2011 – speculations
by Thomas Wagner | 1/1/2011
Image: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark

Two zero one one or twenty eleven. Two tens and eleven ones, 20+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1. As though the ever-identical and accumulative impulses and resulting series were never ending. Two curving and two (or eleven) pointed digits, what a strange constellation! What it holds in store only time will tell, and its ultimate meaning is up to us to decide. Yet this series of numbers does not exactly exude harmony. Whereas 2010 seems nicely balanced, with the second half being half of the first, now the balance has been lost. There is plenty of imbalance in the world, which is why it comes as no surprise that something jams on occasion. Put carefully: Once the balance has been lost, a great deal can tip - for the better or worse, but who knows?

Switching to other systems of analysis is not really a source of much help, either. You may possibly be familiar with the poem "Der Zwölf-Elf" (The twelve-eleven). But as far as I know, no-one has written about a twenty eleven. So when the poet Christian Morgenstern says of that little-known animal, "The twelve-eleven raises its left hand: And midnight tolls across the land", we cannot tell what would happen if it were to raise its right hand. Be that as it may, it is a fairly safe bet that 2011 does not have much to do with a mythical beast. So let's try again, this time by examining the individual integers that go to make up the year.

The number 20 marks a counting break and in many cultures forms a basis for counting, for instance, in French 80 is expressed as "quatre-vingt", four times 20. Insofar as 20 describes a counting break, it also marks a caesura. One of the peculiarities of numerological symbolism is that the German word "Schneise", for example, meaning forest path, originally referred to a line on which 20 tuna fish could be hung to dry. 20 tuna fish for eleven friends? No, no, let's not go down that track.

The eleven is more complicated. Considered in its own right, symbolically this number has always carried negative associations, because it is between the two "round numbers" 10 and 12. Eleven apostles would be unthinkable, eleven friends, well, they don't always score either, and it is not only the goalie's fear when facing a penalty taken from eleven meters away that is infamous. The particularly astute among us even claim to see in the eleven members of a soccer team a reference to human imperfection. In contrast, the multiple elevens on days like 11.1.11 or 11.11.11 at 11.11 a.m., when Carnival starts in Germany next year, are probably a result of the silliness that series of identical numbers have to offer. Wedding venues will most certainly be already booked out for 11.11.11, although we cannot say what people in other regions of the world would think.

It is a different story with the council that traditionally presides over organizing the carnival (made up, incidentally, of eleven members), which indeed only hid its civil democratic ambitions under the jester's hat. Thus the citizens, robbed of their rights, saw the "Eleven" - in the spirit of the French Revolution - in such a way that it symbolized the equality of all people. Straight lines, one next to the other and one like the next - like one free citizen next to the other. And in German at least, we can find some little amusement in the fact that "Elf" (eleven) is formed by the first letters of the motto of the French Revolution: "Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité" = ELF, rather than extremely low frequency! And if we take the language of the computer, formed from 0 and 1, 11 means yes, yes and not Oh Oh.

So what does all this tell us about 2011? Is the answer to two attempts with zero results a grim yes, yes at the eleventh hour? We already know that next year we will again be living in turbulent times. Does it tell us that one stands next to one and we citizens of the world will not let anyone take away our freedom? That wouldn't be a bad motto for a year that could be somewhere in-between in a time of caesurae. "Allons enfants de la patrie" - don't just accept it, embrace it, the eleven, whatever it may bring. "Le jour ... est arrivé" - for the twenty-eleven has long since raised its right hand - and once again a new year dawned across the land. Cheerio! (times eleven).

Image: Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark