Quote of the moment: Harlan Ellison, the two most common elements

October 19, 2012

Harlan Ellison, in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2008, Wired Magazine image

Harlan Ellison, in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2008, Wired Magazine image

The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

Harlan Ellison, as noted by Wikiquote:

Introduction to Blast Off : Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age of Space Toys (2001) by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, Mike Richardson, p. 6; the quote on hydrogen and stupidity is said to have originated with an essay of his in the 1960s, and is often misattributed to Frank Zappa, who made similar remarks in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989): “Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”

For years I’ve found this quote attributed to Albert Einstein, occasionally to Frank Zappa, sometimes to Wolfgang Pauli, once to Richard Feynman, and to several other nuclear or particle physicists or cosmologists or astronomers.  I’ve tried to track it down without success that I considered close enough to wager on.  Recently someone mentioned that he thought he recalled it being said first by Harlan Ellison, and of course, that checks out.

How many other nuggets of Ellison’s wisdom and insightful humor get attributed to other sources?

Zappa probably read Ellison.  Einstein would have wished he’d said it, as would Feynman (who probably also read Ellison); but please remember to attribute it to Ellison next time you use it.  Please be sure to quote him accurately, with “elements,” and not “things.”

You may have plenty of cause to use that quote in the next few weeks.


Typewriter of the moment: Harlan Ellison and his Olympia SG3

December 12, 2010

Harlan Ellison, his Olympia SG3, and other stuff - photo credit to MAX KATZ and KAREN FRIEDRICH
Harlan Ellison and his typewriter.  According to Richard Polt, the machine pictured is probably the Olympia SG3. Photo credit to Max Katz and Karen Friedrich.

Writers and their tools, in their workspaces.  We could probably date this photo by the stuff in Ellison’s office — the Cheshire Cat cutout?  Wasn’t that from an Edward Gorey-illustrated version of the Alice in Wonderland story?  What year was that?  The telephone on the wall, the desk scissors design . . . none of those fall into any expertise I have.  Someone else will have to date it.  My TinEye search didn’t shed any useful light.

I found the photo at Richard Polt’s fun site at Xavier University, The Classic Typewriter Page.  Polt is clearly working toward a MacArthur Foundation genius grant with this material.  Well, he would be, were I a judge.  (Who should get credit for the photo?  I don’t know — can you help identify who gets credit? See comment from Mr. Ellison:  ” . . .  image was captured for my 1974 STORY collection, APPROACHING OBLIVION, by MAX KATZ and KAREN FRIEDRICH.”  Credit for the photo gleefully acknowledged here.)

Oh, by the way, stay tuned:  Ellison is trying to sell his first typewriter.  That is a topic worthy of its own post.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the unfortunately moribund The Wit of the Staircase.

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