The issue which Wittgenstein's mysticism foregrounds is not unique to his philosophy, as it seems some of his interpreters would have one believe, but rather are as old as philosophy itself, with poststructuralist theorists like (here it comes) that of Jacques Derrida
or Julia Kristeva locating
it in Plato's cosmological Timaeus
, in the notion of the chora,
the chasm which lies beyond the limits of time and space. (Derrida omits the article before the term chora
, claiming that “the definitive article presupposes the existence of a thing, the existent chorato which, via a common name, it would be easy to refer” [“Chora.” Trans. Ian McCloud. Chora L Works
. By Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. Ed. Jeffrey Kipnis and Thomas Leeser. New York: Monacelli, 1997: 17]. I know of no such grammatical principle in either English or French, and thus I refrain from this practice.) Kristeva acknowledges that naming the chora
(even in Greek) “ontologizes” it, i.e. makes it a “thing,” but concludes that we cannot not
talk about it either (Kristeva, Julia. “From
Revolution in Poetic Language.” Trans. Margaret Walker. The Nortan Anthology of Theory and Criticism
. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001: 2171).
She thus turns to the ontologized term and its self-contradiction as an example of the very difficulties inherent in its use. When we speak of chora
we do not so much use language as reveal its limits. By relying on a brutish display of linguistic force, a “bastard reasoning,” we can assert that the chora
is pre-symbolic—not de-ontologizing the term chora
but at least recalling to the mind the need to
de-ontologize (2171). This assertion of negative theology
—the via negativa
—is enough for Kristeva to feel she can dismiss any worries that she is illegitimately ontologizing the chora
Derrida is distrustful of projects like Kristeva's which apply bastard reasoning in order to build a psychoanalytic theory upon the chora
is a point, it seems,” Derrida argues, “where the relevance of this rhetorical code meets a limit and must be questioned as such, must become a theme and cease to be merely operatory”—but nonetheless recognizes that its very impossibility brings its reader to the problems of philosophy which it fails to denote (31). For Kristeva and Derrida, then, the quietist conclusion of the Tractatus
must be rejected.
Note that my appeal to Derrida and Kristeva has not really gotten us any farther than we were before (which is why, I think, any accusation of “Derrida-izing” Wittgenstein must ultimately fall flat); we have only put forth the problem in a way which will be familiar to students of the postmodernist Continental tradition and, in so doing, perhaps made clear its essential features. Derrida and Kristeva merely seem to have fallen into the same trap that Wittgenstein has in the Tractatus
. Both Derrida and Kristeva's responses do not, after all, seem to be significantly different from what we have already called the ineffabilist interpretation: "there is something which is sort of true, but sort of not, because we really cannot talk about it, but we sort of can, and you know what I'm trying to say, right?" No wonder the analytic philosophers throw up their arms in disgust!
But my interest is not so much in how Wittgenstein's conception of the mystical is similar to the Derridean or Kristevan chora—
the similarities are undoubtedly great—but how differently he talks about it, the stark disconnect between the philosophical methods employed. Invoking these two French thinkers clarifies for me exactly what it is that we need from the Austrian: a sustained defense of this type of bastard reasoning. Instead, we get a call for silence:
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
Thus ends the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
. Having concluded that philosophy can produce no truths, no genuine insights gained, the project is drawn to a close. Philosophy is finished.
Yet note that the quietism of the Tractatus
, like any quietism which is spoken aloud (or, in this case, written down), is always-already unstable; as Russell scathingly points out, “Wittgenstein manages to say a good deal about what cannot be said” (xxiii). "Wittgenstein did
want to write the Tractatus
,” Moyal-Sharrock notes, “indeed put great effort into writing it, and into producing its translation. So that not
following the strictly correct method in the Tractatus,
far from implying a repudiation of what was achieved, was essential
to achieving it” (168)
Nor is there anything to lead us to assume that the Tractarian project of a “strictly incorrect” but nontheless elucidatory method of philosophy (cf. proposition
6.53) is unique to the Tractatus
itself or to Wittgenstein; proposition 6.53 immediately makes one think of the Platonic dialogues (and their similarly therapeutic-poetic formats), as Russell does when he notes in the Introduction that “[i]t is true that the fate of Socrates might befall a man who attempted this method of teaching, but we are not to be deterred by that fear, if it is the only right method” (xxiii).
Wittgenstein too notes that he has “fallen a long way short of what is possible” because his “powers [of expression] are too slight for the accomplishment of the task,” adding, “May others come and do better” (pg. 4). So we do not have one single descent into bastard reasoning, like Dante's into Hell, so as to forever more escape it, but one more work in a line of bastard reasonings
—an entire bastard discourse, that is, which as a collective we can and do call “philosophy”—which is neither the first nor the last of its kind, nor should it be.
That said, it is true that Wittgenstein, in his Preface, claims to “have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems” (pg. 4); it is equally true that following the writing and publishing of the Tractatus
he dropped out of philosophy. But even this is painted as a personal enlightenment―of the sort which might more easily come to a St. Teresa or a Julian of Norwich than an analytic philosopher—which cannot be reliably shared or reproduced. “Perhaps,” Wittgenstein suggests in the Preface, “this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts expressed in it―or at least similar thoughts” (pg. 3). Indeed, for austere readers and some varieties of non-therapists, the only thing that makes the nonsense of the Tractatus
more likely to be elucidatory than that of, say, Lewis Carroll's poem “Jabberwocky
”―if the Tractatus
is in fact more likely to be so (there is indeed, after all, a good deal to be learned about language and its limits by reading Carroll's poem)—is an accident of historical contingency. For the ineffabilist, presumably there is some truth which inheres in the Tractatus w
hich does not in Carroll—although for all one knows, perhaps the meaning of life is
that the snark was a boojum after all!
This not to say there is not an uneasy sense―born of the Tractatus'
own bastard logic, I believe―that philosophy up to Wittgenstein has been a productive struggle in the sense that it has been striving for its own dissolution which it at last finds in the Tractatus
, only afterwards being replaced with the therapeutic approach described in 6.53. At the very least there is the assertion that for at least those who can be said to understand the work it represents an end to their philosophizing, even if other people might well need other works. The Tractatus
is, in the end, a quietist document, and this should not be glossed over.
Nor need it be, since Wittgenstein's philosophizing does not in fact end here. Enter the Philosophical Investigations
: at some point prior to Wittgenstein's return to philosophy, he clearly abandoned the quietism of the Tractatus;
when contrasted with the style of the previous work, in the Investigations
he has become downright chatty. This might seem obvious and trivial, but it is worth saying nonetheless, for it represents the most fundamental shift and break between the late and early Wittgensteins.
What we have in the Investigations
is the articulation of an entire bastard language. The halfway language, neither sense nor quite what we would typically call nonsense, which the non-therapists attempt to rehabilitate in the Tractatus
suddenly becomes all
of language. Language guesses/plays/sings/solves
(§23) but no longer does it mean
in the Tractarian sense. Instead, questions of ontology drop out altogether.
For this is what disputes between Idealists, Solipsists, and Realists look like. The one party attack the normal form of expression as if they were attacking a statement; the others defend it, as if they were stating facts recognized by every reasonable human being. (§402)
Language is described; the world―the mystical―is experienced
But this recognition only pushes back the demand for explanations, which (we have argued) neither the austere readers nor the ineffabilists nor the non-therapists could quite provide, one step further, so that it now engulfs the Investigations
as well as the Tractatus
. The non-therapist's reading of the Tractatus
is dependent on the premise that nonsense sentences can have “performative significance” (Brand 332), that we can articulate grammatical rules (Moyal-Sharrock 162) or make “purely linguistic proposals” (Matthew B. Ostrow, Wittgenstein's Tractatus
. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U P, 2002: 4, describing Carnap) or use our language “intransitively”—in short, that some nonsense is desirable (Philip M. Hallie, “Wittgenstein's Exclusion of Metaphysical Nonsense.” The Philosophical Quarterly16 : 101-104).
does not defend any of these premises. Wittgenstein does not argue that meaning is use—indeed, he explicitly recognizes that for some ways we use the word “meaning,” meaning is not
For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language. (§43)
Instead he simply demonstrates—makes manifest—the manifold of ways that language can function. If some set of analytic philosophers wish to exclude the mystical from their language game
, then they are free to do so—or at least to try. And, Wittgenstein recognizes, often it is best to do so. We cannot always live in an ecstatic state in which things are and are not true, do and do not exist. For science, law, and many other language games, trying to grasp what is—the mystical—that is, to theorize—would be a grave mistake: a confusion, an illness, a disease.
Having grown out of the mystical which, resisting language, both is and is not,
Wittgenstein's anti/theory similarly both is and is not a theory. This is not a naïve positivism, in which comprehension is confused for apprehension and the theoretical structures used to understand the world are rendered invisible. That would be the position he attacks, that of the Saint Augustine and the picture theory, when he exposes the insidious assumptions which underly our ways of talking about language: “How does one know?” is the constant refrain throughout the first hundred sections of the Investigations
, giving the lie to the idea that our language games are transparent or immediate. Wittgenstein recognizes and accepts the deeply theoretical nature (by which we mean, based on unquestioned rules) of every
game, including Wittgensteinian therapy. Wittgenstein's anti/theory (like Foucault's, ultimately) is descriptive
, not destructive.