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  • Space and Vision in Language
  • Christopher C. Robinson (bio)
Review of: Nana Last, Wittgenstein's House: Language, Space, & Architecture. New York: Fordham UP, 2008.

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote two of the core texts of philosophy's linguistic turn in the twentieth century: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations. The Tractatus, revered as the Bible of Logical Positivism, was written by a young Wittgenstein between his studies at Cambridge and his time in the trenches of the Italian front in World War I; the posthumously published Investigations engendered the heterogeneous school of ordinary language philosophy and served as an important influence on practitioners of postmodern philosophy. That the later work was written in part as a corrective for the narrow conception of language and the metaphysical excesses of the earlier work raises the question of what led to the older Wittgenstein's philosophical transformation. In Wittgenstein's House: Language, Space, & Architecture, Nana Last has produced an important study of this turn in Wittgenstein's view of language. Last sheds light on the architectural experiences that led Wittgenstein from an account of language emanating from a putatively panoramic perspective based on knowledge of logical form to an interior view of language, where the spaces that compose what Wittgenstein called "the city of language" unfold before the philosopher as he walks its streets. That is, the experience of planning and building his sister's house led Wittgenstein to a new way of seeing and describing lexical reality. As Last shows, this way of seeing is consonant with the spatial imagination of the architect.

The opening chapters focus on the complex relationship and transformations that occur between the Tractatus and the Investigations. As Last observes, Wittgenstein was interested in far more than simply repudiating his early work. The break from the Tractatus entails a significant and therapeutic alteration of the philosopher's relation to language-from outside to inside. This transformation is carried out through an array of new spatial metaphors for describing the internal dynamics that constitute linguistic practices as well as the perceptual vantages that permit access to those dynamics. The new spatiality advanced in the Investigations leads ineluctably to more expansive views of language by challenging and ultimately supplanting "the attenuated and restrictive spatiality definitive of the Tractatus" (10). Last's argument vividly engages the discipline of architecture to stage this critical encounter between the rigid sense of space in the early work and the fluidity of space and perception in the later work. The Investigations could spring from the early work thanks to the liberating spatial analogies provided by architecture. As Last shows in this rich comparative study, this immanent critique of the Tractatus can be appreciated only if we move about the overlapping boundaries between architecture and philosophy in Wittgenstein's work.

Last's approach, however, raises the question of where interdisciplinarity takes place. How is successful communication across disciplines possible? Last uses Wittgenstein's house to offer an evocative account not only of the way the spatiality of architecture transformed his early attenuated vision of philosophy by shattering the insularity of the enterprise, but also of the way it alters Wittgenstein's philosophizing. The work of the philosopher was no longer conceived as the product of a fixed perceptual vantage above language and all other forms of knowledge; rather, for the later Wittgenstein, philosophical seeing becomes a dynamic effect of playful, meandering travel through linguistic spaces called language-games. Ordinary language, conceived now by Wittgenstein the architect as the fluid medium of practices, invites interdisciplinarity. The resulting common ground for a philosophical architecture or an architectural philosophy is replete with conceptual tension; such friction ignites creativity while militating against transcendent and fixed claims to knowledge and authority.

Last begins with the vertical spatiality that informs the logical analysis of the Tractatus. This putative view from above allows the philosopher to see the logical distinction in language between the sensical realm of sayable and showable propositions and the nonsensical realm of religious and ethical utterances, which may resemble logical propositions in form but are actually meaningless. With this circumscribed view of what counts as philosophical language, the Tractatus is best understood as a work in the tradition of the Vienna...

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