Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beyond Words

My research into the comics medium has got me interested in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. My first encounter with his philosophies was reading this entry in the Graphic Guide series:

Apart from being an extremely readable introduction to his life and writing, this book managed to encapsulate his theories in such a way as to make me want more. In particular, I'm interested in Wittgenstein's early work on the limits of language.
In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) he argues that the intimate connection between language and the 'world' (which he defines as the totality of thinkable, communicable 'facts') means that certain things are beyond our power to express.

These limitations are extremely difficult to describe, for "in order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to think both sides of this limit (we should therefore have to be able to think what cannot be thought). The limit can, therefore, only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense" (27). He can't give any examples, because he has no words.

Meaning is all about context. Words relate to 'facts' that exist within a larger network of interrelated 'facts.' An experience that exceeds this preexisting network cannot be adequately described by the words that operate within it.

This is from Derek Jarman's film Wittgenstein (1989). I'm not sure why his students are dressed as The Wiggles here.

Wittgenstein later changed his mind and wrote Philosophical Investigations, which rebuts much of his previous work.

I like the idea of language as a "game," and words as mobile signifiers dependent upon context. For my thesis, I am thinking about the contemporary grotesque as a contextual notion, an idea that changes according to who uses it and how they position/represent it in relation to other notions (such as race, gender, the body, power and so forth).

Tangent: I think Wittgenstein would have liked Twitter. His Tractatus is structured as a series of short, numbered points - many of which would satisfy the '140 characters or less' rule. For example:

I.I The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

I.II The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

I.I2 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.

I.I3 The facts in logical space are the world.

I also like to think that not all his tweets would be studious. Apparently he always wore tatty clothes and hated academia, so maybe he would tweet about op-shopping or insult his colleagues. Apparently he also loved nonsense ( So do I! We are like the same person) so I like to think he would have talked a lot of rubbish. I like to think a lot of things.

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