23 June 2022, The Tablet

Beyond words


Private Notebooks 1914-1916
(W.W. NORTON, 240 PP, £18.99)
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WITTGENSTEIN was a wanker. That’s not an insult, just a fair description of the man with which anyone who’s read a few pages of his Private Notebooks would concur. As he records over and over again in these front-line wartime diaries, Wittgenstein was forever cleaning his rifle.

On 2 September 1914 he writes about how, having “masturbated … I am almost entirely free of sexual desire”. So free that three days later he is “Feeling more erotic than before. Masturbated again today.” A few pages later he writes of having “fought for a long time against depression, then … masturbated and finally wrote the preceding sentence”. Since the sentence in question is a banal homily about counting one’s blessings, you wonder quite how much ceiling painting was necessitated by the composition of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.


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