There is untapped potential for critical theory in mathematics. As Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno first conceived of the critical project in the 1930s, critical theory steadfastly opposed the mathematization of thought. Mathematics flattened thought into a dangerous positivism that led reason to the barbarism of World War II. However, closer inspection of figures adjacent to the Frankfurt School – such as the journalist, cultural critic, and later film theorist Siegfried Kracauer – challenges this narrative and shows that mathematics provided a resource for early versions of critical theory. For Kracauer, mathematics and, in particular, geometry offered metaphors to negotiate the crises of modernity during the Weimar Republic. Revisiting Kracauer’s blend of mathematics with cultural critique uncovers a more capacious vision of the critical project, one with tools that can help us intervene in our digital and increasingly mathematical present.
Chair: Nina Engelhardt, Cologne