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Wittgenstein, Anxiety, and Performance Behavior

Spencer Golub

Publication Year: 2014

In this highly original study of the nature of performance, Spencer Golub uses the insights of Ludwig Wittgenstein into the way language works to analyze the relationship between the linguistic and the visual in the work of a broad range of dramatists, novelists, and filmmakers, among them Richard Foreman, Mac Wellman, Peter Handke, David Mamet, and Alfred Hitchcock. Like Wittgenstein, these artists are concerned with the limits of language’s representational capacity. For Golub, it is these limits that give Wittgenstein’s thought a further, very personal significance—its therapeutic quality with respect to the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from which he suffers.

Underlying what Golub calls “performance behavior” is Wittgenstein’s notion of “pain behavior”—that which gives public expression to private experience. Golub charts new directions for exploring the relationship between theater and philosophy, and even for scholarly criticism itself.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. xi-xii

I wish to thank the students in my graduate seminar “Wittgenstein, Writing, and Performance” at Brown University and especially Ioana Jucan, who served as my research assistant for that course. My greatest thanks are owed to my wife Jeanie for whom nothing is impossible...

List of Abbreviations of Works by Wittgenstein

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pp. xiii-2

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Introduction: Thoughts Thinking Themselves

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pp. 3-14

In Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates characterizes the thought process as being an internal dialogue resulting in choice: “[the mind] asks itself questions and answers them, saying yes or no. And when it reaches a conclusion (which may take quite a long time or may involve a sudden leap), stops being divided...

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Chapter 1. Tractatus Illogico-Philosophicus

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pp. 15-34

The only thing of which Wittgenstein speaks transparently in his writing is his own failure. The preface to his major work warns the reader in advance that he has failed to write “a good book”(PI §4), a thought that follows after some years the famous disavowal of the book’s value that ends his Tractatus...

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Chapter 2. Wittgenstein’s Anatomy

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pp. 35-58

The written word potentially terrorizes its subject with the unlikeness of thought. The hand delivers the message, but the mind doubts the messenger. Is this even my hand? Is it worth issuing an illogical denial rather than acknowledge that there is truth in the hand-delivered message? Alternatively...

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Chapter 3. Catastrophists

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pp. 59-88

In “Patterns,” an episode of the television series Night Visions (2002), a psychiatric patient fears that if he does not perform his OCD rituals, airplanes will fall out of the sky, traffic lights will stop working—in general, objects will refuse to cooperate by performing their normal functions within the...

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Chapter 4. Doors of Misperception

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pp. 89-116

Like Borges’s short story in which a map is drawn to the actual size and scale of the territory being mapped, Handke’s ice matches the hole it covers, the dysfunction, allowing for the performance of the not-knowingness of incapacity, the mind performing what it does not yet see.1 “How have you made it...

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Chapter 5. Rules of the Game

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pp. 117-146

Wittgenstein’s discussion of rule-giving and rule-making has less to do with legality or ethics than with the context of particular language-games, (pre) determined by individual prejudice as preference.1 But in doing so, isn’t the artist, together with those engaging with the rule-giving functions of some...

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Chapter 6. Non-Sleeper Agents

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pp. 147-178

It was, for all intents and purposes, a paranoid’s dream come true. All hooked up to video cameras and audio monitors that someone else controlled through the connect-the-dots wires that crisscrossed my legs, torso, face, and head. If I scratched a part of my body, they could see me. If I coughed, a disembodied...

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Chapter 7. Masterminds

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pp. 179-206

In Mamet’s film Heist (2001) Joe Moore’s crew steals a gold shipment off a Swiss airliner, which provokes a member of his crew, Don “Pinky” Pinkus, to proclaim that he never liked the Swiss. Pinky is particularly bothered by the cruel inanity of the cuckoo clock, which makes a show of tiny figures (like...

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Chapter 8. The Idiot’s Anxiety at the Object’s Disappearance

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pp. 207-232

In the opening comedy routine of The Colgate Comedy Hour (September 17, 1950), which they headlined, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are hired to entertain at a psychiatrists’ conference while lying down on an analyst’s couch.1 Quickly realizing that Dean can’t sing and Jerry can’t joke in this position...

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Chapter 9. Homeless

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pp. 233-248

A solitary figure, a homeless man, walks from a distance slowly into frame. Before him, a doorframe fronts a house constructed to the specifications of film, with its back wall rather than its theatrical front missing. The frame house sits in Monument Valley on the Utah–Arizona border, in the vicinity...


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pp. 249-284


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pp. 285-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167797
E-ISBN-10: 0810167794
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129924
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129922

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 284
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 887538271
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Incapacity

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Subject Headings

  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1889-1951.
  • Language and languages -- Philosophy.
  • Performance -- Philosophy.
  • Literature, Modern -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
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