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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 121-122.
Chapter 6.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


Differentiation for life

Compared with the common agreement, Statens reading makes a world of difference. 1. He more consistently rejects 'metaphysical comfort' – which leads to a drastic rejection of practical reassurance. 2. Staten doesn't take community for granted. Thus, he better accounts for the fact that the non-existence of ultimate foundations does not self-evidently turn the sceptical paradox into something solvable (or solved).
   Wittgenstein doesn't solve the paradox. He makes it productive for his practices, without a prospect of any clearcut solution (cf. Staten 1985: 164-6, n. 20-1). Suggesting more or less ethnocentric solutions to the sceptical problem is beside his point. Agreement is not a 'brute empirical fact' (PI 185, 227; cf. Laclau and Mouffe 1985: 93-148). There may be practices in which identification/differentiation is not explicitly problematized but, usually, following a rule is complicated in a vital sense – interrupting the community feeling, or the unity that 'we' are, even while constituting and enforcing it. If there can't be criteria guiding language use, then, also agreement, or forms of life, won't establish grounds of security – and for the same reasons. At this [p. 122:] point, one can decide that Wittgenstein doesn't succeed in overcoming a certain 'essentialism of practice' (e.g. Feyerabend 1981: 127). But it is more promising to find out that this 'picture' doesn't really fit. Wittgenstein doesn't consider captivity to the criteria embedded in communal practices unescapable. He illustrates a method of destabilization of normality (Staten 1985: 176, n. 35, cf. Feyerabend 1981: 126).
   Scepticism doesn't give reason to accept 'normality', but neither does it give reason to dream of 'escape'. It just doesn't give any reasons at all. The tension can't be solved (cf. Hiley 1988). One doesn't shut one's eyes in front of doubt only by acting confidently. The eyes are shut anyhow (PI p. 224). Accepting difference doesn't make things visible as they are; it just provides appearances, a kind of writing. The confusion about scepticism and rules can be unraveled by not restricting oneself to the serious (communicative, or sensical) side of Wittgenstein. Saliently enough, Wittgenstein also accepts (at least, shows) the power of unseriousness, fiction, and nonsense (cf. PI 42, 307, 464), and he involves in practices in which 'we' are not self-evidently part of 'the community'. Is it plainly serious to ask questions like "But isn't the same at least the same?", "Are two things the same when they are what one thing is?", and "How am I to apply what the one thing shews me to the case of two things?" (PI 215); or is it exactly his sense of dry playfulness that makes Wittgenstein's work fascinating? This question can't be answered without ambiguity. It is Wittgenstein's seriousness that makes one laugh, and the fun he makes of his own practices is no joke.
   Therefore, it can't be enough to say that Wittgenstein "remained trapped by the urge toward final liberation" (Staten 1985: 3). Of course, hope for a happy end may seduce, but that can't be all. Sometimes, Staten tends to pursue a new reassurance, e.g. in aesthetics (1985: 85, 90). This weakens the fear of inclination, desire, and madness – but only by giving to difference an all too unambiguous place: that of art, and beauty. Wittgenstein's obsession with differences would look rather harmless, if one could give his 'communitarian moment' and his 'deconstructive moment' their own separate places (1985: 156). However, this distinction slides back into the dichotomy between external (criterium 1) and internal (criterium 2) that Staten generally rejects (e.g. p. 86). If the internal relationship Baker and Hacker assume between a rule and the practice of following it, fuses with externalities, one can't get around the recognition that one doesn't really know what happens; regular communication looses its ground (cf. Derrida). Wittgenstein's 'satire' is moving only because it is no mere satire. His game of certainty and doubt is no less than a form of life.


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