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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 119-120.
Chapter 4.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


Difference (Staten)

Staten (1985) tries to read Wittgenstein from the perspective of Derrida (e.g. 1967, 1977), who leaves from the (Saussurean) difference between signs. Since every element of language is constituted by its relations to all other elements, it is not possible to fix signs. The continuous grafting of signs upon signs does not give rise to a direct accessibility of language (to a meaningful purity of speech). It is just a practice that is always impure and parasitic – like writing has often been considered parasitic on speech. Reading Wittgenstein from this perspective is showing how forms of language momentarily touch on other forms of language, without determining them. Language is writing: a game with (nothing but) its own play at stake.
   1.   Staten (1985: 64-108) argues that Wittgenstein's doubt is not sceptical. His doubt is part of a practice in which he continuously moves on from attempts to "shew the fly out of the fly-bottle" (PI 309) to actively forgetting solutions he has already given, in order to write anew. He tries to resolve particular confusions in a way that also functions as an instruction in a skill, a strategy that examplifies a method without rules, and without fixed boundaries, taught only by being practiced. In this practice, solutions exactly become the problems that are to be attacked in a next step. This way of making fun of solvability turns Wittgenstein's work into a satire (cf. also Rorty 1982). It throws a comical or absurd – even grim and obsessive – light upon the compulsory scenes of philosophy (cf. the philosopher of PI 38, staring at an object, and repeating the word [p. 120:] 'this' innumerable times, in order to bring out the relationship between name and thing). Language is an appearance that shows and hides its play. Sometimes, we can find our way, but coming from another side, language bewitches and seduces us – a bewitchment we can't cure outside of it (PI 203, 109). The only remedy against the illusions that arise from the excessive wealth of language is letting oneself be carried away by the profusion of language appearances. Wittgenstein shows the inseparability of the two aspects of showing and hiding by making up and altering the coherent forms of normal writing. He looks for new contexts that help us think the unthought of ordinary language, and that evoke the abnormal by suggesting differences.
   2.   From Wittgenstein's remark that someone is 'under the compulsion' of a rule when she/he can't understand why someone else sees the application of a rule differently (PI 231), Kripke (1982: 98, n. 78) concludes that we can't understand the deviant. Staten (1985: 101) replies that Wittgenstein quite often refers to his 'inclination', 'urge', or 'want' to say this or that (cf. PI 299). He is tempted by language in a way that can't be escaped as long as one's mind is closed. But only the initiated is so much under the spell of usual practice that she/he sees the rule as unescapable. The deviant may open new paths by seeing things differently. Initially, deviancies usually don't make sense, but we can't know if they will do so later on. Therefore, I can't require someone to follow the line in the same way I do (PI 231). This leads to the conclusion that, in contrast to Kripke as well as Baker and Hacker, Wittgenstein does not exclude deviant applications from what he considers to be language (use). What matters is not correctness or even seriousness. What matters is that uses be woven into the threads of other uses. "And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres" (PI 67). Wittgenstein is concerned with a technique that makes language open to new contexts, which are connected with old uses but vary away from them. Instead of enforcing formal criteria or community standards constituting identity in language use, he tries to draw attention to small differences. Use is extended by twisting new uses onto old ones, and by discovering the possibilities of movement of language.


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