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Some axioms

Apparently (for I am no mathematician nor a historian of mathematics) there were two famous British mathematicians, G. F. Hardy and J. E. Littlewood, who famously collaborated on a lot of stuff that would have even Marc crying “Reader’s Digest!” Before they began their collaboration, which they did almost exclusively through written correspondence, they decided to formulate some rules which would protect their “personal freedom,” whatever that means.
I think they bear consideration as we begin our own collaboration in considerably closer quarters.

The first of them said that, when one wrote to the other, …, it was completely indifferent whether what they wrote was right or wrong …

The second axiom was to the effect that, when one received a letter from the other, he was under no obligation whatsoever to read it, let alone to answer it …

The third axiom was to the effect that, although it did not really matter if they both thought about the same detail, still, it was preferable that they should not do so.

And, finally, the fourth, and perhaps most important axiom, stated that it was quite indifferent if one of them had not contributed the least bit to the contents of a paper under their common name …

[From the collected works of Harald Bohr, quoted by Bela Bollobás in the foreword to Littlewood’s Miscellany, Cambridge University Press, 1986. ]

Can we get this on a t-shirt?


  1. marc wrote:

    Yes, indeed. Hear, hear. It would also be fun to create a piece that way. This is satisfying to me for two reasons. Anything connected with Oxford dons, scholarly exchange,initials instead of names, miscellanies, punting on the Thames, and making mischief over minutiae, taps me at the core; I no longer despair that I am lost to the world of black leather clad mainlining of xtreme jouissance. Second reason: these words on a screen are free and thus point to infinite possibility. The words and ideas and strutures spin out their own intensities. In performance the imaginary dimension to everything is so provisional anyway (or should be), so what is really interesting is how we wind up wearing the thoughts we make and share, how we use structures to fold up time into something new through which we and the audience move. That’s where it’s at. Quite so. Anyone care for a Pimms?

    Friday, April 14, 2006 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Turff wrote:

    What’s a jouissance?

    Friday, April 14, 2006 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Dale wrote:

    You’ll like it. Just relax.

    Friday, April 14, 2006 at 6:51 pm | Permalink
  4. marc wrote:

    If you have an interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis (and I accept that some of you will be snickering), jouissance is a bread and butter word. Its origin is medieval french and it was originally a legal term referring to property rights: the right to enjoy (including abuse) what is yours. Its popular connotation in french is as another way to refer to “le petit mort.” Or to a more general sense of overwhelming enjoyment. Lacan began using the word to refer to what he saw as the only real “substance” present in the psychoanalytic universe. If you think of human experience as a series of dikes and canals and reservoirs and dams constructed out of the stuff of language and identity and love bonds, jouissance is water. It’s a way to combine some Freudian notions: libido and the death drive and what we get from the object and what is lost in “castration.”

    Sunday, April 16, 2006 at 11:22 am | Permalink