Luki's Lost Archive
When the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) died in Cambridge 60 years ago, on April 29 1951, he left more than four million words unpublished. Two boxes of hitherto unpublished manuscripts and papers, which disappeared during the Second World War, are currently being edited and prepared for publication by Trinity College, Cambridge, where Wittgenstein was Senior Research Fellow and later Professor of Philosophy.
During his lifetime Wittgenstein only published one book, the Tractatus, and a few short publications, including a book review, one article and a children’s dictionary. His Philosophical Investigations was published posthumously, in 1953. Until recently, it was believed that all his longer manuscripts of any significance had been discovered.
Many of the manuscripts in the archive currently being prepared for publication were written by the Trinity College mathematician Francis Skinner, who was Wittgenstein’s friend, pupil and amanuensis. These include exercise books with dictated lecture notes written by Skinner and Wittgenstein’s handwritten revisions and corrections, as well as a series of mathematical calculations. One calculation extends to several sheets of paper, which, when they are laid out, measure 20 feet.
The archive disappeared in 1941, after Skinner’s death on October 3. Skinner suffered from Poliomyelitis and died of an attack, aged 29. Wittgenstein was at Skinner's bedside when he died at Cambridge Hospital for Infectious Diseases. He was deeply moved by the death of his friend who he also lived with in Cambridge. After Skinner’s death, Wittgenstein posted the archive to another former student, Reuben Goodstein. It was believed lost until the 1970s, when Goodstein donated it to the Mathematical Association of which he was the former president.
Several years ago, the Mathematical Association asked Trinity College to investigate the archive. The task was given to philosopher Professor Arthur Gibson, who was taught as an undergraduate at Cambridge by two of Wittgenstein’s students, Professors Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach.
Although there exist several biographies of Wittgenstein, the story of his life surrounding the archive remains a mystery. Gibson explained the significance of the archive: ‘It was immediately clear that I was looking at original manuscripts hitherto totally unknown, together amounting to some 150,000 words [...]. The archive shows that unpredicted and new revolutionary matters still await us in Wittgenstein’s philosophy and scientific knowledge that we incorrectly think we already understand.’
To mark the anniversary of Wittgenstein’s death, an exhibition exploring his interest in and use of photography in his work is currently on display in the Old Examination Hall at the University of Cambridge. Wittgenstein used photography to illustrate and clarify his arguments. In the 1930s he also created his own photo album. The exhibition runs until July 2011.
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