Saturday, July 30, 2005

Writing Beyond Words

Before I started this blog, Gary Norris was running an interesting discussion at the old Dagzine, where Wittgenstein's puzzlement over Kleist came up.

Kleist wrote somewhere that what the poet would most of all like to be able to do would be to convey thoughts by themselves without words. (What a strange admission.) (Culture and Value, p. 15)*

I thought of this when reading Frege's "On the Aim of the Conceptual Notation". He writes,
I did not wish to present an abstract logic in equations, but rather to bring a content more precisely and more perspicuously to expression than is possible through words. (My translation from the essay, printed as an appendix in the 1998 Georg Olms Verlag edition of Begriffsschrift, p. 97).

Consider a poetical transposition of this aim:

I did not wish to present a concrete passion in spells, but rather to bring a context more precisely and more intensely to expression than is possible through words.

I think the "modernism" of Pound and Wittgenstein lay in jettisoning precisely this sentiment. I.e., they sought to do things as precisely (whether qua perspicuity or intensity) as was possible through words. Words stopped being the enemy of expression and took their rightful place as materials.

I wonder if it is too much of a stretch to say that the way Wittgenstein moved beyond Frege's influence on Russell (the aim of a formal expression to replace words in conveying thoughts) was akin to the way Pound moved beyond Kleist's influence on Yeats (the aim of a substantial expression to replace words in conveying feelings).

I know almost nothing about the relation of Kleist to Yeats.


*Von Wright gives us the source of this remark as Kleist's "Letter from one Poet to Another", January 5, 1811. Which is confirmed by Doro Franck, here, who offers an interesting discussion of Kleist's point.

The "Letter" is a critical response to the compliments he received from another poet for the perfection of his use of poetic forms like rhythm, sound and verse. Kleist concludes from this appraisal that his colleague had not understood his intentions at all. All his (Kleist's) efforts are directed towards the one goal: to draw total attention to the thought that is expressed. Good form enables the spirit (Geist) to manifest directly, as if unmediated, or, in Pessoa's words, without the corridor between thought and word; while bad form draws attention to itself like a distorting mirror. Here we are obviously back at the theme of self-consciousness and affectation.

Obviously, Kleist and Wittgenstein have a similar stylistic ideal...

Which is not yet obvious to me.

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