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.
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.