Monday, 28 July 2014

Cars and frocks - artists' legacies

Wittgenstein in New York
This is the second print referring to an episode in Wittgenstein's life.

Norman Malcolm was an American philosopher, (1911-90).  He became a friend of Wittgenstein at Cambridge University in the late 1930s.  After Wittgenstein’s death, Malcolm wrote, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, which was published in 1958.  It was this account of Wittgenstein which so engaged Paolozzi’s interest in the Philosopher’s life and work. 

In July 1949 Wittgenstein, responding to Malcolm’s invitation to stay with him at Ithaca, sailed to America on the Queen Mary.  He had been living in Dublin and had recently been to Vienna to see his eldest sister who has very ill with cancer.  Wittgenstein himself was unwell and had been unable to work since March.  Anaemia was diagnosed, but it is likely that his illness was in fact the prostate cancer that would be the cause of his death in 1951. 

Perhaps the prospect of the trip across the Atlantic, which initially daunted him, revitalized Wittgenstein, as Malcolm recorded in the Memoir: 

He went on to say that if I should not be able to meet him in New York he would 'jolly well' make the eight- or nine-hour train trip to Ithaca alone. 'Maybe, like in the films, I'll find a beautiful girl whom I meet on the boat & who will help me.' 

I went to New York to meet Wittgenstein at the ship. When I first saw him I was surprised at his apparent physical vigour.  He was striding down the ramp with a pack on his back, a heavy suitcase in one hand, cane in the other.  He was in very good spirits and not at all exhausted and he would not allow me to help him with his luggage.  My chief recollection of the long train ride home is that we talked about music and that he whistled for me, with striking accuracy and expressiveness, some parts of Beethoven 7th Symphony.

On a more trivial note, in the same way that some people now will associate the name Picasso primarily with a rather unpleasant looking French motor car . . .  !

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