||[Sep. 2nd, 2004|05:33 pm]
There's a man sitting on a bench in a Manchester park, just accross the canal from the gay village. The first time I saw him I reckoned there was something not quite right about him. When I got closer I saw he was made of bronze. The effect is creepy.|
So it should be. This is the monument to Alan Turing, the father of computing and (by virtue of his work on Axis codes at Bletchley Park) one of the heroes of the Second World War.
Turing was gay. The police harassed him. He avoided prison by agreeing to submit to oestrogen injections. The establishment turned its back on him. He committed suicide aged 42.
He committed suicide in rather a novel way (he was, after all, a genius.) He injected cyanide into an apple, then ate it.
The bronze man is holding an apple in his hand.
A few posts back I said we can't do public sculpture any more. That wasn't entirely true. The Turing monument is a great piece of public sculpture. Mike wanted to see it so I took him there this afternoon. We sat on the bench across from Turing and and he looked at us and we looked at him. The face is bland. It doesn't accuse. It doesn't ask for pity.
Turing's wartime work was hushed up for the longest time (national security don'tcha know) but he did as much to defeat Hitler as Churchill, Montgomery, the Battle of Britain pilots or anyone else you care to mention. He was a very great scientist. He was hounded to death.
It's really a shame that this story isn't more widely known. But it's not really surprising. Queer history is so often buried. I just happened to read your entry as I was going through someone's "friends" page, and I wanted to thank you for bringing it to light.
In the end Turing was too big to be buried. There was a BBC drama about his life a few years back, with Derek Jacobi in the lead. That's mainly how I come to know about him.
Wow...That's very sad. I'm ashamed to say, I haven't heard of him before, but he sounds like a really important figure. It's a shame the way he was mistreated...
His achievement was played down for a number of reasons- because his war-work was secret, because he was gay, because his death was an embarassment to the powers that be. Only now is he coming to be recognised as the towering figure he was.
No I haven't. Most of what I know about Turing I've gotten off the TV. There was a very good BBC drama about him a few years back, starring Derek Jacobi.
I am going to have to look for that. Derek Jacobi is one of my favorites.
It's called Breaking The Code. The author is Hugh Whitemore. It was a successful stage play before being filmed for TV. The film has been released on video and may still be available.
Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which, I am ashamed to say, I did give up on about 500 pages in, features a very sympathetic, if not polemic, portrayal of Turing, his work and his sexuality. It's all embedded in a very very dense and rather right-wing-ish narrrative about insanely difficult maths and cryptography and WAR and MEN that got the better of me, in the end, but it was where I first learned about him. The Jacobi portrayal sounds fascinating, and perhaps less scary on the maths!
Did you ever hear the rumor/theory/whatever that the original apple computer logo is a tribute to Turing? i.e. a rainbow (gay) apple with a single bite taken out of it, computers, etc etc...
No, that's a new one on me- but I'd like to think it's true.
At times I think the reason Turing never shows up is not because he was gay--the Classicists of the past were able to openly disregard Greek homosexuality by simply omitting it from translations sometimes with the note "omitted: a reference to the vice of the Greeks"--but because he invented something that did a world of good while Oppenheimer's group's seminal project was a weapon that has caused nothing but suffering and fear since it first lit the sky. But people are attracted to power and the ability to destroy things outright, to most a few seconds of destruction is worth the millenia of creation up to that point.