When she called him, about a week later, he was apologetic and baffled. He just couldn’t fathom how this had happened, he told her. The only thing he could think of was that he’d bought a new sperm counting machine that same year, and perhaps he had contaminated it when he was testing it with his own semen.
Palmer asked for a paternity test and, to her surprise, Barwin agreed. In autumn of 2015, they both swabbed their cheeks and sent the samples off to a lab. Not long after, Barwin emailed her with the confirmation. He was, he said, her biological father.
In 1883, the brilliant German mathematician Georg Cantor produced the first rigorous, systematic, mathematical theory of the infinite. It was a work of genius, quite unlike anything that had gone before. And it had some remarkable consequences. Cantor showed that some infinities are bigger than others; that we can devise precise mathematical tools for measuring these different infinite sizes; and that we can perform calculations with them. This was seen an assault not only on intuition, but also on received mathematical wisdom. In due course, I shall sketch some of the main features of Cantor’s work, including his most important result, commonly known as ‘Cantor’s theorem’. But first I want to give a brief historical glimpse of why this work was perceived as being so iconoclastic. Ultimately, my aim is to show that this perception was in fact wrong. My contention will be that Cantor’s work, far from being an assault on received mathematical wisdom, actually served to corroborate it.
We often discuss art this way: the artist had something he “wanted to express”, and then he just, you know … expressed it. We buy into some version of the intentional fallacy: the notion that art is about having a clear-cut intention and then confidently executing same.
The actual process, in my experience, is much more mysterious and more of a pain in the ass to discuss truthfully.
I sometimes worry that there will come a point in my reading life where I won’t be able to have the kind of visceral, unmanageable reaction to a book that I’ve often felt was made possible by my being young, hypersensitive, and — frankly — unmedicated. I worry that it’s behind me now, the time where I can be positively torn asunder by a text the way that I was when I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation at sixteen, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway at eighteen, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets at twenty-one. I never have the opportunity to worry about this for very long, however, because invariably what happens is that a book will land in my lap that proves I’m still (and hopefully always) alive and vulnerable to language, wielded expertly, which brings into being new, singular cartographies of emotional landscapes.
Allison Benis White’s Please Bury Me in This is such a book. Its effect in my first reading cannot be overstated. I texted a photo of a page — of which I’d highlighted the entirety — to a friend and wrote, simply, “I’m gutted.”
But while “Exit West” seems like a dark reflection of our tumultuous times, Mr. Hamid said the novel grew out of a hopeful impulse.
“What if we look at a very difficult future — can we still find hope and beauty and love and things that we want?” he said. “For me, this is not a novel about dystopia; actually it’s about looking for signs of hope and optimism in the future.”
Dashing, playful and cleverly imagined, “The Night Ocean” emerges as an inexhaustible shaggy monster, part literary parody, part case study of the slipperiness of narrative and the seduction of a good story.