Maddening mathematics: the kinship of the rational and the irrational in the writing of Robert Musil
Abstract:Mathematics plays a central thematic role in both the novella Young Törless (1906) and the incomplete novel A Man Without Qualities (1930–2) by Robert Musil. First published in a period in which logicians sought to eliminate contradictions in the foundations of the discipline, these texts employ mathematical introspection in the attempt to resolve metaphysical riddles. This endeavour to use mathematics as a language for solving philosophical puzzles ultimately fails in both works. At the same time, the texts suggest that an overzealous exploration of rational mathematics ironically leads to a flirtation with irrational thought and, if not checked, mental illness. This paper examines how the thematization of mathematics problematizes a binary, discrete distinction between the rational and irrational.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: December 1, 2007
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- Journal of Romance Studies promotes innovative critical work in the areas of linguistics, literature, performing and visual arts, media, material culture, intellectual and cultural history, critical and cultural theory, psychoanalysis, gender studies, social sciences, and anthropology. The primary focus is on those parts of the world that speak, or have spoken, French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese, but work on other cultures may be included. Issues cross national and disciplinary boundaries in order to stimulate new ways of thinking about cultural history and practice.
Published in Association with the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London.
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