Wednesday, 27 August 2014

OOOh Betty, I’ve got a bit of a problem!

Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable 

This is the final print in the Suite and the third ‘biographical’ image. 

On this latter aspect, I’ve been wondering if Paolozzi overlooked an incident for which I’m sure he would have created another great image.  I’m thinking of Wittgenstein’s apparently ‘miraculous’ repair of a steam engine during his time teaching at Trattenbach in the Twenties.  It was reported that Wittgenstein achieved this by orchestrating the application of nothing more than hammer taps to the machine by four men!  Given the attractiveness of the mystical aspects of Wittgenstein’s thinking, and Paolozzi’s love of engineering imagery, this would be a very appropriate example of something being shown which cannot be explained verbally. Here, below is my interpretation of 'The Miracle at Trattenbach':


In the The Duty of Genius, Ray Monk writes: 

. . . the Western was Wittgenstein’s favourite genre.  By the later 1930s, however, his taste had broadened to include musicals.  His favourite actresses, he told Malcolm, were Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton.  Exhausted and disgusted by his lectures, he would invariably go to see a ‘flick’ after them, accompanied by Malcolm, Smythies or one of his other friends from the class.  He would always sit at the front of the cinema, where he could be totally immersed in the picture.  He described the experience to Malcolm as ‘like a shower bath’, washing away his thoughts of the lecture. 

The ability to become completely absorbed in a performance was not new:  while at Manchester, he had liked to attend concerts given by the Halle Orchestra with Jim Bamber, a laboratory assistant with whom he worked at the University.  Bamber reported that Wittgenstein would concentrate intensely on the music, never speaking to or in any way interacting with his companion. 

Wittgenstein liked his movies to be slick in style rather than deep in meaning – and American.  He was of the view that no good British film had ever been made. 
And here’s another mystery.  In his correspondence with Norman Malcolm concerning Wittgenstein’s proposed trip to Ithaca, he said he wanted to be introduced to his favourite film star, Betty Hutton.  Given this, it’s not obvious why Paolozzi used Betty Grable rather than Betty Hutton in the print’s title.  Did: 
  • Paolozzi himself prefer Betty Grable?
  • Paolozzi think that Grable was more well known outside the US?
  • Malcolm get it wrong in reporting Wittgenstein’s preference?
  • Wittgenstein himself muddle up the two actress’s names? 
Not the final point, I trust; Wittgenstein’s last writing, just before his death, was published under the title: On Certainty.  Taking the book’s theme – that some things just have to be accepted as they are – it’s probably as well to simply enjoy the title, without analysis, as a jokey reference to Wittgenstein’s liking of the cinema as a relaxing antidote to the rigours of his thinking and lecturing.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Health & Safety won’t approve of this!

He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder


The text on this print – from 6.54 of the Tractatus – is rendered in fragments in the left hand margin, in English, (and, in German, in the right): 

My propositions serve as elucidation 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.  What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. 

This is the penultimate statement of the Tractatus.  Especially at the time of publication, this has been seen as a contradiction in terms – the sort of thing that causes much consternation about Wittgenstein’s writing.  It seems to me, however, to be completely consistent with his idea that philosophy – including relatively mundane personal reflection/contemplation - should be an activity not an abstract/aloof pursuit.  Further, that an understanding of the world will be achieved not through a logical step by step process, but by intuition at a level which can, however, only be reached by having experienced such a process; it’s the experience, rather than any accumulation of outcomes of logic which allows access to the intuition.  This is one of the most distinctive aspects of Wittgenstein – the comfortable accommodation of concerns with logic/analysis/the rational together with recognition and respect for the mystical, and with no compunction to try to explain the latter. 

As has been observed elsewhere, this print is the most abstract in the Suite.  This further reflects Paolozzi’s empathy with Wittgenstein.  The Philosopher’s early work was much concerned with the representative aspects of language: in the later Philosophical Investigations the focus is on allusion.  In like fashion Paolozzi began his artistic career in an academic, figurative mode.  He broke free from the conventions imposed by this kind of working practice when he went to live in Paris and absorbed the influence of surrealism - from then on metaphor would be much more significant than ‘likeness’ in his imagery.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A coldblooded attitude

Spirit of the Snake 

The text quotation, from Notebooks 1914-16, (N15.10.16), is distributed around the edges of this print in fragments parallel with each of the four sides.  In English, from upper left, anticlockwise round to the lower right, and in German from lower right to upper left: 

Only remember that the spirit of the snake, of the lion is your spirit 

For it is only from yourself that you are acquainted with spirit at all 

Now of course the question is why I have given a snake just this spirit 

And the answer to this can only be in the psychological parallelism: 

If I were to look like the snake and to do what it does then I should be such-and-such 

The same with the elephant, with the fly, with the wasp 

But the question arises whether even here, my body is not on the same level with that of the wasp and of the snake (and surely it is so), so that I have neither inferred from that of the wasp to mine nor from mine to that of the wasp 

Some writers have emphasised Wittgenstein’s underlying solipsism in his early philosophy and this would seem to be confirmed by the second line of the quotation above. 

In exploring the references in this print, Rosemary Miles offers an alternative starting point: 

A comment on the meaning of sign and symbol.  The image symbolises rather than represents the snake.  In 1962 Paolozzi and Kitaj painted ‘Warburg in New Mexico’.  Commenting on the picture, Kitaj quoted Fritz Saxl on Warburg’s experiences among the Indians: ‘the forming of a symbol like a snake, for lightning, must be understood as an act of enlightenment . . . the ‘like’ which keeps the two parts of the comparison distinct is omitted.  For (the Indian) lightning is the snake.  By equating the two it becomes possible to grasp the intangible.’ 

Here, ‘in action’ we are observing an example of a concept which cannot be expressed in language, (as a proposition), but only shown. 

Why are there two portrayals of Wittgenstein in the bottom left of this print?  Maybe this simply acknowledges that personality is multifaceted.  The full face image is of Wittgenstein at Trinity College, 1929, and the profile is his Fellowship portrait, 1930.  But, if a man can be more than one ‘character’ perhaps he can ‘be’ other creatures too? – i.e. assume the spirit of the snake/the shark/the salamander etc. 

Then, however, consider something fundamental to Wittgenstein: in childhood he was capable of lying and he pretended to his family that he was happy and cheerful.  As a young adult his outlook radically altered and crystalized into an enduring principle, as related in Ray Monk’s The Duty of Genius: 

Political questions, for him, would always be secondary to questions of personal integrity.  The question he had asked himself at the age of eight was answered by a kind of Kantian categorical imperative: one should be truthful, and that is that; the question ‘Why’ is inappropriate and cannot be answered.  Rather, all other questions must be asked and answered within this fixed point – the inviolable duty to be true to oneself. 

The determination not to conceal ‘what one is’ became central to Wittgenstein’s whole outlook.
In thinking about whether or not Wittgenstein would have deemed the idea of assuming the spirit of the snake relevant to truthfulness, another consideration intrudes: verbal references to snakes in idioms are often derogatory – snake in the grass; snake oil; lower than a snake’s belly; speaking with a forked tongue.

Whatever, here is an undeniably beautiful snake:


Friday, 15 August 2014

A Welcome Reminder of the Sixties

Assembling Reminders for a Particular Purpose 

The ninth print in the Suite is captioned, (in German at the top, in English at the bottom), with two paragraphs from the later (posthumously published) major Wittgenstein work, Philosophical Investigations: 

126  Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything.—Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain.  For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us.  One might also give the name "philosophy" to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. 

127  The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.
In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein advanced the idea that ‘problems’ are to be solved in a variety of ways, not by a single formal, structured method.  Rather than providing a thought ‘tool’ by which questions can be answered, philosophy’s purpose is to make clear that such a ‘tool’ does not exist and to suggest other ad-hoc approaches – i.e. ‘reminders’ or cues to past or other-context experiences.  I think this principle is symbolised in the print by the use of shapes and patterns, (very aesthetically pleasing in their own right), which give the impression of, but do not actually portray, conventional symmetry – a feature of some of my own painting:


Monday, 11 August 2014

Questions without Answers

Futurism at Lenabo is the eighth print in the Suite. 
The text, quoted from Norman Malcolm’s Memoir, at the top of this print reads: 

It is worth noting that Wittgenstein mentioned that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious). Another time he said that a philosophical treatise might contain questions (without answers).  In his own work he made use of both.  To give an example:  ‘Why can’t a dog simulate pain?  Is he too honest?’  (Philosophical Investigations §250) 

Some questions, (as said, so menacingly, by Gareth in The Office): 

Is Paolozzi referring to the Royal Naval Air Service airship station constructed at Lenabo in Aberdeenshire, (better known as RNAS Longside)? 
Is there a reference to Wittgenstein’s involvement at Manchester University with kites and weather observation balloons and his wish for a posting to a balloon unit in WW1? 

Do some of the comic book-style component pictures look like aerial views of land/townscapes? 

Is this an example of Aeropainting - a branch of the Italian Futurist art movement which developed during the 1920s? 

Does the word Futurism have an association with the idea that in 1915 airships may have been seen as realised science fiction? 

Is there a hint of irony here – the station was closed in 1920: airships were already looking like a superseded technology?

Given the convoluted nature of the Paolozzi/Wittgenstein milieu, are the above questions too obvious? – see below:


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The sun is out again

I have been thinking some more about Artificial Sun. 

Language exists to convey thought.  In putting the two words artificial and sun into juxtaposition Paolozzi obliges us to think about more than look at the image to which he gave this title.  Certainly, we are not presented with a cue to an object or concept that could exist – the creation, other by nature, of something embodying the scale of energy we associate with our Sun, is beyond any possibilities of technology we can envisage. 

After an exhaustive consideration of what might be meant by the image and the title, perhaps, like me, you will be happy that you simply like the image in its own right.  That in itself is a Wittgensteinian position:  When he was first under the wing of Bertrand Russell (1911/12) he expressed a belief that something of beauty should not be spoiled by arguments, (explanation).  In Ray Monk’s Duty of Genius this is recorded so nicely thus: He would feel as if he were dirtying a flower with muddy hands.
Meanwhile, here is a further colour variation of this print:

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Pretty Polly – ah yes, in ’64 nylons were still an everyday thrill

Parrot is the seventh print in the Suite.  An aluminium sculpture was completed in the same year:


In the print, a figurative representation is suggested, but is not clear.  Maybe the triangles and curves refer to parts of the bird’s anatomy – especially perhaps the head/beak/wings/feathers.  Alternatively, look at it as two similar ‘creatures’, each with a triangular head and corrugated body, side by side, in repeated existence, ‘parrot fashion’ – thus the object of a concern with language as much as with a ‘picture’. . . such an interpretation being in tune with the quotation at the top of the print: 

What I give is the morphology of an expression.  I show that it has kinds of uses of which you had not dreamed.  In philosophy one feels forced to look at a concept in a certain way.  What I do is to suggest, or even invent, other ways of looking at it.  I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought.  You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most.  But I made you think of others.  Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities.  Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of use of it.

Here’s the print in two colour variations:




Friday, 1 August 2014

Achieving more certainty about Wittgenstein, (if not about the meaning of life!)

My interest in As Is When came from the Paolozzi side.  I have been a fan of the Artist since I first attended Harrow School of Art in 1966.  My knowledge of Wittgenstein is limited, but I have long wanted to understand the thinking of this enigmatic man.  Regarding his life, I have previously expressed doubt about the Tractatus-in-his-knapsack ‘theory’ in regard to Wittgenstein the Soldier.  Ian Ground at has kindly pointed me in the direction of Ray Monk’s definitive biography of the Philosopher, The Duty of Genius.  The book’s 7th chapter details Wittgenstein’s First World War service and from this it would seem likely that his field knapsack did indeed number amongst its contents drafts and notes for the Tractatus. 

Ray Monk says in the Introduction to his book that Wittgenstein’s work can be properly understood only in relation to his life experiences.  This validates Paolozzi’s decision to include three ‘biographical’ prints in As Is When.  Wittgenstein the Soldier can be seen to have special significance, for, as Ray Monk observes: 

If Wittgenstein had spent the entire war behind the lines, the Tractatus would have remained what it almost certainly was in its first inception of 1915: a treatise on the nature of logic.  The remarks in it about ethics, aesthetics, the soul and the meaning of life have their origin in precisely the ‘impulse to philosophical reflection’ that Schopenhauer describes, an impulse that has as its stimulus a knowledge of death, suffering and misery. 

That Wittgenstein contemplated and developed his philosophy as he fought is perhaps the best example of the idea that thinking/artistic practice should be seen as activities best conducted in amongst the chaos of everyday life rather than as esoteric pursuits.  As mentioned in the earlier post, Tortured Life, this is a principal tenet of Paolozzi’s empathy.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.  Ray Monk.  Jonathan Cape.  1990.  ISBN 0-224-02712-3