Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wittgenstein and "careers"

Speaking of creative types having "careers," I was interested to learn a few things about Wittgenstein's view of the matter from Severin Schroeder's review, published in the March 19th TLS, of Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents, 1911-1951. You'll love this!

"His high opinion of manual labour and his reservations about academic teaching are reflected in his encouragement of his former student Rush Rhees's decision to take on work in a factory, and later, in Rhees's fear of Wittgenstein's disapproval when he had given up his factory work for a temporary post at Swansea University (because his 'welding kept on being bad.')"

I guess it takes someone with an academic career to advise somebody to get a real life. Less competition that way?

Here's more fun stuff about the old master -

He had a big paradigm change owing to an experience with the Italian economist Piero Sraffa, whom Keynes had brought to Cambridge. The two didn't get along that well, but were in touch over a long period of time till Sraffa quit the relationship.

"To a pupil Wittgenstein described how Sraffa broke the hold on him of his earlier view that a sign and what it stands for must have the same logical form - by making a Neopolitan gesture of contempt, brushing his chin with his fingertips, and asking: 'What is the logical form of that?'. Wittgenstein said that Sraffa made him feel like a tree stripped of its leaves."

And looking back over his damaged relationship with Sraffa, Wittgeinstein wrote this:

"The older I grow the more I realize how terribly difficult it is for people to understand each other, and I think that what misleads one is the fact that they all look so much like each other. If some people looked like elephants and others like cats, or fish, one wouldn't expect them to understand each other and things would look much more like what they really are."

Was he blind??!!

Anyway, the book looks marvy; but the thing is that like most, er, academic books, it's expensive. In fact, it costs as much as the entire multi-volume set of Eigner's poems that everyone says costs too much. I still say it's one of the biggest bargains around.


Henry Gould said...

Saying clever things can also become a career. Wittgenstein was a professional there. Though he didn't need the money, I suppose.

If I every settled on a career, it might be as an historian. With history you get the humbling sense of pressure & flow. Cleverness doesn't rate for much.

& what was Wittgenstein's esteem for manual labor? Maybe a belated & anemic memory of what we call, in poetry, the "georgic".

In the Congo right now, hopped-up warlords keep slaughtering the villagers, subsistence farmers. It's been happening for the last 10,000 years or so. But the farmers might outlast the warriors.

Virgil gave a lot of thought to this.

David Shapiro said...

Wittgenstein had particular problems, big traumas in trying to
yteach. He beat up one female student and then begged forgiveness
from the father. The uncanny thing is the fathert wouldn't accept his apoplogies because he couldn't understand anyone hitting a woman
for not doing homework, though he woiuld have had no poroblems with a man. Wittgenstein gets into violent quasi-duels within a famous evening of Popper, whom W threatened with a poker. Wittgenstein jhadf demanded to know what Poplper would call a ujiversal ethical form. Popper responded, Not to thrrsaten your guest with a hot poker. W put itndown and fled. I know many who should not be teaching. I grew
up asd a musician who hated mosyt of all music classes.... As my little siuster said: I love art. I hate my art teacher./
These stories are corroborated in a few bios of W, who
remains my favorite ladder without rungs.

David Shapiro said...

It's intertestimng if true that W was trouibled by the form of a gesture. At thew tiume, hje was whistling and reading poetry. I would love to see all of his remarks about gesturews put together. I can't quite believe he was as befuddled by a pejorative gesture as the story suggests.
W whirled in a fragrance of tall talkes., Many,as with Kennethy Kochm picked up his stutter but mnot his particular famous headache, which was his ohilosophy. He told his
students: IYou doin;t have this heafdachge., So gewt out!
Cruelk from a family of infinite cruewlty abd mulktiple suicides.
Suicides in his family matched the number of great pianos.... excuse my tremnblking hand--

מבול said...
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