Conference: Wittgenstein on the Literary, the Ethical, and the Unsayable (Chicago, June 2-4, 2011)

There will be a conference in Chicago next June that we are sure many of you will find of great interest. Below is the announcement posted on the Wittgenstein Workshop’s website (here):

Wittgenstein on the Literary, the Ethical, and the Unsayable

June 2-4, 2011

Literary examples surface in Wittgenstein’s writing especially in connection with the intertwined topics of “the ethical” and “the unsayable”. The range of works he singles out as furnishing exemplary expressions of ethical thought is itself quite striking, initially apparently resembling more a motley than a unitary category or form of literary work. The spectrum runs from Grimm’s fairy tales, through some of the highpoints of German poetry (from Goethe to Trakl) and the Russian novel (notably Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov), and even includes certain Hollywood Westerns. Wittgenstein seems to have admired the particular works he singles out in this connection, such as Tolstoy’s story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”, for being able to communicate their ethical or philosophical point while employing virtually no overtly ethical vocabulary. Conversely, it is precisely those of Tolstoy’s literary works which actively indulge in “ethical remarks” which Wittgenstein singles out for criticism. (Writing about his admiration for Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad, Wittgenstein says that Tolstoy impresses him far more in a work such as this, “when he turns his back to the reader” and just tells a story, than when he turns towards his reader and preaches at him, as, for example, in his novel Resurrection, which Wittgenstein deplored on these grounds.) In a related remark about Ludwig Uhland’s poem Graf Eberhards Weissdorn, Wittgenstein says, “If only you do not try to utter the unutterable then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be—unutterably—contained in what is uttered”.

This conference will be concerned to investigate passages such as these in Wittgenstein’s corpus, where he discusses specific works of literature, with an eye to exploring the following three questions: (1) How and to what extent do Wittgenstein’s discussions of them illuminate these particular literary works themselves?, (2) how might a proper understanding of Wittgenstein’s remarks about these works enable us to better understand his philosophy as a whole, and (3) what does Wittgenstein mean when he speaks of “the literary”, “the ethical”, and “the unsayable” and what is his understanding of how these are related?

The conference will have a workshop-format: all papers will be distributed in advance as PDF files and the conference itself will consist entirely of discussion of the work of our eight primary participants. One session will be devoted to each paper. Each session will begin with some opening remarks by the author of the paper immediately followed by an open discussion.

Primary Participants:

James Conant (University of Chicago)
Michael Fried (Johns Hopkins)
Martin Gustafsson (Åbo Academy)
Michael Kremer (University of Chicago)
Christoph König (Osnabrück)
Ray Monk (Southampton)
Jean-Philippe Narboux (University of Bordeux III)
Joachim Schulte (Zürich)
David Wellbery (University of Chicago)

This conference is jointly sponsored by the Wittgenstein Workshop, Department of Philosophy, the Department of Germanic Studies, and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on German Literature and Culture.

If you would like to be sent the papers, please contact Daniel Smyth (dsmyth at uchicago dot edu).

Conference Coordinator: Jim Conant
Student Coordinator: Daniel Smyth

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