Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Life in the LHC (Large Hadron Collider)

In the Belly of the Beast is Jack Abbott’s confessional about the life of crime that eventually earned him an all-expenses-paid return trip to prison, where he  finally committed suicide. My Life in the LHC recounts a similarly turbulent narrative. It starts with the collision of two protons in the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN under the Swiss-French border. Told from the point of view of a Higgs boson, a particle that may, in fact, not even exist, My Life in the LHC introduces the reader to a new kind of underworld that is a far cry from the violent one represented by artistic criminals like Abbott and criminal artists like Norman Mailer. Mailer and Abbott shared an affinity for stabbing. Mailer stabbed his wife after announcing his candidacy for the mayoralty of New York, while Abbott’s return to prison was precipitated by an altercation with a waiter in an East Village establishment called the Binibon on the eve of receiving a laudatory review in The Times for In the Belly of the Beast. Book publishing and politics are both tough rackets, and perhaps the real moral of the story lies in the question of publicity. How far will an author or politician go when it comes to publicizing himself?
Of course, the author of My Life in the LHC didn’t have the kind of opportunities open to sociopaths like Mailer and Abbott in that it was only a subatomic particle whose non-existent mass meant that it would have relatively little pull—or gravitas. But My Life in the LHC is still a riveting story in the way that it plays upon Warhol’s idea that everyone has 15 minutes of fame. Here our hero’s fame lasts only a millionth of a second, but within that time, the narrator lives a life that is one of the great thrill rides of the century, something that makes the Coney Island Cyclone seem pathetic by comparison.  My life in the LHC reads like an accelerated On the Road. My Life in the LHC is, in this regard, a quintessentially American tale, told by an idiot and signifying nothing. Its great truth lies in the interstices, in the little turns in the tunnel, in the feats of engineering, and in the big magnets, which martyr themselves for the sake of science. 

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