Forum: Deconstructing Denethor

Discussing: Denethor and the mathematical perspective

Denethor and the mathematical perspective

Over in the birthday forum, we've been having a little conversation about viewing Denethor as a mathematician, and what sorts of things that might give rise to in terms of his psychological profile. Among the points raised, Maya said: it's easy to imagine how a love of abstraction can lead someone like Denethor to be an observer, someone looking at everything from the slightly superior perspective of the analyst, rather than the participant. It is a dangerous perspective, perhaps: leading to a false sense of detachment I can't resist comment. This is a huge theme in contemporary philosophy—the notion of the observer or panoramic viewer, who orders a world of objects, as a totalitarian or totalizing position. And that is EXACTLY what Tolkien gave us when he wrote in the palantíri: literally, a panoramic eye ("I", subject, knower, person in position of power) that stands back from the situation in order to control it the better. That the Stones come from Fëanor is just too perfect, but we see the ultimate significance of that "palantiric" position only in Denethor's degeneration. Anyhow, you can see why my interpretation of Denethor is going to be fairly dark with this in the background. But in any case, back to mathematics proper. Personally, I think Denethor as mathematically-inclined makes sense in a lot of ways: he likes order, he likes things to be under control, but he's also clearly highly intelligent and, I think, possessed of a (fatal, eventually) curiosity and powers of concentration that would make him an ideal mathematician. And insofar as I focus on that possibility, I find that he becomes much more open to a kind of wonder that is (also) philosophical. That, to me, makes it a great humanizing device, and one I can see my way to writing for someone who comes across as perpetually somber. Comments? Thoughts?

 

 

Re: Denethor and the mathematical perspective

I can't resist comment. This is a huge theme in contemporary philosophy—the notion of the observer or panoramic viewer, who orders a world of objects, as a totalitarian or totalizing position. And that is EXACTLY what Tolkien gave us when he wrote in the palantíri: literally, a panoramic eye ("I", subject, knower, person in position of power) that stands back from the situation in order to control it the better. That the Stones come from Fëanor is just too perfect, but we see the ultimate significance of that "palantiric" position only in Denethor's degeneration. You're on to something here, Dwim: that is a completely 'authentic' concept of Denethor. It rings true both within the context of Tolkien's text and themes, as well as our larger contemporary universe. So it works from both a Watsonian and Doylist point of view, if you will. That, to me, is a an added layer of verisimilitude. Denethor being a mathematically-inclined man: yes, that is a very convincing concept of him, especially his being vulnerable to the abstract beauty of ideas. Vulnerable, I mean, in the sense that it opens him up to the fatal curiosity that you mention, the quest for knowledge that becomes an obsession and also leads to a sort of blindness to alternate possibilities as he gets deeper into a particular theory (in this case, Sauron's vision of reality). On the other hand, it also paints a picture of him in his younger days as being a sympathetic character, in his way - the apparently cold but actually passionate scholar and aesthete, seeing beauty in mathematical pattern all around him, perceiving wonders invisible to others. It isolates him, condemning him to be misunderstood by those who do not share his unique vision... cheers, Maya

 

 

Re: Denethor and the mathematical perspective

But in any case, back to mathematics proper. Personally, I think Denethor as mathematically-inclined makes sense in a lot of ways: he likes order, he likes things to be under control, but he's also clearly highly intelligent and, I think, possessed of a (fatal, eventually) curiosity and powers of concentration that would make him an ideal mathematician. And insofar as I focus on that possibility, I find that he becomes much more open to a kind of wonder that is (also) philosophical. That, to me, makes it a great humanizing device, and one I can see my way to writing for someone who comes across as perpetually somber. The only mathemetician I knew was my father, and he was quite brilliant, and also had a passion for order, an interest in philosophy and a greater one in music. Liked to be in control and had quite a hefty ego, but was fundamentally more compassionate than Denethor, and put up with lots of chaos in terms of daily routine, since he was married to my mother (who was extremely spontaneous and non-mathematical). He also loved the outdoors, and having dogs, despite having been raised a city boy in a household without animals. I don't see Denethor as having much interest in animals or nature except as they affect harvests and other things of importance to Gondor. Denethor as a mathematician could be a fascinating profile. But it doesn't explain the boiling rage and paranoia he exhibits in ROTK near the end - and I have always thought that it came from him and was exacerbated by the Palantir-wrestling with Sauron, rather than being caused solely by Sauron's influence. If I apply the model of my father to Denethor, it does shed light on his difficulty in getting along with the adult Faramir - my father never wanted a son, I think he knew that he would view one as a rival, and he much preferred having a daughter to spoil. Faramir is so much more Denethor's son than is Boromir, Denethor would eventually be annoyed by the similarities, and by Faramir's brilliance, particularly if it surpasses, in some aspect, Denethor's own intellectual prowess. Boromir, while no dummy, is not a genius nor an intellectual, and can't fish in the same deep waters as his father and brother, and thus is perhaps the perfect son for Denethor, especially since Boromir is charismatic and a great credit to his father, and doesn't disagree with him often. While Faramir, who is Denethor with a broad streak of compassion and a wide-angle lens in his head as well as an ability to focus on detail, would end up alienating his father, despite their mutual love. RAKSHA THE DEMON

 

 

Re: Denethor and the mathematical perspective

What an interesting thread: Denethor as Mathematician. A lot of things come into perspective. I can't help but feel that anything I post will be redundant, but I just couldn't resist to jump in. It is not hard to see the manifestations of a logical mind in Denethor (and I am indebted to Raksha for putting it into my mind to search for examples of mathematical people to better understand the concept) in the things you've all mentioned: his wanting to have everything under control, the evidences of ordered reasoning as we see in the arguments he makes in the book, his quest for truth (his gazing into the palantiri? could this be read as him trying to find causes and, by glimpsing at the future, find answers, or only as his wish to use information to gain power over his enemy?) And this makes me come closer to my point: What is the end of reason, in his case? Why would Denethor have developed this way, and what does it indicate in terms of his relationship with those around him, and the world where he lives? Is this intrinsic to the individual, or is this inclination developed by culture, society, family? Gondor strongly reminds me of Classic Greece. That was probably very far from Tolkien's mind when he developed their culture, but the solemnity, the elegant beauty, the art forms, the love of lore and learning and books, even the materials they used to build, they all ressemble classicism to me. And, during classical times, a great emphasis was put in reason, logic, and mathematics (I don't think I mean mathematics as means of calculating and quantities, but as patterns, proportions, order, reason). In this sense, greeks were also very aesthetic-inclined, and I could also see this in Denethor. The mathematical framework, I believe, suits him remarkably well, and given his position, I think it would have been seen as favorable and even encouraged by his elders. Could Denethor's love of logic have been shaped by the circumstances around him? I also see, as you all do, Faramir developing his mind in the same way Denethor did, and I also read Boromir as being different from them. And, perhaps, it is through Faramir that we gain deeper and more varied insights into what Denethor's mind might have been like. Wherein does this difference lie, then? And how does this change our outlook on the D/F relationship (and the D/B relationship, for that matter)? Ok, my break is over and I still have not arrived to any conclusions whatsoever. I guess my main objective was to see how we could use the concept of Denethor as a mathematician and lover of reason and logic to further analyze his relationship with his sons and the consequences that his inclinations and whatever his children absorbed from him could have influenced the later history. Dwim, could you please elaborate on the notion of the observer and panoramic viewer and how this relates to Denethor's use of the palantiri? I was also very interested in the possibility that his mathematical and philosophical inclinations could be used as a humanizing device (is this because those very inclinations put him in a possition to try to find logic in all things and that would lead him to pass judgement on his fellows? I know I'm not making any sense...) What do you mean when you use the term "humanizing"? THanks, Starlight edit: I realize I didn't make a single point. I'll come back to explain myself, I guess. I just wanted to let you all know how interesting this whole thing is!

 

 

Re: Denethor and the mathematical perspective

Denethor + mathematics in same subject line ==> Marta will jump in as soon as she sees the thread. ;-) But in any case, back to mathematics proper. Personally, I think Denethor as mathematically-inclined makes sense in a lot of ways: he likes order, he likes things to be under control, but he's also clearly highly intelligent and, I think, possessed of a (fatal, eventually) curiosity and powers of concentration that would make him an ideal mathematician. Well, Denethor *is* described as knowing a lot of the lore of Minas Tirith, and I have to wonder how much time a head-of-state had to devote to intellectual pursuits. Even before Ecthelion's death, he was probably very busy, between duties as a soldier and learning the mechanics of running a government.But there is a lot to be said for learning practical maths. He'd certainly learn accounting practices (not money but general resources) and probably some geometry to help with construction. As for higher math, he probably would be fascinated by it. He has that type of logical mind that not only does very well at higher math, but also tends t be developed by it. And insofar as I focus on that possibility, I find that he becomes much more open to a kind of wonder that is (also) philosophical. That, to me, makes it a great humanizing device, and one I can see my way to writing for someone who comes across as perpetually somber. Yes, I can definitely see that. He certainly brings a mathematical approach to things, even if he never applied it to numbers. THe natural question is how developed math in Gondor would be. Calculus didn't really take off until Newton and Leibnitz, but there was certainly algebra and geometry, and the ancients went much further with that than we do today (because it's simpler to do with calculus). Marta [Edit: For those who don't know, I'm just finishing up my undergraduate degree in math, so while I'm not an expert, it is something I work with a lot.]

 

 

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