None writes so ill, that he gives not some thing exemplary, to follow, or flie. Now when I beginne this booke, I have no purpose to come into any mans debt; how my stocke will hold out I know not; perchance waste, perchance increase in use; if I doe borrow any thing of Antiquitie, besides that I make account that I pay it to posterity, with as much and as good: You shall still finde mee to acknowledge it, and to thanke not him onely that hath digg'd out treasure for mee, but that hath lighted mee a candle to the place.

John Donne, Metempsycosis [1601], the introductory Epistle

December 18, 2005 | Comments (0)

The Aphoristic Style

A clatter of gnomic utterances:  Scholar Island.

Only one possible literary genre can accommodate what seem to be alternative, though to the ancients not incompatible, worldviews: the "collection" of randomly arranged, self-contained aphorisms. In this form, the wisdom of more than one age and more than one temper can be stored side by side. It is not merely the literary form of the collection, however, that allows for this ecumenical generosity. Aphoristic expression itself implies an entire philosophy and worldview. According to this philosophy, experience and thought about experience can be stored best in independent short sayings and poems. The aphoristic worldview also implies that no systematic exposition is intended, for any systematic arrangement or exposition would endanger the independence and originality of an insight stored in a small literary unit. The masters of wisdom have no interest in or conception of completeness or logical presentation of their insights and indeed avoid it. Perhaps one can explain the underlying idea in terms of the distinction between "systematic" and "aphoristic" thought. Systematic thought tends to doctrinalism and the development of comprehensive, complete, and finally closed ideologies. Aphoristic thought, by contrast, remains open-ended and fragmentary. One can always add to the corpus of aphoristic expression, for it can never be complete. Thus aphoristic thinking is more a style of thought than a particular doctrine. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz explains, "It comes in epigrams, proverbs , obiter dicta, jokes, anecdotes, contes moraux--a clatter of gnomic utterances--not in formal doctrines, axiomized theories, or archetonic dogmas."

Bernhard Lang, The Hebrew God: Portrait of an Ancient Deity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).

The Lang quote comes via About Scholar Island, where there is more on the why's and wherefore's of the aphoristic style.

December 14, 2005 | Comments (2)

Barns of Snohomish County

Seventy years ago there were something like 2,000 barns in Snohomish County. Not many remain but of those that do a good number are in the flood plains of our several rivers (the Snohomish, Skykomish, Stillaguamish) and are thus protected from further development pressures, if not from neglect and old age.  This last weekend the Everett Herald had a nice feature article on the county's remaining barns and the families that are trying to maintain them. Article by Jennifer Warnick, with a gallery of photos by Dan Bates, and photos by readers.

My own photo of a Maltby barn, posted last January.

December 12, 2005 | Comments (1)


Host & Son

This elegant bookseller's label is from the venerable Danish firm of Høst & Søn (probably ca. 1940s), now an imprint of the even more venerable Gyldendal. I inherited my blond hair and blue eyes but not the Danish tongue from a Danish great-grandfather, greatly disadvantaging me in my research efforts with regard to this firm. Anyway, the label is one of several new additions in the last month to the Gallery of Book Trade Labels.

December 1, 2005 | Comments (2)