Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Aphorism & Virtual Reproduction

One of the most irritating features of ‘social networks’ like Facebook and Twitter, is their degradation of the aphorism. One can’t go a single page without some re-pasted Wise Guy saying—without a shred of evidence the one who posted it has bothered to waste a single second thinking what they might mean.

Gnomic sayings of the masters of aphorism: Heraclitus, Blake, Nietzsche, Kafka -- are concentrated bursts of insight into—not THE, but A very particular visionary world.  They were not stand-alone sayings waiting to be harvested by Bartlet & his numberless successors on the internet, but resonant and harmonic within the context of this particular world of thought or vision. Quoted without relation to that context, they are reduced to nothing more than witticisms—or worse, clichés pretending entrance to a false universal.

But this is what you get all too often. Even when a quote is given attribution it belies the authenticity of its origin—not by alteration through translation (entirely legitimate), but by stripping it of any meaning whatsoever: like a free floating Rorschach—whatever you want it to be, that’s what it is. Or taking it word for word, as though not in the least need of interpretation... which amounts to the same thing.

Far from affirming great, open ended universals,  the aphorism—by its very condensation-- testifies to the particularity of visionary truth.  They are not offered as answers, as solutions to a problem—but as invitations by means of the unexpected to explore, to begin again. A good aphorism is a perfect marriage of philosophy and poetry, and begs to be read as both, with all the care and attention that demands.

An aphorism is more than counter-intuitive (reasonable despite appearance), but genuinely paradoxical. The paradox is the very window to its truth. Smoothed out as though a rational and reasonable explanation of something one thinks one already knows -- it's nothing but a cleverly worded nostrum. 

"If the Fool persist in his Folly he will become Wise." 

When I think what audacity, what courage, what guts it took for Blake to break through with that--it damn near makes me tear up. And that's what it is--a breaking through past the shells of received notions, of smoothed over reality-- a shattered fragment, a sharp ragged-edged shard that cuts and make you bleed trying to get through it. 

If you want proof--try living it!


  1. Reading you with great pleasure in a McDonalds--my local wifi hot spot, decorating the black spaces between the paragraphs with white azalea blossoms.

  2. I think we're a week or so away from azaleas blooming. Read most of a section from Rondo 2 yesterday at a Philadelphia Stories Spring launch reading--it'll be up on video in a couple of days. Squeaky voice n'all--a bit of laryngitis. This was my April tree-pollen allergy.