The Philosopher Detective

Capturing Beauty

by

John Presco

Copyright 2021

Above is a photo of Austrian Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who studied the Black Mack Writers and other authors of Detective novels. He was fascinated with Norbert Davis who was a friend of my grandparents – who have redeemed THEIR family from beyond the grave. I am the head of my family. Here is a movie about Ludwig. In this scene he is attending a movie based on detective writers like Dashiell Hammet and Erle Stanley Gardener who were friends of Royal Rosamond.

Wittgenstein – Derek Jarman (1993).avi – YouTube

Wittgenstein: Philosophical discussion in Cambridge – Part 1 – YouTube

I have seen the light! I just sent this to my ex-wife, Mary Ann Tharaldsen;

“You saw greatness in me Mary Ann and so did my famous sister. Our destructive parents filled us with the most vile low-self esteem one could imagine. Not able to believe I was great, people I came in contact saw that my energy was exposed to them, and they too took from me – and Christine!”

Yesterday I talked to my diabetic nurse about my lower readings, and thanked her for the support from the staff at my clinic. She asked why by reading were high around the third. This was the day I found out Bill Arnold’s sister is dead. Bill was born on February 3, 1945. He took his life on October 9, 1964. The suggestion by Tom Snyder that I could have saved Bill’s life, if I had passed my famous sister’s note to him like she asked, is the most outrageous accusation in the annals of Art History, and Psychiatrics History. Christine Rosamond Benton was seeing as many as three psychiatrists -one whom she was having an affair. When we were in our teens, our mother Rosemary kept saying; “I have a scholarship to Camarillo State Mental Hospital.” She would then laugh that infamous laugh. Consider Ken Kesey working on a mental ward where he says he was exposed to LSD. Then there is the wonderment if Thomas Pynchon sat in on Nabokov’s class and Cornell.

With the revelation that Ludwig Wittgenstein took a keen interest in the writing of Norbert Davis, the last piece of the Labyrinth Puzzle has fallen into place. You can say the Minotaur is Ludwig, a famous philosopher that was looking for a way out of our mental predicaments. It has been suggested that if he had contacted Norbert, he could have saved his life.

Last night I exchanged e-mails with my friends, Mark Gall, and hinted he might want to co-author my autobiography because he graduated from Harvard and Berkley with degrees in psychology.

I debated about revealing the Wittgenstein connect because my Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde acquaintance – stabbed me in the back again – after we discussed for a year getting a grant to do a radio show. He mocked me saying he is going after money, chaffer, a maid, while I muddle along with my very long study – that has hit the Mother Load! Casey Farrell a.k.a ‘The Green Swastika’ is beside himself in his need to rip me off and assume my identity – some more! Then there is the terrible Rosamond Cult where women I share DNA with, are drawn to the work and drama of Rosamond. They know it is the Mind Game to end all Mind Games! If Ludwig were alive, and aware of The Rose of the World Labyrinth, he would put his students to work researching all the strange twists and turns, that are most diabolical, a Philosophers Dream. I will now apply for several grants so this work can continue.

John Presco

President: Royal Rosamond Press

Wittgenstein: Philosophical discussion in Cambridge – Part 1 – YouTube

The Lolita of Lot 49: Pynchon’s Inversion of Nabokov: ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews: Vol 33, No 1 (tandfonline.com)

Meredith (“Mark”) Gall: Vita (uoregon.edu)

Mark Gall:

EDUCATION

University of California at Berkeley. Psychology. Ph.D., 1968.

Harvard School of Education. Developmental Psychology. Ed.M., 1963.

Harvard University. English. A.B., 1963.

PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYMENT

1975 to present. University of Oregon, College of Education: Department of Educational Leadership, Technology, and Administration (DELTA). Associate professor, 1975-1980; Professor, 1980-2000. Retired Professor with reduced FTE appointment, 2000 to present.

  • Director of Graduate Studies in DELTA. 1997 to 1998.
  • Co-Director of Middle-Secondary Teacher Licensure Program. 1998-2000.
  • Director of Foreign Language Teaching License Program. 1992-1996.
  • Director of Graduate Programs in Curriculum and Instruction, 1977- 1980, 1989-1991.
  • Director of Summer Program in Teaching Skills, 1982-1992.
  • Department of Educational Psychology, Adjunct professor, 1975 -1982.Graduate instruction: staff development; research methods; instructional systems design; questioning strategies; study skills instruction; curriculum materials selection.Preservice teacher instruction: teaching strategies for middle-school and secondary teachers; student teacher supervision.

1968-1974. Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development; San Francisco, California. Senior program associate.

  • Unit director of research projects investigating effects of teacher behavior on student achievement.
  • Team director for development of teacher education minicourses: supervision of materials production, field testing, and technical reporting.
  • Manager of contracts with outside agencies to conduct independent evaluations of teacher education minicourses.

1966-1967. University of California Counseling Center at Berkeley. Counseling psychologist: counseling, testing, research.

1965-1966. San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital. Clinical psychologist: therapy, testing.

1964-1965. University of California at Berkeley, Psychology Department. Graduate teaching assistant.

PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS

American Educational Research Association

American Psychological Association

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Phi Delta Kappa

AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION

Preservice and inservice teacher education

Teaching strategies

Instructional design

Research methodology

AWARDS AND HONORS

Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in America, 44th-50th editions (1986 to present). Chicago: Marquis.

Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in the West, 20th-22nd editions (1986 to present). Chicago: Marquis.

Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in American Education, 4th edition. Owings Mills, MD: National Reference Institute.

Selected for inclusion in Contemporary Authors, volumes 6 (1982) and 21 (1987).

Selected for inclusion in Who’s Who in Writers, Editors, and Poets, 3rd edition. Highland Park, IL: December Press, 1990.

Elected president of the Oregon Educational Research Association for 1985.

Elected to fellow status in Division 15 (Educational Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. 1983.

Phi Delta Kappa District I Meritorious Award for Contributions to Education through Activities in Evaluation, Development, and Research. 1978.

U.S. Public Health Fellowship. 1963-64.

The scene is London; the year, 1941. Ludwig Wittgenstein, likely the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, has taken a hiatus from his Cambridge professorship to do “war work” in a menial position at Guy’s Hospital. By the time he arrives there, in September, the worst of the Blitz is over, but there’s no way of knowing that—the bombing could begin again any night. Wittgenstein serves as a dispensary porter, meaning he pushes a big cart from ward to ward, delivering medicine to patients. He’s 52 years old, small and thin, not to say frail. He writes in a letter that sometimes after work he can “hardly move.”

To John Ryle, brother of Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle, Wittgenstein explains his reason for volunteering in London: “I feel I will die slowly if I stay there [in Cambridge]. I would rather take the chance of dying quickly.”

Wittgenstein’s time at Guy’s Hospital is an especially lonely period in a lonely life. Socially awkward in the extreme, he does not endear himself to his coworkers. Although it soon gets out, he initially hopes to conceal that he’s a professor in regular life, hating the prospect of being treated differently. But he is different. His attempts to hide in plain sight must strike everyone as yet another eccentricity.

Nevertheless, he makes at least one friend at the hospital, a fellow staffer named Roy Fouracre. After some time, Fouracre is permitted to visit Wittgenstein in his room, a rare privilege with the reclusive philosopher. Crossing the threshold into Wittgenstein’s private quarters, Fouracre must expect to find books everywhere, hefty, awe-inspiring tomes by Aristotle and Kant and the like. Nothing of the sort. The only reading material in evidence is “neat piles of detective magazines.”

Those magazines would have been American detective pulps, the kind that chronicled the adventures of Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade and other hardboiled heroes. During the last two decades of his life, Wittgenstein read such fiction compulsively. But what drew him to detective stories, and to American hardboiled ones in particular? How did a man engaged in a fundamental reform of philosophy—no less than an overhaul of how we think and talk about the world—develop such a passion for pulps?

***

Wittgenstein was born the youngest child of one of the most well-to-do and cultured families in fin-de-siècle Vienna. He gave away his vast inheritance as a young man and lived the rest of his life in monkish simplicity. Three of his brothers committed suicide, one by swallowing cyanide in a crowded Berlin café, but while Ludwig was also given to suicidal thoughts, he was less eager to draw attention to himself. Like many obsessives, he generally sought to keep day-to-day life as uneventful as possible. The real adventure was happening in his head.

His formal education began at a technical school in Linz, Austria (where one of his fellow pupils was Adolf Hitler) and continued at the polytechnic in Charlottenburg, Germany. He then transferred to the University of Manchester, where he learned aeronautics engineering, and finally moved to Cambridge, where he studied the philosophy of mathematics and logic under Bertrand Russell and eventually became chair of the department. He moved, in other words, from real-world technical problems, to the mathematics behind the problems, to the theory of mathematics, to the nature of language, truth and the world. Always digging.

Today, Wittgenstein is one of our most celebrated thinkers—and one of our least understood. He believed that what we call philosophical problems are usually pseudo-problems derived from misconceptions of language. For him, real philosophy was not about solving such questions but about clarifying language to the point where they could not arise. He is perhaps best described as an anti-philosopher, a prophet of post-philosophy.

***

When Wittgenstein began reading detective fiction is hard to pinpoint. The formal innovations of the American hardboiled detective story (as opposed to the more mannered and cerebral British mystery) resonated with ideas he was developing precisely during the 1930s, the heyday of the hardboiled detective. But the hardboiled prose style spoke to convictions he had held as far back as the 1910s. By the 1930s, in any case, he was hooked.

Wittgenstein at Trinity, 1939.

When American pulps became scarce in the U.K. during and after World War II, Wittgenstein relied on American philosopher Norman Malcolm to send them in care packages from the States. “Thanks a lot for the detective mags,” he wrote Malcolm in 1948. “I had, before they arrived, been reading a detective story by Dorothy Sayers, & it was so bl[oody] foul that it depressed me. Then when I opened one of your mags it was like getting out of a stuffy room into the fresh air.” Wittgenstein’s favorite “mag” was Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, which he preferred—simply out of habit, it seems—to the similar and now more widely remembered Black Mask.

One of his favorite detective novels was The Mouse in the Mountain, by the relatively obscure Norbert Davis. On the surface it appears an odd choice for a philosopher who even among philosophers stood out for his apocalyptic seriousness. Davis’s novel relates the comic misadventures of a short, pudgy detective named Doan and his massive canine sidekick, Carstairs. Although Doan is nominally the master in the relationship—or partnership—it soon becomes clear that Carstairs is really the one holding the leash. He growls whenever Doan takes a drink, which is often. Other characters include an heiress, a maid and a gigolo. When Wittgenstein wasn’t contemplating the existential prison that is human speech, he had a great appreciation of oddball humor.

The novel so impressed Wittgenstein that he wrote Malcolm for more: “[…] I’d like you to ask at a bookshop if Norbert Davis has written other books, & what kind. […] It may sound crazy, but when I recently re-read the story I liked it again so much that I thought I’d really like to write to the author & thank him. If this is nuts don’t be surprised, for so am I.”

In fact, Wittgenstein’s impulse was far from crazy. If any down-on-his-luck scribbler ever needed a fan letter from an avid pulp-reader who just happened to be one of the greatest living philosophers, it was Norbert Davis. Pulp magazines were declining rapidly under pressure from comic books and paperbacks. Many crime-writing colleagues had saved their careers by transitioning to Hollywood, but Davis had failed to make that lucrative leap. He wrote to Raymond Chandler in 1948 that fourteen of his last fifteen stories had been rejected for publication. Could Chandler lend him 200 bucks? In 1949, Davis moved from Los Angeles to Connecticut, partly to be closer to New York hardcover publishers. The gambit appears to have failed, at least in his eyes. That year he committed suicide, aged 40.

He never received a letter from Wittgenstein, and Malcolm was unable to find more of Davis’s books to send the philosopher.

***

The simplest explanation for Wittgenstein’s pulp reading—that he appreciated the magazines as a diversion from, and perhaps a counterpoint to, his work in philosophy—proves too simple on closer inspection. Wittgenstein himself claimed repeatedly that his pulp reading nourished his philosophy. His letters to Malcolm play variations on this theme.

“THE ONE WAY IN WHICH THE ENDING OF LEND-LEASE REALLY HITS ME IS BY PRODUCING A SHORTAGE OF DETECTIVE MAGS IN THIS COUNTRY.”o

“It’ll be fine to get detective mags from you. There is a terrible scarcity of them now. My mind feels all underfed.” Wittgenstein writes this in October 1940, a time when most people in the United Kingdom are more worried about the terrible scarcity of food. And in late 1945, Wittgenstein writes, from a U.K. where shortages have actually gotten worse since the end of the war: “Thanks for the detective mags! They are rich in mental vitamins & calories.” In a letter from earlier that year, Wittgenstein addresses the relation between pulp reading and philosophical work more directly: “The one way in which the ending of Lend-Lease really hits me is by producing a shortage of detective mags in this country. […] [I]f the U.S.A. won’t give us detective mags we can’t give them philosophy, & so America will be the loser in the end.” In 1948, he contrasts his favorite “mag” with the Oxford philosophical journal Mind: “Your mags are wonderful. How people can read Mind if they could read Street & Smith beats me. If philosophy has anything to do with wisdom there’s certainly not a grain of that in Mind, & quite often a grain in the detective stories.”

Wittgenstein also enjoyed popular movies, especially American westerns and musical comedies, but he never credited them with much wisdom. After conducting a seminar, he would rush off to a “flick” solely to get his mind off philosophy. As a student at Cambridge, Malcolm often accompanied Wittgenstein to the cinema. Wittgenstein once turned to Malcolm during a film and whispered: “This is like a shower bath!”

For Wittgenstein, popular movies were a way of cleansing the mind of philosophical dust. Popular detective stories, in contrast, were a source of inspiration and insight.

On the question of Wittgenstein’s love of crime fiction, the researcher who perhaps has dug the hardest is Josef Hoffmann, who published two articles on Wittgenstein in Crime and Detective Stories magazine, or CADS, and later combined the articles in a chapter of his 2013 book, Philosophies of Crime Fiction.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER ADVERTISEMENThttps://ecbf8e9bd55cfbd08b36d6f2162bc82f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Calling the philosopher “PI Wittgenstein,” Hoffmann strings together various speculative connections between Wittgenstein’s work and the crime fiction he devoured. Some of these hypotheses pay off more than others. One of the more rewarding has to do with Wittgenstein’s reception by English academics. From the way Wittgenstein’s English translators often dulled the hard edge of his German prose, Hoffmann infers an attempt to anglicize Wittgenstein in translation, as it were, to adapt a notoriously brusque German speaker to a typically polite English audience. Reading Wittgenstein in both languages and noting some discrepancies here and there, I have never suspected any such agenda, but I find it intriguing. It becomes more intriguing still when Hoffmann connects the dots between such knee-jerk conservativism and academia’s longtime failure to give Wittgenstein’s interest in crime fiction its due. For decades, the philosopher’s enthusiasm for detective stories was, despite the voluminous scholarship covering almost every other aspect of his life and thought, consistently and perhaps even systematically overlooked.

The early hardboiled writers were the HBO of their day, continually testing how much they could get away with in terms of sex, violence, profanity and—perhaps most envelope-pushing of all—cynicism. A famous philosopher with a predilection for pulps occupied an uncomfortable position of cultural ambiguity in mid-twentieth century British or American academia (though less so in France). Wittgenstein’s literary executors, who often doubled as his first translators and exegetes, had a great deal invested in his reputation and may have downplayed his off-key reading habits, consciously or unconsciously, in a bid to keep him firmly on the high end of the cultural spectrum. A personal image needed to be protected, even polished, and there was no room for the neat piles of detective “mags” Roy Fouracre had spotted in Wittgenstein’s room. Whereupon the “mags” mysteriously disappeared.

Here, I believe PI Hoffmann is on to something.

***

Examining Wittgenstein’s work in the light of the crime fiction he loved, we should avoid repeating the mistake of Poe’s Prefect of the Police, who fails to find the “purloined letter” because it is lying out in the open. Writing style, perhaps in part because it is so obvious, is often dismissed from serious consideration in philosophy, but to do so in this case would be a serious mistake.

Almost uniquely among philosophers, Wittgenstein wrote with extreme concision. His customary method of composition was to write thoughts spontaneously into large notebooks and then, dictating to a typist, redact and condense this raw material into a more finished draft. The typescript became the basis for another, even more condensed draft, and so on. Typically, in the middle of this distillation (although what is it to be in the middle of a process with no end?), Wittgenstein would become dissatisfied with what he had written and, rather than revise it further, simply start again. Or he would hit upon a new idea and begin accumulating more material in more large notebooks. Meanwhile, his almost-final draft would lie accumulating dust on the shelf.

Wittgenstein at Swansea, 1947.

In the end, suffering from such a horror of publishing extraneous words, he published few words of any kind. The only book to appear in his lifetime was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a slim volume of some 80 pages which he had finished writing before he was 30. The rest of his prolific output he left to his literary executors, who from 1953 onward issued one posthumous volume after another, gradually giving us access to an intensely private thinker.

But Wittgenstein’s writing style was and is more than just a reflection of his personal eccentricities. Rather, the medium is (part of) the message. That is, the language in which he couches his arguments, rightly seen, is itself a philosophical argument.

WITTGENSTEIN’S CENTRAL QUESTION, THE CONUNDRUM THAT HAUNTED HIM THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE, WAS WHAT CAN AND CANNOT BE SAID.

Wittgenstein’s central question, the conundrum that haunted him throughout his life, was what can and cannot be said. With time his position on this question changed, but even at his most expansive, he remained skeptical about the ability of words to capture, or even explore, universal truths—precisely what most philosophers believe their words to be doing. The young Wittgenstein thought it was impossible to say anything truly meaningful about God, the soul, ethics, the nature of being or virtually any of the other subjects that philosophers go on about. His claim was not that these things don’t exist but merely that words can’t touch them.

Here, a tragedy looms. It appears we’re being asked to accept that the most profound dimensions of our experience—more or less all the things that make life tolerable—are incommunicable, that as soon as we have the guts to admit the truth about language, the door locks on our cage of existential solitude. But happily (if that’s the word I’m looking for), Wittgenstein continued to believe in ways of showing what cannot be directly said and of understanding what cannot be directly thought. By arranging our ideas correctly, we reveal the ineffable connections between them; by looking at the world in a certain way, we permit its true nature to show through. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein calls this “the mystical”: a communication beyond the articulable and an understanding beyond the limits of reality. Because mysticism also cannot be spoken of, it occupies very little space in the Tractatus, yet in a sense it is what the whole book is about. By delimiting language, Wittgenstein hoped to open us up to what lies beyond it.

I think we can now see at least one reason that Wittgenstein became hooked on hardboiled writing: the minimalism of the genre often enacts an essential aspect of his philosophy. The hardboiled style is highly adept at the magic trick of saying without actually saying, of using indirect means such as tone and mood, atmosphere and scene, symbolism and choice of detail to conjure up an understanding, or simply a feeling, that is all the stronger, and perhaps all the truer, for never being stated explicitly.

***

Wittgenstein’s fascination with hardboiled detectives grew throughout the 1930s. This was a time of upheavals in his thinking, when he was struggling to rework earlier ideas. After a decade-long break from philosophy, he was back at Cambridge and teaching for the first time at a university. His teaching method was simple: he would think aloud about whatever questions occupied him at the moment and occasionally ask his listeners for suggestions. When the suggestions he received were unhelpful, his replies were often cutting, but his courses were popular nonetheless. Many students, understanding little, were drawn primarily by the performance. Pacing, muttering, gesticulating, Wittgenstein was tenacious mental activity made flesh.

The ideas he was wrestling with in these years may not have been inspired directly by his pulp reading, but they were not isolated from it either. A student transcript from 1935 shows him opening a lecture with a quote from Detective Story Magazine. The passage concerns a detective’s thoughts about a ticking clock and the enigmatic nature of time. Wittgenstein makes clear that he considers the detective’s reflections wrongheaded. He cites the “mag” not for the sake of any wisdom in it but for what one might call negative wisdom—a helpful example of how not to think. At the same time, he asserts that such confusions are more useful and more telling “in a silly detective story” than in the writings of “a silly philosopher.”ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER ADVERTISEMENThttps://ecbf8e9bd55cfbd08b36d6f2162bc82f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Clearly, by this time, Wittgenstein was more interested in the detectives in his “mags” than in the Great Minds in the library. He was finding more to ponder in the escapades of the Continental Op than in the postulates of the Continental tradition.

I think the main reason for this was his personal identification with fictional detectives, a subject I’ll touch on later. But even on a strictly philosophical level, there may be some justification for Wittgenstein’s unorthodox attitude. By 1935, his thinking had shifted so far from any of the conventional currents in philosophy that he may simply have had more in common with certain fictional detectives than with his philosophical colleagues.

To clarify what I’m getting at, we have to step back and consider a (simplified) timeline of Wittgenstein’s thought—his early versus his late period. We then have to juxtapose that timeline with a (simplified) timeline of crime fiction—the traditional mystery versus the hardboiled detective story. What we see is that the transitional Wittgenstein of the 1930s was attempting to break with past philosophy much in the same way that the early hardboiled writers had broken with their crime-fiction forebears.

Wittgenstein’s early period culminated in the Tractatus. During that time, he was one of several philosophers trying to analyze our knowledge of the world down to its most basic parts, an approach to philosophy known as logical atomism. One of the central ambitions of logical atomism was to construct an absolute theory of meaning, one that would explain with mathematical precision just how the elementary units of meaning, namely words and propositions, relate to their ostensible objects, namely things and states of affairs. The Tractatus is perhaps the work that best succeeds in taking this strand of logical atomism to its logical conclusions—and, for the same reason, perhaps also the work that best demonstrates how unsatisfactory such an approach to language ultimately is. The theory of meaning put forth in the Tractatus is, to put it mildly, somewhat narrow. As Wittgenstein points out, the book itself, if judged by its own ruthless standards, is largely meaningless.

In the 1930s, however, Wittgenstein embarked on something new, something audacious: the attempt to call off the search for absolute meaning, once and for all. Since just this search had held philosophy in thrall since its infancy (see Plato), he could hardly turn to the great historical philosophers for help. He would need to invent a whole new method, a new mindset, a new way of seeing. But (and here’s where the timeline of crime fiction comes in) at least one model of how he might go about this task was within reach—right there on the nightstand, in those neat piles of pulp magazines.

Crime fiction, for its part, had just undergone a kind of schism. The traditional whodunit, locked-door mystery or Sherlock Holmes adventure looked upon crimes as puzzles to be solved by abstract reflection. Detectives proceeded from clues to conclusions by the principles of formal reasoning. In the 1920s and 30s, however, under the pioneering influence of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett, the hardboiled school undertook a radical renewal of this legacy. Rejecting the detective as master logician, perhaps best embodied by Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, these writers developed a more naturalistic, pragmatic type of hero who distrusts abstractions and solves crimes instead with a blend of street smarts, gut instinct and the occasional right hook to the jaw: a figure we now recognize immediately as the hardboiled detective.

Hardboiled investigations proceed not by logical links between clues but from scene to scene and suspect to suspect. Formal reasoning rarely has much to contribute. Questions are posed and solved—or not solved—by messier, more tentative, ultimately more human rules of play. In his 1934 introduction to The Maltese Falcon, Hammett, who himself had been a Pinkerton detective, described how Sam Spade differed from his famous predecessors: “Spade has no original […] For your private detective does not […] want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with […]”

TO SEARCH FOR LOGIC IN A MURDER CASE IS TO EXPECT TO FIND WHAT WAS LIKELY NEVER THERE.

That a crime has been committed, Hammett knew, does not necessarily mean that a plan has been carried out. Plotting and scheming are things people usually do in response to a crime, not in preparation for one. And since most crimes are not clean in the first place, their solutions probably aren’t either. To search for logic in a murder case is to expect to find what was likely never there.

We can now, I hope, perceive the parallels between the shift Wittgenstein was looking to effect in philosophy and the split the hardboiled school had introduced into the detective genre. Wittgenstein wanted to slash through the Gordian knot of logical analysis, rescuing language from its abstract philosophical uses and restoring it to its natural functions. The hardboiled writers, meanwhile, were hard at work extricating the detective from the airless realm of riddles and reinjecting him or her into social reality, seedy underbelly and all.

Wittgenstein did eventually develop a method for his new philosophy. The key insight was that language is not a logical system of denotation after all. Rather, language is a form of social behavior—a set of conventions and nothing more. Instead of asking what a word means in and of itself, we should ask how it is used in context (or contexts). After all, if we can use the word correctly in the specific situations where it is called for, then we must know its meaning already. So what is left to explain?

This view radically depreciates supposedly philosophical language (which Wittgenstein continued to believe was mostly nonsense) and radically appreciates everyday speech. The philosopher achieves clarity, Wittgenstein now believed, by discarding generalizations and focusing instead on concrete circumstances. Wittgenstein’s late writings are accordingly less systematic and more situational—more case specific, we might say. The grand scheme, he now thought, was a temptation to be resisted. Just because you have pieces does not mean you have a puzzle. It is enough to describe accurately. Attempting to explain only compounds the confusion.

Well—I hear the crime-fiction fans saying—any hardboiled writer could have told him that.

The Continental Op never solved a crime by abstraction. He took to the streets, diving headfirst into the flow. He cracked cases not by steps in logic but by steps on the pavement. Similarly, we can take Wittgenstein to be saying that philosophers have gone wrong by adopting the method of the armchair detective, who solves the mystery at a distance and because of that distance, because unlike the police he is not too close to the case. Wittgenstein’s new philosophy embraced closeness, challenging philosophers to finally get up from their armchairs, so to speak, and hit the streets. It was in this fundamentally hardboiled sense that he called his late masterpiece the Philosophical Investigations.

***

So why was Wittgenstein addicted to pulps? Not only because they were damned entertaining. In many ways, the magazines were a busman’s holiday, an extension of his philosophical thinking into the fictional realm. There were parallels in his work for both hardboiled prose and the hardboiled approach to (criminal) investigation. There is another parallel to consider, though, one that perhaps sums up the other two.

Why did Wittgenstein love his “mags”? Well, why do we—any of us—love the particular fiction we do? Probably not because it matches our philosophical convictions. We choose a genre of fiction because it chooses us—because it speaks to us on the primary level of identity. To read fiction is to inhabit other selves, try on alternative lives, run test cases that probe and stretch our inner and outer relations. And then to return to our actual lives, where we find that the temporary reimagining has already spilled over, quickening, enriching. On the surface, Wittgenstein had little enough in common with a wise-cracking, gun-toting private eye. In the realm of fiction, however, where all is permitted, he liked his other lives hardboiled.

And in fact the hardboiled hero is a model he embodied with admirable consistency, in his own intellectual way. Sangfroid, indifference to popular opinion, contempt for authority, unflinching determination to face our human limits—these were all hallmarks of his personal style. Wittgenstein, we might say, was a hardboiled thinker. Like a hardboiled hero, he was obsessed by right and wrong but only on his own terms, and he refused to preach about it. Like a hardboiled hero, when faced with the choice between misunderstanding and silence, he chose silence. His primary loyalty was to himself and his work—which in the final analysis were the same thing.

Gun | Rosamond Press

Judy Gall’s Accidental Masterpiece | Rosamond Press

Back To Rocky Point | Rosamond Press

Big Sur and Rocky Point | Rosamond Press

The Mountain of Fair Flowers – YouTube

Star Rover of The Rose of the World | Rosamond Press

WITTGENSTEIN & NORBERT DAVIS (mysteryfile.com)

Philosophical Investigations 

The Mouse in the Mountain

Sally’s in the Alley:

    The Mojave Desert at sunset looks remarkably like a painting of a sunset on the Mojave Desert which, when you come to think of it, is really quite surprising. Except that the real article doesn’t show such good color sense as the average painting does. Yellows and purples and reds and various other violent sub-units of the spectrum are splashed all over the sky, in a monumental exhibition of bad taste. They keep moving and blurring and changing around, like the color movies they show in insane asylums to keep the idiots quiet.

Another possible point of identification for Wittgenstein with hard-boiled crime fiction could well have been the particular role that the new private detective assumed in society.  He was a lone fighter caught between the fronts of the rich upper class and the desolate world of poverty, between city administration and the police force on the one hand, and the underworld on the other.  Wittgenstein too saw himself in the role of the lonesome warrior, pitting his energies against both the bourgeois academic life style and the narrow-mindedness and ‘meanness’ of normal people – against whom he had railed frequently, especially in his younger years.  Like the modern private detective, Wittgenstein seemed to move in various social ‘camps’ or milieus without feeling at home in any of them.

In many ways, Wittgenstein’s style of writing betrays an affinity to the prose of the Black Mask school, especially to that of Norbert Davis.  Wittgenstein had an abhorrence of what he called “waffle”, and was almost obsessed with a brief, precise, logical form of expression.  He tormented people around him by constantly correcting mistakes in their syntax.  Both in his private texts and conversations, and in his dairy entries, letters, and philosophical writings, he tended towards coarse, hard-boiled expressions and sarcastic humour.  He had a preference for laconic turns of phrase intended to illustrate a thought ‘in a flash.’  The term ‘wise crack’ might be used to put his style of writing philosophy in an appropriate nutshell, were it not already reserved for the sharp-witted dialogues of Philip Marlowe and his colleagues.

In December 1929 Wittgenstein reported a dream about a man called Vertsag: “He opens fire with a machine-gun at a cyclist behind him who writhes with pain and is mercilessly gunned to the ground with several shots.  Vertsag has driven past, and now comes a young, poor-looking girl on a cycle and she too is shot at by Vertsag as he drives on.  And these shots, when they hit her breast make a bubbling sound like an almost empty kettle over a flame.”

Wittgenstein (film) – Wikipedia

The film, in a series of sketches, depicts Wittgenstein’s life from boyhood, through the first World War period to his Cambridge professorship and association with Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes. The emphasis is on the exposition of his ideas and depicts his characteristics as a homosexual, an intuitive, moody, proud, and perfectionistic thinker, and a genius.

Wittgenstein – Derek Jarman (1993).avi – YouTube

Wittgenstein: Philosophical discussion in Cambridge – Part 1 – YouTube

Wittgenstein family – Wikipedia

Their son, Moses Meyer, was initially the estate manager of the Counts. In 1806, after the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, the Wittgensteiner Land fell to Hessen-Darmstadt. In 1808, Napoleon initiated the Jewish emancipation and Jews were required to adopt a fixed surname within three months. Moses chose the name Meyer-Wittgenstein. This led to a conflict with the Prussian Wilhelm zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Hohenstein [de], who had been elevated to Reichsfürst in 1804. Moses left the Wittgensteiner Land with his family and moved to the nearby Principality of Waldeck. It was there that he created a successful business as a wool trader in the former Hanseatic City Korbach, an area with many sheep.

Norbert Davis – Wikipedia

Norbert Harrison Davis (April 18, 1909 – July 28, 1949) was an American crime fiction author.

Norbert Davis was born in MorrisonIllinois, where he grew up.[1] At the end of the 1920s his family moved to Southern California and by the end of 1934 he was to receive his law degree from Stanford University but never bothered to take the bar exam. He started writing short stories for Black Mask in 1932 and lived in the Los Angeles area. He also contributed to Dime DetectiveDouble DetectiveDetective Fiction WeeklyArgosy, and The Saturday Evening Post. From 1943 he published the detective novels The Mouse in the Mountain (Morrow 1943) (also published in paperback under the titles Rendezvous with Fear and Dead Little Rich Girl), Sally’s in the Alley (Morrow 1943), Oh, Murderer Mine (Quinn Publishing 1946), all three novels featuring Doan, a private investigator, and Carstairs, a Great Dane.[2] His Murder Picks the Jury (Samuel Curl 1947) was written in collaboration with W. T. Ballard under the authorship ‘Harrison Hunt’.

A complete collection of his Max Latin stories from Dime Detective called The Complete Cases of Max Latin was published in 2014 by Altus Press. A complete collection of his Doan and Carstairs stories Doan and Carstairs: Their Complete Cases was published by Altus Press in 2016. ‘The Adventures of Max Latin’ was put out by Mysterious Press in 1988.

Davis’s writing was greatly admired by Ludwig Wittgenstein.[3][4]

Davis died on July 28, 1949, an apparent suicide following a diagnosis of cancer.[2]

Nevertheless, he makes at least one friend at the hospital, a fellow staffer named Roy Fouracre. After some time, Fouracre is permitted to visit Wittgenstein in his room, a rare privilege with the reclusive philosopher. Crossing the threshold into Wittgenstein’s private quarters, Fouracre must expect to find books everywhere, hefty, awe-inspiring tomes by Aristotle and Kant and the like. Nothing of the sort. The only reading material in evidence is “neat piles of detective magazines.”

When American pulps became scarce in the U.K. during and after World War II, Wittgenstein relied on American philosopher Norman Malcolm to send them in care packages from the States. “Thanks a lot for the detective mags,” he wrote Malcolm in 1948. “I had, before they arrived, been reading a detective story by Dorothy Sayers, & it was so bl[oody] foul that it depressed me. Then when I opened one of your mags it was like getting out of a stuffy room into the fresh air.” Wittgenstein’s favorite “mag” was Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, which he preferred—simply out of habit, it seems—to the similar and now more widely remembered Black Mask.

One of his favorite detective novels was The Mouse in the Mountain, by the relatively obscure Norbert Davis. On the surface it appears an odd choice for a philosopher who even among philosophers stood out for his apocalyptic seriousness. Davis’s novel relates the comic misadventures of a short, pudgy detective named Doan and his massive canine sidekick, Carstairs. Although Doan is nominally the master in the relationship—or partnership—it soon becomes clear that Carstairs is really the one holding the leash. He growls whenever Doan takes a drink, which is often. Other characters include an heiress, a maid and a gigolo. When Wittgenstein wasn’t contemplating the existential prison that is human speech, he had a great appreciation of oddball humor.

The novel so impressed Wittgenstein that he wrote Malcolm for more: “[…] I’d like you to ask at a bookshop if Norbert Davis has written other books, & what kind. […] It may sound crazy, but when I recently re-read the story I liked it again so much that I thought I’d really like to write to the author & thank him. If this is nuts don’t be surprised, for so am I.”

Many crime-writing colleagues had saved their careers by transitioning to Hollywood, but Davis had failed to make that lucrative leap. He wrote to Raymond Chandler in 1948 that fourteen of his last fifteen stories had been rejected for publication. Could Chandler lend him 200 bucks? In 1949, Davis moved from Los Angeles to Connecticut, partly to be closer to New York hardcover publishers. The gambit appears to have failed, at least in his eyes. That year he committed suicide, aged 40.

Wittgenstein also enjoyed popular movies, especially American westerns and musical comedies, but he never credited them with much wisdom. After conducting a seminar, he would rush off to a “flick” solely to get his mind off philosophy. As a student at Cambridge, Malcolm often accompanied Wittgenstein to the cinema. Wittgenstein once turned to Malcolm during a film and whispered: “This is like a shower bath!”

For Wittgenstein, popular movies were a way of cleansing the mind of philosophical dust. Popular detective stories, in contrast, were a source of inspiration and insight.

The early hardboiled writers were the HBO of their day, continually testing how much they could get away with in terms of sex, violence, profanity and—perhaps most envelope-pushing of all—cynicism. A famous philosopher with a predilection for pulps occupied an uncomfortable position of cultural ambiguity in mid-twentieth century British or American academia (though less so in France). Wittgenstein’s literary executors, who often doubled as his first translators and exegetes, had a great deal invested in his reputation and may have downplayed his off-key reading habits, consciously or unconsciously, in a bid to keep him firmly on the high end of the cultural spectrum. A personal image needed to be protected, even polished, and there was no room for the neat piles of detective “mags” Roy Fouracre had spotted in Wittgenstein’s room. Whereupon the “mags” mysteriously disappeared.

Here, I believe PI Hoffmann is on to something.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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