Friday, November 26, 2004

Likeness, Transparency, Delinity

In trying to understand what it means to carry out a calculation in the head, Wittgenstein compared this operation to the act of working out a math problem on paper. He then wonders if these two operations are "like" each other in any way and asks, "Is a bit of white paper with black lines on it like a human body?" (Philosophical Investigations, §364) You can't tell me you don't like that question. It contains a whole theory of reading comprehension, especially when plucked out of context in this way. Words are understood in their likeness to the human body. When you write a poem (in strophes or in remarks) you try to make the page look like a human body.

Correction. You are trying to make the page like a human body. It will have to look and move like a human body: feel, smell and taste like a human body. "In some sense," as philosophers like to say. Exactly, in some sense.

It is probably the extreme difference between the page and the body that makes writing such an articulate business. When writing succeeds, it's really impressive. It's harder than making a shoe look like a blender.

In his Remarks on Colour Wittgenstein takes up the issue of likeness again. "Explaining colour words by pointing to coloured pieces of paper does not touch the concept of transparency." (§189) It would only indicate the likeness between colours (and their concepts). In order to describe the logic of colour you have to relate colours to other concepts, concepts that are related to colour but are not themselves concepts of colour (§190). Concepts like transparency.

(An aside. Today I found a copy of Josef Albers' Interaction of Color. Chapter III has an argument for using coloured pieces of paper instead of paints to teach colour. I'm looking forward to reading it alongside Wittgenstein's remarks.)

In delineating the poesie and possible philosophy of word constructions, we draw black lines on white pieces of paper about black lines on white pieces of paper. We try to emphasise a peculiar likeness among them. But we have to relate these similarities to something that is not writing, something that is not articulate, or not articulate by the same means. Doing so, however, risks various forms of intolerable sublimity.

While it too is a source of error, the risk can be minimized by focusing our attention on the analogue of the bits of coloured paper: the word constructions, the remarks and the strophes.

We must draw the lines that connect the elements of these constructions. Pound called poetry "a sort of inspired mathematics" (Spirit of Romance, p. 14). The pangrammatical quest for delinity is the search for written proofs. Transparency.

I don't expect I'll be able to lift it.

4 comments:

Laura Carter said...

Just a thought, on the Wittgenstein: If a body can be dismembered (disremembered), what can a poem be, in the same sense, as philosophers say?

I am now planning a collection of concrete body poems.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Poems are articulated, just as bodies are disremembered. Dismembering, meanwhile, cuts the body at the joints.
Looking forward to the poems.
I really like the pieces you've put out lately. Which cut at the joints . . . in a sense. Ash is my favourite.

Laura Carter said...

Ash is my favorite too. The others didn't quite work.

I may be forced to commit to the elegant sentence soon.

I like your take on dis(re)memberment, but I also have too much of the "cosmic poet" in me to fully accept it.

Maybe as I age this will change.

Laura Carter said...

Ash is my favorite too. The others didn't quite work.

I may be forced to commit to the elegant sentence soon.

I like your take on dis(re)memberment, but I also have too much of the "cosmic poet" in me to fully accept it.

Maybe as I age this will change.