Friday, 17 July 2009

Infinity etc.


Usually I have two books on the go at the same time, one factual and one fictional. One to learn, one to relax with. In the last few weeks they've been David Foster Wallace's 'Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity' and Charles Perry's "Portrait Of A Young Man Drowning'. On this occasion there was an overlapping when I came across this passage from the latter:

I look at the big bottle of tonic on the bathroom shelf. On it is a picture of a little girl with yellow hair and a blue bonnet. She is smiling. She is holding up a bottle of tonic. The bottle she is holding up also has her picture on it in which she is holding up another bottle of tonic. And on that bottle of tonic there is another picture of the girl holding up the bottle...

I wonder. It is funny. How many pictures of the same thing are there in this one picture? I look close. I can only see two pictures good because they get smaller and smaller. But there must be many, many more.

Now I study it hard: on the first picture there is a girl holding a bottle of tonic with the same picture on it, and in that picture there is a picture, and in that picture there is a picture, and in that picture there is a picture, and in the next and next it is the same, and I guess it will go on for the end of the world.

It makes me dizzy and dreamy. I am scared. I stop quick and run out of the bathroom.

Despite 'Portrait...' being quite a disturbing but good read, the above did remind me of my first contact with the concept of infinity. We had a bathroom in our house with mirrors on one wall and a mirrored cabinet on another which I could open to face the mirrored wall and stand in between. Needless to say I felt a lightbulb go on inside my head when I was amazed at the result. Unlike Harry Odum in 'Portrait...', I didn't run out of the bathroom freaked out, but waved down the line at my infinite selves and concluded that this world might be curiouser still.