Illumination

A candle is enough to light the world.
— Wallace Stevens, ‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’

One brand takes fire from another, until it is consumed,
a flame’s kindled by flame;
one man becomes clever by talking with another,
but foolish through being reserved.
— The Poetic Edda, translated by Carolyne Larrington

If thou hast knowledge, let others light their candle at thine.
— Thomas Fuller, Introductio Ad Prudentiam, Part II, Moral no. 1784

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813

Everyone, after all, goes the same dark road – and the road has a trick of being most dark, most treacherous, when it seems most bright – and it’s true that nobody stays in the garden of Eden.
— James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature’s works to me expunged and razed,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost

The quality that we call beauty, however, must grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.
— Junichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

How simultaneously freeing and paralyzing to untether the moorings of the previously unquestioned Known.
— Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity

what is unknown is always more attractive than what is known; hope and imagination are the only consolations for the disappointments and sorrows of experience.
— Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Admitting that we don’t know allows us to learn. The darkness of Not Knowing creates freedom and space for new sources of illumination.
— Steven D’Souza & Diana Renner, Not Knowing

the realisation of my childlike illusion that in studying a work of art I would be following a detective trail that might lead to some ultimate illumination.
— Michael Jacobs, Everything is Happening

In self-consciousness lies the root of our ability to reflect on ourselves, on the shortness of our lives, on the profound mystery and the absolute beauty of the physical universe. And the Fall didn’t take place just once, six thousand years ago, or thirty or forty or fifty thousand years ago when the first human beings thought about death and life and who they were, and made patterns and marks and images to register this thinking – the Fall happens in every human life, at adolescence. We leave the unselfconscious grace of childhood behind and take our first faltering steps through the complexity and mire of life towards whatever we can reach of wisdom, which it is our job to increase and pass on. If there was no purpose in evolution, there is a purpose in our individual lives, and that is it.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

This new source of illumination, what Francis Bacon called ‘the torch of analysis’, inspired a quest for reason – to discover answers to ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and dispel fear of the unknown. Its penetrating light pierced depths previously beyond our grasp, as nature was itself cleaved into separate elements and its underlying mechanism laid bare.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place.
— Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Because I can no longer raise
the questions,
because I cannot support
truth or its widower’s eyes,
now I will be flame,
the young man says.
— James Sallis, ‘Memory’s Empire’

why should we want to know everything? Imagine how sad it would be if, one day, we arrived at the end of knowledge. With no more questions to ask, our creativity would be stifled, our fire within extinguished.
— Marcelo Gleiser, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected

A candle only burns once, and always downwards.
— Benjamin Meyers, The Gallows Pole

All nature is a fire: everything forms, everything blossoms, everything fades. We are slow clouds…
— Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

To look into those dark spaces was to have a direct glimpse of the future.
— Teju Cole, Open City

The knowledge flickered with promise like a mirage, but it still trembled just out of her reach.
— Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth