The Smell of a Pineapple…

Posted on May 30, 2008
Filed Under philosophy | 1 Comment

Wittgenstein’s house

Many would contend that Ludwig Wittgenstein was the greatest philosopher of the last hundred years, a genius that struggled to come to grips with the very heart of meaning. His only published work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus did nothing less than attempt to provide a framework for understanding the relationship between language, knowledge and being, which culminated in his famous quote

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.

His work was pitched at such a high level and so rigorously complex than when he was examined for his PhD at Cambridge by the great Bertrand Russell and G E Moore; he clapped the two examiners on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, I know you’ll never understand it.”

So it has always amused me to think that this genius of a man who struggled so much with the nature of life, had been a schoolteacher and that he approached this task with the same fury of intellect that drove him to look in the very heart of things. Just imagine him standing at the front of the class discussing the simple, pure beauty of mathematics, a book in one hand and cane in the other.

from wiki

Wittgenstein had unrealistic expectations of the rural children he taught, and his teaching methods were intense and exacting — he had little patience with those children who had no aptitude for mathematics. However, he achieved good results with children attuned to his interests and style of teaching, especially boys. His severe disciplinary methods (often involving corporal punishment, not unusual at the time) — as well as a general suspicion amongst the villagers that he was somewhat mad — led to a long series of bitter disagreements with some of his students’ parents, and eventually culminated in April 1926 in the collapse of an eleven year old boy whom Wittgenstein had struck on the head.[19] The boy’s father attempted to have Wittgenstein arrested, and despite being cleared of misconduct he resigned his position and returned to Vienna, feeling that he had failed as a school teacher.

After abandoning his work as a school teacher, Wittgenstein worked as a gardener’s assistant in a monastery near Vienna. He considered becoming a monk,[19] and went so far as to inquire about the requirements for joining an order. However, at the interview he was advised that he would not find in monastic life what he sought.

During this dark period of Wittgenstein’s life he sought solace in the design and construction of a house. Again from wiki

Two major developments helped to save Wittgenstein from this despairing state. The first was an invitation from his sister Margaret (”Gretl”) Stonborough (who was painted by Gustav Klimt in 1905) to work on the design and construction of her new house. He worked with the architect, Paul Engelmann, who had become a close friend of Wittgenstein’s during the war, and the two designed a spare modernist house after the style of Adolf Loos (whom they both greatly admired). Wittgenstein found the work intellectually absorbing and exhausting; he poured himself into the design in painstaking detail, including even small aspects such as doorknobs and radiators, spending a year on each as they had to be exactly positioned to maintain the symmetry of the rooms.[19] As a work of modernist architecture the house evoked some high praise; G. H. von Wright said that it possessed the same “static beauty” as the Tractatus. The effort of totally involving himself in intellectual work once again did much to restore Wittgenstein’s spirits.

One day I shall visit this place in which the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century spent a year deciding where the radiator should be, and then I shall make some snide comment about how it “would have been better in the other corner”. Then I shall examine the hinges of the doors and windows each of which was designed by Wittgenstein to function perfectly in the job for which they were intended and think to myself, “he could have bought these down at K-Mart”.

Derek Jarman made a beautiful film about Wittgenstein, spare, elemental and elegant. Here’s a clip in Which Wittgenstein (Karl Jonson) describes the smell of a pineapple


One Response to “The Smell of a Pineapple…”

  1. Archer on May 30th, 2008 8:57 pm

    The reason why Wittgenstein says Russell and Moore will never understand it all, was that Wittgenstein’s inspiration for his philosophy came from two philosophers Russell and Moore wouldn’t consider: Augustine and Kierkegaard.

    Here’s a link to a very good book outlining that influence.

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