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Reviewed by:
  • Wittgenstein in Exile
  • Joachim Schulte (bio)
James C. Klagge . Wittgenstein in Exile. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2011. 249 pp. ISBN 978-0262015349, $25.00.

Various parts of the eleven chapters of Klagge's book have been published before, mostly in somewhat remote collections of papers or journals. But the availability of these much-revised and rearranged texts in book form is not the only reason for welcoming this publication. Another and more important reason is the fact that the questions raised by the book will stimulate readers to think about aspects of Wittgenstein and his work that are too often neglected. It is an additional virtue of Klagge's work that the material put at our disposal is rich enough to allow readers to assess a great number of arguments that could be adduced for very different, and perhaps incompatible, readings of Wittgenstein.

As Klagge points out, there is a kind of consensus about the importance of Wittgenstein's work: professional philosophers and popular writers agree that he counts, if not as the single most important, then as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. He is generally regarded as one of the leading representatives of "early" or "classical" analytic philosophy (as practiced by Frege, Moore, and Russell) and as the founding-father of a later strand in analytic philosophy, often associated with a movement called Ordinary-Language Philosophy. But quite apart form his success in the eyes of posterity, many of the contemporaries that knew him in Cambridge or Vienna were impressed by the striking forcefulness of his personality. One of the many tributes cited by Klagge is John Maynard Keynes's remark (in a letter to his wife) apropos of Wittgenstein's return to England in 1929: "God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train."

What also contributes to the high esteem in which Wittgenstein is generally held is the fact that some of his remarks and certain characteristic terms invented by him have caught on and are quoted or employed in the most unlikely contexts. The last sentence of his early work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus ("What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence"), and [End Page 399] his later statement to the effect that his aim in philosophy is "to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle," function as conversational signature tunes, and many people who would be hard put to explain what they mean by these terms like to speak of "language-games" or "forms of life." Moreover, certain photographs showing Wittgenstein's impressive face are reproduced again and again, and a few stories about his life form part of the canon of our symbolic legends revealing what a true philosopher is supposed to be like.

One of the most obvious features that distinguish Klagge's book from many comparable publications is the cover photograph. It is not one of the stern standard portraits but shows Wittgenstein in the middle of his life (1921), wearing an open-necked shirt with rolled-up sleeves, rowing a boat across a lake. His face is turned in the way of someone looking at new shores, trying to figure out what they may hold in store for him. Of course, this effect is reinforced by the title printed underneath the picture, which functions as a kind of caption: "Wittgenstein in Exile." As the cover of a book this is superb, and the ideas suggested by it can be seen to go some way towards explaining important aspects of Wittgenstein the man as well as Wittgenstein the author of his writings.

But two things need to be added straightaway. The first point is that the sense in which the scene pictured by Klagge's cover photograph can be regarded as "exile" is a very attenuated one. The Norwegian lake Wittgenstein is crossing is, as it were, "his" lake: just above it (but not visible in the picture) is the cabin he had built for himself before the First World War, and the present of the picture was the first time he was actually living in this spot, which he had chosen for himself because of its stunning...