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Aphorism, maxim, witticism, dictum and other short expressions have no clear definition and have been little studied. The present essay initiates a study in terms of genre, where short forms are considered (in Bakhtin's spirit) in terms of their sense of experience. In particular, this essay contrasts the aphorism (as practiced by Lao Tzu, Pascal, Tolstoy, and Wittgenstein) in contrast to the dictum (Bentham, Marx, Descartes, Leibniz). The dictum banishes the darkness, but the aphorism probes what it knows cannot ultimately be known: it is mystical.