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An engaging look at the aphorism, the shortest literary form, across time, languages, and cultures
Aphorismsâ€”or philosophical short sayingsâ€”appear everywhere, from Confucius to Twitter, the Buddha to the Bible, Heraclitus to Nietzsche. Yet despite this ubiquity, the aphorism is the least studied literary form. What are its origins? How did it develop? How do religious or philosophical movements arise from the enigmatic sayings of charismatic leaders? And why do some of our most celebrated modern philosophers use aphoristic fragments to convey their deepest ideas? In A Theory of the Aphorism, Andrew Hui crisscrosses histories and cultures to answer these questions and more.
With clarity and precision, Hui demonstrates how aphorismsâ€”ranging from China, Greece, and biblical antiquity to the European Renaissance and nineteenth centuryâ€”encompass sweeping and urgent programs of thought. Constructed as literary fragments, aphorisms open new lines of inquiry and horizons of interpretation. In this way, aphorisms have functioned as ancestors, allies, or antagonists to grand systems of philosophy.
Encompassing literature, philology, and philosophy, the history of the book and the history of reading, A Theory of the Aphorism invites us to reflect anew on what it means to think deeply about this pithiest of literary forms.
“Andrew Hui’s richly textured, multifaceted inquiry offers precious insights into what makes aphorismsâ€”and aphoristic thinkingâ€”such a resounding form of expression across cultures and historical epochs. East and West, ancient and modern, and popular and esoteric come together in these pages in ways that lead you to wonder why a book like this was not written a long time ago.”â€”Robert Pogue Harrison, author of Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age
“This is a landmark book of enormous originality and breathtaking scope, immensely learned and beautifully written. Andrew Hui shows us why the aphorism has been omnipresent in world philosophy and religion: the aphorism provokes, confuses, reveals, and inspires in a different way on every page. His explanatory model draws vital new connections over geography and time as authors and their readers move constantly between density and unfolding, canonization and radical openness.”â€”Kristine Haugen, California Institute of Technology
About the Author
Andrew Hui is associate professor of humanities at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. He is the author of The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature.