Thursday, July 22, 2010

A review of Wittgenstein Reads Weininger

[I just posted this review at]

While I enjoyed Mr. Solway's deliciously scathing review of Wittgenstein Reads Weininger (WRW), I must stay my hand from a similar review and warmly endorse WRW. I majored in German in college, after four years of it in high school, so I consider German my "father tongue." I maintain an active interest in Germanic studies and enjoy reading anything that refreshes or deepens my grasp of the German language and Austro-Prusso-Germanic history. The fact is, there are very few books like this on the English-speaking market, and I feel a bit jilted that I only dimly knew of Weininger as a name I must have seen in a dozen footnotes over the years. If you want to get some tantalizing and rare insights into Wittgenstein's intellectual formation, this book is a must-read. Granted, a couple of the essays can start to feel repetitive towards the center of WRW, since, well, all the essays are dealing with the same topic! Nonetheless, a careful reading of WRW, especially the endnotes, will deliver numerous sparks of pondering for the Germanophilic thinker.

I think much of what Mr. Solway complains about (viz., WRW's lack of declarative substance) is based on the relative lack of textual data about Witt's opinion of Wein. Witt is notorious for his aphoristic, erratic manner of expression, so there is no denying the authors in WRW often have to weave a carpet out of what must feel like a few stalks of wheat. Yet, they are explicit about this precarious exegetical position, so it is interesting to see how the authors navigate the data in creative and honest ways. If Western philosophy is rightly considered a series of footnotes to Plato, I think much of modern philosophy could be construed as a series of dissertations on Wittgenstein's footnotes. Arguably, never was more written about less, since Witt's miniscule Tractatus alone has generated a flood of scholarship––even after it has been conceded the positions in the Tractatus are mostly defunct, even from Witt's own perspective. If this kind of asymmetrical exegesis irritates you, WRW will irritate you. (Cf. e.g. Essays on Wittgenstein's Tractatus by [ed.] Copi and Beard for a similar instance of so much being written about so few textual data.) If Witt had said more, or said what he said less cryptically… ah, but then, he wouldn't have been Witt.

In any case, I found the essays about Weininger's all too easily caricatured typology and animal psychology in Witt and Wein the most interesting facets of WRW. Perhaps the best feature of WRW is the surprisingly rich bibliography that appends each essay. This allows the frustrated reader à la Mr. Solway, to dig deeper on his own.

And, lo, in the course of composing this post, I came across this webpage, which offers a nice little synopsis of the main intellectual influences upon Wittgenstein.

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