I’m curious what members of the LCSNA think of this article on the Sunday New York Times Opinion Page, “Algebra in Wonderland” by Melanie Bayley. The author is a “doctoral candidate in English literature at Oxford University.” The article goes thru the various vignettes of AAiW explaining declaratively how each scene stands as a parody of the new mathematics emerging in the 19th century. After a scene-by-scene breakdown of the book (the pig baby is a comment on topology, naturally), she wraps up:
Alice will go on to meet the Queen of Hearts, a “blind and aimless Fury,” who probably represents an irrational number. (Her keenness to execute everyone comes from a ghastly pun on axes — the plural of axis on a graph.)
How do we know for sure that “Alice” was making fun of the new math? The author never explained the symbolism in his story. But Dodgson rarely wrote amusing nonsense for children: his best humor was directed at adults. In addition to the “Alice” stories, he produced two hilarious pamphlets for colleagues, both in the style of mathematical papers, ridiculing life at Oxford.
It’s a good article to alert the newspaper reading public that Carroll was also a mathematician, but I’m nervous about all of this “probably represents” business, as if she finally figured out the true meanings in Carroll’s book. And what’s with statements like “Dodgson rarely wrote amusing nonsense for children”?