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YearsOfWandering

Volume Two of Z. A. Melzak's autobiography In Search of the Fulcrum was published in late 2005. A few months ago Professor Melzak's son kindly sent me a copy autographed by the author himself. The book's subtitle is Years of Wandering. It consists of Chapters 14 through 23, continuing the sequence begun in Volume One.

Years of Wandering tells of Melzak's intellectual voyages on seas of fantastic fiction, mysticism, language, and social history. It's far from easy reading – the prose is dense and the content at times is controversial – but it offers rewarding glimpses of a brilliant mind and the conclusions that it has reached throughout a lifetime of introspection, forged by a passage in youth through Nazi death camps. Melzak's vision is pessimistic, as he reveals in the Introduction:

... Already the preceding suggests that I foresee some world-catastrophe which is coming; this is quite correct and I do. It will be something by orders of magnitude worse than Spengler's 'Decline of the West', but if accused of overspenglerizing, I answer simply that technology and drain on earth's resources have unbelievably increased since Spengler's day. ...

Melzak is not above alliterative whimsy in the course of his analysis, as when (later in the Introduction) he identifies:

... "the 'seven deadly p's', seven professions which regard themselves as absolutely essential to the world, each of which is very widely spread over the world unfortunately. They are not so much the main perpetrators of the coming disaster as rather serious contributors to it who under various noble covers prevent any effective attempt to avert that disaster. In the order of rising deadliness the seven are: philosophers, poets, psychiatrists, paparazzi, pettifoggers, politicians, priests. Examples of their doings are many; some few instances will be given starting with the least deadly ones ...

As I finished reading Years of Wandering I discovered behind me a thicket of torn sticky-note scraps protruding from its pages, markers of passages which struck me as memorable. A few selections may give part of the feel of this impossible-to-summarize volume. From the end of Chapter 17 ("Atlantis of the Secrets"):

... I have an A. .E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith tarot deck and I look at it sometimes; it is quite different from the tarot deck I used to see as a child in actual play of the game. Also, occasionally I gaze at the I-ching hexagrams. My impression is that, removing tendentiousness and delusion, at very rare instances such devices as tarot or the hexagrams may help one, with very considerable difficulty and at no small price, to have a look in a clouded mirror at oneself, something one ought to be able to do much better without any extraneous help.

From Chapter 18 ("Some Daylight Works of Man"), in a discussion of Thales of Miletus and his "revolutionary concept of indirect measurement", where an astrophysical topic appears which coincidentally was discussed in my Ph.D. dissertation almost 30 years ago:

... Recently a group of astronomers measured the change of the diameter of a neutron star of the Crab Nebula, due to a small glitch; it amounted to forty microns, the approximate thickness of human hair, and this was measured at the distance of several thousand light years. This illustrates the power of indirect measurement, though the odds are that those astronomers themselves did not know to whom they were ultimately indebted. Is the importance of the discovery of Thales exaggerated? Not at all, because the act of measurement is unconditionally fundamental in almost everything, and direct measurement is completely primitive and inadequate for anything like science or technology.

From Chapter 20 ("The Ultracrepidarians"):

All respect is due to those who know their trade well and stay within it, something more to those who know some other things besides, and yet more to those of the latter who in addition have the merit of admitting their doubts and errors in reasonable and simple language. It is the last lot who might be justly called learned, savants, or scholars; it is they who satisfy the profound difficulty of the Aristotelian demand: to think like great men and speak like simple ones. ...

From Chapter 21 ("More on Language"):

The above juxtaposition of 'Don Quijote' with romanticism recalled to my mind a sentiment stated in another place, that 'it is better to lose to giants than to defeat dwarfs'. This might be taken to be the very essence of romanticism; well, it is nothing of the sort. Fighting dwarfs and defeating them will surely denature one; as Nietzsche puts it: one will fight, defeat the enemy, and then find oneself becoming like that enemy. But even more important, the above sentiment has a direct reference to the heroic Don himself, for he disdained to fight dwarfs as is already shown by the incident with the windmills. It is not even certain whether he was really defeated by the giants.

From Chapter 23 ("Catastrophism and History"):

The danger of the catastrophe to come would have been much more obvious had it not been for the fortunate or unfortunate reverse of gradualism. The following is meant: my great personal luck, and probably that of most fellow-survivors of concentration camps, was that the conditions deteriorated for us slowly so that one had time to get hardened, annealed, and used to it. Exact opposite applies here: world conditions deteriorate slowly, so slowly when compared to the hectic tempo of individual lives, that one simply forgets about the doom that may come, especially since it is not to oneself or one's children. And so – the fates might drag rather than lead.

At the end of Volume Two Z. A. Melzak sets the stage for the final part of his autobiography:

... Its title, which is the title of the whole book, 'In Search of the Fulcrum', is self-explanatory if one remembers the saying attributed to Archimedes of Syracuse referring to a lever sufficiently long: 'Give me whereon to stand and I shall move the earth.' Or, tout bref: 'Give me a fulcrum...'.

Melzak's life, and this book, are his quest for that fulcrum.

(cf. AppliedBypasses (14 Apr 1999), KenningConstructionKit (17 Nov 1999), CreativeDevices (1 Jan 2001), InSearchOfTheFulcrum (19 Mar 2004), PeaceAndAffirmation (21 May 2004), ... )


TopicLiterature - TopicProfiles - TopicSociety - TopicScience - Datetag20060202


(correlates: InSearchOfTheFulcrum, KnowledgeAndConsistency, InverseAphorisms, ...)