Ode to Mathematics

By Jake Young 

The integer is a beautiful concept.
After zero’s empty mouth,
1’s declarative stance,
the seduction of 2, the promise
of 3—whole numbers,
the totality of individuals
separated by infinite divisions.
Yet e always strikes a chord with me,
the base of natural logs,
transcendental constant always
approaching infinity, always limited
by its function, as we all are,
less famous than π, but just as irrational.
Each day is a limited sequence
that transcends the algebraic simplicity
of the golden ratio: the spiraled conch shell,
Da Vinci’s De Divina Proportione,
the equation of the human form,
the mathematics of 32 teeth inlaid
in a single mouth whose function
is argument and the assignment
of value to particular domains—
young and old, rich and poor,
simple or complex.

Want more of Fjords’ monthly verse? Find them all here. 

Identity politics has become a game of lines, rules, intra-factional speech-policing and infinite divisibility. While it is undeniable that diversity is infinite, that very infinity of diversity makes it nearly impossible to draw solid lines in any landscape of society without exercising material political power over what people can do, how they do what they do, and what they can say in and about their doing. Blackness means any infinite number of things that people who are marked as Black through colonial domination and demarcation are doing with their lives. Black means woman, Black means trans, Black means Muslim, Black means British, Black means Caribbean, Black means American, Black means South Asian, Black means Palestinian– but Black doesn’t mean those things if we are disallowed from saying so at critical junctures of discourse. More importantly, in ‘post’-colonial modernity, “Black” means abject, signaling and forever calling upon death; it means being born into ghettos, slums, occupied territories, and on reservations; to a White world Blackness means a totality of all that is disreputable and in this world that includes Islam. Black is beautiful and resistant when we see Blackness as more than its colonial demarcation and we imagine Blackness beyond the essentialist confines into which it was born.
April 26, 1915

In the spirit of pious resignation Thomas à Kempis wrote: “Meddle not with things that be too high for thee, but study such things as yield compunction to the heart rather than elevation to the head.” I like to put alongside this the delightful passage from Sir Thomas Browne’s “Religio": “I love to lose myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an O altitudo! ’Tis my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection.” Recreation is great!

Like Sir Thomas Browne I have always meddled with things that are too high for me, not, certainly, as a recreation, but as a result of intense intellectual discomfort. I find a sulky delight in pulverizing the intellect by thinking on the time for example it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth, upon the number of stars in the Milky Way, upon the infinite divisibility of matter, upon Sir Oliver Lodge’s dictum that there are more atoms in a thimble-full of water than there are thimble-fulls of water in the Atlantic Ocean. When a geologist speaks of the Cambrian, I want to cross myself; when great formulas like “intrastellar space” or “secular time” thunder in my ears, I want to crawl away like a rat into a hole and die.

I have always meddled with things that are too high for me, my first adventure being Berkeley at the age of fifteen, a philosopher who captured my amazement over a period of many months. Like a little London gamin, I run about the great city of the mind and hang on behind the big motor lorries of thought. “Looked at from the point of view of multiplicity, duration disintegrates into a powder of moments, none of which endures, each being an instantaneity.” No matter if I do not understand Bergson: in a sentence like that I catch at least the rumour of some tremendous thought. Again under the heading “Wall Street": “Some securities showed the effects of distribution under cover of an advance in volatile issues.” It is like putting one’s ear to a telegraph pole on top of a wind-swept heath… . Then there is William James and Schiller, Pragmatism and Humanism, those other grand peut-êtres.

* * * * *

It may be that ultimately all speculation and belief will become extinguished by one universal certainty. Man’s mind that animates this globe may continue to ripen and develop into complete knowledge able to wing its way throughout the universe. Mental telepathy will dispense with our present clumsy means of intercourse; the Spiritualists perhaps, will investigate the next world as exactly as the scientific men will have done this; all disease be vanquished and all perfection attained by easy miracles (vide the Christian Scientists), and even God Himself a familiar figure walking abroad upon the earth, the well-pleased captain of the planet. In other words, a cosmic enterprise brought to a thoroughly successful conclusion by the triumph of infinite mind over matter.