I have set myself an improbable goal for next year: My New Year resolution is to prove Ludwig Wittgenstein wrong. The first time that I’ve read Wittgenstein’s only book published during his lifetime, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1918) (TLP), I was in my last year of high school, preparing to go abroad for my studies.
By Berke Alikaşifoğlu
At first, TLP was just a complicated logic book with the goal of “setting limits to natural science (TLP, statement 4.113)” using philosophy, written by a slightly deranged man on the fronts of World War I to soothe himself. He wrote this book for those “who (…) already had the thoughts that are expressed” in it. Come on now, Ludwig, no one is as mad as you were to think about these stuff… I mean, the book’s first sentence is “The world is all that is the case” for God’s sake! TLP, for those who haven’t got the “chance” to suffer from it, is composed only of seven statements bearing endless sub-statements. It is a weird torture of 89 pages, one that you learn to love eventually. And once you grasp it, you can never let go. This, my friends, is my New Year resolution: I will prove you wrong, Ludwig, and I will let go of you!
“What are you talking about, Berke?” I hear you say. “Who is this Wittgenstein dude you are talking about?” Well, it might actually be better for you not to know much about him. Wittgenstein is the friend that your parents told you to stay away from, the one who offers you drugs and make you feel dizzy and depressed. Only, his drug is not physical. His drug is his words, his 7 sentences that sum up the world. TLP is an outcry of a man who realized that all was born from language, and that all ends with it.
While his main goal was to distinguish what is natural science and what is not by defining it in a sphere of logic/illogic, he used language to explain this, and found out one of the most important conclusions in the history of humanity: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (5.6)”
It takes Wittgenstein 68 pages to get to this sentence, and since it’s a book of logic, every statement and sub-statement of his are somehow in a certain continuity. For the sake of length, I will try to cut short on how he get here and focus more on what does he mean. For fans of the TV show Modern Family out there, this single image of the lovely Sofía Vergara should be enough to see what Wittgenstein means:
As funny as Vergara’s character Gloria Pritchett is, it is also the voice of a lot of the students in our campus, and millions all over the world who don’t use their mother tongue in their daily life. Gloria’s comic relief has always been her lack of fluency in English as she makes errors that put her in a funny situation where she’s either misunderstood or not understood at all. Gloria’s world in the Pritchett family is limited to her capabilities in the English language.
Of course, Wittgenstein didn’t have Mrs Pritchett in mind when he wrote TLP. His concept of “world” was philosophical; he simply wanted to show that humans needed language to translate what they mean into words, in order to communicate them to others. And only can they do that by knowing those words. So, the language that one is born into draws the limits of one’s world. To concretize things in a way that Witto here would have never appreciated: If you are thinking of an object, say a book, but you have never known the noun, you cannot make it a part of your world. “We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either” (5.61). Humans, who take pride in distinguishing themselves from animals by the way of complex communication, fail to actually communicate sometimes. And that precisely brings me to my point: In an environment where I have to speak in my second and third language all the time, I occasionally feel like my world gets limited. Phew, feels good to say that!
I know that learning a new language brings up countless amounts of worlds and all, and I completely agree with that. Since I started learning English and French –even Arabic!-, new doors have been opened up in front of me. I tasted the joy of reading great classics in their own languages, and listened to Pokémon’s theme song in Arabic, and I’m grateful. But limitations often start in expression, written or oral. Simply put, I can’t find my words. Again, this is an oversimplification to prove a point, Wittgenstein would kill me.
So back to my çözüm, my resolution. I will beat Wittgenstein. My philosophy teacher once told me the difference between speaking a language, and knowing it. Knowing a language is hard, it requires you to breach the limits that you yourself had put into it –let alone its natural limits. Natural limits of a language can’t be broken if you’re not adding new words to it, and no; I’m not going to work in Academie française. My New Year goal is to simply extend my limits, by reading, watching and conversing more. I want to break the language barrier, at least I will try to. We, the foreigners, have to see this as an opportunity and not a curse. This year, I will jump over this barrier and widen my world. I will be as smart in English and French as I am in Turkish!
Utilizing his wits and writing skills to give voice to the diverse mentonese Ummah,Berke can express himself in three and-a-halflanguages. Although he admits that his red, thick and gorgeous beard is a vital part of his charm, he doesn’t like to be reduced to only his facial hair. He can rock a beanie like no other and rumor has it, that he is the reincarnation of the great pirate Barbarossa, exploring the Mediterranean, and discovering new horizons.
Berke’s passion for music is a driving force in his life, and please don’t talk to him if you don’t like Pearl Jam. His heart can be won by nuanced talks on Kurdish regional politics, anything Marvel or DC.
Berke is single and he resides in rue longue and his door is always open for those who seek intellectual conversations and intoxicated company.