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Ludwig`s Powdered Arrows

by Zettel 

Posted: 29 April 2016
Word Count: 156
Summary: Wittgenstein said that words acquire their meaning from the use to which they are put and often the same word(s) can have very different meanings: he called these different uses, purposes of language 'Language Games' In turn these 'games' acquire their purpose and meaning from the shared 'Form of Life' in which they are ‘played’. As much a puzzle as a poem

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Ludwig’s Powdered Arrows

What is a Language Game
Reserve that makes him shy
away from conflict
of interest
Compound and simple
minded approach to life
in the Old Dog still
waters run deep
and serious mind
the baby
of the family
resemblance between the cases
lost on the trip
over his words
of love
forty in the first game of the first set
the exam paper
over the problem
child of his time
waits for no man
the pumps
up the tire
of pointless rows
and rows of soldiers
on with determination
of the ship’s latitude
to implement the provisions
now running low
in the estimation
of the costs
the earth
wire is green
where cricket is played
the fish in a barrel
of laughs
the criticism off
and smelling high
wide and handsome
profit from the experience
is the teacher of all things
aren’t what they used to be
on top form
of life


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Comments by other Members

Cliff Hanger at 20:46 on 29 April 2016  Report this post
Hello Zettel

I'm a newby here and to poetry so my reactions are just that e.g. not from a particularly informed place.  When I first read your poem I found it puzzling indeed but it made me look up Wittgenstein and read about his philosophy so it did fall into place then.  The only thing I would say is that it isn't an easy read which I realise is probably the point but if you want people to read it you might need to ease them through it a touch.  Very smart and clever though.


Zettel at 00:02 on 01 May 2016  Report this post
Thanks for your efforts Cliff.

This can't be made easier to read - so that it flows like a regular poem.

However the pattern is simple enough:

Each line falls within a given context then the last word(s) lead us into the next line where the same word now is used in a different context and so on. Wittgenstein wouold call these different cotexts, use of language, Language Game. Thus:

L1 'Game' in the philosophical context
L2 'Game' switches to conservation 'Game Reserve' and ends ' as a personal quality of 'shyness'
L3 'Shy' switches as in avoiding 'conflict'
L4 'Conflict' switches to opposing 'interests'
L5 'Interest' switches to interest on deposited money Compound  and 'Simple' interest
L6 'Simple' switches to an innocent approach to 'life'
L7 'Life' switches as in the saying there is still csome vitality in the aged person

and so on.......

In general: to capture the Wittgensteinian philosophy: the mulitplicity of Language Games that give individual words and ideas their different meanings end in a reference to the 'Form of Life' which is the overall socio- cultural context within which all these Language Games are played. These Language Games and the words within them can occur in more than one cultural, form of life context overlapping in some ways but dsitinctly different in others. Imagine for example 'God', 'Heaven' religious duty, religious observance, religious practices as used within in turn Christianity, Islam and Judaism. we would have to look  within each of these 'forms of life' to note the differences of meaning each of these 'common' terms have in each one. We might find large overlaps or minor overlaps e.g. we might say 'prayer' is common to all 3 but when we look at  the ways this practice occurs and is observed; the expectations of the practice etc we find distinct differences and nuances of meaning. We will also find in these three cases a common historical narrative root but radically different interpretations of the meaning and significance of that narrative: thus 'Jesus' as a figure, acknowledged as having lived by all three; the significance of his life is fundamentally different in each case and these differences will emerge when we compare and contrast the role and signifiance of Jesus in the various language games, practices of the followers of each distinct faith. Such radical differences in use and therefore meaning of course take place in a shared, practical, day-to-day world where all the common. prosaic, practical everyday experiences of life - working, eating, parenting etc etc are entirely or almost entirely the 'same' and therefore represent 'shared' meaning.

The sharing of the common day-to-day experience of life as human beings per se, rather than the distinct and often conflicting experience as Jews. Muslims and Christians offers one of the many profound philosophical paradoxes off language - it provides the basis of our sharing the dangers and challenges of life as human beings - which unites us: but also the basis upon which distinctions and beliefs can be expressed that divide and separate us.

My little 'poem' isn't profound in these ways: but was written to illustrate a conceptual, philosophical distinction that makes these ideas clearer perhaps and underlines the complexities of arriving at accommodations betyween different way s of conceiving of the human condition and what is most important in living a human life within it




James Graham at 20:36 on 01 May 2016  Report this post
Thank you for this very clever and ingenious poem, Zettel. Your line-by-line explanation of the first few lines is hardly necessary; the penny soon drops as to what’s going on in the poem. What your explanation of Wittgenstein’s Language Games does is to show us that there’s an important concept underlying the poem; ideas that address what divides humanity and what potentially unites us.
words acquire their meaning from the use to which they are put and often the same word(s) can have very different meanings
When I was an English teacher I used to teach this – well below the level of Wittgenstein of course. 15-16 year-olds learned (well, some of them did) to give the meaning of a word in its context, and sometimes to write a sentence using the same word in a different context. They learned that meanings could diverge from those given in school dictionaries. One sentence I used to write on the blackboard was ‘He didn’t want that kiss’. Many sussed it because snooker on TV was very popular at the time, and they knew it meant the player didn’t want a ball to touch another ball and go off course. For those who didn’t get it, I explained. ‘Kiss’ in  particular, but the whole sentence, could be very puzzling to anyone who didn’t live within the snooker ‘form of life’ (if we can grace it with that name). I’m sure there were better examples, but that’s almost the only one I can remember.
In your poem, we have to read each phrase, then go back and read the last word again, following it into its new context, and so on. Each little fragment contains a surprising, even slightly disconcerting, switch from one context to another. We are flitting all over the place, e.g. from a boat taking on water (man the pumps) to a bicycle to ranks of soldiers to a ship’s latitude. I suppose some readers might not take to this, but for me it’s intellectual fun.
Another point. If this were written out in prose, something would be lost: the line-breaks which split each common phrase and so make it seem a little strange, hold it up to our attention as it were. As you know, this is an effect that line-breaks can often have.
There’s no need to revise the poem, unless you see something yourself that might be changed. The thing is, if you change one phrase everything else after it must change too! No, it’s done and dusted.
I’ll say it again: I really enjoyed the poem. Intellectual fun – a game in itself. At the same time the anarchy of it does illustrate the 'complexities of arriving at accommodations between different ways of conceiving of the human condition'.

stormbox at 22:12 on 01 May 2016  Report this post
This is great Zettel. It's like the very best of the Two Ronnies where they answer the question before last. It makes it very entertaining and stimulating to read. I stumbled over:

of the costs
the earth
wire is green

Until I had my Eureka moment (or maybe I'm just a bit slow), and realised it was electric earth not planet Earth!

Very clever, and educational reading up about Wittgenstein too. As James says, this one is "done and dusted".


Zettel at 23:03 on 02 May 2016  Report this post
Thank you James and David. Glad you enjoyed the fun of the poem.  I'm pleased James that you feel the line breaks work as I felt they did but wasn't entirely sure.

One of the special features of Wittgenstein's view of language is that it is at root a social, sharing phenomenon. As such it is also constantly evolving as our lives change and our responses to the world develop. The way that poetry 'works' with words and phrases resonating with an evocative multiplicity of possible meanings and nuances is very much in keeping with Wittgenstein's conception which is not as exclusively intellectual as might appear:

“The lesson in a poem is overstated, if the intellectual points are nakedly exposed, not clothed by the heart.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein




James Graham at 19:40 on 03 May 2016  Report this post
“The lesson in a poem is overstated, if the intellectual points are nakedly exposed, not clothed by the heart.”

A remarkable insight! This is the nature of poetry, at least one very important aspect of it. It's in statements like this that you recognise genius.


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