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Sunday Read: In Praise of Wit and Wisdom: James Guida’s Window onto the Soul of an Aphorist

Among the known aphorists are many that are considered poets and even the occasional Twitter philosopher (South Africa’s very young @sboshmafu comes to mind). Incisive commentary and certain kinds of wisdom delivered in a poetic vein seem to be best expressed through the art form of aphorisms. There have been many aphorists over time, and though aphorisms were commonly thought to be the domain of men of a certain age, all sorts of young thinkers and writers seem to be reviving the form.

Egyptian-American poet Yahia Lababidi’s book of aphorisms, titled Signposts to Elsewhere (2006) is one of a handful of recent paeans to the form. Lababidi was praised for his “elegant, thoughtful and wise” aphorisms.

The Waste BooksMarblesSignposts to ElsewhereGlimpse

In a recent New Yorker post, James Guida recently offered a window into the aphorist’s soul. He appraised the timeless formula used by Hippocrates and La Rochefoucauld, and young authors such as George Murray, whose collection, Glimpse, Guida describes as impressive. Guida himself published a book of aphorisms, titled Marbles. Noting that the form easily identifies with dissimilar writers, from philosophers, poets and religious thinkers to those whose witty quips and spiritual musings find a home on social media, Guida believes the soul of an aphorist is that of a person whose mind remains still at the perfect point.

He also delves into the work of his favourite of the aphorists, that of the German polymath, Georg Lichtenberg, who was a mathematician, scientist, and also an arts and literature critic. Lichtenberg’s The Waste Books is considered a classic of the form.

A few years ago, through the graces of an independent press, I put out a book of aphorisms. That is, a collection of brief, disconnected, somewhat philosophical sentences. Looking back, this fact seems newly bizarre—aphorisms!—and I realize I’m still making sense of the experience. Novelists are right to talk of giving birth, and it’s standard for poets to exude vocation. In either case, publishing is known to offer release. But what of the aphorist? An occasional writer even if a full-time one, and a dweller in the obscure hinterland between poetry and prose: naturally their crossing into print might be a bit different.

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