I receive a very important comment the other day from Jonathan who uses the JD2718 to identify himself on his blog. His comment was in reference to axiomatic mathematical poetry. However, I think his question is much broader.
Jonathan expressed the following:
Abraham, cats, Gods.
One, numbers, successors.
Which is really more poetic?
This is a sticky question because I want to avoid slipping into the bottomless void of the “What is poetry? What is art?” question However; I can discuss elements of poetry from which my idea of poetics is derived. I also want to add the following statements are not a value judgment on the aesthetics of mathematics. The mathematical aesthetic is one of the most wonderful experiences one may realize.
To answer Jonathans question; I am assuming that his question implies that pure mathematics is poetic. It is my view that pure mathematics is not poetic. Furthermore, the quick and dirty response to this question is that pure mathematics is different from poetics the same as pure mathematics is different from physics. Physics and Mathematical poetry, although vastly different, live in the realm of applied mathematics. Even when we ‘feel’ that pure mathematics is poetic, we are applying mathematics to some preconceived notion of what we believe poetry is without actually applying it. We may choose to argue that mathematics contains elements of poetry such as rhythm and pattern. Yet one may argue that it is not maths that has poetic elements but poetry that has mathematical elements. For the sake of argument, let us say that poetry possesses the mathematical element of pattern. I would like to make the point that it is difficult to get excited about these metric patterns when taken out of the context of poetry and view in only the light of mathematics. I know we are starting to get away from the intention of our question however, the point I want to make is that the aesthetics of mathematics is much different from the aesthetics of poetry and poetics. The ‘polyaesthetic experience’ that we are discussing is a vector sum experience of the aesthetics of art/language poetry and the aesthetic of mathematics. (They are different aesthetics) If we were to separate the mathematical aesthetic from a language poem how beautiful is it? Now let us look at the aesthetics of mathematical pattern by comparing the beauty of the pattern in iambic pentameter (or any other meter for that matter) to the beauty of self-similar patterns in a mathematically generated fractal. Which is more beautiful? Is the ‘isolated’ metric pattern in poetry more beautiful than a fractal? How about asking, “Is the fractal poetic?” If so what are the elements of poetry in the fractal. Is it the concept of rhythm that makes maths poetic? Are all things displaying rhythm poetic? The point I am trying to produce is that mathematical poetry, makes the structure of mathematics poetic only by application of poetics within that structure. Pure mathematics is not poetic by itself.
When addressing the metric beauty in language poetry; the metric beauty is not relevant to the mathematical pattern per se. It is relevant to the aesthetics involved in the relationship of the pattern to the words and the sounds of the words with its synesthetic energy igniting the meaning of the words as they point further to the cultural and historical relationships within the poem. The mathematical aesthetic devoid of the poetic aesthetic plays an extremely limited role in the aesthetics of language poetry. Yes, there is maths in the poetry however, break it out of the poetry, isolate it and I believe it becomes aesthetically trivial.
Let us look at metaphor – Does pure mathematics express metaphor? How could it? for pure mathematics is more about illuminating the logical structure of thinking. The key word that I want to stress is “logical”. Metaphor requires logical tension if not paradox to function as a concept to bridge the infinite to the concrete. However, I must say that mathematics does provide us with the linguistic structure to express metaphor. Again, this is the issue of pure mathematics relative to applied mathematics. To express metaphor you have to have an application of poetic concepts. You need a source domain and a target domain. (see the section on metaphor structure at Wikipedia) Pure mathematics does not have these metaphoric domains until we apply the poetic idea to the structure of maths as we do in mathematical poetry. The essay “Polyaesthetics and mathematical poetry” goes into more detail on this matter as well as an interview conducted by poetic aesthetician Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino. The interview will soon be published at “word for/word” an online journal of new poetry. I hope to announce the interview soon at this blog.