Aphorisms by Francis Picabia

From the indefatigable aphorist and convener extraordinaire Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and genius loci of Tramp Freighter

I enjoy finding a good tiny book. One I picked up a few years ago: Yes No: Poems & Sayings by Francis Picabia, published by Hanuman Books (1990) and translated by Rémy Hall. It’s a red covered paperback measuring only 2.5” in width and about 4” in height. With gold titling and a picture of Picabia (Geary’s Guide, pp. 264–265) in his studio on its cover, it’s quite striking. Hanuman Books was itself a tiny operation publishing books by avant-garde writers out of the Chelsea Hotel.

Francis Picabia, early on associated with Dada, was one of those restless and quixotic artists who worked in many styles and used various materials, including text in his work. The book begins with short aphoristic poems, under the heading “Yes No,” and then his “Sayings.” What’s better than a beautiful tiny book full of fascinating aphorisms? (Note: Picabia apparently composed some of his sayings all in caps.) Here’s a sampling of Picabia’s sayings:

 

MEN COVERED IN MEDALS MAKE ONE THINK OF A CEMETERY.

 

Art is the cult of error.

 

Beauty is relative to the amount of interest it arouses.

 

Paralysis is the first stage of wisdom.

 

Laws are against the exception, and I only like the exception.

 

Only useless things are indispensable.

 

Knowledge is ancient error reflecting on its youth.

 

Taste is tiring like good company.

 

Me, I disguise myself in order to be nothing.

 

For a man to be no longer interesting, it suffices not to look at him.

 

Men have more imagination for killing than for saving.

 

Desire fades away if you possess, don’t possess anything.

 

The justice of men is more criminal than the crime.

 

GOD’S SHADOW IS MAN IN MOONLIGHT.

 

ALL BELIEFS ARE BALD IDEAS.

 

Mystical explanations are the most superficial.

 

My revolutionary friends, your ideas are as narrow as a small shopkeeper from Besançon.

 

Love-making is not modern; yet it is still the thing that I like best.

 

MY ARSE CONTEMPLATES THOSE WHO TALK BEHIND MY BACK.

 

The most beautiful book would be that which would not be possible to consider as a book.

 

When art appears, life disappears.