New translations of Gracian’s aphorisms
Below you will find a selection of Gracian’s aphorisms that have been incorporated into the performance script. The translation is by Laura Nellums and Phoebe von Held. This selection reflects the themes of self-consciousness, strategism, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, simulation and dissimulation that are the focus of the Manual Oracle adaptation.
1. Everything in the art of individual self-perfection has reached its peak. But more is required today to make a single wise man than it was to make seven in the past. More is needed to deal with one single person than with a whole people.
13. Always act with intention, yes, of course on reflection, but also on impulse.
Man’s life is a war against the malice of man; crafty schemes are the weapons of the shrewd. Wisdom fights with the strategies of intention. It never performs in a way that is expected. It points at a target, only to create confusion: it fogs up the air with dexterous tricks; it fires into an unforeseen reality, attentive always upon dissimulating. Fire out your intent to capture your competitor’s attention. Then do the very opposite, to triumph through the unexpected. Yet penetrating intelligence foresees this and stalks this maneuver carefully; it always understands the opposite of what you wanted to be understood and recognizes any false intention. It allows the first intention to pass by, and is in wait for the second, and even the third. Simulation elaborates itself upon seeing its falsity defeated, and it pretends to bluff with truth itself: it shifts its game by shifting its trick, and it makes artifice of what is not artificial, founding its astuteness in naivety. It perfects observation, understanding its own perspicacity and discovers fog in the costume of light. It deciphers the intention; the more layered it is, the more sensitized it becomes.
17. Vary the key motif of your acting; do not keep it the same, so you can obscure yourself from the attention of others, especially of competitors. Do not always act impulsively, because they will recognize your pattern, predicting and even preventing your actions. It’s easy to kill a bird in flight if it goes straight: not so the one that twists. Nor should you always act strategically — for that trick will be recognized the second time round. Malice is on the watch. Great subtlety is necessary to deceive it. The clever gambler never plays the card his opponent expects and even less the one he hopes for.
25. Know how to read signs. The art of all arts was once to know how to reason; this is no longer enough: now guess-work is the most important thing, especially so in moments of difficulty. There are people who can read minds and hearts, lynxes who foresee every intention. The truths that are most crucial to us come always half-expressed; only the attentive may understand them in their entirety; when things are going well, tighten the reign on your credulity; in crises spur it on.
26. Find the thumbscrew for each one. Such is the art of moving volitions. It is more about skill than resolve — to know how to enter the mind of others. No will without a special inclination; each differing according to a variety of tastes. All men are idolaters: some of esteem, others of self-interest, the rest of their delights. Familiarize yourself with these idols if you want to discover the key to what drives others. This is how to take charge of their wants and desires. First get to know a person’s character, seduce them through words, ignite their passion; and it’s checkmate to their free will.
31. Know the fortunate, so you may choose their company, and the unfortunate, so you may escape them. Unhappiness is usually a crime of folly, and there is no disease more contagious: never open your door to even the least unfortunate, because if you do, much misery will follow and the worst will lie in ambush for you. The best trick in the game is to know how to discard: the lowest trump in the current round is more important than the highest in the previous one.
37. The most subtle point in social interaction is to use and interpret hints, just like using a water dowser. Use hints to probe people’s character, secretly penetrating the true colour of their heart. Some hints are thrown out maliciously, tinged with the poison of envy, anointed with the venom of passion; imperceptible rays to destroy your good esteem. Injured by a passing remark of this type, many have fallen out of favour with their superiors and subordinates, for whom even a whole conspiracy of vulgar rumours and private malice would not have been enough to cause the slightest trepidation. On the contrary, other hints can work to your benefit, building and confirming your reputation. But with the same skill with which intention threw them, should vigilance await and caution receive them: because defense is enabled by knowledge and an anticipated shot is always diffused.
127. Grace in everything. It’s the life of talents, the breath of speech, the soul of action, the adornment of adornments themselves. All other perfections are an embellishment of nature, but grace is an embellishment of those perfections themselves. It is the highest privilege; it owes the least to study and is even superior to discipline; it surpasses ease, and comes close to gallantry; it overcomes embarrassment and adds perfection; without it, all beauty is without life and all grace disgraced; it transcends valor, discretion and prudence, majesty itself. In business, it’s a diplomatic short-cut; a polite exit from any precarious situation.
149. To know how to delegate your troubles: shield yourself against malevolence; it’s a great skill of those who rule. To have someone upon whom the blame for your mistakes and the punishment of gossip can fall, does not, as the malicious think, come from incapacity, but, rather from superior shrewdness. Not everything can turn out well, nor can everyone be pleased. So have a scapegoat, who will be the target for your misfortunes, at the cost of his own ambitions.
154. Not to be believe or like too easily. Maturity comes with not believing everything at once: lying is very ordinary; so let believing be extraordinary. He who is too malleable, will find himself run over in the end. But don’t reveal your lack of faith in others. To expose them as deceiver or deceived, adds insult to injury. Even this is not the greatest inconvenience, as much as not believing is an accusation of lying, because the liar has two disadvantages: he neither believes nor is believed. He who hears is wise to suspend judgement. To like too easily is imprudent; for those who lie with words, also lie with deeds, a deception even more pernicious.
297. Always act as if you were being watched.
This is a prudent man who sees that he is being seen or will be seen. He knows that walls can hear, and that bad deeds are bursting into the light of day. Even when alone he behaves as though the eyes of the whole world can see him. Because he knows that one day everything will be known, he already sees as witnesses those who will be such only upon hearing of his deeds. He who desires that the whole world will always see him, will not be concerned that he can be observed in his house, from the house next door.
© Phoebe von Held and Laura Nelllums