The Man Who Learnt to Question

The bearded young man returns to the wise man, to the castle of books, to the womb of wisdom and he says; “You have taught me, led me, to question. The art of deconstruction. Handed me the brush to sweep away the dust. But now I only find uncertainty, I have no opinions, I make no decision with which I am content, and everything that ejaculates itself from my mouth tastes foul, and reeks of bullshit.”

The wise man nods and twists the corners of his mouth toward the parapets; “Then you must speak only those words of which you are certain. You will thus be forced to find these truths for yourself.” Continue reading

Look Closely

“Read a page of print, and you can see that; there is something special going on, something highly characteristic. — Well what does go on when I read the page? I see printed words, and I utter words. But of course, that is not all, for I might see printed words and utter words, and still not be reading. Even if the words which I utter are those which, according to an existing alphabet, are supposed to be read off from the printed ones. — And if you say that reading is a particular experience, then it becomes quite unimportant whether or not you read according to some generally recognized alphabetical rule.” (PI, ¶165)

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From my first reading of paragraphs 156 to 171 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (PI), I was struck by their reflexive nature, analogous perhaps to Russell’s infuriating paradox. The spiralling web of critique ensured I could barely read them. Reading about what it is to read. The avenue of thought we are guided down in PI leads us to reflexively question what it is to be guided (Wittgenstein himself addresses this very issue in ¶173-178), what is to know, or to understand (¶150-155). Attempting to write about these passages, in a formal academic style I was stymied at every turn by the ideas from this very book. The inevitable abstractions one necessarily makes when discussing, in generalised terms, the ideas or work of another are paralysing when held against the standards of investigation in which this book has tutored me. Look closely, find meaning in usage, don’t take abstractions, generalisations at face value. This paragraph, notably, ignores these standards in an attempt to engage more directly with the rules of the game of which I am a part. The passages that follow range from attempts at emulating Wittgenstein’s investigative style, to outright and deliberate rebellions against it, and dialogues with Wittgenstein’s ghost. They are reflections on what it is like, for me, to read the PI; how the words have made their way into my form of life, how some of these ideas in their abstracted forms were already a part of my form of life. I believe that the most honest manner in which I may write about what Wittgenstein has been able to share with me, is through the recounting of personal experience. I am situated. As a reader, as a student of the social sciences, as a member of contemporary Western society, as an individual; this situatedness provides the veil through which I am able to interpret the language games that reverberate in my sphere, but also those played with us by Wittgenstein in the PI. I hope that these vignettes are able to communicate some of this experience in an enjoyable and thought provoking way.

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As a teenager, remaining seated, trying to get my legs out of the way whilst my peers navigate the pews, towards the aisles and walk slowly to the front of the church, palms upwards, one hand cupped above the other. I still don’t know which hand goes on top, but it appears important.

The one time I ate the body of Christ, the middle aged lady teacher at the school camp who handed me the wafer, first took my hands and with eyebrows turned down towards the center, rearranged them, palms up, one hand above the other, slightly cupped; but I’ve long since forgotten which she put on top. This, after two days of hearing how everyone is welcome in God’s church. Since that day, on the rare occasion I find myself in the midst of this Christian ritual, I sit. Sometimes lifting myself slightly from the wooden bench, the beginnings of a move towards the aisle, but I then imagine standing to the side as the others walk past me. There I would be in full view. At least remaining seated I am somewhat protected, only those directly around me will see; I am an alien to this group activity (¶126).

Fifteen years later, under the vivid golden and blue light into which sand and the hands of man transform the sun’s rays, I sit, stand and kneel with the elderly people in my vicinity, pick up and open the book that lies before me as the others, I sing, I shake their hands and after two or three repetitions am able to repeat without raised eyebrows and near in unison with the owner of the hand “Friede sei mit dir”, (the spelling however I Googled when writing this section). (¶157, 161). Yet, when the moment comes, after the robed men raise their arms in a V to the sky, crack the wafer in half, waving a hand up, down, left and right, and walk solemnly down the three steps to the place where the congregation meets the pulpit, again I sit. Is this religion? (¶90, 157)

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