Friday, January 28, 2005

Tractatus Pangrammaticus [6.124]

Logical propositions describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they set it forth. They are not 'about' anything.

This is my translation of the first two sentences of proposition 6.124 of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. My dissatisfaction with the Pears & McGuinness translation, which runs,

The propositions of logic describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they represent it. They have no 'subject-matter',

stems in part from its use of "they represent it" for "sie stellen es dar", which, like the standard rendering of "übersichtliche Darstellung" as "perspicuous representation" smuggles the concept of representation (normally "Vorstellung") in for "Darstellung", which should really read "presentation" (the Miles/Rhees translation of the Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough gets this right, by the way) and in part from the rendering of "'handeln' von nichts" as "have no 'subject-matter'", instead of the much more literal and colloquial "are not 'about' anything".

We now pangrammatically replace "world" with "history", "logical" with "pathetic", "describe" with "prescribe" and the impersonal "anything" with the personal "anyone". Giving us,

Pathetic propositions prescribe the scaffolding of history, or rather they set it forth. They are not 'about' anyone.

But this is not quite enough. I want to suggest that presentation is to logic what resentment is to passion. (Please try not to understand that too quickly.) Now, in German, "nachtragend" means "resentful" because "nach" means "against" and "tragen" means "to carry". Thus,

Pathetic propositions prescribe the scaffolding of history, or rather they hold it against. They are not 'about' anyone.

I want also to call logical propositions "(philosophical) remarks", and pathetic propositions "(poetic) strophes". So we now have,

Remarks describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they present it. They are not 'about' anything.

Strophes prescribe the scaffolding of history, or rather they resent it. They are not 'about' anyone.

(For an early version of this idea, see Jay Thomas' Bad with Titles, which has the virtue of linking it to Gary Norris' reading of Emerson's "Circles": "He claps his wings to the sides of all the solid old lumber of the world." I took the liberty of associating Emerson's lumber with Wittgenstein's scaffolding, for obvious reasons.)


Gary Norris said...

oh, that's a good idea connecting the two. I am going to have to get back into this again.

as if I didn't have enough to do. But it's so much fun.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Looking forward to your contributions, Gary.

Jay said...

It's wonderful to follow these transformations. Thank you for this.

One very small thought/question . . . did you collapse carrying- or holding-against into resentment in the last transformation in order to play on the parallel between present/resent? I ask because the "unpacked" version of resentment is both quite evocative and illuminating.

Laura Carter said...


This is a bit off-topic, but I wondered if at some point you'd talk a bit about Lara Glenum's work: I've been working against it, I think, tho I find it striking in ways.... Curious to hear your thoughts on what she's doing....


Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks, Jay. Yes, the parallel is supposed be:

present - set forth - stell es dar - Darstellung
resent - hold against - trage es nach - Nachtragung

(I'm improvising the German there.)

I've been wondering if "they hold it against" should rather be "they hold against it".

IN any case, like I say, I want "set forth" and "hold against" to work a bit like "clap to the side". We may then have something like (thinking fast here):

Wittgensteinian presentation (setting forth)
Nietzschean resentment (holding against)
Emersonian resolve (clapping the side)
Whitmanian repose (laying back)

The greatest philosopher-poet resents the scaffold of history, lays back among the people, claps his wings to the side of things, and sets the world's scaffolding forth.

Something like that.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'll get on the Glenum, Laura. I especially like "Message to the Department of the Interior" and "How to Discard the Life You've Now Ruined", but it'll take me a while to know why. If you want to start things off. . .

Laura Carter said...

I'm not sure that I'm comfortable addressing her work in a public forum, at least starting it off.... I think she's fabulous in an odd sense, but I'm not sure why. I'm reacting against, partially, her manifesto that you may have found "Hang Sentimentality on the Gallows of Emergency."

Still in contrary romantic mode, all the way, right now.... which is why I find it interesting that I'm drawn to Glenum's work more than others'....

Laura Carter said...

"Body" poems...of course those are the best ones! ;)