Saturday, July 31, 2010

The showmanship of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Here is a description of some of Wittgenstein's typical antics (based on an account given by Peter Munz of a famous 1946 seminar and taken from the book Wittgenstein's Poker by David Edmonds and John Eidinow):

'[Wittgenstein] wrestles visibly with his ideas, holding his head in his hands, occasionally throwing out staccato remarks, as though each word were as painful as plucking thorns, and muttering, "God I am stupid today" or shouting "Damn my bloody soul! ... Help me someone!" '

Now here is a scene from the story 'The secret garden' by G.K. Chesterton (published as the second story in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911, three years after Wittgenstein's first arrival in England):

'... Father Brown, who had sprung swiftly to his feet, [...] was holding his temples tight like a man in sudden and violent pain.

"Stop, stop, stop!" he cried; "stop talking a minute, for I see half. Will God give me strength? Will my brain make the one jump and see all? Heaven help me! I used to be fairly good at thinking... Will my head split - or will it see? I see half - I only see half."

He buried his head in his hands, and stood in a sort of rigid torture of thought or prayer ...'

In 1936 Wittgenstein tried to distance himself from the Father Brown stories (which had been recommended to him): '... Wittgenstein turned up his nose. "Oh no, I couldn't stand the idea of a Roman Catholic priest playing the part of a detective. I don't want that." '

And yet it seems that Wittgenstein, in playing the part of a philosopher, had himself been mimicking that fictional Roman Catholic priest playing the part of a detective!