Various Wittgenstein-related things i came across this year:
1. Two portraits of LW in Im Winter Ein Jahr (my present header is a screenshot), by Florian Süssmayr. i don’t remember seeing this expression in any of LW’s photographs and it’s not in the original photo (from ’29). The eyes seem exhausted and grimly determined. However, i think it expresses something of LW’s “inner life”, and is a little like the look in his last photograph (the last before his death, that is).
2. An odd pastiche of Wittgenstein, as he emerges in his journals and in various memoirs. i’m not sure how i feel about this. The author, an academic philosopher called Lars Iyer, came in for a Kurpian lambasting for writing idle gibberish, and the 3rd comment (Iyer’s associate Stephen Mitchelmore calling Kurp an “ignorant cunt”) doesn’t encourage sympathy. i’m not keen on this circle of fame-hungry bloggers. Mitchelmore’s review of one of Iyer’s books:
I think we ought to read only books that wound and stab us. Kafka’s letter, sent one hundred and eight years ago, is one I’ve quoted often enough and I’m reluctant to do so again. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us like a blow on the head, what are we reading for? Shouldn’t its grave romanticism be left to teenage goths? But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. But we’re all teenage goths now. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
Perhaps I’ve quoted the letter so often because it demands answers, answers to “what are we reading for?” and what kind of book constitutes such an axe. Answering the latter may help to answer the former. What books come to mind? Even if my head is rent daily by literary blows, I find it difficult to answer because knowing is the answer’s contradiction: knowing is the fridge freezer for ideas
“We’re all teenage goths now” forsooth; teenage goths who publicly sip absinthe, or at least something green, write troubled ruminations in Moleskin journals (which are then left lying around so people will read them); they then sneeringly acknowledge their pretentiousness, by saying grandly: “we are all teenage goths now”.
Sitting around talking about meaningful things that are in various stages of being established or destroyed–that is what I like the most. Often I am dimly cognizant in the back of my mind of how, in spite of temporary errands and obstacles, essentially I am getting back to that scene, anticipated, at the white kitchen table. A couple friends are coming over, and it is always a summit, a strategy session, a bolstering of shared attitudes. In these neighborly events people become so individualized . . . it is outrageous. One person is funnier and more profound than the next–better than any fiction. And then suddenly there is a shuddering undercurrent, as if we were all stranded, with unfinished plans and unresolved in a world of utterly important, plural meanings. We are unique to each other, and it is all refracted, so we all go home with pieces of each other, but where everything starts and ends of course is with a person. Why do I say this? Stalled in traffic, riding on a river of cars, one is buoyed up by the thought of the sheer ground of ones being. In spite of any laughing critics, who can be turned off as easily as a car radio. One exists this way . . .
Is it surprising, that when they’re not sitting around talking about meaningful things that are in various stages of being established or destroyed, the teenage goths become teenage trolls? And they write a great deal, in a doomed vein, angling. The obscurity and isolation of their heroes is the one thing they don’t want. They want to be famous for being agonised and profound. Book signings, author profiles, interviews, royalties, conferences, adulation, etc. etc., all off the back of a well-professed despair.
i sometimes feel impatient with doomed writers like Beckett; i want to say, for god’s sake pull yourself together and either kill yourself or do something useful. But don’t write. This is rare: usually, Beckett’s humour, intelligence, style work a curious magic, and what could have been mere wallowing becomes – well, Beckett. Take away that wit and you have a teenage goth, though i can’t imagine Beckett, or Kafka, spewing trollish venom; or if so moved, i suppose they could manage something more accurate and inventive than “ignorant cunt”. One could hardly call Kurp ignorant, and there’s no evidence of cuntry on his blog – just a blunt, curmudgeonly matter-of-factness, which one could call the essence of Kurp. If i wanted to insult Kurp, i would call him a large, bald, bearded, tie-wearing, bespectacled Buckeyed defiler, a potato-eating brute with paving-slab-sized hands and wedge-shaped feet.
So i was surprised to enjoy much of Iyer’s Wittgenstein pastiche. Of course it is parasitic, in that some is just slightly rewritten Wittgenstein. However, i’ve found many good passages, for example:
To kill oneself – why is this move necessary?, he wonders. You would think that the will to die would be enough. That the desire to die should lead us straight to death. Isn’t it the case that in certain cultures, merely to repeat the words ‘I divorce you’ three times is sufficient to bring about a divorce? So should it be with the words ‘I renounce life’, if they are said three times.
The will to take one’s life: it asks too much, it demands too much, he says. You are weak, you have lost the measure of your strength – and now you have to strengthen yourself again? You have lain down you arms, thrown them aside – and now you have to take them up against yourself?
As far as i’m aware Wittgenstein never said or wrote this; though it is possible Iyers just lifted it from someone else. And:
He gives the sense of having read everything, but also of having forgotten everything.
The sense of having lived not one, but several lives.
Well. i think this project works because Iyers, the fashionable academic philosopher, writes from the perspective of one of his hero’s clueless, lukewarm students – recalling the academics who gobbled up Wittgenstein’s words then wrote their own “versions”, much to his ire. It’s true that there is something a little disgusting about an academic philosopher purloining a real philosopher’s life and words for his own amusement, and to make money of course, to publish and be cried up. And the whole thing preys parasitically upon Wittgenstein’s life & works (but then the author is an academic). However, it’s well done and often amusing; for example:
A visit to Wittgenstein’s rooms. You keep quiet when he offers you a gingerbread man, which he bought from Greggs. Wittgenstein Jr is a great admirer of Greggs, he says. He asks you whether you are acquainted with Greggs. Wittgenstein Jr knew nothing of Greggs until recently, he says. Now he is a convert, especially of the discount Greggs – ‘Have you been there?’ And then, with enthusaism, ‘You should! It’s very good, very cheap’.
One could forgive Iyers a great deal of fashionable gibberish, for writing this (for non-British readers, Greggs is ubiquitous, cheap, and produces low to medium quality fast food – it is a favourite resort of chavs).
3. One of my groups is on hold over Easter. They asked to reconvene on April 19th but i’m busy then, so i suggested the next Thursday – the 26th of April.
“Wittgenstein’s birthday,” i informed them gravely.
“We should bring Prosecco and cakes,” one said brightly. “We need an excuse to celebrate something.”
“Okay, i’ll bring booze and cakes.” And i told them the tale of his last birthday cake.
4. Another Wittgenstein portrait, by Anna Karelina.
A cross between Wittgenstein and Beckett – an astute reworking.