I am yours
he for she.
Two for one.
of being here
that cloud there
in the mountains
Puella, cui multum et nimium dedi,
Redde mi meam laetitiam et meum mundum,
Quem tibi amore meo perdidi;
Redde mi milia basiorum quae tibi dedi,
Et dabo tibi flores in nocte florentes.
now east now west
the road has a mind of its own
and my feet obey
the rest of me stays
the sky grows gentle
MY HEART OPENS
the road goes on
as if not knowing
which way is best
There is no call to life
that does not come with the warning
you will never return
and, if you do, no one
will believe you were ever gone.
Your stories will become lies
even to yourself, yet
you will go on binding
your soul with whatever
spells will serve the truth.
Go then. Straight North.
Take the form of wolf or bear
sky or rain
until you take human shape again
and hear that call:
Come to where the heart is free
where all is all
and truth is song,
It is spring
Too hard to bear
Become something other
Than what has been
out of the darkness
Where once there was
swept through time
there now is song
May every bird
With a broken wing
Find refuge here
for our delight.
Out of ocean's stream
Form and flower
Comes this body
The soft full curve
Of your breast rising
Like the moon
Comes our story
Of its end:
It opens wholly
Into the pluraplenty
And the leaping beat
of the poluploisboios sea.
Who is this girl who loves old men
and sings to those whose song will end?
All that she says is strangely true;
To her belong all the mystic blues.
Tears in her eyes become the sun;
Her home is where all rivers run.
It's she who dances on your bed
Though others give you up for dead.
This silence wants not your word
unless it be like wind to flower
raising its hallelujah to the bloom
of sky, unknowing as morning
kisses are to lovers not knowing
what else to say or do but sigh:
if you speak, I will surely die.
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.
Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.
Another said: I bet that is also a parable.
The first said: You have won.
The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.
The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.
If there is no way for us to be other than as we are -- as we are in our dreams and choices and lies, in every ache and every tear we let fall -- if all of this is as it must be, and if we were finally able to embrace this secret that we have kept so assiduously from each other and most especially from ourselves, we would discover that nothing at all has changed. Everything would return just as it is and must be, even our self-deception and lies and myths and every little bruise to our pride. Our acceptance, rejection or ignorance of the secret changes nothing. It is as it must be. Does this news cause you to weep over what would be lost or does it gladden your heart to discover yourself fulfilled and complete at every moment of your life or does it make you want me to just shut up? It does not matter. Or perhaps it does matter to you as it does for me. So it goes.
Mind like wind
Wanders, not knowing
Where it goes, though
It has its reasons
And tells this story:
O how the night mocks me!
Where are thy stars
that make the darkness
whole and all things right?
Below are an article and a video on Ehrsson's out-of-body experiments.
de quo consultus, an esset / tempora maturae visurus longa senectae, / fatidicus vates 'si se non noverit' inquit. . . Everywhere there are mirrors if we but knew how to look . . . in the trees and in the wind that they catch but cannot hold, in the mountains and in the clouds that rest upon them before the wind comes, and in all the varieties of water: rivers, pools, oceans and, yes, in your tears that are more like rain than you will ever know, and most especially in every dream, fantasy, delusion, and lie . . . in every act of the imagination and in every sight, smell, and touch . . . your skin, this kiss. . . in such images we find ourselves . . . not something, but not nothing either . . . . we see as if in a mirror the essential movement of mind through which there is anything at all, through which there is meaning . . . and, like the wind in the trees, that meaning is elusive. . . we are like Narcissus who at first did not recognize the image in the clear pool as his own; we too experience the world and its meaning as if they were there to be discovered and precisely not as something for which we are responsible . . . all that there is is the reflection of our own minds at large . . . should we come to know ourselves as Narcissus did, we would know that we are responsible for everything, that without us there would be no joy and no death, no love and no suffering . . . according to the ancient story, Narcissus remains eternally enchanted by his own reflection in the River Styx . . .If we too come to know ourselves would not we also remain frozen in time as if we had encountered some Medusa . . .to know oneself guilty of every act of cruelty would surely turn us to stone . . . . . or would we like Narcissus in Melville’s account plunge into the pool and drown . . . Melville tells us that the image Narcissus beholds in the water is the ungraspable phantom of life and that somehow is the key to it all . . . CONSIDER YOURSELVES WARNED . . . as was Narcissus: that he would live a long life if only he did not come to know himself . . . this way lies madness . . . as there is in the very capitalization of that warning . . . shall we like Ishmael remain on the bank of that pool, frozen by cowardice and fade into a living death . . . or like Ahab seek to embrace the image of ourselves and drown . . . BE WARNED . . . just so this early morning warns me as the coming light fades into night . . .
There is evidence that meditation can become addictive, especially when the intention is to escape everyday life. In particular, the feeling of bliss that some experience during meditation can be addictive and can cause ‘craving’. That feeling of bliss would qualify, I think, as an hallucination. (Interestingly enough, meditation is also sometimes used as a technique for ameliorating other kinds of addiction.) It may be that when meditation takes place within a form of life, say that of a zen monastery, where the everyday life of an individual makes meditation not an escape but rather a ‘deep practice’ that reflects other daily practices that are consonant with it, 'craving' does not occur.
The light peels
like an orange or pear
And in that fragrant dark
that is not soul.
then swallow you whole.
in twos your eyes
your hands your breasts
In the end
there was only us.
‘Pity’ and ‘piety’ both ultimately derive from the Latin pietas which, as used by Vergil, means the fulfillment of duties to family, country and gods. Aeneas is a man marked out for his pietas (pietate insignis). In Latin, pietas does occasionally suggest ‘affection’ and even ‘compassion’, especially with respect to family members and friends (vide pietas, Lewis & Short). Generally, commentators have not recognized this last occasional use,even though affection of a father for his child or the child for his father iscompletely natural within the context of familial obligation. Later, Christian writers extended the meaning of pietas to include God’s mercy. This too, however, has its parallel in classical civilization where a man’s pietas is expected to earn him a gracious response from the gods. Indeed, Aeneas complains loudly about the apparent lack of divine reciprocity for his pietas. Today, ‘piety’ is almost exclusively used within a religious context and even sometimes pejoratively connotes ‘holier-than-thou’ pretensions.
In OF there were two spellings for pietas: piete and pite, both with the sense of compassion included at first within the idea of fulfilling one’s religious duty and later simply as compassion itself. Later, ‘piete’ and ‘pite’ became differentiated, with the latter (pite/pity) becoming a secular expression.
I couldn’t help staring
at these old man’s hands
my father’s hands
now mine now yours
“Not yet,” you say --
I take his in mine
We stand like trees
In winter and I
Remember the spring
That was and he
That never will be.
She scratches the oranges then smells the peel,
presses an avocado just enough to judge its ripeness,
polishes the Macintoshes searching for bruises.
She selects with hands that have thickened, fingers
that have swollen with history around the white gold
of a wedding ring she now wears as a widow.
Unlike the archived photos of young, slender digits
captive around black and white orange blossoms,
her spotted hands now reaching into the colors.
I see all the folklore of her childhood, the fields,
the fruit she once picked from the very tree,
the wiry roots she pulled out of the very ground.
And now, among the collapsed boxes of yucca,
through crumbling pyramids of golden mangos,
she moves with the same instinct and skill.
This is how she survives death and her son,
on these humble duties that will never change,
on those habits of living which keep a life a life.
She holds up red grapes to ask me what I think,
and what I think is this, a new poem about her--
the grapes look like dusty rubies in her hands,
what I say is this: they look sweet, very sweet.
What's real is the ache
I feel when you say goodbye
and break the night
What's true is the fall
I take when the sky opens
and you fly through
Yet there is the kiss
You gave to me tonight
When I asked the question
So much is real,
So much is true,
So sweet your lips
O what’s the use?
Processions that lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye.
What if my great-granddad had a pair that were twenty foot high,
And mine were but fifteen foot, no modern stalks upon higher,
Some rogue of the world stole them to patch up a fence or a fire.
Because piebald ponies, led bears, caged lions, make but poor shows,
Because children demand Daddy-long-legs upon his timber toes,
Because women in the upper stories demand a face at the pane
That patching old heels they may shriek, I take to chisel and plane.
Malachi Stilt-Jack am I, whatever I learned has run wild,
From collar to collar, from stilt to stilt, from father to child.
All metaphor, Malachi, stilts and all. A barnacle goose
Far up in the stretches of night; night splits and the dawn breaks loose;
I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, stalk on;
Those great sea-horses bare their teeth and laugh at the dawn.
The images that Yeats gives the reader in the final four lines of “High Talk” result from Yeats’ taking to chisel and plane and giving the women what they demand, a reason for shrieking. These exotic images, especially those great sea-horses, are more potent and more to be marvelled at than those seen on parade at the usual poetic circus. No wonder many a commentator has been taken in by their brilliance. Yet in the end what are they but images whose beauty diverts us from the all too personal, all too common, and ofttimes unlovely sources of poetic inspiration. In the closely following “Circus Animals' Desertion”, Yeats tells the reader he too was diverted by the exuberance of his own imagination. In the final lines of this penultimate poem of Last Poems Yeats seeks the true sources of his poetry and discovers as if for the first time: “Now that my ladder’s gone/ I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” “Politics," the final poem of Last Poems, is a simple statement of the desire of an old man for a girl.
"Do you feel that you have voluntary control over ideas so that you can force them to come?"
Yeats: "Usually. The actual ideas comes (sic) in a moment of unconsciousness & forgetfullness but the effort must be kept upuntil the stream produce what may be only a momentary passivity."
"Do you find that actual execution starts with a series of apparently futile attemps to work?"
(from a questionnaire Yeats responded to; NLIM 30,098)
Poets sing in the voice of birds
and write all upon the wind
and like the birds of summers gone
they rise like death like spring.
O do not tell me you understand
and feel that lift of wing
unless you too will speak a word
that makes this old heart ring.
Just so a bell from winter's keep
does wake me from my owl-like sleep:
So fair a word, so fair a face
all wind and wing, all hawk and ache.
So falls your word upon my tongue
all breasts and skin, all bird and song.
"In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones
and nine orfices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept
spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is
torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took
to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making
it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times
when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit,
or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain
victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has
never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and
another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a
court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying
to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable
love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing
poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly."
(Introductory paragraph from The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, from
a translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa).
And you will say what lovers say when lovers lie:
just so the moon outshines the night, the sun beguiled.
The knowledge of reality is always in some measure a secret knowledge. It is a kind of death.
-- Yeats, Autobiographies, p. 482
Fires burn less fiercely than do these thoughts
that would make war upon the very thing
that makes them right.
It is mind that creates the night
so this lust for life
this change from dark to light
may go on and die.
It is against this my thoughts rebel
and doing so celebrate
the very thing I would destroy.
Desire is but the burning of the night.
It burns through soul and
makes this world a place of fright.
The poet stokes the fire with his words.
His breath upon the embers glows.
This autumn rain comes
on me strange
as you and I lie
beneath the ledge
hold hands and kiss
and say goodbye
When shall I see you again
In Winter when I am dead
or Spring when you flower
or Summer when you rise
with the waves upon the beach
and make love
to every passing eye
No, it will be as today
the rain drop drops
like leaves like tears
that hold our love
and all that's lost
I shall come
as surely as winter
and die a thousand deaths
You too will come
and lie upon these
and give me up
You shall come
as you always do
dressed in pearls
and make it rain.
I am going out to look again
At what I thought I knew
And just might find
A sudden place
that I can bring you to --
A place so near
Yet strangely far
As I this day from you.
Before turning out
the light, I woke
to find you
gone, the bed
your comb clean
as your get-a-way:
it was as if you
were never there –
in the morning
you just smiled
as you always do
at my strange dreams
but this time
you said goodbye.
What it means to be conscious is that the world is meaningful to us. Consciousness is as little able to be found in the brain as is the value of a precious family keepsake to be found in its physical construction. Meaning is what the brain does in its interaction with the external world. When we are aware, when there is something it is like to be us, when the world is accessible to us, there exists a meaningful relationship between our neural activity and the outside world. Even in its most elementary openings, meaning is present. Of course, there is some neural correlate for this meaning-making, but meaning itself is not contained in this neural correlate. Rather, the meaning is present only in the activity of our full bodied, exploratory interaction with the world. Dreaming, which seems to be an experience that brain originates on its own, is founded upon our interaction with the external world. When we dream, it is as though we are seeking that original foundation. That is why we ask what a dream means, not in terms of the dream itself, but in terms of the life we live when we are awake. It is as if dreaming is a kind of searching for something that is missing, our presence in the world.
Introduction To Poetry
by Billy Collins (1941- )
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
26. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein manages, as Russell quips, to say a great deal about what cannot be spoken of. In the Philosophical investigations, Wittgenstein appears to acknowledge Russell's point by truly remaining silent on matters that language cannot speak of. The question remains, however, whether W's new beginning in the PI results in the same sort of line to be drawn between what can and cannot be spoken of. Questions of value, for instance, are part of our everyday use of language and as such are meaningful. It therefore appears that what could not be spoken of in the Tractatus can be meaningfully spoken of in the Philosophical Investigations. Indeed, it appears everything relevant to our human form of life can be spoken of meaningfully. We are sometimes silent not because we cannot say what we mean but because we have nothing relevant to say.
27. It has been suggested that the appearance of something new within our established forms of life and the language games that depend on these forms is evidence for the efficacy of that of which language cannot speak. Such an assertion is but a disguised attempt to say the unsayable. It contradicts itself. Accordingly, Wittgenstein has nothing to say about this. Something new appears in language not out of some silent resource but from within the activities of language itself, activities that include empirical investigation, the asking of questions as well as the imaginative use of language. This last includes the activity of drawing analogies, an activity in which W is very skilled and one that allowed him to say something new about philosophy. There is an openness to our language activities that is not bound by rules, just as in tennis, there is no rule on how high to throw the ball or on the spin that is put on a ball. Such openness is not silence and certainly not the unsayable but rather the possibility of saying something that has not been said before but remains meaningful within our human form of life.
28. In what sense are language activities games? 'Game' was first introduced as an analogy to the plurality of speech acts that, like games, are rule-governed activities that share affinities but no essential attribute. However, Wittgenstein appears at times to use 'language-game' as if it were a 'game' like chess or patience. Are speech act games or simply analogous to games? My tentative conclusion is that speech acts are only analogous to games and that to include language activities in the same category as chess or patience is misleading. Language activities do share affinities with games such as chess but the 'form of life' in which most language activities occur is different from that of chess, though speech and debate competitions and crossword puzzles are particular language-activities that would certainly count as games in its customary sense. Our everyday use of language is not just a game. It is in fact no game at all
29. A similar problem develops as to what counts as a language-game. Does 'language-game' refer only to the plurality of everyday speech acts (commands, requests, prayers, confessions, etc.) or are we to include theology, aesthetics, sociology, etc. as well? These later appear to belong to what Wittgenstein would call grammatical fictions because their use of words seeks to be denotative where no denotation is possible. Beauty, truth and virtue are words that acquire meaning from their use within a community and not from supposed mental objects that bear their names. It is as if we mistake the shape of the container of gas for the gas itself or rather we mistake the picture for what the picture is supposed to represent. In the case of virtue, what is to be represented is how we use the word in our everyday speech not in some fictitious realm of the mind.
2. The uncertain chronology of IF as well as the interruption of the footnotes serve to divert the reader from the emotional impact of the text. DWF has said that he put the footnotes in to break the linearity of the text, but the text itself is nonlinear. The novel unfolds in what I would call the no-time of the imagination -- scene after scene like annular waves repeat the a vision of a cage whose escape turns out to be the bars of the cage. It is of interest that in this imaginative time the novel begins in November and ends with Gately somehow tossed out upon a beach with the tide way out. The imaginative time, not the linear time, is that of Melville's Moby Dick ("November in my soul" to "the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago"). Like MD, IF is also an epic that examines the nature of necessity and the American psyche. (There are also many allusions to whales in IF.) As the white whale represented the play of necessity in our lives just so Entertainment becomes the engine of fate in IF. Instead of the handbook of whaling that we get in MD we find in IF a a handbook on drugs.
3. Diversion from the emotional power of IF is a constant temptation for readers as they search out hints, loose ends and chronological conundra -- just so the allusions in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land function to lure the reader away from the deep personal despair of its author. DWF Himself knows this waste land.
4. DWF haunts the pages of IF. It is not for nothing that Jim Incandenza is called Himself or that Gately's first two initials are DW. Of course, one can see DWF as alive in all his characters, but Jim Incandenza and Gately announce themselves more directly. These two characters meet in the visitation of the wraith to Gately in the hospital. The wraith is at once Himself (now manifestly DWF) and the brain voice of Gately. The occurrence of paranormal events (a bed on the ceiling, the haunting of rooms at ETA, etc.) speaks to the author's visitations in lives of his own characters. Note that Himself's films are short on narrative but rich in optics. The same could be said of IF. One can easily understand that DWF wants ,as HImself does, simply to entertain, yet the entertainment creates its own fatal necessity.
5. Joelle wears her veil because, as she says, she is fatally beautiful. Before the acid, her beauty was apotropaic but not fatal. She appears unveiled in the last film of HImself in which the viewer catches a wobbling glimpse of her face, her voice repeating for twenty minutes "I am sorry" in various formulations. She is the Medusa. The film turns out to be lethal. One imagines the viewer caught between her beauty and disfiguration as the wobbling lense causes him to focus and refocus on her face over and over while all the while listening to her insistent apology. Her face in the film is a moving image of the novel itself both as to its theme and its effect upon the reader.
21. What do we mean when we call something private? It may mean something that I have chosen not to speak of or it may mean something of which I claim ownership as a product of my physical or intellectual work or it may mean something that only I can know. It is only the third of these senses that Wittgenstein questions:
In what sense are my sensations private? Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. -- in one way this is false, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word "know" as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know I'm in pain. -- Yes, but all the same, not with the certainty with which I know it myself! -- It can't be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I'm in pain. What is it supposed to mean -- except perhaps that I am in pain? (PI 246)
The sentence "Sensations are private" is comparable to "One plays patience by oneself." (PI 248)
What can it mean to play patience by oneself but to play patience? What can it mean that sensations are private but that there are sensations?
22. What then are sensations?
"And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a Nothing." -- Not at all. It's not a Something, but not a Nothing either! The conclusion was only that a Nothing would render the same service as a Something about which nothing could be said. We've only rejected the grammar which tends to force itself on us here. (PI 293)
There is a temptation here to use the phrase "a Something, but not a Nothing" as though referring denotatively to sensation. But Wittgenstein makes clear that he is talking here specifically about the "service" that such phrases as "not a Nothing" and "a something about which nothing can be said" perform. What service do such phrases serve? They serve to draw the line between what can be spoken of and what cannot. It is necessary to reject the grammar which tends to force a denotative sense on us. As denotative phrases, ‘Not A Something’ and ‘Not a Nothing’ cancel out. And yet, we would make it into a something. Just so language bewitches us. This way leads to mysticism.
23. Can we use "private" as equivalent with "that which cannot be said" as pertains to experience or sensation? Wittgenstein himself never himself does. And if we did, it would serve no purpose. The word "my" has meaning only in what can be talked about and what is therefore potentially accessible to others.
"Another person can't have my pain." -- My pains -- what pains are they? . . . In so far as it makes sense to say that my pain is the same as his, it is also possible for us both to have the same pain. (PI 253).
24. As Wittgenstein says in his discussion of the 'Beetle in the Box', "If we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and name', the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant" (PI 293). It does not belong to the language-game at all. Can 'sensation' be construed otherwise than on the model of 'object and name'? Of course. It acquires meaning by its use in what it is our shared form of life. When you say "I have a toothache", I understand what you mean, not because "toothache" denotes something we can both privately observe in our experience and then conclude our experiences are similar -- rather, that the possibility of recognizing my toothache as a toothache in the first place depends upon a form of life in which what I call a toothache is what everyone else calls a toothache. That is the language-game!
25. It is certainly true that I cannot be conscious of your pain as you are. This is to say no more than you are in pain and I am not. This fact, however, does not imply that your pain is thereby private such that your experience is essentially hidden from me. Your experience of pain is hidden from me only if you choose to hide it.
Neural activity has no meaning except in the context of our projects and activities. Of itself brain function is as meaningless as the fall of rain or the tides of the sea or the rotation of the earth apart from our witness. When something in the biochemistry of the brain changes and leaves a person impaired, the meaning of that impairment is founded upon the life denied, though human projects are such that impairment itself is often experienced not as tragic or even debilitating but as occasion for courage and love. The meaning of life lies not in the circuits of the brain but in forms of life in which we participate and in the language we use. It is a mistake to believe that such words as love, envy, or courage must point to something other than the structure of our activities. What we hear when we speak of soul or the meaning of life is the poetry and music of our lives. What is most astonishing is that there is any meaning at all. That the meaning of life dies with us testifies to that meaning. Consciousness can not be found in the brain because apart from our language and our projects consciousness is nothing but a wind that is not even that.
14. Wittgenstein’s method:
The great difficulty here is not to present the matter as if there were something one couldn’t do. As if there really were an object, from which I extract a description, which I am not in a position to show anyone. – And the best that I can propose is that we yield to the temptation to use this picture, then investigate what the application of the picture looks like. (PI 374)
A picture held us captive. And we couldn’t get outside it, for it lay in our language, and language seemed only to repeat it to us inexorably. (PI 115)
When philosophers use a word –- “knowledge”, “being”, “object”, “I”, “proposition/sentence”, “name” – and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language in which it is at home? What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.
When I say I want to investigate ‘consciousness’, it appears to me that I am investigating something’. Is consciousness, for instance, some inner mental state that can be observed only from within and is, therefore, private to each of us? Whenever we use the sentence “I am conscious” in everyday speech, it is either a needless affirmation of what is obvious to the person I am addressing or it is bound up in a particular event where I had been temporarily ‘unconscious’. e.g. in a coma. In any case, the meaning of the word is immediately and easily understood by the person with whom I am speaking. Why then does ‘consciousness’ present a problem? Is it not because I think that a word is a name for something somehow inside me? But isn’t the expression ‘inside me’ a metaphor that we are here mistaking for some actual location? But how am I to find that ‘inside’? But, if it is not ‘inside’, where is it? It is neither ‘inside’ or ‘outside’, neither here or there. When I use the word ‘conscious’ in an everyday context it never occurs to ask myself “Where am I conscious?” It is simply a fact of my existence. The word ‘conscious’ only becomes problematic when we take the word out of its everyday usage and ask “But what is this thing called consciousness?” and then seek an answer as if it were the same sort of question as “What is an aardvark?
15. We commit the same error when we attempt to define consciousness as what it is to like to be me or a bat or what it is like to be another person.
“You don’t know what it like to be me” as an expressive statement in an everyday situation is significant but to turn it into an argument for solipsism is a mistake. As an expressive statement in the course of our everyday life, it is an appeal to another person. To turn it into a statement of existential isolation is to lift the statement out of that situation and create an illusion of the ‘self’.
16. “Are you saying there is no ‘self’?” Yes and no. “Either there is a ‘self’ or there is not!” Wittgenstein:
At this point, our thinking plays us a strange trick. That is, we want to quote the law of excluded middle and say: ”Either such a an image floats before his mind, or it does not; there is no third. . possibility!” . . . And problem is now supposed to be: does reality accord with the picture or not? And this picture seems to determine what we have to do, what to look for, and how – but it does not, precisely because we do not know how it is to be applied. Here, saying “There is no third possibility” . . . expresses our inability to urn our eyes away from the this picture – a picture which looks as if it must already contain both the problem and its solution . . . Similarly, when it is said “Either he has this sensation, or he doesn’t”, what primarily occurs to us is a picture which already seems to determine the sense of the statements unequivocally: “Now you know hat sin question”, one would like to say. And what’s just what it does not tell you. (PI 352)
When we create a picture of the ‘self’, the rules for its application are not given. The meaning of ‘self’ as used in our everyday language (“I am not myself today.”) is immediately understood in the context in which it is spoken.
17. “Are then the pictures we create inconsequential?” On the contrary! If we but step away from application and see the creating of such pictures as a primary activity, they become important experiences unto themselves and, along with other language activities, provide our life with meaning. No longer are such pictures illusions because no longer do we treat them as pointing beyond themselves.
“A picture tells me itself” is what I’d like to say. That is, it's telling me something consists in its own structure, in its own forms and colours. (PI 523)
Don’t take it as a matter of course, but as a remarkable fact, that pictures and fictitious narratives give us pleasure, absorb us. (PI 524)
We create our images for their own sake; they do their own work within the activities of which they are a part. To seek ‘application’ is actually to reduce their significance. It is application that turns ‘image’ into illusion.
18. The way out of the “bottle” is to find meaning in each language activity in terms of its own structure and rules. “Does this mean that there is no priority among such activities or no judgment to be made among them as to their value?” It is difficult to know where to begin to respond to such questions? It is as though somehow were to ask “Do Hamlet and right triangles exist along with aardvarks and civil liberties?”-- as if one could somehow apply the rules of one language game to those of another. “But what then, are they all equal.” But that statement assumes terms of comparison! Where are we to find them?
19. “Can we make no judgments?” Only this: some language activities create problems where none need be. They do so because they seek to apply the rules of their activity to those of another. Such applications lead, as Wittgenstein tells us, to “deep disquietudes”. It may be that if we gave up ‘application, some of these language activities would no longer trouble us or would lose their interest, much as childhood games like “Go Fish” become vapid. Perhaps not. Perhaps they would take on a new vitality!
20. In the Preface to Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein invites readers to think for themselves:
I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.
Indeed, Wittgenstein’s style requires the reader to think for himself:
Consider two language games:
(a) Some gives someone else the order to make particular movements with his arm, or to assume particular bodily positions (gymnastic instructor and pupil). And a variant of this language-game is this: the pupil gives himself orders and then carries them out.
(b) Someone observes certain regular processes – for example, the reactions of different metals to acids – and thereupon makes predictions about the reactions that will occur in certain cases.
There is an evident kinship between these two language-games, and also a fundamental difference. In both, one might call the spoken words “predictions”. But compare the training which leads to the first technique with the training for the second one! (PI 630)
Here Wittgenstein does not tell the reader what the difference in training is between his two examples nor does he comment on the significance of this difference. The reader is left to think this out for himself.
To what ‘training’ is Wittgenstein referring in the first instance (a), that of the one who gives the order or the one who receives it? That there is such a question reveals a significant disparity with the second instance (b). In (a), the one who gives the order and the one who receives the order participate in a common form of life that gives the order its meaning. To speak of ‘prediction’ in this instance (a) is to turn it into an object of thought that is foreign to the activity itself, thereby creating a picture whose application leads us to believe that the action performed is similar to “the reactions of different metals to acid” and that now we better understand the first instance because he have made it ‘objective’. The achievement of this objectivity, however, is illusory, as it has been accomplished by conflating wholly different activities that have wholly different rules of language by which they are played. We have ‘reduced’ one activity to another by subjecting it to the rules of another. If we miss that we have confused the use of ‘prediction’ in (a) and (b) or miss that it is how we use words in particular activities that determine their meanings, we end up bedeviling ourselves with questions like those that the debate over free will provoke.
If the earth
were to revolve
around the sun
we would see
it is the earth
that turns away
and brings on the night
If the moon were
itself to revolve
in time with earth
we would see its face
forever veiled in darkness
as our own
If I were to see
myself in your eyes
I would see the dark-
ness there as my own
but now it would be you
and not the night I loved
1. The mold Hal ingests as a child lies dormant within him and seems to become active as a result of his experimentation with various drugs. As Hal begins his decline that will result in his behavior becoming first subnormal then subhuman then subanimal, mold-like, with waggles and sounds unseen, unheard before within the human community, a metamorphosis not unlike that of Gregor Samsa -- as Hal begins his decline, the most immediate effect is that the mold's hold on him acts as a kind of truth-serum, e.g. Hal to himself and in his verbal expression to others is very worried about the Darkness's loss of part of his face but to others Hal's own face presents an incongruous hilarity. Hal's facial expression of pleasure as opposed to his verbal worry and concern stems from fact that the Darkness is an aspiring rival of his on the tennis court. As the mold becomes active, Hal becomes more and more simply an organic life-form, imposing on Hal and on us the realization that this is what we actually are: mold-like. The mold -- itself a source of DMZ --works on Hal through its organic, chemical interaction with its human host, enabled (how else!) by their organic kinship. So it is as well with all addictive drugs which our neurology selects first on the basis of pleasure but then locks in as a need even though the pleasure no longer obtains. Thus it is that our organic being triumphs over the lies we tell ourselves. As Madame Psychosis might say: I am sorry, so sorry, so so very sorry, so terribly . . . .
7. “We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.” (PI 89)
“Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language.” (PI 109)
“The philosopher treats a question; like an illness.” (PI 255)
What was said in Nos.1-6 is symptomatic of the very illness that Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity endeavors to cure: the will to theorize, to look away from what is in plain sight, from everyday use of language, and to seek logical connections among analogous forms of expressions. Everywhere in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein is trying to eliminate “misunderstandings concerning the use of words, brought about, among other things by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of our language” (PI 90).
8. Or to put it as Wittgenstein does early on in the Philosophical Investigations, such discussions as Nos. 1-6 are what happen “when language goes on holiday” (PI 38). The particular fault of Nos. 1-6 is the arbitrary use made of the blurriness of the idea of a ‘language-game’, a blurriness that allows us free rein to theorize. Wittgenstein speaks directly to this problem:
But if the colors in the original shade into one another without a hint of any boundary, won’t it become a hopeless task to draw a sharp picture corresponding to the blurred one? Won’t you then have to say: “Here I might just as well draw a circle as a rectangle or a heart, for all the colors merge. Anything – and nothing – is right.” – And is the position in which for example, someone finds himself in ethics or aesthetics when he looks for definitions that correspond to our concepts. (PI 77)
9. It may be that Wittgenstein is responsible for such misunderstandings. He himself strays on occasion into “theorizing” (e.g. PI 7:“I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the activities into which it is woven, a ‘language-game’.”) The problem is further compounded by the style of the fragments themselves which require careful reading to avoid mistaking a statement that Wittgenstein wants to challenge with one that he is affirming (e.g. see discussion below of the ‘Beetle in the Box’ PI 293).
10. What does Wittgenstein want us to understand as a ‘language game’? He lists examples for us in PI 15, among which are “requesting, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.” The illness that Wittgenstein is so energetically trying to combat arises when a philosopher attempts to generalize from what are plainly everyday, ordinary speech acts and interpret, for instance, his reference to “praying” as a reference to ‘theology’ as a word game unto itself.
11. For Wittgenstein not all uses of language qualify for what he means by a ‘language game’:
Other illusions come from various quarters to join the particular one spoken of here. Thought, language, now appear to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now? The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing. ) (PI 96)
Though it may be that Wittgenstein is himself responsible for confusion over what counts as a language-game, it is nevertheless clear that he directs our attention over and over again to everyday usage, warning us as he goes against the will to theorize, systematize or mistake analogies for logical equivalencies.
12. How easily Wittgenstein’s aphoristic style leads to confusion can be seen in his discussion of the ‘beetle-in-the-box’: (PI 293):
If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word ‘pain’ means – must I not say that of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly.
Well, everyone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case! – Suppose that everyone had a box with something in it which we call a “beetle”. No one can ever look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. – Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. – But what if these people’s word “beetle” had a use nonetheless? – If so, it would not be as the name of a thing. The Thing in the box doesn’t belong to the language-game at all; not even as a Something: for the box might even be empty. – No, one can ‘divide thought’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.
Here Wittgenstein is using the language of ‘privacy’ to debunk that very language. His discussion amounts to a reductio ad absurdum, as his conclusion to his aphorism makes clear:
That is to say, if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of ‘object and name’, the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant. (PI 293)
It would be a serious error here to suppose that Wittgenstein is arguing for some mystical notion of the ineffable: To do so is to mistake the purpose of his analogy.
13. What Wittgenstein is arguing against in his discussion of ‘privacy’ is the mistake he is everywhere warning us against: of supposing that words are essentially denotative, so that the “I” in “I think” denotes an “I” that exists as some kind of object. We understand the first person pronoun in its everyday usage readily enough: “I am going to the store.”; “I am in pain.”; “I am your friend.” The meaning of “I” only becomes problematical when we want to sever the pronoun from its ordinary use. That is the bewitchment of language about which Wittgenstein is warning us. It leads to entanglements that are the origin of “disquietudes” that he would dispel:
The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes.. . (PI 111)
Here is the fundamental fact is that we lay down rules, a technique, for playing a game, and that then, when we follow the rules, things don’t turn out as we had assumed. So that we are, as it wee entangled in our own rules. This entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand: that is, to survey. (PI 125)
It may be that Wittgenstein would allow that metaphysical languages do count as ‘language-games’. If so, they would be games whose rules end up being self-defeating, creating entanglements such as Descartes cogito, ergo sum in which the “I”, under Wittgenstein’s critique, “drops out of consideration as irrelevant” (PI 293 supra). (There is more to be said on Descartes’ cogito.)
(to be continued)
(These comments represent a journey in my undertstanding of Wittgenstein's Philosophical investigations. As I read Wittgenstein more closely, I have sometimes discovered certain preconceived ideas that had to be revised or discarded. 1-6 may sound like a plausible reading of Wittgenstein.but as I pay closer attention to the actual text and am able toI set aside my previous ideas about Wittgenstein, the more mistaken these early comments appear to be. Still, they seem to have some value -- at least, as a caution to those who think they know what Wittgenstein is about in his Philosophical Investigations without close reading of the actual text in its entirety.)
1. “I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the activities into which it is woven, a ‘language-game’.” (PI, 7)
Is not Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity also one of the many language activities (games) that are woven into the whole (game)? How could it not be? Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity clearly involves techniques or skills that can be mastered and, like other games, can be played at different levels of sophistication. An example of such a skill in Wittgenstein’s game is what he calls a “grammatical investigation”:
“Understanding a world”: a state. But a mental state? – We call dejection, excitement, pain, mental states. Carry out a grammatical investigation as follows: we say
‘He felt dejected the whole day'
‘He was in great excitement the whole day’
‘He has been in pain uninterruptedly since yesterday’. –
We also say, ‘Since yesterday I have understood this word.’ ‘Uninterruptedly’, though? – To be sure, one can speak of an interruption of understanding. But in what cases? Compare: ‘When did your pains get less?’ and ‘When did you stop understanding that word?’ (PI, 149)
This manner of looking at our actual use of words like ‘pain’ is repeated over and over again throughout the Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein’s game, of course, is not restricted to one such gambit. There are many others that must be mastered. It is perhaps enough to say here that even the formatting of this critique of Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity is to play the Wittgensteinian game. Of course, it is a poor attempt, but like any game, Wittgenstein’s can be played on all levels of mastery.
2. But even if this critique of Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity is correct, what has been achieved? Does it invalidate or weaken Wittgenstein’s work? Of course not. For what is good or useful or true or well done has only relevance within the game that is being play. And certainly the fact that we have identified Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity as one language-game among others does not mean that it is frivolous, trivial or merely diverting. (Here it is important to remember that W explicitly states that he intends his use of “game” to be not a definition of anything or a valuation but rather an analogy that will help us understand how we use words. Further discussion of this ‘analogy’ is required.)
3. One consequence of identifying Wittgenstein’s philosophical activity as a “game” is that we are able to recognize that it has “affinities” and “family resemblances” with other philosophical activities, such as Plato’s or Aristotle’s. There are a great many of these “affinities” to be explored, but for now, it is enough to recognize how familiar Wittgenstein’s resort to everyday usage is to Aristotle’s discussion of happiness or how familiar Wittgenstein’s use of analogy is to Plato’s.
4. But on what ground can Wittgenstein’s “game” be considered superior to those of other philosophers who appear, despite their “affinities”, to be playing games as different as checkers, chess, ring-around-a-rosy, poker, or GO. The play in each of these can only be evaluated within the individual games themselves. The one fault we might find with Wittgenstein’s game is the same one we find in those of other philosophers: that their game is presented as the game, the one by which all others are to be measured.
5. That Plato is playing a different game from that of Wittgenstein can be demonstrated by an investigation into the former’s use of analogy. Plato uses his analogies (the cave, the divided line, the chariot, the theory of recollection which leads to the further analogy of the slave-boy) to bump up against the barriers of language: an attempt to say the unsayable. To turn any one of these analogies into Platonic doctrine is to forget the purpose within any given dialogue that these analogies serve. In the case of recollection and the slave-boy episode, Plato employs these analogies to help us move beyond Meno’s paradox that it is senseless to search for what one does not know. Indeed, at the end of the slave-boy analogy, Socrates offers this qualification:
I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act – that is, that we shall be better, braver and more active men if we believe it is right to look for what we don’t know than if we believe there is no point in looking because what we don’t know can never be discovered."
We may say something similar in response to Wittgenstein: the attempt to say what cannot be said about truth, beauty and virtue is not a futile activity even though it will render up only what is nonsense from Wittgenstein’s perspective. The attempt itself has the effect of creating a life that is experienced as deeply meaningful. In playing Plato’s game, we discover that what is of most value is not the answer to the question, What is virtue?, but the kind of life that silently, invisibly comes about as a consequence of earnestly asking the question.
6. Wittgenstein himself seems to be alive to and find personal value in those games that involve bumping one’s head against the barrier of language. See his “A Lecture on Ethics” as well as the later part of the Tractatus. It may be that Wittgenstein’s problem with Plato and other philosophers is really the problem that has developed with respect to his own philosophical activity: the philosophical activity has become hardened into doctrine, or even worse, dogma. (It is all too often forgotten that Wittgenstein used "game" as an analogy, which like all analogies must eventually fall away.) Socrates is all about the activity itself of philosophy, as is Wittgenstein. As with any game, the value is in the play itself.
(See Journal 7-13 where the above critique is understood as flawed.)