Aphorisms by Renzo Llorente

A native of Brunswick, Maine, Renzo Llorente lives in Spain, where he teaches philosophy on Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus. In addition to his
academic publications, Llorente is the author of Beyond the Pale: Exercises in Provocation, a collection of aphorisms and fragments published by
Vagabond Voices. Part I of Beyond the Pale contains musings on a wide variety of topics, while Part II consists of brief meditations on political themes. Here are some selections from Part I:

Whence the condemnation of loitering? Why this aversion to what is, after all, the definitive metaphor for “the human condition”? To loiter: to remain in an area for no obvious reason (Merriam-Webster).

To have unclear thoughts is to mumble in silence.

We often praise optimism as though it were a virtue, when it is in fact something of a pathology. To be an optimist is to be metaphysically in denial.

Theology is the pious form of sophistry.

Our regrets never disappoint us: no matter how regularly we frequent them, they always afford us an inexhaustible source of distress.

Aphorisms by Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler (Geary’s Guide pp. 21-24) is the author of one of my all-time favorite aphorisms, an aphorism I first encountered as a teenager when I happened to be learning the very instrument referred to in the saying:

Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.

This aphorism has been a fixture of my thinking ever since. I’ve not come across a more apt metaphor for life. I never knew the original source of the aphorism, however, until I recently read a selection of Butler’s essays. It comes from the essay ‘How To Make the Best of Life’, a typically apposite and delightful piece in which Butler argues that we make the most of life only after we’re dead—through the effect of our example and influence on those still living or, if we’re creative, through our art:

He or she who has made the best of the life after death has made the best of the life before it.

Butler is such a perceptive, funny writer that it’s a shame he is not more widely read, especially his Note-Books and essays, in which some of his best aphoristic thinking can be found…

We can see nothing face to face; our utmost seeing is but a fumbling of blind finger-ends in an overcrowded pocket.

When a thing is old, broken, and useless we throw it on the dust-heap, but when it is sufficiently old, sufficiently broken, and sufficiently useless we give money for it, put it into a museum, and read papers over it which people come long distances to hear.

We care most about what concerns us either very closely, or so little that practically we have nothing whatever to do with it.

Scratch the simplest expressions, and you will find the metaphor.

Truth is like a photographic sensitized plate, which is equally ruined by over and by under exposure, and the just exposure for which can never be absolutely determined.

Still More Aphorisms by Aleksandar Krzavac

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the formal break up of Yugoslavia; Slovenia declared its independence on June 25, 1991. To commemorate that event, Aleksandar Krzavac sends a selection of “vintage aphorisms” dedicated to that disappeared era of communism-socialism. (For more of Krzavac’s aphorisms, click here, here, and here.) “Comparing that system to today’s globalization is more like comparing different civilizations than systems,” Krzavac writes. “People who once lived in Yugoslavia, Poland, Russia know it well—basic social values, economic relations, interpersonal communication, lifestyles, individual freedoms of thinking and moving were completely different. Therefore, almost all aphorisms written in former communist (socialist) countries are more or less political. People in general—and writers, journalists and university professors in particular—felt the enormous burden of censorship. They feared to openly criticize the government and ruling party. Books were banned as were some metaphors or allegories due to misinterpretation by the ruling party. Now fear of censorship has been replaced by widespread fear of job loss. It sounds bizarre but a recent survey conducted in Serbia showed that people in Serbia are more afraid of job loss than of death. So, even in today’s democracy, writers still have lots of work; only the topics of criticism are different.”

Don’t build prisons; close the borders.

All human organs are biological except the brain, which is ideological.

After arrest, the writer figured out the point of proverb ‘Silence is golden’.

The writer is still at large; the police cannot make out what his metaphors mean.

I think, therefore I am an anachronism.

Ouch, I really hope I won’t be run over by the wheel of progress.

It’s not called a crisis here; it’s called the economic cycle.

Our politicians are very hygienic; they substituted brainwashing for money laundering.

Upon the advice of my lawyer I stopped writing aphorisms.

Aphorisms by John Bradley

John Bradley’s aphorisms are mundanely magnificent and nonchalantly sublime, like cracking open a fortune cookie to find not a saying but a symphony orchestra. Bradley‘s collection of aphorisms, Trancelumination, is out from Lowbrow Press in the autumn. He discovered the aphorism via Antonio Porchia, but says he finds himself “coming to the aphorism at a slant, as I’m a poet greatly influenced by surrealism. Maybe I should call them anti-aphorisms.” There is a definite sense of surrealism here, reminiscent of the fun surrealistic sayings of Paul Eluard and Benjamin Peret (Geary’s Guide, p. 369), which they gave the jocular title 152 Proverbs Adapted to the Taste of the Day. Bradley also invented the Journal of the International Collective of Cosmic Aphorists, a title his publisher likes so much that he now wants to create this very journal. “I feel like I stepped into a Borges short story,” Bradley quips. Step into Bradley’s surreal world of sentences here:

Smoke needs no passport.

Without love or malice, kiss your collarbone at least once a day.

Carry the fruit or the worm, your choice, but carry something.

Rain speaks many dialects, yet no one ever requires a translator.

The sparrow that built its nest inside the fire alarm has no need of a fire extinguisher.

A photograph of an open mouth reminds me of the space between the rungs of a ladder.

I made a list of everything I love. Then a list of everything I find annoying. They were exactly the same.

Metaphor and the Mouth

Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune reports on more evidence for the biological basis of metaphor—and the surprising effect physical experience can have on our beliefs and opinions. In ‘Taste Buds Reflect Feelings of Moral Disgust‘, Jacobs describes experiments at the University of Illinois in which self-described Christians more often described a beverage as ‘disgusting’ following exposure to the incompatible belief systems of atheism or Islam.

Participants tasted a drink and rated its ‘disgustingness’. Then they read a passage from the Koran, an excerpt from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion or the preface to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and performed another taste test, this time with a drink they were told was different from the first one but was actually identical to it. Participants “showed an increased disgust response following contact with rejected religious beliefs (i.e., Islam and atheism), but not a neutral text,” Jacobs quotes from the study. The researchers’ preliminary conclusion: Contact with distasteful beliefs really does leave a bad taste in our mouths.

The feeling of physical disgust likely evolved as a mechanism for avoiding things (rotten food, decaying bodies) that could harm us. Intellectual disgust likely evolved as a mechanism for avoiding ideas that could do the same, but the experience and expression of intellectual disgust metaphorically piggybacked on those of physical disgust. The researchers noted the disgust effect was eliminated when participants washed their hands after reading the offending passages, a demonstration of the ‘Macbeth effect’ in which a perceived threat to moral purity can prompt actual physical cleansing, just as in Shakespeare’s play Lady Macbeth tries in vain to scrub the stain of murder from her hands. Our bodies dictate our beliefs more than we care to admit. There, I’ve said it. Now I’m going to wash my mouth out with soap.

Even More Aphorisms by Lori Ellison

Lori Ellison’s aphorisms have been featured twice on this blog, once in 2007 and again in 2008. Ellison is an artist as well as an aphorist. Here are some of her latest:

You cannot fold a flood and put it in a drawer.

Falling in love is like a parachute, the plummeting—and then the impossible uplift.

The most sincere are seldom the most frank.

Shoes, art, and behavior should be polished.