Friday, 1 August 2014

Achieving more certainty about Wittgenstein, (if not about the meaning of life!)

My interest in As Is When came from the Paolozzi side.  I have been a fan of the Artist since I first attended Harrow School of Art in 1966.  My knowledge of Wittgenstein is limited, but I have long wanted to understand the thinking of this enigmatic man.  Regarding his life, I have previously expressed doubt about the Tractatus-in-his-knapsack ‘theory’ in regard to Wittgenstein the Soldier.  Ian Ground at has kindly pointed me in the direction of Ray Monk’s definitive biography of the Philosopher, The Duty of Genius.  The book’s 7th chapter details Wittgenstein’s First World War service and from this it would seem likely that his field knapsack did indeed number amongst its contents drafts and notes for the Tractatus. 

Ray Monk says in the Introduction to his book that Wittgenstein’s work can be properly understood only in relation to his life experiences.  This validates Paolozzi’s decision to include three ‘biographical’ prints in As Is When.  Wittgenstein the Soldier can be seen to have special significance, for, as Ray Monk observes: 

If Wittgenstein had spent the entire war behind the lines, the Tractatus would have remained what it almost certainly was in its first inception of 1915: a treatise on the nature of logic.  The remarks in it about ethics, aesthetics, the soul and the meaning of life have their origin in precisely the ‘impulse to philosophical reflection’ that Schopenhauer describes, an impulse that has as its stimulus a knowledge of death, suffering and misery. 

That Wittgenstein contemplated and developed his philosophy as he fought is perhaps the best example of the idea that thinking/artistic practice should be seen as activities best conducted in amongst the chaos of everyday life rather than as esoteric pursuits.  As mentioned in the earlier post, Tortured Life, this is a principal tenet of Paolozzi’s empathy.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.  Ray Monk.  Jonathan Cape.  1990.  ISBN 0-224-02712-3

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