Reflections on Aphorisms #5

Another day, another bunch of aphorisms. I’m hoping to get on a schedule of just doing an aphorism or two as a morning routine (namely, reading them in the evening and writing about them in the following morning), but if I’m being honest I can’t get the reflection process down to a consistent amount of time.

That’s probably better than forcing it, though.

Aphorism 7

Writing is the art of repeating oneself without anyone noticing.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

I’m not sure if Taleb is being sardonic here or not, but I’m going to treat this as a sort of double edged statement.

On one hand, we know that the brain is relatively poor at taking in abstract information. It requires repetitive exposure to a complex concept or environment to form what we would call an accurate picture, and even then you need some variance in input data or you can end up with a faulty understanding.

It also helps to have solid arguments based on facts, and rather than just blurt out all the information at once and then try to address all the points at the end. The interspersed presentation means that you do wind up going through a cyclical presentation that leads to some duplication of previous ideas.

The other side of the coin is that writers often blather, especially those of us who are paid by the word or are particularly verbose. However, our brains get bored of hearing the same thing over and over, and to make our work “worth it” we need to keep people from realizing that we generally don’t have that many good ideas.

My Life

This is basically me, though I think it’s a little more complicated. I believe in constant revision and analysis, so I often repeat myself.

There’s also the blog format I’ve used for much of my writing, which requires a certain repetitive element because even entries in a series of posts are not necessarily going to be read together, so important concepts need to be repeated.

There is an upside to this, however, which is that you move toward perfecting your ideas. As a teacher, I often found myself wishing I had taught differently and finding a better method after finishing a lesson.

Writing is like that too. You stay dynamic, but you lean on the same core body of work. If you do too much variety you wind up devaluing your own expertise by stretching it too thin.

Resolution

Make what I have to say be worth reading, perhaps even more than once.

Keep in mind that I have my limits, and balance novelty with depth.

Consider whether what I have been said has already been said better. Learn from exemplars.

Aphorism 8

Late resounds what early sounded.

Goethe, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

Goethe was one of the earliest members of what in America we just call the Romantic movement (technically he was part of the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany), and while he wasn’t necessarily a true member in the sense that he “grew out of it” as it were, he was nonetheless quite influential in the form of his Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther, the latter of which I’ve had to read more than twice in my college career.

One of the ideas of the Romantics is that you have an inner guiding star that you should follow, which sort of sounds like me when I’m waxing poetic.

However, it’s worth thinking of them as being somewhat reactionary. They were among the first nationalists (before most of the negative things began to be associated with nationalism), and really believed in finding a cause, even if it meant finding destruction along with them.

Another way of putting it is that they’re very into the “die young, leave a beautiful corpse” way of life. The Sorrows of Young Werther sparked a suicide wave that would make 13 Reasons Why look like a palliative (though that doesn’t make either good for society), though now we can look at it in a little more detached a fashion–Goethe himself was the basis for Werther, and he was attempting to chronicle his mistakes, so the protagonist’s suicide was actually a hypothetical exercise in idiocy in an otherwise autobiographical work, one that Goethe himself tried to make a counter-example rather than a role model.

To get to the aphorism, however, I think that this really does tie in with the Romantic period’s prevailing philosophy in the sense that greatness tends to start early. If it’s something that’s put off, odds are it will stay put off forever.

My Life

I’m not sure I’ve followed this well. I’m still “young”, but I’m probably not young enough to be on the earlier side of this analysis.

However, I think there is something to be said here by translating it away from the language of time and into the language of procedure: “What is begun will likely continue.”

Basically, if one behaves like a child forever, one will be treated like a child forever. If one is wise in youth, they will stay wise.

I don’t know that this is an absolute, but it’s certainly something that’s measurable and observable in life. My friends who were highly disciplined in college about doing what was meaningful for them (even if that meant dropping out of college) remain on a path that brings them meaning, and those that were not find themselves in flux and with less success.

I, as someone who falls in the middle of this equation (I am good at doing what has been suggested for me, but not at finding my own path), find myself in a situation now where I have a chance to really make a name for myself and find opportunity.

Resolution

Seize the day and work toward greatness.

Strive to do today what I want to do tomorrow.

Make plans to build a better future, but don’t worry about what comes next.

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