Sunday, January 23, 2005

Tractatus Pangrammaticus [1]

In late September of last year, Gary Norris started a discussion about the bearing of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus on poetics. A lot of great observations were made, not least by Jay Thomas, with whom I pursued a number of shiny peripheral issues throughout October on his blog. Jacques Derrida died, Laura Carter finished the Egret Party, and George W. Bush was soon re-elected. It was an eventful fall, to be sure. I'm thankful to everyone involved. One of the things that began to take shape was the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus -- a shadowy, complicated somnambulist of a book (the tractatus Tony Tost would write in his "complex sleep", I suggested at the time.)

I propose to begin to reconstruct some of the ideas we discussed back then, this time under the title "Tractatus Pangrammaticus". The number in the square brackets does not indicate a sequence of posts but the reference proposition in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, which is available in hypertext here. There are, finally, three tractati. The first is Wittgenstein's, the second is the Pathetico-Poeticus, and the third is the articulate balance between them, all the usage in the world, the Pangrammaticon itself. (I've long known that it can be easily deconstructed and, in a sense, what I propose here is to lay bare the schema of its grammatology.)

All this will hopefully become clearer as we proceed.

To begin, then, let's look at proposition 1:

The world is all that is the case.

The basic operation in rewriting this is simple to explain. Throughout, "logic" is replaced with "passion" ("logical" with "pathetic") and, accordingly, "philosophy" is replaced with "poetry". "Logic is to philosophy what passion is to poetry," is the schema that will guide us. There are two core consequences, one of which will concern us later [6.34], and the other which must be raised at the outset. What is to passion as the world is to logic? My answer is "history". But history is not "the case" (though, as I have quipped, it may be "on your case"). History happens. So we have our first proposition.

History is all that happens.

The second tractatus is, you will note, rather easy to construct. The hard part comes in working out the third. Here, however, Wittgenstein himself may help. After all, his later work was an attempt to flesh out the schematism of his early attempt. The task here is to construct the "obiter dicta", the passing remarks, that articulate the interstices between the world and history.

Wittgenstein said that error of the Tractatus was to begin with something as large as the world. He should have started with a lamp or a tree.

It is the case that this lamp is on.


It is the case that there is no door in the frame.

But he could also have said something more, perhaps, profound, namely,

This is the world.

Then, we ask, what do we put in the shadow Tractatus?

This is history.

So far so good. Now, what are some pithy remarks to set into the fissure between these two propositions?

We've just had a discussion recently here at the Pangrammaticon about the definite article, and I think Wittgenstein's objection to the scope of this reference still holds. So, we try,

This is my world-history.

This is my body.

This is my body, the world, our history.

World-history is all that happens and is the case,
all that is on my case.

Notice that struggling subjects and objects here (my, the, our), notice the modicum of humour. That is the stuff of pangrammaticism. The Pangrammaticon articulates all the usage in the world. It is perfectly useless.

Future entries will be shorter, I hope.

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