Talk explores the point where mathematics meets literature

Posted by mjs76 at Nov 14, 2011 02:13 PM |
The links between literary fiction and mathematics are explored in a lecture being hosted by the University of Leicester tomorrow.

Tony Mann from the University of Greenwich, President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) will speak on the subject ‘From Sylvia Plath to Bad Sex: uses of mathematics in fiction’. The lecture takes place in the Ken Edwards Building at 7.30pm on Tuesday 15 November 2011.

The BSHM, which organises meetings and publishes a regular bulletin for its members, was founded in 1971 “to promote and encourage research in the history of mathematics and the dissemination of the results of such research.” Tuesday’s event is jointly organised with the East Midlands Branch of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) and is hosted by our Department of Mathematics.

Tony Mann’s lecture is based on a talk which he gave at a BHSM conference in Oxford in 2009 and a related paper which was published in the BSHM Bulletin in June 2010. American poet Sylvia Plath published her only novel The Bell Jar in 1963, in which one of the minor characters is a professional mathematician. This was the first example of a mathematician in a fictional work which Mann had ever seen. A much later example is The Infinities by Irish novelist John Banville which was shortlisted for the Literary Review’s coveted Bad Sex in Fiction Award in 2009.

The talk will draw on my other examples of mathematics and mathematicians in literary and genre fiction, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. However, if the talk follows the precedent of the Bulletin paper, it may skip over the most famous examples of mathematical fiction – Edwin A Abbott’s Flatland and the works of Lewis Carroll – as those have been thoroughly explored in both literary and mathematical terms by many other academics.

For more information about the talk, please contact the IMA East Midlands Branch co-ordinator dr Stephen Hibberd,

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