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the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical

Wittgenstein in Ireland

Richard Wall

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To purchase Wittgenstein in Ireland

Title: Wittgenstein in Ireland
Author: Richard Wall
Genre: Biographical
Written: 1999 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 138 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Wittgenstein in Ireland - USA
Wittgenstein in Ireland - UK
Wittgenstein in Ireland - Canada
Wittgenstein in Irland - Deutschland
  • German title: Wittgenstein in Irland
  • Translated by Martin Chalmers
  • Includes numerous photographs and a Chronology

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Our Assessment:

B : nice, small book on a sliver of Wittgenstein's life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman C 22/1/2001 Henry Sheen
The Observer A 28/1/2001 George Steiner
TLS . 23/11/2001 John Hyman

  From the Reviews:
  • "The problems inherent in biography aside, Wall's book does have serious failings: it lacks the philosophical clarity of Monk's biography, and suffers from an overt romanticisation of the Irish landscape and the ascetic life. Wall indulges his knowledge of Irish place names, consistently remarking on how poeticised they sound compared to their English counterparts. This may or may not be so." - Henry Sheen, New Statesman

  • "(A)s Richard Wall's enchanting and perceptive record makes clear, Wittgenstein's actual visits had a context of intimacies. (...) The black-and-white photographs which illustrate this monograph are near to amateurish. This enhances their persuasion. (...) Wall provides an unforgettable understanding of 'Irish Wittgenstein'. It is a discreet jewel." - George Steiner, The Observer

  • "Wittgenstein in Ireland is written in a gentle, elegiac tone, and, as one would expect from the result of a pilgrimage, hagiography and travel writing are combined in it." - John Hyman, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Richard Wall's book centers on Ludwig Wittgenstein's time in Ireland. The famous philosopher (who lived 1889-1951) travelled to Ireland several times -- in 1910, 1934, 1936, and 1938. After resigning from Cambridge he lived there for extended periods between 1947-9, working mainly on his Philosophical Investigations. Wall estimates that Wittgenstein spent a cumulative total of at least two years in Ireland; certainly he did some of his most significant late work there.
       Wittgenstein came from a large (and incredibly wealthy) family in Vienna, but he strayed far and early, going to school in Linz, then studying in Berlin and Manchester before going to Cambridge (where he would later also teach). He found the isolated calm of Norway conducive to his work, but was soon also pulled into the First World War. In the early 1920s he trained as a teacher, and went on to work at numerous small country elementary schools in Austria, before turning seriously to philosophy (and Cambridge) again.
       Wittgenstein was drawn to some of the distant reaches of Europe in his quest for a place to concentrate entirely on his work. "Every now and then he bolted to Norway and Ireland", Derek Jarman describes in the introduction to his film, Wittgenstein (see our review). In Ireland he was particularly drawn to Rosroe and Connemara, a countryside similar to Norway's ("Ireland's Ultima Thule", Wall calls it).
       Ireland seems to have fit his sensibility and his mood. He wanted to work undisturbed -- impossible in distracting Cambridge -- and sought out isolation and a simple lifestyle where possible. Even in Ireland he frequently complained about bothersome noise and activity, but he seems to have felt quite comfortable in the not always obviously hospitable environment.
       Richard Wall researched this book for nine years, presenting this "modest chronology of all the stays of this incomprehensible figure". It is not all bleak countryside: Wittgenstein stayed in Dublin for considerable time as well. Wall's portrait is an interesting one of the entire country and specifically Wittgenstein's locales, as Wall describes each of the philosopher's Irish residences (and, generally, the attendant hardships). Quotes from Wittgenstein's own writings, as well as from friends and acquaintances, and many photographs also add colour to the account.
       Fascinated by Ireland as much as the man, Wall nicely ties the two together, considering what Wittgenstein likely encountered, what would have appealed to him (and what not). From each countryside to Bewley's Oriental Café Wall carefully retraces Wittgenstein's steps, looking for connexions to the man and his work.
       Wittgenstein in Ireland does not provide any grand new insights, but it is a nice, little book about this sliver of the man's life, a welcome complement to other monographs and memoirs devoted to specific aspects of the philosopher and his life (from David Pinsent's recollections to the books about Wittgenstein as schoolteacher, among now countless others). Quite rich in detail, with the author not intruding too much (but always making his presence felt), Wittgenstein in Ireland is a useful addition to the Wittgenstein literature -- and a nice homage to Ireland. It can even serve quite well as a brief introduction to the man for those who are daunted by the larger biographies (though Ray Monk's excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein shouldn't scare anyone off).

       Note: An attractive little book, with many photographs, Wittgenstein in Ireland is, however, missing both an index and, unfortunately, a map. The latter, in particular, would have been useful to those who are not quite so familiar with Irish geography.

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Wittgenstein in Ireland: Reviews: Ludwig Wittgenstein: Other books about Ludwig Wittgenstein under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Richard Wall is also a painter, designer, and photographer.

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© 2001-2022 the complete review

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