Wittgenstein and Poetry: Negotiations of the Inexpressible
Rose, Michael David
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
This thesis contains original material that I am turning into a monograph, so wish to preserve its publication value.
This study performs a reading of Wittgenstein’s thought that integrates his sometimes sidelined remarks on aesthetics and belief, and emphasises consideration of language use on the level of practice. It analyses the many ways that Wittgenstein engages with the inexpressible or the limits of expression through comparison with poetry as a practice. The potential of a Wittgensteinian method of literary analysis concentrating on grammatical structures, exemplary forms of expression and quotidian meaning-making is shown by viewing several poets’ work in connection with specific forms of the inexpressible. This thesis consists of three parts. The first chapter surveys previous applications of Wittgenstein to aesthetic appreciation and analysis, and considers common interpretations of his earlier and later work. Incorporating a wide range of Wittgenstein sources allows a new reading to emerge that gives appropriate weight to his hitherto under-researched writings. This reading is tested in Chapters 2-5, in each case studying a poet or poets alongside a philosophical text or topic. Chapter 2 uses the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius to probe the ineffable; through Cora Diamond’s resolute reading of the Tractatus, Kei Miller’s ‘Church Women’ series and John Burnside’s intimate ineffable of ‘Parousia’, a grammatical understanding of inexpressibility emerges. Chapter 3 compares John McDowell’s minimal realism in Mind and World with Wallace Steven’s Supreme Fiction, demonstrating how Stevens’ – and Wittgenstein’s – rich conception of experience can close off a number of philosophical lacunae. Chapter 4 concentrates on the poetry of Jorie Graham, whose conception of the self is saturated with language. Parallels with Wittgenstein’s methodology are drawn, and some reminders issued to curb the excesses of postmodern accounts of subjectivity. The focus in Chapter 5 moves to the use of cartographical metaphor in Philosophical Investigations and Kei Miller’s poetry. The constraints of specific discourses on our thinking are examined, together with poetry’s potential for laying bare or reinvigorating the pictures by which we navigate. Finally, Chapter 6 discusses a selection of poetic projects completed alongside my research, to extend the reading of Wittgenstein into the area of creative practice. This thesis demonstrates Wittgenstein’s prolonged engagement with the limits of expression and with poetry, as well as the profit of a Wittgensteinian approach to poetry. It thereby questions a number of current responses to Wittgenstein’s work, and displays its own original creative outcomes.
AHRC sponsored PhD studentship
PhD in English