MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Blue Door (2006)
Tanya Barfield
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A successful African-American mathematics professor who has tried to ignore racism and its implications for his life is visited by his ancestors during a sleepless night in this critically acclaimed new play by Tanya Barfield. Obviously, race is the focus of this play, but I am still especially curious to know more about the role of mathematics since that is the purpose of this website. I am afraid that I have not yet seen the play, but if anyone reading this has I would be most grateful if you could write in with your opinions of the play in general, but with special emphasis on any explicit discussion or implicit suggestions regarding mathematics.

Contributed by Christine Sumption

Math is not just a subject of this play, but a central metaphor that informs the play's structure. BLUE DOOR is Tanya Barfield's powerful play focusing on one night of insomnia in the life of a distinguished mathematician. Lewis has fled his troubled family history and racial identity by immersing himself in math, preferring its clarity, precision, and cool abstraction to his own emotionally heated and conflict-riddled origins. But in pursuing mathematical theories to their logical ends, he comes upon notions of time travel, and, in this one dark night, conjures the spirits of his ancestors, the very people from whose lives he has tried to separate himself. Ultimately he finds that he must embrace his history in order to become whole. A beautiful and deeply affecting work.

Contributed by Bob Harbort

I was surprised at the depth of the metaphorical relationship between the sketchily presented "philosophy of mathematics" and the personal/psychological theme of the play. This one is deep.

There's not a lot of math as such in the play (it would never succeed with a general audience if it had much more) but the hints of deep resonance between the professor's psyche and his thoughts about quantization of time and its implications for causality were very well done.

I am an academic -- BS Physics, MS Computer Science, licensed electrical engineer in Georgia, and a PhD from the Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory. This play resonated with me personally in part because when I was working on my PhD I took an individual study "class" with a philosophy prof and it took us over a month to fill in the form stating what I was going to do. We couldn't agree on a definition of causality that both of us were willing to accept, even provisionally. Though I'm now immersed in teaching undergraduate CS, I continue to have a research interest in the murky area of subjective knowledge and its relationship to knowledge independent of an agent and the whole question of meaning generation.

Contributed by Dan

Saw the World Premier production at South Coast Repertory a few years back. I subscribe season after season because they are masters at new play development. http://www.scr.org/press/05-06season/bluedoorpress.aspx This show wasn't math ladened, but he was a math teacher and I got the metaphor. Stoppard's Hapgood was tougher for me, so I suspect there was quite a bit of math involved--that strange math only a physicist could love.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Blue Door
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz
  2. Lovesong of the Electric Bear by Snoo Wilson (playwright)
  3. Partition by Ira Hauptman
  4. Continuums by Robert Carr
  5. The Ore Miner's Wife by Karl Iagnemma
  6. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
  7. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  8. The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly by Dietmar Dath
  9. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  10. Evariste and Heloise by Marco Abate
Ratings for The Blue Door:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.6/5 (5 votes)
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Literary Quality:
4.4/5 (5 votes)
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Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction, Fantasy,
MotifTime Travel,
Topic
MediumPlays,

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Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)