Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The first million digits of pi

"The first million digits of pi" is a truly original book. The authors have clearly perceived the breakdown of language as a medium of communication, and have bravely and successfully fallen back on mathematics as a medium for imparting deep truths. Were James Joyce alive today, he would be enraptured by the portentous start to this novel. "3.14159..." is the sonorous opening, and the pace never falters.

The allusions in this novel are many and subtle. For example, the phrase "666" occurs several times, bringing up suggestions of the Beast of the Revelation. Whether it was Nero, or maybe Euclid, the authors do not need to say. Another ringing passage begins "1 1 1 ..." clearly symbolising the feelings of isolation and loneliness that the authors suffer. So far the literary establishment has ignored this novel almost entirely -- no nominations for Nobel prizes or Booker prizes, not even a Fatwah from fundamentalist Muslims who might be expected to see this as a parody of the book of Numbers.

I cannot resist quoting a passage which is so rich in allusions that one could study it for a lifetime and still be able to find new insights.

"5 0 2 8 8 4 1 9 7 1 6 9 3 9 9 3 7 5 ..." it runs. Note the rhythm of the passage, the rippling of the nines and the rugged tension implicit in the sevens. Despair is writ in every syllable. Like a Gothic cathedral it towers above mere prose.

What is unique about "pi" -- as it will be known to future generations -- is that it is independent of language. For those who want sex, there is plenty (if they read it in Latin). German devotees of Tolkien will find the 'elf' motif cropping up every so often. French critics have already noticed the references to 'huit' -- it would be rash to rule out the theory that this novel contains the real truth about crop circles.

This is the novel which Archimedes longed to write. As Rousseau put it, Man is born Three. So indeed is Pi, and what follows is the greatest novel on the human condition ever penned.

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