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Part of the Nordic Wittgenstein Studies book series (NRWS,volume 3)


In this paper I begin by scrutinizing classic approaches to the question of agrammaticality, with a particular focus on Frege and the early Wittgenstein, and try to show that a further step is needed in order to adequately address this topic. I then focus on the later Wittgenstein’s treatment of nonsense-poems and claim that the failure of the Philosophical Investigations as a book is actually connected with Wittgenstein’s recognition that philosophy should be written under the form of poetry. The therapeutic consequences of this view are discussed in connection with Deleuze’s comments on Melville and with Read’s comments on Sass, which offer very different views of agrammaticality.


  • Agrammaticality
  • Language
  • Literature
  • Nonsense
  • Philosophy
  • Wittgenstein

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  1. 1.

    Cf. Wittgenstein (1922, 5.473 and 5.4733). See also 3.325, where Wittgenstein speaks of “rules of logical grammar —of logical syntax ”, and 3.344, where he simply refers to “rules of logical syntax ”. The notion of “logical syntax ” also appears in 3.33 and 6.124.

  2. 2.

    Cf. Heidegger (1998, 84ff) .

  3. 3.

    Cf. Carnap (1959, 69–73) .

  4. 4.

    For a discussion of the two traditional readings of the Tractatus, the positivist and the metaphysical, in contrast with the resolute reading of the book, see, for example , Conant (2002) . In this paper, Conant , after Diamond (1991) , discusses at length some of the passages I have alluded to.

  5. 5.

    See in addition Wittgenstein (2009, §261), where he also refers to the idea of “inarticulate sound ”.

  6. 6.

    See in addition Wittgenstein (2009, §134), where it is said apropos of the sentence “This is how things are” that “one feature of our concept of a proposition is sounding like one” (translation slightly modified).

  7. 7.

    References follow G. H. von Wright’s catalogue of the Wittgenstein papers and are by MS or TS number .

  8. 8.

    This is actually reminiscent of what Frege says in §31 of the Basic Laws of Arithmetic , namely: “Our simple names denote [bedeuten] something” or “always have a denotation [Bedeutung ]” (1893/1964, 47/87). See in this regard Weiner (2002).

  9. 9.

    This typescript consists of a partial translation of the first half of the “early” or “pre-war” version of the Investigations, thoroughly revised by Wittgenstein . The German text is to be found in TS 220, 8, deriving from MS 142, 10.

  10. 10.

    See Wittgenstein (2009, §§19–20) .

  11. 11.

    In an early version of this remark, there is a variant for the beginning of the second paragraph, which reads: “But the fairy tale only speaks falsehood; not nonsense !” (2000, MS 124, 239, my translation)

  12. 12.

    Luckhardt and Aue render “Dichtungen” by “works of literature ”, but “poems” seems to capture more adequately what Wittgenstein has in mind here.

  13. 13.

    This remark occurs in the context of a critical discussion of “calculation as experiment” and within quotation marks, suggesting that Wittgenstein would separate poetry from experiment. Smyth (1997, 228) alludes exactly to “Wittgenstein’s distinction between poetry and ‘psychological experiment’”, but he also writes that “Wittgenstein’s analogous distinction between prediction and proof, experiment and calculation, did not prevent him from considering proofs predictions or metapredictions about future events”. Indeed, Wittgenstein seems to accept that the poet makes a kind of psychological experiment when he writes a poem.

  14. 14.

    In a manuscript version of this remark, Wittgenstein wrote “Do we finally understand [. . .]” (2000, MS 140, 6, my translation).

  15. 15.

    See Schalkwyk (2004, 72–73), Schroeder (2006, 125–126), Brusotti (2009, 346) and Schulte (2013, 349–352) .

  16. 16.

    Wittgenstein’s words remind us of those of Frege in his Foundations of Arithmetic when it is said that “only if every gap [Lücke] in the chain of deductions is eliminated with the greatest care can we say with certainty upon what primitive truths the proof depends” (1884/1980, §4).

  17. 17.

    Talking about dreaming , Wittgenstein ascribes the idea of a “dynamical theory ” to Freud in MS 157a, 56v, in a note from the beginning of 1937, and explicitly mentions Freud’s “‘dynamic’ theory of dreams ” in TS 239, 74. This remark in the so-called “revised early version” of the Investigations would make its way into the collection of cuttings published as Zettel (§444). Compare this with the aforementioned passage from Wittgenstein’s “Dictation for Schlick ”, in which he says that “[o]ur method resembles psychoanalysis ”.

  18. 18.

    See, for example , Stern (1995, 39–40).

  19. 19.

    Cf. Melville (1996, 32ff) .

  20. 20.

    Compare the notion of “inarticulate block” with Wittgenstein’s notion of “inarticulate sound ” alluded to above.

  21. 21.

    Compare Wittgenstein’s similar procedure in the above-quoted remark about “perfection” (1998, 67).

  22. 22.

    It is noteworthy that Artaud is the author of “An Antigrammatical Effort Against Lewis Carroll ”, which consists of a peculiar translation of “Jabberwocky” into French.

  23. 23.

    See Wittgenstein (1979b, 92), as well as Wittgenstein (1922, 5.641).

  24. 24.

    A study of this kind can be found in Venturinha (2011).

  25. 25.

    I find Read’s affirmation that “Winch looks at what the Azande are doing with and alongside their words [. . .]” (2001, 458) incomprehensible.

  26. 26.

    For Read (2001, 472, n. 37), they do not constitute an alternative “way of being-in-the-world”; they form “various ways of … not being-in-the-world at all”. But his ellipsis shows the opposite.

  27. 27.

    Material included in this paper was presented in events in Innsbruck and Lisbon in 2011, Strasbourg in 2012, Athens in 2013 as well as in Lisbon again in 2015. I would like to thank the participants in these meetings for stimulating discussions. I would also like to thank Andrew Lugg , Gisela Bengtsson, Simo Säätelä and Rob Vinten for helpful comments. This paper was written as a contribution to the research project “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: Re-Evaluating a Project” (2010–2013) funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.


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Venturinha, N. (2018). Agrammaticality. In: Bengtsson, G., Säätelä, S., Pichler, A. (eds) New Essays on Frege. Nordic Wittgenstein Studies, vol 3. Springer, Cham.

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