“A Transfinite Syntax”: Modernism and Mathematics

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The way in which the new physics of the early twentieth-century influences modernist literature has long been studied. But the late nineteenth-century also saw a revolution in mathematics in the work of Cantor, Dedekin and others, and its influence on literary thinking has been less recognized, despite vectors existing for the reception of this thinking in popular writing by Eddington and Russell. In particular the ideas of the real number line, trans-finite numbers, cardinality and density provided ways or resolving difficulties about the foundations of the mathematical representation of reality which had persisted from Zeno to Bergson. In this talk, I will discuss a range of responses to this mathematic revolution, focussing in particular on the use of transfinite numbers in Laura Riding and George Oppen, but discussing a range of other writers for whom mathematical thinking is important.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
JournalAffirmations: of the modern
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2019


  • Modernism
  • mathematics
  • Georg Cantor
  • Laura Riding
  • George Oppen

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