Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saint and sinner.

Venal, graft-riven, gimme-more-minded Middle India with so many sinister secrets tumbling out of its closet of late might as well lay a claim to Ludwig Wittgenstein as its saviour saint. Wittgenstein was seriously flawed, disturbed and tortured – nay, anguished by an awareness of sin and guilt and the need to do soul-searching aloud. In point of fact, he was the self-confessed sinner who aspired to sainthood. He was also phenomenally gifted so much so, in fact, that the Cambridge Apostles as well as the Bloomsbury crowd were duly deferential to him. Some of his biographers have revealed his “penchant for disciples” and his eagerness to dominate, cow down and virtually terrorize his followers as well as be venerated by them. Fania Pascal, his Russian tutor in the 1930s and later his colleague in Cambridge where he was the lionized philosophy professor described a bizarre incidence. Wittgenstein once insisted on reading to her, on a priority basis at a time when one of her children was ill, a written confession of his sins, viz., his failure to tell his friends about his Jewish ancestry and his denial of having physically abused a former pupil. To her irritated query halfway through the stiff recital: “What is it? You want to be perfect?” he answered with a thunderingly affirmative retort: “Of course I want to be perfect.” The other “father confessor”, Rowland Hutt, was equally uncomfortable listening to Wittgenstein’s loud recital of his purple misdemeanors delivered across a table in a Lyons cafĂ©. That very year, i.e., in 1937, Wittgenstein went to the village of Otterthal (Austria) to apologize to the parents of the children who had been at the receiving end of corporal punishment meted by him in his capacity as an elementary school teacher from 1924 to 1926. His open intolerance for his intellectual equals prompted his disciples into jeering at contrarian views. Mrs Pascal, though, thought of Wittgenstein as “remarkably unself-conscious”, oblivious of his capacity to wound others or arouse fear in them. He was unimpressed by class, status and temporal success. He was as demanding on himself as on others. He seemed to her the least neurotic of men: single-minded, resolute and steel willed. All this, in her estimation, would “… make him stand out as a prophet … not intrigued or amused by human nature ... [but] sure this nature was evil; and his attitude to it was one of despair.” To her, he appeared as a “free” man, one who had given up wealth, community, close national ties, pretence, adaptation so that he inspired awe among others. To John King, a student at Cambridge and friend, Wittgenstein was “a man of high moral, intellectual and artistic integrity ... tolerant of those who had less ability than himself and never censorious except of what he considered humbug, hypocrisy, affectation”. In his view, his teacher “saw a high seriousness and purpose in life”, and said: “Of one thing I am certain – we are not here in order to have a good time.”