Book Reviews: Wittgenstein, Paul Strathern on Wittgenstein, Salinger, Gulley

Philosophical Investigations: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition Philosophical Investigations: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition by Ludwig Wittgenstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this for the second time two weeks ago, and I have been marinating in it since. Wittgenstein is one of those thinkers that you must chew very very slowly.

I fell in love with Wittgenstein in passing – it was purely accidental. He was mentioned as a mere footnote in a theology course, in a conversation about semiotics, Augustine, doctrine and Lindbeck. I wanted nothing to do with Lindbeck that particular day, so I decided to check out this Wittgenstein character.
Having motive and opportunity to do so, I followed the endnote like a key on a map and there in the back was rewarded for my efforts, for I found a quote which is one of his most well-known and most oft-cited. What Wittgenstein said which first alighted my heart was this:

What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.

This was relevant to the conversation that day in my class and also is relevant in my field of study (theology) especially, for we would-be theologians are very often in need of a reminder that God, while majestic beyond our comprehension, is preserved best when spoken of not ad nauseum but rather apophatically.

Wittgenstein is often said to be difficult, and in a way he is, because he is so straightforward, but he is mostly challenging because he pokes at all of the deposits that we have allowed to build up on the words which we rely on most heavily, which we should perhaps re-examine. Are they correct? Is there a correlation between what we say and what we intend to relate?

What is particularly frustrating to many about Philosophical Investigations is that Wittgenstein seems to have contradicted a great many things he said in the Tractatus. I don’t necessarily see these as outright contradictions at all. It is not uncommon to see modification and change through one’s opinion as they write, first and foremost. Personally I don’t consider that a weakness but a strength. Secondly, that this was put together posthumously should raise a flag that the redactor played a role here in that appearance of refutal to previous statements.

The most interesting concept he puts forth is that of the Beetle-in-the-Box, bringing into question the notion of private language, something that is still debated today: is there such a thing or no?

This book is a chore. If you get through it and you do not think so, do it again; you didn’t do it right. The same is true for the Tractatus. But like any worthwhile endeavor I cannot recommend it enough.

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Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes (Philosophers in 90 Minutes) Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good, solid introduction to Wittgenstein and who he was; what he said (or as the man himself would perhaps want us to focus on, what he did *not* say).
Strathern mentions, it seems, in every section that Wittgenstein wanted to kill himself not only frequently but with a deep, burning desire. We get it. The man was tortured; such is the nature of philosophers. I think of Wittgenstein on the fence between philosophers and linguists, as for me he has come into play most often in the importance of speaking apophatically. I’m a great admirer, and have been humbled a great many times not only of how little I understand not only of who or what Wittgenstein was, but who or what God is: I am shown this when I approach the brilliant, too few works of the man himself.

Strathern did a good job of an approachable, get-your-feet-wet summary of him, managing to show both some problems in his work but not downplaying his importance.

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The Catcher in the Rye The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I know that TCITR is on the contemporary canon of crap they make everybody read, but really, that little sociopath Holden really weirds me out.
I’m so glad that my older brother convinced me to read ‘Franny and Zooey’ (aprapos, no?) – which is about a much more complex duo, a brother and sister in a larger, charmingly dysfunctional family. The same family that are featured in Salinger’s short stories which some readers will remember from ‘Raise High the Roof Beam…’ and ‘Nine Stories.’

TCITR is what it is – it’s practically an archetype, and I’m not going to suggest that you not read it. You should if you are one of the three people that have yet to do so. However, should you have not enjoyed it when you were forced against your will to do so, read ‘Franny and Zooey,’ because it’s much better, by leaps and bounds. The characters are actually complex and endearing. They’re SOBs, but that isn’t *all* that they are.

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If God Is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World (Gulley, Philip) If God Is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World by Philip Gulley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars I read this book when I first entered my divinity school experience and thought the premise interesting but did not, by and large, accept the premise. I had hope for universal salvation, and had been thinking on these things largely because of my love for Origen, but still found this book largely unsettling yet extremely valuable because it was so very unsettling – what Gulley had said about the dichotomous way of thinking that many of us in the church are raised with is absolutely true. Now a few years later I came back to it, because I am no longer certain that there is a certainty of a hell, and even if there is something of a separation from God, it is not clear to me wherever anyone got the idea that this would be a pit of fire that God who so loves all of us would separate his loved ones from himself with. It has never made sense to me that the master artist would destroy his creations, humankind, who are said explicitly to share the imago dei. Gulley is careful and kind in pre-empting the most likely question to such a way of thinking, that if universal salvation is true that everyone can just act like a bunch of bastards here and now and not worry about it. This is not the case as Christians. Rather, we have to enlarge our understanding of love and ecumenism and perhaps re-examine and narrow our views on evangelism; those already in a faith, though it differs from ours, should not be targeted, he states (convincingly). View all my reviews >>

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