Monday, May 16, 2011

Wittgenstein's Aftermath

In the days before blogs there used to be a very active Wittgenstein discussion via email, but it seemed to die out for some reason. As I remember the level of discussion was very high, and Lars Hertzberg would appear from time to time, which tells you something (unless he is just a glutton for punishment, but I doubt it). Now there is "Wittgenstein's Aftermath," which features some of the same people. (I see that there is some discussion of my work there, so I'd better take a look some time.)  


  1. Duncan,

    This is as a good a place as any to let you know that I've discovered your blog, already a few months ago in fact. I keep intending to comment on your most recent post, but whenever I come back to do so after taking some time to think about what to say, you've always already posted something new. Seeing as you're one of those bloggers who take the courtesy of replying to comments on even quite old posts, perhaps I should comment on them nevertheless.

    My life has changed a lot in the five years or so since we last spoke (was it when you were here in Finland? Sadly, and revealingly, I can't even remember). In 2008, I published a book of sociopolitical pamphleteering (in Finnish) which attracted a lot of attention in the local media and instantly made me a public intellectual, with the attendant endless stream of interviews, lecturing, column writing, radio and TV appearances, and so on. Last year I followed it up with another book, which had an even better reception, and am now writing a third one for publication next year.

    The first book was only mildly Wittgensteinian - it was more Marxian - but the second was a sort of Swansea Wittgensteinian commentary on some findings of social science that have to do with people's empirical ignorance of the sociopolitical reality around them. Outside a tiny elite, itself ignorant of how unrepresentative it is, this ignorance is quite deep even in a region of the world like northern Europe, which is liable to be idealized by outsiders (e.g. in Finland, only one third of the electorate knew shortly before the recent election which four of the eight parties in parliament were in government and which four in opposition). I take these data as the "text" of a philosophical "sermon" the way a writer like Winch so often takes an anthropological book, a short story or whatnot. It's too bad the book is in Finnish, as I'm sure you'd like it. In a sense, I'm "trying to understand how so much bull is taken in and spouted by so many people", which you described yourself as doing in one of your political posts.

    I would dearly like to return to Wittgenstein full-time someday, but I haven't had a paying job in academe since 2004, and the one I have outside it (in document translation, for which I have no qualifications besides sheer fluency) is nice enough that I'm loath to let go of it. ut you never know. I'm still trying to keep up with the secondary literature, but as you know, it's nowadays an uphill task more than ever.

  2. ... Goodness, we don't have nearly enough "horses" at Wittgenstein's Aftermath. I would love to see both of you (Drs. Richter, Uschanov) taking some interest. If you ever want to contribute, we'd be honored. Thanks so much for mentioning our group in the blog. As much as I like the group, we still are a work in progress and would welcome as many serious Wittgenstein scholars and students as we could find. Thanks again for mentioning us.

    Sean Wilson

  3. Well, on my part I wish you the best of luck, but the reason why I drifted away from Wittgenstein scholarship was precisely because I felt that I no longer had anything original to contribute.

    The reason why I abandoned my dissertation (I'm still a Mr. and not a Dr.!) was because new work kept coming out that said exactly the things I had been planning to say (e.g. Matt Ostrow's book on the Tractatus and Anat Biletzki's book on W.'s reception history). I had planned to revolutionize the field in almost precisely the way it started to revolutionize itself under my very eyes.

    I feel much more comfortable using Wittgensteinian methodology to write something for a lay audience on issues that matter to it, such as the book described above. This doesn't mean that I think everyone should do so, or that I think (as I suspect W. himself might have done) that it's somehow more worthy morally than scholarship. On the contrary, I feel very grateful to the current "golden age" of Wittgenstein scholarship for freeing me to do something else. It's too bad it hasn't resulted in a corresponding golden age in the academic prestige of W. scholarship, but I can't imagine a philosopher such as W. becoming much more popular or esteemed than he currently is without the price being the "mangling" and "watering down" about which he already complained himself in the preface to the Investigations.

  4. ... well, it is precisely these kinds of sentiments that we all enjoy sharing with one another in the group. Things that we can relate to, because we've been touched in certain ways by Wittgenstein. If you ever change your mind, email me, and I'll be glad to add you. ( See our homepage here:

  5. Thanks, Tommi and Sean.

    Tommi, yes, the last time we spoke was when I was in Finland. It's good to make contact again (or to have contact made). I wish I could read your books, and hope they are doing some good. If they're getting attention, as it sounds they are, then they probably are.

    Sean, I intend to stop in from time to time. Obviously I haven't done so yet, but I hope to have more time now that summer's here. Thanks for the invitation.

  6. Mr. Uschanov, any chans of your books being translated into, say, swedish? Låter som interessant läsning, även för en norrman (som tyvärr inte alls förstår finska).

  7. Även om jag själv förtjänar mitt levebröd delvis som översättare både till och från svenska tror jag tyvärr att mina böcker har bara ringa chanser att komma ut på svenska. Förlagskontraktet har en option om översättningsrättigheterna men den är en ganska död bokstav. Liksom Wittgensteins skrifter är böckerna till stor del fallstudier, och problemet är att exemplen är företrädesvis tagna från Finland.

    Båda böcker har fått åtskilliga recensioner i den finlandssvenska pressen, men jag minns inte exakt var (inte på nätet enligt Google).