Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth
Written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou
Art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009

That rarest of beasts, a non-superhero graphic novel with a budget. This complex and intelligent book is a biography of Bertrand Russell and a history of early 20th century philosophy and mathematics. The structure is also interesting – most of the book is framed by a university lecture Russell delivers in America a few days after the start of WWII, which allows him to narrate his own interesting life.

Unfortunately the authors have chosen to frame this framing device with their own account of the creation of the book. This serves a practical purpose, as it allows the two writers to break away from Russell’s biography to expand upon technical details, but it also allows for the straight-faced delivery of such lines as “You see, this isn’t your typical, usual comic book.” Jesus rubbery christ, not another self-hating comic!

The artwork (by husband-and-wife team Papdatos and Di Donna) is European clean-line Herge, and helps the story zip along. Russell’s life story is fascinating, although when Wittgenstein turns up halfway through he rather steals the show by having an even more interesting life. Most of the founders of modern mathematics had a dreadful time, their lives blighted by depression, madness, war and suicide*. And Ultravox made Vienna seem like such a fun place to live.

After setting up the concepts of modern computer science, the book ends with the by-now insufferable authors attending a production of Aeschylus’s Oresteia (“Sorry, readers, myths can be a bit ugly!”), and a detailed appendix.

* And, in some cases, homophobic persecution and political assassination, because life wasn’t hard enough.

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3 Responses to “Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth”

  1. Rhinocrates Says:

    Have to recommend Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein – Aro St’ll have it, not likely to be in Civic or Blockbuster or their ilk.

    As for Ultravox and their inspiration and later oh-so-postmodern references/referers, try (A) The Third Man for the former and Ashes to Ashes 1st episode for the latter. I was there when it happened! The 80s, I mean, not Vienna.

    It’ll be the revival of Nik Kershaw and Billy Idol next…

    Oh yes, philosophers and pretentious 80’s pop (if you’re not being pretentious, you’re not really having fun)… what else… well, The Cure’s The Outsider inspired Albert Camus’ Killing an Arab … or was it the other way around? Joy Division mining the likes of J. G. Ballard (“The Atrocity Exhibition”) and William S. Burroughs (“Interzone”) for song titles at least… and you really don’t know where exactly Steely Dan found inspiration for their name in Naked Lunch – at least not on a family blog like this. William Gibson’s references to Steely Dan, the Velvet Underground and Bowie are at least more presentable…

    I like the idea of comics engaging with philosophy, actually. Wittgenstein especially tried to get behind language, and graphics can help there. Be interesting to see a graphic novelist have a look at Burroughs and his cut-up technique and see what happens… it might work better than Cronenberg’s brave attempt (film is too linear, after all)…

  2. Seconding Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein, it’s an amazing film. The library also has a copy.

  3. You guys are like buses!

    Central has a biographic novel by Harvey Pekar about Burroughs and his chums called The Beats: A Graphic History, which is interesting if fairly unpleasant to read.

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