Oct 27, 2010

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 005

Auf Deutch:
2.026 Nur wenn es Gegenstände gibt, kann es eine fest Form der Welt geben.
2.027 Das Feste, das Bestehende und der Gegenstand sind Eins.
2.03 Im Sachverhald hangen die Gegenstände ineinander, wie die Glieder einer Kette.
2.031 Im Sachverhalt hangen die Gegenstände bestimmter Art und Weise zueinander.
2.032 Die Art und Weise, wie die Gegenstände im Sachverhalt zusammenhängen, ist die Struktur des Sachverhaltes.

2.026 Only if there are objects can the world have a fixed shape.
2.027 The shape, the existing, and the object are one.
2.03 In the states of affairs the objects hang in one other, as the links on a chain.
2.031 In the states of affairs the objects hang in a certain manner and measure to each other.
2.032 The manner and measure, as the objects in the state of affairs hang together, is the structure of the state of affairs.

  • Bestehende -- I still question whether, in the context of philosophy, "existing" is the best translation. It seems so philosophical, I don't know that it's not broken by the weight of it. On the other hand, during the children's church segment of church at Jacobus Gemeinde last weekend, the children held up paper letters spelling the word "DASEIN." To me, that was like old man Heidegger sitting on their backs, though I know that it was just the children's lesson.*
  • Ineinander/zueinander -- The subtlety here is difficult to parse. How is the one different from the other? It's the matter of a preposition. With another writer, I would think, perhaps, it was only an issue of style, but Wittgenstein is complicated. He's exacting with his words. But the style counts too.
  • Art und Weise -- These both translate as, basically, the same. Both can mean "manner" or "mode," though "Weise" also can mean "melody" or "way" or "wise" or "wise man," and "Art" can also mean "style" or "nature" or "disposition" and also, in an archaic form, "wise."

Philosophy is not supposed to be a thing of style. But it is. Socratic method is also Socratic philosophy. Cartesian thought experiments are form as well as content. Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Levinas, Buber, Zizek, all of them are shaped by their style, their thoughts formed in the way they're formed because of the form in which they write.

"Content is never more than an extension of form," the poet Robert Creeley said. Or was it "Form is never more than an extension of content"?

We accept and even expect a certain, intricate interconnectedness of form and content in poetry, in literature, when words are art, but that same inter-relation can be unsettling in philosophy. In philosophy there's an expectation that the words will be transparent containers for the ideas, an almost invisible medium through which the ideas can come, like light through ether rather than waves through water.

It doesn't work like that though. Words don't work like that and ideas don't either. The one is always entangled with the other. Wittgenstein, perhaps more than any of the philosophers, knows this. He knows that style cannot be bracketed off from substance, that forms of writing are not neutral, and making decisions about how something is written -- even and maybe especially making decisions in an unanalyzed way -- means making decisions about what is being written about. Every act of writing involves constraints, though only some of them are as acknowledged as acts of Oulipo.

In 2.03, 2.031 and 2.032, Wittgenstein could easily be taken as writing about the form of his writing: What he writes is, oddly and fantastically, a model of what he's writing about. When he says, "In the states of affairs the objects hang in one other, as the links on a chain," and "In the states of affairs the objects hang in a certain manner and measure to each other," and "The manner and measure, as the objects in the state of affairs hang together, is the structure of the state of affairs," those sentences themselves are prime examples of what he's talking about.

This leaves us with surprisingly self-reflexive philosophical prose, though. Only a little removed from the modernist poetry of, say, Gertrude Stein's, "Why do they apply. This to that." which carries it's own philosophical heft.

These sentences are models of the world as Wittgenstein envisions it. They are, or he wants them to be, the most perfect sentences ever written, expressing exactly the world in content and exactly in perfect form.

The problem quickly comes, though, that while we know they're true about themselves, we know they are accurate statements about the aesthetic structure of the work itself, we don't know and how could we know that they're true of "states of affairs." The main thing that seems to recommend them is their aesthetic perfection.

Another philosopher perhaps would just disavow the form of the writing as just a form, but Wittgenstein seems committed to something more than that. He's committed to the form, and to the form as the idea, and to the idea as the form. For him the one thing interlocks with the other, like links on a chain.

*Upon further reflection, it occurs to me they were probably holding up "DA SEIN," not "DASEIN," the space being rather irregular when it's little children, but rather important for understanding the point, as "DA SEIN," would mean something like "be there," rather than "DASEIN," which is like big-B Being. I read it as significantly more existential than it was probably intended.