a long the… riverrun

If you had to write a circular novel, that can be started at any point of the narrative and that would circle back to itself, how long would it be? Probably, most mathematicians would say that either 63, 628, or 6283, pages would be the most appropriate.

And so it’s probably not surprising that the one circular novel I know, Joyce’s “Finnegans wake“, is indeed (in all editions I’ve seen) 628 pages long. Amusingly, this is not mentioned in the introduction to the one I have (which is, also, about the only thing I’ve read of the book, with the exception of the first few and last paragraphs, and isolated snatches here and there).

The reason for this post is really that today is Bloomsday, the day when, fictionally, the action of the earlier “Ulysses” evolves, and that Zürich is well-connected with Joyce. Not only is he buried there, very close to the zoo, so I can use one appropriate quotation

As the lion in our teargarten remembers the nenuphars of his Nile…

from “Finnegans wake” (one of those few snatches I have actually read), but he also wrote parts of “Ulysses” in a house on Universitätstrasse, quite close to the main building of ETH Zürich where I work, as memorialized by the plaque below:

Joyce plaque in Zurich

(I’ve heard that there are a few other such places in Zürich, the reason being that, unable to pay the rent, Joyce had to move frequently…)

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

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