Oct 6, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 003

Attempting to translate and read

Auf Deutsch:
2.012 In der Logic ist nichts zufällig: Wenn das Ding im Sachverhalt vorkommen kann, so muss die Möglichkeit des Sachverhaltes im Ding bereits präjudiziert sein.
2.013 Jedes Ding ist, gleichsam, in einem Raume möglicher Sachverhalte. Diesen Raum kann ich mir leer denken, nicht aber das Ding ohne den Raum.
2.014 Die Gegenstände enthalten die Möglichkeit aller Sachlagen.
2.0141 Die Möglichkeit seines Vorkommens in Sachverhalten ist die Form des Gegenstandes.
2.02 Der Gegenstand is einfach.

2.012 In Logic nothing is by chance: When the thing can occur in the state of affairs, the possibility of the state of affairs must already be predisposed in the thing.
2.013 Every thing is, in the same way, in a space of possible state of affairs. This space I myself can think of as empty, but not the thing without the space.
2.014 The objects contain the possibility of all situations.
2.0141 The possbility of its occurance in a state of affairs is the shape of the objects.
2.02 The object is simple.


  • "vorkommen" -- Literally translates as "come forward." This can translate as "occur" or as "appear." I would ussualy go with "appear" -- I like the word and its limitations -- that would leave this looking like it was a matter of perception
  • "präjudiziert" -- The usual translation of this word would, I think, be "prejudged," but that implies an agency that isn't quite right here. "Prejudiced" would be a bold translation, but would require read oddly in English unless the sentece were reformed kind of drastically.
  • "enthalten" -- There are a lot of possible translations for this, and each English word has a slightly different and yet importantly different possible meaning in this sentence. This is one of those words where the Tractatus really does appear to be balanced on a knife's edge: even the breath of reading tips the meaning of this one way or another. Do we want to say, "contains"? "Consists"? "Is composed of"? "Embodies"? "Holds?" Each of those is dramatically different in connotation, and in the very spare prose of the Tractatus, how one reads leans the philosophy a different way.

Even just between two langauges, even between two European languages which have a lot in common and in which philosophy developed and is natural, the idea of trying to make one-to-one, representational, this=that moves is impossible.

You try, but it falls apart.

How much harder, then, to move back and forth like that between language and world.

With something as spare as the Tractatus, where there's not the discursive excess that explains and expounds, gives examples and works ideas out, we're left with words, sometimes single words, and the weight that they carry. The connotations they leave.

As I'm translating, I find I want to translate in a completely neutral way, for the translation itself to be opaque. I want reading to be a second step, the critical step that comes after the text has been rendered kind of quasi-mechanically into English. It's not working, though. I can't translate without reading, which means there's no part that comes before making judgements and interpretations.

Maybe if I were more fluent in German it wouldn't be a problem, but I don't think so. Even if it seems like translation is like that and can be like that with words like alles, buch, haben, und and wort, one must already be reading, already be doing philosophy with a word like Sachverhalten. Bulleted List

I wonder, though, if the trouble I'm having here isn't a smaller-scale version of the same problem Wittgenstein has with the whole project of writing out the world in the Tractatus.