The Knife: Do You Carry One?

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

Robert Farrar Capon, in The Supper of the Lamb [affiliate link], on the companionability of a good knife:

We commonly define man as homo sapiens, the knowing animal. Yet long before he left traces of his knowing, he was busy, as men have always been, misplacing tools. It is by the hammers and axes he never quiet could keep in sight, that homo faber, man the maker, betrays his presence in the depths of history. The oldest fingerprints in the world are those on tools; and of all tools, the knife reigns supreme.

No doubt it was not the first. In all likelihood, man bludgeoned and tore creation before he carved and sliced it; but precisely because he was man, it could not have been long before he acquired a preference for sharp stones over dull ones. With that, the knife was invented. The rest was only a matter of materials.

Equally certainly, the knife is not the last tool. We have gone so far beyond it that we forget its supremacy. Our implements have grown so complex that the word tool suggests machinery before it does hand tools–and, among hand tools, it suggests wrenches and screwdrivers (tools for fixing machines) before it does knives. But for all that, the knife remains more common than them all–the one tool used by more people, more of the time, than any other. All the kitchens, and half the pockets in the world, are filled with knives.

The Supper of the Lamb is a cookbook, of sorts. On Amazon, it is also the #1 bestseller in the “Episcopal Christianity” subdivision. I do not know what to make of this.

Nonetheless, Capon is a brilliant writer. This passage on the knife is followed by a digression on the pocketknife. I carry an Uncle Henry knife that looks like this.