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The circle that Euclid describes and the one which modern mathematics traces not only resemble one another but merge. The dial of the clock, the wheel of fortune, traverse time intact, without being modified by the variations they register or determine. Each time the mind wants to picture space, it sets in motion a selfsame curve around a selfsame center. No matter what the degree of angle may be, men of all epochs have used only one compass.


                         —Georges Poulet

                            The Metamorphoses of the Circle, 1966














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2.7  (An)anthropic (Ana)morphoses


 We should like to say “men and women of all epochs”—but then to say, like, should takes three steps back. This compass, as Margaret Wertheim ably testifies (as it were), cuts a “Christo­-Pythagorean” arc through science and mathematics as surely as philosophy and poesy—a conscription by which said men purloin divine prerogative, patronage, paternity . . . are we going in circles? Poulet ventures that “the circle is thus the most constant of those forms thanks to which we are able to figure for ourselves the place, either mental or real, in which we find ourselves, and within it to locate what surrounds us, or that with which we surround ourselves.” Here he borrows from Cusanus a deft, if problematic, rhetorical maneuver—a hyperbaton—by which he would ‘overstep’ the circumference of the onto­-epistemic circle he claims we compass from the center. That is, to shuffle his two-step—either we figure the mental place within which we locate ourselves—or we find what real place surrounds us. So, are we inside­-out, or outside-in?

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