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Récits de science, récits de soiÉtude comparée de cinq autobiographies de mathématiciens du xxe siècle à nos jours(Frenkel, Grothendieck, Halmos, Roubaud, Schwartz)

Abstract : This thesis examines, from a comparative literary perspective, non-fictional representations of mathematical work, using a corpus of five autobiographies written by mathematicians published between the 1980s and the present: Edward Frenkel, Love & Math. The Heart of Hidden Reality (Basic Books, 2013); Alexandre Grothendieck, Récoltes et Semailles. Réflexions et témoignages sur le passé d'un mathématicien (Gallimard, 2022); Paul Richard Halmos, I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (Springer, 1985); Jacques Roubaud, Mathématique : (Seuil, 1997), Impératif catégorique (Seuil, 2008); Laurent Schwartz, Un mathématicien aux prises avec le siècle (Odile Jacob, 1997).This thesis argues that these texts develop a discourse “from the inside,” narrating lived experiences that would have stayed invisible otherwise. Whereas scientific texts (articles, theorems) hide the blueprints of their discoveries, self-narratives can show how theorems and concepts are embedded in the individual experience and collective structures. As a result, autobiography, intended for a wider public than the sole mathematical community, seeks to reflect upon mathematical work and thought to pass them on to this broader audience.The first part of the thesis, divided into two chapters - “Becoming a Mathematician” and “Being a Mathematician” - discusses the trajectory and posture of the mathematicians within their intellectual and disciplinary contexts. I untangle several issues: individual identity, self-presentation, embodiment of abstraction, and being part of a professional and intellectual community marked by imaginaries and norms.In the second part, devoted to the writing process of scholarly work, I define the central characteristics of mathematical research and discovery moments. I highlight discursive invariants and specific features of the imaginary affecting the way mathematicians present their vision and experience, for example by subverting the ‘eureka' topos and admitting error and ignorance. Chapter 4 is more specifically dedicated to the imaginaries of spaces used to express the research processes.In the third part, I study the presence of mathematical language, including formulas and equations, in life stories. Drawing from the concept of heterolingualism as theorized by Myriam Suchet, I question the stakes and poetic effects of linguistic alterity and the presence of illegible and/or incomprehensible passages in texts that are supposed to offer a form of knowledge (on a life, on a “self” and/or on mathematics).Finally, the fourth part focuses on the multiple functions of these texts with the notion of community. Chapter 7 deals with the relationships that, in and by their narratives, mathematicians maintain with the memory of their field and the institutions and structures of their community, primarily through intertextuality and echoes between texts. I then extend my reflection to the different types of readers as conceived by and receiving these texts to underline the strategies and gestures of science education that autobiographies embody.My thesis thus contributes to renewing the analyses of the relationship between mathematics and literature by highlighting particular forms of literarity. It also contributes to rethinking self-narrative in sciences by underlining the specificities of mathematical practices and the imaginary attached to mathematics and mathematicians. My conclusions, based on a corpus of five texts, appear to be relevant to the larger bibliography of mathematicians' self-writings that I have gathered during this research.
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Submitted on : Monday, September 12, 2022 - 1:07:36 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, September 20, 2022 - 3:12:06 AM


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Odile Chatirichvili. Récits de science, récits de soiÉtude comparée de cinq autobiographies de mathématiciens du xxe siècle à nos jours(Frenkel, Grothendieck, Halmos, Roubaud, Schwartz). Littératures. Université Grenoble Alpes [2020-..], 2022. Français. ⟨NNT : 2022GRALL012⟩. ⟨tel-03775158⟩



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