Author Topic: A Study in Physics

A Study in Physics
« on: May 30, 2021 »
by Lazlo Shunt

A Study In Physics

   Words. There's thousands of them. Some are great standalone classics, you know, the kind of words you want to say out loud. Others, well, they only really come alive when surrounded by other words in what most people call a sentence. Sometimes, when someone has somehow managed to find enough sentences to put together, a book will appear. Some of these books promptly disappear forever, some seem to live for only a brief moment before falling back into obscurity, then there are those books that, once they come alive, become part of our shared cultural history and actually change the way people see the world around them. I guess you can call these 'classics'. Now, some of these lets call them 'classics' are slender little delights, easy to absorb in a single sitting or train journey. Others take a couple of sessions and only require a few hours. Then there are the heavyweights, the monoliths, the giants of literature, the mountains that certain readers attempt to scale, albeit with varying degrees of success, and which leave those who bail early with a lingering sense of failure and a half-baked, fist-shaking promise to return one day and finish the job.

   Now, I'm not here to bang on about which of these leviathans I've completed, nor am interested in hearing about which ones anyone else has managed to finish. What really interests me is how far can one throw these heavy boss books, which has led me to conduct a rather singular experiment in physics. For this experiment I chose five of the biggest piles of sentences I had in my bookcase and took them up to the roof terrace of my Amsterdam apartment building overlooking the Amstel river. Admittedly, I had been huffing swifties, which probably takes some of the scientific sheen off my experiment, but I was filled with what can only be described as a wave of wonderment as I thought about the importance of the task ahead. Someone once said science is only as foldable as the table it came with, which I don't agree with but I am not a scientist so I'm probably unqualified to make such comments here (or anywhere else). Anyway, I piled the five books on top of one another like some kind of wordy Jenga and set about testing out my theory.

   First up was War & Peace (587,287 words). I took it in my right hand and with a smooth underarm movement launched it up and out into the clean Amsterdam air. It rotated a few times, like when a bad guy in a Bond film falls off a ledge, and descended with ferocious pace towards the pavement, its yellowing pages fluttering like a schoolgirl's heart, landing near a woman who was walking her dog.

   Next up was Vassily Grossman's Life & Fate (310,000 words). This rotated less upon its gently arcing path towards the ground than Old Tolstoy did but immediately blew apart upon impact, wafting emancipated pages full of sentences across the straat.

   Third in the pile was Infinite Jest (577,608 words). This, when tossed skyward, stubbornly refused to adhere to the strict norms of gravity and began a steady and terrifying airdrift back towards the building, where it plopped unceremoniously onto my neighbour's plant-strewn balcony, landing backpage up in a potted fern.

   Fourth came the much-copied and oft-quoted Ulysses (265,222 words), which for some reason I always found slightly depressing despite its playfullness, like that old TV show set in Ireland with all the painfully unfunny priests. James Joyce's masterwork descended beautifully yet awkwardly, like a collapsing Soyuz rocket, and narrowly missed a couple of girls in denim jackets and flares who were attempting to open a bottle of wine with heel of one of their shoes. They looked up the street casually, with indifference, before returning to the liberation of their alcohol from its smooth, glassy prison.

   Finally, and by no means least I was left with undoubtedly my favourite bunch of sentences of all time, the unrivalled and unravelling work of genius that is Gravity's Rainbow (305,000 words). Taking this epic literary creation in my hand I was aware of the irony of the situation. A book about gravity succumbing to gravity was probably something that Thomas Pynchon would appreciate, or not, and as nobody has ever seen him or heard him it would be impossible to say how he would react. I'm not a religious man, not really anyway, but it was with a strange sense of holiness that I hurled this beautiful creation out into the void and observed it fall in total silence, with all the quiet dignity of a preacher awaiting his certain resurrection. It fell directly into the basket of a passing bike, causing the human in control of the aforementioned bike to swerve wildly, narrowly escaping an impact with the two girls in denim jackets, who had now opened the wine and were taking turns at swigging it straight from the bottle.

   A cloud covered the sun, and it suddenly occured to me that I had just wasted at least half an hour of my time and five perfectly good books in my pursuit of scientific truth and in that sense I felt like a young, sportswear wearing Robert Oppenheimer. Unlike poor Bobby O, however, I had failed to learn anything whatsoever. And the point of all this? There isn't one, other than to say that although all books succumb to the forces of gravity, some succumb more easily than others. Or do they?