PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Colm Toibin on Thom Gunn's Letters Allice Hiller and Sasha Dugdale in conversation David Herman on the life of Edward W. Said Jena Schmitt on Hope Mirrlees Brian Morton: Now the Trees
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 258, Volume 47 Number 4, March - April 2021.

'Parabolas of love': Poetry and the Philosophy of Mathematics
Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry by Emily Rolfe Grosholz (Springer), €34
Andrew Wynn Owen

Great Circles is remarkable for its compound accomplishment, fusing knowledge of poetry, mathematics, and philosophy, and putting forward persuasive arguments about connections between poetry and mathematics. Some connections refer to shared foundational interests in ontology. Some refer to parts of the subject matter of poetry, and indeed of our general understanding of the world, that are subjects of mathematical investigation (e.g. the infinite, circles, fractals, particularly as they participate in cosmology). The book is also peppered with excerpts from Grosholz’s remarkable poetical works. These interludes movingly explore the kinds of feelings (wonder, perplexity, joy, etc.) that the ideas prompt. I will attempt some summary, then add a few thoughts.

Part I, ‘A Life in Mathematics and Poetry’, which includes Chapters 1–4 (‘The House of Childhood’, ‘Music and Hyperspace’, ‘Great Books’, ‘Home, Cambridge, Paris: A Family’), contains moving oscillation between subjective reminiscence and objective knowledge, a juxtaposition that will be of interest again in the book’s coda. There is discussion of the use of ambiguity in poetry; how ambiguity can give rise to mathematical discovery; how a sphere can be everted. A section on Ernst Cassirer leads to reflections on myth: ‘Cassirer concludes that philosophy’s task is not to eliminate myth but to understand it, locating it within the whole (rich, plural, unstable) system of culture’ (48). Cassirer believed in ‘the objectivity of the artistic imagination’ (45). His work is important for its emphasis on many-sided awareness, ‘Opposing the tendency to elevate a single kind of symbolic form and deny legitimacy to others’: ‘the ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image