The tragedy of Ludwig Wittgenstein

I wrote earlier this week about Wittgenstein’s loneliness. I realise I didn’t explicitly acknowledge his own struggle against this, expressed not least of all in the shift from his earlier to later work. I watched Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein earlier today and I was struck by how beautifully the script interpreted this transition in existential terms, suggesting he was caught between the pristine beauty of the Tractatus and the striving towards worldliness of the Philosophical Investigations:

Let me tell you a little story.
There was once a young man who dreamed
of reducing the world to pure logic.
Because he was a very clever young man,
he actually managed to do it.

When he'd finished his work,
he stood back and admired it.

It was beautiful.

A world purged
of imperfection and indeterminacy.

Countless acres of gleaming ice
stretching to the horizon.

So the clever young man looked around the
world he'd created and decided to explore it.

He took one step forward
and fell flat on his back.

You see, he'd forgotten about friction.

The ice was smooth and level and stainless.

But you couldn't walk there.

So the clever young man sat down
and wept bitter tears.

But as he grew into a wise old man,

he came to understand that
roughness and ambiguity aren't imperfections,

they're what make the world turn.

He wanted to run and dance.

And the words
and things scattered upon the ground

were all battered
and tarnished and ambiguous.

The wise old man
saw that that was the way things were.

But something in him
was still homesick for the ice,

where everything was radiant and absolute
and relentless.

Though he had come to like
the idea of the rough ground,

he couldn't bring himself to live there.

So now he was marooned
between earth and ice, at home in neither.

And this was the cause of all his grief.

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