Enjoy the opportunity to say good night


I don’t much like writing the name Ludwig Wittgenstein because he’s so often trotted out for a quote by people who have little feeling for what was behind his philosophy. That’s not true of a core of people who clearly understand what he was up to. See Stanley Cavell and Norman Malcolm, particularly Malcolm’s Wittgenstein: A Religious View. His life hangs over his work accounting for his legend, but what’s really at stake  here is his immense sensitivity to the process of life and thinking and how it fueled his work. A deep longing to break through… He had problems expressing feelings. Was he happy––there are few signs. But his sensitivity, or is it sentimentality––tenderness, sadness––comes through occasionally, particularly in writing about or to his former student and sympathetic friend Drury. Here’s some revealing quotes:

“‘I am not a religious man, but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view,’ Drury rightly observes.”

“Of one thing I am certain­­­­––we are not here in order to have a good time.”

“Enjoy more the opportunity you have to say ‘good night’ to so many people. This alone is a gift from heaven which many people would envy you.”

In 1941, Drury, a doctor, was posted to the Middle East. Wittgenstein came to Liverpool to say goodbye to him, and presented him with a silver drinking cup.

Wittgenstein: “Water tastes so much nicer out of silver. There is only one condition attached to this gift: you are not to worry if it gets lost.”

Earlier, in  a 1938 notebook, he wrote: “Whoever is unwilling to descend into himself, because it is too painful, will of course remain superficial in his writing.”

And the following year: “The truth can be spoken only by one who rests in it; not by one who still rests in falsehood, and who reaches out from falsehood to truth just once.”

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