“Can We Believe Our Eyes?” (E69)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, May 9, 1931  
  • First reprinted in:  No Poems; Or, Around the World Backwards and Sideways
  • Original Byline:  Unknown



Here we have a solid effort in a staple Benchley genre, a dithering dirge directed at the endless cascade of cosmic crockery battering every human effort to just not be wrong about everything, all of the time. Things were confusing enough before the scientific method got up and running, but here in the modern era, the spirit of “well, actually” trolls through all things. The more we ken, the less we can feel sure of, and the only certainty is that whatever shred of a sense impression you’ve been clinging to will swiftly evaporate under scrutiny.

Perhaps it has always been thus, as the madcap adventures of Socrates demonstrate. On the other hand, Socrates was just one guy marauding the streets of Athens, and a pretty old guy, at that. You could easily run away from him and believe whatever you wanted about the size of that arrow in the agora. Not so easy to dodge the infinite deferral of truth and meaning with the advertising industry now negging the public for its own hypnotic purposes.

Benchley keeps up the fight for as long as he can before taking refuge in the bottle. If you can’t get reality’s measure by looking at it, or hearing it, or smelling it, or touching it, what’s the point of being sober? Mix me up an absinthe and absinthe, bartender. There are also some jokes about British military ranks.

Favorite Moment:

“Which is the larger of these two arrows?” Of course, it is perfectly obvious which is the larger, but when you come to measure them you find that, through some trickery, they are both the same size.

I will put up with just so much of this kind of thing, and then I will stop measuring.

Reprint Notes:

  • Unable to compare text with original Liberty piece.
  • Why doesn’t the Toronto Public Library have the Gale Liberty Magazine Historical Archive? (Why can’t a regular person subscribe to it?)

“Art Revolution No. 4861” (E24)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, August 8, 1931
  • First reprinted in: Chips Off the Old Benchley
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown


As you might expect, given RB’s uniquely grounded brand of absurdity, the author never tired of burlesquing the barrage of bouleversements that swept through the art world during the first half of the 20th century. A close relative of E17, this piece is more successful, in that it strings together a stronger set of critical hits at the underground establishment, but it does boil down to the basic assumption that aesthetics should be a refuge from theory – not a lost continent submerged beneath successively waterier nouvelles vagues. It’s a fairly palatable take on philistinism, all things considered, but it’s not a view shared by your humble annotater.

Those reservations aside, this reader has no quarrel with Benchley’s invention of Straw Man Scrawler Jean Baptiste Morceau Lavalle Raoul Depluy Rourke – whose obsessive idées aren’t designed to fix anything. RB opens up a can of wild analysis in scrutinizing the feeble embodiment of Rourke’s theoretico-aesthetic ideals, a half-baked soufflé that wears its sub-mental symbols on its sleeve like so many cut-rate concept billboards. Bring on Art Revolution No. 4862!

Favourite Moment(s):
“Thus, the laughing snake in the lower left-hand corner of Mist on the Marshes is merely a representation of the spirit of laughing snakes, an has nothing to do with Reality. This snake is laughing because he is really not in the picture at all.”
“Whatever it is, you cannot deny that it is in the upper left-hand corner of the picture.”