Sunday, May 12, 2019

Andrew Hui's "A Theory of the Aphorism"

Andrew Hui is associate professor of humanities at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. He is the author of The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature.

Hui applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Theory of the Aphorism: From Confucius to Twitter, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Theory of the Aphorism from Confucius to Twitter is half-a-page of text and half-a-page image of the famous emblem of Aldus Manutius, a dolphin twisted around an anchor, with the words Festina lente, or make haste slowly. The famed Venetian printer was basically the mid-wife of Renaissance humanism, since he printed so many of the recovered texts of classical antiquity.

Does it pass Ford Madox Ford’s test that it is representative of my book? Maybe. When writing the book, I certainly followed the injunction of Festina Lente, since it was written in a blaze of white-heat—from my wife’s pregnancy of our daughter to Julia’s first birthday—which by academic book standards is pretty fast. In Singapore, we don’t have great glorious libraries with rare books and manuscripts, so I had to make do with what I had. It’s what the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss calls the bricolage method—being resourceful and improvisational with whatever is available. I would have still been buried under an avalanche of bibliography had this been researched in North America or Europe.

As it is, page 99 is just a summary of an entry from Erasmus’ Adages, a huge compendium of ancient sayings, followed by the humanist’s commentary. There’s nothing original here. I’m talking about the entry “Sileni Alcibiadis.” It is an image from Plato’s Symposium, when the young, strikingly handsome and charismatic Alcibiades drunkenly interrupts the elegant dinner party. He says Socrates is like Silenus figure, beautiful on the inside but ugly on the outside:
Look at him! Isn’t he just like a statue of Silenus? You know the kind of statue I mean; you’ll find them in any shop in town. It’s a Silenus sitting, his flute or his pipes in his hands, and it’s hollow. It’s split right down the middle, and inside it’s full of tiny statues of the gods. Now look at him again! Isn’t he also just like the satyr Marsyas? (215b1-4)
So perhaps page 99 is a Sileni figure for my own book?
Learn more about A Theory of the Aphorism at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue