Monday, August 13, 2018

Speaking, understanding . . . where is truth?

     A review in the Washington Post of a new book about Oscar Wilde opens with this quote:
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person."
and Wilde's words have gotten me thinking again about subtleties of language.
     Also in recent news, the death of Nobelist V. S. Naipaul (1932-2018) -- and here is one of  this writer's thought-provoking statements:

            Non-fiction can distort;
            facts can be realigned.
            But fiction never lies.            V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River

My own thoughts about language most often focus on the condensed languages of mathematics and poetry -- and the need for frequent re-readings before understanding arrives.  Here, below, I include a poem by Stephanie Strickland that speaks eloquently of the struggles in which our minds engage concerning objects and the symbols that represent them -- struggles that are involved in creating and reading both mathematics and poetry . . .

     Striving All My Life     by Stephanie Strickland

Maxwell said: There is no more powerful way
     to introduce knowledge to the mind than … as many different
     ways as we can, wrenching the mind   

     from the symbols to the objects and from the objects
     back to the symbols.

     Maxwell said: I have been striving all my life to be free
     of the yoke of Cartesian co-ordinates. I found
     such an instrument in

     quaternions. Do I need quaternions
     to talk about light?

     the square of quaternions
     is negative. But Gibbs’s vectors, uncouth
     seemingly, work

     well, in any dimension, with a very
     great capability for
     interpreting space relations.

     Rukeyser said: Critical minds
     that approach the world with love
     have but one possible

     defense—to build a system.
     Rayleigh said, I protest
     the compression.

     Gibbs: I myself concluded
     that the paper was
     too long.

Stephanie Strickland‘s “Striving All My Life” was first published in The Kenyon Review in 1995, then in her collection True North (Notre Dame Press, 1997),  and also is included in the collection:  Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008) edited by Sarah Glaz and me.

     In closing, a return to Oscar Wilde; the website Brainy Quotes pairs the statement quoted above with this line that echoes, in part, the quote from Naipaul:
"Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
Oscar Wilde wrote poetry -- but it is said that he was hopelessly bad at arithmetic.

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