Monday, August 11, 2014

Narrated by a mathematician

Recently translated by Adam Morris, the novel With My Dog-Eyes (Melville House, 2014) by Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst (1930-2004) is narrated by a mathematician-poet. That fact of narration is what first drew me to the book. (See also this July 3 posting.)  And then there is (related in Morris's introduction to the translation) Hilst's sad life, perhaps mirrored in her characters.  These are the opening lines from the novel's narrator:

       The cross on my brow
       The facts of what I was
       Of what I will be:
       I was born a mathematician, a magician
       I was born a poet. 

And, then, streams of words from an inventively troubled mind...from page 18:

          I looked at numbers formulas equations theorems and it was a pleasure, 
          a fiery freeze, a bodyguard for wondering alone without
          the speech-rupture of others, logicality and reason and nevertheless 
          the possibility of surprise as though we were unfolding a piece of silk, 
          blue triangles on the fresh surface and suddenly just a dull little grid, 
          lines that we can separate and recompose into triangles again, 
          yes, this we could do, but where did the blue get to, where?

From pages 35-36, some Platonic musings:

                    Vertex Edge and Face
                    I saw the breath of the bird.

    Tetrahedron: four vertices
     Six edges, four faces
                    I'm immersed
     Vivid inside your room.

     Hexagon: eight vertices
     Twelve edges, six faces
     My beak rots
     Over the short page.

     Octahedron: six vertices
     Twelve edges, eight faces
     Swaying of the rooster
     On the nightbranch.

     Icosahedron: twelve vertices
     Thirty edges, twenty faces
     Sweat and ink
     Patrolling the limit.

                    Monstrosity: twenty-one vertices
                    Forty-five edges, twenty-six faces
        Walls of ferns shedding fronds to kill the king . . .

Hilst did not study mathematics but she had out with good friends who knew and liked to talk of the subject (for example, math historian Ubiratan d'Ambrosio -- one of those friends to whom she dedicates the book) -- and from them she learned the words . . . and the dreams . . .  The five Platonic solids were once "the elements," cosmic figures, the Universe.  (Why are there only five?)

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