Saturday, February 12, 2005

Tractatus Pangrammaticus [4.1]

Proposition 4.1 of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus provides us with a somewhat inconspicuous starting point for investigating the relation of poetry to politics on the model of the relation of philosophy to science. Here is the Pears & McGuinness translation.

"Propositions represent the existence or non-existence of states of affairs."

The German original reads:

"Der Satz stellt das Bestehen und Nichtbestehen der Sachverhalte dar."

Now, as often happens, I am not happy with the rendering of "stellt. . .dar" as "represent". Indeed, while it is true that propositions "represent facts", T4.1 is not about facts (Tatsache), but "states of affairs" (Sachverhalte). The difference is of course too subtle to spend a lot of time quibbling about. But, on my reading, propositions represent facts by presenting states of affairs. That's not all.

In order to open the Tractatus to interpretation, rendering "Satz" as "sentence" will be more useful. Also, "Bestehen" does mean "existence", but since there are more natural words in German for existence (including the famous "Dasein"), something a little different would be nice here. I propose "obtention", as a form of "obtain" in the sense of "be prevalent or established". So we have

Sentences present the obtention or non-obtention of states of affairs.

Or, more naturally, but less literally,

Sentences present whether or not states of affairs obtain.

Now this is a typical example of Wittgenstein's epistemic presumption or, as Russell put it, the view that "the essential business of language is to assert and deny facts." Poets are not likely to accept this axiom, nor should they. But it should not be denied that asssertion is part of the linguistic business. I'd add (at the very least) the "existential" business of enjoining and denouncing acts, i.e., a political function. Even Wittgenstein would have to accept also a non-assertive philosophical business and the poet, accordingly, is entitled to something very particular.

Sentences resent the ebb and flow of current events.

Here "current events" transposes "states of affairs", while "ebb and flow" transposes "obtain or not". The first choice results from trying to find something that is not yet a political "act" but the background on which politics is carried out. In science, by comparison, "states of affairs" are the raw material of fact. The (scientific) fact is specified in the way the state of affairs obtains or "holds out against" our inquiries. Likewise, the (political) act is specified by the way the present situation (one current event) "passes through" our governance. For "resent" see my discussion of T6.124.

Keep in mind that we are this point talking about sentences before they have been applied in science and politics, but in terms of their capacity to be so applied. I will post some of the subsequent propositions as they appear in the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus shortly. Here the distinction between sentences used in "natural science" on the one hand and "cultural politics" on the other will guide the work.

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