A Good Neal Stephenson Quip

by Joey deVilla on June 27, 2005

Photo: Joey deVilla getting his copy of 'Quicksilver' autographed by Neal Stephenson.
Me and Neal Stephenson at a booksigning for Quicksilver.

I make it a point to check out the Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s blog, Making Light, on a fairly regular basis.  There’s always something interesting to read there, and my dendrites always feel a little bushier after a visit.

Making Light has an interesting set of quotes at the bottom of its left sidebar, and this one by Neal Stephenson — who probably rolls his eyes at the “dark prince of hacker fiction” that got pinned on him — caught my eye and tickled my brain (and will probably annoy some of my friends with hippie-ish tendencies):

For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter’s is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you’re trying to breathe liquid methane.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous June 27, 2005 at 10:33 am

With no context, I can’t be sure exactly what Mr. Stephenson meant by this, but I’m afraid he is off the mark here. To use his own metaphor, for a Westerner to trash Western culture is like finding our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere increasingly difficult to breathe because of fossil-fuel pollution, and saying that that is bad, and that we must do something about it.

Anonymous June 27, 2005 at 10:49 am

I think it’s a matter of degree. What you’re describing is constructive critique, while Stephenson is using the word “trash”. I agree with you and will go farther by saying that many great leaps forward are the result of such critiquing. I also believe that Stephenson is responding to the “familiarity breeds contempt” automatic dismissal of anything “Western” that is fashionable in certain circles, such as academia.

The short and sassy summary: You say to-may-toe, he says gazpacho.

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