Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein and other philosophers on YouTube

Last night, Anto and I spent the evening playing with YouTube. Anto did her Laurea in Philosophy at the Unviersity of Milan and here thesis was on Ludwig Wittgenstein, so it is always a joy to listen to her talk about his thinking. As we were talking we stumbled upon a scene from Derek Jarman’s film Wittgenstein which featured an interpretation of one of his later lectures at Cambridge. I say later here to distinguish this as part of his thinking along the lines of The Philosophical Investigations rather than the Tractatus, which represent his only two published works (investigations was published posthumously) and signal two radically different approaches to the fundamental questions of his philosophy. The following scene from Jarman’s film Wittgenstein (1993) is both minimalistic, beautifully colored, and a dynamic re-creation of a fabled seminar fro his later thought while at Cambridge.

Jarman’s Wittgenstein

I intentionally avoided trying to explain the difference between Wittgenstein’s later and earlier philosophies because I don’t entirely understand them, and I won’t pretend to be able to articulate them. But Anto pointed me to the philosopher John Searle’s discussion of Wittgenstein’s work, found on this 70s looking talk show, which was extremely intelligent and helpful.

John Searle On Wittgenstein

Talking about Wittgenstein’s understanding of language as a description of fact that cannot begin to articulate questions of ethics or beauty brought us to how his contemporary Martin Heidegger dealt with these ideas with his notion of being. For Heidegger, the ability for deep thinking or connections is initially only possible to the few and might be attributed to a kind of poetics, an idea in Heidegger I am still struggling with. In the following video Heidegger touches on these ideas as well as offering a refutation of Marx’s famous “call to action” in the 11 Theses of Feurerbach which highlights the centrality of interpretation (or hermeneutics) to his thinking.


Listening to Heidegger is kind of mind bending, and we began talking about this question of interpretation in Heidegger and how it informs Jacques Derrida’s philosophy, for just as Heidegger was a student of Nietzsche’s philosophy, Derrida was very much a student of Heidegger’s philosophy. We found an outtake from the documentary Derrida wherein the philosopher gives a really cogent and fascinating overview of the primary inquiries that drive his thinking, and the impact of Heidegger’s ideas on his thought.


And as an added bonus, here is a fascinating discussion of the violence of overly generalized categorization (much of what I am doing here mind you 🙂 ) as it pertains to the common distinctions between humans and animals.

Derrida On Animals

Now as we rounded of this fascinating trace of ideas through YouTube, we got to talking about the value of such resources, and whether or not returning to the actual texts is the only way to truly appreciate what was written. I don’t disagree with that logic, and a sustained and rigorous focus on a difficult text is both important and rewarding. Yet, at the same time, it is amazing to me how much you can get through a series of connections on YouTube to push you to re-visit these thinkers, here the ideas in their own words, and re-invigorate you desire to continue thinking and reading about their ideas.

I don’t believe this “new media” has taken away our ability to read more deeply or take the time to imagine complex ideas. Rather than being fiats of technological fate, I think the responsibility remains at the root of one’s willingness to seek out these connections, spend time thinking about them, and re-committing the time, energy, and intellectual labor to working through these ideas. Education is about lighting a fire, not filling a pail (to misquote Lord Byron), classes can do that, good company can do that, a brilliant special lady friend can do that, and a shared object of desire afforded by something like YouTube can make the experience that much richer.

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11 Responses to Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein and other philosophers on YouTube

  1. Sue says:

    New media is definitely a realm that serves creative exploration rather than simply fostering white noise as many seem to imagine it.

    And an exchange of YouTube excerpts with its own textual commentary is a great reminder of the fact that the most creative thought within the Institution itself takes place not simply in the credit-bearing classroom but especially amidst informal reading groups, exchanges of writing between colleagues and classmates, and, as always, amidst the spontaneous inspiration of a coffee shop conversation…

  2. Scott Leslie says:

    Wonderful Jim, thanks. Great way to spend an hour of my Saturday.

    Tools. Use. Design. Function. Intent. Instrumentality. Desire. Being. I spent 20 years of my life chasing these three (Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida) down the rabbit holes of these words and others. And, who am I kidding, still do.

    But also don’t. Also put one foot in front of the other and just walk. Choose not to become food for the other animals, at least not yet. Turn dread into focused action. Or sit there, very still, until, out of time, the other finally speaks up (or maybe just become able to hear it).

    There’s a lot of ways to pursue the line you tease out here. This is one I’ve become interested in investigating. But then, like I said, so is just sitting there. Or, as Neil once sang “Sooner or later, it all gets real, walk on.” –

  3. lucychili says:

    copyright fragmenting our discourse. imho we need other ways to value than to suck the cultural infrastructure from underneath the thinking and debate of the current day.

  4. Jim says:


    I couldn’t agree more with your following comment:

    …the most creative thought within the Institution itself takes place not simply in the credit-bearing classroom but especially amidst informal reading groups, exchanges of writing between colleagues and classmates, and, as always, amidst the spontaneous inspiration of a coffee shop conversation…

    I think this is the most exciting part of these tools when it comes to “education.” And while I still remain somewhat conservative in thinking the classroom will never be irrelevant, I do think recognizing how these ideas circulate in a far wider range of spaces, gatherings, and moments of intellectual intimacy is crucial to higher education’s continued relevance –for the ways in which we can get open and free course resources has changed to such a degree that the spaces for those exchanges might me re-imagined. What if universities focused more on design and the creation of public spaces for discourse and performance rather than isolated classrooms. How different might the dynamics of a campus be?


    I hear you loud and clear on the rabbit holes. And what is funny for me is that when in grad school I was petrified of all this stuff because of the idea that you had to know, and if you didn’t you were somehow an impostor. And while I enjoyed thinking about the stuff, the ways some of these theorists were thrown around seemed to make very little sense in relationship to literary studies.

    That said, once done with that, I have found it easier to think about this stuff and explore it when the notion catches me, without some feeling that I must understand it, explain it, and illustrate some kind of mastery.

    The idea of negative theology is fascinating. And it becomes pretty mind-blowing to me just how many ideas and tributaries of his own thought Derrida was involved in. The more I look into his stuff, the more I am deeply impressed with his intense range of thinking. I’m bummed the Neil link is throwing an “Internal Server Error,” for I love it when you guys introduce the greatest Canadian philosopher to these discussions 🙂

  5. Reverend says:


    I don;t see this copyright fragmenting as separate from the cultural discourse we are currently engaged in, in fact it is an integral part of it. The fact that we don’t have the same kind of access to these hinkers and their ideas online is of key importance to how we move forward, and fragmentation is, interestingly enough, one of the predominant stylistic and formal elements of 20th century art and literature. More there me a reason for this? Might the fact that we have to scavenge for intellectual materials as if we were playing a part in “The Road Warrior” relevant to the debate of the current day? As much as I understand the limits of YouTUbe, I can;t help but think there are few is any better and more powerful intellectual resources for our moment. There, I said it 🙂

  6. lucychili says:

    I guess I think that we are living large on a land which is changing as a result. And that we are playing games with access to ideas and information in order to satisfy individual ideas about personal value at the expense of our global understanding of responsibility and custodianship. We need a different model for managing value which does not fragment what we are trying to learn from each other. imho. =)

  7. Reverend says:


    I agree with you to a large extent. Yet, I’m not sure how to take the following idea:

    And that we are playing games with access to ideas and information in order to satisfy individual ideas about personal value at the expense of our global understanding of responsibility and custodianship.

    How is satisfying ideas about personal value by playing games, given the limited access we have, a problem of the individual? When it comes to ideas, can we distinguish our notions of value and what’s right from a personal interpretation? Can an individual truly think the global space? How does our mind scale to see the implications of our actions as if we were looking at ourselves from an almost objective perspective?

    I think the idea of global understanding and responsibility in many ways is born of individual ideas and personal value shared out with one another. How else could we possibly begin to approach any idea of thinking globally, even though the idea of thinking/understanding globally is, i my opinion, an impossibility if we were to really dissect what that means. Playing games with the access we currently have is in some ways a matter of getting at meaning, and engaging in a far more localized custodianship of ideas.

    That said, I do agree we need a different model for value, especially when the logic for value as it predominates today is basically one dictated by ownership and property. And I think your focus on the term value is essential here, you pinpoint the operative term in an entire industry of thinking, teaching, and learning beautifully. I just don’t know how we globalize such a value? It seems by its very nature, once divorced from the economic model that has accomplished this so far, to be far richer in its individualized and personal traces of difference between thoughts, rather than some grafted notion of a global understanding of responsibility. Who are we collectively responsible to? Why? Each other? Maybe, but the value in that is the nuanced beauties of the differences, rather than a overarching vision of value as a model for responsibility.

    I’m sure by this point I am mis-reading your original idea, but it has been fun to riff off regardless, let me know where and when I went off the tracks 🙂

  8. lucychili says:

    Not sure about the tracks myself. =)
    Ive been thinking in the comments of a few blogs about some ideas which feel like they fit together.

    – Systems of value which are able to recognise diverse value and the value of aggregate diversity rather than monopoly or monoculture value of 1 product or concept at scale. Instead of asking ‘does it scale’ perhaps recognising that the earth does not scale and that the richness is not a function of volume but a function of itneractive diversity and equilibrium.

    – Carse’s infintie and finite games. I see infinite game as the participation in ongoing ecology, keeping things in play.

    – From your blog, Derrida’s comments on animals and value feel like they fit into this kind of reframing of value.

    – A starting assumption that custodianship of a finite and diverse ecology is the ultimate value and that our economics should further our capacity to reflect that outcome in our social and economic practice.

    This kind of goal and open recognition of our role as animals which have assumed right of way at the expense of equilibrium and understanding of context is what is missing in copyright.
    Copyright is value as expressed by an industrial model with a single source and destination for value. Even between multiple participants or authors in a work there is contention when using this model.

    In the use of information for society and ecological and cultural purposes I think copyright is increasingly expressed as disfunction. Perhaps there is only a culture of 12bar blues because the people who shared it as culture did not think of the pattern as property. If the blues emerged today what would happen with it? If the sonnet happened today would it be culture or property?

    This perhaps is a small question if it is just about different modes of developing and earning from culture, but copyright and patents also scope and fence our capacity to understand scientific and medical progress and information.

    We are working with a feudal centralised abstracted value system. We are living in an ecology which needs us to think in ways which comprehend fingertip value and situated diversity. Currently ecology is giving way. This is expensive. imho. j

  9. Scott Leslie says:

    The Neil link should be

    I think the way you investigate these things now, in the context of your work and life. “when the notion catches you” is SO much more interesting and valuable than taking apart some text in grad school for purely academic show. Keep it up. I know I can’t stop, though I don’t know if I have the stamina to blog about it as much or as well as you’ve been doing. I truly appreciate you learning in public the way you do.

  10. Reverend says:


    Thanks Scott, I love you man! As Mike Yanagita would say: “You’re such a super lady.” 🙂


    Your final paragraph nails it, in my opinion:

    We are working with a feudal centralised abstracted value system. We are living in an ecology which needs us to think in ways which comprehend fingertip value and situated diversity. Currently ecology is giving way. This is expensive.

    The questions of value, distinction, and categorization that you are suggesting here are really starting to blur into my reading of Capital by Marx. It is trippy how much of what you say here kind of evokes a materialism beyond the strict questions of labor, but very much along the lines of a tactile diversity. This is interesting to me, because I haven’t read more than a chapter into Capital, but the question of value as an abstraction that is itself diverse and multivalent seems to come back to the points you have been making in the comments here and elsewhere for a while.

    You’re a systemic thinker, which is wi9ld, because while reading Marx I was remarking how much of our thinking has become so specific to a moment or an idea, without the ability to trace complexity and some kind of abstract scale to its roots. I think, and correct me if I am wrong, that’s what you are doing. It’s intriguing and exciting.

  11. lucychili says:

    These ideas feel self evident and pivotal as a learning we need to do as a species; that we have bought our scale by being oblivious to the sustainability that traditional cultures observed because they worked to a pattern within a specific ecology.

    We scale by ignoring damage and fencing it away from the value proposition.

    It reminds me of the manamana muppet song.
    where there is a rhythm for things
    and one muppet gets a bit engrossed in a riff. wakes up to context
    and then rejoins the rhythm.

    The infinite game is about learning to riff within rhythm. imho j

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