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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2008

E 314J • Literature and Mathematics

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34300 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM

Course Description

This course is designed to investigate the apparent cultural division between the fields of mathematics and literature, focusing on the long history of fictional works both by and about mathematicians in which mathematics is associated with postmodernism, insanity, and death.

In the course, we will look at the ways in which the properties of literature--character, narrative, theme--combine to create these associations while asking the following questions: How is math treated in fiction during different historical circumstances? What purpose does the theme of mathematics serve fiction authors? How are mathematicians characterized in literary texts? Do mathematicians write differently about their subject than non-mathematicians? Is the common theme of the genius-mathematician-driven-insane-by-his/her-work resisted or appropriated by mathematicians? How do these two different groups--mathematicians and non-mathematicians---value mathematics as knowledge?

The general purpose of the course, then, will be to investigate how the narrative of mathematics inscribed in literature and the ways in which this narrative is (or is not) accepted or rejected by mathematicians.

Grading Policy

Course evaluations will be determined using the Learning Record Students will submit a midterm and final Learning Record consisting of samples of their work, observations of their learning process, and analysis of this data keyed to the course strands and five dimensions of learning. A complete description of the Learning Record can be found at


A selection of three major course readings and various short readings from the following list:
-The Annotated Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott Abbott, Ian Stewart
-VAS: An Opera in Flatland: A Novel, by Steve Tomasula, Stephen Farrell
-The Mathematical Magpie, by Clifton Fadiman
-Imaginary Numbers: An Anthology of Marvelous Mathematical Stories, Diversions, Poems, and Musings, by William Frucht
-A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar
-Proof, by David Auburn
-Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
-Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being, by George Lakoff, Rafael E. Nunez, Rafael Nuñez
-Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, by David Foster Wallace


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