One of the most anticipated books of the year, the first English translation of the early private notebooks of Ludwig Wittgenstein, was released this week. In a new review, professor Kieran Setiya examines how Wittgenstein’s personal life and philosophical views are deeply entwined in this document—sometimes literally, with frustrations (“Much anxiety! I was close to tears!!!!”) scribbled close to musings (“A question: can we manage without simple objects in logic?”). From his loneliness to his sexual habits, Wittgenstein’s personal life is also a matter of philosophical concern. “Not just philosophy, but philosophers,” Setiya writes. “That is what these notebooks help us to see. A philosophy of philosophers, even—shown, if not said.”
Setiya’s piece is one of three new Boston Review essays that foreground philosophical thinkers. All are prompted by recent translations or publications, such as Alan Wald’s review of the new Antonio Gramsci biography, in which he argues that the Italian Communist doesn’t fit into any established framework. Writing half a century later, Ingeborg Bachmann is perhaps best known as a poet and novelist, but she was also a serious student of philosophy and an influential commentator on Europe’s postwar intellectual scene. A new volume of Bachmann’s critical writings makes this dimension of her work available to English readers for the first time, and highlights her interests in naming and being. “What does it mean to be a person? The question may sound pat in an age so alert to the fluid nature of identity,” Bachmann translator Peter Filkins writes in his review. “But for Bachmann, writing in the wake of World War II, it was raw and real to the point of linguistic and psychological breakdown.”
Other essays from the past year include a review of a new biography of Edward Said and a look at the recently released final volume of History of Sexuality—published against Foucault’s dying wish. Going back further, we’ve taken a dive into our archive to bring you our favorite philosophical profiles on a range of thinkers, from Hannah Arendt to Hans Blumenberg, Claude Lévi-Strauss to Charles W. Mills, Simone de Beauvoir to Spinoza. But we’ll leave the last word with Wittgenstein reviewer Setiya, whose comments served as the inspiration for this reading list. “Philosophers are an astonishing, flawed, obsessive bunch,” he writes. “We have something to learn—about them, and about their philosophy—from figuring out what makes them who they are.”
Her critical writings explore the interrelations of philosophy and poetry, politics and prose—all against the backdrop of a society remaking itself in the shadow of fascism.
Attempts to cast Said as the consummate New York intellectual miss the point that his milieu was one of global, and specifically Palestinian, anticolonial struggle.
Far from being consigned to the ash heap of intellectual fashions, the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss, a new biography shows, is in many ways still with us.