That ‘Wittgenstein is dead’ should not come as news to most people (although you’d be surprised at the number of people who, when told about Wittgenstein Tweets, have asked, awkwardly: “Won’t this Whats-his-name-stein mind that you’re pretending to be him?”). Nevertheless, he is dead, just as certainly as before, and now his ghostlike, fast-forwarded impersonator @WittTweets has lain down to join him in his rest.
I am not suitably qualified to write an obituary for a virtual reincarnation of an enigmatic philosopher. I’d like to meet the man who is. But I thought I’d just share a few highlights of the project. I never thought I’d get sad (or make anyone else sad) with this silly project; let’s focus on the good times.
Most of these highlights involve the many people who have been sending messages to @WittTweets since last September, some of whom have been sending their respectful condolences in the past 24 hours. I have truly appreciated this overwhelmingly positive support. It has been very difficult to resist replying to the many personal messages Wittgenstein has received in character (“@benlloydjones, you ask me if I am OK, and that you WORRY for me. Clearly, you do not understand a SINGLE WORD that I have said” etc etc.).
In fact, there was a lot of concern expressed for Wittgenstein throughout. @Aboyko commented early on that Wittgenstein’s entries “read just like a Livejournal’; @schar commented on Wittgenstein’s sheer “emo-ness”, and whenever Wittgenstein seemed in the midst of some turmoil help was usually at hand. When he found himself down and out in Russia, remonstrating himself for being a “perfect ass”, @donaldfuters said: “Oh, Wittgenstein. You’re so much more!” The move to Russia had caused a lot of apprehension; when he initially told people that he intended to live in Russia and work as a manual labourer, @I_am_Ozma warned: “Ludwig. That is a crazy plan. DON’T DO IT.”
But not everyone had the same patience with Wittgenstein. @thetain soon said he was “starting to bum me out. Such an asshole! Makes me want to burn my copy of the tractatus.” And @craigswanson had no qualms calling Wittgenstein a “drama queen”. For a number of people, Wittgenstein’s catharsis was therapeutic. @shepleygreen called Ludwig’s “daily dose of gloom” a “real tonic”, pointing out that if you think things are bad in your life, just look at his.
Now we come to that declaration: “I feel more sensual than before. Today I masturbated again. (1914, aged 25).” This was Wittgenstein’s only tweet to elicit a threaten of an unfollow, from a certain @nostraticispeak, who said bluntly: “WTF. Don’t really care abt his morning ablutions. there IS such a thing as too much detail. will unfollow nxt.” For me, this tweet was a highlight in another sense, for it was one of the very few tweets which I accidentally updated to my personal twitter account, seen by all my friends and family. So, @nostraticispeak, I guess I got what I deserved.
There was a lot of nodding along to Wittgenstein’s words of wisdom along the way. Wittgenstein says “The solution to the problem of life is to be seen in the disappearance of the problem. We must SHOW what we cannot SAY”; @billt says “yup”. A number of people thought Wittgenstein would’ve really felt at home on Twitter. Wittgenstein says: “Is it just me, or does everyone have a deep-seated need for someone they can just talk bloody nonsense to?” @JuandeFrancisco says: “It’s not just you. What do you think Twitter is for? ;)”
People were there for his triumphs (even if he didn’t see them as such), like when @philosophydan gave Wittgenstein a “Congratulations :P” when he was elected Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge. And they were there for him at his end, sending their goodbyes.
Near the start of the project, I was in correspondence with the chairman of the British Wittgenstein Society, who was very nice about the whole thing, and told me that the Society had formally raised the issue of whether or not to link to @WittTweets on their website. In the end one member had deemed it “too whimsical”. A great epitaph, I think –for @WittTweets, I mean, not the man himself.
I hope people haven’t found the whimsical nature of this project disrespectful. I have put very, very few words into Wittgenstein’s mouth (when people have written: ‘He wouldn’t have said that!’, trust me – he did), but I take responsibility for the selection and context. I’d also like to reiterate my indebtedness to Ray Monk for providing the central narrative of the tweets. I’ll finish with a line from @Threadworm:
“What can be said at all can be said in 140 characters. The rest we must pass over in silence.”
And stay tuned. Another ‘tweeting as’ could well follow shortly. If you have some spare time, I suggest you find a biography and give it a go yourself; it really is quite fun.