Wittgenstein, Irigaray, & Esperanto

Joyce Davidson and Mick Smith, "Wittgenstein and Irigaray: Gender and Philosophy in a Language (Game) of Difference," Hypatia, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Spring, 1999), pp. 72-96.

This is yet another obnoxious example of the self-indulgent obscurantist drivel engendered by "feminist philosophy". The ultimate pretext for running through Wittgenstein's notions of language games and forms of life is to marshal abstract ammunition in yet another pointless salvo against the bogey-man of "essentialism" and to promote an undefined — and unaccountable — plurality. Wittgenstein's philosophy is more than conducive to irrationalism, and so it is natural that obscurantists fuse misguided philosophical fads in order to find new ways to say nothing.

With regards to Esperanto, the authors might have taken the trouble to check their facts about Esperanto's alleged coldness and relation to forms of life, which, on its worst days, could not be colder or deader than this sort of academic exercise. Of course, Esperanto would not come out unscathed, but not for the reasons Wittgenstein subjectively posits. Esperanto naively encodes the semantics of the languages from which it has been derived, and so, in the hot and sweaty manner in which one struggles with natural languages, ideology critique and thought reform have to be carried out in Esperanto in the same manner as in natural languages, and with the same accountability with respect to realities and not just to arbitrary constructs. What does it mean to read people on their own terms? It's just huffing and bluffing, a pose without a position.

But anyway, here's the passage in which Esperanto is mentioned:

Languages evolve constantly, and different language-games can and do develop in conjunction with different forms of life. We can, despite Cameron's objections, also envisage attempts to create wholesale new languages—for example, Esperanto— though the failure of these to gain widespread acceptance may well be because of their lack of intimate associations with particular forms of life. (In Culture and Value [1980, 84], Wittgenstein berates Esperanto for its coldness.) We can alter, or even invent language, and this is especially apparent where language is used poetically (as Irigaray can be seen to do). Despite his objections to Esperanto, Wittgenstein recognizes that linguistic invention can be liberating. Thus, in speaking of Shakespeare, Wittgenstein states, "I do not believe that Shakespeare can be set alongside any other poet. Was he perhaps a creator of language rather than a poet?" (1980a, 49). And perhaps without diminishing Shakespeare's stature or overemphasizing Irigaray's originality, one might transpose Wittgenstein's comments on Shakespeare: "It may be that the essential thing with Shakespeare is his ease and his authority and that you just have to accept him as he is if you are going to be able to admire him properly, in the way you accept nature, a piece of scenery for example, just as it is. If I am right about this, that would mean that the style of his whole work, I mean all of his works taken together, is the essential thing and what provides his justification. My failure to understand him could then be explained by my inability to read him easily?" (Wittgenstein 1980a, 49). One could also say that the style of Irigaray's works taken together might provide a justification for reading her, so far as is possible, within her own terms. (p. 88)

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