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Categories & Their Discontents

by Steven E. Clayman

The Greeks proclaimed that all consists
Of earth, air, fire, and water,
And other ancients’ kindred lists
Each had their imprimatur.

We think our hundred elements
As very much superior,
But matter-states in simple sets
Should make us somewhat leerier.

For if all is solid, liquid, gaseous,
Or something known as plasma,
Then what of dry ice and molasseous,
As well their strange miasma?

I may have stumbled on a truth:
The world is a continuum.
With rigid classes we produce
Odd leavings and residuum.

But isn’t the duality
Of classes and continua
A far too neat dichotomy
That deepens our conundra?

I sense an infinite regress,
Toward some site unseen.
Do I proceed, or just recess,
Or something inbetween?

© Steven E. Clayman 2021

Steven E. Clayman is a Professor of Sociology at UCLA.

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