So, my four days in Cambridge. Along with a great deal of cheeseburger-eating, i engaged in some Wittgenstein-related activities. On Monday i went to see a philosophy professor, as i was curious to meet an inheritor of Wittgenstein’s discipline, in one of the many places he didn’t feel at home. On Thursday i went to the Cambridge Wittgenstein Archive to talk to the bushily-moustachioed director, Michael Nedo. Between these two i became a death tourist, visiting the house where Wittgenstein died, then his grave.
i had no intention of hunting out his death house, but on the way to the cemetery i passed Storey’s Way and suddenly wanted to visit No 76. By the time i found it the sun was wholly gone and the skies were a dank grey; a typically subdued September evening. The house is hidden behind a fortress-like hedge; i didn’t want to pester the residents so contented myself with this dim poor photo:
A larger shot of the blue plaque here.
i felt weary and discouraged, as i trudged back down Storey’s Way. i found the Ascension Parish Burial Ground a few minutes later but the light was too dim for grave-peering, so i went home to get mildly drunk. The next day i went back in the afternoon. i wandered about for a while, looking for this:
But such a grave was not to be seen. Finally i was intercepted by the grave maker, who asked if i was looking for any graves in particular. i said “Elizabeth Anscombe and Ludwig Wittgenstein”. As it transpired, they were right next to each other, but i was also shown Frank Ramsay’s (almost illegible) stone, and the adjacent graves of G.E. Moore (almost illegible) and John Wisdom. i took photos but i see little point uploading shots of unreadable grave stones. Here, however, is Wisdom’s:
It’s pleasingly simple and to the point. Anscombe’s grave, rather worn already:
And, about six feet away, Wittgenstein’s almost unreadable slab:
And from another angle:
It is almost illegible. The grave maker told me that Wittgenstein requested the cheapest possible grave, and so the material hasn’t worn well. Anscombe, apparently, chose exactly the same material, and i suppose also chose to be buried as close as possible to her old tutor (as she apparently took to wearing one of his jackets after his death). i mentioned this to Michael Nedo; as far as i remember, he told me that LW didn’t say anything about how he wished to be buried, and the lettering (which the grave maker judged to be pretty sloppy) was done by one of LW’s students, very badly. As a rune scholar of sorts, i can appreciate the amateur quality of the carving. The grave is laden with coins, offerings from the living to the dead, obols i suppose – the grave maker said it seemed in bad taste, since LW had given up a small fortune after the Great War.
i chatted with the grave maker for a while. i warmed to him greatly; partly, i later realised, because i value the art, the practice of honouring the dead (my craft in Egypt), and so though i now understand nothing of the matter, in one sense we spoke as maker to maker.
“How many visitors come to Wittgenstein’s tomb?” i asked.
“About one a day, generally,” he said. “I’m not here every day but when I am there’ll usually be at least one. It’s like a cult. Some days it’s a feeding frenzy.”
We talked about LW a little. To my surprise he had read up on him, for example Norman Malcolm’s memoir of the man.
“i guess most visitors know things about his life but they don’t really read the philosophy,” i suggested.
He laughed and said something like, who can blame them, the philosophy isn’t exactly something you’d want to read. i agree, as i feel Wittgenstein’s philosophy is substantially harder than most, and i think only souls in need would or should read it, as “therapy” – as the philosopher prof i met on Monday put it, speech and language therapy.
The grave maker told me two people visit occasionally (or have visited in the past), who knew LW: an ex-porter at Trinity, who remembers Wittgenstein as “an awkward old sod” (which sounds accurate); and someone who was a young boy when Wittgenstein lived down the road; the great philosopher would, on his walks, stop to talk with the boy, and ruffle his hair; to my pleasure, the then-boy remembers LW with affection. i think both remembered some aspect of the man; that he was an awkward old sod, but also a basically good person, albeit complicatedly so. And i suppose that towards the end of his life he was ready to win free of these complications, to approach the matter from a very different angle, with as it were different complications.
Myself standing on the grave:
i felt amused and sated by the visit. i had intended to go with Gaw, but he chickened out, claiming to be dying of gout, so i had no one to photograph me doing Irish jigs on Wittgenstein’s grave.
While i was contemplating the stone, two ungainly and gawking students appeared, hunting as i guessed, for my grave. The maker intercepted them and pointed at me as a useful landmark. After brooding on Anscombe’s grave, and taking a pine cone from the nearest tree (i considered scooping up all the coins but they were mainly coppers), i departed, passing the students; they were looking at the graves of Moore and Wisdom, by the path. i hailed them and said, “are you philosophy graduates?”
They stared at me with some apprehension. The less timid of the pair said they were doing theology. i approved and said it was nice to see theologians with an interest in philosophy, nodded at them as they stared at me in fascinated horror, and departed.