Aphorisms by Richard Kostelanetz

I am once again indebted to Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, for alerting me to new aphorists, this time the experimental poet and multi-genre artist Richard Kostelanetz:

“Because aphorisms are short, each word counts. And perhaps it takes a poet to create aphorisms in which the number of words is evenly counted. In this case, Richard Kostelanetz has used just 4 words per for his ‘mini maxims’. In a way, the words of this book have an extra measure of weight, because Kostelanetz’s Mini Maxims have been published by the fine letter-press poetry publisher, Adastra Press. Literally the weight of each piece of type can be felt when the printer Gary Metras, a skilled poet himself, handsets the type for each page of the book. The book Mini Maxims may be ordered from Adastra Press, 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton MA  01027, for $18.00 US postage paid. (Also available from spdbooks.com and amazon.com.)

Also, serendipitous aphorism discoverer Dave Lull came across Kosti’s Ambrose in the New English Review, Richard Kostelanetz’s appropriations of aphorisms from The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (Geary’s Guide, pp. 356-358), which Kostelanetz describes as “rewriting some of [Bierce’s] entries to make them mine and adding a few of my own reflecting his influence, not just what I wish I wrote but what I rewrote.” Here, for example, is a little quatrain from the original Devil’s Dictionary about this blog’s preoccupation:

The flabby wine-skin of his brain
Yields to some pathologic strain,
And voids from its unstored abysm
The driblet of an aphorism.

And here’s a taste of Richard Kostelanetz’s mini maxims:”

Luck cannot be duplicated.

Internal emptiness inevitable surfaces.

If uninvited, arrive late.

Anyone understood becomes predictable.

Rationalize equals rational lies.

More Aphorisms by Patrick Hunt

Patrick Hunt, about whom I first blogged back in 2008, has published a new collection of aphorisms: A Few Hundred Thoughts, from Corinthian Press. In her Book Haven blog, Cynthia Haven recounts Hunt’s recent reading at the Stanford Bookstore, including the author’s description of aphorisms as “intellectual judo—much like poetry, every word counts.” This sampling of Hunt’s take on Martial’s art also comes from Haven’s blog and prompts me to reaffirm my conclusion from 2008: Patrick Hunt is a damn fine aphorist.

Only leaves know the true color of sunlight.

Humans have stomachs twice the size of their brains and three times the size of their hearts.

A constellation is a village where stars live.

Anguish is proof of the soul.

Stars obey the same laws as snails.

Unlike comets and more like candles, souls don’t burn up but down.

New Italian Aphorists

Fabrizio Caramagna, proprietor of Aforisticamente, a site devoted to Italian aphorisms, has curated the anthology The New Italian Aphorists, featuring aphorisms by writers who took part in recent biannual aphorism festivals in Italy. The book, as Caramagna describes it in the introduction, covers the full gamut of aphoristic forms: “sententious and paradoxical aphorisms, but also poetic, visual, ‘diaristic’, and philosophical aphorisms, as well as micro-essays and micro-tales, aphorism-definitions, puzzling and fantastic aphorisms, Zen aphorisms.”

The New Italian Aphorists includes established Italian authors like Maria Luisa Spaziani (Geary’s Guide 308-309), who has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times, and Fulvio Fiori (GG 31-32), who took part in the inaugural meeting of the World Aphorism Organization in London in 2008, as well as newcomers like Paolo Bianchi, who was born in 1986. The book gives readers of English a wonderful glimpse into the vibrant, vital art of the aphorism in Italy. A selection…

We always choose our enemies among those whom we would have liked to become. They are our lost image. —Amedeo Ansaldi

Sometimes we caress one another so as not to go deeper. —Amedeo Ansaldi

Writing aphorisms is an acrobatic art: thinking without a safety net. —Silvana Baroni

For a few years it is our parents who raise us; for the rest of our lives it is ours kids. —Silvana Baroni

During our youth it’s easy to swim against the current, when we are still near the source —Fabrizio Caramagna

They were both peeping at each other through the keyhole, and at last they looked each other in the eye. —Carlo Ferrario

The fundamental question is: Will there be life before death? —Fulvio Fiori

Life lasts too long to make predictions but it’s too short to make plans. —Sandro Montalto

Melancholy is the Carbon 14 of absence. —Alessandra Paganardi

You reach the peak of happiness when unhappiness is unusually close. —Alessandra Paganardi

A good aphorism can only result from a world in ruins: it’s an Apocalypse caused by a pinprick. —Mario Parrini

I would praise him if I could deliver his eulogy. —Maria Luisa Spaziani

Koans by William Lumpkins

I am grateful, once again, to Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the ursprache blog and author of the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, for spotting new aphorists in out of the way places. His latest dispatch comes from New Mexico and the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe:

Wandering through an exhibit of 14,000 years of New Mexico art, panhistoric from the earliest native artifacts up to the vibrant contemporary scene, I encountered the abstract watercolors of William Lumpkins (1910-2000). I was intrigued by his paintings and also by one of Lumpkins’ koans printed alongside one of his works. Besides painting, Lumpkins was a forward thinking architect who early on designed buildings to exploit passive solar. His aphoristic koans show his abiding interest in Zen Buddhism as well as the concerns of art making. Reading all his short writings would require transcribing the index cards he left behind in a few wooden boxes. The few Lumpkins’ koans that I was able to track down were printed on the last page of a 1987 exhibition catalog (“Koans by William Lumpkins,” William Lumpkins: Works on Paper 1930-1986, The Jonson Gallery of the University Art Museum, Albuquerque NM, 1987):

Affirm not or deny not lest you limit your vision.

A cult of images, symbols, hymns, all clichés are but a framework of imitative practices and lead not to the Zen mind.

Go to your paper and color each morning freed from the grip of innumerable yesterdays.

The unplanned image emerges utterly complete.

When one breathes, listens to the song of the birds, feels the wind, is wetted by the rain, associate each act not with a memory but rather experience each as a thing just discovered.

Detachment is not indifference.

Aphorisms by Scott F. Parker

Scott F. Parker is co-editor of Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate (Wiley-Blakcwell, 2011). His prose and poetry have appeared in Philosophy Now, Oregon Humanities, and Sport Literate, among other publications. His aphorisms, a selection of which is forthcoming in Whole Beast Rag‘s Homme Issue (12/1/13), are steeped in close readings of literature and philosophy, from which Parker brews close observations on the psychology of writing. Enjoy with a nice mug of coffee.

Dreams of gods—epiphenomena of neuron clusters—turtles all the way down. The most effective way to become an atheist is to first become a god.

Literature: writing that means more than it says.

A brief commentary on originality:

Even in Kyoto—
hearing the cuckoo’s cry—
I long for Kyoto.

Even in Portland—
gray clouds obscuring mountain—
I long for Portland.
—After Basho

Sound advice is distinguished less by the quality of the advice than by the quality of the sound.

An undervalued version of truth. The lucky person is the one who hears what he needs to hear when he needs to hear it.

A postmodern apothegm: In the beginning was the World, and the World was with words, and the World was Words.

Aphorisms by Laurence Musgrove

Laurence Musgrove—a professor of, among other things, rhetoric and composition, creative writing (poetry), and visual thinking at Angelo State University in Texas—lists the influences of his aphoristic alter-ego, Tex, as Buster (Keaton), Henry (David Thoreau), Duke (a.k.a. John Wayne), and Groucho (Marx). Tex, a straight-talkin’ Texan line drawing sporting a speech bubble and a Stetson, might also cite such illustrious predecessors as Josh Billings (Geary’s Guide, pp. 13-16), Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard (GG, pp. 38-39) and Will Rogers (GG, pp. 53-54). Like these three aphorists, Tex dispenses folksy, homespun wisdom with a distinctly Western twist and, like Hubbard’s cartoon incarnation, Abe Martin, Tex comes fully if minimally illustrated…


Musgrove’s site Texosophy: Aphorisms, Advice & Wisecracks showcases Tex’s (which, when said aloud, sounds like ‘Texas’) sayings, many of which take the form of a Billings-esque dialectic:

Man waz kreated a little lower than the angels, and he haz been a gitting a little lower ever since. —Josh Billings


Tex and Billings also both practice cacography, the deliberate misspelling of words for phonetic effect.

Hubbard, who died in 1930, wrote a syndicated column/cartoon for more than 25 years that chronicled the sayings and doings of Abe Martin and the other denizens of the fictional Brown County, Indiana. Tex is similarly prolific if less widely published. Musgrove has lately been producing a drawing and saying a day, conveniently preserved in the Texosophy archives. Tex and Abe share a similar wry, funny, gently chiding disposition.

The world gets better every day—then worse again in the evening. —Abe Martin



In Tex, Musgrove has added a real original to the line of witty, wisecracking American philosophers that began with Poor Richard.



More Aphorisms by William Markiewicz

I first wrote about William Markiewicz back in 2007, and he has now published a small book of aphorisms accompanied by his original woodcuts in Poland, Drzeworyt-Aforyzm.

Markiewicz’s aphorisms are catechetical in the original sense of that word, derived from Greek terms meaning to ‘sound out thoroughly’ or ‘teach by word of mouth.’ The sayings sound out spiritual and moral dilemmas—the nature of faith, the confrontation with mortality. The religious overtones are enhanced by the scriptural nature of the woodcuts, which often treat of Biblical themes. Markiewicz’s collection is a thorough, thoughtful spiritual handbook. A selection:

Nature never repeats itself. The one who portrays nature is the only one who has a chance at originality.

Intuition: going your way without inquiring about the way.

Don’t try to accept the inevitable; you do that already by living. Learn how to accept the acceptance.

If nobody needs us, we don’t need ourselves.

If you have the key, the wall becomes a gate.

Hell is when there is no reason to live and no courage to die.

Aphorisms by Jack Friedland

Jack Friedland prefaces his aphorism collection, Reflections on Society and Life, with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “To get into the best society nowadays, one has either to feed people, amuse people or shock people. To be in [society] is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply tragedy.” Friedland’s sayings dissect the psychological motivations behind our social transactions, providing nourishment, amusement and the occasional shock of recognition along the way. A selection:

Narcissism is the other side of self-pity.

The more pleasure something gives us in the short  run, the more difficulties it tends to cause in the long run.

Live life at the extremes, but do it in moderation.

Life is too short to be in it for anything but the long haul.

Success, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Obsession is passion without depth.

Ignoring reality is easy—it is getting reality to ignore us that it difficult.

The “Great Firewall” of China Metaphor Reconsidered

This piece from the China Digital Times considers whether we need a new metaphor to describe Internet censorship in China: “Our view of Chinese Internet censorship is shaped by one particular metaphor – “the great firewall of China”. Actually, this is a metaphor inside a metaphor because the word “firewall” means different things to different people. To a builder, it’s a wall or partition designed to inhibit or prevent the spread of fire. To a computer scientist, on the other hand, a firewall is a piece of software designed to prevent unauthorised or unwanted communications between computer networks or hosts … Firewall-type activity does indeed describe aspects of the Chinese approach to the internet. But it’s been obvious for a while that the subtlety of the regime’s approach to managing the network has gone way beyond the binary allow/disallow nature of the firewall metaphor.”

Aphorisms by Máighréad Medbh

Irish poet Máighréad Medbh describes Savage Solitude: Reflections of A Reluctant Loner (Dublin: Dedalus Press, April 2013) as “a dramatised internal conversation in the mind of a ‘reluctant loner’, and takes the form of 303 aphoristic colloquies and fragments, incorporating 202 quotes from a variety of sources … There are three voices: One; The Other; and I. One is the voice of instinct. It is fearful and only hears itself. The Other is the voice of the larger world in the form of quotations—from scientists, poets, fiction authors, artists, philosophers, psychologists, mystics, loners. The third voice, I, is the rational portion of the self, and the only voice that also listens.” Excerpts from Savage Solitude have been published in Axon, an online journal about the creative process; you can read some of those here…

2: bird


A flock of birds traverses the silent sky. Today, it is the only event that has made impact. For a moment One knows what it is to be borne on the wind, unasking.

The Other

‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake.’ —Henry David Thoreau: Walden


Birds fly without thought. I, being human, must think. Alone, I carry thought as a burden. If I were to empty my mind, would I be bird, and is that bliss?

4. pathless


The limpid silence is a land without carp, censure or discernible danger. Neither crop nor creature inhabits; there is no haven or prison. The terrain is pathless. One looks to the sky, waiting for the pole star to rise, but it is not that world.

The Other

‘A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self.’ —Søren Kierkegaard: The Sickness unto Death


We are fired up by relevance, created by context. A single point in a dark universe might as well not exist. Even two points are without context. Create a triangle and we have pattern, the force that drives our minds. In the brain, the map is the same as the territory. I must begin to draw.

105. synthetic passions

The Other

‘We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.’ —Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain


As a lone child, One felt nothing such as they call happiness or unhappiness. There were phenomena like grass, attractive objects, strong-smelling animals, midsummer blue—and a face that lived in them.


The search for the essential self in a society of constructed selves has echoes of Sartre’s distinction between the being which is en soi (in itself) and that which is pour soi (for itself). The en soi is unselfconscious, the pour soi reflexive. Very few people have never wished for the reflexive faculty to be stilled, just for a moment.