Calculus

In 1966, living in the NYC suburb of Elmont, Nassau County, I was sixteen-year-old math whiz, inspired perhaps by my father's concept of love as an abstract equation, and his livelihood as an IRS special agent. One way to get to know my father, apparently, was to absorb myself in the mysterious intricacies of the calculus equation:

At what rate are trains A and B separating from each other when each is twelve miles from the station at the same instant and A is approaching the station at forty miles per hr and B is going away from the station at fifty miles per hr on tracks that make an angle of forty-five degrees?

The answer rests in finding the value of those slippery Xs and Ys that are taken to their limits and defined in a constantly shifting relation to one another. This was my passion—pages upon pages of symbolic musings that eventually render an irreducible affinity between at least two unpredictable bodies trapped within a hypothetical circumstance at some generic moment in time. After performing the long sequence of calculations, I am transported into a state of mathematical psychedelia—my mind and body expanding and pulsating with an ambiguous but spirited consummation. Some tacit and macrocosmic thing has been made explicit, rendered finite in the here and now. equation of a leaf I can literally show it to my father. And yet this finite thing remains intangible, abstruse. What have I got but ten solid pages of invisibility? {new window} It points to nothing but itself.

Calculus is a strange loopy kind of pleasure {new window} contingent upon immersion in a world of perceptions which, when projected to the nth degree, illuminates the meaning of difference, of variables. Calculus was my first latent paradigm for understanding culture—one in which infinity functioned as an analytic for society.

Several years later in 1970 at the State University of NY, Buffalo, I enroll in a class offered by two radical physicists, Luigi Bianchi and Jon Helman. It is entitled Calculus and Clairvoyance. First loves never die easily. I become astutely aware that my fascination with calculus had always been a preoccupation with uncovering, and then naming, that which could never be confirmed, only intuited, hovering intimately on the horizon of one's imagination, emphatic but never manifest. A space neither failed nor achieved, only desired over and over again. I became fascinated with a vantage point that could be aligned with that marvelous round of the mobius strip where inside and outside merge. Where all the lies, the suppositions, the finite drivel of conventions, would reveal from out of their own flesh the infinite other stuff to which they were bound [See Schutzman 1998].

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