Distribution Automatique

Tuesday, July 12

Today: No Exit: Meanings
and Masks in Contemporary
Poetry and in Wittgenstein's
*Philosophical Investigations*

scroll down to Monday, July 11,
for Process and Object [in
Wittgenstein's *Zettel*:
Literary Currents
in W and Freud];
Saturday, July 9
for:* Poetry and Thinking:
Thinking for Oneself*
in *Zettel*; also
Limetree, Bemsha Swing
and :fait accompli: in the
Bemsha Swing comments
section; Friday, July 8,
*Love is Not A Feeling*:
love put to the test in
*Zettel*; Thursday,
July 7: *The Most
Astounding Things are
Possible*: Thought and
The Infinite in *Zettel*]

No Exit

We live in a world in which we are
deluged daily by words, ideas,
facts, accounts, images. Still,
we frequently feel utterly isolated,
why? Kafka's *Metamorphosis*
provided us with one of the best
explanations as to why. The contemporary
world is intrusive, and the final result
of this constant intrusiveness is the
squashing of any possible feeling of

Although we are drowned in meanings
every moment of our lives, our sense
of there being much significance to our
meanings or our experiences is
constantly eroding. Like Gregor
Samsa reduced to insect dimensions,
we are utterly dwarfed by forces infinitely
larger than ourselves.There are, of course,
innumerable causes for this, among
them the fact that technology has made
it possible for groups, large and small,
to eliminate our very existence quite
easily. But there are other reasons.
The expropriation of the very process
of extracting a sense of
significance from our experiences as individuals
by the marketplace of meaning-making
results in a internal feeling of powerlessness
and insignificance. We hang on every report
as to the facts and numbers supporting this;
information-gathering offers our only sense of
control- a form of control
obviously extremely ephemeral,
elusive and mostly upsetting and confusing.

One development in contemporary poetry
offers a direction out of this dilemma by
suggesting that one can play, not only
with meanings, but with the very process of
meaning-making. Poets seize on the
pleasures and powers of this process
and find a way to breathe in the open
air of poetic expression. Yet
there is no excaping the *weltenshaung*
of one's era. The poetry, once introduced
into the public arena, invites poets
back into the very social dynamics
they sought to excape in writing it.
The poet never wrote the work to
increase the sense of isolation, on
the contrary. Yet the social dynamics
that squeeze the sense of significance
out of even the most committed efforts on part of individuals
to influence such dynamics are inexorable.
Hence, the contemporary direction in poetry towards
private languages. Such languages offer
poets an entry into a circle of readers who
seek an exit from the larger social
dynamic through work which disgusts people
who enthusiastically avow the powerful, public,
"civic" forces which resemble the actions of
a game, even a "language game," but a
language game that has more resemblance a football
game, than a game of questioning and interpreting
aesthetic paradoxes.. The craving for what is no longer
possible in conventional life- a feeling of
personal significance, however, paradoxically returns
the circle of makers of private language
right back to the game-as-usual
social dynamics of team
sports. As Phillip K. Dick believed, we've
never actually exited the era of the Roman Circus.

Wittgenstein's ideas offer much to think
about in this realm. While ostensibly
he supports the parameters of conventional
reality -creation through supporting traditional
behavioristic modes of language iinterpretation,
he weaves into his work an underlying series of
paradoxes, underlining the ambiguities,
ambivalences, debates
and paradoxes that
pervade the very fabric of the social reality
of language.

"243. A human being can encourage himself,
give himself orders and obey, blame and punish
himself; he can ask himself a question and answer
it. We could even imagine human beings who
spoke only in monologue; who accompanied
their activities by talking to themselves.- An
explorer who watched them and listened to
their talk might succeed in translating their
language into ours. (This would enable him to
predict these people's actions correctly, for
he also hears them making resolutions and
But could we also imagine a language in which
a person could write down or give social
expression to his inner experiences- his feelings,
moods, and the rest- for his private use?- Well,
can't we do so in our ordinary language?-
But that is not what I mean. The individual
words of this language are to refer to what can only
be known to the person speaking; to his
immediate private sensations. So another
person cannot understand the language."

(*Philosophical Investigations*-
Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Wittgenstein plays with the concept of private
language only to finally try to overrule it.
But the perpetual flirting with the notion, finally,
makes it even more attractive. This is often when
he turns to his fascination with music.

Like Kafka, Wittgenstein's
obsessions become our
own because of his scrupulous
loyalty to discovering
the truth through self and
social confrontations. This is
the other side of the
contemporary poet's dedication
to authenticity by uncovering and revealing
experience through a paradoxial
dedication to seeking
modes of camoflage.

A Queer Process

"196. In our failure to understand the use
of a word we take it as the expression
of a queer "process." (As we think of time
as a queer medium, of the mnd as a queer
kind of being.)

"197. 'It's as if we could grasp the whole use
of a word in a flash.'- And that is just
what we say we do. That is to say: we
sometimes describe what we do in these
words. But there is nothing astonishing,
nothing queer, about what happens. It becomes
queer when we are led to think that the
future development must in some way already
be present in the act of grasping the use and
yet isn't present....."

As discussed below, Wittgenstein here
elucidates his discomfort with some of the concepts
employed in developmental psychology.

Understanding a Poem

"531. We speak of understanding a sentence
in the sense in which it can be replaced by
another which says the same; but also in the
sense in which it cannot be replaced by any
other. (Any more than one musical theme
can be replaced by another).

In the one case the thought in the sentence is
something common to different sentences;
in the other, something that is expressed only
by these words in these positions. (Understanding
a poem)."

"532. Then has 'understanding' two different meanings here?-
I would rather say that these kinds of use of 'understanding'
make up its meaning, make up my *concept* of understanding.
For I want to apply the word 'understanding' to all this."

"533. But in the second case, how can one explain the
expression, transmit one's comprehension? Ask yourself:
How does one *lead* anyone to comprehension of a poem
or of a theme? The answer to this tells us how
meaning is explained here."

Wittgenstein makes it clear in the above aphorisms that he
has a firm grasp about what how poetry wants to be and should be understood.
But in many of the following sections he comes back to a behavioristic,
descriptive approach.

Wittgenstein is scrupulous- that is a good part of the fascination.
He has his approach- but he recognizes and confronts all the
the other approaches he can learn and find out about, having to do
with his themes, continually
applying his rigorous rules of logical thinking. He is a logician,
but one with a keen sense of and interest in how people think and feel
and explain how they think and feel to themselves and each other.
And now and then, in the midst of a logical exposition,
there are sudden moments of intense lyric
compression: These are all the more moving because of the
rigorous, dry, logical approach he generally employs.

"543. Can I not say: a cry, a laugh are full of meaning?
And that means, roughly: much can be gathered from them."


Wittgenstein's intense earnestness, concern and
trust in his pursuit of truth contribute to a powerful, inexorable
poetic undercurrent throughout much of his writing.

quotations are from:
Ludwig Wittgenstein, *Philosophical
translated by G.E,M. Anscombe
Blackwell Publishing
2001, first edition 1953

More strumming by Kasey to *Zettel* under the

Limetree {click here}

3 "Drop Dead Beautiful" Aphorisms About Love

from David Hess (Orpheus in Boxers) {click here}