Years ago I read Wittgenstein’s biography by Ray Monk after meeting Monk at a festival in Australia where we spent an evening playing pinball with dedication. The fact that he loved pinball so much captivated him. Talk less, play pinball more.
Mounk’s book describes how, after his return from World War I, Wittgenstein became a teacher at a country school in Austria. He has unrealistically high expectations from his students, and his dinner consists of “coarse bread, butter, and somewhat unappetizing cocoa.”
Although I read the book mainly because of Wittgenstein’s relationship with Otto Weininger, the self-loathing, misogynistic, misogynist whom I studied for a while, an anecdote about Beethoven always stayed with me.
Wittgenstein tells the philosopher Bertrand Russell that Beethoven is visited by a friend. The friend hears Beethoven working on a fugue or “cursing, screaming and singing”. After a while, Beethoven opens the door. It seems that he fought the devil, did not eat for 36 hours, his cook and his maid to escape his screams.
Then Wittgenstein says, “You have to be this kind of person.”
Wittgenstein probably doesn’t mean you have to run away from your employees – although it never hurts, provided it is done in a civilized manner – but you have to surrender to your work.
Wittgenstein also says that the world of a happy person is fundamentally different from that of an unhappy person, because each person is their world.
The pious lie in our democracies is that politicians can create the conditions that make almost anyone happy. Happiness and bad luck are not a flock of birds that fly into our homes, stay for a while, and then leave again. Conditions are overrated.
A happy person, seeing Beethoven, fights Satan and realizes that Satan is happiness.
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