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This article is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

Limits: Winters and Wittgenstein Dick Davis

YVOR WINTERS and Ludwig Wittgenstein are associated with a radical revaluation, and what seems to be a deliberate narrowing, of their respective disciplines-poetry and philosophy. Wittgenstein would, it seems, dismiss almost all metaphysics as mere syntactic confusion, and Winters attempts to narrow the field of acceptable poetry to a very small number of poets, mainly Jacobean and post-symbolist modern, dismissing as so much empty verbalizing the work of some of the most popular and, before Winters appeared, respected poets in English. In this essay I hope to show that the development of the philosopher and that of the poet were in some ways analogous, and that this deliberate 'narrowing' of their disciplines has similar causes, and is carried out in a similar spirit.

There are of course many differences between the two men, and I shall touch on these differences later, but I wish to concentrate for the moment on the similarities between them. First we may notice the profoundly serious attitude towards their disciplines held by both men; allied to this seriousness is a sense of going back to the origins of their craft, a refusal to take on trust the pronouncements of their predescessors. Apart from his adolescent study of Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein read very little philosophy: 'From Spinoza, Hume and Kant he said that he could get only occasional glimpses of understanding. I do not think that he could have enjoyed Aristotle or Leibniz, two great logicians before him . . .' (1) When he ...


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