“Go in fear of abstractions” said Ezra Pound to the fellow poets of the early 20th century. These words were in my mind as we began our Business Finance class in Module 8 – for somewhere along the line in my past education, numbers in math were replaced with letters and abstract concepts, and my interest in the subject declined faster than a turkey taking flying lessons from the fifth floor.
So I will admit being filled with a degree of apprehension when the class started; an apprehension that grew after I made the classic mistake of flipping in advance through the weighty tome of the course pack and encountering little gems such as the below:
Enter stage left the brilliant Ilaria Piatti, Associate Professor of Finance at Oxford, who I initially thought was demonstrating aptly the proverb of ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ – for who on earth would want to try and bring a class of varied knowledge and skill through such complex material? Who would want to actually try and get someone like me to understand the material?
I was soon left eating my words, as Ilaria built concepts and understanding in a clear way, taking one step at a time and ensuring we were all on board before moving on. By day 2, I was no longer apprehensive, and by day 3 I was enjoying it. Yes, a “poet” enjoying the seeming abstractedness of Business Finance and building portfolio matrices and calculating standard deviations of returns, and more. Has Hell perhaps frozen over (despite it being 35 degrees in Oxford)?
But returning to Pound for a moment. When he said ‘go in fear of abstractions’ he was imploring the generation of Poets to not retell in mediocre verse that which has been told in good prose, and to carefully consider each word in poem so that it be purposeful, and reveal something for the reader.
And in this sense Business Finance did not disappoint. There is nothing superfluous in the calculation, nothing included which does not add to the solving of the answer. Though seemingly abstract, equations like the above are perhaps the most pure expression possible for the telling of a story. I shall not write some more mediocre verse on this, rather end with a humble thanks to Ilaria and Oxford for once more showing a “poet” what is possible, and possibly what he is capable of.Back to top of article