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Ineffable Poetics: Negotiating Exile and Literary Self-Expression via Wittgenstein’s City Metaphor

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Sophie Fernier

McGill University, CA
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Abstract

Amidst the collected aphorisms in ‘Philosophical Investigations’ (1953), Wittgenstein famously offers a metaphor comparing language to an imaginary city in which meaning is created against a background of shared experiences between speakers, forming the manifold ‘houses’ and ‘neighborhoods’ of familiarity and understanding at the level of ordinary communication. Within such an imaginary city, inhabitants are said to share a certain ‘form of life’ which enables them to understand each other. This papers reflects upon the limits of this metaphor in the context of exile. Individuals who are forced to flee from their home and relocate for survival often undergo trauma. The immediate environment that people relocate into ‘co-exists’ with a lingering past form of life, which may have involved hardships that diverge from the lived-experiences of residents in their new community. When the discrepancy is too great, beyond merely fostering a sense of alienation, the very condition upon which ‘ordinary communication’ is predicated in Wittgenstein’s metaphor is lost. The ‘ineffable feeling’ that presents itself in such contexts can be illuminated by referring to what literary theorist Maurice Blanchot calls ‘the disaster’: a superlative notion of chaos penetrating the fabric of experience, as exemplified by wars, or concentration camps. Characterized by the absolute dissolution of one’s subjective experience of space-time as a coherent sequence and continuum, the disaster invokes nothing but silence. This paper argues that in such contexts, poetic modes of expression can shed light on how to negotiate the tension between traumas of catastrophic magnitudes and the longing to communicate such experiences in words. Taking Dunya Mikhail’s poetry anthology ‘The Iraqi Nights’ (2014) as its case-study, this paper suggests that in the context of geographical displacement, poetry can be re-imagined as a metaphorical ‘sanctuary’ between Wittgenstein’s metaphorical city and the ineffable realm of ‘disaster’.

How to Cite: Fernier, S., 2022. Ineffable Poetics: Negotiating Exile and Literary Self-Expression via Wittgenstein’s City Metaphor. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 6(2), pp.5–17. DOI: http://doi.org/10.33391/jgjh.129
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Published on 01 Jul 2022.
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