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Math as Corpse Pose

February 20, 2017

What a hiatus.  Not long after my last post in October, the election cycle ramped up to such a level of screeching that many of us couldn’t hear ourselves think.  And since the election itself, many of us have been struggling just to get out of bed and face the world, much less practice being in and being with the world.  And since the inauguration, we’ve been too angry to focus on anything that hasn’t been overtly political or that might smack of self-indulgence in a time of crisis.

But last weekend I managed to pick up and open Manuel Castells’ Networks of Outrage and Hope. And I’m excited again to be on this math journey, even though it has stalled a little.  I’m taking MATH 140 for the third time this semester.  I dropped it this summer for a lot of good reasons.  I took it again in the fall and saw it through all the way to the bitter (BITTER) end when the final exam knocked my barely-passing average down to a D.

So here I am, for, the third time. Things are vaguely familiar, and the repetition of material is replacing my frustration with a sense of calm.  Muckelbauer in The Future of Invention talks about the “inventive singularity within repetition itself” (44). He says he is “not so much interested, for example, in getting Plato right,” but rather “in orienting toward the singular rhythms that circulate through his writing” (45).  When I think about that, as I struggle to complete literally the same set of problems from the same book for the third time, unaware of everything except my pencil, the calculator, and that smooth, seductive graph paper (I LOVE IT SO MUCH), the repetition does not feel like a waste of time.  Far from it.  The two-hour block is functioning as a vacuum, as a sensory deprivation tank. Now that I in my third repetition, I can anticipate some quizzes and lectures as smoothly as if we were moving through a daily same-but-different sun salutation sequence. The logarithm as mode of unification, pencil grip as mudra.  Trigonometric identities leading to Shavasana. This third-time math class has become a meditative chant through which a hidden rhythm is emerging.

When I am returned to the outside-math world and come face-to-face with (what feels to me like) political madness (for example the multiple readings of Coretta Scott King’s letter by Udall, Warren, Brown, Sanders, Merkley), I think I am able to focus on the emerging rhythm and repetition rather than the cacophony of certain voices and the attempted suppression of certain others.  Even in my failure, especially in my failure, this third-time-around math experience is proving to be an especially valuable one when processing the multiple failures of the world around me.

 

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From → Algebra

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