“I’ve decided I’m going to keep one of the novels,” a friend of mine told me about her purchase of two copies of my most recent ‘masterpiece’ – Lords of Misrule; ostensibly for Christmas gifts. “And you can sign it for me!”
“Of course,” I said. “That sounds like a great idea; because eventually it will either be worth a million dollars or nothing at all.”
Two realities – superimposed one upon the other in the unknowable future.
Schrödinger’s cat. In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger attempted to explain the principle of superposition in quantum theory to dullards like myself using the example of his furry feline. We all know the theory – the cat is placed in a steel box with radioactive isotopes, which have an exact 50/50 chance of either decaying and emitting an electron which causes the release of the gas which kills the cat, nor not. Since the box is steel and soundproof we cannot know if the cat is dead or alive until we open the lid – which, in quantum physics, means until we do that the cat is at once both dead and alive.
My train of thought – which often takes the scenic route, especially as I get older – brings me to the following reflection: That so very well explains the life of an artist, doesn’t it? Hemingway running around eating pigeons; Van Gogh chopping off his ear; crazy, syphilitic Paul Gauguin wasting away on a tropical island – they all were both great and nobody; the man standing on the podium in Oslo and that weird fella sitting on the corner that we cross the street to avoid. Schrodinger’s cat.
So why do we do it, if the outcomes are so uncertain – and so seemingly unknowable? Why do painters keep on cleaning those brushes; why do poets keep rhyming (except the crappy ones, who don’t rhyme – except the best of those who become famous anyways). Why do writers keep penning novels – one after the other after the other and another, rocks thrown into the lake that make no ripples; as we wait with baited breath for that gargantuan splash?
Is that perhaps it, the hope that the cat is somehow still alive?
Is that what keeps us going? Or, conversely, is the unknowing what discourages us and makes us throw up our shoulders, belt out a profound ‘aaarrrghhhh!!’ and stop trying. At least if the cat is dead we can mourn and move on – right?
But, like our good friends the ever-optimistic physicists; we in the literary world of quantum physics will just have to keep our spirits up while the world decides whether fluffy is dead or alive; and whether we are meant for the street corner, or the podium.