Waugh Who

There is indeed nowadays an armed and steadily growing posse of masters. What with masterclasses, master’s degrees, and masterpieces around every corner, one begins to deliberate over the validity of whether or not one has been duped all along—hoodwinked, shammed out of his birthright that he is yet too an undiscovered master of something or other. Much like the words “amazing,” “crazy,” “awesome,” “impactful,” “unique,” and, every half-literate’s favorite, “problematic,” “master” has taken the initial and regretful Cheeto-crud-on-the-fingers-bathing-suit-tucked-under-the-panniculus stumble towards its bellyflop into meaninglessness. This is all to say that one should, at the very least, attempt to choose one’s words with some intention, and it is with not a little attention that I classify Evelyn Waugh as past master status. And, although Waugh claimed P.G. Wodehouse “the head of (his) profession,” it is in Waugh’s short story Scott King’s Modern Europe in which one may be masterfully classed on the rhetorical devices, grammatical gifts, and narrative tones it takes to make a worthy work of wit. 

Rhetorical devices are the invisible patterns upon the page that make readers smirk and wonder at how a human with only one frontal cortex could turn a phrase so well, the same invisible patterns that make writers lower their heads, peep intermittently out the window, and wait for the approach of the rioting public with hot oils and blunt instruments who had just gotten hip to the jig that he’s been passing off Ancient Greek hand-me-downs at freshly woven silk prices. Waugh, in the course of less than forty pages, performs the unabashed huckstering worthy of a Middle Eastern bazar. 

Most people, even my father, a man of precisely no reading at all, knows what a simile is. Most people, however, do not know a good simile whenever they see one. Allow me to play the purveyor: “He had been cross-questioned about his past and his future, the state of his health and finances, as though he were applying for permanent employment of a confidential nature.” Scott King, Waugh’s British protagonist seems to be rather discontent with his brief examination upon entering the nation of Neutralia: allegorized post-war, socialist continental Europe. The always playful transferred epithet scoots in shortly thereafter, titillating lookers-on with a quick one to the ribs about the story’s oddly breathtaking communist town hottie, Miss Sveningen: “Think of her striding between the beds, a pigtail, bare feet, and in her hand a threatening hairbrush.” Anaphora makes its first appearance twice when King speaks to the comically ingratiating communist professor, Dr. Fe: “There was more than politeness in Dr. Fe’s greeting; there was definite solicitude,” this repetition creating an emphatic effect. That same professor’s depiction of Neutralia’s liberation is eye-squinting in that unique way that many of us now may very readily connote with some contemporary views under the iron regime of Critical Theory: “Then we were liberated and put under the Serbs. Now we are liberated again and put under the Russians.” This fine use of isocolon, better known today as parallelism, achieves a repetition that, in conjunction with its connotation in the repeated word here in question, creates an ironic effect suggestive of successful academic menticide—also a very relatable theme for today’s universities. And a good mix is always appreciated. Consider the following right upstairs, left to the liver of alliteration and overstatement: “But here the din banged back from gilding and mirrors; above the clatter and chatter of the dinner table and the altercations of the waiters, a mixed choir of young people sang folk songs, calculated to depress the most jovial village festival;” though, for me, this is sober empiricism.

Yet one can create feats of wit with good, old grammar as well. Consider how much this simple absolute adds to an otherwise commonplace description: “He took Whitemaid by the arm and led him out of the hall to a cool and secluded landing where stood a little settee of gilt and plush, a thing not made for sitting on.” The key as regards witty grammar is to tincture its instances with a taste of the playful. A settee in indeed constructed entirely for humans to rest their limbs as they see fit, but Waugh revokes that privilege, suggesting something curious about the furniture that leads the lips of readers curling accordingly. In English, the Passive Voice has been, for some reason, forbidden by literary authorities as weak and spineless, and the writerly equivalent of filching the last of grandma’s money from her purse. The passive voice, however, is much funnier than the active voice, as it deletes the subject, indeed suggesting the subject as entirely unimportant, further intimating the subject’s stiff-lipped reaction to the scenario, perhaps mildly offended by it all: “Scott-King petulantly joined issue on this point. Strong words were used of him. “Fascist beast.”—“Reactionary cannibal.”—“Bourgeois escapist.” If his sentence were used in the active voice, the same image of rejection would simply not be enforced. Even something as simple as verb tenses can be used to inspire the acquisition of new facial muscles: “The waiters had drunk and were drinking profusely of brandy and there was a bottle at hand.” Verb tenses, and therefore the passing of time, can be used to achieve humorous results. Here, we have the past perfect tense followed by the past continuous tense, followed still by present bottle, suggesting the protractedness of the activity. This usage of two tenses in direct succession also aids in producing a kind of scene-transition effect, wherein we see the waiters drinking, then perhaps some time goes by, after which we expect the waiters to have completed the sluicing, only to find that they have unnaturally prolonged the activity.

In truth, one could almost give all of the above-mentioned the heave-ho, if one had an infallible command of narrative tone. One of the combinations above used overstatement, a fine comedic tone forsooth, but the understatement is the undisputed heavyweight champion: “The party trailed out through the swing doors into the dusty evening heat, leaving the noblemen to compare their impressions of Miss. Sveningen’s legs. The subject was not exhausted when they returned; indeed had it risen earlier in the year it would have served as the staple conversation for the whole Bellacita season.” Legs tend to have that effect on men, a woman’s legs all the more, a Nordic snow-queen’s of mythological length being thus a certainly. Yet understatements need not be about legs; they can indeed be about any body part and its function: “He hiccupped without intermission throughout the long dinner.” Here, a simple “he hiccupped a lot” would have had the same logic but lost all the sense. Comedians and comediennes alike make sweeping statements. Comedy is meant to make grotesque spectacles of otherwise quiet characteristics or foibles. To suggest that the man next to whom you spent your morning commute emitted a scent wicked enough to send Lot’s wife sprinting out of the salt is a slightly more entertaining image than reporting that he smelled bad. Therefore, get out your broom and sweep. Waugh could push one with the best of them: “The foyer was empty save for Miss Bombaum who sat smoking a cigar with a man of repellent aspect.” A man of repellent aspect? It is additionally funny due to its receiving no further description, thus no debate can be made. He was bloody repellent. That is all. This is not to be confused with making a witty aside. Witty asides are slivers of smartly crafted opinion that show the reader that the writer has thought a lot about the subject at hand, usually not positively. When describing a confused gaggle of herd-mind socialists, Waugh proffers the following: “Noah’s animals cannot have embarked with less sense of the object of their journey.”

Just like cashiers at the grocery, writers of comedy should change registers, making the switch from high language to low, the ornate and well-spoken to a slag-lad of the gutter: “Scott King was an adult, an intellectual, a classical scholar, almost a poet; provident Nature who shields the slow tortoise and points the quills of the porcupine, has given to such tender spirits their appropriate armor. A shutter, an iron curtain, fell between Scott-King and these two jokers.” Just as finally seeing the hilarious things at which everyone’s already hacking up their insides violently is an enjoyable time for most, should one, to achieve the same effect, place powerful images at the end of sentences. It is the long-awaited reveal; the man walking carefully along the icy sidewalk who has finally begun to dance—the cologne-drenched gentleman in the BMW who has been revving it for hussies coming it out of the bar at 2:00 a.m. finally losing grip on his latest drift, remodeling his vehicle upon the nearest metal road barrier; or, a beautiful giant of a Nordic female upon a balcony in a bath towel devouring a large cut of meat: “The windows stood wide open onto the balcony and on the balcony, modestly robed in bath towels, sat Miss Sveningen eating beefsteak.”

If one has not yet deduced the general pattern for oneself, it is indeed the clever changes and juxtapositions, whatever those might be, that carry the day and take home the big win. One very effective way to experience this is to suddenly change either the mood of the narrative or the characters proximity to the events before-described, as in the following: “Dr. Fe, when they met, showed the reserve proper of a man of delicate feeling who had in emotion revealed too much of himself. It was a happy day for Scott-King. Not so for his colleagues.” Or, “Scott-King petulantly joined issue on this point. Strong words were used of him. Fascist beast—Reactionary cannibal—Bourgeois escapist. Scott King withdrew from the meeting.”

Rhetorically Roughing It

Mark Twain was not a genius. In fact, his biography is marred by the types of blemishes indicative of a first-rate fool: low education, low income, high unemployment, frequent vagrancy, recurrent profligate business ventures, et cetera—indeed, everything we monitor for today on our little credit-risk charts when we are deciding who gets to live or die. How is it, then, that we praise this penniless backwater yokel as The Grandfather of American Literature? Mark Twain is a master of the memorable line, a champion of leaving us in awe at a turn of phrase. He undoubtedly possesses the roguish slant required of a good writer of the Picaresque, but being a disreputable swashbuckler alone does not propel one to become one of the finest Wits literature has ever known. The disappointing secret is that Mark Twain practiced, a lot. More specifically, this past master of the quip diligently practiced the figures of rhetoric. Like all great writers before him (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, et cetera) who make us contemporary hacks want to close up shop just by glancing at the page, Twain mercilessly enforced on himself the conscientious employment of what the Ancient Greeks invented and developed for the sole purpose of persuasion and delight. Twain’s bravura of Western Frontier hilarity, Roughing It, is a scintillating showcase of wit, and, by investigating Twain’s frequent use of the figures of rhetoric therein, one may ascertain that the ability to dazzle is not divinely endowed to the chosen few, but rather may be learnt by anyone, even foolhardy hicks.

Twain used a great many clever modes of narrative and literary devices, as well as upwards of thirty figures of rhetoric in Roughing It. In truth, the book is essentially an elite-level exercise in these scholarly disciplines (as well as of plain old lying), hence it would be impossible to chronicle every occurrence. Therefore, I shall focus on a few instances of particularly pithy and mellifluous forms of rhetoric, beginning with everyone’s favorite: Alliteration.

Alliteration is everyone’s favorite rhetorical form for two reasons: it pleases the ear and makes the author seem more clever than he really is. Consider Twain’s depiction of the aftermath of eleven Mormon wives demanding a valuable love-trinket from their husband: “Eleven promised breastpins purchased peace once more.” In this case, in addition to having a lovely rhythm, the four ps were placed punctiliously. Alliteration should be used with the utmost judiciousness, lest one begins to sound foolish; when used with extreme care, however, it is a most mellifluous piece of rhetoric. It is best used to audibly mimic the writerly action or idea one wants to develop: the soft sibilance of the flooded freshets. Hear the water?

Shall we move on? Rhetorical Questions are a surprisingly powerful form of rhetoric on account of not providing room for an answer. And we tend to like answers. Moreover, rhetorical questions often signal something important to which we should likely lend a cellphoneless ear. Reflect upon Twain’s usage of rhetorical questioning as he critiques Adam Smith’s magnum opus, the Mormon Bible, and its depiction of certain past followers ascending to heaven: “and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.” To which, Twain posits: “And what else would they be likely to consist of?” But how is one to answer a question like that?

An especially favorite form amongst humorous Wits is the Transferred Epithet. It is indeed a favorite due to its inherently eloquent absurdity. The form is, according to Mark Forsyth in his book The Elements of Eloquence, “when an adjective is applied to the wrong noun.” The effect is usually a species of pleasant confusion. Cogitate on Twain’s eating of “a hasty breakfast.” The last I checked (but we do live in progressive times) morning meals have not the ability to move, let alone with the relative consistency to be judged by their speed. Of course, the line referred to Twain’s eating a breakfast hastily, but I am certain Twain did not mean this book to be used as a soporific, and so he used a transferred epithet instead of boring his readers to sleep.

Evidence of humans enjoying symmetry is everywhere. We find it incredibly pleasing to look upon, even use it to decide both our paramours and lifelong mates. It is only logical, then, that we might find some private stimulation when it is found in print.

Parallelism, known to sterner people as Isocolon, is, simply put, a sentence devised of alike parts, a construction grammatically alike or symmetrical in form, or, according to Mark Forsyth, “two clauses that are grammatically parallel, two clauses that are structurally the same.”

Our senses are constantly assailed by many an unattractive sentence shaped like the following: We enjoy drinking, fighting, and some sex. 

This rather warm-blooded statement includes a successful first-person plural pronoun as its subject, an intransitive verb describing their feelings on the matter, and two spirited gerunds pertaining to how these ruffians find pleasure. Then, just at the climax of the series, a break in symmetry renders what was at first an exciting sentence flaccid: instead of a third gerund to complete the holy trinity, a grotesque adjective is placed before a common noun, thus rendering it, as Forsyth put it, a “formless heap.”

And Twain had the abovementioned formless heap on his mind when he describes a change in American Frontier currency: “…if one wanted a cigar, it was a quarter; if he wanted a chalk pipe, it was a quarter…”

But the figures of rhetoric need not be sold separately. Anaphora is when one begins each clause, sentence, or paragraph with the same word(s); epistrophe is when one finishes each clause, sentence, or paragraph with the same word(s). But don’t take my word(s) for it, instead take a second glance at that same line, and Twain’s aphoristic trifecta of Isocolon, Anaphora, and Epistrophe “…if one wanted a cigar, it was a quarter; if he wanted a chalk pipe, it was a quarter…”

Twain’s rhetorical muscle is fully flexed, however, when he is sporting his might with the figure of hyperbole. Indeed, he is at full horsepower whenever he lies, just as he does when his stallion is frightened by a heated bull: “[it] seemed to literally prostrate my horse’s reason… stand on his head for a quarter of a minute and shed tears.” Certainly, there is not a better bold-faced liar on the planet than Samuel Langhorne Clemens—play me the fool again, Samuel, we seem to say. Consider Twain’s delightful propaganda as regards the staggering width of the Humboldt River: “One of the pleasantest and most invigorating exercises one can contrive is to run and jump across the Humboldt River till he is overheated, and then drink it all dry.” I have never been to, seen, or even know where the Humboldt River is, but my suspicions lead me in the direction that this activity be exaggerated. 

Mark Twain is the best American humorist and Wit to date and stands as a shining example of what one can do when one is not afraid of a bit of practice. The forms of rhetoric are proven formulas against the perfunctory and the prosaic. Slave not after the Romantic notion of untutored artistic afflatus: this is a hoax—they all had Classical educations before they decided school was for fools. School should never be over. Twain voraciously read the Classics, enjoyed the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary as much as any novel, and diligently practiced rhetoric. Roughing It, one of the most sophisticated and awe-inspiring works of American fiction, was written by a former steamboat pilot and self-proclaimed tramp with a fifth-grade education.

Perfectly Reliable Nonsense

Indeed, the best way to tell the truth is by lying. It is cold in Death Valley. The right politician will solve your problems. Your phone is not listening to you. Humans, for good reason, love falsehood. Germans, however, have always computed humans strange for this very purpose, and therefrom attempted, on numerous separate instances, and without much success, to inform humans of The Truth. This is all due to the fact that they do not teach irony or satire in German schools, as it is illogical to do so and often leads to a terminal condition called Laughter. But the Germans, it is true, have been misrepresented. Written in 1900, Jerome K. Jerome’s short novel Three Men on the Bummel, through its earnest employment of the rhetorical form of Adynaton, commits a favorable depiction of the Teuton that finally does the Fatherland some much-deserved national justice, detailing the German amidst his favorite subjects of Law and Order. 

Adynaton is extreme hyperbole. Extreme exaggeration tells more than the truth; it supplies an armature of theory, value, and meaning to that Straight, basic truth that otherwise would be without context, be without the Slant. And, although Jerome claims that “[he] wishes this book to be a strict record of fact, unmarred by exaggeration…,” by dedicating the entirety of his book to the art of creative lying, he seems to go against his word.

The beautiful disorder of nature is the only thing untrammeled by Man’s modern machines. Not so in Germany. Consider Jerome’s unbiased reports as regards his observations whilst in the Land of Order: “In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box and regard with contempt the few uncivilized outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges.” Further consider Jerome’s observations of the German’s recondite relation between nature and his amount of rest: “Your German likes nature…He plants seven rose trees on the north side and seven on the south, and if they do not grow up all the same size and shape, it worries him so that he cannot sleep nights.” This continues with his knowledge of how the German prefers his trail-hike: “He likes his walk through the wood—to the restaurant. But the pathway must not be too steep, it must have a brick gutter running down one side of it to drain it, and every twenty yards or so it must have its seat on which he can rest and mop his brow.” And, on this uninhibited route to adventure, “There will be a seat every fifty yards, a police notice every hundred, and a restaurant every half-mile.” Whereupon, if, whilst auf dem wandern, the German encounters inclement weather, “unable to regulate…so unruly a thing as the solar system, he ignores it.” Moreover, “If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security,” as the only thing the German respects more than Order is Law. 

As Jerome elucidates for the general readership, the German’s a Lawful kind “…whose only ambition appears to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do…He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and regulated in all things.” The apotheosis of law to the German is the policeman. And that is no exaggeration: “The policeman is to him a religion.” This deification begins from the very first for the German, as “It is the hope of every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police…(a) German child that has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with; its self-importance is unbearable.” And, as the German Junge grows into a young man, it is implicitly understood that “The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer. The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it.” But, unlike other countries, wherein this draconian nightmare would incite talk of individual liberty and murmurs of revolution, “in Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well… It is the the duty of the German policeman to look after you…and he takes good care of you…there is no denying this.” Many nations possess meaningful mottos pithily explicating that same nation’s longstanding cultural history. Jerome informs us of Germany’s: “‘you get yourself born,’ says the German government to the German citizen, ‘we do the rest’.” According to Jerome’s further dispassionate accounts on the matter, the German’s dedication to Law is not merely confined to matters of life:

“I do not know if it be so, but from what I have observed of the German character I should not be surprised to hear that when a man in Germany is condemned to death he is given a piece of rope, and told to go and hang himself…and I can see that German criminal taking that piece of rope home with him, reading up carefully the police instructions, and proceeding to carry them out in his own back kitchen.”

And, even after that law-abiding German carries out upon himself the ultimate sentence, Jerome suggests that the lawful deeds of die deutsche Polizei are never quite over:

“The Germans are a good people…I am positive that the vast majority of them go to heaven… [that the] the soul of a single individual German has [however] the sufficient initiative to fly up by itself and knock on St. Peter’s door, I cannot believe. My own opinion is that they are taken there in small companies, and passed in under the charge of a dead policeman.”

I, for one, take this last description as a joke. Firstly, to assert that the Germans are a good people seems, to me, a premise of pure opinion, and the conclusion of the German’s entrance into heaven is just plain immeasurable. It would be impossible to know. But, even more of an affront to us Übermenschen is Jerome’s notion that Germans wandering in the afterlife still do not possess the proper autonomy to inquire about their evening’s accommodations. This is offensive, and the notion that they would need a dead policeman to do so, positively absurd.

Yours Truly fresh off teaching finishing school

Make it Personable

To instantaneously convert otherwise coma-inducing information into the human experience, look no further than Personification, a witty rhetorical technique William Gaddis’s The Recognitions frequently employs, who, between whistling whilst he works, smiles agreeably upon the reader, winking all the while.

Personification is a great device to use if one knows the subject upon which she is about to endeavor is boring. Let us consider Gaddis’s commentary on the Enlightenment era’s transmutation of medieval alchemy into modern chemistry. This could, for some, prove to be a dry topic. However, when the themes of transcendental alchemy, scientific inquiry, and shifting cultural-knowledge paradigms are anthropomorphized, given personalities, and ultimately coaxed to act upon the stage of life, we suddenly are more keen to learn about them. Moreover, it is fun to watch.

It might be most advantageous to begin with Gaddis’s depiction of “The alchemist,” who “was likely an unsophisticated man of a certain age assisting in smelly hallucination over an open fire, tampering with the provenience of absolutes…seeking the universal dissolvent in the fifteenth century with a mixture of mercury, salt, molten lead, and human excrement.” This is not the most flattering image. Furthermore, it is not yet personification, just a great description. However, this image that Gaddis creates is necessary to the birth and growth of a human image-tree, upon which a complexly personified narrative may brachiate. 

We get it: Alchemy was old, dumb, and stinky. Furthermore, we can now get that crust-covered warlock perambulating his putrid cheese-breath around by personifying him as “the blundering parent of modern chemistry.” Doddering and incontinent, this purple-caped progenitor was “with the age of enlightenment…left behind, to haggle in darkness over the beams which (he) had caught, and clung to with such suffocating desire.” Personification here plays such a key character in the depiction of Alchemy’s fall, as Gaddis not only characterizes him as the blundering parent of a more supreme being, but nuances that character with specific word-choices such as “haggle,” “darkness,” and “suffocating,” words conjuring images of a quibbling old fool from the dark ages, choking on the malodorous concoctions of freshly outmoded idiocy.

Modern chemistry, however, engendered less by the lofty promise of divine transcendence and more by “the enlightenment of total materialism” has now “established itself as true and legitimate son and heir.” It seems not unintentional, too, that Gaddis decides to further personify modern chemistry by giving him a name by which we may associate him: “Doctor Ehrlich.” And it seems to be a candid depiction indeed that, when, while Herr Honesty “grew up serious, dignified and eminently pleased with its own limitations,” Alchemy “was left behind…dead of injuries received in a drunken brawl…turned out like a drunken parent, to stagger away, babbling phantasies to fewer and fewer ears, to less and less impressive derelicts of loneliness.” It seems infinitely appropriate as well that modern chemistry is finally characterized as now being in possession of the knowledge that “the old fool and his cronies were after all the time.”

Although it may be properly deduced that Gaddis’s exhibitions in personification fortified modern chemistry in the superior position, it is not without irony that this position is solidified through the ancient rhetorical skill of personification. Instead of employing, as many Classic Modernist wise-guys made a career of doing, a mock-empirical meta-narrative to satirize the scientific position, Gaddis decides to create an exceedingly witty and meaningful juxtaposition of the Enlightenment age’s rational, almost naïvely literal, take on the world through the ancient art of sophistry. This suggests that perhaps it is neither chemistry nor alchemy that we must choose to accept as certainty, but rather to strive against becoming the Joycean idea of The Cyclops; we must, instead of attempting to find one understanding of the world, develop the awareness to collect all disseminated, equally valid understandings as fractured parts of an ultimately unified cosmic Truth.

Antithesis Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a dandy, and everyone hated him for it. He sported a flower in his buttonhole, enjoyed a good bacchanalian night out on the town, and was a firm fan of the love that dare not speak its name. A stark proponent of art for art’s sake and aesthetics as the paragon of artistic expression, Wilde was not very much into telling chaps what to do or how to do it. Victorian England, however, was chock-full of fellows telling other gents how to do things the right way, and Wilde, in the eyes of Victorian moralists, could do only wrong. But moralists, though often competent gaolers, never make for good writers. Therefore, it is fitting that Wilde, the amoral contrarian and talented poet, playwright, and prose-artist (and later prisoner), was a master rhetorician, and particularly fond of a form of rhetoric called the Antithesis. Indeed, much of Wilde’s flamboyantly aphoristic writing style is due to his almost suffocating employment of this quipping form, in fact, performing it so often in his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, that he immortalized himself in the rhetorical world by way of the Wildean Antithesis.

The Antithesis serves as an equal and opposite lexical comparison to some interesting new posited insight. An antithesis creates a kind of mellifluous dialectic insofar as it presents a thesis (New Insight: X is Y), an antithesis (Negation or Reaction: not X is not Y), and a synthesis: an appealing merger of two ideas creating a highly satisfying semblance of poetic logic.

The Antithesis comes off as incredibly witty and therefore also as incredibly cute. But wit, like cuteness (and her hotter sister, irony), does have the propensity to become annoying or grow tired and should thus be flirted with judiciously. However, unlike the complex, arduous mating-dance required of irony, antithesis is easy. Wilde knew this and, as a man unafraid to, perchance, fag out his readers, chanced to woo her any and every chance he got, sometimes an immortal four or five times per page.

Here is how he did it:

“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses” …(Assertion),” just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul” (Contrary Assertion).

This is an example of a rather straightforward premise/negation antithetical configuration that creates that edifyingly chin-scratching juxtaposition so often sought after by writers. But then Wilde goes wild, hitting us again not a hundred words later with an antithesis of almost identical construction:

“You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”

But did you see what he did there? As rhetoric is, much to the benefit of the sensible world, not logic, one is allowed to tweak one’s antithesis to appeal not only to computers but also to humans; instead of insulting his readers by comparing thinking with thinking, Wilde compares thinking against wanting, a comparison much more apt to the logic of Humanity.

Writing a good antithesis is a great way to be remembered. The Picture of Dorian Gray contains two of Wilde’s most oft-quoted antitheses, both of which pertain to his favorite subject: men, and one to his least favorite, women, which ineluctable binary is still the most easily discernable antithesis known to Humankind. 

Wilde’s arguably fictional character, Lord Harry, also thinks very little of women:

“Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”

Just as Wilde’s other rejoining talking-head, Uncle George, thinks very little of ungentle men:

“If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.”

Whatever one’s opinion on the sexes and their relation to gentleness might be, if it be in one’s interest to deceive others with the appearance of being knowledgeable and cultured, it is best to say or write whatever nonsense one might conjure in the form of an antithesis.