Topical Guide 423
L’Esprit de L’Escalier
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1:
Matthew has never managed to complain about that is-everything-okay intrusion or to respond to it with a snappy retort because the waiters always ask the question when his mouth is full, perhaps deliberately, to ensure that he can’t complain or deliver a snappy retort, only smile or nod or say “Mmmmm,” but he has thought of several snappy retorts after the fact and, disguised as BW, claimed to have made one . . .
Little Follies, “The Static of the Spheres”:
If I were responding to that remark now, I would say, “No, it wouldn’t, Dudley. It would be essentially the same: it would be the same in purpose and in function. It would pull in the same frightening programs about shipwrecked boys, …”
At the time, however, I said, “I want a radio that gets different programs.” …
Ah, Beaker, I wish I had you here now. The conversation would be considerably different today from what it was then. …
Heh-heh-heh. Oh, I am rolling now, Dud. I can feel myself taking the upper hand, I can feel your grip loosening with each word. Where was I?
Pascal Tréguer, “Meaning and Origin of the Phrase ‘Esprit d’Escalier’” on the Word Histories website (where he also provides many examples of literary uses of the phrase):
Borrowed from French, the expression esprit de l’escalier, or esprit d’escalier, literally wit of (the) staircase, denotes a retort or remark that occurs to a person after the opportunity to make it has passed.
It originally referred to a witty remark coming to mind on the stairs leading away from a social gathering. The image seems to have originated in Paradoxe sur le Comédien (Paradox of the Actor), an essay on theatre by the French philosopher, writer and critic Denis Diderot …
Denis Diderot, The Paradox of the Actor (translated by Google, with some assistance from me, MD):
Sedaine debuted The Philosopher Who Did Not Know He Was a Philosopher. I was more interested in the success of the play than he was; jealousy of talents is a vice that is foreign to me … . The Philosopher Who Did Not Know He Was a Philosopher staggers at the first, at the second performance, and I am very distressed; at the third he went to the skies, and I was overjoyed. The next morning I throw myself in a cab, I run after Sedaine; … . I approach him; I throw my arms around his neck; my voice deserts me, and tears run down my cheeks. Behold the sensitive and mediocre man. Sedaine, motionless and cold, looks at me and says: “Ah! Monsieur Diderot, how handsome you are!” Behold the observer and the man of genius.
I recounted this episode one day at table, with a man whose superior talents made him destined to occupy the most important place of the State, M. Necker; there were quite a few men of letters there, among them Marmontel, whom I love and to whom I am dear. The latter said to me ironically: “You will see that when Voltaire is sorry at the simple story of a pathetic trait and that Sedaine keeps his cool at the sight of a friend who bursts into tears, it is Voltaire who is the ordinary man and Sedaine the man of genius!” This apostrophe disconcerted me and reduced me to silence, because a sensitive man, like me, loses his mind completely over what is objected to him, and does not recover his wits until he’s at the bottom of the stairs. Another, cold and master of himself, would have replied to Marmontel: “Your reflection would be better in another mouth than yours, because you do not feel more than Sedaine and that you also do very beautiful things, and that, running the same career as him, you could leave it to your neighbor to assess his merit impartially. But without wanting to prefer Sedaine to Voltaire, or Voltaire to Sedaine, could you tell me what would have come out of the mind of the author of The Philosopher Who Did Not Know He Was a Philosopher, of The Deserter, of Paris Saved, if, instead of spending thirty-five years of his life to spoil the plaster and cut the stone, he would have spent all this time, like Voltaire, you and me, in reading and meditating on Homer, Virgil, Tasso, Cicero, Demosthenes, and Tacitus? We will never know how to see like him, and he would have learned to say like us. I look at him as one of Shakespeare’s great-nephews; this Shakespeare, whom I will compare neither to the Apollo of Belvedere, nor to the Gladiator, nor to the Antinous, nor to the Hercules of Glycon, but indeed to Saint Christopher of Our Lady, a shapeless colossus, crudely sculpted, but between whose legs we would all pass without our forehead touching its shameful parts.”
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1:
“I’m catching the next flight to anywhere. I hope you understand. Have a nice day.’”
See also: Memoirs: Memories, Inventions, Memoirs with Inventions, Sawdust TG 24; Motives for: L’Esprit de L’Escalier TG 73
This has nothing at all to do with the Personal History, but I feel that I must bring it to your attention. MD
The Week magazine, December 23, 2023, “The self-checkout is germy”:
There’s an unexpected item in the bagging area—and it’s not a pleasant one, reports the Daily Mail (U.K.). Researchers have found that supermarket self-service checkouts are crawling with harmful bacteria, including some found in feces. For the new study, they swabbed 19 items that people typically touch on an everyday basis, such as handrails, door handles, and keyboards. Check-out screens had “one of the highest bacterial loads,” the researchers found, with five types of bugs known to cause disease. These included Enterococcus, a bacterium commonly found in feces. E. coli—which can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, and bloody stools—was found on almost every item. …
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