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The Mathematical ImaginationOn the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory$
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Matthew Handelman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823283835

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823283835.001.0001

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The Problem of Mathematics in Critical Theory

The Problem of Mathematics in Critical Theory

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction The Problem of Mathematics in Critical Theory
Source:
The Mathematical Imagination
Author(s):

Matthew Handelman

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823283835.003.0001

This introduction lays out the eclipse of mathematics in Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s self-fashioning of critical theory and proposes an alternative paradigm for mathematics in critical thought, which this study calls negative mathematics. Radicalizing Edmund Husserl’s linkage of the mathematization of nature and the worsening political situation in Europe in the 1930s, the foundational phase of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical project defined itself against mathematics as the reification and instrumentalization of reason. In the work of Gershom Scholem, Franz Rosenzweig, and Siegfried Kracauer, however, negative mathematics—mathematical approaches to lack, absence, and discontinuity—revealed ways of expressing Jewish experiences and perspectives otherwise erased by secularization and modernization. This development of negative mathematics is situated in a history of German-Jewish intellectual appeals to mathematics since Moses Mendelssohn. In the hands of Scholem, Rosenzweig, and Kracauer, it crystalized into theory that drew on mathematics to reconfigure the limits of representing minoritarian groups and ideas.

Keywords:   critical theory, Frankfurt School, German-Jewish thought, Husserl, mathematics, metaphor, negative mathematics

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