Sunday, 24 August 2014

Health & Safety won’t approve of this!

He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder


The text on this print – from 6.54 of the Tractatus – is rendered in fragments in the left hand margin, in English, (and, in German, in the right): 

My propositions serve as elucidation in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them.  (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)  He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.  What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. 

This is the penultimate statement of the Tractatus.  Especially at the time of publication, this has been seen as a contradiction in terms – the sort of thing that causes much consternation about Wittgenstein’s writing.  It seems to me, however, to be completely consistent with his idea that philosophy – including relatively mundane personal reflection/contemplation - should be an activity not an abstract/aloof pursuit.  Further, that an understanding of the world will be achieved not through a logical step by step process, but by intuition at a level which can, however, only be reached by having experienced such a process; it’s the experience, rather than any accumulation of outcomes of logic which allows access to the intuition.  This is one of the most distinctive aspects of Wittgenstein – the comfortable accommodation of concerns with logic/analysis/the rational together with recognition and respect for the mystical, and with no compunction to try to explain the latter. 

As has been observed elsewhere, this print is the most abstract in the Suite.  This further reflects Paolozzi’s empathy with Wittgenstein.  The Philosopher’s early work was much concerned with the representative aspects of language: in the later Philosophical Investigations the focus is on allusion.  In like fashion Paolozzi began his artistic career in an academic, figurative mode.  He broke free from the conventions imposed by this kind of working practice when he went to live in Paris and absorbed the influence of surrealism - from then on metaphor would be much more significant than ‘likeness’ in his imagery.

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