‘Wittgenstein Jr’ by Lars Iyer – An Hilarious Philosophy Class Novel

‘Wittgenstein Jr’ by Lars Iyer   (2014) – 226 pages

 

19288788Here is just what the world needed, a humorous novel about an advanced philosophy class at Cambridge University taught by a fellow who resembles the famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein more in his pronouncements than in his looks.  His students call him Wittgenstein Jr. in fun and in partial derision.  The story is narrated by Peters, one of the students in the class.

Wittgenstein Jr. takes his philosophy very seriously.  Here are some of his somber pronouncements:

‘It is never difficult to think.  It is either easy or impossible.’

‘What stands between us and good philosophy is the will, not the intellect.  We must refine the will.’

‘You must know who you are in order to think without deceit.’

‘We are latecomers. Disinherited children.  We are without tradition.  Without belief.’

 A class of students obsessed with their perhaps deranged teacher.  A teacher obsessed with his students.  There are certain similarities with ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, but here the students are a bunch of unruly drunken wise-ass students at Cambridge University.

Along with the philosophy classes, we also get the wild and crazy parties of these Cambridge students.  Some of the best parties take place after the pubs close.  Here is Wittgenstein Jr. lecturing his students on their alcoholic lives:

 “We drink because we do not live, he says.  Because we have no idea what it means to live.

He’s heard the thump-thump of our music.  He’s heard our drunken laughter. 

We’re guzzlers he says.  Cambridge is our trough, and we are its pigs. 

How disgusting we are! How filthy – morally speaking! Actually speaking.

We’re stupid he says. Shallow.  We’re without soul.  Without insight.”

 There is a dark undercurrent in Wittgenstein Jr.’s background.  His older brother committed suicide while teaching at Oxford.  Perhaps that is why Wittgenstein Jr. is such a cheerless soul.  The actual Wittgenstein had three brothers who committed suicide. The students wonder if that is their teacher’s ultimate end.

Lars Iyer creates vivid word-pictures throughout the novel using incomplete sentences.   Here is an example:

“Rah students everywhere.  Rah boys in gilets and flip-flops, with piles of bed-head hair.  Rugby types as big as fridges, all red-cheeked health, their voices booming.  Rah girls dressed down in gym gear and pony tails.”

I can understand almost enough references in this description to feel that it is almost wonderful.

‘Wittgenstein Jr’ is one amusing mind-shifting book.  Even if you are not into philosophy as I am not, this would be a great book to read.

 

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I love the sound of this! It’s not long since I waded through Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and I think I would enjoy someone taking the mickey:)

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  2. Seems really interesting. Thanks!

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  3. […] came across this book via an enticing review at Tony’s Book World and ordered a copy the same day.  I was intrigued because I had not long finished reading […]

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  4. […] A book you heard about online – Wittgenstein Jnr by Lars Iver.  Thank you to Tony of Tony’s Book World. […]

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  5. I loved 2/3rds of this but it goes on too long, repetitive in the last part and then as someone else wrote slap dash in it’s supposed ‘love affair’. If someone else hadn’t remarked that Wit’s favourite student is quite like the real Wit’s own lover I’d have thought it was too contrived and unconvincing. More like a one night stand of no importance, perhaps something chucked in to round off the novel. Partly wonderful, partly over-egged with the don’s propensity to dramatise his suffering and under-egged about his philosophical concerns. Excellent attempt but fizzles into a damp squib to my keen disappointment.

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    • Hi Elizabeth,
      I find that if I really like the beginning of a novel, that’s enough to propel me all the way through even if the last half doesn’t hold up. I don’t recall my reactions to the last half of Wittgenstein Jr., but I came into the novel knowing very little about Wittgenstein so may have missed references to Wittgenstein’s lover.

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