From my "Pedagogy Notebooks" (2013): Yes, poetry and music and even mathematics! My students in my creativity class today st...

Poetry, Music, and Mathematics || Azfar Hussain

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From my "Pedagogy Notebooks" (2013):

Yes, poetry and music and even mathematics! My students in my creativity class today stimulatingly explored certain connections among poetry, music, and mathematics, while even choreographing some lines from Dante's _Divine Comedy_--lines that deploy geometrical images and metaphors with superb effects! Our conversation surrounding the metaphor of "squaring the circle" led to a fascinating discussion concerning numbers themselves--numbers that are rational, irrational, algebraic, and even transcendental (and I was continuously thinking of Pablo Neruda's famous "Ode to Numbers" side by side with Alain Badiou's _Number and Numbers_), while we also talked about the effects of what are called "logarithmic spirals." And, finally, the class as a whole, I thought, experienced the sheer beauty of mathematics itself, as we watched and discussed a few videos about the infinite geometry of doodling itself, making the point that to doodle is to produce an infinite number of beautiful spatial patterns--patterns that can sing, dance, and act. Is geometry itself music spatialized? The answer in the class was in the affirmative. And we were left with the idea that, to misquote Anton Chekov, mathematics--like Vodka--can do crazy things!


As I was re-reading Jacques Attali’s provocative book _Noise: The Political Economy of Music_ and Sal Restivo’s brilliant work _The Social Relations of Physics, Mysticism, and Mathematics_ side-by-side, a few ideas started haunting me once again.

To begin with, as it has been said, poetry, after all, is inspired mathematics. For both poetry and mathematics do not necessarily deliver "truths" as such, but continue to suggest and provoke all possible combinations and configurations of symbolic and tropic phenomena, which, however, remain anchored in the material world in the last instance.

And, of course, music and mathematics—as many musicologists in particular have shown—speak to one another in various ways. But their exchanges do not merely reside in how they symbolically represent our world, but also lie in the ways in which both ‘make’ and mobilize abstractions that—however heightened and ‘pure’—can by no means transcend the material world itself.

Thus a political economy of music at this point must pay attention to how music produces and reproduces itself in either a contradictory or a complementary response (depends!) to the capitalist law of value itself. And as far as mathematics in particular is concerned, it can function rhetorically as it does in more ways than one.

Think, then, of the ways in which mathematics, like poetry and other allied discourses, uses analogies, homologies, contiguities, substitutions, equivalences, and so on—or, say, simile, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and so on—while also mathematics, like music in particular and other allied discourses, uses refrains and repetitions, and even improvises so many different kinds of syllogisms (‘ratiocination’ has also to do with ‘ratio,’ for instance) in its attempts to persuade.

But all mathematical ‘tropologics’—if you will—finally remain anchored in the material world insofar as the act of making connections and combinations—an act that is of course common to mathematics, music, poetry, and rhetoric all at once—cannot operate in vacuo, but certainly needs a base. And this very base is the actual, material world.

And poetry, music, mathematics, and rhetoric all—anchored as they are in the world—can play a politically significant role in bringing about even radical changes in the world itself, if not just by transcending it.


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