Susan Sontag: Aphorisms and the Commodification of Wisdom

A brilliant post from brain pickings drawing our attention to Susan Sontag and the commodification of wisdom.

As the interconnectedness and velocity of information continue to grow, these passages from Sontang’s As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh speak to our desire to reduce complexity into soundbites. Soundbites, however, are designed to discourage critical thinking; we’re expected to get it and move on. But that’s not the way the world works. Simplifying complexity prevents informed conversations.

April 26, 1980

Aphorisms 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.

Ten days later she added:

One wonders why. Can it be that the literature of aphorisms teaches us the sameness of wisdom (as anthropology teaches us the diversity of culture)? The wisdom of pessimism. Or should we rather conclude that the form of the aphorism, of abbreviated or condensed or rogue thought, is a historically-colored voice which, when adopted, inevitably suggests certain attitudes; is the vehicle of a common thematics?

Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking …

Follow your curiosity and check out three steps to refuting any argument and order a copy of As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980.