Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Essential Business of Texts

Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus on the premise that "the essential business of language is to assert and deny facts" (Russell's introduction). In §23 of the Investigations he makes a list of other things we can do with words, noting how "the multiplicity of the tools in language" compares with "what logicians have said about the structure of language" (including his own earlier effort).

A craftsman is defined by his tools.

As I said last weekend, I've come to see the ridiculousness of my concern with what might be called "the essential business of poetry". The coments I have received on this idea all seem to be a variation on Wittgenstein's §23, i.e., a note to that part of the mind that wants to get its ideas in order, assigning each faculty its own tidy little task.

But I think we have remember that this rage for order is only ridiculous within the language (the form of life) as a whole. I think it does make sense to say that there are varieties of "rhetoric": scientific, political, philosophical and poetic. These target different problems of living: the problem of belief, the problem of desire, the problem of thought, and the problem of feeling. In so far as they are textual exercises, they consists in "note taking", notation, each having its own theme to be noted: objects, subjects, concepts, and emotions. Mastery of notation is mastery of a craft. Different texts emerge under the auspices of each of these crafts.

My error has been to think that there might be a "pure" form of each text, and to suggest that the handiwork of the remaining crafts should be banished from each textual form. This would deform the life of the text, is what I think I hear people saying.

More later.

2 comments:

Jay said...

This is coming a bit from left field and doesn't address your points head-on . . . but I wonder how much "concept envy" there is among poets.

The notion of "thinking" carries an aura of importance. One is really "doing something" when one thinks, accomplishing some kind of work.

"Expressing feelings" (or even "passions"), on the other hand, sounds kind of flaccid in comparison, regardless of how important feeling are in our lives.

This might explain the desire of some poets (including myself, at times) to insist that poetry and philosophy are each different ways of working the same basic kind of stuff.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think you've got something there. It works the other way too, of course. Mayhew emphasizes the emotion or tonality in Heidegger and Wittgenstein. You, if I recall, have said something similar about the passions of various thinkers. There's Deleuze, course. And there's Eliot in "The Possibility of a Poetic Drama" who talks about the Bergsonian pursuit of "emotional stimulus". Eliot does see "passion" (in this sense) as something to be avoided (even poetry).

It's funny, philosophers want to be praised for the quality of their emotions, poets for the concepts.