- Das Familiengedächtnis der Wittgensteins. Zu verführerischen Lesarten von (auto-)biographischen Texten
"A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably." Nicole L. Immler chooses this remark by Ludwig Wittgenstein, published in the Philosophical Investigations (§115), not only as an epigraph to her book, but also as part of its final and concluding subheading. The main theme of the book is indeed the unmasking of "alluring readings" of Hermine and Ludwig Wittgenstein's (auto-)biographical notes and writings, of certain pictures of the Wittgenstein family and its individual members—pictures that have been reinforced over the years of Wittgenstein research. Instead of offering a new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein and his family, Immler chooses a meta-perspective and looks into existing biographies, such as those by Brian McGuinness, Ray Monk, and Alexander Waugh, to challenge perceptions of the Wittgensteins that, by and by, and to some degree, have held us captive. Immler has searched in Ludwig Wittgenstein's autobiographical remarks and in Hermine Wittgenstein's family chronicle Familienerinnerungen for the sources from which these pictures have been derived. It is for these reasons that this book may be understood as a kind of meta-biography that seeks to draw a more "true" picture of the Wittgenstein family—and of Ludwig Wittgenstein in particular—by both juxtaposing and investigating previous biographies as well as by critically evaluating and interpreting the historical material we do have.
"What is a family memory, a Familiengedächtnis?", the reader may wonder. Immler often uses the term synonymously with Familienerinnerungen, the title of Hermine Wittgenstein's family chronicle. Yet elsewhere, she illuminates the concept of family memory by referring to the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who is said to have been the first one to use it as a special term in the 1920s. According to Immler, he describes family memory as a specific memory-community that is generated by the communication between different generations of a family (18ff., 272ff.). It is shaped by countless little stories of people and family events that are passed on from one generation to the next by being told and retold over and over again (182). In the case of the Wittgensteins, Immler explains that a variety of sources has led to the shaping of their family memory. Among these are not only Ludwig's autobiographical remarks and Hermine's chronicle, but also the correspondence between the Wittgenstein siblings, Hermine's and Margarete's diaries, as well as memoirs by distant family members and family friends: the memoirs by the family Nohl-Oser (a German branch of the Wittgensteins), by Paul Kuppelwieser (a business partner of Karl Wittgenstein), by Marguerite Respinger (Ludwig's friend), and by [End Page 524] Joan Ripley (Paul's daughter). Immler takes all of these into consideration and thereby provides an insight into the present family memory of the Wittgensteins, even adding the harvest of several interviews she conducted with members of their latest generations: Andreas and Clara Sjögren (Helene's son and daughter), Cecilia Sjögren (Helene's great-granddaughter), Stephan Stockert (Helene's great-grandson), Franz Stockert (relation not stated), Thomas and John Stonborough (Margarete's sons), Pierre Stonborough (Margarete's grandson), and Joan Ripley (311ff.). From this list we clearly see how extensive Immler's sources are. What is more, some of these sources have not yet been thoroughly considered in Wittgenstein scholarship, as she herself states (18).
Framed by an introductory and concluding chapter, the book divides into two main parts of roughly equal length. The first part deals with several biographical studies that have been made of Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as his autobiographical notes and contemplations about autobiography as a genre. Immler begins this first part by examining biographical texts on Ludwig, showing how they have been shaped by intellectual trends. During the 1970s, Ludwig is, in a psychoanalytical manner, mainly seen as a homosexual maverick. Later, in the 1970s and...