Research

Change of Perspective: Art and Philosophy after Wittgenstein

Hana Gründler

Derek Jarman, Wittgenstein, 1993

In his preface to the Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein describes the result of his thought processes as follows: “The philosophical observations of this book are like a series of landscape sketches, which arose after [...] long and complicated journeys.” Significantly, there are many passages not only in this preface but also in other of his post-1930 writings in which Wittgenstein draws such parallels between his philosophical thinking and artistic modes of thought and procedure. 

This interdisciplinary project is first devoted to Wittgenstein’s work, focusing in particular on those passages in which the tension between image, art and language unfolds and, among other things, the relationship between aesthetics and ethics is discussed. It is important to examine the role that visual and artistic vocabulary played for Wittgenstein and how and when he used this figurative language to break open entrenched ways of seeing and thinking and thus to enable a different way of philosophising. In this context, it is also indispensable to take a closer look at his activity as an architect.

In a second step, visual artists, filmmakers and writers who have dealt intensively with Wittgenstein’s oeuvre will be studied. By examining works by Thomas Bernhard (Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Correction), Mel Bochner (On Certainty), Joseph Kosuth (Letters from Wittgenstein. Abridged in Ghent) and Derek Jarman (Wittgenstein), the question to what extent these works are not only careful interpretations of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, but also subtle and complex problematizations and further developments of his thought will be explored.

Adopting this double perspective should make it possible to free oneself from the problematic notion of a one-dimensional influence and to understand that the relationship between art and philosophy is one of mutual enrichment. It becomes obvious, for example, that despite the medial and theoretical differences, all the protagonists of the research project plead for an understanding of philosophy as process. Related to this is the conviction that both philosophy and art are fundamentally critical and disruptive practices – what Kosuth, for example, called critical sense. The recipient, Kosuth argued, must be part of the thinking process and should not passively perceive and consume art. Wittgenstein, too, required the viewer/reader of the Philosophical Investigations not to simply adopt philosophical theorems without criticism, but rather to always view philosophical problems from a new perspective and to continuously reflect on one's own thinking in a self-critical manner. The work on a different “way of seeing” thus proves to be a work on the edge of resistance and reveals an ethical dimension. 

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