Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Aphorizing public menaces"

From Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (the protagonist is speaking of his dead friend Wertheimer, whose suicide is obliquely prompted by the revelation that besides the perfection of Glenn Gould's performance of the Goldberg Variations it is not worth playing the piano at all - the "I thought" is the tag that keeps the narrative firmly grounded in the speaker's ruminations):
He was an aphorism writer, there are countless aphorisms of his, I thought, one can assume he destroyed them, I write aphorisms, he said over and over, I thought, that is a minor art of the intellectual asthma from which certain people, above all in France, have lived and still live, so-called half philosophers for nurses' night tables, I could also say calendar philosophers for everybody and anybody, whose sayings eventually find their way onto the walls of every dentist's waiting room; the so-called depressing ones are, like the so-called cheerful ones, equally disgusting. But I haven't been able to get rid of my habit of writing aphorisms, in the end I'm afraid I will have written millions of them, he said, I thought, and I'd be well advised to start destroying them since I don't plan to have the walls of every dentist's office and church papered with them one day, as they are now with Goethe, Lichtenberg and comrades, he said, I thought. Since I wasn't born to be a philosopher I turned myself into an aphorist, not entirely unconsciously I must say, turned myself into one of those disgusting tagalongs of philosophy who exist by the thousands, he said, I thought. To produce a huge effect with tiny ideas and deceive mankind, he said, I thought. In reality I'm nothing other than one of those aphorizing public menaces who, in their boundless unscrupulousness and impudence, tag along behind philosophers like horseflies behind a horse, he said, I thought.
(I did not find this one nearly as compelling as Wittgenstein's Nephew, but wonder how much of that might have been due to different translators - but no, the other book is funnier, sharper...)

1 comment:

  1. Pardon the rant - but if there's one thing I can't stand more than consciously composed aphorisms, it's people's determination to reduce all writing into aphoristic soundbites. I suspect it's partly down to the US school-level educational system, where there seems to be a huge emphasis on aphorisms (for instance, as pretty mandatory accompaniment to yearbook entry mugshots, and for ledes for every possible written assignment).

    Look in the Yahoo! Answers Quotations topic, and you'll see a stream of enquiries where students are evidently being asked to brain out the meaning of aphoristic statements, which you often find are taken wildly out of context from continuous texts. If Thoreau wrote "The closet stinks" in the middle of a gripe about the plumbing at Walden, they'll be taking it in isolation and reading into it some deep wisdom about Thoreau being secretly gay. Bah...