sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2011-03-03 06:34 pm

I know, I'm a complete bloody disaster

I came back from watching Mushishi with Viking Zen last night to discover that the house internet had gone completely kaput, meaning among other things that so had my plans for getting any more work done on my actual job. I thought I might read Tales from Earthsea (2001) and go to bed early.

I bashed my head against some particularly intransigent Greek hexameters until my pencil ran out of lead, at which point it was three in the morning and I took a shower.

There are a number of conclusions to be drawn from this incident, including a swift kick in the pants to the idea that if we all unplug from the internet, we won't waste any more time. Mostly what I want to know, though, is when I started to consider hendecasyllables easier to write than dactylic hexameter, because I am fairly certain I remember sweating tacks over them in March. I must be out of practice. Or I've picked a problematic vocabulary. Sapphic stanzas next time and we'll see.

In any case, the internet is still kaput; I write this post from Panera, where I have spent the afternoon working. (I am surrounded by people with coffee and laptops. Modernity is terrifying.) I'm behind on my friendlist. I'm sure I owe all sorts of people e-mail. What you're getting, however, is a post about Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein (1993), which I watched yesterday with [ profile] rushthatspeaks when we had phone cinema.

We had originally tried watching this film in D.C. in January, when the disc froze a little shy of the two-thirds mark; its design was fascinating, its Wittgenstein the incomparable Karl Johnson, and we had no idea which way it would go. It needs to be seen all at once. It's a short film, not even eighty minutes. Its sets are a black box, empty of all but the most minimal props, rarely more than one or two to a scene: a motorcycle, some violets, a blackboard, a bed, some deck chairs, a pillar box, a piano, a birdcage, the dustily whirring screen-light of a cinema where two men sit in the front row, one holding hands without looking at the other, and a small boy in 3-D cellophane glasses sticks out his popsicle-blued tongue at the newsreel. They are like objects recollected from dreams, free-floating signifiers; whatever they mean must be construed strictly from what you can see. ("Nothing is hidden. Everything is open to view.") Its characters are dressed in equally bright, unreal plumage, from Bertrand Russell's cardinal-scarlet Cambridge robes to Lady Ottoline Morrell in an escalating overspill of neon marabou to the acid lime-greens and lavenders of Maynard Keynes' three-piece suit. (The film's color scheme is taken directly from Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour.) Time is the pan of a camera. A signpost points the way to Manchester, Cambridge, World War I. The primary narrator is not even the adult philosopher, as in a conventional biography, but his twelve-year-old self in owlish wire-rims and the same old tweed jacket, a bright, fearless, clear-eyed boy who argues with an arch, Muppet-green Martian and creeps out from underneath the table, playing rhinoceros, at the conclusion of the grown-up Wittgenstein's famous argument with Russell on that very subject. It should have felt like stuntwork, a kind of avant-garde whimsy for whimsy's sake. It shouldn't have taught me anything about Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I want to read the Tractatus after seeing this film, all right?

For starters, it's one of the better representations I've seen onscreen of real intellectual intensity, a quality as difficult to communicate dramatically as artistic genius without resorting to exoticizing melodrama, like the breakthrough moment of wide-eyed realization after which there is usually some furious scribbling and important music. Wittgenstein paces, frets, buries his head in the bedclothes, talks, talks, talks, despairs, fights with his colleagues, fights with himself, never successfully runs away, talks, goes to the movies, talks, makes love, despairs, talks, talks, talks. He can't get out of his own head and he can't get into anyone else's. He's a lean grey flame among the worldly Technicolor of Cambridge and he's loony Ludwig who can't keep friends and lost a teaching job for brutalizing his students. There's a scene in which the philosopher studies a caged parrot, himself suspended within a birdcage, and although what he's saying (about his sexuality) is quite important, he could be talking about toast or doorknobs and the bars would still be there. And yet it is also a marvelously funny film, which you would not automatically expect from a subject as famously self-tormented as Wittgenstein, but what else can you do with a man who keeps trying and failing to chuck philosophy for a life of honest labor and still wants to kill himself after being given the V-sign, because it invalidates his theories of language?

"What's the logical structure of this gesture? It doesn't have one! That means I've spent most of my life groping down a blind alley!"

"So what are you planning to do for the rest of your life?"

"Well, I should start by committing suicide."

He is, in fact, as he says, a complete bloody disaster. But the film has a great tenderness toward him, which is not actually predictable from the in-your-face absurdism of the opening scene (the entire Wittgenstein family arranged around a Bösendorfer, glittering with golden armor and laurels like costume-epic Roman emperors), and the ending takes the most incongruous elements of the screenplay and fashions them into something that is simply beautiful, and a little magic, and very human. The first proposition young Ludwig writes in the film is, "If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done." In Wittgenstein, they're a lovely combination.

And now I will leave Panera and go home for dinner, which is probably not the way it's supposed to work.

[identity profile] 2011-03-04 01:14 am (UTC)(link)
Wow wow wow. I must see this.

And I want a collection of your film essays, in a boxed set with [ profile] rushthatspeaks's 365 book reviews. 'kay?


[identity profile] 2011-03-04 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
P.S. Your hendecasyllables are gorgeous. I'll bet your hexameter (and Sapphic stanzas) are as well.


[identity profile] 2011-03-04 01:18 am (UTC)(link)
Also: I'm imagining a double bill of Wittgenstein and Beyond the Fringe.

Edited 2011-03-04 01:19 (UTC)

[identity profile] 2011-03-04 06:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I know. But there are some lovely mad philosophic bits. The video has a long tutorial, though it lacks "Moore! Are there apples in that basket?"

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[identity profile] 2011-03-04 05:22 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis? It's a graphic novel featuring Russell, Hilbert, Gödel, Wittgenstein...

[identity profile] 2011-03-04 05:21 pm (UTC)(link)
Fellow geek scholar! *feels less alone*

[identity profile] 2011-03-05 06:12 am (UTC)(link)
I'm glad you enjoyed the film.

Good luck with the hexameters! I hope your home internet comes back soon.

[identity profile] 2011-03-29 01:30 am (UTC)(link)
Whoa. I think seeing this with *you*, or [ profile] rushthatspeaks, would make all the difference.