7.31.2002

Warning: This is a self-indulgent aside.

Last night I watched some of the first part of "Sartre By Himself." Sartre was my first philosophical love and it was an intense affair. Until last night, I have seen only photographs of him. I had never seen him gesture or heard his voice. I did not so much watch the film as look through him as he spoke and into my own philosophical past. Wittgenstein said that he wanted his philosophy to do something. But Sartre and Wittgenstein's embodiment of the philosophical style of life shows how strange and demanding it really is. The structure of Sartre's autobiography, The Words, says it all: It is divided between reading and writing. Wittgenstein certainly read, but the main activity animating his philosophical existence was writing. Sartre's life was remarkable for its productivity in both realms. He read and wrote voluminously. I have labored to emulate Sartre in this regard, but I have read far more than I have written (and this is a matter of shame for me).

Seeing Sartre "live" evoked both nostalgia and inspiration. Imagine how different our view of Wittgenstein would be if we had something of him on video. I think I would know his voice and I imagine how he used his body when he taught. If these traits I attribute to Wittgenstein proved inaccurate, would my reading of his work change as a result? I came across a photograph of George Orwell several years ago that had a profound effect on my reading of his work. The shot was a straight forward portrait. Orwell's face was as familiar as ever, but he was wearing an ostentatiously large ring. It seemed so out of place, so out of character, that it forced me to re-think my version of who Orwell was. Imagine Wittgenstein wearing a Mr. T-like rope of gold chains around his neck.

Although I was caught up in the "Death of the Author" orientation to reading while in graduate school, I never really wanted to live it. The truth of the matter was that I liked authors, especially philosophers, too much.

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.

7.29.2002

As I was reading your latest entry, a question arose for me: What would it mean not to believe in correspondence? Would it mean, contra naive realism, that there is no external reality apprehensible by us? That reality is from foundation to rooftop a linguistic creation? This seems to be a recipe for solipsism. What we are saying is the relation of word to object is not linear. That is, correspondence is not a formula for truth. But in our ordinary language we do not have this expectation. We only hope to disclose features of the world with words, sentences, commands, questions, etc.? Correspondence is one language game among many; and its unique feature is the realism presumed in the very act of corresponding words with things. All Wittgenstein is doing is eliminating the epistemological privileging of correspondence found in Logical Positivism/Empiricism.

What would it mean not to believe in correspondence? Does deconstructionism lead to existential instability? More to think through. I like the image of a house and yard. How many skills or practices do we employ or cultivate to create a comfortable place for ourselves? The more you reflect on this the longer the list becomes (as Wittgenstein knew).

7.25.2002

Oh, man, you are getting ahead of me here. I've been working on an article. I have, however, just read 50 & 51 again & want to say a little about the notion of correspondence. First, autobiographically, my own work as a poet comes out of a Romantic-Symbolist-Modernist tradition that believes in Correspondence. Especially Yeats, with his elaborate symbolist mythology (which, interestingly, began to drop away--or at least drop out of the poetry--as he became an old man. Age makes materialists of us all.) Nevertheless, there is a great comfort in the belief that our words correspond to actual real things in the world in a direct & meaningful way; there is further comfort in the belief that our words & images & metaphors correspond to some higher "Platonic" world of Forms. Wittgenstein, of course, is the hardnosed Austrian disciplinarian who shatters our dreams of easy sense-making. He takes us to task. My best understanding of these remarks is that the prefigure & even to some extent outdistance the analytical rigor of Deconstruction. My best understanding of what Wittgenstein is trying to convince us of is that there is no meaning inherent in a word, no direct object-word relation upon which we can rely; that there is use within a particular situation / language game. Meaning is always contextual & always human.

I can see that you are about to go on to discuss the practice of philosophy. In light of the above, let me say something about the practice of poetry. Of all the Romantics, Blake (chronologically the earliest) is the most radical. Blake refuses to accept the dualism of real / imaginary. "Everything that is possible to be believed is an image of the truth." Well, I believe in the raccoon who raided the garbage last night & I believe in the existence of a gal named Barbry Allen, though the evidence for my beliefs in the two cases is a little different: spilled garbage v. a ballad in a book. But both of these seem ontologically equal to me, in light of Blake's formulation. I have to deal with both. I believe in God the same way I believe in Barbry Allen or spilled garbage--I have to deal with him. Blake wants to erase the ontological difference between heaven & earth, heaven & hell. It is a mistake to read Blake as ethereal or "mad." I'm moving onto shakier ground here, but I think I'd argue that Blake wants to force us to deal with things from close to. In any case, Blake was the poet who broke me free as an adolescent from traditional metaphysics. It is what allowed me to accept the "lie" that Plato bans: the lie of the poets about reality. Politically, the lie is anti-authoritarian because it demands the freedom of the human imagination. Now it may seem like a long leap from Wittgenstein to Blake, but I see them as both on the same side of the question. Blake calls "from close to" Hell in The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, in which Hell is a far more interesting & energetic place. It is a place in which one can have conversation, not merely receive revelations or the law. It is a place where the meaning of a word comes from its use. Blake took great care with the production of his books, attributing his technique to the technologies of Hell. But each version of his books is different, each is a particular case of color & form & so meaning.



Suburban meditations: I've spent a fair amount of time this summer working on Carole's & my 2/3 acre on the Raquette. Yesterday I took some big flat native stones--granite? schist? Metamorphic in any case--& laid them in a bed of sand at the foot of our front stairs. Came out nicely, I think. Also this summer I have been watching some of the home design shows on the cable channels & what I realized about my own work on my own small place is that I compose my yard the way I compose a poem. I am interested in the ideas of the designers, but I am not interested in their programmatic approach to landscape. I am delighted to discover particular techniques, but I want this knowledge so as to order my patch of earth the way I would order a poem: Okay, if I put the stones here, I will need to bring in fill to level the ground there. Oh, & that tree will have to come down, but I can use its trunk as fenceposts over there. Meaning emerges from feeling one's way, not by following a program. I cook the same way, but that's a different story. (Have to admit I also watch cooking shows on cable.)

7.24.2002

[53,54] We can anticipate a critical reflection on the practice of philosophy and how that practice's conventions turn practitioners away from up close examinations of phenomena (conventional objects). But here Wittgenstein returns to the details of correspondence relations in language; and this investigation serves to evince a sense of the life of (inside) a language-game. Remark 53 inaugurates Wittgenstein's investigation into rules and what it is to lead a rule-governed life. In language-game 48 we have a table of colors and a two symbols, R and B, that are used to label the red and black squares of the color table. Our tendency, Wittgenstein says, is to offer a general description or rule for this language-game's use or purpose. Immediately, this tendency to generalize is challenged by the idea that "our language-game (48) has various possibilities."

Two things are going on here. One is the explicit argument regarding the plurality of uses of a language-game. The second is a broader claim about philosophy and the origin of a certain brand of philosophical errors -- errors of reductive generalization (how is that for an oxymoron?). We philosophers want to say that the color table is a language-game used to show the linearity and symmetry of correspondence relations. Wittgenstein observes, to the contrary, that the table has a variety of possible uses. "If we call such a table the expression of a rule of the language-game, it can be said that what we call a rule of a language-game may have very different roles in the language-game." In reduction, what we want to arrive at is the underlying logical structure -- exemplified by idealized correspondence relations. Wittgenstein is saying there is no underlying structure. There are rules that give the game shape. They distinguish one game from another. But rules, like the words used to express them, have different uses even within a language-game. This gives a sense that there is no hierarchy of exactness in rules. Indeterminacy is a trait of (all?) rules.

Forgive me for the tedious quality of this analysis. I know that the question of rules is an enormously contentious issue in Wittgenstein scholarship and I want to try to gain some clarity on the subject from the beginning.

In 54, Wittgenstein takes on the idea of a definite rule. "Let us recall the kinds of case where we say a game is played according to a definite rule." Did philosophers talk about games prior to Wittgenstein? If not, who is he addressing in this remark? Who is "us" if not philosophers?

Wittgenstein imagines a game where the definite rule can be used to teach the game. Immediately, I think that there would not be much fun or creativity to such a game. There are rules to chess, but the skill is acquired once the rudimentary rules pertaining to piece positioning and piece movements are learned. The real skill in chess is anticipating moves by your opponent -- seeing how the board will look five or six moves before they occur. And this is Wittgenstein's point. In games, rules can be used to teach the game, they can be criteria for distinguishing "between players' mistakes and correct play," they can be used to gauge unorthodoxy/creativity in correct play, they can be used to distinguish one game from another, and so on. A rule of ice hockey, for example, is how to break rules and avoid detection.

We wonder, as you note in your reading and writing blog, how we judge other language-games. In judging other conventions, we would love to have a morally ascendent or epistemically superior vantage to support our judgment. Wittgenstein is wiping away grounds of certitude for judgment in his investigation of rules. The grounds for judging are inescapably customary. This is small comfort when criticizing what we conceive to be morally repugnant rules in other language-games. I'd like to have a source of certitude to which I can turn when pronouncing practices like ritualized clitorectomies wrong. What I have is the localized truth of my language-game.

At the same time Wittgenstein is destroying foundations of certitude in his description of the indeterminacy of rules, he is also opening the possibility of criticism within a language-game. Here the language-game is philosophy and Wittgenstein is showing how it is he can turn against metaphysical impulses from the position of a participant in the same game. Rules can be used for this purpose too.

7.23.2002

In retrospect, I am unhappy with my "reductionism is a quality of reality" statement. I wanted to get rid of a dualism that is really only a logical distinction: a distinction between reality and the tools we use to study reality. Reductionism is such a tool, and it has garnered enormous appeal because of the perceived successes of science over the last couple of centuries.

In 50, Wittgenstein examines the privileging of naming activities as a form of reductionism. In the history of philosophy, someone must have described naming as the act of attributing being or non-being to an object. This is the origin of ontology, that branch of philosophy that tries to address the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This is opposed to the division we find in Genesis between God's creative power and the power delegated to humans to name creation. What Wittgenstein observes is that in language we have a "means of representation," as exemplified in the colored squares of 48. We need to see that naming does not denote a word to object separation. Rather, it is an activity that is played out within a language-game: Naming and the thing named are created as needed to play the game. This formulation is so important for us theorists. There is a proclivity among philosophers of science to think of theory as a way of bringing facts into a coherent picture. What Wittgenstein says here is that facts are, in effect, creations of theories/paradigms. "It is a paradigm in our language-game..." We find Thomas Kuhn's debt to Wittgenstein most directly here.

I think we can agree that we have seen this move of placing naming within a larger group of activities composing a language-game before. In 51, however, Wittgenstein takes a closer look at the correspondence relation between words and things named by words. This is another rich remark that we can spend a lot of time unpacking. (Indeed, in 50 there is a whole line that anticipates deconstructionism.) "What does it mean to say that in the technique of using the language certain elements correspond to the signs?" The correspondences he looks at are those of R to red squares and B to black squares. For Logical Positivists/Empiricists, the challenge was to reduce language to these kinds of relations that are verifiable or falsifiable. The philosopher's stance is apart from ordinary uses of language; for logical positivists, their task as philosophers was to reform language and prepare it for the empirical certitude delivered by science. In this endeavor, nonsensical forms of language -- any form that does not adhere to word to object symmetry -- is removed as part of a larger scientific project to disenchant the world. Wittgenstein eliminates the philosophical distance posited by Positivists by looking at the relation of symbol R's correspondence to the black squares and asking "what is the criterion by which this is a mistake?"

One answer is that there is a rule etched into our mind's thinking process that produces a sense of correctness or incorrectness in symbol to thing correspondences. Wittgenstein, however, resists such general explanations for correctness or incorrectness. In so doing, he places philosophy into the games where correspondences are created. "We [philosophers] must focus on the details of what goes on; must look at them from close to ." The remark opens with a decision to look at correspondences more closely. It ends with a promise to look at correspondences more closely. How we go about this is apparently by asking a provocative question that undermines the naturalness or generalness of the relation in question. What would it mean to get it wrong? Getting a correspondence wrong could mean that we have moved away from naming and toward metaphor.

51 signals a turn toward a different investigation. Where we have been looking at the relation of language to reality in acts of naming and ostensive defining, Wittgenstein nows wants to engage philosophy itself. He opens with a great example of looking closely at a pile of rags and dust in order to, perhaps, show the idea that a mouse "has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust" to be a mistake. In philosophy, he asks, what obstacles are there in the enterprise itself that keep philosophers from accepting their all to human closeness to the details of things they wish to examine. What is the appeal of distance?

7.17.2002

When you say "reductionism is a quality of reality," I can agree in one sense, but have problems in another. The statement is true in the sense that reality can be "reduced" by human beings to its constituents; but whether that reduction is fundamental or accidental remains, to me, an open question. I am not, as I said, troubled by the human usefulness of the reductionist technique, but I suspect that technique is itself an illusion. As you have already noted, we do not live in the world of table legs & table tops--to say nothing of the organic molecules of which the table is made--but in the world of tables. I was thinking about wood today, & logic. We humans call a great many different substances wood, don't we? From balsa to ebony. But we could arrange things differently, no? Balsa has more in common with a kitchen sponge than it has with ebony & ebony more in common with a metal or mineral than with balsa. To what extent are our logical categories reflections of reality?

7.15.2002

I guess reductionism is a quality of reality; but it is only one constitutive quality of reality. If we start with words and their relation to things, then we miss a first step. Words are things. They are tools that express and transform other things. You offer the same image of a unity in your interpretation of Urizon. As you describe this presentation of imagination and reason I think of Blake himself. His wife complained that she had to share much of his time with the angels with whom he was in near-constant communication. He led that sort of hermetic existence with imagination that I associate with the Greek mythology that comes from a time before the cosmic rupture, depicted in Homer, that separated humans from the gods. The idea that words too are things sounds trite, but it eliminates the distance implied in a word to object relation. Sure, the word rock is different than the solid object I pick up and skip across a surface of water, but it too is an object. How do we classify these differences? The tendency is to talk about an external reality and how we can know it. The assumption here is that our language is part of our internal reality and we use it to apprehend externals. But Wittgenstein's radical move is to say something to the effect that it is all external. When we get to his use of "criterion" in a while we will appreciate the importance of this term for the larger, anti-Cartesian point.

Your closing sentence on science's tendency is something I have thought about in ethical terms. That sort of exclusive reductionism translates into a sort of ruthlessness that is on exhibit in big scientific projects like the A-Bomb and the race for the moon and in smaller relations like that of doctor to patient.

Here is a quotation from Wittgenstein. I think it come from Culture and Value, but I could be wrong. What it reveals is that there can be a reductive element to generalizations. Here the generalization is about language. "Our language primarily describes a picture. What is to be done with the picture, how it is to be used, remains obscure. Quite clearly, however, it must be explored if we want to understand the sense of what we are saying. But the picture seems to spare us this work: it already points to a particular use. This is how it takes us in."

I like your criticism of Russell's notion of acquaintance. It is not rigorous. Moreover, it is ethnocentric and ahistorical and not the key to some underlying universal logic.

Sorry about the screwed-up links. The one to Steve Himmer's blog now works, as does the one to Amazon. (I really shouldn't blog after more than two beers.) And I'm serious about getting you a blog of your own.

I wanted to elaborate a bit on the figure of Blake's Urizon: When I said before that I was acquainted with Urizon, I might have meant that I had seen & read Blake's poetry & painting dealing with Urizon as subject. This would have qualified as knowledge in Russell's system of logical atomism; but what I really meant was something quite different: I am familiar with the actual character Urizon that Blake called into existence. From my perspective, it simply does not make sense to draw an artificial distinction between these two ways of understanding Urizon. Urizon himself is of course symbolically apropos to this discussion as well: a very Judeo-Christian Ancient of Days, he looks down from heaven & presumes to measure out reality with his compass. It's not that Blake rejected Reason, but he saw it as a circumference, a boundary against which Imagination must always exert its pressure. (And yet Imagination itself dissolves into a thin gas--the universe expands forever--without the limit of Reason to contain it.)

You write: "What I want to say in coming down in favor of appearances is there is only this world. We cannot step beyond it to find a deeper source of unity and truth that this world of surfaces and change merely partakes in." I'll drink to that; it is exactly the sense in which I have been using / understanding appearance. I am indebted to you for explaining the other sense of appearance, which I hadn't really thought about in regard to this discussion, but it is very useful to bear in mind. We can surely speak meaningfully about the need to cut through the appearances thrown up by ideology & false consciousness. I was implying something of this sort when I mentioned that contemporary science has a tendency to take the intellectual tool of reductionism & transform (reify?) it into a quality of reality.

7.14.2002

This is not meant to be ironic, but I guess I have not thought deeply enough about "appearance." As I thought through your recent entry comparing acquaintance and appearance I began to unravel. When I speak of appearance, I do so within the traditional opposition with reality. Even here, however, it causes trouble. What I want to say in coming down in favor of appearances is there is only this world. We cannot step beyond it to find a deeper source of unity and truth that this world of surfaces and change merely partakes in. This is pretty much a repeat of Aristotle's criticism of Plato with some ecology thrown in.

The reason for the difficulty is that there is another appearance v. reality dualism that is central to political theory. The Marxian variant is the most clear: what we take for appearances is actually a veil of ideology. An effect of the capitalist superstructure composed of education, religion, popular media, etc. is that these activities combine to shape our perception in a way that affirms the justness or happiness of capitalism. The reality is, of course, that capitalism is most unjust and alienating. If we do manage to feel the pains of capitalism, then ideological appearances direct our analysis away from the actual or real source and toward ourselves. Our corrupt natures make us unhappy, and not this system for production and consumption.

In the context of philosophical discourse, the critique of appearance and reality is cogent. In political theory the whole purpose of the enterprise is to cut through appearances and see something we are not supposed to see. Plato is the first teacher of this. What is it that we are not supposed to see? That our political existence and governments are not natural, a gift from the gods, or an extension of our (flawed) natures. Rather, they are conventions that come into being and can go out of being with a simple change of agreement. This reality is protected by a veil of illusion, a noble lie.

Thanks. I needed to map this out for myself. I mentioned a few weeks ago in reference to the question of race that I confronted a similar problem when moving from a philosophical language game to a political language game.

Thanks also for alerting me to Steve Himmer's response to something I wrote. I'll seek out your help to try to respond. I tried the link but came up with something from Amazon. I think his site is "One Pot Meal." I really like his writing.

7.13.2002

Logical atomism is an understandable development, given the intellectual history of the 19th century. I am even in sympathy with it to some extent. When I teach my course Imagining Science, I begin the discussion of scientific reductionism by talking about what a powerful tool it is & how much it has affected the shape of modern life. Only then do I begin to suggest the problems that arise when taking an exclusively reductionist view of the lived world. Your distinction, that logical atomism is not science but a "philosophical reflection" upon science is well-taken; at the same time, many scientists have adopted exactly this "philosophical reflection" when attempting to explain what it is that they do. Therein lies one of the internal problems of contemporary scientific thought.

I have spent a good deal of intellectual energy over the course of thirty years trying to figure out for myself the underlying relations between things & words. I should have come to philosophy sooner. What I arrived at all on my own, before ever reading a word of Wittgenstein, was the realization that the relationship was complex, not simple; that it defied reductionism. If there has been one theme to my own thinking since I was 20, it would be, things are always more complicated than we think. Two terms need to be foregrounded here: appearance & Russell's notion of acquaintance. To take the second term first, Russell claims that the subjects of true propositions must be objects with which we can be acquainted, but this really does not get us very far unless we can rigorously define what it means to be acquainted with an object. Certainly, I am acquainted with the computer mouse with which I navigate the page I am currently writing: it is black plastic, has two buttons & a little wheel . . . I could go on. But I am also acquainted with William Blake's Urizon:



What's the dif? The point being, that acquaintance is just not a rigorous notion. Can we perform the same critique of appearance? I think Blake has already done it for us: Everything that can be imagined is an image of the truth. Morally speaking, appearance is where the action is. It's where we live. Reductionism & generalization tend (in opposite directions) away from the world that appears before us & in which we must act. You have previously used the example of racism: It is possible to reduce an individual to the characteristics of his or her race & it is equally possible to generalize the characteristics of an individual to an entire "race." [Note: scare quotes added because there is only a human race.] Both these moves are moral mistakes--applying useful intellectual tools in the wrong domain.

Chris, you're going to have to open you own blog. Steve Himmer has engaged you in conversation. Fiction & the Figures of Life as Wm. H Gass put it.

7.11.2002

Your treatment of logical atomism is good and suggestive. The reductionism it entails gains its authoritativeness from its relation to scientific activity. Indeed, scientists on occasion might simplify their description of what they do by appealing to similar models of reduction. In seeking the causes of things, I need to break the whole into its components. Of course, this search for underlying logical structure is not all that we call science. Rather it is a philosophical reflection on the logic of science. Where reductionism does occur in scientific activity we also find ethical dilemmas. In reducing something to its constituent elements we bracket it off from the larger social reality. When that something is an animal or a process that can be coopted for military ends, the reduction functions to blind us from unethical consequences. I think Wittgenstein understood this.

What interested me most in your treatment of logical postivism/empiricism/atomism, is that you must have covered some of the same ground as Wittgenstein in confronting the limitations of this philosophical approach. Wittgenstein was careful to include "the author of the Tractatus " in his critical reckoning with the belief in an underlying logical structure to reality. It is a reverse metaphysics, no less dualistic, that detracts from complexity of appearances. This rejection of reductionism places Wittgenstein in a line that includes Aristotle and Owen Barfield. They contest the opposition between appearance and reality that ends in the negation of appearance. As a result, they run the risk of being regarded as superficial thinkers.

Why do we require distance to express the truth on difficult subjects? Thanks to Kierkegaard I now think of distance in terms of irony. Thanks to Wittgenstein, distance appears as a clinical orientation to a world of pain. Maybe I am hiding something here though. The appeal of blogging and fiction is that it might reveal something of the process of writing. How do we make creativity visible? Cinema has tried with risible results: the writer, bottle half empty on the table, typing furiously; the mathematician having it all come together in a moment of startling revelation; the composer finding the song in the ambient noise of the forest. Can't we do better than this?

I wanted to move on to some remarks today, but I seem to have yet another meeting to sit through. You gave me a lot to think on.

7.10.2002

I have the sense that I won't be writing my novel on line; Steve Himmer, who has actually written a novel (more than I can say) has presented the issues with clarity & panache over at his blog, OnePotMeal, so I won't repeat them here. In the context of our discussion, though, I will say that doing the writing in public would change the language game is a way that would impede this particular story. For one thing, I want to use the aesthetic distance of fiction in order to write about certain themes very close to my own nerves; that is, I need the cover of fiction to give myself freedom to write about things like anger, madness, infidelity & brutality. To some extent, I need to be secretive. Without thinking much about it, I opened one of my little Vietnamese school notebooks to a middle page & took out my new CONFIDENTIAL stamp (which they gave me because I now handle student records) & stamped the top of the page where I began taking a few notes for the story I want to tell. I might try to blog a long poem, though. Something philosophical.

[48, 49] Actually, I was recalling the final paragraph of 48 in my last post: "But I do not know whether to say that the figure described by our sentence consists of four or nine elements! Well, does the sentence consist of four letters or nine?--and which are its elements, the types of letters or the letters? Does it matter which we say, so long as we avoid misunderstandings in any particular case?" This is the passage that got me off into logical atomism. What this says to me is that whether we talk about a chair as a single thing, or as sixteen pieces of wood, or as an engineered structure with certain properties, or as some very large collection of organic molecules or even atoms or--why not?--quarks, depends entirely on the context within which (i.e., which language game) we are working. The idea that the "purer" more reductive description is somehow more true just doesn't hold up to practice, though it is pretty easy to see how by generalizing scientific modes one might arrive at that conclusion. For instance, I've been wondering what the active ingredient in Jewelweed is & have even gone so far as to brew a tea of the stuff to try on insect bites & poison ivy rashes; but, if it works, all I will know is that some component of the plant's juice has been extracted & is soluble in water & remains active. Science, legitimately, wants to know what that component is; but by purifying the chemical--if it is a single chemical--what will we have gained in the context of curing skin rashes? None, though in the context of organic chemistry, we will have learned something. But doesn't it amount to a kind of sickness to always insist on the ultimate reduction as the final truth? Anyway, how does W's distinction between naming & describing fit into my example? "Naming is preparation for describing." And then in 50 the whole question of Being is raised, I think, in terms of names & naming.

[50] The present king of France is bald. The sentence, in terms of logical atomism, is meaningless (?) because it has no referent. At least that's the way I'm reading Russell & the various commentaries I've consulted (Glock, Grayling). Now I have empiricist leanings myself, but any theory of language & meaning that does not account for unicorns or centaurs or Zeus or for that matter the pilgrim Dante who travels through the cosmos, or the Mailman or Mr. Slippery in Vinge's True Names, is quite simply a bankrupt theory. A theory born of a kind of insane or manic vision of reduction. Though deeply suspicious of philosophical idealism (at least partly because of its potential political consequences), I nevertheless feel much more comfortable with William Blake's assertion, in The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, that "Everything that is possible to be believed is an image of the truth." It occurs to me just now that the convention of using the present tense when referring to events in works of literature, i.e., Othello murders Desdemona in a fit of jealous rage, suggests that we believe in the present reality of these characters. How then, can we dismiss the literary character called into being by the sentence, The present king of France is bald?

7.09.2002

I'm not sure I have the guts to write my novel on-line. It's something I'm still thinking about, though. I've also been thinking about W's method as reflected in remark 49, which I will write about in the morning. Because I have felt the need to understand what Wittgenstein was working against in the Investigations, I have been doing a little reading about Russell's logical atomism. Russell, though admirable in many respects (though he appears to have been a beast to women), seems fundamentally off target to me with the notion that logic can reduce the world to understandability. Which is of course where W's idea of meaning as use comes in. Anyway, more on this in the morning.

7.08.2002

You speak of the inclusion of music in your recent thoughts on writing a novel. This left me thinking. There is Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus that is the archetypal musical novel. Then there is Salmon Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories that includes song lyrics that you sing while reading. But musicality is so difficult to include in prose because it is a different language-game that has to be woven in. That it can be done tells us something of the malleability of some language-games. There is music in Wittgenstein, but I can hear it only with effort. It is not my music. Wittgenstein's musical tastes were quite circumscribed (read: conservative) and cultivated. Nevertheless, the play we find in Wittgenstein can be described in terms of musical expression-- particularly improvisational forms like jazz. Your reading journal has these qualities. I wonder if you have thought of composing the first novel using the blog form. The reason I thought of this is the form seems to capture and amplify your strengths as both a poet and storyteller.

[51,52] Of what does correspondence between word and object consist? "What does it mean to say that in the technique of using the language certain elements correspond to the signs?" "What is the criterion by which [there] is a mistake?"

Wittgenstein does not offer answers to these question. This would be a redundancy. What he does here, in this remark, is talk about how to go about answering these questions and similar ones: "We must focus on the details of what goes on; must look at them from close to." What we must accept when examining the word to object relation is that its nature is perceptual and can be addressed with acuity. Heretofore, Wittgenstein says, philosophers have sought to avoid this kind of work by offering generalizations. There are. we can say, particular correspondences, but this does not amount to a correspondence theory.

In offering generalizations, Wittgenstein states in 52, philosophy stands as an obstacle to "an examination of details." Philosophy obscures by positing general, distant, blurry images of reality that even when absurdly false cannot be shown to be false. "A mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation of grey rags and dust ..."