Literature and Mathematics: Figures, Topoi and Transferences across the Disciplines
11-12 June 2010, Linklater Rooms, University of Aberdeen
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When Alain Badiou divulges not only the numerical basis of modern ontology but also the reasons for the latter’s purported incoherence, he implicitly makes a more general case for the literary turn of mathematics—that is, for its implication in a system of slippery, philosophically-indeterminate tropes. Of course, we might come at this situation from the opposite direction. Derrida, de Man, Deleuze, and other theorists anchored some of their most bracing arguments for the literary basis of philosophy in rigorous readings of Husserlian geometry, Cartesian analytics, and Leibnizian calculus. In doing so, they essentially portrayed literature as an extension of mathematical reasoning, replete with all the ‘incompleteness’ and ‘uncertainty’ which mathematics in the modern era implies.
However we imagine the relationship between literature and mathematics, it seems apparent that scholars over the past decade or two have become increasingly willing to think more rigorously about the interface between these disciplines. Conversations across the disciplines now link diverse literary genres to mathematical practices—ranging from traditional exercises in geometry and algebra to newer developments in topology and stochastics—for reasons which include expanded appreciation of the lessons of history as well as ambitious attempts at problem-solving and policy-making. The purpose of the Literature and Mathematics conference at the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Modern Thought is to highlight some of the most exciting cross-disciplinary work in these fields, and also to foster discussion about practical ways to abrogate the lingering effects of the stifling ‘two cultures debate’.
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