copyright 1987 Doug Robinson




Three Dialogues

Wittgenstein: On Being Guided

Wittgenstein on being guided in the Philosophical Investigations (PI #172):

"Let us consider the experience of being guided, and ask ourselves: what does this experience consist in when for instance our course is guided?--Imagine the following cases:

"You are in a playing field with your eyes bandaged, and someone leads you by the hand, sometimes left, sometimes right; you have constantly to be ready for the tug of his hand, and must also take cae not to stumble when he gives an unexpected tug.

"Or again: someone leads you by the hand where you are unwilling to go, by force.

"Or: you are guided by a partner in a dance; you make yourself as receptive as possible, in order to guess his intention and obey the slightest pressure.

"Or: someone takes you for a walk; you are having a conversation; you go wherever he does.

"Or: you walk along a field-track, simply following it."


Or imagine these cases, from Bruce Duffy's fictional life of Wittgenstein, The World as I Found It:

His father writes him a letter, trying to be reasonable about filial obligations, liking and loving your father (and you don't really want to be a philosopher, do you), and "The effect was that of pigeons bursting from a booming belfry. When Wittgenstein finished the letter, his ears were hot and his chest was constricted; he could not catch a good breath. . . . As a man of transcendent technical understanding, Karl Wittgenstein was profoundly resourceful in this regard. He knew that, as with a hydraulic pump, only a little force need be applied to a subject mind: overburdened with the past, the mind would vastly magnify the original force, until it succumbed with the merest tap, a word, a look, a letter" (62-63).

Or: "Wittgenstein could remember how Hans, some nine years his elder, used to block his way on the stairs when he was a child of four or five. Oh, excuse me, Hans would say, stepping in his way. Oh, excuse me again, as he stepped the other way. Excuse me and excuse me, until his little brother would burst into tears, flailing and screaming. This was all the Blocker wanted: with the first cry he would be gone, leaving Wittgenstein, the Blocked, wailing on the vertiginous red stairs. . . . But the Blocker himself was blocked" (137).

Or: "Wittgenstein could still remember finding [Otto Weininger's] Sex and Character at his brother's bedside. This was not long before the break, when their father banished Hans from the house. Wittgenstein was twelve, and the Blocker made him feel it. But Hans made him feel much else, now directing his self-hatred and spleen at him in the form of subversive, belittling barbs that implicitly questioned the boy's worth and sexuality, as if the worst--meaning, that he would end up like Hans himself--were foreordained. Hans's own homosexuality cried out, and yet, as if from some unspoken injunction from their father, who scarcely could not have seen it, it was strenuously ignored like some obnoxious family ghost--ignored to the point that his younger brothers had to swallow their own personalities to make room for Hans's: two or three such ghosts in the Palais Wittgenstein would have been impossible" (517).

Who are Wittgenstein's precursors? Who were his intellectual guides?

Russell? Frege?

Only in a negative sense. "By your example you've shown me where not to go." Where do the Philosophical Investigations fit in the history of philosophy? Who came before him? Who guided him to language games, private language, the problems of the language of pain, rules, being guided?

No one, you want me to say.

No one, Wittgenstein wanted you to say. He was self-engendered. He had no guides. He had no father, no older brothers. His father and brother only blocked him.

Blockage too is guidance.


Imagine Wittgenstein exactly as he was, brilliant, original, driven by genius, sensitive to the complexity of his body, his feelings, the world as he finds it--but unblocked by his father and brother.

An unblocked Wittgenstein wouldn't have been driven by genius; he would have rested easy in it. There would have been no need to assert his originality, deny (or slide over) his debts to intellectual guides. He would have been more like Moore (Duffy's Moore), calmly content with common sense.

Is blockage a necessary guide to originality? Must a genius be blocked to be original?

To strive for originality, yes. I don't know about being original.


Look, are we taking Duffy's novel as the authoritative account of Wittgenstein's life, here, life as son and younger brother and student and philosopher and teacher and soldier and so on? Are we using Duffy's fiction as evidence?

I don't know. Does that need clarification?

Of course it does. Duffy carefully disclaims historical factuality, fidelity even to the biographical record, let alone biographical "reality." His book's evidential reliability is at least problematic.

Only if we insist on making it problematic. His book influenced me. Guided me. Guided my understanding of Wittgenstein. Guided my path through the reading of Wittgenstein. Isn't that enough? Isn't that reason enough to quote from it?

Guided you? Changed your course through him?

Didn't change my course so much as give me a preternatural awareness of the course I'd been following.

Or gave you a preternatural sense that you'd always been following the course he guided you down.


Still, just being guided by Duffy doesn't make his book qualify as evidence.

I didn't say I was taking it as evidence. I just said I was guided by it. I'm a reader, not a scientist.

Scientists are guided by evidence.

Yes, and they're afraid to be guided by anything that isn't evidence. Science requires a control on guidance, a careful, idealized blockage of any guidance that can't be ruled reliable. Ultimately, of course, nothing can be ruled so reliable as to be counted as evidence--as guide--and the rigorous scientific thinker ends up in the epistemological pit: nothing can be known. Translation: no one can guide me. I can't go anywhere, say anything, do anything. I'm trapped in the immobility of infancy. I have no guide to help me grow up, move out, encounter the world.


Don't try to tell me you don't control the forces that would guide you. If you didn't you'd be guided in different directions a hundred times a day, every time you talked to somebody, read a billboard, overheard a conversation, or whatever.

But I am guided in different directions a hundred times a day. Just try driving someplace without being guided by the road, traffic lights, street signs, other cars, etc. We're guided all the time.


But you know where you're going. Your knowledge of your destination, your mental image of your trip is the master guide that controls the guiding forces coming in from outside.

"Controls"? Suppose I come to a roadblock, road construction, an accident, and can't take the route I'd planned to take.

Then you take an alternative route, but your mental image of where your're going still controls the way your environment guides you there.


I respond to external guidance, based on that image. But you want to idealize my response as control: I have a fixed, permanent image that overrides or masters my environment. Granted, some people are like that. Maybe we all are, in certain situations, anxious situations. Wittgenstein was like that when he refused to adopt that boy from Trattenbach when it turned out he would have to buy him from his brutal father. Franz Kluck.


That's a case in point. That's Duffy's Wittgenstein (446-449). Bartley (102-104) says Wittgenstein tried to adopt a boy named Karl Gruber and failed, without all the telling details Duffy gives us about Max negotiating with Herr Kluck, Herr Kluck's motivations, Wittgenstein's pride, etc. Franz Kluck is a character in a novel about Wittgenstein, and you're treating the incident as history.

So what? Bartley goes to Trattenbach in the late sixties and talks to some old farts who claim to remember Wittgenstein fondly, including one Karl Gruber, who says Wittgenstein wanted to adopt him. How does Bartley know it really happened? How does he know what really happened? If we're going on strict historical evidence, here, we have to discount both accounts. I'd prefer to have Duffy borrow the bare bones of the incident from Bartley, then let a feel for Wittgenstein's character guide him to what "really" (read: imaginatively) happened. Duffy has an emotional openness to guidance from Wittgenstein that Bartley specifically blocks (156).


So you're willing to read Wittgenstein allegorically.

I suppose that would be one way of putting it. But if you put it that way, you have to go on and make it clear that all reading that draws parallels and conclusions for present action or understanding is allegorical. I'd rather say, with Burke, that I'm willing to read Wittgenstein in search of equipment for living. Or say, with Wittgenstein himself, that I'm willing to let myself by guided by him, or by Duffy, or by any other writer who speaks to my experience in powerful ways.

How about Hitler, in Mein Kampf?


All right. But if you want to take that line, why not take an example we've already looked at, Otto Weininger's influence on the young Wittgenstein, which Duffy also takes from Bartley (26-27). If Karl Wittgenstein could have helped it, he would certainly have blocked Ludwig's (and Hans's) exposure to that book. It's a virulently racist and sexist book, and since we now agree that those are bad things for a book to be, we too, like Wittgenstein's father, would like to block that kind of book's power to guide us, in advance. We want to raise ourselves and our children in idealized safety from that kind of influence. The ideology of objectivity perpetuates that authoritarian protectiveness: allow tentative guidance from Bartley, who can at least produce evidence that he went to Trattenbach and talked to the principals; block all guidance from Duffy, who's only writing a novel. Geschlecht und Charakter shaped Wittgenstein's sex and character--okay. Without that book's guidance, he may not have been quite so afraid of his own homosexuality or Jewishness. He might have been able to lighten up a little. Fine. But the only way to protect yourself against that kind of guidance is to wall yourself in with rational self-control, and to have your parents wall you in with the same rational self-control all the time you're growing up. Close yourself off from the world, let little trickles of influence seep in under the door, but have your mop ready to wipe them up in case they don't meet your idealized standards. Be sure and silence anyone whose speech even threatens to expose you to an influence you're not sure you entirely approve of. That's Wittgenstein, too, Duffy's Wittgenstein, in that Franz Kluck episode I was starting in on when you interrupted me a minute ago. Wittgenstein knew the boy would be better off with him than with his father, but he had a fixed, permanent image in his head--pride, principles. honor, justice, whatever you want to call it--that wouldn't let him go through with it. If he had to break a principle against buying and selling human beings to rescue the boy, the boy would have to go unrescued. You could idealize Wittgenstein's response to that situation as "the way the mind works," or some such, and claim that control or mastery of one's environment is "natural," ingrained, inbred. But it ain't so. There are always powerful psycho- and sociohistorical reasons for rigidifying your response as control, and idealizing your rigidity as principle or honor or justice. Wittgenstein had to control himself so he wouldn't end up like either his father--a petty tyrant--or his brother Hans--a suicide. And in controlling himself so as not to end up like his father he ended up like his father: the victim of (and victimizer through) his own fearful self-control.


That's a psychohistorical reason. How do you get sociohistory into it?

Karl, Hans, and Ludwig Wittgenstein were men. They were all socially programmed to be men, males, programmed for masculinity. It was no psychohistorical accident or freak that Karl Wittgenstein was the way he was. Whatever else he was (a music-lover, for instance), he was also a traditionally programmed male: afraid of softness, weakness, fearfulness, vulnerability, driven to hide his fear of those things by controlling himself and his environment. Fear of feeling.


So when Wittgenstein rejects James's feeling-theory of language at the end of the Investigations (181-83), do you think it's a protective reaction? Is he protecting his father from his own feel for language, himself from the feelings his father's language awakens in him?

Probably. It makes sense. It's more masculine to externalize language as a game, something you manipulate in the real world, the practical world of steel magnates and things. Meaning as use (PI #43) is more facelessly male, more, what do I want to say, actantial, than meaning as feeling. But Wittgenstein doesn't just reject the feeling-theory of language. Like all oedipalized rebels, he wants to play both sides of the fence: "It would never have occurred to us to think that we feel the influence of the letters on us when reading, if we had not compared the case of letters with that of arbitrary marks. And here we are indeed noticing a difference. And we interpret it as the difference between being influenced and not being influenced.

"In particular, this interpretation appeals to us especially when we make a point of reading slowly--perhaps in order to see what does happen when we read. When we, so to speak, quite intentionally let ourselves be guided by the letters. But this 'letting myself be guided' in turn only consists in my looking carefully at the letters--and perhaps excluding certain other thoughts.

"We imagine that a feeling enables us to perceive as it were a connecting mechanism between the look of a word and the sound that we utter. For when I speak of the experience of being influenced, of causal connection, of being guided, that is really meant to imply that I as it were feel the movement of the lever which connects seeing the letters with speaking" (PI #170).


A connecting mechanism, with a lever: an attractive self-image for a man. Traditional man, traditional woman: machine and child. (Feigen Fasteau's The Male Machine and Herb Goldberg's books.)


"But this 'letting myself be guided' in turn only consists in my looking carefully at the letters--and perhaps excluding certain other thoughts"--wait: only? Consists only in something I do? "Letting myself be guided" consists, in other words, in doing something, not in being guided.

Yes: letting yourself be guided is control. You read the letters. You're all alone in the room. Nobody forces you to read them. You can stop whenever you want (as you just pointed out). You "write" what you read. Without your creative construction of the text, it wouldn't be a text at all; it would be random black marks on the page. This is good phenomenology, good reader-response theory. Husserl, Bleich, Holland.

But not Fish: Fish says we're programmed and controlled (guided) by the interpretive community we live and work in.

You like that? Now all of a sudden you like Fish's robot ideal? How many times have I heard you say that Fish holds hands with Abrams and Hirsch in the same conservative cookie-jar?

Abrams and Hirsch idealize fathers: submit to the father's guidance (writer's intention). Bleich and Holland idealize sons: the father is dead and powerless and must submit to the son's interpretation. Fish, and Bloom too, I guess, try to mediate, by saying that sons are always already programmed by fathers, and in some sense (this is Bloom, of course) are guided by the father to rise up against him.


And professionally, of course, all six of those men are your fathers, which makes it appealing, doesn't it, to reduce their work to the skeletal frame of a father-son opposition. Schematization facilitates the son's control over paternal guidance.


I'm looking for a new mediation between father and son, intention and interpretation, guidance and response. I want to go past Fish and Bloom--but with them as my guides. And past Wittgenstein, who also sought a mediation. Wittgenstein says there's a connecting mechanism that links words with sounds, and implies (maybe this is already letting him guide me past him) that there's another that links words with feelings. He wants ("sozusagen") to mechanize the mediation. Fish says there is in every interpretive community a set of regulating practices that give voice to acceptable interpretations and silence unacceptable ones, and implies (maybe this too is letting him guide me past him) that sons can be left to respond as they will because their fathers have already programmed them to respond in institutionally appropriate ways. In any case, fathers and big brothers are still around to block inappropriate responses. Bloom charges the Oedipus complex with the power to empower sons, saying that the son masters his father's guidance by generating an image of self-generation, but knows that the son knows, somewhere deep down, the "anxiety of influence," knows that he has been (and still is being, will always be) guided.


What's your mediation?

I'll let Wittgenstein guide me to it: "But now notice this: while I am being guided everything is quite simple, I notice nothing special; but afterwards, when I ask myself what it was that happened, it seems to have been something indescribable. Afterwards no description satisfies me. It's as if I couldn't believe that I merely looked, made such-and-such a face, and drew a line.--But don't I remember anything else? No; and yet I feel as if there must have been something else; in particular when I say 'guidance', 'influence', and other such words to myself. 'For surely,' I tell myself, 'I was being guided.'--Only then does the idea of that ethereal, intangible influence arise" (PI #175).


He's talking about drawing a picture and then copying it, letting himself be guided by the first picture. You're not going to twist it into something else, are you?

Cross the boundaries he drew, you mean? You want me to be guided passively, blindfolded, ready for the tug of his hand? That would be Wittgenstein's image for the Abramsian/Hirschian ideal. Books can't force you to go where you're unwilling to go, any more than fathers can force their grown sons to do what they're unwilling to do, so they have to idealize willing submission. Is that what you're calling for, here?

Is that so bad?


My mediation is somatic: sons carry their fathers' ideological (ideosomatic) programming around in their bodies, respond physically to situations as they were responded to by their fathers, even in the absence of their fathers ("When Wittgenstein finished the letter, his ears were hot and his chest was constricted; he could not catch a good breath"), so that fathers do guide sons, sons are subject to paternal guidance. But sons can also work through ideosomatic programming, work free of it, at least partly, a little at a time, to an idiosyncratic (idiosomatic) response. Paternal programming isn't like computer programming: we're not machines, we're never programmed perfectly or completely or ideally, there's always an unprogrammed residue that can be expanded into an idiosomatic response.


There was no somatics in the Wittgenstein passage you read about everything being simple while he is being guided. It's all intangible.

That's Wittgenstein edging away from the father's guidance. He wants to imagine his father as a mere picture of a face, a two-dimensional image that he controls. His father is dead and buried. How could he guide his now-famous philosopher son? Only when he starts chanting the word "guidance" to himself "does the idea of that ethereal, intangible influence arise."

His father's ghost. Quick, cross yourself, banish the ghost.

Wittgenstein had a mystical streak. I don't think he could have banished the ghost that easily. In fact, I'll bet he couldn't even quite convince himself that it was just an idea of influence--that it was intangible.

What do you mean--that he felt the ghost's touch?

Yes. Only it wasn't a ghost. It was a memory-image of his father working on his body. Tangibly: making him feel the guidance. "When Wittgenstein finished the letter, his ears were hot and his chest was constricted; he could not catch a good breath"--your body doesn't forget a feeling like that. Years later, decades later, you can remember the words and feel the clutch around your heart. Ideosomatic programming.


"Someone who doesn't know English hears me say on certain occasions: 'What marvellous light!' He guesses the sense and now uses the exclamation himself, as I use it, but without understanding the three individual words. Does he understand the exclamation?" (Zettel #150).

Of course he does.

"I intentionally chose an example in which a man gives expression to his sensation. For in this case sounds belonging to no language are said to be full of meaning" (Z #151).

Sounds belonging to no language? Not to English? Or do you mean that when you give expression to a sensation you could use sounds belonging to no language, and people around you would understand you? The implication, anyway, is that the somatic charge of language bypasses the system of language.

"Would it be equally easy to imagine the analogous case for this sentence: 'If the train does not arrive punctually at five o'clock, he'll miss the connexion'? What would guessing the sense mean in this case?" (Z 152).

It might mean noticing a general air of anxiety (if his making the connection really matters) or of smug superiority (if nobody really wants him to make it or believes that he has it in him to make it), or whatever. You wouldn't get the precise semantic meaning of the sentence, but you might well (if you were alert enough, sensitive enough to the body signals) get the somatic meaning.


"A poet's words can pierce us" (Z #155).

Yes--but so can a bank teller's. Anyone's words can pierce us.


"'I feel great joy'--Where?--that sounds like nonsense. And yet one does say 'I feel a joyful agitation in my breast'.--But why is joy not localized? Is it because it is distributed over the whole body? Even where the feeling that arouses joy is localized, joy is not: if for example we rejoice in the smell of a flower.--Joy is manifested in facial expression, in behavior. (But we do not say that we joyful in our faces). (Z #486)

Nor do we feel joy in our ears when we hear words that make us happy, or in our eyes when we read them. But that doesn't mean joy isn't localized. It just isn't permanently or perfectly localized. Sometimes joy will send tingles down your spine, then it will spread to your shoulders and neck; then up and down your arms and torso, so that you hug yourself, or whoever happens to be around (to relieve the somatic pressure of joy). Sometimes it's just a glow in the chest. Sometimes it's an erection or vaginal lubrication. Words can do all that. "We've won a million dollars in the lottery." "I love you." "But you misunderstand. I am just very, very happy" (Duffy, 234).


"'It intimates this or that to me, irresponsibly' means: I cannot teach you how I follow this line. I do not presuppose that you will follow it as I do, even when you do follow it" (Z #282).

Or: I cannot teach you how I read this book. This is the kind of irresponsibility people like Abrams and Hirsch want to forestall: personal intimations, wisps of unteachable irresponsible response. Subjectivity as solipsism.

And can you deny that that would be a bad thing?

I don't know. For most people it's not a bad thing at all. I respond to a book my own way, and that's that. I may try to articulate it to you, but if you don't understand, I won't be crushed. It wasn't that big a deal. And I have no reason to try to make you read the book the same way I did.

But in academia?

Well, that's obviously a different kettle of fish. In an English department, I presume you mean.


I can certainly see the English teacher reading a passage with feeling and saying only, "Do you feel that? Do you get it?" Leaving it at that. That's what I find myself doing with Sylvia Plath. What can you say that won't deaden it, render it flat and lifeless?

As she said her father did to her.

Well, yes, and there's a connection there, isn't there, between the deadening intellectualizing of institutionalized criticism and the intellectual weapons of Plath's father, or Wittgenstein's.

Maybe the teacher could at least make that connection.


I guess I conceive the writer-teacher-student triad in terms of the walk Wittgenstein talks about: "someone takes you for a walk; you are having a conversation; you go wherever he does" (PI #172). I am in charge: I'm taking my students for a walk; they go wherever I do. The whole institution is set up that way: grades, credit, letters of recommendation, salary, tuition, everything is set up to consolidate my authority. Since I have to function in that institution, the real question for me isn't whether I have authority or whether it's legitimate, but what I'm going to do with it. Do I blindfold my students or not? Do I keep them in the dark about the institutional sources of my authority--not only grades and salary and so on, but the critical consensus I fall back on when I want to make an interpretation stick? If I participate in the institutional mystification of institutional practices, they remain blindfolded. Their only consolation is that I'm probably blindfolded too, which isn't, of course, much of a consolation.

What if they want to walk in a different direction?

That's why I like that image. Even when you think you're "taking" someone for a walk, the kind of guidance that goes on in that sort of situation is so subtle that I may well be guided too--not just guide. I may be picking up subtle signals from the person I'm walking with, may be progressively sensitizing myself to his or her desires, may recognize a certain stiffness of the neck as an unwillingness to go in a given direction, and may direct my steps elsewhere. Some student gives me trouble, pushes me hard in a direction I don't want to go, and I win out, I override her objections, my interpretation triumphs--but after class I can't get her remarks out of my head, they keep bothering me, and next time in class I return to her objections, and before I know it I've taken a different path. Maybe next time someone objects I don't react so defensively, don't work so hard to win the argument. Maybe I open up, listen to what the student is saying, and begin to hear a deeply felt truth in it, an intimation of truth.

And maybe something in the conversation is guiding both of you: you're talking about something that excites you, and you walk faster. You get tangled up in a knotty problem, and slow down. You suddenly realize something, and stop dead.

Yes, and words are doing this to bodies.

Maybe even, in the classroom, the original writer of the words is doing that to all your bodies, teacher and students alike. Some writers do it better than others, maybe, which is why we go on teaching them year after year.

Or some do it better to us--to teachers. To white male middle-class teachers, for example. Why we teach Hawthorne but not Susan Warner, Whitman but not Harriet Beecher Stowe. The white male writers can address our white male bodies better than the women do. They know what works with us, because they've sensitized themselves to what works with them.

But if it works, why change? Why do the anxious liberal thing and stuff your syllabus full of representatives of this and that gender, race, and class, if the white male writers speak most powerfully to us?

No reason to change at all. The institution sanctions closed-mindedness, so long as it's in line with its ideological leanings: closed-minded liberalism, for example, but not closed-minded religious fundamentalism. Especially if all your students are white middle-class males, you're set. If you've got a woman or two in your class one of them might ask why you're not doing a woman writer, and you can defend the Great Tradition all you like, but if you've got any room at all in your liberal heart for a little difference, a little alienness, if you can make just a tiny little empathetic leap, maybe next time you give the course you might want to include a few women writers, not only to give your female students some female guides, but to see whether they will speak to you too, whether your body can respond to them.

Then some black writers, working-class writers, Chicano writers, and so on, until you're swamped. You and the Great Tradition.

Let's shed a tear for the Great Tradition.


Is this the somatic mediation, then? Words affect us somatically, words are the somatic vehicle for the guidance of authorial intention, and for the resistance or idiosomatic response of readers to all that?

Yeah, something like that. We aren't free to respond to literary texts any way we like: our bodies have been programmed to respond to certain words in certain ways, and you don't overcome that programming just by wishing it away. But we're not robots, and the "conventions" of institutionally controlled discourse don't control us completely either. We can overcome some programmed responses. Women can stop being the children they were programmed to be and grow up, become tough, competent people. Men can stop being the machines they were programmed to be and become feeling human beings. There are unprogrammed responses that guarantee the uniqueness (ungeneralizability) of every dialogue, and those responses can be expanded.

So both the essentialists and the reader-response people are right.

Except insofar as they want to be absolutely right. Right once and for all. All interpretation must submit to authorial intention. All interpretation generates its objects in accordance with its own subjective experience. Our somatic responses to words enmesh us in dialogical engagements between people, those who talk or write to us, those who hear or read the words we use.


Paul talks about "words engraved on the human heart," doesn't he? How does that go? Second Corinthians three: "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

All words that mean anything to us, I'd say, are written on tablets of human hearts.

Paul was distinguishing between dead letter and living revelation, Old and New Testament, the Ten Commandments and the body of Jesus Christ. That makes it tricky reading that passage today, when the New Testament letter is just as dead as the Old.

Yes, except that the New Testament isn't dead letter in a Christian civilization, not for anybody, not even for someone who wasn't raised a Christian, not for someone who has "grown out" of Christianity, certainly not for a "backsliding" Christian. Paul's letters of recommendation still live in the tablets of our hearts, in our bodies, in our somatic responses to the world, because our civilization has programmed our bodies to respond in Christian ways.


For example.

For example, science. For several centuries after the supposed death of God, scientists went on assuming that the universe was rationally ordered--stable, structured, predictable--despite their supposed disbelief in a rational Orderer. Quantum physics has fought its way out of the image of the rationally ordered universe, but I've never met a scientist who didn't still believe in it. (I've only read a few who seemed not to.) Belief in a rational Orderer is written on the tablets of their hearts. They are guided to it. Only when you draw their attention to their implicit belief do they begin to sense an influence, and not an intangible one, either: they feel it, in their need to have the universe rationally ordered. The need is so strong that social and behavioral scientists have managed to expand the rationally ordered universe to include the one part of it that in Christian theology had fallen out of it, humanity: psychologists look for psychic laws and mechanisms, sociologists for the patterns of human behavior, linguists for the system of human speech, etc. Burke's logology: Logos becomes logic, there's an imagistic shift from God's word to an impersonal order underlying reality, but we still feel the same about it, our ideosomatic response is the same. There's a programmed awe before logical order that Russell and Moore never got past. Wittgenstein did, to his older colleagues' dismay.


Russell and Moore wanted their letters written on tablets of stone, maybe.

Yes. Or of steel: bolted to the sides of machines.

Karl Wittgenstein the steel magnate.

Ludwig Wittgenstein the iron magnet, afraid of his own attraction to his father's steely guidance, ironically steeling himself against the magnetic pull.

And both of them imaging themselves obsessively in steely terms to protect themselves against the inner softness, the tablets of their human hearts. Their vulnerability to being guided.


Derrida says in Of Grammatology that the Western metaphysics of presence has always associated true speech with the body: "Natural writing is immediately united to the voice and to breath. Its nature is not grammatological but pneumatological. It is hieratic, very close to the interior holy voice of the Profession of Faith, to the voice one hears upon retreating into oneself: full and truthful presence of the divine voice to our inner sense" (17).

It's more complicated than that. "There is therefore a good and a bad writing: the good and natural is the divine inscription in the heart and the soul; the perverse and artful is technique, exiled in the exteriority of the body" (17). I'm calling the heart body, which it is, of course, the heart is a metonymy for the somatic responses that tell us how we feel about things, the constriction of the chest at anxiety, the pounding of the heart with excitement, etc. But Derrida follows the ancients in calling it soul and linking it with the breath or spirit that only dwells in the body.

He wants to link the "exteriority of the body" with writing, with tablets of stone.

Yeah. He doesn't trust the body. He's an anti-logician, which isn't the same thing as an illogician: he just puts his own logic under question. He doesn't look for a somatic path out of the vicious deconstructive circles--through emotion, say. He goes on: "A modification well within the Platonic diagram: writing of the soul and of the body, writing of the interior and of the exterior, writing of conscience and of the passions, as there is a voice of the soul and a voice of the body. 'Conscience is the voice of the soul, the passions are the voice of the body'" (17-18). He wants to oppose the hegemony of the soul, of conscience, but passions as the voice of the body don't seem to be his vehicle. He doesn't like passions, he's not crazy about voice, and the only body he really seems to like are the fingers that write, the body as sheer exteriority, which is to say, sheer machine.

He doesn't want to be guided by the heart, by emotion. A not unprecedented move in a metaphysical tradition dominated by logic, which achieves clarity through the suppression of emotion.


Maybe the problem is that Derrida is still too caught up in logocentric mind-body dualisms, and needs a safe technique for slipping into body, letting himself be guided by body. Maybe it would be easier for him to slip out of his ideosomatic programming if he weren't aware that that was what was happening. He's so good at deconstructing any attempt to get him out of logocentrism.

When he doesn't want to get trapped in a temporal or spatial conception of differance, he says that "this interval is what could be called spacing; time's becoming-spatial or space's becoming-temporal (temporalizing)" (13), or even temporizing, which is to say hedging, which is what Derrida is doing here. Maybe that kind of approach would do it--do the same thing with mind and body. You could do it by starting with Peirce's remark to James that "The end of thought is action, only in so far as the end of action is another thought," translate that radically into Derrida's French and back into English, like this: "Mind 'exists' as a becoming-(re)incarnated only in so far as body 'exists' as a becoming-(re)immentated."


Any way you slice that it's going to generate anxiety for Derrida. The becoming-(re)incarnated of mind would be a letting-it-feel-real, a relaxation of intellection that would let mental categories slide back into a felt reality.

But maybe we can deconstruct some of the anxiety away. Let's see: not a two-stage process in which theory is put into practice, thought into action, but just what you said, a sliding: not the baserunner, nor the base, nor the basepath, but the sliding, the no-longer-running-but-notyet-safeness of the sliding. Left brain sliding into right. Intellection sliding into intuition. Protective skepticism sliding into gut-level knowing. For Derrida to feel safe he has to feel not-yet-safe. The suspension of dualistic categories or destinations in sliding is just right.

What about the becoming-(re)immentated of body? That would have to be a making-it-become-clear, an intensification of intellection that brings bodily response to articulation, but one that doesn't leave bodily response behind.

That's trickier. Derrida the anti-logical intellectual will want to articulate bodily response right out of court, throw it in the same ditch with the logos. The becoming-(re)immentated of body would have to be no abstractifying of the concrete, no theorizing of practice, but, well, how about a "clearing," as in a clearing-house, where goods otherwise forgotten are brought to the public?

That's too much like sorting, which is precisely the kind of (anti-) logical activity Derrida loves, the kind of kneejerk intellectual deconstruction of a pile of goods into nice neat piles, body here, mind there, no, that won't do. I think I'd rather call it an "awaring" of the bodily clothes, a becoming-aware of the body.

"I'ma nota my body," said the Italian Platonist; "I'ma just awaring it."


As Derrida would want to say, of course, paraphrasing Vonnegut, without the sliding, no damn runner, no damn base. Without the awaring, no mind-as-body, no body-as-clothes.

I sense that Derrida would rather have us say that "there is" a body sliding (the mind can register its sensations), "there is" a mind awaring the body of the sliding (the body can feel its control), but the "there is" is never a being, it's a sliding-toward or an awaring-of.

Or it's what the sliding-toward is toward, it's what the awaring-of is of, but never quite reaching (no ideal destination) or reifying (no ideal object), by the same principle of differential deferral Derrida speaks of: the "there is" would require total mastery of one by the other, total presence of one to the other, or rather total self-inclusive presence of self, the incarnation of all mind as body, the immentation of all body as mind. If either of those could happen, there would be body, there would be mind, but they can't, the body is never wholly present to the mind, the mind is never wholly present to the body, in "intellection" the mind seeks to (make-)present as much of the body as it can (or dares)--

Thus Lacan's talk of the phallic signifier, anything to reduce body to mental categories.

--and to absent the rest--

Thus Derrida's exclusion of the body by association with the metaphysics of presence.

The logical thinker, like Derrida or Lacan or Freud or anybody else you'd care to mention back to Derrida's fourth-century compatriot Augustine at least, any male thinker, anyway (which in the metaphysics of presence has been a tautology anyway, maleness and thought being just as ideally linked as femaleness and feeling), the logical thinker tries to dualize body in terms of presence/absence (or whatever), but it can never succeed, the body keeps its own company, it harbors those somatic reserves Freud mentalized negatively as the "unconscious" (not-mental) and "preconscious" (before-mental, mentalizable), and which Lacan said was structured like that mentalist prison la langue. In "action" the body seeks to incarnate as much mind is necessary for effective operation, preferably in habitualized or ritualized ways--

The car-driving robot, the trained "instinct" that tells the baserunner when to slide, the shortstop when to throw to first, when to third, etc.

--and to silence the rest--

You don't want a bunch of intellectuals out there on the field, even after-the-fact intellectuals like Lardner's Alibi Ike, too much thought ruins action.

But neither of these projects entirely succeeds, neither "body" nor "mind" will surrender to that kind of mastery by the other, there is always a sliding and an awaring between them that both enables and resists the mastery.


Do you think Derrida will feel reassured by that little Derridean excursus on mind and body?

We didn't even get to idio- and ideosomatics, the political use of body's becoming-(im)mentated for the maintenance of ideological control (you know you feel right about this, explore your body response, you know you want to do as I say, your whole body tells you it's right to do as I tell you) or for liberation from ideological control (fight down past the ideological seals on idiosyncratic behavior, immentate ideosomatic response in order to free yourself from it, work down to the scattered pockets of idiosomatic responses tucked away in the folds of ideosomatic programming, and realize that you not only don't want to do as you're told, you know exactly what you do want to do). Maybe that would help.


Maybe something else would help too. We've been skirting around gender all along, sort of making gingerly passes at it now and then, but mainly steering clear of it, mainly talking about fathers and brothers and sons. Where are women in this discussion, mothers and sisters and daughters?

I'm not interested in universalizing fathers and brothers and sons to cover mothers and sisters and daughters. When I talk about fathers and sons, I'm talking about men, not humans.

Why ignore women? There must be similarities.

There must be. But maybe I'm not the right person to trace them. I'm a man.


You did mention that where traditional men image themselves, or are guided by their fathers to image themselves, as machines, traditional women are guided--by their mothers? by their fathers? by society?--to image themselves as children. You mentioned (or did I?) the logocentric association of men with thought and women with feeling.

Yes, but you're right, we only did it in passing. I figured maybe men should talk about men. In fact, well, actually I sort of got directed that way once. When I started getting interested in feminist theory, a feminist friend told me I should mind my own business, and worry about men's experience, not women's.


That seems a little narrow-minded of her. I always thought feminists wanted men to take feminist writing seriously, to read it and learn from it. Be guided by it.

I suppose they do. They just don't want us to do it for them. Men have been doing that long enough.

But when men start studying masculine experience, feminists call it "male feminism." Isn't that just universalizing feminist experience, extending it to cover members of both sexes who concern themselves with gender programming and liberation? When feminists say "masculinist," they mean patriarchal, overbearing, paternalistic, domineering.

They're afraid of being guided by us. They're still so programmed to submission that they're afraid to let themselves start feeling positive about men. To feel positive about men is to leave yourself open to being guided by them.

I thought you weren't going to intrude on feminist territory here.

I wasn't. But I did. I didn't mean to. It just happened.


Something guided you, some voice in your head, some resentment that you didn't want to identify yourself with.

Or I resented feeling guided by someone who manifestly didn't like me, wanted to, well, ridicule me.

You hesitate to admit that.

Of course. All the time you're growing up adults ridicule you for being a kid, for not obeying the rules, for being ignorant or clumsy, so you learn to pretend that ridicule can't touch you. You're impervious to it. It bounces off you. Ridicule's one of the most effective channels of ideological training: be ashamed of who you are, that you're not more like me, strive to become more like me (and all other right-thinking people) without any hope that you'll ever succeed. So you bite the bullet, deny the shame and self-loathing ridicule awakens in you, try to be more like your mommy or your daddy or your teacher or your minister or your psychiatrist, and pass the ridicule and shame in your body on to the next generation.

You? One?

Me. I.


Who was it? What happened?

It was at a conference. I went to a feminist session centered around Shere Hite's new book on women, Shere Hite was there too, and the general mood was a kind of gleeful man-bashing. There were a few men in the audience who ventured to open their mouths, but always in the politic self-denigratory mode of male feminism: you know, aren't we men shits to have done these terrible things to you wonderful women. I thought: this is like male supremacist get-togethers before the stupendous success of feminism. No one dares oppose the party line. Women used to abase themselves to please men; now men abase themselves to please women. Any man who doesn't abase himself is a male supremacist. And I thought that if women hadn't had the courage to brave male ridicule in this sort of gathering fifteen and twenty years ago, feminism never would have gotten anywhere. So I forced myself to stand up (my heart pounding in my ears, my tongue almost tied with trepidation) and said something about how counterproductive it is to equate gender liberation with hostility toward the opposite sex, how female misandronism is no newer and certainly no more liberating than male misogynism, how both are just survivals of the patriarchal battle of the sexes, the perpetuation of patriarchal gender ideology through the polarization of the sexes, and how men and women need to work together to achieve true liberation from traditional masculinity and femininity. Halfway through my little spiel the catcalls started coming. Women were shouting "Oh, no, more of the same old shit!" and "We've heard enough of that shit all our lives!" The moderator finally cut me off, gave the floor to someone else, and wouldn't let me speak the rest of the session. After the session two men and a woman came up to me individually and said they were appalled at the way I'd been silenced, but I should know better than to try to make that kind of case in a session like this. Only one woman in her early twenties seemed inclined to argue with me, but she came up with such a supercilious smirk that it was clear there wasn't going to be much of an argument. I tried to say that it might be in feminists' best interests to work with the men who are trying to liberate themselves instead of ridiculing them; that there was a whole men's movement dedicated to men's liberation, that men's studies was beginning to study masculine gender programming and possibilities for emancipation from it, but she just sort of snorted contemptuously and said, "Oh please, don't make me laugh! Men's studies, men's liberation, you don't know how absurd that sounds!"


You want to get back at that woman, don't you? All of those women. They hurt you, and you want to hurt them.

I don't know about getting back at them. I did resent it. It hurt like hell. It felt like my mother laughing at me for thinking I was all grown up when I was still just her little boy. Men's studies does come out of a lot of male hurt, men responding to feminism out of what feels like millennia of maternal ridicule, all those mommies bitter at their fathers and husbands and bosses for excluding them from the real world of social status and power, and taking it out on their sons (and daughters). You're mine, and don't think you can ever get away from me. You'll always be mine. So you pull away, defend yourself against the suffocating grasping as you've seen your father doing, and she uses guilt and shame on you. "You think you're so grown up, you think you can do without me. You shut me out? You don't realize how absurd that sounds!"


So you resent feminists. And feminism. It's a mommy-movement. They go after the daddies and they bring down the sons instead.

Sometimes. I don't think much feminism is even like that any more. That session I wandered into at the ASA was like that, but in retrospect that seems like seventies feminism now--even though it was in the mid-eighties. The feminists I know nowadays are mostly confident, competent people who treat men more like fragile little fledglings than invulnerable tyrants.

Did feminists change, or did you change?

I don't know. Maybe both. After maybe fifteen years of considering myself liberated and not being--since I was about 16--I went through an intense profeminist period in my early thirties. I was finally rediscovering my anger toward you, and all the other patriarchal fathers society is so rife with, and for the first time I began to read feminist theory without guilt--instead with sheer hot joy. I found feminists' anger exhilarating, cleansing, a powerful tool in my own struggle against the fathers. Then I worked through to your hurt, the scared hurt little boy in you that you had implanted in me too, and when I felt that little boy I felt also the source of your tyrant-front, of your coldness, your distancing, your fear of openness and love. Then a strange thing happened. Feminists' anger stopped seeming so exhilarating. I had fought my way, rather traumatically, to the heart of the tyrant, and found it was mine, and knew that it was constantly on the verge of tears. What good would anger do now? It would only drive the tyrant further into his shell. That's when I started resenting feminist anger. It wasn't until a year of so later that I began to associate the feminists I was increasingly resenting with my mother. And another strange thing happened: once I began discovering my deeply buried resentment toward my mother, my fear of her anger and ridicule, I began to feel feminists relaxing, becoming real people--for the first time, maybe. I felt them changing. And maybe they were. But the changes in them corresponded a little too neatly to the changes inside my head for it to be that simple.


You stopped projecting your mother's image onto feminists. You started writing the right address on your angry envelopes.

Angry? Terrified would be more like it. But yes, terrified of my own anger, what it would do to Mom: destroy her.

Would it?

Probably not. But that's the image engraved on my imagination from early childhood. Go easy on me or I'll burst into tears. Love me, me, me and no one else, or I'll crack up. What that does, of course, is make my anger a horrific taboo. Anger at Mom equals matricide. And think of the guilt if I articulated my need for her love instead of her emotional blackmail and she died. Keeled over and died. Oh the horror. Better not even recognize that need. Bury it. Pretend that her emotional blackmail is love, as she likes to think. The trauma of working through to the hurt little boy in you (and myself) was nothing compared to this particular emotional minefield. I'm scared to death.


Duffy on Wittgenstein's liberation (of sorts) from his father:

"In the aftermath of their quarrel, Wittgenstein had given up fighting his anger and was filled with a bitterness sour as hell fumes. His limbs aches with his own poison. Throughout the night, his father hung on obstinately, from spite or habit, refusing to be dislodged. And finally Wittgenstein reached that point just short of sleep in which he was not thinking, judging or wishing" (232). The surrender of self-control, of image-management.


"For all he saw now, his dying father might have been a fly on the wall. His father's face was the very face of Nature, which is always abrading into being, forever unfolding like a slender gasp of flame. Yet within that unfolding, his father's ashen face slowly began to change. Gradually Wittgenstein began to discern a slow transformation in his father's expression. It was the grip of pleasure, a fatal, vivid pleasure that the dying man hugged to himself like the ample curve of his cello. He was not a father anymore. He was released from this life and this family, severed from his frailties and failures, pried loose from the vise of this life and free now to be nothing. There, Wittgenstein told him in his mind. It is enough. It is all right now. It is time. Go. You are forgiven. Please, for God's sake, go now while it's all right . . ." (232).


"Wittgenstein sometimes thought he must be deluded, to believe that his vile old self had died with his father. He thought he must be doubly deluded to imagine that this condition could be permanent. Yet even now, over a month later, he felt no different" (233). It isn't permanent. It passes. Or it changes. But it starts something, a process.

"And staring down at the red water of Sognefjord, his mind said, Look down into it, into the uncertain depths of the world. He saw the bloodred surface of the water and upon the water were golden flecks of fire. But look down deeper, he told himself, and to his fear he saw that he could. But to look deeper still, he saw he must jettison fear also" (233). Jettison fear of being guided--the fear that makes him insist on guiding everything, controlling himself and everyone and everything, protecting himself against the "uncertain depths of the world" inside and out.

"And he told himself then that if he truly had no fear he would take off his clothes, and he did. And he told himself he could dive in and the undersky would not be too wide, nor the red water too deep or cold or salty. And there would be no one to see him naked, and what did he care anyway, if he was pure and intent only on this, and this only? And thinking of his father's passing, he saw his new life dangling like a shadow in the water, sliding beneath the fire and depths, saying, Come merge with me. You cannot walk on the water, man, but you can dive, and dive deep. And then he was standing shivering and naked on the side of the Sweimfoss, smirking because for all the solemnity of this moment, it was so infernally silly and--


"Down he dove with open eyes, down into the cold depths that were red with fire, then black with throbbing pleasure. And as his ears popped, he struggled still deeper into the pressure and silence of that aorta, the pulsing heart of the world, hot with the blood of new liffe and sorrows aching to be dislodged into being. And then the same voice said, Enough, and he floated up, his lungs burning and his legs faintly fluttering, watching his own flattened bubbles wobble up toward the surface, where he saw a dull pearl of moon or sun.

"With a gasp, he broke the surface. Splashing in the air and red light, he was back again, and it was cold! And what a holy ass he was as he shinnied up the rope, grasped the raspy wooden sides and bellied over the gunwale. Splattering water and jibbering then, he saw the cow's broad, inquisitive face. Watching over her nest of hay, she seemed to say, You are daft, Wittgenstein, but in his mind he laughingly replied, But you misunderstand. I am just very, very happy" (233-234).


It can't last. Nothing lasts.

Not true. Nothing lasts perfectly. Nothing lasts unchanged. Everything changes. But still lasts.

Wittgenstein can't hold on to that feeling of happiness in Norway.

Because you couldn't hold on to that feeling of happiness you had when you regained the hurt little boy in yourself? When you were liberated from the tyrant? That's why you can't believe in Wittgenstein's happiness?


Mom intervened and stole that happiness away. If I no longer resented you then I was on your side, and if I was on your side I must not be on her side any more. Did Mom subconsciously foment conflict between me and you? Did she want me to hate you so I would be closer to her?

Not impossible. And then if you no longer hated me, you must hate her.

But I don't hate her. I don't.


Dialogue is an opening up to the complexity of life. The flow. But it isn't something you just decide to do. It is a stripping off of your idealizing protection, your clothes--but you don't just do that either. "You cannot walk on the water, man, but you can dive, and dive deep." But how do you dive when you've been taught to ignore the water, when even your belief that the water doesn't exist has been erased as potentially too revealing?

Your mouth feels dry. Your skin itches. You long for something that doesn't exist. And then, like a damn fool, you start looking for it. And like some sort of mystic, you find it. And bit by bit you overcome your fear of drowning, and dive.

And drown. You do die. Something dies in you. The dead part.

And only then do you live. Only then does life begin.


Three Dialogues Contents

Buber | Bakhtin | Wittgenstein | Works Cited


Last Modified: