Posts Tagged ‘self-knowledge’


who and what am I?
— we each have a thousand ways
of not knowing this

And that in itself, of course, is a kind of answer. I thought of calling the poem ‘sideways knowledge’. There seems to be nil link between the poem and my last night’s dreams. I woke at 3am and decided to get up, pleased that I had a few dream images still in my brain, and plenty of time to spend before work this morning, trying to shape a poem. I’ve been busy lately with the business of moving house, with a date set for the end of this month, and that is partly why I’ve not kept up with this blog. Also, I’m going to be moving in with my partner Liz, and it isn’t clear at all whether our life together (or whether she) will allow me the luxury of an hour or more at the beginning of the day, spent thinking about my dreams and trying to blog poetry. In view of that uncertainty, it’s natural to ease off the rigid habit, and see if I can do without it — before circumstances force me to do without it. I dreamed last night I was playing through Mahler’s 2nd Symphony in my head, wondering at the marvel of it. Actually I woke with the music of the 3rd going round and round, but in the dream I thought it was the 2nd. I guess there is — very broadly — some connection between ‘who and what am I?’ and Mahler. His music does ask this.


radical fallibility

I am the victim
of far more than just my own
incomplete knowledge
— suffering happens because
knowledge itself is suspect

According to the Bible, Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But good and evil are notoriously fluid categories. One man’s good is another man’s evil. In fact, no matter what the object of knowledge, what to me seems like my own knowledge, often appears to anyone else as proof of my ignorance. Self-knowledge in particular (the most important and significant type of knowledge known to man) is unreliable, provisional, eternally shifting and illusory. I’m sorry this is all so abstract. I dreamed last night I was wearing a weird, quasi-Victorian bathing costume. It was two-piece, consisting of a pair of trunks and a shirt cut down the centre to reveal my chest. Awake, I was pleased to realise this will have been suggested by going to Tate Modern yesterday and seeing a work by Evelyne Axell entitled Valentine. I can’t even begin to explore all the meanings of my dream. Clearly my dream locates me in space, as the Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who is depicted in the artwork. I was attracted to the artwork, partly just simply as a matter of prurience, but also because I sensed the complexity of the issues being addressed. Apparently Axell was commenting ironically on the tendency of contemporary media, reporting the first woman in space, to focus on Tereshkova’s looks. See interesting article here.


civilisation —
what does it all amount to?
— we’re human beings
unable to escape from
our own terms of reference

This will have to do. I’m not sure whether the point is an obvious one, or incredibly clever and obscure. It’s not my own insight at all, just simply something Jung says, somewhere in his writings, about the human race — that we lack any reference point outside ourselves, and therefore cannot know what we are, since we are a stand-alone phenomenon on this planet, and lack any standard of comparison. Courageously, he makes the point that only some kind of contact with extra-terrestrial beings could provide us with the kind of self-knowledge he has in mind. I dreamed I was discussing my sister, talking about her relationship with a man as ‘platonic’. In this way, awake, I fell to thinking about Plato. What a giant, culturally speaking! Yet he was just a bloke, and many on the planet will not have heard of him, and it’s quite possible if our current civilisation collapses, that he will be forgotten without trace. What will he amount to then? What does any of it amount to? I originally wanted to call human civilisation ‘incestuous’ and ‘narcissistic’ in the poem. But too many syllables, and too deliberately startling: the effect would have been clumsy.


one human being
or the human race — which of
these contains deeper
self-ignorance? — who can see
clearly into his own heart?

I’m afraid this is just a bit too contrived, and the overall effect of so much striving after profundity is triteness. I dreamed I was homeless in the rain. I wandered into a town or city in the North of England with an ancient-looking Town Hall. Was it Victorian or mediaeval? A bit like Bruges. Or Gormenghast. It felt simultaneously familiar and foreign, known and unknown. My poem was based on the idea, what if the whole human race and its civilisation were actually symbolic of everything least known about myself? This is surely a bit counterintuitive. And in that case, where does the darkest self-ignorance reside? In me, or in the human race as a whole? Maybe it isn’t a meaningful question. On the other hand, is there anything of greater importance than the difference between self-ignorance and self-knowledge? And is this quest for self-knowledge, in that case, a collective one or an individual one? Presumably both at once. On the whole, it’s actually easier to think of an individual person as being capable of self-knowledge (and therefore self-ignorance), compared with the whole human race. I can’t really think these things through very effectively. But important to try.

timid explorer

there are degrees of
impenetrable darkness
— sometimes it’s OK
to travel no further than
the familiar unknown

I dreamed I was in France on holiday, running out of money and missing my flight home. In the dream I had a vivid enjoyment of being immersed in Parisian culture even despite whatever anxiety about money and practicalities. The poem is crap unfortunately, as it entirely fails to capture that enchantment of Paris, which was the most powerful feature of the dream, and instead interprets the general idea of France (from a UK perspective) as symbolising the familiar unknown. Much too abstract. I also dreamed of an episode of Doctor Who featuring the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Though in this case, the Pied Piper was being hypnotised by the mice rather than the mice by the Pied Piper. Mice being proverbially timid, this links up with the poem’s title. First thing this morning, before writing the poem, I did some work on improving the text of my own story for a presentation in the new year. I decided to insert a few sentences very close to the beginning which makes it quite clear (I hope) just how committed I am to the notion of ‘the unconscious’. It’s crazy stupid just how difficult I find it to talk about this when I do these presentations. I always feel it is far too intellectual and abstract. But it’s fundamental to how I see the world and it’s really the main reason why I was able to process my own madness successfully and come out the other side. Here’s the text I inserted this morning:

Surely if you’ve never questioned your own sanity — you’ve never lived. I’m someone who believes that the conscious mind is just the tip of an enormous iceberg — the unconscious mind. And madness is just simply whatever you experience when the unconscious mind takes over. Madness is therefore an opportunity for self-knowledge. 


the stupidest part
of being me is when I
realise just how
stupid I am — self-knowledge
— it’s the best thing in the world

This strange little poem came (somehow) out of a dream in which (yet again) I was struggling with the temptation to view online pornography. The main thing in my mind as I wrote it was the relief at discovering myself not tempted in the slightest upon waking. I wanted to write something about how the mind alternates between self-deception and self-revelation, endlessly by turns. I certainly feel deceived by my own mind, and a little confused, in the sudden transition from a threatening dream situation to a much more comfortingly secure waking consciousness. A couple of times in the past I have woken from similar dreams still feeling tempted in reality. What controls these things? Certainly not ‘me’. Hence I am left in the end just feeling stupid. For what it’s worth, I have learned to embrace that feeling.


her mind penetrates
silently into the heart
— making me to feel
invariably as though
I am all sham and bluster

This is for a colleague whom I greatly admire. I dreamed I was trying to enlist her help to manage the photocopier-printer at work (a scenario which seems ever-recurring in reality). Just like in real life, she was being extremely supportive but at the same time our interaction left me feeling slightly disconcerted (just like in real life). I think of myself as a self-reflective person, but with Rowena I always end up doubting whether I know myself at all. Strange how such profound issues can arise in the course of ordinary office admin business!