Barely half a century after the death of the philosopher, the name Ludwig Wittgenstein - like that of Martin Heidegger - is part of the intellectual mythos of the twentieth century. Even if Vico's distinction between civil and monastic philosophy seemed to have become obsolete ever since the French Revolution, one is inclined to reactivate this distinction for Wittgenstein's sake. How else could one interpret the emergence of the phenomenon that was Wittgenstein in the midst of an age of political philosophies and warring illusions than as the renewed eruption of thinking in the mode of eremetic aloofness from the world? Part of the still luminescent enchantment of Wittgenstein's work and the standoffish nimbus of his life is the unexpected return of the monastic element in the moral centre of bourgeois culture. More so than virtually anyone else he attests to the moral secession of an intellectual elite from the totality of mediocre conditions.
The human being as something to be transcended: that conviction was present in the elect of the educated class in Vienna before the Great War not only in its Nietzschean guise and as a philosophy of life: it asserted itself also in the forms of a bourgeois cult of he saint, at the centre of which stood the figure of the artistic and philosophical genius. It was the responsibility of that figure to offer salvation from ambiguities and mediocrity; it was his task to show an implacably demanding youth the path fromt he depths of shameful commonness to the lofty heights of transfigurative callings. grandeur became a duty for genius, self-transcendence the minimum condition of existence. For the young Wittgenstein this meant: the human being is a rope that is strung between the animal and the logician.
The story of Wittgenstein's life and thought is the passion of an intellect that sought to explain its place in the world and at its boundaries. What the contemporary world of the philosopher perceived as his rigid and demanding aura was the high tension of a man who required constant concentration on his ordering principles so as not to lose his mind. As one dwelling on the borderline of Being, the philosopher is never concerned with anything less than the block of the world as a whole, even when he is merely pondering the correct use of a word in a sentence. He feels as though the world along with all its order could get lost in the space between two sentences. And so, thinking becomes for him a way of navigating between islands of formal clarity that lie scatterd in the vastness of unclarity. In fact, Wittgenstein is a thinker who left behind a work of individual sentences. It was his unprecedented need for precision that would make him into a martyr of incoherence. He himself was painfully aware that he was suffering from a kind of Lord Chandos neurosis - a disorder of the ability to assert coherences of the world through words, and to believe in these claimed coherences. Throughout his life, Wittgenstein failed to meet the challenge of composing a 'real' text in the sense of continuous speech. He felt, more keenly than any other thinker before him, the difficulties of conjunctions or causal linkages, and no problem preoccupied him more profoundly all his life than the impossibility of moving from the description of facts to ethical precepts. His notes are the monument of an overly brilliant hesitation to create the world in a cohesive text. In their radical modernity, his writings attest to the disintegration of the analogy between the round cosmos and fluid prose. But precisely where Wittgenstein was no longer capable of being a proposition-happy philosopher of systems and totality in the traditional style, he was virtually predestined to lift the pathwork of local life games and their rules into the light. There was a good reason why his theory of language games became one of the most potent arguments of modern and postmodern pluralism.
Looking back today over the waves of Wittgenstein's reception, one can say at least this much about the historical importance of this peculiar Viennese character who ended up in the British world of scholars: he inoculated the Anglo-American world with the madness of ontological difference by exhorting the precritical empiricist to wonder, not at how the world is, but that it is. At the same time, he infected continental philosophy with a new idea of precise style, which brought forth flourishing outgrowths in the milieu of the analytic school. It would appear that both parties are by now in the process of getting over the phase of the initial immune responses. Ever since Alan Janik and Steven Toulmin's classic study Wittgenstein's Vienna, the stage seems set for a healthy engagement with the magical hermit. Who could still invoke Witttgenstein only to elect him the patron saint of old mind games? Who could still denounce him as the positivistic destroyer of the Western culture of reflection? After the waning of the reactive distortions, what emerges is the profile of a thinker who will undoubtedly be counted among the godparents of the intelligence of the future. Even in its logical severities and human one-sidedness, Wittgenstein's intensity holds gifts of incalculable import for posterity. It attests for all those who awaken to thinking after him that ethical questions must become more difficult. Should it ever be possible to write a critique of martyrological or witness-bearing reason - and thus a valid ethics - a decisive chapter would have to be devoted to the man Wittgenstein. He is among those flayed alive , who knows more than others what decency under stress means. among his work, what was written and what was kept quiet, one must count the admirable exertion to have endured himself and his own 'wonderful' life.
Sloterdijk, Philosophical Temperaments