Mathematics in Literature
In this project, you will explore relationships between mathematics
and literature and poetry. Your personal interests will need to guide
this project, so feel free to modify what I have written below. You
should probably check with me if you make a large change.
Brainstorm a list of terms and concepts that people often use to analyze
poetry and literature. You may wish to look through a literature or
poetry textbook or collection to jog your thinking.
Brainstorm a list of terms and concepts that relate to mathematics.
Once your lists are quite long, look at each of the terms on the
literature and poetry list and think about whether those words would
relate to mathematics. Do they relate in the same way? Look at the
words on your mathematics list. Would any of them have meaning in the
context of studying literature or poetry?
Part of your project should summarize your conclusions about the
connections between mathematics and literature and poetry based on
your brainstorming and the other reading and activties below.
Mathematics and Poetry
Kate Strange has a webpage celebrating connections between mathematics
and poetry at
http://www.kate.stange.com/mathweb/mathpoet.html. Read her
comments about the relationship between mathematics and poetry.
Read Asparagus X Plus Y [An Arithmetic and Poetic Error] by Ken
Poetry is meant to be read. How do you as a reader choose to say
these poems? For example, how do you choose whether to read the
numbers as single digits strung together rather than as composite
numbers? (That is, when you see 12 34 56 do you say
'one-two, three-four, five-six' or 'twelve, thirty-four, fifty-six'?)
How do you as a reader insert pauses? How might you speed up or slow
down your reading to bring out an aspect of the poem? What difference
does it make to the poem to read it one way rather than another?
What poetic elements can be contained in a poem that has only numbers
and punctutation? For example, can such a poem have a climax?
symbolism? rhythm? rhyme? What else?
Try your hand at writing poetry consisting mostly or only of numbers.
Try to do this with a poetic sense (not randomly). What are you able
to express through this approach? What types of thoughts or feelings
are expressable? What types of thoughts or feelings are not
expressable in this way?
Some Mathematical Literature
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Alice in Wonderland and
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
These four books are classic short works of mathematical fiction.
Although most of these were written for children or young adults, they
all play with mathematical ideas in a wonderful way that makes them
good reading for any age! (Some are available on the web.) Read a
section from one of these books that relates to mathematical
concepts. (If you choose one of Lewis Carroll's books, you may wish to
consult The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner for some
pointers on finding the mathematics behind the scenes!)
Explain the relevant mathematical ideas behind the section or
sections you read, and discuss how the authors weave these ideas in
with elements of the story, with social and political commentary, and
so on. You should make sure that you discuss the mathematics in
sufficient depth. You may need to find another source to learn more
about these mathematical ideas. You may wish to think further about
the mathematics the authors are discussing and draw your own
conclusions about the situation. Feel free to be creative with this
part. I am expecting some significant mathematical content in your
project at this point.
Another Possible Direction
Being restricted to a certain structure sometimes enables greater
creativity precisely because it is not permissable to say things just
any old way. You may wish to investigate different types of rhythm,
syllable, and meter rules that have been used to create poems, plays,
and other formal types of literature. How does the use of this
imposed mathematical structure affect the way the works are perceived?
Playwrights sometimes use different structures to separate the speech
of various characters. For example, strong rhyming couplets can make
the words of the speaker seem predestined, and so they are sometimes
reserved for the speech of divine or wise characters. Can you find an
example of this sort of usage?