Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wittgenstein's Birthday

"I am certain that we will not understand [him] unless we feel some sympathy and comprehension for [his] persistent intention to change his whole manner of life" --Maurice Drury about Wittgenstein

"We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognize language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot discern the humanity in a man." --Wittgenstein
 "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." --the last line of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
"What can be shown cannot be said." --and an earlier one.
"to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life." --from his Philosophical Investigations

So often misunderstood, it seems reasonable to think that his native language has never been common.

What is the use of translating a text which speaks in a completely unknown language? This is more than simply to translate from one language to another, but also to make the context clear. There are some who live in a certain context which is so alien from how others live that, though the language is, at surface, the same, the language is itself quite different. The more different our contexts--our ways of life--the more different our languages. There is enough similarity to be frustrating, and some are lucky enough to have others who speak a relatively similar language, but then there are those who stand in the world and live in a way that is so different from others that the gestures others make about themselves look more akin to the kind which a dog makes by scratching at the door. Sure, the dog gestures toward what seems to be a desire to go out, but surely I ought to expect people who are like me to make more important gestures than that? You want to go here, do that, but so few even bother to scratch at anything of real value. This is what it is to be alone in the world: to find yourself among fools--"persons" who don't care about anything worthwhile. Or perhaps they do... but so often the gestures do not gesture right. They do not treat people as valuable, really. It is as if I were to say "I love cake" but never eat any, even refuse it when offered. People speak, but they do not show, and thus their speech is wasted. And these inconsistencies: at least dogs are consistent! People say one thing, but they lie. Do they care that they say one thing and show another? This at least would show that I am not alone, since I admit I fail to be consistent. But I hate that I am inconsistent, whereas so many laugh it off. Do you think it's funny? Do you think you are here for fun and games? Is that enough? You mock yourselves! Surely there is something that you value like nothing else, with awe and reverence? And yet these words fall flat in front of you, I could write them in Latin or Greek! Fear? You hate fear, but not because you understand it. Don't you think there is anything bigger than you? Something that could destroy you? Haven't you seen the pictures from disasters? If that is the only way to make you stop being chipper, happy without cause, then you are pathetic and shallow. Oh, be joyful, but have a reason! What can inspire joy in the face of such hideous evil but something on your side which may put even death in the position of having this hanging there over its head, able to destroy it. And if you can have joy, if such a thing exists, well, surely it could annihilate you several times over! Does it matter that it is on your side? That gives you joy, but the fear is still proper. If you never really fear, then you have no basis for joy. The exhilarating awe, that is fear and joy. Imagine holding a magnificent, sharp sword in your hands. Fear the blade! It cuts. It doesn't matter that you hold it, and how much more if all you know that the power is on your side. Maybe you don't like it. Maybe it will hurt you to keep you from getting killed. Don't you fear this power? Do you think it is on a leash? Do you think it is predictable? You can fear something even when you are certain that it is for your good. But you don't even know what a "solemn assembly" is well enough to even fake one!

This is the struggle, the frustration of one who looks out on featherless bipeds and hears about video games and movies and drama with no sounds of weeping or awe. No one is unsettled. No one is surprised in their cozy little happy worlds. And then it breaks. Because, if nothing else, we are all squishy mammals, and the world is certainly able to break in, and eventually does, and then you are crushed. Or are your worlds not cozy and happy? Well, then, don't lie to us. Weep, fear, show awe. Gesticulate madly and without thinking, show that you care about something beyond stuff and emotions in themselves! There must be something beyond those that underlie why you care about them. What is it?

So, why do you translate this book? Look: the Bible is utter gibberish if you don't understand the language. And they didn't have an easy time understanding it in its time: look at the disciples' reactions to Jesus. To understand the Bible requires one to see another way of life. One where people are valuable and God is awesome and sin is ugly and God is love. Well! "God is love"! That's easy enough, right? Hah! One might think it is simple because most people have given up trying to figure it out. "Love" Do you have any context for that concept? In the context of an awesome and magnificent and powerful God? Really? Explain! Show this context! Explain this way of life! Or is it rather like this: we cannot speak about this, but only show it? Well, then, how are we to start? To show a concept which no one can explain, we mimic the ones who have seen it. Ah, but has anyone really shown it? Who am I to follow? Jesus? What the Bible says he does is certainly expressing it, but this amounts to circularity: I do not understand this way of life. Is it not, rather, the case that I cannot do what must be done? We can show, sort of, what this love is, but in the end it takes another understanding the language and living in this way of life for us if we are to really get it at all.

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