Mathematics + Poetry + J. M. Coetzee

August 18, 2009

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We’re used to seeing, usually in the New York Review of Books, J. M. Coetzee’s frequent book reviews. And we have first-hand experience (pdf) of what a great job the Notices of the American Mathematical Society does with its book reviews section.
Still, it was a surprise to learn from the complete review that these two reliable patterns of the book reviewing world had combined in such an unexpected way. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising at all, because the book Coetzee reviews in the new issue of Notices (pdf) is all about a similar sort of well suited yet not wholly expected pair. About Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, Coetzee opines that “there are a priori grounds for thinking of poetry and mathematics together, as two rarefied forms of symbolic activity based on the power of the human mind to detect hidden analogies. In other words, an anthology like Strange Attractors, which brings together a hundred and fifty poems with some degree of mathematical content, makes more a priori sense than, say, a collection of famous speeches with some mathematical content.”
Well worth reading for reasons beyond its novelty, the review (along with the small matter of that Nobel-winning oeuvre) reminds us for the nth time what a coup it is to have published books both by and about such a brilliant writer.

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