Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sphinxes Without Secrets


This means that Twitter, officially a microblogging platform, in practice has often functioned in a way opposite to the blog. Of course a tweet is just a tweet, not to be made too much of. Even so, La Rochefoucauld, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Cyril Connolly, the Kafka of The Blue Octavo Notebooks, Cioran — they would have been excellent tweeters, and the best tweets, today, rival their greatest one-liners. (In fact to encounter their sententiae parcelled out as tweets would have made for a better experience than reading The Unquiet Grave or The Trouble with Being Born straight through. Aphorisms are ideally consumed like nuts or candies, a handful at a time.) So Twitter doesn’t only have the widely recognized usefulness of providing updates on news and revolution, and illuminating links, and many laughs and smirks. It has also brought about a surprising revival of the epigrammatic impulse in a literary culture that otherwise values the merely personal and the super-colloquial as badges of authenticity. “Write as short as you can/ In order/ Of what matters,” John Berryman counseled in a pre-tweet of 44 characters. Favorite that, followers.

I've heard that before, about Oscar Wilde. But having just read a collection of his epigrams a couple weeks ago, I must confess to sharing George Batman's ambivalence. To wit:

"When a man says he has exhausted life, one always knows life has exhausted him."

"In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

"When we think we are experimenting on others, we are really experimenting on ourselves."

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

A lot of them strike me like that: a contrarian symmetry, a formulaic wittiness. Sort of like this guy. Maybe the frippery is the whole point, but it loses its charm quickly. Much like the idea of Twitter.