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The Wittgensteins, ensconced in their grand Winter Palace in fin-de-siècle Vienna, were hardly a model family. The father, Karl , was a brutal autocrat as well as a high-class crook. He was an engineer by vocation, and his son Ludwig would later do some original work in aeronautics at Manchester University. A fabulously wealthy steel magnate, Karl rigged prices, bleeding his workers dry and doing much the same to his timorous wife Leopoldine. She once lay awake all night, agonised by an ugly wound in her foot but terrified of moving an inch in case she disturbed her irascible husband. She was an emotionally frigid mother and a neurotically dutiful wife, from whom all traces of individual personality had been violently erased.

The House of Wittgenstein : A Family at War
by Alexander Waugh
384, Bloomsbury, £20

Buy The House of Wittgenstein at the Guardian bookshop
The family was a seething cauldron of psychosomatic disorders. Leopoldine was afflicted by terrible leg pains and eventually went blind. Her children had their problems too. Helene was plagued by stomach cramps; Gretl was beset by heart palpitations and sought advice from Sigmund Freud about her sexual frigidity; Hermine and Jerome both had dodgy fingers; Paul suffered from bouts of madness; and little Ludwig was scarcely the most well balanced of souls. Almost all the males of the family were seized from time to time by bouts of uncontrollable fury that bordered on insanity.

Behind Karl the prosperous bourgeois lay a madder, more reckless man. He ran away from home at 17, boarded a ship bound for New York and joined a minstrel band. Before making his pile in Vienna he was a restaurant violinist, a night watchman, a steersman on a canal boat, and taught the tenor horn in an orphanage. Despite being one of the premier families of the Austro-Hungarian empire, most of the Wittgensteins were spiritual outlaws and adventurers. They combined the aristocrat's cavalier disdain for convention with the underdog's suspicion of authority.

The sons of the household had a distressing habit of doing away with them selves. Handsome, intelligent, homosexual Rudolf strolled into a Berlin bar, dissolved potassium cyanide into his glass of milk and died in agony on the spot. Two years earlier, Hans Karl had disappeared without trace and is thought to have killed himself at sea. He was a shy, ungainly, possibly autistic child with a prodigious gift for maths and music, whose first spoken word was "Oedipus". He, too, was thought to be gay. Kurt seems to have shot himself "without visible reason" while serving as a soldier in the first world war. The philosopher Ludwig claims to have begun thinking about suicide when he was 10 or 11.

Paul, a classmate of Adolf Hitler, became an outstanding concert pianist. Unusually for male members of the family, he was robustly heterosexual. The Wittgenstein ménage was more like a conservatoire than a family home: Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss dropped in regularly, while Ravel wrote his "Concerto for the Left Hand" specially for Paul, who had lost an arm in the first world war. Paul thought his brother Ludwig's philosophy was "trash", while Ludwig took a dim view of Paul's musical abilities. The Winter Palace resounded with constant yelling and vicious squabbling.

Entrusted with the family fortune after his father's death, Paul invested it unwisely in government war bonds and lost most of it. Ludwig still inherited a sizeable amount of money, but in Tolstoyan spirit gave it all away to three of his siblings. His rooms in Trinity College, Cambridge, were almost bare of furniture. He is said to have remarked that he didn't mind at all what he ate, as long as it was always the same thing. It was a far cry from the overbred Vienna of his youth. Ludwig's monkish austerity, evident in the style of his first great work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, was among other things a reaction against a Viennese world of cream cakes and swollen bodies, in which many of the poor slept in caves or parks.

Unconsciously re-enacting his father's impulse to escape, Ludwig fled from Cambridge to become an assistant gardener in an Austrian monastery, sleeping in a potting shed. He also lived for a while in a remote cottage in the west of Ireland, shacked up on the edge of a Norwegian fjord, and taught as a schoolmaster in several Austrian villages. Perhaps all this was a spiritual version of his brothers' suicides, on the part of a man seized by spiritual torment and self-loathing. If he inherited his father's instinct to scarper, however, he was also lumbered with his crazed bouts of fury. In one village school, he hit a girl so hard that she bled behind the ears, and then belaboured a boy about the head until he slumped unconscious to the floor. While Ludwig was dragging the boy's body off to the headmaster, he bumped into the irate father of the girl whose ears had bled, dropped the unconscious boy and did a runner.

Alexander Waugh's eminently readable, meticulously researched account of the Wittgenstein madhouse might have speculated a bit more on how this background helped to shape the most celebrated of all the Wittgensteins. It certainly casts some light on Ludwig's extraordinary contradictions. Haughty, imperious and impossibly exacting, driven by a fatiguing zeal for moral perfection and contemptuous of most of those around him, he was a true son of patrician Vienna. Yet his greatest work, Philosophical Investigations, also represents a rejection of this world in its embrace of the ordinary, its acceptance of the imperfect and incorrigibly plural.

Wittgenstein was an arresting combination of monk, mystic and mechanic. He was a high European intellectual who yearned for a Tolstoyan holiness and simplicity of life, a philosophical giant with scant respect for philosophy. He could never really decide whether he was a Brahmin or an "untouchable". Much of this makes sense if one sees it as an ambivalent relationship to his family background.

On the one hand, he tried to divest himself of all that pomp and excess. If he was sometimes plunged into spiritual despair, it was because he was unable to strip himself of himself. Wittgenstein struggled to live on what he called the rough ground of everyday life.

As a man who hailed from an Austro-Hungarian empire inhabited by Germans, Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs, Slovenes, Magyars and a good many other quarrelsome ethnic groups, he came to see human cultures as inherently diverse. But he was also haunted by a lofty, lethal vision of purity (what he called the pure ice), which was a product of his background and a form of rebellion against it. And the fact that he was torn between the rough ground and the pure ice was the source of much of his sorrow. Perhaps his brother Hans's first word sums it all up: "Oedipus".

• Terry Eagleton wrote the screenplay for Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein. To order The House of Wittgenstein for £18 with free UK p&p call Guardian
book service on 0870 836 0875.

· This article was amended on Saturday November 22 2008. The above review mentioned some of the children of Karl and Leopoldine Wittgenstein and suggested that Hans, Hermine, Gretl, Jerome, Paul, Rudolf and Ludwig were siblings. In fact Jerome (Stonborough) was Gretl's husband, not her brother.




  这个家庭的成员个个身心都存在严重障碍,像个沸腾的大锅。母亲莱奥波迪内深受腿部疼痛的困扰,最后眼睛也失明了。孩子们都有问题,姐姐海伦(Helene)受到胃痉挛的困扰,姐姐玛格里特(Gretl)遭受心悸和心跳过速的折磨,曾经找弗洛伊德(Sigmund Freud)寻求治疗性冷淡的建议。姐姐海尔曼(Hermine)和杰罗姆(Jerome)都有 both had dodgy fingers的毛病,哥哥保罗(Paul)断断续续地发疯,小路德维希很难说是精神非常均衡的人。家族中几乎所有男性成员都时不时遭受无法控制的几乎接近于失去理性的程度的阵发性愤怒。

  表面上看,卡尔是个成功的资本家,但实际上他是个非常疯狂和鲁莽的人。他十七岁离家出走,登上开往纽约的船,参加过流浪艺人乐队。在维也纳建立自己的根基之前,他做过餐厅小提琴手、夜间守门人、运河轮渡上的舵手、还在孤儿院讲授如何吹中音号(tenor horn)。虽然是奥匈帝国显赫家族的后代,维特根斯坦一家的多数人在精神上来说是冒险家和叛逆者。在他们身上既有贵族对于规范满不在乎的蔑视又有失败者对于权威的怀疑。

  这个家族的男孩子有个让人担心的摈弃自我的习惯。英俊潇洒、才华横溢的同性恋者鲁道夫(Rudolf)到柏林酒吧鬼混,把氰化钾溶化在牛奶里喝下去当场痛苦而死。此前两年,汉斯·卡尔(Hans Karl)曾经失踪,被认为是跳海自杀。他是个腼腆的、笨拙的人,可能有点自闭症,也有对数学和音乐的惊人天赋。他开口说的第一个字是“俄狄浦斯”(Oedipus)。有人说他也是个同性恋者。库特(Kurt)在第一次世界大战当兵的时候“没有明显理由”地开枪自杀。哲学家路德维希宣称在十岁或者十一岁的时候已经开始考虑自杀问题。

  阿道夫·希特勒的同学保罗(Paul)成为杰出的音乐会钢琴家。和家族中的其他男性成员不同,他是坚定的异性恋者。维特根斯坦的家更像个艺术学校而不是家人生活的地方:音乐家勃拉姆斯(Brahms)、马勒(Mahler)和理查德·斯特劳斯(Richard Strauss)经常前来拜访,拉维尔(Ravel)写“左撇子钢琴协奏曲”就是专门为保罗写的。保罗在第一次世界大战中失掉了一只胳膊,他觉得弟弟路德维希的哲学完全是“垃圾”,而路德维希对于保罗的音乐才能也评价不高。这个冬宫里经常回响起不断的尖叫和恶毒的争吵。

  父亲去世后,保罗受委托来经营家族的财产,可他非常愚蠢地投资购买政府战争债券,把家产输掉了很大一部分。路德维希仍然继承了相当一部分家产,但是他以托尔斯泰式的精神把自己继承的部分全部转给其他三个兄弟姐妹。他在剑桥大学三一学院的家里几乎没有什么家具,据说他曾经说过,只要吃的是同样的东西,他才不在乎吃的是什么。这和他青年时期富家子弟的情形实在有天壤之别。路德维希在他第一本伟大著作《逻辑哲学论》(the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)中体现出来的僧侣式禁欲或许是他对奶油蛋糕和物质享受的维也纳世界的反叛,那里有很多穷人睡在洞穴里或者公园里。


  亚历山大·沃(Alexander Waugh)对于维特根斯坦疯人院的描述读起来引人入胜,体现了不凡的学术功力,或许解释了这个家庭背景如何帮助造就了维特根斯坦家族中这个杰出的哲学家。当然也提供了一些线索帮助解释路德维希与众不同的矛盾性格。他傲慢自大、飞扬跋扈、一丝不苟、让人厌烦地渴望道德完善、瞧不起他周围的人。他确实是维也纳贵族的传人,但是他最伟大的著作《哲学研究》(Philosophical Investigations)在拥抱平常、接受不完美和不可救药的多元性上也代表了他对这个世界的拒绝。




  (译自:Palace of pain by Terry Eagleton

  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/ ... tgenstein-alexander-waugh

  译者注:本文讨论的书是《维特根斯坦家族:战争之家》(The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War)by Alexander Waugh 384, Bloomsbury, £20。
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