Scott F. Parker is co-editor of Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate (Wiley-Blakcwell, 2011). His prose and poetry have appeared in Philosophy Now, Oregon Humanities, and Sport Literate, among other publications. His aphorisms, a selection of which is forthcoming in Whole Beast Rag‘s Homme Issue (12/1/13), are steeped in close readings of literature and philosophy, from which Parker brews close observations on the psychology of writing. Enjoy with a nice mug of coffee.
Dreams of gods—epiphenomena of neuron clusters—turtles all the way down. The most effective way to become an atheist is to first become a god.
Literature: writing that means more than it says.
A brief commentary on originality:
Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.
Even in Portland—
gray clouds obscuring mountain—
I long for Portland.
Sound advice is distinguished less by the quality of the advice than by the quality of the sound.
An undervalued version of truth. The lucky person is the one who hears what he needs to hear when he needs to hear it.
A postmodern apothegm: In the beginning was the World, and the World was with words, and the World was Words.
Laurence Musgrove—a professor of, among other things, rhetoric and composition, creative writing (poetry), and visual thinking at Angelo State University in Texas—lists the influences of his aphoristic alter-ego, Tex, as Buster (Keaton), Henry (David Thoreau), Duke (a.k.a. John Wayne), and Groucho (Marx). Tex, a straight-talkin’ Texan line drawing sporting a speech bubble and a Stetson, might also cite such illustrious predecessors as Josh Billings (Geary’s Guide, pp. 13-16), Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard (GG, pp. 38-39) and Will Rogers (GG, pp. 53-54). Like these three aphorists, Tex dispenses folksy, homespun wisdom with a distinctly Western twist and, like Hubbard’s cartoon incarnation, Abe Martin, Tex comes fully if minimally illustrated…
Musgrove’s site Texosophy: Aphorisms, Advice & Wisecracks showcases Tex’s (which, when said aloud, sounds like ‘Texas’) sayings, many of which take the form of a Billings-esque dialectic:
Man waz kreated a little lower than the angels, and he haz been a gitting a little lower ever since. —Josh Billings
Tex and Billings also both practice cacography, the deliberate misspelling of words for phonetic effect.
Hubbard, who died in 1930, wrote a syndicated column/cartoon for more than 25 years that chronicled the sayings and doings of Abe Martin and the other denizens of the fictional Brown County, Indiana. Tex is similarly prolific if less widely published. Musgrove has lately been producing a drawing and saying a day, conveniently preserved in the Texosophy archives. Tex and Abe share a similar wry, funny, gently chiding disposition.
The world gets better every day—then worse again in the evening. —Abe Martin
In Tex, Musgrove has added a real original to the line of witty, wisecracking American philosophers that began with Poor Richard.
Markiewicz’s aphorisms are catechetical in the original sense of that word, derived from Greek terms meaning to ‘sound out thoroughly’ or ‘teach by word of mouth.’ The sayings sound out spiritual and moral dilemmas—the nature of faith, the confrontation with mortality. The religious overtones are enhanced by the scriptural nature of the woodcuts, which often treat of Biblical themes. Markiewicz’s collection is a thorough, thoughtful spiritual handbook. A selection:
Nature never repeats itself. The one who portrays nature is the only one who has a chance at originality.
Intuition: going your way without inquiring about the way.
Don’t try to accept the inevitable; you do that already by living. Learn how to accept the acceptance.
If nobody needs us, we don’t need ourselves.
If you have the key, the wall becomes a gate.
Hell is when there is no reason to live and no courage to die.
Jack Friedland prefaces his aphorism collection, Reflections on Society and Life, with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “To get into the best society nowadays, one has either to feed people, amuse people or shock people. To be in [society] is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply tragedy.” Friedland’s sayings dissect the psychological motivations behind our social transactions, providing nourishment, amusement and the occasional shock of recognition along the way. A selection:
Narcissism is the other side of self-pity.
The more pleasure something gives us in the short run, the more difficulties it tends to cause in the long run.
Live life at the extremes, but do it in moderation.
Life is too short to be in it for anything but the long haul.
Success, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
Obsession is passion without depth.
Ignoring reality is easy—it is getting reality to ignore us that it difficult.
This piece from the China Digital Times considers whether we need a new metaphor to describe Internet censorship in China: “Our view of Chinese Internet censorship is shaped by one particular metaphor – “the great firewall of China”. Actually, this is a metaphor inside a metaphor because the word “firewall” means different things to different people. To a builder, it’s a wall or partition designed to inhibit or prevent the spread of fire. To a computer scientist, on the other hand, a firewall is a piece of software designed to prevent unauthorised or unwanted communications between computer networks or hosts … Firewall-type activity does indeed describe aspects of the Chinese approach to the internet. But it’s been obvious for a while that the subtlety of the regime’s approach to managing the network has gone way beyond the binary allow/disallow nature of the firewall metaphor.”
Irish poet Máighréad Medbh describes Savage Solitude: Reflections of A Reluctant Loner (Dublin: Dedalus Press, April 2013) as “a dramatised internal conversation in the mind of a ‘reluctant loner’, and takes the form of 303 aphoristic colloquies and fragments, incorporating 202 quotes from a variety of sources … There are three voices: One; The Other; and I. One is the voice of instinct. It is fearful and only hears itself. The Other is the voice of the larger world in the form of quotations—from scientists, poets, fiction authors, artists, philosophers, psychologists, mystics, loners. The third voice, I, is the rational portion of the self, and the only voice that also listens.” Excerpts from Savage Solitude have been published in Axon, an online journal about the creative process; you can read some of those here…
A flock of birds traverses the silent sky. Today, it is the only event that has made impact. For a moment One knows what it is to be borne on the wind, unasking.
‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake.’ —Henry David Thoreau: Walden
Birds fly without thought. I, being human, must think. Alone, I carry thought as a burden. If I were to empty my mind, would I be bird, and is that bliss?
The limpid silence is a land without carp, censure or discernible danger. Neither crop nor creature inhabits; there is no haven or prison. The terrain is pathless. One looks to the sky, waiting for the pole star to rise, but it is not that world.
‘A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self.’ —Søren Kierkegaard: The Sickness unto Death
We are fired up by relevance, created by context. A single point in a dark universe might as well not exist. Even two points are without context. Create a triangle and we have pattern, the force that drives our minds. In the brain, the map is the same as the territory. I must begin to draw.
105. synthetic passions
‘We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.’ —Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain
As a lone child, One felt nothing such as they call happiness or unhappiness. There were phenomena like grass, attractive objects, strong-smelling animals, midsummer blue—and a face that lived in them.
The search for the essential self in a society of constructed selves has echoes of Sartre’s distinction between the being which is en soi (in itself) and that which is pour soi (for itself). The en soi is unselfconscious, the pour soi reflexive. Very few people have never wished for the reflexive faculty to be stilled, just for a moment.
Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Igor Braca Damnjanovic writes aphorisms, poems, stories, and plays. He founded and edits Sipak, an online satirical magazine. His aphorisms have the classic two-part construction characteristic of jokes—first the set up, followed by the punchline—and the dark sarcastic humor characteristic of the Balkans. (Translations, with slight edits from me, by Sue Suncica Vilic.)
We’ve wasted enough time. From now on, we’re doing nothing.
This is not the end. There are two rock bottoms.
I got another clock. I’m buying time.
I am not drunk. You are two-faced!
I can’t believe it: I became an atheist.
I like listening to lies; there is some truth to that.
I got serious; I became a humorist.
Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, sends news of The Smallest Space: Lyric Aphorism in Contemporary Poetry by Hannah Brooks-Motl in The Kenyon Review Online. The essay explores, as Brooks-Motl puts it, how “Aphorisms, and aphorism-like language, can increasingly be found in poems written by poets associated with avant-garde movements of the past few decades … [and] how, and why, and for what reasons poets typically grouped as “resisters” might turn to a technique aligned with universal truth, objective reality, and univocal speakers.”
In the essay, Brooks-Motl quotes W.H. Auden, who, in the Faber Book of Aphorisms, wrote: “The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts; and implicit in his assertion is a conviction that he is wiser or more intelligent than his readers.” I don’t share Auden’s view of what he called the “aristocratic” character of aphorisms or his assertion that aphorists regard themselves as wiser or more intelligent than readers. I think aphorists are more like stand up comedians or very very short storytellers, both of whom rely on their audiences to be complicit in and complete what they say. The best aphorisms create moments of shared insight, not didactic lessons handed down from on high.
Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, shares this selection of 6-word memoirs from Minneapolis, one of the city’s public art projects. Smith Magazine started the 6-word memoir craze. Because of the strict word limit, writing these compressed autobiographies forces you to become aphoristic pretty quick. In Minneapolis, participants submitted their memoirs online or wrote them directly onto posters in community centers and cafes, kind of like slam-o but then not surreptitiously. Some 6-word memoirs from Minneapolitans…
A map, desire, two wheels. H0me. —Aaron, 23, Seward
I would rather guess than know. —Nancy, 43, East Isles (See W.H. Auden: Guessing is more fun than knowing.)
Go to the park and play. —Zara, 4, Fulton
My banjo keeps me emotionally grounded. —James, 43, Northeast
six words is six too many —Moses, Homeless
It’s safe to go home now. —Courtney, 30, S. Minneapolis
6 Words Minneapolis was initiated and curated by Emily Lloyd (@PoesyGalore). Do try this at home.
Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, strikes again, noting the aphoristic romantic reflections of slam-o, who writes sayings by hand and tapes them to hoardings, shop windows, mailboxes and even inside toilet cisterns. One of slam-o’s low-tech, high-concept aphorisms reads
He stood out in the way he shied from the spotlight.
Check out the slide show The Poetic Aphorisms of slam-o.
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