Living like Wittgenstein

I can’t imagine that I could have worked anywhere as I do here

Ludwig Wittgenstein in a letter to G.E.Moore during his stay in Skjolden, October 1936

Text: Trygve Martinussen

Our foundation fulfilled its primary goal in 2019, bringing back the cultural heritage – the W-house – to its original site. The following years the site has risen to become a tourist magnet. Visitors may hire the key to the house to stay there alone for one hour. This is our regular limit.
However, in April we received an exceptional deep argued request to stay undisturbed at the site from an American professor:

I’m currently working on a book about Wittgenstein’s spiritual life, and I have long been struck by how many of Wittgenstein’s most important internal transformations took place while he was staying in his cabin by Eidsvatnet. It’s one thing to read about these internal crises in his notebooks, diaries, and letters; but I think that I will only be able to gain a fully empathetic understanding of what he was going through by physically inhabiting the place where he was when he underwent these powerful experiences. (Not least because Wittgenstein himself thought that the wonderfulness and seriousness of Skjolden’s and Eidsvatnet’s landscape played an important role in colouring his inner life while he was there).

Because of this, I have wanted to visit Skjolden for many years now. My deepest hope, however, has been to be able to stay – even if for just a few days – in Wittgenstein’s cabin itself. I think that I would only be able to get a full sense for what Wittgenstein’s retreats to his cabin must have meant for him if I can stay there through the night – feeling something of the solitude that he must have felt, with no-one nearby, and nothing left but silence and time for introspection.

I would intend to spend my time there simply meditating, thinking, reading, and writing – and looking out at the view over the lake. – – – – If I could also ‘live’ in the cabin for even a small part of my visit I would be more grateful than I could say. – – – –

Reconstruction of the W-house would have been without meaning if denying a request like this one. Through constructive dialog we agreed the conditions and supplied the few things necessary for living. The professor’s own experiences after his first period in Austria (the local name of the site):

As I’m now approaching my final nights in the house, I am appreciating them even more, and gaining some wonderful insights. My stay will end up having a big impact on the shape of the book that I am writing, and it has had a very significant impact on me as well.

The foundation itself can luckily conclude: the site has reached a new milestone; it has again given energy for intellectual work and it has satisfied a serious seeker.