In a message dated 05/11/2006 16:38:38 GMT Standard Time, gshiman@OPTONLINE.NET writes:
That is outside of Nabokov-L but, Charles, here is fascinating modern sample of what you describe. In short it is about Jewish mathematic genius from Russia, Grisha Perelman, who chose not to play it safe after becoming “conspicuous” person. G-d bless him.
This is a fascinating article, full of quotable comments from Perelman. It is long, and I must take some time to digest it.
Did VN ever refuse any prizes, literary or otherwise? It is of course totally true that Establishment approval of anything is intellectually worthless, but financially helpful. In the case of genuine genius it is nearly always belated -- but, as always, there are exceptions.
George/Charles: I agree that Nasar & Gruber [N & G] have produced a most readable “human-interest” New Yorker piece on subjects that bristle with both specific technicalities (the Poincare Comjecture [PC]) and more general problems (the nature of mathematical proof and the all-too-human urge to claim precedence). On the former, N & G don’t make it clear that the PC as originally mooted circa 1902 applies generally to manifolds of dimension N. For N = 0 and N = 1, PC is trivially true. N & G mention Freedman’s proof for N = 4 but fail to honour Stephen Smale (with whom I was privileged to study) who proved PC for all N >= 5. So, that’s why the N = 3 case remained — a strange challenge since 3-dimensional space is what we all master before the age of 2.
Smale was a fine up-yours rebel (not unlike Perelman) but had no qualms about accepting his Fields medal (1966). In fact, his sublimated grouse at the time was: why didn’t he get it in 1962! See
There is, as always, a Nabokovian link — Smale as commie agitator protesting at a Moscow maths conference.
I worked with another Fiields medalist, Rene Thom (creator Catastrophe Theory), and met many others. Entre nous, they are ALL stark, effin’ MAD!
BUT if you seek a genuine weirdo genius who makes Smale, Perelman and even Newton look like clean, conforming Mormon missionaries (“Don’t quite see why I write in this vein”**), I offer Alexander Grothendieck — yes, another Russian Jew, born Berlin 1928 — his father murdered at Auschwitz 1942 -- but where is Grothendieck now? Nobody knows if he’s dead or alive. He just walked away in August 1991 — last seen in the Pyrenees. He accepted the Fields Medal pronto, but later on turned down the equally enriching Crafoord Prize from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. He did have the courtesy to write a sweet ‘merci’:
“Je suis persuade que la seule epreuve decisive pour la fecundite d’idees ou d’une vision nouvelles est celle du temps. La fecunditite se reconnait par la progeniture, et non par les honneurs”
** Chap. 1: Despair (Otchayanie) -- VN
Charles: I would be wary of confusing agenda-driven ‘establishments’ such as the Nobel Prize
Committee esp. for Literature with the mathematics ‘community,’ the various mathematical associations that hand out the gongs and cabbage. When you’ve digested N & G, I think you’ll see the differences. As a member of the MAA, I was a recipient of Perelman’s initial email — and it’s since been heavily debated ‘in-house’ with no peep in the popular pess until Perelman’s rejection of the Fileds Medal. Some of us will always consider Grishka as a ‘Fields Medalist!’ Others consider that his rejection was COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. He could have remained LESS CONSPICUOUS by quietly accepting it! How many of you can NAME the other 3 recipients for 2006?? IF Perelman is offered the Clay Institute $1 million (or share thereof -- it may take 2 years to validate who-proved-what-when), he is wisely reserving his judgement re-acceptance. The funds could be well spent in St Petersburg — Grothendieck used much of his prize moneys to fund his ecological venture “Survivre et Vivre,”
BTW: there’s a nice MYTH about why there’s no NOBEL PRIZE for Mathematics. Some say that Nobel’s wife had an affair with a mathematician while he was planning his categories. NOT SO! The bugger never married!
Several mathematicians HAVE won the Nobel — but for their work in Economics.
My guess is that VN would have proudly accepted the Nobel for Lit — it’s a SCANDALE that he was never offered it. We know that J P Sartre *** was forced to refuse under CP pressure. Pasternak too?
*** refered to snidely as a “Communist reviwer” in VN’s Foreword to ‘Despair.’
PS: two snippets from the NY article.
Ultimately, he received several job offers. But he declined them all, and in the summer of 1995 returned to St. Petersburg, to his old job at the Steklov Institute, where he was paid less than a hundred dollars a month. (He told a friend that he had saved enough money in the United States to live on for the rest of his life.) .
The Internet made it possible for Perelman to work alone while continuing to tap a common pool of knowledge. Perelman searched Hamilton’s papers for clues to his thinking and gave several seminars on his work.
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