8.12.2003

[111] Who or what is Wittgenstein criticizing here? Is it Heidegger's conception of language as "the house of Being"? Is it Freudians who came to regard language as a repository of urges and images akin to the unconscious? Language does appear to have the "character of depth . It appears to have a surface of what is aid or written at this moment and a depth of rules, and a deeper level of possible meanings waiting to bubble to the surface.
Wittgenstein's focus in this remark are the feelings that accompany misinterpretation. I say something to a friend meant to be funny or ironic. It is taken literally and the result is an argument or bad feelings, or just that awful sensation of being falsely accused with no path to redemption. Misinterpretations reveal the fragility of understanding.
As we move from our home culture to another, we have an expectation that misunderstandings will occur. This explains the appeal of traveling -- to see the world differently -- and the fear of traveling. When I was in Korea visiting with my wife's family, I was super sharp for the three weeks. I was alert to every cue and to any sign of confusion or discomfort in others. But I also felt like my adulthood had been taken away. My Korean is awful and rudimentary. My wife had to translate everything and this was arduous (as I like to talk). When misinterpretations occurred, there was no sense of cataclysm. Everyone was patient with me. But within my home culture, thanks to the pace of communication and impatience, things can spin out of control very quickly. Misinterpretations, as Wittgenstein observes, are not merely demands for new information. Rather, their effect is shattering. Why is that? Something important about the relation between language and world is being revealed.

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