Aphorisms by Don Paterson

Don Paterson is a Scottish musician and poet. He is featured in Geary’s Guide as a member of the “Poets and Painters” species (pp. 297-298). He has won a load of U.K. literary awards, including the Forward Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and the T.S. Eliot prize (twice). His new collection of aphorisms is calledThe Blind Eye: A Book of Late Advice. Paterson practices a rounded, ruminative form of aphorism, influenced by writers like E.M. Cioran and Elias Canetti. And like the aphorisms of these two authors, Paterson’s sayings are often somberly contemplative—reflections on the wisdom of advice given, or received, too late. Paterson often aphorizes about aphorisms, too, as in these selection from The Blind Eye:

The lapidary coldness of the aphorism assuages a grief or a grievance far better than the poem. It erects a stone over each individual hurt.

Allowed myself a smile this morning at a letter innocently referring to ‘my love of the aphoristic form.’ Christ—do you think if I really had a choice, I would write this? We occupy the margins through fate, not allegiance.

Read a whole book of aphorisms by N. It felt like swallowing an entire bottle of homeopathic remedy, whose total absence of effect did nothing but reinforce my suspicion that the aphorism is only useful in small measured doses—but even then it’s only a kind of intellectual placebo, prompting ideas the reader should have prompted in themselves anyway.