#WritersWednesday: His Hero is Marcel

Time Line of the Universe
Time Line of the Universe Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team Source: Original version: File:CMB Timeline75.jpg

It goes for colours, type-faces, places, objects, smiles, books… The human spirit is attracted, inspired, by “things”, in a fashion that appears random to the observer (“tastes and colours…” goes the French saying). But it isn’t. There are reasons for everything, and randomness is often a metaphor for “we can’t explain this”.

Julian is attracted by – universes. Worlds, galaxies, star systems… Or should I write “multiverses”: the existence of multiple universes that rarely intersect, merely coexist, and, mostly, in ignorance of each other? He knows, has read about, that most physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, are generally skeptical about the concept. Generally, but sometimes not. And Julian is attracted by those writers who are less than skeptical, the party of the “cosmic inflation”, and its far away consequences. Julian believes in the Two Moons of Huraki Murakami: he too has seen them…

Sarah, who’s a far better mathematician than her husband, is willing to discuss strings theory and other quantum wonders, and let him indulge in his quest. He too is after the “Ultimate Nature of Reality” [*]. I do understand, and she does, that Julian seeks his inspiration from serious subjects: history, science, philosophy, the “thinking” authors of weird and wonderful stories.

So it goes for time: our Julian is obsessed by it. His hero is, of course, Marcel Proust, and he’s often written about Marcel, and written him into his stories, as himself or as his little prisoner. I am fascinated by this, as it links to his other obsessions, his writing style, and, finally, his love for both Sarah and Melissa, the two women in his life, the inspiration for his writing. There are reasons to believe that, for Julian, his friend Melissa is a reincarnation of the docile Prisoner, dear to Marcel, his Albertine…

But Sarah has another theory: Julian wishes to be Albertine, someone’s property, or, to be precise, his wife’s. So that Melissa maybe Julian, in the end, just in another “universe”. This intrigues me too, as often Melissa has told me she wished to be Julian, to live in his skin. Poor soul. What I keep to myself, for now, is that Melissa has also claimed to be Sarah, to “merge” with her.

Sarah, Albertine, Odette, Julian, Melissa, Swann? Julian is “à la recherche”, in this universe, or, as necessary, in another. Which writer is not?

[*] “Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality”, by Max Tegmark, was reviewed by Brian Rotman in The Guardian of February 1, 2014.



The ancient tale came back to his mind, one morning. He was working at his desk, surrounded by the quiet notes of Mozart, as usual the best time for his inspiration and enjoying dawn coffee. The story had been written eons ago, in an empire now defunct, by a long dead author, whose name he could not recall. He must have been very young then, a child still, when he read it. The book cover was a beautiful drawing of a woman, bathed in dark orange light, standing near a violet sea. High up in the sky were two red moons. The artist had imparted a classical face to the woman, an almost antique greek profile, and she was wearing a short toga. What had fascinated him then was the sadness of the story, the fate of the central hero. To his young mind that fate was enviable: a mixture of scientific achievement, the realisation of a dream, the encounter with the ineffable on a world so far away that light would not reach his own world before the death of their star…

The hero was an engineer and space traveller, at a time when mankind had finally overcome the rivalries and greed that had polluted its history. The planets of our system  were colonised and mined for the materials necessary to the conquest of other worlds and the preservation of that small paradise: Earth. The most amenable planets were now inhabited by communities of scientists and artists, living in the harsh conditions of enclosed colonies, comfortable within but still perilous without. 

The hero was unsatisfied. He dreamt of far more distant worlds, in remote galaxies that the best human instruments were only then beginning to guess at, across unfathomable distances from Earth. Space travel was still confined to the vicinity of his world. Despite the breakthrough of Hyper Relativity, shortcuts through space had proven lethal and, in the end, unworkable: too much initial energy was needed and the human mind, even surrounded by the technological marvels of his age, could not summon the strength to survive the shock unharmed. Yet he was hoping. In successive dreams he had seen that world, the violet sea, the red moons, the black star. He was convinced that those dreams had been messages. Messages from a being, on that world. The absurdity of the thought did not bother him. His scientific mind was not held in rigid conventions. A graduate of the elite astronauts school of Mars he had absorbed, in Kuhn, the principles of scientific revolutions: sooner or later received wisdoms are subsumed in a greater “truth”.

So it had been for Newton mechanics, Relativity, Quantum theory… and so it will be for the physics of his age. One day he would overcome the limitations that now crippled his aspiration to see and meet that being. In his dreams he’d seen her: a red-skin human, silvered-hair, a creature of a different galaxy, yet so similar to him. Inevitably she was extraordinarily beautiful.

In the book the hero succeeds.

Exploiting the resources of a a small moon of Jupiter, he conducts his own research, assisted by a group of fanatical students. Over several years they build the machine: a massive drive that will tunnel through space-time, deconstructing and reassembling the traveller instantaneously across light millennia. The odds of success are so small, the mathematics so complex, but they persist. The machine is built. In-between he had many more dreams, and he knows where he will arrive: on that shore, those small waves bathing his feet… The day comes, and he of course is the one who will test the drive.

It’s a disaster, the drive is destroyed, several of his followers are dead. He disappears, considered a victim of his misplaced ambitions. 

For a few seconds, on a far way shore, a tall red-skin woman, taking a morning stride, sees that strange human-like creature materialising in front of her. She smiles, recognising the being of her dreams, that traveller from an unknown galaxy: admiration fills her eyes.

His wife is talking to him: he will never complete his novel at that pace, too often distracted by idle thoughts…

Ivan Yefremov page on Wikipedia