Wenn Wittgenstein erklaert, man solle nur das sagen, was sich klar sagen laesst, dann klingt das zwar sehr heroisch und hat womoeglich noch einen mystisch-existentiellen Oberton, der sehr erfolgreich an die Menschen in der gegenwaertigen Stimmung appelliert. Ich glaube aber, dass dieser beruehmte Satz Wittgensteins geistig von einer unbeschreiblichen Vulgaritaet ist, weil darin vorbeigesehen wird an dem, worauf es allein in der Philosophie ankommt: das ist genau das Paradox dieses Unterfangens, mit den Mitteln des Begriffs das zu sagen, was mit den Mittlen des Begriffs eigentlich nicht sich sagen laesst, das Unsagbare eigentlich doch zu sagen.
It no doubt sounds very heroic when Wittgenstein declares that one should say only that which can be said clearly. It also conveys a mystical-existential aura that many today find appealing. But I believe that this famous Wittgensteinian proposition is of an indescribable spiritual vulgarity inasmuch as it ignores the whole point of philosophy. It is precisely the paradox of this enterprise that it aims to say the unsayable, to express by means of concepts that which cannot be expressed by means of concepts. (tr. BV)
The proposition of Wittgenstein that Adorno finds indescribably vulgar is the one that ends the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen. "What one cannot speak about one must pass over in silence."
As I read Wittgenstein, this bifurcation of the Sayable and the Unsayable is the central negative theme of his thinking both early and late. Much in the Tractatus he came to abandon, but not this radical separation of the effable and the ineffable. That which can be said can be said clearly and meaningfully, and all the rest is Unsinn, nonsense, except that within the realm of the nonsensical is to be found all that is most important to us. Thus Wittgenstein is only superficially related to the (superficial) Logical Positivists. For the latter, nonsense is just nonsense and can be dismissed. For Wittgenstein, however, there is such a thing as important nonsense. In a November 1929 lecture, Wittgenstein said:
My whole tendency and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk on ethics or religion was to run against the boundaries of language. This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolutely valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.
Although I am very critical of Wittgenstein, I am also very critical of Adorno: they both go off the rails. But on the question of the crude dichotomizing of the Sayable and the Unsayable, I am with Adorno.
As the above quotation suggests, Wittgenstein thinks that language has fixed boundaries, that language is a cage in which we are imprisoned against the walls of which we run hopelessly. Words get what meaning they have from mundane contexts of use, and any extraordinary use of words, any analogical extensions of their meanings, or any alteration of their sense by their embedding in philosophical theories is branded as meaningless. But why should we acquiesce is this philistine refusal to go beyond ordinary usage?
After all, Wittgenstein himself never stopped scribbling, and what he scribbled does not count as ordinary language.
Adorno is right: to philosophize is to attempt to articulate something that is not articulated, or poorly articulated, something that may even in the end be inarticulable. The project is to say -- not the strictly Unsayable: here Adorno's formulation is needlessly paradoxical -- but the Unsaid. The project is to bring into the light the dimly discerned. One cannot do this without moving away from the particulars of ordinary usage.
For example, I want to know what it is for an individual to exist. If you ask what an individual is, I can give an example such as this table or that tree, but in the end the only way to clarify my use of 'individual' is by connecting it to other terms in a systematic theory, a theory in which the various terms acquire their meaning in part from their Stellenwert, their 'positional value.' Thus I say that an individual is an unrepeatable entity. From there I explain my use of 'entity' and 'unrepeatable' and 'repeatable,' and so on. In part what I am doing is creating a language in which to think thoughts that I could not think if I kept my nose to the grindstone of ordinary talk.
But why should I keep my nose to the grindstone of ordinary talk? Why should I be a philistine who refuses to philosophize? Why should I take Wittgenstein's quirky obsession with ordinary language seriously? Why should I pay attention to this vulgar engineer who "ignores the whole point of philosophy"?