Contrary to all statistical probability, then, there was an astonishing, positively internal logic to his meeting me here…

Sebald, Austerlitz


Since a short time my little black leather backpack, which have in possession for more than thirty years now, carries a name: ‘Ludwig’. Christening it like this not merely resulted from infantile insanity. You might say that, within this context, it had a logical reason.

A friend in France with whom I commune regularly, also has a kit-bag with accessories. In my Ludwig – sometimes more solemnly called: ‘The Ludwig’ – are all things necessary for both physical preservation and pastoral care. As there are: A chessboard with its pieces; a book filled with chess problems; my iPod; a book; bandages of various types for various kinds of defects ranging from knee to ankle to elbow; a supply of medicines in case I go somewhere and can’t go any further, or indeed want to stay there for a while; a little woolen cap against the cold in case it is cold; a pocket knife; a notebook; a fountain pen, a spare pen cum ink refills; a dictionary; a sweet to sooth my hunger; a small pair of binoculars – and what not.

The Ludwig

That friend called her duffle bag ‘Wittgenstein’. As both of us are readers and because the philosopher’s book Philosophical Investigations has our shared preference, it seemed appropriate to make of my rucksack its pendant. So there they are: Wittgenstein and Ludwig.

Just before I followed the christening of her bag with naming mine, she told me that she never had a thing like that before. She was inspired, she said, by the reading a book in which the philosopher is mentioned as always carrying a backpack with him, like ours filled with a survival kit. Thus one is tracing history.

Wandering, I was always a civilized nomad, though perhaps a crazy version. On all the Greek Islands that I visited, after an early morning’s breakfast I left my room and walked along a straight line ‘into’ the island, this till the sun stood in the zenith. Whatever obstacles I encountered – a little canyon, bushes with stinging brambles, et cetera – I made or cut my way right through it. So logical it was, that in my little backpack, now ‘The Ludwig’, I always carried bandages. After my lunch in some unknown nowhere, I walked back home along the same straight line.

Writing down this story, apprehension gets to me. It hits me rough now, the realization that after my hospital stay two years ago I have never again walked together with Ludwig. He has become too heavy and as I do not want to raise ideas in thieves’ minds, he is always parked in the car boot. The keys to my little French house rest in its side pocket. In that dark room Ludwig feels horribly misunderstood.

Of these two, Wittgenstein and Ludwig, you may say bien etonnés de se trouver ensemble – the produce of a kind of serendipity as it were, though I realize that the word is being abused here. However, serendipity certainly applies when, after returning home from a walk and after freeing Ludwig from his prison, sitting in the courtyard with a glass in my hand, I opened the book I had been reading that morning: Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald.

On pages 54 and 55, I suddenly read that Ludwig Wittgenstein was indeed inseparable from his backpack, he always took it with him. I understand this as meaning: also in his class room. There is even a photograph of the real thing:

Wittgenstein’s backpack

Thus it functions, our unfathomable world. For her duffel bag my friend had borrowed the name ‘Wittgenstein’ from a book. I renamed my backpack ‘Ludwig’ after she simply told me of its name, merely out of a philosophical sense of camaraderie. Now it turns out that the source of both names is the same, that we independently have read and perhaps are still reading this same book.

Austerlitz, by the way, is also a masterpiece. Words revolving around little pictures, pictures swimming in a sea of language.

Sierksma, La Roche 2.5 / 2015


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s