Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Picture Held Us Captive

Ray Monk:

It was fundamental to Wittgenstein’s thinking – both in his early work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and in his later work Philosophical Investigations – that not everything we can see and therefore not everything we can mentally grasp can be put into words. In the Tractatus, this appears as the distinction between what can be said and what has to be shown. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” runs the famed last sentence of the book but, as Wittgenstein made clear in private conversation and correspondence, he believed those things about which we have to be silent to be the most important. (Compare this with the logical positivist Otto Neurath, who, echoing Wittgenstein, declared: “We must indeed be silent – but not about anything.”)

To grasp these important things, we need not to reason verbally, but rather to look more attentively at what lies before us. “Don’t think, look!” Wittgenstein urges in Philosophical Investigations. Philosophical confusion, he maintained, had its roots not in the relatively superficial thinking expressed by words but in that deeper territory studied by Freud, the pictorial thinking that lies in our unconscious and is expressed only involuntarily in, for example, our dreams, our doodles and in our “Freudian slips”. “A picture held us captive,” Wittgenstein says in the Investigations, and it is, he thinks, his job as a philosopher not to argue for or against the truth of this or that proposition but rather to delve deeper and substitute one picture for another. In other words, he conceived it as his task to make us, or at least to enable us, to see things differently.

This reminds me that it has been an unprofitably long time since I availed myself of Ludwig's work. Must remedy that.

This is actually a frustration I feel keenly, constantly; the difficulty of capturing mental pictures in words. Like Susan Sontag said, some conceptual furniture and pictures won't fit through the small doorway of writing. I'm annoyed with the limitations of almost everything I write as soon as I declare it finished (or, rather, when I finally tire of wrestling with it and just release it as is). I see detailed masterpieces in my head, but I feel like I might as well be using a basic box of eight-color Crayolas to actualize them.