For years in English, aphorisms were a red-headed stepchild of a genre, practiced seriously only by a few. But with the compression forced by new technologies and social-media software, more writers are writing short. Perhaps by coincidence, a few translations of aphorisms are also appearing:

From the French edition.
From the French edition.

There was Tahera Qutbuddin’s translations of Ali’s aphorisms in A Treasury of Virtuesout recently from the Library of Arabic Literature, and soon Ibrahim al-Koni’s aphorisms, trans. Roger Allen, will appear courtesy of Syracuse University Press.

According to The National, “It has taken Allen more than 10 years to find an English-language publisher for Sleepless Eye, a collection of al-Koni’s aphorisms concerned with desert survival.” The collection was published in in French in 2001, along with the desert photographs of Alain and Berny Sèbe.

Allen told The National that he hopes that Sleepless Eye will bring al-Koni to a wider audience:

“It’s obviously something very different from what one expects in the realms of modern Arabic fiction, which he also has written, but it seems to me to have a more profound and universal message about what we do if we muck around with the environment.”

The National published an excerpt from the collection, including these:

Exile is like the Desert, a homeland for God.

The Desert, a house with walls of nothingness.

The Desert’s enchantment is borrowed from that of eternity.

Desert is a paradise, not through water but freedom.

If the Desert were not lacking water, freedom could not have become water for it.

The Desert’s nakedness is borrowed from the sky’s.

Freedom is like the Desert: we only dwell in it in order to transcend it. We only transcend it in order to run back to it.