Monday, September 1, 2008

Jarman on Wittgenstein

Ever since reading a delightful study guide on Ludwig Wittgenstein (Introducing Wittgenstein by John Heaton and Judy Groves (N.Y.: Totem Books, 1997), having found the philosopher's works impenetrable, I have longed for a stage play or film script that made Wittgenstein accessible and, indeed, interesting. Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein, really a kind of cinematic stage play, using whatever is available because imprisoned by a minimalist budget, is not all I'd hoped, but it almost is.

Jarman was strapped for budgetary funds through much if not most of his directing career (he'd always been a superb actor), forcing him to obey an aged adage that lack of financial means forces one to plumb one's artistic resources to accomplish the most with the very least. This was his penultimate film per se; he died of complications from AIDS soon after shooting it. He portrays Wittgenstein as "'Mad' Ludwig," a complex, contrary person at odds with students, fellow faculty members, and, eventually, Bertrand Russell, and a tormented genius confused by his homosexuality and quick to react negatively when misunderstood.

His basic philosophical premise would appear to have been that philosophy is unecessary. "There are no philosophical issues," he argued. "We only disagree because of language. We don't understand language." He must have read Korzybski, who reminded us, "The map is not the territory."