Logic in Math and in the Arts

This post is prompted mainly from my first-year writing seminar, English 1170: Short Stories. A couple days ago we discussed “The Necklace” and “Araby,” by Guy de Maupassant and James Joyce respectively. Being a math/logic person, I found there’s just something uncanny about literary analysis—something similar, yet not the same—as if it requires a subtly different kind of logic. I felt I was thinking in a completely different manner in that class, and asked myself, are logic in math and logic in literary analysis the same? Today, in a discussion on “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, I think I found my answer.

The discovery is not that the logic is different: logic is when one thing follows another, and this chain is the same for mathematics and literature. Rather, the primary difference is in the direction of the chain.

In math, we often have to prove a theorem. We know exactly what it is we’re trying to prove: we’re just supplying what gets us there. Of course, this can get very tough sometimes, but we know at least what the end result is.

The difference in analyzing literature is that we at first don’t know what we’re trying to prove—we don’t know what argument about the work we want to make.

Literary analysis is therefore more open-ended. I’m not saying mathematical proofs are easy—many of them are unsolved or have taken centuries to solve—but they are defined problems that can be solved (or be shown to be unsolvable). Analyzing literature is really weird since I’m so used to mathematical logic.

Also, the reason I made this post and not earlier is that I’ve never done literary analysis on this level before. In this case there is a noticeable difference between high school and college.

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