Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most significant thinkers of the twentieth century. His father, Karl Wittgenstein, who was known as the ‘Iron King’ of Austria, bank- rolled the Viennese Secession. Founded in 1897, its slogan was: ‘to every age its art and to that art its freedom’.
Ludwig grew up in an intensely cosmopolitan and cultured milieu of artists, musicians and intellectuals amongst whom were Klimt, Brahms, Mahler, and Clara Schumann. From an early age he was drawn to philosophy and music and his academic brilliance allowed him to connect with the latest thinking of the Viennese philosophers. Despite this, his father directed his son’s interest towards engineering and in the spring of 1908, aged 19, he arrived in Manchester, fired by an ambition to design, construct and fly an aeroplane. He was fast off the mark - Orville Wright had made the first man-powered flight only four years earlier on 17 December 1903.
Wittgenstein attached himself to Manchester Victoria University as an informal research assistant, and some of his time there was spent on the Derbyshire moors at Chunal, close to the university’s Kite Flying Upper Atmosphere Station, (Höhere Luftstazion zum Drachensteigenlassen). This was a meteorological observation post where his job was to design and construct box-kites (Cody kites) to enable students and staff to send their meteorological experiments up to a height of 5,000 feet into the upper atmosphere.
Wittgenstein lodged at the Grouse Inn, now a private residence, but then an isolated roadside pub set on the crest of a long slow rise, two miles south of Glossop. His accommodation was very basic. He wrote to his sister Hermione on the day after his arrival, ‘I’m having a few problems growing accustomed to it all, but I am beginning to enjoy it.’ The work at the station was arduous; sometimes there would be eight or ten ascents a day until as late as nine or ten o’clock at night. We can assume that, on occasion, a kite would break free and need finding – and as a consequence he would have developed an intimate knowledge of the rough pathless moorland.
Why is this so important, so exciting? Because the months he spent in our landscape played its part in re-igniting his ambition to philosophise - to think about thinking and how we connect to the world. What was his aim in philosophy we might ask? He answered it himself: ‘To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle’. We, living in and around Glossop, are privileged to be able to follow his example, to follow in his footsteps and re-connect our minds and bodies to the wonder of the world that we inhabit.
To be continued....
by Michael Howard
We have teamed up with Michael to bring you WAN.DER #2 and a special in-depth talk about Wittgenstein.
A couple of links to excellent Radio 4 shows on Wittgenstein.