Stone Telling

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Towards a Feminist Algebra

               - after Mary Anne Campbell and Randall K. Campbell-Wright

by C. W. Johnson


Numbers are female, and the mathematicianís gaze
male. He looks at numbers, at 0ís and 9ís and 6ís,
sees orifices and desires to fill them.
Even the phallic 1 is feminized: a thin, girlish
schoolboy with huge eyelashes, taunted
by chums who bugger him in the loo.

Simultaneously the mathematician (I imagine him
bearded and balding, even a woman
mathematician) thinks numbers cold, unreachable,
and like pornography he abstracts them without faces:
mere strokes on sterile snowfield of paper pale
as a girlís trembling stomach. Oh, the coded
sexuality in the mathematicianís symbology:
the maternal curves of the integral sign,
the descent into the pudendal vee of the gradient,
the swollen belly of summation,
clumsy wet groping of Venn diagrams.

Then there are the troubling signs
of the control freak, the jealous boyfriend:
symbols radio-tagged with indices,
obssessions with sets, and lists of sets,
and the sets of those sets that belong and,
importantly, the set of sets that do not.
The mathematician demands proof,
and scrutinizes every line
of your alibi.

Even as I write an uncountable infinity
of numbers demand an end to theorems
that claim to speak for all.
They urge you to get to know the numbers
around you as individuals, not as fleeting
figures in bank accounts and sales sheets,
glanced at and forgotten;

or worse, segregated from innumerate eyes
by the modest scarf of y,
the black veil of x.




C. W. Johnson took a degree in maths at the University of California, Davis, studied writing under Kim Stanley Robinson and Joanna Russ, and honed the knife-edge of poetry in open mike slams in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Photography: Gergely Papp, Formulary. Please visit Gergely's Flickr page for more of his work.