As the theoretical physicist Geoffrey West reminds, “We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist's viewpoint, entropy.”
Entropy is a concept that few can pin down. It is the subject of Theorem Vivant, a fascinating book by the extraordinary mathematician Cédric Villani, who received a Fields Medal for his theory on the speed of this scientific process.
Related to thermodynamics, entropy is roughly the tendency for disorder. When you uncork a bottle of colored gas in a room, the fact that the particles disperse and change the color of the air, rather than gather in a corner, demonstrates entropy. Constantly accelerating once it manifests, entropy cannot be reined in or reversed.
This concept has been on my mind because at the end of this month, a new reading room and bookshop will open its doors within the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and for the bookshop to grow, we rely in part on the creative powers of entropy. The bookshop will reflect our belief in the power of literature and the humanities to increase understanding and friendship across borders, and in the power of books as a common good for a better world.
Like the watchmaker who, according to the teleological theory of creationism, sets the universe ticking and then lets earthly beings take the reins, cultural diplomacy is nothing without the creative entropy that builds true connections. An event, a project, a meeting, or a space is created, and it is the random mingling of the curious people who participate that truly gets at the goal of cross-cultural discourse. Once you befriend a book or meet a foreign friend, the insight you gain in their lives is, like entropy, irreversible and irrevocable.
Let’s look at the numbers.
1 reading room and bookshop on
8,337,000 New Yorkers.
14,000 titles from +30 countries.
6 days of festivities from October 14-19, during the bookshop’s opening festival
15 or more fascinating thinkers participating in the festival*
We don’t need an equation to see that the combinations and permutations of these figures, their products and quotients, lead to beautiful, inevitable disorder.
My hope is that bookshop visitors misplace their preconceptions among this matrix and that they uncover new postulates for living derived from other peoples and places.
*I invite you to participate in the six-day festival, a whirlwind of inspiration, that has been curated by cultural critic and author Greil Marcus, and features French and American artists and thinkers including: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, author Emmanuel Carrère, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, director/filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Paris, je t’aime); Fields Medal-winning mathematician and author of Théorème vivant Cédric Villani, economist Gabriel Zucman, and author Mary Gaitskill.