by Gerald Dworkin
Many of the quotations that appear in my e-reader Philosophy: A Commonplace Book are one-liners:
There are many ways in which the thing I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to be said. —Beckett
Better latent than never. —Morgenbesser
Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex. —Marx
But often the difference between a one-liner and a many- is arbitrary. Wilde's “I do all the talking. It saves time and prevents arguments” could have a semi-colon instead of a period and be a one-liner. Thus Shaw: One sees things as they are and asks why; another dreams things that never were, and asks why not. Or, as Nabokov put it: The difference between a therapist and the rapist is a matter of distance.
This brings us to the concept of an aphorism. Most definitions, wisely, do not use a precise measure of length or depend grammatical structure. Here are some typical definitions.
1) a pithy observation
2) a terse saying
3) a short phrase
4) a brief statement
5) a concise statement
6) a laconic expression
It was Nietzsche's aim to “to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book—what everyone else does not say in a book.” But he was also brilliant at much shorter length. “All truth is simple…is that not doubly a lie?”
Obviously this pithetic character is at best a necessary condition but not sufficient. “Today is Monday” is pithy enough but lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Again, definitions try to supply the missing ingredient in different ways– “embodying a general truth”, “makes a statement of wisdom” , “astute observation”. The first of these seems, to us now, too weak. “Objects fall when unsupported” is both pithy and a general truth. But Bacon titled one of his books on the nature of science Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature.
For what it is worth, the word derives from aphorismos (greek) meaning definition. And indeed historically many aphorisms took the form of definitions. Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary being a prime example. ACADEMY. Originally a grove in which philosophers sought a meaning in nature; now a school in which naturals seek a meaning in philosophy. PHILOSOPHY. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.
All of this is by way of introducing the reader to a particularly clever and astute practitioner of that current system of aphoristic communication knows as the TWEET. Now those inclined to resist all things contemporary may object that any message that may be as large as 140 characters cannot be an aphorism. (Joke interruption: I was asked the other day to supply a password with at least eight characters. I decided upon Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.) And those truly hostile may note that the definition of Tweet given first in all dictionaries is “A weak chirping sound, as of a young or small bird.” But the tweets I am bringing to your attention are both short and clever.
The author in question goes by the name of Eric Jarosinski . They are published in Nein Quarterly which at the moment is nothing but a Twitter feed. The tagline is : A Compendium of Utopian Negation. His avatar is a cartoon of the German philosopher Theodor Adorno whose caption is “Nein.” Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfurt School known for his critical theory of society. The tweets have a common theme running through them–although there are frequent diversions– views about nihilism. For those of you who want to learn more about Jarosinski this is a useful source:
I present here my selection of favorites but you really should look at them all. Here is the url:
Note: He appears to have closed his Nihilists Dictionary but continues to tweet.
Aphorism: Philosophy for those with little Zeit by those of little Geist.
At Starbucks I order under the name Godot. Then leave.
Eggs. Dyed for our sins
Seize the day, if you must. But please be advised that it is armed. And dangerous.
Ethics = This is not right. Logic = This is not true. Aesthetics = This is not right. This is not true. This is not a pipe.
Comedy = tragedy + time. German comedy = comedy – comedy.
Arranging my books by those written too soon. Those written too late. And those written too soon but read too late.
I find little more unsettling than the notion that philosophy should be consoling.
Der Nihilismus. Because nothing's funnier in German.
Dead Certainty: Socrates without a question.
Academia: A tower of ivory building a castle of sand.
The only thing worse than real Heideggerians are the wanna-beings.
Nihilism Made Easy: 1. 2. 3. Repeat.
You call it German. I call it Words Without Borders
First as tragedy. Then as farce. Then as tragedy-farce-banana smoothie.
Nietzsche said there'd be eternal recurrences like this.
Listen, Socratic method, we want answers. Now.
Go zweck your Selbst.
The depressed nihilist. Nothing gets him down.
Nothing: Everything you always wanted, but less.
All laisser. No faire.
We regret to inform you that your social contract has expired.
I am not a tweeter. More of a woofer. Here are some recent woofs.
Oughtocrat: Self-righteous moral philosopher.
Socratic Conscience: No Thyself.
Tempe Fugit– anti-vegan slogan.
Spinoza– Wondering Jew.
If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, what happens if my enemy is his own worst enemy?
The opposite of incremental change? Excremental.