The Question of “Why” in a Cycle of Growth and Shrinkage

One of the most important questions I ask when attempting to understand tradition in any realm of life, social, religious, or cultural, is the “why?” I have never been one to take things for what they are, I am inquisitive, however tradition seems to be one of those things that I have trouble getting to the bottom of. As a historian I seek the roots of all things because I believe that it leads to a more modern understanding of present-day issues.

In the context of literature, a topic that I am fairly new to analyzing in this way, I have noticed that the “why” often changes based on history. To elaborate on this, I will refer to the book African Fractals. This book tells of the origins of basic mathematic principles that were discovered in Africa. What struck me initially after watching the TED talk in class and reading the book is that it is assumed that the creators of these fractal systems are unaware of their mathematical qualities and more concerned with the religious connections that they have with these fractals. While that may be true, I can’t help but to wonder if that relationship is a cyclical one rather than an accidental mathematical discovery based on religious belief. This leaves me with the question of whether the creation of fractals as tradition could be in truth the result of earlier mathematical discovery?

The question of why something is the way that it is can only be explored by noticing recurring instances. Dionne Brand expressed this best in saying “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” What this means to me is that being able to acknowledge patterns and be cognoscente of this ability means that I am actively “noticing.” Nobody Knows the Trouble I See by Bernice Johnson Reagon provides insight to this ability of noticing by differentiating between home culture and outside culture. While some may not notice that they are straddling between two worlds, those who do notice are able to see the cyclicality in leaving home to gain new skills and experiences, while still coming back and being expected to have retained all of your old experiences. Reagon really codifies this idea in her example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had to straddle between many different worlds, in all of which he was expected to lead. Whether or not Dr. King received the privilege of acknowledging his straddling between many worlds and was able to deal with it internally, he was still able to participate in the undying cycle of growth and shrinkage. This means that no matter how much he grew in one world he would always be perceived to be shrinking in another.

Noticing is something that I find to be important more so now than ever because without acknowledging cyclicality, the roots of some aspects of life will never be addressed in the ways that serve them justice, like in Reagon’s example of Dr. King. Because today we view him as a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, it is harder for us to sympathize with his need to take a leading role in more realms than one. In a way, this can be tied to the same thinking as the book on African Fractals. If we focus on the fractals being a creation of solely religion and culture we are negating the possibility that somewhere in the cyclical process an earlier mathematician designed these fractals and then they became religion, which would then be translated into math by someone else. As we talked about in class on Friday, if everything repeats, nothing is original.








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