Saturday, March 22, 2014

What So Much Depends Upon

If you can actually imagine a red wheel barrow,1 we'll grant you all the rest.
     When one says that a great deal depends on such and such an image, of course that does not mean that other images wouldn't be adequate too; the natural object is always the adequate symbol. But each may be as dull as any other. (On this a curious remark by E. Pound.)

To get into the correspondences between the Tractatus and Spring and All, published in 1922 (in English) and 1923 respectively, let's start with Chapter XXII of the latter, which (after the famous red wheel barrow) begins with the following remark:

The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. These things are normal — essential to every activity. But they exist — but not as dead dissections.

The opening gestures of the Tractatus of course spring immediately to mind:

1. The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
1.2 The world divides into facts.

The crucial difference in outlook of the two books, which we can label simply "poetic" and "philosophical", is here captured by Williams's focus on "activity" and Wittgenstein's focus on "facts". Facts are to philosophy what acts are to poetry. Both, however, are emphatic about how "essential" all this is: Williams already in the quoted paragraph and, of course, in that iconic opening stanza "so much depends/ upon", Wittgenstein at 2.011, saying, "It is essential to things that they should be possible constituents of states of affairs."

This is a good beginning.

1The cleverness of this bit will be lost on anyone not familiar with the opening remark of Wittgenstein's On Certainty, Chapter XXII of Williams's Spring and All, and Ezra Pound's "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste". Even this footnote is thus clever.


Presskorn said...

I think part of our previous disagreement can be made explicit by reference to a curious fact just striking me now. Namely, that the sentence from Spring and All could be used to sum up the philosophy of the LATER Wittgenstein.

The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. [I.e. even though grammar concerns something as fluid as life, it has the highest possible modality - it must always hold]

These things are normal — essential to every activity. [I.e. what is grammatical is partly defined by what is ordinary. What regarded as ordinary and normal is essential to every activity]

But they exist — but not as dead dissections. [I.e. grammar dissects life, but not by means of a cold conceptual apparatus, but by being part of a form of life].

You will now say that this implies that the later W is dilletante antropologist or poet. And I will keep on insisting that this is philosophy at its best.

Thomas said...

Wittgenstein, by his own admission, was not a very good poet. He was also at times a facile aphorist. He was right that philosophy should be written like poetry, but only in the sense that it must aspire to the perfect immanence of presentation. There will always be a distinction between poetry and philosophy, and Wittgenstein was a practitioner of the latter "at its best", not the former. Williams, vice versa.

You are right about the correspondences between S&A and the later Wittgenstein. But there's all kind of Pangrammatical imprecision here.

It should read: These are normal people - emerging in every activity.

And the Wittgenstein would say, philosophically: These things are normal - essential to every facticity.

I.e., in so far as Williams is philosophizing, he's not being too precise about it.

So now that's straightened out!

Presskorn said...

PS: "perfect immannence of presentation" is, if I remember Likeness correctly, a Kierkegaardian concept employed to designate what he envied about mathematical presentation (i.e. that the authority of a mathematical proof is immannent to the proof itself).... I tried to look it up a few months ago, but I could find it. Do you remember the exact reference?

Presskorn said...

errata:... couldn't find it...

Thomas said...

"To enunciate a mathematical thesis requires mathematical talent. The person that could enunciate it would prove that he had talent, and if the inanity were to be imagined (something that is always inane by reason of the perfect immanence of the talent in the presentation) that someone devoid of talent could do it, the thesis would retain just as much its truth…" (Johannes Climacus, II, 2, a., p. 152 in the Hong & Hong translation of Phil. Fragments).

In poetry and philosophy talent is, as Kierkegaard says of mathematics, "the adequate authority".