Monday, December 9, 2019

Zero as a Paradigm

  • I could claim I remembered yesterday was James Tate's birthday but reporting from the breakfast lounge of the Holiday Inn Express higher priority and not true, I did *not* remember it was James Tate's birthday but it *is* true my reporting from the Holiday Inn Express *would* be in a post that remembered yesterday was James Tate's birthday
  • Days I wake up, more of them, less time between them, stunned by and furious at my anger at anyone, everything, mostly me, though today not because I forgot James Tate's birthday yesterday though it doesn't help, yesterday was not dark, I'll not document today's blark


James Tate

A bomb had exploded down the street. I got dressed and
walked down to see what happened. The Whalen's house had
been flattened. But Hal and Rebecca were standing in the street,
apparently unscathed. Everyone in the neighborhood was pouring
our of their houses and into the streets. "What the hell happened?"
I said to Hal. "We were in the garden, thank god, when this
plane flew over. The next thing I know, the house explodes to
smithereens," he said. "It must have been some kind of accident,"
I said. "Well, I voted for this president. They shouldn't be
targeting me," he said. "Friendly fire," I said. "What the hell's
that?" he said. "They mistook you for somebody else," I said.
"Well, they shouldn't be bombing in this neighborhood, I don't
care who they thought I was. Children and old people live here,
and dogs," he said. "I'm sure you'll be getting a letter of apology,
and maybe a new house," I said. "It's lucky I didn't have a heart
attack," Rebecca Whalen said. Joe Mizelle walked up. "That
sure was a clean hit. No collateral damage whatsoever," he said.
"How do you know they didn't mean to hit your house and just
accidentally hit mine?" Hal said. "Jesus, I hadn't thought of
that. But I haven't done anything wrong. I voted for him, even
though I think he's a shifty bastard," Joe said. "Everything we
had is gone," Rebecca said, whimpering into her tissue. "When it
cools down, we can sift through the wreckage," Hal said, comforting
her. "I'd be glad to lend a hand," I said. "Maybe your silverware
survived, if it didn't melt in the heat," Joe said. Other neighbors
had gathered around and were whispering amongst themselves. "This
is the price we pay for our protection." "Thank god we live in a
democracy." "I'm sure they know what they were doing." "I'm going
to write my congressman." Hal turned to me and said, "Maybe I
am guilty. Maybe I did do something to deserve this. It's hard to
remember, on a day-to-day basis, everything you've said and every
little thing you've done. I can be kind of a free spirit sometimes.
I probably brought this on myself. And someone filed a report on
me. Oh god, I don't want to think about it, it's awful." "Listen,
Hal, I still think it was a mistake. It happens all the time.
Those reports pass through so many hands, by the time they reach
the top somebody has gotten the wrong address," I said. "All the
photographs and all the precious mementos of the children that can
never be replaced," Rebecca sobbed. "One of your boys works for the
government, doesn't he?" Joe said. "He's just a clerk in Washington,"
Hal said. "Still, I wouldn't rule him out," Joe said. "You're
beginning to irritate me," Hal said. The neighbors were drifting back
to their homes, their curiosities satisfied. Joe, too, turned
and left, but not before adding, "I was just trying to interject a
little humor. Sorry, no offense intended." Hal failed to dignify
this with a reply. The three of us stood there staring at the smouldering
rubble in silence. "Well, you're welcome to stay at my place," I
said finally. Hal looked at me as if to measure my trust. Then he
said, "This wasn't our real home. We have a secret home where we
keep our valuables. Nobody knows its whereabouts, not even our
children. There was nothing in there but junk. I figured they'd come
sooner or later. And they didn't get the car, so we'll be fine.
Rebecca, here, just had to put on a little show for the neighbors.
You can't trust most of them, if you know what I mean." We shook
hands and embraced. Then they got in their car and were gone forever.
I memorized their license plate number - 357 O19 - for good luck.


James Tate

My beloved little billiard balls,
my polite mongrels, edible patriotic plums,   
you owe your beauty to your mother, who   
resembled a cyclindrical corned beef   
with all the trimmings, may God rest   
her forsaken soul, for it is all of us   
she forsook; and I shall never forget
her sputtering embers, and then the little mound.
Yes, my little rum runners, she had defective   
tear ducts and could weep only iced tea.   
She had petticoats beneath her eyelids.   
And in her last years she found ball bearings   
in her beehive puddings, she swore allegiance   
to Abyssinia. What should I have done?   
I played the piano and scrambled eggs.   
I had to navigate carefully around her brain’s   
avalanche lest even a decent finale be forfeited.
And her beauty still evermore. You see,
as she was dying, I led each of you to her side,
one by one she scorched you with her radiance.
And she is ever with us in our acetylene leisure.
But you are beautiful, and I, a slave to a heap of cinders.

1 comment:

  1. the title of this post, 'zero as a paradigm', leads a websearcher to the following book description, among other things:

    A symbol for what is not there, an emptiness that increases any number it's added to, an inexhaustible and indispensable paradox. As we welcome the new millennium, zero is once again making its presence felt. Nothing itself, it makes possible a myriad of calculations. Indeed, without zero mathematics as we know it would not exist. And without mathematics our understanding of the universe would be vastly impoverished. But where did this nothing, this hollow circle, come from? Who created it? And what, exactly, does it mean?

    Robert Kaplan's The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero begins as a mystery story, taking us back to Sumerian times, then to Greece and India, piecing together the way the idea of a symbol for nothing evolved. For Kaplan, the history of zero is a lens for looking not only into the evolution of mathematics but into very nature of human thought. He points out how the history of mathematics is a process of recursive abstraction: how once a symbol is created to represent an idea, that symbol itself gives rise to new operations that in turn lead to new ideas. The beauty of mathematics is that even though we invent it, we seem to be discovering something that already exists.

    The joy of that discovery shines from Kaplan's pages, as he ranges from Archimedes to Einstein, making fascinating connections between mathematical insights from every age and culture.