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Archive for November, 2010

Logicomix: “A Narrative Argument Against Readymade Solutions”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 8, 2010

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Bloomsbury (2009)

Writers: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou

Art: Alecos Papadatos

Colour: Annie di Donna

The creators of the almost brilliant Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth have forgotten a very important fact; that, to be great lecture fiction, a book must first be great fiction. And one of the rules for a book to be great fiction is that it must not lecture.

However nonsensical it may seem, that paragraph does make sense.

The book opens with Apostolos (an obvious stand-in for Mr. Doxiadis, but none of the characters introduce themselves with surnames, and I will follow that) introducing us to this book he’s writing called Foundational Quest and telling us that he is going to meet Christos, who is a computer engineer and, therefore, an expert in mathematical logic (a textbook written by him resides in my college’s library), as a consultant.

“You see,” he informs us, “this isn’t your typical, usual comic book.” Friends who have been told what it is about haven’t taken them seriously, and, when they have, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And it goes on, till he meets Christos, and starts telling him a story of Bertrand Russell’s lecture in America on the day England declared war on Germany. Mr. Russell meets, outside the hall, a group of protesters insistent that their country stay out of the war. He invites them in for the lecture, “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs” and starts narrating his own life-story. Meanwhile, Christos and Apostolos have got to the studio and meet the artists, Alecos and Annie (Miss di Donna has also worked on the famous Tintin series), and the visual researcher Anne.

From the very beginning, Apostolos and the artists make it clear to Christos that the book is about the interplay between logic and madness, but Christos doesn’t see the point of it being so character-driven.

Needless to say, he eventually comes around, and the exact chain of events that leads to his understanding sheds a non-trivial amount of light on the major theme.

To be honest, I disagree that this book is strictly about the relationship between logic and madness. It is about the madness that comes out of the thirst for knowledge in a strictly rational epistemology.

A minor disagreement, but a disagreement nevertheless.

This book really needs little exposition from my side; the final pages explain everything that has been explored, and a reread in the light of these last pages will illuminate it all.

What this book is really successful at doing, finally, is not at talking about rationality and madness – though it does do that very well – as much as at portraying the world of philosophical/mathematical academia and what drives the leading figures in these circles.

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