sexy math?

Can we talk a little about DFW’s use of the word “sexy” in Everything and More?   I know it’s minor, but the word choice proved to be distracting for me.   Every time he noted that something was for “sexy technical reasons” (73) I was completely put off and spent a while trying to figure out what he could possibly mean calling a mathematical theory “sexy.”   I came to two options: either DFW is forcing humor to criticize our society’s obsession with sex appeal, or he genuinely believes that this math stuff is sexy.

At first I thought maybe DFW was being a little ironic.   I’d never venture to call anything mathematical sexy.   It just seems silly to refer to something that is logical, lacking emotion and passion, and probably written in a textbook as sexy.   Perhaps the usage of the word is a kind of nod to the way the media these days likes to use the word “sexy” to describe basically anything.   This comes up a lot in advertising, where anything from Kleenex to apples can be marketed as a sexy product.   We’re eager to label something sexy to sell it to someone, because sexy has become the desirable adjective.   The placement of a math theory next to the word sexy seems like the extreme outcome of our strange fascination with sexiness.

So is this all in jest?   Is the “sexy” terminology here poking fun at the way pop culture can turn anything into sexy, even numbers?   Or does DFW genuinely believe math can be sexy?   Certainly he finds math to be “beautiful” (1) and wants to convince the reader of the same.   But sexy seems to be a bit of an extreme- do we even want to see math as sexy?   I’m a bit hesitant.   DFW seems to view the complexities of complex math to be compelling.   He would like us to engage and become somehow personally involved with the concepts in this book.   But is anyone actually convinced that infinity is sexy?

It comes to this question of whether math can be emotional and personal.   Is it simply objective and purely logical, or is there personal feeling involved?   I’d guess that someone with more experience in math than me could explain a mathematical intimacy that I can’t quite comprehend.

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