Mathematics in Literature

Lorna B. Hanes
Meeting Alhambra, ISAMA-BRIDGES Conference Proceedings (2003)
Pages 109–118


The fiction of the great Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges, lies at one of the rare points of intersection between classical literature and mathematics. Several of Borges' short stories have a structure that is based on a mathematical concept, such as the infinite, recursion, duality or chance. Through these stories, Borges allows the same beauty that the mathematician experiences through her understanding these concepts, to be experienced by a larger nonmathematical audience. In my first paper on Borges' fiction, The Poetry of Infinity (Bridges, 2001), I examined Borges' use of mathematical ideas as metaphors in his fiction. I looked at four of his most famous stories, The Library of Babel, The Garden of Forking Paths, The Book of Sand and The Circular Ruins. This current paper is a continuation of my exploration of Borges work, and in it I examine several more of his stories and the mathematics they contain. The mathematical concepts discussed will include duality, recursion, probability, as well as more basic ideas like the consistency of the laws of arithmetic, the use of variables and the need for mathematical abstraction.