Monday, July 26, 2010

Derbs In the Turrets Hear

David Derbes, a friend from Eschaton, found on Language Hat this, written by John Derbyshire, a mathematically well educated, scientifically literate right winger:

'These kinds of encounters are common enough in the literary life. I am always heartened by them. The nations of the world are great lumbering behemoths ridden and directed, more often than not, by gangsters, poseurs, or buffoons. Nestled in their coarse hides, though, are parasites like myself and Aliosha, not much bothered by great matters of state or the antics of vapid "celebrities," but endlessly fascinated by language, history, mathematics, music. We must be baffling to the gangsters and buffoons, as baffling as they are to us. Sometimes the rougher kind of rider will, with a flick of his crop, flatten a few of us.'

As David points out, being bothered by great affairs of state is, for some of us, an essential part of a life lived in the world, to be embraced, rather than a distraction from the life of the mind to be avoided. David himself, who holds a first-tier university PhD in physics and is teaching high school, talks and walks.

There's a point in Hesse's 'Steppenwolf' when Harry Haller talks about
listening to Mozart on a radio through the static, mentally suppressing the
noise and hearing the music pure and unsullied.. Always struck me, then and
now, as a vain goal--you can't perceive anything without some static, and if
the world doesn't provide it, you will. Not even a worthy goal: you should
damned well hear the static, and live with it, fight it, whatever, but not
deny it's there. Those folk talking about the holographic universe models,
of surfaces of black holes telling you everything you need to know about
what's inside them, may finally destroy Platonism: the surface of the cave
on which we see reality projected is, in fact, not only no less real, but not
even less complete a representation, than the ideal giving rise to the

So, Derbyshire, who, like a couple of other people I know, loves his math, music,
language, all of it, but sees them as a moat rather than a bridge. As
someone who been there done that, and, however uneasily, fitfully and
sometimes ineffectually, built a bridge over the moat--a work in progress, I hasten to add--I know where he's coming from, even empathise with him. But he isn't getting all he can, or even should, out of that which he loves, or, for that matter, out of life. Nor does he give those on the other side of the moat a reason to care about that which he loves, to reconsider their alleged distance from the life of
the mind, rather than confirm them in it. And, too, gangsters and buffoons,
more or less frank or obvious in their perfidy, can be found wherever Homo
(alleged) sapiens draws breath, including amongst mathematicians, writers,
historians, musicians, even, occasionally, in the mirror...

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