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December 23, 2004



How about Paul Park's short story, "If Lions Could Speak: Imagining the Alien" in the collection "If Lions Could Speak" (which you should be reading anyway; he's nearly as good as Wolfe - http://www.cosmos-books.com/park-lions.html).


You must have seen it: Wittgenstein's Poker.

It's about LW's encounter with Karl Popper at Cambridge. One of the reviewers at bn.com is kind of amusing on the book's inadequacies as strong history:

"A little light on the philosophical issues, to be sure, and taking some liberties when it purports to get us into the heads of the protagonists in the events immediately leading up to and following the encounter, it also fails to offer any real revelation as to who really did what to whom. But, as others have noted elsewhere, it is fascinating to try to reconstruct the story, based on eyewitness and near-witness accounts in light of the philosophical questions these men were mainly concerned with: what can we know and how can we know it?"

The two sentences have a nice, ironic balance to them. QED, I'm tempted to say.

Anyway, it was widely reviewed.

Miguel Sánchez

It's almost overwhelming to think about Wittgenstein-inspired visual art - half the aspiring theory-mongers out there drop his name just to intimidate the audience and wow the critics. That said, this 2003 exhibit seems to fit the bill, though some of the work in it predated 2000. I'd poke around more with some of the artists named - I'm pretty sure the current Cerith Wyn Evans show at the MFA, Boston, for instance, has some blather about Wittgenstein in it. Probably the chandelier business.


Oops, I see you were looking specifically for LW related art, not pseudo-scholarly books! Sorry for the irrelevancy.


Presumably you already know about this.


Amardeep, if you start being sorry for the irrelevancy you'll never last in this business. Thanks, everyone, keep it coming.

Matt Weiner

Pre-2000ing it, I'm sure you've got V. and The Name of the Rose and Philip Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation on your list.


Actually, I didn't have V. or Name of the Rose. (I guess I read them both too early, before I studied Wittgenstein in college. Probably too early. Period.) And I went just now and Amazon searched inside both and damn if Wittgenstein's name didn't pop out twice. (The Eco worked only because he's included an afterword in a new edition, in which he says he thinks it's OK to put Wittgenstein in the mouths of his medievals so long as Wittgenstein was thinking medievally at the time. Which may be fair enough.)

Matt Reece

This might be too obvious and/or trivial to bring up, but in the New Pornographers' song "Chump Change," Dan Bejar sings "the world is that which is the case."

Dan Green

John: Believe it or not, I actually have a Wittgenstein-inspired short story about to come out in a literary magazine. If you want, I could send you a copy when it appears.


Please do, Dan!

Matt Weiner

Yay me! The Wittgenstein refs in V. may not include his name--the weirdo novelist sings a song (just after Benny Profane has decided not to sleep with her) beginning "If the world is all that the case is," and the radio emissions that they're decoding in South Africa turn out to be the first line of the TLP (in German). I've read an essay that attributes the Wittgenstein refs to the basic unverifiability of the theories of the unity of V. (or something like that) that Stencil is investigating--it seems like he may be going beyond the picture of the word as the totality of facts. YMMV as far as Wittgenstein interp. goes. (The only thing I remember from Name of the Rose is that the old wise monk quotes the line about throwing away the ladder toward the very end.)


All very amusing. Thank you for those details, Matt, which even the increasingly lidless eye of Amazon search inside would not catch easily.


Matt, if I remember the scene right in V, the novelist is also wearing a blanket, which he never takes off. Do you remember the supposed significance of that? (After he sings the song, he also gets the woman to get under the blanket. I tried singing Tractatus-inspired songs to my wife, but I haven't gotten the same effect).

Matt Weiner

Mark, I don't remember the significance of the blanket; is that Wittgensteinian somehow? I think the novelist was a woman (I just remembered her name: Mafia Winsome) and that maybe it was Pig Bodine she got to, um, join her under the blanket. Your wife prefers the Investigations?

My brother just reminded me that my mom just showed me an article about this Mark Tansey exhibition: "; philosophers’ portraits, from Socrates to Ludwig Wittgenstein, emerge from the mountainside in West Face (2004)." There was an NYTimes article (lost in the archives now, I think) with a picture of West Face and some of the details pointed out. Profound, or Magic Eye for pretentious people like me, or both?

And didn't the Electric Eels release an album called Having a Philosophical Investigation with the Electric Eels? That's all I know about it.

Jonathan Derbyshire

English composer Anthony Powers set the Tractatus to music. Here's a link to a piece I wrote about his 'A Picture of the World' for The Philosophers' Magazine: http://www.philosophersnet.com/magazine/article.php?id=535


I don't have any LW art but have a couple of anecdotes about the effect he seems to have had on all his direct students (should I say "disciples"?). I was a student at Birmingham, mixing with Philosophy undergraduates though not on that course. Peter Geach taught there. He would lecture with his eyes closed leaning rigid with his head against a wall, like a propped ladder. He lapsed into such long silences, whilst presumably philosophizing on the hoof, that students laid bets as to whether he was asleep. The weirdness of his presence was enhanced by the gentian violet that leaked from the corners of his mouth. Apparently he painted his gums with it. The only time I met him was in a bar. He was reading a newspaper but when I approached to introduce myself I saw that it was upside down, and again, he had his eyes closed, though a pint of beer was beside him. He was talking to himself aloud. Perhaps he was philosophizing?

I was also told of a well-known woman philosopher who had also been an LW student. Was it Elizabeth Anscomb? She had no babysitter so she brought her twin infants with her and parked them on the mantelpiece behind her. The students could not concentrate on her lecture, for worrying that they would fall off. Deep in thought, she mistook the tense atmosphere for rapt attention to her utterances.

ben wolfson

Ted Cohen told at least one class of his, and probably many more, a story involving Anscombe. I've forgotten most of it, but it took place in New Orleans at a conference, and for some reason she insisted on his taking her to get breakfast at some specific place or type of place. Along the way she picked two flowers and gave one to him. Later, she turned to him, and said that he may as well give her his flower, as he wasn't eating it.

Brian Zimmerman

My father shares this story:

Sometime in the early 1980's I am with a group of ITT coworkers on a business trip in Paris. There is an art exhibit in one of little palaces near the Seine. I am the only one interested. The building is divided into rooms with an art dealer per room. Mind boggling far out modern art, etc. I walk into a room with only an attendent sitting at a desk. The  painting I remember is a hand holding up glob of red paint. I shout out; He has painted Wittgenstein!

The person at the desk speaks only French. I say; Wittgenstein, he has painted Wittgenstein in a French accent. She indicates I should wait and leaves the room. At this time I had been trying to understand LW for several years and had never met anyone who knew the name much less the philosophy.

What can I say to someone who paints Wittgenstein? She comes back with someone who speaks some English. I shake his hand and say; "If it can be said it can be said clearly. Or nothing should be said at all." And I leave.

Anyone interested in learning what happened at LW lectures should read Norman Malcom's memoir of LW.


Nirav Soni

I am amazed to see that no one has cited the granddaddy of all Wittgenstein inspired music, Cornelius Cardew's "Tractatus". A 192 page graphically notated score for any number of players with any instruments. No instructions for performance in the score.

If you can get your hands on a copy, it's an extraordinary visual object, Edition Peters put it out. As far as recordings of it, the best recordings are of short sections of it; I've heard Keith Rowe take almost half an hour to play 2 pages of it. AMM plays a section of it on the CD version of "Combine + Laminates" and the French improvising emsemble Formanex also has a really interesting performance.

Some of Gary Hill's videos are inspired by Wittgenstein, but I forget which ones in particular.


Hey. I drew a Wittgenstein-inspired maze. To see it, click here.

Also, the music group Matmos created a song titled Roses And Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein in which a passage from Philosophical Investigations is read.


Hey Maze Designer, that's a funny coincidence. I knew Drew Daniels (of Matmos) in grad school.

ben wolfson

So what are the major pre-2000 examples?

ben wolfson

That Matmos track is from an album called The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, a line from PI xi.


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