Wittgenstein's Slapstick
Beth Savickey


In “Performance Philosophy — Staging a New Field,” Laura Cull approaches performance as a source of philosophical insight and philosophy as a species of performance (Cull 2014, 15). This calls for a radical transformation of philosophy and its practices. What form might this take? Wittgenstein’s later philosophy provides one example. The language games presented in the opening remarks of the Philosophical Investigations (PI, [1953] 2001) are meant to be played out. They involve improvisation based on general scenes, stock characters, and linguistic play. When enacted, they are slapstick. As such, they offer a method of philosophical investigation in which clarity and insight are inherent in the performance itself. Wittgenstein’s language games were directly influenced by the subversive practices of Austrian commedia dell’arte and slapstick (through the works of Johann Nestroy and Karl Kraus). By their very nature, they challenge the pretensions of philosophical explanation and theory. Unlike attempts to compare Wittgenstein’s philosophy to theatre, enacting language games is a form of philosophical performance. Andrew Lugg notes that recent attempts to compare Wittgenstein’s philosophy to theatre problematize the opening remarks of the Investigations. However, enacting language games as a form of philosophical performance makes what is hidden, in all of its simplicity and familiarity, obvious, striking, and engaging.