Poet, Prophet, Philosopher: On Alex Stein (Part 1)

Alex Stein is at the forefront of the aphoristic movement in the English-speaking world today. This is, admittedly, something that means nothing to most people, who might guess that an “aphoristic movement” refers to an obscure diet fad, exercise regime, or new-age religion. Stein is, moreover, a humble man—even a self-negating one—who does not accord much weight to his own insights. He will be the first to tell you that he is nobody.

But he is wrong. As the first person to edit (with James Lough) a collection composed exclusively of living aphorists, as opposed to just a book of quotes by dead wise people or idiot celebrities, he is acquainted with many of the top figures working within this literary genre and, is moreover, an excellent practitioner of it himself. A retired research librarian who spent a career toiling in basements, his work remains generally unknown except by a handful of sophisticates ‘in the know.’ One might say that his writings remain in the basement of American culture, waiting to be unearthed.

Beyond this, Stein has himself written a book of aphorisms. In an era that is experiencing a revival of this form thanks to the internet, this is not in itself that unique. His aphorisms, however, are more ambitious and explicitly philosophical than those of other current practitioners. For while there are many more talented aphorists writing today than the average person would ever suppose, almost all of these are Rochefoucaulds and Chamforts rather than Voltaires or Kierkegaards. Collections by such leading figures as James Richardson, Aaron Haspel, Alfred Corn, and others are essentially collections of one-liners, though some like Don Paterson and James Guida also write paragraph-level reflections. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it does point to a niche that is almost totally lacking today. The technical prose standards of professional philosophy do not allow much room for the “embedded” form of inserting elegant one-liners into a river of thought, and most contemporary aphorists seem to be professors relegated to English departments. As Stein himself puts it, “Idiot theorists have taken over the one field in which I am competent to practice.”

In an essay on Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt made a sophisticated distinction between now-canonical authors who were obscure in their lifetimes and obscure authors who remain forever unknown. “Posthumous fame is usually preceded by the highest recognition among one’s peers,” she wrote. “…We cannot know if there is such a thing as altogether unappreciated genius, or whether it is the daydream of those who are not geniuses; but we can be reasonably sure that posthumous fame will not be their lot.” (An astute point—I  have yet to meet an obscure author who doesn’t believe their obscurity is evidence of neglected genius.) Arendt cites the examples of both Benjamin and Kafka as examples of writers who enjoyed the high opinion of a small circle of peers and whose works went on to be published to wide acclaim in the decades after their death. It is a sad and oft-repeated phenomenon suffered by many of the best writers of the last two hundred years (as the starving artist is a product of industrial democracies).

Though it may seem a bit morbid to discuss posthumous fame in an essay about a still-living writer, I cannot help draw a parallel between Stein and Kafka—a writer he not only admires, but with whom he seems to share certain biographical and stylistic details. Canonization is of course a difficult thing to predict, if not an impossible one in today’s milieu of abundant talent, but I have reason to believe that Stein will share in its glories. Accordingly, I have desaturated his photo shown below so that you will take his authorial presence seriously. Grayscale lends gravitas.

What is an Aphorism?

Definitions of the aphorism differ. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a concise statement of a principle” or “a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment.” But such a definition makes the aphorism a mere synonym of an epigram or maxim. Philosopher Joshua Foa Dienstag has a more nuanced definition, drawing on the word’s etymological roots in the Greek ap-horeizen: “to set a horizon, a boundary, hence to define. A good aphorism sets a new horizon, which forces one to reconsider old ones.” Dienstag goes further, saying that an aphorism communicates “the experience” of glancing to the horizon and may extend beyond a few sentences to a few pages in length. The catch is that it should be written in one sitting (though it may be edited later) so that it expresses a single chain of thought.

“The Scarlet Sunset” by J.M.W. Turner. If your aphorisms do not capture this experience, then you should burn them. The flaming pages will approximate the Turneresque style, and staring into them might reveal insights into where you went wrong.

Critic and aphorist James Geary distinguishes between two methods of aphorism-writing: “spontaneous combustion,” in which an impromptu thought appears fully formed, and “formal composition,” where long pieces are whittled down into crisp, efficient sayings. Geary himself, writing about Stein’s style, related that Stein’s editor at Wings Press, Roberto Bonazzi, thought the most worthwhile pieces in Weird Emptiness were the rougher ones culled from his notebooks unedited. Most of the aphorisms in Weird Emptiness, though, give the impression of being the polished results of multiple edits. Most are also longer than one or two sentences, falling under Dienstag’s broader definition of the extended aphorism.

Stein confided to me that when Bonazzi was considering the manuscript, he suggested paring down these polished miniature essays and paragraph-length meditations into neat one-liners. It is a good thing Stein did not agree to this, because if he had then his book would be pretty much the same thing as every other book put out by contemporary aphorists. It is through Stein’s essays that he really distinguishes himself.

Context and Tradition

Arendt said that posthumous fame is “the lot of the unclassifiable ones, that is, those whose work neither fits the existing order nor introduces a new genre that lends itself to future classification.” Again, though Stein is still alive, the observation is pertinent because it speaks to why Weird Emptiness sold barely any copies and is now out of print since Wings Press has folded, despite being an excellent and almost unique book. I say almost unique for two reasons: 1) writers like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard—Stein’s acknowledged models—wrote books like this in the past, and 2) I have encountered one-and-a-half other writers who have written such books today (while there are probably others, none of them can get published).

I say one-and-a-half writers because one of them, the aforementioned Joshua Foa Dienstag, slotted some conceptual aphorisms into the last chapter of his book “Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit.” All the reviews I have read of this book focus on its first eight chapters, which discuss interpretations of the most important thinkers in the pessimistic tradition, while glossing over this marvelous final section with minimal comment.

The other thinker to whom Stein has a stylistic affinity is Eugene Thacker, whose 2018 book Infinite Resignation is comprised of aphorisms and fragments. Thacker’s ideas on anti-natalism entered mainstream culture via writer Nic Pizzolatto, creator of the HBO series True Detective. Pizzolatto adapted some lines from Thacker’s earlier book In the Dust of This Planet and placed them into the mouth of Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle in the show’s first (and best) season. The scene is a humorous one, because as Cohle is outlining the mistake of consciousness, the illusion of selfhood, and the ethical obligation to “deny our programming, stop reproducing, and walk hand-in-hand into extinction,” his partner Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) is giving him suspicious side glances while driving and concludes the conversation with “Let’s make the car a place of silent reflection from now on.”

Eugene Thacker’s brand of pessimism has entered popular culture to a degree that few living philosophers have ever experienced.

Thacker is the spiritual disciple of the nihilistic philosopher E.M. Cioran, whom the critic James Wood has described as “Nietzsche without his hammer.” Cioran is now recognized by many as the greatest philosophical stylist of the twentieth century—yet another case of posthumous fame. James Geary has characterized Cioran’s style of black humor as “a wracking cough from a graveyard.”

Stein’s thinking is not as bleak as Cioran’s or Thacker’s, though he is no sentimentalist either. One might call him a “weak” or “attenuated” pessimist without risking much inaccuracy—referring to philosophical outlook rather than emotional disposition—though middle-of-the-road terms like this are not that helpful in distinguishing a thinker’s views. In the Preface to Weird Emptiness, Stein offers this advice to aspiring writers after warning them against the craft’s self-imposed mendicancy:

To get started you will need a writing implement, some blood, and an anvil or a block of granite against which to pound your forehead. The blood is for drinking. Faint-of-hearts may substitute red wine. The abstemious: water mumbled over by a priest. Penitents: bile.

This comes in the middle of a single, page-length paragraph. The use of colons creates a narrowing concision that makes the final sentence an almost natural stopping point…yet the piece continues for another nine sentences. Unlike logical writing, which moves towards a definite conclusion, there is an arbitrariness inherent in the craft of aphoristic essays. Most of the sentences could be plucked out to stand alone. Mastery of the form lies in capturing this arbitrariness in a way that flows from one thought-leap to the next, but still manages to end with a punch that feels conclusive: “All true ends are interior. The writer, if he is honest, will fell himself.”

Before you undertake the poet’s career path, consider the costs.

In my second essay on the work of Yahia Lababidi, I discussed the nebulous area between poetry and philosophy in which the aphorism lies, partaking of both fields without technically being either. Thoughts are expressed “poetically” without being broken up into lines and are not rigorously worked out. Many of Nietzsche’s most enduring and influential concepts, though, seem to have been the result of “idea play,” in a similar sort of way that scientific discoveries are made through tinkering rather than directed laboratory research.

No one really respects tinkering, whether of the literary or scientific sort. But many of the best breakthroughs in intellectual fields are the result of such unplanned, unprofitable experimentalism, and Nassim Taleb has ascribed much of the stagnation of our contemporary intellectual life to the over-directed research associated with university departments and their obsessions with funding. A parallel could be drawn today in the publishing world. As video streaming services proliferate and adult literacy rates decline to ever-lower levels, the “Big Five” houses, struggling to compete, demand that the choices in their catalogue fit formulaic grooves. Mid-list titles are dropped as the focus has shifted to the “author-celebrity” who struck it big on social media and received, as an adjunct prize, a book deal that promises to extend their fame into the (sub-) literary realm.

Poor Penguin Random House. Would you care to bring back ‘Weird Emptiness’ in your Modern Classics series before you go under with all the others?

It is a strange world we are living in that nearly all the successful authors are utterly mediocre (excepting a few “old school” names like Banville and Rushdie who achieved acclaim prior to the advent of the internet), while the best ones are either self-published or published by tiny presses that threaten to go under at any moment. The worst authors, of course, are also self-published, and this is the crux of the problem. With millions of new books entering the market each year, who is doing the work of sorting the wheat from the chaff? The major media outlets? Umm, not so much. The scholars of the future will have their hands full wading through the Internet Archive for out-of-print gems. On the plus side, that means a lot of job openings.

Returning (for a final time) to Arendt, the authors of books in which ideas are conveyed through aphorisms are the perfect candidates for the “posthumous fame” category: these books fall into an established but nebulous genre that does not fit the existing order of any age. The intuitionist nature of these writings gives them a visionary feel; their creators are thinkers with highly individualistic spiritual sensibilities who, like Blake, must invent their own system or be enslaved to someone else’s. Their “systems,” though, are anti-systematic and the poetical expression of their ideas make them subject to varying degrees of interpretation and disagreement among future scholars. Due to this almost total lack of standardization, their work cannot be neatly fitted into either a political paradigm or a school of thought without cherry-picking and perversion.

These books are, in other words, a publisher’s worst nightmare. The case of Thacker’s success is something of an anomaly that can be explained by the fact that nihilism is popular in mainstream culture. The title of his book has been made into a t-shirt that has been worn by models, and even featured in a Beyonce music video—though it is highly unlikely that anyone who ever wore the t-shirt has actually read the book. Aside from Thacker’s work, the projects of these writers are always financial failures, and in some cases, like Kafka and Benjamin, their work has come down to us in the form of unpublished notebooks.

Getting to the Point

Weird Emptiness is itself the (edited) product of Stein’s habit of notebook-keeping. There is a good deal of originality in this little book of 120 pages. When I say “originality” in this sense, I mean the manner in which ideas are expressed as much as I mean the ideas themselves. It is the inextricable intersection of form and content that makes the aphoristic form so strange and unassimilable. But in the summarizing manner typical of reviews, I will attempt to touch on a few ideas. In the first chapter, “The Book of Happiness,” Stein builds on Kierkegaard’s Knight of Infinite Resignation via Cervantes. He proposes the character of Don Quixote as the “Knight of Infinite Signification,” who encapsulates meditations on readers and reading, self-consciousness, and authentic communication, arguing against Foucault’s view that Cervantes’ work is a system of signs. A bit later he discusses poetry as the space where the “dynamic-generative” conveys itself. In a chapter entitled “Citizens of History,” he reflects on artists who take a long view of their work, creators of “the body of the text returned to its inspiration.” In another aphorism from this chapter, he distinguishes between “the laughter of the damned” and the laughter of “the amateurs” who are destroying comedy. The chapters “Existentialist Notebooks” and “Weird Emptiness,” are full of reflections like this one: 

EMBODIMENT. Embodiment, one might say, is literature in its mystic condition. Representation, one might say, is literature in its dialectical condition. Embodiment is an issue of grace. Representation, an issue of will. The product of will is more will. The product of grace is more grace. Will can be twisted. Grace cannot even be grasped.

If any of the reflections touched on above were developed within the strictures and expectations of a (boring) article to be published in an academic journal, they would likely get more attention than they have. Someone somewhere would have at least cited it or said something about it. But because the expression of these ideas—the aforementioned “idea-play”—has a lighter touch, and because bringing a literary style to nonfiction is often (erroneously) dismissed by PhDs as lacking in seriousness, they have yet to bear any influence or spawn commentary. Stein himself has this to say about his methods:

MY OPINIONS. At least my opinions are my own, and not the result of some farcical process of “painstaking research.” I came upon them idly, and subsequent personal experience has either emboldened or negated my initial sense of their piquancy. What ought a real scholar to do, except finger “the-devil-may-care” on accordion, when all about him are those who would confine all orchestration to those musics which can be played by an ensemble made up entirely of fine-tooth comb and paper clips. Agree or disagree. The real question is whether or not one can dance to it.”

The best books are limitless in their quotability. They are so inexhaustible that there is no way to fully capture their essence except by regurgitating the entire book verbatim. Given the fact that Weird Emptiness is out of print and there is only one used copy currently available for purchase on Amazon, I am almost tempted to do this. Alas, space and attention spans do not permit it. So, a mere sampling:

And as for the enlightened, one can only pity them the deceptions of their muses.

This would have to be my favorite line from the book. Socrates was, of course, the wisest man who ever lived precisely because he knew he was not wise. The poets are, after all, just stupid vessels of inspiration. One should always be wary of those who claim to know nothing—but warier still of those who claim to know, and wariest of those with a monopoly on truth. We see through your authenticity, Alex.

One benefit of being unenlightened (or ignorantly ignorant) is that people will not want to kill you.
Suicide is only for those who do not realize that they are already dead.

Am reminded of two Cioran aphorisms here: “It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.” Then there is: “Why don’t I commit suicide? Because I am as sick of death as I am of life.” As someone who worked in mental health on and off for almost a decade, I would probably not have repeated Stein’s variation of this insight to the suicidal people I was counseling. It might have had an effect that ran contrary to my career goals and need for employment. It is true, though, that those suffering from major depression live a highly muted existence.

A few more:

Government is a system of morality developed by philosophers and refined by mercenaries.

A moral is a way of impeding the story while appearing to complete it.

THE NEXT KAFKA. I am suspicious of those artists who play to type. Anyone seen sneering around the town in black beret and studded jeans cannot possibly have much sense of the fundamental irony of identity. And without that minimal psychological equipage, what can one really hope to accomplish? Well, yes, an inadvertent parody which one can feign — after the sniggers have died down — having intended all along, but that is hardly "The Divine Comedy" that one sets out toward on the original impulse, is it? The next Kafka will doubtless be some poor soul over-meticulously groomed in what appears to be the cast of clothes of some middle-aged insurance clerk. Just as the last Kafka was.

Artists who play to type? The irony of identity? Hmm. Probably I shouldn’t show Alex my photo shoots where I am dressed as Lord Byron in Albanian-style dress…

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” — Probably the only time I will ever quote Marx.
THE SMOKE OF FIRE. The function of art is to invigorate. In this way it is much like love and inspires, on the part of the rationalists, a similar distrust. “Talent without genius isn’t much,” wrote Valery, “but genius without talent isn’t anything at all.” Indeed, sir? But do not all things originate in the divine? When I am cut, do I not bleed? Art is merely the instinct of form to propagate itself in a manner consistent to its own continuity. Like life, it is neither the mirror of fire, nor the smoke of fire, but the fire itself.

Such reflections on art take up a whole chapter. Stein’s definition in the penultimate sentence is both elegant and precise. I would submit that the pieces in this volume are as good as anything written by Nietzsche, Cioran, or Kierkegaard (before he rejected the aesthetic stage of life).

My first criticism of most books—that they exist at all—is quickly followed by my second criticism that they are too long. My main criticism of this book is that it is too short and that Stein did not follow it up with another work that further develops his themes (in the aphoristic manner, fragment by fragment).

…Or did he? When I spoke to Stein he confirmed that he has a large amount of unpublished writings in a few genres spanning more than a decade. Some of the philosophical and literary reflections, he said, are even “better” than those found in Weird Emptiness. This naturally piqued my interest and I requested to see some of it—grist for a future post, perhaps. 

When Fernando Pessoa died in the 1930s, he left scraps of writings in a trunk that was rediscovered in the 1980s. The edited work that resulted from this unfinished fragmentary project, The Book of Disquiet, is now a modern classic of Portuguese literature. It is my hope that Alex Stein will not be another Pessoa whose work is only brought to light 50 years after his death, and that the appreciation expressed here will play at least a small role in increasing his notoriety. With any luck, he will be more fortunate—like Benjamin, his work may come to light a mere 15 years after his death. Maybe even 10. Hey, not too bad!

Like the prophetess Cassandra, who was gifted with foresight on the condition that none would ever believe her, it would seem to do little good to speak the truth if no one living will listen. On the upside, at least we know now that she was telling the truth all along.

Things ended badly for Cassandra, but Aeschylus has since vindicated her.

A Closing Digression on the Real-World Effects of Posthumous Fame

When most people dream of being writers, they do not think of fame after death, but of the worldly success of Danielle Steel, Dean Koontz, and George R.R. Martin. They are, in other words, morons. The chances of achieving such success is even less than the marginal highbrow’s chances of posthumous glory. These are the sort of people who buy lotto tickets week after week, not realizing that winning the lottery is even less statistically probable than being killed in a freak vending machine accident. So when some practical boor tells you that, as a writer, you need to abandon your highbrow ambitions and write a YA fantasy series that you have absolutely no disposition for, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. The market is oversaturated with such claptrap, and not only will you probably fail to make a decent living on that manuscript, but you will be sacrificing your real potential, too.

Those aspiring to this level of success should, at the very least, retain their dignity. Please, George, walk away from the seafood buffet and finish your book series. And while you’re at it, can you not write such terrible sex scenes? Take some inspiration from Kafka.

Among those people who do dream of posthumous fame (according to sociologist Randall Collins), they tend to be lesser creators on the periphery of intellectual networks who think of it in a vague and undifferentiated way—namely, that “everyone will be admiring me.” People who think of it in this way are almost certain not to achieve it. The average person will not be buying up your book. If you do end up being a bestseller, you will be a brief blip on that list. Mark Twain’s work has, at various points, been a bestseller in the 19th, 20th, and 21stcenturies—in the last case, due to the odd stipulation in his will that the first volume of his autobiography should not be published until 100 years after his death. But this phenomenon is exceedingly rare. Twain is one of the only modern authors in world history to be a bestseller across different centuries.

In my last post on Yahia Lababidi, I discussed Iran’s tradition of erecting large monuments to Persian poets. But being a writer in the West is not like in the Middle East. Crowds will not undertake a pilgrimage to visit your massive shrine. Posthumous fame for authors over here comes in one of four ways, and most involve entering the educational curriculum. At the broadest level of such fame, you will be read by unappreciative high schoolers who are having your work shoved down their throats and hate you for it. At a less broad collegiate level of fame, students will approach your work with lazy indifference, and the professor teaching you will have twisted your ideas to fit a fashionable paradigm. This professor will, in all likelihood, be looking “beneath the surface” of your text to uncover “hidden structures” of signification, and his convoluted interpretation will resemble your original intentions not at all.

As a canonical author, this is how most will react to your work.

Next, on a lower tier of fame—if your work cannot be fit into a standard curriculum, as is the case with, say, the brilliant but strange fragments of Novalis and Schlegel—then you will be studied only by curious intellectuals, the occasional post-graduate student writing a thesis, or lone scholars editing your work for an obscure academic book series that will have abysmal sales. Finally, in the fourth case—which is in many ways the most reliable indication of canonicity—you will influence future artists. But before you revel in this idea, realize that they will be laboring under a Bloomian ‘anxiety of influence’ and seeking to overthrow you so they can replace your work with theirs in the canon.

Posthumous fame entails more than just being read. There are material strings, too. The heated legal battles that tear apart the families of dead authors for control over their literary estate is real. So before you decide to be a “famous author,” think about this: do you really want to destroy your family? To make all your closest loved ones turn against one another in jealousy and rage?

If one were to ask Stein, no doubt he would say that he cares for posthumous fame not a bit—and while in most cases I would regard such a sentiment as disingenuous, in his case I would think it genuine. He is not, like most others who crave this, an idiot. Nevertheless, I think it likely that he will ascend at least a footstool in the pantheon, if not a high column. When this happens, I fear for the strong sibling bond of his children.

7 thoughts on “Poet, Prophet, Philosopher: On Alex Stein (Part 1)

  1. Well, pretty fascinating stuff, Andrew Benson Brown, and as usual incredibly well informed, researched and insightful; I especially enjoyed your commentary – via aphorisms – on the state of the publishing industry. But I probably take issue on a couple of points: first, I tend to think that you overrate aphorism and aphorisms. It seems, on the one hand, a sort of mightily clipped form of philosophy, and on the other, not quite poetry either. That people set out to write aphorisms seems mildly bonkers to me: the best aphorisms emerge from a body of work, be it literary, philosophical or poetic. Of course, in the case of Nietzsche he cultivated an aphoristic style, which while highly quotable, seems to me to lack the discipline of real argument – leading to what? It’s adoption by the Nazi high command and more generally a eugenics’ program for the world! And this is the other thing that I am not keen on in your report from the trenches, as it were: its moral direction. Really, do we want to admire nihilism and its high prophets? Sure, they can say funny, witty things, but is that enough? Is that worth reading? So this is a highly entertaining and informative read, but do I want to read more aphoristic types of writers? No, I want to read epics, mock-epics, high fantasies and works which enoble the soul and which enable us in the human struggle.

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    1. Thanks James, can always count on you for good food for thought—and pushback! I realized that a flaw of this essay is that I didn’t take enough time to distinguish the content of Stein’s work, who is not a nihilist, from Thacker and Cioran, who are. There’s more positive stuff in the book and he’s closer to a Kierkegaard type, realize the selections I presented don’t really capture that. Stein has a few reflections on Chesterton and I was thinking about inserting a digression on Chesterton’s reflections on suicide by way of contrast with the nihilistic view, but there were too many digressions as it stands. As for Nietzsche, it was his sister and her proto-Nazi husband who interpreted his work to the public after he went mad, and this version of him that was taken up by Hitler. When the Third Reich later realized that Nietzsche said a lot of stuff that contradicted their ideology, they tried to quietly hush up the connection. But his work does lend itself to cherry-picking, admittedly, and I have read both liberal and conservative interpretations that contradict one another. It is true that the most famous aphorists couched their aphorisms within larger works, and if they had only written stand-alone one-liners they wouldn’t be remembered as much. In any case, I do need to get back to blogging more about epic poetry and have a few pieces in the works I think you’ll like.

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      1. Great kickback from you too Andrew. Chesterton is my favourite prose writer of the C20th so a digression there would be worth worlds! I look forward to essays on epics et al!!!

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    1. Dilbert is my dad’s favorite comic strip and he had several of Adams’s collections, used to read them a lot when I was younger. Great stuff. Aphorisms plain and simple probably have no hope of ever being as popular as comic strips in the ‘pithy communication’ cluster of genres/forms.

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  2. Andrew, thank you for this fascinating reading and the Woody and Matthew clip too. It was hilarious, though I find myself rolling my eyes at the overblown philosophizing rooted in the fallacies of Darwin’s theory of evolution (more here: https://classicalpoets.org/2022/08/15/an-anti-evolution-song-by-evan-mantyk/)

    I think you have nailed the genius of Stein with the term “black humor.” My favorite quote you pulled:

    “Suicide is only for those who do not realize that they are already dead.”

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    1. Thanks for reading, Evan. Admittedly, black humor is something that only really appeals to sophisticated people. Wouldn’t want to read it to the kids. Some of the passages are more lyrical/romantic, though, or express a Zen sense of serenity, and create a tension with the ironic outlook in other passages. Take this one for ex.:

      THE YEARS. The years of solitude may not pass so glowingly as the night of dreaming. There is yet time to kiss the wife, though the angel seizes you by the short hairs. Which of us know the power of his own mercy? It may yet redeem the one who bestows it.

      As a poetical parallel am reminded in some ways of Pushkin’s ‘Eugene Onegin,’ which also has a dual sensibility. Creates a nice see-sawing effect, since hard satire that is relentlessly ironic—Cioran, Rabelais, Swift, etc.—can quickly overwhelm and is difficult to read in long stretches.

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