Philosophy as poetic composition? Wittgenstein and the veil of mystification
“I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.” – Wittgenstein
Why did Wittgenstein say this? For a man whose primary obsession in philosophy was the bewitchment of language, it seems odd that he thought philosophy should only be written as a poetic composition. In a way, this can seem like obscurantist move, or to say that philosophy itself was nothing but the same kind of mystification that Plato would have kicked the poets out of the republic for. It is implied in that statement even in my reading, but I don’t think Wittgenstein was being solely ironic or dismissive here also it is that poetic analogy allows types of experience in language with do not rely on basic proposition statements: the topic of a poem is bracketed out, not said, because saying it would not render the matter justice.
Now one can take a mystical approach to this, and perhaps that is the essential tension that let Wittgenstein to reject his conclusions in the Tractus and turn to natural language philosophy, but the implications are in the ways poets, more explicitly than other word artists or logicians, acknowledge family resemblances of arbitrary games. The danger of the mystification of poetry is there, and, as Zizek is fond of reminding us, most of the nationalist butchers of the last two centuries have been poets or inspired by poets, but the same could be said of philosopher-kings. For example, how many bodies have been made in the name of Lockean property distinctions or Fascist readings of Hegel? It, however, is also those who understand the dangerous mystification of poetry who can see through nationalistic dreams and romantic bewitching of language. So the same with philosophy.