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Philosopher’s hut deep in the fjord: Wittgenstein in Norway

Over 100 years ago, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein went to the fjords of Norway to escape the scholarly world of Cambridge. His former teacher Bertrand Russell wrote, “I said it would be lonely, and he said he prostituted his mind talking to intelligent people.”

Not content with simply moving to the isolation of rural Norway- at the end of the Sognefjord (the deepest and second longest fjord)- Wittgenstein built his hut across the lake and halfway up a mountain from the nearest town (Skjolden). Measuring just 7 by 8 meters, the small cabin dubbed “Little Austria” (his native country) became his home on and off throughout his life (his longest stay here was 13 months).

Wittgenstein was fleeing the distractions and interruptions of a more social lifestyle and hoping to confront only his own thoughts. “Whoever is unwilling to descend into himself,” he wrote, “because it is too painful, will of course remain superficial in his writing.’” He wrote some of his most important work here (a precursor to his “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” and some of his “Philosophical Investigations”).

Today all that remains of his hut are its stone foundation and a very faint hikers trail up the mountain, though some Norwegians are trying to change this. Artists Marianne Bredesen, Sebastian Makonnen Kjølaas and Siri Hjorth (in collaborations with the Wittgenstein Society in Skjolden and funded by Public Art Norway) threw an all-expenses-paid vacation to bring fellow Oslo residents to the ruin. Inspired by Wittgenstein’s argument that “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday”, they are calling their art holiday “Wittgenstein on Vacation”. For part one, they entertained their guests with a weekend of lectures, meals and a Wittgenstein interpretation at the site of his cabin. We captured some of the show on our own journey to this disappearing piece of history.