[Ads-l] Rebecca West's remark about copying the universe

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 19 16:50:42 UTC 2018

Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> Puts me in mind of the remark that Chomsky attributes to Rebecca
> West, who, asked about possible worlds, replied, “One of the damn
> thing is enough.” Hard to say which is more implausible, Rebecca
> West being asked about possible worlds, or her having an opinion
> on the matter. (Chomsky’s citing her would come  in there somewhere,
> if it hadn’t actually happened.) But somebody surely said it. If it hasn’t
> already been done, some quote sleuth might want to  track this one
> down.
> http://tinyurl.com/y7tk7fjz

I've made some progress on this question. In 1928 Rebecca West
published a collection containing an essay titled "The Strange
Necessity". She discussed realism in painting and criticized an undue
emphasis on exact representation. Her comment in the following passage
was not really about the philosophical concept of many possible

[ref] 1928, The Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews by Rebecca West,
Essay 1: The Strange Necessity, Start Page 13, Quote Page 131,
Jonathan Cape, London, England. (Verified with scans)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
We feel impatient with Royal Academy stuff of that sort because really
the makers of it ought to have learned by this time that a copy of the
universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned thing is
[End excerpt]

West used the word "ample" instead of "enough", but the quotation and
the attribution were garbled over time. Here is a pertinent citation
in 1968.

[ref] 1968 Copyright, Languages of Art: An Approach To a Theory of
Symbols by Nelson Goodman, Part I: Reality Remade, Chapter 1:
Denotation, (Quotation appears as epigraph of chapter 1, additional
information is given in a footnote on the same page), Quote Page 3,
The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with

[Begin excerpt]
Art is not a copy of the real world. One of the damn things is enough.*

* Reported as occurring in an essay on Virginia Woolf. I have been
unable to locate the source.
[End excerpt]

Noam Chomsky appears to have mentioned the quotation in the 1971 work
"Problems of Knowledge and Freedom". I am attempting to access this
book and other citations with the goal of writing a piece on this
topic in the future.

Garson O'Toole

> > Date:    Wed, 25 Jul 2018 13:26:41 -0400
> > From:    Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM <mailto:hwgray at GMAIL.COM>>
> > Subject: Re: "... there's just one of them"
> >
> >> would "... there's just one of it." have been better?
> >
> > IMO, yes, since there is just one of it.
> >
> > "The earth has several moons, but there's just one of them visible to the
> > naked eye."
> >
> > On Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 3:05 AM Chris Waigl <chris at lascribe.net <mailto:chris at lascribe.net>> wrote:
> >
> >> I was just listening to the latest CBC radio broadcast of "Quirks and
> >> Quarks" (as a podcast, but no matter). Here's how the host introduced a new
> >> topic:
> >>
> >> "You've probably noticed that our planet has exactly one moon. And it's a
> >> pretty good one, as moons go, but still, there's just one of them."
> >>
> >> At this point I had a weird 200 milliseconds of wondering if the "them" is
> >> the gender-neutral singular they (referring to the Moon??), which it
> >> obviously isn't. But it nontheless came across as ever so slightly weird.
> >> OTOH, would "... there's just one of it." have been better?
> >>
> >> For people, I do hear stuff like "[She's awesome, but we need to make sure
> >> not to overload her with work:] There's just one of her."
> >>
> >> Idly speculating,
> >
> > Chris
> >
> > --
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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