:: A crime thriller by Ludwig Wittgenstein ::
- featuring Ludwig Hammer, private eye -

Silent and Deadly

An important discovery of a previously unknown work by a leading twentieth century philosopher

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Editor's note: this previously unknown work by the twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was discovered accidentally by John Jones, Professor of Engineering Science at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, in the university library. It is of particular interest to scholars because of Wittgenstein's known view that, having solved all the problems of philosophy, there was nothing left to do except read detective novels.


What was not previously known is that he also wrote one.

The manuscript appears to be the first draft of an English translation, but the location of a presumed German original is not known. No trace has been found in the files of his UK publisher (Basil Blackwell, Oxford).

The translation is incomplete, with many large gaps in the plot line. Whether the remaining parts exist is open to speculation, but a long internet search by one of us (M.D) led to the discovery of a work in Spanish which purports to be a translation of the same novel (Ludwig Wittgenstein, 'Los Sabios no Hablan,' trans. Ramón Luis Fabricante de la Vela, Ediciones Sombra, Buenos Aires 1973).

Stylistic considerations suggest that much of 'Los Sabios no Hablan' has been added by a later author, perhaps de la Vela himself, presumably in order to fill the gaps in Wittgenstein's original so as to make a publishable book.

We here present two sample chapters: a fragment from chapter 22 from the Simon Fraser manuscript(© 2006 SFU and John Jones), and chapter 23, rather freely translated from de la Vela's Spanish (translation © 2006 Martin Dace).

- John Jones, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
- Martin Dace, London

from chapter 22

From my hiding place I could see them unpacking the crates, getting the shipment ready for distribution. I've got a strong stomach, but what I saw would have made an ambulance attendant puke. I took a swig from my hip flask to steady my nerves for what came next, then released the safety on my Tractatus.

The little French dude went down with a 6.0 between the eyes, but his Kraut partner thought he could talk his way out:

"OK, Hammer, you got a gun and I got Nothing. But what about this Nothing? I'll tell you this, the Nothing is prior to the Not and the Negation, see? So, you want to make Something out of it?"

I didn't need to hear any more of that. The Tractatus bucked in my hand, and his body was already falling when I told him, "If ya got something to say, ya can say it clearly, OK? Otherwise, ya better keep silent."1.

Lestrade and his boys broke down the door - just like the cops to show up after it's all over. He took a look at the mess on the floor and offered me a smoke.

"Guess we can tidy up the pieces for you, Hammer. Just what were these guys dealing? Cocaine? Porn?"

I took a long drag and shook my head. "Worse than that, Inspector. They were pushing metaphysics."

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chapter 23

After the bust-up I needed somewhere to cool off. I found myself in a narrow alley in the Greek quarter. It was raining. There were lights on in a small bar with a neon sign - Petros' place. I went in and ordered a double bourbon.

The guy behind the bar looked old, but in that kinda way where you can't really tell how old he is - in that light he could've been fifty or a thousand and fifty. He moved slowly. I snapped at him to make it quick - maybe my nerves were getting to me.

"Endaxi."He pushed the drink in front of me, calm as a cat sleeping off the cream. "Chairos einai. There is plenty time."

"What do you know about it?" I barked. For all I knew there were more of the Metaphysics gang right around the corner.

"Is always time here, boss." He had a gentle look in his eyes I don't often see in this town. "In Petros' bar a drink can last all afternoon. Time - it all depend on your point of view."

I downed a gulp of the bourbon - the fire in my throat seemed to clear my head. There were two customers at the table by the window, a couple of lovers trying to save money on a night out maybe, otherwise the place was empty. The old guy mopped the counter as though mopping mattered more than the result.

Time is something you can talk about. It's not metaphysics, it's real, like the ticking of the clock over the bar. You can measure it. And time was running out - either for the Metaphysics gang or for me.

"You look my clock. It do you no good." I started - the old guy seemed to read my mind. "You don't measure time by my clock. Is why: if time go fast, my clock go fast. If time go slow, like now, my clock go slow too."

His eyes looked through me rather than at me. I looked at my glass - it was empty. I glanced at the clock - the hands hadn't moved. "Another double," I rasped.

"My name is Parmenides 2, but people call me Petros." I hadn't asked, but all the same I told him my name was Leo. I didn't want anyone on my tail, and I might have to come back here. "Pleased to meet you, Petros."

"My friend 'Eraclitos 3, he say you can never come back here." He guessed my thoughts again. Coincidence, but it gave me the creeps. "Everything always change, always different!" He leaned towards me. "'Eraclitos say, only change is permanent." Petros's face broke into a thousand laugh lines. "But I say, Petros' place always here. You, Mr Leo, will always be here." 4.

"You're wrong there. I'm leaving soon."

"Mr Leo, I show you something." He fumbled under the counter, and came out with a huge dusty roll of cloth. 5. He unwound part of it on the bar. It was an old tapestry with thousands of tiny pictures woven all over it. Something in Greek was written along the edges. For a moment he stared at it. Suddenly his finger jabbed into the middle of the cloth. "Look," he said.

I squinted closely where the old man's finger creased the stained fabric. There was a tiny image of a guy in a raincoat with the collar turned up leaning against a bar, and an old guy mopping it - you get the deal. A little further along I could see the guy in the raincoat again, facing down some hoods with a vanload of philosophy books, but what happened next was hidden under the roll of cloth. Somewhere off to one side a little woven couple were in her apartment with the lights off.

Petros rolled up the cloth and hid it back under the counter. "You see, I right and 'Eraclitos see it wrong. You always here. Petros' bar always exist."

I'd had enough. I walked out into the rain. I never went back to Petros' bar, and when I went down the alley six months later, there was a Starbucks there, and Petros' bar had gone. 6.

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1. Compare L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1961, 7.

2. Parmenides fragments in translation.

3. 'Eraclitos (Heraclitus) was the philosopher who said you can never step into the same river twice.

4. "Therefore, it is all continuous, for what-is touches what-is. Moreover, unchanging in the limits of great bonds, it is without beginning or end, since coming-to-be and perishing were banished far away, and true conviction drove them out. Remaining the same, in the same place, it lies in itself, and thus firmly remains there." - Parmenides, Fragment VIII.

5. For time and space represented as a tapestry woven by the Fates, see Onians, 'The Origins of European Thought,' Cambridge 1988 chapter VI.

6. The original simply has un bar nuevo. I have taken the liberty of updating it for the modern reader.