Paolozzi closely identified on a personal level with Wittgenstein – he once referred to As Is When as a ‘combined autobiography’. A major element of this was a mutual feeling of cultural alienation in Britain – Paolozzi with his rural Italian heritage, in Leith, and Wittgenstein from high society Vienna, in Manchester, Cambridge and London. Against the grain of much of the fashionable thinking of their times, both Paolozzi and Wittgenstein considered their work to be matters of activity rather than abstract thinking/doctrine.
Geographically, Paolozzi seems to have been especially interested in the Italian monastery at Monte Cassino, midway between Rome and Naples. It was here that Wittgenstein was confined as a prisoner-of-war during World War 1. Paolozzi’s father had come from the village of Viticuso which is less than 10 miles east of Cassino.
Although born in Scotland, (1924), Paolozzi was interned during World War 2 and his father, grandfather and uncle were lost at sea as a result of a U-boat attack en-route to Canada. This may well have given Paolozzi heightened empathy with Wittgenstein in respect of his family tragedy – three of his brothers committed suicide. Wittgenstein himself contemplated the act, especially at times when he felt disgust for the milieu of his occupation and way of life.
Wittgenstein felt that his ideas were generally misunderstood and unappreciated in his time. This underlying theme was perhaps Paolozzi’s main reason for identifying – and here depicting – Wittgenstein’s as a tortured life.
The texts in Tortured Life are from Georg von Wright’s writing on Wittgenstein:
Wright, one day in a trench on the eastern front while he was reading a magazine in which there was a picture of the possible sequence of events in an automobile accident. The picture, he said served as a proposition where parts corresponded to things in reality, and so he conceived the idea that a verbal propo
sition is in effect a picture. By virtue of a similar correspondence between its parts and the world. In other words, the structure of the proposition ‘depicts a possible combination of elements in reality, a possible state of affairs’. The Tractatus
The proposition: ‘There is no hippopotamus in the room at present?’ When he refused to believe this, I looked under the desks without finding one; but he remained unconvinced.
Let us ask the question: ‘Should we say that the arrows > & < point in the same direction or in different directions?’ At first sight you might be inclined to say ‘of course in different directions’. But
One other aspect of Tortured Life is Paolozzi’s interest in the Laocoon – a Trojan priest most notably depicted with his two sons in an ancient sculpture located in the Vatican. The priest is shown fighting off an attack by sea serpents. Paolozzi apparently especially liked the strong visual dynamic of the sculpture and saw it as an iconic paradigm of human struggle.
One of the components for the collage is the chequer pattern used on the box for Cox’s gelatine – something locally and topically familiar to Paolozzi, and making a nice contrast with the exotic aspects of a deceased Austrian philosopher and high art involving an ancient Trojan!
And this is Paolozzi’s sculpture, Wittgenstein at Cassino: https://www.flickr.com/photos/harryhalibut/6045613167/in/pool-paolozzi
And his sculpture, Towards a New Laocoon: