War on Aphorisms

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With our troubling times condemning us to an oil-less-virus-infested-economically-depressed-hellhole of a world (thank BP, MRSA, and life, accordingly), the only things we can turn to are our time-proven aphorisms. Always look on the bright side. Life is a box of chocolates. There is always a moral to every story. However, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, would have us believe otherwise. He suggests that, in the context of war, there is no bright side, no box of chocolates, and most definitely no ‘morals’. Does that mean that we have to reconsider the significance of aphorisms in our life? Or should we discard aphorisms altogether?

An army of aphorisms is always at hand for any situation, whether it is to motivate or enlighten. They give us the will to fight on, they give us the hope to believe in the impossible, they give us the strength to fight the tears…Or do they? The situation of aphorisms and their place in our lives is tricky; while some seem to sum up life in a couple of words, some clearly do not apply anymore. Honesty is NOT the best policy, according to researchers at Toronto University, who found that the earlier a child starts telling convincing lies, the more likely he is to be a success later in life. On the other hand, John Ruskin says, “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.” Obviously Bristol Palin doesn’t fit into this equation, seeing as she is paid $15 - $30 thousand to tell teens why they should practice abstinence so they don’t become unwed mothers like her. And the irony falls on “sharing is caring” when Robert Mugabe’s gift to Korea – a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of two of every animal from Zimbabwe – is expected to die off in just days.

So does that mean all aphorisms have become obsolete? Let’s consider the words of John Carey: “One of history’s most useful tasks is to bring home to us how keenly, honestly, and painfully past generations pursued aims that now seem to us wrong or disgraceful.” The Things They Carried practically embodies this quote. Yes, it is a book about the Vietnam War. But it is more than that. Not only does he expose the violent gore and his personal trauma, he effectively refutes the existence of these so-called ‘positive’ aphorisms.

So should aphorisms exist at all? To answer this question, we should look to the words of Oliver Wendell: “Nothing is so rewarding as a stubborn examination of the obvious.” According to Julian Baggini in his article, “Life is Not a Bowl of Cherries,” it isn’t that aphorisms have become obsolete altogether; it is their meaning that has been twisted and changed throughout the ages. Perhaps what Tim O’Brien is trying to tell us is that we shouldn’t try to slick trough life on a wave of positive thinking. Rather, we have to take situations and problems at point blank range. Instead of trying to rationalize with convenient sayings, we should get down to the truth. And although many might question whether or not O’Brien told the truth, it isn’t the story that is most important, it’s the purpose. A lie, after all, told often enough, becomes the truth. And aphorisms are the lies we use to convince ourselves that our lives have a meaning. They are the lies we use to survive.





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Thinker said...
Jun. 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm
I dipised the book "The Things They Carried" it was dry and boring. The author was just so removed from everything, like they were struggling to communicate an idea.
 
kitty replied...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm
That was the point of the book - the idea that it's difficult for war veterans to communicate exactly what it's like to be in the midst of a war, killing people, seeing your friends killed, not knowing if in the next second you might be dead yourself...
 
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