Double Philosophy Bleg

by John Holbo on April 3, 2005

I want two things from you.

First, directions to a solid (preferably undergraduate-friendly) account of Nietzsche’s impact on the social sciences. What major figures (schools, theories) were influenced by him and how? From Max Weber and Georg Simmel down to Foucault and beyond. I realize this is a potentially vast topic – indeed, little better than an invitation to pick a number of fights.

Second, I am collecting instances of Wittgenstein-inspired art, produced since (oh, say) 1999. (Before then I was pretty up on the field.) I am also (even especially) interested in finding essays and critical appreciations of Wittgenstein produced by poets, novelists and other artist-types, rather than (say) philosophers or academic lit crit-types. I blegged this over J&B way some time back, so if you contributed then you don’t need to again.

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taylor 04.03.05 at 1:51 am

This is pre-1999, but just in case, here’s one by a poet who is also a philosopher:
Jan Zwicky, Wittgenstein Elegies.


Gillian Russell 04.03.05 at 2:49 am

Hi John, Steve Reich (the minimalist composer) has a piece called “Proverb”, inspired by, and containing, that much abused Wittgenstein quotation about explanations coming to an end somewhere. It’s mentioned in an interview with him here.


Chris 04.03.05 at 2:51 am

Gillian’s link doesn’t appear to work, and she beat me to it, but “here’s another”: .


Jeff Roberts 04.03.05 at 3:01 am

Nietzsche’s influence on Weber is nicely covered in an undergraduate friendly way in Lewis Coser’s 1971, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Social and Historical Context and Reinhard Bendix’s 1966, Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait.


pantomimeHorse 04.03.05 at 5:32 am

David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System, I remember deals explicitly with Investigations themes (a character’s grandmother was a disciple of Wittgenstein). The book comes from about 89, so maybe it’s too early for you. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you if the book itself really takes cues from Wittgenstein rather than just alluded to him: I read it years before I read any Wittgenstein. I think DFW has suggested that it does.


Kieran Healy 04.03.05 at 8:25 am

I want one thing from you: stop using the word ‘bleg’.


Nabakov 04.03.05 at 9:00 am

Bruce Duffy wrote a quite good novel about Wittgenstein, particularly focused around his relationships with Russell and Moore, called “The World As I Found It.” First published in 1987 though.

If yer looking for something more recent though, “Battlefield Earth” does brings to mind some of Ludwig’s thinking as much as it does Hubbard’s. Especially the bits about looking into the abyss and passing over in silence.


Henry 04.03.05 at 9:22 am

Mark Warren’s “Max Weber’s liberalism for a Nietzschean world,” American Political Science Review 1988, March, 82:1, 31-51 is very good – and shorter than the Bendix etc.


Henry 04.03.05 at 9:26 am

Also, William Connolly’s “Political Theory and Modernity” is a Nietzsche-centric account of modern developments in political theory, and isn’t too forbidding for undergraduates.


Andrew 04.03.05 at 11:15 am

WITTGENSTEIN’S LADDER: POETIC LANGUAGE AND THE STRANGENESS OF THE ORDINARY (U of Chicago Press, Sept 1996–$27. 95). ISBN-0-226-66058-3. January 1999


Russkie 04.03.05 at 11:54 am

Nietzsche in the humanities? “Closing of the American Mind” by Bloom obviously!


Matt 04.03.05 at 1:03 pm

There’s some worth-while discussion of the relationship between Nietzsche and Foucault in Gary Gutting’s _Michel Foucault’s Archology of Scientific Reason_ (quite a good book in general). Foucault himself sets out some of his relationship to Nietzsche in his essay “Nietzsche, Geneology, History”. (Probably you’ve already looked at that, though.) There’s also a fair amount of discussion of Nietzsche in the new Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory, though I’ve only looked at it briefly so can’t say for sure it would be of use.


Stephen Frug 04.03.05 at 1:32 pm

Three from the contemporary art world:

Photographer Robert Bowen makes (computer-generated) landscapes out of various texts — Moby Dick, Allice in Wonderland, Finnegans’ Wake. He did one for Wittgenstein — the Tractauts, I believe. There is a page from the gallery where this series of his work was shown:
— I believe the LW image is the one in the top right-hand corner of the page (i.e. the third one).

From 1999, artist Tom Phillips (who did the astonishing book A HUMUMENT) did a sculpture (possibly part of a series?) called “Wittgenstein’s Dillemma”. You can read about it at his web site, here:

Finally, a bit earlier (1991) sculptor Joseph Kosuth did a sculpture No Number #6 which consists of the Wittgensteinian sentence “I am only describing language, not explaining anything” in blue neon letters. The sculture is in the permanent collection of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; you can read about it here:

(Since it’s from 1988, I presume you know David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress. But looking for it at the Complete Review web site, I found four books about LW on the index page for W titles, three since 99 and most by non-philosophers. Surf over and check it out:

Home some of this helps,



junius ponds 04.03.05 at 2:25 pm

Ol’ Witters influenced Jasper Johns.


John Holbo 04.03.05 at 7:45 pm

Thanks everyone. Kieran, you failed to notice that I was using ‘bleg’ is a cool, ironic way.


Kieran Healy 04.03.05 at 9:18 pm

Um, well, er me too, obviously.

Isn’t there an episode of the Simpsons?

Teen 1: The concert was awesome.
Teen 2: Huh… wait, are you being ironic, or honest, or ironically honest, or what?
Teen 1: I don’t even know any more.


william 04.04.05 at 12:16 am

You’ll probably find this when you look up the other recommended Warren stuff, but:

Mark Warren’s “Nietzsche and Political Philosophy,” Political Theory, Vol. 13, No. 2. (May, 1985), pp. 183-212.


russkie 04.04.05 at 1:25 am

> Teen 1: The concert was awesome.

I think it was Homer’s taking the cannonball in the stomach at Lollapalooza that the teen was talking about ..


jholbo 04.04.05 at 2:08 am

Oh, um, I was being ironic about Kieran missing the irony. There. All sorted out. (God we are clever and smarter than everyone else, we CT folk.)


John Quiggin 04.04.05 at 6:13 am

If you must write it, use the correct spelling: “Bleagh”


Rakesh 04.04.05 at 8:52 am

Nietzche had a profound influence on several students of modernity–but I believe his strongest influence was on Weber’s writings on religion.

When Weber writes about how rationality replaces enchantment I believe he is making a reference to Nietzche’s The Gay Science. Recall the scene when the madman who runs into the marketplace looking for God and is met with scorn and laughter. “Where is God” he screeches. “Well, I will tell you. We have killed him–you and I.” The marketplace is a metaphor for Western rationality. The marketplace and its accompanying cultural orientation–prices, rationalty, materialism–are the highpoint of secularism. Western man, pursing rational truth, discarded its original ordering schemes–egalitarianism, justice, heaven, God, good works–and given meaning and purpose to their lives for nihilism.


Adrian 04.04.05 at 11:08 am

The recent retrospective of Eduardo Paolozzi at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art had a whole series of paintings inspired by (and quoting text from) the Philosophical Investigations and the Tractatus.


Chris Martin 04.04.05 at 12:25 pm

There was a short story in Granta a year or two ago — possibly in the Music issue — written from the perspective of Paul Wittgenstein, Ludwig’s brother. Ludwig was one of the characters in the story, if I remember correctly.

It’s possible that some of the pieces that Paul commissioned were influenced by Ludwig.

And there are these books:
Shamrock Tea by Ciaran Carson
Wittgenstein’s Poker by ?
Correction by Thomas Bernhard


Scott Spiegelberg 04.04.05 at 3:26 pm

A whole four bars of music composed by Ludwig was premiered two years ago.

Steve Reich also composed You Are (Variations) which includes a setting of “Explanations come to an end somewhere.”

And Michael Torke composed “Bright Blue Music” inspired by Wittgenstein: “I conceived of a parallel in musical terms: harmonies in themselves do not contain any meaning, rather, musical meaning results only in the way harmonies are used.”

There is a good article about the links between Wittgenstein and music in La Folia.


ashley doherty 04.04.05 at 3:38 pm

There’s a play called “The Fly-Bottle,” by David Egan, that deals with the poker-wielding incident. I saw it performed at Shakespeare & Co. in Lennox, MA, a year or two ago. (In addition to Wittgenstein, Popper & Russell also make appearances.)


Ethical Werewolf 04.04.05 at 3:51 pm

Derek Jarman made a Wittgenstein movie a while back. It’s a bit odd, with its minimalist set design and lack of coherent narrative structure. I found it amusing enough to be watchable.


Simstim 04.05.05 at 6:23 am

David Owen’s Maturity and Modernity: Nietzsche, Weber, Foucault and the Ambivalence of Reason, is fairly heavy going. Wilhelm Hennis’ stuff I recall is quite heavy on the Nietzsche in Weber angle (as is Keith Tribe’s).


jholbo 04.07.05 at 5:08 am

Thanks again everyone. This has really been very helpful.

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