Olga Sonkin On:
The Cold by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
A few young physicists are engaged in a light-hearted chat about the movement of heat between objects. In a sheltered and well-heated space they can afford to exchange intellectual banter and toy with physical definitions of love. Only that then one of them leaves and enters the cold. The real cold, the cold of death, which absorbs into it any shred of heat, any glimmer of hope. And suddenly, the secure, self-satisfied and arrogant intellectual chitchat seems distant, flimsy, unthinkable. The story is called “Cold”, and it seems that the great Japanese author is trying to say something about a notion whose tangibility the human soul struggles to grasp and perhaps simply cannot grasp at all in its comfortable and heated rooms — the cold is the naught, the death that the limited imagination cannot reach. Akutagawa wishes to remind us that the cold exists, even when we are warm. And nevertheless, this beautiful story still ends on a poetic note and with careful sensitivity: the heat of life indeed transcends the scientifically measurable empirical world; it is the hesitant ray of light that emerges at the end of the story, the hope that survives even in the frozen wilderness.