20 May: A Fistful of Equations - Benjamin Labatut and Adrian Nathan West w/ Jay G Ying
Anyone who studied physics at school might remember the mysterious way in which light is said to hover somewhere between wave and particle. In a similar way, according to Philip Pullman, the thrilling new work by Benjamin Labatut hovers somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. Labatut, a Chilean writer born in the Netherlands but who now lives in Chile, is an emerging superstar of this approach to writing that refuses to settle into a neatly-defined genre category: essay, memoir, conjecture and pure fiction – Labatut deploys them all.
His third book, When We Cease To Understand the World, has been translated from the Spanish by writer and translator Adrian Nathan West, who used his prior knowledge of the Second World War and sought out original documents from scientific history to bring this ‘nonfiction novel’ to life.
When We Cease To Understand the World, looks at how pioneering 20th century scientists including Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg grappled with mathematical theories that asked profound questions of existence. Einstein is said to have loathed quantum mechanics, yet its mind-bending theories underpin the science that we live by today. At the same time they have also brought about the possibility of unimaginable human suffering – not least in the form of nuclear weapons powerful enough to wipe out humankind. In gripping and dazzling text, Labatut and West have turned science into a series of imaginative extrapolations. According to the Evening Standard, ‘it may be possible to feel our brain getting bigger as you read.’
In today’s session Labatut and West discusses this majestic book with Scottish-Chinese writer, critic and translator Jay G Ying, who is an MFA student at Brown University.
Shortlisted for The 2021 International Booker Prize