On Wittgenstein's Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough

Essay Excerpt

What, in the end, was deep in the magic of Frazer's primitives that also be- longed in metaphysics? It was the ethical depth of ritual. Ritual language games are comprehensible - their boundaries can be experienced. Yet they are sacred games because, occasioned by death or weather, they incline us to the boundaries of all experience, to unutterable limits. In ritual, being thrusts against language and so evokes the existence of language which, in its turn, evokes the miracle of existence itself. The living poetry of ritual re-members the universe and conjures up the common ground of magic and metaphysics. The beetle in the box is the world as a whole and the mute who confounded Carnap haunts all who take the linguistic turn: 

           For me the facts are unimportant. But what men mean when they say that 'The world is there" lies close to my heart. [1965:16]

(Zengotita, 397) 

About the Author

Thomas de Zengotita is a contributing editor at Harper's magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University. He blogs for the Huffington Post. His book Mediated, won the 2006 Marshall McLuhan Award for outstanding work on the media. Professor de Zengotita teaches the Draper seminars "Modernism and the Alienation of Form," "Heidegger and Wittgenstein," and "A History of Media Theory."

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