Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Tractatus Logico-Westernicus

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.” — John Wayne

Apparently, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was a great fan of movie westerns. Which pleases me, because I am a fan of both. I imagine that what appealed to Wittgenstein in the western was partly the economy of the sparse dialogue, which is so characteristic of the genre and is roughly parallel to the terseness of Wittgenstein’s own style; and perhaps it was partly too the way in which metaphysical questions are, in the best westerns, evoked, engaged and explored by the action and the cinematography without any attempt to settle them in an explicit verbal way. To be sure, there are trite westerns, just as there is pretentious philosophy, but the best of each expand our horizons, help us to take a broad perspective.

As a side note, I don’t know how well it is known, even now, that Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolph Hitler were classmates when they were about twelve to fourteen years old, at the Realschule in Linz, Austria.

It’s astonishing to think of; and one wonders if Hitler’s irrational hatred of Jews took some root in what must have been the depressing evidence of his own mediocrity when he found himself sharing a classroom with young Ludwig. In any case, Wittgenstein is presumably the boy alluded to in Mein Kampf: “In high school I did learn to know a Jewish boy, whom we all treated cautiously, only because various experiences had taught us to doubt his reliability.”

Now Hitler, there was someone who talked loud, talked fast and talked far, far too much.

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