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Über die Schrift hinaus (2018)
Ulla Berkéwicz

Contributed by Thomas Riepe

The first part of this book is a kind of essay on a "fictional history of ideas": That an initial, prehistoric life of mind, or spirituality, which had been esoteric and outside the scope of linguistic expression, was since then corrupted twice: First by transferring the main role of intellectuality to language and scripture, then by degrading intellect to an instrumental role in struggle for power and money. In this essay portion, mathematician Grigori Perelman is described as representing a mind connecting with the initial way of thought, alien to the contemporary world. His work and its context have obviously been well looked at by Berkéwicz, one has the impression that she interviewed some very good mathematicians. Surely she had the opportunities, as she is the head of a leading publisher in Germany which has a core position in the intellectual history of post-war Germany.

That makes her final remarks in that essay-like part very interesting: She states matter of factly that the well known antisemitism issues in russian mathematics (e.g. "Jewish Problems", the experiences described in Edward Frenkel's book) had been cold bloodedly designed and performed on the unhappy teenagers for creating a work suitably smart and manipulated intellectual work force for military and secret services in USSR. So far, everyone denied that idea, even after the massive disruptions of emerging discussions in Russia of "jewish problem" themes by internet trolls had made people here wonder. (Are some in Russia's military-industrial complex getting nerveous on the idea that some of their researchers may find out to have been terribly manipulated all the time?)

The second part of the book is a fictional story: Perelman visits the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker in a café in Vienna, at carnival. Out of the photos on the wall step Ann Cotten, Maria Callas, Nijinsky, Ingeborg Bachmann, Marilyn Monroe, and the Tzar. The text is completely opaque to me, I guess it plays with allusions to celebrity guests in Viennese Cafés. That Perelman's comments there are uninteresting may result from a lack of public available texts or remarks by him. Whether Berkéwicz' foundational concept in this part of her book (that Mayröcker's and Perelman's mindsets intersect in an interesting way and that it would be good to let them combine to something even more interesting, works) is entirely unclear to me, too. To have been stimulated to look after Mayröcker's writings (actually, I knew the name, never looked up what she wrote) was for me the most interesting point of the whole book. econtrit Although I have not read this book, Thomas Riepe's review makes it clear that it should be included in this database due to the major role played by mathematician Grigori Perelman. However, I am also finding it very difficult to classify it. Thomas says that he thinks it might have been intended to have been read aloud, with the first portion being a monologue and the story part performed by actors and so I have labeled it as a "play". But, it does not seem to fit neatly into any of the usual genres that I have chosen for my classification scheme. It seems to be a philosophical treatise on the nature of the intellect, and so I've opted for "didactic". Moreover, because celebrities pop out of their photos on the wall I've also gone with "fantasy".

This unusual book was published by Suhrkamp Verlag AG in May 2018.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Über die Schrift hinaus
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy by John Lighton Synge
  2. The Mathematics of Nina Gluckstein by Esther Vilar
  3. Prüfung läuft: Eine Erzählung in n Testabschnitten by Dietmar Dath
  4. Perelman's Song by Tina Chang
  5. Gödel, Escher Bach: an eternal golden braid by Douglas Hofstadter
  6. The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri by David Bajo
  7. Gödel geht [Gödel's Exit] by Andreas Findig
  8. A Foundation in Wisdom by Robert Loyd Watson
  9. Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska
  10. La formule de Stokes, roman by Michèle Audin
Ratings for Über die Schrift hinaus:
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GenreFantasy, Didactic,
MotifReal Mathematicians,
MediumPlays, Novels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)