Thursday, January 8, 2015

On Wittgenstein, Jr.

Good hello my dear! 

I hope you've been well this last week. I've been having some sort of reaction to something- which is the vaguest way possible to say "I feel like shit but have no idea why". I'll chalk it up to anxiety over the new semester starting and call it a day. Soon I'll have finished my Doctor Who scarf, so be on the look out for that within the next week or so. 

BUT I DO HAVE A REVIEW. I finished Wittgenstein Jr. and it was a fantastic choice for the new year. It's quite a book, and I can say whole heartedly that I loved it. As the summary says, we watch as Peters and his cohort try to understand their philosophy professor, who is, without a doubt, a new Wittgenstein. Perhaps calling him Wittgenstein-reincarnate is more accurate. It is a coming of age story in which a handful of Cambridge boys realize they have no idea what the real world will be like and have an inane need to impress their professor. Characters come and go, we get glimpses of their lives together just as though we were Cambridge students as well. Secondly, however, it's a modern retelling of Wittgenstein's first stint as a Cambridge professor. The loss of his brother, his realization that his original work (the Tracatus Logico-Philisophicus) was wrong, and his need  to set it right. Wittgenstein's philosophy is woven in every page, through phrases spoken, actions lived, and the plentiful one-way conversations in class (and I would be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely delighted every time I caught it). 

  I found it difficult to pick up, but near impossible to put down (which only happened when I had to drive as I read mostly in the car). I giggled a lot, but I wouldn't classify it as  a comedy in any sense. The humor I found came directly from Peters, our main character, and his friends- all of whom are incredibly pretentious and entirely Cambridge. Their humor is definitely British- witty and brash, the kind of humor that strikes you with a bit of disbelief and you repeat whatever had you giggling because you keep thinking about it. 

The apparently excessive italics annoyed me for a while, but it just took a bit of training to read them without emphasis and by the end, it was easy to read along putting emphasis on the rights ones and ignoring the others. The words that Iyers chose to italicize don't initially seem to have a reason, however with most words (not all of them, but definitely most) I found that they were from various parts of Wittgenstein's philosophy. A lot of people seem to have trouble with all the italics as there are quite a lot, but it's worth the hassle. 

Another common complaint is the relationship that forms in the fourth quarter of the book. It is hinted at early on, and while many call it unrealistic or forced, I don't find it to be either. It follows relationships of ancient Greek philosophers and their pupils, and is representative of what many presume Wittgenstein had. Without saying too much as to cause a spoiler, I found that the relationship could be entirely plausible (based on being a college student and having friends in a variety of disciplines) and it wasn't forced. I know that quite a lot of readers are tired of having romance thrown into books, but they'll just have to get over it. Some sort of relationship, whether platonic, romantic, or some combination there of will be in any book- and it was a part of Wittgenstein's life and had a place here. 

I think I enjoyed this book so much for a variety of reasons, so here's a bullet-point list: 

  • I love Wittgenstein. I suffered through a semester of reading the TLP, the Philosophical Investigations, and many ridiculous conversations (and one very concerning movie) about the private Wittgenstein, and during that time I found what I was looking for. 
  • I love philosophy. I mean, I'm a philosophy major with a concentration in religion. I'm down for trying anything that combines fiction and philosophy. 
  • My humor is weird. I laugh at the kid who tripped just as hard as I laugh at exaggerated recreations of philosopher's death scenes, so I giggled through this whole book. 
  • My friends are a lot like Peters and Company. These pages felt like home, like I was back in PAR 393 studying Wittgenstein again. 
I don't think you need a background in philosophy or Wittgenstein to read this, but I think to understand it well and to really enjoy it, you would need a base knowledge of Wittgenstein (maybe a few Wikipedia articles before hand). 

Next Up: NYPD Red by James Patterson and Marshall Karp. I used to love James Patterson- his Women's Murder Club series was just about all I read during the early high school years (because hell yeah I want women being badasses and solving murders), but I fell out after that. This book will be a test- do I like Patterson or do I fall in with the lower reviews?

Stay safe, stay warm.