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Walter Glannon WHAT LITERARY THEORY MISSES IN WITTGENSTEIN Wittgenstein's stock is rising in literary criticism. The market value of expressions such as "language games" and "form oflife" is increasing in that they seem to lend themselves to the notion of interpretive communities endorsed by diose of reader-response persuasion.1 Wittgenstein's style is also apparently at a premium, in light of a recent attempt by a proponent of deconstruction to relate the philosopher's writing to that movement's use of rhetorical strategies in dealing with texts.2 There are affinities between Wittgenstein's repudiation (in the Investigations and the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics) of the metaphysical realism in the Tractatus and die arguments from reader-response critics against the notion of unmediated facts, as well as the rejection of the metaphysics of presence by deconstructionists. All diree oppose the idea that truth and falsity are conferred on our statements about the world by properties independent of diese statements. Insofar as these two critical schools are concerned primarily with language, they share Wittgenstein's aspiration to "bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use" (PI, I, § 116), for we can arrest the tendency to postulate objective, unmediated facts by "looking into the workings of our language" (PI, I, § 109). Moreover, Wittgenstein avoids psychology which involves the mental faculties. Presumably, this puts him at one with die concerted effort of many critics to rid texts of die author and with it the problem of intentionality . At first blush, then, the relation between Wittgenstein and literary criticism appears to be an attractive one. Yet Wittgenstein's antirealism does not militate against his passion for truth, that is, his intense desire to achieve complete understanding in the areas ofphilosophy that vexed him most.3 Nor does it debar him from thinking about the inexpressible realm 263 264Philosophy and Literature of the mystical, since, despite his concern for language, Wittgenstein never ceased being attracted to "things that cannot be put into words" (TLP, 6.522). This is not at all congenial to die purpose ofliterary theory, which admits ofno such shadowy domain beyond words and our linguistic practices. Indeed, I shall illustrate that Wittgenstein's resdess search for truth, spiritual concerns, and the dialectical structure of his works for the most part put him radically at odds with a critical enterprise whose aversion to truth and penchant for rhetorical analysis and conventions blinds it to both his view of literature and his aim in doing philosophy. I Since die advent of the New Criticism, literary theory has in great measure addressed itself to die discourse ramer than the story in texts. With the focus on literature as a rhetorical construct, more traditional humanistic interpretations have been excised. A more recent development of this shift to the discursive side of diings has been the effort to blur the distinction between literature and philosophy.4 With neidier discipline having a privileged status, both have been reduced to a textual discourse with no lines ofdemarcation, a reduction diat is at variance with Wittgenstein on two counts. First, he compartmentalized literature and philosophy as having distinct purposes: the literary works that interested him were stories ofmoral import; philosophy was to be practiced for the sake of clarity in thought. To the extent diat such clarity, if attainable, pointed toward an ethical dimension that lay beyond the bounds of language, literature and philosophy for him did have a common goal; but the paths leading to it were distinct. Second, and more importantly, Wittgenstein had no concern for the discourse of the literature diat he read. Rather, it was the moral import of the stories that attracted him. Most noteworthy on this score were the writings of Tolstoy, who had a profound influence on Wittgenstein's view oflife, and Dostoevsky.5 Wittgenstein often recommended Tolstoy's Twenty-three Tales to his friends, and while a schoolmaster in Lower Austria from 1920 to 1926, he constantly read The Brothers Karamazov, doing so aloud on one occasion in die presence of the village priest. He was especially impressed with Dostoevsky's character the Elder Zossima, "who could see into people's hearts and direct diem" (Rhees...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 263-272
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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