Preposterous Universe

Sunday, March 27, 2005
Sunday Felix Krull blogging

John Holbo shares a quote from Thomas Mann's Felix Krull, Confidence Man, about Felix's days as a pimp. My favorite part of the book was the account of Felix getting an impromptu lesson about cosmology.
. . . Meanwhile, Being celebrated its tumultuous festival in the measureless spaces that were its handiwork and in which it created distances congealed in icy emptiness. And he spoke of the gigantic setting of this festival, the universe, this mortal child of eternal Nothingness, filled with countless material bodies, meteors, moons, comets, nebulas, unnumbered millions of stars that swayed one another, were ordered by the effect of their gravitational fields into groups, clouds, galaxies, and super-systems of galaxies, each with enormous numbers of flaming suns, wheeling planets, masses of attenuated gas, and cold rubbish heaps of ice, stone, and cosmic dust . . .

While the Earth wheeled around its sun, so I was privileged to hear, that earth and its moon wheeled around each other, and at the same time our whole local star system moved, and at no mean pace, within the framework of a vaster but still very local star group. This gravitating system in turn wheeled with almost vulgar velocity within the Milky Way; the latter, moreover, our Milky Way, was traveling with unimaginable rapidity in respect to its far-away sisters, and they, the most distant existing complexes, were, in addition to all their other velocities, flying away from one another, at a rate that would make an exploding shell seem motionless --- flying away in all directions into Nothingness, thereby in their headlong career projecting into it space and time.

This interdependent whirling and circling, this convolution of gases into heavenly bodies, this burning, flaming, freezing, exploding, pulverizing, this plunging and speeding, bred out of Nothingness and awaking Nothingness --- which would perhaps have preferred to remain asleep and was waiting to fall asleep again --- all this was Being, known also as Nature, and everywhere in everything it was one.
Published in 1955, the year Mann died. He didn't know about dark matter and dark energy, but that's okay.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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