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>> Românã

Einstein's violin

Cecilia Voiculescu
Phare Program translator / conference interpreter


Romanians are born to be poets... How many people have any interest to challenge this verse turned proverb bearing the melancholy and fatalism of the past and resignation towards future...? Now, when finally we accept ourselves as a nation just we are, one eye looking towards the East and other towards the West, we may better seize our prejudices and penchants, peacefully, and who knows, maybe we will improve our identity. One of these parti pris strolls along nonchalantly, for a quite a while now, in the public, media and academic, space. The so-called dichotomy human scientist/scientist, and its variables, man of culture/man of science, literate/technocrat etc. Looking at this cliché belonging to our current imaginary, I shall attempt to deconstruct it by showing that it is based on weak features that honesty and a certain sense of humor can dissipate in a second. What's left is pure essence of intellectual and truth-lover - common for both discussed types.

I run from one Romanian agency to another, I travel through the country, and recommend myself as belonging to a European program - I then am asked straightforwardly and without any hesitation, what university I went to, although this is no job interview. I cross the border, I arrive in Brussels, or in Washington D.C., and everybody cares only for what I know to do and how well I can do it, which makes me want to be asked (in a university environment) what I graduated. I must miss the routine interrogatory, and I am probably disturbed by the fact that nobody burst into my resume any more. The truth is that, due to my nature, I hate drastic dichotomies, and I will surely enjoy this attempt against one of them affecting me directly, especially since this cultural stigma is so weak and generic, to such small degree individual.

The old battle between economists and engineers, for instance, before the revolutionary events in 1989, two categories squeezing each other on the same social branch, seems to have transformed itself more recently into a tacit conflict between economists and human scientists - with engineers gradually getting off the public scene. The public, comme il faut, image of the technocrat, i.e. the economist (the latter personifying the former, in a way) frowns itself, placidly, mercilessly and 'efficiently' to the pathetic or elitist reflection of the rebel or venerable humanist intellectual, the dissident poet or philosopher recognizable through his or her cryptic language, full of neologisms, but somehow more appealing to, and easier to be approached by, the public. Paradoxically enough, the latter's friendship is, socially speaking, more comfortable than the former's who, in public, clumsy and shy, puts up an electoral rigid smile. The oratorical smoothness of the political analyst and his apparently more transparent speech is at odds with the hopelessly technical language of the economist or financier. The human scientist is thus a sort of father, a parent to whom you can talk about the origin of the world, or its future, for that matter, about poetry, love and blue skies, whereas the man of science is more looked at as an encoder of life, who neglects the need to release and outspokenly interpret symbols of the world. We thus have defined a parti-pris regarding the existence of two different types of thought, and I will try to modestly discuss the existence of only one, homogeneous.

I will be honest: as a so-called 'humanist' (judging from my university studies, foreign languages and literatures), I long for logic just as much as a mathematician, I would guess. Although I benefit from a so-called talent for writing, or for understanding poetry or painting, I have still never considered myself privileged compared to friends who breathe formulas or computer programming. I do know plenty of human scientists who passionately endorse a 'scientific' writing style, coherent, concise, well-structured, using well-defined concepts. And it seems to me this is an unconscious attraction towards what we don't have, or do not culturally know - in this case, science. The nature in us is challenged by culture, the contemplative spirit wants to be completed through education and action, and vice-versa. The writer, the philosopher, the observer, the environmental scientist are consequently attracted to action, transformation and conquest. But as a British painter used to say publicly at the beginning of the 19th century, painting is a science, and its representations are but experiments (Constable). And that is not obvious enough because of the enormous strata of stereotypes above it.

Let's see: there are two stereotypical images of the past: that of the dark ring-eyed and scruffy-clothed musician or poet, and that of the wild-haired and unelevated language physicist. These images show a common bridge of this 'profession' imaginary: they both enjoy a certain romantic more or less confessed vision of life, and an unconfessed passion for precision of speech and demonstration - a personality which I would call 'dusk'. At dusk, isn't it, we soothe our emotions, while the creative spirit can freely explore the world or re-invent it. A personality already reached its peak, and is dominated by consistence and continuity, despite all exterior ridiculous appearance. I do believe all these people do in fact is acknowledging their affiliation to the pleasure to discover, to the ineffable of the unknown and the mysterious. 'The most magnificent and most profound emotion that we may feel is this ineffability of mystery, where the core of every genuine science lies...' The words belong to such 'dusk' character (Albert Einstein), stable in its belongingness to two realms of thought, and they seem to indicate this common quest. It is this quest that is hard to seize by the public, the ones who do not directly belong to any of the 'camps' or are not genuinely any of them. It takes some thinking to destroy a cliché, it takes none to create it.

It is possible that a linguist, or more cliché-like speaking, an artist, may not take over a hobby such as learning some chemistry formulas, for example, whereas a physicist may surely fall in love with writing. We may also believe that besides the pleasure to discover, human sciences have a special relation to the human nature, full of sufferance and hard to seize. We may think that only poets cry the world's pain and only philosophers study its origins. One may also think that these are the reasons why human scientists are the 'hard' subjects of culture, but I know for sure that the risk to a totally contemplative attitude is non-action. A poet or a philosopher could not survive the consequences of their reflections without several positive beliefs, without knowing at a particular time of night or day that 1and 1 makes 2 or that 1 Euro is 40,000 Lei today, that planes leave at exact times and that, usually, according to well-established physical rules, they float in the air without falling down. In art, some extreme cases, such as the deadly contrasts of the followers of decadentism or surrealism, stand for evidence of this risk. On the other hand, let's not forget how minutely are physicists or astrologists exploring the world configuration and its mysteries - it is poetry all the same.

Now that we see clearly now both sides of this false distinction, 'man of action' vs. 'intellectual', we should cross over the Atlantic, in the United States, where the king-criteria is action, and its place is the arena where you fight enthusiastically and without sparing your efforts (to use the words of a great American president, Th. Roosevelt). The great causes of those who race to the very end, the cause of warm and courageous souls are in this cultural space attributes of real professions. Here, businessmen and analysts are yet another form of this dichotomy - quite uninteresting in the U.S. society, or which at least does not trigger any conflict. Here, they use the same term, 'scholar', for both categories, ignoring any difference. The very syntagm 'human sciences' (which, fortunately, has started to be used in our country too) is an index of an accepted symbiosis.

That is why, to know how to do it, to be able to do it and to do it - contrast so wonderfully with expressing something which is already in us, with dis-closing our inner thoughts - thus defining the common grounds of the two types that I presented, and showing a double identity of each. The lawyer's or the writer's savoir-faire is concretely effecting, as faire, in a law firm or a published book, respectively. Similarly, the speculation of writing, the philosopher's or the mathematician-poet's attempt to make everything logical, to conceptualize or to invent unheard metaphors, may destroy the cliché of this distinction. Conversely, the scientist often times rests his demonstration on free imagination, without formulas, on inspiration. The idea that the talent for writing is inherited is a prejudice just as is the belief that, on the contrary, in order to become a great mathematician.

I will close with an example which impeccably serves my purposes here, at the top level of humanist and scientific physicists elite. Horia-Roman Patapievici, writer and philosopher, formerly a physicist, is in the Romanian society the living proof that a man of science is not just a laboratory servant who, amateurishly, writes an essay or a poem every now and then. Without masters, his intellectual honesty is what characterizes him the most, i.e. a meaningful attraction towards truth, with passion and belief. Measure and sincerity are the instruments that any intellectual may endorse without fear of being labeled as economist, engineer or writer, the violin which we play to smoothen our way towards the very art and science of understanding.

Ad Astra • Volume 3, Issue 1, 2004 • Culture, society and science
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