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· Math and Lit By Artful Dodging ·

It's clear Scott Buchanan's Poetry and Mathematics (1929) isn't turning up today. I've been looking for it here. "What are the odds of its lying low in my shop, office, bedroom, or study?" I have thought. Maybe I'll have to kiss it goodbye, then buy another. "What are my odds?"

I'm in such a quandry because, as Mr. Buchanan claims, the rational world of math and the analogical world of lit are together cut from the same pattern, with technology and text — ratio and analogy — being "necessary reciprocals." Although I'm in fact a bit skeptical, I understand his point — one even made implicitly by his rivals.

Take James E. Miller, Jr., for example:

[P]recision and exactness [Miller writes], if it ever exists at all, is more likely to turn up in mathematical equations or chemical formulas [note here his two number disagreements]. This is not to say that there can never be some kind of clarification of meaning by a shifting and changing of language. But it is to say that any suggestion that there can be an absolute precision or a final exactness in language is doomed to lead to frustration and disappointment. The equation or formula, reduced to an arrangement of precise symbols, has the character of the simple, prolonged sound of a pitch pipe, striking all ears with equivalent wavelengths of sound. A sentence in words, even of the simplest nature, has the character of a series of chords, offering a medley of sounds, vibrations, nuances and subtle combinations, unpredictable resonances — all sending out varying wavelengths of sound, striking different eardrums differently, and arousing different responses, some minor, others major. As other sentences are added, and paragraph piles on paragraph, the complexity multiplies geometrically, and countless reverberations sound and resound. Meaning in language conceived in this way is not, then, a matter of precision and exactness but a matter of resonance and reverberation, around, below, above, as well as in the words and linguistic structures. James E. Miller, Jr., Word, Self, Reality: The Rhetoric of Imagination, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972, 77.

Now Miller has it right, of course — and we shouldn't really encircle his odd numbers — but it is ironic that in defending linguistic imprecision he leans so on the language of music and mathematics. It's as though of necessity his textual substance here begs for support technological style. What he really needs, maybe, is the more artful linguistic aid of my helpful friend Odd, The Norwegian Mathematician.

Do enjoy!

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Ah, spring fever!

Posted by Huldah Marguerite on April 29, 2004 05:22 PM

Penn State's Emily Grosholz seems also to have caught it, though she hasn't lost her copy of Buchanan's book.

Posted by Styles on May 1, 2004 09:37 AM


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