Saturday, September 9, 2023

Philosophical pith or Wagnerian dreck? You decide! (Wittgenstein, Satire and Parody, continued...)

Here I shall make some "English" remarks (and the distinctions some make between the "English" and the "British" notwithstanding).

We all know Wittgenstein wrote in German. Could his roots in the German language be his motivation for making such statements? In English,
these are--culturally, linguistically, from a literary perspective--SILLY remarks. And "silly" is a kind way to put it. Nor do I mean this in an anti-intellectual sense. The fact of the matter is, in English, there is a well-established intellectual position that says... Erm... Well, it suggests, "something is not quite right here. Yes?"

Or put it this way... Is the German language--as a medium of philosophical disposition and activity... a "loci" of obtuse self-importance, stiff-necked acerbity, obnoxious intrusiveness, and awkward seriousness--a source of conceptual confusion"?

I recall Peter Hacker once telling me, "The problem with American English is that it has been corrupted with abstract nouns, because of German immigration." And I suppose he has a point, as a matter of linguistic and historical fact. I recall taking an English friend though a train station in the metro NYC area, in New Jersey. She laughed: "'The Journal Square Transportation Center!' Pfft! Do they mean rail and bus station! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

In a recent discussion of such matters, Luigi la Via remarks, “I've read in a Kundera novel that each common noun when said in German acquires a terrific metaphysical strength.” In English, we call this reification, treating an abstract noun or an abstract concept as if it was a real thing...  Or, as Kundera suggests (I have not read this passage, nor do I know how it comes across in the original language), in German there is something monumental, or "mythological" about philosophical nouns, as if they've been valorized in some terrific national epic fraught with sturm und drang, rock and roll heroes playing guitars with violin bows, fist-raising mobs, goose-stepping hosts, slave labor camps, and thunder-belching gods.

Along these lines, recall the frequent use of the definite article in the Greek language, and reflect the linguistic imprecision that causes philosophers to reify abstract nouns into concrete, as it were, metaphysical conceptions.  The field of Ontology, for example, was in its genesis enhanced by the use of the, as in the being.  The definite article--the--enhances the illusion, for Parmenides that being is a thing.  A property (or a part, an abstraction) becomes a thing. Example, the coldness, the damp, the colorness (and whatever that is, ahem); if we call it the colorness, then it must be something. And so on.

To put it in a more forceful--but I think English--way: "Now here is an insight into why in the 1940s we found it necessary to build Lancaster bombers and take the business to the skies over Germany." And, yes, I wish this was simply a joke, but it is not.

But let's end this on a lighter note.

As to the question heading the post on September 7: is Wittgenstein writing satire? Is Wittgenstein engaged, like Nabokov, in using parody to convey amusing philosophical insights?

I think so.  For an example, see the quote from his On Certainty that serves as an epigraph in Emanations: I am Not a Number (click the title, then click the "Look Inside" feature and scroll to the epigraph at the beginning of the book).  Also, see my post from August 27, "If White was a sound... If White was a color..." in which I set out to make some philosophical points but was somewhat surprised--and amused--to perceive myself writing a kind of parody.

Want to go deeper? Click here.

Philosophical pith or Wagnerian dreck? You decide!

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