“[Abomunists ] must be prepared to read their work at dental colleges, embalming schools, homes for unwed mothers, homes for wed mothers, insane asylums, USO canteens, kindergartens, and county jails”—Bob Kaufman
“The essential modernism of the surrealists is their concept of art as a building process, not as an expression or statement of existence as it is, but as a modification or an addition to it.”—Anna Balakian
Today’s poem is from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
A brief overview of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s crazy-ass life: born in Vienna in 1889 to one of the wealthiest families in Europe at the center of Viennese culture (Gustav Klimt painted his sister’s wedding portrait; Mahler and Brahms gave frequent concerts at his home) the Wittgensteins were a pretty nutty bunch— think Royal Tenenbaums but richer and crazier. Three of his brothers committed suicide (one jumped off a boat, one drank poison, and one shot himself after the troops he was commanding deserted him).
In college Wittgenstein became interested in philosophy (the kind that involves equations and stuff) and attracted the attention of Bertrand Russell. He went to Cambridge and was declared a genius by Russell but pissed everyone off by being a domineering asshole about it. He inherited all his dad’s money, enlisted in the army, and fought in WWI on the front line of some of the most intense battles in history. He won numerous medals for bravery.
After the war he was mentally fucked and gave away his fortune to his surviving siblings. He retreated to the Austrian countryside and wrote a philosophical treatise called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that was regarded as basically the most important philosophical work of the century. He became an elementary school teacher in a rural town and got in trouble for beating the children. Later in life he went through a “confessional” period during which he returned to the town and personally apologized to the then-grown children.
He eventually returned to England and rescued his siblings from the nazis by convincing Hitler they were mixed blood and not too jewish (and giving the nazis a bunch of the family fortune). WWII convinced him philosophy was stupid so he took a low-paying job in a hospital instead.
Late in life he wrote another treatise called Philosophical Investigations that clarified and refuted some of his earlier work and then died in 1951 at age 62. He was gay but not openly and, with the exception of a few brief affairs, was mostly considered to be celibate.
The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is a bizarre book written in a series of numbered epigrams that seem like poems to me. Although it supposedly contains groundbreaking logical revelations, it’s a great book just to pick up and read a few random entries, and that is the only way I have ever tried to read it. The part below is actually the ending so stop reading if you don’t like spoilers.
from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.
6.53 The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said i.e. propositions of natural science— i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy— and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person— he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy— this method would be the only strictly correct one.
6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them— as steps— to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
I thought of you as a pigeon outside my bathroom window
Your beak was crafted from silver and hallucinatory deprivation
Spiraling upward into schizophrenic clouds of laughter.
It seems that I’ve been falling for some time now,
Not particularly realizing the impact of
The recent course of events.
I might try to run off into a woodland
Of ginseng and coca, flowers abound and
Pastel pastry kaleidoscopic revelations beneath
The twisted roots that rub against one another.
I found myself in a state of non-ordinary reality
When I saw you at the Laundromat,
You smile at me and I try my best to twist my wrist
In a friendly gesture. You approach me and ask
How I got here from so far away, after
Night after night of poisoned meandering
Through downtown avenues and country boulevards
of cracked pavement and acidic soil.
I saw a large mammal descending from the sky, it landed
Where you sit now, it has large yellow eyes, docile yet
Piercing. Remember, we named him Paul Verlaine?
Dmitri Bailey, however, was not joyful.
Verlaine sat with you, looked you in the eyes.
You were not there.
I lay in a shallow river, water washing over me, from shoulders
To hips and below. He bites her shoulders, her hips and below.
A certain variety of aggression finds its way into my eyes,
Like a Snake Well. However, in the grand scheme of what we
Happen to call reality, I feel rather happy.