Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Tractatus Odyssey

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s personal and philosophic journey 1912-1924 is illuminated through multimedia, photos and letters, against the backdrop of one of the most dramatic periods in world history.

Wittgenstein was son of one of the great industrialists and patrons of the arts in the Habsburg monarchy and the culture of Vienna 1900 remained a life-long influence on him. After initial studies in engineering in Manchester, Wittgenstein moved to philosophy and to Cambridge, where he became a pupil and close friend of Bertrand Russell. In 1913 he left the academic world and Viennese society and withdrew to the Sognje fjord in Norway, to concentrate undisturbed on his work on the nature of the logic. On the eve of WWI, Wittgenstein donated a large sum to Austrian artists, of whom Rainer Maria Rilke was his only personal choice (the rest was distributed among Adolf Loos, Georg Trakl, Oskar Kokoschka a.o.) and was one of the first who volunteered for the front. The next years brought to him Tolstoy’s Christian thought, the loss of David Pinsent, the person most important to him and lastly, being held prisoner of war in Italy.

Wittgenstein emerged from the war completely transformed as a person and a thinker. Back in Vienna in 1919, Wittgenstein renounced his enormous fortune, determined to give up philosophy for good and lead an ascetic, “decent” life. Heartbroken from the loss of Pinsent, he dedicated the Tractatus to his memory. While trying to find a publisher for the Tractatus, he withdrew to rural Lower Austria to work as a primary school teacher. The work was finally published, with Bertrand Russell’s help, in England in 1922, and was an immediate sensation, leading to the formation of many schools of thought, chief among them the Vienna Circle in 1924.

The multi-stage genesis of the work is traced 100 years after its origin, as well as its impact on the cultural history of the 20th and 21st century – in John Cage’s music or in the literary works of Thomas Bernhard and Ingeborg Bachmann.


Grillparzerhaus/Austrian State Archives

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