Our investigation is an example of a method that can be practiced elsewhere. It treats primarily of the ‘philosophical’ work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), whose thought is often deemed the most important since Immanuel Kant. Though the question of his so-called ‘postmodernity’ is still up for debate, his work is generally regarded as uniquely incommensurable with the 20th Century ‘continental’ philosophical movements; in particular, he would almost never be thought compatible with the often celebrated, often viciously derided ‘post/structuralist’ philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). The thrust of this work seeks to challenge that, as something of a supplementary re-imagining of the positioning between Wittgenstein and Derrida in Henry Staten’s Wittgenstein & Derrida (1984), Newton Garver and Seung-Chong Lee’s Derrida & Wittgenstein (1994), Simon Glendinning’s On Being With Others: Heidegger–Wittgenstein–Derrida (1998), and Samuel C. Wheeler III’s Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy (2000). Significantly, we choose not to read Wittgenstein in terms of the dominant interpretations of his work c. 1950-2000, but to follow Gordon Baker’s call to ‘start from scratch’; and in Derrida’s case, not to read him with the famous emphasis on ‘deconstruction’ so much as within the lens of Gregory Ulmer’s fascinating reappraisal of Derridean ‘grammatology’ in Applied Grammatology (1985) and its succeeding works.

The Wittgensteinian and Derridean projects converge in terms of a particular impulse which drives their respective works: generally called ‘therapeutic’ in the former (not to be mistaken for Alain Badiou’s 2009 interpretation of it as ‘Antiphilosophy’) and ‘deconstructive’ in the latter. In Wittgenstein’s work, the target of this motivation is “a kind of idol worship”, namely what now gets called ‘Scientism’ and the fact that the so- called “certitude” of Science and Mathematics “looks incontrovertible”, insofar as it is based on an axiomatic conception of Knowledge which “adds one construction to another, moving on and up, as it were, from one stage to the next”. Derrida seeks to promote “an intrascientific and epistemological liberation”, “an exercise that precedes any reading, any reflection, and any writing”, a method of appraising the interpretive-reflective situation without jumping to conclusions all-too-quickly (Paper Machine (143)). We can show that the opinion that their work is ‘incommensurable’ derives from the confusion surrounding the fact that these thinkers both describe the possibilities and impossibilities of commensurability and measurement in general, before such distinctions are made.

Though it is his contribution to the philosophy of language and especially of mind that is so celebrated, much of what Wittgenstein’s 40-odd years of ‘philosophical’ work were interrogating were the human faculties of picturing, imagination, conceptual schemas and representation (etc.)––especially in connection to the customary language(s) of science, philosophy and everyday life. He investigated the “forms of expression” we use. Late in life he would say that this method yields the descriptive “morphology of the use of an expression”, centrally of those common words and phrases which produce “mental cramps” wherein “one feels forced to look at a certain concept in a certain way” and in no other. “I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought,” he said in one 1947 lecture. “You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities.” Our investigation illustrates portions of how this ‘morphological’ strategy develops out of his dynamic conception of “grammatical space” and “place”; a persistent use of spatio-geometrical examples; an incessant interest in attaining “clarity” over knowledge; a consistently imagistic and “picture” focused language and conceptuality (related to Wittgenstein’s work in engineering, architecture and design, as well as art, mathematics, music and religion); and a lifelong engagement in questions of genius and of culture, i.e. in the arts and sciences in general. This must be recognized as entirely distinct from the “morphology” developed by the Hegelian linguist August Schleicher as well as from the linguistic “morphological typology” developed by Friedrich and August von Schlegel brothers. The name “morphology” was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s coinage, passed down to Wittgenstein through the work of Oswald Spengler, his off-and-on colleague Friedrich Waismann, and/or Goethe himself. Investigating this, we introduce the famous list of the ten thinkers whom “influenced” Wittgenstein–– focusing on Spengler, Bertrand Russell, Otto Weininger, Heinrich Hertz, and Ludwig Boltzmann. This ‘influence’ is thought in combination with Wittgenstein’s own characterization of “my originality” as that of ‘seeds’ and ‘soil’ (“Jewish reproductive thinking”), the model of which is Sigmund Freud’s adoption of Josef Breuer’s insights. “Sow a seed in my soil & it will grow differently than it would in any other soil”.

The fashion of this growth is evident in the biographical Wittgenstein’s intellectual development. Born to a set of distinctly Viennese tensions between ideological conformance and spirited independence, he moved from engineering to the foundations of logic to a vast cultural terrain which emphasizes intellectual honesty and conscious awareness of our practices of judgement. He learns to lead his readers away from the misleading, fostering new techniques and skills (e.g., in recognizing when the pictures we make or the calibrations we place upon things do or do not fit; of comparing people and their concepts; dissolving the anxieties of those beset by “philosophical superlatives” or “super expressions”). This, I want to say, comes out most well in his 1937 lectures on Aesthetics, the contemporaneous writings in the Philosophical Investigations, and in the scattered remarks throughout his writings which deal with the foundations of modern mathematical and geometrical practices––especially in comparison to Spengler’s Goethean-Nietzschean call for “a morphology of the exact sciences” based on the rationale behind those sections of The Decline of the West which describe the world-historical morphology of Geometry, “the art of measuring”.

By chance Husserl and Derrida also use the word “morphology” when writing about the history of Western mathematico-geometric ideality in Husserl’s Origin of Geometry and Derrida’s Introduction to it. For both of them the “morphological” was thought to be the equivalent of what they called the “pregeometrical”, the possibility and “ground” from which the traditional (e.g., Euclidean) geometry we inherited was born. Husserl’s “protogeometer” uses “imaginative-sensible ideality”––a conceptuality which borrows from source material as supposedly disparate as the models of scientific inquiry and the styles of art and poetry––to open up the field for “protoidealities”, “morphological concepts” and “vague configurational types”. These provide for a technique of liberated “concept-formation” where images are playfully transformed within one’s imagination so as to get an eye for the historical scene in which formal-eidetic judgements, comparisons, typologies and distinctions occur in the first place. This morphological stage is “occasionally profound and creative”, and in Husserl and Derrida it provides for descriptive approaches for speaking about things as everyday as “roundness” to things as philosophically niche as Husserlian “sedimentation”. Especially in light of the Derridean contribution––which already in 1962 ‘deconstructively’ broaches the upshots of ambiguity, plurivocity and plurality which Husserl excludes from his phenomenology––together they extend the tradition of Western philosophical and scientific conceptualities beyond those of “ready-made” ideals (e.g., purity, exactness), “those narrow possibilities” which beleaguer not only traditional thinkers but that ‘other’, more audacious perspective which seeks to develop broader and more creative possibilities in methodological schema- and concept-formulation.

It is thought that if one used Wittgenstein’s methodological “soil” and the Husserlian-Derridean ‘pregeometrical ground’ as the models for a kind of morphological thinking, he or she could learn to accomplish at least five things: 1) to develop comparative techniques for showing that more than one picture or form of expression can be useful or well-justified (Wittgensteinian therapy), 2) to learn to recognize new or more useful aspects, measurements, images, models, etc. which one might variously borrow from or apply, 3) to more or less “invent” nascent morphologies, geometries, and other primarily descriptive techniques of ‘attaining clarity’, 4) to describe these kinds of maneuvers in the first place, 5) to apply this freedom of thought to other, non-philosophical disciplines, e.g. the movement within architectural theory and practice which promotes innovative forms of diagrammatic (and perhaps someday dia-grammatological) thinking.

The recent developments in this field of conceptual research predominantly rests upon the ‘radical’ philosophical work of C. S. Pierce, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. What this investigation attempts to provide is a different ‘basis’, so to speak, that of a kind of profoundly creative freedom which was well characterized in Gordon Baker when he wrote that “We have constant need of freedom from being tied down to too limited a morphology of the uses of language; freedom to look at things differently; ... freedom to distinguish concepts; ... ”––or in Derrida, where it is the freedom to “invoke a return to a prescientific or infra-philosophic form of discourse” that is sought, as an out-maneuvering of the “incompetence of science which is also the incompetence of philosophy, the closure of the epistémè” (Of Grammatology 93). “A grammatology may be surmised through the wealth and novelty of information, as well as through the treatment of this information, even if, in these pioneering works, the conceptualization often falls short of a bold and confident thrust” (83). 


Preface to my manuscript:

This investigation commences a project that really began four years ago as a defensive knee-jerk reaction against the prejudicial disdain many people I knew at the time held for the study of “philosophy”. Specifically, this undertaking began as something of an apology for what others saw as a teenager’s specious and speculative fascination without broad application, a lapse into the supposedly blind ideological comforts so many college freshmen discover for themselves in characters like Marx and Nietzsche. “Go towards the sciences,” they said. “Stop being so afraid of mathematics. You’ll need it soon enough anyway.” And so I tried to ground the value of Marx in purely economic terms (a ‘harder’ discipline), or to think through Nietzsche on a legal and historical basis, without what gets characterized as mere free-association or ideational jabber. Somewhat by accident, and by betraying the goals of my broader studies (which had less to do with virulent social rhetoric than the question, ‘How does one learn?’), I found myself committed to taking up Nietzsche’s case as his self-appointed lawyer in his not-quite-so-imaginary trial. I put together not one but two pleas, both inadequate, against the charge that Nietzsche was a pessimistic author, a nihilistic and a racist and an anti-Semite––and an insane syphilitic to boot!
    Here I was at the age of 19 already tucked into a niche, entertaining the fantasy that some intellectual historian or biographer might find my work useful to some end. I could, I found, easily type up a proper body of work on the subject. Moreover, I could do it well; but only after moving away from this task did I truly start thinking––(for the first time in words, all of a sudden, during a production of Wagner’s Siegfried)––and seeing what it was I could do. Ultimately, it took almost two whole years to understand what Nietzsche was up to, and then another complete two years to learn how to faithfully follow Wittgenstein. Another two overlapping years were devoted to Derrida (who made me thank the further years I’d spent working diligently, if immaturely, from the pre-Socratics to Heidegger), grounded in a constant engagement in studying art and architectural history from its ancient roots to its contemporary foundations. By the time I arrived in Oxford in the Fall of 2012 I could finally start to envision and articulate the contours of a more or less distinct intellectual tradition, threads of thought centered around themes I felt get all-too-easily subsumed by certain orthodox readings of the history of art and philosophy. My conviction was that if one took up the somewhat unlikely position, for instance, of thinking Wittgenstein and Derrida together instead of as separate and conflicting strands of Western thought… well, one had an exceedingly interesting way of looking at things––and indeed, perhaps even a fruitful one, the kind the art historian Colin Rowe calls “the true Survival Through Design”.  I simply want to expand on the illimitable potential of their resonance.