Time, Music and Grammar. When Understanding and Performing What is Understood are Two Facets of the Same Action

Antonia Soulez


We know that (1) We cannot describe an experimental content. We mean no more, no further than our language reaches. 1- First because time is not an object of experience about which such a question as “what is the nature of time?” could be raised. 2- Another reason which is structural and not specific of time is the following: if we try to explain our representation of the world by formulating a thesis about the nature of the world, this statement will necessarily belong to our to our representation of the world. While we think we describe the world, we in fact attribute to it features that lie in the mode of representation (BT §90, p33-4). Such is the case of our way of qualifying time as the flowing of a river according to a current analogy of time with flowing which is misleading. Time is part of the things that belong to the essence of the world, and as such, it cannot be expressed by language. As in the Theetetes of Plato (182d), Wittgenstein asserts that if the flux thesis were true, the use of language would be useless. David Stern has pointed out this proximity with Plato´s core of argument (in his On Mind and Language, ch. 6) (2) by asserting: “Only present is real” (Ms 107), we stress the “force of the present” as applied to the given. Yet the present is timeless. (6.4311, Tractatus): The queerness of the word “present” with which nothing past or future contrasts, as is the case of instantaneism in solipsism. It is a timeless sort of present. It is therefore a mistake to believe in the present of the “immediate experience” by asserting a temporal value of the present. Our confusion is then due to uncritically sticking to a physical concept of the present. There is a fantasm underlying our illusion: that of perfect contemporeity of our statement with the immediate experience it states. This kind of “present” is a a-temporal feature of Logic, as in Aristotle. When one says “Red and Green at the same time in the same place”, does he utter a contradiction in space and time? This question deals with the status of the internal relation in the Tractatus. (3) Wittgenstein and phenomenology: Time in phenome- nological language will be tackled from points of view: 1- from the point of view Wittgenstein is supposed to have endorsed then rejected in 1929. We will examine the requirements of such a language and the reasons of the impossibility of their fulfilling which lead Wittgenstein to renouncing to renouncing such a language (Ph. Remarks, ch. 7). In 29, what is abandoned is the idea of a direct description of immediate experience referred to objects the status of which is to be reevaluated (see D. Pears´ article: “Le Wittgenstein de Hintikka”, in Jaakko Hintikka, ed. E. Rigal, Vrin, 1998). Time is a king of phenomenal zero-line (Pears in The False Prison)) For which there is no empirical identification. Yet, as a “strange medium” in which regularity, repetition, starting, ending etc. Of a language-game and so forth are meaningful expressions. As there are indeed temporal concepts we use, we could aim at a grammar of time conceived as an ordinary language for “time”. We are then left with the following question: What sort of temporal concepts are they? In what sense could we consider them as “temporal”? Wittgenstein´s later remarks in writings on philosophy of psychology are very instructive as regards a paradoxical situation consisting in the fact that on one hand, the speaker deals with atemporality of the rule, while on the other hand its application is temporal in non-ambiguous ways including morphological aspects of pronunciation, articulation of items, duration, intervals, and so forth. Aspectual features of hearing-as, for instance are unconceivable without time. So far, in order to answer the question of a grammar of time, we have to look at the practice of articulation of words in situations implying hearing what is to be understood. We are then in need of a social conception, not solipsistic, e.g. one which prompts us to reverse the thesis of time as flowing into: “Words have meaning in the flow of life”. We are then invited to look at the context of practice, our technical use in the course of our ordinary life, as opposed to the stream of consciousness (W. James). Time rejoins the status of the medium in which beliefs, assertions, statements take sense (On certainty). A “medium” as such cannot be the object of a question nor be defined. 2- A part of the argument will be devoted to Wittgenstein´s implicit critique of the phenomenological stance of the intimate consciousness of time (Husserl) including the critique of Bergson´s immediate given of consciousness. (4) A therapy one should not consider possible to apply temporal and special concepts to immediate experience. But the phenomenological concepts are a basis for the use of everyday spatio temporal concepts. Yet we suffer form the fact that the description cannot describe that which goes on in reading the description. (BT §102, p 496). The aim of therapy here is to get freed from an obsession: considering that language unwinds in time according to the film analogy (Ph. Rem. § 52), the obsession is to establish a strict correlation between pictures we see projected on the screen (phenomena) with what is on the role of the film in the projector. The fantasm (of a Jamesian sort) here underlying is the possibility to re-live, re-experience all the sensory impressions at the exactly same speed of their primary production. Such a description would have the same structure as what it describes (see here Russell Goodman´s account of Wittgenstein and James in the 30´s, see his book under this title, publ. Cambridge UP, 2002). What is then the point of all that? Not a theory but a therapy. A critique of our temptation to give a definition of time is the point. (5) Is it legitimate to see some positive goal beyond the negative horizon of therapy? From the statement that we use temporal concepts by applying rules in the strange medium of time in different ways according to the contexts, the question of how one follows a rule turns into how do I follow a rule temporally speaking by repeating a theme in music for instance, or saying anexpression a second time and make a language-game start etc…? Different cases show how an element is incorporated in a system thanks to repetition. What is repeated is an internal liaison between the rule and what accords with the rule through action. Time then reveals itself as an internal relation making a game payable at its start according to a kind of non-Kantian synthesis. This kind of synthesis will be explicated in connection with the PLA in the situation of which what is lacking is precisely this (non-Transcendental) kind of synthesis (Note for a philosophical lecture, Ph. O. p 450). See “Game situations repeated themselves in time” (On Certainty § 519), v. Putnam about cultural formations, marked with recurring- features in time I will show that this institutional point of view meets some of Merleau-Ponty´s insights into the institutional process of language.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; active hearing; anthropology; auditive aspect; cultural ideal; expressivity; form as content; grammar as harmony; modern music; Hanslick Eduard; resulting form in composition; sound of sense; tonal

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