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WITTGENSTEIN’S SHAKESPEARE

by Marjorie Perloff, Stanford

From Will the Modernist: Shakespeare and the European Historical Avant-Gardes, ed. Giovanni Cianci and Caroline Patey (London: Peter Lang, 2014), 107-24.

ludwig-wittgensteinShakespeare_Droeshout_1623

People look at [Shakespeare] in amazement almost as a spectacle of nature. They do not have the feeling that this brings them into contact with a great human being. Rather with a phenomenon.
It seems to me that [Shakespeare’s] plays are like enormous sketches, not paintings; they are dashed off by one who could, so to speak, permit himself everything. And I understand how one can admire this & call it the highest art, but I don’t like it.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value1

Abstract: Wittgenstein’s oddly negative assessment of Shakespeare has caused consternation among literary critics. From F. R. Leavis to the present, English critics have often assumed that Wittgenstein was simply a bad judge of poetry and that he knew little about the literature of his adopted country. Or again, Wittgenstein stands accused, by critics like George Steiner, of demanding clear ethical values from literature – values Shakespeare, who never quite took sides with particular characters, did not proclaim. This essay argues that such criticisms fail to understand Wittgenstein’s own context as an Austrian writer, brought up on the German classics of the 18th C and 19th C centuries. It s true that this “classical” literature, coming two centuries later than Shakespeare, was much more subjective, more personal than Elizabethan literature, and that Wittgenstein was accustomed to a psychology not characteristic of Shakespeare. It is the demand for realism, for characters with whom the reader can identify that makes Shakespeare unsatisfactory to Wittgenstein. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein’s fugitive remarks about Shakespeare show great acumen and insight; he understood the Tragedies – for example, King Lear, much better than one might conclude from some of his strictures. Despite the gulf between the two writers, Shakespeare’s “dreamwork,” as Wittgenstein calls it, became a model for the philosopher’s own writing.

In the annals of Shakespeare criticism, Wittgenstein’s curiously negative assessment of the Bard has long been notorious2. How could this great philosopher be so blind to the genius of the greatest of poets? Was it that, as F. R. Leavis, Wittgenstein’s Cambridge colleague, remarked dismissively, “Cultivated as he was, his interest in literature had remained rudimentary”?3 Or was it, as so many commentators have posited, that Wittgenstein was troubled by Shakespeare’s seeming indifference to ethical values? For Wittgenstein, George Steiner explains, the great poet is one who is “not only a matchless artificer and imaginer [like Shakespeare], but, the … communicator to his fellow-men of a high, articulate religious-moral-philosophical vision and criticism of life” (Steiner 1996: 126). The resultant “misreadings” of Shakespeare’s dramatic discourse, writes Steiner, shows that “a great logician and epistemologist can be a blind reader of literature” (Steiner 1996: 127). And in a recent radio dialogue, the Stanford professors Robert Harrison and Stephen Orgel agree that Wittgenstein failed to comprehend Shakespeare’s openness to contradiction. “You really can’t pin [Shakespeare] down,” Orgel explains. “There isn’t some grand scheme behind the work. … It can’t be reduced to a philosophical position.”⁴

True, but can Wittgenstein be pinned down? When he was a young soldier on the Eastern Front in World War I, he discovered Tolstoy, specifically the late book Gospel in Brief, which, so he later told friends, “kept him alive” at this difficult time (Monk 1990: 115–16). Yet the submission to Tolstoyan Christianity was short-lived; Wittgenstein was soon reading, with great interest, Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ. (Monk 1990: 121). As for the notion that philosophy takes a particular position, “by the early 1930s, Wittgenstein was insisting that philosophy was itself really a form of poetry,5 that indeed, ‘Philosophical analysis does not tell us anything new about ‘thought’; on the contrary, ‘Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. … It leaves everything as it is.”⁶

‘Grand schemes’? ‘Higher spiritual aspirations’? It was Wittgenstein, sounding for all the world like an avant-garde poet, who admonished his readers, “Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information.”⁷ As for the theatre, here is a telling passage from a 1930 notebook:

Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone engaged in some simple everyday activity, when he thinks he is not being watched. Let’s imagine a theatre, the curtain goes up & we see someone alone in his room walking up and down, lighting a cigarette, sitting down, etc. so that we are suddenly seeing someone from the outside in a way we can never see ourselves; as if we, so to speak, witnessed a chapter from a biography with our own eyes, – surely this would be uncanny and wonderful at the same time. More wonderful than anything that a playwright could produce to be performed or spoken onstage. We would be seeing life itself. – But then we do see this every day & it doesn’t make the slightest impression on us! True, but we don’t see it in perspective. … Only the artist can represent the individual thing so that it appears to us as a work of art. … The work of art forces us – so to speak – to see it in the right perspective, but without art the object is only an object like any other.⁸

This is one of the clearest statements of the Conceptualist notion that the poetic construct – in this case a play – is distinguished, not, as most Modernist critics from I. A. Richards to the Russian Formalists believed, by its use of special language, whether imagery, metaphor, pun, or rhetorical figure, but by its “perspective” or framing, a framing that makes us spectators feel that we are witnessing “life itself,” as it is actually lived but which we normally fail to “see.” “Ordinary language,” as Wittgenstein put it, “is alright” (BB 1965: 28). Indeed, the great poet or artist is one who can take the most pedestrian object or event – the man crossing the room to open the door – and make it entirely new. The artist who immediately comes to mind is, ironically, one whom Wittgenstein did not know and whose work he would surely have dismissed as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘worthless,’ had he been exposed to it. I am thinking of Wittgenstein’s exact contemporary Marcel Duchamp, whose readymades – the urinal called Fountain or the snow shovel suspended in a glass case and titled In Advance of the Broken Arm – were precisely ordinary objects, made new by the subtle use of framing, captioning, and displacement.⁹

But where does Shakespeare fit into this scheme of things? To answer this difficult question we must begin with Wittgenstein’s own context – the culture within which he operated. When Leavis remarks that the Wittgenstein he knew at Cambridge seemed to have little interest in literature, he means, of course, English literature.10 But then Wittgenstein was not English: he grew up in Vienna on the German classics – specifically Goethe and Schiller, followed by the nineteenth-century lyric poets from Heinrich Heine to Eduard Mörike and fiction writers from Heinrich von Kleist to Gottfried Keller. More important, for a Viennese of Wittgenstein’s generation, the word drama signified first and foremost the prolific Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, whose now classical romantic dramas, like the trilogy The Golden Fleece (1821), are still produced regularly at Vienna’s Burgtheater, along with the plays of Johann Nestroy and Ferdinand Raimund.

When my own family emigrated to New York from Nazi Austria in 1938, among the few books we managed to bring with us were little paperback volumes of Raimund – for example, Der Bauer als Millionär (1830) and Der Verschwender (The Wastrel 1832); I still know these Zaubermärchen plays by heart.

Wittgenstein was also quite familiar with such of his Viennese contemporaries as Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus (he frequently refers to the latter, often with asperity),11 Rainer Marie Rilke, and especially the Expressionist poète maudit Georg Trakl. The latter’s suicide on the Eastern Front in 1914 hit Wittgenstein, who had never met him but had endorsed his poetry, especially hard. “Wie traurig. Wie traurig!!!”, he wrote in his Notebook.12 These are hardly the words of a logician who doesn’t trust the poetic imagination, as Steiner and others imply.

At the same time – and here is where things get complicated – it is important to understand that Wittgenstein’s education was not the typical one of the Austrian or German intellectual either. Although, like his siblings, he had received extensive musical training, he was sent, at fourteen, not to the Gymnasium in Vienna, but to the more technical and less academic Realschule in Linz, where, as is well known, Hitler was briefly his contemporary. Thus he was not exposed to the Greek and Latin classics; on the contrary, after leaving Linz in 1906, he studied mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin and two years later moved on to Manchester to further his studies in aeronautics. It was here in 1908 that Wittgenstein first read Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica and decided to go to Cambridge to study philosophy with Russell. The latter regularly referred to his new pupil as “my German engineer” (Monk 1990: 39), while Lytton Strachey, considering Wittgenstein for possible membership in the exclusive Apostles (a membership Wittgenstein later refused), sarcastically dubbed him “Herr Sinckel-Winckel” (Monk 1990: 48–49).Wittgenstein was to have numerous close friends, lovers, and disciples at Cambridge, both in the pre-War years, and after 1930, when he returned as a university don. But he remained always an outsider, aloof from Cambridge concerns and especially hostile to Bloomsbury, whose ethical and aesthetic values he found wholly alien. (Monk 1990: 255–57).

Then, too, Wittgenstein’s evolving aesthetic, in the Cambridge years, is difficult to expound because his highly eccentric personal tastes were by no means in accord with his aesthetic principles. The philosopher who regularly insisted that the beautiful could not be defined and that to call aesthetics a science was “ridiculous” – like being able “to tell us what sort of coffee tastes good!” (LA 1966: 11) – was quite ready, in his letters, notebooks, and conversations, to pronounce on a given work with strong conviction. The words großartig and herrlich appear again and again with reference to a Mozart symphony, a Mörike poem, or Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Schubert’s Quintet in C Sharp is von phantastischer Großartigkeit (‘exhibits fantastic brilliance’), the second movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is unglaublich (‘unbelievable’), Mahler’s music, by contrast is nichts wert (‘worthless’), and Alfred Ehrenstein’s poetry ein Hundedreck (‘dog shit’).13

The excessive vehemence of these pronouncements is no doubt, at least in part, a function of class and nationality: as a member of one of the wealthiest, most elegant families of Vienna – a family inhabiting what was justly designated a palace – Wittgenstein no doubt felt entitled to an opinion, especially when it came to the performance of music. But he also knew that such personal and emotional opinions had no place in philosophical discourse, where, as Wittgenstein makes especially clear in his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough, in assessing a ‘primitive’ culture, a religious ritual, or an art form, one cannot explain a given practice (Gebrauch); “one can only describe and say this is what human life is like” (GB 1993: 121).

Wittgenstein’s critique of Shakespeare, fragmentary and diaristic as it was, belongs, at least at first glance, to his personal commentary: surely, he would not have published these sweeping and off-the-cuff remarks. At the same time, his malaise vis-à-vis Shakespeare was not merely idiosyncratic, as were so many of his literary judgments. Rather, I would posit, Wittgenstein’s mistrust was a function of his peculiar Germanic modernity, his lack of understanding for anything as remote as the English Renaissance, which had taken place four centuries earlier. Indeed, the history of English literature, as it evolved from Chaucer and Spenser to the twentieth century has no counterpart in the Viennese world. For whereas the English Renaissance from Shakespeare to Milton, including the great lyric poets and writers of devotional prose of the seventeenth century, is agreed to be an age of brilliant accomplishment, the Germany of the Renaissance, a mosaic of independent states, could boast of no internationally known author aside from Martin Luther. Indeed, to speak of the German ‘Classics’ as opposed to the British ones is to speak of the great figures of the later eighteenth century: Goethe and Schiller, to a lesser extent G. E. Lessing and J.G. von Herder. If the Golden Age of English Literature was understood by the British reading public to be the ‘Renaissance,’ for a German contemporary of Wittgenstein’s it would no doubt have been the Age of Goethe.14

It is difficult to believe that the term Classics can be so differently defined, but whereas for an English primary and secondary school student, the national classic is Shakespeare, for the German-speaking equivalent, as I can attest, the classics came into being a full two centuries later. Indeed, it was not till the 1830s, when August Schlegel began his great translation of the tragedies, that Shakespeare was introduced into the German-speaking world: the belatedness of this entry into the canon had the effect of producing a wave of bardolatry that was to know no bounds: Shakespeare was made over as the great Germanic Romantic hero. Even Adolf Hitler, a recent study of the Führer’s library has revealed, adored Shakespeare, preferring him to Goethe and Schiller (Ryback 2010: xi-xiii).

Perhaps it was the nineteenth-century German cult of Shakespeare as natural genius, a mysterious and anonymous creator, above and beyond the characters he had invented, that alienated Wittgenstein. “I think,” he wrote in 1950, “that in order to enjoy a poet one must also be fond of the culture to which he belongs. If it leaves you feeling indifferent or contrary, your admiration cools” (CV 1994: 96). Goethe, in contrast to Shakespeare, belonged to a modern age Wittgenstein could understand: in his historical or myth-based tragedies, from Götz von Berlichingen to Iphigenie to Faust, as in his novels from Werther to Die Wahlverwandschaften (Elective Affinities), and even in his botanical study The Metamorphosis of Plants (which Wittgenstein especially admired) – Goethe had an essentially lyric sensibility. However complex, ironic, or multivoiced a given Goethe text, the poet is always present in the work. When, for example, Wittgenstein cites Faust’s recognition (I, 3, l. 63) that “Am Anfang war die Tat” (‘In the beginning was the deed’), the implication is that the epiphany is not only Faust’s but that of Goethe himself, at his most resistant to Christianity. For Wittgenstein, poetry is understood as the expression of an individual and unique sensibility. From Goethe and Schiller to Trakl and Kraus, poets were seen as specially endowed individuals. The same holds true, for that matter, for German philosophers from Kant to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

It is in this German Romantic-Modernist context that we must understand Wittgenstein’s response to Shakespeare. The famous aphorism from the Tractatus “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (5.6), is, after all, a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it pinpoints Wittgenstein’s central conviction that there are no thoughts prior to their embodiment in language, that “language is not contiguous to anything else” (LWL 1980: 112). On the other, the reference is to ‘my’ world, to the personal reference of even the most commonly played and seemingly ubiquitous language game. And ‘my’ world, as Wittgenstein would have been the first to admit, was one of profound exile. Having made the decision to teach philosophy at Cambridge in 1929 when he was forty, Wittgenstein could never quite reconcile himself to English habits and customs and was soon finding ways of distancing himself from Cambridge life: the failed plan to become a worker in the Soviet Union (1935–36) was followed by less ambitious escapes to Norway, Wales, and, in his last years, to Ireland. “If you ever live amongst foreign people for any length of time,” he wrote his friend Frank Ramsay shortly after arriving in Cambridge in 1929, “& be dependent on them you will understand my difficulty” (CC 1995: 228). “In my room,” he wrote in his diary of 1930, “I feel not only alone but exiled [exiliert]” (Klagge 2011: 56). In April 1947, “Cambridge grows more hateful to me. The disintegrating and putrefying English civilization.” And a few months later, “I feel myself to be an alien [fremd / Fremdling] in the world” (Monk 1990: 516).

Such histrionic statements may be taken with a grain of salt: mercurial as Wittgenstein was, there were other moments when he felt great warmth for his Cambridge students and local friends. It was Wittgenstein, after all, who remarked in his 1916 diary, written during World War I, “that we cannot defeat England seems certain. The English – the best race in the world – cannot lose!” (Perloff 1996: 26). In 1940, at the height of the Blitzkrieg, Wittgenstein confided to his friend Drury that “despite my dislike of many features of English life, now that England is in real danger, I realize how fond I am of her” (Drury 1984: 159). And in 1951, having come back to Cambridge to spend his dying days at the home of his physician Dr. Edward Bevan, his last words to Mrs. Bevan, with whom he had struck up a great friendship, were, “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life” (Monk 1990: 579).

Teaching the ‘Differences’

It was towards the end of that ‘wonderful life’ that Wittgenstein came to Shakespeare. He had been familiar with the major plays from childhood on – they were staged by his siblings, especially Gretl and Rudi, at family theatricals at the Palais Wittgenstein (McGuinness 1988: 36) – but the first note on Shakespeare in the Nachlass coincides with the outbreak of World War II in 1939:

Shakespeare, one might say, shows the dance of human passions.
He must therefore be objective, otherwise he would not, after all, be showing the dance of human passions – but just talking about it. But he shows them [the passions] as a dance, not naturalistically. (CV 1994: 42)

This is a curious and seemingly contradictory statement. The phrase ‘dance of the human passions’ connotes formal structure and ritual – one thinks of W.B. Yeats’s repeated use of dance as an analogy for poetic structure. A dance play, moreover, would certainly be the antithesis of a ‘naturalistic’ drama – say, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which Yeats, for one, despised. But – and here’s the catch – naturalism is by definition the depiction of everyday reality, particularly the seamy side of life, recorded objectively – as it were, scientifically. As such, Naturalism as a late nineteenth-century literary movement was a reaction against Romantic idealization – against, for example, the intense subjectivity of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. Naturalism went hand in hand with objectivity.

For Wittgenstein, however, the naturalistic or realistic is, curiously enough, related to the subjective, the personal. His own way of writing philosophy was, as he tells us in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations, to produce “a series of remarks (Bemerkungen), short paragraphs, sometimes in longer chains dealing with the same subject, sometimes jumping, in quick change, from one area to another.” The pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ are ubiquitous in these ‘remarks,’ giving Wittgenstein’s questions and answers an intimate tone: the reader is, so to speak, overhearing a highly personal debate. And the “very nature of the investigation” … is “to force us to travel over a wide range of thoughts, criss-cross [kreuz und quer] in all directions,” producing no more than “a number of sketches,” arranged in what is, in the end, “just an album” (PI 2009: 3–4). In the words of Ezra Pound (Canto 116), Wittgenstein felt that he ‘couldn’t make it cohere.’

Such ‘subjective naturalism,’ arranged in paratactic units, may have be alien to the turn-of-the century novel, but it could be said to characterize most Modernist poetry from Pound and William Carlos Williams to Blaise Cendrars and Guillaume Apollinaire, to Brecht and Trakl. In all these instances, the poet is very much in the poem, but the detail is realistic, even documentary in its particulars. Wittgenstein may have thought of himself as being on the side of the great ‘classical’ (read, Romantic) composers like Beethoven and Brahms (as opposed to the ‘worthless’ Mahler or the Schoenberg he simply ignored), but, consciously or not, he was himself a Modernist poet – an introspective realist. As such, Hamlet or Othello or Lear, with their larger-than-life characters presented without authorial intrusion by a creator who stands above and beyond the picture frame, must have seemed too remote to Wittgenstein. “I do not understand [Shakespeare],” he writes in 1946 (CV 1994: 56), and four years later, “I could only stare in wonder at Shakespeare; never do anything with him.” Indeed, “in western culture at least, he stands alone, & so, one can only place him by placing him wrongly” (CV 1994: 95).

It is evidently the scale, both temporal and spatial, of Shakespearean drama that confounds Wittgenstein. Renaissance rhetoric, with its dense figuration (metaphor, conceit, hyperbole, catachresis, oxymoron, simile, and pun), and its repeated invocation of universals – ‘Hear, nature, hear!’ (Lear); ‘My parts, my title, and my perfect soul / Shall manifest me rightly’ (Othello) – challenges Wittgenstein to play a language game he doesn’t quite comprehend. Consequently, he complains again and again that

It is not as though S. portrayed types of people well and were in that respect telling the truth. He is not true to life. But he has such a skilled hand & such an individual brushstroke, that each of his characters looks significant, worth looking at (CV 1994: 96).

Shakespeare is not true to life. Here again is the demand for realism coupled with the conviction that the poet should be present in his work, however indirectly or ironically. “Beethoven’s great heart –” remarks Wittgenstein, “no one could say ‚Shakespeare’s great heart.’” (CV 1994: 96). From the perspective of a Modernist writer, this makes good sense. Shakespeare’s plays transcend the personality of their maker, about whom we know almost nothing, and whose greatness is precisely the ability to get inside an astonishingly varied cast of characters, male and female, young and old, princes and clowns – Shylock and Portia, Romeo and Mercutio, Ariel and Caliban. Beethoven, on the other hand, was a figure of human dimensions: his biography was known in great detail and could be related step by step to his string quartets, piano sonatas, and symphonies. His deafness – so terrible a condition for a composer – his various illnesses, his romantic attachments, his response to the events of the day, all these have been closely studied, and Beethoven’s own conversation books reveal his daily life. As in the case of Goethe, life and art seem fully intertwined.

Shakespeare the poet, on the other hand, remains wholly elusive. When Wittgenstein declared “I don’t think that Shakespeare can be compared to any other poet” (1950; CV 1994: 95), he meant that in their range and depth, the plays far exceed the conceivable parameters of authorship: rather the poet “sings as a bird sings” (CV 1994: 96). In fact, of course, Shakespeare can and has been compared to his Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries from Thomas Kyd to Thomas Middleton, but since Wittgenstein had no knowledge of these dramatists, he could only think in terms of his own tradition and here he found no parallels.

And yet in these, the last years of his life – the years of preparing for publication the Philosophical Investigations and producing the remarks collected posthumously in Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology and On Certainty – Wittgenstein also revealed a different side. In a conversation with his former student and close friend M. O’C. Drury, for example, he responded to a query about Hegel:

Hegel seems to me to be always wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is showing that things which look the same are really different.’ I was thinking of using as a motto for my book a quotation from King Lear: ‘I’ll teach you differences”.’15

The line in question is found in Act I, 4 of Lear, when the disguised Kent comes to his former king’s aid by sending Goneril’s insolent steward Oswald packing (ll. 99–102):

‘Come, sir, arise, away! I’ll teach you differences: away, away! If you will measure your lubber’s length again, tarry: but away! Go to; have you wisdom? So. [Pushes Oswald out.]

The differences to which Kent refers are of course ones of rank: Oswald has willfully ignored the unbridgeable difference between his own ‘lubber’s [grasshopper’s] length’ and the ‘authority’ of the king. Such social stratification is not the issue in the Investigations, but it is also the case that it is difference (between Lear and his daughters, between Cordelia and her sisters, between Lear and Gloucester, Edmund and Edward, Kent and the Fool) that sets the tragedy in motion, beginning with the very first line of the play, in which Kent says to Gloucester, ‘I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.’ In assessing his own sons-in-law, Lear displays a failure in discrimination that, with respect to language, is a major theme of the Investigations.

Would Kent’s speech then have served as an appropriate epigraph? Yes, because the Investigations is, on its own terms, devoted to the ‘teach[ing] of differences.’16 “But isn’t the same at least the same?” Wittgenstein asks rhetorically in the Investigations, § 215. The answer is no: repeat the phrase just once and it is already part of a different language game. ‘I will teach you differences,’ also serves as a caution to avoid generalization. Leavis, we recall, was convinced that Wittgenstein, being a philosopher and a foreign one at that, could not know anything about poetry. But Leavis himself tells a remarkable tale about his and Wittgenstein’s mutual colleague, the young poet-critic William Empson. It seems that Wittgenstein once asked Leavis to explain the Empson poem ‘Legal Fictions.’ Leavis was reluctant to do so, remarking that Wittgenstein, who was not familiar with Empson’s master John Donne, could not possibly understand it. But when Leavis made a few preliminary remarks, Wittgenstein evidently interrupted him:

’It’s perfectly plain that you don’t understand the poem in the least,’ he said. ‘Give me the book.’ I complied and sure enough, without any difficulty, he went through the poem, explaining the analogical structure that I should have explained myself, if he had allowed me. (Leavis 1983: 145)

A similar case can be made with regard to Wittgenstein’s reading of Shakespeare. “Was he perhaps a creator of language rather than a poet?” asks Wittgenstein in a 1950 note that has often been cited by Wittgenstein’s critics as an example of his obtuseness. But what does the distinction really mean? Consider Wittgenstein’s rumination about the structure of dream in Shakespeare:

Shakespeare & the dream. A dream is quite false, absurd, cobbled together from different sources, & yet completely true: it makes, in its unique assemblage, a distinct impression. Why? I don’t know. If Shakespeare is as great as he is said to be, then it must be possible to say of him: it’s all false, it makes no sense – & yet it’s all true according to its own laws. 
One could also say: if Shakespeare is great, he can only be so in the entire corpus of his dramas, which create their own language and their own world. For he is entirely unrealistic (like a dream). (CV 1994: 89)

This profound comment, recorded in 1949, can be glossed by one made just a year earlier (also reproduced in Culture and Value) on the Freudian analysis of dreams. We know that, although Wittgenstein admired Freud and had read The Interpretation of Dreams carefully, he came to object to Freud’s translation of the dream-work into a coherent narrative, an explanatory narrative that makes sense of all the particulars:17

In Freudian analysis the dream is so to speak dismantled. It loses its original meaning completely. You might think of it as a play performed in the theatre, with a plot that is sometimes fairly incomprehensible, or at least apparently so, & as though this plot were then torn into pieces & each part given a completely different meaning. You could also think of it like this: a picture is drawn on a big sheet of paper & the sheet is then folded in such a way that pieces which do not belong together at all in the original picture collide in appearance & a new picture, which may or may not make sense, is created (this would be the manifest dream, the first picture the ‘latent dream thought.’) (CV 1994: 78)

Such rationalization, Wittgenstein posits, is always reductive. Indeed, “What is intriguing about a dream is not its causal connection with events in my life, etc., but rather the impression it gives of being a fragment of a story – a very vivid fragment to be sure – the rest of which remains obscure. … the dream story has a charm of its own, like a painting that attracts and inspires us.”18

Now let us reconsider what Wittgenstein says about Shakespeare and dream. A dream is a “unique combination; it makes an impression,” but we don’t know why. Indeed, it may be “quite false, absurd, assembled from various sources,” but it is, in Wittgenstein’s words, “true according to its own laws.” (CV 1994: 78). Just so, Shakespeare’s dramas ‘create’ their own language and their own world; they are true according to their own laws. The demand for realism, which Wittgenstein took very seriously can, in the case of someone as great as Shakespeare, be set aside in favor of the invention of a language.

In a passage from the Conversations on Freud, recorded by Rush Rhees between 1942–46, Wittgenstein spells out what he means by such invention:

Suppose we were to regard dream as a kind of game. … There might be a game in which paper figures were put together to form a story, or at any rate were somehow assembled. The materials might be collected and sorted in a scrapbook full of pictures and anecdotes. The child might then take various bits from the scrapbook to put into the construction; and he might take a considerable picture because it had something in it which he wanted and he might include the rest because it was there. (LA 1966: 49–50).

This description of the dreamwork as language game immediately recalls Wittgenstein’s account of his own book, the Philosophical Investigations as a kind of scrapbook or ‘album’ – a chain of remarks “travelling criss-cross in every direction over a wide field of thought” (PI 2009: 3). He further refers to his remarks as “a number of sketches of landscapes,” recalling the very phrasing he uses with reference to Shakespeare in the last entry of 1950: “It seems to me that his plays are like enormous sketches, not paintings; they are dashed off by one who could, so to speak, permit himself everything” (1950, CV 1994: 98).

Critics have assumed that this comment denigrates Shakespeare – that Wittgenstein takes the Bard to be not quite a Poet, only an “inventor of language.” And indeed, no sooner has Wittgenstein declared that Shakespeare’s plays “are like enormous sketches,” than he feels compelled to add, “I understand how one can admire this & call it the highest art, but I don’t like it” (CV 1994: 98).

But then, Wittgenstein didn’t much like his own writing either. The Preface to the Investigations denigrates his own “sketches” as “unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into … a whole” (PI 2009: 3). “The best that I could write,” he notes apologetically “would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts were soon paralyzed when I tried to force them in one direction against their natural inclination.” Wittgenstein’s self-criticism here echoes his criticism of Shakespeare. But why should that surprise us? It was Wittgenstein, after all, who held that philosophy should really be written only as a form of poetry. And poetry by definition avoids logical linear structure.

Shakespeare, let us conclude, was not a congenial poet for Wittgenstein in the sense that the great German lyric poets and playwrights were congenial. Both geography (the distance between England and the German-speaking world) and history (the distance between the Renaissance and the German “classical” age) mitigated against such congeniality. The irony is that despite this gulf, the “asymmetries” of Shakespeare’s “dreamwork” (CV 1994: 98) became a model for Wittgenstein’s own writing, showing him the way to conduct his own practice of “teach[ing] us differences.” Wittgenstein may not have ‘liked’ Shakespeare, but, in the end, he had come to regard the master’s great plays as inextricable from his own dreams.

Marjorie Perloff teaches courses and writes on twentieth and now twenty-first century poetry and poetics, both Anglo-American and from a Comparatist perspective, as well as on intermedia and the visual arts. She is Professor Emerita of English at Stanford University and Florence R. Scott Professor of English Emerita at the University of Southern California.  She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold: Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, New York 1998.
Bouveresse, Jacques: Wittgenstein Reads Freud: the Myth of the Unconscious, trans. Carol Cosman, Princeton 1995.
Drury, M. O’C: Conversations with Wittgenstein (1984), in: Rhees 1984.
Harrison, Robert / Orgel, Stephen, On Shakespeare, in: Entitled Opinions, KZSU, Stanford, January 19, 2010 (‘entitled opinions’).
Klagge, James C.: Wittgenstein in Exile, Cambridge/London 2011.
Leavis, Frank Raymond: Memories of Wittgenstein, in: The Critic as Anti-Philosopher: Essays & Papers, ed. G. Singh, Athens, Georgia 1983.
McGuiness, Brian: Wittgenstein: A Life. Young Ludwig (1889–1921), Berkeley 1988.
Monk, Ray: Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius, New York 1990.
Perloff, Marjorie: Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary, Chicago 1996.
–: But isn’t the same at least the same?’, in: The Literary Wittgenstein, ed. John Gibson and Wolfgang Huemer, London/New York 2004.
–: Writing Philosophy as Poetry: Literary Form in Wittgenstein, in: The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein, ed. Oskari Kuusela and Marie McGinn, Oxford 2011.
–: The Madness of the Unexpected: Contextualizing Duchamp’s Readymades, ‘Perloff’; 2012
–: Towards Conceptualism: The Aesthetic of Kringelbuch #52, in: Kulturen & Werte, ed. Josef Rothhaupt, Berlin/Boston 2013.
Rhees, Rush: Recollections of Wittgenstein, Oxford 1984.
Ryback, Timothy: Hitler’s Private Library, New York 2010.
Steiner, George: A Reading Against Shakespeare, in: Steiner, George: No Passion Spent: Essays 1978–1996, London 1996.
Stewart, Stanley: Shakespeare and Philosophy, New York 2010.


1 CV 1994: 96, 98. All references are to second bilingual edition, 1994, with facing pages of the German and English (e) text. But because Peter Winch’s 1977 translation is, to my mind, quite problematic, I have found it necessary sometimes to retranslate the German. Therefore, although the page references throughout this essay are those of CV, the wording may be somewhat different.

2 Altogether, there are seven manuscript entries on Shakespeare collected in CV 1994, all of them composed relatively late in Wittgenstein’s career. The first dates from 1939, two from 1946, the remainder, including the two above, from 1949–50. The notes range in length from a short paragraph to two pages; further scattered remarks are found in Wittgenstein’s letters or published conversations, but the total corpus is quite small.

3 Leavis 1983: 144. Cf. Harold Bloom’s suggestion that, if Wittgenstein had been better informed about Shakespeare, he wouldn’t have made his ill-advised and ‘annoyed’ comments on the transcendent ‘inventor of the human’ (Bloom 1998: 12).

4 Harrison/Orgel 2010.

5 Wittgenstein, CV 1994: 28; “Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten,” and cf. Perloff 1996, 51–80; 2004: 37–38; 2011, chapter 31, passim.

6 See LW 1980: 35; PI 2009: 123, my italics.

7 Z 1967: 160.

8 CV 1994: 6. The passage in question is a key item in the soon-to-be published Wittgenstein’s Kringel-Buch, the compendium presented and edited by Josef Rothhaupt, collecting and annotating those notebook entries marked by Wittgenstein with a marginal Kringel (crossed circle), and that may, so Rothhaupt believes, constitute a book of literary/cultural remarks Wittgenstein intended to publish. See Perloff 2011, passim.

9 I treat this issue at greater length in Perloff 2012 and Perloff 2013.

10 “It may of course be,” Leavis admits, “that in German the range and quality of his literary culture was more impressive, but I can’t give any great weight to that possibility” (Leavis 1983: 144). But Leavis was wrong about Wittgenstein’s ignorance of English literature as well: in his Conversations with Wittgenstein, for example, M. O’C. Drury, for example, Wittgenstein cites Tristam Shandy (Drury 1984: 148), Samuel Johnson (Drury 1984: 109, 129), William Blake and William Cowper (Drury 1984: 164–65), James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Drury 1984: 144).

11 In a 1948 notebook entry, for example, Wittgenstein writes, “Genius is talent in which character makes itself heard. For that reason, I would like to say, Kraus has talent, an extraordinary talent, but not genius” (CV 1994: 75).

12 For an account of this failed meeting, see Monk 1990: 119–20.

13 See Wittgenstein, CB 1980: 222, 22, 47, 48, 78 and CV 1994: 76. Cf. Perloff 2004: 38–39.

14 Goethe’s dates are 1749–1832. In Italy, the great literary period dates from the fourteenth century (Dante and Petrarch) through Renaissance Humanism, with marked decline setting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The situation of France, on the other hand, resembles England’s. There is continuity from the Roman de la Rose of the early thirteenth century to the present, with the proviso that France’s so-called ‘classics’ date from the seventeenth rather than the sixteenth century.

15 Drury 1984: 157. Lear seems, in any case, to be the exception to Wittgenstein’s dismissal of Shakespeare. In 1930, he attended a performance of Lear by the Cambridge University amateur dramatic society. He told Drury, “You should not have missed seeing this; it was a most moving experience. You need young players to perform this play: they can put the necessary passion in it. Coming away from the theatre I was so absorbed by what I had heard that in crossing over the street I was nearly run over by a taxi” (Drury 1984: 133).

16 For a somewhat different reading, see Stewart 2010: 174: “My guess would be that Wittgenstein understood Kent’s meaning very well but chose to ignore the significance of the remark. Wittgenstein brushed aside the cultural importance of social rank that functions so powerfully in King Lear.”

17 See Bouveresse 1995, chapter 3 passim.

18 CV 1994: 78–79. My translation here is a composite of Peter Winch’s and Carol Cosman’s excellent translation of the passage in Bouveresse 1995: 119–20.

Ray Monk Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

We’re delighted to announce that Prof. Ray Monk has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The Royal Society was founded in 1820 and past fellows include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Hardy, T. S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, J. R. R. Tolkien and George Bernard Shaw, among others. Current members include Tom Stoppard, Martin Amis, Penelope Lively, Ian McEwan and J. K. Rowling, among others.

Ray Monk is a British philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton, where he has taught since 1992. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the 1991 Duff Cooper Prize for Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. Monk is also author of Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude & The Ghost of Madness. His interests lie in the philosophy of mathematics, the history of analytic philosophy, and philosophical aspects of biographical writing. His biography of Robert Oppenheimer was published in 2012.

The Wittgenstein Initiative is proud to have Prof. Monk on its International Advisory Board.

RSL

WITTGENSTEIN SOURCE

Curator: Alois Pichler, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB)

Wittgenstein Source provides free access to Wittgenstein primary sources. This includes facsimiles and text editions of Wittgenstein’s philosophical manuscripts (his “Nachlass”).

Scholars and organizations are welcome to submit their own Wittgenstein primary sources for publication on Wittgenstein Source, for example editions or translations of Wittgenstein’s works, correspondence or lectures.

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Schubert manuscripts and ‘acts of piety’: sourcing a Wittgenstein anecdote

by Sebastian Smallshaw

Music didn’t dominate Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thinking to the extent it did Theodor Adorno’s, but it was a significant preoccupation, and music appears persistently in Wittgenstein’s writings and correspondence as the subject of observations, aphorisms and analogies. One such musical reference, which Wittgenstein parenthesizes in his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough , alludes to an obscure episode in the ownership history of Schubert’s manuscript fragments:

‘Recall that after Schubert’s death his brother cut some of Schubert’s scores into small pieces and gave each piece, consisting of a few bars, to his favourite pupils. This act, as a sign of piety, is just as understandable to us as keeping the scores untouched, accessible to no one. And if Schubert’s brother had burned the scores, that too would be understandable as an act of piety.’

The Wittgenstein biographer Ray Monk asked me via Radmila Schweitzer, the General Secretary of the Wittgenstein Initiative, if this story was true, and where Wittgenstein might have heard it. A few recent studies have addressed Wittgenstein and matters of music – James K. Wright’s Schoenberg, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle and Katrin Eggers’ Ludwig Wittgenstein als Musikphilosoph are two book-length examples – but nowhere does it seem that a source for this Schubert remark, minor footnote that it might be, has been proposed. As it happens, a trail that plausibly led Wittgenstein to this story can be pieced together without much difficulty.

The image above shows an autograph fragment of the song ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ (D 531), one of Schubert’s most recognized Lieder, cut up exactly how Wittgenstein describes. The revised German edition of O. E. Deutsch’s catalogue of Schubert’s works offers the following information: ‘According to a note by E. Mandyczewski dated 15/6/1917, the autograph page had been cut up by Schubert’s half-brother Pater Hermann Schubert, whose initials appear on the original recto side, in order to give [the pieces] to some of his students as awards.’1)  Hermann was the ordained name of Anton Eduard Schubert (1826-1892), a popular Benedictine priest.

Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929) came to Vienna aged 18 from the eastern periphery of the Austro-Hungarian empire, studied music history at the Vienna Conservatory with illustrious names including Eduard Hanslick and Martin Gustav Nottebohm, and made his mark as a musician and scholar before being appointed archivist of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1887, a post he held until his death. D 531 was not the only fragment which came his way via Schubert’s relatives: in 1907 he prepared (for first publication) two song settings of Goethe, ‘Jägers Abendlied’ (D 215) and ‘Meeres Stille’ (D 216), for which autographs were presented to him by Anna Siegmund, the daughter of another half-brother of the composer, Andreas Schubert (1823-1893).

As the curator of Johannes Brahms’s estate, which remains to this day in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde archive, Mandyczewski was close to Brahms and is named in Max Kalbeck’s biography as one of the guests Brahms brought along to musical evenings at the palatial Wittgenstein residence on Vienna’s Alleegasse 2).  Mandyczewski must have established some rapport with the family on such occasions, and so much is suggested in a Wittgenstein-related letter written in 1913, some years after Brahms’s death, by the music theorist Heinrich Schenker 3).  At this time Schenker was in the middle of editing the last five piano sonatas of Beethoven, and due to his methodical working style (this Beethoven edition would become a major event in music editing) required multiple visits to the Wittgenstein house, which housed the autograph manuscript to one of the sonatas. In this 1913 letter to his publisher, Schenker writes vividly about his Alleegasse visits, getting rather grouchy in characteristic Viennese style about how fiercely the manuscript was guarded. Implied is that the Wittgenstein matriarch Leopoldine (fn. 11) would only allow supervised access, and on one of Schenker’s return visits he was overseen by Paul Wittgenstein. But on Schenker’s first visit the supervisor had been Mandyczewski, supplying not only specific manuscript-related business Mandyczewski had in the Alleegasse but also indicating he had the Wittgensteins’ presumably hard-earned trust in these matters.

Besides placing Mandyczewski among the Wittgensteins, sources also reveal that he mentioned his dealings with Schubert’s family and their keepsakes when in social company. That Mandyczewski actually told the story of the Schubert fragments to Brahms himself is documented quite satisfactorily in the foreword to the published correspondence between Brahms and the eminent surgeon Theodor Billroth 4).  Here, Otto Gottlieb-Billroth (Billroth’s son-in-law) addresses the key incidents which put strain on the close friendship between the two men, one of which was what Billroth did to honour Brahms’s dedication and gifting of the manuscript to the A minor string quartet (op. 52/II), which involved cutting out a fragment of handwriting from the title page and affixing it to a Brahms portrait which hung in his study. To Brahms, who cherished manuscript scores, it was vandalism, a viewpoint not shared by Billroth, who dismissed autograph collecting as ‘fetishism’. Gottlieb-Billroth proceeds: ‘Much later (in conversation about a Schubert manuscript, which Schubert’s brother had cut into pieces and distributed to various people as souvenirs) Brahms commented quite heatedly to Mandyczewski: “Now just think, Billroth also cut up my quartet, can you imagine! And yet must have known that I’m so fond of him that I’d copy out the entire quartet again if he so wished! And snip a piece out of that!”

Wittgenstein’s version of the story has taken on a life of its own and become far more discussed by philosophers than the source has been by Schubert scholars, and of course what Wittgenstein reads into it, with his observation about the instinctive intelligibility of ritual acts, is a different kind of insight to the textual commentary which goes into critical editions. The most interesting thing about tracing Wittgenstein’s source in this way is perhaps for the example it provides of the privileged social and cultural context – what Allan Janik writes of in these pages as Vienna’s ‘second society’ – from where his patchwork musical knowledge came.

Sebastian Smallshaw studied music at Cambridge University and lives and works in Vienna.

1)In the original German: ‘Das autographe Blatt hat nach einer Notiz E. Mandyczewskis vom 15.6.1917 bereits Schuberts Halbbruder Pater Hermann Schubert, dessen Initialen auf der ursprünglichen Vorderseiten stehen, zerschnitten, um sie einzelnen seiner Schüler als Auszeichnung zu schenken‘. Deutsch, O. E. (1978). Franz Schubert. Thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke in chronologischer Folge. Kassel: Bärenreiter, p.310.

2)Kalbeck, M. (1915). Johannes Brahms. Band 4. Berlin: Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft, p.507.

3)Handwritten letter from Heinrich Schenker to Emil Hertzka, dated 19th July 1913. Transcribed by Ian Bent on the Schenker Correspondence Project website, 2008: http://mt.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/schenker/correspondence/letter/wslb_167_7-19-13.html.

4)In the original German: ‘Noch viel später (im Gespräch über ein Schubert-Manuskript, das der Bruder Schuberts in Zettelchen zerschnitten und so an verschiedene Leute als Andenken verteilt hatte) äußerte sich Brahms ganz aufgeregt zu Mandyczewski: „Nu, denken Sie nur, auch Billroth hat mein Quartett zerschnitten, denken Sie! Und mußte doch wissen, daß ich ihn so lieb habe, daß ich ihm, wenn ich ihm damit einen Wunsch erfülle, auch das ganze Quartett noch einmal abschreibe! Und schneidet da ein Stück heraus!“’ Gottlieb-Billroth, O. ed. (1935). Billroth und Brahms im Briefwechsel. Berlin: Urban & Schwarzenberg, p.28.

BBC Radio 3: Leopoldine Wittgenstein

Classical Music’s Unsung Heroines

by Bethany Bell

Leopoldine Wittgenstein is someone it’s easy to overlook. Neurotic and shy, she stands in the shadow not just of her extraordinarily talented children, who include that giant of twentieth century philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, but also of her overwhelming and dominant husband, Karl, who built himself up to become one of the wealthiest and most successful industrialists of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. But Leopoldine, or Poldy, as she was known in the family, was an exceptionally gifted pianist. And she presided over one of the most important and glittering musical salons in fin de siècle Vienna, attended not just by Hanslick, but by Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Bethany Bell, the BBC’s Vienna Correspondent, takes to the streets of the modern city on the trail of this most misunderstood woman.

Produced by Simon Richardson

Bethany Bell has worked as a BBC Foreign Correspondent since 2001. Based in Vienna, she has reported for the BBC in over 25 countries, in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. She was, together with Ray Monk, speaker at the Wittgenstein Initiative event on 11 November 2014 at the Academy of Sciences on “Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Great War and the Unsayable”.

a bit of pitch on the Wittgenstein Initiative

by Peter Winslow

The Wittgenstein Initiative is a Vienna-based independent non-profit with a mission as ambitious as it is important. The Wittgenstein Initiative aims to harness the originality of quintessentially Viennese thinkers whose visions were proffered in the hope of effecting real change in the world. One of these thinkers is Ludwig Wittgenstein, the namesake of the Initiative. Others include Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich von Hayek, and Arnold Schönberg. And it is in the spirit of these thinkers and cultural change-makers that the Wittgenstein Initiative is seeking to move us towards re-conceptualizing and re-experiencing our engagement with the world through art and thought (see its Vision & Mission).

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An Exercise in Enlightenment: Why is the Wittgenstein Family of Interest to Us?

by Allan Janik

Answering this question involves reflecting upon the broader goals of the Initiative’s project. Our central interests involve casting light upon the crises and conflicts that are typical of the hugely complex nature of the problems in a globalized world. We seek to develop holistic perspectives on the issues that in one way or another tend to overwhelm citizens in democratic societies today. Ours is thus an exercise in enlightenment.

Vienna 1900, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, is particularly important to this project because the critical approach to modernity that developed around figures like Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Robert Musil, to name just a few, has lost none of its relevance over the last hundred years. Indeed, the concept of reflective, self-critical Bildung that they advocated has become more important (and, if anything, rarer) in the meanwhile.

The culture of enlightenment that was part and parcel of Wittgenstein’s Vienna had a social and material basis that is an essential part of the story. This is where the family enters the picture. Focus on the Wittgenstein family should help us to get hold of a presupposition of cultural growth on the basis of Besitz und Bildung. This often cited but scarcely understood phrase refers the idea that self-realization through the accumulation of wealth carried social responsibility with it.

The Wittgensteins were, for all their uniqueness, typical representatives of Vienna’s “second society”, the elite, moneyed haute bourgeoisie, that formed a highly self-conscious oligarchy in Habsburg Vienna. This group was made up of some 200 financially interlocked and to a great extent socially intermarried families. Indeed, our modern conception of the nuclear family: father, mother, children and the immediate small circle of related siblings is misleading as a basis of comparison. We have to make an effort to understand the Family as the Viennese “second society” once did.

The upper middle class family, then, was a broadly related group of frequently multiply interrelated families, a family of families as it were. Thus the Wittgensteins were connected with the Franz family (leaders of the Protestant community) through more than one marriage. The same is true of their relationships with the Salzer family (one Salzer much concerned with his family was surprised earlier this year to realize that there was more than one Salzer connection in the Wittgenstein family). In referring to the Anglo-Jewish gentry this large scale agglomeration of relationships is sometimes referred to as a “cousinhood” (we also need to say something about the peculiarities of its Jewishness below). The term is appropriate here. It is the cousinhood that is interesting to the Wittgenstein Initiative in the plurality of its cultural achievements and not merely its individual members.

Surely Ludwig, Paul, and Gretl are extraordinary figures pure and simple but as we look to the cousinhood such figures seem to be everywhere. In order to see that we have to go back in time two generations to Jewish emancipation (such as it was in 1848).

Granddad Hermann Christian Wittgenstein was anything but a parvenu. He was born into the European Jewish elite, the so-called Hofjuden, who had financed Christian monarchs from time immemorial, in the way that the more famous Rothschilds and Montefiores had done. When he came to Vienna shortly after freedom of movement was permitted in the monarchy in the wake of the 1848 Revolutions, his circle of friends was positively extraordinary – far beyond anything his son Karl would achieve. It included the dramatist, Friedrich Hebbel, the astronomer Carl Ludwig von Littrow, the physiologist Ernst von Brücke and the philosopher-philologist, Hermann Bonitz. Little wonder that he would marry Fanny Figdor, daughter of one of Central Europe’s biggest bankers. She would befriend her cousin Joseph Joachim and his colleague Johannes Brahms would practically become part of the family too. One of Fanny’ sisters, Emelie, would marry Michael Hainisch, later president of Austria. Two other Figdors would also place their unmistakable stamp on Viennese culture: Albert, who was one of the most monumental and systematic art collectors who ever lived and Wilhelm, who would found the Vienna Vivarium, one of the first centers for biological research worldwide. When Karl Wittgenstein ceased playing the Prodigal Son, he married Leopoldine Kalmus, whose accomplishments as a pianist and deep concern for musical culture made her salon into the center of Viennese musical life. Leopoldine’s “cousins” Edwin and Alfred Kalmus became among the most prominent music publishers of their generation. The examples could be multiplied again and again.

The question of the Jewishness of the Wittgensteins – and the other families of the grand bourgeoisie – is one which inevitably comes up in discussion today (see Steven Beller’s classical study Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938). It is not easy to answer and many people are unhappy at the lack of clarity in this complex issue. Most people in this social strata had long ceased to practice Judaism by the turn of the century, if not long earlier. Many had become Protestants; some Catholic. One of the most prominent “assimilated” Jews Lazar Auspitz summed up their attitude as well as it can be: Judaism was “un pieux souvenir de famille.” These people were descendants of the followers of Moses Mendelssohn, the father of the Jewish Enlightenment, for which science and culture came to replace religion. They did not see themselves as Jews and were even occasionally capable of producing hostile critique of traditional encrusted “unenlightened” Jews. Little wonder that the first reaction of Hermine Wittgenstein and Helene Wittgenstein-Salzer at being told that they were subject to the Nuremberg Laws was dismay.

Be that as it may, what is important for the Wittgenstein Initiative is how the values of the Enlightenment came to pervade this cousinhood and in doing so helped to form our culture.

Prof. Dr. Allan Janik is Emeritus Professor of Cultural History and Philosophy at the universities of Vienna and Innsbruck and the Royal Instituten of Technology in Stockholm. He specializes in the cultural history of modern Austria and in philosophy. Together with Stephen Toulmin, he wrote Wittgenstein’s Vienna (1973).