Today’s webjunk is for our audience of pocket-philosphers: an interesting passage in a review of a new collection of essays on Wittgenstein focuses on aphoristic philosophers. The idea that structured, linear and systematised philosophical is somehow false I find increasingly appealing.
I suppose, in that mode of Richard Rorty, if words are tools, then aphorisms are the essential gadgets and appliances, rather than the whole workshop and accompanying rack of Haynes’ manuals. Can either set of tools be said to do the job better? Or is one simply more wieldy?
Here’s the key paragraph:
Wittgenstein scorned the science of aesthetics (it was, he scoffed, like believing that science could tell you what sort of coffee tastes good), but he also considered that philosophy ought really only to be written as a form of poetry. He belonged to that distinguished lineage of philosophers, from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger to Benjamin, Adorno and Derrida, who were sceptical of the whole genre of philosophizing as they found it, and like avant-garde artists could say what they meant only by inventing a different sort of discourse altogether. In each case, that new style of writing challenged the distinction between the philosophical and the literary, trading in aphorism and persona, figure and fable, rhetorical strategy and dramatic dialogue. Rather as Walter Benjamin dreamed of a book that would consist of nothing but quotations, so Wittgenstein toyed with the idea of a text that would be composed of nothing but jokes. Both men were traditional-minded modernists who, like James Joyce, found the whole orthodox conception of a book deeply troubling (Witt-genstein published only one of them in his lifetime). Along with Benjaminâ€™s colleague Theodore Adorno, they belonged to that heretical sub-current of philosophical thought that can compress a whole complex argument into some earthy dictum, gnomic epiphany, or striking image. All three thinkers preferred a montage of fragments to a conventionally ordered argument. Wittgenstein, in true modernist fashion, liked his thoughts to jump around rather than being forced into a linear pattern. In this respect, he was closer to Molly Bloom or Mrs Dalloway than to A. J. Ayer. Benjaminâ€™s distaste for totality also had a theological dimension: only God could restore a shattered history to wholeness, a belief that makes the unified work of art a sort of idolatry.