Jan 12, 2011

Wittgenstein on Wednesdays 012

Wittgenstein was here

There's an assumption that poets love words. Adore them. As if that's the defintion of being a poet.

I suppose that is the case, often enough, but it seems to me that poets are also often in an argument with words, struggling with words or of with language, especially common language and the assumptions of language and the limits of language. Put it another way, poets don't always trust language.

And should they?

This is a question that comes up in Wittgenstein, one he answers different ways at different times. Marjorie Perloff, the poetry critic, says that "Wittgenstein, who had no interest at all in the 'poetry' of his own time, [is] paradoxically a kind of patron saint for poets and artists." I wonder if this isn't the reason why. Wittgenstein struggled with language, and with this poet's question: Can language be trusted?


If there's a disinction beween periods of Wittgenstein's thought, it's in this various answers to this question. Even in his early work, though, the work we're working through here, where he seems enamoured with logic and math, not spoken language, he's of two minds about language, and is sruggling with it.

He says, here, in 3.143, that "ordinary" writing and printed words act as a veil, a shroud or a cloud or a haziness, which hides from us the propositions, which are what we really want, rather than words. "The proposition," he writes in 3.141, implicitly contrasting it to ordinary langauge, "is articulate."

Wittgenstein suggests, here, that langauge is in the way of true understand of how the world works. We have to clear it away to think.

Or maybe that's overstating it. That's the standard understanding of "mathematical" Wittgenstein, with his "ladder" to escape. He is, here, attempting to work out a way to seperate or distinguish propositions from words -- this is a mistake he thinks, for example, Frege has been making. But he doesn't do it by just dismissing ordinary language, but by suggesting the materiality of writing has been a confusion. It's the "the ordinary froms of expression of writing," wheereby these different types of signs, proposition-signs and printed-signs, are confused with each other. He's not dismissive of words as such, though, and he doesn't think they should be bracketed off or excluded from consideration.

Words are, after all, the elements of the proposition-sign he thinks is so important.

He wants us think to think of language different, and suggests this thought experiment where words behave towards each other with a spacial relationship. He thinks that there's something wrong with how language is conceived of, but that doesn't necessarily mean, here, even in this early work, that he's suggesting that language is wrong.

Look at what happens in the subsequent sentence (the weird one in this excerpt), 3.1432. Wittgenstein says, "Not: 'The complex sign "aRb" says that "a" stands in the relationship "R" to "b,"' instead: That 'a' stands in a certain relationship to 'b' says that aRb."

Various English editions do different things with the quotation marks, most all of them diregarding part or all of how it's done in the German. In the German, the punctuation (which I've maintained here) is set up so the first sentence, the one he marks as wrong, is a quoted, and the logical statement is a quote within the quote, and then the elements of the logical statement are in quotes in the sentence in natural langauge. He's attributing the one statement to someone else, and claiming the second one, which is kind of key and should be reflected, but also the "right" one, the "correct" one, is in natural language, and isn't about logic as much as it's about words -- the priority has been placed on the words, I think, in the second sentence, whereas in the first one it was on logic.

If, say, aRb = The cat in the hat, so a = The cat, R = in, and b = the hat, then, Wittgenstein says, we should not say, "The complex sign 'aRb' that = 'The cat in the hat' says that 'the cat' stands in relationship 'in' to 'the hat,' but we should say, instead, that "the cat" stands in a certain relationship to "the hat" says or means that "the cat [is] in the hat."

This has been taken as meaning that, according to Wittgenstein, the "complex sign," which is a fact, does not relate to the world, but to other facts, because facts relate to facts and statements about those relationships only point at the things the facts are "about." And that seems right. That is what Wittgenstein is doing, but, also, when he does this reversal, he shifts the priority from the "complex sign," the logical statement, to the ordinary, natural-language expression of the statement. The normal relationship of the words -- if we can just think of those relationships as, somehow, spatial relationships -- is more right or more primary than the logical language expressing that relationship.

The world-structure he's trying to erect here is pretty obscure, and pretty complicated, and Wittgenstein is troubled by and struggling with the language. What happens, though, as he struggles with this, is an apparent oscillation between trusting and not trusting language. He thinks it's in the way, and then that we're in its way, or maybe that we're in its way in the way that it's in our way, and he struggles with that, and asks, can we trust it? and how? what part?

Terry Eagleton, the lit theorist, once asked, "what is it about the man, whose philosophy can be taxing and technical enough, which so fascinates the artistic imagination?" For poets, at least, I think this struggle with language, this trust of language that's also deeply questioned, is part of it.


Auf Deutsch:
3.13 Zum Satz gehört alles, was zur Projection gehört; aber nicht das Projizierte.
Also die Möglichkeit des Projizierten, aber nicht dieses selbst.
Im Satz ist also sein Sinn noch nicht enthalten, wohl aber die Möglichkeit, ihn auszudrücken.("Der Inhalt das Satzes" heißt der Inhalt des sinvollen Satzes.)Im Satz ist die Form seines Sinnes enthalten, aber nicht dessen Inhalt.

3.14 Das Satzeichen besteht darin, daß sich seine Elemente, die Wörter, in ihm auf bestimmte Art und Weise zueinander verhalten.
Das Satzzeichen ist eine Tatsache.
3.141 Der Satz ist kein Wörtergemisch. - (Wie das musikalische Thema kein Gemisch von Tönen.)
Der Satz ist artikuliert.
3.142 Nur Tatsachen können einen Sinn auszudrücken, eine Klasse von Namen kann es nicht.
3.143 Dass das Satzzeichen eine Tatsache ist, wird durch die gewöhnliche Ausdrucksform der Schrift oder des Druckes verschleiert.
Denn im gedruckten Satz z.B. sieht das Satzzeichen nicht wesentlich verschieden aus vom Wort.
(So war es möglich, dass Frege den Satz einen zusammengesetzten Namen nannte.)
3.1431 Sehr klar wird das Wesen des Satzzeichens, wenn wir es uns, statt aus Schriftzeichen, aus räumlichen Gegenständen (etwa Tischen, Stühlen, Büchern) zusammengesetzt denken.Die gegenseitige räumliche Lage dieser Dinge drückt dann den Sinn des Satzes aus.
3.1432 Nicht: "Das komplexe Zeichen 'aRb' sagt, dass a in der Beziehung R zu b steht", sondern: Dass "a" in einer gewissen Beiehung zu "b" steht, sagt, dass aRb.
3.144 Sachlagen kann man beschreiben, nicht benennen.
(Namen gleichen Puntken, Sätze Pfeilen, sie haben Sinn.)

Translation:
3.13 To the proposition belongs everything that belongs to the projection, but not the projected.
Thus, the possibility of the projection, but not this itself.
In propositions thus its meaning is not yet contained, but arguably the possibility or their expression.
("The content of the propsition" names the content of the significant propositon).
In propositions is contained the shape of its sense, but not its contents.
3.14 The propsition-sign exists in that its elements, the words, behave in a certain mode and manner to each other.
The proposition-sign is a fact.
3.141 The proposition is no words mixture. (As the musical theme is not a mixture of tones).
The proposition is articulate.
3.142 Only facts can express a sense, a set of names cannot.
3.143 That the propsition-sign is a fact is veiled by the ordinary froms of expression of writing or printing. For the printed proposition, for example, the proposition-sign does not look fundamentally different from a word. (Thus was it possible that Frege to call the proposition a compount name).
3.1431 The nature of the prosition-sign would be very clear if we think of it as composed of spacial objects (such as tables, chairs, books) instead of as written out.
The mutual spacial positions of these things expresses then the sense of the propositions.
3.1432 Not: "The complex sign 'aRb' says that 'a' stands in the relationship 'R' to 'b,'" instead: That "a" stands in a certain relationship to "b" says that aRb.
3.144 States of affairs one can describe, but not named.
(Names equal points; sentences equal arrows, they have sense).

Notes:
- ausdrücken -- Without the umlat, this means "to print." The sense, here, seems to be one of pressing a mark into something.
- Inhalt -- The most natural translation, here, is "content," but leo.org also suggests that "capacity" would be possible, which is interesting, as "possibility," "potential," and "shape" seem so important to what Wittgenstein is doing here. I'm not sure the strange translation would work 100 percent, though, so I'll leave it at "content."
verschleiert -- Also "hazy," or "shrouded." Ogden translates this as "concealed," which means more or less the same, but is a more "philosophical" word.
- benennen -- This can mean "name," but I'm not sure that word doesn't have too much philosophical baggage that may or may not be intended here. Other options might include, "label," or "designate."
- Sinn -- Interestingly, "Sinn" can be translated as "sense," or "meaning," or as "use." This might be important with later Wittgenstein, whose famous saying is, after all, "meaning is use."