On Numbers as System and Symbol
September 17-December 14, 2018
Douglas R. Hofstadter writes in his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braidthat “there is something clean and pure in the abstract notion of number, removed from counting beads, dialects, or clouds” (p. 56). And yet, numbers are necessarily bound up with questions of representation, as notions of singularity and plurality allow us to make distinctions and draw boundaries. Numbers can indicate quantity but also size, sequence, importance, and identity.
This exhibition presents a selection of works from Arts Library Special Collections that incorporate various aspects of numbers. The books on display include almanacs, maps, musical scores, poems, and puzzles. They employ both practical and theoretical approaches to numbers—from counting sheep (and even clouds) to exploring such concepts as time, distance, money, and magnitude. Other books examine the relationship between numbers and language or color. Whether system or symbol, concrete or abstract, numbers = meaning.