Call for Papers: “Less than Nothing”

Call for Papers: “Less than Nothing: Dark Mathematics in the Romantic Period”

Organized by Aaron Ottinger

International Conference on Romanticism, October 20-23, 2016 (abstracts due May 22, 2016) Colorado Springs, Colorado

William Frend complains in his Preface to Principles of Algebra (1796): “[A number] submits to be taken away from another number greater than itself but to attempt to take it away from a number less than itself is ridiculous.” Frend’s rejection of negative numbers was not an isolated case. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, numerous mathematical theories, especially those related to nothing and the negative, were contested in favor of a traditional emphasis on positive quantities, Euclidean geometry, and practical applications.

Rather than focus on accepted, mainstream approaches, this panel invites papers investigating the “dark side” of mathematics in the Romantic period. How can such a dark side be identified? What were the philosophical implications of radical, strange, or weird mathematical concepts and theories? In what capacity did mathematics infect, parasite, or adapt the other arts, sciences, religion, and moral philosophy—or vice versa? How did literature support, suppress, or develop its own brand of dark mathematics? How can studying the controversial mathematics of the time re-shape our understanding of the Romantic period? And how do the darker mathematics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries create a clearer conversation between the Romantic period and the role of mathematics in the arts, sciences, and humanities today?

All math-related papers will be considered but suggested essay topics include: negative numbers, negation, imaginaries, zero, subtraction, abstraction, involution, non-Euclidean geometries, as well as varieties of the absolute, infinitude, and nothing.

Please submit a 250 word abstract for 15-20 minute papers by May 22nd to Aaron Ottinger: