Formal Extremities

01Feb21

Remembering Alina

Roberto Matta ‘The Unthinkable’

In August of 2015 Alina Poppa and myself along with several others present at PAF (the Performing Arts Forum) toyed with the idea of a film and text series that would emphasize the mind altering and horrific aspects of mathematics. We created an incomplete list, watching the first film Triangle, and then the idea was set on a shelf and half-forgotten. At the time, I do not think that I realized that the idea was not a mere curiosity for us, but that, especially for Alina and myself, that it was in fact a core concept for us both, namely, that there was something radically alien about the formal and the ways in which it bridged the domains of thought and body, especially in terms of navigation, horizon, and understanding thought in its radically minimalist dimension.

Calculated Escape: Cube/Death and the Compass

Cube is a sci-fi horror thriller in which a group of people find themselves trapped in a maze filled with traps and only factoring prime numbers guarantees one can pass into a safe room and potentially outside. Geopolitical capitalist machinery creates a kettle of stress and guilt (utility and psychosis become radically indistinguishable). But one should not collapse the scene of the crime and the method. Capitalism is the prison/prism of all prisons.

“In your labyrinth there are three lines too many,” he said at last. “I know of a Greek labyrinth which is a single straight line. Along this line so many philosophers have lost themselves that a mere detective might well do so too.”

‘It’s all the same machine, right? The Pentagon, multinational corporations, the police! You do one little job, you build a widget in Saskatoon and the next thing you know it’s two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine!’

Number drills in your dreams: Pi (1997)/“The Nightmare of Professor Squarepunt”

“The mathematician, worn out by a long day’s study of the theories of Pythagoras, at last fell asleep in his chair, where a strange drama visited his sleeping thoughts. The numbers, in this drama, were not the bloodless categories that he had previously supposed them. They were living breathing beings endowed with all the passions which he was accustomed to find in his fellow mathematicians. In his dream he stood at the centre of endless concentric circles. The first circle contained the numbers from i to 10; the second, those from n to 100; the third, those from 101 to 1000; and so on, illimitably, over the infinite surface of a boundless plain. The odd numbers were male; the evens, female. Beside him in the centre stood Pi, the Master of Ceremonies. Pi’s face was masked, and it was understood that none could behold it and live. But piercing eyes looked out from the mask, inexorable, cold and enigmatic. Each number had its name clearly marked upon its uniform. Different kinds of numbers had different uniforms and  different shapes: the squares were tiles, the cubes were dice, round numbers were balls, prime numbers were indivisible cylinders, perfect numbers had crowns. In addition to variations of shape, numbers also had variations of colour. The first seven concentric rings had the seven colours of die rainbow, except that 10, 100, 1000, and so on, were white, while 13 and 666 were black. When a number belonged to two of these categories for example if, like 1000, it was both round and a cube it wore the more honourable uniform, and the more honourable was that of which there were fewer among the first million numbers.”

Proof Duration: Fermat’s Room/The Pre-Persons

21 (2008)

with selections from Collapse 8

The Oxford Murders (2008) with Wittgenstein

The Dot and the Line (1963)

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin Abbott Abbott

[Carl Sagan on the tesseract from Cosmos]

Agora (2009)

Moebius (1996)

“A Subway Named Moebius” – AJ Deutsch (Ian McEwan’s Solid Geometry)

Conceiving Ada (1997)

Selections from Zeroes and Ones – Sadie Plant



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