WAB: "Fragments" | The contribution available from this site is a pre-print from Denis Paul (1925–2006): Wittgenstein's Progress 1929–1951, forthcoming in Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 19, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2007. Publication on WAB's website (2007.3.23).

Denis Paul: Wittgenstein's Progress 1929–1951

Denis Eric Paul: A biographical note by Aaron Paul (March 2007)

"My father was born on 21st March 1925, he was the youngest of four children growing up in modest surroundings in the east end of London during a time of great hardship. As a boy, he fell in love with literature and poetry and from a young age began writing stories and poems of his own. He excelled at school and as a result was lucky enough to secure a place at a grammar school where he continued to bury his head in books and in particular, philosophy. When the outbreak of war came, like most other fourteen year olds, he was evacuated to the countryside to escape the relentless bombardments of the Luftwaffe. Here, he continued to write, but as the war raged on he became increasingly despondent with the immense loss of life that was happening daily, not just on home soil, but all over Europe and Asia. In particular, he viewed with extreme distaste, the RAF’s apparent policy of total destruction in the fire bombing of German cities like Dresden.

When in 1943, he was served his call up papers to report for active service, he made the bold and unpopular step of declaring himself a conscientious objector. As a result, he found himself at the tender age of eighteen serving a 3 month sentence at HM Prison Strangeways, Manchester.

Upon his release from prison, he joined a Quaker run pacifist organisation known as the Friend’s Ambulance Unit. It was through this organisation that in 1945 he ended up in Berlin as part of the Allied led clean up effort in the immediate aftermath of war. It was here that he learned to speak German.

Soon after he returned to the UK, armed with a new language and a new found drive, he secured a place as an undergraduate at New College, Oxford studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. It was here in Oxford he had his head turned by the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. During the 1950’s Wittgenstein, who had produced very little in recent years, began to impact on the Oxford philosophical scene, although only really amongst a small band of disciples. Denis, with his command of the German language and thirst for new philosophical work, could not resist. It was also here that he struck up what would turn out to be life long friendships with both Isaiah Berlin and Iris Murdoch amongst others.

Upon Wittgenstein’s death, my father was the obvious choice for the executors of his estate to be handed the task of editing and translating his final work. It is said that Denis Paul was the first person to decipher Wittgenstein’s rather odd habit of writing only on the right hand side of a number of notebooks, before switching back to the first notebook and continuing on the left hand side for the remainder – causing immense confusion for quite some time, but once the code was cracked it all made sense.

Wittgenstein’s manuscripts would continue to occupy my father for the rest of his life, although he would often become sidetracked for large portions of time, where he managed to become entangled in various book projects from Irish epics, to new translations of Sappho and Homer and on to wildly optimistic forays into novel writing that produced an abundance of work, but sadly not a word would be published. Although it gave him great pride to see his close friends Murdoch and Berlin achieve continued success, I think that it also must have frustrated him greatly that his work never quite received the attention I believe he thought it deserved. The single constant in his life was Wittgenstein however, and the work that is within these pages is quite literally his life’s work for the past fifty years or so. My father managed to create a name for himself not by a large body of published work, but by hearsay and relentless correspondence as well as his constant updates to his website www.wittgenstein.co.uk and although he was never affiliated to any particular university (we always believed he was snubbed due to his rather eccentric thinking), there were many Wittgenstein scholars over the years who have come across my father in some form or another and he would always extend to them endless and unconditional time and support in any questions they would want answers to. I honestly believe that the Wittgenstein community owes Denis Paul a huge amount of gratitude and respect for his largely unsung work.

For the final few years of his life, my father would work every hour of the day seven days a week, desperate to have his book finished. He was nearing the winning post when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after the birth of his first Grandson, Pablo Paul. A few weeks later, on December 21st 2006 my father died aged 81 years, surrounded by his family. It meant so much to him that with the help of Bergen, he was finally able to have his life’s work published for the world to see and his grandchildren to be proud of.

I am only saddened by the fact that as I went to his home after he had died in order to gather some of his personal belongings, there on the doormat was the proof copy of his book, ready for his perusal and final amendments – he never saw it in this completed form."

Go to Denis Paul: Introduction to Wittgenstein's Progress 1929-1951 (PDF file, tba.)