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Book Title: The World as I Found It|
The author of the book: Bruce Duffy
ISBN 13: 9780395900574
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 830 KB
Edition: Mariner Books
Date of issue: September 15th 1997
Read full description of the books The World as I Found It:If I wrote a book called The World As I Found It, I should have to include a report on my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will, and which were not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.
The above being the epigram of the novel by Bruce Duffy, named after Wittgenstein’s suggestion. The quote is from the slim volume - Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus - which stands as the only book this towering philosopher of the twentieth century ever wrote.
At the time of Duffy's publication some readers considered his book scandalously presumptuous … If it affronted purists, however, The World As I Found It, in its very recklessness and invention and brio, enthralled readers of literature, most of whom knew little and cared less about its protagonists.
from David Leavitt’s Introduction
I was enthralled … good call, Mr. Leavitt
… and please note, those who don’t care about these philosophers, or who might even be afraid of them. If you like fiction of the highest order, if you are a connoisseur of the best of novels, then enthralled you too will almost certainly be.
Die Grosse Pappel II (Aufsteigendes Gewitter) 1903
The Great Poplar II (Thunderstorm Rising) by Gustav Klimt, which is used on the cover of the NYRB 2010 edition of Duffy’s 1987 novel, is a brilliant editorial choice, appropriate for multiple reasons.
1. THE PROTAGONISTS
The novel has three main characters, along with a swarm of others known to one or more of them – friends, lovers, spouses, family, hangers-on, followers. Names have not been changed to protect anyone, innocent or otherwise.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Russell in 1907
Russell in 1938
British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic and political activist … at various times considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense. Born into a prominent aristocratic British family.
In the early 20th century, Russell led the British "revolt against idealism". He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, and Wittgenstein … With A. N. Whitehead wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics. His philosophical essay "On Denoting" has been considered a "paradigm of philosophy". His work has had a considerable influence on many branches of logic, mathematics and philosophy.
In 1950 Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought".
(above from Wiki)
G.E. Moore (1873-1958)
George Edward Moore
English philosopher. One of the founders of the analytic tradition in philosophy. Along with Russell, led the turn away from idealism in British philosophy … became well known for his advocacy of common sense concepts, his contributions to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, and "his exceptional personality and moral character." Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, highly influential among (though not a member of) the Bloomsbury Group … elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1918. A member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1894. His most famous work is Principia Ethica (1903)
(above from Wiki)
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Wittgenstein in 1947
Austrian-British philosopher, worked primarily in logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language ... 1929–1947 taught at Cambridge. During his lifetime he published only one book, the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), one article, one book review and a children's dictionary. His manuscripts were edited and published posthumously as Philosophical Investigations in 1953; by the end of the century it was considered a modern classic … described by Bertrand Russell as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating".
Born in Vienna into one of Europe's richest families … inherited a large fortune from his father in 1913 … gave sums to poor artists, and after the first World War gave away the rest of his fortune to his siblings. Three of his brothers committed suicide ... left academia several times—served as an officer on the front line during World War I, taught school in remote Austrian villages during the 1920s, worked as a hospital porter during World War II in London, while generally avoiding mention to patients and co-workers of his academic standing and fame … described philosophy as "the only work that gives me real satisfaction."
His philosophy is often divided into an early period, exemplified by the Tractatus, and a later period, articulated in the Philosophical Investigations. The early Wittgenstein was concerned with the logical relationship between propositions and the world. The later Wittgenstein rejected many of the assumptions of the Tractatus, arguing that the meaning of words is best understood as their use within a given language-game.
Wittgenstein's influence has been felt in nearly every field of the humanities and social sciences, yet there are diverging interpretations of his thought. In the words of his friend and colleague Georg Henrik von Wright:
He was of the opinion... that his ideas were generally misunderstood and distorted even by those who professed to be his disciples. He doubted he would be better understood in the future. He once said he felt as though he was writing for people who would think in a different way, breathe a different air of life, from that of present-day men.
(above from Wiki) (hide spoiler)]
I find I can't resist squeezing in one more picture.
Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein painted by Gustav Klimt for her wedding portrait in 1905. (179.8x90.5 cm/71x36in.)
Ludwig's older sister, "Gretl" in the novel.
When Wittgenstein arrived in Cambridge (18 October 1911) he was 22 years old; Russell was 39, Moore was 37.
In the Cumulative Index of the MacMillan eight volume (and Supplement) Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Russell has about a hundred references, Moore about fifty, Wittgenstein about ninety.
2. THE AUTHOR
Bruce Duffy (1951-)
(view spoiler)[American author, best known for his novel The World As I Found It. In 1988 won a Whiting Writers' Award and received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Joyce Carol Oates named The World As I Found It "one of the most ambitious first novels ever published".
Duffy was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Irish-American parents, and lived his entire childhood in Garrett Park, Maryland.
(above from Wiki) (hide spoiler)]
3. THE BOOK
Duffy’s narrative style
Very briefly, what I found utterly fascinating about Duffy’s writing is the way he is capable, over and over, of finding perfect words to describe exactly the emotional and psychological states that a character finds himself in, whether he is reflecting about something that has occurred; or plunging deeper into a reverie about the stage that her life, or career, or relationships with others have reached; or is engaged in an awkward conversation with another character, each of them backing and filling, desiring to project something without saying it, or fearful of revealing a different thing which is bubbling to the surface.
I hope these quotations adequately illustrate why I’m so enthusiastic about Duffy’s narrative style. (view spoiler)[
Russell, early 1900s, on his bicycle, grappling with both a failing marriage and “The present king of France”, that famous phrase so innocent sounding - but with no referent, so taxing to elucidate its meaning, or even how it could have meaning:Grasping the handlebars, with his pipe clenched in his teeth and his legs revolving so uselessly, the logician felt upside-down. He was fairly suspended in air as he sailed over the rise, then dipped down that ditchy lane into the coming kingdom. Indeed, the Cycling Husband then saw that he was not one man but two: the one who had loved, and the one for whom the word “love” now had a sense but no apparent reference – a fraud and a fiction like the hollow king.
Russell, entering class on the first day of term:It was important for the don to captivate – in short, to stun. Here Russell was in his element. Talking quickly and zestfully, tearing at the subject in gleeful hunks, throwing out seemingly insurmountable questions only to swat them down like flies, Russell did indeed stun, at least to judge by their wide-eyed looks as they filed out afterwards.
All except his German, that is. The German was still sitting … Russell had seen him squinting up at the ceiling, mouthing his words suspiciously, like some foreign food. At yet another point, the German had squeezed his eyes shut, wincing painfully, as if he had heard a screech beyond human frequency.
Russell’s “sublime ability to ignore certain unpleasant areas of his life” an ability “antithetical to Wittgenstein’s character: This was not a mere difference in temperament; it was also a function of their difference in age. Unlike Wittgenstein, Russell had attained that age at which men are adept at psychically treading water, treading for days and sometimes weeks on end … At times it was hardly a dog paddle, barely keeping his head above water. And lately, Russell was so busy swimming along that he hardly noticed this new current that was slowly sweeping him out to sea. Besides, it was this fear, this heroic struggling in the foam of experience – this was the fatal discharge whereof life is created. This was what he lived for. And, blast it, he was swimming. Yes, in a pinch all Noah’s critters swim, but none tread water better than a shipwrecked, middle-aged man.
On Wittgenstein's distraught midnight visits to Russell’s rooms Arrogance fit Wittgenstein. To Russel, even Wittgenstein’s unreasonableness seemed relatively reasonable, as if he were subject to forces under which life’s normal standards did not apply.
… faster than Russell knew, Wittgenstein was reaching that point of being his equal, or even exceeding him in pursuit of what seemed a single unbounded dream … Strangely, though, Russell found himself not caring so much. It was a gentle, natural process, not unlike falling asleep. True, he had a vague sensation of failing, but it wasn’t so much a ruined kind of failing. Rather, it was a sense of ripening and unfolding, like a stream of light dissolving into the brighter stream of day.
And finally a longer quote, showing how Duffy develops a scene and infuses it with the inner life of the protagonists. As Wittgenstein’s first year progresses, Russell becomes testy when Moore begins speaking more knowledgeably about Wittgenstein; meanwhile, Moore has a young man, Pinsett, whom Wittgenstein has become friendly with. These little incidents, the chaff of days, piled up, and Russell continued to brood. One day, for instance, Moore remarked on his surprise that Wittgenstein was musical.
I had no idea, said Moore. Wittgenstein, I think, was rather surprised to learn that I sing … Wittgenstein said that he can whistle anything – even piano and violin parts.
Whistle? The vestigial scold and prig appeared from behind the arras, saying with evident disdain, No, never.
Russell thought he sounded impeccably neutral, if with a slight edge, but to Moore, who was now hearing things himself, the translation was, We’ve better things to do than whistle. Again, Moore sensed in Russell that unmistakable air of ownership. Always that need to remind him that Wittgenstein was his student, his future. As if Moore had designs on him! … Moore was just as alarmed about Russell’s seeming blindness to Wittgenstein’s darker current. But Moore’s chief concern now was Wittgenstein’s mounting influence on Pinsett.
Russell bridled when Moore raised his fears one wet day as they passed on the Common. Like dust, the blowing mist clung to their black gowns. Stooped under the black eave of his umbrella, his hair dripping, Moore resembled a bust of Cicero. It was hardly a place to talk, but Moore asked Russell rather suddenly if he didn’t think Wittgenstein was – well, unhappy. Moore was exceedingly cautious in how he couched it, but Russell still took it personally. For Russell, there was no distance now. Moore was implying that Russell was acting selfishly and irresponsibly, saddling Wittgenstein with his own frustrations and disappointments. The problem, Russell heard Moore saying, was not Wittgenstein but him.
Please, emphasized Moore, who could see that this was going over badly. Don’t take this wrongly. But do you think Wittgenstein is entirely stable?
Oh, no. He’s quite mad!
Hoping to combat absurdity with absurdity, Russell then said testily, Come, now. Do you think it’s all that grim? Hovering there with a queasy look, Moore wasn’t at all attuned to Russell’s lacerating attempt at satire. Well, of course I’m joking! Russell added with a flaring grin. What I mean is, you must know Wittgenstein on his terms.
Knowing he had overreacted, Russell ventured another laugh, to show his easy unconcern. But the patronizing tone that capped off his laugh only antagonized Moore, who waded in, saying, Well, all the same, I’ve wondered. Also, a student of mine, David Pinsett, mentioned some things.
Again, Moore felt that irritating proprietal tone. With a look of discomfort, he hedged. I misspoke just now – I was told in confidence. Nothing awful, you understand, but still matters of concern.
This student, asked Russell, inclining his head under his umbrella, he’s red haired? A short fellow?
That’s him … Well, said Moore, drawing up his shoulders. This can be kept between us, I think. My concern is … I’d hate to see Pinsett – shall we say, knocked off course. That’s roughly my concern –
Feeling he had made his point, Moore abruptly stopped. Unfortunately, he had said too much and not enough. All he’d done was raise Russell’s hackles.
No, Russell wasn’t giving in to this meddling. With all the focused attention of a boy pulling the wings off a fly, Russell slowly nodded, watching a bead of rain inch down Moore’s brow before he gave a frosty Good afternoon. (hide spoiler)]
In his Preface to the book, Duffy writesThis is a work of fiction: it is not history, philosophy or biography, though it may seem at times to trespass on those domains. Although the book follows the basic outlines of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life and character, it makes no attempt at a faithful or congruent portrayal, even if such were possible – or desirable for the aims of fiction.He goes on to mention a few specific items of historic fact which he bent in his work, for example the arrival of Wittgenstein in Cambridge has been moved from 1911 to 1912, and he has given Wittgenstein two sisters rather than the three he actually had.
The Preface is brief, little more than a page, and was a compromise that Duffy made with his publisher, whose editorial board wanted him to fill the back of the book with footnotes!!
So the reader could be presented with a conundrum by this novel. What is he to believe? In fact I asked myself this question at one point, not long into the narrative. My answer was …
The reader must completely let herself go. Fall under the spell. Don’t question. Did this really happen? Did Russell really think this, did Wittgenstein really write this, did Pinsett really exist? Pinsett’s mother? It doesn’t matter. If you must believe or not believe … do what you will. Try to find the answer to each doubt that assails you.
But realize that the tale, the narrative, doesn’t care what answer you find, or want to find, or don’t care about finding. The tale just IS. Like a logical symbol, it doesn’t have a Truth Value. That realization is enough. Everything flows from that. And perhaps all that flows means nothing.
This is a fictional universe, one of an infinite number, that resemble our own, more or less. And after all, we don’t all inhabit the same universe anyway. Each of our own realities overlap others’ realities to a degree, but only to a degree. Duffy’s artistic sense has guided him to craft a novel about characters based on real people that tells us somewhat different things about those people than biography claims. But, contrary to what I just said above, his narrative does have a Truth Value – but it doesn’t apply to the real people we read about in biographies of these men. It applies instead to the characters - their emotions, hopes, fears, desires – that he has created. As Tim O’Brien said in The Things They Carried about war stories, the ones that tell us the most about war are the ones that didn’t really happen. Biographies purport to tell us the Truth – about a single individual. Duffy tells us the truth about those individuals as characters in a fictional universe.
This is one of the deepest novels I’ve ever read. To me it was almost unbearably poignant, a magnificent tale constructed from four different vantage points in space and time, each used to refract the lives of the protagonists at different stages of their lives.
And in many ways it tells, perhaps not realized by the reader as he or she reads, the story of all these years as they unfold in Europe: the terrible years of the fall from optimism of the first segment, taking place in Vienna and Cambridge just prior to the Great War; to the horrible night that descended on Europe with that slaughter; a seeming resurrection in the 20s, but with hints of the dark future ahead; and finally the blows of the Nazis, and what is still to come (but not in this novel) in the second Great War. Wittgenstein, Moore and Russell, the three of them, living, loving, losing; focusing on first the mind, then the senses, and finally memory; the process of aging, and coming to terms with time and the human condition.
and if you’re still unsure … (view spoiler)[you might want to look at the review that convinced me I wanted to read Duffy’s novel: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... (hide spoiler)]
Read information about the authorBruce Duffy is the author of the autobiographical novel Last Comes the Egg (1997), and—to appear June 2011— Disaster Was My God, a novel based on the life and work of the poet Arthur Rimbaud. An only child raised in a Catholic middle-class family in suburban Maryland, Duffy sees the 1962 death of his mother—essentially by medical malpractice— as what pushed him to be a writer. Duffy graduated from the University of Maryland in 1973, and has hitchhiked twice across the United States, worked construction, washed dishes, hopped freight trains with hoboes, and reported stories that have taken him to Haiti, Bosnia, and Taliban Afghanistan. Today he lives just outside Washington, D.C., works as a speechwriter, is married to a psychotherapist, and has two grown daughters and a stepson. Writing in Salon, Joyce Carol Oates named The World As I Found It as one of “five great nonfiction novels,” calling it “one of the most ambitious first novels ever published.” A former Guggenheim fellow, Duffy has won the Whiting Writers’ Award and a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Award
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