A Meta-Biography of the Wittgensteins: Das Familiengedächtnis

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Das Familiengedächtnis der Wittgensteins (2011) could be considered as a metabiography, as literary scholar Caitríona Ní Dhúill has called it (2020); less concerned with authenticating a particular narrative about the biographical subject than with exploring competing biographical accounts and wider questions of “textuality, memorialisation, life-course models, the uses of the past, and the narrative interpretation of its traces” (Ní Dhúill, Metabiography: Reflecting on Biography. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020, 24). The metabiography of the Wittgensteins is achieved through a two-step-process; first by exploring the making of biography, by assessing previous Wittgenstein biographies, showing the changing fashions of biographical approaches in Wittgenstein studies; and secondly by writing a relational biography about Ludwig Wittgenstein and his oldest sister Hermine Wittgenstein; a sort double biography, contrasting two very different (auto)biographical kinds of writing in an interrelated way. Making use of the concept family memory (Halbwachs, Das kollektive Familiengedächtnis. In: Das Gedächtnis und seine sozialen Bedingungen. Repr. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 203–242, 1925/1985), this biography puts relationships instead of exceptionalism and disconnectedness (key feature of well-known biographies such as that by Ray Monk or Alexander Waugh) at the centre. My study is part of a more recent shift in the field of Wittgenstein biography from the exceptional (topos ‘genius’) to foregrounding the contextual, the relational, the dialogue, and the friendship. Contextualised in more current developments in Wittgenstein biography, this article discusses what we have learnt from this metabiographical approach for a rethinking of Wittgenstein research as well as for a more general discussion of (auto)biography and family memory? It will be argued that the metabiographical approach allows for a better understanding of how some biographical narratives in the Wittgenstein literature became more dominant than others, challenging some of the alluring interpretations of (auto)biographical texts in the Wittgenstein field.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWittgenstein and the Vienna Circle
Subtitle of host publication100 Years After the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
EditorsFriedrich Stadler
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Wittgenstein
  • Family memoty
  • Biography
  • narrative analysis
  • Relationality
  • Fmiliengedächtnis

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