16 June, 2006

The number of God

Boris Vian, Calcul Numérique de Dieu par des Méthodes Simples et Fausses (105 EP).

This is one of the rarest of all the pieces in my collection, a pamphlet of unknown origin, number 258 of only 350; it contains various mathematical proofs showing the value of the number of God. Its author, Boris Vian, was a French avant-gardiste poet and jazz performer (a Wikipedia article here) who wrote a number of cult novels, including his most well-known, L'Ecume des Jours. He joined the Collège de 'Pataphysique in 1950, where he was appointed Ensign Promotor of the Order of the Grande Gidouille, Co-President of the Cocomission of Vestments, President of the Subcommission of Imaginary Solutions, and President of the Subcomission of Mathematics and the Exact Sciences. (Must have been fun, eh?) The Collège was an art collective formed on the principles outlined by the épateur Alfred Jarry in his seminal Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustroll at the end of the 19th century; a latter-day Surrealist movement, the Collège gave birth to the more famous OuLiPo in 1960, whence Perec, Calvino and the rest. (Incidentally, a former friend of mine, the faux-eccentric rakehell and burlesque performer David Piper, who I believe is still a member of the London Institute of Pataphysics headed by Alastair Brotchie, has just resurrected his mobile peep-show project, Wyndham's Wond'rous Wandering Woo-Woo Wagon, which if you're in London is good for a laugh.)

Notice the spear and raised sponge on the cover, as well as the spiral cornegidouille (translated by Stanley Chapman as hornstrumpot), a motif of Jarry's Père Ubu, and emblem of the 'Pataphysicians. Vian's essay on the number of God, written in 105 by the Pataphysical Calendar, is a bizarre motley of French wordplay and serious (if quite light) algebra. He gives more than one solution for the number, but my favourite is this, inspired specifically by the finale of Jarry's Faustroll:

Dieu = deux + i - x = 2 + i - x

Dieu + Dieu = Dieux = 2 + i

(2 + i - x) + (2 + i - x) = 2 + i
4 + 2i - 2x - 2 -i = 0
2 + i - 2x = 0

x = (2 + i)/2 = 1 + (i/2)

Dieu = 2 + i - 1 - (i/2) = 1 + (i/2)


Deux + Deux = 4

(Dieux - i) + (Dieux - i) = 4

Dieux + Dieux - 2i = 4

(mais Dieux et Dieux, ça fait toujours Dieux!)

Dieux - 2i = 4

Dieux = Deux + i = 2 + i

2 + i - 2i = 4
2 - 1 - 4 = 0
i = -2


Dieu = 1 + (-2/2)

Dieu = 0.


Yvette Centeno said...

See Boris Vian, Jacques Prévert, Asger Jorn, others, in La Fontaine des Quatre Saisons, années 60, au quartier Saint-Germain de Paris.
Also read revue OBLIQUES n.8-9 BORIS VIAN de A à Z.
See my blog literaturaearte,
and go on having clever fun !

Yvette Centeno said...

Boris Vian played in my aunt's theatre in Paris, La Fontaine des Quatre Saisons
I met Ursula, his wife, on several occasions, as my family went on being friends, after Boris died.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks for stopping by, Yvette.

Your site looks nice, but unfortunately I cannot read Portuguese. Yet.