Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Life After Death

Solving the problems of philosophy once is quite something, but solving them twice? Now that is unique. After a spell in engineering, the young Ludwig Wittgenstein had his first go, tracing the limits of language to provide a cocksure account of what could be said with any meaning. The rest, said the last line of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, "one must pass over in silence". The author planned to do just that, packing his bags to work in an Austrian primary school. He stopped penning difficult words, and instead published a manual for children about how to spell them. But the meditative itch returned after he noticed the semantics of colour didn't fit with his grand model of meaning. He was soon back in Cambridge, with Keynes writing: "God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train." An otherworldly appearance fed this caricature, as did the monastic digs and the band of disciples. Wittgenstein would harangue them to quit the academy and do something useful, like grinding lenses in Omsk. A newly discovered archive from the most devoted of the devotees, Francis Skinner, will illuminate the relationships of the master's "wonderful life", as well as the emergence of his later thought. It uses weird images (beetles in boxes) and off-the-wall questions (can dogs have headaches?) to expose ontological anxieties as mere confusions, produced by entanglement in words. Ill at ease with modern life, he tried dissolving that with language too. Encountering a jukebox at the end of his life, he asked "what, pray, is a juke?"

In Praise Of... Wittgenstein. The Guardian.
The Guardian is full of praise for Wittgenstein at the moment.
Yesterday it published a lengthy and rather touching article on the lost archive and his romance with Francis Skinner.
Interesting how the circumstances of the archive's composition and disappearance allow writers to foreground Wittgenstein's homosexuality.
Today's In Praise Of... is accompanied by Mark Brown's short tribute/explainer, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Philosopher of Many Talents'.
"He may have been one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers – perhaps the greatest..."

• Lengthy article on the University of Cambridge website on the archive and "The p[ink Book".

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