Mathematical pleasure as a means of resisting dominant economic power

That’s one of the recurring themes of MWA, but it took a Lecturer in Writing at Case Western Reserve to notice it and to put it into words.  I haven’t been able to express it so succinctly and directly, in part for the reasons outlined in the last paragraph of this post, but also because, unlike Joe DeLong, I don’t have a PhD in English and Comparative Literature, and therefore I’m not able to draw on quotations like this one from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble:

I do not believe that poststructuralism entails the death of autobiographical writing, but it does draw attention to the difficulty of the ‘I’ to express itself through the language that is available to it…

or to allude to Audre Lorde’s “concept of the erotic” in sentences like:

by sharing their passion, these authors are very much deploying the erotic in a manner consonant with the interpersonal and political dimensions advocated by Lorde.

“These authors” are Edward Frenkel (Love and Math), Cédric Villani (Birth of a Theorem), and yours truly.  DeLong sees the three books as Contemporary Memoirs of Mathematical Passion, the title of his article, which he has submitted to a scholarly journal and which I very much hope will soon be published, because I agree with practically everything in it.  And that’s something that practically never happens — except when I’m reading a mathematical article!

But to return to politics, here’s a pertinent quotation from Lorde’s Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches:

The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need . . . is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment.

The word pleasure, as used in MWA, is what DeLong calls an “ideologically “inconvenient” emotional categor[y],” a status it shares with the word Love in Frenkel’s title or with Villani’s claim (in this Guardian interview) that his book “is almost entirely emotions.”

Is this part of a trend that began with The Joy of x and continues with The Mathematics of Love, or has DeLong identified a specific ideological “inconvenience” in the three books he chose for his article?


4 thoughts on “Mathematical pleasure as a means of resisting dominant economic power

  1. Jon Awbrey

    For a long time now I’ve been trying to understand the dynamics of inquiry, the forces that drive us from confusion to clarity, uncertainty to certainty, the cloud of unknowing to a reasonable facsimile of knowledge. I remember a long ago psychology course that rubricized the dimensions of human experience with the acronym CAMS {Cognitive, Affective, Motor, Semantic} and all those come to play in this ballpark.

    The affective spectrum ranges from pain to pleasure, Unlust to Lust — and skipping past the spectre of sado-mathematicism we may well begin with this bit of rhyming reason recorded by Herodotus:

    τὰ δὲ μοι παθήματα ἐόντα ἀχάριτα μαθήματα γέγονε.

    My sufferings, though painful, have been my lessons.


    1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      Or according to the dictionaries at, it could be translated

      My sufferings, though without grace [unpleasant, thankless], have brought my mathematics into being.

      This would presuppose that Croesus was explaining to Cyrus that he was a mathematician.

      But sufferings at the hands of dominant economic power (like Croesus, presumably) have no obvious redeeming feature.


      1. Jon Awbrey

        There is naturally the hope or hypothesis that present mathematics derived from previous pathematics can be communicated to the wheelhouse in time to save the Titanic of State.

        Faint hope, I know …


  2. Jon Awbrey

    As a onetime percussionist I can appreciate that cowbell has its moments, but the ideological inconvenience of pleasure as a clarion call, with all its suggestions of a purely hedonistic calculus, can be relieved by relating it to the category of harmony. After all, inconvenience, non-coming-together, connotes asynchronicity, discord, disharmony, and harmony has its own roots entangled with arithmetic, arariskein, “to fit”.



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