6.13.2002

I was just reading a piece on Lucian Freud (a personal favorite of mine) that illustrates a problem with nominalism that Wittgenstein avoids. Freud's paintings are described as "an art of classical finesse -- which studies visual evidence so intently that you can count the separate strands of Francis Bacon's hair in a 1952 portrait -- derives from a quandary about its own vision. If you look this closely, doesn't the world collapse into atoms, or subside into the viscous, nauseous murk described by Sartre?" Lucien Freud's subject -- a consistency throughout his astonishing career -- is incipient death revealed through decay. Death can be revealed in a bruise on a piece of fruit, liver spots on his mother's face and hands, or in the changes revealed by a series of self-portraits. What happens in Freud's nominalism is that the subject is isolated or abstracted from what Wittgenstein would call "the stream of life" and examined solely in terms of impending death. Death can be examined as an integral part of life's stream -- Wittgenstein thought reflection on death makes us more human (we are prone to forget mortality) -- but this is not the case in Freud's work.

I have piles of notes on Lucien Freud. In the back of my mind there is a book on Freud and Bacon in the works.

What shall we call Wittgenstein? Was he a realist or an idealist? Did he believe there is no reality apart from our thoughts of reality? Did he hold that there is a duality between reality and our ideas? The force of the Investigations is directed against dualism. Is idealism the only position left to describe our relation to or embeddedness in reality? This looks like a clue.

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