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News

Wittgenstein's Letters, Wittgenstein's entire correspondence electronically recorded for first time

Austrian Science Fund (FWF) : 14 November, 2002  (Technical Article)
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote and received more than 2300 letters during his lifetime. Sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund, Monika Seekircher from the Brenner Archive Research Institute at the University of Innsbruck searched for, structured and recorded these letters in a comprehensive database over a period of six years.
Brian McGuinness (Wittgenstein researcher in Siena) and Anton Unterkircher (also from the Brenner Archive) accompanied her in this work. In approximately one to two years the letters and accompanying comments should be accessible on the internet and thus available to all interested.

Ludwig Wittgenstein's correspondence shows his life and works in its continuity and in its integration into a cultural background. It also gives insight into his specific way of thinking, however, and frequently offers the possibility of links to contemporaries and to the issues of the time, in this case discussed in written form. Wittgenstein's letters are to be found throughout the whole of Europe, but also in Canada, the geographical curve stretches from Norway, among other countries, over to Amsterdam and Vienna, and then right down into Italian Siena.

Many of the letters have already been published individually, but there have been no collected works until now. 'Researching the letters requires a great deal of time and energy. Sometimes there are only summaries of letters, but no originals. Many of these valuable pieces of writing are still privately owned by the descendants of the original recipient and are often locked away as well. Privacy of letters is valid up until 70 years after the death of the owner, because these letters are also very personal in content,' explains Seekircher. The rights must therefore be clarified before publication. This also applies to the rights of people mentioned in the letters.

Chronological register
Seekircher combined the actual work of electronically recording and annotating the Wittgenstein letters with extensive research on the people mentioned in them. She also looked into literary and musical allusions and summarised her findings in alphabetical lists of people with biographies, as well as in chronological registers of the literary and musical themes which arose. The comprehensive letter database annotated by her is still being continually updated as new letters turn up. The collection should eventually be published on the internet and will be made accessible to the public online in two years at the latest. 'These letters offer us a marvellous insight into Wittgenstein's life, separate from his philosophical works, and so the database will promote analysis of this great thinker,' according to Seekircher.
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