Michael Maranda



review of Wittgenstein’s Corrections
Espace, 68 (Summer 2004), pp 45
Yam Lau

In the preface to the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Wittgenstein stated that the “whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass into silence.” Thus the aim of the Tractatus is to draw a limit to the expressions of thought, which lies within language.

Yet the question of silence is not unequivocal in the different phases of Wittgenstein’s thinking. The early Wittgenstein approaches silence by dropping away most of the world, while the late Wittgenstein seems to have dissolved this question into our everyday usage of language. One way or another, the different senses of silence delimited by the philosopher are specifically tied to his approaches and conceptions of language.

Surely, the above quoted statement from the Tractatus is of philosophical as well as poetic interest. In either register, one cannot help but attempt to picture silence. In general, the question of silence is tied to the specific way we run up against tech limit of language, or in the case of the visual, the limit of representation. Hence, silence has different senses in tech realms of philosophy, poetry and in the visual arts.

Michael Maranda’s recent bookwork, entitled Wittgenstein’s Corrections, leads me to ponder these different senses of silences. Wittgenstein’s Corrections is not so much a philosophical work as it is a poetical and visual one. It is based on a facsimile edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s manuscript for the Tractatus. It reproduces the handwriting of the philosopher, the numbering system that orders tech propositions and the corrections that Wittgenstein made throughout the book. However, it leaves out the propositions themselves. There is no preface, indeed no writing by Maranda himself in this bookwork. Most of the pages are almost blank.

Wittgenstein’s Corrections is not discursive; it is expressive. It does not deal with the ideas of Wittgenstein directly. Wittgenstein, a thinker to whom the question of the inexpressible is of paramount importance, is invoked almost as a framing device, in order to bracket, puncture, and thus give sense to the blankness of the nearly-white pages. Such a move impregnates tech blankness of the pages, giving blankness a minimum determination and point of reference, so that we may ponder its nuances and significances fully. I imagine the process of removing the Tractatus’ propositions while keeping its corrections to be painstakingly laborious. The result, I believe, works to distance Wittgenstein from himself in order to allow for the appearance — a presentation of blankness — of the inexpressible. As Wittgenstein once remarked, what cannot be said can be shown.

I would say the beauty of Wittgenstein’s Corrections lies in the way that it attempts, in the spirit and economy that I characterize as Wittgensteinian, to embody a central preoccupation of the philosopher in the form of an artist’s bookwork. It makes palpable the senses of silence. Hence, this bookwork is consistent with the spirituality of Wittgenstein; it is of one and same breath with his sensibility.

A Thing about Books:
What happens when you strip a handwritten manuscript of everything but the famous author’s corrections? Toronto artist Michael Maranda decided to find out
The Globe and Mail (8 November 2004), pp R1, R4
Kevin Temple

One look around artist Michael Maranda’s basement studio on the edge of Toronto’s Queen West gallery district reveals a lair of eclectic curiosity. There are drawings in progress, a machine for typing braille and a half-built harpsichord in the corner. We sit down at a modest antique table. “I have,” he says, “a thing for tables.” He also has a thing for books.

Maranda's recently released Wittgenstein’s Corrections, co-published by Silent Press and Burning Books, overtly modifies a handwritten first draft of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophic us, and coincides with the publication of another fascinating “book work” by Canadian artist Daniel Olson: a “reconstitution” of H. G. Wells’s famous The Outline of History.

Both artists have deleted specific selections of text in existing books, altering them to tease out a new perspective. Although the two pieces take the form of books and are published in limited editions, they remain more works of art than literature. The medium is the mirage, not the message.

Curiously, while Maranda and Olson share a mutual respect for each other’s work, they stumbled upon their methods separately and it is happenstance that these works have been released within weeks of each other.

In the past century, many artists turned to books as a means of artistic expression. Italian futurist F. T. Marinetti produced a fine example in 1932, filling the pages of his Futurist Cookbook with recipes for inedible metallic things.

The idea of manipulating existing books, however, took a little longer to surface. In 1964, George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus art movement, produced The Encyclodpaedia of World Art. On the shelf, it appears as a portentous volume, but open it up and you find the Manhattan phonebook in disguise.

Despite the ubiquity of books, we tend to make then into fetish objects. And it is precisely such a fetish that led both Maranda and Olson to mess with books.

Olson, dividing his time between Toronto and Montreal, has made numerous books (among other things). He once reproduced a version of the King James Bible, erasing all the text except for the italicized words.

When Olson found a copy of Wells’s 1920 The Outline of History in a church bazaar, he knew it was the perfect candidate for examining his latest fascination: the seemingly arbitrary decisions involved in creating an index for a book. To illuminate the practice, he stripped all the text from each of its 1,200 pages, leaving only the words from the index that correspond to each page. The result, as Olson points out, reads like an “epic exercise in name dropping.”

Thus on page 789, where Wells expounds upon the Renaissance, the only words left are: “Lucrezia Borgia; Medici family; papacy; character of a prince; Machiavelli’s prince; Piero Soderini; written word.”

Without the narrative, history becomes a series of names and subject headings. After leafing through the work for a while, the historical figures appear innocent in the absence of their deeds, while history disappears in silence.

Maranda’s interest in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus stems from another quietude, mentioned in the books last proposition: “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence.” In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein lays out the foundations of logic in a whole slew of carefully organised propositions.

The main thrust of the Tractatus is to identify the limits of factual knowledge, but for Wittgenstein the very fact that ethics cannot be reduced to facts carries far more importance.

The artist’s work seems to echo the philosopher’s concern. In Wittgenstein’s Corrections, Maranda erased all the handwritten text except the mistakes, scribbles a and the numbering of Wittgenstein’s propositions. But this apparent attack on the Tractatus is actually more of an ode to Wittgenstein.

Page by page, seeing the errors in lieu of the actual text reveals a mind obsessed with precision. Emphasizing Wittgenstein’s mistakes could come across as a practical joke, but for Maranda, the crucial observation to be gleaned from his version is how few corrections there are in the first draft of an unspeakable complex philosophical treatise. Equally impressive is the fact that Wittgenstein wrote it while slogging through the trenches on the Russian front during the First World War.

As I marvel in Maranda’s studio at his reproduction of the Tractatus, he gingerly pulls out and opens a suitcase. Inside is a huge and beautifully handbound edition of his Wittgenstein’s Corrections, with each page of the manuscript enlarged on thick paper.

Maranda quietly admits that, yes, along with his “thing for tables,” he also has a bit of a book fetish. Perhaps for artists like Olson and Maranda, book works are an opportunity to encourage their obsessions, bit more than that, they expose the very nature of the book as technology, as a compendium of imperfect thoughts that, despite its flaws, still has an appeal over the flashing and blinking cursor of modernity.

Special to the Globe.