Thursday, September 23, 2004

Preparing a response: Limits

I am going to put on the table, so to speak, the elements I will concern myself with in further response to Nick Piombino's thoughts on thoughts (my thoughts on his thoughts, as well) and Jay Thomas's responses to both. I invite any and all participation in this conversation. I am playing and reflecting, but not in solitude. [Please pardon any grammos and typos...I had to rush through this.]

First: On Wittgenstein, particularly from his work in the Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus
  • Literary artists tend to get a bit uncomfortable with philosophers or epistemologists who claim logic to be more important than psychology (and the ultra-vague "culture" or "sociology") to the investigation into the limits of thought and language; but this is Wittgenstein's goal.
  • From his Introduction he reflects: "Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it--or at least similar thoughts." (My emphases.) The first sentence of his treatise contains the keys to its purpose:
    • Wittgenstein is concerned with Solipsism.
    • He is going to write about thought, the limit of thinking about thought.
    • He is going to write expressively. I risk stating the obvious only because we tend to focus so much on the heavy word LOGIC which is so important to Wittgenstein's work. Nevertheless, this work is a work of possibilities: the limitless quality of possibility. In a manner of speaking, we can rightly say, "I can only say what I think, and what I think must be possible, and all else is not to be uttered." --Not to be uttered because it is not possible. The impossible is apparently a topic for psychology not because it isn't useful, but because it isn't utterable. Once the impossible is uttered, in other words, it is a fact and possible and etc.
  • He continues, "The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." How do we find a way to clearly say what we say so that we can mean what we say? This is important for the logician, the epistemologist, and the literary artist. But I am very interested in the second part of the statement. Wittgenstein recognizes a prohibition on talking about "what we cannot talk about." Why not write something simple such as: We cannot talk about what we can not think. The sense is that the silence is imposed on thought by or through logic, which makes it worth study outside of the psychological and sociological.
  • We must find a way to say what we mean by drawing a limit to the expression of thoughts. As a result we will be able to recognize sense from nonsense.
  • In many ways, Wittgenstein's Tractatus makes all things possible in literature. If it can be uttered, it is possible and its possibility has a limit. The world is divided into facts, a totality of facts determines what is the case or is not the case. What is the case, he writes, is the existence of states of affairs/things and those states are composed of a combination of objects.
    • A poem is a fact because it is a state of affairs and is comprised of things we call sounds, words, lines, etc. We could do the same with an epic, story, or novel.
  • W: "Just as we are quite unable to imagine spatial objects outside space or temporal objects outside of time, so too there is no object that we can imagine excluded from the possibility of combining with others" (2.0121, my italics).
    • Production of space
    • Authority--the cult of the Author--the crap line that so-and-so began such-and-such form, or owns such-and-such style that so many writers use to critique one another in workshop and in public.
    • All poems have all poems in common, very atomistic: this troubles the reliance on prosodic form to justify the use of any content. Nonsense is nonsense even though it sounds pretty, or is a sonnet. But breaking rules to break rules is just as useless.
  • Now, we get into the territory of Nick Piombino's aphorism--"The final thought of thought is freedom from thought."--W argues that any thought contains the possibility of the situation of which it is the thought. He argues that what is thinkable is possible. (3.02)
    • Idealistic sounding, optimistic?, more so than it is unfortunately. A thought must be thought not simply possible. In other words, a thought of a thought is not a possibility or a case or a state of being. (Reference the problem with Utopian philosophy and Futurism.)
    • Think of W at 3.12: I call the sign with which we express a thought a propositional sign.--And a proposition is a propositional sign in its projective relation to the world.
      • See Charles Olson please on the projective. No accidental or negligible relation, I can assure you. In 3.13, W notes that a propisition merely contains the form of its sense, not the content of sense. That is the literary artist's duty. Once again, slavish duty to prosodic narratives of sense and sound do nothing for the projective relation a sign has to the world. Prosody relates to prosody and that is its only sense. Rhyme relates to rhyme. But the content in the field of poetry is unbound in every sense except that it is bound by what is utterable, and if it is utterable it is possible. I am not arguing that all possible poems or stories, for that matter are good, but they are all poems and stories nonetheless.
        • So, Hank Lazer, What is a poet? I do not believe we need worry about when poetry will have its next big star as Lazer does in his discussion of post-Lowell America. Never mind the relationship of poetry to the market--needs much more examination than I can afford, heh. My two cents: poetry is not market-bound, left the market, for its own good, catapulted itself back into language, left the everyday behind which it is consistently, obsessively even, attempting to regain, and now is quite frankly bound up within itself and its own problems. This isn't a problem. It should be only the slavish versifiers of lilting sounds and nonsense, those who wear poet-masks of poets gone, who really care whether poetry makes any sound sense in the market. The Poet Capitalists have lost out, thankfully. The idealism is there, but the idealist is an isolationist.
      • Notice how logic prepares space and time for thought to express itself and the quality of its "always already" (to crib from the phenomenologists) there-ness. See above about thoughts and situations, but if W is precise in his representation of thought, then the possibility for a situation must be there prior to the occurence or utterance of its thought.
      • This is playful stuff for logic and not as prohibitive as it first appears in the logician's notational form. Notation and Verse are similar: If you do not believe me, take a closer look.
    • So, if the final thought of thought is freedom from thought, then freedom from thought is, first of all, possible, and second of all, situated as the case.
    • A problem. It finally appears that thought, in this sense, has an end; that the end of thought is being-without-thought (I do this so not to repeat Nick's phrase.) A telos usually addresses a formal completion of a thing. That thought's end would be freedom from itself is engaging to me because it seems to parallel the life of the body rather than the function of the mind. In other words, Nick's aphorism dumps the mind-body binary, which I appreciate. However, were we to ask how one purposefully attains freedom from one's body, we are left with a specific kind of dread that death brings with it, and a specific form of death that is typically passed over in silence not by the individual experiencing it but by the polis left with its excess: suicide.
  • At any rate, I have opened my discussion on Wittgenstein and Nick's aphorism a bit with one exception. I wanted to address the problem with thought and language (though Jay recognized his mistake) for only a moment to point out what I am particularly concerned with and to enhance our further conversation to come:
    • W, in 4.002, an important section, writes that we possess the skill to construct language that will express any sense. Nice gesture. And I think writers enjoy this play the human function allows. But, he ends up writing that language "disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes."
    • Wowsers. This is why I adore Wittgenstein. Look at the language: disguises and designs, especially. We construct language, design it, and speak it to fashionably disguise thought as it is. And language is not meant to display thought but to display its own form. Hence, we do have the need for the epistemologist, the logician. However, we can revel in the skills we are capable of developing as literary artists--the formal disguises for thought.
      • Certainly, W is getting at the practical uses for everyday language and I am stretching his intent. An example of his point: "I need some water." It means I am thirsty and communicates a need based on my health, possibly my survival. It doesn't mean I want to take you out to dinner. And to infer such would be a false inferrence. In fact, W claims it is impossible to infer the form of thought beneath language.
      • Those of you who know a bit about linguistics will know the important discussions about explicature and implicatures. We can read these mechanisms in the logical structure of language and find meaning. But inference is always that thing the audience gets to do, and it in fact has more to do with a listener's or a reader's thoughts about a speech or a text than it does show any direct link between the thoughts of the parties involved. In fact, unless we are telepathic, how could we infer the thoughts of another from his or her words?
  • For Nick: Can't you see the implications for a study of narcissism here? If narcissism has to do with purposeful and consistent approach or arrangement of life in order to cultivate an ideal image of the self--as an individual, family, community, or society--then we have a key to the problem of narcissism from an epistemological approach rather than psychological approach. W argues at 4.01: "A proposition is a picture of reality./ A proposition is a model of reality as we imagine it."
    • earlier in the text, W writes: "A picture cannot, however, depict its pictorial form: it displays it." (2.172) & "A picture represents its subject from a position outside it. (Its standpoint is its representational form.) That is why a picture represents its subject correctly or incorrectly." (2.173)
    • The narcissist represents images incorrectly.
Second: On Nietzsche's Aphorisms
  • I can begin simply. Talking about thought and language separately may not be useful at all; in other words, not correct. We picture thoughts through language, and that which is passed over in silence, according to Wittgenstein, is not possible. Freedom from thought appears possible. We should experiment with the idea. As Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil: From "The Free Spirit" (maybe something in Nick's aphorism that approaches the troubled spirit, if we find Spirit and Thought to be similar, if not equal), section 42, "A new species of philosopher is appearing...As I divine them, as they let themselves be divined--for it remains in their nature to want to remain a riddle in a some respects--these philosophers of the future might rightly, but perhaps also wrongly, be described as attempters. This name itself is in the end only an attempt and, if you will, a temptation."
    • Another word for attempt is experiment...The German is Versuch for attempt or experiment; Versuchung for temptation. We are attempting to picture the world, the attempt is an experiment and, whether or not our representations are correct, we are tempted to do so--to represent new ideas--as well, to make mistakes and to be misrepresented ourselves.
  • In Section 40, N writes "Everything profound loves the mask; the profoundest things of all hate even image and parable."
    • Is this not thought?
  • In The Gay Science is Nietzsche's defense of the aphorism.
One times One. --One is always wrong; but with two, truth begins. --One cannot prove his case, but two are always irrefutable.
    • So it is with thought and language; so it is with aphorisms or representations. We must have more than one to put next to the other in contiguity, to compare and contrast, to have something to say at all about representation. The Fragment brings the reader into play as well. And here is where Zaum and Oberiu writing come into play: the interaction of linguistic objects in new ways that shock the reader out of the banality of everyday representation, that shake one from the comfort of the real, and that encourage a reader, in this case, to work for meaning alongside an author.
More to come...this is a good beginning.


Jay said...


This is wonderful. Hate to admit it, but I'd never really considered asking the questions of what kind of poetics that Tractatus makes possible. I love where you're going with some of this, and can't wait for the subsequent posts. Just for the record, I'm still not convinced about the thought/language thing despite all the apparent evidence to the contrary. But the burden of proof is certainly on me, and I'll try to work up something coherent in days to come.

Many thanks!

Laura Carter said...

Thank you for a post that turns me to the text, which I'm ashamedly not familiar with. But I hope to be soon.

Take care.

Jay said...

First off, thank you again for this great post. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it, thinking it over (and, truthfully, I still have a ways to go). Although I’m raising some exceptions below, it’s in hopes of furthering the dialogue, improving my own understanding, and at least discovering and clarifying where and how we disagree . . .

On poems as facts:

You state that “a poem is a fact because it is a state of affairs and is comprised of things we call sounds, words, lines, etc.” I don’t know whether or not a poem is a fact (it’s an intriguing idea), but if a poem is a fact for these reasons, then so is a random collection of words. The collection of words is also comprised of things we call sounds, words, and lines, and it, too, constitutes a state of affairs in this most basic material sense. But a poem communicates, it pictures something (or many things), whereas a random set of words doesn’t do anything but exist as a random collection of words (I’m trying to stay close to Wittgenstein here – personally, I might argue differently).

3.14 What constitutes a propositional sign is that in its elements (the words) stand in a determinate relation to one another. A propositional sign is a fact.

3.141 A proposition is not a blend of words.(Just as a theme in music is not a blend of notes.) A proposition is articulate.

3.142 Only facts can express a sense, a set of names cannot.
Both the poem and random collection of words are facts in a trivial sense, but only the poem is articulate.

On Nick’s aphorism:

“A problem. It finally appears that thought, in this sense, has an end; that the end of thought is being-without-thought (I do this so not to repeat Nick's phrase.) A telos usually addresses a formal completion of a thing. That thought's end would be freedom from itself is engaging to me because it seems to parallel the life of the body rather than the function of the mind.”

I’d like hear more about how this parallels the life of the body, not the mind . . . interesting, but I’m just not getting it.

On the the thought/language distinction in the Tractatus:

With the exception of a few instances (such as 3.1), the Tractatus presents “thought” as the activity of thinking the sense of propositions, of picturing the facts or states of affairs to which the propositions refer:

3 A logical picture of facts is a thought.

[ . . .]

3.11 We use the perceptible sign of a proposition (spoken or written, etc.) as a projection of a possible situation. The method of projection is to think of the sense of the proposition.

[ . . .]

3.5 A propositional sign, applied and thought out, is a thought.

4 A thought is a proposition with a sense.
Because the Tractatus is largely an elaboration of the picture theory/model of language, I propose that we subordinate other uses of the concept “thought” to this one. Wittgenstein would probably frown on us for trying to extract something like an “official definition”, but, given that refutation of solipsism is key to Wittgenstein’s project, I would rather assign dominance to this version of thought than risk conflating the “thought” that “finds an expression” in 3.1 with the “thought” that’s a “logical picture of facts.” (3). For, otherwise, I fear we run the risk of asserting the existence of a metaphysical entity which pictures states of affairs to itself and (then, having pictured) seeks to express what it pictures through means of language (in other words, we’ve just provided a model of solipsism).

You mention that it’s impossible to “infer the thoughts of another from his or her words”. I don’t think we lose anything in terms of sense if we restate your assertion along the following lines: we couldn’t possibly determine ahead of time how this person will use language in the future, how well his or her words correspond with his or her intention , or how well our understanding of his or her words corresponds with his or her intention . In other words, “his or her thoughts” needn’t refer to metaphysical entities searching for an appropriate linguistic expression.

And yet, doesn’t my restatement beg the question – why don’t we know from the words alone? You mentioned the linguistics notion of “explicature,” and, if I’m following your trajectory, one of the primary reasons we can’t infer “the thoughts” of another is that what’s missing from the mere words is context and social situations in which the other’s words are inextricably embedded – the “enormously complicated . . . tacit conventions on which the understanding of every day language depends . . .” (4.022). But these conventions don’t necessarily count as thoughts (though one could “have them in the back of one’s mind” when one speaks or writes).

But doesn’t the other’s intention count as a kind of thought which finds expression in the other’s words? It’s true that I may not state my intention in words and, indeed, I couldn’t possibly state my intention for every action I perform. Yet does this imply that my intention is a thought seeking expression via language? I’m not so sure. Where I’m conscious of having an intention and my intention isn’t merely a simple desire or drive (e.g., to eat), I’m tempted to say that my intent can not only be expressed in language but exists/occurs/is present to myself as/in language. At the very least, I feel it’s safe to say that if my intention exists prior to “finding a linguistic expression”, I am not aware of it as my intention.

As for inference itself, it seems to me that, yes, inference is a kind of thought – but thought as an activity, not as a metaphysical subject seeking expression. We picture something when we make an inference and it seems to me that, like intention, if the inference exists prior to “finding a linguistic expression”, I’m not aware of the fact that I’ve made the inference.

“Language disguises thought.” This, too, I think we can unpack in such a way that our interpretation doesn’t presuppose thought as a metaphysical in-itself. Inasmuch as “thought” is grasped as the activity of thinking/picturing then, yes, we make a lot of mistakes when thinking the sense of propositions. Sometimes we assume the wrong set of tacit assumptions. Other times we fail to notice which language game we’re playing. In either case, we picture incorrectly. Moreover, the probability of such errors increases drastically when we examine language in isolation, when we’ve divorced language from its surroundings, its everyday contexts. In such cases language may indeed “disguise” thought – nothing about the words themselves tells us how they are to be used, and they may not say anything at all despite the fact that they seem to be arranged in a grammatically correct manner.


Thomas Basbøll said...

Everything, I think, will depend on sense in which a poem is a fact, or the thought by which the poem is articulated.

"A random collection of a words is a fact."

Consider the odd notion of "a random collection". We could talk of THIS random collection of words: I have some liner notes for Bach's Kunst der Fuge lying on my desk. The last words on each page of the English translation are:

"modern" _Art_ but of scorings version.) the form context and Schwarzbart

But once this "collection" HAS been assembled, i.e., collected, i.e., articulated, it is no longer a "random" collection at all. We will now be bound to talk of this as Basbøll's exhibit A, or something. Not just any words.

My point is: non-articulated (un-joined) words are neither a proposition nor "a" fact. They're just things lying around in logical space. It is in joining things (which are only *possibly* words, even when they are themselves made out things that can serve as letters) in ways that give them sense as words that propositions arise.

I don't think the grammar of scientific propositions (assertions), which was W.'s focus in Trac. is identical with the grammar of the poetic strophe. This means that a poem's verbiage is articulated not as the occasion (or "expression") of a thought, but, I venture (with some trepidation), the expression of a feeling.

I would prefer to say that presentation or notation of an emotion (compare Frege's "conceptual notation" to this "emotional notation".)

This suggests a method (to parallel W.'s closing remarks in Trac. on how to practice philosophy.) Take the emotion, such as it is. Arrange artifacts or natural objects lying around in plain view (setting them in artificial light: arrangement is artifice). When the emotion is expressed or extinguished, make a note of the arrangement, then submit the poem for publication.

I suspect the emotion (that we took for granted) never was anything very metaphysical, but merely the felt potential of the things lying around to occasion the emotion noted.

The mess on my desk is not a proposition but it IS a fact that the phone is lying on top of unopened package which is lying on top of a loose pile of papers beside the white hairdrier, which is now a proposition.

If you can SEE the white chickens, I'll grant you all the rest (cf. Wittgenstin's On Certainty, §1).

Thomas Basbøll said...

Sorry about the typos. I meant:

"A random collection of words is a fact."


I would prefer to speak of the presentation or notation of an emotion (we can compare Frege's "conceptual notation" or Begriffsschrift to this "emotional notation" or Ergriffsschrift.)

Jay said...


You're right -- the notion of a "random collection" is an odd bird. As soon as we consider it a "collection", it has the potential to "speak" to us (with a sense that will vary from context to context -- mood, its place in a certain social context, and so on).

But does this mean that the poem's capacity to "speak" (I hesitate to use such a loaded word) boils down to the fact that it's merely a collection of words? Possibly. Didn't Frank Zappa (or was it John Cage or Cage via Zappa) say that you can make anything into a work of art just by putting a frame around it? It seems we're working with a similar idea here.

At the same time, though, a part of me wants to privilege what we labor to create over "random collections" that we just happen notice. This is why I compared a poem to a proposition -- when we think a proposition, we picture a state of affairs. A proposition or fact, Wittgenstein tells us in 3.141, "is articulate". That is, "only facts can express a sense, a set of names cannot" (3.142). I feel that Wittgenstein would likely claim that mere "sets of names" are no more articulate in poetry than they are in scientific language . . . which bring us around to another point you made -- that Wittgenstein, especially in the Tractatus, was concerned primarily with scientific propositions. I venture to guess that he would have considered "poetic language" along the lines of "religious language" -- i.e., at the very least, not a series of propositions intended to be taken literally or at face value. Which may throw my whole "sets of names" point above into question (not to mention throwing our attempt to derive a poetics from the Tractatus into question).


michael said...

It's always good to see someone taking Wittgenstein's meaning, & not just his image, seriously. It seems to me that it would not be far amiss to describe his trajectory as one from a position in which the traditional philosophical account of language, i.e. by means of definitions in solitary contemplation of one's books & introspective processes, toward a position (never fully or finally enunciated) that takes into account language as a community of speakers, or a commons in which no one has entire or exclusive possession of the elements. Wittgenstein is programmatic in refusing his earlier clarity & concision, yet these qualities (rare in any philosopher) are what made his first major summary so attractive. I take it it's this maneuver that Language Poets identify with. (Of course we all know he would have had NO USE for anything we have written under his auspices.) But the one thing i have trouble with is when people think that meandering around & muddying their discourse without a definite, Socratic-like aim, they are following Wittgenstein's method. He wasn't trying to confuse things. He was avoiding spreading worse confusion, by being very careful & tentative--with the same rigor he had always used. I'm not sure any poetics can ensue from Wittgenstein's rigor. Unless RIDING'S...

Thomas Basbøll said...


It may not be possible to outright derive a poetics from Trac., but I do think it is suggestive. One striking thing about Trac. today is that it seems, as Russell notes in his intro to it, to presume that "The essential business of language is to assert and deny facts." That's the scientific bias we're talking about. Well, before we get to poetic language, it is clear that political language cannot be explicated under that slogan either. We need, I'd argue, something like "An essential [even existential] business of language is to enjoin or denounce acts." So we have a kind of political shadow-tractatus in the works (the Trac. Tony Tost would write deep in his "complex sleep", I suppose.)

The world is everything that is the case.
The totality of facts.

History is everyone that is on my case.
The totality of acts.

If philosophy teases out the conceptual content of scientific experience then perhaps poetry is supposed to tease out the emotional content of political experience?

Thus the strophe is to politics what the proposition is to science. (I think you can see this when you look at the texts of, say, presidential inaugural addresses today. One little strophe after another.)

The task of philosophy is to suspend the question of the truth of a proposition, and the task of the poet is to suspend the question of the justice of the strophe.

A scientist says, "Here is a bed," a philosopher asks, "What is a bed?" A politician says, "Go to bed with me," a poet asks, "Whose bed is this?" They may all "mean" the same thing. That's my point. I'm not just being cute. The bed-like experience is the same in all cases, but there are serious differences in the logical criteria applicable to each when we assess the success of the utterance.

I find it interesting how difficult it is to find a "unit" of analysis in philosophy that is as straighforwardly factual as the poem.

You don't even need to frame the object Zappa was talking about. You can just hang it on a wall. The trick is to situate it among other objects (i.e., to make an actual fact out of its possible potential). I'd insist on the impossibility of a "random collection". Any two words "taken together" WILL speak, though perhaps not very clearly. Whatever we do to collect the words, we can just call "speaking" (them). As I think my Exhibit A above suggests. It is a poorly articulated proposition (whose conceptual content is hardly clear) and/or a poorly articulated strophe (whose emotional content is rather dull).

Over at the Unquiet Grave we had a discussion about process/product, where I brought in the March 12th chapter of Pound's Guide to Kulchur, the letter from Katue Kitasono. He gives us the following example:

a shell, a typewriter and grapes

And then he says that it has "aesthetic feeling" but no "further development", no "ideoplasty" (formed thought, I take it). Here we have an accumulation of "named things", producing feeling and tending (though undeveloped) to the formation of thought, an articulate poetry. So I don't think we're completely off the mark here.


Thomas Basbøll said...

PS. We labour to collect and to arrange.

Jay said...

History is everyone that is on my case.
The totality of acts.
Beautiful -- thank you for this!

I agree that it's suggestive to attempt to derive a poetics from the Tractatus and I believe it's worthwhile to try.

But if we're going to make the attempt, then we've got to do something with Wittgenstein's assertion that a "set of names" (what I called a "random collection") has no sense, that it doesn't "speak" or picture anything. It's a key component of the picture theory of language. And if we're going to allow that poems "speak", then I think we've got to say that some sets of words cannot be considered poems, even though we've framed them as a "set".

There's a difference -- and I don't think I've communicated this well -- between the notion of the poem as a material collection of words, as a "body" composed of words, letters, marks on the page, sounds in the air, etc., and the poem as something which, like a proposition, is "articulate". There must this difference -- unless we explicitly decide that we're going to ignore Wittgenstein when he says that a "set of names" doesn't articulate anything.

What's slippery here, I think, is that in poetry and art (and history/politics?), unlike in "scientific" assertion/denial language, declaring a group of things as a set -- by putting them on a wall, by putting a frame around them, or by simply noticing them out of the corner of one's eye -- is sometimes (always?) sufficient to make them into something which "speaks" (as "a shell, a typewriter and grapes" demonstrates) . . . and I'm just not sure how to reconicle the existence of this phenomenon with Wittgenstein's proposition/set of names distinction.

That I've reached this impasse makes me feel I should ask more fundamental questions, like

What does poetry "picture"? Emotions? The world? The world-as-emotional-world? Truth? The truth of the world? And does it even "picture"?

Thomas Basbøll said...

Anytime, Jay.

Keep in mind that Wittgenstein's own utterances are not, finally, propositions, at least not in the sense in which he defines them. In fact, it seems to me that his translators really did him a disservice here by translating "Bemerkungen" as "propositions" instead of "remarks". After all, this obscures an important connection between the Trac. and the Phil. Investigations.

Suppose there are philosophical and poetic "remarks", while there are scientific and political propositions (assertions and injunctions). The latter represent (discoveries and decisions respectively) and this is what we call "picturing" (facts and acts).

Remarks do not represent, they simply present. (They give us not a Vorstellung but a Darstellung.) This frees the conceptual and emotional content of the "picture". That is, poetry, like philosophy, presents the picture before it depicts or represents "something" and this "before" indicates a particular kind of aprioricity, which I suppose can be controversial, but is always importantly only a matter of "logical" priority.

All propositions are facts, but not all facts are propositions. There are shells, typewriters and grapes. And there are remarks.

The purpose of the Trac. was to articulate articulateness, i.e., not to articulate facts (like science) but the conditions of the possibility (the logic) of assertion.

The poem presents the picture before it is a picture "of" something. It presents the joints og hinges (between the items articulated) not of the emotional "world" nor, which would be more accurate, the emotional content of history.

This is crucial:

3.141 [. . .] A proposition is articulate.

3.142 Only facts can express a sense, a set of names cannot.

I don't think we have to equate "is articulate" with "expresses a sense".

I guess I disagree with the implication (and therefore with W.) that "a set of names" is not "a fact". A set or collection is necessarily articulate. I think, however, that W. here still allows that something can "be articulate" without "making sense" (depicting), which is an important difference, I think, between remarks and propositions. Propositions make sense, remarks need only be articulate.

This sort of articulate nonsense is probably poetry. (That formulation seems almost standard, but I think we're giving it some content here.)

I'm enjoying this.

Jay said...

I'm enjoying this too.

Unfortunately, I've very little time to post right now but wanted to mention that the German version of 2.22 states:

Das Bild stellt dar, was es darstellt, unabhängig von seiner Wahr- oder Falschheit, durch die Form der Abbildung.In English, "The picture represents what it represents, independently of its truth or falsehood, through the form of representation [i.e., 'pictorial form']."

Ok, now I must confess, shamefully, that I don't know much German. But it looks like Wittgenstein uses "darstellt" to indicate the kind of (re)presentation which pictures. To me, this suggests that Wittgenstein's picture-theory of language may intend to comprehend what you're calling a "remark" -- at least inasmuch as the remark makes an assertion about states of affairs in the world. Or are you specifically excluding all such assertions from the definition of "remark"?

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, I am suggesting that a remark, unlike a proposition, never asserts. The same sentence, however, can be presented (dargestellt) as a remark or as an assertion.

The picture is normally presented as a representation "of" something. We make ourselves a picture _of_ the facts.

But we can also just present pictures, without reference to the facts they are about or of. There is a natural tendency, of course, to read or interpret pictures as being about something or other, but the art object, I'd suggest, has as its major task precisely the act of countering this tendency, bringing the picture itself to the fore in what Kierkegaard called the "perfect immanence of presentation".

My German is also far from perfect. But on this little detail I have looked into it and satisfied myself as to the following. While it is possible to translate "Darstellung" and its cognates as "representation", and while this is the norm in translations of Wittgenstein, it is, I believe, a mistake that reveals a particular kind of (representationalist) philosophy motivating (biasing) the translators at the time. This happens in one important case in PI in the discussion of "übersichtliche Darstellung" ("perspicuous representation"). An identical passage also turns up in the remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, there translated as "perspicuous presentation". This is the right way to do it. Indeed, in German, the word "Darstellung" is also used for "performance", most notably as in "the performing arts". Which is really what philosophy (as poetic composition) should be after. A perspicuous (re)presentation of "the working of language" is simply a surveyable linguistic performance.

In the Trac. this was the display of logical form in, often, formal notation. Later, logic would be the description of language games in ordinary language, i.e., straight performance. (By the way, I like the connection Michael makes between Trac. and PI in this vein, i.e., the continuous insistence on rigor.)

All the best.

Jay said...

Haven't had much time to post lately (and don't have much time now) . . . a few brief thoughts:

1) I'm following you on the remark vs. proposition argument. It neatly resolves the anxiety that the seeming circularity of the Tractatus' project induces -- and establishes a clearer path of continuity between the early and later Wittgensteins (by showing that even in the Tractatus Wittgenstein realized that logic governs only a subset of the phenomenon of linguistic communication).

2) It seems to me there are at least two possible ways to use the Tractatus to derive a poetics. One is to try to find a purchase for poetry within the Tractatus as it stands - another is to intentionally mis-apply (perhaps 'extend' is a better verb here) Wittgenstein's remarks to poetry. My perception is that we've been doing a little bit of both. When I argue that (accoring to Wittgenstein) a "set of names" doesn't say anything, I'm pushing in (or coming from) the latter direction -- and when you argue that it doesn't matter because poetry counts as "remarks", not as propositions or language which pictures, you're pushing in (or coming from) the former direction. Why even consider the "misapplication" route? It's just a hunch, but I feel it has some interesting and possibly productive possibilities, especially if we come up with a poetic equivalent of Wittgenstein's "picturing".

3) Your claim that poetry(/art) presents non-representational *pictures* . . . very nice idea. In this view, though, what does the picture-ness of the poem amount to? Is this just another way of saying that it counts as a "set" or a "collection" or is in a (literal or conceptual) frame, and that it's parts therefore have some relation to one another?


Thomas Basbøll said...

According to the Tractatus, science says what can be said in order to determine its truth, while philosophy, which should also stick to what can be said, is to be somehow otherwise "elucidating". For the rest, we are to remain silent.

The question I have been concerned with is, What should poetry do if this is right? Does the Tractatus characterise poetic language? Does it contain a poetics? And the obvious answer, if poetry is neither science nor philosophy (with Tractarian ambitions), is that it should maintain an artful silence.

A poem, then, is the maintainance of an artful or, let us say, an articulate silence.

Again, that might sound a bit pretentious, more artsy than artful. But it is important to keep in mind that Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, and we, here, are really unpacking this notion, trying to make more of it than just a superficial profundity.

I like your push towards the misapplication of T. to this end, and I think that W. himself does this in PI. One thing we might consider is the sort of "philosophy" that would result from really doing as he says in the Tractatus, i.e., of arranging and criticzing only the propositions (whether true or false)of science. In PI he allows, for example, imaginary natural histories, which are "scientific" but not true: they are statements of fact served up as remarks, not assertions.

I'm pretty simple minded about these things. So when I try imagine a pure poetry to mirror or shadow or otherwise "misapply" this idea in the realm of poetry I just replace "facts" with "acts", "science" with "politics".


Philosophy locates the logical space between scientific facts (our articulated ignorance). It articulates the silence between assertions.

We get

Poetry locates the logical space between political acts (our articulated impotence). It articulates the silence between injunctions.

Our remarks are to be "elucidating", I suppose, in precisely this way. The parts do have a relation to each other (the poem, after all, is a fact and this fact can also be asserted, though this would not constitute a "reading" of the poem.) I suppose the poem, or individual strophe, is to "display its form" in the manner of a logical proposition (which is really just a remark that describes a language game.) To display (or perform) only its own articulateness and remain, for all other intents and purposes, silent.

edison said...

Fascinating! Thank you!