24 September 2012

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, by Ray Monk

A very impressive book, though it falls short of the greatness I'd hoped for. Monk's stated intention is to write an intellectual biography, to combine a description of Wittgenstein's ideas with an account of his life, and try to see how the two are related. He doesn't succeed as well as James Knowlson does in his magisterial biography of Beckett, Damned to Fame (seriously? I never posted about that incredible book?), but certainly, this book is a detailed story of Wittgenstein's life, and provides a remarkably clear overview of his thinking.

My main gripe was that the book is plagued with teensy repetitions, phrases that reappear like mosquitoes after a few pages. It's so minor and seems to nit-picky, but it really irked me. Otherwise though, it was a highly absorbing read - you can really get lost in it. It has a slightly melancholy feel - the man was rather tormented - but is also quite inspiring in some ways, the way that all stories of great thinkers tend to be. That single-minded passion, the fierce pursuit of this abstract idea - I can't help wishing for it myself. Reading things like this leads to resolutions to write more and read less - to be undertaken as soon as I finish reading them.

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