I’ve always loved aphorisms, and some of my favourite books are collections of them — like the volume edited by WH Auden and Louis Kronenberger many years ago. But I see from the Susan Sontag’s journals and notebooks that she took a more sardonic view of them. “Aphorisms”, she writes, “are rogue ideas”.
Aphorism is aristocratic thinking: this is all the aristocrat is willing to tell you; he thinks you should get it fast, without spelling out all the details. Aphoristic thinking constructs thinking as an obstacle race: the reader is expected to get it fast, and move on. An aphorism is not an argument; it is too well-bred for that.
To write aphorisms is to assume a mask – a mask of scorn, of superiority. Which, in one great tradition, conceals (shapes) the aphorist’s secret pursuit of spiritual salvation. The paradoxes of salvation. We know at the end, when the aphorist’s amoral, light point-of-view self-destructs.
Sigh. Maybe she’s right.