The Blegdamsvej Faust
February 17, 2009 2:31 PM   Subscribe

The year is 1932. Hitler is rising in power. Harold Urey announces the discovery of deuterium, a hydrogen isotope. James Chadwick discovers the neutron. Heisenberg receives the Nobel Prize for his work in Quantum physics. It is a miracle year in Physics, matched only by Einstein's advances in 1905. A few of the most brilliant physicists in the world decide to convene in Copenhagen and ... write a play! Written on the 100th anniversary of the death of Goethe, The Blegdamsvej Faust is a remarkable document from a turning point in Physics.

Among the cast of characters:

Mephistopheles: played by Wolfgang Pauli
"His ability to make experiments self destruct simply by being in the same room was legendary, and has been dubbed the "Pauli effect"

The Lord: played by Neils Bohr
“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

Faust: played by Paul Ehrenfest
"The physicists transform Faust’s death scene at the end of Goethe’s play into a moment of supreme bathos. Mephistopheles ushers a press photographer on stage and it is this that is Faust’s undoing. Paul Ehrenfest utters Faust’s famous dying words, just as he is about to be immortalized by the photographer:

“Faust (highly excited, he takes a pose for the press photographer)
To this fair moment let me say:
‘You are so beautiful – Oh, stay!’
A trace of me will linger ’mongst the Great,
Within the annals of The Fourth Estate.
Anticipating fortune so benign,
I now enjoy the moment that is mine!”'

including the characters of Oppenheimer (Oppie), Landau, Gamow, Dirac and Chadwick.

The Blegdamsvej Faust was written in German. In his intimately written book, Thirty Years that Shook Physics, Gamow publishes the English translation.
posted by vacapinta (10 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Very cute. Thanks for posting this.
posted by voltairemodern at 3:05 PM on February 17, 2009

Fascinating, thanks for this.
posted by ob at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2009

Stranger than fiction.
posted by benzenedream at 3:25 PM on February 17, 2009

Flagged as EPIC.
posted by spiderskull at 3:48 PM on February 17, 2009

The phrase "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." makes me want to go to Zurich and put flowers on Pauli's grave. Tonight.

If I don't get to use it at least once before I die, my life will have been wasted.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:04 PM on February 17, 2009

If you hang a fission device on the wall in the first act, you have to use it by the third.
posted by jfuller at 5:33 PM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nice - thanks vacapinta.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:04 PM on February 17, 2009

Hey wow! Thanks.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:48 PM on February 17, 2009

Wonderful post. I'd love to see somebody stage this. It reads beautifully, and is so much more self-aware than the raft of plays and movies which involve 20th century physicists in Archie comic plots.
posted by benzenedream at 1:00 AM on February 18, 2009

This story reads like goofy historical fiction.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:07 PM on February 18, 2009

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