Poetry and Philosophy: Richard Rorty on Philip Larkin’s ‘Continuing to Live’

In the second chapter of Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, called ‘The Contingency of Selfhood’, Richard Rorty uses the last part of a poem by Philip Larkin (1922-1985), Continuing to Live to clarify his ideas about the self. Rorty places Continuing to Live against the background of what he sees as the battle between poetry and philosophy. Philosophers seek the truths of life, eternal truths that hold for all ages and places, whereas poets celebrate individuality and contingency. Larkin however had found an eternal truth that dominated his life and his work as a poet. Death is the utmost truth that thought can never pass. It leaves ‘nothing to be said’.

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Living in Silence: the End of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Lecture on Ethics

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus logico-philosophicus starts as a book on logic and (the limits of) language. Initially it was read as a work on logic, aiming to put an end to nonsensical language and all kinds of metaphysical speculation. But the book has also an ethical purpose and mentions the ‘mystical’ several times. Wittgenstein sets out to show that these are subjects we cannot speak (and should be silent) about. So what do these remarks mean? Wittgenstein emphasizes that these are his remarks (‘my propositions’), and this turns out to be crucial for understanding the fundamental paradox in his work.

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Wittgenstein as a Wild Mystic

In The Practice of Everyday Life Michel de Certeau (1925-1996) discusses Wittgenstein’s model of ordinary language. Certeau points out the primary historical context of Wittgenstein’s thought. This science of the ordinary is defined by foreignness. Wittgenstein himself always remained a foreigner, away from home. Wittgenstein’s position resembles the situation of Labadie the Nomad that Certeau describes in The Mystic Fable. It is the position of the wild mystic.

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