Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Correct Method

Wittgenstein famously said that philosophers cannot explain, only describe. There should be nothing "theoretical" about it. Already in the Tractatus, he said that "the correct method in philosophy" would be just to articulate propositions of natural science (without actually asserting them), though presumably an illuminating selection of them. As I understand him, he meant that a philosophical presentation consists of series of descriptions that together (in sequence) reveal the concept or concepts under investigation. The "investigation" itself is the process by which the descriptions are made and their proper arrangement is determined.

He put it very simply in his remarks on Frazer: "We can only describe and say, human life is like that."

Now, if we were to say something similar about poetry we would have to say that poetry only prescribes, and does not evaluate. It arranges synopses of propositions of cultural politics (without actually enjoining them). And this made me think of Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo", which ends, "here there is no place/ that does not see you. You must change your life."

Philosophy consists of a series of descriptions that finally implies "That's life."
Poetry consists of a series of prescriptions that finally implies "Change your life!"

No comments: