Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Michael Crichton Artwork – Quoted by Joseph Kosuth

Out of the 98 works of art owned by Michael Crichton that were auctioned off at Christie’s this year, there is one that intrigues me.

Quoted by Joseph Kosuth

First of all, the realized price for the work--$813--was something I could have afforded in theory (if not justified in actuality). It would be wonderful to own a work of art that had belonged to Michael Crichton. Perhaps the opportunity will arise again.

The artist, Joseph Kosuth, wrote an essay titled “Artist as Anthropologist”. Michael Crichton received his bachelor’s degree at Harvard in anthropology. He was a visiting lecturer in Anthropology at Cambridge University in1965, before going on to Harvard Medical School.

The art work, a screenprint on transparent wove paper, contains no images, only the following text:

‘Is that a quotation?’ I asked.
‘Of course. Quotations are all we have now. Language is a system of quotations.’
Jorge Luis Borges
The Book of Sand

The recent auction of Crichton’s art collection inspired me to reread both the 1977 and 1994 editions of Crichton’s book on Jasper Johns. In one passage, Crichton quoted Borges:

These questions stand alongside another debate among artists themselves about what is important in a created work. Borges wrote: “The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral expression is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary.” (p. 47, 1977 edition)

The phrase “an idea whose perfect oral expression is possible in a few minutes” reminded me of Crichton’s habit of using quotations at the beginning of his books (and sometimes the sections of books). The proper term for these opening quotations is epigraphs.

Crichton used epigraphs in 27 out of the 31 books he published, starting with Odds On (1966), which he published under the name of John Lange. Two other John Lange novels-- Scratch One (1967) and The Venom Business (1969) lack epigraphs, as does the nonfiction book Electronic Life (1983). The posthumously published novel Pirate Latitudes (2009) does not have an epigraph, or a bibliography, both of which Crichton might have added if he had been able to finish the book himself. From the interview “Michael Crichton: a Career in Three Acts” by David Kipen, Firsts magazine, July/August 1997:

Firsts: Where do you get your epigraphs?

Michael Crichton: I think it originally comes out of an interest in doing nonfiction. There’s more of that tendency to put epigraphs in front of chapters in nonfiction. I was trying to make it, especially in something like The Andromeda Strain, like nonfiction.
(p. 52)

Here is a complete list of the epigraphs in Crichton’s books. It’s interesting to note that several of the epigraphs for Crichton’s novels are quotes from fictional characters.

The Andromeda Strain (1969)
“The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated.”
–Jeremy Stone

“Increasing vision is increasingly expensive.”
–R. A. Janek

Five Patients (1970)
“Doctors and nurses are the only people who possibly can alter the conditions of patient care.”
–Paul B. Beeson, M.D.

“Health, as a vast societal enterprise, is too important to be solely the concern of the providers of services.”
–William L. Kissick, M.D.

The Terminal Man (1972)
“I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my own motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions.”
–J.B.S. Haldane

“The wilderness masters the colonist.”
–Frederick Jackson Turner

The Great Train Robbery (1975)
“Satan is glad—when I am bad,
And hopes that I—with him shall lie
In fire and chains—and dreadful pains”
–Victorian child’s poem

“I wanted the money.”
–Edward Pierce, 1856

Eaters of the Dead (1976)
“Praise not the day until evening has come; a woman until she is burnt; a sword until it is tried; a maiden until she is married; ice until it has been crossed; beer until it has been drunk.”
–Viking proverb

“Evil is of old date.”
–Arab proverb

Jasper Johns (1977 and 1994 editions)
“We see, not a change of aspect, but a change of interpretation.”
–Ludwig Wittgenstein

“I am just trying to find a way to make pictures.”
–Jasper Johns

Congo (1980)
“The more experience and insight I obtain into human nature, the more convinced do I become that the greater portion of a man is purely animal.”
–Henry Morton Stanley, 1887

“The large male [gorilla] held my attention….He gave an impression of dignity and restrained power, of absolute certainty in his majestic appearance. I felt a desire to communicate with him….Never before had I had this feeling on meeting an animal. As we watched each other across the valley, I wondered if he recognized the kinship that bound us.”
–George B. Schaller, 1964

Electronic Life (1983)
No epigraphs

Sphere (1987)
“When a scientist views things, he’s not considering the incredible at all.”
–Louis I. Kahn

“You can’t fool nature.”
–Richard Feynman

Travels (1988)
“In self-analysis the danger of incompleteness is particularly great. One is too soon satisfied with a part explanation.”
–Sigmund Freud

“Existence is beyond the power of words to define.”

“What you see is what you see.”
–Frank Stella

Jurassic Park (1990)
“Reptiles are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale color, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terrible venom; wherefore their Creator has not exerted his powers to make many of them.”
–Linnaeus, 1797

“You cannot recall a new form of life.”
–Erwin Chargaff, 1972

Rising Sun (1992)
“We are entering a world where the old rules no longer apply.”
–Phillip Sanders

“Business is war.”
–Japanese motto

Disclosure (1994)
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer: (1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin or (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
–Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

“Power is neither male nor female.”
–Katherine Graham

The Lost World (1995)
“What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.”
–Albert Einstein

“Deep in the chaotic regime, slight changes in structure almost always cause vast changes in behavior. Complex controllable behavior seems precluded.”
–Stuart Kauffman

“Sequelae are inherently unpredictable.”
–Ian Malcolm

Airframe (1996)
“The damn things weigh half a million pounds, fly a third of the way around the world, and they carry passengers in greater comfort and safety than any vehicle in the history of mankind. Now, are you fellas really going to stand there and tell us you know how to do the job better? Are you going to pretend you know anything about it at all? ‘Cause it looks to me like you boys are just stirring folks up for your own reasons.”
–Aviation legend Charley Norton, 78, speaking to reporters in 1970 after an airplane crash*

“The irony of the Information Age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion.”
–Veteran reporter John Lawton, 68, speaking to the American Association of Broadcast Journalists in 1995

Timeline (1999)
“All the great empires of the future will be empires of the mind.”
—Winston Churchill, 1953

“If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything.”
–Edward Johnston, 1990

“I’m not interested in the future. I’m interested in the future of the future.”
–Robert Doniger, 1996

Prey (2002)
“Within fifty to a hundred years, a new class of organisms is likely to emerge. These organisms will be artificial in the sense that they will originally be designed by humans. However, they will reproduce, and will ‘evolve’ into something other than their original form; they will be ‘alive’ under any reasonable definition of the word. These organisms will evolve in a fundamentally different manner….The pace…will be extremely rapid….The impact on humanity and the biosphere could be enormous, larger than the industrial revolution, nuclear weapons, or environmental pollution. We must take steps now to shape the emergence of artificial organisms….”
–Doyne Farmer and Alletta Belin, 1992

“There are many people, including myself, who are quite queasy about the consequences of this technology for the future.”
–K. Eric Drexler, 1992

State of Fear (2004)
“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
–Mark Twain

“Within any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss.”
–George Orwell

Next (2006)
“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
--Steven Weinberg

“The word ‘cause’ is an altar to an unknown god.”
--William James

“What is not possible is not to choose.”
--Jean-Paul Sartre

Pirate Latitudes (2009)
No epigraphs

The Pseudonym Novels:

As Jeffery Hudson:

A Case of Need (1968)

“I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients, according to my judgment and ability, and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug, nor give advice which may cause his death. Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my art…”
--from the Hippocratic Oath demanded of the young physician about to enter upon the practice of his profession

“There is no moral obligation to conserve DNA.”
--Garrett Hardin

As Michael Douglas (Michael Crichton and Douglas Crichton):

Dealing, or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1970)

“Most of what my neighbors call good, I am profoundly convinced is evil, and if I repent anything, it is my good conduct that I repent.”

“When somebody like Timothy Leary comes out and justifies [using drugs], we’ve just got to jump on him with hobnailed boots.”

“I knew I was going off [hard] drugs when I didn’t like to watch TV.”
--Billie Holliday

As John Lange:

Odds On (1966)

”There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
--Benjamin Disraeli

Scratch One (1967)
No epigraphs

Easy Go (also published as The Last Tomb ) (1968)
Title page
“What secret was ever kept in Egypt?”
--Howard Carter, discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamen

Part 1: The Plan
“Everything forbidden is sweet.”
--Arab proverb

Part 2: The Search
“Evil is of old date.”
--Arab proverb

Part 3: The Last Tomb
“…and the idols of Egypt shall be moved…”
--Isaiah 19:1

Zero Cool (1969)
Part I
“Radiologists see things in black and white.”
--D. D. McGowan M.D.

Part II
“The diagnostic skills of the radiologist are significant, but limited.”
--Harold Ellison M.D.

Part III
“Radiologists have the shortest lifespan of all medical specialists.”
--U.S. Bureau of Statistics

The Venom Business (1969)
No epigraphs

Drug of Choice (1970)
Title page
“The beginning of modern science is also the beginning of calamity.”
--Karl Jaspers

“Give me librium or give me meth!”

Part I: Coma
“Shall I tell you what knowledge is? It is to know both what one knows and what one does not know.”

Part II: Eden
“If an urn lacks the characteristics of an urn, how can we call it an urn?”

Part III: Madness
“It is indeed harmful to come under the sway of utterly new and strange doctrines.”

Grave Descend (1970)
Title page
“He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.”
--Samuel Johnson

Part I: Swift Ship
“Much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.”
--Samuel Johnson

Part II: Dark Swamp
“Being in a ship is being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.”
--Samuel Johnson

Part III: White Money
“It is better to live rich than to die rich.”
--Samuel Johnson

Binary (1972)
“Binary: any system composed of two interacting elements. As in binary stars, binary numbers, binary gases, etc.”

“Chemical agents lend themselves to covert use in sabotage against which it is exceedingly difficult to visualize any really effective defense…I will not dwell upon this use of CBW because as one pursues the possibilities of such covert uses, one discovers that the scenarios resemble that in which the components of a nuclear weapon are smuggled into New York City and assembled in the basement of the Empire State Building.

In other words, once the possibility is recognized to exist, about all that one can do is worry about it.”
--Dr. Ivan L. Bennett, Jr., testifying before the Subcommittee on National Security Policy and Scientific Developments, November 20, 1969

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner


Unknown said...

Thank you for this complete list of the epigraphs in Crichton's books... I find these never-before-seen summaries about his work very helpful.

Phil said...

This post is a beautiful piece of work - thanks for going to the trouble of putting this together.

I like the playfulness of Crichton, sometimes using real epigraphs, sometimes making them up! I wonder if Crichton liked Carl Sagan's non-fiction books - they were full of epigraphs (over-full in many cases).