Nabokov succinctly captures the two sides of cynicism–one jaded and pessimistic, the other selfish and contemptuous–in the person of the sadistic Axel Rex:
On such occasions Rex could talk endlessly, indefatigably, inventing stories about non-existent friends and propounding reflections not too profound for the mind of his listener and couched in a sham-brilliant form. His culture was patchy, but his mind shrewd and penetrating, and his itch to make fools of his fellow men amounted almost to genius. Perhaps the only real thing about him was his innate conviction that everything that had ever been created in the domain of art, science or sentiment, was only a more or less clever trick. No matter how important the subject under discussion, he could always find something witty or trite to say about it, supplying exactly what his listener’s mind or mood demanded, though, at the same time, he could be impossibly rude and overbearing when his interlocutor annoyed him. Even when he was talking quite seriously about a book or a picture, Rex had a pleasant feeling that he was a partner in a conspiracy, the partner of some ingenious quack–namely, the author of the book or the painter of the picture.
Laughter in the Dark