Der Ficker, Schleebrügge.Editor, Vienna 2006

Der Ficker

One would not say that one appreciates the tremendous things in art. In certain styles of architecture a door is right, and we appreciate it for that. But in the case of a Gothic cathedral completely different things play a role for us, and we would not call the door "right". The whole game is different.
Ludwig Wittgenstein



The fine arts, poetry and philosophy
in the Wittgenstein House, Vienna III, April 2006

Who does not know across-the-board characterisations that quickly become a skewed picture when (following a pronouncement of his sister) it is said of the Wittgenstein House in Kundmanngasse in Vienna that it is logic cast in architecture, simply because it is known of the more famous of its planners that he was a philosopher and concerned himself with logic. Can logic be cast somewhere like, for example, cement from a concrete mixer into the wooden casing on a building site? And can architecture be rigorous, can something be cemented by definitions etc.? It is probably better not to begin with unpicking the fabric of speaking in pictures, of speaking in pictures of speaking and of speaking of speaking in pictures that we have become used to, otherwise in order to come clear we would have to use a formal language or go in for mathematics!

But what would be right about a door such as the one of which Wittgenstein speaks in the quotation above except that it can be opened and closed? Its proportions, the relationship in which it stands to the whole surface of the wall through which it allows to pass, its arrangement in relation to the other doors that lead out of or into the room? He demonstrated himself what it could be with the house that he co-planned: "The impression of Wittgenstein's architecture is most significantly determined by the fact that he reduces doors and French doors to one element: a glass door or double glass door consisting of four small vertical surfaces... that increases the forcefulness of the architecture. Here there is not the convention of door and room, room wall and window. The repetition of one and the same element [it is the same] triggers unconscious counting..." Of course, in the case of Gothic cathedrals, if one is well enough informed, one could ask what things play a role, e.g. where the light through the window falls on the floor mosaic, the representations of saints on the entrance portal, the arrangement of the columns, in what direction the apse points and so on. However, attention to that "for us", because it does presume – it need not be Spengler before the decline of the West – knowledge of that cathedral game that took place much earlier with regard to architectural decisions. Thus the "whole game" does not relate only to our educated or less educated language game with regard to Gothic cathedrals but also to the architectural language game of the time, whose reconstruction can then meaningfully be drawn upon if it should be decided whether our aesthetic judgement about cathedral characteristics is historically appropriate. However, Wittgenstein is really not confined to middle-class education: "There are many well-situated people who went to good schools, who can afford to travel and visit the Louvre etc., and know a great deal about dozens of painters and can speak fluently about them. Someone else has seen very few pictures, but he looks at them intensively and they make a strong impression on him. One person is very generally educated, but neither deeply nor comprehensively, another very narrowly in a concentrated and limited way. Are these different types of connoiseurship? All that can be called 'connoiseurship'?"

Despite the story of its sale, its neglect by the city and the nation, i.e. despite the felling of trees and a great reduction in the surrounding garden and urban planning sins in the direct vicinity etc., the house planned by Paul Engelmann and Wittgenstein has now itself become an architectural icon of Modernism. The fact that in modern times a unified language game like at the time of the cathedrals no longer prevailed and that a "stylistic epoch" can only be spoken of in a far more heterogeneous sense, is demonstrated with great insight by Bernhard Leitner in his book about the house with a comparison of Ludwig Wittgenstein's architectural language with that of Mies van der Rohe. So what does it now mean when – encouraged by Franz West, who is linked not only by a long-standing interest in the Wittgenstein House in Kundmanngasse but also a studio nearby – a group of artists, Clegg&Guttmann, Muntean/Rosenblum, Rudolf Polanszky, Tamuna Sirbiladze and Franz West, with the support of Galerie Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman, have decided to put on a one-month exhibition in the house and place their artistic pursuit under its genius loci? The house, marked by time and neglect with signs of deterioration and alienation, was originally not only built as a private residence but, in interplay with its formal elements, speaks a self-sufficient, even purist language – Wittgenstein forbade curtains and carpets in the house and wanted to see no colourful flowers in the garden but only variations of green. For this reason, does not every attempt of another aesthetic grammar to enter a new "language game" in spatial communication with this place have to look like a misunderstanding? "Philosophy leaves everything as it is," Wittgenstein writes somewhere. Guided by this higher principle, all forms of expression can be brought under one roof. The choice of this paradigmatic location should not be seen as an attempt to bring back into an illusory "public consciousness" a place that has been forgotten due to the city's neglected cultural life – if artistic exertion was attempted here it would only mean abetting an event-driven bustle – but as an attempt to open up an ideal free zone for independent linguistic invention. This is why the invitation from the fine arts went out to poetry and philosophy, not so as to take them into its service but so that they develop their own life at the events during the exhibition. Thanks go to Kurt Neumann and the literary association Alte Schmiede for support in creating the conditions for a successful intersection of artistic fields.

The publication "Der Ficker" – which came about from Franz West's idea for a catalogue for a group exhibition in Innsbruck, is now appearing for the second time and therefore seems to be developing into an annual journal for art, philosophy and poetry – is intended to reflect this approach that does without connections that do not show themselves. The number of contributors has increased in every field. Ludwig Wittgenstein's ambivalent relationship to the editor of "Der Brenner", Ludwig von Ficker, is discussed in Ilse Somavilla's cultural-historical essay and can also be gleaned from the correspondence published (in German) by Otto Müller Verlag in 1969. Likewise, Martin Guttmann's essay (a continuation of his essay in the first Ficker) argues philosophically and cultural-historically. Severin Schroeder's and Andrew Lugg's linguistic philosophical contributions are in the tradition of Wittgenstein, while Franz Josef Czernin takes up a special position in his metaphor theory of literary texts on account of the non-substitutability of their expressions, thus in an approximate sense attempts to construct a consistent theory about statements that are made where, according to Wittgenstein's logical-philosophical treatise, something can only show itself. Oswald Wiener generally rebuffs Wittgenstein's linguistic philosophical approaches, which can be explained by his radical reductionist approach, which, as it were, goes back behind Ernst Mach to Fechner and his "psychophysical processes", but aims at a materialistic-mechanical understanding through automata theory. As far as poetics is concerned, any serious poetry can do nothing else but develop its own meaningful game with the signs, that goes beyond the rules of grammar. Especially with the poems, because of difficulties in translation, the fact that this publication is bilingual guarantees an extension of this game, which accounted for the decision in favour of poems as literary contributions.

Apart from such introductory editorial remarks – how could something really be said about "the things that hold the world together at its core"? Wittgenstein himself was against both a Platonic notion that supposes a realm of ideas independent of changeable and transitory reality as well as against a constructivist concept that believes itself able to put up a solid building with abstractions and metalanguages, for which he was often paid back with the classification "formalist". After his friend and discussion partner Piero Saffra doubtingly rubbed his chin, he also gave up the concept of the sentence as a logical picture of reality and found his way to his new style of philosophising about language game, family resemblance, private language, form of life etc. When it also appears meaningful and enlightened to understand as a game what confronts us in areas where we can choose or could have chosen for ourselves, what has come to its rules in the widest range of ways, there are nevertheless also areas such as the interplay of our bodily organs becoming weaker with time or other laws that sciences are searching for where this game threatens to become quite serious. But not only there, precisely where the game with symbols is played, especially where one could think that their meaning and sanctity derives from historical arbitrariness, the game can really end in bloodshed. All the more important are those areas predefined by us, such as that of art, which give the playful its place to play.

When philosophical lectures are held and poems read this process seems more fleeting than the pictures and sculptures that take up space. But they too will be taken down and carried away, eventually the house in which all this has taken place will also decay. If at all, these faster and slower processes only temporarily have something to do with each other and in principle seem to proceed like Achilles and the tortoise. Zeno's "paradox" is mostly false according to his paradigm but, for all that, it is sensationally presented. As if Achilles could never catch up with the tortoise! But of course we know that if Achilles runs ten metres per second (a slow Achilles) and the tortoise one metre per second (a fast tortoise), that even if the tortoise has a head start of ten metres Achilles will have left the tortoise eight metres behind him after two seconds. The difficulty lies in determining when Achilles has overtaken the tortoise, when only the respective space-time relative speed information is available. (An observer equipped with an absolute chronometer would have no problem.) The moment of overtaking can be narrowed down as much as one wants. After one and a tenth seconds the tortoise is still ten centimetres ahead of Achilles, after one and two tenths of a second eighty centimetres behind him etc. If infinitesimal calculations are applied here it is still far away from meaning that infinitudes are in play amongst what we are doing at any one time.


Ton van 't Hof said...

"As far as poetics is concerned, any serious poetry can do nothing else but develop its own meaningful game with the signs, that goes beyond the rules of grammar."

Benedikt, this sounds so logical, but I believe it is not. Could you elaborate on this?

Benedikt Ledebur said...

Well, this was a very general statement! For example "meaningful" is meant in the colloquial way of "making sense", does not mean necessarily, that the game with the signs (which include rhythm, metrum,the phonetic elements, ways of categorizing words, any categories of spoken and written language) has to refer to something, denote something. (It can just be done to show or reflect the own conditions of the medium, be ornamental or conditioning like in music.) But if you understand under grammar and its rules that which helps to make up the conventional and idiomatic use of a language, does not poetry (also) use (change, force, violate) grammatical structures, rules and other dimensions of language to create a surplus, something like an own idiom? ... which refers for example with features of language that normaly are not used for encoding a message, or which exemplifies on the material side of language something it is speaking of on the semantic level, so as (utopic hope) to compensate the arbitrariness of the conventional use of language.