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Malcolm de Chazal


Selected Aphorisms from Sens-Plastique

Translated from the French by Irving Weiss


To some extent we normally rely on our eyes to tell where a sound is coming from. In a colorless world we would be partly deaf. In a soundless world perspective would tend to flatten out. While we’re asleep, we hide in the corridors between the senses until a sudden awakening makes us reach for our ears to see with and our eyes to hear with.


Because of the curvature of space all things meet at their extremes. What makes the next world infinite is that space there isn’t curved but cyclic—as time is here. And time in the next world radiates in all directions rather than spooling out in fixed directions—time is a pulsation of life rather than a set standard.


Motion inflates matter like air in a balloon. The side of a swinging steel bar that meets the air first begins to expand.


Looking travels in a semicircle that here and there flattens out or embosses the geometric form of color. Looking travels evenly only across the bare plains and the unvaried color of the steppes.


Since each human eye has a different focal length, how “large” is the natural world we all live in?


A yellow flower is a rooftop open to the sky, a red flower colonnades the light. Yellow flares directly in your face, red on all sides of you.


Petals are a plant’s eardrum. Distant sounds make them quiver like the needle of a seismograph.


Is there any worse misfortune than to feel your body aging long before your mind? Torture equal to the anguish of the snail if it suddenly realized how imprisoned it was in its shell.


Each curve on the road of time reveals a glimpse of the past since time is a loop of duration.


The sunflower keeps its eye on the sun with its back turned to the shade. We die facing life with our backs to death, as if we were walking out of a room backwards.


A flowing river is an infinity of superimposed production belts.


Light-time varies from person to person according to the relative speed of their retinal perception.


Silence is a lawyer who pleads with his eyes.


Like a hawk about to devour its prey, the wings of public opinion hover above the head of the judge. All the Court’s decisions are disguised and indirect forms of pleading at the bar of public opinion.


Like a see-saw, cloudless skies encourage short-term plans and discourage long-term plans, and overcast skies encourage long-term plans and discourage short-term plans.


We see a friend’s eye as one and indivisible. A stranger’s eye we take in part by part: the white, the iris, and the pupil.


We can’t see top, bottom, and sides of an object at the same time unless each part is separately in front of us, whereas the three-faceted reflection of our sense of hearing hears everything on the sides of a sound, as well as frontally and over and above it, all at the same time.


The diamond scintillates less brilliantly when the fingers move rapidly than when they undulate and pivot. Glossy leaves throw off less light in a high wind than under the calm wavering of a breeze. Brusque movements of the eye cast a single gleam, and slow movements add a thousand others.


The crown is an emblem of royalty as the scepter is the crown’s power—respectively represented in modern times by the ballot box and the ballot. Under royalty we the people were servants of the crown 365 days a year. In a democracy our subjugation amounts to 364 days—the day left for voting. We have wrested from the crown just one day a year. Not very much, considering what we might have bargained for.


Nothing is more certain than that war promotes science and increases comforts. Utopia may mean no more wars, but universal peace and plenty will never reign until at least one more war raises mankind to a plane of such comfort and ease that nobody on either side of a frontier can even imagine the possibility of resorting to arms. Comfort creates wars and comfort may someday end them.


Red. A circular flaming. Light in a continuous hoop. An engagement ring endlessly circling the finger of the sun.





First published in Malcolm de Chazal’s native Mauritius in 1947, Sens-Plasique, consisting of hundreds of brilliantly entertaining aphorisms, has become a worldwide classic. Irving Weiss’s translator will be published late this summer by Green Integer.


©2006 by Irving Weiss and Green Integer.