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Authors: Lars Iyer

Wittgenstein Jr

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PRAISE FOR
SPURIOUS

“It’s wonderful. I’d recommend the book for its insults alone.”


SAM JORDISON,
THE GUARDIAN

“Viciously funny.”


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

“I’m still laughing, and it’s days later.”


LOS ANGELES TIMES

“A tiny marvel … [A] wonderfully monstrous creation.”


STEVEN POOLE,
THE GUARDIAN

PRAISE FOR
DOGMA

“Uproarious.”


THE NEW YORK TIMES

“[
Dogma
] brings back W. and Lars, the most unlikely and absurd literary duo since Samuel Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon … Like
Godot
, this novel is a philosophical rumination, at once serious and playful, on the nature of existence and meaning. While it’s comic, there is at bottom a profoundly tragic sense of the chaos and emptiness of modern life. Despair has rarely been so entertaining.”


LIBRARY JOURNAL

“Just when my hilarity over the first book of their misadventures,
Spurious
, had faded to a low chuckle,
Dogma
comes along. Between the two books, there’s almost no point in breathing, much less coming to any strong conclusions about life, the universe, and everything.”


LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

“Witheringly, gut-bustingly funny.”


THE NEW INQUIRY

“The epithet ‘Beckettian’ is perhaps the most overused in criticism, frequently employed as a proxy for less distinguished designations such as ‘sparse’ or ‘a bit depressing.’ But Lars Iyer’s fiction richly deserves this appellation. His playfully spare—and wryly depressing—landscape, incorporating a bickering double act on a hopeless, existential journey, is steeped in the bathos, farce, wordplay and metaphysics of the man John Calder referred to as ‘the last of the great stoics,’ its characters accelerating towards a condition of eternal silence, fuelled only by the necessity of speaking out.”


THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

PRAISE FOR
EXODUS

“There is a superfluous joy to these novels … They are satisfying paradoxes—‘difficult’ books which are consummately readable; exuberant books about bleakness.”


THE SPECTATOR

“The saddest, funniest undynamic duo since Vladimir and Estragon … Like
Spurious
and
Dogma, Exodus
is a novel which depends almost entirely on the quality of its scorn. And on any scorn-rating it scores pretty highly.”


THE GUARDIAN

“Iyer’s books aren’t so much sad as brimming with good tidings about a utopia that remains pure as long as no one ever does anything … Like Beckett, they use art to remind us that the whole point is to try, and fail, then try again, and fail better next time.”


HAZLITT

“The saddest, funniest undynamic duo since Vladimir and Estragon … Like
Spurious
and
Dogma, Exodus
is a novel which depends almost entirely on the quality of its scorn. And on any scorn-rating it scores pretty highly.”


THE GUARDIAN

“With
Exodus
, as he did with
Spurious
and
Dogma
before it, Iyer has shown that a picaresque novel can be as good a vehicle for philosophy as any.”


RAIN TAXI

“It was more than a book: it was a revelation, in that Biblical sense of words being exposed down to their meaning, to the
deed in the world
to which they referred.”


THE QUIETUS

Also by Lars Iyer

NONFICTION
Blanchot’s Communism: Art, Philosophy and the Political
Blanchot’s Vigilance: Literature, Phenomenology and the Ethical

FICTION
Spurious
Dogma
Exodus

WITTGENSTEIN JR

Copyright © 2014 by Lars Iyer
First Melville House printing: September 2014

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
   and   
8 Blackstock Mews
Islington
London N4 2BT

mhpbooks.com
    
facebook.com/mhpbooks
       
@melvillehouse

ISBN: 978-1-61219-377-9 (ebook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014945089

Design by Christopher King

v3.1

Contents

When you are philosophising you have to descend into primeval chaos and feel at home there.

—Wittgenstein

1

Wittgenstein’s been teaching us for two weeks now.

Was it Ede’s idea to call him Wittgenstein? Or Doyle’s?

He doesn’t
look
like Wittgenstein, it’s true. He’s tall, whereas the real Wittgenstein was small. He’s podgy, whereas the real Wittgenstein was thin. And if he’s foreign—European in some sense—he has barely the trace of an accent.

But he has a Wittgensteinian aura, we agree. He is
Wittgensteinisch
, in some way.

He has clearly modelled himself on the real Wittgenstein, Doyle says (and Doyle knows about these things). He dresses like Wittgenstein, for one thing—the jacket, the open-necked shirt, the watch strap protruding from his pocket. And he
behaves
a bit like Wittgenstein too: his intensity—his lips are thinner than any we’ve seen; his impatience—the way he glared at Scroggins for coming in late; his visible despair.

And of course, like the real Wittgenstein, he has come to Cambridge to do
fundamental work in philosophical logic
.

He sits on a wooden chair at the top of the room, bent forwards, elbows on his knees. His gaze is directed downwards. His eyebrows are raised, and his forehead is furrowed. He has the appearance of a man in
prayer
(Doyle). Of a
constipated
man (Mulberry).

He doesn’t
prepare
his teaching. He doesn’t
lecture from notes
. At most, he produces a scrap of paper from his pocket and reads out a phrase, or a sentence. He wants simply to
think aloud about certain problems
, he says.

Sometimes he writes a word or two on the blackboard on the mantelshelf. In the first week:
Denken ist schwer
(thought is hard). In the second:
Everything is what it is, and not another thing
. Today:
I will teach you differences
.

None of us understands the problems he is wrestling with, we agree. None of us can follow his
method
—what is he looking for?

Not all of us care, of course. Mulberry is drawing cocks in his notebook. Guthrie wears sunglasses over closed eyes. Benwell groans audibly when Wittgenstein asks him a question.

When will he actually say something? When will he present an
actual argument?
—Mulberry’s taking bets.

He proceeds from reflecting on one question to another. From one remark to another. But when will he answer his questions? And what do his remarks
mean
?

A hand in the air.

DOYLE (humbly): I’m having trouble following the argument.

WITTGENSTEIN: That’s because I’m not presenting an argument. I am posing questions, that’s all.

DOYLE: I don’t understand. I can’t follow your class.

WITTGENSTEIN: I have no intention of making myself understood.

DOYLE (imploringly): I have no idea what’s going on.

WITTGENSTEIN: That is to the good. At this stage, you should have no idea what’s going on.

Silence in class.

DOYLE: Perhaps we aren’t bright enough to follow you.

WITTGENSTEIN: Intelligence is nothing—you’re all
clever
. It is
pride
that is your obstacle. It is pride that is your enemy as students of philosophy. For pride leads you to believe that you are something you are not.

Wittgenstein surveys the room, looking carefully at us. He can see we know ourselves to be
clever
, he says. He can tell we believe ourselves to be full of
Cambridge cleverness
. But that means we’re also exposed to the danger of
Cambridge pride
.

We must not think we can hide, he says, scrutinising our faces. The inner life reveals itself in the outer life. It cannot help but do so. The secrets of the inner life are written on the face, he says. They reveal themselves in the simplest gesture. The way you sit on your chair … The way you button or unbutton your jacket …

We must learn to read the face, he says, just as much as we learn to read the page. We must learn to read the
gesture
.

The number of students is falling: forty-five in the first week, twenty-three in the second, eighteen in the third, and this week only twelve. Twelve! An auspicious number, Wittgenstein says. He’s glad to be rid of the
hangers-on
.

Twelve faces, to give him the sense that he is not alone. That there are others who might follow the movement of his thinking. He is glad there are others who need to be brought along with him, who might
accompany
him.

We’re thinking
with
him: Don’t we understand?

Naturally, he is suspicious of
impatience
, he says. But he is wary, also, of
patience
—one mustn’t wait too long in one’s studies.

Of course, he dislikes the stab-in-the-dark answer, he says. But he also dislikes the
ready
answer—all answers must have something wild about them.

Beware clarity!, he says. Beware the well-trodden path! But beware obscurity, too! Beware the never-trodden path!

Avoid explanation, he says. But also avoid obfuscation. Suspect conclusions. But suspect inconclusiveness, too.

The Backs, along the Cam. The colleges in a row across the river. Ivied walls and trim lawns sloping down to the water. Gloomy clouds, very low.

Twelve students and their teacher—walking to
wash off their brains
. Wittgenstein, hurrying along, his hands behind his back. Okulu, a few paces behind, his hands behind his back. Chakrabarti, a few paces to the left of Okulu, his hands behind his back. Whippet-like Doyle, his hands behind his back. The Kirwin twins, their hands behind their backs. Benwell, scowling, close to the river’s edge. Guthrie, singing his hangover song. Mulberry, stripped to his
FUCK YOU
T-shirt, texting on his phone. Ede, sauntering, looking refined. Scroggins, looking spaced out.

Wittgenstein says nothing. The rest of us report on our summer. Titmuss did India, learning the
Om Namah Shivaya
chant and smoking bhang sadhu-style in the Himalayas. The Kirwins did the Iron Man in Mooloolaba and Lanzarote, and rowed on the Thames. Mulberry did strangers in the dark rooms of Madrid, and ran with the bulls in Pamplona. Doyle did the Edinburgh Fringe, Guthrie in tow, performing their show,
Li’l Leibniz
.

Wittgenstein gestures to the university buildings across the river. None of this is real, he says. None of it.

Then, after a long pause: The world is emptying out. The sky is emptying out …

Silence. We look at one another, confused.

He’s trying
see
Cambridge, Wittgenstein says. He’s done nothing else since he arrived. But all he sees is rubble.

The famous Wren Library!, he says, and laughs. The famous Magdalene Bridge! Rubble, he says, all rubble!

We look around us—immense courts, magnificent lawns, immemorial trees, towers, buttresses and castellated walls, heavy wooden gates barred with iron, tradition incarnate, continuity in stone, the greatest university in the world:
all rubble?
What does Wittgenstein see that we do not?

BOOK: Wittgenstein Jr
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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