Thoughts of Sorts: Audacious Aphorisms *


Richard Kostelanetz





The first illusion generated by greater art is

someone’s superior imagination.


No frustration is greater for the writer than not being

able to express clearly the truth he knows.


Thought is free, though waiting to express your

thinking can be costly.


Serious people are funniest when they don’t intend to be.


No true artist lets imagination die in his dreams.


Older lovers have histories that they should keep to

themselves or, better, forget about.


Art schooling should teach that art has little to do

with common experience.


Certain suicides implicitly demonstrate the perils

incurred by living too long.


Genius discovers answers to questions that

haven’t been asked.


The goal is living longer while making life seem shorter.


Swans resemble sex objects who are both attractive and frightening.


Applying lipstick can make some men feel like women.


When everyone in a group is thinking alike, thought

has ceased to exist.


No one ambitious should begin an arts career

without first knowing about greater collegial competition

and the unfortunate fate of excellence.


Squeeze a truth to reveal more truths as

distractions of falsity disappear.


The most successful individuals become more than

they’d imagined they would be.


Whoever believes in reincarnation wills

everything to himself.


Seductive women get minks the same way that

female minks get minks.


People desire social power because they feel they

can’t survive without it.


Most gullible are individuals unaware that

they’re gullible.


Whenever you hear a government official declare

“we need to keep people safe,” beware of

an aspiring totalitarian.


Old age is simultaneously expected and surprising.


To squander time is to lose life.


Few are as unpopular with as many Americans

as a sitting President.


A house devoid of books lacks windows to the world.


A mirror looking at most of us naked can’t turn

away fast enough.


Arduous is what someone ardent does.


Whoever has wealth without working for it

resembles those few who never lack for love.


A prostitute would sooner be rented than owned.


The study of science resembles a narrative movie

whose ending was lost.


A recurring subject in film pornography is athletic intercourse

that’s easier to appreciate than to do.


One’s relatives are like a bath that’s okay at first

but later’s not so hot.


Whoever sits on a chair can’t see the space

between him and the seat.


For a man to profit from alimony laws, marry a rich

woman who will come to hate you.


A dead patient no doctor can invoice. Economics?


Whoever created human life must have had a sense

of humor as so much of living is a joke.


The most effective inspiration for a diet is dining

with naked fat people.


If automobiles worked only in reverse, wouldn’t

accidents be fewer?


More criminals are killed by other criminals than by

law officers, especially in poor communities.


At the funeral of a fellow mime, are mimes

permitted to talk?


Only a first world society honors excellent artists

who weren’t commercially successful.


Animals aren’t people, notwithstanding all efforts of

certain interest groups to portray even rodents

as anthropomorphic.


Whenever university students display a unanimous

opinion, suspect that their education has been deficient.


Money invested on plastic surgery usually succeeds;

on academic aptitude, not.


To accompany anyone “with problems” the first

challenge is whether you want to negotiate through

their problems.


People gullible about one dimension of experience

are usually gullible about others.


Whoever annotates a book is engaged in a one-

sided conversation with its author.


Whereas the standup comedian wants jokes that

make everyone laugh, the more literary comic writer

prefers humor that dummies miss.


People need explanations of what’s permanently

unknown, though none is intrinsically more

persuasive than any other.


Flattery succeeds initially, no matter how patently

disingenuous, in making the recipient feel he’s

worth flattering.


Uncertainty is both certain and uncertain.


As athletes, no less than speculators, are involved in

professions where performance can radically vary

from day to day, they inevitably become superstitious.


Greater is the lover who can make a partner laugh

with him or her in bed.


To keep your health, do not eat what you want, do

not drink what you like, and, in general,

do not do what your body wants most to do.


The principal political divide is not between left

and right or between progressives and conservatives but

between crazies who care and dunces who don’t.


A mind should be hosed down now and then, simply

to clean out crud that’s otherwise hard to reach.


When making missionary love, always look your

partner in the eyes to let him or her know that

you’re not thinking about someone else.


Only when the well goes dry does water become



The greatest disincentive to nuclear bombing is that

no sane conqueror wants to occupy useless

contaminated land.


Liberty encourages responsibility that autocrats

would like to usurp.


Remember that the sign saying “STOP” in large

letters is blank on its other side.


How can a dictator survive in a society riddled by

duplicity and distrust?


Whenever you see rain falling upwards, suspect

that you might be standing on your head.


So much that outsiders want to encapsulate, such

as gender or madness, really exists along a continuum.


Forgetting those you hate is easier than forgetting

about those whose love is no longer available.


The best listener understands not just what you are

saying but what you are trying to say.


A truly independent thinker offers ideas

that nobody wants to steal.


While a lawyer collects pay for his mistakes,

a doctor conveniently buries his.


A writer turning eighty develops an unseemly

interest in what earlier writers did after passing eighty.


The mark of a sophisticated sense of humor is

a taste for jokes that most people miss.


Music speaks in no language other than music.


Gossip you’ll like about someone you don’t.


Void is whatever undefined space is occupied

between this and that.


The sorrows that you want to drown eventually

learn to swim away.


Literary “nonsense” makes more sense than common nonsense.


Nothing’s more desired and yet limiting than sexual pleasure.


The medicinal effectiveness of a placebo demonstrates

that a strong mind can often correct errant matter.


A photo of a naked woman becomes more interesting only when the name of the body’s owner is revealed.


Laws that purport to reward virtue are more

capricious than those punishing vice.


Only after it had passed did I recognize the prime of my life.


Doubt the self-inflated person who spouts with

pretenses his or her discovery of attractive ideas

that you’ve already heard before.


Though skeptics can’t be wrong, they aren’t necessarily right.


Life has turned when more of the people most

important to us are gone.


Hate pits our little head against an antagonist’s larger body.


No humor is strong unless it is memorable, much

like the strongest work in other arts.


In periods of decadence, only the least decadent survive.


So self-limited is self-love that it easily turns into self-hatred.


A psychiatrist treating memory loss should ask to

get paid in advance.


People who miss irony can’t see beneath or around a surface.


Kindly try to remove your shoes before walking

through a mirror.




* In memory of Georges Perec (1936-1982)


Admiring Georges Perec’s title for a miscellany, I thought to collect my more audacious aphorisms that previously haven’t appeared in books.


     —Richard Kostelanetz, FarEast BushWick, 14 May 2021









Richard Kostelanetz is online at



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