2.11.2002

[11-18] Sorry--I've been away. Let me try to respond to the suggestions you have offered regarding tools, language-games, teaching and learning. When I think of tools, I also tend to think of transgressive uses of tools. Pace Aristotle, I'll occasionally use a tool for something other than what it was designed to perform. All of our butterknives have tell-tale bends in the end that leave guests wondering if I actually own a screwdriver. Well, I do; but sometimes a butterknife works better. Surprising or transgressive uses of tools are the source of metaphor in language. When I phrase it like this, I take the Davidson side of the debate on metaphor. This opposes Derrida and Ricoeur, who claim that there are zones of language -- literal and figurative -- that explain the emergence of metaphoric expression. For Wittgenstein, and Davidson, the metaphorical "works" because it surprises us. "My river runs to thee." This life as a river metaphor from Dickinson has a hackneyed feel to it. Yet, it works because of the play on the literal river. It threatens to stop working because it does not surprise. There is no clashing of language zones. Metaphors emerge from within language-games because we play with words -- place them in unusual contexts within sentences-- and wrestle with our own linguistic limitations. Children are great sources of metaphor because their lexical limitations are more pronounced.

We can organize our tools, label them carefully, use them properly. But sometimes their particularized uses are distractions. The uses do not add up to the larger use. "I used the shovel to dig a grave for a dog." Your friends understand what this means beyond the literal. And here I speak of the literal in terms of propriety or the symmetrical relation of shovel and digging a hole. The shovel example gives way to an imagined absence of Maude from the passenger side of your truck. Dammit.

In remark 11, Wittgenstein writes, "The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects." In this precise stroke, Wittgenstein attacks analytic philosophy's (Russell, the Vienna Circle) positing of uniformity in words and things, language and world. He supplants uniformity with dynamism. Wittgenstein loves mechanical metaphors, but these metaphors are mixed with organicism. He gives us a vocabulary for Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Virtual Reality. The appearance of uniformity in language and world is philosophical artifice -- a simplification that Wittgenstein wants to throw out. It is a breathtaking moment illustrated in 12 with the handles of levers in the cabin of a locomotive. These handles appear similar/uniform because they are designed to be handled. Yet, they function differently and they are made to be handled differently. This is the result of closer inspection. The handles are an example, but the example demands a perspective from within the cabin of the imagined locomotive.

13 is important because of the overcoming of language/world dualisms that is achieved here. We say "nothing whatever" when we say: " Every word in language signifies something." The something signified could be an object or it could be another word or series of words (as in Saussaurean linguistics). Words could be used to have a meaningless result (a result that contravenes the sign-signifier relation by seeking to achieve a certain sound), as in Lewis Carroll's poems. Ordinary tools can be brought together to perform not a task, but to create an effect (as in a sculpture composed of gardening implements). This is a visual or aural surprise equal to metaphor. As I read this remark again, and contemplated what Wittgenstein achieved, I thought of Marx's lines in the Communist Manifesto: "All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man (sic, passim) is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind." For philosophy to be of use in helping us face "real conditions" and our relations with others, it must be liberated from the predilection for simplication, uniformity, and fixity.

We turn to 14 expecting a consideration of how a meaningless expression "works". Instead, we get a deeper account of why the appearance of uniformity in language is specious. Planet Earth appears uniform from a perspective on the moon. Uniformity gives way to complexity when we view the world from positions of immanence. We can ascribe a given function -- modifying -- to tools. This tells us nothing about the tools themselves; rather, what is really offered is the philosopher's illusion that she or he can see language as a uniform whole. In 15, Wittgenstein speaks of naming or signifying as a tool that help facilitate the use of tools for particular purposes. The names themselves carry no meaning. Rather, meaning will appear as a result of the application of a name/label to a thing. Think of when we use "language" as a label for a language-game. As you observe so beautifully, the label helps us to express our ability to "grasp" relations among language-games. That is, "language" as signifier allows us to escape nominalism while at the same time eschews the reification of over-generalization. This remark anticipates discussions of "family-resemblances."

In 16 we return to the relation of words to things in the ostensive teachings of colors. Are we talking about two classes of things here? Are the color samples part of language? Wittgenstein is confusing here. On purpose. To be clear is to sacrifice the complexity of relations he is illuminating. Color samples are different than the words we use to label them. Yet, the samples, like the words, function to facilitate communication between two workers (or teacher and the student). If we were in a room, separated from the scene of the workers, we would hear only one instructing the other. "Pick up the red swatch!" The color swatch, however, "is a sample of what the other is meant to say" or to pick up. In the language-game shared by the two, the different types --words and things-- are brought together. We want to say, there is more to language than words. Colors may be different types of things, but they can be part of a language-game. (The relation between the two people in the remark reminds us that this is an irreducibly social context. That is, we cannot reduce a language-game to something private, or something that emerges from an individual or isolated mind.)

This leads us directly into 17, which you pick apart so carefully. I have seen this remark employed in various arguments for pragmatic readings of Wittgenstein. Karl-Otto Apel's, for example. What captures my attention here is not the emphasis on aims as the basis for classification. It is the consideration of perspective or perspectivism. "Think of the different points of view from which we can classify tools or chess-men." In the strategy of a game the pawn can be used to sacrifice, it can be an obstacle to a great move, it can be the instrument of of checkmate, or the last line of defense. The philosopher is tossed off the imagined fixed perspective offered by the mountaintop and is forced to walk. As we see in 18, walking takes place along the streets of the ancient city of language.

In 18, we see language from the dynamic perspective of the walker, the flaneur. From the perspectives of the peripatetic philosopher, language is provisional and incomplete. We add to language (reclassify pieces) according to our own needs and aims. From the inside we recognize again that there is no ontologically fixed thing called language. And so we are free to add or incorporate "the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of infinitismal calculus" into our language-games. (Think of language now as the constellation of language-games we traverse. Our identity or individuality can be said to have the same source.)

"Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this is surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses." This is a rich simile that can carry us in various directions. One such direction is to see language in the context of evolution. But there is the contrary point of areas of language being created from nothing. LeCorbusier's opportunity to create Rio de Janeiro out of rainforest comes to mind here. Wittgenstein as modernist and post-Modernist is a theme that will go far in undermining the various claims (Marcuse, Gellner, Nyiri, and others) regarding the conservatism of his philosophy.

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