WAB: "Fragments" | The following contribution is an excerpt from Joachim Schulte: "What is a work by Wittgenstein?", in: Alois Pichler and Simo Säätelä (eds.): Wittgenstein: The philosopher and his works, Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 17, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2005, pp. 356-363. Publication on WAB's website with kind permission from the author and the editors (2005.3.9).

Joachim Schulte: What is a work by Wittgenstein?

Wittgenstein’s way of working

The vast majority of Wittgenstein’s extant manuscript writings exists in the form of notebooks or ledgers. In many cases the difference in size between small notebooks and large ledgers is indicative of a difference in use: the notebooks tend to contain brief remarks, jottings, fragments of sentences, compressed reminders. A sizable portion of this material was then used as a basis for the remarks Wittgenstein wrote down in his ledgers, which sometimes (but by no means always) have the character of fair copies. Both notebooks and ledgers can give the impression of being records of what went on in Wittgenstein’s mind – sometimes you literally see him think.

A particularly striking part of Wittgenstein’s manuscripts is formed by two series of ledgers (Bände I–XVIII, 1929–1940, and MSS 130–138 [comprising Bände Q, R, S] containing practically all his late remarks on the philosophy of psychology, 1946–1949). Some of the notebooks contain notes for lectures or dictations, and these are among the relatively few philosophical pages by Wittgenstein written in English.

The greater part of the extant typescripts was dictated by Wittgenstein; at most a very small number was presumably copied by a typist from manuscripts prepared by the author. Wittgenstein’s typical way of proceeding was as follows. After he had filled several of his ledgers he went through this handwritten material and marked those paragraphs he wanted to make further use of. These paragraphs were then dictated to a typist, normally in the same order in which they occur in the manuscripts. This sort of typescript would then form an extract from the manuscript(s) used for dictation. In a number of cases Wittgenstein would then find the time to revise and cut up one copy of the typescript and rearrange these fragments in a new order which he found more satisfying.

To take an example. The first ledgers (Bände) filled after Wittgenstein’s return to Cambridge in January 1929 were used in the spring of 1930 to dictate a typescript (TS 208) which was then cut into small fragments and rearranged as TS 209 (published as Philosophische Bemerkungen – Philosophical Remarks). The rearrangement, however, was handed over to Russell, and Wittgenstein never made further use of it, whereas a second copy of the earlier TS 208 was (together with two additional typescripts) used as the basis for another, very comprehensive rearrangement (TS 212), which in its turn served as the basis for a new typescript (TS 213 – the so-called “Big Typescript”, 1933). In the following years the Big Typescript was revised, rearranged and partially used in other contexts, so that a number of remarks from it found their way into the last typescript (ca. 1946) of Philosophical Investigations, for instance.

This characteristic way of working was possible only because of what one might call Wittgenstein’s Bemerkungen style of writing. Throughout his life he wrote down his ideas in the form of fairly short remarks rarely covering more than half a page and only exceptionally extending beyond a full page. These remarks, however, are not “aphorisms” in the style of Nietzsche, Karl Kraus or Lichtenberg. That is, in spite of a certain degree of separateness from their context they are never wholly, and often not at all, independent of the remarks surrounding them: they are succinct but not self-contained. This fact often contributes to the difficulties readers encounter when trying to understand the full sense of individual remarks in their original context, where it may well happen that no thread connecting Wittgenstein’s thoughts is recognizable. And time and again it appears a miracle that in their – frequently completely different – later typescript contexts the same remarks strike readers as organic parts of extended arguments and as highly illuminating.

This shows, first, that at least when it came to revising his earliest manuscript versions Wittgenstein must have had fairly clear, complex and changing notions of his overall project in mind; and, second, that an enormous amount of work must have gone into rearranging his material in accordance with his latest conception of what he was trying to achieve.