Jerry Carroll

Philosophical Coates

SF Chronicle 1/5/98

It'll be interesting to see how director George Coates deals with Ludwig Wittgenstein in his play opening here. Wittgenstein (1889-1951) would be in the Highbrow Hall of Fame if there were one. He was the Vienna-born author of "Tractatus Logico Philosophicus," the famously difficult work about language and meaning. Spend a lifetime and you still might not get the hang of it. And anyhow, three decades later, Wittgenstein said in "Philosophical Investigations" that he had it wrong. The two are among the most influential books of the 20th century. Normally it wouldn't be easy to make a big dome like Wittgenstein in-teresting. What thinkers do, mainly, is sit in chairs and think. They do this for years.

But Wittgenstein was more than just a philosopher. He invented a kind of airplane propeller, was decorated for bravery in the Austrian army in World War I and gave away an inherited fortune so that nobody would like him just for his money. He was a Jew baptized in the Catholic Church who was drawn toward Protestant piety. He was a closeted homosexual. He gave up philosophy, designed a severely modem mansion, worked as an elementary schoolteacher and a gardener's assistant.

He took up philosophy again and became a major figure at Cambridge, only to quit. "It is a kind of living death." He lived by himself in an Irish cottage on the ocean shore to think. He yearned to die and finally did. Coates, whose career in theater shows that intellectual challenges like this don't scare him, calls his play "Wittgenstein: On Mars." It premieres January 28 at the George Coates Performance Works on McAllister.
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