Aphorisms: Collection 1

For the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with shorter forms of writing, ranging from one-line aphorisms to shorter 100-200 word vignettes. I find I enjoy the challenge of producing interesting prose at these lengths. My writing seems to exhibit a barbell curve of comfort. The nightmare zone for me is between 500 to 1500 words. Curiously enough, that’s the length that dominates both old and new media. I can do less than that or more than that easily, but staying within that range feels like squeezing blood from a rock.

Anyway, for the last two weeks, on Sunday evenings, I’ve been doing a rather silly “aphorism on demand” thing on Facebook where people throw topics at me and I come with aphorisms on the fly. I thought I’d share the output. Thanks to my Facebook buddies for playing. I might keep doing this on a semi-regular basis, so if you are interested in watching the live show, follow me on Facebook.

Here are the results of the first two shows. I am omitting topics and names of people who proposed them. If you tweet any of these, cc @ribbonfarm

  1. Intelligence is the capacity to be exhausted by futility before you even get started.
  2. Earnestness is what’s left behind when you subtract humor from love.
  3. Love is the capacity to see cynicism as just another kind of naivete.
  4. Progress is the heady sense of temporarily outrunning the forces of decline.
  5. To construe war as a choice is simply to drive it into the shadows. War and peace are not choices, but outcomes.
  6. Peace as a civilizational value is a distant aspiration. Hatred by contrast energizes our present realities. It is by testing our will against hatred, rather than by seeking peace, that we make any progress at all.
  7. Science without nihilsm is a travesty on the order of iced coffee. Science for the ‘good of humanity’ is an abomination on the order of frappuccinos.
  8. Cynicism is the naivete on the other side of failure.
  9. Aging is a process of losing dignity through repetition of increasingly trivial things. First you repeat your ideas. Then you repeat your mistakes. Then you repeat your aphorisms. Finally, you repeat your jokes.
  10. Absurdity at its best destroys meaning, rather than merely highlighting the meaningless. A donkey playing an accordion is merely ludicrous. A donkey playing Ode to Joy beautifully on the accordion is absurd.
  11. The purpose of cynicism is to find drama in the banal, and banality in the dramatic; that is what allows one to feel with depth.
  12. True paradoxes are more than simple contradictions; they are the beginnings of never-ending stories.
  13. We crave sharp boundaries because they promise clean breaks from our realities and punctuate our infinities. We need them even after we outgrow parents, gods and newer imagined agencies.
  14. We begin our search for meanings where we first run into our limits.
  15. We settle to calm our fears and wander to feed our vanities.
  16. To truly listen, you must be willing to let disorder and disquiet fill your mind without resistance.
  17. Youth gets its abundances for free; growing up is about paying for your abundances with the things you neglect

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Giselle Cheeseman says

    I love number 12. I used paradoxes from the Creation Hymn of the Rigveda to help my students learn why authors need symbols in narratives. This would make a lovely journal prompt to wrap up the activity. Planning on it–with citation and a link to this post–for next year.

  2. Michael Erebos says

    They should quote you a hundred years from now. I especially liked the ones about cynicism.

  3. I identify very personally with #1… it made me laugh out loud in a room by myself. #7 makes me think you’ve discovered how mediocre Starbucks really is :)

    I really enjoy 8, 9, and 16 albeit for different reasons. #8 is the story of my friends from my teen years to present. #9 is a sad story of watching my father grow older (and my mother not far behind). #16 is how I’ve grown so close to my wife.

    Thanks for posting these, Venkat.

  4. I wanted to participate in the Facebook page but I had no option to comment. Probably some kind of permission. Anyway here’s my contribution: “The bugs in the software will eat the world”

  5. You might really enjoy Theodore Adorno’s book of aphorisms, Minima Moralia

  6. Not bad, but the absolute master of aphorisms for the contemporary condition is J.G. Ballard, imho. His “Project for a Glossary of the 20th Century” changed my thinking on a whole range of subjects:


    You might also check out Jean Baudrillard’s great book America, and the obscure but poignant aphorisms of Elias Canetti in a number of his books (Agony of Flies, the Secret Heart of the Clock.)

    Lastly, Kafka’s Diaries offer a kind of world-through-aphorism that is at once powerful, uplifting, and sad.