Scribner Seminar Program
Nothing Doing: The Space of Modern Thought
Instructor(s): Grace Burton, Foreign Language and Literature
What does nothing have to do with anything? When merchants from Muslim lands introduced nothing (zero) into Christian Europe in the 13th century, they brought with them an Eastern concept that would revolutionize Western thought. In this seminar we will consider the history of nothing—be that nothing zero, the void, space, absence or privation—to see how and why this dangerous idea would become the foundation of modern thought. Two great literary works – Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Cervantes’s Don Quixote—will serve as a springboard for our analysis of how Early Modern writers, artists, philosophers and mathematicians used the concept of nothing to re-imagine their world. We will end the semester with a consideration of how the very nothing that structures modern thought becomes the “nothingness” that serves as Postmodernism’s principle critique of modernity.