2.28.2002

Forgive the self-referential moment, but we have been added to The Wittgenstein Portal. (Sounds a little like a jumping-off point for time travel or universe-hopping.) Using the Portal, I discovered the following (as far as I can tell anonymous) paragraphs from a report on a conference. I offer them here as a clear summary of some of the issues we've been going over.

Wittgenstein and Forms of Life "The meaning of words in a language is not given by a kind of inner definition carried around by the speaker, or by a direct labelling of things in the world by words, but by the way in which the word is used within the language speaking community in what Wittgenstein called "the language game". Hence "The meaning of a word is its use in language." (PI §43) As the use of a language is part of a wider network of social practices, that means to properly understand the meaning of a word, you have to understand these social practices. This explains Wittgenstein’s famous remark that, "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." (PI, IIxi). When the lion talks, therefore, what it says can only be understood by someone who can share the social context of the lion. For Wittgenstein, language is not just a means of communication. To a large extent, language defines our whole experience of the world. "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." (Tractatus, p184) These reflections on the connection for Wittgenstein between language, society and the world explain why scholars are so interested in the role of ‘forms of life’ in Wittgenstein’s thought." [TPM]

There is an interesting point raised later in the report that we should not fall into the error of supposing that forms of life & language games match up exactly; extrapolating from that, I'd say that a given form of life can & must involve the use of multiple language games, which fairly often come into conflict with each other.

2.26.2002

I think I suggested earlier that we have as humans an ability to move more or less smoothly between language games, between forms of life; but it must be emphasized that this is an ability to deal with inconsistencies, aporia, contradiction & etc. We "deal with" various language games despite the fact that different games involve us in vastly different roles & demand that we take different perspectives. Just this morning, Chris, you & I were involved in a series of meetings with colleagues as we mapped out our proposals for curricular change; then both of us went off to teach. We went from talking about teaching (from an institutional if not bureaucratic perspective) to practicing teaching. These, certainly, are different forms of life. At the same time, I have mentioned to several people lately that my teaching increasingly seeks to expose students, when appropriate to the classroom situation, to the institutional & bureaucratic structures that shape the language game in which we are engaged. For personal & ethical reasons, I am seeking to allow one language game to penetrate or (to return to my tiling metaphor) overlap each other. So is the skill we possess in moving between & choosing among language games itself a language game? This, I suppose, would return us to the theory of types, which as you pointed out Wittgenstein sought to banish. Is it necessary that the interpreting-language-games language game be in a higher position of generality? (I don't think that such a game can be said to be ontologically privileged.) Do we get into logical trouble, though, if we posit any meta-game?

Laughing at a funeral: You raise the issue of appropriateness of behavior n & you also foreground with your joke the inadequacy of behaviorism. (Very funny joke, by the way. I keep looking for a language game in which I can use it.) Jokes are orchestrated mistakes, you think? Mistakes, errors, slips, as Freud pointed out in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, are revealing. For Freud, such slip-ups revealed our "true wishes" or "real selves," but can't they also be seen as revealing the structures & relationships among our language games? I want to be careful here, but when you say that you do not want to participate in a language game in which jokes about child abuse are acceptable, my perverse poet's imagination tries conjure up a language game in which such a joke would not only be acceptable but necessary. Just consider for the moment the value of some of our more vicious satirists: Swift, of course, but also someone like Jerzy Kozinski. (I am thinking in particular of The Painted Bird, in which rape & the torture of animals is presented without comment & in which the grotesque sometimes transforms itself into a very black joke.) So perhaps there are two senses of the word joke that need to be teased apart: 1) to take lightly, to make light of; but also 2) to hold up for examination a terrible moment of insight. One language game looking at another.

Okay, we don't want to live in that world, we don't want to inhabit that form of life, but we need a language game that can afford us a view of that way of life: literature?

The trick to overcoming the thought precedes language idea is to eliminate the inner/outer conception of the individual offered by Descartes. What we are is an external unity of language, world of others and things, and yourself. With Wittgenstein, there is always that precarious line between externalization and behaviorism. But behaviorism is reductive and it does retain the inner/outer duality in the sense that thought is a predisposition to behavior. The thought is known through the behavior. (David Lodge tells a good joke: Two behaviorists have sex. When they are finished, one turns to the other and says, "That was great for you, how was it for me?") For Wittgenstein, thought is behavior or action, entwined inseparably with others and things that are the context for the thinking behavior or action.

There is a whole menu of indexical (form of life-dependent) expressions like "stone red." These add to the difficulties of the anthropologist that we noted earlier in our discussion. You know you are learning a language and culture when you begin to get the jokes. To understand a joke requires an enormous amount of background understanding. Wittgenstein had thought of writing a book on jokes at some point. His own sense of humor was pretty narrow and base. What occurs to me as I reflect on your image of language-games as mosaic is a solution to the problem of boundaries. Where are lines drawn around and between language-games? What distinguishes the games that compose my daily life? One indicator, I suppose, would be jokes. What is funny in one language-game may be insulting or in poor taste in another. We are standing around a bar and I tell an Irish drinking joke. We (hopefully) laugh. I tell it around a philosophy seminar table, and we analyze why it might be funny or why it isn't tragic. I tell it around a table at an AA meeting and people respond angrily at my callous disregard for their pain. We do not ordinarily reflect on the language-games we traverse in our daily lives. When we do engage in such reflection it is usually because we have committed a faux pas . I'm afraid I have a gift for this kind of inappropriateness and bad timing. Laughing at funerals is becoming a habit. On a more serious note, I know I do not want to live in a form of life where jokes about the sexual abuse of children are considered funny.

2.25.2002

I've been reading my students' ideas about the way technologies of writing affect what is written & have been struck by how common is the idea that thought precedes language; that language is a transcription of thought. This makes so much sense but is so obviously wrong. I'm trying to figure out how "Slab" & "bring-me-a-slab" & "Bring me a slab" are similar & different. Does it matter that a word may be used as a sentence or a sentence understood as a word? My sense is that Wittgenstein is not so interested in the semantics as in pointing out that we know what we mean in certain situations. It is this knowing-what-we-mean that is irreducible, that flows directly from our forms of life.

What is understood: at the end of remark 20 W points out that in Russian one says "stone red" not "the stone is red." In my attempts to learn Vietnamese I have run across many such "subtractions," particularly having to do with time. In Vietnamese one assumes the present tense unless the context or the grammar indicate otherwise. These are things one simply knows because one has a Vietnamese form of life.

The idea of different temperaments or tunings brings me back to another metaphor that has been hovering in my thinking about these early remarks. That of tiles, or tessellation. The tiles, though, are not regular (though each may be self-consistent & even beautiful). The tiles are language games. Sometimes they nestle up against each other & make interesting, useful & beautiful larger patterns; but we can never assume that the surface can be tiled completely, without gaps. This is not a jigsaw puzzle to be "solved"--there is pattern but no solution. Only human being moving the tiles around & telling stories about what they see.

2.23.2002

aporia: or 'apory' in English, is the cognitive perplexity posed by a group of individually plausible but collectively inconsistent propositions. For example, in Pre-Socratic times, philosophers were involved with the following incompatible beliefs: (1) Physical change occurs. (2) Something persists unaffected throughout physical change. (3) Matter does not persist unaffected through change. (4) Matter (in its various guises) is all there is. There are four ways out of this inconsistency: (1-denial) Change is a mere illusion (Zeno and Parmenides). (2-denial) Nothing whatever persists unaffected through physical change (Heraclitus). (3-denial) Matter does persist unaffected throughout physical change, albeit only in the small - in its 'atoms' (the Atomists). (4-denial) Matter is not all there is; there is also form by way of geometric structure (Pythagoras), or arithmetical proportion (Anaxagoras), or abstract form (Plato). To overcome aporetic inconsistency, we must give up at least one of the theses involved in the inconsistency. There will always be different alternatives here and logic as such can enforce no resolution. The pervasiveness of apories throughout human inquiry has led sceptics ancient and modern to propose abandoning the entire cognitive enterprise, preferring cognitive vacuity to risk of error.

I realize this definition is very basic stuff for a philosopher, but I want to consider it here in light of Lois Shawver's description of two of W's voices as, first, the "aporetic voice" & second, the "clarifying voice." The Investigations, I think we will agree, is a difficult text: any descriptions of its literary qualities (including voice) ought to be welcomed by the reader. To be honest, I had only a vague notion of what aporetic means & had to look it up. (The definition I found is above.) At least I know what "slab" means. Oh, wait. Suddenly, that is problematic too. In your office this afternoon you said (& it made sense to me) that you hear an "above" voice in the Investigations, but also an "inside" voice. Inside the flow of the text? Tonight, I'm trying to map your two voices onto Shawver's. Your "above" voice would be her "clarifying" voice, right? And your "inside" voice would be her aporetic or Augustinian voice--her problematizing voice. Clearly, W is setting himself problems, thinking "out loud" about them & then offering his own hard-won clarifications. The metaphor that comes to mind is one of whittling away at something until one has a perfectly exposed bit of twig, a tiny flute that can play one important note. W's philosophy then becomes a chorus of such flutes. Different pure notes, not all in the same system of tuning. W famously said that philosophy ought to be written like poetry, so it is important to consider the literary qualities of his language.

2.22.2002

The ordering is neither natural nor mental. Important. This afternoon I was sitting in my office waiting for a phone call. I picked up the Investigations & opened to remark 20, which I had looked at last week, but only superficially. Perhaps because I approached the text so casually, I was caught off-guard. The idea that a word can be a sentence & a sentence be a word just about knocked me off my chair. One of the interesting things about Vietnamese (my perpetual exemplar) is that each syllable is spelled separately, i.e., with space around it & while most words consist of a single syllable, a significant number consist of two syllables. To someone like me, just learning the language, these compound words present a real problem: In one context the same pair of syllables can be read as two words, while in another context it is obvious to a native speaker that a single word is being spoken. Historical linguistics could probably explain this phenomena, but native speakers "just know" when two syllables should be read or heard as one word & conversely when each syllable should be heard as a single word. If there is a rule, no one has been able to explain it to me. It seems to me that 19 & 20 are important steps in undercutting the prevailing positivistic view of language promoted by, say, Stephen Pinker. Extending this line of thought in a different direction, I would suggest that W's formulation of the language game as a descriptive apparatus presents an almost insurmountable hurdle to those in the Artificial Intelligence community who believe that 1) language can be described as a unity & 2) reproduced mechanically.

This may be too much of a tangent, but in my recent work on & with hypertext theory & practice, I have run across the assertion that a book is independent of any particular instansiation in material form. That is, a given book is a sort of platonic Idea. I am very suspicious of this notion, even though I can see that it is superficially true. I have a body--doesn't a book have a body? I would be a different person if I were six feet tall or female; why, then, doesn't the body of a book affect its personalit? Or am I making a category mistake here, imagining that books & persons can be thought of as somehow similar?

[20] This is certainly one of the longer remarks in Part I. A reason is there are two distinct issues addressed. 19 and 20 read as though they could be either one remark or they could have been divided by subject matter: the relation of thought to utterance and the question of where meaning resides. In the course of remark, two dualities are erased. Conceiving of yourself as a unity of mind and body in the tradition of Descartes is replaced by a new conception of yourself as a member/master of a language. To this day, I have real trouble describing this. The Cartesian image of res cogitans/res extensa as separable substances unified temporally is engrained -- a hard habit to break. Wittgenstein offers a first piece of anti-Cartesian gum here. Of course, "mind" has meaning in our language.

The step taken here is to defy the idea that thought precedes language. We may think before we speak, but thinking is not ontologically prior to speaking. Indeed, what we call thinking is a linguistic activity akin to talking to ourselves. The more urgent point for Wittgenstein, at least here, is that thinking does not necessarily precede speaking. I suppose we can say something like there is thinking in speaking and speaking in thinking. This is the sign of mastery in a language.

Until this point, we have been talking about the meaning of words as a residue of how the words are used. Wittgenstein extends this to sentences. Where words gain meaning from their locations in sentences, sentences achieve meaning by their use, their location in a paragraph or conversation or language-game. Styles of expression, the grammar of subject, verb, predicate ordering, facilitate communication in a language. The ordering is neither natural nor mental. We can conceive of this argument as a critical anticipation of Chomskyean linguistics and Levi-Strauss's structuralism.

2.19.2002

"Talking about" and "dealing with" are parallel strategies employed by Wittgenstein as he walks through the constitutive remarks of the Philosophical Investigations. He will talk about language-games from the position of a language-game that offers a view to others. He will also deal with problems that emerge in the practices of a language-game, particularly the language-game called philosophy. It is an outside/inside distinction that indicates where Wittgenstein sees himself in relation to the language-game(s) he is considering. We can see how criticism and metaphor may emerge from between language-games as well as within a language-game.

2.18.2002

Your remark about the confessional quality of The Philosophical Investigations is exactly my take as well. We don't argue with poetry. You can like or dislike The Wasteland, accept its view of the world or reject it, but you can't really argue with it. It's simply there like a Surat painting. In Culture & Value (I think) W says that philosophy should be read / written like poetry. In any case, your personal, passionate & confessional response to Wittgenstein is a recognition of his--& your--poetic qualities.

"The result is frustration: the completeness and eternity achieved in past philosophical systems have proven to be provisional, perfectible, and sources of confusions for generations of future philosophers." I like this & simply want to reiterate Dewey's remarks about the way most philosophies before Pragmatism substituted imagined unities (beautiful, beautiful unities) for the actual messiness & incompleteness of the world as it is. And then compounded the mistake by comparing the actual world to the imagined & finding it wanting. The genius of Pragmatism--& The Philosophical Investigations, I believe--is the way that they accept what everyone actually knows in their bones--that there are different ways (language games) of talking about or dealing with the world (forms of life?). "Talking about" & "dealing with" if not identical are certainly parallel activities.

[19] I continue to mull over the Bateson notion of types, how metaphors are achieved, and the kind of distance that is a component of irony (according to Kierkegaard). But I want to move on today to 19 and "forms of life." "And to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life." This follows the language as an ancient city metaphor.

The remark is an investigation of "Slab!" Is this an abbreviation of the sentence: "Bring me a slab" ? Is "bring me a slab" a lengthened version of "Slab!"? What Wittgenstein is seeking to show here is the complexity of even the simplest of languages. But there is more. The remark is an exploration of the location of meaning. When I say "Slab!" is there a language of thought that is different than the utterance? Do I think "that he should bring me a slab" while saying "Slab!" Do I think, conversely, "Slab!" but utter "Please bring me a slab"?

Is there irony in this particular philosophical investigation of "Slab!" in the form of life shared by the workers? We are imagining this language, which we understand to be a form of life. Is there a form of life for imagining? What is the relation between imagining and language? Between thought and language? Is the language of thought temporally prior to the command? Does the language of thought reside in a distinctive space? With the introduction of forms of life, Wittgenstein has emphasized the context in which communications occur. The impulse is to move right on to the next remark. For now, however, I want to think about the strategy of foregrounding the idea of language as a form of life here.

2.17.2002

Just noticed that we have lost our archive. Is this a temporary thing?

What we have come to is probably close to the realization that drove Wittgenstein back to philosophy: what we call language possesses no fixed, underlying logical structure, no parameters, no single cause and no single purpose. Our tendency, perhaps as humans, certainly as philosophers, is to try to impose structure, extrapolate fixed word/object relations, and pretend that we have control over what we say and write. When put this way, we are not observing the philosopher's or human's relation to language only; rather we can substitute "world" for "language". The result is frustration: the completeness and eternity achieved in past philosophical systems have proven to be provisional, perfectable, and sources of confusions for generations of future philosophers.

This is what draws me to Wittgenstein and to thinkers like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and William James. There is a question that unifies them all. No doubt, I would phrase the question differently tomorrow, but it is something like this: What is it to be human? The respective answers are shaped by the life lived by the philosophers in question. That is, their philosophical works are confessional and lived. They laugh at pretense, celebrate creativity, and mourn the limitations of mortality and vision. Wittgenstein is at times the most clear of these thinkers; at other times he is the most difficult. Some remarks in Culture and Value reveal feet of clay, the reflections on the Tractatus are exemplars of critical self examination (certainly on par with the self-criticism of Plato in Book Eight of the Republic). I tend not to engage in argument with Wittgenstein and this distinguishes my relationship with his work from the reading relationship I have with all other philosophers and theorists. In a sense, I wonder if it is possible to have that kind of critical relationship with his work. Bertrand Russell, Ernest Gellner, Karl Popper, and others have expressed disdain for Wittgenstein, to be sure. Herbert Marcuse accused Wittgenstein of perpetrating a kind of academic sado-masochism on philosophy. But these encounters are exceedingly limited. Indeed, most address the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus and never acknowledge Wittgenstein's own criticisms of the work. Marcuse does go after the later Wittgenstein, but his criticism is restricted to those remarks that present philosophy as a descriptive (as opposed to critical) enterprise.

The confessional quality of the work defies criticism. To somehow oppose the Philosophical Investigations is to embark on an ad hominem attack. To see one remark or set of remarks as characterizing the work as a whole is to take a reductionistic tact that is wholly un-Wittgensteinian. This is troubling because it sounds like the only position left for the reader is passive acceptance. But this is most assuredly not the case. Reading Wittgenstein is hard! Its demands on the reader are mind-boggling. You have to write a text in answer to the reading.

I moved a bit off the mark here, I know. You state that we are misusing the word misuse and that led me to reflect on the feeling of walking on thin ice. You can make mistakes in reading Wittgenstein. Why is it so important to get him right? I cannot give a clear answer, but this is precisely the task I have set for myself -- to get Wittgenstein right. And, no, I am not sure what this means.

Obviously, we're misusing the word misuse in this discussion, irony being one of the myriad violations of the language-as-simple-naming model.

2.16.2002

Let me jump to the macroscopic view here for a moment. A way of catching my breath, really. We began by discussing W's treatment of Augustine's (clearly insufficiently complex) view of language & then watched as W began to develop a model with increasing complexity. But at some point in these early remarks comes an intellectual "tipping point," after which the nature of the project is transformed. At least that's the way I'm reading so far. Despite the fact that we find it hopelessly incomplete, Augustine, I think, wants to posit a complete theory of language. We know, of course, that Wittgenstein had attempted the same thing in the Tractatus. But we are lead--as W himself must have been led--to see that positing a complete theory of language is philosophically misguided. The question What is language? which seems so simple on its face, turns out to be incoherent. (When does Godel prove incompleteness for formal systems?) The mistake in the question is imagining that language is a) one thing & b) whole. John Dewey, in Experience & Nature, addresses this sort of error directly in his criticism of the various Idealisms that have flourished throughout the history of philosophy: "One of the most striking phases of the history of philosophic thought is the recurrent grouping together of unity, permanence, (or the "eternal"), completeness, and rational thought, while upon another side fall multiplicity, change and the temporal, the partial, defective, sense and desire. This division is obviously but another case of violent separation of the precarious and unsettled from the regular and determinate. One aspect of it, however, is worthy of particular attention: the connection of thought and unity. Empirically, all reflection sets out from the problematic and confused. Its aim is to clarify and ascertain. When thinking is successful, its career closes in transforming the disordered into the orderly, the mixed-up into the distinguished or placed, the unclear and ambiguous into the defined and unequivocal, the disconnected into the systematized. It is empirically assured that the goal of thinking does not remain a mere ideal, but is attained often enough so as to render reasonable additional efforts to achieve it." [John Dewey, Experience & Nature 57]

Claude Shannon, the father of information theory, qualifies his initial description of communication (setting aside for the moment the more vexed field of language). In 1948 Shannon published his landmark A Mathematical Theory of Communication. He begins this pioneering paper on information theory by observing that "the fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point." He then proceeds to so thoroughly establish the foundations of information theory that his framework and terminology remain standard.

". . . or approximately." Yes. We have moved from thinking of language as a coherent, unified system of communication to thinking of language as something closer to an ecology. And most recently we have touched on licit & illicit uses of language, which raises a fundamental question: by whose authority is one use--your "presently" for example--ruled illicit while another is approved? Linguistics solves the problem by stating positivistically that language changes & one usage is not to be preferred to another. I accept this, but would observe that users of language still feel or sense some usages as licit, some illicit. I don't think we can "scientifically" banish that feeling on the part of users of language; a rich account of language will have to include the fact that users feel some ways of using language are correct while others are incorrect. I want to suggest that this distinction is fundamental to language & constitutes one of the elements of language games.

2.13.2002

To learn the use of a word also involves seeing misuses of words. There are also neologisms and indexical or slang terms that go in and out of fashion. Words that have certain uses in one language-game enter others as metaphor. I think the way Kuhn's "paradigms" are employed by social scientists may be a case in point here. Then there are words like "presently." The way it is used by most people, presently means "at this moment." The dictionary definition is "in the near future." Which is correct? Well, correctness is determined by successful communication. I want to say that meaning is a function of the use of a word or symbol. But this gives license to those who want to try to create a language that escapes the imprecision and prejudices of ordinary language. As Wittgenstein notes, these attempts are based on an illusion that we can somehow step out of language to create another. Mathematical logic, symbolic logic, various forms of encryption, count as such attempts that remain, inescapably, extrapolations of ordinary language. Meaning is more than use; it is an achievement, a successful communication. When thought of in this light, playful misuse of words -- metaphors, similes, other tropes -- are refashioned tools that betray a frustration on the part of the player. Creativity and frustration are two sides of the same coin (a dull metaphor that would enrage Orwell).

This is my chance now to show there is a historical dimension to language-games that Wittgenstein does not describe. When we look at the mosaic of language-games, we need to see that it is always larger than it appears at this time. There have been language-games that fell out of fashion (phrenology, paleontology, etc.) or are close to death (Gaelic, Yiddish, Attic Greek), but there are also language-games that exist as potential. They have yet to be born. Moreover, there are hybrid language-games formed by abutments that can take on a life of their own. We need to keep this in mind as we move closer to Wittgenstein's discussion of philosophy as description. We could not leave the world the way we found it even if we wanted this.

I'm glad to hear that L is doing well. She was a sharp student who cut an unusual path here. You gave her a good machete.

2.12.2002

The uses of tools: That's a good point you make about the useful misuse of tools. A former student of mine wrote me the other day, copying a letter of recommendation she had written for my pending academic promotion. Immodestly, I quote it here: "I recently read an article in a pedagogical review that addressed the issue of teaching inexperienced, first-year writers: writers who may hate writing and are most likely afraid to do it. The article stressed the importance of “enabling” the student. I think of supplying the beginning writer with a tool-belt, attaching more and more tools over the course of the four years, and slowly teaching the student how to use the tools. Eventually, when the student graduates, she should have a working repertoire of “tools,” and the confidence to apply them to projects in ways that are useful to her own creative conceptions. When I arrived here in North Carolina [for graduate school], I felt very “enabled.” Professor Duemer [had] introduced me to the tools I might find helpful, and encouraged me to use them however they would be useful. He watched and supported me as I successfully used a ruler to pound a nail into the wall. The result, if I may say so, is a student and writer who had no idea that she would actually have an advantage over the other MFA students upon arrival; a student who will always take a risk, who will always be thinking of how else she can do something, what else she will do; a student who is, comparatively, unaffected by the limits that product-based artists and writers impose upon themselves." Well, obviously, my life is a success (I say this with a sense or humor but without irony) because I have had one student in twenty years who got the drift. In any case, my student L. is confirming your observation that "Surprising or transgressive uses of tools are the source of metaphor in language." (I really do question, though, your assertion that a butterknife is sometimes better than the right screwdriver for turning a screw. And surely there is something right about the fact & the symbolism of the sentence, "I got the shovel out of the shed to dig a grave for the dog.")

But what we're talking about here, I think--how language allows us to get the drift. Is that a nautical term? We need to deal more fully with metaphor, but I want to highlight a few of the remarks in your last entry, motly to agree with them: 1) When you write, "The appearance of uniformity in language and world is philosophical artifice," you underscore in a sentence much of W's project. In my own small way, I have tried to write a poetry that stood in opposition to over-simplifications of experience. 2) [manana]

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.

2.09.2002

[17] "Think of the different points of view from which one can classify tools or chessmen." Okay, I will: Tools: by size, by color, by material(s) from which they are made, by the physical properties--leverage, friction, etc.--they employ, & so on. I have a small shed in my backyard, 10' x 12', made out of pine, with a tin roof. Inside I have constructed a small storage loft. There are shelves along one wall & a sort of workbench made out of an old door at the end opposite the door. Though I may be mistaken, I will assume that all of the objects in my shed have names, even if I don't know what they are. (What is that little curved piece of brass that came with a light fixture called?) Only some of the objects are tools; others are materials; yet others I would simply call objects--at the moment, all the screens from our windows are stacked against one wall. (Objects, I suppose, might always be able to be decomposed into either tools or materials, but is such a decomposition offer an analytical advantage?) So, given at least two & possibly three classes of things in my shed, how to I organize them? How do I make use of them? To some extent, I try to group like things together: various sizes of nails on the same shelf & near the nails, various screws. Even within this subset, though, I am forced to create little piles--or bags, or jars--of miscellaneous things that it would make no sense to separate out any further. I've got whole crates of nameless or nearly nameless stuff that's too good to throw out. Too good because it might find its way into one meaningful system of use or another. In consequence, I have a plastic bowl full of odd screws, hooks, fasteners, washers, pins, & whatnot. One view might argue for the uselessness of such a collection--it is literally & fundamentally indescribably in general, abstract terms--but I go often to this little bowl of things & finger through it looking for just that one thing that I need to complete some task. (Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don't.) On the other hand, all the tools for working with dirt--shovels, picks, hoes, rakes--are stacked in one corner near the door, so that when last week I needed to dig a grave for a dog, I knew exactly what I wanted & where to find it. And even if I had originally organized those tools by placing them together because they all had the quality of having long thin handles with metal instruments on one end, I would still have know which corner of my shed to go to & which things to pick up. To grasp.

So it is with language games. The shed has an infinite number of possible organized states, though a much larger infinity of chaotic ones, I suppose. I move from one system of organization to another, incommensurate, one--usually with ease, but occasionally with difficulty. The moments of difficulty are particularly interesting, no? In any case, Wittgenstein has led me to understand that the analogy of my shed is more useful for talking about language than was Augustine's little scene of hearth & home. A problem has just occurred to me, though: who teaches & who learns the system(s) of organization in my shed? Chessmen: Well, you get the idea. Anyway, I'm better with tools than with chessmen, so I'll leave that example for you to work out, if you like.

2.07.2002

[17] Here we fnd the crucial insight in this first movement of the Investigations. This remark represents an important rhetorical turn. There are different classes of words & we will arrange them depending on the "aim of the classification" & upon (quite astonishing in its audacity) "our own inclination." There are potentially (though we choose among them) infinitely many "points of view." How do we choose among them?

[11, 12] Words as tools, parts of machines each part having a context / use. The relationships between parts might constitute a grammar. R. Crumb's Mr. Natural was famous (in my day) for exhorting, "Get the right tool for the job!" Context is everything. Okay, we employ tools in a certain order to achieve certain ends, but is this mere instrumentalism? I have the sense that what Wittgenstein is after is more interesting. If we must get the right tool for the job, how do we go about knowing which is the right one? (Presumable, we know what the job is.) Selecting the right tool in context must have to do with a kind of moral accuracy.

Phenomenology of Teaching, Redux: I invited a guest lecturer to one of my classes recently, a gifted scientist. After I introduced him, he began slowly, haltingly, he rocked back & forth on his heels, hugged himself & looked generally uncomfortable. He stood near the computer where he could see on the monitor the slides he was projecting for the class & talked to the monitor. But after a few minutes a change came over him: It was like watching a bird begin to sing. He began to relax & enter the familiar language game of teacher / student, or scientist / layman. He became highly fluent & animated & the class relaxed, too. Because everyone knew what they were supposed to do. Everyone knew the rules of this / these language game(s). Oddly, as the "extra professor" sitting along the side of the class in a folding chair, I was the odd-man-out. I had not particularly specified role in this language game, so that when I offered a comment, sometimes I was more like a student & sometimes more like a professor. All of which suggests to me that teaching--& language itself--is fundamentally about social relationships. (I assume we will come back to this notion in the context of the private language argument. There are no truly solitaire games; meaning is always shared meaning.)

Aside: This afternoon I was talking to the freshmen in my hypertext course about how we make sense of texts as readers & writers. I was pushing the idea that we pop back & forth between reading & writing almost unconsciously--sometimes you see the vase, sometimes the two faces. I'd had them working with cut-up bits of Melville & Whitman, trying to get them to make their own texts out of this limited universe of raw material. After they had been working at this for about half an hour, I asked for volunteers to read what they had written. After several students had read fragments of their texts, I asked the class, "Who is the author of these texts?" The first responses were, confidently, "We are." But it wasn't long before--as I had hoped--a counter movement set in, suggesting that Melville & Whitman had to get some kind of credit. I was trying to discredit the commonsense (& analytically impoverished) notion that writing is self-expression, replacing it with the idea that meaning emerges as a kind of collaboration between perceiver & perceived, between text & reader, between mind/language & world. In my universe of reference, this is a Wordsworthian idea: in "Tintern Abbey," the poet makes the claim that we humans "half-create" the raw world of nature with our (essentially linguistic) consciousness & memory. Students, especially honors students like these, have distinguished themselves by being good in relationship to texts--submitting themselves to the text's authority. My little exercise was designed to get them to be bad in relationship to texts. Well, I'll be happy if I get them as far as Romantic literary theory; post-modernism can wait until they are sophomores. We become fully-enfranchised readers & writers when we become aware that we are playing language games & can take a playful & often deadly serious attitude to our use of language.

I really do intend to get back to the text of the Investigations, but humor me long enough to pursue this question about functional & dysfunctional violations of Types. To begin: distinct language games can occupy different Types. That is, we can easily imagine a language game X about which one or more language games, X' & X'', exist; it is also possible to imagine that any of these language games contain other language games or overlap with them in various combinations. Where does that leave us? I want to suggest that it leaves us having to negotiate moves between one language game & another more or less seamlessly &--this is important--with a certain awareness. Perhaps there is a language game "about" negotiating between language games. Okay, I'll stop before I tie myself in another knot--I've got to go to class now & teach an easy text: Darwin's Origin. Afterthought a couple of days later: This ability to negotiate with awareness between l-games without letting ourselves get tied up in meta-thoughts or entangled in infinite regressions of meaning--this is one definition of competence in a language, also one definition of sanity.

2.06.2002

Sorry to have dropped out of the conversation for so long. This format seems to work best when a certain momentum is maintained. And thanks for coming back to the theory of types. I've actually gone back now & thought a bit more about what was a spur of the moment notion. I first ran across the Theory of Types, not in Wittgenstein or Russel, but in Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Bateson was an anthropologist, but anthropological philosopher might serve as a better epithet. In the 1950s Bateson developed a theory of schizophrenia that R.D. Laing would later popularize & extend. I'm not sure how contemporary biological models of mental dysfunction would fit with this view, but, in brief, Bateson proposed that Schizophrenics had been victimized by a violation of the theory of types: As children, he says, their parents consistently said one thing but meant another, Alice in Wonderland-fashion, creating a permanent state of paradox, or double-bind. "I love you," coos a mother, but with a look on her face that says, "You disgust me." In order to cope with what is essentially a paradoxical & impossible world, the victim of such treatment develops a way of thinking that slides between Types without recognizing the shift. Bateson offers the following pair of syllogisms as an example of the difference between normal logical typing & of this other sort of thinking:

Men die.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates will die.

& this "mistaken" example.

Men die.
Grass dies.
Men are grass.

The first example is of course right as rain & has been since Aristotle; the second example is, well, poetry, I think. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Metaphor is a violation of Types. What is the difference, then, between a functional & dysfunctional violation of Types? (I have no intention of romanticizing madness here.)

2.03.2002

I have been meaning to return to your insight about a relationship between the move in remark 7 regarding particular language-games adding up only to another language-game and Russell's theory of types. It struck me as suggestive, but I needed to review the significance of the theory of types for Russell's analytic philosophy. I turned to Ray Monk for help. Wittgenstein developed a criticism of Russell's theory of types in 1913. This criticism was based on Frege's theory of symbolism. As Wittgenstein wrote Russell, "all theory of types must be done away with by a theory of symbolism showing that what seem to be different kinds of things are symbolised by different kinds of symbols which cannot possibly be substituted in one another's places." The supplanting of the theory of types turns on Russel's analysis of the proposition "Socrates is mortal," where mortality and Socrates were held to be different types of things. Wittgenstein observed that given this division of things, the theory of types could not tell him that the substitution "Mortality is Socrates," is non-sensical. ("Mortal is Socrates" would not appear nonsensical. What Wittgenstein wanted to show was the difference between the name and the attribute of the person so named.) What we are seeing is different types of symbols. This erases the duality of language and the world of things, and seeks an interior analysis of logic.
Your observation of the relation between this dismissal of the theory of types for a description of how symbols are used in a proposition and the inescapability of language-games shows a deep connection between the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus and the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations. The connection only goes so far. What remains in the early work is the Kantian duality of the noumenal and the phenomenal where the former is consigned to silence. However, the interior perspective sought in logic does become an interior view of language-games. (I'm not all that happy with this attempt to summarize the relation.)

"What is learning? In Wittgenstein's view it has something to do with the traversability of language-games." This strikes me as right. (You also touch on what we might call education as indoctrination, but let's come back to that a little later.) The ability to move from one language game to another requires imagination. In my vocabulary, the term imagination has both aesthetic & moral valences. It is imagination that holds language together, but of course imagination is to some extent a linguistic process, so we have the Gnostic symbol of the snake with its own tail in its mouth. Language, as you say, is fragile, but also strangely powerful & resilient.

2.02.2002

The line between teacher and student is a product of tradition and a larger social desire to perpetuate order. It is a line that can be relaxed as students get older. Where children are playful, for adolescents and young adults, play needs to be induced with the effacement of authority.
I guess what I am trying to describe here is my own orientation to class. The main goal of my pedagogy is to invite life-long learning. What I came from my undergraduate experience with was a list of books I did not have time to read, a genuine love for my subject that has grown rather than diminished, and the profound experience of learning more in the informal discussions of the dorms than the formal lecture hall and classroom. This does not always work, but I try to approach students as one whose self-image is that of a student. Wittgenstein is sometimes described as an authoritarian figure. No doubt he was a lousy teacher if his goal was to impart substance, rather than invite thinking. I do try to impart substance. That is, there are texts I put in the hands of students. Plato's Republic, is canonical. I have expended enormous energy and concentration on learning to help students through this work. These techniques are maieutic. To use Socrates' image of the midwife, I try to draw the reading out of the student. This is opposed to imposing my reading on them. Midwifery is the intermediate position I guess I try to strike between student and teacher.
Ironically, I have just returned from a class that tanked. I stunk and they stank. It was a malodorous democracy, a collective reek. Who is responsible when a class fails? When it succeeds? What counts as success? What counts as failure?

There is much to talk about when it comes to the opening of the Philosophical Investigations. Why does Wittgenstein open in this way? What strategy is he employing? What are the possible alternatives? We know he struggled with the organization of the text to the very end. What was he seeking to accomplish with this opening scene? In the classroom we can discern two distinct language-games, two distinct, conventionally recognizable activities: the game of the teacher and the game of the learner. What is more, there are areas of imbrication between the two that that the teacher can be student and the student can be teacher. When you raised this as the problem, "What am I doing when I....?" I began to think about the relationship between you and your students. Is it a looking glass relationship? Is what you think you are doing mirrored in the eyes of the students you are teaching? Once I began down this path, I found the boundary between student and teacher porous.
With each level of education, the line becomes less discernible. Students move to higher levels of conceptualization and, hopefully, their linguistic skills facilitate autodidacticism. At some point, probably earlier than I thought, students blur the line completely by becoming their own teachers. At least at the level of education. In terms of indoctrinating young people into the social order, the line between teacher and student is maintained as impermeable. This image of the line is backed by sanction.
Wittgenstein observes this in retaining the setting of respect for elders held by Augustine.
This is also the setting of Wittgenstein's own foray into primary education. He went into teaching after the First World War for a few reasons. One, psychologically, it was the only sort of work he could imagine doing (and here we might recall that he was heir to one of the great fortunes of Europe. He did not have to work.) Second, with his Tractatus, Wittgenstein believed he had solved all the problems of philosophy. There was no point in returning to Cambridge. The experience was a disaster. Wittgenstein could be a cruel disciplinarian. Famously, he smacked a young student who then began to bleed from the ear. When asked about the incident he apparently lied. This became the basis for a letter of confession he wrote and gave to friends years later. He also returned to the village to ask forgiveness from the girl and her parents. This leads to a third reason for going out to the country to be a schoolteacher. He was undergoing the repercussions of a religious experience. After leaving teaching, he became a gardener at a monastery.
His relationship with his university students is the stuff of legend. Why is the framing of philosophical questions and engaging in thinking so difficult? He would approach these entwined questions from various angles and implore his students to help him. Rarely did he receive help in a usable form. What he imparted to his students was an image of philosophy in action. After experiencing the intensity of Wittgenstein's thinking as it was performed before them, these students would be embarrassed by their shelves of philosophy books. It is telling that Wittgenstein agreed to supervise several doctoral students. None of them ever finished their degrees. Stephen Toulmin recalls the advice he received: study with Wittgenstein to learn philosophizing, work with Braithwaite or another member of the faculty to get your degree. Wittgenstein did not want disciples, but, in the end, that is all he managed to turn out. The power of his personality was greater than the power of his philosophy.
What is learning? In Wittgenstein's view it has something to do with the traversability of language-games. Plato gives us the unforgettable image of learning as emerging from darkness. In the darkness of Wittgenstein's time, learning had to adjust to the impossibility of transcendence or other vertical metaphors. Rather, everything is achieved horizontally, on the level of the street in the ancient city of language. Learning is travel from one language-game to another; individuality is best thought of as a consequence of the uniqueness of this journey. We are composed of distinct constellations of language-games.
I need to think more about this. We learn our first language. We can acquire others. I will try to return to this image of education while the iron is still hot.

2.01.2002

"You are teaching," I said in response to your question about the baby. Is the baby learning or acquiring? And in either case, learning or acquiring what? We were talking about language & so I meant, at that moment, learning language. But the child might also have been learning about the shape(s) of human faces; and the shape(s) of human faces cannot be separated out from language. The baby might have been learning (but were you teaching?) the smell of another human's breath. I am skeptical of the psychologism of the word acquiring.

This afternoon when we were actually speaking face to face, I suggested the notion that maybe "there is no teaching, only learning"--I love pithy little apothegms like this, but I suspect, alas, that it is wrong. "What am I actually doing when I'm standing in front of a class," I asked. I don't think we ever got around to answering this question because you asked, "What am I doing when I am speaking to a baby who cannot understand the meaning of my words?" "You are teaching," said I. "What is the difference between language -learning & language acquisition," you asked? We didn't answer that one either, just nodded sagely in each others' direction. But I want to go back to my question about teaching. Wittgenstein begins the Philosophical Investigations with a parable about teaching, though his attitude toward the story from St. Augustine only emerges slowly over the course of the first dozen or so remarks. Wittgenstein himself was a teacher--a university professor revered by those students tough enough to subject themselves to his therapeutic method; he also taught what we would call elementary school for several years during a period of his life when he was engaged in severe self-reflection & trying to be of some practical use in the world. (Am I remembering the Ray Monk biography correctly? He became a schoolteacher between the First & Second World Wars--after he had published the Tractatus (and become disillusioned with it?)).

When I posed the question, "What am I doing when I stand in front of a classroom full of students?" I was in a phenomenological frame of mind. I wanted to get at the actual texture of the experience. So: standing there, I am saying words that refer the students to concepts they 1) are already conversant with, 2) have encountered in their reading for the course, or 3) are just being introduced to; I do not lecture from notes, so I am making connections on the fly; I am often engaged in asking questions that will A) enable my students to make connections on their own & B) lead them beyond my questions & discourse (these are what I would call poetic questions, leaping questions); I am also able, given current technology, to present my students with images that illustrate the concepts with which we are dealing.

I had the opportunity last Thursday to become a student in one of my own classes: My colleague Sarah Melville came to my Imagining Science course to talk about Ancient Science. She is an expert in ancient Near Eastern languages & culture: I invited her because I wanted to my students to have a sense of where their own scientific traditions originated. Sarah used the same technology as I do, but projected mostly words on the screen in front of the class. She used only a few images. When I teach the same course I use mostly images & weave a text around them. I don't offer this as criticism, only description. One might think that a poet, which I claim to be, would be more enamored of words.

Take the previous two paragraphs as description. What kind of analysis can we make? The first thing that comes to mind is that when I am standing in front of a classroom full of students, I am making connections--both for myself & (I hope) for the students. (More description: There is an element of performance--occasionally I remark to myself, this is going really well, sometimes, this is in the fucking tank.) Anyway, after this interrogation of myself in the classroom, I conclude that what I am doing is , at its most primitive, W's "ostensive teaching"; but most of what is going on is a negotiation among various possible positions, some presented by me as teacher, some presented by the students as students. But do you see how easily these roles turn inside out & become the other. I am often the student, exclaiming, "Yes, I didn't see that before." The students, in this situation, are free to become teachers. I have been instructed by many of my students over the years--I have even endured the occasional pedantic lecture from same!

To return to the beginning: there is both teaching & learning, but they exist in a complex & simultaneous dance. (In the foregoing, I have stepped back to discuss teaching-in-general. Does this shed any light on the teaching-of-language? Learning of language? I am prepared to accept the conclusion that it does not.)