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May 25, 2012

OGIC: Write a little

Aphorisms are almost the opposite of the kind of writing that typically draws me in, writing that's absorbed in the particular. But Aaron Haspel's hard, bright aphorisms, which he recently brought together and called Everything, are abstract and generalizing, yet so precise as to share something of the quality of the gemlike details I swoon over in poems and fiction. They give a startle first that then gives way to recognition. Twitter, where I first read many of them, might have seemed their natural context in a way, but they gain force from being collected together and grouped by theme.

Here are several of my favorites:

No style guide can address the chief defect in writing, which is having nothing to say.

Good critics do not have good taste. They have articulate, consistent taste for which the reader can correct.

Read a lot: think some: write a little.

Influence is plagiarism spread thin.

The less a discipline resembles mathematics, the less likely a clever theory is to be true.

Few experiences are more salutary than losing an argument, but only if you notice.

The parable of the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp, where the light is better, explains vast swaths of intellectual history.

Efficient search is serendipity's implacable enemy.

The more you regard your life as a story the more you edit it.

The superstitions of a culture are easily discerned: they are the matters on which everyone agrees.

Low-down, thoroughgoing rottenness often has nice manners.

Your terrible secret is that you have no terrible secret.

Blaming an actor for being a narcissist is like blaming a tiger for being a carnivore.

To manage people effectively you must not only accept but praise work that you could have done better yourself.

A relentlessly cheerful, upbeat, can-do attitude is a highly effective form of bullying.

More successful enterprises have been created for spite than for money.

Humanity for the first time is burdened with a vast proletariat of literate, ambitious, and demanding people who can't really do anything.

The joy of money lies less in what one does than in what one might do.

The people are flattered more obsequiously than the monarch ever was.

We reserve our warmest admiration, not for what is utterly beyond us, but for what we secretly believe we might have done ourselves on our very best day.

The future will marvel that we regarded "be yourself" as sound moral advice.

Better deceived than distrustful.

Nothing tastes quite like the hand that feeds you.

People will like you if you like them, which is too high a price.

To hate something properly you must have liked it once.

To make an epigram, invert a cliché.

Posted May 25, 2012 1:18 AM

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