Wittgenstein summarizes Chesterton

From Philosophical Investigations.


The aspect of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.  (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all.  Unless that fact has at some time struck him. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.


One thought on “Wittgenstein summarizes Chesterton

  1. This might have applications to contemporary critical theories about how advertising works as a form of social control.

    If you get on a commuter train or subway, what you see is two rows of people facing each other but everyone is looking above the row of people opposite them at the advertising always positioned above their heads. This might lead a careless critic to assume that they’re entranced by the ads, that they’re lost in the fetishization of the product, worshipping at the altar of consumerism etc.

    But really what everyone in this moment is trying to do is avoid meeting the eyes of the people sitting across from them, so they look up. If they look to either side they might meet the eyes of those nearest them, which would be even worse in some sense. So they look up. And that’s why advertisers put ads there and not at a more normal eye level.

    This is where what Wittgenstein is saying comes in. Because this works because really nobody is seeing the ads, they’re consumed in their minds with something else because their action of staring at the ad is about something else, their worry over making eye contact. By not being engaged with what they’re looking at it also works on them at some other level too. This is what is meant by subliminal, or sub-threshold, advertising: staring right at it and not seeing it, but absorbing something superficial about it anyway. It’s like decoration. Only it isn’t.

    This may seem like the wrong way to apply Wittgenstein, a psychologizing of him, but I don’t think so. One could say that on a deeper level than the advertising itself, which is being seen but not really being seen, what is being missed is the fact of our ensnarement by advertising, or its self-fetishizing messages, or, perhaps most importantly, the social situation that makes it all possible, the embarrassment and anxiety, even the sense of threat.

    In this sense maybe advertising was really invented to take our minds off our alienation from each other, a double self-deception. We think we’re looking away to not be bothered, while we’re engaging something superficial, which is always conveying a message. But the indirect engagement with the message is a way to avoid articulating why we’re already always looking away.

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