1.08.2002

Where the Tractatus ends with silence, the Philosophical Investigations begins that way. It is the silence of one who is prelinguistic and it is as momentary as it is an aberration. It turns out there is a whole community waiting to teach the initiate. This is the point of contact and departure from the quotation from St. Augustine.

But let's begin with the preface and Wittgenstein's own confession. He writes this some six years before his death. Yet he acknowledges that "I should never succeed" in writing a conventional philosophical text. What he is left with is "an album." I think about this image often. When I think of an album I think of black page after black page with photographs affixed to them with little glued corners. This would run against one of the philosophical ambitions of the work -- the critique of representational accounts of truth or the so-called picture theory. So what is he talking about here? Montage? A flipbook that children like to play with?

Walter Benjamin also employed aphorisms. I'm not sure if he called them "illuminations" or if this comes from Arendt or Adorno. In any case, with Benjamin, the aphorism is designed to burn brightly, like a sky rocket, and then dwindle. Flashes of insight are provided. Sometimes I can read Wittgenstein like this. In the darkness of our time, the light is as welcomed as it is disconcerting.

Most times, walking through the Investigations is like walking a busy city street. You follow along as a problem is presented or as some general instruction is offered. Suddenly it ends and you find yourself in another area, another problem, another line of thinking. You begin belonging to a family of teachers. Once you leave that group (just as you are accepted as a competent language-user), life grows increasingly lonely. Relationships and associations are fleeting. You can talk. But to whom?

There is a "natural order" to a book, Wittgenstein tells us. He also says his "thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination." Much has been made of the distinction between the conventional and the natural in Wittgenstein. We see immediately why this is a problem.

In the end, this reading of the preface is like the earlier walks through these pages: I am left feeling a profound sadness, bereft. I am to witness failure after herculean efforts to succeed. Silence broken by ambient sounds -- phones ringing down the hall, a colleague's answering machine kicking in, an ever-present ventilation fan blowing --is the transition from preface to remark number 1.

An aside: Theolonius Monk loved Hank Williams.

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