Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary

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9780226660585: Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary

Marjorie Perloff, among our foremost critics of twentieth-century poetry, argues that Ludwig Wittgenstein provided writers with a radical new aesthetic, a key to recognizing the inescapable strangeness of ordinary language. Taking seriously Wittgenstein's remark that "philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry," Perloff begins by discussing Wittgenstein the "poet." What we learn is that the poetics of everyday life is anything but banal.

"This book has the lucidity and the intelligence we have come to expect from Marjorie Perloff.--Linda Munk, American Literature

"[Perloff] has brilliantly adapted Wittgenstein's conception of meaning and use to an analysis of contemporary language poetry."--Linda Voris, Boston Review

"Wittgenstein's Ladder offers significant insights into the current state of poetry, literature, and literary study. Perloff emphasizes the vitality of reading and thinking about poetry, and the absolute necessity of pushing against the boundaries that define and limit our worlds."--David Clippinger, Chicago Review

"Majorie Perloff has done more to illuminate our understanding of twentieth century poetic language than perhaps any other critic. . . . Entertaining, witty, and above all highly original."--Willard Bohn, Sub-Stance

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From the Back Cover:

Austere and uncompromising, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had no use for the avant-garde art works of his own time. He refused to formulate an aesthetic, declaring that one can no more define the "beautiful" than determine "what sort of coffee tastes good". And yet many of the writers of our time have understood, as academic theorists generally have not, that Wittgenstein is "their" philosopher. How do we resolve this paradox? Marjorie Perloff, our foremost critic of twentieth-century poetry, argues that Wittgenstein has provided writers with a radical new aesthetic, a key to recognizing the inescapable strangeness of ordinary language. Wittgenstein's ladder is an apt figure for this radical aesthetic, and not just in its ordinariness as an object. The movement "up" this ladder can never be more than what Wittgenstein's contemporary, Gertrude Stein, called "Beginning again and again". Wittgenstein shows us, too, that we cannot climb the same ladder twice: the use of language, the context in which words and sentences appear, defines their meaning, which changes with every repetition. Wittgenstein's aesthetic brooks no theory, no essentialism, no metalanguage - only a practice, a mode of operation, fragmentary and elliptical.

About the Author:

Marjorie Perloff is professor of English emerita at Stanford University and the Florence R. Scott Professor of English Emerita at the University of Southern California. She is the author of many books, including, most recently, Poetics in a New Key and Unoriginal Genius, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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