Friday, November 23, 2007

A Lichtenberg Smorgasbord

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) was, by all accounts, a pretty neat dude. A buddy of Kant and Goethe, he was an eminent physicist and mathematician, a formidable satirist and critic, and an all-around beau esprit. Kotzbue wrote a pamphlet denouncing him. Nietzsche praised him as one of the few Germans worth reading. He had many affairs. I've been reading his "Trash Notebooks" -- a collection of brilliant, cynical aphorisms in the tradition of La Rochefoucauld. The man is just pure gold. Here are some representative excerpts from the Sudelbuecher:

"I have always found that so-called bad people gain in one's estimation when one gets to know them better, and good people decline."

"There are very many people who read simply to prevent themselves from thinking."

"The noble simplicity in the works of nature only too often originates in the noble shortsightedness of him who observes it."
"Such people do not really defend Christianity, but they let Christianity defend them."

"Woe to the genius in countries where there are no earthquakes."

"Much can be inferred about a man from his mistress: in her one beholds his weaknesses and his dreams."

"Of all the animals on earth, man is closest to the ape."

"People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers; simply because they are unfit for any other station."

"What you have to do to learn to write like Shakespeare is very far removed from reading him."

"The metaphor is much more subtle than its inventor, and so are many things. Everything has its depths. He who has eyes sees all in everything."
This one particularly applies to precepts in my experience (Overhead in PHI 302, Girl: "I think Aristotle was kind of a snob"):
"A book is like a mirror: if an ape looks into it, an apostle is unlikely to look out."
Took me awhile to get this one:
"What leaning on your right elbow means after you have been leaning on your left for an hour."
"Why are young widows in mourning so beautiful? (Look into it)."
I don't get it:
"She stood there beside him like an Etrurian lachrymatory, a Dresden milk-jug beside a Lauenstein beer-mug."

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