Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wittgenstein in Exile

Lars Hertzberg's review of James Klagge's Wittgenstein in Exile seems about right to me. Some key paragraphs:
In all, the book is a stimulating read. The thought experiments should give rise to good discussions in class. Klagge makes fruitful use of less-known Wittgenstein material, such as notes from his lectures.
However, one may question how useful the theme of exile is as a key to the reading of Wittgenstein. After all, what philosopher worth his or her salt is not in reality a kind of exile? One senses that the notion functions as a peg on which to hang a range of topics which otherwise would have made for two books or more. However, this does not diminish the fact that Klagge has important things to say on all the issues he raises.
And from nearer the beginning:
Klagge's book is rich and varied in content, to the point of being scattered, combining biography and cultural history with philosophy (including 62 pages of endnotes). To make his case, Klagge, on the one hand, invokes facts about Wittgenstein's life, the way he thought about himself and his work, while on the other hand he discusses features of Wittgenstein's thought that may strike us as particularly difficult to embrace.
I think that Klagge takes the idea of exile too seriously for it to be a mere peg, but it's true that the book is very wide-ranging, and I can see how it might seem scattered to some readers. There are some very nice bits, which are well worth reading, but whether it adds up to more than the sum of such parts is harder to say. I'm not sure how much that matters though. It's a short book and relatively easy to read, so anyone interested in Wittgenstein (other than beginners, I would think) should try to get hold of it.  

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