Sunday, December 29, 2013

Color it Brownian

Back about ten years ago I wrote a family memoir; its well known to the family. It covered our history in Europe and ended with our variously dated arrivals in the United States. Even looking back to our great grandparents, Brigitte’s and mine, it was clear that war played the major role in the history of all our lives then; it was the sky, and the turbulence in it, that formed the dome above. Therefore that book had a strong thematic. And because large parts of our families emigrated—to the United States, Canada, Latin America, and even to Australia, the theme was a kind of movement toward the goal. The title, Majd Amerikába, holds that thematic. Literally it means, Wait Until We’re in America. My Mother used that phrase often when we wanted something that could not be had.

Years after writing that book, I hazarded another. It never got finished. I had titled it America: Our Random Walk. In fact I’d quite forgotten that title; it came back a couple of days ago when, in one of our discussions, Brigitte mentioned Lauriston Place, one of our streets. And that had me checking back in that manuscript to see where it was located in relation to two other places where we had lived in Fairfax, VA.

That narrative ran aground after a dozen chapters precisely because the random nature of our life amidst the peace and plenty of the once mythical Amerika produced problems of story-telling. The tale split into two rather incompatible tines, as of a fork. The family history retained its meaning—but the outer world became chaotic, so much so that actually describing it, meaningfully, came to demand more and more space. It was a family history—not a sorting out of an ever more shattering economic/political history which here, in this land, became the sky under which we continued doing what mankind had done forever and ever—raising a family.

The random is quite difficult—to understand, to integrate, to see comprehensively. The second chapter of an old book we got for Christmas, The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance, deals with the difficulties. It is titled “The Lure of Completeness.” When too many things in some kind of motion impinge on too many other things, and vice versa, we get situations which are theoretically capable of explanation—but always only theoretically. And if we could somehow slow down and freeze the motion, infinite time would be required to trace its lawfulness. And then, suggest the author of the essay, Sir Hermann Bondi, we’d probably discover something deeper to plunge us right back into ignorance.

Color it Brownian, one might say. Brownian motion, discovered by the botanist Robert Brown in 1927, is one form of the random walk—which, whether used to understand Wall Street or those who work on Main Street, is rather a poor environment for story telling. The human experience is resolutely and defiantly teleological. Brigitte heard me say this sort of thing about that unfinished book and said: “Why don’t you just simplify it? You’re good at that. And stick with the family.” I might do that. But let’s wait for Spring.

1 comment:

  1. A most interesting post. That war provides a, how shall I say.... more focused foreground for a story (or life) than the chaotic-feeling present is really interesting. And I'm with Brigitte, love the idea of a continuation of Madj Amerikába.