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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 122-123.
Chapter 7.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


As we go along

Baudrillard (1976: 157-8) argues that a made up mouth doesn't speak. It seduces, by showing an ideal that isn't there. It is a bar that cuts off from reference, and thus confronts with castration. It is play and rule at the same time. Make-up can't be detached from alteration any longer. But doesn't this exactly say how a made up mouth [p. 123:] does 'speak'? Wittgenstein, at least, writes while he makes up his rules. And his writings fascinate lots of people, who imagine a straight ('phallic') speech behind his lines – that continuously bar sight. Wittgenstein's work is tempting because it practices the temptations of language. He seduces by his written appearance, his make-up/alteration. There is no reason to idolize the living lips that speak, while having a horror of the castration of the written (make-up that 'speaks' whereas the speaker is not there). If this discrimination is not accepted, than what to think of Wittgenstein's form of life?
   The controversy about the make-up of rules didn't discomfort this much, as long as it was detached from practical relationships. In practice, certainties are threatened, signs affect signs, and made up rules actively alter. Wittgenstein's practice does discomfort, since he doesn't accept the boundary of his 'game' (PI 68). This is a rejection of custom. Wittgenstein's doubt of practical certainties is hard to cope with as long as one continues to circle around over the (im-) possibility of identity in order to find ground for a safe landing. One has got to fly, even within a fly-bottle, in order to suspend one certainty: death (Staten 1985: 148-155, cf. Grene 1976). Or is captivity within the ambiguity of language a form of being dead already: without a referent, and without a self-identical self? Saying that communication looses its ground is not just a way of saying that signs get flying. The floating of differences can't make sure that 'we' are not yet dead. After having entered the bottle, what real difference remains? Just waiting for further disintegration is at best 'survival'. It is no way out. Could one say that death already occurred? Or is it possible to live in appearance – superficially and ambiguously? (Baudrillard 1976: 191-282).
   The fun of Wittgenstein's investigations is that they are not tied to answers. Phantasies of straight identity (solving or denying Wittgenstein's scepticism) and of absolute difference (accepting or rejecting his play as something merely aesthetic) are needed only if one feels an urge to give grounds for one's being seduced. This is a way of tearing up the appearance that is alive/dead in the ambiguity of Wittgenstein's writing. The sceptical problem is not how to erect (Wittgenstein's or our) identity once again – declaring it alive or dead. The problem is how to cope with the ambiguity of appearance (identity/difference); and how to deal with practical bars and barriers that obstruct the view of something that isn't there. One is not seduced because of grounds, but "we cannot remain wholly inactive" because grounds are lacking.


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