And after Fermat…

… there came Jorge Luis Borges

as Google doodle.

By the way, people who have encountered many French mathematicians (say, in a conference) of a certain sharply defined age may have got the impression of finding themselves in a confusing self-referential Borgesian circle. The reason is that his book of short stories “Fictions” (Ficciones in Spanish) was assigned as one of the two texts during one year of the famous French classes préparatoires.

Strangely, the effect of the second book, a poetry collection of Francis Ponge, was much less obvious, though some highly refined friends of mine enjoyed it a lot; my own personal memory is restricted to the sad remark that it is rather a shame that the title of his poem La crevette dans tout ses états does not translate exactly to The startled shrimp, the (former) name of the night-club in which B. Wooster gets entangled with the awful majesty of the law in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit.

On the other hand, the two hard drives of my computer at the time were called “Tlön” and “Uqbar”, and I dabbled in imitative short stories; I might as well put here a link to my favorite

The literary potential of author names

In an age where literary originality is hard to come by, shouldn’t more attention be paid to the great potential of author’s names as literary device? In mathematics, we can enjoy the delightful papers of Nicolas & Sárközy (for instance, this one). Theoretical physicists probably still chuckle when reading the paper of Alpher, Bethe and Gamow (though the story goes that Alpher was pretty upset when Gamow decided to add Bethe as a co-author, purely for euphonical reasons…)

Do you know any other examples?

(As for myself, I am sorry that the traditions of mathematical publication make it highly unlikely that a Stanley — Kowalski paper will ever appear.)

Zazie count

So after re-reading carefully Zazie au pot de thèse, I have counted 74 references to mathematical terminology, including names of actual mathematicians (a few of which are actually hidden in puns which can be considered as Joycean or atrocious, depending on the point of view), and words which are used for their mathematical meaning in the text; this seems fair enough since, after all, the story is supposed to happen during (or mostly after) a mathematical PhD defence.

The best-hidden name (the construction being utterly untranslatable) is in the following sentence:

Il faut préserver les plus infimes de nos coutumes obsolètes, car nous, Gaulois irréductibles, sans us, perdrions notre esprit de corps, notre unité fondamentale.

(Litterally: We must preserve the most minute of our obsolete habits, since we, irreducible Gauls, without customs, would lose our esprit de corps, our fundamental unity.)

The mathematician here is Galois, seen as “Gaulois-without-us”; the surroundings of field and Galois-theoretic wordings (irreducible, fundamental unit, field – which is the translated “corps” in French) were supposed to make this noticeable…