Mar 192010


An aphorism is a rhetorical structure that more often than not functions as a balanced antithesis. This against that. There are many sub-varieties. Wit is introduced through surprising twists or juxtapositions, puns, and homophones.

E.g. “Obliquity of style leads straight to the Purgatory of vagueness.” (This I wrote in a student packet letter.)

“Separation gives one a chance to be a new person, but the new person has to take this huge, mangy, bloody, limping, rabid, mongrel dog on a leash everywhere he goes — this dog is the old person.” (This was a fugitive autobiographical thought.)

Here is one model exemplified by the Marquis de Sade. “There are two positions available to us–either crime which renders us happy, or the noose, which prevents us from being unhappy.”

And here is one of my own written after de Sade’s example. I wrote it to a student in a packet letter not so long ago. “There are two kinds of readers–the adventurers who glory in the breathtaking audacity and risk of a well-turned aphorism and the weenies who, lacking courage themselves, find it affront in others.”

Here is a Lawrence Durrell variant from his novel Clea: “‘There are only three things to be done with a woman,’ said Clea once. ‘You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.'”

And here is one of mine using the model: “Three people become famous as a result of any new artistic movement: the one who invents it, the one who does it best, and the one who parodies it.”

Here is an aphorism by Montaigne: “The world is but a school of inquiry.”

And this is one of mine using the same model. It’s from my story “Bad News of the Heart.” “Love is an erotic accident prolonged to disaster.”

This is from “The Indonesian Client.” “All sex is the manipulation of guilt for pleasure.”

Here is another from my story “Woman Gored by Bison Lives.” “Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants.”

There are many more variants of the form. Finding them and identifying them is a little like bird watching.


See Numéro Cinq‘s First Ever Aphorism Contest below.

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