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November 18, 1990|Charles Solomon

APHORISMS by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, translated by R. J. Holingdale (Penguin: $7.95) This anthology contains more than 1,000 aphorisms the German philosopher jotted in a series of notebooks between 1769 and his death in 1799. Goethe, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche all praised Lichtenberg's work, but it's difficult to understand why. Many of these odd bits of prose read more like incomplete thoughts ("Never before had a mind come to a more majestic halt.") or commonplaces than maxims ("However did men arrive at the concept of freedom ? It was a great idea."). The reader looks in vain for the insight of Montaigne, the devastating clarity of La Rochefoucauld or the thought-provoking paradoxes of Wilde. These aphorisms may have lost something in the translation, but their general shallowness suggests that they lost it in the original.

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