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Wednesday, January 28, 2004


If Wittgenstein were around today, he'd be a great blogger, I think. Everything from the Philosophical Investigations on is basically just blogging with numbered paragraphs. In fact, didn't he write all those paragraphs out on separate cards that Anscombe or whoever put together posthumously? I forget. Come to think of it, the later Nietzsche is pretty much just blogging too. The main difference between philosophical blogging and blogging blogging is the disorienting Memento structure of blogging blogging. Wouldn't it be cool to read the paragraphs of the Investigations in descending numerical order? It doesn't work so well with the Tractatus; its ending (i.e. its potential beginning) is pretty final:
[6.54] Meine Sätze erläutern dadurch, daß die der, welcher mich versteht, am Ende als unsinnig erkennt, wenn er durch sie - auf ihnen - über sie hinaufgestiegen ist. (Er muß sozusagen die Leiter wegwerfen, nachdem er auf ihr hinaufgestiegen ist.) Er muß die Sätze überwinden, dann sieht er die Welt richtig.

[7] Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, davon muß man schweigen.

[6.54] My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

[7] What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

Or, "Now that we've finished off Western metaphysics, who's up for a little night-cruising (eine kleine Nacht-cruising) in the Prater? Bububu, baby!" (or "yabbadabbadoo," as some translations have it).

I adore that image of clambering up over a bunch of philosophical propositions, and after you reach "the top" (?) kicking them away behind you like a ladder.

It's this passage, among others, that leads Tim McDonough, among others, to argue that the Tractatus, among others, is just an elaborate joke.

Of course, Eliot, who claimed not to distinguish beginnings from endings ** would probably have loved reading the Tractatus backwards. (Backwards, by the way, tractatus is sutatcart.)



If I am to communicate, I cannot use any private language or idiolect only I know. Or if I do use a made-up, truly original, unique statement to signify something, it can either sink into the oblivion of meaninglessness, or get incorporated in the realm of the meaningful. Wittgenstein's example of an unacceptable string of sounds, bububu, [for] the meaning, “If it doesn’t rain I shall go for a walk,” ceased to be meaningless a long time ago. One could imagine that bububu is a private joke shared by many a Wittgenstein scholar, who use it at conferences as a perfectly meaningful utterance stating an intention to take a stroll.
(Mikko Keskinen, "Hearing Voices in Dreams: Freud's Tossing and Turning with Speech and Writing")

It's gratifying to see in this other article that someone finally took the trouble to demonstrate how much the lovely lovely Vlad Nabokov was a Wittgensteinian and in on the private joke.

(Return to *)

As evident from this characteristically pellucid passage:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

I have to admit, though I hope Aaron Haspel doesn't catch wind of it, I think this passage is ultimately beautiful (and even prototypically so).

Nabokov, of course, thought Eliot a complete idiot and made fun of this very poem in Pale Fire.

It's certainly true Eliot does sound pretty anti-Wittgensteinian here, which could explain his penchant for reading the Tractatus backwards.
(Return to **)
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