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  • Silk, Allergies, Sisters, and Incompleteness
  • Matthew Gavin Frank (bio)

in Oaxaca, Mexico, a handful of months after living for a year in my parents’ suburban Chicago house for the first time since I was seventeen, this time with my wife of five years in tow, in order to help my family through my mother’s battle with cancer

According to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (which of course means their members likely derive from, or are, former hippie U.S. West-coasters—and we all know how they are . . .), “Astronomers today believe that a large fraction of the atoms in our bodies were once inside stars that became supernovae, and that they were ‘launched’ into the universe when these stars exploded. Furthermore, we believe the explosions of supernovae have flooded the Galaxy with high-energy radiation that probably contributed to the radiation background that produces mutation and drives the evolution of life on Earth. Also, in recent years, we have found intriguing evidence that the formation of our own solar system may well have been triggered by a nearby supernova more than five billion years ago.”

1931: Kurt Gödel, a wild-haired Austrian mathematician, logician, and philosopher (see his 1951 Albert Einstein Award dinner photos for damn-near mathematical proof of the “wild-haired” designation—read: a foppish Count Dracula), publishes, at age 25, his Incompleteness Theorem, which postulates that all mathematical explanations and proofs must, according to logic (and the logic of entropy), eventually break down and be incomplete. I don’t know [End Page 25] if Gödel was depressed or exhilarated by this. Maybe both. I don’t know if he was a depressive man. I don’t know if he was subject to the same mania as his hairdo.

The implications of the theorem, mathematically, are that no set or subset of numerical formulas can consistently be used in order to prove the validity of an “answer,” and its relationship to other “answers.” Linguistically, this means that no set of words, no matter how logically applied, will survive the ages with meaning intact. Dog will eventually fail to refer to that sharp-toothed beast with the sweeping tail. Bloat, the canine’s second leading killer, will no longer refer to the excruciating twist of the dog’s stomach, trapping air and food and water, the beast finally giving in to the shock. Severe nasal congestion will no longer refer to my body’s response to the dander of the dying dog.

All language, if not flexible and twisting and willing to evolve, will break down. All stages and planes of said evolution will eventually be rendered meaningless. Philosophically, this means that no truth is provable, and is therefore not true. True is already a meaningless word, even within the current evolutionary plane. It has already broken down. There’s no air trapped within it.

So this may or may not be true, but according to Gödel himself, it doesn’t matter. Upon learning of the publication, he began walking through Vienna, and, allergic, howled an accented ah-choo! into a paper napkin, to which three passersby responded with a properly pronounced Gesundheit.

Here’s what matters: I want Gödel to be allergic. Want is provable. I am allergic. I want to use allergies to get closer to Gödel. To further complete something. I spent my childhood receiving shots in each arm once a week because I am allergic. Because I was allergic, Dr. Weiner shot me full of serum, and my arms would blow up, and I would have to sit in the waiting room afterwards for an hour, thumbing through Highlights for Children magazine, finding the hidden objects in the larger picture—the owl obscured in the tree bark, the apple in the ax-man’s bicep—just to make sure that my reaction wasn’t too severe, that my throat didn’t close up. The cartoon doctor in the waiting-room poster held up a blue-faced, cross-eyed puppet. I waited to get my arms checked. My mom read People magazine. Something about Robin Givens and Mike Tyson. I thought of asphyxiation. The poster’s caption read: Old...


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pp. 25-32
Launched on MUSE
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