I had a friend in grad school who decided one day that all the short stories she wrote had as a guiding principle Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As the son of a physicist, I felt an obligation to point out that Einstein probably didn’t use “relativity” to mean what she seemed to think he had. She wasn’t convinced and I didn’t press the point because I couldn’t because I knew I didn’t know what I was talking about. It was said that when Einstein first published his theory only a handful of other scientists truly understood it and if I’d been alive then I wouldn’t have been one of them. But ever since I’ve wondered if my friend thought her fiction could be expressed as a mathematical argument. I hope I didn’t wonder it for the first time out loud to her.
Reason I’m reminded of my friend and her theory of relative fiction is I just read this:
My father is too generous a man to actually roll his eyes when he’s invariably asked at dinner parties asked at dinner parties what his work is about. Give a sense, a flavor of what it’s about, is what they him to do. Being a civil and courteous man, perhaps believing that it probably doesn’t matter, a flavor is what he supplied---or at least what his dinner guests believe they’ve been given. And he will listen as well, smiling warmly, as a guest invokes---as a theoretical physicist’s guest will do---Einstein’s theory of relativity as metaphor for some proposition in the social sciences. Relativity, my father will hear, demonstrates such and such (in some field as far removed from science as everything but science). My father will remember but will never mention what Einstein came to wish after long suffering to hear the abuses to which the mere heading of his theory had been put, as if to invoke the name of the theory was to import all the authority of the ancient and timeless lambdas, epsilons, and deltas of a beautiful mathematical argument.Einstein wished to hell that he’d called it the theory of invariance, which is to say, he wished he’d given it a name whose meaning was exactly the opposite of relativity and which, he said, would have been just as accurate.
I hope I smiled warmly at my friend, but I probably smirked. I was not always a civil and courteous young man.
The quote is from In The Light of What We Know, a novel by Zia Haider Rahmen.