a football match”—I didn’t lose it, you didn’t lose it. Eleven other people that we don’t know and have never even heard of us lost it. So do not go raging through the streets breaking everything in sight and killing many of the inhabitants.

Zealots are totally incapable of any emotion other than rage. It is an unalterable law that people who claim to care about the human race are utterly indifferent to the sufferings of individuals.

It’s no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, “Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.” By then, pigs will be your style.

To say what we think to our superiors would be inexpedient; to say what we think to our equals would be ill-mannered; and to say what we think to our inferiors is unkind. Good manners occupy the terrain between fear and pity.

Most people are at present content to cherish their mere identity. This is not enough. Our identity is just a group of ill-assorted characteristics that we happen to be born with. Like our fingerprints, if they are noticed at all, they will almost certainly be used against us….You have to polish up your raw identity into a life-style so that you can barter with the outside world for what you want.

Love is the extra effort we make in our dealings with those whom we do not like and once you understand that, you understand all. This idea that love overtakes you is nonsense. This is but a polite manifestation of sex. To love another you have to undertake some fragment of their destiny.

The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to plant their whole life in the hands of some other person. I would describe this method of searching for happiness as immature. Development of character consists solely in moving toward self-sufficiency.

If one is not going to take the necessary precautions to avoid having parents one must undertake to bring them up.

As a test of whether you are in touch with somebody, being loved can never be a patch on being murdered. That’s when someone really has risked his life for you.

Don’t keep looking into the sky to see what is happening. Embrace the future. All you have to do about the future is what you did about the past. Rely on your curiosity and your courage, and ride through the night.

The regular quotes and other updates from Crisperanto: The Quentin Crisp Archives are guaranteed to make your Facebook wall a wiser, wittier place.

Further reading
On style
Merry Crispmas
A Casati family tree
Crispmas greetings
Strange Flowers guide to London, parts 2 and 3
No regrets
Catching up
The Chelsea
Ironfoot Jack on film
Angus McBean | portraits



  1. I liked the movie about his life a lot! Especially his consoling words about not wiping away dust (ever): After four years it doesn’t get worse ; )

  2. Pingback: Ride through the night | Strange Flowers

  3. Pingback: Secret Satan book list | Strange Flowers

  4. Pingback: Secret Satan, 2018 | Strange Flowers

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