Ok, you can stop sending me messages about the Marx Bothers.
There was an allusion I just didn't get. This was back in what I
thought of as a trivial
) referring to decidedly non-human
entities, in Slavoj Zizek's imagined attitude of former Iraqi minister
Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf:
There was something refreshingly
liberating about his interventions, which displayed a striving to be
liberated from the hold of facts and thus of the need to spin away
their unpleasant aspects: his stance was, "Whom do you believe, your
eyes or my words?"
This was, surely intentionally, a Marxist quotation.
Mae Sander, Zev Handel, and Dave McDougall got the Marx connection, and
Seth Finkelstein cited a Richard Pryor version of it.
The primary ancestor is the line from the Marx Brothers' movie Duck Soup
, usually reported as:
Who are you going to believe, me or
your own eyes?
This is widely attributed to Groucho Marx, which is close but not quite
right: as the wikiquote
page for Groucho
tells us, the line was actually spoken by Chico
Marx -- though at the time he was dressed up as Groucho, so any
confusion would be entirely understandable. In any case, John
Baker has now directed me to Fred Shapiro's excellent Yale Book of Quotations
, where on
p. 497 you can find what Chico actually said, without the auxiliary are
and with gonna
instead of going to
Who you gonna believe, me or your own
I have seen Duck Soup
times, but this line seems not to have stuck in my memory, so I didn't
hear any resonance of it in Zizek's imagined quote.
At some point, the Chico quote has been "improved" by making explicit
the claim that the addressee's perceptions are deceived:
Who are you going to / gonna believe,
me or your lying eyes?
It's often quoted in this version.
The Zizek version deviates from the original in several other
directions. First, there's the accusative whom
, which strikes me as just
wrong. My correspondents have suggested several sources for the
accusative: that Zizek wrote who
but an editor "corrected" it to whom
that Zizek himself wrote whom
as the "correct" form; or that Zizek chose whom
because it was the sort of
thing that Said al-Sahhaf might have said.
Next, my words
instead of me
. This really doesn't work
for me, as I said in my previous posting.
Then, your own eyes
simplified to your eyes
probably for parallelism with my
Finally, reversing the 1st and 2nd person expressions. Where
Chico had 1st before 2nd (me or your
), Zizek's version of Said al-Sahhaf has the reverse (your eyes or my words
put the reference to himself first, and he put the shorter, lighter
) before the
longer, heavier one (your own eyes
-- both good moves. Merely reversing these (your
) eyes or me
) isn't nearly as good,
though my words
improves the prosody (but see
In any case, the result is inept, and fairly far from the
original. Now Zizek -- whose name is properly Žižek, with two
hačeks -- is certainly well acquainted with popular culture (check out his
and the Wikipedia
), so my guess would be that he intended this version to be a
reflection on Said al-Sahhaf, using an allusion supplied by Zizek
I'll send him e-mail.
[Further complexity: Dave McDougall notes that Zizek has used this exact quote on other occasions (and seems to be the only person to use this version), attributing it to Groucho Marx in a Marx Brothers film (not identified). But at least once, in a discussion of opera
, he refers to "the well-known joke from the 18th century comedy, when a wife caught by her husband in bed with a lover denies the obvious and adds: 'Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?' "]
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at January 8, 2007 03:02 PM