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Like a Moth to the Flame
A sermon of sorts on romantic folly
Jean van Heijenoort was drawn to Anne-Marie Zamora like a moth to the flame. He firmly believed she wanted to kill him and yet he travelled thousands of miles to Mexico City to visit her where kill him she did by pumping three rounds from her Colt .38 Special into his head while he slept. She then turned the gun on herself. There is no little irony in the fact that van Heijenoort met his end in the same city as Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky. For van Heijenoort was Trotsky's secretary, body guard, and translator from 1932 to 1939.
The former 'Comrade Van' was a super-sharp logician but a romantic fool nonetheless. He is known mainly for his contribution to the history of mathematical logic. He edited From Frege to Gödel: A Source Book in Mathematical Logic, 1879-1931 (Harvard University Press 1967) and translated some of the papers. The book is a work of meticulous scholarship that has earned universally high praise from experts in the field.
One life lesson is the folly of seeking happiness in another human being. The happiness we seek, whether we know it or not, no man or woman can provide. And then there is the mystery of self-destruction. Here is a brilliant, productive, and well-respected man. He knows that 'the flame' will destroy him, but he enters it anyway. And if you believe that this material life is the only life you will ever have, why throw it away for an unstable, pistol-packing female?
One might conclude to the uselessness of logic for life. If the heart has its reasons (Pascal) they apparently are not subject to the discipline of mathematical logic. All that logic and you still behave irrationally about the most important matters of self-interest? So what good is it? Apparently, van Heijenoort never learned to control his sexual and emotional nature. Does it make sense to be ever so scrupulous about what you allow yourself to believe, but not about what you allow yourself to love?
SOURCES (The following are extremely enjoyable books. I've read both twice.)
Anita Burdman Feferman, Politics, Logic, and Love: The Life of Jean van Heijenoort, Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1993.
Jean van Hejenoort, With Trotsky in Exile: From Prinkipo to Coyoacan, Harvard UP, 1978.