Reappearance Rates and Ultimate Event Theory

 [Note :   This post is taken from the website http://www.ultimateeventtheory.com where the basic ideas are explained in previous posts.]

Although, in modern physics,  many elementary particles are extremely short-lived, others such as protons are virtually immortal. But either way, a particle, while it does exist, is assumed to be continuously existing. And solid objects such as we see all around us like rocks and hills, are also assumed to be ‘continuously existing’ even though they may undergo gradual changes in internal composition. Since solid objects and even elementary particles don’t appear, disappear and re-appear, they don’t have a ‘re-appearance rate ’ ─ they’re always there when they are there, so to speak.
However, in UET the ‘natural’ tendency is for everything to flash in and out of existence and virtually all  ultimate events disappear for ever after a single appearance leaving a trace that would, at best, show up as a sort of faint background ‘noise’ or ‘flicker of existence’. All apparently solid objects are, according to the UET paradigm, conglomerates of repeating ultimate events that are bonded together ‘laterally’, i.e. within  the same ksana, and also ‘vertically’, i.e. from one ksana to the next (since otherwise they would not show up again ever). A few ultimate events, those that have acquired persistence ─ we shall not for the moment ask how and why they acquire this property ─ are able to bring about, i.e. cause, their own re-appearance : in such a case we have an event-chain which is, by definition,  a causally bonded sequence of ultimate events.
But how often do the constituent events of an event-chain re-appear?  Taking the simplest case of an event-chain composed of a single repeating ultimate event, are we to suppose that this event repeats at every single ksana (‘moment’ if you like)? There is on the face of it no particular reason why this should be so and many reasons why this would seem to be very unlikely.    

The Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity 

Newtonian physics, likewise 18th and 19th century rationalism generally, assumes what I have referred to elsewhere as the Postulate of Spatio-temporal Continuity. This postulate or principle, though rarely explicitly  stated in philosophic or scientific works,  is actually one of the most important of the ideas associated with the Enlightenment and thus with the entire subsequent intellectual development of Western society. In its simplest form, the principle says that an event occurring here, at a particular spot in Space-Time (to use the current term), cannot have an effect there, at a spot some distance away without having effects at all (or at least most?/ some?) intermediate spots. The original event sets up a chain reaction and a frequent image used is that of a whole row of upright dominoes falling over one by one once the first has been pushed over. This is essentially how Newtonian physics views the action of a force on a body or system of bodies, whether the force in question is a contact force (push/pull) or a force acting at a distance like gravity.
As we envisage things today, a blow affects a solid object by making the intermolecular distances of the surface atoms contract a little and they pass on this effect to neighbouring molecules which in turn affect nearby objects they are in contact with or exert an increased pressure on the atmosphere,  and so on. Moreover, although this aspect of the question is glossed over in Newtonian (and even modern) physics, each transmission of the original impulse  ‘takes time’ : the re-action is never instantaneous (except possibly in the case of gravity) but comes ‘a moment later’, more precisely at least one ksana later. This whole issue will be discussed in more detail later, but, within the context of the present discussion, the point to bear in mind is that,  according to Newtonian physics and rationalistic thought generally, there can be no leap-frogging with space and time. Indeed, it was because of the Principle of Spatio-temporal Continuity that most European scientists rejected out of hand Newton’s theory of universal attraction since, as Newton admitted, there seemed to be no way that a solid body such as  the Earth could affect another solid body such as the Moon thousands  of kilometres with nothing in between except ‘empty space’.   Even as late as the mid 19th century, Maxwell valiantly attempted to give a mechanical explanation of his own theory of electro-magnetism, and he did this essentially because of the widespread rock-hard belief in the principle of spatio-temporal continuity.
The principle, innocuous  though it may sound, has also had  extremely important social and political implications since, amongst other things, it led to the repeal of laws against witchcraft in the ‘advanced’ countries ─ the new Legislative Assembly in France shortly after the revolution specifically abolished all penalties for ‘imaginary’ crimes and that included witchcraft. Why was witchcraft considered to be an ‘imaginary crime’? Essentially because it  offended against the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity. The French revolutionaries who drew the statue of Reason through the streets of Paris and made Her their goddess, considered it impossible to cause someone’s death miles away simply by thinking ill of them or saying Abracadabra. Whether the accused ‘confessed’ to having brought about someone’s death in this way, or even sincerely believed it, was irrelevant : no one had the power to disobey the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity.
The Principle got somewhat muddied  when science had to deal with electro-magnetism ─ Does an impulse travel through all possible intermediary positions in an electro-magnetic field? ─ but it was still very much in force in 1905 when Einstein formulated the Theory of Special Relativity. For Einstein deduced from his basic assumptions that one could not ‘send a message’ faster than the speed of light and that, in consequence,  this limited the speed of propagation of causality. If I am too far away from someone else I simply cannot cause this person’s death at that particular time and that is that. The Principle ran into trouble, of course,  with the advent of Quantum Mechanics but it remains deeply entrenched in our way of thinking about the world which is why alibis are so important in law, to take but one example. And it is precisely because Quantum Mechanics appears to violate the principle that QM is so worrisome and the chief reason why some of the scientists who helped to develop the theory such as Einstein himself, and even Schrodinger, were never happy with  it. As Einstein put it, Quantum Mechanics involved “spooky action at a distance” ─ exactly the same objection that the Cartesians had made to Newton.
So, do I propose to take the principle over into UET? The short answer is, no. If I did take over the principle, it would mean that, in every bona fide event-chain, an ultimate event would make an appearance at every single ‘moment’ (ksana), and I could see in advance that there were serious problems ahead if I assumed this : certain regions of the Locality would soon get hopelessly clogged up with colliding event-chains. Also, if all the possible positions in all ‘normal’ event-sequences were occupied, there would be little point in having a theory of events at all, since, to all intents and purposes, all event-chains would behave as if they were solid objects and one might as well just stick to normal physics. One of the main  reasons for elaborating a theory of events in the first place was my deep-rooted conviction ─ intuition if you like ─ that physical reality is discontinuous and that there are gaps between ksanas ─ or at least that there could be gaps given certain conditions. In the theory I eventually roughed out, or am in the process of roughing out, both spatio-temporal continuity and infinity are absent and will remain prohibited.
But how does all this square with my deduction (from UET hypotheses) that the maximum propagation rate of causality is a single grid-position per ksana, s0/t0, where s0 is the spatial dimension of an event capsule ‘at rest’ and t0 the ‘rest’ temporal dimension? In UET, what replaces the ‘object-based’ image of a tiny nucleus inside an atom, is the vision of a tiny kernel of fixed extent where every ultimate event occurs embedded in a relatively enormous four-dimensional event capsule. Any causal influence emanates from the kernel and, if it is to ‘recreate’ the original ultimate event a ksana later, it must traverse at least half the ‘length’ (spatial dimesion) of one capsule plus half of the next one, i.e. ½ s0 + ½ s0 = 1 s0 where s0 is the spatial dimension of an event-capsule ‘at rest’ (its normal state). For if the causal influence did not ‘get that far’, it would not be able to bring anything about at all, would be like a messenger who could not reach a destination receding faster than he could run flat out. The runner’s ‘message’, in this case the recreation of a clone of the original ultimate event, would never get delivered and nothing would ever come about at all.
This problem does not occur in normal physics since objects are not conceived as requiring a causal force to stop them disappearing, and, on top of that, ‘space/time’ is assumed to be continuous and infinitely divisible. In UET there are minimal spatial and temporal units (that of the the grid-space and the ksana) and ‘time’ in the UET sense of an endless succession of ksanas, stops for no man or god, not even physicists who are born, live and die successively like everything else. I believe that succession, like causality, is built into the very fabric of physical reality and though there is no such thing as continuous motion, there is and always will be change since, even if nothing else is happening, one ksana is being replaced by another, different, one ─ “the moving finger writes, and, having writ, moves on” (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam). Heraclitus said that “No man ever steps into the same river twice”, but a more extreme follower of his disagreed, saying that it was impossible to step into the same river once, which is the Hinayana  Buddhist view. For ‘time’ is not a river that flows at a steady rate (as Newton envisaged it) but a succession of ‘moments’ threaded like beads on an invisible  chain and with minute gaps between the beads.

Limit to unitary re-appearance rate

So, returning to my repeating ultimate event, could the ‘re-creation rate’ of an ultimate event be  greater than the minimal rate of 1 s0/t0 ? Could it, for example, be  2, 3 or 5 spacesper ksana? No. For if and when the ultimate event re-appeared, say  5 ksanas later, the original causal impulse would have covered a distance of 5 s0   ( s0 being the spatial dimension of each capsule) and would have taken 5 ksanas to do  this. Consequently the space/time displacement rate would be the same (but not in this case the individual distances). I note this rate as c* in ‘absolute units’, the UET equivalent of c, since it denotes an upper limit to the propagation of the causal influence (Note 1). For the very continuing existence of anything depends on causality : each ‘object’ that does persist in isolation does so because it is perpetually re-creating itself (Note 2).

But note that it is only the unitary rate, the distance/time ratio taken over a single ksana,  that cannot be less (or more) than one grid-space per ksana or 1 s0/t0 : any fractional (but not irrational) re-appearance rate is perfectly conceivable provided it is spread out over several ksanas. A re-appearance rate of m/n s0/t0  simply means that the ultimate event in question re-appears in an equivalent spatial position on the Locality m times every n ksanas where m/n ≤ 1. And there are all sorts of different ways in which this rate be achieved. For example, a re-appearance rate of 3/5 s0/t0 could be a repeating pattern such as

Reappearance rates 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and one pattern could change over into the other either randomly or, alternatively, according to a particular rule.
As one increases the difference between the numerator and the denominator, there are obviously going to be many more possible variations : all this could easily be worked out mathematically using combinatorial analysis. But note that it is the distribution of ™the black and white at matters since, once a re-appearance rhythm has begun, there is no real difference between a ‘vertical’ rate of 0™˜™˜●0● and ˜™˜™™˜™˜™˜™˜●0™˜™˜●0 ™˜™™˜™˜ ˜™˜™ ─ it all depends on where you start counting. Patterns with the same repetition rate only count as different if this difference is recognizable no matter where you start examining the sequence.
Why does all this matter? Because, each time there is a blank line, this means that the ultimate event in question does not make an appearance at all during this ksana, and, if we are dealing with large denominators, this could mean very large gaps indeed in an event chain. Suppose, for example, an event-chain had a re-appearance rate of 4/786. There would only be four appearances (black dots) in a period of 786 ksanas, and there would inevitably be very large blank sections of the Locality when the ultimate event made no appearance.

Lower Limit of re-creation rate 

Since, by definition, everything in UET is finite, there must be a maximum number of possible consecutive gaps  or non-reappearances. For example, if we set the limit at, say, 20 blank lines, or 200, this would mean that, each time this blank period was observed, we could conclude that the event-chain had terminated. This is the UET equivalent  of the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity and effectively excludes phenomena such as an ultimate event in an event-chain making its re-appearance a century later than its first appearance. This limit would have to be estimated on the  basis of experiments since I do not see how a specific value can be derived from theoretical considerations alone. It is tempting to estimate that this value would involve c* or a multiple of c* but this is only a wild guess ─ Nature does not always favour elegance and simplicity.
Such a rule would limit how ‘stretched out’ an event-chain can be temporally and, in reality , there may not after all be a hard and fast general rule  : the maximal extent of the gap could decline exponentially or in accordance with some other function. That is, an abnormally long gap followed by the re-appearance of an event, would decrease the possible upper limit slightly in much the same way as chance associations increase the likelihood of an event-chain forming in the first place. If, say, there was an original limit of a  gap of 20 ksanas, whenever the re-appearance rate had a gap of 19, the limit would be reduced to 19 and so on.
It is important to be clear that we are not talking about the phenomenon of ‘time dilation’ which concerns only the interval between one ksana and the next according to a particular viewpoint. Here, we simply have an event-chain where an ultimate event is repeating at the same spot on the spatial part of the Locality : it is ‘at rest’ and not displacing itself laterally at all. The consequences for other viewpoints would have to be investigated.

Re-appearance Rate as an intrinsic property of an event-chain  

Since Galileo, and subsequently Einstein, it has become customary in physics to distinguish, not between rest and motion, but rather between unaccelerated motion and  accelerated motion. And the category of ‘unaccelerated motion’ includes all possible constant straight-line speeds including zero (rest). It seems, then,  that there is no true distinction to be made between ‘rest’ and motion just so long as the latter is motion in a straight line at a constant displacement rate. This ‘relativisation’ of  motion in effect means that an ‘inertial system’ or a particle at rest within an inertial system does not really have a specific velocity at all, since any estimated velocity is as ‘true’ as any other. So, seemingly, ‘velocity’ is not a property of a single body but only of a system of at least two bodies. This is, in a sense, rather odd) since there can be no doubt that a ‘change of velocity’, an acceleration, really is a feature of a single body (or is it?).
Consider a spaceship which is either completely alone in the universe or sufficiently remote from all massive bodies that it can be considered in isolation. What is its speed? It has none since there is no reference system or body to which its speed can be referred. It is, then, at rest ─ or this is what we must assume if there are no internal signs of acceleration such as plates falling around or rattling doors and so on. If the spaceship is propelling itself forward (or in some direction we call ‘forward’) intermittently by jet propulsion the acceleration will be note by the voyagers inside the ship supposing there are some. Suppose there is no further discharge of chemicals for a while. Is the spaceship now moving at a different and greater velocity than before? Not really. One could I suppose refer the vessel’s new state of motion to the centre of mass of the ejected chemicals but this seems rather artificial especially as they are going to be dispersed. No matter how many times this happens, the ship will not be gaining speed, or so it would appear. On the other hand, the changes in velocity, or accelerations are undoubtedly real since their effects can be observed within the reference frame.
So what to conclude? One could say that ‘acceleration’ has ‘higher reality status’ than simple velocity since it does not depend on a reference point outside the system. ‘Velocity’ is a ‘reality of second order’ whereas acceleration is a ‘reality of first order’. But once again there is a difference between normal physics and UET physics in this respect. Although the distinction between unaccelerated and accelerated motion is taken over into UET (re-baptised ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ motion), there is in Ultimate Event Theory, but not in contemporary physics, a kind of ‘velocity’ that has nothing to do with any other body whatsoever, namely the event-chain’s re-appearance rate.
When one has spent some time studying Relativity one ends up wondering whether after all “everything is relative” and quite a lot of physicists and philosophers seems to actually believe something not far from this : the universe is evaporating away as we look it and leaving nothing but a trail of unintelligible mathematical formulae. In Quantum Mechanics (as Heisenberg envisaged it anyway) the properties of a particular ‘body’ involve the properties of all the other bodies in the universe, so that there remain very few, if any, intrinsic properties that a body or system can possess. However, in UET, there is a reality safety net. For there are at least two  things that are not relative, since they pertain to the event-chain or event-conglomerate itself whether it is alone in the universe or embedded in a dense network of intersecting event-chains we view as matter. These two things are (1) occurrence and (2) rate of occurrence and both of them are straight numbers, or ratios of integers.
An ultimate event either has occurrence or it does not : there is no such thing as the ‘demi-occurrence’ of an event (though there might be such a thing as a potential event). Every macro event is (by the preliminary postulates of UET) made up of a finite number of ultimate events and every trajectory of every event-conglomerate has an event number associated with it. But this is not all. Every event-chain ─ or at any rate normal or ‘well-behaved’ event-chain ─ has a ‘re-appearance rate’. This ‘re-appearance rate’ may well change considerably during the life span of a particular event-chain, either randomly or following a particular rule, and, more significantly, the ‘re-appearance rates’ of event-conglomerates (particles, solid bodies and so on) can, and almost certainly do, differ considerably from each other. One ‘particle’ might have a re-appearance rate of 4, (i.e. re-appear every fourth ksana) another with the same displacement rate  with respect to the first a rate of 167 and so on. And this would have great implications for collisions between event-chains and event-conglomerates.

Re-appearance rates and collisions 

What happens during a collision? One or more solid bodies are disputing the occupation of territory that lies on their  trajectories. If the two objects miss each other, even narrowly, there is no problem : the objects occupy ‘free’ territory. In UET event conglomerates have two kinds of ‘velocity’, firstly their intrinsic re-appearance rates which may differ considerably, and, secondly, their displacement rate relative to each other. Every event-chain may be considered to be ‘at rest’ with respect to itself, indeed it is hard to see how it could be anything at all if this were not the case. But the relative speed of even unaccelerated event-chains will not usually be zero and is perfectly real since it has observable and often dramatic consequences.
Now, in normal physics, space, time and existence itself is regarded as continuous, so two objects will collide if their trajectories intersect and they will miss each other if their trajectories do not intersect. All this is absolutely clearcut, at least in principle. However, in UET there are two quite different ways in which ‘particles’ (small event conglomerates) can miss each other.
First of all, there is the case when both objects (repeating event-conglomerates) have a 1/1 re-appearance rate, i.e. there is an ultimate event at every ksana in both cases. If object B is both dense and occupies a relatively large region of the Locality at each re-appearance, and the relative speed is low, the chances are that the two objects will collide. For, suppose a relative displacement rate of 2 spaces to the right (or left)  at each ksana and take B to be stationary and A, marked in red, displacing itself two spaces at every ksana.

Reappearance rates 2

Clearly, there is going to be trouble at the  very next ksana.
However, since space/time and existence and everything else (except possibly the Event Locality) is not continuous in UET, if the relative speed of the two objects were a good deal greater, say 7 spaces per 7 ksanas (a rate of 7/7)  the red event-chain might manage to just miss the black object.

This could not happen in a system that assumes the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity : in UET there is  leap-frogging with space and time if you like. For the red event-chain has missed out certain positions on the Locality which, in principle could have been occupied.

But this is not all. A collision could also have been avoided if the red chain had possessed a different re-appearance rate even though it remained a ‘slow’ chain compared to the  black one. For consider a 7/7 re-appearance rate i.e. one appearance every seven ksanas and a displacement rate of two spaces per ksana relative to the black conglomerate taken as being stationary. This would work out to an effective rate of 14 spaces to the right at each appearance ─ more than enough to miss the black event-conglomerate.

Moreover, if we have a repeating event-conglomerate that is very compact, i.e. occupies very few neighbouring grid-spaces at each appearance (at the limit just one), and is also extremely rapid compared to the much larger conglomerates it is likely to come across, this ‘event-particle’ will miss almost everything all the time. In UET it is much more of a problem how a small and ‘rapid’ event-particle can ever collide with anything at all (and thus be perceived) than for a particle to apparently disappear into thin air. When I first came to this rather improbable conclusion I was somewhat startled. But I did not know at the time that neutrinos, which are thought to have a very small mass and to travel nearly at the speed of light, are by far the commonest particles in the universe and, even though millions are passing through my fingers as I write this sentence, they are incredibly difficult to detect because they interact with ordinary ‘matter’ so rarely (Note 3). This, of course, is exactly what I would expect ─ though, on the other hand, it is a mystery why it is so easy to intercept photons and other particles. It is possible that the question of re-appearance rates has something to do with this : clearly neutrinos are not only extremely compact, have very high speed compared to most material objects, but also have an abnormally high re-appearance rate, near to the maximum.
RELATIVITY   Reappeaance Rates Diagram         In the adjacent diagram we have the same angle sin θ = v/c but progressively more extended reappearance rates 1/1; 2/2; 3/3; and so on. The total area taken over n ksanas will be the same but the behaviour of the event-chains will be very different.
I suspect that the question of different re-appearance rates has vast importance in all branches of physics. For it could well be that it is a similarity of re-appearance rates ─ a sort of ‘event resonance’ ─ that draws disparate event chains together and indeed is instrumental in the formation of the very earliest event-chains to emerge from the initial randomness that preceded the Big Bang or similar macro events.
Also, one suspects that collisions of event conglomerates  disturb not only the spread and compactness of the constituent events-chains, likewise their ‘momentums’, but also and more significantly their re-appearance rates. All this is, of course, highly speculative but so was atomic theory prior to the 20th century event though atomism as a physical theory and cultural paradigm goes back to the 4th century BC at least.        SH  29/11/13

 

 

Note 1  Compared to the usual 3 × 108 metres/second the unitary  value of s/t0 seems absurdly small. But one must understand that s/t0 is a ratio and that we are dealing with very small units of distance and time. We only perceive large multiples of these units and it is important to bear in mind that s0is a maximum while t0 is a minimum. The actual kernel, where each ultimate event has occurrence, turns out to be s0/c* =  su so in ‘ultimate units’ the upper limit is c* su/t0.  It is nonetheless a surprising and somewhat inexplicable physiological fact that we, as human beings, have a pretty good sense of distance but an incredibly crude sense of time. It is only necessary to pass images at a rate of about eight per second for the brain to interpret the successive in images as a continuum and the film industry is based on this circumstance. Physicists, however, gaily talk of all sorts of important changes happening millionths or billionths of a second and in an ordinary digital watch the quartz crystal is vibrating thousands of times a second (293,000 I believe).

 Note 2  Only Descartes amongst Western thinkers realized there was a problem here and ascribed the power of apparent self-perpetuation to the repeated intervention of God; today, in a secular world, we perforce ascribe it to ‘ natural forces’.
In effect, in UET, everything is pushed one stage back. For Newton and Galileo the  ‘natural’ state of objects was to continue existing in constant straight line motion whereas in UET the ‘natural’ state of ultimate events is to disappear for ever. If anything does persist, this shows there is a force at work. The Buddhists call this all-powerful causal force ‘karma but unfortunately they were only interested in the moral,  as opposed to physical, implications of karmic force otherwise we would probably have had a modern theory of physics centuries earlier than we actually did.

Note 3  “Neutrinos are the commonest particles of all. There are even more of them flying around the cosmos than there are photons (…) About 400 billion neutrinos from the Sun pass through each one of us every second.”  Frank Close, Particle Physics A Very Short Introduction (OUP) p. 41-2 

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POWER

Power ─ what is power? In physics it is the rate of ‘doing Work’ but this meaning has little or no connection to ‘power’ in the political or social sense.
Power is the capacity to constrain other people to do your bidding whether or not they wish to do so. This sounds pretty negative and indeed power has had a bad sense ever since the Romantics from whom we have never really recovered. Hobbes spent a good deal of his life trying to persuade the ‘powers that be’ of his time, i.e. King and/or Parliament, to make themselves absolute ─ even though he himself was exactly the sort of freewheeling and freethinking individual no absolute ruler would want to have as a citizen. But Hobbes lived through the Civil War which the Romantics didn’t. Prior to the nineteenth century most people of all classes were more afraid of the breakdown or absence of power (‘chaos’, ‘anarchy’) than of ‘abuse of power’: indeed they would find modern attitudes not only misguided but scarcely comprehensible.
If you wish to live in society, there has to be some way of constraining people since otherwise everyone pulls in different directions and nothing gets done. If you don’t believe me, go and spend a few weeks or even days in a situation where no one has power. I have lived in ‘communities’ and they are intolerable for this very reason. What usually happens is that someone soon steps into the power vacuum and he (less often she) is the person who shouts loudest, pushes hardest, is the most unscrupulous and generally the most hateful ─ though sometimes also the most efficient. In more traditional communities it is not so much the more assertive as the ‘older and wiser’ who wield the power, the obvious example being the Quakers. This sounds a lot better but in my experience it isn’t that much of an improvement. People like the Quakers who forego the use of physical force tend to be highly manipulative ─ they have to be ─  and it would be quite wrong to believe that a power structure in the Quakers or the Amish does not exist for it certainly does. In fact no society can exist for more than a month without a power structure, i.e. without someone (whether one or many) holding power.

Necessity of power
So, my thesis is the unoriginal one that some form of power invested in specific  human beings (whether initially elected or not) is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. Lord Acton was being extremely silly when he made the endlessly repeated statement “All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” with the implication is that it is better to keep away from power altogether. Although I don’t know much about Lord Acton’s life, I can be pretty sure that he didn’t know what it was like to be powerless. One could just as well say, “All lack of power corrupts, absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely”. It is lack of physical or financial muscle that makes people devious, treacherous, deceitful : one more or less has to be like this to survive. And it is simply not true that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. You can’t get much nearer to absolute power than the position of the Roman Emperor. But Rome produced one or two quite good Emperors, e.g. Augustus himself and Hadrian, also one entirely admirable, indeed saintlike (though woefully ineffective) one, Marcus Aurelius. President Obama has currently more power in his hands than anyone who has ever existed, at least in the  military sense, and although not everyone agrees with his policies not even his enemies have accused him of being corrupt or corrupted by power.

Liberty to Order
One alarming and unexpected aspect of the dynamics of power is that when an existing power structure is overthrown, the ‘order’ that emerges from the usually brief period of chaos is a good deal more restrictive than what preceded it, witness the Commonwealth under Cromwell, Russia under Stalin &c. &c. In the ‘mini-revolution’ of Paris in May 1968, I and one or two others, watched open-mouthed, hardly believing what we were witnessing,  as a single individual, in whom at one stage most of us had full confidence, concentrated all the power of an occupied University faculty into his hands exactly like Robespierre or Stalin. And he did it without striking a blow.
Actually, such a dénouement is virtually inevitable ─ or at any rate  the danger of such a development will always be there. Immediately after a revolution there is usually a counter-attack by the ousted elite, so the revolutionaries find themselves with their backs to the wall. In such a situation, it is survival that counts, not liberty ─ because if you, or the social order you represent, don’t survive, then there won’t be any more liberty either, it will just be ancien régime all over again, only worse. So the revolutionaries enact repressive legislation to protect themselves, legislation which is rarely repealed when things eventually calm down.

Power and Eventrics
Why am I writing a post about power on this site? Because, as a friend has just this very day reminded me, I must beware of giving the impression that ‘Eventrics’, the theory of events and their interactions, only deals with  invisible ‘ultimate events’, equally invisible ‘Event Capsules’ and generally is about as irrelevant to everyday life as nuclear physics. Ultimate Event Theory is the microscopic branch of Eventrics but the theory applies right across the board and it may be that its strength will be in the domain of social thinking and power politics. Just as the physics of matter in bulk is very different from the physics of quarks and electrons, that part of Eventrics that deals with macro-events, i.e. with massive repeating bundles of ultimate events that behave as if they were independent entities, has on the face of it little in common with micro-eventrics (though presumably ultimately grounded in it).
So what has the Theory of Events and their Interactions to say about power? Well, firstly that it is events and their internal dynamism that drive history, not physical forces or even persons. Mechanics, electro-magnetism and so on are completely irrelevant to human power politics and indeed up to a point the less science you know the more successful you are likely to be  as an administrator  or politician. Biology is a little more relevant than physics because of the emphasis on struggle but it is all far too crude and ridiculously reductionist to apply directly to human societies. Human individuals certainly do not strive to acquire power in order to push their genes around more extensively : Casanova pushed his around more effectively than Hitler, Mussolini and Cromwell combined. And the widespread introduction of birth-control in Western societies demonstrates that modern human beings are certainly not under the thumb of their ‘selfish genes’ (as even Dawkins belatedly admits). Nor is this the only example. Just as virtue really is its own reward, at least sometimes, so apparently is the pursuit of power, and indeed at the end of the day so are most things.

Irrelevance of Contemporary Science to Power Politics
More fashionable contemporary ‘sciences’ such as complexity theory do  have something of interest to say about human affairs but their proponents have yet to make any predictions of import that have come true as far as I know. The financial crash of 2008, only anticipated by a handful of actual investors and traders such as Nessim Taleb and Soros (the former even pinpointed where the bubble would start, Fanny Mac and Fanny Mae), makes a mockery of the application of mathematics to economics and indeed of economics in toto as an exact science.
The reason for official science’s impotence when addressing human affairs is very  easy to explain :  almost all living scientists are employed either by universities or by the State. That is, they have never fought it out in the cut-throat world of business nor even, with one or two exceptions, dirtied their hands with investment, have never been under fire on a battlefield or even played poker for money. But it is in business, warfare and gambling that you can detect the ‘laws’ of power inasmuch as there are any, i.e. how to acquire power when you don’t have it and how to keep it when you do. Hitler was an auto-didact dismissed as a buffoon by the Eton and Oxbridge brigade that staffed the Foreign Affairs Department then as now : but he ran rings around them because he had learned his power politics strategy at the bottom, in the hard school of Austrian YMCA Hostels and German beer-halls.

Qualitative ‘Laws of Power’
There are most likely no specific laws of power in the sense that there are ‘laws of motion’ but there are certain recurrent features well worth mentioning. They are ‘qualitative’ rather than ‘quantitative’ but this is as it should be. It is stupid to put numbers on things like fashions and revolutions because it is not the specifics that matter, only the general trend. Indeed, the person who is obsessed with figures is likely to miss the general trend because the actual shapes and sizes don’t look familiar. Rutherford’s much quoted remark that “Qualitative is just poor quantitative” may have its uses in his domain (nuclear physics), but in human affairs it is more a matter of “quantitative is lazy or incompetent qualitative”.

Tipping Points and Momentum
So what noticeable trends are there? One very general feature, which sticks out a mile, is the ‘tipping point’ or ‘critical mass’.  Malcolm Gladwell, a non-scientist and a qualitative rather than quantitative thinker, wrote a justly praised bestseller called The Tipping Point, which demonstrates his sound understanding of the mechanisms at work. A movement, fashion, revolution &c. must seemingly attain a certain point : if it does not attain it, the movement will fail, fade away. If it does attain this point, the movement takes off and it does not take off in a ‘linear’ fashion but in a runaway ‘exponential’ fashion, at least for a while. Anyone who has lived through a period of severe social unrest or revolution knows what I am talking about. My own experience is based on the May 1968 ‘Student Revolution’ in Paris. But much the same goes for a new style in clothes or shoes : indeed fashions have something alarming precisely because they demonstrate power, sudden, naked power which sweeps aside all opposition. The fashion industry is in its way as frightening as the armaments industry and for the same reasons.
OK. There is a ‘tipping point’ (generally only one) and, following it, a consequent sudden burst of momentum : these are the first two items worth signalling. And these two features seem to have very little to do with particular individuals. It is the events themselves that do the work : the events pull the people along, not the reverse. Companies that found they had launched a trend overnight ─ Gladwell cites the Hush Puppies craze ─ were often the first to be surprised by their own success. As for political movements, I know for a fact, since I was part of the milieu, that the French left-wing intelligentsia was staggered out of its wits when a few scuffles in the Sorbonne for some reason turned almost overnight into the longest general strike ever known in a modern industrialized country.

Key Individuals
This general point (that it is not human beings that direct history) needs some qualification, however. There are indeed individuals who unleash a vast movement by a single act but this happens much less often than historians pretend, and usually the result is not at all what was intended. Princeps, the high-school boy who shot the Archduke at Sarajevo and precipitated WWI did have a political agenda of a kind but he neither wished nor intended to cause a European war.

To recap. We already have a few features to look out for. (1) tipping point; (2) sudden, vertiginous take-off when there is a take-off; (3) lack of anyone instigating or controlling the movement but (4) certain individuals who achieve what seems to be impossible by simply ‘moving with the events’.

Machiavelli

Today we tend to trace the study of power back to Machiavelli and certainly it would be foolish to downplay his importance. Nonetheless, the historical situation in which Machiavelli worked and thought, Quattrocento Italy, is completely different from the modern world, at any rate what we call the ‘advanced’ modern world. Would-be rulers in Machiavelli’s time acquired power either by being promoted by some clique or by direct annexation and murder. But no 20th century head of an important state acquired power by a coup d’etat : he or she  generally acquired it by the ballot box — and incredibly this even applies to Hitler who obtained the votes of a third of the German population. And though Machiavelli does have some useful things to say about the importance of getting the common people on your side, he has nothing to say about the power of political oratory and the use of symbolism.
Possibly, the sort of brazenness that Machiavelli advocates actually did work in the Italian Quattrocento world of small city-states and condottieri. But even then it would certainly not have worked in any of the larger states. No one who aims at  big power admits duplicity or advocates its use; if you are ambitious, the first person you usually have to convince is yourself and this is no easy task. You have to carry out a sort of self-cheat whereby you simultaneously believe you really are acting for the general good while simultaneously  pursuing a ruthlessly egotistical policy. This is not quite hypocrisy (though perilously close to it): it is rather the Method actor temporarily ‘living the role’ ─ and running the risk of getting caught in his own noose. Indeed it is because Machiavelli has a sort of  basic honesty, and hence integrity, that no clear-sighted upstart ruler would want to give such a man high office ─ he would either be utterly useless or a serious danger because too formidable. And, interestingly, the Medicis did not employ Machiavelli although he was certainly angling to be taken on by them.

The Two Ways to Power
There seem to be two ways to achieve power which are interestingly summed up in the codeword employed by the greatest military power of all time, America, when it invaded Panama : Shock and Awe. (I think that was the codeword but if not it is very apposite.)
Shock and awe are distinct and even to some extent contradictory. By ‘shock’ we should understand showing the enemy, or anyone in fact, that you have the means to do a lot of damage and, crucially, that you are prepared to go the whole way if you have to. It can actually save lives if you make an initial almighty show of force ─ exactly what the US Army did in Panama ─ since the opposition will most likely cave in at once without risking a battle. (This doesn’t always work, however : the bombing raids on civilian targets of both the English and the Germans during WWII seem to have stiffened opposition rather than weakened it.)
Awe has a religious rather than a military sense though the great commanders of the ancient world, Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, had the sort of aura we associate more with religious leaders. Time and again isolated figures with what we vaguely, but not inaccurately, call ‘charisma’ have suddenly attained enormous power and actually changed the course of history : the obvious example being Joan of Arc. Hitler, having failed to ‘shock’ the country, or even Munich, by holding a revolver to the Governor of Bavaria (literally) and rampaging around the streets with a handful of toughs, was sharp enough to realize that he must turn to awe instead, using his formidable gifts of oratory to obtain power via  the despised ballot-box. Mahomet did fight but no one doubts that it was his prophetic rather than strictly military abilities that returned him against all odds to Mecca.

The Paradox of Christ
What of Christ? It seems clear that there were at the time in Palestine several movements that wished to rid the country of the Romans (even though they were by the standards of the time quite tolerant masters) and to revive the splendours of the House of David. There is some hesitation and a  certain ambivalence in Christ’s answer under interrogation which suggests he had not entirely made up his mind on the crux of the matter, i.e. whether he did or did not intend to establish himself as ‘King of the Jews’. He did not deny the attribution but qualified it by adding “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is a clever answer to give since it was only Christ’s political pretensions that concerned the Romans, represented here by  Pontius Pilate. It is not an entirely satisfactory answer, however. If a ‘kingdom’ is entirely of, or in, ‘another world’, one might justifiably say, “What’s the use of it, then?” Christianity has in fact changed the everyday here-and-now world enormously, in some ways for the better, in some ways not. And Pontius Pilate’s blunt refusal to remove the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” suggests that Pilate thought the Jews could have done a lot worse than have such a man as ‘king’.
It seems probable that some of Christ’s followers, including one disciple, wanted to nudge Christ into taking up a more openly political stance which, subsequently, it would  have been difficult to draw back from. According to this interpretation, Judas did not betray Christ for money or protection : he tried to bring about an open conflict ─ and he very nearly succeeded since Peter drew his sword and struck off the servant of the High Priest’s ear in the Gethsemane stand-off. But Christ seemingly had by now (after a final moment of intercession and prayer) decided to stick entirely to ‘awe’ as a means of combat with the forces of evil (in which he clearly believed). In a sense, Christ was not so much a victim as a resolute and exceedingly skilful strategist. No one expected him to give in and actually be put to death as a common felon, and for a moment Christ himself seems to have been hoping for a miracle hence the cry “Why, oh why hast Thou forsaken me?” (a quotation from Isaiah incidentally). It has been suggested by certain commentators  that Christ was using ‘goodness’ and the respect and awe it inspires to actually take the ‘Evil One’ by surprise and, as it were, wrong-foot him. Seemingly, there are suggestions of this ‘unorthodox way of combatting evil’ in the writings of the Old Testament prophets which Christ knew off by heart, of course.           And, incredibly, the stratagem worked since Christ’s small band of followers rallied and went from strength to strength whereas the other Jewish would-be Messiahs of the time who really did take up arms against the Romans perished completely ─ and provoked the greatest disaster in Jewish history, the complete destruction of the Temple and the diaspora. Certainly there are moments when ‘awe’ without shock works. Saint  Francis, Fox, the founder of the Quakers, Gandhi and Martin Luther King have all used the ‘awe’ that a certain kind of disinterested goodness inspires to excellent effect. It is, however, a perilous strategy since you have to be prepared to ‘go the whole way’ if necessary, i.e. to die, and the public is not likely to be easily fooled on this point.

“Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves”
The case of Christ is a very interesting case viewed from the standpoint of Eventrics. But before examining it in more detail, may I make it clear that by analysing the behaviour of figures such as Christ or Mahomet in terms of event strategy, no offence to religious people is intended. Eventrics, like all sciences is ethically neutral : it merely  studies, or purports to study what goes on. But as a matter of fact, most great religious leaders had a pretty good grasp of day to day tactics as well. Charisma by itself is not enough, and Christ himself said, “Be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves”.
The trouble with the ‘innocent’ is that they are usually completely ineffective, either because they don’t understand Realpolitik or consider it beneath them. But there is actually not a lot of point in being ‘good’ if you don’t actually do any good ─ at any rate from society’s point of view. And there is a way of getting things done which is identical whether you are good or bad. Nor need the ‘good’ person feel himself or herself to be as much at a disadvantage as he usually does. Bad people themselves have weak points : they tend to assume everyone else is as selfish and unscrupulous as they themselves are and in consequence make catastrophic errors of judgement. The really dangerous bad person is the one who understands ordinary people’s wish to be ‘good’, at least occasionally, ‘good’ in the sense of unselfish, ready to devote oneself to a higher cause and so on. Hitler was able to simultaneously play on people’s baser instincts but also on their better instincts, their desire not only to be of service to their country but to sacrifice themselves for it (Note 1).

The paradox of Christ
Christ at the zenith of his mission was swept along by what seemed a well-nigh irresistible tide of events fanned by the growing irritation with Roman rule, the preachings of holy men like John the Baptist, widespread  expectations of a sudden miraculous cataclysm that would wind up history and bring about the Jewish Golden Age, and so on. Christ was borne along by this current : it took him into the lion’s den, Jerusalem itself, where he was acclaimed by an adoring multitude.
So far, so good. The tide was strong but not quite strong enough, or so Christ judged. The most difficult thing for someone who has a string of successes behind him is to pull out at the right moment, and very few people are capable of doing this since the power of the event-train not only exerts itself on spectators but above all on the protagonist himself. He or she gets caught in his own noose, which only proves the basic law of Eventrics that it is events that drive history not the person who directs them, or thinks he does.
Over and above any moral priority which puts pacifism higher than combat, or a desire to broaden his message to reach out to the Gentiles, on the strictly tactical level Christ seemingly judged that the Jewish resistance movement was not strong enough to carry the day against the combined force of the official priesthood and Rome. So he decided to combat in a different way ─ by apparently giving in. He withdrew deliberately and voluntarily from the onward surge of events and, miraculously, this unexpected strategy worked (but only posthumously).
Napoleon made a fatal mistake when he invaded Russia, as did Hitler, and both for basically the same reasons (though the case of Hitler is more problematical) : they had swum along with a tide of events that took them to the pinnacle of worldly power but were unable, or unwilling, to see that the moment had come to pull out. In a roughly similar situation, Bismarck, a far less charismatic leader than either Napoleon or Hitler, proved he was a far better practitioner of Eventrics. Having easily overwhelmed Denmark and crushed Austria, Bismarck halted, made a very moderate peace settlement with Austria, indeed an absurdly generous one, because he had the wit to realize he required at least the future neutrality and non-intervention of Austria for his larger aims of creating a united Germany under Prussian leadership and prosecuting a successful war with France. As H.A.L. Fisher writes, “There is no more certain test of statesmanship than the capacity to resist the political intoxication of victory.”
It is the same thing with gambling. Despite all the tut-tutting of scientists and statisticians who never risk anything and know nothing about the strange twists and turns of human events, I am entirely convinced that there really is such a thing as a ‘winning streak’, since successive events can and do reinforce each other ─ indeed this is one of the most important basic assumptions of Eventrics. What makes gamblers lose is not that they believe in such chimeras as ‘runs’ or ‘winning streaks’ : they lose because they do not judge when it is the right moment to leave the table, or if they do judge rightly do not have the strength of character to act on this belief. They are caught up by the events and taken along with them, and thus become helpless victims of events. There is I believe a Chinese expression about ‘riding’ events and this is the correct metaphor. A skilful rider gives the horse its head but doesn’t let it bolt ─ and if it shows an irresistible inclination to do so,  he jumps off smartly. This gives us the double strategy of the practitioner of Eventrics : go with the tide of events when it suits you and leave it abruptly when, or better still just before, it turns against you. The ‘trend’ is certainly not “always your friend” as the Wall Street catchphrase goes. The successful investor is the person who detects a rising tide a little bit earlier than other people, goes with it, and then pulls out just before the wave peaks. Timing is everything.     SH

[This post appeared on the related site www.ultimateeventtheory.com] 

Note 1  Curiously, at least in contemporary Western society, there is not only very little desire to be ‘good’, but even to appear to be good. Bankers and industrialists in the past presented themselves to the public as benefactors, and some of them actually were (once they had made their pile): this is a million miles from the insolent cocksureness of “Greed is good”. We have thus an unprecedented situation. People who not only lack all idealism but scorn it are very difficult to manipulate because it is not clear what emotional buttons to push. Today Hitler would never get anywhere at all, not just because his racial theories don’t really hold water but, more significantly, because most people would just laugh at all this high-sounding talk about the “fatherland” and “serving your country”. This clearly is a good thing (that Hitler wouldn’t get anywhere today), but one wonders whether a rolling human cannon, a lynch mob looking for someone to lynch (anyone will do) may not turn out to be an even greater danger. In terms of Eventrics, we now have large numbers of people literally “at the mercy of events” in the sense that there are today no ringleaders, no people calling the shots, no conductors of orchestras, only a few cheerleaders making a lot of noise on the sidelines. The resulting human mass ceases to be composed of individuals and event dynamics takes over, for good or ill. The charismatic power figure has himself become outdated, irrelevant : it is Facebook and Google that control, or rather represent, the future of humanity but who controls Facebook and Google?

Footbridge over the Seine (Cont.)

La Passerelle des Arts

Stefan-on-bridge

EXT. PONT DES ARTS – MORNING

Stefan is painting as before, this time it is the original canvas with the model in it. Josette arrives with pastries. She sits down on the bench.

JOSETTE I brought something.

She shows pastries. Stefan covers over the painting.

JOSETTE I didn’t bring any coffee.
STEFAN It’s all right, I’ve got some.

He sits down and pours coffee from a thermos. He has brought two plastic cups.

JOSETTE I saw you yesterday at the Canal Saint-Martin.
STEFAN That’s possible.
JOSETTE That how you spend your days, just walking around ?
STEFAN Yes.
JOSETTE All day?

Stefan nods. Background music based on the overture to “Attila” by Verdi in the background, very quiet at first.

JOSETTE Which parts of Paris?

Stefan shrugs.

STEFAN Anywhere.
JOSETTE Just drifting?
STEFAN Yes.
JOSETTE Like a leaf?

Stefan nods. Josette looks down at the water flowing under the bridge.

STEFAN Or a piece of paper.

Josette tears off a piece of paper  from the wrapping of the pastries, screws it up a little and throws it into the air.  We watch it being taken up by a gust of wind, eventually falling into the water on the right side of the bridge and then taken rapidly  downstream. Josette rushes to the other side to see if it has re-appeared and leans over the side of the bridge.  The current takes it away and we watch it going down through other bridges, past Les Invalides and onward.

JOSETTE It’s gone for ever. We’ll never see it again.

She sits down on the bench again. Music stops.

JOSETTE (Inquisitorial) You looking for someone or something when you’re wandering around?
STEFAN  (Decisive) No. Sometimes I do get in conversation with odd people I come across but that’s not the point.
JOSETTE What is the point ?

Stefan shrugs.
STEFAN Just to feel the pulse of life in the great city. That is enough.

 

La Passerelle des Arts

A very beautiful Parisian woman, stylishly dressed, crosses the Pont des Arts. Josette follows her with her eyes and looks at Stefan quizzically to see how he is reacting. We see the woman moving away very slowly with a special grace until she is eventually lost in the crowds in front of the Louvre. The camera switches to the water and we see various twigs and bits of paper taken away by the current.

Suddenly, a young North African rushes onto the bridge hotly pursued by two policemen. He is about to knock over Stefan’s easel in his flight and Stefan hastily moves it to one side of the bridge. Other police appear from nowhere at the other end of the bridge barring the way. The North African  looks desperately over the side of the bridge but then allows himself to be seized. Stefan watches with a pained expression as the man is bundled into a police van.

JOSETTE Bastards!

We hear the main theme bursting out but this time it is much more sombre. It trails away into nothingness and the scene on the bridge fades into jumbled shots of police vans circulating around the streets of Paris, angry demonstrators, disconsolate young French conscripts getting on a train taking them to Algeria, French soldiers patrolling an Algerian casbah and a victim of a shoot-out lying on the pavement.

Conscripts going to Algeria

Conscripts going to Algeria

 

Victim on pavement

 

Casbah

Casbah


Were Rats to Blame?

Rat “From April 18 onwards, quantities of dead or dying rats were found in storehouses and public buildings (…) The situation worsened in the following days. There were more and more dead vermin in the streets and the scavengers had bigger cartloads every morning. On the fourth day the rats began to come out and die in batches. From basements, cellars and sewers they emerged in long wavering files into the light of day, swayed helplessly, then did a sort of little dance and fell dead at the feet of the horrified onlookers. People out at night would often feel underfoot the squelchy roundness of a still warm body. It was as if the earth on which our houses stood was being purged of their secreted humours….”

An extract from Boccacio’s account of the Black Death in Florence in 1348 which serves as a preface to his Decameron ?  No. The passage is taken from the opening of Camus’s famous novel La Peste in Stuart Gilbert’s translation (with two or three words altered so as not to give the game away). In Camus’ novel the plague which attacks Oran in Algeria (where Camus was born) commences as an epizootic (animal epidemic) amongst the rat population of the town. This is how one would expect an outbreak of bubonic plague to begin since the usual carrier of the bacillus, the flea Xenopsylla cheopis, is a parasite on rodents  and normally only transfers to humans when there are no available (living) rodents.

So why didn’t Boccacio and other fourteenth century chroniclers of the ‘Great Mortality’ of 1348-50 mention a preliminary wave of very heavy rat mortality preceding human cases? There are no convincing answers to this question. Most writers state, or rather assume without stating, that the inhabitants of fourteenth century Europe were so thoroughly unscientific, filthy and unobservant that they either failed to notice, or deemed unworthy of mention, the enormous quantities of dead rats that must have accompanied bubonic plague as it swept through Europe at breakneck speed, taking less than three years to get from Sicily to upper Norway and visiting most rural areas, even very remote ones,  on its way. As for being ‘unscientific’, well, I personally do not expect fourteenth century man to have a knowledge of microbiology centuries before the construction of a decent microscope ¾ it was only in 1894 that the French doctor, Yersin, identified the plague bacillus during the so-called Plague of Canton. Whatever the ‘Great Pestilence’ was — the term ‘Black Death’ is of much later date — it was almost certainly a bacterial or viral disease and, equally certainly, there was very little that medieval doctors and Public Health authorities could have done other than what they did do, which was to  recommend flight to those who had somewhere else to go such as Boccacio’s wealthy Florentines, to clean up the streets and to enforce strict quarantine on incoming vessels in ports. Although there was a certain amount of talk about ‘God’s judgment on man’, and naturally some attempts to blame minority groups such as Jews, medieval Health authorities and doctors did make an attempt to understand the phenomenon in a ‘scientific’ manner and the theories proposed were by no means idiotic. It was, for example, suggested that the origin of the pestilence was probably ‘vapours’ emitted by rotting corpses and this same theory was proposed by Creighton in the latter nineteenth century.

It is essential to continually bear in mind that medieval man was not an animal lover : the cultural and religious climate of medieval Europe was utterly different from that of, say, India where devout Hindus stubbornly resisted the attempts of authorities to exterminate the rats that shared their habitations as late as the  early twentieth century. As to medieval men and women being indifferent to dirt and filth, this assumption needs some qualification, at any rate as regards the towns which one would expect to be the most promising foyers of infection. To judge by the frequency and venom of ecclesiastical tirades, bath-houses during the later Middle Ages were only too well-attended, though it was perhaps more the nudity of these unisex establishments that attracted men rather than the opportunity to get a good wash. Public latrines existed in large towns — there were at least thirteen on London Bridge — and municipal authorities were extremely concerned about the dangers that, notably, butchers’ offal represented. Boccacio himself, who lived through the Black Death, speaks of “the cleansing of the city [of Florence] by officials appointed for this purpose, the refusal of entry to sick folk, and the adoption of many precautions for the preservation of health  (Decameron, p. 5 Everyman Edition). But, though Boccacio does mention a pig dying in the street, nowhere is there any mention of rats.

There is, moreover, one very good reason why medieval man would have been more, not less, attentive to rat mortality than people living today, for he would have envisaged a wave of dying rats as a portent. Folklore and folk wisdom in China, India and many parts of Africa have traditionally associated mortality of rodents with human epidemics. There is a Chinese poem quoted by the plague specialist Wu Lien-Teh  containing the lines

“A few days after the death of rats
Men pass away like falling walls.”

likewise an Indian saying, “When the rats begin to fall it is time for people to leave their houses”.

In the country, although peasants may well have become resigned to the permanent presence of unwanted guests under their roofs, they can scarcely have felt much affection for them. I myself  have inhabited a traditional  one room ‘long house’ in a remote area of France, and was extremely annoyed by the racket that rodents living in the eaves made each night. But no medieval poet or chronicler writer mentions rats. During a visitation as severe as that of 1348, dying rats would have been falling down into the living quarters and dwelling-places everywhere must have stank of putrefying rat corpses.

For we are speaking of a very substantial rat presence across the whole of Europe. Shrewsbury, an out-and-out bubonic plague believer, estimated that around 69 rats per square mile were needed to sustain an epizootic of the scale of the Black Death — the term incidentally was not used until two centuries later — and this works out, given the population density of the time, at the incredible figure, as Shrewsbury himself admits, of over a 100 rats per two-room peasant cottage in many rural areas of Great Britain !  It is only too typical of otherwise reputable historians that, instead of questioning the hypothesis (that the Black Death was bubonic plague), Shrewsbury dismisses the medieval evidence as unfounded rumour and categorically affirms that the pestilence could not have visited large areas of Great Britain.

But are rats indispensable for an epidemic, or pandemic (world-wide epidemic), of the disease we now, rather irritatingly, call plague?  The answer is that rodents, not necessarily rats, are absolutely indispensable for an initial outbreak of bubonic plague and it seems most unlikely that there were any other rodent candidates available in fourteenth century Europe. There exist permanent reservoirs of plague amongst squirrels in North America, but they cause little harm since individual squirrels very rarely interact intimately enough with humans to infect them. And in Asia there are enormous foci of plague amongst burrowing rodents such as marmots, which, again, considering the numbers involved, cause very little damage.

Bubonic plague is not properly speaking a disease of humans, nor even of rodents, but of fleas. It is caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, named after the scientist who identified it at the end of the nineteenth century, which, in certain conditions, gets established in the stomach of certain fleas, especially Xenopsylla cheopis. The bacteria multiply, filling the stomach entirely and, because of this, the flea cannot take in nourishment and, in desperation, feeds all the more frantically, or tries to. In the process it regurgitates some of the blood it cannot ingest, and also defecates, depositing bacteria in the faeces (see Illustration I). The bacteria infect the host, the host infects other fleas and so on.

It is not in the interests of a parasite to kill off too many of its potential hosts, fortunately for us or pandemics would be more frequent than they actually are, and in general a status quo results as in the bacillus-flea-rodent tripartite biological system. Only about 12% of the fleas get blocked, and we can assume that only a small percentage of rodents such as marmots die, since marmots were, and still are, extremely numerous. Epizootics flare up, of course, from time to time, on occasion spreading to other rodents and thus to man who gets involved quite co-incidentally. Since the black rat, Rattus rattus, the only rat present in Medieval Europe, is an almost exclusively domestic animal who, typically, lives in houses, warehouses or ships, i.e. in close proximity to man, Rattus rattus is a good deal more dangerous than the rest of the rodents put together from our point of view. Xenopsylla cheopis will normally only transfer to a human being when there are no available living rats — it leaves the corpse as soon as the body temperature cools. And the bacteria can only enter the human body by flea-bite or, just conceivably, very close physical contact such as wound-to-wound, so, contrary to what most people believe, bubonic plague is not a contagious disease. The human flea, Pulex irritans, is a much less efficient transmitter of plague since it rarely becomes blocked even when feeding on infected humans : there is widespread (though not quite total) agreement that it can be ruled out as an insect vector for plague except in the case of septicaemic plague, a complication of bubonic plague that remains very rare.

We know a considerable amount about bubonic plague today because the last big outbreak, the so-called Plague of Canton, occurred when there were plenty of trained doctors and Health Officials available and the secret of bacterial infection was at long last known. Officials from the Plague Research Commission chronicled the relentless spread of bubonic plague through India in great detail, though they were incapable of doing much more than taking preventative measures prior to the discovery of antibiotics.

The most striking feature of the Plague of Canton was its extremely slow rate of dissemination despite the availability of modern methods of transport. It is thought that the pandemic originated in the Yunnan during the eighteen-fifties, but it was only in 1894 that it reached Canton and Hong Kong. It reached Calcutta in 1895, presumably by sea, and a year later found ideal conditions in the teeming, insanitary city of Bombay (Mumbai). Something of the Camus scenario of rats coming out to die on the streets was in fact observed, though not usually quite so dramatically. Plague maintained itself at these locations spreading outwards throughout much of India for some thirty years and, in Bombay itself, its progress was often no more than two or three miles a year!  Compare this with the lightning sweep of the 1348-50 Black Death which covered the ground from Messina in Sicily to Northern Norway in less than three years!

George Christakos and fellow authors (Interdisciplinary Public Health Reasoning and Epidemic Modelling: The Case of the Black Death, 2005, Springer), using advanced modelling techniques estimates that “plague advanced at an accelerated pace that peaked in October of 1348, when it infected a quarter of a million km2 in one month” (p. 230). To get an idea of what this area represents, I have roughly marked it out on a map of France (see Illustration II), though I hasten to add that the actual territory allegedly covered was not restricted to France and was a much more elongated shape.

The assumption that the Black Death so-called was caused by rats is of relatively recent date, since it only goes back to the late nineteenth century,  when Yersinia pestis was discovered and Koch, amongst others, immediately identified the bacillus as the cause of the 1348 pestilence. Practically all history books today, when discussing the issue, speak of three main onslaughts of bubonic plague in Europe, the Plague of Justinian, the medieval Black Death and the Plague of Canton. It is somewhat alarming to see how quickly an assumption becomes unassailable dogma, for that is what the rat theory has become. The principal; stumbling blocks to the identification of the Black Death with plague are, then :

1. Bubonic plague requires a rodent epizootic to get going, while contemporary witnesses nowhere mention rats in connection with the pestilence;

2. A very large native rodent population is required, and references to rats throughout the entire medieval period are few and far between, to say the least;

3.  The rate of spread was phenomenal and the mortality enormous — between a quarter and a third of the entire population of Europe.

On (2) further evidence that there can hardly have been a substantial rat population in the mid fourteenth century in Britain comes from the design of dovecotes. Everyone is agreed that the more familiar Brown Rat, Rattus norvegicus, only arrived in Britain in the early eighteenth century rapidly spreading inland from ports. According to Dr Twigg, who cites McCann, The Dovecotes of Suffolk (Suffolk Institute of Archaeology & History 1998 p. 21 -2), dovecotes were re-designed at around this period because of rats which climbed inside and ate both doves and eggs. Staddle stones, large toadstool-like constructions of stone on which barns, and even small houses, were laid, and which are very common in the area where I live (Dorset) appear to date from this period also. Now, in Tudor and late medieval times, one would expect there to have been more, not less, dovecotes as, apart from their value for food in monasteries and such establishments, the droppings were collected, mixed with earth and boiled to produce saltpetre, the main ingredient in gunpowder. Rattus rattus is actually a better climber than the Brown Rat so, had there been a substantial rural rat population in the preceding centuries, one would have expected to find mentions of it as a pest. Also, since  grain losses from manorial granaries were a recurring bone of contention, one would have expected bailiffs to have attributed them to rats, which, as far as we know, they never did.

Incidentally, for what it is worth, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin does not go back to the mid fourteenth-century (though conceivably based on earlier sources) and the first versions do not specifically mention rats as carriers of disease. Defoe, in Journal of the Plague Year, a partly fictionalized account of the seventeenth century Plague of London, does mention rats though he nowhere suggests that they were responsible for the epidemic. Black rats may well have become something of a nuisance in cities by Stuart or Commonwealth times, but the problem remains that the Black Rat is a strictly sedentary animal that has rarely been found even more than a mile or two from its, usually urban, birth-place.

Some readers are perhaps already getting impatient because I have not, as yet, mentioned pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is simply bubonic plague which affects the lungs : it is, however, a very different kettle of fish in many ways. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, it was almost invariably lethal and can be spread person to person rather like influenza through droplets released into the air, by sneezing for example. This ties in quite nicely with the common medieval belief, not so long ago dismissed by historians as rank superstition, that you could ‘catch the pestilence’ simply by being in the same room as an afflicted person. Medieval doctors were themselves so worried about the possibility of contagion that they often refused to visit their patients !

However, the pneumonic plague hypothesis does not quite do what many people think it does. We know a lot about pneumonic plague, because of the 1910/11 and 1920 Plagues of Manchuria, voluminously recorded by a practising physician on the spot, Lien-Teh. In the first place, if the Black Death actually was plague, it cannot have been entirely, or even mainly, the pneumonic variety. For all medieval observers mention buboes (swellings) especially at the groin or armpit as being the principal symptom. In the case of pneumonic plague, there is not enough time for the buboes to form — in fact, paradoxical though it may sound, pneumonic plague is too deadly to make it a good candidate for a pandemic. For an epidemic to develop, we need an abundance of healthy carriers, or at any rate persons who appear healthy — precisely why AIDS is such a danger, likewise influenza, the cause of the last major pandemic in the West, that of 1918 which killed far more people than World War I. In the case of septicaemic plague the afflicted person dies within six hours, which makes it a very unlikely candidate for even a local epidemic. But pneumonic plague does not rate much better : it has been officially estimated that an afflicted person dies within an average of 1.8 days.

Why, then, the substantial mortality in Manchuria? The Manchurian outbreak had the benefit of extremely favourable conditions (from the bacillus’s point of view) which are most unlikely to repeat themselves  : migrant workers in the trapping industry travelled about in winter on heated trains and by night slept on platforms in crowded steam-heated hostels. Moreover, the authorities were taken by surprise in 1910 with the result that the 1920 outbreak was a good deal less serious though practically the only methods available were the ‘medieval’ ones of isolation and quarantine. And the Manchurian outbreaks, though severe, do not even remotely compare with the Black Death. Not everyone in 1349 could have avoided all contact with other human beings, since they had to procure food, but, as we know from Boccacio, people certainly kept as far away from each other as they possibly could with the honourable exception of the clergy called in to hear bedside confessions — they paid for their zeal by heavier mortality than amongst other professions especially in Germany. So the same difficulties for the rapid transmission of pneumonic plague by person to person contact would have applied in the fourteenth century, only more so given the absence of railways and steamships.

The second point to be stressed is that pneumonic plague does not get rid of the need for rats. Infected rodents in serious numbers are still required to start the epidemic, and we simply have no evidence to suppose that there were enough rats around in 1348 — except the circular ‘reasoning’,  “No rats, no plague”.  In the Manchurian case, it was marmots who started the epidemic : the first human victims handled them directly on a day to day basis and, it has been observed, were largely inexperienced migrant workers unaware of the dangers involved. Whether an outbreak of pneumonic plague can persist without an accompanying epizootic amongst rodents, is still a matter of learned debate, or rather controversy, but it seems more probable to me that an outbreak restricted to humans would burn itself out fairly quickly. Note that, if we accept de Mussis’ account (which almost everyone does with some reservations), the Black Death entered Europe via a Genoese galley hailing from the Crimea. The trip, even under very favourable conditions, would have taken a good six weeks, and this is ample time for an outbreak of any known form of plague to have either burned itself out, or, at the very least, to have killed off enough of the crew to make the harbour authorities at Messina most suspicious, which apparently they were not.

Frankly, the case for the identification of the Black Death with plague as we know it, just doesn’t stack up. As an amateur with no vested interests either way, when I first did some research into the Black Death for an article back in the eighties, it was not a matter of whether I did, but whether I could, in all honesty believe the two were one and the same. I decided I couldn’t, especially after reading Dr Twigg’s epoch making book, The Black Death (Batsford, 1984), also the very interesting Ph. D thesis of Palmer into the history of plague in Venice (though this does not cover the 1348 period). Since then, the small band of bubonic plague sceptics has been swelled by various other figures, notably Scott and Duncan (Return of the Black Death, Wiley 2004), Professor Cohn (Epidemiology of the Black Death and Successive Waves of Plague), Lerner (Fleas : Some Scratchy Issues Concerning the Black Death, Journal of the Historical Society June 2008) and, most recently of all, Gummer (The Scourging Angels, 2009) to mention only the main authors known to me.

The best that can be said for the bubonic plague hypothesis — and that is all it is — is that the description of the surgeon Guy de Chauliac and one or two other contemporaries of the symptoms of the disease does sound rather like bubonic plague. The buboes are not specific to plague but there is no doubt that they are distinctive. Bubonic plague can also give rise to small, black pustules, which fits the description of ‘God’s tokens’ as they were often called. However, these are much less distinctive than the buboes and it is worth noting that these marks, the “ring, a ring of roses’ of the (18th century) nursery rhyme, seem, over the years, to have become a more typical symptom than the buboes, assuming that subsequent outbreaks of ‘pestilence’ had the same cause, which they may well not have done. There is, annoyingly, just enough plausibility to the bubonic plague theory to keep it alive. Though far from being as lethal as the Black Death, or even, globally, smallpox and malaria, no one is going  to deny that plague is a serious disease since it caused over 12.5 million deaths in India during the twentieth century (over a period of forty-three years though, not two and a half).

What of DNA testing ? The jury is still out on this issue. A French team led by Michel Drancourt and Didier Raoult tested three skeletons from a grave pit in Montpellier for bubonic plague and reported positive results. However, various geneticists and archaeologists such as Mike Prentice, Alan Cooper, Carsen Pusch and others have disputed these claims, some attributing them to laboratory contamination. No one has, since then, managed to repeat these positive results and we await a more extensive and thorough investigation which, according to some unconfirmed reports, is currently underway.

The trouble with disbelieving that the Black Death was plague is that it is a negative option : its advocates find themselves pushed into making risky guesses about what the Black Death really was, and this has proved to be a dangerous game. Dr.  Twigg came up with anthrax as a possible alternative. This suggestion does have the advantage that it solves the problem of rapid dissemination since anthrax spores can be spread about by the wind, and are extremely resistant to extremes of temperature (which fits what we know of the Black Death). One might seriously doubt that, given medieval population density levels, any disease could have covered such a vast area so swiftly other than by dispersion in air currents. For what it is worth — and in my eyes is worth something — contemporary (medieval) observers thought that the pestilence was spread both by direct contact and by ‘vapours’, perhaps emanating from decaying corpses. This suggestion was by no means idiotic : the ‘miasmic’ theory of disease was still going strong in the late nineteenth century amongst the scientific establishment.

In other respects, however, Dr Twigg’s mention of anthrax proved to be an unfortunate suggestion since anthrax, in its present form at any rate, is not very contagious as we know from the post 9/11 scare. To invoke a ‘stronger strain of anthrax’ is a dangerous ploy, since it invites the plague lobby to counter by claiming that the bubonic plague bacillus of 1348 was a ‘stronger strain’ than what we are used to today. Dr Twigg’s suggestion, though it is contained only in the ten last pages of his book, simply gave his opponents a good excuse to dismiss, or simply not to read, the remaining densely argued two hundred odd pages.

Scott and Duncan have since then come up with haemorrhagic fever or ebola, a deadly viral disease. Much of their work is outside the remit of this article, since it deals with successive waves of ‘pestilence’ in Europe, not just, or principally, the 1348-50 outbreak, but deserves mention nonetheless. Using modern statistical methods, they have worked out an “average time from infection to death” for plague cases over a period of centuries and have come up with the figure of 37 days. This fits quite well with the ebola hypothesis but, more strikingly, with the Venetian institution of 40 days quarantine for incoming vessels, a period which soon came to be accepted throughout the whole of Italy. There were, subsequent to 1348, only 11 outbreaks of ‘pestilence’ in 300 years in Italy, which compares very favourably indeed with France and other countries. This quarantine was a considerable annoyance to merchants and may even have contributed to the commercial decline of Venice, so the Venetian Health authorities must, at least in their own eyes, have had serious reasons for instituting it. Of course, on the bubonic plague hypothesis, any quarantine is entirely pointless.

One  reason why the rat theory of the Black Death is still up and going, is that we do not, as humans, much like rats, viewing them as ugly and dirty creatures. If a similar pandemic had been initiated by squirrels, as just conceivably it might have been, one wonders whether the bubonic plague hypothesis would have remained established dogma for over a hundred years with very few daring to question it. Even if it were eventually proved to be utterly misguided, people for a long time to come will unthinkingly associate rats with the Black Death much as we automatically associate Nero with the burning of Rome or Louis XIV with the Man in the Iron Mask  — indeed I sometimes find it hard to get rid of the association myself despite having been in the non-bubonic camp for at least twenty-five years already. As a matter of fact, rats have probably been a good deal more serviceable to mankind than squirrels, who we find cute, since, apart from the rather unpleasant IQ maze experiments, rats have long been used to detect unexploded mines because of their excellent sense of smell.

There must, anyway, have been plenty of diseases which have disappeared without a trace, since diseases, being merely forms of life that we, as humans, do not view favourably, are subject to evolutionary pressures like everything else. One such is “the sweats”, a very serious disease prevalent at the time of the Reformation and which no one has subsequently successfully identified.  So it may well be that we shall never know with certainty the micro-organism responsible for what someone called, with not too much exaggeration, “the most nearly successful attempt to wipe out the human species” — a worthy adversary indeed !

Sebastian Hayes

Footbridge over the Seine

As the credits run we see a middle-aged man, Stefan, reasonably good-looking without being handsome, rummaging through canvases in his small flat cum studio. He pulls out a canvas and holds it at arm’s length, examining it quizzically. It represents a slim young girl posing nude on a divan with one hand behind her head. The painting is unfinished, in particular the background is not yet filled in.

We hear for the first time a theme which comes up at moments throughout the film : it is taken from the overture to Verdi’s little known opera, Attila.

Back to a group of students in the Beaux-Arts who are sketching the model in the painting. Stefan, twenty years younger, is one of the group working on the painting we have just seen.

Stefan looks up at the clock and says something which we do not hear. The students pack up and go off. Stefan remains to rearrange chairs and tables as if he is responsible for the class, though he does not look old enough to be a full-time teacher. The model continues to lie there lazily without making any attempt to get dressed. He notices this and she glances up at him  provocatively. He looks away, embarrassed. Irritated, the girl grabs a counterpane, throws it around herself and stalks out to get dressed.

During this time we hear the first two verses of “The Fugitive” (Lyrics and Melody Sebastian Hayes) in the background

I never planned this mission
Where I stay I never know ;
For I let the movement send me
Wherever it wants me to go.

So if the Germans ask you
Have you seen me passing by,

Tell them you never knew me,
Tell them it was not I.

No sign will mark my passing,
No tomb will bear my name,
But I’ll not be forgotten
When I go back to where I came,
When I go back to where I came.

EXT.   PONT DES ARTS  PARIS   1962   MORNING

Bridge over the Seine
Mist which clears gradually. Workers in blue denims cross the bridge, one or two better dressed office workers, maids with baguettes de pain. STEFAN, a man of about fifty wearing a floppy trilby and casual wear, carrying an easel and painting equipment walks halfway across the bridge (which is pedestrian only) and sets up his easel. The canvas is covered by a sheet of paper so we do not see the painting at first. In the background a Juliette Greco or Lucienne Delyle song of the era, very quiet. The man is Stefan.

Stefan on bridge

He lifts the protective wrapping from the canvas we see that it is a half-finished nude executed in the style of Modigliani; The slim model is stretched out on her back with her left hand behind her head, she has black hair and a mischievous expression. The painter sketches rapidly the background for the picture, namely what he sees in front of him —  the rest of the Pont des Arts and the Louvre : this is an imagined backdrop for the nude which has obviously been painted previously in a studio.

A group of noisy students, some carrying musical instruments arrive from the left (the camera side) and one of them flops down on a metal bench on the bridge slightly in front and to the right of the painter. The girl, JOSETTE, is in her early twenties, she is  wearing  expensive high heeled shoes but  is wrapped up in a somewhat shabby red coat. She is slim and has delicate features,  but there is something feverish about her appearance, half drunkenness, half fatigue. She closes her eyes

Boy. Coming, Josette ?

Josette. No.

Boy. Ok, please yourself.

Josette. (Slightly drunken tone) Yes, yes.

(She waves her hand and the students disappear towards the Right Bank. Josette stretches out on the bench exhausted. The painter, whom we see only from the back or the side, looks at her with interest and sets up his easel so that he can get a better view in order to use her as a model. His glance goes from the girl on the bench to the canvas and back to the girl. He gives a few touches to the painting.

The girl wakes up with a start and looks around.)

Josette. You painting me ?

Stefan. Well, not exactly.  In a way.

Josette. I pose for students  in the Beaux Arts sometimes.

Stefan. Do you ?

(Carries on painting.)

Josette. Yes.  (Pause) They pay me though.

Stefan. How much ?

Josette. I charge…..  fifty francs for a half hour.

(To her amazement the painter takes out some notes and hands them to her. She looks at them and him trying to make him out, then stuffs them hastily into a pocket of her coat.)

Josette. Is the pose all right ?

Stefan. Just move your right leg a little. Yes. Now put your  left arm behind your head and look up at the sky. Yes, that’s better.

(Pause.)

Josette. Say something, I’m getting bored.

Stefan. I’ve more or less finished for today actually.

(Josette jumps up and comes round to look at the painting.)

Josette. But that’s not me !

Stefan. (A bit embarrassed) No.

Josette. She does look a bit like me, it’s true.  Who was she ?

Stefan. Oh, just a model at the Beaux-Arts.

Josette. But all this time you’ve just been doing the background ! What is this ?

Stefan. I did do something to the arm. But, yes, I did the figure years ago.

Josette. Anyway, it’s a crap painting.

(The painter smiles weakly, not taking offence.)

Josette. In fact it’s so bad I’m going to throw it in the Seine.

(Josette picks up the painting. The painter makes no attempt to stop her. She pulls her arm back as if about to hurl the painting into the water, but thinks better of it and eventually replaces it on the easel. She turns to face him.)

Josette. I’ll let you off this time. (Indicating the painting) Actually, it’s maybe sort of got something nonetheless. (Slight pause.) But it’s still a crap painting.

(Josette takes the notes out of her pocket, screws them tightly into a ball and tosses it at the painting.)

Keep your money.

(She stalks off.)

Man. Hey!

(Josette stops at once and turns.)

Man. (While packing up his easel and preparing to go off) Have breakfast on me at least.

(He puts a few coins down on the bench.

He walks off without turning round, taking his equipment with him. Josette stares after him with a puzzled air.)

INT CAFÉ NOT FAR FROM THE PRÉFECTURE DE PARIS   MORNING

(Josette is sitting at a table in a café drinking coffee and eating croissants. A few old workers at the bar pay no attention to her, but a young man at a nearby table tries to make conversation. She frowns and looks away.

Groups of police are milling around outside, talking amongst themselves or on walkie-talkie. Police vans pass incessantly. The radio at the bar gives out the 10 o’clock news. Josette looks up at once and listens attentively.)

RADIO ANNOUNCER In the Algerian capital French Algerian protesters have thrown up barricades in the streets and seized certain government buildings. The police have opened fire on the rioters and there is at this very moment intense fighting around Boulevard Laferrière. General de Gaulle has called on all members of the police and military to remain faithful to the Republic and has denounced the parachute regiment commander, Stefan Lagaillarde, as the instigator of this movement whose aim is clearly to sabotage the recent peace agreements.

(Josette gets up suddenly, pays at the counter and rushes out.)

EXT. PONT DES ARTS 1962 – MORNING

La Passerelle des Arts

A few days later. Same scene as before a little later in the morning. Stefan has his easel set up in the same place. His back is towards us and we do not see the canvas.
Josette arrives from the left bank side of the bridge, so Stefan does not see her arriving. She is in slightly better shape though she wears the same threadbare coat. She surveys Stefan for a while, then flops down on the same bench, deliberately taking up the same pose. She looks up provocatively in a way slightly reminiscent of the model.
Stefan pretends not to notice her. Silence. After a bit both smile despite themselves. Josette throws off her coat and gets up to have a look at the painting. The centre of the painting is blank, Stefan is roughing in the Louvre and the Pont des Arts as a background in pastel.

JOSETTE (Shocked) What happened to the model?

Stefan carries on painting.

STEFAN Dead.
JOSETTE What do you mean, dead?
STEFAN I decided I didn’t need her any more. So I threw the painting into the Seine.
JOSETTE (Genuinely perturbed) No, no, you couldn’t have done that.
STEFAN Why not?
JOSETTE You just couldn’t.

Stefan keeps on painting, smiling to himself slightly.

STEFAN It’s all right. The original’s in my studio.
JOSETTE I’m very glad to hear that.

Slight pause.
Stefan puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a note which he hands to Josette.

STEFAN Why don’t you go and get some pastries ?
JOSETTE What do I get for you?
STEFAN Oh, pain au chocolat.

Josette walks off slowly down to the other end of the bridge still looking somewhat troubled. The camera follows her.

EXT. PONT DES ARTS – MOMENTS LATER

Stefan and Josette are now sitting on the bench drinking coffee and eating pastries.

JOSETTE So what do you spend the rest of your day doing?  Painting?
STEFAN No. I only do it as a hobby now. I did go to the Beaux-Arts once but I dropped out before getting a diploma.

Slight pause. Josette looks at him, calculating his age.

JOSETTE Why’d you drop out? Because the Germans were after you?
STEFAN No. Nothing as heroic as that.
JOSETTE What, then?
STEFAN Personal reasons.
JOSETTE All very mysterious. (Scrutinising him) You don’t look old enough to be retired. You got money, then?

Stefan laughs.

STEFAN Pots. No. But last year I came into a small inheritance, enough to live on for a year or two.
JOSETTE (Stretching her arms lazily) It’s never too late in the day to start doing nothing. What work did you do  when you were active?
STEFAN Teaching a bit. More recently I worked for a firm translating technical manuals into Polish.
JOSETTE Sounds absolutely ghastly.
STEFAN I quite enjoyed it. You?
JOSETTE Oh, officially I’m enrolled at the Sorbonne. Political Science and Economics.
STEFAN What’s it like?
JOSETTE Complete crap. Everybody’s just interested in money and power in this shitty society — you don’t need to do Science-Po to see that. I don’t get a grant – I only enrolled so I could go to the Student Restaurant. Everybody has to eat.
STEFAN Yes, quite.

Pause. Stefan gets up and begins to pack up his things.

JOSETTE You going already?
STEFAN I’ve got to get back to take some medication.

Josette picks up his easel without being asked.

JOSETTE Here, I’ll carry that. Where’d you live?
STEFAN Not far from here.

EXT. PARIS – MORNING

A typical Parisian street. The 19th century five storey houses have balconies with iron railings.

JOSETTE This it?

Stefan nods. Close up of entrance showing the street number and a column of names with bell pushes. The top one is STEFAN WOZINSKY.

JOSETTE Yes. I’m at the top.

Josette looks at the entrance door again. She dumps the easel on the ground.

JOSETTE See you.

She saunters off without looking back. Stefan pushes a button, pulls open the heavy doors and enters with his equipment.

EXT. CANAL SAINT-MARTIN – AFTERNOON

Stefan without his painting equipment is wandering aimlessly along the Canal Saint Martin. From time to time he exchanges the time of day with old men sitting on benches or playing boules, at one point he goes into a small grocery store to buy some fruit  and then resumes his stroll.
Josette and a group of students, mostly male, emerge from a Métro station and walk along in a group purposively as if going to a meeting. One of them consults a piece of paper. He presses the bell. Looking back idly Josette catches sight of Stefan. She stares  at him curiously. He does not see her. The others go in.

MALE STUDENT You coming, Josette?
JOSETTE Oh, yes.

She follows them in. The heavy double door slams to. We see Stefan continuing to wander  along  the canal bank.

To be continued

Leibnitz's Formula

Leibnitz’s Formula for π

 

one of the peculiarities  of π, the ratio of circumference of a circle to its diameter and thus a strictly geometric entity, is that it comes up in all sorts of unexpected places, thus giving rise to the belief, common amongst pure mathematicians, that Nature has a sort of basic kit of numbers, including notably π, e, i and Γ that She applies here, there and everywhere. Buffon, the eighteenth-century French naturalist, worked out  a formula giving the probability of a needle of length l dropped at random onto a floor ruled with parallel lines at unit intervals cutting at least one line. If l  is less than a unit in length, the formula turns out to be 2l/π  and this result has even been tested experimentally by a modern scientist, Kahan. Actually, in this case and very many others, there is a perfectly rational connection between the formula and the properties of circles, but I must admit that I am floored by the connection between π and the Gamma Function in the weird and rather beautiful result  Γ(1/2) =  √π

          π also turns up as the limit to various numerical series, a matter which in the past was of considerable importance as manufacturing methods required better and better estimates of the value of π. Today, computers have calculated the value of π to over a million decimal places so the question of exactitude has become academic — although computers still use formulae originally discovered by pure mathematicians such as Euler or Ramanujan.

          Leibnitz, co-inventor of the Calculus, produced several centuries ago, somewhat out of a hat, the remarkable series    

 

                   π/4  =  1/3  +  1/5  – 1/7  +  ……

 

          British mathematicians, eager to give as much credit as possible to Newton, pointed out that a Scot, Gregory, had already derived, using Newton’s version of the calculus, the formula

 

                   tan-1 x = x  1/3 x2 + 1/5 x2  ……  

 

and that you obtain Leibnitz’s formula by setting x = 1.

          However, apart from the question of priority, one might reasonably wonder why it should be necessary to bring in calculus to validate such a simple-looking series. A problem in so-called elementary number theory should, so I feel at any rate, make no appeal to the methods of analysis or any other ‘higher’ mathematics but rely uniquely on the properties of the natural numbers. I feel so strongly about this that I had at one point even thought of offering a small money reward for a strictly numerical proof of Leibnitz’s famous series, but I am glad I did not do so, since I have subsequently come across one in Hilbert’s excellent book, Geometry and the Imagination.

          The complete proof is not at all easy — ‘elementary’ proofs in Number Theory are not necessarily simple, far from it — but the general drift of the argument is straightforward enough.


          Consider a circle whose centre is at the origin with radius r , r a positive integer (> 0). The formula for the circle is thus x2 + y2 = r2 .

          We  mark off lattice points to make a network of squares (or use squared paper), and take each lattice as having a side of unit length.

          For any given choice of circle (with r > 1), there will be squares which ‘overlap’, part of the square falling within the circumference and part falling outside the circumference and a single point counts as ‘part’ of a square.

          We define a function f(r) with r a positive integer to be the sum total of all lattices where the bottom left hand corner of the lattice is either inside or on the circumference of a circle radius r. (Any other criterion, such as counting a square ‘when there is more than half its area inside the circle’, would do so long as we stick to it, but there are good reasons for choosing this ‘left hand corner’ criterion, as will shortly be apparent.)

          It is not clear at a glance whether the lattice area, evaluated according to our left hand corner criterion, is larger or smaller than the true area of the circle. However, as we make the lattices smaller and smaller, i.e. increase r, we expect the difference to diminish progressively. 

           f(1) = 5   — remember we are counting the squares where only  the left hand corner point lies on the circumference. I make f(2) come to 13 and f(3) come to 29, while the two higher values given below are taken from Hilbert’s book Geometry and the Imagination :

 

                   f(2)     =       13             

                   f(3)     =       29  

                   f(10)   =     317

                   f(100) = 31417       

 

          The absolute value of the difference between the lattice area, f(r), evaluated simply by counting the relevant lattices, and the area of the circle, π r2, is |f(r) – π r2|  If we use f(r) as a rough and ready estimate of the area of the circle and divide by r2 we thus get an estimate of the value of π  obtaining

 

          π   13/4   = 3.125

 π     29/9  = 3.222222…

 π      317/100  =  3.17

 π      31417/1000 = 3.1417

 

          Now, since the diagonal of a unit square lattice is 2, all the ‘borderline cases’ will be included within a circular annulus bounded within by a circle of radius of (r Ö2)  and without by a circle of radius (r + 2).

          The area of this annulus is the difference between the larger and smaller circles, i.e.

 

          [(r + 2)2 π  –  (r + 2)2 π]  =  4 2 π r 

 


          |f(r)  – π r2|, the discrepancy between the lattice area and the area  of the circle, is bound to be less than the annulus area since some lattices falling within the annulus area get counted in f(r), and certainly f(r) cannot be greater than the annulus area.   

          Thus

                   |f(r)  – π r2|  ≤  4 2 π r   

         

which, dividing right through by r2 gives

                  

                             |f(r)/r2 π| ≤   4 2 π/r          …………………..(i)

 

          Now, assuming Cartesian coordinates with 0 as the centre of the circle, for any value of r there will be a certain number of points which lie on the circumference of the circle, those points (x, y) which satisfy the equation

 

                   (x2 + y2) = r2  where r is a positive integer (> 0).

 

          But we must count all the negative values of x and y as well. For example, with r = 2, the circumference will pass through the lattice points (2, 0), (2, 0), (0, 2) and (0, 2) and no others.

          We now introduce a new variable n = r2 making the radius Ön and the equation of the circle becomes x2 + y2 = n   Although n must be an integer, we lift the restriction on r so that the radius is not necessarily an integer, e.g. r = √7, r = 13 and so on.     

          Now, the number of lattice points on the circumference of a circle with radius n is equivalent to four times the number of ways that an integer n can be expressed as the sum of two squares — four times because we allow x and y to take minus values. This is strictly a problem in Number Theory and an important theorem states that

 

          The number of ways in which an integer can be expressed as the sum of the squares of two integers is equal to four times the excess of the number of factors of n having the form 4k + 1 over the number of factors having the form 4k + 3.

 

          Take 35 = 5 × 7. We have as factors of 35 : 1, 5, 7 and 35 which are respectively

                   1 (mod 4)

                   1 (mod 4)

                   3 (mod 4)

                   3 (mod 4)

 

          Since there are two of each type and 2 –- 2 = 0 there is no excess of the (4k+ 1) type and so, if the theorem is correct, 35 cannot be represented as the sum of two squares, which is the case.


          The proof of the theorem is quite complicated and will not be attempted here. What we can show at once is that

 

          No prime p which is 3 (mod 4) can be represented as the sum of two (integer) squares.

 

          This is so because any odd number, whether it be 1 or 3 (mod 4), will be 1 (mod 4) when squared. And every even number, whether 2 or 0 (mod 4) will be 0 (mod 4) when squared. So if p happens to be 3 (mod 4) like 7 or 11, it will have no representation as the sum of two squares, i.e. the equation a2 + b2  = 3 (mod m) is insoluble in integers.

          However, if p prime is 1 (mod 4) it may be possible to find a representation in two squares since (4k+1)2 + even2 = 1 (mod 4) is possible. A theorem given by Fermat, which goes some way towards establishing the principal theorem, states that

 

          An odd prime p is expressible as the sum of two squares if and only if p = 1 (mod 4)      

 

          The ‘if’ part means that every odd prime p such as 5, 13, 17 and so on can be expressed as the sum of two squares.  13 = 32 + 22 for example and 17 = 42 + 12.

 

          From our point of view, any representation such as 5 = 12 + 22 gives us eight  lattice points, four for the different ways of forming (12 + 22) and four for the different ways of forming (22 + 12) i.e. the lattice points with coordinates

 

                  (1, 2), (1, 2), (1, 2), (1, 2)

 

and those with coordinates

 

                    (2, 1), (2, 1), (2, 1), (2, 1) 

 

          65 = 5 ´ 13   has factors, 1, 5, 13 and 65 all of which are positive integers which are 1 (mod 4).  There should, then, be four different ways of representing 65 as the sum of two squares, where the order in which we write the two squares matters. And in effect we have

 

          65 = (12 + 82) = (82 + 12)  =   (42 + 72) = (72 + 42)

 

We end up with eight lattice points for each combination, namely

 

          (1, 8), (1, 8), (1, 8), (1, 8),

          (8, 1), (8, 1), (8, 1), (8, 1), 

and

          (4, 7), (4, 7), (4, 7), (4, 7),

          (7, 4), (7, 4), (7, 4), (7, 4), 

           The idea now is that, by considering every number n £ r2 , working out how many times it can be expressed as a sum of two squares and adding the results, we will obtain f(r) on multiplying by 4 . Actually, this would include the origin, the point (0, 0), which we do not want to consider, so, excluding this, we have

          (f(r) 1)     = 4   representations of n ≤  r2  as two squares.

 

          Now 1 has a representation since 12  = 12 + 02 giving the four points (1, 0), (0, 1), (1, 0) and (0, 1), 2 = 12 + 12  has a representation giving four points, 3 none and 4 = 22 + 22  gives four points  giving twelve  in all. I made f(2) = 13  which checks out with the above since (f(2) – 1)  = 12. 

          Actually, rather than work out the excess for each number n individually, it is much more convenient to add up the number of factors of all numbers of the form (4k+1) and then subtract the number of factors of all numbers of the form (4k+3). In the first list we have

 

1, 5, 9….  (4k+1)   r2    and in the second

 

3, 7, 11…… (4k+3) ≤  r2

 

          Each of the numbers above must appear in the total for its class as many times as there are multiples of it that are at most r2. 1 will obviously appear r2 times, but 5 will only appear [r2/5] where the square brackets indicate the nearest integer r2/5 

          Finally, since we are not removing or adding anything, we can  subtract the first term in the (4k+3) category from the first term in the (4k+1) category, the second term from the second and so on. We end up with the open-ended series, depending on the choice of r

         

(f(r) 1)     =   4   representations of n ≤  r2  as two squares.


                   =   4  { [r2] – [r2/3] + [r2/5] – [r2/7] + [r2/9] ……..} ..(ii)

 

Now the ‘least integer’ series [r2] [r2/3] + [r2/5] [r2/7] + [r2/9] …

unlike the series r2 r2/3  +  r2/5   r2/7  +  …… is not an infinite series since it terminates as soon as we reach the point where r2/(4k+1)  < 1  making all subsequent terms = 0.

          We assume for simplicity that r is odd and of the type 4k+1 so that r1 is a multiple of 4. Since all the terms with 4k+1 as denominator are positive, we can split the series into two, and then add up the pairs, where the first member of a pair is taken from the  +  and the second from the  Series. The ‘+ Series’ contains [r2/r] and the final non-zero term is [r2/(r2].

 

[r2/1]   +  [r2/5]  + [r2/9]  …+ [r2/r]    +    [r2/(r+4] + ……..[r2/r2]  

 

0           +  [r2/3]  + [r2/7]  …+ [r2/(r2)] + [r2/(r+2)] +…[r2/(r22)]   

 

          If we cut off the series at [r2/r] the error involved, namely the rest of the original series, will be less than r, or a r where a is some proper fraction, i.e.

 

[r2/(r+4] – [r2/(r+2)] …………… [r2/(r22)] + [r2/r2]   < r 

   

          To see this, we write all terms after [r2/r] as [r2/(r+k)] where k is even and ranges from 2 to (r2 r) since (r+ (r2 r)) is the denominator of the final non-zero term. The absolute values of all these terms are less than [r2/r] = r and they come in pairs which alternate in sign.

          Also, all terms where 2(r+k) > r2 or k > (r2/2 r) = r(r 2)/2 will make [r2/(r+k)] = 1 The first such term comes when k = r(r 2)/2 + 1/2 (since k is even) i.e. when k = (r1)2/2  From this point on all pairs will sum to zero so we can ignore them  and only need consider the pairs between [r2/r] and ending [r2/(r+(r1)2/2)]. There will be (r1)2/8 such pairs with a maximum difference of 1 in each case, and so the sum total of the error cannot exceed (r1)2/8  < r since  (r1)2  < 8r for r ≥ 2

          An example may make this more intelligible. Take r = 9 which is a number of the form 4k+1. Then [92/9] = 9  and all terms from then on have their absolute values < 9 while the final last term is [92/92] = [92/(9+72)] The last term where [92/(9+k)] 2 comes when k = 30 and we can neglect all pairs where k has values > 32 (we make the last value k = 32 to make up the pair). k even thus ranges from 2 to 32

 

 2        4

 6        8

10      12

…………

30      32

 

          The maximum absolute amount possible will thus be 32/4 = 8 (in this case (8)) and 8 < 9 = r

          A similar argument can be used to establish the case where r is odd and of the form 4k+3 and any even value of r will be sandwiched between the two cases.

          We thus have, returning to (ii)

 

¼ (f(r) 1) =   [r2] [r2/3] + [r2/5] [r2/7] + [r2/9] ± [r2/r] ± a r

where a < 1

          To lift the square brackets, we note that the error in each term is less than 1 and that there will be, for r odd, (r+1)/2  terms if we cut the series off at [r2/r]. The total possible error is thus < (r+1)/2  <  r  for r ³ 2  and can be written as ± b r where  b < 1   

          We can thus write

 

¼ (f(r) 1)     =  r2 r2/3 + r2/5 r2/7 ……. ± a r ± b r  ………..(iii)

 

 

         Dividing right through by r2 we obtain

 

1/4r2 (f(r) 1)   =  1 1/3 + 1/5   1/7 ……. ± a/r ± b/r

 

or     

 

1/4 (f(r)/r2  1/r2) = 1 1/3 + 1/5   1/7 ……. ± a/r ± b/r

 

which has limit as r →  ∞    f(r)/4r2  = 1 1/3 + 1/5   1/7 …….

 

          Finally, we note that the discrepancy between the area of the circle and the lattice representation is

 

          |f(r)/r2 π| ≤  4 2 π/r   with limit 0 as r →  giving us the desired

 

limit  r →     1 1/3 + 1/5   1/7  + 1/9  ……. ± 1/(2r+1)  =     π/4

 

 

 

 

                                                                         Sebastian Hayes  

Catherine Pozzi : Immortal Longings

born into a very select Parisian family during the latter nineteenth century — her father was a fashionable surgeon and a Senator while her mother presided over a salon patronised by Sarah Bernhardt and Leconte de l’Isle — ‘Karin’ developed into a withdrawn, very intense young woman “tall, gracious and ugly” as Jean Paulhan describes her cattily. She traversed various emotional and religious crises, which she recounts in her voluminous Journals, before making a disastrous marriage which never survived the honeymoon. Not that she was frigid: a few years on, already suffering from the tubercular complaint which eventually killed her, she embarked on a tempestuous affair with Paul Valéry and committed the unforgivable faux-pas, not of having an affair with a married man, but of openly avowing the liaison.

If ever there was a poète manqué(e) — I am tempted to say génie manqué — it was Catherine Pozzi. In a rather pathetic passage from her Journals, she asks ‘Dieu Esprit’ to forgive her for not having fulfilled her sacred mission and having wasted too much time on trivialities. While her contemporary, Marcel Proust, also a chronic invalid and insomniac, managed to write the longest novel in the world, Catherine Pozzi left us only her Journals, one or two inconclusive philosophical prose pieces and….six poems. Out of these six, only one was published during her lifetime — though this was according to her own wishes.

Like the English Romantic poet Beddoes, Catherine Pozzi spent much of her life vainly searching for some faculty or lost sense, which would enable humanity to overcome the dreadful duality matter/spirit. To this end, she undertook serious studies in biology and physics during her maturer years, and, piecing together scattered passages from her Journals and prose pieces, it would seem that she was groping towards a theory similar to that of ‘morphic resonance’ currently advanced by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, whereby each of our sensations, and ultimately the whole of our lives, is a sort of recapitulation of what has already been : “Je sens ce que j’ai déjà senti” as she puts it. More’s the pity she did not leave us a body of work as substantial as that of, say, Blake.

 Sebastian Hayes
                                                          Vale

That peerless love that was your gift to me,
The wind of days has rent beyond repair,
High burned the flame, strong was our destiny,
As hand in hand we stood in unity
Together there ;

Orb that for us was single and entire,
Our sun, its flaming splendour was our thought,
The second sky of a divided fire,
And double exile by division bought ;

These scenes for you evoke ashes and dread,
Places that you refuse to recognize
And the enchanted star above our head
That lit the perilous moment our embracing shed,
Gone from your eyes…..

The future days on which your hopes depend
Are less immediate than what’s left behind;
Take what you have, each harvest has an end,
You’ll not be drunk however much you spend
On scattered wine.

I have retrieved those wild celestial days,
The vanished paradise where anguish was desire ;
What we were once revives in unexpected ways,
It is my flesh and blood and will, after death’s blaze,
Be my attire ;

Your name acts like a spell, lost bliss I knew,
Takes shape, becomes my heart; I live again
That golden era memory makes new,
That peerless love that I once gave to you,
And lived in pain.

Ave

Love of my life, my fear is I may die
Not knowing who you are or whence you came,
Within what world you lived, beneath what sky,
What age or time forged your identity,
Love beyond blame,

Love of my life, outstripping memory,
O fire without a hearth lighting my days,
At fate’s command you wrote my history,
By night your glory showed itself to me,
My resting-place…

When all I seem to be falls in decay,
Divided infinitesimally
An infinite number of times, all I survey
Is lost, and the apparel of today
Is stripped from me,

Broken by life into a thousand shreds,
A thousand disconnected moments — swirl
Of ashes that the pitiless wind outspreads,
You will remake from what my spirit sheds
A single pearl.

Yes, from the shattered debris of my days,
You will remake a shape for me, remake a name,
A living unity transcending time and space,
Heart of my spirit, centre of life’s maze,
Love beyond blame.

Maya
Descending layer by layer the silt of centuries,
Each desperate moment always takes me back to you,
Country of sun-drenched temples and Atlantic seas,
Legends come true.

Soul ! word adored by me, by destiny made black,
What is it but the body when the flame has fled ?
O time, stand still ! O tightened weft of life, grow slack !
A child again, the trail toward the dark I tread.

Birds mass, confront the sea-wind blowing from the West,
Fly, happiness, towards the summer-time of long ago,
The final bank once gained, all is by sleep possessed,
Song, monarch, rocks, the ancient tree cradled below,
Stars that from old my original face have blessed,

A sun all on its own and crowned with perfect rest.

Nova

Far in the future is a world that  knows not me,
It has not taken shape beneath the present sky,
Its space and time not ours, its customs all awry,
Point in the lifespan of the very star I flee,
There you will live, my glory and my ruin — I
Will live in you, my blood your heart will fructify,
Your breathing, eyesight, mine, while everything of me
That is terrestrial will be lost, and lost eternally !

Image that I pursue, forestall what is to be !
(Acts I once cherished, you have wrought this agony)
Undo, unmake yourself, dissolve, refuse to be,
Denounce what was desired but not chosen by me.

Let me not see this day, fruit of insanity,
I am not done — let fall the spool of destiny !

Scopolamine

The wine that courses through my vein
Has drowned my heart and in its train
I navigate the endless blueI am a ship without a crew
Forgetfulness descends like rain.

I am a just discovered star
That floats across the empyrean —
How new and strange its contours are!
O voyage taken to the sunAn unfamiliar yet persistent hum
The background to my night’s become.

My heart has left my life behind,
The world of Shape and Form I’ve crossed,
I am saved   I am lostInto the unknown am tossed,
A name without a past to find.

Nyx
A Louise aussi de Lyon et d’Italie

O you my nights  O long-awaited dark
O noble land   O  secrets that endure
O lingering glances    lightning-broken space
O flights approved beyond shut skies

O deep desire  amazement spread abroad
O splendid journey of the spellstruck mind
O worst mishap O grace descended from above
O open door through which not one has passed

I know not why I sink, expire
Before the eternal place is mine
I know not who made me his prey
Nor who it was made me his love

Catherine Pozzi

Translation Sebastian Hayes

Ni Zan : Classical Chinese Painter

ni zan (1301-1374) is regarded as one of the four masters of Chinese landscape painting during the Yüan (Mongol) dynasty. Originally a wealthy landowner, he spent the latter part of his life living on houseboats wandering around the lakes and rivers of Songjiang and Suzhou, sometimes staying with literati friends. There is an article on him by Jane Dwight in the July 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the Chinese Brush Painters Society, and he is the speaker of the following monologue taken from The Portrait Gallery by Sebastian Hayes (Brimstone Press, 2008).

On the Great Lakes        

My works are colourless, the outlines clear
But never bold, dry, even strokes; the scene

Is much the same, a bank with mainly leafless trees,
Stretches of open water, in the distance, hills;
The season, autumn (though it might be early spring);
Mid-morning; human shapes never appear, at most
A makeshift shelter in the foreground with a roof of reeds
Made by a passing traveller; no wind,
The very slightest flutter at the tips of trees,
But at ground level nothing, even a rowing-boat
Would mar the perfect stillness and the silence…
 
Rain; the sound of it agreeable, light rain
Coming in from the south, my travelling-boat
Rocks idly in the creek, securely moored;
Behind me dark land-masses, misty peaks,
Bent pine and tangled scrub; Ma Yüan’s scrolls

Reach out towards the indistinct but mine do not,
All is contained and definite, hillsides rise up
And lakes are bright with water, always, endlessly

                                                                                    Sebastian Hayes

Rimbaud : The Hands of Mary-Jane


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“Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie”, written close to the time of the Paris Commune (May 1871), when there was a short-lived popular government in Paris, is the nineteenth-century French revolutionary poem par excellence. The ballad form imitates actual ‘broadsheet poems’ of the time and the image of disembodied hands running amok and killing people indiscriminately surely comes straight from a Parisian equivalent of the Victorian ‘Penny Dreadful’. But Rimbaud combines this with occasional ‘literary’ words and highly romantic images like the Rebel bending down to kiss Mary-Jane’s hands. There may also be touches of Delacroix’s tremendous painting, Liberty on the Barricades, where a larger than life  female figure with breasts uncovered, holding aloft the tricolour in one hand and a bayonet in the other, leads a charge of insurgents across dead bodies. We have in effect, in Rimbaud’s poem, cultural influences from the two classes which, ephemerally, combined to overthrow the Second Empire, namely the proletariat and the liberal elements amongst the urban bourgeoisie.

            This is a poem intended to be read aloud, so I felt it essential to retain the strong, almost nursery rhyme beat, and to retain the rhyme since it knits the poem together effectively. But Rimbaud is also enjoying himself linguistically in the manner of a virtuoso violinist extemporising. So it was necessary to imitate this mannered diction where necessary.

            When you translate a rhymed, metrical poem, you have to decide what elements you choose to retain at all costs and which you choose to let go, since you will never be able to keep everything. Some words in the original are important for the image, others for the sense. I had no scruples about translating “plus fort que tout un cheval” by “stronger than a vice”, since it is not the image of the horse that matters here, but the idea of brute strength. However, I felt that the important visual elements such as ‘jewels’, ‘the Virgin Mary’, ‘barricades’ and so forth needed to be given their closest equivalents — closest in terms of their emotional effect on the English reader. “Mitrailleuses” is translated as “cannonades” since the image of street fighting is what matters — and, as it happens, the literal translation of mitrailleuse (‘machine-gun’) would have been inappropriate here since, for us, it inevitably evokes the trenches of World War I, not barricades in the streets of Paris.

            The ending of the poem is surprising since it seems to suggest that the speaker wants to hurt ‘Mary-Jane’ whom he has, up to this point, idolised. Perhaps, Rimbaud, the rebel, is incapable of maintaining a total attitude of reverence towards anyone or anything, not even   the ‘goddess of revolution’.          

 

                         


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                  The Hands of Mary-Jane

 

Mary-Jane has strong hands,

   Brown hands tanned by the summer,

Pale hands like a ghost’s hands,

— Are these the hands of Juana ?

 

And do they owe their dusky gleam

   To oils of sensual ecstasy?                      

And do they take their moon-like sheen

   From lakes of cool serenity? 

 

These hands have drunk the wine of stars,

   And charmed men shown on knees,

And they have rolled Cuban cigars

   Sold gems in tropic seas.

 

The golden blooms at Mary’s feet

   Lie spoiled through some mishap;

It is because her palms secrete

   Black deadly nightshade sap.

 

Are they hands that follow butterflies

   As blue dawn lightens the countryside,

Seeking the nectar as a prize?

   Or hands that offer cyanide?

 

What fancy can have fired their blood

   Throughout their lucubrations?

A dream that no one understood

   Of Genghiskhans and Zions.

 

These hands are not sellers of fruit,

   Have not toiled for the gods of mankind,

Or washed undergarments of jute

   For poor little children and blind.

 

For these are no ordinary hands,

   Of workers with faces homespun,

Dwelling in stinking wastelands

   And burned by a tarmac sun.

 

These hands will break your backbones clean,

    Though pure as snow or ice,

These hands are deadlier than machines

   And stronger than a vice!

                        Restless as a furnace blaze,

   Shaking as they grow nearer,  

Their flesh has sung the Marseillaise

   But never Ave Maria.                                   

 

                    They’ll squeeze your throat, you haughty dame,

   And crush your dainty paws,

Your hands are steeped in crime and shame,

  Your nails are scarlet claws.

                       

These lover’s hands shine forth so bright,

   That lambs must turn their head,

While in each knuckle the sunlight

   Inserts a ruby red. 

 

The stain of the populace

   Has browned them like breasts in eclipse,

The back of these hands is the place

   For every proud Rebel’s lips;

 

And they have grown pale as hands of maids

   In the noonday of love — wondrous to see,

In the roar of cannonades

   As Paris fought to be free! 

 

And yet, sacred hands, at your fists

   That, enraptured, we kiss once again, There are times when we glimpse round your  wrists

   The silvery links of a chain !

 

And then, angel hands, we draw breath

   For we feel deep inside us a need,

To transmute and discolour your flesh

                          By making your fingers bleed!

 

                                   Sebastian Hayes 

Verlaine : Il Pleure dans mon coeur



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Il pleure dans mon cœur…

 

                         Il pleut doucement sur la ville.

                                    (Arthur Rimbaud)

 

Il pleure dans mon cœur

Comme il pleut sur la ville :

Quelle est cette langueur

Qui pénètre mon cœur?

 

O bruit doux de la pluie

Par terre et sur les toits!

Pour un cœur qui s’ennuie

O le chant de la pluie!

 

Il pleure sans raison

Dans ce cœur qui s’écœure.

Quoi! nulle trahison? …

Ce deuil est sans raison.

 

C’est bien la pire peine

De ne savoir pourquoi

Sans amour et sans haine

Mon cœur a tant de peine!  

 

                                                 

            This is probably the most famous poem by Paul Verlaine, the French nineteenth century poète maudit who is today better known for his turbulent liaison with the adolescent Arthur Rimbaud than for his actual writings. I render it as

 

Tears fall from my heart….

 

Tears fall in my heart

Like rain on the town —

What is this dull smart

That transpierces my heart?

 

The sweet sound of the rain

On roofs and on the ground!

For a spirit in pain,

O the song of the rain !

 

Tears come for no reason,

To this heart sick of life,

Neither parting nor treason,

My sadness has no reason.

 

And the worst is not to know

Why, without love or hate,

Tears do not fail to flow,

But why I do not know. 

 

            [I am indebted to Claude Mignot-Ogliastri, the critic and biographer, for pointing out to me that Verlaine did not write that tears were flowing from his heart, which would be commonplace, but in his heart, causing me to emend my original translation.]   

 

            As far as I am concerned, poetry should essentially be

                 “what oft was felt but ne’er so well expressed”

to slightly adapt Pope’s famous line — he actually wrote “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”.  Here, Verlaine gives perfect expression to a mood or feeling which I, and countless other people, have occasionally experienced : a sort of sadness which has no raison d’être, or not as far as one can make out. Even, it is not clear whether it really is sadness. I remember one whole summer  when, though not having any particular reason for depression, rather the contrary, I found myself afflicted by recurrent periods of continual weeping (after which I felt a  hell of a lot better), and I have met people in ‘Workshops’ of the psychological type who have recounted identical experiences.  The whole point of Verlaine’s poem is that this sadness “has no reason” and the poet is almost as much puzzled as he is afflicted.

     An article recently appeared in the New Scientist discussing whether depression can/should be cured by ‘happiness’ drugs, provoking varied reactions amongst correspondents. Currently, although almost everyone in this country, including or especially the best off, seems to spend most of their time moaning and whinging, there is a positive obligation to always be  photographed not only smiling but laughing uproariously. If the current government had another term (which currently seems unlikely) it would probably end up by making it punishable by law to appear despondent in public — a £50 fine, say, for a first offence and a warning of more serious penalties for recidivism. One envies the Victorians their right to view life as a serious  business.

 

                                                                                                               Sebastian Hayes    


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