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“Wahlverwandtschaft”: Literary and Philosophical Imagination in Wittgenstein and Sterne

From the book Aesthetics Today
Matthias Kroß


Ludwig Wittgenstein is said to have read Sterne’s Tristram Shandy a dozen times. The permanent digressions that thwart the telling of its protagonist’s autobiography is a satire of Lockean philosophy. This essay investigates how Sterne’s nonlinear writing may have influenced Wittgenstein’s thought in his later philosophy. The main question is whether the I of the Philosophical Investigations can be interpreted through the mirror of Tristram Shandy-an autobiography without a protagonist-as an auctorial rather than an authentic self. The essay offers a novel way of looking at the status of the “I” within Wittgenstein’s philosophy.

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