Selected Aphorisms for the New EnthusiastPosted: January 27, 2009
It has come to the attention of the Editors of this modest weblog that, beyond the Snappy Prose, Able Analysis, and occasional Ecstatic Truth which have become our Calling Cards – that the Readership might also be hungry for some small amount of Moral Edification. Whether it’s the generally sordid nature of Modern Times or just something they (i.e. said Readership) ate, it’s not our business to speculate; rather, as men of action (or, at least, as men who are not entirely inert), it is incumbent upon us to respond swiftly to the needs of Today’s Enthusiast and make ourselves useful for once.
That’s why, in the tradition of Heraclitus, La Rochefoucauld, and Morgan Freeman in most of his later films, we have decided to experiment with that most honored form, the aphorism. Part wit, part wisdom, 100% sweet, the aphorism is notable for its ability to condense big ideas into small packages – sort of like the Amazon Kindle, except way freer and actually useful. No less a personage than coach Mike D’Antoni describes the aphorism as “the surest way to neutralize an opponent’s big man advantage.” (Actually, now that I think about it, that might have been in reference to the relative benefits of his patented up-tempo offense. I’ll check it out. Regardless, the sentiment remains.)
Luckily, an even bigger personage, Isidore Ducasse (whom you might know as Comte de Lautreamont, author of Maldoror and inspiration to most of what the French call Les Enfants Terribles), writes: “The maxim does not need to be proved. One point in an argument requires another. The maxim is a law which contains any numbers of arguments. The closer the argument comes to the maxim, the more perfect it becomes.” Ducasse’s statement is instructive. Once you allow for the fact that you can read aphorism for maxim (and do roughly the same for epigram, adage, proverb, or saying), what you can derive from Ducasse’s claim is that, owing to its elegance and its economy of words, the aphorism is able to say more than its mere length would otherwise indicate. As such, a successful aphorism is typically one that, like a Sportflics baseball card, presents different possibilities depending on how you look at it. Or, re-phrased in Grad Student, one must “unpack” the several connotations of an aphorism to fully enjoy it.
The early desert fathers, when not taking up residence in the ground, had an interesting practice from which anyone could profit – which was, namely, to read a short saying in the morning, more or less memorize it, and ponder it (even if somewhat absentmindedly) for the rest of the day while weaving baskets, or engaging in some other manner of repetitive physical labor. Such a practice would be particularly amenable for that large portion of our readership who are basket weavers by trade. Still, even for the very few of you who find yourselves in some other manner of employ, the basic method ought not to be difficult to imitate. Except for our deceased readers, that is. For them it will be impossible.
The plan, from our end, is a picture of simplicity. Each day we will submit a TNE-original aphorism for your consideration. Some will be real winners; some will be duds. Use them however you wish. As for how long this service will last, let’s consider it provisional for the time being. Life being what it is and Baleful Sloth being what it is, it’s hard to say how long something like this could carry on. Quite frankly, it’s an experiment – but an experiment in the goodest faith possible.
The experiment begins in earnest tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, but, in the meantime, here’s another one from Ducasse, which goes some way in explaining the central tenet of The New Enthusiast:
“Up to now, misfortune has been described in order to inspire terror and pity. I will describe happiness, to inspire the opposite” (Poem II).