© Harald Vatne
© Harald Vatne

“[W]hen he first arrived in Skjolden, Wittgenstein wasn’t exactly alone. He lodged in the village with the family of the local postmaster in one of the distinctive two-storey clapboard houses that huddle together where a fast-flowing river empties into the fjord. Skjolden today looks pretty much as it did in 1913, save for the village’s only hotel, a later arrival, where I stayed in a room with spectacular views down the V-shaped valley of Lustrafjord.

While he was not entirely free of human company in the village, Wittgenstein was at least able to eschew the sort of sophisticated society that tormented him in Cambridge (and his native Vienna, for that matter). In Skjolden, he wrote, “my day passes between logic, whistling, going for walks, and being depressed”. I suspect the highly convivial evening I spent eating a burger and drinking locally brewed craft beer in the hotel bar while guests watched English Premier League football would not have been to the philosopher’s taste.

It was during this first visit to Skjolden that Wittgenstein engaged a local builder to construct the house on Eidsvatnet, a little lake at the end of the fjord. It had three rooms: a small living room, a kitchen and bedroom. There was also an attic with a balcony. When Wittgenstein spent nine months at the house in 1936-37, working on what would become his second, posthumous masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations, villagers would see him in the distance pacing back and forth, pondering the complete overhaul of his views about the nature of logic and language.

Alois Pichler, who runs the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen, says Wittgenstein was “suffering a lot” during this sojourn — suffering that was partly philosophical (how, he wondered, do we unravel the confusions in which many of the discipline’s traditional problems consist?) and partly spiritual (how do we reckon with our own sins?). There was a meteorological dimension to this too. I was there in the mild, slightly damp Nordic summer. Wittgenstein endured an autumn and winter on the lake. By October of 1936, he was writing to a friend: “The weather has changed from marvellous to rotten. It rains like hell now.” The friend responded by sending Wittgenstein a sou’wester.

The only suffering I endured on my visit to “Austria” was caused by trying to keep up with Vatne as he powered up the narrow path with the aid of hiking poles. Once we reached the top, he showed me round the reconstructed house. There, I sat at a facsimile of Wittgenstein’s writing table by the living room window as I made an entry in the visitors’ book.

“We have tried to bring the house back to what it was,” Vatne says. He and his colleagues have succeeded spectacularly. Now that the house has been rebuilt on its glorious original site, the Wittgenstein Foundation plans to make it available to study groups and individual visitors. The foundation also has more ambitious plans to develop Skjolden as a destination for philosophically themed travel.”

Source: Jonathan Derbyshire, The Financial Times

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I really do think with my pen, for my head often knows nothing of what my hand is writing. MS 112 114:27.10.1931


Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened & will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘recognition of sin’ is an actual occurrence & so is despair & so is redemption through faith. Those who speak of it (like Bunyan), are simply describing what has happened to them; whatever gloss someone may want to put on it! MS 118 56r c: 4.9.1937


If I am thinking just for myself without wanting to write a book, I jump all around the topic; that is the only way of thinking that is natural to me. Forcing my thoughts into an ordered sequence is a torment for me. Should I even attempt it now??

squander untold effort making an arrangement of my thoughts that may have no value whatsoever. MS 118 94v c: 15.9.1937


One cannot speak the truth; – if one has not yet conquered oneself. One cannot speak it – but not, because one is still not clever enough.

The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, & does not more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness. MS 162b 37r c: 1939-1940


Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when hiking through snow. You doze off & die in your sleep. MS 162b 42v c: 1939-1940


Thoughts at peace. That is the goal someone who philosophizes longs for. MS 127 41v: 4.3.1944


Words are deeds. MS 179 27: ca. 1945


If people did not sometimes commit stupidities, nothing intelligent at all would ever happen. MS 131 219: 8.9.1946

ludwig-wittgenstein

“Wittgenstein’s grave is not easy to find. It is a flat stone bearing the words Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 – 1951 in a sans serif modern font. It has the same stark simplicity as the Modernist house he designed for his sister in Vienna in the 1920s. The grave was recently restored: there is an interesting article with many photographs and details about the grave on the British Wittgenstein Society website. Ray Monk, the interviewee for this episode of Philosophy Sites, is the author of a justly celebrated biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.”

— Philosophy Sites

a5f09-wittgenstein

“One of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Wittgenstein published only one book. To celebrate its centenary, we revisit Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. An unusual work of philosophy by any standard, it was written on the front lines during World War I and purported to distinguish sense from nonsense. Wittgenstein felt that in the Tractatus he had solved all the problems of philosophy. Appropriately, once finished writing the book, he abandoned philosophy, only returning years later to focus on ordinary language and its philosophical potential. In this panel, we take a look back at the man, his early life and work, and consider why his thinking has been of such enduring interest.”

Listen to the complete recording over at theForum website.

“Why, then, did [Ludwig Wittgenstein] so strongly discourage pupils from becoming teachers of philosophy? I think it was because Wittgenstein knew from his own experience that in philosophical thinking there are long periods of darkness and confusion when one just has to wait. In philosophy above all things there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. Wittgenstein had a great horror of what Schopenhauer once described as ‘professorial philosophy by philosophy professors’: people having to go on talking when really they knew in their own heart that they had nothing of value to say.”

— M. O’C. Drury, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Symposium. Assessments of the Man and the Philosopher

79168-ludwig-wittgenstein-swansea

Wittgenstein is a notoriously difficult philosopher, and anyone approaching his work will inevitably ask themselves the question: Is it going to be worthwhile?  It’s a common problem, of course. Do I really want to set aside the enormous amount of time and effort that it will take to understand Heidegger, or Derrida, or Deleuze?  Often the answer is no (and for good reason).  Part of what convinced me early on that Wittgenstein would be worth the effort was the portrait of Wittgenstein that emerges in Malcolm’s memoir: a man of fierce, extraordinary intelligence who was driven by the very deepest questions of human life.”

— Carl Elliot, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“There are two godheads: the world and my independent I.
I am either happy or unhappy, that is all. It can be said: good or evil do not exist.
A man who is happy must have no fear. Not even in the face of death.
Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Journal, 8 July 1916

a5f09-wittgenstein

“For the more general reader, Wittgenstein’s status in contemporary philosophy will be puzzling. The general view is that Wittgenstein is surely the very model of a great philosopher. The perception is that he is difficult, obscure and intense, severe and mystical, charismatic and strange, driven and tragic, with his charisma and difficulty bound up with his character and his life. Wittgenstein saw philosophy not just as a vocation, but as a way of life he had to lead. This is perhaps why writers and artists have found him an object of fascination and inspiration. He is the subject of novels, poetry, plays, painting, music, sculpture and films. In the arts and the culture generally, Wittgenstein seems to be what a philosopher ought to be.

[…]

In [the Philosophical Investigations], Wittgenstein thinks and writes with ruthless intellectual honesty. He pulls at every thread in his thought. To read it is to have the palpable sense of a thinker in the act of philosophical inquiry. And yet, at the same time, we cannot as readers be merely the passive audience for this drama. To read the Investigations as it should be read is to participate in a shared, essentially democratic endeavour in which we must find our own place among the myriad voices that enter, have their say, and exit, call out from off stage, return again in different garb with new parts. We are invited and must accept to be one of these players. We have to try to read it as honestly as it was written.”

— Ian Ground, Times Literary Supplement