Ray Bradbury on Sociology: “That way lies melancholy.”

Ray Bradbury passed away today at the age of 91. Bradbury holds many distinctions, among them, authoring my favorite quote from literature about sociology. Here it is, from his dystopic novel Fahrenheit 451:

‎”Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I only read Fahrenheit 451 as an adult, and haven’t read too many other works by Bradbury, so instead of sharing more of my own thoughts, I’ll just link to a few of my favorite remembrances and such around the ‘net.

Here’s the NYTimes obituary.

Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic cites a moving Bradbury quote on his literary influences:

INTERVIEWER: You seem to have been open to a variety of influences.
BRADBURY: A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.

SF author John Scalzi reposts an introduction he wrote for a new edition of the Martian Chronicles:

Ray Bradbury’s words are not a cardboard container for his ideas. His words have weight and rhythm and pace and form; they are a scaffold of filigree for his ideas to weave themselves in and around, taking form through them. Bradbury’s people did not exist for the sake of exposition or simply to have things happen to them: He sketched them in what they said (or didn’t say), and how they said them or not. Words gave rise to character, economically but fully revealing a spaceman disgusted with his people, two strangers from different times meeting on a road, a man who learns he’s okay being alone, a father teaching his children about who the Martians truly are.

Letters of Note posted a letter from Ray Bradbury about the writing of Fahrenheit 451 (well, it’s precursor novella, “The Fireman”) in the basement of a library:

I discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for ten cents a half hour. I moved into the typing room along with a bunch of students and my bag of dimes, which totaled $9.80, which I spent and created the 25,000 word version of “The Fireman” in nine days. How could I have written so many words so quickly? It was because of the library. All of my friends, all of my loved ones, were on the shelves above and shouted, yelled and shrieked at me to be creative.

Finally, two video clips not posted today but that I thought were appropriate. The first is from the West Wing, a scene where a young Jed Bartlett is confronted by his father about an editorial he wrote criticizing his school for banning books:

And the last is a Hugo-nominated fan music video expressing a decidedly non-Platonic love for Ray Bradbury. Very NSFW, and mildly offensive to those of us who loved Vonnegut (just kidding!), but still brilliant:

Rest in Peace.

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