December 9, 2005

Intellectual flirting

Transcribo dos páginas de la novela escocesa Mobius Dick, donde Andrew Crumey presenta un buen ejemplo del intellectual flirting. La novela, por lo demás, trata acerca de física cuántica, genialidad y locura, casualidad, azar y fortuna, y el Doppelgänger.

His affair with Helen was a matter of chance, too. They met over lunch; not sandwiches in a seminar room, but a crowded university canteen where they found themselves sharing a table. They each placed a book beside their food as they sat down opposite one another, preparing to dine in polite, mutually oblivious silence. Hers was Doktor Faustus. His was Quantum Fields in Curved Space.

Perhaps, when she finally spoke, it was simply because she'd grown tired of her quiche. "I wish I could understand that", she said suddendly, her mouth not entirely free of food, nodding in the direction of Ringer's book. "But I was always terrible at maths".

"And I've never been good with novels", he replied.

She looked puzzled; her smooth brow became knotted with a bemused wrinkle. "What's so difficult about reading a novel?" she asked, following the remark with a mouthful of salad while he paused over his fish and chips.

"They bore me", Ringer said. "All those made-up stories about people who never existed. Where are the facts? Where are the ideas? I want a book to give me a window on a new way of thinking; not mirror things I already know".

"Then perhaps you should try this novelist", she said, tapping the book beside her with the base of her fork. "Thomas Mann. Plenty of ideas there, believe me".

Mann, she explained, was fond of bringing a great deal of background information into his stories. "For example", she said, "take this part here". She put down her knife and fork, lifted the German novel and leafed through it. Ringer noticed how pretty she looked, her dark hair tumbling acorss her forehead, making her resemble a serious schoolgirl before an audience of parents as she carefully located one of several parts labelled with protruding bookmarks of yellow paper. She then began to translate for him a passage that slowly assembled itself into what he recognized to be a reference to cosmological expansion, buried in a novel about a composer who invents a new kind of art and pays for it with his sanity.

"Perhaps I ought to read Doktor Faustus", he said. "It sounds better than most novels".

"First try The Magic Mountain", she told him. "That's about a man who goes to a tuberculosis clinic in the Swiss Alps. It came out in the nineteen twenties, and Mann got the Nobel Prize not long after".

"That's a striking coincidence".

"What is?"

"The fact that we should be both be sitting here, you with your Thomas Mann and me with my physics. Because the main subject of my book is something called the Schrödinger equation. It's the fundamental rule of quantum mechanics. And do you know how Schrödinger found it? One Christmas in the nineteen twenties he went to a tuberculosis clinic in the Swiss Alps".

Coincidences mean only whatever we want them to. Thomas Mann wrote a novel about a sanatorium, then a year after it was published, Erwin Schrödinger went to a similar establishment and made his famous discovery. Both got the Nobel Prize for their efforts and became celebrated as philosophers of their age. Is there any connection? Absolutely none.


"It's an interesting parallel", she'd said to him, pushing a lettuce leaf with her fork. "Mann and Schrödinger. I might even be able to work it into my thesis". She was studying German literature in relation to philosophy. "But how do phisicists get their inspiration? I'd be fascinated to know". Helen looked at him across the table with eyes that suddendly promised more than a conversation.


robespierre said...

Kicks... oye leyendo en este espacio me tope con el discurso napoleonico. Me interesa, ¿me podrías mandar la fuente o la traducción a nuestra querida lengua castellana?

un saludo

Humberto said...

Maravilloso, quiero ser un personaje de esa novela, el cocinero.