Jon Stout's Reviews > Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Logicomix by Apostolos K. Doxiadis
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bookshelves: philosophy, graphic-novels

Logicomix An Epic Search for Truth, came as a complete surprise to me. Given to me by a good friend for Christmas, this graphic novel first struck me as a psychodrama about an obsessive-compulsive personality, not at all resembling myself. But when I started to read it I realized that it was a history of early 20th century philosophy and foundations of mathematics, featuring cartoon characterizations of people I have studied at some length, such as Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gottlob Frege, Kurt Godel, Alan Turing and a dozen others. The first two of these are arguably the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.

The only exposure I had had to graphic novels was through my daughter, who is an illustrator and has done her own comix. I had from time to time leafed through her collection, and we had seen Persepolis. But to see the form stretched around a subject about which I had been very serious was astonishing to me. The story functioned on so many levels that it was dizzying.

On the highest, theoretical level the story was about the philosophical task of establishing mathematics on a firm logical foundation, so that it would become an ironclad vehicle for the pursuit of knowledge. This effort proved to have theoretical difficulties, which in turn led to the “anti-foundational” (pragmatic, relativistic) trend of philosophy in the second half of the 20th century. This intellectual history was portrayed by the activities of cartoon figures in dramatic situations. I had to strain to consider if they were getting it right, but I think they did a creditable job.

The second level, the psychological interplay of (cartoon) personalities, was even better. Although dramatic action was obviously condensed, there was a very gossipy portrayal of the lives and foibles of the great philosophers and mathematicians. Cartoons lend themselves to melodrama, and the philosophers themselves had more than enough melodrama in their lives.

On a third level of art, the cartoon artistry was beautiful. There were portrayals of very dramatic scenes and locations, such as a walk around the Parthenon in Athens, or the battlefields of war torn Europe, or the life of the British aristocracy, or laid-back Berkeley, California. The book ended with a climactic scene from the Oresteia Trilogy of Aeschylus, which was imposing and appropriate. As I write this I wonder how I can be talking about cartoons as though they were panoramic epics, but it worked.

There were other levels as well, including connections to music, literature, languages, poetry, politics, history, and lots of other things. But at heart, the book was a great adventure of ideas, which I bought into completely. I think there is something fundamentally philosophical about portraying life with well-defined lines and shapes of uniform color. Everything is simplified and dramatized and so… graphic. It made me want to write the graphic novel of my life, or better yet, to live it.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 29, 2009 – Shelved
December 29, 2009 – Shelved as: philosophy
December 29, 2009 – Finished Reading
May 5, 2015 – Shelved as: graphic-novels

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Paula Good, thoughtful review, Jon. I agree--it was a solid study, though at the very deepest depths, of the philosophy/questionings involved. And beautifully constructed, artistically and formally.


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