World Literature and Fractals

As far as many bookworms are concerned, advanced equations and graphs are the last things which would hold their interest, but there’s no escape from the math.

Physicists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow, Poland, performed a detailed statistical analysis of more than one hundred famous works of world literature, written in several languages and representing various literary genres.

To convert the texts to numerical sequences, sentence length was measured by the number of words … and discovered that fractals are everywhere; Joyce,  Proust, Cortázar, Woolf, Dos Passos, Bolaño—fractals. Some of the world’s greatest writers appear to be, in some respects, constructing fractals.

However, more than a dozen works revealed a very clear multifractal structure, and almost all of these proved to be representative of one genre, that of stream of consciousness. The only exception was the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, which has so far never been associated with this literary genre.

“It is not entirely clear whether stream of consciousness writing actually reveals the deeper qualities of our consciousness, or rather the imagination of the writers. It is hardly surprising that ascribing a work to a particular genre is, for whatever reason, sometimes subjective. We see, moreover, the possibility of an interesting application of our methodology: it may someday help in a more objective assignment of books to one genre or another,” notes Prof. Drozdz .

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