Ludwig Wittgenstein, Aesthetic Negativism, and the Incompleteness of Logical Positivism
In the literary response to logical positivism, Ludwig Wittgenstein figures both as inspiration and opposition, as the philosopher of what is the case and as the poet of what is not. Wittgenstein’s contradictory reputation reflects the complexities of his philosophy, particularly the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The text exemplifies the logical positivist philosophy to which postwar American writers responded and at the same time prefigures that very response. In casting Wittgenstein as a positivist, each for their own ends, Rudolf Carnap’s Vienna Circle and Theodor Adorno’s Frankfurt School are surprisingly aligned. Yet with its unsettled combination of logical propositions and mystical aphorisms, the Tractatus refuses to correspond to either group’s description of it. Ironically, it is Adorno’s own concept of negative dialectics that makes legible Wittgenstein’s negative aesthetics, the attempt to show the “nonsense” that cannot be said, and that reveals the ways in which Wittgenstein rejects the very positivism his text makes possible.
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