Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mirror of Nature

Williams: "I suppose Shakespeare's familiar aphorism about holding the mirror up to nature has done more harm in stabilizing the copyist tendency of the arts among us than —" (S&A, p. 50-51)

Wittgenstein: "Propositions cannot represent logical form: it is mirrored in them. What finds reflection in language, language cannot represent. What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language. Propositions show the logical form of reality. They display it." (T4.121)

Williams: "the mistake in it (though we forget that it is not S[hakespeare] speaking but an imaginative character of his) is to have believed that the reflection of nature is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature, a 'lie'." (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "How can logic—all-embracing logic, which mirrors the world—use such peculiar crotches and contrivances? Only because they are all connected with one another in an infinitely fine network, the great mirror." (T5.511)

Williams: "Of course S. is the most conspicuous example desirable of the the falseness of this very thing. He holds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination rivals nature's composition with his own." (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "If a fact is to be a picture, it must have something in common with what it depicts." (T2.16)

Williams: "He himself become 'nature' — continuing 'its' marvels — if you will" (S&A, p. 51)

Wittgenstein: "Logic is not a body of doctine, but a mirror-image of the world." (T6.13)

It has always seemed to me that Shakespeare's aphorism has been grossly misunderstood by those who would question the very possibility of representation. Here, Williams, too, makes the mistake of suggesting that Shakespeare can be used to justify the "copyist tendency", or what in philosophy is called the "picture theory of meaning", which Wittgenstein's Tractatus of course is taken to represent.

Just as erroneously, I would argue. The picture is not the meaning of the proposition; rather, the picturing is. The fact that one fact is a picture of a another fact is the meaning; the picture is not simply the meaning. Rather: "The pictorial relationship consist of the correlations of the picture's elements with things." (T2.1514) The picture does not represent the meaning; the pictorial relationship, with all its "crotches and contrivances", is the meaning. This is why "logic is transcendental" (T6.13).

And this is in fact what Shakespeare says of the so-called "mirror of nature". It is not the function of art to provide a "copy" of nature (in, presumably, the mirror). Rather, we stand in the same practical relationship to a work of art as we do to a mirror. The surface of the mirror (which is a distortion of natural perspective even when perfectly smooth and flat) determines, not a representation, but a relationship: an infinite possible number of images depending on how we pose in front of it. The work of art "hold[s] as 'twere a mirror up to [our] nature", i.e., the audience must see itself in the play (which is of course exactly what Hamlet hopes to achieve with Claudius), "to show virtue her feature" (if we have virtue, we should be shown this), "to scorn he own image" (if that's what's needed), "and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure" (III, ii., 22-24.)

That last line gives me my point of departure for the next post in this series. It means precisely that the mirror must rival nature's composition, "continue its marvels", not merely copy it. The mirror is always also a lens: it focuses our attention. On ourselves.


Andrew Shields said...

As a kind of confirmation of your train of thought: I read the second quotation from WCW here and was immediately suspicious:

"... to have believed that the reflection of nature is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature ..."

No, I thought, "the reflection of nature" is not a "sham nature" or a "lie." It has a truth of its own, the truth of (the) reflection.

Thomas said...

Yes, the possibility of appearing in the mirror is a fact about the object, and the mirror, and you, the observer. As is the possibility of appearing differently at different angles and in different mirrors. There's nothing deceitful about it.

There's nothing more or less real about the image in the mirror than the image of the thing directly observed in such-and-such light at such-and-such distance. It's just different things about the the object that come to presence.

Presskorn said...

T2.13-2.16 is EXTREMELY slippery ground. And I mean that in an explicitly pejorative sense: here there is a distinct need to get back to the rough ground (PI §107).

But, if one must go iceskating in these areas, it of course also means that one should be careful with sweeping interpretations. I am not exactly sure that your comments contradict it, but notice that T2.221 is fairly explicit in stating that the meaning of a picture is *what* it represents [Darstellt], i.e. a possible state of affairs. No talk of meaning as pictur*ing* here nor of denying that what a picture represents is its meaning. Also notice that the "pictorial relation" [die abbildende Beziehung] cannot be distingusihed from the picture *itself*. cf. T2.1513.

Thomas said...

Yes, the meaning of the picture is what it represents. The fact is the meaning of the proposition. However, it is still the proposition or picture that "means" the fact, and in order for this to be possible there has be an additional fact, namely, that this picture means that fact. So, the meaning of the a picture is what it represents, but also that it represents in the first place.

In my writing seminars I draw a rectangle on the board and ask, "What is this a picture of?" And people say, "A piece of a paper," and then I tell them they're wrong. Because that's not what I "meant". But the rectangle is a perfectly good picture of a piece of paper.

Wittgenstein (in T) will say that "The door is open" is actually a picture of a fact. If I draw a sketch of an open door, this is a also a picture. (Interestingly, the sentence can be a picture of the sketch.)

There's the fact of the lines on the paper in such and such an arrangement. And then there's the fact that they depict some other fact. I.e., the pictorial relation. And without that additional fact, a perfectly good picture is no picture at all.