Wittgenstein and Derrida are two spurs, éperons of philosophical thinking, who changed the milieu of philosophical discourses. They practice new arts of thinking and writing, which lead to a change of paradigm and of style in philosophy. In the case of late Wittgenstein the change manifests in a critical attitude toward modern logical discourses. The annonced silence (Stille) of the Tractatus transfigures itself through textual dispersions into the styles (Stile) of the late Wittgenstein. By Derrida we can discover this paradigm change in his critique of philosophical "logo-phono-ethnocentrism" and even more in his way of writing, wich through its disseminating force overpasses the bar between philosophy and literature.
Alluding to the historical perspectives of these relationships Rorty remarked (Rorty 1984, 5) that as Derrida treats the philosophy of Heidegger, in the similar way treated Heidegger the philosophy of Nietzsche. Derrida is in the same position to Heidegger and Heidegger to Nietzsche as Wittgenstein is to Russell and Russell to Mill. It would be interesting to analyze paralelly the Mill-Russell-Wittgenstein line to the Nietzsche-Heidegger-Derrida line or to investigate the Mill-Nietzsche, Russell-Heidegger and Wittgenstein-Derrida couples. I would like to focus in my paper on three aspects of the Wittgenstein-Derrida relationship: the philosophical attitudes, the writing and reading activity and the language games and writing games.
1. Philosophy as deconstructive activity
The concept of deconstruction would be used the first time by Derrida, transforming Heideggerian "destruction", but we can suppose, that the activity meant by deconstruction would be "practiced" also by others, by earlier philosophers. Derrida himself notes that there are at least three proto-deconstructors - Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger, but the deconstructive activity is as old as the philosophy. Henry Staten from his part draws the attention to the fact, that "Wittgenstein is unique among Derrida's predecessors in having achieved, in the period beginning with the Blue Book, a consistently deconstructive standpoint" (Staten 1985, 1).
There is probably no definitive answer to the question, "What is deconstruction?", but there were different attempts of definition, where deconstruction was understood as discipline, metalanguage or method. Derrida does not give a definition of this concept: "What I consider as deconstruction, can produce rules, procedures, techniques, but finally it is no method and no scientific critique, because a method is a technique of questioning or of interpretation, which should be repeatable in other contexts also, without consideration of the idiomatical characters. The deconstruction is not a technique. It deals with texts,with special situations, with signatures and with the whole history of philosophy where the concept of method would be constituted. When deconstruction investigates the history of metaphysics and of the concept of method, it cannot be simply a method." (Derrida 1987, 70). The deconstruction of Derrida is a textinternal, intertextual, in-textual activity. Derrida plays a double game inside of philosophy. He emphasizes that our thinking is embedded in the metaphysics and in the same moment he questions metaphysics: "La déconstruction ne peut se limiter ou passer immédiatement à une neutralisation: elle doit, par une double geste, une double science, une double écriture, pratiquer un renversement de l´opposition classique et un déplacement général du système. C´est à cette seule condition que la déconstruction se donnera les moyens d´intervenir, dans le champ des oppositions qu´elle critique et qui est aussi un champ de forces non-discursives"(Derrida 1972b, 392). This kind of "intervention" is the central point of his attitude toward tradition or even toward his own texts, which leads to self-deconstructing activities.
The thinking activities and the writing modes of Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations shows similarities with the deconstruction of Derrida. Also Wittgenstein describes his investigations not as the method for the philosophy but as: "(...) es wird nun an Beispielen eine Methode gezeigt, und die Reihe dieser Beispiele kann man abbrechen. - Es werden Probleme gelöst (Schwierigkeiten beseitigt), nicht ein Problem.(...) Es gibt nicht eine Methode der Philosophie, wohl aber gibt es Methoden, gleichsam verschiedene Therapien" (PU 133). To say it with an example, the deconstructive activity of Wittgenstein would be formuleted by himself as follows: "Wir führen die Wörter von ihrer metaphysischen, wieder auf ihre alltägliche Verwendung zurück." (PU 116) This way will be showed through the interpretation of the Augustinus phrase in the Philosophical Investigations (PU 89-129).
There are important differences between the deconstructions of Wittgenstein and Derrida. One would be the different relationship to the texts of the history of philosophy. As long as for Derrida the whole history of philosophy functions as the "tradition", where individual texts will be to the finest details deconstructed, Wittgenstein does not analyzes historical texts. He remarks in the preface of Tractatus, that he is not interested in philosophy-historical citations or in the question, wheter his thoughts are in relationship with earlier philosophers or not.
2. Philosophy as writing and reading activity
It is impossible to find a unique principle for the interpretation of the texts of Wittgenstein. This impossibility belongs not only to the general meta level of the interpretability but to the textuality of these texts. They support a new kind of reading, as the later philosophy of Wittgenstein realizes a new kind of speach and writing - a "Zerzettelung" of the traditionally argumentative and linear thinking modes. These old modes bear the idea of the book. Wittgenstein questions with his textual activity the idea of the book and says, his thinking opposes to the effort to be summarized in a book which is built up in a linear way: "Nach manchen mißglückten Versuchen, meine Ergebnisse zu einem solchen Ganzen zusammenzuschweißen, sah ich ein, daß mir dies nie gelingen würde. Daß das beste, was ich schreiben konnte, immer nur philosophische Bemerkungen bleiben würden; daß meine Gedanken bald erlahmten, wenn ich versuchte, sie, gegen ihre natürliche Neigung, in einer Richtung weiterzuzwingen." (Wittgenstein 1984, 231).
Derrida annonces without referring to Wittgenstein the end of the book. The thougts which are summarized in a book mediate a unity, a totality, which cannot be integrated in the alinearity of deconstructive thinking. This totality is far away from the sens of the writing which destructs the idea of books, since the writing has a destabilizing effect and an aphoristic energy: "La fin de l'écriture linéaire est bien la fin du livre, même si aujourd'hui encore, c'est dans la forme du livre que se laissent tant bien que mal engainer de nouvelles écritures, qu'elles soient littéraires ou théoriques. Il s'agit d'ailleurs moins de confier à l'enveloppe du livre des écritures inédites que de lire enfin ce qui, dans les volumes, s'écrivait déjà entre les lignes. C'est pourquoi en commençant à écrire sans ligne, on relit aussi l'écriture passée selon une autre organisation de l'espace. Si le problème de la lecture occupe aujourd'hui le devant de la science, c'est en raison de ce suspens entre deux époques de l'écriture. Parce que nous commençons a écrire, a écrire autrement, nous devons relire autrement." (Derrida 1967b, 129-130) The so called "other kind of writing" is the non-linear, double writing of deconstruction: "écriture qui épelle ses symbol dans la pluri-dimensionalité: le sens n'y est pas assujetti à la successivité, à l'ordre du temps logique ou à la temporalité irréversible du son. Cette pluri-dimensionatité ne paralyse pas l'histoire dans la simultaneité, elle correspond à une autre couché de l'expérience historique et l'on peut aussi bien considérer, à l'invers, la pensée lineaire comme une réduction de l'hisoire." (Derrida, 1967b, 127)
We can ask, wheter the remarks of Wittgenstein, the notices should be read as written scriptures or as written language. Wittgenstein questions the language and he speaks always about forms of expressions and forms of languages and he investigates seldom the letters and the forms of writing. But his whole thinking activity and form of expression sembles to be an activity of writing although he dictated many of his texts. In his remark about culture and values he says, that his thoughts would be led by pen: "I really do think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what my hand is writing" (Wittgenstein 1980, 106). Staten remarques about Wittgenstein (PU 16.), that the kind of citation and of evolution of his language transforms his language into a form of writing. I think, that the kind of treating his own texts could be named "Zerzettelung" and we could show this kind of activity on the surface of his texts. The "Zerzettelung" is the phenomenal side of his deconstruction and the manifestation of a double writing, since he analyses his own earlier writings and propositions and at the same time he questions and negates them. It seems that in Tractatus the aphoristic energy of writing goes through the security of sentenciosity. In the Philosophical Investigations seems this energy to be paralized and the form of "is" of the Tractatus receives here a conjunctive form.
In the Philosophical Investigations (156-178) and in the Brown Book (78-87) Wittgenstein gives a "deconstruction" of the "reading". He differentiates between three art of reading: the reading-machine, the "beginner" and the reading as "mental activity". Through this differentiation he focuses the attention on the How of reading. Wittgenstein says, that there are two different mechanisms: "Und was in ihnen vorgeht, muß Lesen von Nichtlesen unterscheiden. - Aber diese Mechanismen sind doch nur Hypothesen; Modelle zur Erklärung, zur Zusammenfassung dessen, was du wahrnimmst." (PU 156) These two models could be interpreted as two models of reading. The one would be a reading which will be controlled by the letters and by a line. The other possibility would be a kind of parallel reading: "Denn es ist freilich richtig, zu sagen, ich habe diese Linie unter dem Einfluß der Vorlage gezogen: dies liegt aber nicht einfach in dem, was ich beim Ziehen der Linie empfinde - sondern, unter Umständen, z.B. darin, daß ich sie zu der andern parallel ziehe; obwohl auch das wieder für das Geführtwerden nicht allgemein wesentlich ist" (PU 177). We should not forget, that for Wittgenstein reading is not an activity of the interpretation of text and of the understanding of sense: "Zuerst muß ich bemerken, daß ich zum 'Lesen' in dieser Betrachtung, nicht das Verstehen des Sinns des Gelesenen rechne; sondern Lesen ist hier die Tätigkeit, Geschriebenes oder Gedrucktes in Laute umzusetzen; auch aber, nach Diktat zu schreiben, Gedrucktes abzuschreiben, nach Noten zu spielen und dergleichen" (PU 156).
Also for Derrida the reading is not the search for meaning but it is a special kind of textinterpretation and textwriting. The deconstructive reading of Derrida contary to the "metaphysical model of reading"; it is a "prudent, differentiated, slow, stratified" reading (Derrida 1972a, 40). The texts of Wittgenstein request also a slow reading: "Meine Sätze sind alle langsam zu lesen."(Wittgenstein 1984/8, 531) This kind of reading involves a new attitude toward reading, which does not mislead us with the illusion of a final solution and interpretation, but it makes possible an approach to the textual dimensions. The text will be free from the trap of interpretative harrasment. The text will be given back to itself.
3. Philosophy as language game and writing game
The game plays an important role in both philosopher's texts. I would like to investigate this role and function under the two following viewpoints. First, I think that the game has by both a strategic role in the sense as Derrida understands "strategy": "Stratégie finalement sans finalité, on pourrait appeller cela tactique aveugle, errance empirique, si la valeur d'empirisme ne prenait elle-même tout son sens de son opposition à la responsabilité philosophique. S'il y a une certaine errance dans le tracement de la différance, elle ne suit pas plus la ligne du discours philosophico-logique que celle de son envers symétrique et solidaire, le discours empirico-logique. Le concept de jeu se tient au-delà de cette opposition, il annonce, à la veille et au-delà de la philosophie, l'unité du hasard et de la nécessité dans un calcul sans fin"(Derrida 1972b, 7). Second, both philosophers underlines that their game is not a founded game and it is bounded to knowledge and forms of knowledge.
The language game is a central moment in the thinking of the late Wittgenstein. That philosophy should be understood as an activity and not as a theory, is a "learning" which hold Wittgenstein throughout his carreer: "Das Wort 'Sprachspiel' soll hier hervorheben, daß das Sprechen der Sprache ein Teil ist einer Tätigkeit, oder einer Lebensform" (PU 23) Similarly as for the language game, we cannot give a definition for the "form of life". It cannot be said, that to every language game we can found a form of life. He says that "Befehlen, fragen, erzählen, plauschen gehören zu unserer Naturgeschichte, so wie gehen, essen, trinken, spielen." (PU 25). The language does not dissolves into different language games, but the actual use of a language is the effective language game. The interpretation of the relationship between language game and form of life will be more difficult through the fact, that Wittgenstein thinks, it is not possible to give a foundation for the language game: "Du musst bedenken, dass das Sprachspiel sozusagen etwas Unvorhersehbares ist. Ich meine: Es ist nicht begründet. Nicht vernünftig (oder unvernünftig). Es steht da - wie unser Leben." (Über Gewissheit, 559).(...) "Und der Begriff des Wissens ist mit dem des Sprachspiels verkuppelt."(Über Gewissheit, 560) Language games can be interpreted on the basis of the Philosophical Investigations as ex-amples (Bei-spiele) of the functioning of ordinary language. We can give so to the language games no over-role (Über-Rolle) and we cannot use them as over-concept (Über-Begriff) in the interpretation of Wittgenstein. The examples which are described by Wittgenstein as language games give a sense that it is not possible to give a final answer to the question, what a language game is (PU 23).
In the texts of Derrida the game has also a specific role. With such concepts as différence/différance, reserve and réstance, dissemination, etc. the game is a part of the deconstructive activity and it is not less a puzzle as the others. We can suppose the outlines of a game theory by Derrida, but it is impossible to give a definition of that, what is for him a game. In his essay La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines (Derrida 1967) analyses Derrida with the help of the concept of game the concepts of structure and sign, which are for him principal elements of traditional metaphysics. The metaphysical tradition is for Derrida a continous mutation of a centralized structure. It supposed always a notion of the structure, which was always reduced on a neutralizinhg gestus. The centralized structure would be controlled from a center. This center opens but in the same time delimits a space of game. For Derrida, this is a "founded game": "The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a freeplay based on a fundamental ground, a freeplay which is constituted upon a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which is itself beyond the reach of the freeplay. With this certitude anxiety can be mastered, for anxiety is invariably the result of a certain mode of being implicated in the game, of being caught by the game of being as it were from the very beginning at stake in the game." (Derrida, 1989, 231) Derrida questions the centered structure and the certitude, which controlled the concept of metaphysics. He decenters the centered concept of structure and says, this center is only "a function, a sort of nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into play. This moment was that in which language invaded the universal problematic; that in which, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse ... that is to say, when everything became a system where the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum." (Derrida, 1989, 232) This game differs from the founded game, which is a sure game for Derrida. This game "determines the non-center otherwise than as loss of the center. And it plays the game without security. For therer is a sure free-play: that which is limited to the substitution of given and existing, present, pieces." (Derrida, 1989, 242) Derrida investigates the tensed relationship of the game to History and Dasein. In the game-concept of Wittgenstein there are no space for thes two dimensions. Derrida thinks that the game is the rupture of Dasein. The metaphysic wanted to approach Dasein and it wanted to work out the rules of the founded game. But Derrida shows, that this kind of philosophy and theory of game is impossible. The thinking of Derrida is a decentered activity, which articulates in unique writing games. The space which would be opened by this game is for Derrida the "scene of writing" and so we can give to the writing and to its "writingness" the name of writing game. There is a possibility here to bring together the language games of Wittgenstein and the writing games of Derrida. The difference is that Wittgenstein thinks from the language and from the scene of language, whereas Derrida writes from the writing and from the scene of writing. Lyotard thinks that the language games of Wittgenstein saved philosophy from the pessimism of the turn of centery intellektual life originated in the deligitimation and in the positivistic tendenties of the Vienna Circle. (Lyotard 1979, 69) I think, with his "writing games" Derrida gave back to the philosophy the pleasure of textwriting and textreading also.
Wittgenstein's Language Games
In their later acceptation (beginning with the Philosophical Investigations), Wittgenstein's language games established some notions that have extremely important implications for the theory of signs, in that they cover the entire range of semiotic practices. The language games can be understood as the shared conceptual parameters that make it possible to identify and produce signs, and to establish relations of signification and representation.
In this section, we introduce three interdependent notions: 1) the language games (semiotic practices which, despite the term "language", are not restricted to verbal language); 2) the moves of the language games (concrete actions performed in a given language game, the raw data of semiotic theory); 3) the grammar of the language games (the conceptual architecture that determines how the signs are used).
To give an example (which should not be taken as an exclusive paradigm), we could roughly say that the interpretation of legislative acts, at its most basic level, is a language game, a rule-guided way of attributing meaning. A particular interpretation of a particular law, composed of a defined set of arguments, would be a series of moves in the language game of interpreting legislative acts. Their interpretation as laws presupposes the concepts of rights, duties, obligation, possibility, responsibility, action, etc., which compose the grammar of this particular language game.
This text may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided the complete reference is given:
Nicolas Xanthos (2006), « Wittgenstein's Language Games », in Louis Hébert (dir.), Signo [online], Rimouski (Quebec), http://www.signosemio.com/wittgenstein/language-games.asp.
2.1 The Language Game
Although the concept of the language game is central to Wittgenstein's later philosophy, the notion is still an elusive one to define and to grasp, for at least two reasons. Firstly, from The Blue Book to On Certainty, one can pick out several distinct usages of the term "language games". Sometimes it refers to the fictive examples that Wittgenstein invents to explain how language ordinarily functions, sometimes it refers to children's language-learning games, and sometimes to semiotic practices, that is, the socially shared ways of using signs, of signifying and of representing. Secondly, the notion is never explicitly defined. Wittgenstein preferred to proceed by example, using fragments of short, dense analyses to convey what the language games are.
In this chapter we will present the language games in their later acceptation, the one that began to emerge in the Philosophical Investigations, then moved to the foreground in On Certainty: language games as semiotic practices. Although we cannot directly solve the problem of not having a definition, we will nonetheless try to present an analytical trajectory that will help convey the key concepts – language game, move and grammar –, which are all related. In order to have a complete picture, we would also have to introduce Wittgenstein's "form of life" concept, which is the cultural environment in which the language game occurs, the "community which is bound together by science and education" (Wittgenstein, 1969, p. 38e). For reasons of brevity, we will leave it aside.
In paragraph 23 of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein presents a list of examples to give us a sense of "the multiplicity of language-games":
"Giving orders, and obeying them –
Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements –
Constructing an object from a description (a drawing) –
Reporting an event –
Speculating about an event –
Forming and testing a hypothesis –
Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams –
Making up a story; and reading it –
Singing catches –
Guessing riddles –
Making a joke; telling it –
Solving a problem in practical arithmetic –
Translating from one language into another –
Asking, thinking, cursing, greeting, praying."
(Wittgenstein, 1958, pp. 11-12)
These are all semiotic practices that exhibit regularities, often with language playing an essential role. As we will see, language-game analysis is a specific way of looking at these practices: they are viewed as operations governed by a set of discrete concepts that the analysis must seek to express.
If we were a bit simplistic, we could say that making statements is equivalent to lining up a series of words. However, this activity is not randomly performed; it follows a certain number of rules described in the English grammars that we sometimes consult. In conjunction with the lexicon (the units being combined, e.g., words), these rules constitute the possibility conditions for our innumerable statements. On an infinitely larger scale, the language games gravitate toward a common idea: our ways of interacting with signs are rule-guided, and we need to bring these rules to light. Although it can be compared to the concept of the "convention", Wittgenstein's notion of the "rule" is still distinct, in that the rules are essentially conceptual in nature, and they are not (and cannot be) agreed upon or discussed in advance. They are not agreed upon in the sense that one cannot disagree with the rules of a language game: that would simply mean not playing that particular language game; there is no choice in the matter. And they are not discussed in advance, with a very partial exception for what we usually mean by "game", where rules are set out in advance (to be more exact, a small portion of them are). But we must emphasize that this is the exception and not the norm.
We can also draw a parallel between language games and speech acts. In Anglo-Saxon pragmatics (and we are primarily alluding to John L. Austin (1962) and John R. Searle (1969)), when we speak, we are performing illocutionary acts, such as affirming, promising, asking, suggesting, refusing, etc. To take one example, we do not promise just anything in just any way: we only promise something prospective, something that will not necessarily come about, but which we intend to do and which has a positive value to the person to whom the promise is made. Thus we cannot promise to have been good in the past, or that the sun is going to rise tomorrow (except in obviously apocalyptic circumstances), cannot promise that we are going to take the next space shuttle flight within the hour, or promise our interlocutor that we are going to torture him horribly and at length (unless our sexual habits are somewhat "alternative"). In other words, speech acts are ruled-guided language practices.
That is the basic idea behind the concept of the language game: Whether language plays the central role or some more or less apparent role, our semiotic practices can be thought of as rule-guided practices. They are not chance actions nor randomly proffered words, but actions that owe their legitimacy, relevance and even existence to a set of rules determining their use.
It is also enlightening that Wittgenstein's concepts are rooted in a comparison with games. In order to examine our practices, we must approach them in the same way we would an unknown game whose rules we want to learn. Watching a chess game, if we know nothing about it, we would conclude that the actions performed by the participants are not random, that not all moves are equally possible in all circumstances, that not all moves are equivalent, and so on. We would gradually come to understand the value of the pieces, how to move them, the purpose of the game, and other elements. In short, we would apprehend bit by bit the rules that give meaning to this particular restricted space, these particular objects, these particular movements – in a word, to this practice, or (language) game. The same concept applies to all of the language games cited above by Wittgenstein.
But these are certainly not the only possible language games. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein shows that history (as a field of study), for example, can be viewed as a language game: it is a rule-guided way of attributing meaning to events.
NOTE: PLURALITY IN THE PRACTICE OF HISTORY
Given the current complexity of the field of history as such, it would be more accurate to say that the discipline consists of a set of related language games set apart by their objects (social, economic, cultural and political history) and the perspectives they use in constructing these objects and making them signify (the Marxist, Foucauldian, Annales or other approach).
We could also pursue our investigation into the field of literature, where we would find a vast mosaic of language games for both production and reception. Writing a novel, a poem or a scientific article is a language game – and so is reading a novel, a poem or a scientific article. Doing a Greimassian analysis and a psychoanalytical analysis on a short story by Maupassant also makes use of two different practices.
In athletics, to give one last series of examples, one can also discern a panoply of language games. Firstly, each sport is itself a language game to start with, since it is a practice governed by a set of concepts (players, the field, goals, points, etc.). And if we look at sports writers and sports announcers, we also find several language games: describing a sporting event and analyzing it are two completely distinct language games.
This is not saying much, obviously, and we need to pursue the discussion further. In particular, we will need to define the nature of the rules that generate and give meaning to the various language games. But before we get into the notion of rules, or the grammar, we must talk about moves in language games.
This notion is very simple, but is an important one in Wittgenstein's theory. Ordinarily, we are not in contact with language games as such, but with actions performed as part of a language game: we do not see "chess", but a game of chess; instead of "promise", we see a specific promise; instead of "novel", a particular novel; rather than "textual analysis", a particular textual analysis. In one sense, the language game is a hypothesis that we are making about the basis of individuals' semiotic behaviour, assuming that this behaviour is not random, but a function of specific rules.
Although for certain language games there are explicit, precisely formulated rules that we can learn prior to the game, this is not the case for most language games. Taking Wittgenstein's list of examples, one can observe that there is no "rulebook" for the games involved in reporting an event, speculating about an event, or making a joke. All we have in these cases (the majority) are events reported, and speculations and jokes made in different circumstances from which we must infer both the language game and its rules. Most of the time, then, we are in contact with actions performed in language games yet to be identified: these actions are what Wittgenstein calls "moves" in the language games.
This is why in most sign production and interpretation practices, the raw material for a Wittgenstein-style analysis is the action, the move (or the set of moves), which we can trace back to the language game and its grammar. The text you are currently reading is a set of moves in a language game that we could provisionally call "introduction to (or simplification of) a theory". The way in which semiotic relations operate between this text and Wittgenstein's work are directly related to the rules of this language game. A cartoon in the print media is a move in the language game of cartoons. When a neighbour, colleague or friend acts in an uncharacteristically aggressive way, if we attribute this to stress he is experiencing at work, we are making a move in the language game of interpreting human behaviour (or some more or less recommendable version of it, such as biological, psychological, sociological, political, religious, or racial interpretation).
There are two reasons why the move is the preferred way to access the actual language game. Firstly, as Wittgenstein clearly implies through a geometric metaphor he gives in On Certainty, most of the rules of a game are not learned explicitly, but are discovered a posteriori by examining the moves: "152. I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility" (Wittgenstein, 1969, p. 22e).
Secondly, and this is more basic yet, the link between moves and the grammar is a close one: the moves only acquire meaning by existing within the area of discourse and action defined and delimited by the grammar.
The grammar of a language game – what we have also called the "rules" here – is truly the keystone of Wittgenstein's theory, and uncovering it is the purpose of the analysis. To begin with, we should make it clear that the term "grammar" is not to be understood in its usual acceptation. We must emphasize that grammar has a basically conceptual character for Wittgenstein, although the concepts themselves can sometimes be expressed as propositions. These concepts, or grammatical propositions, are the possibility condition for the moves made in the language games (sometimes called "empirical propositions").
The analogy with games and sports is once again enlightening, as well as the role played by the rules. The rules interdefine the elements that make up the game; they assign a role and a meaning to each element, they define the game's space and time, the participants' functions and goals, and so on. In short, they create and give structure to an area of potential discourse and actions that owe their meaning to the rules. Any specific action in soccer, bridge or checkers owes its meaning and its very existence to the entire set of rules for the game. The rules impose their order on that portion of reality in which the game unfolds. Even an apparently stable empirical object such as the human body can end up segmented into areas that have distinct meanings that vary from one sport to another: in boxing, the hips have a signification that they do not have elsewhere; the hands and the feet do not have the same meaning in hockey and soccer; in fencing, the torso has a signification that it does not have in judo. As Wittgenstein says in the Philosophical Investigations: "373. Grammar tells what kind of object anything is" (Wittgenstein, 1958, p. 116e).
NOTE: THE TYPES OF RULES
It would be helpful at this point to mention the distinction made by Searle between constitutive rules and normative rules (1969 and 1995). Constitutive rules create the game and define it; without them it would not exist. Normative rules indicate which actions are legitimate and which are not within the area created by the constitutive rules. For example, playing poker with a few aces up one's sleeve is against the normative rules; however, trying to win at poker by building up the largest possible number of spades in one's hand is against the constitutive rules. When the normative rules are broken, we conclude that the player made a mistake or cheated; when the constitutive rules are broken, we feel slightly perplexed, and may think that the player is playing some other game that we will never quite grasp. When Wittgenstein talks about "grammar", he is referring to the constitutive rules.
The game's constitutive rules are the possibility condition for the actions performed in these games and sports, just as grammatical propositions are the (conceptual) possibility condition for the moves in the language games. And as Wittgenstein says in the Philosophical Investigations: "our investigation, however, is directed not towards phenomena, but, as one might say, towards the 'possibilities' of phenomena. We remind ourselves, that is to say, of the kind of statement that we make about phenomena. […] Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one" (Wittgenstein, 1958, p. 42-43e)
Therefore, our language behaviours (among others) are moves in language games (of which we are often unaware), and they draw their meaning from the grammar of these games. And an analysis of them examines the moves in order to arrive at their grammatical possibility conditions.
One of the difficulties encountered in this analysis is our familiarity with the language games, which obscures the existence of the moves, even in the clearest cases of games. For example, when we "take the opponent's rook with our bishop" in a chess game, we think we are dealing in raw facts; it does not occur to us that these movements of objects through space can be seen as we see them only if we have integrated the interdefined concepts of pieces, movement, chessboard, square, player and capture, to name a few. The grammar of our other language games, some of which are not even named, has a similar sort of familiar invisibility.
Consider the following (empirical) proposition: "Having been a great coffee drinker since his teens, John went to get cream at the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. so that he would have some on hand the next morning." This statement, easily recognized as a fairly rudimentary narrative utterance, is a move in a language game: an action game. An analysis of it must try to reveal the concepts that constitute its grammar. This particular grammar is often described, and is made up of the concepts of intention, goal, agent, motive, cause, etc. In this statement, then, John is the agent, having cream on hand for his coffee the next morning is his goal, going to the grocery store for cream is his action, and his long-standing love of coffee is his motive.
To give another type of example, a sentence like the following one is perplexing for strictly grammatical reasons: "Imagine a slightly bluish-red green color, lighter than greyish yellow." This empirical proposition is a move in the language game of color. The grammar of this game involves certain relations between the colors, and excludes certain other relations. What we call yellow cannot have the property of being darker than what we call green – in much the same way that tenderness cannot be irritable, pity cannot be likeable, and courtesy cannot be desirous. The grammar of our language games excludes these moves that are not within the realm of possible moves for discourse and action dictated by the grammar.
We should add that fiction, whether in literature, film, theatre or even philosophy, can become a place in which to explore the boundaries of our language games, and even to challenge them to some degree. Thus fiction can improve our understanding of the area defined by our language games, and provide a place to experiment with developing atypical grammars. For example, Éric Chevillard's work has played this sort of role in more than one instance (see The Crab Nebula (1997 ) or Les absences du capitaine Cook (2001)).
The grammar of a language game is not something we learn, and its propositions are unquestioningly accepted when we are playing the game. They are not explicitly learned, but rather absorbed over time by practicing a language game. They are implied logically by the examples through which we learn the game, and are never specifically brought up, except in philosophical discussion. And while they are unquestionable, this is because they create the very possibility of the game being played: questioning them is equivalent to being out of the game. For instance, a psychoanalyst cannot question the existence of the unconscious without thereby ceasing to be a psychoanalyst.
NOTE: SAYING VS. SHOWING
Wittgenstein's famous distinction between saying and showing takes on its full meaning with the grammar issue. Any move in a language game, or any empirical proposition consists both in saying something and in showing the grammar of the language game. Wittgenstein's position concerning what is being shown seems to have changed. In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he is unequivocal: "4.1212. What can be shown cannot be said" (Wittgenstein, 1972, p. 51). Impossible, then, to talk about the grammar or name its contents; we can only try to give an idea of it by giving examples of not playing the game, as we did above, in order to convey a sense of the grammatical area of the game. In On Certainty, his position is less radical: "88. It may be for example that all enquiry on our part is set so as to exempt certain propositions from doubt, if they are ever formulated. They lie apart from the route travelled by enquiry" (Wittgenstein, 1969, p. 13e).
2.4 Language games and semiotics
Wittgenstein's theory of language games can be instructive on several accounts when applied to semiotic discussion. Indeed, any interaction with signs, production of signs, or attribution of meaning owes its existence to its status as a move in a language game – that is, a conceptual architecture, a grammar, that we must uncover.
Consider the Augustinian definition of the sign: something put in the place of something else (to which it is imperative to add: in a relation of meaning or representation). Wittgenstein tells us that of the elements that make up the semiotic relation (sign, modes of representation or signifying, the sign's referent, etc.), none exists outside a language game. In an interpretive act, nothing is "intrinsically" a sign: the grammar of the language game is what makes it possible to identify the sign, its way of being a sign and what it is a sign of.
The grammar of psychoanalysis is what turns a failure of memory into a parapraxis, and the parapraxis into a sign of some unconscious desire; this justifies inferring desire from a failure of memory. The grammar of the language game of reading fiction is what makes it possible to see a particular printed object as a fictional discourse, which then allows us to imagine the fictional world that this discourse represents. The grammar of psychological interpretation of facial expressions is what makes it possible to see a frown as a sign, and to read the frown as a dysphoric expression of incomprehension, disagreement or scepticism. Even identifying a sign, regardless of its degree of complexity, is a move in the language game that will lead to its interpretation; and a mere description of the sign cannot help revealing the grammar of the game being played.
Identifying and interpreting signs are actions that take place in language games that can be described by analysis; and the same applies to sign production. From this standpoint, the entire theory of literary genres can be seen as an enormous undertaking in which the grammar of the various genres is revealed. For example, Aristotle's "Poetics", which has been passed down to us, is an attempt to analyze the grammar of the language games of the tragedy and the epic. In Greimas' or Bremond's work, the narrative sequence is a formulation of the grammar of narrative: manipulation, competence, performance, sanction or contingency, and initiating and completing the action would be seen here as elements in the grammar of the language game of representing action. (On this subject, see the chapter on the canonical narrative schema in Signo.)
On the one hand, we will refrain from putting concepts with very different or opposite epistemological foundations into one basket. These examples are aimed at showing the nature of grammatical constructs, not their processes. On the other hand, the example of narrativity guides us to a basic fact: language games are not time-independent; they can change over the course of their history. It would be a difficult endeavour to try and develop a single language game to account for narrative both for popular Russian fairy tales and the contemporary writers published by the Minuit publishing house. The two language games will have an obvious "family resemblance", just the same.
All sorts of grammars are conceivable, including ones underlying the signs (and thus the language games) that have just recently arisen in our societies, such as the grammar of video game images, of web sites and of hypertext.
Consider the following situation: Jack and John are watching a soccer game in John's apartment. During the game, they hear a loud, heavy thud on the ceiling. Looking slightly annoyed, John comments about his upstairs neighbour:
– Really, he's even clumsier when he's drunk, that guy.
A little embarrassed, Jack says:
– Maybe he's trying to tell us that your TV is too loud.
Their replies are moves in different language games (both of which are intended to give a meaning to the noise), which could be named as follows: for Jack, interpreting a noise produced intentionally with a communicative intent; for John, interpreting a noise made accidentally.
In John's view, the gesture is accidental, allowing him to trace it to the psycho-physiological traits that caused it, the identifying characteristic being a loss of self-control. The grammar of this language game postulates a psychological or physiological interiority over which the subject has limited control, in a causal connection with a particular kind of movement: involuntary. The states of this interiority are also of different durations: the clumsiness is permanent, the drunkenness is chronic. Lastly, they are interdependent, since the drunkenness aggravates the clumsiness.
In Jack's view, the noise (the action, that is) is deliberate, manifesting a communicative intent on the part of the agent. We should note that the intent could have been an entirely different one than the one Jack identified: the neighbour upstairs might have stomped on the floor to chase away a sensation of pins and needles in his leg. The communicative intent is characterized grammatically by its content and its receiver, both of which are in a relation of interdependence (with the receiver helping to identify the content, and vice versa).
4. LIST OF WORKS CITED
- AUSTIN, John L., How to Do Things with Words, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.
- CHEVILLARD, Éric, The Crab Nebula, trans. J. Stump, E. Hardin, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 .
- CHEVILLARD, Éric, Les absences du capitaine Cook, Paris: Minuit, 2001.
- SEARLE, John R., Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980 .
- SEARLE, John R., The Construction of Social Reality, New York: Free Press, 1995.
- WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
- WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, New York: Macmillan, 1958.
- WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig, On Certainty, trans. Denis Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1969 .
A. Pick out a chair, a desk or a bookcase. Try to estimate the year it was made, its monetary value, and assign it a well-reasoned aesthetic value. Examine how the moves in three different language games made you structure the object in a different way each time, and how the grammars of these games are revealed in the structures and your comments.
B. We do not read an opinion column the way we read a poem. Identify the grammatical concepts at work in these two language games, and how you segment and structure the mental processing of the opinion column and the poem with them.
C. Which emotion is in between anger and empathy? Which emotion is less intense than fear but more intense than jealousy? When does one feel surprise and bitterness at the same time? What do our difficulties in answering these questions teach us about the grammar of the language game of emotions?