Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics

Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics

Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics

Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics

Excerpt

In this book I argue that the period from 1890 to 1930 saw mathematics go through a modernist transformation. Here, modernism is defined as an autonomous body of ideas, having little or no outward reference, placing considerable emphasis on formal aspects of the work and maintaining a complicated—indeed, anxious—rather than a naïve relationship with the day-to-day world, which is the de facto view of a coherent group of people, such as a professional or discipline-based group that has a high sense of the seriousness and value of what it is trying to achieve.

This brisk definition is certainly compatible with what many creators of the artistic modernisms thought they were doing. Consider, for example, these remarks by Guillaume Apollinaire from his The Beginnings of Cubism, published in 1912, where, speaking of many young painters, he said:

These painters, while they still look at nature, no longer imitate it, and carefully avoid
any representation of natural scenes which they may have observed, and then re
constructed from preliminary studies. Real resemblance no longer has any importance,
since everything is sacrificed by the artist to truth, to the necessities of a higher na
ture whose existence he assumes, but does not lay bare. The subject has little or no
importance any more. … Thus we are moving towards an entirely new art which
will stand, with respect to painting as envisaged heretofore, as music stands to literature.
It will be pure painting, just as music is pure literature. … This art of pure painting, if it
succeeds in freeing itself from the art of the past, will not necessarily cause the latter to
disappear; the development of music has not brought in its train the abandonment of the
various genres of literature, nor has the acridity of tobacco replaced the savoriness of
food.

In Chipp 1968, 222–223.

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