“The obvious,” Charles Simic once wrote, “is difficult/To prove.” (“The White Room,” from The Book of Gods and Devils.) This is my new favorite quote.


To prove used to mean to undergo or learn by experience, then to test, as in “the exception that proves the rule.” Prove/proof didn’t always have such an aura of certainty. Even today, we talk about proofing yeast or a manuscript.


The rest of Simic’s poem, by the way, concerns trees and secrets. We learn that obvious things are quiet because they are mute. Unlike trees, they are diurnal and have no stories.


Earlier this evening, Rachel finally got around to asking me what my politics were. It proved surprisingly difficult to answer. I believe in a politics of kindness, I said after a lot of blather. I admire certain anarchist, pacifist and ecological thinkers, but I revel in inconsistency. My own feet remain a terra incognita — forget about the ground!

6 Replies to “Proof”

  1. Hmm. See, I had you down as a deep grey paleo-eeyore of the entish tendency. (No inherent contradiction there I hope since one cannot think of that particular donkey as domesticated despite having a house of sticks.)

    There’s also proof in the sense of test, a test of strength or fortitude or worth perhaps. As in the origin of alcohol proof:

    In the 18th century and until 1 January 1980, the United Kingdom defined alcohol content in terms of “proof spirit”, which was defined as the most dilute spirit that would sustain combustion of gunpowder. The term originated in the 18th century, when payments to British sailors included rations of rum. To ensure that the rum had not been watered down, it was “proved” by dousing gunpowder in it, then tested to see if the gunpowder would ignite. If it did not, then the rum contained too much water and was considered to be “under proof”. It was found that gunpowder would not burn in rum that contained less than 57.15% abv. Therefore, rum that contained this percentage of alcohol was defined to have “100 degrees proof”.

    (I didn’t know that until the internet told me. I like it.)

    1. I do have the word “test”in the post if you look closely — but thanks for adding this great quote about the origin of proofing alcohol, whihc I had no idea about.

      “A deep grey paleo-eeyore of the entish tendency.” LOL. Maybe so.

  2. I believe in a politics of kindness” — I like that a lot. Nietzsche would have despised both of us — you for suggesting it, me for liking it — but I’m convinced the poor guy’s philosophy represents an attempt to rationalise the pain of his life. He really needed someone to give him a nice cup of tea and tell him to lie down for a while. [*contentiousness alert*]

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