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Ontology in Collage: Paolozzi’s Wittgenstein and Film

Brook Pearson
p. 103-121


This article examines work by the artist Eduardo Paolozzi related to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, arguing that Paolozzi’s print series As Is When, executed in 1964-65, together with work from nearly three decades later (Manuscript from Cassino), can be seen as a comprehensive examination of Wittgenstein’s earlier and later philosophy. Further, this article argues that Paolozzi’s take on Wittgenstein forms a new aesthetic ontology of “film”, embedding its reading of Wittgenstein in a reified Platonic cave, whose escaped philosopher finds himself basking only in the light of the artificial sun of the flickering cinema light.

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  • 1  Žižek 2004: x.

What if […] there is no “normal role”? What if it is the exceptions themselves that retroactively create the illusion of the “norm” they allegedly violate?
Slavoj Žižek, Organs without Bodies1

What, Then, Is a Picture?

1Ontologically, “film” and “cinema” act as placemarkers in a complexified aesthetic language game. As the ground shifts around these signposts, the language game obviates many aspects of this placemarking.

  • 2  Gibson 2007: 65.

2Attempts to understand the sense of extending a physical analogue of celluloid into a digital one, and nostalgia over the function of swiftly disappearing “cinema” locations overshadow more important questions concerning the role that this medium and its new expressions play, echoing Žižek’s musings concerned with the definition of “philosophy”, above. Can we still use the placemarkers “film” and “cinema” in a digital era? What if we were to reverse the question, and ask what it would be to avoid the use of that language? What if, further, we were to imagine that the language game of “film” has already imported both earlier games and their rules, and even pre-figured the rules and vocabulary of the evolution of “film”? As the character of the digital art producer Bobby Chombo argues in William Gibson’s novel Spook Country2,

we’re all doing [Virtual Reality], every time we look at a screen. We have been for decades now. We just do it. We didn’t need the goggles, the gloves. It just happened. VR was an even more specific way we had of telling us where we were going. Without scaring us too much, right?

3“Film” in our world is not some benign aesthetic space, any more than the theatre was in classical Athens. An analysis of the “ontology” of film has the potential to replay the Aristotelian desire to delineate, control, and enclose an aesthetic vocabulary whose use – to me, at least – is far more interesting than is its identity. The complexities inherent in Plato’s apparent condemnation of mimetic arts, writing and poetry in general – while counterintuitively engaging in all of them by writing his philosophical dialogues – act as a live metaphor for the way in which an analysis of the “ontology” of film might altogether ignore obvious approaches, and concentrate instead on the implications of what it might be to be the ontology of film. Žižek’s skepticism aside, it seems that vocabularies and their attendant grammars develop over time, and not merely retroactively.

  • 3  A profitable comparison could be drawn with Diderot’s work on the Salons, particularly in 1765. Cf (...)

4While there is no end to the development of a language game, the notion that all definition is ipso post facto merely begs the question of the position of the theorist in that model – a position largely dependent upon the way in which the theorist positions themselves with regard to their subject. Vocabularies that emerge from one version of a language game, when cross-applied to later game contexts, import piecemeal the logic of their earlier implementations. Plato’s so-called “Allegory of the Cave” from book 7 of the Republic could be seen as the first film theory, and it is submerged within the metaphysics inherent in the aesthetic discourse that has arisen around “film”3. The temptation to definitional nostalgia participates in the same temptation as does history: there is order and definition that contains a fundamental, constructed difference from experience (which is always immersive and now).

A Film of Theory: As Is When

  • 4  These prints are published in high-definition colour in Spencer 2000: plates i-xii, between pp. 13 (...)
  • 5  Malcolm 1984: this book was originally published in 1958 as the Memoir plus a biographical sketch (...)

5In 1964-65, the artist Eduardo Paolozzi produced a series of prints entitled As Is When, based upon the work and figure of Ludwig Wittgenstein4. Each one includes quotations, generally from Wittgenstein’s own writings or from the 1958 memoir by Wittgenstein’s student, Norman Malcolm5. The quotations relate thematically to various aspects of Wittgenstein’s use of visual imagery to discuss logic, and, when taken as a whole, comprise a new theory of aesthetics, freighted upon the metaphoric extension of “film”.

  • 6  Spencer 2000: 3.
  • 7  Wittgenstein 1961a: §1-1.1.
  • 8  Wittgenstein 1958: §96.

6The entire series functions as an interpretation of the transitionary point between Wittgenstein’s “earlier” and “later” philosophy, and, I think, suggests a way of reading the earlier work by Wittgenstein as an introduction to the development of “language games”. Despite Spencer6 suggestion that Paolozzi’s vision of Wittgenstein «contains no truths that a philosopher would recognize; only truths which an artist has experienced», I argue that Paolozzi’s treatment anticipates much recent work on the relations between the so-called “early” and “later” Wittgenstein. Paolozzi presents us with a unified picture of the two, seeing in the early work the initial stages in a recognitional process that led Wittgenstein to develop what is, essentially, an identification of one’s immersion-in rather than a hoped-for escape-from language. The Wittgenstein who began the Tractatus7 with the statements «The world is all that is the case. The world is the totality of facts not things» is understood in the light of his later version in Philosophical Investigations8:

Thought, language, now appear to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now? The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing.)

  • 9  Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.002.

7This directly echoes the statement in the Tractatus9, to the effect that

language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing, it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for different reasons.

  • 10  cf. Nye 1993.

8This is a remarkable image of projection, in tune with the notion that the Tractatus echoes Plato’s Cave analogy (Rep. 514a-17a), with the identity of Wittgenstein’s propositions in that book being, essentially, disposable, once the problems to which they are designed as remedy are surpassed10. The famous ending of that book, read in this light, suggests that the function of the Tractatus is, for Paolozzi’s Wittgenstein, nothing more than a beginning:

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

9«Seeing the world aright», then, is seeing the world in the Wittgensteinian version of the light of Plato’s Sun, and the enigmatic section 7 «What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence» is, like that world of the Forms to which Plato likens life under the sun, in precious little need of philosophy’s therapeutic identity. Except, of course, that it is.

10Wittgenstein’s later development in philosophy was a fluid continuation of the examination of the notion that «language disguises thought». The world outside the logic with which Wittgenstein apparently dispenses in the Tractatus is still a world clothed in thought clothed in language. The necessary multiplicity of the game displaces that of the ladder, and the multivalent analysis of the identity and complexity of the “game” identity of language takes up the bulk of Wittgenstein’s remaining work, including much of his work on psychology. An interesting aspect of this analysis of language is in his notion of “grammar”:

  • 11  Wittgenstein 1958: §§496-497.

496. Grammar does not tell us how language must be constructed in order to fulfill its purpose, in order to have such-and-such an effect on human beings. It only describes and in no way explains the use of signs.
497. The rules of grammar may be called “arbitrary”, if that is to mean that the aim of grammar is nothing but that of the language.
If someone says «If our language had not this grammar, it could not express these facts» – it should be asked what “could ” means here11.

11Although, of course, Paolozzi could not have had access to more recently published material, it seems worth quoting the similar statement in the “Big Typescript”:

  • 12  Wittgenstein 2005: 184e.

Again and again my mistake consists in forgetting that it is all its rules that characterize a game, a language, and that these rules are not answerable to a reality in the sense that they are controlled by it, and that we could have doubts whether a particular rule is necessary or correct […].
Grammar is not answerable to any reality.
(Grammar is not accountable to reality12.)

  • 13  Wittgenstein 1958: §38.
  • 14  Counterintuitively by creating fictive versions thereof; cf. Paolozzi 1969.

12Having suggested in Philosophical Investigations that «philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday»13, Wittgenstein’s treatment of “grammar” suggests that philosophy’s role is, at base, finding our way through the “labyrinth of paths” that is language (§203). From the perspective of an artist such as Paolozzi, much of whose œuvre is predicated upon the recognition and highlighting of exactly such labyrinthine structures within culture14, Wittgenstein’s concept of language-game holds an enormous potential.

13In the As Is When series, Paolozzi’s images and arrangement of Wittgenstein’s words and biography (re-)produce this image of the Tractatus as a version of Plato’s Cave analogy, except that the “silence” of section 7 of the Tractatus (which is the text accompanying the eleventh print in the series of twelve) is followed by a portrait of Wittgenstein the cinema-goer that acts both as a commentary on Wittgenstein’s later treatment of “language-games” and as a conclusion to a film of Wittgenstein that begins with the first print.

  • 15  I am quoting these here almost in full, simply because there is no other treatment of this series (...)

14Taken in a series, the quotes that form a part of each collage are as follows15:


  • 16  Wittgenstein 1961a: §1.1.

1. Artificial Sun: «The world is all that is the case»16.

  • 17  Edited for length. I cite here only from the first column of this quotational collage (the only qu (...)

2. Tortured Life: «One day in a trench on the eastern front while he was reading a magazine in which there was a picture of the possible sequence of events in an automobile accident. The picture, he said, served as a proposition whose parts corresponded to things in reality, and so he conceived the idea that a verbal proposition is in effect a picture […]»17.

  • 18  Wittgenstein 1961b: 89.

3. Experience: «Is belief a kind of experience? Is thought a kind of experience? All experience is world and does not need the subject. The act of will is not an experience»18.

  • 19  Wittgenstein 1958: §§2.063-141.

4. Reality: «2.063 The sum total of reality is the world. 2.1 We picture facts to ourselves. 2.11 A picture presents a situation in logical space, the existence and non-existence of states of affairs. 2.12 A picture is a model of reality. 2.13 In a picture objects have the elements of the picture corresponding to them. 2.131 In a picture the elements of the picture are the representatives of objects. 2.14 What constitutes a picture is that its elements are related to one another in a determinate way. 2.141 A picture is a fact»19.

  • 20  Malcolm 1984: 9. The sixth print, Wittgenstein in New York is treated below.

5. Wittgenstein the Soldier: «When Wittgenstein was captured [by Italian forces in WWI] he had in his rucksack the manuscript of his Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung»20.

  • 21Ivi: 43 (from a 1946 lecture by Wittgenstein).

7. Parrot: «What I give is the morphology of the use of an expression. I show that it has kinds of uses of which you had not dreamed. In philosophy one feels forced to look at a concept in a certain way. What I do is suggest, or even invent, other ways of looking at it. I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought. You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities. Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of uses of it»21.

  • 22Ivi: 27-28 (edited for length).

8. Futurism at Lenabo: «It is worth noting that Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious). Another time he said that a philosophical treatise might contain nothing but questions (without answers)»22.

  • 23  Wittgenstein 1958: §§126-127.

9. Assembling Reminders for a particular purpose: «126. Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. – Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us. One might also give the name “philosophy” to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. 127. The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose»23.

  • 24  Wittgenstein 1961b: 85.

10. The Spirit of the Snake: «Only remember that the spirit of the snake, of the lion, is your spirit. For it is only from yourself that you are acquainted with spirit at all. Now of course the question is why I have given the snake just this spirit. And the answer to this can only lie in the psycho-physical parallelism. If I were to look like the snake and so do what it does then I should be such-and-such. The same with the elephant, with the fly, with the wasp. But the question arises whether even here, my body is on the same level with that of the wasp and that of the snake (and surely it is so), so that I have neither inferred from that of the wasp to mine nor from mine to that of the wasp»24.

  • 25  Wittgenstein 1961a: §§6.54-7. Paolozzi omits the section numbers from this quotation of the Tracta (...)

11. He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder: «My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence»25.


  • 26  Žižek 2004: ix.

15Žižek26, in his “encounter” with Deleuze, asks: «Precisely when one philosopher exerted a key influence upon another, this influence was without exception grounded in productive misreading – did not the entirety of analytical philosophy emerge from misreading the early Wittgenstein?» What if one was to turn the apparent intention in this question back along its own channel and wonder what it would be not to be a “misreading” of the early Wittgenstein? From what ground would one feel the security of leveling judgment concerning the presence or absence of the “mis-” prefix? Paolozzi’s prints are just such a productive (mis-)reading; they are offered in the manner of Wittgenstein’s magazine article containing «a picture of the possible sequence of events in an automobile accident […] a proposition whose parts corresponded to things in reality». The question that Paolozzi puts to the viewer is simple: if «a verbal proposition is in effect a picture», what, then, is a picture?

16The last print and its accompanying quotation might provide some traction for an answer to this question. Entitled Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable, this print is accompanied by the following text:

  • 27 Malcolm 1984: 26-27.

Wittgenstein was always exhausted by his lectures. He was also revolted by them. He felt disgusted with what he had said and with himself. Often he would rush off to a cinema immediately after the class ended. As the members of the class began to move their chairs out of the room he might look imploringly at a friend and say in a low tone, “Could you go to a flick?” On the way to the cinema Wittgenstein would buy a bun or a cold pork pie and munch it while he watched the film. He insisted on sitting in the very first row of seats, so that the screen would occupy his entire field of vision, and his mind would be turned away from the thoughts of the lecture and his feelings of revulsion. Once he whispered to me “This is like a shower bath!” His observation of the film was not relaxed or detached. He leaned tensely forward in his seat and rarely took his eyes off the screen. He hardly ever uttered comments on the episodes of the film and did not like his companion to do so. He wished to become totally absorbed in the film no matter how trivial or artificial it was, in order to free his mind temporarily from the philosophical thoughts that tortured and exhausted him […]27.

  • 28  Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 17.

17Paolozzi’s aesthetic exegesis of Wittgenstein’s philosophy presents us with a logic that presumes the inter-relatedness of “philosophy” and “picture”, ending with this biographical discussion of Wittgenstein’s immersive escape into film. It is as though Deleuze and Guattari’s28 picture of the “looming face” was written about this passage:

We will consider a field of experience taken as a real world no longer in relation to a self but to a simple “there is.” There is, at some moment, a calm and restful world. Suddenly a frightened face looms up that looks at something out of the field. The other person appears here as neither subject nor object but as something that is very different: a possible world, the possibility of a frightening world. This possible world is not real, or not yet, but it exists nonetheless: it is an expressed that exists only in its expression-the face, or an equivalent of the face. To begin with, the other person is this existence of a possible world. And this possible world also has a specific reality in itself, as possible: when the expressing speaks and says, «I am frightened,» even if its words are untruthful, this is enough for a reality to be given to the possible as such. This is the only meaning of the “I” as linguistic index […]. The other is a possible world as it exists in a face that expresses it and takes shape in a language that gives it a reality. In this sense it is a concept with three inseparable components: possible world, existing face, and real language or speech.

  • 29  In presenting the quotation accompanying Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable, I omitte (...)

18There sits the post-lecture Wittgenstein, munching a pork pie, purposefully undergoing the aesthetic disconnect that Deleuze compares to schizophrenia. Paolozzi’s vision of Wittgenstein is frenetic, complex, and visionary, and he finishes it with an image of the visionary immersed in the virtual world of American cinema29. Instead of the light of the sun outside the cave that is constructed from «the philosophical thoughts that tortured and exhausted him», Wittgenstein is presented with the flickering light of the cinema screen.

  • 30  © Tate, London 2011; © 2011 Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / SODRAC.

Fig. 1. Eduardo Paolozzi, Artificial Sun, from As Is When, 196430

Fig. 1. Eduardo Paolozzi, Artificial Sun, from As Is When, 196430
  • 31  Several sculptures executed at the same time as the «As Is When» series also repeat this motif, an (...)

19One realizes that the entire As Is When series has been, as it were, a film of Wittgenstein. We should have gotten the clue from the title of the first print in the series: we see “all that is the case” in the light of an Artificial Sun, whose abstract imagery, now that we can see all twelve prints, begins to resemble a cinema, complete with projector and film canisters and ornate auditorium entrance. And then we realize that Tortured Life also resembles a film projector, likewise with strips of film and film canisters. Experience repeats this motif, as does Parrot31. Paolozzi’s glued-together Wittgenstein is a collage-film of picture-logic, and this film it contains within it is an analysis of Wittgenstein’s development of “language games” as the immersive experience of the world that is the case.

  • 32  Wittgenstein 1961a: §2.063-141, quoted in full above.

20In Reality, as well, we find a film projector and perhaps canisters (the whole of the print seems to me to resemble the celluloid of a war film, complete with tank). The accompanying text from the Tractatus32 includes the statement: «What constitutes a picture is that its elements are related to one another in a determinate way». The Paolozzian Wittgenstein describes exactly the identity of Paolozzi’s en-picturing determination of elements, and so lays down the structure of a new way of approaching meaning, by way of film.

  • 33  Flaxman and Oxman 2008: 39.

21The aesthetics of film are, from this perspective, its ontology, or rather, questions of ontology are questions of film. The expression of a language game is what it is to be the game. “Rule following” can only define an aspect of a game, and so, too, with the development of a “concept” of film in the face of changing ground. As Flaxman and Oxman33, dealing with the multiple appearances of the «face» in Deleuze (and Guattari’s) work, state: «[W]hat kind of problem is the face? It strikes us that, across the range of its manifestations, the face is not simply the site of a recurring problem but, rather, that the face renders thinking problematic». Deleuze and Guattari’s «face» is «language on holiday».

A Theory of Film: The Twinned Corpus

22In 1971, the Sunday Times art critic Frank Whitford interviewed Paolozzi together with his friend and sometime collaborator, novelist J.G. Ballard, on the occasion of Paolozzi’s one-man show at the Tate in London. This now-infamous discussion touched on many themes of interest to both artists, including the relation between each man’s work and technology. During the course of this interview, Whitford put to both of them that there was a valid comparison to be drawn between their work and the Surrealist movement.

  • 34  Spencer 2000: 199.
  • 35Ivi: 202.

23With regard to his own work, Ballard’s response to this was: «I don’t see myself working in a surrealist tradition at all because Surrealism was like Hollywood in a sense, was a one-generation movement»34. Later in the interview35, assessing Paolozzi’s work, Ballard states:

Eduardo can now look at some technological object and in his sculpture give it that ironic and imaginative replay in which other people recognize their first perception of that object, that first blunted perception heightened and illuminated. But the day may come when his role is no longer necessary. But at present he is necessary and his graphics are concerned with the nature of the environment on a compacted and subtle level. How new techniques in microscopy or a whole range of scientific techniques are providing access for the imagination to reach into the world of modern technology and illuminate it for the imagination of other people. I mean he is looking at very complex worlds where you need a lot of training before the doors can even be opened.

  • 36  Prendergast 1988: 214.
  • 37Ivi: 60.

24Ballard’s assessment retains its salience in discussing Paolozzi’s later œuvre as well. Covering many different forms of collage, ready mades, printmaking, sculpture, film, and animation, Paolozzi’s work is deeply cinematographic in its ability to engage the viewer in a narrativity that is parasitic upon lived experience. There is a remarkable grammar of “almost” when dealing with Paolozzi’s work – the viewer or reader is drawn into patterns that evoke, tantalize, demand closure, without ever quite allowing it. When Christopher Prendergast36 states concerning mimesis that it is «inherently ambiguous and unstable», he further suggests37 that:

The language of the mimetic text does not “mirror” reality, is not “transparent” to reality; it “hooks” on to reality by virtue of a relation that holds between linguistic expressions and what they stand for in the world […]. By exploiting the referring properties of language, the mimetic text knits the order of “fiction” into the order of “fact”.

  • 38  Derrida 1981: 149.

25Or, as Derrida38 puts it: «Metaphoricity is the logic of contamination and the contamination of logic». From this perspective, we are enmeshed in a tangle of logic and metaphor, each cross-contaminated by and with the other.

26This needn’t, however, be a counsel of despair.

  • 39  © Tate, London 2011; © 2011 Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / SODRAC.

Fig 2. Eduardo Paolozzi, Wittgenstein in New York, from As Is When, 196439

Fig 2. Eduardo Paolozzi, Wittgenstein in New York, from As Is When, 196439
  • 40  Malcolm 1984: 68.

27In discussing the quotations on Paolozzi’s As Is When prints above, I left out the sixth print, Wittgenstein in New York, on which stands the following quotation from Malcolm’s biography: «I went to New York to meet Wittgenstein at the ship. When I first saw him I was surprised at his apparent physical vigour. He was striding down the ramp with a pack on his back, a heavy suitcase in one hand, cane in the other»40. The recognizable features of the imagery in this collage include a cityscape with a plane flying, an American flag, and a sun. In the foreground, two head-and-torso figures – one drinking from a cup – face each other. Each of them is filled with collages of machine-parts and, in the case of the left-hand figure, attached to a wheeled vehicle of some sort. Four paddle-shapes contain in turn a part of a face (as though a photograph of a pixelated image, blown up, a la Roy Lichtenstein), a diamond pattern, perhaps a record, and a set of nested squares. The torsos, however, draw in the eye, and one follows the flow of liquid down the left-hand figure’s plumbed-interior to a machine stomach. The right-hand figure’s interiority is compartmentalized, and, where the digestive system would be, appears to be the machinery of a mine, ore being delivered through the pharynx, as if air. One imagines that the figure on the left is Malcolm, drinking deeply from that which Wittgenstein, on the right, is able to extract from within and deliver through speech (a picture of their relationship easy to garner from reading Malcolm’s Memoir).

28This print again invites comparison with the imagery utilized by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus:

  • 41  Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 1.

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines – real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections41.

  • 42  Cf. ivi: 1-50.

29Paolozzi’s emphasis on Wittgenstein’s body in the quotation and imagery that he chose for this print is ironic in tone: the corpus of ideas is very literally the corpus of the philosopher – if you’ll forgive the anachronism, Wittgenstein as “desiring machine”42.

30The previous print, too, deals with this twinned corpus: the quote accompanying Wittgenstein the Soldier concerns his life in the trenches, and mentions at this same juncture «the manuscript of his Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung». And of course the final print, with images and after-images of Mickey-Mouse and a German plane also severally references this twinned corpus: after lecturing, «disgusted with what he had said and with himself», he eats and then cuts himself off immersively from his companion (whose presence, though, is presented as necessary to the process). The experience of cinema in this quotation is likened to taking a shower – a deeply sensual image that predates any discussion of “virtual reality”. Perhaps Bobby Chombo was right.

  • 43  Spencer 2000: 200.

31In the interview quoted above43, Whitford asks Paolozzi and Ballard, «Both of you often choose images which have to do with crashes, violence of all kinds, but particularly with car crashes. For which particular ideas or feelings does the car crash act as a metaphor?», to which Ballard replies at length:

Just over a year ago [in 1969,] I put on an exhibition of crashed cars, what I called “new sculpture”, at the New Arts Lab. And I had three cars brought to the gallery. It was very easy to mount the show because the technology of moving cars around is highly developed. A crashed Mini, an A40 and a Pontiac which had been in a massive front-end collision […]. And I had an opening party at the gallery. I’d never seen 100 people get drunk so quickly. Now this had something to do with the cars on display. I also had a topless girl interviewing people on closed-circuit TV so that people could see themselves being interviewed around crashed cars by this topless girl. This was clearly too much. I was the only sober person there. Wine was poured over the crashed cars, glasses were broken, the topless girl was nearly raped in the back seat of the Pontiac by some self-aggrandizing character. The show went on for a month. In that time they came up against massive hostility of every kind. The cars were attacked, windows ripped off. Those windows that weren’t broken already were smashed. One of the cars was upended, another splashed with white paint.

32The scene was an illustration of a chapter of Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, entitled Crash!, that became the basis for his later novel of the same title. The nexus of technology, the body and sensuality that suffuses Paolozzi’s filmic print series echoes – or is echoed by – Ballard’s material. The “desiring-machine” of Anti-Oedipus is presented for us in its full schizoid “body-without-organs” shape: our characters search to find a kind of knowledge, understanding, significance in the metaphysics of experience. The crash is the full immersion – “like a shower-bath” – in the gnostic metaphysics of the machine, technology. But immersion is, in this novel, also deeply corporal. The body as a machine intersects with the miraculating surface of technology and commerce.

  • 44  Ballard 1984: 97.

33Commenting on Crash! in The Atrocity Exhibition, Ballard44 states that «the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines». This is the body-without-organs of the schizophrenic fantasy – one that we inhabit as desiring-machines that have been disconnected from their binary arrangement by the socius. Paolozzi’s Wittgenstein is likewise trapped in this schizophrenic space, arranged and glued into place by the collagiste in his editing room, and presented to us on screen, twenty-feet high.

An Ontological Parody: Manuscript from Cassino

  • 45  Spencer 2000: 127-128.

34But there is a final level to be examined in Paolozzi’s work, before we can say what this exploration might mean for an ontology of film, namely the link between Paolozzi’s own experiences in WWII and his image of Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was captured and interred by the Italians at Monte Cassino, and one of Paolozzi’s early Sixties’ sculptures reference this: Wittgenstein at Cassino (1963-1964; Leeds City Art Gallery). According to Paolozzi, this sculpture, of a key-hole-shape between two struts, was named after completion, because it seemed to evoke the notion of “a figure between two buildings”, something that he identified with the tension in both Wittgenstein’s life and his own45. Of course, as discussed, the fifth print in As Is When, Wittgenstein the Soldier also directly references this.

  • 46 This was likely written by Alcuin (cf. Bolton 1977: 16-17): «Hinc celer egrediens facili, mea cart (...)

35A second, much later sculpture – Manuscript from Cassino (installed 1991 outside St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh in a plaza designed by Paolozzi) – in three parts resembling a hand, a foot and an ankle, is inscribed on the base with the Latin poem sent from Charlemagne’s court to Paul the Deacon of Monte Cassino46:

  • 47  Spencer 2000: 320.

Across the hills and in the valley’s shade,
Alone the small script goes,
Seeking for Benedict’s beloved roof,
Where waits its sure repose.
They come and find, the tired travelers,
Green herbs and ample bread,
Quiet brothers’ love and humbleness,
Christ’s peace on every head47.

  • 48Ivi: 320-322

36Paolozzi’s statement concerning this piece, published in a press release issue by the Edinburgh District Council48, contains reminiscence concerning his childhood in the area of the sculpture’s installation, and records his former attendance at the cathedral for Sunday mass. He says, «From age twelve until 1940, I was a pupil at Holy Cross Academy»:

On the site I can see these very parts of the landscape that were the backcloth of my childhood. A great deal has disappeared, which makes it a privilege to add something significant to what might have become an urban gap.

37What these statements mask is an absence – a psychic “gap” still not plugged by the British government, more than seventy years after the fact. In 1940, following the entry of Italy into WWII, Paolozzi’s family, together with thousands of other Scots-Italians, were rounded up and, in Paolozzi’s case, split up: the sixteen-year-old Eduardo to internment in Saughton Prison, the rest of his elder male relatives onto the doomed Arandora Star, torpedoed (having not been marked as a civilian transport) in the North Atlantic in the process of deporting 1500 Scots-Italians to Canada. When Paolozzi states that «On this site I can see these very parts of the landscape that were the backcloth of my childhood», he is standing less than 500 metres from the shop owned by his family in Elm Row, down Leith Walk. When he says that «a great deal has disappeared», how could his family be anything but the head of that list? He goes on to state that the text on the sculpture «serves as a double link between the Cathedral and the origins of not only my father and grandfather, but to many Italians who came from these regions to make Scotland their home». With knowledge of Paolozzi’s life, it is impossible not to see these sculptures also as a monument to the horrors experienced by those in his family and community.

Fig. 3: Richard Milnes, Manuscript from Cassino, 199149

Fig. 3: Richard Milnes, Manuscript from Cassino, 199149

38Anna Paolozzi, Eduardo’s daughter, recently said of the effect of this on him (as reported by Dick 2010) that

I think it brutalised him […]. The last time he saw his father was when he was dragged off in handcuffs.
His dad, his grandfather and his uncle were on the Arandora Star. To lose that amount of people… it’s impossible to think that it wouldn’t brutalise someone.
He was given the choice of staying in prison or being sent to the front line. He didn’t want either, so he headed to the library to read up on mental illness.
He pretended he was schizophrenic and ended up in a mental hospital. Once there, he asked if he could go to art school. It was an incredibly clever way of surviving the war.

  • 50  Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 15.

39It was more than clever – it was prophetic. Paolozzi’s art becomes a continual stream of fictive schizophrenic consciousness, a redoubled language game wherein Deleuze and Guattari’s notion50 that

the schizo has his own system of co-ordinates for situating himself at his disposal, because, first of all, he has at his disposal his very own recording code, which does not coincide with the social code, or coincides with it only in order to parody it

40is inverted and redeployed as a parody of the parody.

41The Manuscript from Cassino? Why from? One is tempted even this late in Paolozzi’s work to see a connection with his earlier Wittgensteinian material. Considering that his two Wittgenstein at Cassino sculptures are self-identified with Paolozzi’s position, reinforced so incredibly brutally on that night in 1940 and his subsequent experiences and losses, as an “outsider”. Consider also that, in the second of the As Is When prints, Wittgenstein’s manuscript of the Tractatus is specifically mentioned, and that this print is entitled Tortured Life. Consider finally that, in the absence of any specific mention in Paolozzi’s words concerning the fate of his father, grandfather and uncle, the words of the poem sent to Monte Cassino take on a deeply ironic sense. The reasons for Paolozzi’s identification with Wittgenstein, whose similarly outsider status had inspired his turn to him in the first place, is implicit throughout his entire œuvre. The commentary in his art issues from a moment of inversion that exposed the underside of his culture, and revealed its secret inner workings.

42Borrowing the schizophrenic “system of co-ordinates”, and linking it directly, as Spencer puts it, to the philosophy of a Wittgenstein who had come to «believe [about language] that it operates in a much more complex way [than in his earlier “picture theory”], and is expressive of wider social and cultural realities which help to explain its uses and meanings», Paolozzi creates a formidable aesthetic theory of idea, place and code. Paolozzi’s world is a re-arranged world that, as the ninth print of the “As Is When” series suggests, is Assembling reminders for a particular purpose:

Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us. One might also give the name “philosophy” to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions. The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.

43In this context, film’s ontological identity is independent of the media used to create it, the specific spatio-temporal cultural constraints on its viewing, or anything else. “Film” and “cinema” are placeholders in the shifting aesthetic ground, describing (or pointing towards) sets of rules that have arisen with use.

  • 51  Gibson 2007: 65.
  • 52  Gibson 2010.

44Bobby Chombo51, discussing the layered digital re-presentation of “locative” art installations – what becomes “Augmented Reality” in the follow-up novel, Zero History52 – follows up his notion that virtual reality is a common reality:

The locative, though, lots of us are already doing it. But you can’t just do the locative with your nervous system. One day, you will. We’ll have internalized the interface. It’ll have evolved to the point where we forget about it. Then you’ll just walk down the street…” He spread his arms, and grinned at her.
«In Bobbyland,» she said.

  • 53  Spencer 2000: 3.

45When Paolozzi made Britain into his Eduardoland, he made the landscape a series of reminders for a particular purpose. There is nothing except the world. There is nothing except thought. There is nothing except language. Language, thought, world-film just happens to be a remarkably powerful and accessible ganglion in the set of language games that comprise aesthetics. The images flickering on Plato’s cave are the first film theory, and continue to play a powerful role in defining the shape of the language game of film. When Paolozzi’s reading of Wittgenstein diverts and expands upon this with the idea that the sun outside that cave is the flicker of a projected language game, this makes «the truths which an artist has experienced»53 into something that philosophers should indeed recognize.

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Ballard, J.G.

– 1984, The Atrocity Exhibition, San Francisco, Re/Search

Bolton, W.F.

– 1977, Alcuin and Old English Poetry, “The Yearbook of English Studies”, 7, pp. 10-22

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.

– 1983, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, R. Hurley, M. Seem, H.R. Lane (trans), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press

– 1994, What is Philosophy, H. Tomlinson and G. Burchell (trans.), New York, Columbia University Press

Derrida, J.

– 1981, Dissemination, B. Johnson (trans), London, Athlone

Dick, S.

– 2010, Play sparks debate over whether Italians deserve apology for wartime internment, “Edinburgh Evening News”, 11 March

Diderot, D.

– 1995, Diderot on Art. I. The Salon of 1765 and Notes on Painting, j. Goodman (trans.), New Haven – London, Yale University Press

Flaxman, G. and Oxman, E.

–2008, Losing Face, in I. Buchanan and P. MacCormack (eds.), Deleuze and the Schizo-Analysis of Cinema, London, Continuum, pp. 39-51

Gibson, W.

– 2007, Spook Country, New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

– 2010, Zero History, New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Nye, A.

– 1993, Assisting at the Birth and Death of Philosophic Vision, in D.M. Kleinberg-Levin (ed.), Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, Berkley, University of California Press, pp. 361-78

Paolozzi, E.

– 1969, Why We Are in Vietnam, A Novel by Eduardo Paolozzi, “Ambit”, 40, pp. 27-34

Prendergast, C.

– 1988, The Order of Mimesis: Balzac, Stendhal, Nerval, Flaubert, Cambridge (Mass.), Cambridge University Press

Russell, B.

– 1951, Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Mind”, LX, 239, pp. 297-298

Spencer, R.

– 2000, Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Whitford, F.

– 1971, Speculative Illustrations: Eduardo Paolozzi in Conversation with J.G. Ballard and Frank Whitford, “Studio International” 193 (Oct.), pp. 138-143; repr. in Spencer 2000, pp. 198-207 (page refs from Spencer 2000)

Wittgenstein, L.

– 1958, Philosophical Investigations, G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford, Blackwell

– 1961a, Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus, D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, New York – London, Routledge

– 1961b, Notebooks 1914-16, G.E.M. Anscombe, G.H. von Wright (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford, Blackwell

– 1972, The Blue and the Brown Books: Preliminary Studies for the “Philosophical Investigations”, R. Rhees (ed.), Oxford, Blackwell

– 2005, The Big Typescript: TS 213, C.G. Luckhardt and M.A.E. Aue (trans. and eds.), Oxford, Blackwell

Žižek, S.

– 2004, Organs without Bodies, New York – London, Routledge

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1  Žižek 2004: x.

2  Gibson 2007: 65.

3  A profitable comparison could be drawn with Diderot’s work on the Salons, particularly in 1765. Cf. Diderot 1995: 141-148.

4  These prints are published in high-definition colour in Spencer 2000: plates i-xii, between pp. 136-137.

5  Malcolm 1984: this book was originally published in 1958 as the Memoir plus a biographical sketch by G.H. von Wright, and issued in a second edition in 1984 including Wittgenstein’s letters to Malcolm.

6  Spencer 2000: 3.

7  Wittgenstein 1961a: §1-1.1.

8  Wittgenstein 1958: §96.

9  Wittgenstein 1961a: 4.002.

10  cf. Nye 1993.

11  Wittgenstein 1958: §§496-497.

12  Wittgenstein 2005: 184e.

13  Wittgenstein 1958: §38.

14  Counterintuitively by creating fictive versions thereof; cf. Paolozzi 1969.

15  I am quoting these here almost in full, simply because there is no other treatment of this series that does so, and their content is fundamental to my argument.

16  Wittgenstein 1961a: §1.1.

17  Edited for length. I cite here only from the first column of this quotational collage (the only quoted material on any of the prints to come from multiple sources). There are four columns, often beginning or ending with a sentence fragment. The first two relate a story told by von Wright in Malcolm 1984: 8, and quote from him, though I have been unable to trace the version quoted here. The third comes from Russell 1951: 297, and the fourth from Wittgenstein 1972: 140.

18  Wittgenstein 1961b: 89.

19  Wittgenstein 1958: §§2.063-141.

20  Malcolm 1984: 9. The sixth print, Wittgenstein in New York is treated below.

21Ivi: 43 (from a 1946 lecture by Wittgenstein).

22Ivi: 27-28 (edited for length).

23  Wittgenstein 1958: §§126-127.

24  Wittgenstein 1961b: 85.

25  Wittgenstein 1961a: §§6.54-7. Paolozzi omits the section numbers from this quotation of the Tractatus.

26  Žižek 2004: ix.

27 Malcolm 1984: 26-27.

28  Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 17.

29  In presenting the quotation accompanying Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable, I omitted the following, which seems relevant at this juncture: «He liked American films and detested English ones. He was inclined to think that there could not be a decent English film. This was connected with a great distaste he had for English culture and mental habits in general. He was fond of the film stars Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton. Before he came to visit me in America he demanded in jest that I should introduce him to Miss Hutton».

30  © Tate, London 2011; © 2011 Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / SODRAC.

31  Several sculptures executed at the same time as the «As Is When» series also repeat this motif, and some repeat titles from the As Is When series. Cf. Spencer 2000: ch. IX.

32  Wittgenstein 1961a: §2.063-141, quoted in full above.

33  Flaxman and Oxman 2008: 39.

34  Spencer 2000: 199.

35Ivi: 202.

36  Prendergast 1988: 214.

37Ivi: 60.

38  Derrida 1981: 149.

39  © Tate, London 2011; © 2011 Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / SODRAC.

40  Malcolm 1984: 68.

41  Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 1.

42  Cf. ivi: 1-50.

43  Spencer 2000: 200.

44  Ballard 1984: 97.

45  Spencer 2000: 127-128.

46 This was likely written by Alcuin (cf. Bolton 1977: 16-17): «Hinc celer egrediens facili, mea carta, volatu / per silvas, colles, valles quoque perpete cursu, / alma Deo cari Benedicti tecta requie. / est nam certa quies fessis venientibus illuc. / hic olus hospitibus, piscis, hic panis abundat, / pax pia, mens humilis, pulchra et concordia fratrum, / laus, amor, et cultus Christi simul omnibus horis. / dic Patri et Sociis cunctis, salvete, valete, / colla mei Pauli gaudendo amplecto benigne / dicito multoties, salve, Pater Optime, salve».

47  Spencer 2000: 320.

48Ivi: 320-322

49  © 2010 by Richard Milnes (

50  Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 15.

51  Gibson 2007: 65.

52  Gibson 2010.

53  Spencer 2000: 3.

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Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Fig. 1. Eduardo Paolozzi, Artificial Sun, from As Is When, 196430
File image/jpeg, 1,5M
Titolo Fig 2. Eduardo Paolozzi, Wittgenstein in New York, from As Is When, 196439
File image/jpeg, 1,7M
Titolo Fig. 3: Richard Milnes, Manuscript from Cassino, 199149
File image/jpeg, 1015k
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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Brook Pearson, «Ontology in Collage: Paolozzi’s Wittgenstein and Film»Rivista di estetica, 46 | 2011, 103-121.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Brook Pearson, «Ontology in Collage: Paolozzi’s Wittgenstein and Film»Rivista di estetica [Online], 46 | 2011, online dal 30 novembre 2015, consultato il 14 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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