Friday, April 11, 2014

The Picture of the F/acts

For my money the lynchpin of Wittgenstein's Tractatus is 2.1, "We make ourselves pictures of the facts." Some would translate "Wir machen uns Bilder der Tatsachen," as "we picture facts to ourselves", but I like that word "make" (machen) because it indicates poeisis, i.e., poetry.

Those "pictures" are of course what I normally call images, units of imagination. And this works out well in translation, too, since Bilder (pictures) is the the root of Einbildungskraft (imagination). We are talking about the power of making pictures. I'm borrowing that somewhat odd locution from Christopher Hitchens' appreciation of George Orwell's phrase "a power of facing unpleasant facts", which he thought was important to becoming a writer.

It would not be all wrong to think that your power of making pictures, defines your "voice" as a writer. Just as your power of facing unpleasant facts defines your style as a political writer, and your power of facing people quite generally, in social life, probably defines your ordinary speaking voice.

In another context, Thomas Presskorn recently impressed on me "the difficulty of distinguishing clearly (and in practice) between 'the sound of our speaking' and 'its mere sense'. Voice is often semantically, even assertoricly, relevant." In responding, I found myself speaking in the slightly mechanical voice of the Pangrammaticon:

Consider the "simple" case of the sentence as spoken [with all its tone and rhythm, sincerity and irony, competence and diffidence]* and the same sentence written down. The difference between these two utterances is "voice" in a literal sense. Perhaps this has provided a model for the idea that there is a difference between the sentence as written (with all its accidents of style and errors of typography) and its "propositional content", or sense, which again can be distinguished from its full "meaning", i.e., that which includes the fact that the sentence is about, its reference.

There is the question of whether it's style "all the way down" (and all the way up). This may include not just voice, but also gesture, and will cover every function of language between perception and action. It's the full ramification of the way the "picture reaches right up to reality". It's the image in the flesh.

And yet…

Aren't science and politics just the perfectly legitimate activities of softening and sharpening the voice enough to explicate some relatively unambiguous "content". I.e., to make a determination of sense and motive, i.e., what we "mean" by our seeing and doing.

The image in the flesh, reaching up to reality in the fact, reaching up to ideality in the act.

*added 12.04.2014

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