Shakespeare without topology


The comments on this post have taken a technical turn.  I will eventually have to consult a local homotopy theorist to figure out what’s going on.  In the meantime, I need to think about what I’m going to say at tomorrow’s event at the venerable bookstore that has reportedly become an obligatory stop for Russian and Chinese tour groups in Paris.  Readers in Paris can find out without waiting for my report.


3 thoughts on “Shakespeare without topology

  1. John Sidles

    Readers of Mathematics Without Apologies may enjoy this passage from the early Enlightenment grammarian Dumarsais (1676-1756), as quoted by Michel Foucault in Foucault’s early work Raymond Roussel (1963):

    “Eighteenth century grammarians well understood the marvelous property of languages to extract wealth from their own poverty. […] Let’s consult Dumarsais, one of the subtlest grammarians of the period:

    The same words obviously had to be used in different ways. It’s been found that this admirable expedient could make discourse more energetic and pleasing. Nor has it been overlooked that it could be turned into a game and a source of pleasure. Thus by necessity and by choice, words are often turned away from their original meaning to take on a new one which is more or less removed but that still maintains a connection. This new meaning is called “tropological,” and this conversion, this turning away which produces it, is called a `trope.’

    –Dumarsais, Les Tropes, 2 vols. (Paris 1818)

    In the space created by this displacement, all the forms of rhetoric come to life—the twists and turns, as Dumarsais would put it: catachresis, metonymy, metalepsis, synecdoche, anatonomasis, litotes, metaphors, hypallage, and many other heiroglyphs drawn by the rotation of words into the voluminous mass of language.

    Nowadays even down-to-earth mathematicians like Terry Tao are mindful of the role of synecdoche in helping to extract “mathematical wealth from axiomatic poverty” (as Dumarsais might put it).

    At the close of the 21st century, will mathematicians still be creating literature in the enlightened sense of Dumarsais (as appreciated by Foucault)? Or could/should/will computer assistants purge mathematical writing of catachresis, metonymy, metalepsis, synecdoche (etc.)? Perhaps that’s the sort of question that (as it seems to me) deserves to be discussed at wonderful establishments like Shakespeare and Company.



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