Emanuel Derman

My blind date with Rina Kolick

Emanuel Derman
Mar 23, 2012 03:01 UTC


Spiller Alert: This post may contain TMI about Miracle Workers and Bodily Fluids. You can stop now.


“It wasn’t there in 2009, so that’s a bit suspicious,” I heard the CAT-scan doctor say. He wasn’t talking to me, thank God, because I hadn’t had my CAT scan yet, but it gave me pause for thought and gratitude.

The other day while teaching I suddenly briefly felt really ill with a pain in my lower back and then broke out in a copious cold sweat over every part of me; even the hair on my head was as wet as though I’d had a five mile run. I thought it was a muscle or bone pain from running that had gotten exacerbated, but, after thinking a while and really not feeling too good, I wondered if it mightn’t be a recurrence of a kidney stone I once had, which hadn’t been too bad at all.  Because I was supposed to go on a long airplane trip the following day, I went to the kidney stone doctor, a very nice man who saw me on short notice at 5 in the afternoon.

He poked and ultrasounded and saw nothing. If you have a kidney stone that’s blocking things on its way out, he explained, it causes fluid to back up into the appropriate kidney, and that fluid shows up as dark stuff on the ultrasound. There wasn’t any. The only way that wouldn’t be the case, he told me, was if the blockage had just happened and there hadn’t been time for backing up.

The best revenge?

Emanuel Derman
Mar 19, 2012 13:08 UTC

I just returned from a one-week vacation in the Yucatan, doing pretty much nothing except staying on the beach, my all-time favorite activity perhaps owing to having grown up in a beachfront city. I was pretty tired when I went down there, and I began to wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t worked for a living.

I know many people who currently don’t and quite a few who never did. Some lived off inherited money. Some worked hard and successfully and made enough to do what they liked, and in their case “liked” meant no more work. (Some continued working when they didn’t need to. Is it work if you like it?) Others worked for a while and then tired of the slog, and lived off spouses or, very frugally, off whatever they had saved up to that point. And some essentially never worked, because they simply didn’t have what it takes to subject themselves to other people’s control, which is what most jobs involve; they survived however they could, some well and some poorly. It’s hard for me to decide whether living well without having worked is admirable or sad. I’m a bit of a Puritan and at bottom I’m afraid I don’t like to see people living well without having worked, though Calvin Tomkins has a positive view of it in his memoir of the Murphys in Southern France. But what would the world be without suffering (the mild kind)?

As more and more people I know edge into retirement lifestyles, I found myself thinking on vacation about how I’d like to live. I know people who travel nonstop, but that’s not for me.

Anti-Semites in the Anti-Melting Pot

Emanuel Derman
Mar 9, 2012 21:50 UTC

It’s spring break, and to revive my flagging mind I just took a short slow run on a beach near the edge of the water, and to revive my flagging body I have been rereading (and enjoying, for the third time in my life) the book Memoirs of an Anti-Semite by Gregor von Rezzori.

I’ve recommended the book over the years to several people and some of them didn’t like it and some of them didn’t even read it  because it sounds like a book about  the Nazis and the Holocaust and who wants to read more about that?

But it isn’t. First of all, it’s a novel in 5 stories, not officially an autobiography. Second, though the protagonist is brought up in anti-Semitic society by a prejudiced tough father who mainly loves hunting, that society is Europe between the wars in the residue of the Hapsburg Empire in the Bukovina and Vienna. The novel is about that lost world and the relationships it fostered seen through the eyes of an anti-Semitic protagonist who is worldly, cultured, loves women, and is always aware of  his prejudices and their roots, despite himself.

My life as a pseud and other stories

Emanuel Derman
Mar 1, 2012 15:32 UTC

In the early ’60s when Jules Feiffer drew black-turtlenecked Village people dancing odes to the seasons and Mad Magazine mocked beatniks, my South African high-school and college friends and I  called anyone who claimed to have read anything about existentialism a pseud.  At that time a friend of mine used to mention Merleau-Ponty, and that damned my friend in perpetuity.

Now, decades later, someone persuaded me to read Merleau-Ponty on The Phenomenology of Perception, and, having excitedly read a little, I think I’ve maybe been a closet phenomenologist for the last 30 years, only I didn’t know it. I may of course change my mind when I get to the end of the Preface.

Part of the reason I like it is that, the older I get, the more I believe that everything we talk about in science (or anything else, it’s just that “science” sounds more objective) is secondary to a usually unquestioned and almost unquestionable personal existence. Therefore the discoveries we make can never fully explain our existence itself. We are trapped (and liberated) by our consciousness. This Saul Bellow remark I’m over-fond of summarizes my point of view :