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Wittgenstein and Modernism$
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Michael LeMahieu and Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226420370

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226420547.001.0001

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Lectures on Ethics: Wittgenstein and Kafka

Lectures on Ethics: Wittgenstein and Kafka

(p.206) 10 Lectures on Ethics: Wittgenstein and Kafka
Wittgenstein and Modernism

Yi-Ping Ong

University of Chicago Press

Establishing the affinities between Wittgenstein’s “A Lecture on Ethics” and Kafka’s fictional lecture on ethics, “A Report for an Academy,” Ong examines the ethical dimensions of the their exploration of the limits of language; the mystery of ordinary life; and the relation between the corporeal and the spiritual. “My whole tendency and…the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language,” declares Wittgenstein in “A Lecture on Ethics.” The possibility or impossibility of lecturing, teaching, documenting, and establishing something are all related to the form of Wittgenstein’s text and to the question it raises: what is at stake in our desire to speak meaningfully about ethics? “A Report for an Academy” is also concerned with the attempt to instruct an audience in a language that cannot express what one most wants to say. Why, and how, is this experience bound up with the ethical dimensions of existence? To lecture on ethics, both Wittgenstein and Kafka suggest, is to risk unintelligibility and to desire a kind of understanding from others that is thwarted or denied.

Keywords:   Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “A Lecture on Ethics”, Franz Kafka, Report to an Academy, ethics, J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals, Primo Levi, Immanuel Kant

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