Norman Malcolm's memoir of his friend and colleague, Wittgenstein, is a very personal account of the man that gives the reader a human side to this enigmatic and austere philosopher. Malcolm's descriptions of Wittgenstein delivering his unorthodox lectures in the philosopher's minimalist rooms at Cambridge - students crammed sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder, the philosopher glaring at any late comer, gesticulating in silence like a suffering mime to achieve a crystalline synthesis of thought, has now become legend. Wittgenstein was an extemporaneous lecturer, never using notes, uncannily picking up the thread of his thoughts from the previous weeks lecture. Malcolm admits that he didn't really begin to understand Wittgenstein until years after attending these "conversations". However this memoir is not about Wittgenstein's philosophy, but about Wittgenstein the man, by way of personal anecdotes and an eleven-year correspondence up until only thirteen days before Wittgenstein's death from prostate cancer.
There are many moving and humorous anecdotes in this memoir, however two in particular really stand out: While visiting Cambridge, Malcolm and his wife would occasionally have Wittgenstein over for dinner. More often than not, he would insist on doing the dishes, but preferred to do them in the bathtub with extremely hot water and a fair amount of soap. This way, he insisted, was the only method to wash dishes to ensure their utter cleanliness. He would often scold Malcolm for not drying the plates properly. This incident may seem minor, but it really exemplifies Wittgenstein's intense character, and what ever he put his attention on, it would be done to the best of his ability.
On one spring evening, after washing up, Wittgenstein, Malcolm and his wife set off on one of their many walks around campus. Wittgenstein began talking about the planets in the solar system and their relationships. He told Malcolm's wife that she was the sun and to continue walking; Malcolm was told he was the earth and to run around her, orbit, counter clockwise; Wittgenstein took the role of the moon, the most difficult, and ran around Malcolm at top speed. Anyone observing this spectacle from afar must have thought they were crazy, but Malcolm said it was extremely difficult and exhilarating experience.
Overall the text is divided into three sections: a well-written biographical sketch by Wittgenstein's colleague at Cambridge, G.H. von Wright. The second section is Malcolm's moving and humorous memoir, ending in the third section with a collection of correspondence from Wittgenstein to Malcolm spanning over eleven years. It is these letters that show the human side of Wittgenstein, his tireless work ethic and his concern for the well being of his friends.
If you have any interest in the character of this interesting philosopher, Malcolm's memoir is an excellent text.