The Matthias Defense

by Steven H. Cullinane on March 22, 2001

Bit by bit, putting it together.
Piece by piece, working out the vision night and day.
All it takes is time and perseverance
With a little luck along the way.
-- Stephen Sondheim

"My wife took, unnoticed, this picture, unposed, of me in the act of writing a novel.... The date (discernible in the captured calendar) is February 27, 1929. The novel, Zashchita Luzhina (The Defense), deals with the defense invented by an insane chess player...."
-- Vladimir Nabokov, note to photograph following page 256 in Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, Vintage International paperback, August 1989

"He could grasp a problem in zero time."
-- David Slepian, a former colleague of mathematician Claude Shannon, who died on Saturday, February 24, 2001, in an obituary by George Johnson in The New York Times, national edition, of Tuesday, February 27, 2001.

The day Shannon died, February 24, is the feast day of Saint Matthias. For the story of this saint, see The Archivist, a novel by Martha Cooley -- a Little, Brown and Company paperback, 1999, page 60.

For a story about February 24, now also the feast day of Saint Claude Shannon, see pages 160-162 of The Archivist.

"Of course there is nothing afterwards."
-- Reflection of a dying man in the novel The Gift, by Vladimir Nabokov

"Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember nothing?"
-- T. S. Eliot, "The Waste Land, Part II: A Game of Chess," quoted in The Archivist, page 162.

"At the still point, there the dance is."
-- T. S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton," in Four Quartets

"Shannon, Claude... 162"
-- index to The Simon and Schuster Pocket Book of Chess, by Raymond Keene, Aladdin Paperbacks, 1988, printed in Spain

"...problems can be solved by manipulating just two symbols, 1 and 0...."
-- George Johnson, obituary of Claude Shannon

"The female and the male continue this charming dance, populating the world with all living beings."
-- Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,
Penguin Arkana paperback, 1999, Chapter 17, "Lingam/Yoni," page 162

"Contemplatio: aesthetic joy of, 54-5"
-- index to Joyce and Aquinas, by William T. Noon, S.J., Yale University Press, second printing, 1963, page 162

"...the spirit which proceeds out of truth and beauty is the holy spirit of joy."
-- James Joyce, 1902, quoted by Noon in Joyce and Aquinas, page 54

"Whatever came up, he engaged it with joy."
-- Marvin Minsky in the New York Times obituary of Claude Shannon on Shrove Tuesday, 2001 -- also known as Mardi Gras or Carnival (folk etymology: carne vale, "Flesh, farewell!")

"The Easter parade. Celebration of a ghost's rising."
-- The Archivist, page 162

For more on the "still point" 162, and a reference to fixed-point theorems in general, see my note of March 20 (feast day of Saint Isaac Newton).

For more on life after death, see A Contrapuntal Theme.

Page created March 22, 2001 shc759. Return to Journal.