In any other tool, it is a major design flaw. But here it is the single most essential feature. This perforated skull, this bowl held together by holes, keeps what it wants by leaking, lets go what it cannot hold. Take this clutch of strawberries. Pick one and eat it. Savor its sweetness. See it disappearing.

Aphorisms by Markku Envall

Sami Feiring, a Finnish aphorist and charter member of the World Aphorism Organization, sends new translations of aphorisms by Markku Envall (Geary’s Guide, pp. 273–274). Envall practices an uncommon variation on the form—the aphorism sequence—that is popular in Finland. “In an aphorism sequence,” Sami writes, “the basic unit is not a single aphorism but a set of aphorisms, usually about five. The aphorisms in an aphorism sequence usually deal with a common theme but are also intertwined with each other in a more profound way. Several noted Finnish aphorists have used and use the form, including Mirkka Rekola, Paavo Haavikko, and Markku Envall.”

Here is what Envall himself has to say about the aphorism: “The answer to the question of what an aphorist wants to say is his written and published aphorisms. There is hardly any other way to reply to that question. Also, explaining or interpreting one’s aphorisms is useless. In my opinion, an aphorism includes all the meanings the reader finds in it. The author has no exclusive right to the correct interpretation, not to mention the only correct interpretation.”

The first aphorism below is an aphorism sequence.

Man is the cancer of nature, growing uncontrollably and exponentially.

A dead man is a cured cancer cell in the world’s body.

Useful as soil or as ash.

If our species faces extinction, a question arises: Is there then any thought that could comfort us?

Yes, there is. To see our evilness, ugliness, and imbecility; that is the comfort.

The listener gives therapy; the talker takes it.

The lynch mob realizes spontaneously: What is done by many is done by none.

Progress does not abolish social evils but merely increases their variety.

If all people were thrown into the sea, the sea would immediately become cleaner.

As much order as necessary, as much freedom as possible.

The paradox of the avenger: Your enemy dictates your conduct as well as your ethics.

Away with metaphysics! A good life is a series of good moments.

We live as if we had two lives. The first one is used for the acquisition of resources.

When faith replaces knowledge, its reliability is halved but its insistence doubles.

Darwin refuted original sin. The Fall of Adam and Eve is an acquired characteristic.

I’m making progress. My memory is shorter than the circle I’m strolling around.

The Demented Trumpet

On Monday, I finished the final draft of my next book, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World (published by HarperCollins on February 8, 2011, since you asked…). Listening to the radio this morning, I was struck (the use of ‘struck’ in this sense is a metaphor, by the way; I was not physically assaulted while listening) by the conversation about the new tower, designed by Anish Kapoor, to be constructed in London in time for the 2012 Olympics. In discussing the object, the presenter and guests came up with all sorts of lovely metaphors, just as everyone who has talked or written about it over the past 24 hours has done. Kapoor’s design has been called

a demented trumpet

a twisted G clef

a sisha pipe, or Hubble Bubble

an arterial shape … with vaguely intestinal tubes

You can see a picture of the design here; feel free to send along your own metaphors for it.

The effort to describe this unusual building/sculpture is an excellent example of why metaphor is essential in daily life. We can only come to understand the unknown by comparing it with what is already known, and metaphor is the way we have invented to do this. The paradox and beauty of metaphor is that we can only comprehend what something is but describing what it is not.