R. A. Lafferty Question

In his short story Mad Men: Mean Men R. A. Lafferty wrote ‘Swift, a wise old mad man, once wrote a piece on the “Perversity of Inanimate Objects.”’ Does anybody know to what he was referring? I can’t find anything online. I presume he meant Jonathan Swift, but perhaps one shouldn’t presume anything with R. A. Lafferty.

Possibly A Meditation Upon A Broomstick?


Sure sounds like he’s referring to “The Malice of Inanimate Objects,” a story by M.R. James.


It’s possible that James was referring to something else, but I can’t find any obvious references.

The phrase also appears in Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti…

“Madame Tres-Propre expresses her despair at wasting so much of our valuable time: oh! if it only depended on her personal efforts! but ah! the natural perversity of inanimate things which have no consideration for human dignity! With monkeyish antics, she even deems it her duty to threaten the lanterns and shake her fist at these inextricably tangled strings which have the presumption to delay us.”

Coincidence? The plot thickens.

And “The Forgotten Outpost” in From Old Fields: Poems of the Civil War by Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (1841-1906) contains a reference to “well-known perversity/ of things inanimate.” So it must have been something of an expression before James wrote his story.

There’s also this fairly incomprehensible thing from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1891, four years after Madame Chrysanthème, but I don’t know if it had been translated into English yet. Perhaps it comes from Loti, or perhaps it had been around a little while, but I have my doubts about whether it goes back to Swift.

I can find a reference to finagles law and a reference to a works written by Friedrich Vischer which translated to

(the perfidy of inanimate objects).

How about this

Interesting finds, thank you! I guess we’ll never know for sure…

It does seem as though Vischer was the first one with the phrase–thanks James! Here’s a book on Heidegger which mentions Vischer’s “now proverbial phrase,” and the book seems to be in part a study of the concept, so they’d probably know.

But that doesn’t tell us what Lafferty was thinking of in particular…

The problem is that the question is out of context for those who have never played it.
If we knew what was written before and after the quote then we may be able to better understand.

Here’s the context… but I don’t think it tells us much more.

We humans tend to be drawn to inanimate object for one reason or another because they look pretty or we think that we may be able to make use of them. The problem is that when we get them and try to use them it is as if they don’t work as expected. if one could believe that all object contained some level of intelligence then one could suspect they may be pulling jokes on us by refusing to do the job we employ them for.
mind you it could just be that we are blind to their real use and missjudge their need.

Ok that was a strange answer and I have been spending far to much time in the Victorian times working.
And I apologise if that does not help in the slightest.

:blush: :smiley: :smiley:

Even farther OT, but this thread led me to a search that led me to this post, and that led me to finally pick up Osmos again and beat the last three levels. (Well, the last three levels before unlocking the freaking impossible levels after the main game.) Hooray for this thread, and also me!

And that made me think that in a way Osmos’s mechanics could be adapted to a kind of social simulation, whether it could be made to work in text I don’t know. Like: you start with a little bit of social power (a small size in Osmos), and in order to accomplish anything you have to win some people over to your side (absorb the smaller blobs) while working around the most powerful interests in society (don’t get absorbed by the bigger blobs)–though winning people over, or maybe even getting in touch with them, requires some expenditure of power (shooting little bits of your stuff out to propel yourself around the screen shrinks your blob). And then, after you’ve won enough people over, those power structures that were obstacles to maneuver around themselves become things you can win over (corresponding to absorbing enough stuff that you’re in a position to absorb the really big blobs.) Not sure how I’d specifically implement it, but there’s some interesting puzzle-gating underneath the specific mechanics.