Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Flight from Ennui

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 12:00 PM

Post 2310 in yesterday evening’s Short Story links to two posts
from 2006 inspired by Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy—

Thursday, May 25, 2006


May there be an ennui
of the first idea?
What else, prodigious scholar,
should there be?

— Wallace Stevens,
“Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

Related material: The Line.

7:13 PM

Order and Ennui

Meanwhile, back at the Institute
for Advanced Study:

May 25, 4:40 PM —
Research Seminar
(Simonyi Hall Seminar Room) —
Pirita Paajanen,
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:
Zeta functions of
finitely generated infinite groups

Some background cited by Paajanen:

M.P.F. du Sautoy,
“Zeta functions of groups:
The quest for order
versus the flight from ennui,”
Groups St Andrews 2001 in Oxford ,
Volume 1, CUP 2003.

Those who prefer the showbiz
approach to mathematics
(the flight from ennui?) may
enjoy a website giving
further background from du Sautoy.

4:40 PM

The first paragraph of
Zeta Functions of Groups: The Quest for Order
Versus the Flight from Ennui
,” by Marcus du Sautoy,
Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford—

“Mathematics is about the search for patterns,
to see order where others see chaos. We are very lucky
to find ourselves studying a subject which is neither so rigid
that the patterns are easy, yet not too complicated
lest our brains fail to master its complexities.
John Cawelti sums up this interplay perfectly in a book*
not about mathematics but about mystery and romance:
‘if we seek order and security, the result is likely to be
boredom and sameness. But rejecting order for the sake
of change and novelty brings danger and uncertainty…
the history of culture can be interpreted as a dynamic
tension between these two basic impulses…
between the quest for order and the flight from ennui.”’

* John G. Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance:
Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture 
University of Chicago Press, 1976.

[Cawelti cites as his souce on interpreting “the history
of culture” Harry Berger, Jr., “Naive Consciousness and
Culture Change: An Essay in Historical Structuralism
Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association ,
Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring 1973): page 35.]

Here du Sautoy paints mathematicians as seekers of order,
apparently not realizing that the author he approvingly quotes
states that seekers of order face the danger of boredom.

Another danger to seekers
of order is, of course, seeing
order where there is none.


Are you the butterfly?

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