Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Baltasar Gracian: digging up the dirt

No. 125

"Not the police court blotter.  The sign of blemish in yourself, to point to the shame of another: some seek with the spots of others to cover their own, either to white-wash them, or thus to console themselves, which is the solace of fools: the breath smells badly from those who are the sewers of a city's filth, in which stuff he who digs deepest, soils himself most: few are free from some original sin,  be it of commission, or omission, only, the sins of little known people are little known; let the man alert guard against being a recorder of evil, for it is to be a man despised, and one who even though human, is inhuman."

--Baltasar Gracian --
from The Art of Worldly Wisdom
translated by Martin Fischer

"the police court blotter" This seems to be a bit of an anachronism here.  I'm not sure that police courts existed in the 17th century when Gracian lived.  I wonder what Gracian had written that Martin Fischer decided to translate this way.  Obviously the police court blotter would be one place that a person so inclined could dig up embarrassing information about someone.

I wonder what Gracian would have to say about today when he discovers that there's a multi-million dollar business whose sole reason for existence is publishing scandal, some of which might be true and much of which is false, about anybody whose name the public might recognize.  In addition,  I see ads on the Internet which inform me that if I click here, I can find out the dirt about anybody I want, famous or not.

It's true that those people who specialize in this are lowlife scum, but they do it because it's profitable.  What can we say about the people who pay for this wallowing in dirt?  I think they are the ones that Gracian is talking about.   As usual, if  no audience existed, nobody would be doing it.

What do you think?   Is there something unhealthy or even unclean about wanting to find out the dirt about others?


  1. I like the part that says "the sins of little known people are little known." I think the more famous the person, the more some people want to know about them. Maybe it's jealousy?

  2. Fiction - literature in general, I guess - is a way to find out the dirt about people without doing any harm to actual people. Writers can record evil without so much sin.

  3. Cheryl,

    One of the advantages of being little known--the price of fame is high. Some seek it and thrive on it--those who are "famous for being famous." Marvelous saying--I wonder who said it first.

    Others hate it and end up punching out the paparazzi.

    Could be jealousy--definitely.

    Or, perhaps a shared community of sinners? Do people who commit the same sins feel a bond?

    Now, there's a weird thought.

    1. Fred,

      That "shared community of sinners" might be looking for the validation of their actions. They might think that they aren't so bad if a famous (loved, admired) person does it, too.

    2. Cheryl,

      That sounds like a community of believers. Could it go so far as to become something to be proud of?

      I think Christ said something about being with those who gather together in his name.

  4. Amateur Reader,

    That's an interesting thought! But, lit also includes the good which gossip seldom does. I'll stick with lit and forgo the gossip mags.

    Can't remember who said it, but the basic idea was that lit explores human behavior--I see lit as a sort of an experiment without the actual pain or the costs to others.