Beginning with the anxious summer of 1914, this historic, en-face edition presents the first-person recollections of a foot soldier in the Austrian Army, fresh from his days as a philosophy student at Cambridge, who must grapple with the hazing of his fellow soldiers, the stirrings of a forbidden sexuality, and the formation of an explosive analytical philosophy that seemed to draw meaning from his endless brushes with death. Private Notebooks takes us on a personal journey to discovery as it augments our knowledge of Wittgenstein himself.
Private Notebooks: 1914-1916 is a strange and intriguing record — illuminating when it comes to Wittgenstein’s preoccupations, his sexual anguish, his continuous struggles with his 'work' in philosophy, along with his intermittent comments about his 'job' in the military ... In the second notebook especially, the punctuation gets noticeably idiosyncratic ... Private Notebooks shows the philosopher wrestling with this process in real time ... The notebooks show the circumstances in which Wittgenstein’s mystical turn toward the end of the Tractatus was born — not in an attempt to escape that world, but in a determination to immerse himself in it.
What do we gain from access to Wittgenstein’s private remarks? We learn that he struggled to get on with his fellow soldiers. We learn how often he masturbated and that he visited the baths in Kraków when he was stationed in an artillery workshop there ... But you may wonder if that’s enough. If there’s something deep to be gained from Wittgenstein’s private notebooks, it has to do with the entanglement of philosophy in the problems of life. This was a constant for Wittgenstein ... The question raised by the publication of the private notebooks is whether knowledge of Wittgenstein’s life sheds light on his philosophy. The answer is that it does ... Wittgenstein’s philosophy is not about being lonely, but one can see disquiet about loneliness sublimated in his work ... Thanks to Perloff, we can now relate the public notes to Wittgenstein’s private remarks. The interest is not merely voyeuristic: it is emotional and intellectual. As the notes progress, Perloff sees a growing correspondence between public and private ... These passages are riveting. But they bring frustrations, too. Perloff does not reproduce enough of the public notes—the ones that Anscombe published—and crucial context is lacking ... Perloff gives us little sense of what was happening to Wittgenstein’s work on the Eastern Front. Some of the most moving passages of the public notebooks involve not pure mysticism, but the interleaving of technical insights with existential ones.
Wittgenstein’s private notebooks provide welcome context to his first masterpiece ... In bringing this text to the English-reading world, Perloff has done a great service to scholars and students of philosophy. Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings give the impression of being unattached to their author. Consequently, to read him in an autobiographical mode...as he is composing the Tractatus is to have that work humanized. More than anything, the notebooks describe his frustrations with the amount and quality of his work ... An invaluable contribution to the scholarship of Wittgenstein.