Tuesday Quought: “0. Worüber man spricht, schweigt man nicht.”
“7. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (p. 89), Routledge Classics, 1961.
Allow me to have some innocent fun by messing up a popular quote. I attended a three-hour lecture on ‘Satz 7’ a week or so ago. The only thing I could keep on thinking was why not the other way around? – it is highly probable, by the way, that this is the side effect of an overdose of Musil ‘look for the opposite’-irony. It’s also of some value to add here that it is difficult to keep focused on what basically is just one sentence – no matter how valiant the effort is on the part of the lecturer to uncover layers and layers of deeper meaning in it.
Anyway, somewhere halfway the above ‘Satz 0’ (please try to pronounce in German) had lodged itself in my brain. It has been there ever since. I tried to Google it to find one million people who came to the same sentence and found none. So I couldn’t remove ‘Satz 0’ because of lack of originality (you might argue that not every sentence once thought is on the internet but you really shouldn’t think so blasphemous a thought).
I struggled a couple of days more. I wanted to believe that ‘Satz 0’ was at least trivial, if not just obviously grammatically incorrect. I did not succeed in convincing me of either. ‘Satz 0’ was so damned sticky that I even numbered it and slowly realized it was absolutely cool to imagine it pronounced in German.
So what is the matter with ‘Satz 0’? Let me tell ya, below the fold.
‘Satz 0’ perfectly summarizes – albeit in an annoyingly aphoristic way – what is the case. We talk, and as long as it is about something, we do say something. More, it is the essence of beings who can talk that they try to speak. It’s also by far the worst thing one can do to such beings to ask them to be silent. Asking this is always asking to shut the fuck up.
‘Satz 7’ is only superficially more tautological than ‘Satz 0’ and all of this surface is occupied by the bombastic word must. When we ignore the heavy artillery of such must’ing (and we do well to so ignore this overbearing nature of a word that is most out of place in ‘Satz 7’), we see that ‘Satz 0’ is perfectly as meaningful as ‘Satz 7’. In fact, it has one crucial thing going for it: it is a statement of fact.
If it is the case that one speaks of something, one is not silent on it. This is not a matter of definition because there are certainly, as will be evident from the first things you hear on the news after this, ways of speaking that are not speaking of something and in such cases one can try to listen as much as one wants but one will not learn anything. One will feel a lot of things, maybe (as one is supposed to by those uttering the sounds that try to trick you into hearing something or other that is not pronounced), but one doesn’t learn anything that one can try to reproduce for the benefit of others.
Let me use some bomb shell-like words: it is a duty to speak of things. It is a responsibility not to shut up about what it is not yet easy to speak about. This is the stepping-stone theory of language I once tried to work out. You have ‘Satz 0’ and you need to try to speak about something. In trying you will succeed. Then you get, after a lot of effort to ‘Satz 7’ and you will need to clean up your act. You need to remove from your speaking those things that are unintelligible such that what it is you speak about can be transmitted, can be stored – in short: can become language. Once you have some of it on your fixed ‘Satz 7’ ground, you can start over with ‘Satz 0’ – but now about something else, creating something productive of better understanding.
And so on, and so forth. Not quite a dialectical movement but a quadrialectical one (Think about it!, it is dynamic – you have to do something to move from one to the other Satz and you have to do something during the Satz …), and not one in history but one that makes history through a language that progressively allows to speak about more things and that allows to speak about it more clearly.
Maybe we can call it Progressive Insight. Maybe it has all been nonsensical. Maybe ‘Satz 0’ is exactly what the TLP needs to be complete without being closed.
Maybe. Maybe not.
What I do know with near certainty is that I will live to have another try.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to: Different Trains, Steve Reich, The Orchestre National de Lyon & D. Robertson]
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