PI’s Opening Remark

The final paragraph of a paper I am now finishing:

Wittgenstein puts away the common notions that a book, particularly a book of philosophy, should open either by presenting its undeniable first premise or by defining its terms or by telling you what is coming. He does nothing of the sort. He begins instead with a quotation from St. Augustine. That quotation serves as a blessing from St. Augustine, who Wittgenstein venerated; as an example of authority or the lack of it in philosophy, or at least of its nature and its acknowledgment or denial; as a reminder of the way in which philosophy can shape even what seem relatively unremarkable remarks, as if philosophy were always stealing a march on us, out ahead of and so determining what we have it in us to think or to say; as a critical target, carrying with it a germ, a contagion, a communicable if not wholly communicated picture of communication; as a lexicon-in-use, a first glimpse of a use (or attempt at a use) of the words whose use (and non-use) will preoccupy the pages of PI; as invoking connections between philosophy and childhood and education, of the ways in which philosophy is now accessible, now inaccessible to childhood, and of the ways in which childhood is now accessible, now inaccessible to philosophy (what makes more merry or kills more joy than childhood, than philosophy?), and of the ways in which philosophy requires us to learn how to learn and how not to learn and how to unlearn what there is to learn or what we have learnt. But of course not all of that can be clear on a first reading of the first remark. Which means, I take it, that the remark has not been read until it has been double-read, until it can be read in relation to the rest of the book and the rest of the book in relation to it. As I said, PI begins but has no beginning, ends but has no ending. When we open it at the first page and we confront its first remark, we are confronting the whole of PI, not just one remark. We may make PI’s acquaintance one remark at a time, but we do not come to understand it that way. In for a dime, in for a dollar–the book makes no small change.

8 responses

  1. Very nice, Kelly. Given that, in a Bakhtinian sense, every text is interminable, or takes its place in interminable dialogue, it is interesting that the interminability of some texts — or, let’s say, how they go on giving meanings — is at least superficially greater than other texts. And we may count this as a virtue, and as one of PI’s. Best, Wm., montaigbakhtinian.com

    PS: This year, I have been much taken by “in for a penny, in for a pound”. I am glad to hear of the American version. When I lived in the South (North Carolina), we used to have the expression, “that plus 50 cents will get you a cool drink”. I.e., your being outraged + 50 cents. I will leave it to another to compile the full list of monetary idioms.

    • Thanks! This paragraph follows up a longish discussion of the particular structuring of PI and the reasons for that structuring, so it doesn’t reiterate all of that, although all of that is meant to inflect the understanding of the paragraph.

  2. seems to be one of those few philosophical writers (like Kierkegaard&Derrida) who takes seriously something like reader-response the work that the reader does when interacting with a text and the effects/affects of that, as opposed to trying to do all the work for the reader.

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