Saturday, 14 March 2009

Alexander Theroux

At my wedding, my cousin Pierre remarked upon the fact that when in my teens I used to enjoy reading dictionaries and collecting rare, antique, and obscure words (a criterion that defines my collecting in other areas as well). Several such dictionaries consisted purely of such words, and one of them helpfully illustrated their usage with quotes by modern authors. One of the authors most frequently mentioned was Alexander Theroux, who wrote Darconville's Cat (1981) and whose last novel, Laura Warholic, was published in 2007, following twenty years of silence. I presented my wife with a copy of the latter two days before our wedding, and, having only recently begun reading it, she has been sharing with me selected passages, where the author's contemptuous wit has iridesced with particular brilliance.

I have to say that rarely have I encountered a more technically accomplished author: Alexander Theroux's prose is of an extraordinarily high literary level, which does not suprise me in an 18th Century author like Edward Gibbon, but which is very rare in a world where quantity always takes precedence over quality, and where publishers bin long manuscripts without a glance because they are worried about the cost of paper. Unsurprisingly, he epitomises the Nietzschean genius, for whom recognition is usually prefaced by Dickensian penury, an obscure death, and a century of oblivion.

Theroux was interviewed here and here.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Holographic Memory

On Friday I decided to drive back home the long way after visiting the bank. My wife, who was with me, suggested we stopped by to have a browse at an independent DVD shop situated in a nearby village; the shop in question carries mostly old, silent, foreign, and independent films. There was nothing of immediate interest there, however, so we took a stroll, which ended at an exhibition of holographic art.

The exhibition was interesting. Among other things, we learnt that, so long as you do not wish to change the object under observation or adjust the focus, a holographic microscope works just as well as a physical microscope: if one looks through the eyepiece, the magnified object can be seen in sharp focus. This was one of various holographic plates that had been made as proof of concept, we were told: holographic technology has many applications, spread across diverse fields, including medicine, tourism, and conservation.

I was keen to investigate the future evolution of this technology, as I am always collecting ideas for future projects, so I conversed with the organiser at some length. Somehow we ended up on the topic of cloning, at which point the organiser stated that the idea had originated in Germany. This would not have surprised me, had the organiser not then gone on to suggest that this had been a Nazi invention. His account of the research having been motivated by a desire to replicate the Aryan race struck me straightaway as apocryphal, particularly as he stated that for the Nazis "people who were not blond and blue-eyed were essentially monkeys". This statement is obviously incorrect, because while the Nazis idealised the pure Nordic type, almost none of the top Nazis - least of all Himmler and Goebbels - fit that description; in fact, only a minority of Germans fit that description. Moreover, while the Nazis did set up stud farms for the SS, I had never heard of the Nazis having been involved in attempts to clone humans.

Upon returning home, it did not take long before I found the origins of the story: it seems to be a 1976 novel by Ira Levin, called The Boys from Brazil, which was made into a film in 1978. While I found multiple references to modern research on cloning being characterised by fearful interests and organisations as "Nazi-like", I found no non-fiction sources claiming that the Nazis were ever involved in human cloning.

The first mammal was only successfully cloned in 1996, and the mammal in question was a sheep called Dolly.