On the other hand, Pynchon launches himself into numerous lectures on great-power politics of the day, lectures that would suffocate an audience at a hundred paces. Let a character say, “But you’re itching to be filled in, I can see that,” and the author scurries to the library table to pot some history (he’s suspected of relying on the famous eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for his facts, but his reading is far richer and more mutinous). The more he writes, the more stiff-necked the movements of armies and politicians; though these are Astaire waltzes compared to the global wars in mathematics:

“And that’s what has kept driving Cantor back into the Nervenklinik,” added Humfried, “and he was only worrying about line-segments. But out here in the four-dimensional space-and-time of Dr. Minkowski, inside the tiniest ‘interval,’ as small as you care to make it, within each tiny hypervolume of Kontinuum—there likewise must be always hidden an infinite number of other points—and if we define a ‘world’ as a very large and finite set of points, then there must be worlds. Universes!”

If this sort of thing gives you goose bumps, there are more than enough passages in Against the Day about zeta functions and the Riemann hypothesis to gratify you, as well as any of your relatives who happen by (like a gas, the math expands to fill the space available). Pynchon is perhaps the only novelist who could have written that “all mathematics . . . leads to some kind of human suffering.” After the publication of V., he was supposedly turned down for graduate work in math at Berkeley. He avenges that humiliation here.

No comments:

Post a Comment