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I 17 , Da aa b a a . Y a a a, Paa a . Pa, a, a. B a a, Paa a a genius of his time. At a young age, he made landmark contributions to geometry and algebra. Plagued by ill health, he had a religious conversion in his late 20s, and spent the last 10 years of his short life in vain attempts to construct a justification of Christianity intended as an ‘Apology for Religion’, published posthumously as the Pene (1670).

Pascal’s lifelong task became an exercise of endlessly reducing words to their essence, in order to probe a pure nothingness and bring us to its edge. For him, all finite things are fragments, for they are nothing but pieces torn from infinity. All the same, the nature of finitude is such that not even a vast quantity of fragments could ever approach wholeness, ‘a unit added to infinity does not increase infinity at all, any more than a foot added to an infinite length’. e Pascalian lack of order is an acknowledgment of the failure of the human intellect to understand such infinity. As such, the Pene operate within a poetics of the fragment.

When Pascal died in 1662, there were more than 800 slips of paper in various stages of disorder. ese fragments are, in a large part, a direct consequence of his rejection of the Cartesian insistence on order and clarity. e ‘e heart has its reasons of which reason does not know’ is one clear case. Pascal’s principal criticism is that Descartes reduces to an all-too-rational system. For Pascal, the proposition ‘I think, therefore I am’ rests on shaky grounds, for this self that Descartes posits to be the foundation of all reasoning is but an impoverished thing. is is Pascal’s view of the human condition:

What a monster, what chaos … weak earthworm; repository of , and sewer of uncertainty and error; the glory and garbage of the universe!

e glorious heap that makes up the Pene might then be conceived of as a monumental rejection to Cartesian reason’s supreme confidence in itself.

he dialectic between aphorisms and philosophy reaches its apex in 19th-century T Germany. After Kant, thinkers as varied as Friedrich Schlegel, , Søren Kierkegaard and Nietzsche all used the microform to grapple with how to do philosophy after systems. e Romantics loved ruins, the unfinished, shadows. ink of Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes, Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, or the obsession with classical antiquity. is cult of the fragment is a response to Kant’s relentless system-building. Confronted with how to adequately represent the unity of transcendental knowledge, the Romantics insist that the only possible way of doing so is in parts. us, ahoiic hinking : emaic hinking :: he mico : he maco.

In a series of dazzling essays, reviews, dialogues and manifestos published over just three years – 1798 to 1800 – the German journal Da Ahenaem established Romanticism as a unified aesthetic reaction and a viable philosophical alternative to idealism. On one hand, as an Ahenaem fragment holds, ‘all individuals are systems, a ea eb ad edec. O e e, a dae a ca aad ae. Hece, ea aa e d ae a e ad ae e. I ae decde cbe e .

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The Ploghshare Notebook b Friedrich Nietsche contains 176 aphorisms set don in 1876. Cortes Bibliotheqe Nationale, Paris/Nietschesorce.org

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e a a ae a ed ea. F e d eae f e Y Sea ad Ega ad, e d eg e ca cece f age. Eac a g e e be cee ef, a Scege ca, b a f a de a e, fe a aaa e gea ge, caabe f c ea. Ad e be de a ee e e a, b a aa a gea a: Fa de La Rcefcad, Ja Wfgag Gee, Geg C Lcebeg, Paca ad Nece himself had notebooks upon notebooks lled with them, and often had trouble nishing them.

So while a single aphorism might be a hegemonic hedgehog, a collection of aphorisms morphs into a multitude of cunning little foxes.

Etymologically, ‘aphorism is composed of the Greek apo- ‘from, away from + horiein ‘to bound. A horizon is dened by Merriam-Websters dictionary as:

a: the apparent junction of Earth and sky; b: the great circle on the celestial sphere formed by the intersection of the celestial sphere with a plane tangent to the Earths surface at an observers position.

It is impossible to ever arrive at the horizon; it is innitely receding, both immanent and imminent. Ever transcendent, as a line it is without beginning or end, cutting the visible and invisible.

Is not a well-wrought aphorism precisely that which walks, leaps, climbs, and dances?

An aphorism makes a denitive statement, sets boundaries, establishes property. Yet any good denition is aware of its own limits, what is within and without. To dene anything, after all, is to delimit it. e curvature of the globe, like the shape of thinking, means that there is always a limit to our eld of vision. An aphorism, in this sense, is a mark of our nitude, ever approaching the receding horizon. Beyond the horizon of , thinking can go no further.

In times of great diculty, we might not have the powers of concentration to read weighty tomes – even Either/Or (1843), the magnum opus of Kierkegaard, that great philosopher of fragments, runs to two volumes totalling 1,200 pages in the Princeton University Press translation. Hegels e Phenomenolog of the Spirit (1807) is 600 pages; Platos Repblic is 500; Kants three Critiqes (1781; 1788; 1790) add up to some 2,400. Michel Foucault also wrote big books – Madness and Ciiliation (1961), e Birth of the Clinic (1963), Discipline and Pnish (1975), e Order of ings (1966) and e Archaeolog of Knoledge (1969), among others. Toward the end of this life, Foucault reected on a more modest genre of writing in antiquity called ‘hupomnemata, the of the Stoics, the Epicureans, Jesus. In ‘Self Writing (1983), Foucault said:

In this period there was a culture of what could be called ‘personal writing: taking notes on the readings, conversations, and reections that one hears or has or does; keeping notebooks of one sort or another on important bec (ha he Gee ca hmemaa), hch be eead f e e a eacae ha he ca

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Ade Hi i aciae fe i lieae a Yale-NUS Cllege i Sigae. He i he ah f e Peic f Ri i Reaiace Lieae (2016) ad A e f he Ahim (2019).

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