Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prolegomena towards a theory of the Early Wittgenstein

Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.”

which, translated into pentameter, becomes

“The World is everything that is the case.”
Neatly put. 

Thus begins Wittgenstein’s celebrated Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, translated as the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in a vain attempt to be even more pretentious than the original, each of whose oracular sentences is separately numbered  and set in its own glass case, and known fondly to philosophers and cab-drivers alike as the Tractatus.

Anyhow, a nice line, ya gaddidmit. I once offered it to a musician friend, who composed an oratorio  with that line as libretto.  The music alas is lost;  but the lyrics read as follows, and can be sung to the tune of “Jesu, der du meine Seele” (y’all know that one, hum it in the shower, sure: Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten…_)

Die Welt ist AH--ha-ha-haha- HA-haha-ha-ha,
HA-haha-ha-ha-AHHHH-less  was
AH-ahah-ah-ah-ahhhhhh-less,  dee
AH-ahah-ah-ah-ahhhhhh-less,  dee
Ha, haha hahaha haaa, (hee hee -- ha ha)
hahaha, hahaha, haaaa --- ho ho ho ho ho ho --
 -- Diiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…… !   Welt!   Ist! --

(and here we must break off, as the oratorio runs on for several hours.)

Well.  Wittgenstein should have quit while he was ahead, and ended the book right there -- or rather, passed immediately to its fine last line, deserving of being inscribed in marble in every parliament and broadcasting studio:

“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen.”(**)

[(**)  Ramsey’s formulation of this general idea  was a good deal larkier:
“What we can’t say, we can’t say -- and we can’t whistle it, either.”]

For then it would have been cherished for all time, as the paradigm of authorly forbearance.  Instead, he blathered on to found the school of Atheism for Autists;  and the world cries,  “Also schweig doch denn, Ludwig!  Halt’s Maul!”

Already the Tractatus goes seriously off the tracks at Oracular Utterance #1.21 (love how they’re not merely numbered sequentially, but decimally tabulated):

“Eines kann der Fall sein  oder nicht der Fall sein, und alles uebrige gleich bleiben.”

Oof.  Each man is an island.  Tout se tient -- NOT.  I’ll rub my back, you rub yours.  A philosophy for monads, whacking off in solitude in an S.R.O.

[Footnote for specialists:   The later Wittgenstein also sucks, but in so many richly different ways. ]


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[Further footnote]   It turns out that others  have had the same idea:

After Thus spake Zarathustra,  Jacob Burckhardt  ironically asked Nietzsche  whether he also meant to turn his hand to opera.  … It is astounding that the Tractatus has not been set to, say, atonal music (leaving aside Russell’s suggestions that Proposition 7  can, in the original German, be sung to the tune of ‘Good King Wenceslaus’).
-- Ernest Gellner, Language and Solitude (posthum. 1998), p. 107

And-a one, and-a two ...

For those of you who -- unaccountably  and reprehensibly -- have not your copy of the Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung about you,  I indulge your frailty  and quote the line (unnecessarily, as you have  naturally  already committed it to memory):

Wo-von man nicht     spre-chen kann,
d’rüber  muß man    schweeiiiiii- gen !

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