Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nobody Really Gets Quantum

Nobody Really Gets Quantum / Etgar Keret

On Yom Kippur eve Quantum walked over to Einstein's house to seek forgiveness. "I'm not home," shouted Einstein from behind a closed door. On the way home people taunted him and somebody even hit him with an empty can of coke. Quantum pretended not to care, but deep inside he was really hurt. Nobody really gets Quantum, everybody hates him. "You parasite" people cry out when he's walking down the street, "why are you dodging the draft?" - "I wanted to enlist," Quantum tries to say, "but they wouldn't take me, because I'm so small." Not that anybody listens to Quantum. Nobody listens to Quantum when he tries to speak up for himself, but when he says something that can be misconstrued, oh, then suddenly everybody's paying attention. Quantum can say something innocent like "wow, what a cat!" and right away the news says he's making provocations and run off to talk to Schrodinger. And anyway, the media hates Quantum most, because once when he was interviewed in Scientific American Quantum said that the observer affects the observed event, and all the journalists thought he was talking about the coverage of the Intifada and claimed he was deliberately inciting the masses. And Quantum can keep talking until tomorrow about how he didn't mean it and he has no political affiliation, nobody believes him anyway. Everybody knows he's friends with Yuval Ne'eman.

A lot of people think Quantum is heartless, that he has no feelings, but that's not true at all. On Friday, after a documentary on Hiroshima, he was on the expert panel. And he couldn't even speak. Just sat in front of the open mic and cried, and all of the viewers at home, that don't really know Quantum, couldn't understand that Quantum was crying, they just thought he was avoiding the question. And the sad thing about it is, even if Quantum writes dozens of letters to the editors of all the scientific journals in the world and proves beyond any doubt that for the whole atomic bomb thing he was just being used and he never thought it would end this way, it wouldn't help him, because nobody really gets quantum. Least of all the physicists.

from the original Hebrew by me; posted without permission. Originally from The Girl on the Fridge where you can find somebody else's translation of this and other surreal short stories by the very talented Etgar Keret. Incidentally, the original story is written in the plural because in Hebrew we call quantum mechanics, roughly, "theory of the quantas;" I switched it to singular here because I think it works better this way in English. I'm not sure I've done it justice - I'm not sure you can actually do Keret's writing justice reading it out of the Israeli cultural context (for instance, many physicists will know Ne'eman for his work on QCD but only Israelis know he was politically active in a far-right party) - but I thought it was worth a shot.

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