Friday, 28 December 2007

"I will teach you differences"

Seeing the current RSC production, I realised that I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that the motto that Wittgenstein considered quoting at the start of the Philosophical Investigations comes from Lear. The Earl of Kent says to Oswald: “I will teach you differences” (meaning in this case differences of rank or status). For Wittgenstein, attention to the differences between word uses which we might otherwise too quickly assimilate, and thus be led into philosophical confusion (such as referring to pains and referring to objects), is key to philosophical clarity.

I was struck by this phrase in relation to the production itself which somehow didn’t at first seem quite to work (though things improved considerably after the interval). But how would one begin characterise what seem to be problems of pace or focus? They seem hard to put into informative words. In some remarks on aesthetics, Wittgenstein comments that such judgements are less like the expression ‘How nice!’ and more like the judgement about a jacket that its lapels (thus!) are too narrow. This suggests that one understands the aesthetics of lapels by understanding relations between different lapels (one sees the lapel in the context of other possibilities) and this in turn suggests an essentially practical dimension (in which actual lapels have a role to play). How much more theatrical direction must also be a matter of practical demonstration of differences.