Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On aphorisms and arguments

The foundation of many literature courses is the argument. We are supposed to teach students how to construct arguments about texts. In this posting, I argue that aphorisms can leap over while fulfilling the aims of argumentative prose.

How might one compose an aphorism about Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man is Hard to Find"? Here is my attempt, including a quotation:

"'We've had an ACCIDENT!' the children screamed in a frenzy of delight." The American road trip reveals a cultural landscape in which revolutions are rendered mundane.

Could such an assignment converge with close reading, analysis, and explication? For Nietzsche, aphorisms were part of a careful system of philosophical rumination. Could meta-literary aphorisms be taught as a replacement for essays? There is certainly a discursive demand for aphorisms, for they must never (re)present the last word, but rather should always remain open to elaboration, description, and conversation. Can aphorisms precede a working knowledge of the structure of argumentative logic? I am not sure, but I am interested in this question.