7.30.2002

[55,56] Remark 55 shows Wittgenstein at his most playful. We takes up the idea that correspondence is the source of meaning for words. He opens his reflection on a quotation pertaining to naming and the indestructibility of the things named with the statement: "I must not saw off the branch on which I am sitting." This leads to two strands of argument. The first is the correspondence of a name to a person. My name will continue to have meaning after I die. This leaves me thinking about Miguel de Unamuno on immortality. Three hundred years from now, Magical Thinking will be on a shelf in a library. A workstudy student will be dusting the shelf and, perhaps, accidently knock the book over. Replacing it on the cleaned shelf, the student glimpses the name of the author -- Joseph Duemer. That, for Unamuno, is the only immortality possible. In Wittgenstein, the longevity of your name is another way of thinking about the life in language.

The second strand is one we discussed over the last couple of exchanges. Correspondence in naming is part of what we call language; it is not everything we call language. This is very much a repetition of the book's opening response to St. Augustine's description of language learning.

In 56, Wittgenstein applies the idea of indestructible reality to mental- or memory-images. The example he offers is my memory of a color. This is what I rely on when corresponding the name "blue" to a color. I recall a sample of the color blue. Wittgenstein is arguing against various claims issuing from psychology regarding the mind's eye and mental images as sources of certitude. This argument grows increasing complex as the book proceeds, but, for now, Wittgenstein is content with a homely insight: memories can deceive or fade. "This shews that we do not always resort to what memory tells us as the verdict of the highest court of appeal."

When I was younger, I could remember whole books, their titles, authors, and even the ISBN (if I had to order them). When at school, I could recall the order of the books as they sat on shelves at home. I could trust my memory in seminar when it came time to adduce evidence for an argument I was making. "In Lecture 33 of Freud's New Introductory Lectures ..." I would say when arguing for the social construction of gender identity. No longer can I do this; I cannot trust my memory. Oddly, I think this makes my thinking more interesting. Accuracy is overrated. Of course now I tend to refer to books as "the blue one" or that "fat one on top the file cabinet." As I get older, correspondence loses its importance. I do not require such a tether to either my field or the larger reality. I have acquired the confidence/savvy necessary to go it alone. In truth, I think I am going it alone because I no longer have the memory to cite authorities. Indeed, occasionally I blank on the names of my children.

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