On Wittgenstein, werewolves & the last days of van Gogh.
Recent links of note:
“A Clue to Van Gogh’s Final Days Is Found in His Last Painting”
Nina Siegal, The New York Times
On several levels, the recent claim by the French researcher Wouter van der Veen to have discovered the location where Vincent van Gogh painted his final work before his death in 1890 is speculative. To begin with, the jury is still out on which painting was in fact van Gogh’s last: was it the dark, brooding Wheatfield with Crows, or, as van der Veen and several scholars now posit, the more aestival Tree Roots? The answer could shed some light on a second problem: whether the emotionally volatile painter actually committed suicide in a depressive episode or was shot by local boys, as Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith argued in their controversial 2011 biography. Despite this confusion, van der Veen’s new theory is fascinating, and at the very least offers some insight into the discourse among art historians and biographers on what van Gogh’s final days looked like. Using an old postcard photograph taken of a dirt road a few hundred feet from van Gogh’s last domicile, van der Veen believes to have discovered the very tree roots that van Gogh allegedly studied for his purported last work. Have a look at Nina Siegal’s article in The New York Times to decide for yourself.
“God’s own werewolf”
Jan Machielsen, Times Literary Supplement
When we think of pre-modern reports of devilish characters such as werewolves and witches, the image that most often comes to mind is likely that of a zealous mob of peasants hauling their innocent neighbors to the stake in a barbaristic auto-da-fé. Instead, consider the case of Old Thiess, a real-life self-proclaimed werewolf from seventeenth-century Lithuania. As Jan Machielsen puts it in his humorous review of a new book on Old Thiess by Carlo Ginzburg and Bruce Lincoln, the wolfman was “out and proud” about his nocturnal personality and denied it to no one. A beloved fixture of the local community, he apparently had good reason to feel so unabashed. At one of his two (inconclusive) trials, Thiess told the jury he was in fact “God’s own hound,” and made it a thrice-yearly habit to invade Hell with his fellow werewolves in order to do battle with witches and Satan himself, bringing the year’s stolen harvest back with him.
Ray Monk, Standpoint
The monk-like philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was always an odd fit with the modish Cambridge set. One imagines him at an Apostles soirée, standing rather awkwardly in the corner or getting into an argument with a fellow reveler, as Bertrand Russell or John Maynard Keynes looked on in horror. It was thus a natural choice for him to retreat to a small hut on a Norwegian fjord, where he wrote much of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), the only major book by the philosopher to be published during his lifetime. Although Wittgenstein was a man capable of enormously complicated logical thought, his biography reveals a personality informed by Christian asceticism, tortured by personal shortcoming, and fixated on questions of faith and morality. Ray Monk explores Wittgenstein and the thoughts that consumed him in solitude in an article for Standpoint.
“Music for a While #30: A joyful jolt”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Une mission civilisatrice” by Jay Nordlinger. On a brief, videoed concert from France.
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