Poem and an incredible etching by Tatiana Lyskova: please do read over the poem and take a look at the etching before reading my thoughts. It’ll be fun, trust me.
There are times when we think we know everything. Not in a smug, overbearing, secretly defensive way, but in the way we understand, say, a field. If you ask me about the history of political thought, for example, I’m pretty clear that I only know about a few select Western sources, of which I’ve read even fewer over and over, holding some opinions which have been more or less tested. If it seems like I’m professing humility, I’m doing anything but, as I have the same confidence we witness in this axiom and question:
She circles inside
the proof of the axiom
The axiom is self-evident
Is it true
This self-evident axiom establishes itself by having a person call it home. That someone circles inside it makes it home. Is self-evidence the same as truth? For our part, we can’t assume she thinks she knows everything. She’s perfectly within bounds, within “the proof of the axiom.”
She thinks, to some degree, she resides in truth:
Is a wavelength blue
Is a wave a wave
She performs a gesture
with her hand
Some wavelengths might be blue: they’re not just mathematical abstractions, but the moving particles and energies around her. A wave is a wave. Her gesture, I assume, is demonstrative, confident. She knows she is in this world, and that knowledge empowers.
What could possibly be wrong with this picture? We all have to live within what we think is knowledge. That she circles within “the proof of the axiom” hints that she has accepted limits to what she knows. How could anything go wrong?
If she hit rock
she could build a house
If she built a house
she could look out of the window
Knowledge of one’s own limits, it turns out, is pretty limited. What she wants is a real home. Not just to circle within the axiom, but to take this one, limited bit of knowledge, and turn it into a foundation. A place to live, a place to bear witness. Does knowing your knowledge is limited yield a fruitful perspective? Did Socrates get anything because of his knowledge of ignorance?
O, no! There’s an axiom
inside the proof of the axiom
She cannot tell
the net from the knot
fact from effect
All, as Parmenides says, is one
She wants to mine what she knows, and finds that she’s been assuming, well, a lot more than just one axiom. How much does one have to assume to say “I have a hand here” and wave it around? Turns out, you have to assume a lot, and those further assumptions are slippery in a curious way. If you can prove some of them, you have a godlike amount of scientific knowledge. If you can prove others, you have a tremendous grasp on how we use language, on how conventions are established and communicated. If you can prove yet others, you understand something about mind that maybe no one else has understood before.
“She cannot tell / the net from the knot,” the realization that like a knot, she’s trapped herself. “Fact from effect:” she lacks any faith that she can cause anything. “All, as Parmenides says, is one:” is this wisdom or resignation?
She walks in woe
from lodgment to lodgment
trying to make
an analytic judgment
“She walks in woe / from lodgment to lodgment” sounds like both wisdom and resignation. Strangely, we’re back where we’ve started at the beginning of the poem, but a bit humbler, a bit broken, a bit shaken. The lure of knowledge is being able to procure the good for oneself. When that proves impossible, all we want is a moment of clarity. Just knowing you can know would make you happy.