Return to Wittgenstein’s Vienna – not your ordinary travelogue

Return to Wittgenstein’s Vienna – not your ordinary travelogue
[Thursday evening 6 – 8:30 pm April 04 – May 23 2019 450 Citfyront Center 60611]

Gustav Klimt's painting of Greta, Wittgenstein's sister

Gustav Klimt’s painting of Greta, Wittgenstein’s sister

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This course is about a man, a book, a city, and an era. The man is the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein; the book is his epochal work, The Tractatus, which claimed to solve all the problems of philosophy in some seven propositions; the city is the Vienna of the composers Mahler and Schoenberg, the architects Walter Gropius and Adolph Loos, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the literary satirists Karl Kaus and Arthur Schnitzler, the physicists Ludwig Boltzmann and Heinrich Hertz, the artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. In this city, the “usual suspects” are individuals of incomparable genius, contributing the emergence and definition of modernity itself. Join the instructor, Lou Agosta, PhD, who studied with Prof Stephen Toulmin, the author (with Allan Janik) of the acclaimed best seller Wittgenstein’s Vienna, in accessing our historical and cultural empathy to return to the world of pre World War I Vienna.
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[Note: you will be asked to register as a student at large at the UChicago Graham School. No application required. No other requirements. No Grades. Optional assignments. Course code: HUAS19002 The course fee is $360.]
Course Syllabus [this is not chiseled in stone and participant interests and issues are welcome – but bring them to the first session].

Return to Wittgenstein’s Vienna – Not Your Ordinary Travelogue

April 04, 2019 – 23 May 2019 [Thursday 6 – 8:30 pm]

Location: Gleacher Center

450 North Cityfront
Plaza Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

Instructor: Lou Agosta, PhD

[please write directly with questions and mention the course – I am responsive]

NOTE: If you are travelling to Vienna, Austria, let me [the instructor] know your interests. Thanks to Google Street View we can visit museums, coffee houses (for which Vienna is famous – Apfelstrudel anyone?), and sites of interest in near real time. The instructor studied with Stephen Toulmin, the author of Wittgenstein’s Vienna, and is well positioned to activate our collective cultural empathy to enjoy a romp through Vienna. The following is the proposed schedule – based on the interests of the class participants, we can adjust/change things around (while still covering the essentials).

COURSE READING: Wittgenstein’s Vienna by Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin [ISBN-10: 1566631327 ISBN-13: 978-1566631327] NOTE: There are approximately 20 copies available on Amazon (winter 2019), priced starting at about $5.00. The participant will get more out of the course if one does the readings [obviously], but it is entirely up to each individual – one could just kick back and enjoy the ride. This is a kind of travelogue – plus cultural history. A number of short readings, for which the instructor will provide a URL, are available for free on the Internet as URLs and/or downloadable PDFs, plain text [licensed under licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License]. [Please note that readings (and the following schedule) are subject to change, but probably will not.]

1: April 04, 2019: Welcome to Habsburg, Vienna: Greetings, introduction, and orientation: Ludwig Wittgenstein (one of eight children) is born into a fabulously wealthy family, in which the composer Johannes Brahms premiers one of his quartets in the Wittgenstein family living room, the physicist Ludwig Boltzmann approaches the composer Gustav Mahler for guidance on piano lessons, Gustav Mahler consults Sigmund Freud [briefly!] for problems with his marriage. Ludwig gives away his inheritance as a young man and lives a rather ascetic philosophical life. What’s going on with that? This is a “hot house” of cultural ferment, both modern, decadent, and defying easy definition in ways to be engaged and clarified over this and the next seven weeks.

2: April 11, 2019: Vienna, the culture of modernity – Richard Strauss’s (1864 – 1949) Electrawith libretto by Hugo von Hofmannstahl (1874 – 1929), Arnold Schoenberg’s (1874 – 1951) emerging innovations in music, the revolt against ornamentation in architecture, alienation and angst in the poetry and literature of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926), Georg Trakl (1887 – 1914), Robert Musil (1880 -1942) – are about to explode (along with World War 1) in a milieu that can also be described a dynamic of conservative reaction, cynical critique, and optimistic innovation. Rilke and Trakl benefits when Wittgenstein anonymously gave away his fortune.

3: April 25, 2019: Vienna, modern science and Wittgenstein. During his service in World War I, Wittgenstein (who trained as an engineer) completed a concise, enigmatic book called “The Tractatus” for short, in which he claimed to have solved all the problems of philosophy by a careful use of language and logic. This work continues to have philosophical effect even today, though Wittgenstein came to disagree with significant parts of it. Later, Wittgenstein famously said of hisTractatus, “a picture held us captive.” But what is this picture (“Bild” in German literally means “picture”)? What if Bildwas a scientific model, about which the physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844 – 1906) famously said “We fall in love with our models!” This opens the way to a new reading of the Tractatus, which we shall engage.

4: April 18, 2019: Vienna and the news media: Fake News and the media (think: use of language) in Vienna. The satirist Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936), the media, and how Wittgenstein’s critique of language aligns with these issues and influences the trends. Kraus’ satirical The Last Days of Mankindwas a kind of latter day “Oh What a Lovely War!” – containing something to offend everyone – and a send up of the hypocrisies of the “yellow press,” fake news, the influence peddlers, the ruling class, as well as the average person, who is, surprisingly, not always the innocent victim of manipulation but himself subject to self-deception and contagious dehumanization. Definitely: not“politically correct.”

5: May 02, 2019: Vienna architecture. Wittgenstein designs (“builds” (1926 – 1928)) a house for his sister, Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1882-1958) using the approach of Adolph Loos, the later famous for his polemical lecture: “Ornament and [is a] Crime.” More background on the history of the city, Vienna, tearing down the old city walls to make broad boulevards down which one can shoot a cannon. (Why would one want to shoot a canon down the middle of the street?) Margarethe was also the subject of a portrait by the visual artist Gustav Klimt, and though Margarethe was not “the woman in gold [that was Adele Bloch Bauer]” (the subject of the major motion picture of the same name (2015) about her struggle to recover the Nazi-looted treasure and picture of her aunt), she looks a lot like her.

6: May 09, 2019: Vienna, Wittgenstein and Music: Wittgenstein said that understanding a proposition (a sentence) was like understanding a musical theme. What could that possibly mean? In Wittgenstein’s Vienna the debate was between the proponents of the “new music” of Richard Wagner and the tradition of Johannes Brahms, the latter championed by the music critic Edward Hanslick. Arnold Schoenberg, the innovator in atonal and 12-tone music, was also a gifted painter and member of the Blaue ReiterGroup with Kandinsky and Klee. Schoenberg’s opera Moses and Aaron, begun in 1926/27 but never completed, will be examined as an example of language running up against the inexpressible.

7: May 16, 2019: Vienna, the unconscious of Sigmund Freud, and philosophical therapy. Though he was notoriously skeptical of all things Freudian, Wittgenstein championed a therapeutic method and approach to philosophy. The therapeutic approach looks forward to Wittgenstein’s later works (and so shall we). Yet even in the Tractatus, he was trying to undercut (“deconstruct”) philosophical puzzles by a detailed analysis of the logical structure of the language used to express and engage with the issues. It turns out that important issues escape the logical network and require a raid on the inarticulate, which, however, is indistinguishable from a silent asceticism.

8: May 23, 2019: Language, Religion, Ethics, and Representation: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Reconsidered. Continuing the discussion begun in session three about Wittgenstein’s little book, the Tractatus, we look at the religious and ethical implications of the examined life. Wittgenstein was inspired by the writings and life examples of Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, and Kierkegaard. We will examine the influences and the effects of Wittgenstein’s philosophy – and our own world, modern and post modern. Get ready for an engaging, fun filled, and enlightening romp and return to Wittgenstein’s Vienna.

(c) Lou Agosta, PhD

Categories: Cultural History of Vienna (1880 - 1939), Freud, Freud's Three Essays on Sexuality Reviewed, Gustav Klimt, historical empathy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Psychoanalysis, Stephen Toulmin (and Allan Janik), Wittgenstein's Vienna

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