07 December 2007

"should we not be silent about the need to be silent?"

In case you missed Dale Jacquette's marvelous review today in NDPR of a Festschrift for Cora Diamond, I offer these nuggets. They have little to do with ancient philosophy, but they're wonderful in any case, as the review is a minor masterpiece of effective philosophical rhetoric.

On the apparent self-undermining of 'resolute' readings of the Tractatus:

Pros and cons of resolute or non-chickening-out readings of the Tractatus notwithstanding, I am troubled by the fact that in 6.54 Wittgenstein does not merely say that his propositions up to 6.54 are literally nonsensical, but that his propositions (period, full stop) are such. To my way of thinking, this does not merely suggest but fully implies that it is literally nonsensical for Wittgenstein also to have written that his propositions are literally nonsensical. It is hard for me accordingly to understand how anyone could intelligibly adopt a resolute reading of 6.54. For the passage also pulls the rug out from under itself as equally unsinnig as the rest of the text. A resolute, non-chickening-out reading of 6.54 would have us be firm in treating the Tractatus as totally and thoroughly inexpressible, even non-showable, nonsense, on the basis of a Scheinsatz, a pseudo-proposition that Wittgenstein himself declares is nonsensical. Must not a resolutist, then, trying to be resolute in particular about the implications of passage 6.54, choose which propositions in the text not to chicken out about, while chickening out on the literal meaninglessness of the one key sentence that is supposed to justify their resoluteness? These are mysteries that the resolutists, at least in the present venue, do not venture to resolve.
On the apparent practical inconsistency of such interpreters:
I am amazed, finally, to discover that resolutists who want to be faithful to Wittgenstein's conclusions in Tractatus 6.54 and, especially, 7, seem to have spilled more ink in commentary, polemics, and in-fighting than all of what they consider to be the naïve irresolute writing on Wittgenstein's early philosophy put together and squared. It appears that in order to be resolute, to avoid chickening out in the effort to be consistently loyal to Wittgenstein's insight that 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent', a philosophical commentator must be inexhaustibly prolix. To understand Wittgenstein, one cannot practice what one preaches; the resolute interpreter of Wittgenstein cannot be a consistent committed Wittgensteinian by his or her own lights, but must enter the fray as an outsider, a non- or even anti-Wittgensteinian. If we are convinced that Wittgenstein advocates silence instead of meaningless prattle about philosophical problems, should we not be silent about the need to be silent? Is that not what Wittgenstein did when he abandoned philosophy for primary school teaching in the Alps? Should we not in all consistency then at least acknowledge that loyal Wittgensteinians trying to think and talk resolutely about Wittgenstein's counseling philosophers to be silent are equally engaging in pseudo-propositional nonsense?
On the relevance of the essays in the Festschrift to the understanding of Cora Diamond's work:
Originally written for another occasion, as the final endnote (n. 1, 351) reveals, a conference on literature and ethics at the University of Helsinki, _____'s essay typifies the inclusion of essays in the volume that have virtually nothing to say about Diamond. ______ writes, after a five page foray into a blow-by-blow narration of a novel she curiously enough characterizes as a work in which nothing happens, at the conclusion of her section I:

Thinking about Der Stechlin seems to me a good way to honor Cora Diamond. So often, like Fontane, she asked us all to question assumptions about structure, "plot," and sequence that hobble philosophy as surely as they hobble the novel, asking ourselves what revolutions in style and structure, as well as content, a due attention to life's complexities might require of us. Perhaps, too, Fontane's praise of conversation is an appropriate way of indicating how deeply I value our years of conversation about these and other topics. (331)

A tenuous connection, to say the least. Thereafter, Diamond's name does not appear even once again in the essay. If a classical analogy for this sort of paste-in tribute is appropriate, I am reminded of nothing so much as the statues of a later decadent antiquity, frugally made in two parts -- a full-length body in flowing tunic with an open socket at the neck to be completed by cementing-in any choice of interchangeable sculpted heads. One easily imagines hauling out the same philosophical paper and tacking on a different homage for an entirely different Festschrift, acknowledging the work of any almost any other philosopher, or, potentially, in this case, comparative literary critic.