3.19.2002

[22,23] These are supremely difficult remarks that oppose a reductionism evident in Frege's analysis of language with a holism that argues for the sentence as the unit of meaning or thought. You can reduce sentences to their parts, Wittgenstein says, but only when they are written or utter as a whole do sentences tell us anything. Frege's project was to devise a conceptual notation that would enable the philosopher/scientist to analyze the defects of ordinary language without the logic itself becoming afflicted. One of Wittgenstein's responses is that this conceptual notation is itself an extrapolation of ordinary language (that comes later). Here, however, Wittgenstein indicates that to understand ordinary language you need to study ordinary language and not some underlying logical structure. This is a self-criticism that is made more explicit in the next remark where he identifies himself as the author of the Tractatus. I guess what needs to be emphasized here is Wittgenstein's turn against a larger philosophical tradition of distrust for ordinary language. Frege's logical analysis of language has the effect of depriving the sentence, assertion, question, command of its life. As I write this, I think about the tradition in my field, political theory, of distrust for politics. (Forgive the aside, but I am writing on Wittgenstein and political theory -- a reason why my blogs have been relatively short.)

[23] The point about the life of a sentence is underscored here: "Here the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life. He then offers the famous laundry list of language-games and delivers a stern rebuke of logical positivism/empiricism, of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, and the early Wittgenstein's belief that there is an underlying, uniform logical structure to language. The philosophers I admire most are those who engage in self-criticism and express this self criticism as a kind of self-creation. Plato, for me, inaugurated this tradition with the logical implosion of his ideal state in Book Eight of the Republic, St. Augustine's Confessions engage in the kind of self-reflection that shows an inseparability of the philosophy from the philosopher. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard intersperse life and philosophy with remarkable courage, and with an eye toward complete honesty. Wittgenstein belongs here by employing Aristotle's belief that philosophy should have the effect of making the practitioner a better person by eliminating dogmatism.

In my imagination, I see poets reaching this point in the Philosophical Investigations and kissing the page. Wittgenstein is giving permission to play with language. You raise Eco in this fascinating light. When the logic of categories is breached by God, the effect is liberating. When Wittgenstein berates the very idea of underlying logical structure to language the result is playful multiplicity.

Why do I read Merrill, Celan, Auden with reverence? Why do I read Whitman, Hughes, and Ginsberg with joy? Why does such a smart guy like Fish insist on making a fool of himself in public?

You ask about the ethics of distance in Wittgenstein, and this is an argument I have constructed. My main texts are Wittgenstein's critical remarks on theory and on the problem of other minds. But I have also been reading the Investigations with you with an eye toward the anti-dualisms that Wittgenstein offers. His critique of Frege is an opposition to the dualism of logic and ordinary language. It "kills" the life of the sentence. I can give you chapters of the book if you'd like. Sunhee says you should wait for the movie.

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