Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Antonio Porchia - The Master of Aphorisms

At first glance, it's quite strange that Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician of the 5th century BC, is somehow considered to be the father of the "aphorism". That is probably because, according to the Oxford dictionary, the term "aphorism" seems to have evolved from "a concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by a classical author" to "a pithy observation which contains a general truth" in the modern sense of the word. In all cultures, one can find great writers of this so called "wisdom literature". At its most basic form, an aphorism is just a witty statement sometimes evident and maybe just too easy to have some intrinsic value. At its best though, an aphorism transcends the narrow confines of a subjective "clever" observation, forcing the reader to reconsider the meaning of common words. Revealing a kind of universal truth and often venturing into almost haiku poetry. Welcome to the world of Antonio Porchia. 

Antonio Porchia was born in 1886 in the Calabria region of Italy but very young moved to Argentina settling in Buenos Aires from where he never departed until his death in 1968. He was a simple man who wrote one, and only one, small book called "Voces" in 1943.     

This book contained his "distilled" thoughts in the form of one or two sentence aphorisms. It is quite remarkable how this simple man who lived alone managed to tap such a source of infinite depth in form and substance.

Jorge Luis Borges had this to say of Porchia's aphorisms: "... In Porchia's aphorisms, the reader feels the immediate presence of man and his destiny. The aphorisms included in "Voces" lead much further than their written text. They are not an end but a beginning. They don't strive to create an impression. One can assume that the writer wrote them for himself, without knowing that that he was creating for others the image of a lonely man, who sees things with clarity and is conscious of the unique mystery of every moment."

Here are a few examples of Antonio Porchia's aphorisms as found translated in english from the highly recommended Argentinian site on Antonio and his work.

Some of Antonio Porchia's aphorisms

"Man goes nowhere. Everything comes to man, like tomorrow."

"One lives in the hope of becoming a memory."

"You’ll find the distance that separates you from them, by joining them."

"What we pay for with our lives is never costly."

"Nothing ends without breaking, because everything is endless."

"I’ve come to be a step away from everything. And here I stay, away from everything, by a step."

"The less you think you are, the more you bear. And if you think you’re nothing, you bear everything."

"I’ve abandoned the beggarly need to live. I live without it."

"One who says the truth says hardly anything."

"The chains that bind us most are the chains we’ve broken."

"Sometimes what I want and what I don’t want make so many concessions
to each other that they end up looking alike."

"If we didn’t lose anything during life, we would lose life without anything."

"My voice tells me: “That’s how it all is.”
And the echo of my voice tells me: “That’s how you are.”

"Shadows: some hide, others reveal."

"Men and things rise, fall, move away, approach. Everything is a comedy of distances."

"Sometimes, at night, I turn on a light so as not to see."

"You have nothing and you would give me a world. I owe you a world."

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