I’ve been reading a book of Japanese Death Poems lent to me by my son. I was quite ignorant of the Japanese tradition of writing a poem at the point of death: it seems very strange to us that someone can not only know when they are about to die but stop to write a poem before they go; but I found these poems to be a great source of peace: all of us in the West need to learn to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it and trying to prolong our lives as much as possible.
I’ve also been watching a film about the Tamil mathematician Ramanujan. Played by Dev Patel, Ramanujan is an untutored genius with a brilliant intuitive mind who regards mathematics as a sort of worship and does his calculations in the sand of the temple floor. He has a mind as beautiful as Nash’s but without any opportunity to share his insights; however a friend takes his papers to show the local British bigwig and he gets an opportunity to go to Cambridge and study under Hardy:
Jeremy Irons (how I love that man) is perfect as the atheist Hardy, a man fighting on more fronts than the War which forms the backdrop to this narrative. Prejudice is ingrained and Trinity College refuses to acknowledge that ‘an Indian’ could be brainier than they are. But Hardy is also fighting Ramanujan himself, who cannot understand his insistence on ‘proving’ the arguments which he intuitively ‘sees’. Intuition, in the West, is not enough: there must be proof, especially if Ramanujan is to be elected as a Fellow. An opportunity to explore these cultural differences is missed; in fact missed opportunities are a feature of this film. Stephen Fry has a cameo as British bigwig Sir Francis Spring who abruptly changes his mind about supporting Ramanujan (another opportunity for drama missed) and other supporting roles are underexploited, such as Toby Jones as Hardy’s friend and co-conspirator and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell; a man sympathetic to racial equality but realistic about Ramanujan’s chances of Fellow-ship.
A sad sub-plot involves Ramanujan’s young wife, separated from him by his relocation to England. Their separation is cruelly compounded by his jealous mother who hides their letters, so that each thinks the other has forgotten them. But once again the opportunity for drama is missed; the wife finds the letters and we fast-forward to a reconciliation, though sadly they have only two more years together before he dies of TB.
I’m very interested in the subject of multicultural maths. Arabic cultures were fluent in maths and much of their art is based on patterns of numbers: I wonder if we are still as arrogant today as those Trinity scholars who thought the way of the West was the only way?
The film’s on Netflix now if you want to watch it:
And I have a sneaking suspicion that in Zen mathematics 1+1=1…
Yes, it’s all too horribly true: my phone ringer is dead. Or maybe it’s sleeping; either way on any of the various occasions when it is supposed to make a noise – alarm, text, call, facebook message, facebook update, reminder and god knows what else – it is content to make a sudden purr like an intermittent cat. In other words it does everything it should do when it’s on silent, but it isn’t. I have checked and double-checked the settings; I have (in the time-honoured way) turned things off and on and on and off again and still it persists in purring. So I must perforce consider the meaning of the term ‘dead ringer’. Jeremy Irons (once my favourite actor) plays twins in a film of that name, Meat Loaf sang about it and the Radio 4 programme features it. So what is it?
The origin of the phrase is apparently from horse-racing: ‘dead’ meaning ‘exact’ (as in ‘dead heat’) and ‘ringer’ meaning a horse falsely substituted for another which it resembles. Hence a dead ringer, meaning an exact lookalike. At least I’ve always understood it to mean a lookalike, which makes the radio 4 concept somewhat paradoxical don’t it?
Still it’s a fun programme: Tom Baker is a staple and they do Boris Johnson brilliantly:
Here’s the Meat Loaf song:
and here’s the film:
A short one today but what do you expect? My ringer is dead…
Still buzzing from the poetry on Tues – it was very empowering. Looking forward to Tomatoes on Sat, where I shall do 2 poems about bridges and possibly one about the Craft group if time. Yesterday was good – finally bit the bullet and sent the play off. The good thing about the BBC is that they send you a postcard acknowledging receipt, so you don’t have to worry about it going astray.
Daniel had a visit from his friend little Alex (as opposed to big Alex). I spent the afternoon at a loose end, having sent the play off. Couldn’t settle to anything. I have a story which is nearing completion – the one about Home Ed – a couple of people have read and enjoyed it. If you want to read it, let me know.
My ear is still blocked. It’s my left ear. Perhaps it’s a punishment for mocking the lyrics of Spandau Ballet. Or for wishing that my ears were alight. I shall make an appointment at the doctor’s today.
Swimming this morning. I know, it won’t do my ears much good but I shall put earplugs in. I’m going to have them syringed anyway.
Didn’t go to PIPs last night (Philosophy in the Pub). Feeling tired.
Tomorrow there are vigils in town against the EDL. What has come out of all this is some very positive co-operation between churches and mosques; our church and the Barclay St mosque in particular. The anti-semitism in The Merchant of Venice is very shocking – and Shakespeare, having it both ways as usual, both repudiates and participates in it.
Shakespeare is god. I don’t watch enough Shakespeare.
Melvyn Bragg is on the radio, talking about a lost Ted Hughes poem which has come to light. Apparently it totally changes ‘The Birthday Letters’ as it’s about Sylvia Plath’s suicide.