RARA-AVIS: Ludwig Wittgenstein loved Max Latin stories

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 15 Jul 2002

I knew that James M. Cain was an influence on Albert Camus, but I just learned that Norbert Davis was one of Ludwig Wittgenstein's favourite writers. Here's an extract from WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER by David Edmonds and John Eidinow (Faber and Faber, 2001):

| [Wittgenstein] lost himself in going to the movies to watch musicals
| and westerns--sitting as close to the screen as he could--and in
| American hard-boiled detective magazines. [There's a list of
| respectable writers he liked as well.] Yet, as Engelmann explained,
| "He did indeed enjoy reading good detective stories, while he
| considered it a waste of time to read mediocre philosophilcal
| reflections."
| The lack of intellectual pretension of the movies and detective
| stories was presumably what Wittgenstein found so palatable. There is
| something rather touching in the idea of this most rigorous and
| demanding of intelleects absorbed in the adventures of the Los Angeles
| private detective Max Latin, a tough-guy crusader against the forces
| of evil. Latin was the creation of Norbert Davis, a successful by
| second-division operator in the Hammett/Chandler school of the
| hard-boiled and one of Wittgenstein's favourites. There is nothing
| amiss with Latin's moral sensibility--though he strives to conceal it
| under a heavy cloak of cynicism zas he deals with clients and police
| in the booth of a steamy, packed restaurant that he uses as an office.
| (He actually owns the restaurant.) But if necessary--and it often is
| necessary--he is not afraid to use violence.
| [Excerpt from a Max Latin story snipped.]
| The writing is stripped down to the minimum, like the supremely
| functional architecture of the house in Kundmanngasse that
| Wittgenstein joined in building for his sister Margarete, and perhaps
| this economy was a reason why Norbert Davis and the tough-guy
| detective genre appealed to him.

And I found this, at


| Davis' Number 1 fan during the 1940's: the Austrian-British
| philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who loved Davis' books. (Thanks to
| reader Martin Thau, who pointed this out to me!) Wittgenstein was
| especially enthused about Davis' first novel, the zany THE MOUSE IN
| THE MOUNTAIN (1943), which Wittgenstein knew under its British title
| of RENDEZVOUS WITH FEAR. Apparently, Wittgenstein recommended this
| book to many of his friends, and even tried unsuccessfully to contact
| the author. Reader John Tingley gives more information: "About the
| Wittgenstein reference - it can be found on pp. 528-29 of Ray Monk's
| biography, LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN: THE DUTY OF GENIUS (London: Vintage,
| 1991). The 4.6.1948 letter to Norman Malcolm is printed in full on p.
| 109 of Malcolm's LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN: A MEMOIR (Oxford: Oxford
| University Press, 1984). Wittgenstein was a special fan of "Street &
| Smith" detective magazines, and had Malcolm send them to him at
| Cambridge."

If anyone has Monk's biography of Wittgenstein perhaps they could have a look and see what he says about Norbert Davis. Quit the pair!


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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