Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Poetic Excess

Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Poetic Excess
Chris Oakey
In the Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein offers a new and intriguing
way of questioning the ‘meaning’ of language. What is meaningful, he posits, is really
quite a narrow band of language-use: language that is used between persons and
which is put towards purposive ends. Language, that is, whose linguistic materiality is
subsumed within the action that it is meant to perform. His own philosophical
language, however, language about language, is not ‘meaningful’ but rather
‘grammatical’, language concerned with what the forms of language itself make
possible for sense. Wittgenstein’s Investigations, in separating meaning (use) from
sense (grammatical possibility), opens up a new way of reading literature. That is,
reading not for the meaning or even the action of a particular work, but for the
grammatical possibilities of language, possibilities that become even more powerful
the more they break away from quotidian employment. This paper follows the
pioneering work of James Guetti to investigate the manner in which the rigorous
logical investigations of Wittgenstein can be turned towards those moments in poetic
texts that revel in grammatical excess, breakdown, and pure linguistic pleasure. It
examines the force and role of such moments in examples from the poetry of Wallace
Stevens, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.