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  • Wittgenstein and the Creativity of Language ed. by Sebastian Sunday Grève and Jakub Mácha
  • Elinor Hållén
Wittgenstein and the Creativity of Language, ed. Sebastian Sunday Grève and Jakub Mácha; 314 pp. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016.

What is creativity? It is clearly something we know by seeing it manifested in a multitude of different ways and contexts. It could perhaps stand as an emblematic example of the limitations of a general explanative account. In this anthology the editors have orchestrated an exceptionally inspiring collection of essays that explore the vast examples of creative language used in Wittgenstein's philosophical practice and the creative potentiality of language overall. The anthology consists of eleven essays divided into introduction, overture, and three parts containing three essays each. The collection offers a wide scope, ranging from styles of writing and aesthetic forms of expression to ethical reflections and philosophy of mathematics, all multifacetedly interconnected. Together the form and the diversity stimulate the reader to make innovative connections and develop an overarching understanding, much like Wittgenstein's own writings do.

We get a taste of this with our first glance at the book. The cover image—a small cast-iron radiator in the corner of a room—and the prefatory recollection by Hermine Wittgenstein on her brother's dedicated work in constructing the pair of radiators (the other positioned in a corresponding corner of the room) constitute a delicate and rich setting, since together they bring to mind so much of Wittgenstein's own flavor of creativity.

The anthology opens with an elegant overture by Stephen Mulhall in which he creatively explores poetry and the usage of poetic language in philosophy. He analyzes "Missing Dates" by William Empson, a villanelle where "reader and poet have a new appointment with an old friend at the end of every tercet, with each encounter aspiring to reveal new meaning" (p. 48). (The words "fills" and "kills" reappear throughout the poem.) Empson describes the challenge of making the villanelle come to life despite the many repetitions, "every time [a] line is repeated it has to mean something different" (p. 41). [End Page 257]

The transition from Mulhall's overture to Alois Pichler's account is smooth, despite the great difference in styles of writing. Pichler asks, what does the aphoristic criss-cross form of Philosophical Investigations do? It implicitly criticizes the standard, linear form of writing philosophy by constantly stepping out of line. Wittgenstein pauses, jumps, focuses on detail, overwrites, rearranges, and returns to topics, metaphors, concepts to look at them again, in various contexts, from different angles, and in the light of different philosophical problems. In PI Wittgenstein creates "new appointments with old friends." Concepts and practices reappear but their meaning or significance is never predictable, never the same. Wittgenstein pays attention to the different ways in which they appear and thus to the differences in meaning. Pichler shows us what a philosophical way of writing capable of capturing this liveliness of language looks like.

The introduction (by Grève and Mácha) and Garry Hagberg's contribution (in part 4) examine the relation between rule following and creativity in language and explore what they see as the misconceived view that Wittgenstein saw linguistic practice and linguistic meaning as essentially constituted by rule following. By engaging with art historian Kirk Varnedoe's study A Fine Disregard, Hagberg targets the view that intelligible language use can only repeat what has already been conventionally or communally established. Varnedoe opens with an example displaying how rugby was created on the foundation of the game of football (soccer) but how it, because of "a fine disregard for the rules of football," was the institution of something new. William Webb Ellis took the ball in his hands and ran with it, thereby originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game. Varnedoe uses this as a metaphor for illustrating how key innovations in art are "formed predominantly from the resources inside our own traditions." Stylish progression requires "someone understanding how the rules might be changed, and acting on and transforming those rules" and further, "someone standing on the sidelines to value this innovation rather than demeaning...


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pp. 257-259
Launched on MUSE
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