Metaphor and Translation from the Edinburgh Book Festival

From the Edinburgh International Book Festival, translator David Bellos and I discuss metaphor and translation in this podcast by The Guardian.

Aphorisms by Peter Schmidt

Thanks to Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, I read Peter Schmidt’s The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts, just published by Mindmade Books. The German-English artist Schmidt co-authored the enigmatic aphorisms of Oblique Strategies (Geary’s Guide, p. 233) with Brian Eno. According to Mindmade’s Guy Bennett, “In 1970 Peter Schmidt created this mixed-media work by combining extant prints from his studio and aphoristic writings mined from his journals. Sets of 55 ‘thoughts’ were assembled onto thick card stock, boxed, and given away to friends, family, and colleagues, such as Jasia Reichardt, Robert Wyatt, and Brian Eno. In exploring the pathways leading to the creative process, they constitute a sort of ante-ars poetica, and in so doing strongly prefigure the Oblique Strategies, which Schmidt later created in collaboration with Brian Eno.” Schmidt’s Thoughts are a bit more ethereal than Oblique Strategies but have the same kind of surreal practicality, as applicable to daily life as to artistic dilemmas. A sampling is below. Order the chapbook here.


You don’t save time
by going faster

Depression is a form
of cowardice

The scales are good
if you know how they err

Avoid misplaced hungers

You cant keep stopping
all the time just to be

More Aphorisms by Irena Karafilly

I blogged about Canadian author and journalist Irena Karafilly back in 2007. Karafilly has a novel, The Captive Sun, coming out and a new website, which includes a page with some of her aphorisms. Here’s a sample to get you started:

The only power you have over people is the ability to do without them.

The really amazing thing about history is not that it so often repeats itself, but that it fails to bore us.

How metaphors shape our view of the economy

Heard this segment yesterday on NPR’s Marketplace about how metaphors shape our view of the economy and was astounded to learn of the existence of the Phillips Machine, a hydraulic machine designed by New Zealand economist Bill Phillips in the 1940s that models economic activity by pumping water through a series of chambers and pipes. Economics is, of course, drenched in metaphors of money as obeying the laws of fluid dynamics. Liquidity is the ability to quickly convert assets into cash. A firm is solvent when it has plenty of liquid assets. Cash flow occurs at the confluence of revenue streams. A company floats shares in an initial public offering. Dark pools are platforms that allow share trading without revealing prices, even to the participants, until the trades are completed. Banks get bailed out when they are too big to fail. (Consumers don’t, alas.) Governments prime the pump by pouring money into the economy (er, except in the euro zone…). When you need money, you can tap a friend, sponge off relatives, dip into savings or—if you’re prepared to be unscrupulous—skim a little something off the top. When growth is buoyant, a rising tide lifts all boats. When options are underwater, though, checking your investment portfolio feels like snorkeling into a shipwreck.

Amazing to learn how Phillips literally embodied these metaphors in his machine. This description from the Wikepedia entry gives an idea how it works:

The machine “consisted of a series of transparent plastic tanks and pipes which were fastened to a wooden board. Each tank represented some aspect of the UK national economy and the flow of money around the economy was illustrated by coloured water. At the top of the board was a large tank called the treasury. Water (representing money) flowed from the treasury to other tanks representing the various ways in which a country could spend its money. For example, there were tanks for health and education. To increase spending on health care a tap could be opened to drain water from the treasury to the tank which represented health spending. Water then ran further down the model to other tanks, representing other interactions in the economy. Water could be pumped back to the treasury from some of the tanks to represent taxation. Changes in tax rates were modeled by increasing or decreasing pumping speeds.”

Here is a link to a demo of the Phillips Machine in action, by Allan McRobie of Cambridge University.

Even More ‘Abramisms’ by Beston Jack Abrams

“There is a Jewish tradition called ‘Tikkun Olum’, a concept that each of us is obliged to contribute to alleviating as best we can the difficulties of our world,” Beston Jack Abrams writes in his latest volume of “Abramisms”. “These short expressions, I hope, deserve to be called ‘aphorisms’ [a venerable literary form], and will serve in a small way to discharge my obligation.” Mr. Abrams has discharged his obligation twice before on this blog, in 2007 and in 2011. Here is another dose of his Abramic wisdom…

Proposals to change the status quo rarely come from those in power.

Old age: gratitude for the good fortune to have achieved it is more becoming than the use of disguises to hide it.

If we don’t accept reality today, it will not disappear but will return tomorrow as myth and legend.

There is a tendency to elevate to a ‘right’ something we simply want to do.

If passions are subject to facts we are more secure than if facts are subject to passions.

Education is not symmetrical; it has a beginning but no end.

Listening is a most powerful when unimpeded by our own thoughts.

Grace is to win without bragging; lose without excuse; live without complaint and share without regret.

Even More Aphorisms by Marty Rubin

I’ve blogged about Marty Rubin’s aphorisms twice before, in 2009 and in 2011. Marty needs no introduction to regular readers of this blog, so I’ll let his sayings speak for themselves. For more of Marty’s musings, check out his blog: Out Of Context: Pieces of a Life.

Unless you’re walking your thoughts will get you nowhere.

Information is what you put in empty heads to keep them empty.

If you want to set your life in order, consider it already done.

What does introspection mean? It means you’re looking in the wrong direction.

Being awake is no different than sleeping if all you do is dream.

Digging, one finds more rocks than gold.

The sea is captive in a drop of water.

More Aphorisms by Gregory Norminton

I first blogged about Gregory Norminton’s aphorisms back in 2010. In September, he publishes The Lost Art of Losing, in the preface to which he writes of the aphorism: “Other forms possess, like Claudette Colbert showing her leg in It Happened One Night, assets worth slowing down for: the absorption of narrative, the imprint of facts. The aphorism, exposing its slender thumb to traffic, has little to recommend it save brevity and concision. But these are qualities with cachet, too often absent from baggy novels or hackneyed journalism.” Norminton’s aphorisms are worth slowing down for; in fact, you might want to just park the car and walk the long way home. More info is to be had on Norminton’s website and How to be Awake.

Prone to sudden enthusiasms, I leave the main work undone. The pursuit of novelty is the evasion of effort.

The truth may set you free but it’s cold outside.

Perhaps thunder is the sound of God slapping His forehead in pure disbelief.

The skeptic’s burden is always lighter.

A question mark is an exclamation mark that stoops to inspect itself.

The past is a work in progress.

Some things must be seen through to be seen.

The shallowest minds go off the deep end.

What we think we understand of science is really only its metaphors.

The tragedy of sleep is that we cannot be awake to appreciate it.

The body has wits that the conscious mind lacks. Pure intellect can’t dance.

Aphorisms by Atanas Krlevski

Atanas Krlevski is a Macedonian aphorist and telecommunication engineer who has been writing aphorisms since 1977. His satirical sayings regularly appear in Macedonian magazines and on radio and television as well as in the anthology of Balkan aphorisms compiled by Vasil Tolevski. Krlevski’s books of aphorisms are Krlevizmi (2009) and Okrlaveni misli (2011).

His rent is expensive; he lives inside his head.

When I’m drunk, people are two-faced.

During elections, the only truths are false promises.

Before politicians can fly, they have to crawl.

I feel sorry for my wallet; it leads an empty life.

My sex life is like a boring play: I fall asleep right after the first act.

Aphorisms by Nicolás Gómez Dávila

The preternaturally aphoristically alert Dave Lull directs me to this post on the similarities between the aphorisms of poet-critic J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985) and Colombian aphorist Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994) on Anecdotal Evidence, a blog by Patrick Kurp. I don’t know Cunningham’s work, but I do admire his aphoristic insight into the craft of writing:

The writer seeks the unique in the common language.

Nicolás Gómez Dávila features in Geary’s Guide (pp. 331-332). He called his aphorisms escolios, or ‘glosses.’ He is among Colombia’s most controversial scholars, despite the fact that he never held a university post or made the slightest effort to publicize his work. He spent most of his time reading, in a private library that reportedly contained more than 30,000 volumes. Gómez Dávila described himself as a “reactionary”; he criticized both democracy and socialism, attacked liberalism in all its forms, and deplored the reform of the Catholic Church instituted by the Second Vatican Council. More of his sayings can be found here. Some aphorisms:

The one who renounces seems weak to the one incapable of renunciation.

To think like our contemporaries is a recipe for prosperity and stupidity.

In an age in which the media broadcast countless pieces of foolishness, the educated man is defined not by what he knows, but by what he doesn’t know.

The punishment of the idealist consists in the triumph of his cause.

Confused ideas and muddy ponds appear deep.

Nowadays public opinion is not the sum of private opinions. On the contrary, private opinions are an echo of public opinion.

The stupidity of an old man imagines itself to be wisdom; that of an adult, experience; that of a youth, genius.

More on Susan Sontag on Aphorisms

Dave Lull spotted the Maverick Philosopher‘s musings on the very same passages about aphorisms from Susan Sontag’s diaries. The Maverick Philosopher has his own issues with Sontag’s take on aphorisms, but agrees with her that an aphorism is not an argument. “An aphorism that states its reasons is no aphorism at all,” he writes. “But the reasons are there, though submerged, like the iceberg whose tip alone is visible. An aphorism, then, is the tip of an iceberg of thought.” So, naturally, he takes issue with my argument that aphorisms are arguments (“An aphorism is only one side of the argument, though,” I wrote. “It’s up to you, the reader, to supply the other side…”), writing: “It appears that Geary is confusing a statement with an argument. Consider Nietzsche’s ‘Some men are born posthumously.’ This is a declarative sentence but certainly no argument. An argument requires at least one premise and a conclusion. To argue is to support a claim with reasons. Nothing like this is going on in the one-sentence aphorism just quoted.” I don’t wish to be argumentative (I am, Sontag would surely say, too well-bred for that) so suffice it to say that the submerged arguments lurking beneath the tips of those icebergs of thought are the very things on which so many philosophers founder.