Oppenheimer Tweets (@OppieTweets)
[10/6/2013 – Oppie has now officially become death; after reading what is below, and the tweets, come here.]
My aim in this project is to play out the entire life of J. Robert Oppenheimer in approximately 600 tweets, over around 6-months.
I’ve based my tweets on a soon-to-be-released biography, ‘Inside the Centre‘ by Ray Monk, because I enjoyed the process so much with my similarly whimsical Wittgenstein Tweets. As with the previous project, no love for or knowledge of Oppenheimer is necessary. I add to this: no knowledge of atomic physics or quantum electrodynamics is necessary. Not that it ever hurts.
Not only did Oppenheimer have things higher up on his to-do list than write a systematic commentary on his life – most famously, to make the atom bomb – he also shied away from talking about his personal life with strangers. So if I had set about the task of answering the question: “What if Oppenheimer could’ve tweeted?” in full earnest, the answer would’ve been short: “Not much.” As with his pretweetdecessor, Wittgenstein, he probably would’ve hated Twitter. But, as with Wittgenstein, Twitter would have loved him.
Some of those who tweet the most have the least to say, and some of those who have the most to say aren’t keen to tweet. As I eagerly awaited my copy of ‘Inside the Centre’, I have to say I had some trepidation over whether Oppenheimer would be able to hold people’s attention quite as well as the eminently quotable, prone-to-troll Wittgenstein. After all, who knows any Oppenheimer quotes beyond that ‘Become Death’ one? But soon these fears were put to rest. Not only was Oppenheimer more of a doer than Wittgenstein, he was also extremely eloquent. Sometimes this bled into verbosity, but there’s nothing like Twitter to sort out a bit of verbosity.1
This isn’t so much an account of ‘what Oppenheimer said’ as ‘what Oppenheimer could have said’. See my intro to Wittgenstein Tweets for a slew of disclaimers, all of which I carry forward here. Importantly, although the (roughly correct) dates I put on the tweets give them a look of accuracy and reliability, that’s just a facade.2
Many thanks to Ray Monk for having written another fascinating biography, which serves as a fantastic introduction to the Manhattan Project, to the Cold War, and to a man. If each of these was made into a compulsory subject at school, I’d be happy. Thanks also go to Lauren Taylor for the great original portrait.
And, finally, thanks to J. Robert Oppenheimer, or ‘Oppie’ to his friends. Some of his contributions to the world will remain controversial, but I owe him a special kind of debt that’s probably unique to someone engaging in an act of second-hand, first-person plagiarism. I have borrowed his voice, without asking, and I’ve had a good time.
If you’ve got any questions or comments about Oppenheimer Tweets, please email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
In other news, there are worse ways to spend your time than having a read of one of my short stories. In fact, some of these ‘worse ways to spend time’ are documented in the stories themselves…
1. Try cutting this down to 140 chars:
“Generously, you ask what I do… I go to the math lib and read and to the Phil lib and divide my time between Meinherr Russell and the contemplation of a most beautiful and lovely lady who is writing a thesis on Spinoza – charmingly ironic at that, don’t you think? I make stenches in three different labs, listen to Allard gossip about Racine, serve tea and talk learnedly to a few lost souls, go off for the weekend to distill the low grade energy into laughter and exhaustion, read Greek, commit faux pas, search my desk for letters and wish I were dead. Voila.”
2. In fact it’s a facade only half of the time. But something which is unreliable half of the time is really unreliable all the time.