It is quite appropriate that I obtained a copy of Wittgenstein Jnr under the mistaken impression that the book is a follow-up to Jostein Gaarder’s classic Sophie’s World. It isn’t. Written by that Norwegian philosopher. But by the English one with a Norwegian name. Who writes campus philosophy books among which Dogma is my favourite.
My false premise
My false premise was at least in keeping with one of the themes both of Sophie’s World and Wittgenstein Jnr: the nature of reality (of course). Gaardner charms us into an overview of Western philosophy through a story of young Sophie and her journey of discovery through a world of the imagination. Iyer draws us into the world of undergraduate Peters, and his journey of discovery through a world of the imagination, set in the context of the simulacrum Cambridge (about as real as the Oxford in the Morse stories, which come to think of it is very real for a generation of admirers of the TV versions of the stories of Colin Dexter).
Wittgenstein Mark 2?
The central character of Wittgenstein Jnr is a philosophy lecturer who is referred to by his students as a latter-day Wittgenstein. This Wittgenstein Mark 2 indeed resembles the character portrayed by Monk in his biography of Ludwig the first.
The obsessive search for philosophic closure through symbolic logic or its destruction is here. The larger than life student characters of earlier work are here, but reworked away from hapless but cheerful inhabitants of a philosophic underworld to an equally hapless and cheerful bunch of privileged inhabitants of Camalot / Cambridge.
Ludwig is here, although Ludwig the second is even more clinically depressed and doomed than Ludwig the first
Highly readable in a creative slippery literary way
There is much to enjoy about the book. It is highly readable, and stylistically creative in a subtle slippery literary way. Lyer has honed his prose into a tight personal style. It works, like many works of art, by concealing the labour that goes into final text. when I tried extracting an example, it became clear to me just how crafty the writing is.
Here’s an example chosen selected almost at randomm, a scene in which EDE, one of students announces his split with his girlfriend Phaedra. Lyer sets the scene in two one-line paragraphs. It might have been four or five lines of poetry.
Saturday Night. Ede texts. You up? I split with Fee.
Ede, in the communal kitchen, emptying a tub of mushrooms onto the counter.
A cautious endorsement. I enjoyed it. When I tried explaining it to a friend, my description left him unconvinced. Which suggests the test might follow a visit to one of those old fashioned pre-Amazon book vendors, and a quick scan of the book’s contents.