Euclid and the geometry of Lincoln studies

Look upon yon works of Foner, ye Lincolnians, and despair!

If I had a Lincoln blog, that would be my motto. And yet, every so often a work comes out that tells the cynic, "There may be something to this Lincoln stuff." Something beyond Fonerfare, Holzergrams, and the "comprehensive review of mostly familiar material."

As a D-level geometry student, I saw enough light in this subject to appreciate that it developed through an orderly system of argumentation; it was an extension of the rhetoric courses we took; it stood at the seam of math and language and reason. It set my future taste in maths, steering me towards such as George Spencer-Brown, matrices and vectors, and other practical and sensible verbal-numerical explorations.

David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, an attorney and mathemetician respectively, propose with force and conviction that Euclid provided a rhetorical framework in which Lincoln operated. The analysis is concrete and impressive and the authors present diagrammatic (and tabular) evidence of the origins of Lincoln's powers of discourse.

Their book, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, thus adds something new to Lincoln studies. The broader question is whether Lincolnians, numbed by Foner, Holzer, McPherson, Goodwin, etc., give a damn about the origins of Lincoln's argumentation or any other particular. To many of them, Lincoln appears of whole cloth: indivisible, totemic, sui generis.

Any project breaking Lincoln into bits and pieces for analysis is therefore going to run into a wall of silence, I think. Frank Williams, an establishment figure, wrote the introduction to this work, but he's a bit idiosyncratic, surely an exception.

Lincoln = self-made genius or recycler of influences? This is not a question for 2010 and thus this beautifully written, elegant work by Hirsch and Van Haften is something like a 1940s Borzoi book, not only in quality and treatment but in terms of the point at which it stands historiographically.

Parallel texts, Euclid's and Lincoln's, present powerful evidence of derivation. This entire book is an argument about derivation. Can the guardians of Lincoln's pop imagery welcome extensive, decades long evidence of close derivation? Or is not Lincoln pop culture's man-who-invented-himself-at-each-stage-of-life?

If Lincoln showed that anyone can become president, there is no room in our culture for a codicil that he must first master Euclid.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a critic at New Art Examiner, the air was rife (in that context) with questions of "To what extent does this work [abstract painting] using geometric form retain its importance in light of the ideology-sensitive work being done today ..." The ideologically sensitive work surrounding Lincoln today has the power to bend light into shapes Euclid could hardly describe.

This is an excellent book with great notes, full biography and a fine style. Given the time, I'll post a review of it on its own terms and in its own context. It deserves no less (but it will likely get much less).