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Posts Tagged ‘Austria’

Wittgenstein, Schoolteacher

March 5, 2015 | by

What the philosopher learned from his time in elementary-school classrooms.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Every philosophy major has at some point had to answer the standard challenge: “What are you going to do, teach?” It’s especially frustrating after you realize that, for someone with a humanist bent and a disinterest in worldlier things, teaching is a pretty good career choice. Unemployables in the humanities might take comfort from the fact that one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, made the same choice. He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”)

By the time he decided to teach, Wittgenstein was well on his way to being considered the greatest philosopher alive. First at Cambridge, then as an engineer and soldier, Wittgenstein had finished his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, at once an austere work of analytic philosophy and—for some readers, Wittgenstein apparently included—an almost mystical experience. In it, he claimed charmingly and not without reason to have solved all the problems of philosophy. This was because of the book’s famous “picture theory of meaning,” which held that language is meaningful because, and only because, of its ability to depict possible arrangements of objects in the world. Any meaningful statement can be analyzed as such a depiction. This leads to the book’s most famous conclusion: that if a statement does not depict a possible arrangement of objects, it doesn’t mean anything at all. Ethics, religion, the nature of the world beyond objects … most statements of traditional philosophy, Wittgenstein contended, are therefore nonsense. And so, having destroyed a thousand-year tradition, Wittgenstein did the reasonable thing—he dropped the mic and found a real job teaching kids to spell. Read More »

Certificate of Tastelessness

February 9, 2015 | by

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Thomas Bernhard in Portugal, 1986.

At this point, we tired of it! Because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration … Then they do this whole promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, an artist, because they want commercial advertising. No, we not playing with them no more. —Kanye West on the Grammys, February 8, 2015

Every year, the stately procession of awards shows delivers us another imbroglio, and every year I wish that Thomas Bernhard, who would be eighty-four today, was still around to take the piss out of them. In a just world, our country’s glossiest magazines would pay Bernhard to attend awards shows around the world, allotting him thousands of words with which to vent his signature blend of misanthropy, contumely, vitriol, and spleen, with no paragraph breaks. “Everything is fundamentally sick and sad,” Bernhard once wrote. And: “There is nothing but failure.” If the Kanye Wests of our time were stealing the stage to say stuff like that, the state of our union would be stronger.

Bernhard was full of vinegar for just about everyone and everything, but so severe was his allergy to pomp and circumstance that he wrote a book about it. My Prizes: An Accounting describes a variety of banal ceremonies Bernhard was swindled into attending because, you know, he was being feted at them. “The Grillparzer Prize,” which opens the collection, provides a useful blueprint for anyone who hopes to disrupt the prizewinning paradigm. Some general instructions follow. Read More »

Catch the Bus

May 20, 2014 | by

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BUS:STOP, Sou Fujimoto; image © Adolf Bereuter; via DesignBoom

Krumbach is an Austrian market town with a population of about one thousand—it has a handsome eleventh-century castle and, as of this year, seven of the most arresting bus stops in the world. As part of a new project, BUS:STOP, seven international architects have designed Buswartehüsle—small shelters—“in a dialogue with the people, landscape, and local culture, building upon the traditions of skilled trade in the area.”

Sou Fujimoto calls his stop, pictured above, “a transparent forest of columns,” and emphasizes its variousness as a public space: “Both bus passengers and non–bus users can use this bus stop as a meeting point,” he writes, and though maybe no human alive has ever actively identified as a “non–bus user,” his larger point rings true: “Everyone may climb the tower-like bus stop to enjoy panoramic views of Krumbach.”

The other contributing architects hail from Belgium, Chile, Russia, Norway, Spain, and China, and given the impressive designs they’ve brought, it’s hard to fault Krumbach’s official culture site for a bit of characteristically Teutonic rhetoric: “People from the Bregenzerwald are generally seen as proud of their roots and open to new ideas. This has shaped our region down to the present day: the collaboration between humankind and nature, tradition and modernism, handcraft and the culture of building.”

DesignBoom has a gallery of photographs worth viewing in full. One might object to the primacy of form over function here. It’s hard to picture someone comfortably waiting at Fujimoto’s shelter, for instance, especially if it’s raining. But none of these stops are entirely without utility: they are all, however tenuously, places where you go to catch a bus. I’ve tried in vain to find statistics on public transit in Krumbach—how many of its thousand citizens use the bus system, anyway?—but even if these shelters are seldom used, it’s still a pleasure to imagine them out there, flecking the Austrian countryside. Greyhound: take notes.

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BUS:STOP, Ensamble Studio; image © Adolf Bereuter; via DesignBoom

 

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In Extremis

April 10, 2014 | by

Alfred_Kubin_-_Self-Reflection,_c._1901-1902_-_Google_Art_Project

Self-Reflection, c. 1901-2

Alfred Kubin Danger

Danger, 1901

Alfred Kubin into the unknown c 1901-2

Into the Unknown, c. 1901-2

alfred kumin epidemic 1901

Epidemic, 1901

Alfred_Kubin_-_Dolmen,_c._1900-1902_-_Google_Art_Project

Dolmen, c. 1900-1

Alred Kubin black mass 1905

Black Mass, 1905

kubin siberian fairy tale

Siberian Fairy Tale, c. 1901-2

Kubin the moment of birth

The Moment of Birth, c. 1901-2

Alfred Kubin was an Austrian artist and, to hazard a guess, a fairly tortured soul. Today is his birthday, and as a peg it’ll have to suffice, though I don’t imagine he was the type to put on a party hat. He was known to live in a small castle in Zwickledt, and his biography includes a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt—the latter on his mother’s grave. His early drawings, shown here, often feature monsters, deformities, disfigurements, human bodies in decay—a grim phantasmagoria of the bleak, the macabre, and the merely unsettling, with a palette that tends toward soot. What keeps me looking at it is some element of detachment in his style, as if a savage disembowelment by a fantastical creature were no big thing; we’re not accustomed to seeing the brutal without the lurid. As Christopher Brockhaus notes, “these drawings revealed Kubin’s abiding interest in the macabre. Thematically they were related to Symbolism, as shown by the ink drawing The Spider (c. 1900–01; Vienna, Albertina), which depicts a grotesque woman-spider at the center of a web in which copulating couples are ensnared. This reflects the common Symbolist notion of the woman as temptress and destroyer.” Not surprisingly, Kubin admired Schopenhauer. Read More »

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