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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Ghosts in Princeton

Daniel Kehlmann

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Title: Ghosts in Princeton
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Play
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 85 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Les esprits de Princeton - France
in: Vier Stücke - Deutschland
  • German title: Geister in Princeton
  • Translated by Carol Brown Janeway; the translation does not appear to be available in published form
  • First performed at the Schauspielhaus Graz, 24 September 2011, in a production directd by Anna Badora

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a fine take on the unusual, brilliant thinker

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Presse . 25/9/2011 Bettina Steiner
Der Standard . 25/9/2011 Colette M. Schmidt
Wiener Zeitung* . 19/10/2019 Björn Hayer

* review of the entire collection of Vier Stücke

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ist es zu bieder ? Nicht dramatisch genug ? Keine Spur ! Daniel Kehlmann, seit der Vermessung der Welt einer der bekanntesten zeitgenössischen Autoren Österreichs, erzählt in Geister in Princeton mit Intelligenz, Raffinement und Gespür für theatrale Effekte die Geschichte eines radikalen Denkers, der Gespenster sieht und sie mit Vernunft nicht zu vertreiben vermag, im Gegenteil. Denn wo Hoffnung auf Zeitreisen ist, erscheint die Angst vor Gespenstern nicht ganz unbegründet, sie könnten ja zum Beispiel aus der Zukunft stammen." - Bettina Steiner, Die Presse

  • "Bei Kehlmann, dessen Geister in Princeton als szenische Lesung bereits bei den diesjährigen Salzburger Festspielen präsentiert wurden, fiel Gödels Biografie in die richtigen Hände. Es gelang ihm nach dem Roman Die Vermessung der Welt auch auf der Bühne, das Leben eines Wissenschafters spannend zu erzählen." - Colette M. Schmidt, Der Standard

  • "Wirklichkeitserosionen, Situationskomik und skurrile Charakterzüge sind die Ingredienzien der Texte. Allerdings fehlt ihnen das Theatralische -- Konflikte, Spannungen, Wendungen und noch wichtiger: Bewegendes sucht man in ihnen vergebens." - Björn Hayer, Wiener Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: This review is based on the German original; Carol Brown Janeway's translation does not appear to be available in published form, and I have not seen it. All quotes are my translation.]

       Ghosts in Princeton is a play about the logician Kurt Gödel, of incompleteness theorem fame. The brilliant thinker and close friend of Albert Einstein also infamously became ultra-paranoid and ultimately basically starved himself to death. Among other things, Kehlmann explores the odd contradiction of this exacting thinker holding seemingly irrational beliefs.
       The play opens with Gödel's funeral, with Harry Woolf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study, and Gödel's assistant Hao Wang noting this strange dichotomy:

WOOLF The greatest logician of all times believed in angels and ghosts. How can our guild deal with that ?
WANG We will ignore it.
WOOLF What else can we do.
       Playing with the ideas of Gödel's belief in what amounts to the supernatural -- angels and ghosts -- as well as his time-travel theories, and mingling life and afterlife, Kehlmann quite cleverly presents Gödel's life-story along with some of the implications of his thought.
       The ghost of Gödel is already an (unnoticed) presence at the funeral, and he also then confronts an alter ego version of himself (and then later also himself as a child); after his own death, Moritz Schlick acknowledges:
You always saw the world in a way which I only now see it. Always like a ghost.
       Moving between a timeless present and scenes from the past, Kehlmann manages to flesh out the odd character quite well, with Gödel always a somewhat ghostly presence -- a man of generally few words (but strikingly forthright when he does express himself), and someone who mostly tried to avoid others. (An amusing anecdote related in the opening scene is Hao Wang's about how Gödel would direct those who wanted to speak to him to an out of the way diner for a meeting -- only to never show up himself, ensuring that he could be certain of remaining undisturbed at least around the arranged meeting-time.)
       Kehlmann presents a few of the familiar stories about Gödel, such as Einstein's concern that Gödel was going to be too forthright in his interview before a judge when preparing to obtain American citizenship or about the wooing of and his relationship with unlikely-seeming wife Adele. If not quite a highlight reel of Gödel's life, Kehlmann does cover many of the significant events from it, and ranges wide in his effective selection.
       Characters such as Einstein, Schlick, and John von Neumann help illuminate facets of Gödel's life, and if the dialogues don't necessarily feel entirely true to (his) life, as in the conversations with Einstein, Kehlmann does get a sense of the man across, as in the revealing exchange:
GÖDEL Einstein, when you're dead, then I won't have anyone anymore.
EINSTEIN startled Nonsense !
GÖDEL With whom can I talk then ?
EINSTEIN But you have Adele.
GÖDEL Yes, sure. But with whom can I talk ?
       Kehlmann suggests that some of Gödel's paranoia would seem to find its roots and validation in his experience with Schlick, as Kehlmann imagines Gödel witnessing Schlick's assassin, Hans Nelböck, confronting the man he would go on to kill. Gödel interprets the scene correctly -- "I think that he threatened you" -- but Schlick can't imagine the student could do him any harm ("This is the University of Vienna, not the Wild West !"), with the (ghostly) Gödel then also witnessing the actual murder. (A running gag is also how Gödel (and Schlick) are believed to be Jewish (neither was) -- with the madman Nelböck admitting that he knows Schlick isn't Jewish: "But that's the pernicious thing, that so many Jews aren't even Jewish".)
       It comes together as a good portrait of the man -- an interpretation, to be sure, emphasizing (indeed, showcasing) Gödel's otherworldliness, but a reasonable one, accepting the contradictions of this generally so unobtrusive man and his ways of thinking -- both in terms of purest logic, where his genius was recognized by a handful of his colleagues, and in terms of how he lived his life, which baffled basically everyone who knew him, with only the love of his life, Adele, able to make some sense of it (and even she ultimately failing at it).
       It makes for good theater, cleverly and engagingly conceived by Kehlmann -- a solid play.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 March 2023

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Ghosts in Princeton: Reviews (review of entire collection of Vier Stücke): Kurt Gödel: Daniel Kehlmann: Books by Kurt Gödel under review: Books about Kurt Gödel under review: Other books by Daniel Kehlmann under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975. He lives in Vienna, where he studied philosophy and literature. He has published several works of fiction.

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© 2023 the complete review

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