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Wittgenstein’s Mistress

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1 Wittgenstein’s Mistress
By David Markson

2 Beginning at the Beginning : Epigraphs

3 Kierkegaard: What an extraordinary change takes place…when for the first time the fact that everything depends upon how a thing is thought first enters the consciousness, when, in consequence, thought in its absoluteness replaces an apparent reality. Relevance?

4 Kierkegaard: A philosopher and theologian, Kierkegaard’s important ideas include “subjectivity” and the “leap to faith.” For our purposes, it is important that Kierkegaard considered the self, and the self’s relation to the world as being grounded in self- reflection and introspection. He argued in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments that “subjectivity is truth” and “truth is subjectivity.” Kierkegaard primarily discusses subjectivity with regard to religious matters, however. He argues that doubt is an element of faith and that it is impossible to gain any objective certainty about religious doctrines such as the existence of God or the life of Christ. The most one could hope for would be the conclusion that it is probable that the Christian doctrines are true, but if a person were to believe such doctrines only to the degree they seemed likely to be true, he or she would not be genuinely religious at all. Faith consists in a subjective relation of absolute commitment to these doctrines.

5 Bertrand Russell: When I was still doubtful as to his ability, I asked G.E. Moore for his opinion. Moore replied, ‘I think very well of him indeed.’ When I enquired the reason for his opinion, he said that it was because Wittgenstein was the only man who looked puzzled at his lectures. Relevance?

6 Bertrand Russell: Russell is a founder of analytic philosophy. At the beginning of the 20th century, alongside G. E. Moore, Russell was largely responsible for the British "revolt against Idealism," a philosophy greatly influenced by G. W. F. Hegel. Russell was particularly critical of a doctrine he ascribed to idealism which he dubbed the doctrine of internal relations; this, Russell suggested, held that in order to know any particular thing, we must know all of its relations. Russell argued that this would make space, time, science and the concept of number not fully intelligible. Russell and Moore strove to eliminate what they saw as meaningless and incoherent assertions in philosophy. They sought clarity and precision in argument by the use of exact language and by breaking down philosophical propositions into their simplest grammatical components. He believed that the main task of the philosopher was to illuminate the most general propositions about the world and to eliminate confusion.

7 Wittgenstein: I can well understand why children love sand. Relevance?

8 Wittgenstein

9 Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein played a central, if controversial, role in 20th-century analytic philosophy. He continues to influence current philosophical thought in topics as diverse as logic and language, perception and intention, ethics and religion, aesthetics and culture. There are two commonly recognized stages of Wittgenstein's thought — the early and the later — both of which are taken to be pivotal in their respective periods.

10 The early Wittgenstein is epitomized in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics, via language, he provided new insights into the relations between world, thought and language and thereby into the nature of philosophy.

11 The seven propositions of the Tractatus:
The world is everything that is the case. What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts. The logical picture of the facts is the thought. The thought is the significant proposition. Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions. (An elementary proposition is a truth function of itself.) The general form of truth-function is [p, ξ, N(ξ)]. This is the general form of proposition. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

12 The Tractatus addresses the central problems of philosophy which deal with the world, thought and language, and presents a "solution" (as Wittgenstein terms it) of these problems which is grounded in logic and in the nature of representation. The world is represented by thought, which is a proposition with sense, since they all — world, thought, and proposition — share the same logical form. Hence, the thought and the proposition can be pictures of the facts.

13 The early Wittgenstein sees the world as consisting of facts (1), rather than the traditional, atomistic conception of a world made up of objects. Facts are existent states of affairs (2) and states of affairs, in turn, are combinations of objects. Objects can fit together in various determinate ways. They may have various properties and may hold diverse relations to one another. Objects combine with one another according to their logical, internal properties. That is to say, an object's internal properties determine the possibilities of its combination with other objects; this is its logical form. Thus, states of affairs, being comprised of objects in combination, are inherently complex. The states of affairs which do exist could have been otherwise. This means that states of affairs are either actual (existent) or possible. It is the totality of states of affairs — actual and possible — that makes up the whole of reality. The world is precisely those states of affairs which do exist.

14 It is the later Wittgenstein, mostly recognized in the Philosophical Investigations, who took the more revolutionary step in critiquing all of traditional philosophy including its climax in his own early work. The nature of his new philosophy is heralded as anti- systematic through and through, yet still conducive to genuine philosophical understanding of traditional problems.

15 In the Tractatus Wittgenstein's logical construction of a philosophical system has a purpose — to find the limits of world, thought and language. “The book will … draw a limit to thinking, or rather — not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts …. The limit can … only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense” (Preface to the Tractatus).

16 The Tractatus raises a couple key questions for purposes of our reading:
The question of the limits of language and the more particular question of what there is (or is not) beyond language. The ethical implications of the importance given to the ineffable in Wittgenstein’s work.

17 Philosophical Investigations: offers a new way of looking at language
Philosophical Investigations: offers a new way of looking at language. Marks a move away from the questions of representation and the pictorial which formed the basis of Tractatus.

18 The Trojan Women

19 Euripides' play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining family members are about to be taken away as slaves. However, it begins first with the gods Athena and Poseidon discussing ways to punish the Greek armies because they condoned Ajax the Lesser for dragging Cassandra away from Athena's temple.

20 The Greek herald Talthybius arrives to tell the dethroned queen Hecuba what will befall her and her children. Hecuba will be taken away with the Greek general Odysseus, and her daughter Cassandra is slated to become the conquering general Agamemnon's concubine. Cassandra, who has been driven partially mad due to a curse by which she can see the future but will never be believed when she warns others, is morbidly delighted by this news: she sees that when they arrive in Argos, her new master's embittered wife Clytemnestra will kill both her and her new master. However, because of the curse, no one understands this response, and Cassandra is carried off.

21 The widowed princess Andromache arrives, and Hecuba learns from her that her youngest daughter, Polyxena, has been killed as a sacrifice at the tomb of the Greek warrior Achilles. Andromache's lot is to be the concubine of Achilles' son Neoptolemus, and more horrible news for the royal family is yet to come: Talthybius reluctantly informs her that her baby son, Astyanax, has been condemned to die. The Greek leaders are afraid that the boy will grow up to avenge his father Hector, and rather than take this chance, they plan to throw him off from the battlements of Troy to his death.

22 Helen, though not one of the Trojan women, is supposed to suffer greatly as well: Menelaus arrives to take her back to Greece with him where a death sentence awaits her. Helen begs her husband to spare her life and he remains resolved to kill her, but the audience watching the play knows that in the Odyssey, Telemachus will learn how Helen's legendary beauty wins her a reprieve. In the end, Talthybius returns carrying with him the body of little Astyanax on Hector's shield. Andromache's wish had been to bury her child herself, performing the proper rituals according to Trojan ways, but her ship had already departed. Talthybius gives the corpse to Hecuba, who prepares the body of her grandson for burial before they are finally taken off with Odysseus.

23 Throughout the play, many of the Trojan women lament the loss of the land that reared them. Hecuba in particular lets it be known that Troy had been her home for her entire life, only to see herself as an old grandmother watching the burning of Troy, the death of her husband, her children, and her grandchildren before she will be taken as a slave to Odysseus.

24 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent: Hecuba and Andromache. Why does Kate focus on Cassandra and Helen to the exclusion of Hecuba and Andromache?

25 Hecuba: The wife of King Priam of Troy, with whom she had 19 children, the most famous of which is Hector, who, of course, is killed. In one tradition, Hecuba went insane upon seeing the corpses of her youngest children, Polydorus and Polyxena.

26 Andromache: Wife of Hector, and therefore Hecuba’s daughter-in-law. Both her husband and her son are killed—her son so that he will not later avenge his father’s death.

27 Cassandra: Daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would believe her predictions. While Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies. After the Trojan War, she sought shelter in the temple of Athena, where she was raped by Ajax the Lesser. Cassandra was then taken as a concubine by King Agamemnon of Mycenae. Unbeknownst to Agamemnon, while he was away at war, his wife, Clytemnestra, had begun an affair. She and her lover murdered both Agamemnon and Cassandra.

28 Helen: The daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of King Menelaus and sister of Clytemnestra. Her abduction by Paris brought about the Trojan war. Helen had “the face that launched a thousand ships” (Marlowe).

29 Helen and Paris, by Jacques-Louis David, 1788

30 Electra: Daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Upon her mother’s murder of her father, she plotted with her brother Orestes to kill their mother.

31 Medea: Wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children: Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides’ play, Jason leaves Medea for another woman and she takes her revenge by killing the children she bore Jason.

32 Of possible cats and impossible sea gulls:
Symbolism in Wittgenstein’s Mistress

33 Cats Mysterious creatures Often taken as symbols of wisdom
Generally affiliated with the nocturnal (Night-Moon-Woman)

34 Sea Gulls Symbolizes the removal of obstacles, the end of chaos.
Albatross: a wanderer, affiliated with loss and lack of focus, but signaling the eventual realization of an individual’s path.

35 Intertextuality The Way of All Flesh and The Recognitions

36 The Way of All Flesh Samuel Butler
A relaxation from the Calvanistic approach to religion, which is presented as harsh. Plays and playwrights. Freedom for women (particularly sexual freedom). Sanity and insanity.

37 The Recognitions William Gaddis
Religion (the reverberations of Calvinism). Art (particularly painting) Music Poetry Counterfeits and forgeries. Fire. Cats. Masturbation. Corruption Sanity and insanity. What survives.

38 “Stupidity Street” by Ralph Hodgson
I SAW with open eyes Singing birds sweet Sold in the shops For people to eat, Sold in the shops of Stupidity Street. I saw in vision The worm in the wheat, And in the shops nothing For people to eat; Nothing for sale in

39 “Menelaus and Helen” by Rupert Brooke
I       Hot through Troy's ruin Menelaus broke    To Priam's palace, sword in hand, to sate    On that adulterous whore a ten years' hate And a king's honour. Through red death, and smoke, And cries, and then by quieter ways he strode,    Till the still innermost chamber fronted him.    He swung his sword, and crashed into the dim Luxurious bower, flaming like a god. High sat white Helen, lonely and serene.    He had not remembered that she was so fair, And that her neck curved down in such a way; And he felt tired. He flung the sword away,    And kissed her feet, and knelt before her there, The perfect Knight before the perfect Queen.     II So far the poet. How should he behold    That journey home, the long connubial years?    He does not tell you how white Helen bears Child on legitimate child, becomes a scold, Haggard with virtue. Menelaus bold    Waxed garrulous, and sacked a hundred Troys    'Twixt noon and supper. And her golden voice Got shrill as he grew deafer. And both were old. Often he wonders why on earth he went    Troyward, or why poor Paris ever came. Oft she weeps, gummy-eyed and impotent;    Her dry shanks twitch at Paris' mumbled name. So Menelaus nagged; and Helen cried; And Paris slept on by Scamander side.

40 Mirror Images

41 Giotto: An Italian painter and architect from Florence. Considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to the Italian Renaissance.

42 Jeanne Hébuterne: A French artist, best known as the frequent subject and common-law wife of the artist Amedeo Modigliani. Upon Modigliani’s death she threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window, killing herself and her unborn child. Her epitaph reads: "Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice."


44 Dasein Being-in-Time

45 Being-in-Time (existence as constituted by temporality), on Heidegger's account, traditional language, logical systems, and beliefs obscure Dasein's nature from itself. Heidegger attempted to maintain the definition of Dasein as we all are, in our average everydayness. Dasein does not spring into existence upon philosophical exploration of itself. Heidegger intended Dasein as a concept, in order to provide a stepping stone in the questioning of what it means to be. When Dasein contemplates this it brings the necessary appearance of time to the center of attention.

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