Bertrand Russell—philosophical superhero?
Part of the narrative strategy here is metacomic: Authors Doxiadis and Papadimitriou, along with artists Papadatos and Di Donna, are not only the creators of this graphic novel with academic underpinnings, they are characters within it, confronting the challenge of how to make Bertrand Russell’s inquiries into logic and mathematics understandable to the “average reader,” while questioning whether said average reader even exists. They ultimately conclude that “mathematics and comics, like oil and water, don’t ever mix!” The average reader (if he or she exists) might well agree. Framing the narrative is a lecture given by Russell, protested by isolationists, on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II against Nazi Germany. Since he has been asked to speak on “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs,” he jokes, “If I take the injunction literally you shall hear the shortest lecture in recorded history.” Interspersed with his talk, and the authors’ attempts to turn this presentation into a graphic narrative, are flashbacks exploring “Bertie” Russell’s life and the intellectual development that led to Principia Mathematica in collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead. Soap-opera strains of madness taint the bloodlines of philosophers who strive for logic; affairs of the heart owe little to the brain. Young Russell challenges his philosophical mentors and ultimately faces challenges from his own gifted student, Ludwig Wittgenstein. For those who come to this narrative without much background, the volume helpfully includes a short afterword that helps distinguish fact from invention, a longer notebook with capsule biographies of those featured in the narrative, definitions of concepts and even a bibliography.
Despite the collaborators’ best efforts to emphasize the human element, this graphic novel can’t help but read a lot like a textbook.