less said the better

At the time, I was busy turning my life into a cautionary tale.


day to night

Your resolutions of each bright morning dissolve with the evening light.


fast or slow

You bought a sports car to drive fast on the highway. I found a path along the river where I can walk slowly.


shot through

One strives to be comprehensive, and then you look back at a sieve.


heroic try

Often what we do to help others seems heroic, but then it doesn’t work.


meta media

The media forgets that they are meta and not real.


Leverant's Zen in the Art of Photography

Robert Leverant
Zen in the Art of Photography (Images Press, 1969)

Among some books owned by a deceased poet, I encountered this little book. The author Robert Leverant was not known to me. He was a photographer, but I gather from his February 2021 obituary that this little book (numbering 152 entries) was perhaps more notable than his photography. There is something about the project of this book, including the author’s use of the words “groovy” and “grooving” in a couple instances, that places it very much in those wild and wide-eyed years of the late 1960s.

These short writings are not Zen koans. Some are aphorisms proper. Some are short meditations on ‘seeing’ and ‘time’ and the ‘universe’; being there in the moment, experiencing the world visually via the art of photography. At times, Leverant breaks certain sentences into pieces, each bit standing beneath a number, but each not exactly standing-alone as an interesting assertion by itself. For example in this run:

There is rhythm. There is rhythm of the object.

There is no object.

We are object.


Each picture is thus a self-portrait.

Artists often know very well their materials, their means and practices, but they sometimes struggle when it comes to finding an adequate language when asked to articulate certain aspects of their vision or to explain their processes:

Before we do, we must be able to verbalize how and we have gained a tool which ours forever.

Some artists have turned to aphoristic writing as a partial way of introducing their art and their methods. Here are few more of Leverant’s aphorisms that caught my attention:

The camera is an extension of ourselves. An appendage to bring us closer to the universe.

We have allowed the picture and the picturetaker and the picturetaking to become one. Inseparable in a moment of time.

A camera is only an intermediary between us and a new us. To repeat: we must be as receptive and ready as our equipment.

Either we see it or we don’t.

The way lies not in the equipment.

Is the shortest distance between two points a straight line?

Our photography is not the art of looking for It. An art of waiting.

Not us to It. The art of true finding.

We do not know we have snapped the shutter.

Our pictures teach us not to cling.

We know we are light as we know the universe to be light.

Photography is ourselves. It is our world we are creating.

And two more as obituary…

For names are tombs. They have no windows. And so no light.

Our photography will have nothing to do with names.


follies of late capital

 The NFT fetishizes ownership.


leaning tower of lenin

Ideology devolves into idols, and all is lost.


process and reality

No longer willing to follow a blowsy philosophy.


pointed finger

Someone who wouldn’t lift a finger except to point blame at someone else.


sans label

I only want to wear clothes that no designer’s label has touched.



Welcome the stranger come in from the cold universe.


thrill of being alive

Are you able to feel alive without the thrill of danger?


A Small Map of Experience by Leonidas Donskis

The aphorisms in this book range from a sentence to micro-essay in length. Many run to paragraph length. My definition of an aphorism prohibits an aphorism to turn a page or break into a second paragraph. (The book's subtitle does state they are 'reflections and aphorisms'.)

In the foreword to the collection, Donskis says, “[Aphorisms] rise up out of authentic experience—from silence and pauses, from stopping oneself so that a thought is not drowned by a flood of words and pretentious expressions. A person who speaks too much is unlikely to succeed in writing aphorisms and maxims.”

The entries in this collection are numbered but not grouped under any topic headings. They may have been arranged carefully, they may be chronological; all we know is they move in and out various themes and realms of thinking. Also, in the collection, Donskis gives us some variations on the thoughts of others:

    Variation of Milan Kundera

    When our memories die, so do we.

Donskis is a philosopher, social thinker and commentator, as well as a politician (elected to the European Parliament). Many of the aphorisms touch on the great themes of moral and political philosophy.

    Tolerance is the understanding that I was not born to edit other people’s lives and thoughts—that I must spend my life editing myself.

There are frequent entries regarding art and literature, too.

    Great art dissolves our illusions about the importance and truth of the present.

Like many writers from smaller European countries, having undergone the twists and turns and tortures of western history, he recognizes the hard facts of our human circumstance when it comes to power and the struggle for human dignity.

   What is one’s homeland? The place where one becomes a parent, or where a parent was killed?

Here are some more aphorisms by Leonidas Donskis…

Some artists are perfect products of their age, while others actively help to create it. These are two aspects of the same social dynamic: either one reflects one’s time or becomes and alternative to it. Each is equally important to the social and political thinker.

One loves that which one is afraid to lose and does passionately that which can be interrupted at any time.

Identity is the fragile dream of being like those whom you would like to identify, while preserving your own uniqueness.

Rembrandt and Shakespeare are geniuses of the same order. They painted the story of the human soul in every shade—from wretchedness to greatness.

There are two types of genius. One is an author who creates an original canon out of nothing or from some fragment of his or her own experience. The other is a pilfering magpie who weaves all the interesting and sparkly things of that era into new combinations. It is enough to compare Dante and Shakespeare, Bach and Mozart, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi, Hals and Johannes Verspronck, his Dutch colleague and competitor.

We think that happiness lies in the fulfillment of great dreams and ambitions. But in truth it lies in the details of everyday life—everyday sounds, colours, favorite objects, old books, music albums, a cup of tea in the morning. It is only when we lose these things that we grasp their true worth.

Idealism is realism about the past or the future.

A young conservative is a premature misanthrope. An old socialist is a late-blooming visionary. How are they related? They both dislike the age they are and the age they live in.

Talent is the ability to write tens or hundreds of pages in the hope of suddenly producing that one sentence that will make it all worthwhile (and easy to discard the rest).

“Nobody” is not someone who is unknown, but someone who doesn’t want to know anything—not someone who is unimportant, but someone for whom nothing is important.

Rhetorical excess or deathly silence—these are two fragile and barely discernable bulwarks between the superfluity and absence of thought.

A friend is someone with whom one does not have to justify one’s existence.

—Leonidas Donskis, A Small Map of Experience: Reflections and Aphorisms (Guernica Editions, 2010), translated by Karla Gruodis.


important ability

His power was his ability to recognize what was important.


known here and now

We ask only that facts be locally consistent.


empty pith

You have heard them: “Second place is the first loser,” or “Those who can’t do, teach.” They have the force of aphorism but lack wisdom.


hard case

Being ignored was his armor.


oncoming traffic of a kind

On the road we pass many things, but we often fail to notice time going by us in the opposite direction.


avenue aphorism

Each avenue in the city is a kind of aphorism.


can do, not know

Entertainment and sports are fields where you can get very rich without knowing shit.


tip jar

Management allows the workers to put out a tip jar on the counter so their customers by tipping can be complicit in the underpayment of the workers.


thrown together

A new WPA: The US government should pay urban youth to go into rural communities and to work during the summer. Agriculture, odd jobs, even to work retail at the Dollar General...it's about being together and sharing the space.


there is no road

Aphorism or poem, parable or poem, proverb or poem, prayer or poem—poem proper, whatever that is. Who knows what to call Machado’s short writings cast as poems? The musings of a poet walking in the countryside, through small towns, beside rivers, across empty plains. Certainly these writing ring like old church bells; for centuries marking the hours, days, lifetimes. Certain themes persist: truth, being, experience, the journey, words, selfhood, and of course the poet in the world.

One thinks, that had Machado lived in our times, these poems would have found success on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. I say this not to demean them, but to acknowledge how wide and far such writing could travel in our culture with its hunger for simple revelation and a humane vision. Perhaps these poems fall into that category of writing we call ‘wisdom literature’. Machado, who so much valued solitude, would be horrified at the thought of a hundred-thousand followers.

Shall we walk a while with Machado and listen:

I never chased fame,
nor longed to leave my song
behind in the memory of men.
I love the subtle worlds,
almost weightless, delicate
as soap bubbles.
I like to see them paint themselves
In colors of sunlight and float,
Scarlet into the blue sky, then
suddenly quiver and break.

Our hours are minutes
when we anticipate knowledge
and centuries when we know
what it’s possible to learn.

The best of the good people
know that in this life
it’s all a question of proportion;
a little more, a little less…

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.

You say nothing is created?
It doesn’t matter; with the clay
of the earth, make a cup
so your brother can drink.

You say that nothing gets lost,
and perhaps what you say is true;
but we lose everything
and everything will lose us.

Looking at my skull
a new Hamlet will say:
here is a nice fossil
of a carnival mask.

Look in your mirror for the other one,
the one who accompanies you.

A new age? Is
the same forge still blazing?
Does water still flow
in the same riverbed?

In my solitude
I have seen very clearly
things that are not true.

Wake up singers!
Time for the echoes to end
and the voices to begin.

Don’t search for dissonance:
because, in the end, there is none;
people dance to any tune.

The eyes you are yearning for,
don’t be mistaken,
the eyes you see yourself in
—are eyes because they see you.

Let’s not be in a rush
for the glass to overflow;
it must be filled first.

When I’m alone
my friends are with me;
when I’m with them,
they seem so distant!

Pythagoras said:
Sow mallow,
but don’t eat it.
Buddha and Christ said,
Greet the blow of an ax
with your fragrance, like sandalwood.
It’s good to remember
the old sayings.
There time isn’t over yet.

—Antonio Machado, There is No Road (White Pine Press, 2003), Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney translators.


pure park

A golf course is a park where one is free from encountering other races and social classes.

[Trump's golf resorts and the set at the local country club come to mind here.]


fall into the real

Reality is our failure to live in the ideal.


rewarding oneself

He relaxed by testing himself not by treating himself.


unsafe self

How to preserve one’s verve?


mystical subatomic

We need another mystic like we need another quark.


Mignon McLaughlin

Mignon McLaughlin went by the nickname “Mike.” The mix of the sophistication of her French first name with her down-to-earth American moniker seems to fit her aphoristic style. There is something of the salon and of the saloon in McLaughlin’s aphorisms. McLaughlin, a short story writer and playwright, worked for slick magazines like Glamour. She and her husband (a novelist and contributing editor to Time) were part of the smart set, hobnobbing with playwrights, comics and writers for some of the leading periodicals based in New York city during 1950s and 60s. Many of her aphorisms you can imagine being spoken at a cocktail party, with a highball in one hand and a cigarette in the other. McLaughlin's aphorisms wipe away the sheen of gaiety and good company to cast a colder eye on the upperclass and literary society. Difficulties in male-female dynamics (in more sexist times), drinking, gossip, the rivalry of friends, play a major part in her aperçus, with many making almost an alter-ego out of the now unfashionable term the ‘neurotic’: “Neurotics would like to sleep all the time, and to be awakened only when there is good news.” But there is fun, too, in these aphorisms fueled by the wit of a woman one wishes one had rubbed elbows with.

Here are some of Mignon/Mike’s aphorisms:

Love looks forward, hate looks back, and anxiety has eyes all over its head.

True remorse is never just regret over consequence; it is regret over motive.

Children expect to eat when they’re hungry; our job is to teach them to eat when there’s food.

The ideal home: big enough to hear the children, but not very well.

Nymphomaniac: a woman as obsessed with sex as an average man.

We can never understand other people’s motives, nor their furniture.

We hear only half of what is said to us, understand only half of that, believe only half of that, and remember only half of that.

The three horrors of modern life—talk without meaning, desire without love, work without satisfaction.

With each passing year one has less to say, and knows better how to say it.

The people you admire most you usually don’t know very well.

Money: in its absence we are coarse; in its presence, we are vulgar.

Everybody can write, writers can’t do anything else.

Slavishly we imitate; and slavishly, rebel.

Don't be yourself—be someone a little nicer.

Mignon McLaughlin, Aperçus: Aphorisms of Mignon McLaughlin (Brabant Press), introduction by Josh Michaels.

about as

Probability theory is about as close to determinism as I can get.


field to site

A field with several invasive species, none so destructive as those orange-flagged stakes set out in a rectangle where the excavation would soon start.


many heroes hereabouts

Here a hero, there a hero, a hero everywhere.


being is to obey

Living in a country where you must obey in order to be.


scary stuff

Fantasy is for those too faint-hearted to face history.


blindly beating

He has hung out his favorite piñata once again and has begun beating at it blindly.


supernatural appeal

Because nature itself is so hard to explain, the supernatural appeals to people because it can so easily be explained away.


retrospective prophets aplenty

They can always dig up one or another Nostradamus to say I told you so.


feed and need

Happily for so long they’d lapped at the trough until one day they raised their heads as if to say it wasn’t enough.