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Grothendieck’s gribouillis (4)

Fortunately, there are a few certainties left in life:

In spring, you might expect the next instalment of Connes’ and Consani’s quest for Gabriel’s topos. Here’s the latest: $\overline{\mathbf{Spec}(\mathbb{Z})}$ and the Gromov norm.

Every half year or so, Mochizuki’s circle-of-friends tries to create some buzz announcing the next IUTeich-workshop. I’ll spare you the link, if you are still interested, follow math_jin or IUTT_bot_math_jin on Twitter.

And then, there’s the never-ending story of Grothendieck’s griboullis, kept alive by the French journalist and author Philippe Douroux.

Here are some recent links:

Alexandre Grothendieck : une mathématique en cathédrale gothique, an article (in French) by Philippe Douroux in Le Monde, May 6th (behind paywall).

L’histoire étonnante des archives du mathématicien Alexandre Grothendieck, an article (in French) on France Inter by Mathieu Vidar, based on info from Philippe Douroux.

Les archives mystérieuses de Alexandre Grothendieck, a podcast of a broadcast on France Inter on June 10th. Interesting interview (in French) with Philippe Douroux and the French mathematician Etienne Ghys (with a guest appearance by Luc Illusie).

El enigmático legado de un genio de las matemáticas, an article (in Spanish) in El Pais, May 13th, with 8 photos of some of the Gribouillis. The two pictures in this post are taken from this article.

So, what’s the latest on the 70.000+ pages left by Grothendieck?

As far as i know, the Mormoiron part of the gribouillis is still at the University of Montpellier, and has been made available online at the Grothendieck archives.

The Lasserre part of the gribouillis is still in a cellar in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés, belonging to Jean-Bernard Gillot. The French national library cannot take possession of the notes before a financial agreement is reached with Grothendieck’s children (French law does not allow children to be disinherited).

And there’s a dispute about the price to be paid. The notes were estimated at 45.000 Euros, but some prefer to believe that they may be worth several millions of dollars.

It all depends on their mathematical content.

Unfortunately, pictures claimed to be of the Lasserre notes (such as the one above) are in fact from the Mormoiron/Montpellier notes, which do indeed contain interesting mathematics.

But, it is very unlikely that the Lasserre notes contain (math) surprises. Probably, most of them look like this one

endless lists of people deported by the Nazis to extermination camps in WW2.

Or, as Philippe Douroux is quoted in the El Pais piece: “I think it’s a treasure, maybe not a mathematical one, but a human one. It’s a descent into the hell of one the best organised brains in the world.”



The film made by Catherine Aira and Yves Le Pestipon “Alexandre Grothendieck: On the Paths of a Genius” (on the quest for G’s last hideout in the French Pyrenees) can now be watched on YouTube (with English subtitles)

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Grothendieck’s gribouillis (3)

As far as I know there are no recent developments in the story of Grothendieck’s Lasserre writings.

Since may 2017 the Mormoiron part of the notes, saved by Jean Malgoire, are scanned and made available at the Archives Grothendieck.

Some of Grothendieck’s children were present at the opening ceremony, and an interview was made with Alexandre jr. :



Rather than going into Grothendieck’s mathematics, he speaks highly of his father’s role in the ecological (Survivre et vivre) and anti-nuclear movements of the early 70ties.

The full story of Survivre et Vivre, and Grothendieck’s part in it, can be read in the thesis by Celine Pessis:

Les années 1968 et la science. Survivre … et Vivre, des mathématiciens critiques à l’origine de l’écologisme

Here’s her talk at the IHES: “L’engagement d’Alexandre Grothendieck durant la première moitié des années 1970”.



Returning to Montpellier’s Archives Grothendieck, Mateo Carmona G started a project to transcribe ‘La Longue Marche à travers la Théorie de Galois’ at GitHub.

From an email: “I am specially interested in Cote n° 149 that seems to contain Grothendieck separate notes on anabelian geometry.”

If you want to read up on the story of Grothendieck’s gribouillis, here are some older posts, in chronological order:

Grothendieck’s gribouillis

Grothendieck’s gribouillis (2)

Where are Grothendieck’s writings?

Where are Grothendieck’s writings (2)?

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Grothendieck’s gribouillis (2)

We left the story of Grothendieck’s Lasserre notes early 2015, uncertain whether they would ever be made public.

Some things have happened since.

Georges Maltsiniotis gave a talk at the Gothendieck conference in Montpellier in june 2015 having as title “Grothendieck’s manuscripts in Lasserre”, raising perhaps even more questions.

Philippe Douroux, a journalist at the French newspaper “Liberation”, had a few months ago his book out “Alexandre Grothendieck, sur les traces du dernier genie des mathematiques”. In the first and final couple of chapters he gives details on Grothendieck’s years in Lasserre.


In chapter 46 “Que reste-t-il du tresor de Grothendieck?” (what is left of Grothendieck’s treasure?) he recounts what has happened to the ‘Lasserre gribouillis’ and this allows us to piece together some of the jigsaw-puzzle.

[section_title text=”Maltsiniotis’ talk”]

These days you don’t have to be present at a conference to get the gist of a talk you’re interested in. That is, if at least one of the people present is as helpful as Damien Calaque was in this case. A couple of email exchanges later I was able to get this post out on Google+:

Below is the relevant part of the picture taken by Edouard Balzin, mentioned in the post.

Maltsiniotis blackboard Grothendieck conference

The first three texts are given with plenty of details and add up to say 5000 pages. The fifth text is only given the approximate timing 1993-1998, although they present the bulk of the material (30000 pages).

A few questions come to mind:

– Why didn’t Maltsiniotis give more detail on the largest part of the collection?
– There seem to be at least 15000 pages missing in this roundup (previously, the collection was estimates at about 50000 pages). Were they destroyed?
– What happened to the post-1998 writings? We know from a certain movie that Grothendieck kept on writing until the very end.

[section_title text=”Douroux’ book”]

If you have read Scharlau’s biographical texts on Grothendieck’s life, the middle part of Douroux’ book “Alexandre Grothendieck, sur les traces du dernier genie des mathematiques” will not be too surprising.

However, the first 5 and final 3 chapters contain a lot of unknown information (at least to me) about his life in Lasserre. The story of ‘his last friend Michel’ is particularly relevant.

Michel is a “relieur” (book-binder) and Grothendieck used his services to have carton boxes made, giving precise specifications as to their dimensions in mms, to contain his writings.

In the summer of 2000 there’s a clash between the two, details in chapter 4 “la brouille du relieur”. As a result, all writings from 2000-2014 are not as neatly kept as those before.

Each box is given a number, from 1 to the last one: 41.

In chapter 46 we are told that Georges Maltsiniotis spend two days in Lasserre consulting the content of the first 16 boxes, written between 1992 and 1994. He gives also additional information on the content:

Carton box 1 : “Geometrie elementaire schematique” contains 1100 pages of algebra and algebraic geometry which Maltsiniotis classifies as “assez classique” but which Douroux calls ‘this is solid mathematics on which one has to work hard to understand’ and a bit later (apparently quoting Michel Demasure) ‘we will need 50 years to transform these notes into accessible mathematics’.

Carton boxes 2-4 : “Structure de la psyche” (3700 pages) also being (according to Douroux) ‘a mathematical text in good form’.

Carton boxes 5-16 : Philosophical and mystical reflexions, among which “Psyche et structure” and “Probleme du mal” (7500 pages).

That is, we have an answer to most of the questions raised by Maltsiniotis talk. He only consulted the first 16 boxes, had a quick look at the other boxes and estimated they were ‘more of the same’ and packaged them all together in approximately 30000 pages of ‘Probleme du mal’. Probably he underestimated the number of pages in the 41 boxes containing all writings upto the summer of 2000.

Remains the problem to guess the amount of post 2000 writings. Here’s a picture taken by Leila Schneps days after Grothendieck’s death in Lasserre:

Grothendieck boxes in Lasserre

You will notice the expertly Michel-made carton boxes and a quick count of the middle green and rightmost red metallic box reveals that one could easily pack these 41 carton boxes in 3 metallic cases.

So, a moderate guess on the number of post 2000 pages is : 35000.

Why? Read on.

[section_title text=”what does this have to do with the Paris attacks?”]

Grothendieck boxes in Lasserre

November 13th 2015 is to the French what 9/11 is to Americans (and 22 March 2016 is to Belgians, I’m sad to add).

It is also precisely one year after Grothendieck passed away in Saint-Girons.

On that particular day, the family decided to hand the Grothendieck-collection over to the Bibliotheque Nationale. (G’s last wishes were that everything he ever wrote was to be transferred to the BNF, thereby revoking his infamous letter of 2010, within 7 months after his death, or else had to be destroyed. So, to the letter of his will everything he left should have been destroyed by now. But fortunately none of it is, because 7 months is underestimating the seriousness with which the French ‘notaires’ carry out their trade, I can testify from personal experience).

While the attacks on the Bataclan and elsewhere were going on, a Mercedes break with on board Alexandre Jr. and Jean-Bernard, a librarian specialised in ancient writings, was approaching Paris from Lasserre. On board: 5 metallic cases, 2 red ones, 1 green and 2 blues (so Leila’s picture missed 1 red).

At about 2 into the night they arrived at the ‘commissariat du Police’ of the 6th arrondissement, and delivered the cases. It is said that the cases weighted around 400 kg (that is 80kg/case). As in all things Grothendieck concerned, this seems a bit over-estimated.

Anyway, that’s the last place we know to hold Grothendieck’s Lasserre gribouillis.

There’s this worrying line in Douroux’ book : ‘Who will get hold of them? The BNF? An american university? A math-obsessed billionaire?’

Let’s just hope for the best. That the initial plan to open up the gribouillis to the mathematical community at large will become a reality.

If I counted correctly, there are at least two of these metallic cases full of un-read post 2000 writings. To be continued…

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Grothendieck’s gribouillis

A math-story well worth following in 2015.

What will happen to Grothendieck’s unpublished notes, or as he preferred, his “gribouillis” (scribbles)?

Here’s the little I know about this:

1. The Mormoiron scribbles

During the 80ties Grothendieck lived in ‘Les Aumettes’ in Mormoiron

In 1991, just before he moved to the Pyrenees he burned almost all of his personal notes in the garden. He phoned Jean Malgoire:

“Si tu ne viens pas chercher mon bordel mathématique, il va brûler avec le reste.”

Malgoire sped to Mormoiron and rescued 5 boxes containing about 20.000 pages. The next 20 years he kept them in his office, not exactly knowing what to do with them.

On january 3rd 2010, Grothendieck wrote his (in)famous letter forbidding others to share or publish any of his writings. (Picture via the SecretBloggingSeminar)

Malgoire feared that Grothendieck would soon ask him to destroy the Mormoiron-gribouillis and decided to donate them to the University of Montpellier.

They are kept somewhere in their archives, the exact location known only to Jean Malgoire, Luc Gomel (who is in charge of the patrimonium of the University of Montpellier) and the person who put the boxes away.

After Grothendieck’s death on november 13th, FranceTV3 did broadcast a short news-item.

If Grothendieck’s children agree, the University of Montpellier intends to make an inventory of the 5 boxes and will make them available, at least to researchers.

2. The Lasserre scribbles

The final 23 years of his life, Grothendieck lived in the small village of Lasserre in the French Pyrenees.

Here he could be glimpsed blurrily through the window as he wrote for hours during the night.(Picture via the GrohendieckCircle)

Leila Schneps and her husband Pierre Lochak did visit the house and met with Grothendieck’s family the week after his death.

Before she went, she was optimistic about the outcome as she emailed:

“I have already started modifying the Grothendieck circle website and it will of course eventually return completely. Plus many things will be added, as we will now have access to Grothendieck’s correspondence and many other papers.”

Her latest comment, from december 16th, left on the Grothendieck-circle bulletin board, is more pessimistic:

“Il a ecrit a Lasserre sans cesse pendant plus de 20 ans. Je n’ai pu que jeter un rapide coup d’oeil sur tout ce qu’il a laisse. Il y a de tout: des maths, des reflexions sur lui-meme, et des reflexions sur la nature humaine et sur l’univers. Rien n’est disponible pour le moment. Ces manuscrits finiront dans une bibliotheque et seront peut-etre un jour consultables.”

The good news is that there appears to be some mathematics among the Lassere-gribouillis. The sad news being that none of this is available at the moment, and perhaps never will.

So, what happened? Here’s my best guess:

Grothendieck’s children were pretty upset a private letter from one of them turned up in the French press, a couple of years ago.

Perhaps, they first want to make sure family related material is recovered, before they’ll consider donating the rest (hopefully to the University of Montpellier to be reunited with Grothendieck’s Mormoiron-notes).

This may take some time.

Further reading (in French):

Grothendieck, mon tresor (nationale)

Un génie mystérieux, un secret bien gardé

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G+ recovery 2 : Grothendieck

My Google+ account is going away on April 2, 2019, so i’ll try to rescue here some posts, in chronological order and around one theme. Here’s Grothendieck-stuff, part two.

March 18th, 2014

crowd-funding Grothendiecks biography?  

+John Baez has a post out at the n-cat-cafe on Leila Schneps’s quest to raise $6000 to translate Scharlau’s 3-volume biography of Grothendieck.

If you care to contribute : go here.

Lots of good stuff in volume 3 on Groths hippy/eco/weirdo years. I’ve plundered Scharlau’s text last year trying to pinpoint the location of Groths hideout in the French Pyrenees.

As far as i know, part 2 (the most interesting part on Groths mathematical years) is still under construction and will be compiled by the jolly group called the “Grothendieck circle”.

There’s a nice series of G-recollections out here (a.o. by Illusie, Karoubi, Cartier, Raynaud, Mumford, Hartshorne, Murre, Oort, Manin, Cartier).

I’m pretty sure Groth himself would prefer we’d try to get his Recoltes et Semailles translated into English, or La Clef des Songes.

November 18th, 2014

Grothendieck’s last hideout

The past ten days I’ve been up in the French mountains (without internet access), not that far from the Ariege, so I’m just now catching up with all (blog)posts related to Grothendieck’s death.

At our place, the morning of thursday november 13th was glorious!

Even though FranceInter kept telling horror stories about flooding in more southern departements, I can only hope that Grothendieck passed away in that morning sun.
About a year ago, on the occasion of Groth’s 85th birthday, I ran a series of posts on places where he used to live, ending with his last known hideout

At the time I didn’t include the precise location of his house, but now that pictures of it are in the French press I feel free to suggest (if you are interested to know where Grothendieck spend his later years) to point your Google-earth or Google-maps (in streetview!) to:
lat 43.068254  lon 1.169080

November 18th, 2014

Mormoiron and Lasserre acknowledge Grothendieck

In the series of post on Grothendieck-places I wrote a year ago (see here and links at the end) I tried to convince these French villages to update their Wikipedia page to acknowledge the existence of Grothendieck under the heading ‘Personnalités liées à la commune’, without much success.

Today it is nice to see that Lasserre added Grothendieck to their page:

“Alexandre Grothendieck (1928-2014), considéré comme un des plus grands mathématiciens du xxe siècle, y a vécu en quasi-ermite de 1990 à sa mort.”

Also Mormoiron, where Grothendieck lived in the 80ties (see picture below) has updated its page:

“Alexandre Grothendieck a habité temporairement à Mormoiron (“Les Aumettes”)”

French villages who still have to follow suit:
Vendargues
Massy
Olmet-et-Villecun

November 19th, 2014

Please keep an eye on the GrothendieckCircle for updates

+Leila Schneps invested a lot of time over the years setting up the Grothendieck Circle website.

Some material had to be removed a few years ago as per Groth’s request.

I’m sure many of you will be as thrilled as I was to get this message from Leila:

“I have already started modifying the Grothendieck circle website and it will of course eventually return completely.  Plus many things will be added, as we will now have access to Grothendieck’s correspondence and many other papers.”

Leila already began to update the site, for example there’s this new page on Groth’s life in Lasserre.

I understand Leila is traveling to Lasserre tomorrow, presumably for Grothendieck’s funeral. Hopefully she will eventually post something about it on the GrothendieckCircle (or, why not here on G+).

December 4th, 2014

 
Nicolas Bourbaki is temporarily resurrected to announce the death of Grothendieck in the French newspaper Le Monde.

You may recall that Bourbaki passed away on november 11th 1968, see +Peter Luschny’s post on his death announcement.

December 6th, 2014

The ‘avis de décès’ released by Grothendieck’s family and friends, published in the local French newspaper ‘La Depeche’, on saturday november 15th.

It announces Grothendieck’s cremation, on november 17th at 11.30h in the village of Pamiers, bordering the ‘Camp du Vernet’, where Grothendieck’s father Sasha was imprisoned, before being deported to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis in 1942. 

June 12th, 2015

Grothendieck’s later writings  

Next week there’s a Grothendieck conference at Montpellier. George Maltsiniotis will give a talk thursday afternoon with the  exciting title “Grothendieck’s manuscripts in Lasserre” (hat tip +Pieter Belmans ).

You may recall that G’s last hideout was in the Pyrenean village of Lasserre.

After a bit of sleuthing around I’ve heard some great news.

Grothendieck’s family have donated all of his later writings (apart from his correspondences and other family-related stuff) to the Bibliotheque Nationale. The BNF have expressed their intention of scanning all this material (thousands of pages it seems) and making them (eventually) available online!

Rumour has it that the donation consists of 41 large folders containing G’s reflections, kept in the form of a diary (a bit like ‘Clef des Songes’), on G’s usual suspects (evil, Satan, the cosmos), but 2 or 3 of these folders contain mathematics (of sorts).

Probably, Maltsiniotis will give a preview on this material. To anyone lucky enough to be able to go down south next week and to attend his talk, please keep me in the loop…

June 19th, 2015

Maltsiniotis’ talk on Grothendieck’s Lasserre-gribouillis

Yesterday, George Maltsiniotis gave a talk at the Gothendieck conference in Montpellier with title “Grothendieck’s manuscripts in Lasserre”.

This morning, +David Roberts  asked for more information on its content, and earlier i gave a short reply on what i learned, but perhaps this matter deserves a more careful write-up.

+Damien Calaque  attended George’s talk and all info below is based on his recollections. Damien stresses that he didn’t take notes so there might be minor errors in the titles and order of the parts mentioned below.

EDIT: based on info i got from +Pieter Belmans  in the comments below (followed up by the picture he got via +Adeel Khan  taken by Edouard Balzin) i’ve corrected the order and added additional info.

The talk was videotaped and should become public soon.

As i mentioned last week Grothendieck’s family has handed over all non-family related material to the Bibliotheque Nationale. Two days ago, Le Monde wrote that the legacy consists of some 50.000 pages.

Maltsiniotis insisted that the BNF wants to make these notes available to the academic community, after they made an inventory (which may take some time).

I guess from the blackboard-picture i got from Pieter, the person responsible at the BNF is Isabelle le Masme de Chermont.

The Lasserre-griboillis themselves consists of 5 parts:

1. Géométrie élémentaire schématique. (August 1992)
This is about quadratic forms and seems to be really elementary.

2. Structure de la psyché. (12/10/1992-28/09/1993) 3600 pages
This one is about some combinatorics of oriented graphs with extra-structure (part of the structure are successor and predecessor operators on the set of arrows).

3. Psyché et structures (26/03/93-20/06/93) 700 pages
This one is non-mathematical.

4. Maxwell equations.
Maltsiniotis mentioned that he was surprised to see that there was at best one mathematics book in G’s home, but plenty of physics books.

5. Le problème du mal. (1993-1998) 
This one is huge (30.000 pages) and is non-mathematical.

Note that also the Mormoiron-gribouillis will be made public by the University of Montpellier, or if you prefer video.

Finally, is the photo below what you think it is? Yep!

January 20th, 2016

where are the videos of the Grothendieck conference?

Mid june 2015 a conference “Mathematics of the 21st century: the vision of Alexander Grothendieck” was held in Montpellier. In a comment to a post here on Maltsiniotis’ talk i mentioned that most of the talks were video-taped and that they would soon be made public.

When they failed to surface on the Montpellier website, i asked +Damien Calaque  for more information. Some months ago Damien told me the strange (and worrying) tale of their fate.

At that moment Damien was in a process of trying to recover the videos. Two weeks ago he told me things were looking good, so i now feel free to post about it.

Michael Wright is the head of the Archive for Mathematical Sciences & Philosophy. He arranged with the organizers of the conference that he would send someone over to video-tape the lectures and that he would make them available on his Archive. He also promised to send a copy of the videos to Montpellier, but he never did. Nor did the tapes appear on his site.

Damien Calague emailed Wright asking for more information and eventually got a reply. It appears that Wright will not be able to edit the videos nor put them online in a reasonable time.

They agreed that Damien would send him a large capacity USB-drive. Wright would copy the videos on it and send it back. Damien will arrange for the videos to be edited and the University of Montpellier will put them online. Hopefully everything will work out smoothly.

So please keep an eye on the website of l’Institut Montpelliérain Alexander Grothendieck

May 6th, 2017

Grothendieck’s Montpellier notes will hit the net May 10th

At last there is an agreement between the university at Montpellier and Grothendieck’s children to release the ‘Montpellier gribouillis’ (about 28000 pages will hit the net soon).
Another 65000 pages, found at Lasserre after Grothendieck’s death, might one day end up at the IHES or the Bibliotheque Nationale.
If you are interested in the history of Grothendieck’s notes, there is this old post on my blog.

(h/t Theo Raedschelders for the Liberation link)

May 11th, 2017

Buy a Grothendieck painting to get the Lasserre notes online!

As of yesterday, most of Grothendieck’s Montpellier notes are freely available at this site.

There’s much to say about the presentation (eg. It is not possible to link directly to a given page/article, it is scanned at only 400 dpi etc. etc.) but hey, here they are at last, for everyone to study.

By far the most colourful (in my first browsing of the archive) is cote No. 154, on ‘systeme de pseudo-droites’. You can download it in full (a mere 173 Mb).

As you know, the Montpellier notes are only a fraction of the material Grothendieck left behind. By far the largest (though probably not the most interesting, mathematically) are the Lasserre notes, which to the best of my knowledge are in the care of a Parisian bookseller.

Here’s an idea:
almost every page of No. 154 (written on ancient computer-output) looks like a painting. No doubt, most math departments in the world would love to acquire one framed page of it. Perhaps this can raise enough money to safeguard the Lasserre notes…

July 13th, 2017

le Tour de France in Grothendieck’s backyard

If you want to see the scenery Grothendieck enjoyed in his later years, watch the Tour de France tomorrow.

It starts in Saint-Girons where he went to the weekly market (and died in hospital, november 13th 2014), ending in Foix with 3 category 1 climbs along the way (familiar to anyone familiar with Julia Stagg’s expat-lit set at ‘Fogas’ or you can read my own post on Fogas).

It will not pass through Lasserre (where G spend the final 20 years of his life) which is just to the north of Saint-Girons.

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