Thursday, September 12, 2013

More or Less Everything and More or Less

 "The object of your quest is God; you are seeking to pass beyond your understanding and make yourself master of the universe. The toil involved matches the rewards to be won, nor are such high attainments secured without a price."
--Manilius, bold indicating inscription on Fields Medal 
We were riding next to each other but not quite, in the way you do when you want to chat but you don't want to obstruct traffic, and I shouted something about how Rock Creek Park in the evening is great when it's hot because the valleys are cool and they always feel good when you descend into them, and after each climb, you desperately need that cooling, but he didn't seem to hear me, and we were approaching Brandywine climb and it was too late to repeat myself, and we were into the climb, heading up toward the setting sun, and he said, "I feel like I'm on film with this lighting."

Earlier in the evening when I rode the hills solo, a car had passed me dangerously going into a descent, and I'd passed him back because I was angry.  Then he passed me again dangerously when we hit the valley and shouted, and I'd only been able to gesture wildly in return.

I struggled through the climbs, a weariness in my body, a lack of suppleness and a lethargy that, for this year I've mostly been without.

Before each ride a different thing to tighten, and to hope it would stop the creaking:  the cassette lockring, shoe cleats, the headset.  There was disappointment when I stood on the first climb it returned:  RRrrrrr RRRrrrrr with each step.

I spent most of the ride searching for a reason to be out.  The ground oozed a heat I'd last felt in July, after a record-cool August, like riding in a dog's mouth.  

Why make it rough?  Why train?

My season is done.  I tell myself it is time to slow down.  Time to remember how to ride a bike, to not think about being fast, to zone 1, to start remembering to look at things on the side of the road, to not desire to kill, kill, kill on the bike.

Life is a journey, not a race.

Right?

And yet I hit another climb, for no reason, harder yet.  Sweat seeps into my shoes and onto my sunglasses.  It flows from my beard.

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King sits unfinished on my shelf at home; this is both lazy and appropriate, I suppose, since Wallace left the writing of it unfinished when he killed himself.  Wallace tried to explore what he considered the "bedrock" of our existence : "loneliness, depression and ennui...the deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from."

I suppose this bedrock was too much for him.

There's one notion about math--that is about truth; when we really want to say something is true, we say it's like 2+2=4.

There's another notion of math--that it is mere distraction.   Kurt Gödel (like Wallace, a victim of suicide) proved two incompleteness theorems that limit what mathematical logic can say with certainty, essentially, to the trivial.

Still, we explain the relationships that govern our universe with math, from miles per hour, to energy to matter (E = mc^2 \,\!).  Numbers allows us to know there is an unexplained asymmetry in the universe that permits our own existence.  

Why do I keep hammering?

The sun now goes down over Brandwine, and I coast through the cool valley with the shadows on the hills to the east, and the billions photons that traveled from the sun, that flew from it in a burst of fusion energy and flew through 93 million miles through a blackness empty of molecules.

They strike the leaves and my eyes somehow turn this into a scene I compose and now feel.  "Poets do not go mad," wrote Chesterton, "but chess players do.  Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.  I am not attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination."

To which Wallace replied, "Chesterton above is wrong in one respect.  Or at least imprecise.  The danger he's trying to name is not logic.  Logic is just a method, and methods can't unhinge people.  What Chesterton's really trying to talk about is one of logic's main characteristics--and mathematics'.  Abstractness. Abstraction."

Abstraction, Wallace goes on to explain as (in Everything and More) " = drawn away."

To find and coast on a bicycle in the flow of a creek valley in the setting sun; to only feel the breeze and the damp steam of my own body; to see two ten-point buck unconcerned and to remember skinning a deer, peeling its pelt down over its muscles in the freezing Michigan air of my grandpa's comfortably overstuffed garage.

To be drawn back.

I hammer up the last climb and head home.

1 comment:

dj cyclone said...

That's good Paps. Thanks for going deep. Mining. Testifying. Exploring etc and especially coming back. Remember, it was Lemmy Kilimister who said 'you can't boogie with the boogie man'.... And come to think of it James Osterberg said 'I'm deeper then the shit I'm in.'. A lot of people said a lot of things but the wheels keep spinning.