Spring 1916: Ludwig Wittgenstein is on his way to the Eastern Front.
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the terse, gnomic masterpiece of modern philosophy, is also a war poem. At the outbreak of the First World War this strange, intense, immensely wealthy young man volunteered as a private soldier in an Austro-Hungarian regiment, serving in some of the most brutal battles of the conflict, and carrying notes for the Tractatus in his backpack.
Wherever We Are When We Come To The End digs into the form and the language of the Tractatus, following Wittgenstein through the war and his own conflicts with words and silence, violence and grief, time and eternity. The result is a highly original formal experiment and a poetic fantasia on logic, love and war.
Hotel and RTE Culture have kindly published extracts from the book. Dan Fuller interviewed me for Burley Fisher Books’ Isolation Station podcast, and I discussed Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, house parties and holy fools with Luke Kennard and Adam Biles on the Shakespeare & Co podcast. I read from the poem on RTE Radio 1’s Arena and David Collard’s Carthorse Orchestra. Buzz Magazine and Review 31 gave Wherever enthusiastic reviews, Jack Solloway interviewed me for The London Magazine, and I wrote a short essay on Wittgenstein, war, and silence for Lit Hub. I read from Wherever, and debated the Tractatus as poetry with James C Klagge and Duncan Richter, at the British Wittgenstein Society’s Tractatus Centenary Lecture (video here). David Collard chose Wherever as one of his poetry books of the year for 2021.
FMcM have produced a gorgeous series of short films on the book – an introduction, a reading and a short reflection.
A list of references to primary sources in the poem is available here.
Praise for Wherever We Are When We Come To The End
‘Ingenious, devastating, and filled with emotional riches – a beautiful exploration of Wittgenstein, of war and fear, of speech and silence, and of love.’ – Sarah Bakewell, author of At the Existentialist Café and How to Live: A Life of Montaigne
‘Wherever We Are When We Come To The End is a work of double history, an excavation of war and false peace carried out with a single archaeological implement: poetic language. Barnett’s field call to the trench-footed Wittgenstein, intent on keeping his Tractatus from the rats, is relayed to the reader as proof of Electronic Voice Phenomena. Through imagery as deep and tannin-hued as Mercian Hymns, Barnett pulls off the impossible: revealing the still pulsing consciousness of the greatest mind in analytic philosophy.’ – Chris McCabe, author of The Triumph of Cancer and Dedalus
‘Richard Barnett has opened a new window on the Great War, that reveals its territorial encounters of precision, humanity and sacrifice. He gives us a view that soars into extraordinary devotional spaces, but always returns to the haunting details of a soldier’s life, where, no matter what the time and place, the blue field coat will always hang on the back of the door.’ – Emily Mayhew, author of Wounded and A Heavy Reckoning
‘In attempting – partly as a celebration of Wittgenstein’s work – to match the form and structure of the Tractatus whilst also constructing a poetic narrative of Wittgenstein’s own experiences in World War I and life beyond, Barnett is assaulting an ambitious task indeed: one which he rises to repeatedly throughout this short book … Early passages juxtaposing the realities of war with the clinical mathematical necessities of artillery fire and the physics of field guns paint a precise, evocative picture of the logician at war, and offer ample opportunity for poetry. There is plenty to ruminate on here for casual readers and philosophy aficionados alike.’ – Buzz Magazine
‘Wherever We Are When We Come to the End is a commendably daring experiment in poetic form, and its intensity and focus justify the decision to present its 23 pages of poetry as a standalone work. The poem’s subject matter, including as it does reference to formative and dramatic years in a philosopher’s life as well as to the philosophy itself, is complex, but from it, Barnett fashions a stimulating and challenging work.’ – Review 31
‘Startling, gripping, [with] a deep poignancy that runs through it.’ – Rishi Dastidar, author of Saffron Jack and Ticker-Tape
‘A beautiful short work that manages to maintain intimacy even in the aphoristic.’ – Rachel Genn, author of What You Could Have Won
‘Brilliantly original’ – David Collard
‘Thank god for something different.’ – Jack Solloway