Suicide Squad

“A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses,” a wag once observed. Well, when it comes to dysfunction, the Wittgensteins of Vienna could give the Oedipuses a run for their money. The tyrannical family patriarch was Karl Wittgenstein (1847-1913), a steel, banking and arms magnate. He and his timorous wife, Leopoldine, brought nine children into the world. Of the five boys, three certainly or probably committed suicide and two were plagued by suicidal impulses throughout their lives. Of the three daughters who survived into adulthood, two got married; both husbands ended up insane and one died by his own hand. Even by the morbid standards of late Hapsburg Vienna these are impressive numbers. But tense and peculiar as the Wittgensteins were, the family also had a strain of genius. Of the two sons who didn’t kill themselves, one, Paul (1887-1961), managed to become an internationally celebrated concert pianist despite the loss of his right arm in World War I. The other, Ludwig (1889-1951), was the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.

Read the rest of the review of The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War by by Alexander Waugh here.

[h/t 3Quarks]

3 thoughts on “Suicide Squad

  1. My favorite anecdote from this family was about the house Ludwig designed for his sister, an incredibly austere white-walled block, mathematically precise building his sistered denied was meant for human habitation, but for a god (a kind of spatial Tractatus one might imagine). L., just as the house was finishing up, when walking the house realized that something was dreadfully wrong. The exact room ratios he had given were not followed, and the ceiling of a room had to be raised the 3 cm it was off.

    Talk about Antigone and Polynices.

  2. All you have to do then is build an ice palace for your sister, change your style to something a quite a bit more gnomic and you’re fast on your way to becoming the 21st Century’s greatest philosopher!

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