Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

Epitaph for Wittgenstein

One thing about a pet fly — it’s easy to care for. It can also give you pause to contemplate 20th century philosophy, should you feel the impulse to do so.

BY CHRIS SIMPSON

Wittgenstein

Not this Wittgenstein.

I think Wittgenstein might be dead.

I’m sure many of you are now saying, “Of course Wittgenstein is dead, you fool! He was one of the most celebrated of the ‘ordinary language’ philosophers in the earlier part of the 20th century,  and he died in 1951!”

Well sure. Everybody knows that.

But I’m talking about a different Wittgenstein.

For several weeks now Barbara has been back in St. Catharines packing up the house and arranging for the final big move here. This, of course, means I’ve been living on the farm by myself.

Just me.

Well just me and one fly.

No matter where in the house I tried to work, this fly would follow me. As soon as I was settled, he’d buzz around my head a few times and then land on my wrist. The pattern was invariant. It didn’t matter if I was typing, he’d buzz my head then land on my wrist.

For a few days he drove me nuts and I did what any sane person would do – I got out the flyswatter and flailed away in the air like Bugs Bunny conducting Figaro. I think I nicked him a couple of times, but could never land a solid whack.

Anyway, I started to get used to him and after a while he learned to land further up my arm on my sleeve. This had the advantage for him that it didn’t move as much when I was typing, and the advantage for me that he was no longer tickling my wrist. So I adopted a live-and-let-live attitude, and since then it’s been just the two of us.

But roommates, even if they’re flies, should have names, and when it came to christening him I didn’t even have to think. Wittgenstein was the only possible choice.

flybottle

Apparently this is a fly bottle. Who knew?

You see, Wittgenstein (the philosopher) believed that the purpose of philosophy, in his words, “was to teach the fly how to get out of the fly-bottle.”

Now I’m sure that many of my readers these days don’t know what a fly-bottle is so let explain that neither do I. But that’s not important. What Wittgenstein (the philosopher) was trying to say was that philosophy should be a means by which we can escape the trap of our own delusions and break free into the wider world around us.

Or maybe not. I’ve never really known what he meant. I just named the fly after Wittgenstein because he was the only philosopher who mentioned flies in a non-degrading manner. (I’m not counting the American philosopher, Groucho Marx’s famous dictum: “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.”)

In any event, the ultimate point is that I haven’t seen Wittgenstein (the fly) since yesterday, and while I’m not saying I’m getting worried, I’ve started scouting the corners of rooms for little fly bodies.

But I prefer to believe that he just found a way out of the fly-bottle.

Originally published in The Gull Lake Advance, Nov. 20, 2012

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