It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.
Heads: Benin Kingdom head sculptures were (deliberately?) mis-interpreted as representing human sacrifices - in reality they are another genre of ancestor veneration. On the other hand, John the Baptist's head on a plate represents a real execution. There's an irony here...
Emmy Noether was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th Century and the greatest algebraist (except, maybe, Andrew Wiles?). She revolutionised the approach to her field and, entirely by accident, proved a connection between symmetry laws and conservation laws which has profound consequences for physics. Despite this, she is much less famous than many of her contemporaries, such as Hilbert, Weyl and Klein. Proper recognition of her talents and acheivements, outside the abstract algebra community is only just beginning.
She lived at a time of widespread institutional and individual sexism and anti-Semetism and at that point in history, in the worst possible country for a female Jew - Germany. Anybody who came into close acquaintance with her realised her unique genius but, despite their best efforts, she was never able to obtain a proper, permanent academic post and, with the rise of the Nazis, she had to emigrate to the USA in order to carry on working in any academic capacity.
She died suddenly and unexpectedly of complications from what should have been a routine surgical procedure at the height of her mathematical powers, a very unusual state of affiars as most mathematicians do their best work before they are 30.
This biography seems to be written by a mathematician for other mathematicians. The details of Noether's life are sketchy, because there isn't much documentary evidence and there is no attempt to explain what Noether's acheivements were to people without a very advanced education in algebra. There are, however, reprints of three obituaries appended to the main text and one of these (Weyl's) takes on the task with moderate success - but still probably unintelligible to people without a significant mathematical background.
I think people should read this book regradless of their level of mathematical education and just skim the technical stuff if it seems like gibberish in order to understand what an extraordinary talent Noether had and what she, with unfailing positivity, had to put up with in order to do her lastingly influential, pioneering work.
Hair: An African wooden portrait-statuette but using real hair for the - hair! Possibly the hair of the person the statuette represents. Yet another Madonna and Child. This one with startling curly locks as a prominent feature. There's a tiny chamber for holding relics - possibly a lock of hair?
The second obit. is by Herman Weyl; he attempts to explain what Noether's mathematics was actually about and why her methods were revolutionary. I could have done with reading it before the actual biography... It's still going to be impenetrable to anyone without a thorough foundation in mathematics, though.
The first obit. is by van der Waerden, a close colleague. It focuses on Noether's mathematical output and outlook and is impenetrable to me and everybody else without an advanced education in modern abstract algebra. What does penetrate is that she revolutionised her field by taking a radical approach, pushing abstraction way beyond previous limits. Her lectures were mad; she'd be working them out as she went along, attempting to develop new theories, rather than repeating established material; few could follow what she was doing.
The Revenger's Tragedy
Who wrote this? Nobody knows for sure. Thomas Middleton seems to be supplanting Cyril Turneur as the scholarly consensus for most likely author - but you won't learning anything about that debate from this volume, unfortunately.
This was the first non-Shakespearean play of the era that I ever saw performed - it seemed to gain considerable traction in performance in the 1990s , because I saw another performance of it later in the decade. The first was the work of the drama dept. at my undergrad Uni. The second was a touring professional production at the Theatre Royal, Bath. The former was better than the latter, which used the conceit of Prohibition gangsters for its costuming. All the men were dressed in virtually identical suits and hats and it was next to impossible to follow the plot because the characters were not sufficiently visually differentiated.
Reading the play makes this easier, the opposite of what I find with Shakespeare's plays. It seems like Shakespeare had more skill at working people's names and relations with each other into speech, a huge advantage when the cast of characters is bigger even than the number of players in the troupe, as was usually the case back then. Just one more reason why the Bard was better than the rest.
Anyway, whilst clearly a Revenge Tragedy (see title!), displaying most of the tropes and moral implications of the genre, two are conspicuous by their absence: a ghost and a play-within-a-play. The absence of the former can be understood from the plot. The inciting crime is a rape rather than a murder, so there is no unquiet dead spirit to demand vengence from the living. As for the lack of a play-within-a-play, well, there's doubt who the perpetrator is and so no need for subterfuge to reveal the guilty party.
The editor suggests that this play satirises the genre. I'm not really seeing it except in-so-far as the all the major characters are archetypes rather than individuals (even to the extent of having names that, translated from Latin, tell you exactly what they typify). The moral subtext seems to be the same as other plays of the same ilk: Earthly justice has gone astray and the Revenger must go outside the law to get...revenge. In doing so (and eventually succeeding), the Revenger invariably, directly or indirectly, causes a final act bloodbath that destroys the corrupt ruling regime, allowing a just ruler to take over. Unfortunately the Revenger also pays the price of taking the law into his own hands and is also killed. Hence his Tragedy brings everything back into moral balance.
Noether, being Jewish, rapidly suffers at the hands of the Nazis when her right to teach is withdrawn. Soon she is on a boat to the USA.
In terms of the series as a whole, progress is at a snail's pace. There are hints that eventually George is gonna figure out the overall cause of the Problem and that Lucy's insights are going to be crucial but that's about it.