The Summing Up, V

When I was in high school—I don’t think it was undergrad—a teacher told us to stop saying “I think” in papers. We’re writing the paper. As the authors, the statements are what we think. If it isn’t, then someone else thought it and it should be cited. The teacher didn’t say the second part. I don’t think. Maugham has another short chapter here and it’s doubling down on the indifference he plans on treating the reader with during The Summing Up. In my copy of the book, a 1988 paperback Penguin edition, I’m on page twelve. Of 202. Six percent in and Maugham’s telling the reader he doesn’t care about what they think. “I do not much care if people agree with me,” Maugham writes. A little bit later, he talks about self-aggrandizing, explaining, “to myself I am the most important person in the world.” He qualifies it, acknowledging the universe is indifferent to existence and going even further to say he probably won’t be read after a few generations. If I were writing about The Summing Up somewhere else, I’d be tempted to title the response, “No Lies Detected.” And then give it a wordy subtitle, of course. Maugham ends the chapter—the again short chapter—giving the reader permission to ignore him. Here’s the connection to the opening, since I kind of started with an anecdote and then dropped it. He won’t be using qualifications such as “‘I think’ or ‘to my mind,’” as “everything [Maugham says] is merely an opinion of my own.” Twelve pages in, The Summing Up seems too cynically self-aware to be ambitious.

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