"William E. Emba"|
Michael Brodsky is a deconstructionist's dream writer, which for most people,
simply means utterly unreadable. His many novels, stories, and plays inhabit a
world where meaning is just past the reader's comprehension, fitting together
like long prose poem epics, a Lewis Carroll without the nonsense, a Wallace
Stevens without the heart. They hold together like dreams on wakening, with so
much importance and significance just beyond your grasp, slipping away into
hollow memories of greatness.
Brodsky's sensibilities owe more to mathematics than perhaps any other writer
ever, an algebraic parody of grammar and plot. One is constantly reminded of
Bertrand Russell's quip that "Mathematics may be defined as the subject in
which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying
is true". Every sentence has to be read several times, usually not quite in
tune with what went before or what goes after.
Brodsky's new novella "Midtown Pythagoras" is his most explicit in referring to
mathematics. (It is also very explicit in referring to its deconstructionist
roots.) The story is, fortunately, among his more readable fictions, and as a
bonus, it can even be read without the help of an unabridged dictionary.
The title refers to one Pete T. Haggeras. The story begins by enumerating
Pete's quirks, like not eating beans, reminiscent of the historical Pythagoras.
We soon learn of his obsession with numbers, in the form of favorite novels
(like The Sign of Four or Towards Zero) or favorite movies (like
Five Graves to Cairo or Forty Guns. A kind of plot appears:
Pete, who spends his time fixating on clouds and the Manhattan skyline,
capturing them in his Mixed Materials, and then leaving their traces all over
Manhattan, is upset that someone is erasing his traces, and so he hires a
All the characters speak in a barely comprehensible ramble, and along the way,
the rambling sometimes turns mathematical. Concerns about the
incommensurability of the diagonal of a square to its edge, and Dedekind cuts,
and Gödelian unprovability make their appearance. (Humorously, when one
character knowingly refers to Gödel, another character unknowingly refers in
response to Girdle.)
Amusingly enough, Brodsky seems to share Pete's obsession with numbers in one
aspect. His long-time previous publisher was Four Walls Eight Windows. When
they were bought out, Brodsky switched to Six Gallery Press.