The Outrage Industry
We can work around ignorance. We can even work around the truth. In spite of built-in defences, admit you’ve been abusive, and the abused will lift the statute of limitations on sin. Or better yet, kneel in front of a jury of your peers: talisman; lynch mob; lashing tail. A whip pummelling screens until they fill with TV snow. You can almost switch the channel, but the mirror wall is black light. Let me tell you more . . . no, let me tell you that the more we talk, the more I’m convinced I’m right.
Frenkel, though Langlands insists that’s not the case—he’s always wanted to write something in Russian, he says, and his retirement had finally furnished him with the opportunity to do so. If Langlands’s new work is solid, understood by enough people, and adapted into a generalization, it could be “revolutionary,” says Julia Gordon, a mathematician working at UBC. By suggesting ideas that are related to the original Langlands Program, Langlands “is trying to bring us back down to earth,” she says. His recent formulations likely won’t replace the current geometric theory—that one is “here to stay,” Arthur says—but it could become the basis for a new line of study with different potential discoveries. Frenkel received the complete paper in April, and in June, he emailed Langlands with a few clarifying questions. Langlands didn’t answer them; he just told Frenkel to read the paper again and pay particular attention to a line on page fifty-nine. “I was tired,” Langlands says. “[Frenkel] didn’t seem to be taking account of the essential step, the turning point.” Months later, Frenkel is “a little bit perplexed,” he says. “Langlands is my hero— I don’t want to criticize him.” But he’s still disappointed by Langlands’s characterization of the geometric and physical programs as speculative and unconvincing—possibly the harshest insult one can make in the realm of mathematical research. Frenkel’s reading of the Russian paper can’t be separated from what was said that day in Oslo; he retorts that Langlands’s latest work is “way less rigorous than what the geometric theory has produced in the last thirty years.” In late August, I visited Langlands in Montreal, in a small apartment that he owns with his wife, Charlotte Langlands, a sculptor. The day before, he had finished preparing for a lecture that he would be presenting in Turkey (in Turkish). Now that his Russian paper is published, Langlands says—though he has said this before—he is ready to stop working on mathematics and “go to other, more agreeable, things.” The day we met, he had spent his first free morning in years reading a travelogue by the nineteenth-century German writer Theodor Fontane (in its original German). Having had time to rest and visit his family in British Columbia, Langlands was more energetic and conversational than he had been in Oslo a few months earlier — and a little more forgiving of his colleagues. He admitted he should probably have been more inviting of Frenkel’s questions. In November, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters is co-hosting the Abel Conference in Minnesota, a three-day “mathematical celebration of Robert P. Langlands.” Langlands and Frenkel will both be in attendance. At the conference, a lecture will be presented explaining the basic premise of Langlands’s Russian paper and how it differs from the current geometric Langlands Program. Frenkel will be the one delivering it.