Contextualizations of a Genius
Exhibition at the Schwules Museum Berlin
to mark the 60th anniversary of Wittgenstein's death
March 18 to June 13, 2011
Photos from the Exhibition
(Photos: Jan Drehmel (6), Marian Stefanowski (14))
The upcoming 60th anniversary of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s death will take place in spring 2011. To honor this occasion, his life and work are to be presented in a broad-based cultural and historical exhibition. It was precisely the radicalness of his personal decisions, as well as his philosophical thoughts and demands, which made Wittgenstein into an enigmatic and controversial figure during his own lifetime. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life and work are therefore particularly suitable to interesting a wide audience in the nature and formulation of philosophical questions.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) is regarded as one
of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. His high level of public recognition is
largely owed to his charismatic personality, which should also be understood in the recourse against the notion of “genius” at the turn of the 19th century. Not only did Wittgenstein write authoritative philosophical works that are still relevant (which remained mostly unpublished during his lifetime), he was also known as an extraordinary personality (he wrote his best known work, the Tractatus logico-philosophicus, in the trenches during World War I, gave away a considerable inheritance from his parents and gave up his studies to work as a cloister gardener and village schoolteacher). Consequently, Wittgenstein’s life and work are to be considered jointly in the exhibition “Ludwig Wittgenstein – Contextualization of a Genius.”
The exhibition would like to “contextualize” Wittgenstein in every sense of the word. On one side, it is a question of his classification in European cultural and ideological history with its very diverse intellectual influences. Wittgenstein cultivated friendships with the architect Adolf Loos and the literary critic Karl Krauss, the British logicians Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, as well as the philosophers of the “Viennese Circle” around Moritz Schlick; he appreciated the pacifist writer Tagore equally to the Marxist economic theorist Piero Sraffa. However, the approach of “contextualization” is also to be understood quite literally. Wittgenstein constantly changed his place of residence, traveling regularly between his native Vienna, his studies and teaching activities in Cambridge, as well as his preferred retreat in Skjolden, in Norway. The exhibition intends to illustrate these various locations that affected his life and thought, along with his respective circle of friends and the peer groups in which Wittgenstein discussed his thoughts. Ludwig Wittgenstein was by no means a hermit-like ascetic who developed his theories in complete seclusion. He cultivated an exchange with his brothers and sisters, with friends and colleagues, and frequently chose very practically-oriented examples in his works to illustrate complex theories. For this reason, a media installation will quote from his writings, diaries and primarily his correspondence to make philosophy experienceable as a living process through the form of dialogue.
Wittgenstein questioned himself and his positions again and again, coming to very inconsistent conclusions during the course of his life. His Tractatus logico-philosophicus (“What can be said at all can be said clearly; and about that of which one cannot speak, one must stay silent.” §7), written during World War I, revolutionized theoretical philosophy and became a basic work of analytical thinking. With his late works – in particular the repeatedly reworked “Philosophical Investigations” (“The meaning of a word is its use in the language.” § 43) – he formulated basics of speech act theory and he can be designated as a co-founder of the pragmatics of language.
Even so, his constant struggle for sincerity and clarity will be characterized – his search for “real life.” As such, the oppositional pairs of “asceticism or sensuality” and “speaking and silence” form leitmotifs for the course of the exhibition, referring both to theoretical and private conflicts and suggestions for solutions. Characteristic of Wittgenstein’s coming to terms with questions on ethics and religion are his “Geständnisse” (Confessions), which he put in writing to several friends during 1936-37. In these confessions, he accused himself of various lies; in particular that he had denied his Jewish origins, had been cowardly in the war (although he was honored for courageous behavior), had lied in supervisory proceedings while a village school teacher, etc. He asked forgiveness of his friends, but at the same time expressed the presumption that this would probably not be entirely possible. Thus, confessing and forgiving became language rituals of ethical actions. Wittgenstein’s homosexuality, like his relationship to Judaism, should be discussed in this context. The Schwules Museum Berlin, known internationally for its high-caliber retrospectives and thought-provoking themes, is hosting this exhibition. The project is a component of an exhibition cycle about homosexual thinkers and philosophers (2004: Michel Foucault).
The exhibition is being prepared in close cooperation with international institutions and individuals, and reflects current scholarly discourse. The Wittgenstein Archive in Cambridge and the Brenner Archiv in Innsbruck have already been attained as the most important cooperation partners. They maintain important archival holdings on Ludwig Wittgenstein and ensure that the exhibition will be supported with numerous original documents (manuscripts and correspondence), as well as scholarly advice.
The 60th anniversary of Wittgenstein’s death will most likely will lead the media and the public to an increased awareness and interest in his person. Accentuated by accompanying events and provocative discussions, this exhibition offers a multifaceted visualization of Wittgenstein’s body of work, while granting insight into the relevance of his thinking and its applicability to current scholarly disciplines.
funded by the German
Federal Cultural Foundation
in Cooperation with
Wittgenstein Archive, Cambridge
Artistic Directors and Concept
Jan Drehmel, Berlin
Kristina Jaspers, Berlin