Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wittgenstein, 1935

Filed under: General — m759 @ 1:20 AM



With the expiry of his five-year Research Fellowship at Trinity College Wittgenstein was faced once more with the problem of loss of career. Accordingly he planned a journey to the Soviet Union, to find out whether he could find a suitable post there. Wittgenstein’s constant quest for the right career was not, as it is often misunderstood, a flight from himself. Rather, it was a search for the right place, a being at one with himself: Return him [Man] to his rightful element and everything will unfold and appear as healthy. (MS 125)

Since 1933/34 he had been taking lessons in Russian from the philosopher Fanja Pascal, initially with Francis Skinner. In June he asked Keynes for an introduction to the Soviet ambassador in London, Ivan M. Maiski. He sought contacts in two places above all, at the Northern Institute in Leningrad and the Institute for National Minorities in Moscow, writing to Keynes on 6 July: These Institutes, as I am told, deal with people who want to go to the ‘colonies’ the newly colonized parts at the periphery of the U. S. S. R. (Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore)

On 12 September Wittgenstein arrived in Leningrad. There he met the author and educator Guryevich at the Northern Institute, then an autonomous faculty of Leningrad University. On the evening of the following day he travelled on to Moscow, arriving there on the morning of the 14th. Here he had contacts with various western Europeans and Americans, including the correspondent of the Daily Worker, Pat Sloane. Most of his discussions, however, were with scientists, for example the young mathematician Yanovskaya and the philosopher Yushevich from Moscow University, who were both close to so-called Mach Marxism and the Vienna Circle. He was invited by the philosopher Tatiana Nikolayeva Gornstein, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, to teach philosophy at Leningrad University. He traveled to Kazakhstan, where he was offered a chair at the famous university where Tolstoy once studied. On 1 October he was back in Cambridge. The trip was shorter than planned, and it appears that he had given up the idea of settling in Russia.

His friend Gilbert Pattison, who picked him up from the ship on his return, recalled that Wittgenstein’s view was that he could not live there himself: One could live there, but only if one kept in mind the whole time that one could never speak one’s mind. … It is as though one were to spend the rest of one’s life in an army, any army, and that is a rather difficult thing for people who are educated. (Interview with Pattison)

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