By Jennifer Smith
As history accelerates -and my God is this global virus not one of the biggest accelerations we have ever seen?- we aim for succinctness and brevity. Hence, now more than ever, the popularity of the aphorism, the haiku and, above all, the epigram. We have Twitter as the means of communication of «clever» people according to my media savvy friends. Although it is through Twitter that the illiterate leader of the so called «Free World» communicates to an eager global audience the musings of his infantile and dangerously vindictive ego.
In the past epigrams and aphorisms have both been the method, tool and armour to philosophise for those thinkers always adverse to the creation of systematic thought. In all of them resides a well planted seed of skepticism about universal truths. That is one of the various reasons for their longevity and appeal of Pascal, Nietzsche but also Confucius, Calvino and Cioran.
Even Socrates’ wisdom comes down to us in recorded counter punches. Furthermore, Jesus spoke to us in metaphors -maybe in order to avoid taking full responsibility for affirming that he was the son of God- but Buddha, on the other hand, taught us how to be contemplative and introspect with the sheer power of mere quotes. His entire philosophy could be tweeted and retweeted over and over millions of times. In fact you can join other ninety-five thousand followers of The Buddha account if you wish to rethink your religious education.
But here, I must confess, my aim is much less altruistic. My main but modest motivation is to subvert an art form that is supposedly so virile, so masculine and so irrefutable all at the same time. It is its brevity which apparently more often than not defends aphorism or epigrams against evident refutations. This is a minor attempt to disprove that by creating a real analogy between the aphorism and the epigrams but I will leave that specific discussion to those unlikely readers interested in semiotics and semiology.
Finally, and this is for the almost exclusive delectation of those bilingual readers of Perro Negro, I have included a few epigrams inspired by aphorisms from Spanish speaking thinkers. I trust you find them brief but fruitful.
«In front of the universe, man is just nothing.» But in front of nothingness, he is everything.
«If you go to see a woman, do not forget the whip.» She might already gird her sword.
«I know one thing, that I know nothing» including what I don’t yet know that I don’t know.
«God does not play dice with the universe.» He knows well he would lose.
After José Ortega y Gasset
«I am me and my circumstance.» So my “I” changes all the time.
«If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.» And to the invention we then ask unanswerable questions.
After Nicolás Gómez Dávila
«Industrial society is condemned to forced progress in perpetuity.» Until that perpetuity ends with the progressive industrialisation of death.
After Jorge Luis Borges
«In every success there is always a mistake» but we all succeed in failing.
After Adolf Hitler
«I am on the path that Providence dictates with the security of a sleepwalker» knowing full well that Providence has not yet awakened
After Augusto Monterroso
«And when it woke up, the dinosaur was still there» and that makes everything clear.
After Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
«The dream of reason produces monsters» but reason has always been sleepwalking.
After Thomas Wolfe
«Make the world a safe place for hypocrisy» and fill it with morality for the profit of the misers.
After Andre Besançon
«The religious man knows that he believes, the ideologist believes that he knows» but the equanimous only knows that he doubts.
After Octavio Paz
«The essay and the aphorism. Two ways to freeze.» Criticism: the only way to melt.
After Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas
«Much becomes little with wanting a little more.» Thus we always have too much but never enough.
“Ars longa, vita brevis.” Sunt etiam breviori epigrammatum ■