Friday, July 29, 2005

Burlesk Investigations

In 1954, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations was published and so was e.e. cummings' i. Wittgenstein asks, "why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep?" and notes parenthentically that "that is what the depth of philosophy is" (PI§111). On page 64, cummings quotes himself from a 1926 foreword on the topic of technique.

I can express it in fifteen words, by quoting The Eternal Question And Immortal Answer of burlesk, viz. "Would you hit a woman with a child?--No, I'd hit her with a brick." Like the burlesk comedian, I am abnormally fond of the precision which creates movement.

Naturally, the thing to notice here is simply the way the words "with a brick" shift the meaning of the words "with a child". Such shifts are the core of poetic technique, as cummings sees it. Wittgenstein believed also that such puns were the stuff of philosophy, though I think he may have been abnormally unfond (as cummings might put it) of them. Wittgenstein would look for the precision which arrests movement (of this kind), producing sense, or at the least exposing the logic of that sense.

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