Friday, May 19, 2017

Yan Pradeau: "Algèbre"

"Maths is fun!", often exclaims over-eager (usually young) teacher, and
people tend to shrug at her/him and turn to their infinitely more interesting
gossip or politics or trade-exchange pages.

But in France, mathematics is serious business since centuries, and French
school, by its personalities, certainly IS fun, indeed.

Recently I had pleasure to read Yan Pradeau's "Algèbre", a short booklet
about one of most controversial French mathematicians of the XX
century-Alexander Grothendieck. As it often goes, he was also one of the
best mathematical minds of XX ct.

About him even to say "French" is over-statement, as he
was barely French, acquiring the nationality only at older age (in 1980-ies,
and he was born in 1928, in then Prussia). Most of his life he was
stateless, as his documents were destroyed in 1945, and he was reluctant to
obtain the other nationality, because of conscription obligation.

Following his parents, he was of an anarchist and pacifist political
orientation. His father, A. Schapiro was of a Hassidic Jewish origin, from
the borders of Ukraina, Belarus and Russia, and mather was of a German
protestant origin (his surname is by her). Both were from a rather bourgeois
background, but were declared, and fighting, anarchists of the leftist colors.

Alexander was a mathematical autodidact, and he brought novel generalizations
in geometry and algebra after the WWII. One thing which is well exposed in
the book, and which I was not aware of before, is that in the world wars
expired whole generations of mathematicians, and there remained a profound
vacuum in moderinzation of the discipline in the XX ct. Works of people like
A.G., alone and through group Bourbaki which was organized to promote the
program of novelization of mathematics, were instrumental in this. A.G. was
a kind of celebrity in French mathematical world in 1960-ies and 1970-ies.

Genius had it's price here, A.G. became more and more controversial in
1970-ies, fighting against militarization of the society in the Cold War.
In 1980-ies he completely abandoned the society, secluding
himself in a mountain village of few ten inhabitants. But he was not idle,
he was productive in "philosophical" writing of dubious value.

There is lots in the story about Groethedieck which is new to me, and I will
try to learn more about group Bourbaki. I was not aware of the program they
pursued, and their achievements. And today in Physics we often use results
of their work.

It is a kind of irony that I was recently living in the place where was important
centre of this movement-in Orsay, near Paris, and nearby Burres-sur Yvette,
and I did not know anything about this part of the history of the place.
The very paths I was walking, running or biking, were taken by those people,
not so long time ago. It certainly added an additional spice to my reading, as
also the fact that it was my 2nd book read in French.

Definitely a good read, I warmly recommend it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Myrna Zezza's "How to build a Lasting, Loving Relationship"

Reading self-development handbooks is not my usual treat. Well, sometimes
one has to give them a chance. Recommended by a good friend, who is a
therapeutist herself, I gave a chance to Myrna Mazzola Zezza's "How to build
a Lasting, Loving Relationship". Subtitled, totally appropriately,
"The blueprint you were never given".

True is that we learn a pile of knowledges in school, and in private life we
learn how to plant flowers, drive bicycle, motrocycle or a car, repair
engines, build houses etc., but we never get any significant instruction on
how to make a successful relationship. At most we get a life-instruction how
NOT to do it, by our parents or, through trial and error exercise,
ourselves.

Myrna Zezza gave a complete, step-by-step guide through the process.

I was drawn to a book, when checking about it online on recommendation of my
friend, by the model for relationship which was used: a house. Building a
house of love, writer teaches us about importance of fundament, walls and
roof. She does not forget about cement, glues and all what holds it
together, she even thinks of catastrophes, critters and insurance!

Building of self-esteem is also an important part of our relationship with
others.

Model is like this: foundation is Communication, walls are: Common purpose and
values, Trust, Appreciation and Clear agreements. Roof is Commitment.

Love is nails, screws, bolts and glue (obviously an American house in warmer
parts of USA-author herself lives in Hawaii), holding the house together.

Basements and interior spaces are also important, those are different
arrangements a couple makes in their daily life about work and spending free
time, still preserving the core of their relationship.

Termites and other critters can easily destroy even the best house if not
eradicated effectively, so any misunderstanding or trouble should also be fast and
effectively removed from an relationship.

Homeowners insurance is something what in relationship is given by a support
group like family, colleagues, friends... Author even finds, at the end, a
place foe House blessing, which might be a wedding, but can be any other
ritual a couple chooses. Most of us usually starts from this...but it is not
by chance, I believe, given at the end of this book. Life is a learning
process, all through.

When definitely too American that I would really like it, this book is a good
guide. I might comment away in my head some sentences as "eh, easy to write
this in California or Hawaii, come to Balkans!", but since the book is
addressed to a developing individual, not given as a school of thought or
perception of reality, we are free to take from it what we find useful. And
it is really a trove of useful points about each of us and relationships in
which we enter, often without really knowing what we want from it, or how to
achieve what we want.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ph.K.Dick's "VALIS"

On my conquest of PKD's world, through with reading of "The man in the high
castle", "Ubik" and "Do the androids dream of electric sheep", I took on his
"VALIS"=Vast Active Living Intelligence System.

It starts benign, a psychedelic world of 1960-ies, with only some glimpses
of danger, enrolled in weird names of the characters, like Horselover Fat or
Mother Goose.

Then it bores one immensely through almost Jehowah Witness-like boredom of
religious blobbering through hundred or more pages-here I almost threw it
away, really. I do not think I met the writer (or the editor) who would not
cut out such a ghastly nonsense, even if it would occur to anyone to
actually write such stuff down!

Luckily I was patient, as at the end of a tunnel, there came a light! And
patient I was, indeed! The writing seemed as if an adept of mish-mash of
Christianity, Buddhism and Gibbon did not succed to come up to digest the
Message for the lazy American reader. Such a reader would not dare to read
Caesar directly, but preferred to look, with some curiosity, at the vomit of
it after the painful burps of the afore-mentioned adept.

So, after nonsensical, psychopatologic religious bullshit of a pity character
bent after his feeling of guilt for not being able to help to his
energetic vampire friends to survive their psichological or body illness,
story started to be interesting.

That is, if we can consider actual waking up to the world in which the Christ
himself is alive and kickin' somewhere in California, and the cypher from
apostolic Christians from Roman times finds the audience in the time of
Vietnam war. The society is formed, which consists of four individuals, who
cram to the airplane to visit the Christ, and who just happen to gather unter
the motto "Fish can not use guns".

Oh ghosh. Just writing it on paper is ridiculous, no?

Well, obviously not completely, if it comes from a master writer like PKD.
I survived through reading it for (too) many a page, carried by a sheer hope
that scores of people who claimed it to be a good work, were not complete
idiots, or that it all was not just an internet scam of the bigot Jehowah
Witnesses.

Towards the end of the first volume of Valis, there is a beautiful story of
2 year old girl Sophia, who herself seems to be a voice of God. Not "seems",
she IS a voice of god, she knows things nobody else could now. PKD gives
some of his most hillarious lines here, pure joy to read!

Sophia eventually dies accidentally, or chose to die accidentally, but there
is a new child to be born, from the same parents-who are crazy weirdos, but
seem to have a place in the cosmic maze. The Rhipidon society is closely
following.

At the end of the book is a list of 50 premises of the World and definitions
which are supposedly put there to help, but they rather scared me. They are
obviously a make of crack-pot. No discussion. I am quite afraid to go to the
2nd book of Valis, but probably I will be persistent, as I usually am, to
fathom the depths of Horselover Fat.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gombrowicz's "Pornografia"

Continuation of my re-reading of Gombrowicz.
In "Pornografia" he is at his best, intentially
controversial and bulversing. It is amazing to see
how he constructs the pervert tension of old against-or
along-the young.

Author creates the twisted reality of the story through
actions of older guys towards a younger couple. Which is
the more pervert: marriage of old guy to a much younger
girl, or their action, which in effect, prevents it? Older
guys try to make young couple into lovers, although themselves
are not even thinking about it, being friends from childhood.
The reason for such action of older guys is that they would
like themselves to couple with young, but since they can not,
then at least they try to sublimate their will through action
on them.

Gombrowicz would not be himself if he would be simple:
there is a parallel story of Polish reality in WWII, when
AK (Armia Krajowa=National Army), which is different than
AL (Armia Ludowa=People's Army), acts against one of its
detractors. It was not a little to write about AK in 1950-ies,
as its role was negated by communist government-the only heroic
army could be the Red Army of USSR. Again, today it is all
too easy to forget the historical reality of Gombrowicz's
writing.

"Cosmos" and "Pornografia" are essential Gombrowicz. In
them he creates (erotic) reality of usual things and events, and uses
it to build tension in the fabric of that reality. Masterpieces which
only a tense mind like his could produce.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Coetzee's "Diary of a Bad Year"

This is a diary of strong opinions. Author presents it as a series of essays on
free topics, with the self-censorship turned "OFF".

Coetzee is an South African writer living in Australia. The main character
of this book is an esteemed Australian writer of foreign air, so much so
that the beauty he fell for calls him Senor, as if he would be of South
American origin.

That the book would not be simply boring, a litany of musings of a boring
over-intellectualized old prick, author spiced it with real life: a hot
chick. An inovative move in the book, like a magician's stick adding
something of a Peter Pan in the story.

It starts with the introduction part where the strong opinion about
origins of the state, terrorism (it is dated 2005 to 2006) or anarchy is
presented along with trivia from his everyday life. After some 20 pages,
the hot chick gets the bottom of the page for herself. Then it becomes,
page by page, a three-fold story. At the end, she takes two of the three
windows of the page, in one conversing with the author, in another with her
boyfriend or herself.

Most of the text is by the old prick who could not do anything else with the
hot chick than to employ her as a typist. His hands tremble too much, his
other organ would not tremble even with heap of Viagra, but his brain is as
attentive to a woman beauty as a man's brain can be.

A woman shows to be not an empty shell. Her boyfriend, with whom
she lives in the same buliding as the author, is a predator investment
consultant. He shows also to be an emotional predator, and encounter with
the Senor, in effect, produces their split.

The (platonic) relationship between the author and his typist introduces new
vistas, and affects their lives. The relationship is real life, blood and smiles.

Interesting texts, innovative methods... Coetzee is not in vain one of most esteemed
authors in English literature. His biography itself is amazing, definitely worth
reading, check it online.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Gombrowicz's "Cosmos"

In my re-reading of Gombrowicz, I came to "Cosmos". It is a very Polish story
in its topic and form. But, as Gombrowicz likes (or has) to do, it is breaking
of the world in pieces. Reading the meaning of sparrow corpse
hanged in the bush, an arrow in a ceiling (is it an arrow in a ceiling?),
reading its pointing (or not?)... it is like reading a horoscope. Or not
reading it, but making it.

It is obvious that Gombrowicz is close to quite an absurd theater, a child
of his time. If there would not be a WWII, which extracted and exaltation
and a decision from him (to dupe the pathetic patriotism and remain
himself), Gombrowicz would not have to bear the weight which was not crafted
for him. He could remain a rather abnormal Polish writer, and enjoy the air of
worldliness. He could die not too far from his birth place, eventually. But,
since he WAS pushed to an extreme, and had balls to follow it, he became a weirdo
in a life, not a theater, of absurd. In which people behaved much more insane
than any of the characters in his drama!

Gombrowicz does not need a defence, his works explains him the best. Most of
the mediocre mass who criticised, or ridiculed him, is long forgotten. He is,
and will be, recognized as an unique bard, trubadour of insanity of
closed or open door, turning wheel or pointing of the pinky.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cosmological "Heart of Darkness"

Another reading I did thanks to the professor in Warsaw mentioned in previous post,
who pointed the book to me: "Heart of Darkness" by J.P.Ostriker and S. Mitton. Both are the
renowned cosmologists, and the "Science essentials" Princeton edition is a
very good way to stay in touch with the recent developments, even for an
astrophysicist. I warmly recommend it.

The writing does not necessarily follow the historical line, it is rather focused
on a paradigm shifts. But it gives a good sense of the struggle to make
sense of data in cosmology, not only of the theoretical development.

It is still a revelation to many people to understand that cosmology is a
kind of more straightforward science than, say, solid state physics. That
its theoretical base is close to elementary particles or high energy
(astro)physics, not something from the other side of the spectra of Physics.
This is well emphasised in the book, with a novel Newtonian calculations for
the basic relations in Cosmology, like critical density and other parameters
of the standard cosmological model.

The slow appreciation, and acceptance, of the Big Bang model, is presented
in extense, the reader can understand how it is intertwined with our
understanding of the stellar and evolution of galaxies.

Cosmology today can not be taught without the Dark matter and Energy -
indeed, as the title of the book shows, they stole the show. Authors
artfully show the slow, but persistent, seeping of the Darkness into the
Cosmology during the last century of research.

Again, a good read, even for a professional astrophysicist, with some
interesting insider stories.