Unnaturally hard to find: the author of this quote!
January 28, 2008 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I need a reputable source for this quote (or something similar): "The only unnatural act is the one that cannot be performed." Any ideas?

My mother is writing a paper for school and wanted to use the quote "the only unnatural act is the one that cannot be performed" but hasn't been able to find out who the author is. Googling has revealed one reference to William Burroughs, but as the source is just a random blog, it's not reference-worthy (nor does it necessarily give a definitive answer). Please help!
posted by eralclare to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There may be something relevant at p. 170 of Robin Lydenberg's Word Cultures: Radical Theory and Practice in William S. Burroughs' Fiction, but Google Books won't let me see that particular page; enter "unnatural act" in the search box and see if you have better luck.

Googling turned up some weird quotes, like this from Tale of a Vanished Land: Memories of a Childhood in Old Russia by Harry Ernest Burroughs: "Finally, one of the old women had confessed she had seen a boy committing an unnatural act with a cow."
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on January 28, 2008

Could it be an interpretation of this quotation: Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.
posted by chez shoes at 8:49 AM on January 28, 2008

That's got to be it, chez shoes—well done!
posted by languagehat at 9:05 AM on January 28, 2008

Nope, it's from Kinsey and refers to sex acts between consenting adults. I have a bottle of flavored massage oil with that quote on the side!
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2008

I'm pretty sure the quote predates Kinsey. It is not a commentary on propriety or sex, it simply refers to the fact that applying the term "unnatural" to something is only a true statement if that something doesn't exist in the world--for everything that is IS natural.

chez shoes seems to have the best bet so far with Sheridan, though I really thought the wording was a little different (more like the quote I provided).
posted by eralclare at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2008

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