Wittgenstein Plays Chess with Duchamp or How Not to Do Philosophy:|
Wittgenstein on Mistakes of Surface and Depth
Gerrard, Steven B.|
Professor of Philosophy, Williams College
|I read your article for the first time like two years ago; now that I've re-read it for second time I still find it's an admirable piece of elegant and beutyfull writing. I have no idea if your a Wittgenstein Scholar or not, but if you do are, please, write me back. I'd like to read some other works of you on W.|
|By matías correa|
One of the simpler positions Duchamp analyzes is: (Diagram 1)
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Black’s temptation is to swoop in (with 1 … Ke4, as in (Diagram. 2)) and attack the White Pawn. But, as Duchamp explains:
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Black’s only move now is to retreat to one of the squares marked with a “K” in (Diagram. 4), allowing White to snatch the pawn(Diagram. 5)and go on to win. Black’s first, obvious, aggressive, materialistic (but unreflective) move, going straight to the undefended pawn, turns out to be a kind of suicide. (Taking one’s time would have done the trick.)
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Tolstoy wrote that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Is this the same for mistakes? Is each one a mistake in its own way? 1 … Ke4 is not, I would think, the same kind of mistake that Oedipus made when he married Jocasta (although both involve regicide). What kind of mistake is 1 … Ke4? Why would anyone make this move? What might tempt or compel someone here? Chess, after all, is not baseball; it is not as if the lights were too low, or Black lost the pawn in the sun.
In a book titled How Not to Play Chess, Duchamp’s friend Grandmaster Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky wrote:
Another grandmaster friend of Duchamp, Larry Evans, continues our theme in a book titled The 10 Most Common Chess Mistakes … and how to avoid them!:
This might seem familiar to some of you, even to those of you who don’t read esoteric chess literature. It might remind you of remark 129 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations:
Or of this early claim in The Blue Book:
Or from remark 89 of the Investigations:
Let us go from one kind of Duchampian trébuchet to another. Consider these two images:
Marcel Duchamp’s Trébuchet (Fig. 3) Max Ernst’s The Hat Makes the Man(7)(Fig. 4)
The first, Duchamp’s Trébuchet, is a photograph of a 1964 reproduction of a lost 1917 readymade. The second is Max Ernst’s mixed media work from 1920: cut-and-pasted paper, pencil, ink and watercolor on paper. The first has all the initial appearances of an ordinary, store-bought coat and hat rack, whereas the second looks alien and bizarre (in the 1930s English of the Blue and Brown Books: queer; in Freud’s German: unheimlich, uncanny.). This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar interested Wittgenstein throughout his career, and plays a central role in examining our subtitled theme of Wittgenstein on mistakes of surface and depth.
I want to ask you to indulge me and perform a Wittgensteinean experiment (which I will take advantage of later). While studying these two images, ask yourself: what do you experience when you look at them; in particular, do you have a feeling of familiarity?
In order to force the experiment, before studying these images read the following from Wittgenstein's Brown Book:
In this thematic neighborhood Wittgenstein’s philosophical language often employs metaphors that are aesthetic or come from the arts: looking at pictures, going to the movies, listening to music. My use of the two artists’ coat and hat racks is partly designed to make more transparent what Wittgenstein achieves philosophically with his use of these metaphors. In one of the most explicit statements of his own methodology, Wittgenstein writes that
Wittgenstein’s philosophical goal is not to produce theories or theses, but to change our way of looking at things, to change our way of seeing the world. (My reading moves into the center of Wittgenstein’s methodology his discussions of Jastrow’s duck/rabbit image.(Fig. 5))(9) My strategy in this paper is to make Duchamp’s and Ernst’s works of art emblems for two distinct ways of changing the way we see the world. For ease of reference, I will label Duchamp’s way the “surface” way, and Ernst’s the “depth” way. I see Duchamp and Wittgenstein in alliance here. If Ernst needs a philosophical depth companion, let’s give him Vulgar Freudianism. Duchamp’s and Wittgenstein’s way, the “nothing is hidden”(10) way, appeals to what is before our eyes. Ernst’s work, by contrast, appeals to depth, to a structure hidden beneath the surface.(Fig. 6)
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In order to clarify what I mean by the “depth” way, let us now look more deeply at The Hat Makes the Man. If you had a feeling of unfamiliarity, or eerie strangeness, when looking at it before, part of the reason might be the German words in the corner: none of them are capitalized. There is a remark on this phenomenon in Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1:
If that is not enough, in the Ernst work the words are a portmanteau of the made up, the nonsensical and the rare: a bit like a Teutonic Lewis Carroll poem: Jabberwocky, jawohl.(12) A transcription of Ernst’s Germanic words are(13):
Half these words are not really German. Nervatur is a specialized scientific term for a pattern of nerves or veins, and bedecktsamiger and nacktsamiger are rare scientific terms. We (14) might translate the phrase:
The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1993, informs us of the meaning of the rare terms:
And, for those whose college biology is receding:
Both German scientific nouns are direct translations of the Greek scientific terms; if English worked the same way, then “angiosperm” and “gymnosperm” would be "coveredseed" and nakedseed".
Combining the words and the image, we can see that the work is partly a meditation on what is hidden and what is unclothed, and that Ernst has uncovered for us a coveredseed. This is a picture of a nerve system, and Ernst is portraying an underlying skeletal or nerve structure.
Let us now add the (linguistically) unproblematic French below the German:
And the translation:
French gives us the wonderfully complicated further point that it’s
style all the way down! If we add that "chapeau" is also an old
slang word for condom,(16)
then the covering of seed and the image itself become
spectacularly complex. Ernst was both a student of philosophy and of
psychiatry; if ever a picture called for a Freudian interpretation,
even a vulgar one, it is this.
Ernst has taken the familiar sight of a man and a hat and, going beneath the surface, made it unfamiliar. In contrast, Duchamp has taken a supposedly familiar, ordinary object, and defamiliarized it by a change in location and status. (The change is what Russell and Bradley would have called a change in external relations.) Duchamp’s Trébuchet is a readymade: a genre that Duchamp invented and named. The idea, or, perhaps, more accurately, the propaganda, is to take a found object – often a mass produced manufactured object; a familiar, repeated object – and turn it into a work of art, perhaps by signing it, perhaps by placing it in a museum. The legend is that in 1917, while an expatriate from the European war, Marcel Duchamp purchased a coat rack, nailed it to the floor of his New York City apartment,(Fig. 7) and then named this new work of art: "Trébuchet". The Ernst and Duchamp works have this in common: both take the familiar and then make it unfamiliar: it is the way they make it unfamiliar that is different.
Putting the art works aside for a moment, as a way of further illustrating the differences between the ways of depth and surface, let us go back to the question of what makes us go wrong, what leads us to mistake? Familiarly, one side answers “deception” – whether psychological, social, or political: there is something hidden that needs to be uncovered; we need to leave our usual, surface haunts for the unfamiliar, where the truth lies. (Sometimes the theory is that identifying the deception accomplishes the uncovering of the truth.) As in the Ernst work all is not what it appears: in order to understand the men before our eyes, we have to go down to their underlying structure. Wittgenstein, on the contrary, says in the Investigations “…For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us” [PI: 126](17) and:
Or, from a draft of the forward to Philosophical Remarks:
Going from one kind of scripture to another, I am reminded of G-d’s directions to Moses in Deuteronomy 30 11-14:
It is perhaps now time to summon the old self-referential joke: there are two kinds of people in the world – those that divide kinds of people into two and those who do not. We should not confuse the surface/depth dichotomy with another one: those who see the world as problematic and those who do not. It is hard to imagine a philosopher (as opposed to, say, a politician) in the unproblematic camp.
Let us, then, quickly eliminate the vulgar interpretation that attention to the surface means simple common sense and that the world is uncomplicated and unproblematic. [Ross Perot’s voice and accent are in the background, saying: “It’s really all very simple.”] Both the surface skaters and the depth divers see the world as bubbingly complicated. Both believe we are inclined (at least at times), to see the world wrong. Both believe that the world as it strikes us requires a great deal of analysis – but they locate the complications in different places, give different accounts of where and how we go wrong, and engage in different kinds of analyses.(19)
Where are we now? In the context of our surface/depth dichotomy we have an overlapping and crisscrossing [PI: 67] of various themes: how to make a mistake, what is hidden, what lies open to plain view, and, lurking [hidden!?] in the background, the continual debates on Wittgenstein’s alleged quietism: the accusation that philosophy requires not investigation but renunciation.(20) The central texts of Wittgenstein’s alleged quietism are, of course, Investigations 124-6, where Wittgenstein writes that “Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language […] [i]t leaves everything as it is […] Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. […]”)(21)
Let us begin to unravel these threads by returning to the coat and hat rack images experiment and focusing on the question of familiarity. Do you have some particular feeling of familiarity? (To those of you familiar with Wittgenstein, this will, of course, be a familiar experiment with some familiar answers; what I hope to accomplish is to put it into a new – or, at least, less examined -- context.)
Consider the following group of remarks from the Philosophical Investigations.(22) (Non-incidentally, these remarks are prefaced by an assertion that many – but most especially depth investigators -- find one of the most annoying in Wittgenstein’s corpus: PI: 599: … “Philosophy only states what everyone admits”. Often those who find a quietism of renunciation in Wittgenstein also see him as bullying instead of arguing.)
We began this paper with a (chess) mistake. What mistake is Wittgenstein warning us against here? In this context Wittgenstein is being fairly explicit: the mistake is to assume that because S recognizes y, an act of recognition must have taken place. This seemingly simple mistake opens the door to a string of others. Since even superficial investigation (introspection will do) reveals that there is not always a conscious act of recognition (as I hope your own familiarity experiment and experiences have shown), that (alleged) act is driven underground – the depth arguer has to claim there is a hidden mechanism underlying our overt behavior. Wittgenstein’s telling of the depth story is an oft told tale: failure to appreciate differences leads one to assume essences (or is it the other way around?); since there must be an essence – a seed – and since there is obviously no gymnosperm [nakedseed], there must be an angiosperm [a coveredseed].(23) And then, as Hume says in the An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, “We are got into fairy land, long ere we have reached the last steps of our theory.”(24)
This is a particular breed of a more general kind of Wittgensteinean warning of How Not to Do Philosophy. PI: 35 discusses the “’characteristic experiences’ of pointing”, connects it directly to our problem via the Wittgensteinean device of a parenthetical footnote [“(Recognizing, wishing, remembering, etc. .)”], then draws a more general moral:
Wittgenstein then turns instead to a host of ordinary, contextually particular, surface considerations:
Going back to recognition and familiarity, we can connect PI: 37 to PG: 166 [the original home of PI: 602ff.]:
Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1 also makes the connection explicit:
The philosophical mistake, the philosopher’s mistake, is to search for something extra in the explanation of our ordinary goings on.(25) (And even worse, but almost inevitable, is to find that something extra: this structure or that. Here, in Wittgenstein’s lights, the philosopher is like the cheap stage magician, placing the rabbit in the hat to pull it out later.)
There is a familiar (to the point of being well trodden) Wittgenstein path here: this illusory extra will then serve as the criterion (and, if met, the guarantee) of an activity that, to the contrary, only makes sense, can only be seen as the activity it is, or indeed, an activity at all, when looked on as part of a practice. This is (partly) the concern of PI: 149 and the famous rule following sections of the Investigations:
The moral so far is: if depth is taken as the a priori requirement of a hidden, underlying structure, then the pursuit of that alleged depth and structure is a task of illusion, superstition: (often under the name of science) a pseudo-scientific alchemy.
But there is another (not at all completely unrelated) sense to depth. Wittgenstein writes in Zettel of the real (it has happened) danger of the real (non-illusory) loss of real (not based on a mistake) depth:
This is the real question we have been asking all along: How does the world become deep? Or, somewhat more precisely in the light of our previous discussion: How does the surface take on a depth?
Wittgenstein sometimes profitably investigated these questions by examining the more particular question: What happens when one comes to understand something?(27)
(Perhaps the warning is unnecessary, but attention to art helps remind us that understanding is not a binary on/off operation: it is not as if the internal mechanism finally works and now I understand Duchamp’s Trébuchet; it is not as if I have a feeling and then suddenly I understand Ernst’s The Hat Makes the Man. The illusion that a non-limited, non-contextual sense can be made of complete understanding goes along with the illusion that a non-limited, non-contextual sense can be made of a hidden guarantee of our practices.)
How, in coming to understand something, does it acquire a legitimate kind of depth? We can now answer this by putting all the elements together. The answer is: by putting all the elements together. (In a local way of course, and for a time.)
Wittgenstein continually argues there is nothing [no thing] extra, added on, in our coming to understand. Coming to understand, as the relation between name and thing named [PI: 37], as the multiplicity of familiarity [PG: 166], is a plurality of commonplaces: it is the manner that makes the man. In philosophy we come to understand by seeing connections:
What changes when we come to understand are not the facts, but the attitude. The change is a change of perspective; a rearrangement of what has been in front of us all along.
Coming to understand is the both the substance and the style [never mere style] of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. It is coming to understand: process, not conclusion. Through his use of examples, his meandering methodology, his intermediate cases, his juxtaposition of situations, Wittgenstein is showing us how the surface acquires depth. The manner makes the books.
It is in this fashion, as well, that we come to understand Duchamp’s Trébuchet. Let’s look for a moment at the multiplicity and juxtaposition of meanings here:
Duchamp was a lover of many things, including lists, dictionaries, and self-reference. High on his list of loves was dictionaries.(29) If he had looked up “trébuchet” in an ordinary French dictionary he would have found the following three senses:
1. A medieval
war machine [which the coat rack visually resembles];(Fig.
If he also looked up “trébuchet” in a comprehensive English dictionary, he would have seen the additional sense:
4. A cucking- or ducking-stool.(30)(Figs. 10, 11)
In addition, there is:
5. A pun with the homonymic French verb "trébucher", which means “to stumble or trip”, which is precisely what one would do with a coat rack nailed to the floor.
And, of course, there is
6. A technical chess meaning, a mutual or reciprocal zugzwang, where whoever moves loses.
The image and the multiplicity of meanings work together to change our way of looking at things: Duchamp has inclined us to see the unfamiliar in a formerly familiar and common place hat rack.
Two of Wittgenstein’s students wrote that:
A serious warning is necessary here. The description I just read makes it seem a little too easy to dissolve philosophical problems: it has its truth about Wittgenstein’s methodology, but it has to be counterbalanced by attention to the theme that philosophical problems cannot be dismissed, cannot be renounced, but have to be worked through. However, since I have examined this theme of working through elsewhere, and since I'll shortly close with a similar warning, I'll bracket it off in this essay.
We here have a constant in Wittgenstein’s career: Early, Middle, and Late Wittgenstein focused on the agent’s attitude. It is through changes in the agent’s attitude that the surface acquires depth. Wittgenstein, of course, located the ethical in that attitude. As early as 1916, Wittgenstein recorded in his Notebooks:
And in his discussion of ethics:
Throughout his career Wittgenstein’s attitude toward attitude remains the same. A real change, however, is that in his later philosophy, Wittgenstein becomes much more concerned with diagnosing the reasons some are not satisfied with that answer.
The temptation, Wittgenstein comes to claim, is to confuse the illusory notion of depth with the real notion of seeing connections, of really seeing what is before our eyes. In order to see the world in depth one needs to really pay attention to the surface:
What kind of mistake is 1. … Ke4, rushing in to take the pawn? What kind of mistake is failing to see the connections before us? They are not identical, but they are cousins. The chess player rushes in to take the pawn; eager to win material he is too aggressive, moving too close too soon, instead of taking his time.(33) By failing to notice what is there, he ends up on the wrong side of a trébuchet. The chess player does not need a secret revealed, a card turned over; what he needs is to control himself.(Fig. 14)
So, partly too, the philosopher. Wittgenstein’s chapter “Philosophy” in the so-called “Big Typescript” of 1932 includes the fragment:
And even more directly, the chapter begins with the following heading in capital letters:
And now, as is both rhetorically and philosophically required, I will close with a warning. We should not think of the difficulty or resistance here as a psychological matter, as an individual’s quirk. Wittgenstein’s sights were broader, surveying (and diagnosing) his whole culture. As he wrote in the Foreword to Philosophical Remarks:
In these matters the individual needs neither psychoanalysis nor shock therapy; it is philosophy that is required: a philosophical striving after clarity and perspicuity, a philosophical straining (and training) to constantly conquer temptation anew and to see the sense visible amidst the nonsense and the nonsense clothed as sense.(35)
BB: Blue and Brown Books
Unless otherwise indicated, references will be to the section number.
2. Vitaly Halberstadt and Marcel Duchamp, L'Opposition et les Cases Conjugées sont Reconciliées [Opposition and Sister Squares are Reconciled] (Paris/Bruxelles: L'Echiquier, 1932) text in English, French and German.
3. Halberstadt and Duchamp, p. 9, Diagram 15. In a position almost identical to Duchamp’s Diagram 15 (our diagram 1), Aron Nimzovich, My System [original German, Mein System, 1925; first English translation 1929] p. 69, gives essentially the same analysis (without, however, using the term “trébuchet”):
WHITE: Kd6, Pc5
the continuation is: 1. K-Q7!, K-Kt4; 2. K-Q6; but not 1. K-Q6?, because of …. K-Kt4, and White has no good move left, and is in fact himself in Zugzwang, in a strait jacket, shall we say?
8. For a different discussion of the same passage and point, see my "How Old Are These Bones? Putnam, Wittgenstein and Verification", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXXIII (1999)
The remark continues:
13. My discussion of Ernst’s German is overwhelmingly indebted to Ned Humphrey, a freelance German translator (and my freshman year college roommate). The translations are completely his, and he gave me the Teutonic Carroll phrase as well as other bits of wisdom. I could not be more grateful for his generous help.
17. See also PO: 177. The surface explorers and the depth spelunkers call for and practice two very different kinds of investigations (and art). (The surrealisms of Duchamp, on the one hand, and Ernst, Magritte, and Dali, on the other, are really quite different.)
19. We might call the depth analysis “vertical” and the surface analysis “horizontal”. However, I’ll leave these metaphors to this endnote. An implicit burden of the rest of the paper is to see if sense can be made of any of the metaphors.
21. See John McDowell’s excellent discussions in his "Meaning and Intentionality in Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy", in P. French, et. al., The Wittgenstein Legacy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. xvii (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); and Mind and World (Harvard, 1994) 92-3, and Afterword III (pp. 175-180). I previously discussed quietism in my “One Wittgenstein?” in E. Reck, ed., From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2001), from which I have cannibalized part of this note.
See also PI: 164:
The Investigations adds Augustine’s Latin: “(Augustine: Manifestissima et usitatissima sunt, et eadem rusus nimis latent, et nova est inventio eorum.)” In Book XI of the Confessions Augustine, confronting himself with making sense of time, sees paradox after paradox, and then reminds himself of our ordinary time-talk, writing: “They are perfectly obvious and ordinary, and yet the same things are too well hidden, and their discovery comes as something new.”
Philosophical Grammar, instead, adds the same thought as Augustine, but with a decidedly different spin:
PG 169. And here one must remember that all the phenomena that now strike us as so remarkable are the very familiar phenomena that don't surprise us in the least when they happen. They don't strike us as remarkable until we put them in a strange light by philosophizing.
[BB: p. 168] Now we have used a misleading expression when we said that besides the experiences of seeing and speaking in reading there was another experience, etc. This is saying that to certain experiences another experience is added.--Now take the experience of seeing a sad face, say in a drawing,--we can say that to see the drawing as a sad face is not 'just' to see it as some complex of strokes (think of a puzzle picture). But the word 'just' here seems to intimate that in seeing the drawing as a face some experience is added to the experience of seeing it as mere strokes; as though I had to say that seeing the drawing as a face consisted of two experiences, elements.
28. Following Juliet Floyd’s modified translation, who, in turn, is following Stanley Cavell. I discussed Floyd’s translation and analysis in my "How Old Are These Bones? Putnam, Wittgenstein and Verification".
A common scold may be indicted, and if convicted shall be sentenced to be placed in a certain engine of correction called the trebucket, castigatory, or ducking-stool.
33. Yuri Averbakh and I. Maizelis, Pawn Endings, trans. Mary Lasher, Chess Digest, Inc., 1974, p. 10, Diagram 18, W: Ka4, Pa6, Pg5; B: Kb8, Pb6, Pg6: “White’s pawn on a6 and Black’s pawn on b6 […] are of the ‘look but do not touch’ variety; whoever attacks first loses.” (The position is what Znosko-Borovsky labels a “Quasi-trebuchet” in How to Play Chess Endings, p. 13). Averbakh and Maizelis go on to analyze the position in terms of co-ordinate squares, what Duchamp and Halberstadt called “sister squares”. The just published Glenn Flear, Improve Your Endgame Play, Everyman Chess, London, 2000, p. 44 gives a similar position and points out that the blunder of moving too close to the enemy pawn “would be embarrassing, a special double-zugzwang called a trébuchet, whoever is to move loses!”
35. I am very grateful to Paul-Jon Benson for reading and commenting on an earlier draft. It would be impossible to exaggerate the help I received on this paper from Lydia Goehr. If this paper were only about mistakes, instead of containing them, then I would have listed her as co-author.
Figs. 2, 3, 7-8, 12, 14