Mar 222013

Wes Cecil is a great undergraduate teacher, an amazing classroom personality. And, of course, Wittgenstein is the greatest, most ill-understood philosopher of the last century or so, partly because he invented two quite different philosophical systems. He grew up rich in Vienna, in a suicidal family. Thomas Bernhard always leaned on the Wittgensteins in his novels for that very reason — brilliant, obsessed, suicidal characters; see, for example, his little book called Wittgenstein’s Nephew. I once went to see G. E. M. Anscombe lecture at the University of Chicago, not a public lecture but a class in a course she was teaching (November, 1967 or 1968). She sat behind a table smoking little black cigars and talking; this was the Wittgenstein style as I understood it. She was reputed to have held him in her arms as he died; this sounds romantic except that neither of them seemed to have been the slightest bit romantic. But I went to see her because of the legend. For years I was in love with the legend. There is a chapter on him in my M. Litt. dissertation buried in the University of Edinburgh Library.

Another thing that is interesting about Wittgenstein is of course that, though he was from Vienna (where they did either positivism or Freudianism), he learned his philosophy in England at the dubious hands of Bertrand Russell. He was in the tradition, more or less, of what was called analytic philosophy as practiced in the UK and America through most of the twentieth century. Analytic philosophy turned into linguistic philosophy at a certain point but always remained separate, almost hermetically sealed off from existentialism and phenomenology and later continental developments like deconstruction and the various forms of hybrid Marxism that came out of the Frankfurt School. The two (or three, depending on how you slice the potato) traditions look down their noses at each other most of the time. And nowadays analytic philosophy and even linguistic philosophy as it was once practiced is as dead as a doornail. So here I offer you a link to a new book about Wittgenstein and the uber-continentalist Heidegger; people are trying to bring them together (in my opinion, it can’t be done: Heidegger was a romantic in just the sense Wittgenstein was not; Wittgenstein was ever the anguished Puritan or the Viennese neurotic version of one).

Lee Braver, Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, MIT Press, 2012, 354pp., $38.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780262016896.  Reviewed by Gary E. Aylesworth, Eastern Illinois University



  One Response to “Wes Cecil Lectures on the Life and Philosophy of Wittgenstein”

  1. Cool. For other Wittgenstein-inspired fiction, see David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress and DFW’s The Broom of the System. Both are imperfect but fun.

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