A Different Order of DifficultyLiterature after Wittgenstein

A Different Order of DifficultyLiterature after Wittgenstein

Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226677019

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

A Different Order of Difficulty recasts the significance of Wittgenstein's philosophy for studies in literary modernism (and vice versa), reading Kafka, Woolf, Joyce, and Coetzee within the framework of a study of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and still more broadly after Wittgenstein—in light of his contemporaneous writing and recent scholarly thinking about his philosophy. Zumhagen-Yekplé argues that looking at Wittgenstein’s project in relation to literary modernism deepens our understanding of both, demonstrating the power of his methods to awaken critics and philosophers alike to how twentieth-century literature and thought are crucially motivated by three shared interwoven core commitments. These central preoccupations, which go on to shape modernism’s afterlife in contemporary fiction, arise from an attachment to oblique ethical instruction, a yearning for transfigurative change, and to a spiritually and existentially demanding order of difficulty that exceeds the multiple intellectual challenges or calls for erudition the self-consciously crafted “Big Works” of high modernism also notoriously entail. Breaking with traditional conceptions of Wittgenstein’s work that obscure his fixation on these modernist concerns, Zumhagen-Yekplé makes a literary-critical contribution to the “resolute” program of Wittgenstein scholarship, reading the Tractatus not as the metaphysical theory it only appears to advance, but as a complex mock-theoretical, high-modernist puzzle. To look at Wittgenstein’s early text in this way is to see it as a formally revolutionary aesthetic medium for its author’s unorthodox brand of ethical instruction, crafted to engage readers in the therapeutic and transformative activity of clarification he saw as the true work of philosophy and literature.