Wittgenstein9

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

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“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

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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

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“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

Michelle Boulous Walker on the difficulty of practicing philosophy in modern institutions, and an alternative approach that might encourage a more careful and attentive relation with the world
Michelle Boulous Walker - Slow Philosophy
Michelle Boulous Walker, Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what inspired you to write Slow Philosophy?

I’m a philosopher who works in the European tradition. I have a background in political theory and an ongoing commitment to feminist politics. I’ve been teaching for some years now, and this has provided me with the opportunity to re-read key texts with my students.

For example, I’ve read Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus countless times with both undergraduate and graduate students. The joy of re-reading is what first alerted me to the power of slow reading because for me slow philosophy is partly about the quality of attention that comes through repeated engagements with a work or text. Each time I’d return to Plato’s dialogues I’d uncover new possibilities – new meanings that were possible partly because of the new frames I was bringing to his work. (more…)

As spring arrives in Cardiff, I divide my time between teaching responsibilities and reading. This week marks the final week of semester before Easter break. In my spare time, I am reading Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead. And in light of Teju Cole‘s essay collection, Known and Strange Things, I have have also been keen to return to his breakthrough novel, Open City.

Over the weekend, I watched an interesting documentary on the life and work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The film was produced for BBC’s Horizon series back in 1989, and in just under 49 minutes manages to mount an engaging profile of the twentieth-century thinker. The film includes interviews, anecdotes, and rare photographs of the people and places connected to the philosopher’s life. All in all, it’s a good general primer. For those interested in finding out more about Wittgenstein’s life, Ray Monk‘s excellent biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, is the place to go.

Michael Lackey on the popularity of the biographical novel, and what it can tell us about the relationship between literature, history and truth
Michael Lackey, The American Biographical Novel (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Michael Lackey, The American Biographical Novel (Bloomsbury, 2016)

What motivated you to write The American Biographical Novel

Through my reading of biographical novels, I noticed a shift in the nature of literary truth.  In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad illuminates the colonial mentality that enabled Europeans to plunder Africa and to abuse Africans with impunity.  Conrad represents that mentality through Kurtz, and as the narrator says, “all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.”  In essence, if we want to understand the European mentality that justified colonization and its horrific outcomes, we can look to Kurtz for some answers.  But with the rise of postmodernism, there has been growing skepticism about the traditional literary symbol.

Put simply, postmodernists question the value of an overarching truth claim, because they realize that someone constructed that truth for an ideological or political reason.  This approach to truth impacted the traditional literary symbol, so a postmodernist could easily say: “Look, Joe, you constructed the character of Kurtz in order to promote your own ideological agenda.  Therefore, I don’t see any reason why I should consider a character like Kurtz as symbolic of the European mind.”It is my contention that biographical novelists were becoming increasingly aware of the problems with the traditional literary symbol, but they also did not want to get rid of the literary symbol, because they realized that it could be effectively used to expose the structures and conditions of oppression.  (more…)

Nigel Warburton speaks to the biographer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and physicist Robert Oppenheimer
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Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosophy Bites: “Ray Monk discusses the relationship between philosophy and a philosopher’s life in this interview with Nigel Warburton for the Philosophy Bites podcast. Can understanding the biographical context of a philosopher and the type of person that they were help us understand their philosophical writing? Is there anything that philosophers might learn from biography? Monk as an award-winning biographer of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell is well-placed to address these questions.” [Listen to the Podcast]

The great Austrian philosopher was born on this day in 1889


Links: Portraits of Wittgenstein · Ludwig Wittgenstein on Twitter · Wittgenstein vs. Scientism · Wittgenstein: A Memoir · Homes of German Philosophers

An extract from one of Steiner’s literary reviews
I’ve been poring over a collection of George Steiner’s articles from The New Yorker magazine. It’s a fascinating selection that includes shrewd reflections on an impressive range of writers and thinkers. Among them are essays on Graham Greene, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett. But for now, Steiner’s remarks on the work of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard are catching my eye. Steiner was one of the first critics writing in America to recognize the significance of Bernhard’s work, and his 1986 essay for The New Yorker offers an insightful and enthusiastic appraisal…

(more…)

Will Self contributes to The Observer’s ‘My Other Life’ series by pondering an alternative career as an academic
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Will Self

I thought I might be an academic. I read PPE at Oxford and was very interested in Marx, Wittgenstein, Habermas – theories of knowledge and praxis. I applied to do an MPhil, but unfortunately I was busted for drugs before I sat my finals and went into something of a tailspin. I would’ve been a crap academic anyway – like most novelists I’m only really interested in being interested. When I left university I took a job as a driver/labourer for a builder in Stoke Newington. I lasted about six months and was about to get a raise when – feeling my Tolstoyan Pierre moment ending – I threw it over. A succession of deadend jobs followed, strung together by the cartoons I published in the New Statesman and other small left-wing periodicals. The only proper suit-and-tie job I’ve had in my life was the two years in the late 1980s when I ran a small corporate publishing company. I even had a Ford Sierra! Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and learned about every element of the publishing process, from copy editing to layout to print. I wrote my first book, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, in the early mornings before the rest of the staff came in for the day. [Read More]