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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Thought House of Philippa

Suzanne Leblanc

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Title: The Thought House of Philippa
Author: Suzanne Leblanc
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Thought House of Philippa - US
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La maison à penser de P. - Canada
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La maison à penser de P. - France
  • French title: La maison à penser de P.
  • Tranlsated by Oana Avasilichioaei and Ingrid Pam Dick

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting interplay of fiction and philosophy

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The person, as well as the thought and writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein have inspired a great deal of fiction; in The Thought House of Philippa it is, along with these, the house he designed for his sister that serves as a blueprint.
       As suggested early on:

The house was a method. It was exact and simple. It was austere and obsessive. It issued from a life consecrated to the life of the mind. [...] I sought, in the hallways of this house, my method, my mind.
       The novel, carefully structured and austere like Wittgenstein's house, is made up of short grouped-together chapters -- an opening and closing set of 'Chorale'-chapters, as well 'Foundation' ones (in the third person), an interlude of two 'Phrase'-variations, as well as a section of 'Logic'-chapters, Philippa in the first person.
       Already in childhood, Philippa, or P., feels an estrangement from her family; her initial instinct is simply, childishly, to run away; a later escape -- a ten-day long separation "in an unknown, clinical environment" -- is more traumatic. P. seems to make her peace with family and her place in it, even as she remains keenly aware of the arbitrariness of her connections to it.
       The forming and holding of relationships continues to be something that P. struggles with, intellectually as much as emotionally:
The concept was born with the things. For P., every love came from a reciprocal decision to maintain it, as well as from real affection. [...] Love therefore became an artifact, a construction, a slow induction with fulgurant crossings, where a pleasure like that of knowledge was practised.
       Self is built up methodically and (would-be) rationally; even at a young age P.'s is an: "idea-formed world" rather than experience-based. The Wittgenstein house -- "an abstract house, a construction of the mind" -- and Wittgenstein's own writing and philosophy, are a foundation for her self-construction.
       The Thought House of Philippa does not go into great detail about details, more interested in process and arc. What we get is the blueprint, the shell, not the furnishings:
It took me years of constant application to create this centre and build de novo the frame of reference that ordinarily comes with an origin. I composed my world as a floating, mobile system whose relation to the Exterior was based first and foremost on knowledge
       P.'s is a quest of self-knowledge, deeply introspective; in its Wittgensteinian focus it can seem artificial -- a construct, rather than a natural state -- yet that's also a matter of perspective: P.'s approach is welcome because it addresses what is also the existential question from this very different angle. As she suggests:
I sought to know myself, not personally but in my individuality, which I took to be a fundamental condition of existence.
       Like much of Wittgenstein's own writing, The Thought House of Philippa is spare and, in many ways, open-ended, suggestive rather than absolute (even as the parts might seem definitive, fixed and permanent like the walls of Wittgenstein's house).
       It is an interesting work of fiction, the language and presentation seductive in the way Wittgenstein's own work can be -- and similarly frustrating, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 June 2015

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The Thought House of Philippa: Reviews: The Wittgenstein House: Suzanne Leblanc: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Suzanne Leblanc teaches at the University of Laval. She was born in 1952.

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