‘Incompleteness’ — the play

Apostolos Doxiadis spent two years working compulsively on his latest play, «Incompleteness,» but he was still slashing and burning it when the play showed to invited audiences last week at the Epi Kolonos Theater in Kolonos, Athens. In fact he staged two different versions of the work, the second considerably shorter than the first. The play takes its inspiration from Czech-born mathematician Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, regarded as one of the most important theorems proven in the 20th century. Doxiadis, a distinguished mathematician himself, talked to Kathimerini English Edition about the impact the theorem had on him and the genesis of his play. Limits of logic «I was a teenager when I first read the theorem and its proof, and I was staggered,» he says. «It is a very philosophical theory, touching upon the very nature of reality and existence. It sets limits to the abstract, manipulative, computational capacity of the human mind to understand the world. It says that the mind, by its very nature, cannot fully understand the cosmos through logic alone.» Godel died of malnutrition in 1978, 17 days after his admission to Princeton Hospital with a non-malign prostate condition. Convinced that his food was being poisoned, Godel had refused to eat. Doxiadis mentioned the theorem in his novel «Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture» but had since sworn off writing mathematical novels: «I said: no more, it’s back to real life, but the idea of Godel would not go away – the sense that there was something very important that needed to be told. «Then this became an obsession, because I couldn’t get it right; sometimes I would extend the mathematical side, sometimes tone it down, trying to find a balance.» Now, in what is probably its final form – the author can’t resist last-minute fine-tuning – the play dramatizes Godel’s last days, the clash between his meticulously logical approach to life and the well-meaning but equally wrong-headed approach of the fictional hospital dietitian, Mary Pearson, who feels duty-bound to make her patient eat and who just happens to have an anorexic daughter at home. The characters act out the tragicomic implications of the Incompleteness Theorem in the real world. The play is moving but not pessimistic. Loss leads to illumination and the beginning of hope for another character. Acknowledging the contribution of the actors to the production, Doxiadis remarks: «Their making themselves at home with the play influenced me a lot. They showed me the emotional priorities, the real emotional lifelines running through the play. It’s important to be able to do that and it is only a stupid playwright who does not listen to what is happening on the stage, who tries to create life, forgetting the actors and experience.» The talented cast, Alexandra Pavlidou (The Actress), Judy Boyle (Pearson), Jonathan Kemp (Godel), and Ian Robertson (David Hilbert, a part that has since been cut), were directed by Tony Stevens. The performances were in English, and the play, captured on video, will go Britain to seek its fate.

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