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May 20th, 2005

Tractatus in Music

I was listening to the Bloc Party album while grading an exam, and noticed one odd lyric in Little Thoughts.

The world ain’t just made of facts.

This looks like a bald statement of an anti-Tractarian metaphysic, which is perfectly reasonable in and of itself, but somewhat out of place in a pop song. As you can see from the rest of the lyrics there’s not a lot of context to get clear on exactly what they meant. (I linked to a Google page so you can choose which pop-up infested lyrics site you want to go to.)

I guess the Police did borrow an album title from Gilbert Ryle, so maybe the New Wave revival will also spark a revival of interest in British metaphysics among pop stars.

Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized

11 Comments »

This entry was posted on Friday, May 20th, 2005 at 2:20 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

11 Responses to “Tractatus in Music”

  1. Brendan says:

    Having read the lyrics, I think idea is this:

    The person is singing about how they pay attention only to the details of life. I think “fact”, in this song, is supposed to be a synonym for “details”. But there is more to life than just paying attention to the details. Perhaps we must look at things more holistically, “the big picture” etc. Hence, “the world ain’t just made of facts.”

    Notice, under this reading, the lyrics might remind one of some of Ryle’s famous examples. There is more to life than just the facts, and the university isn’t just buildings. In both cases, if you look only at the details (perhaps?) you miss the point.

    I am not sure I can squeeze out a more credible and concise interpretation, and association to philosophy, than that.

  2. Shieva says:

    Hi Brian,
    I don’t have evidence for “interest in British metaphysics among pop stars”, but I do have evidence for interest in metaphysics among British pop stars. Unfortunately, communicating it also communicates that I’ve listened to this group, which I’m quite embarrassed about. Oh well:
    The last song on the Sugababes album “Three” has the lyrics “There are worlds within worlds …”. That’s enough to make me like the song, though I can only make sense of their statement if I ignore the rest of the song’s lyrics (probably a good idea anyway).

  3. Peter McB. says:

    I wouldn’t mess with Wittgenstein, if I was you. The Australian philosopher, Charles Hamblin (Professor of Philosophy at UNSW), died while apparently setting the Tractatus to music.

  4. Kenny Easwaran says:

    When I was in Budapest a few years ago I found a CD called “Tractatus” by some composer named Tibor Szemzö. It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, and I think had moments of someone reading passages from the Tractatus over fairly slow and repetitive music.

    I believe the composer Steve Reich was a philosophy major as an undergrad though and wrote his senior thesis on Wittgenstein. As a result, he’s set a few passages to music. The particular one I’m thinking of is his piece “Proverb”, which I think just contains the sentence “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life”, appropriately expanded to fill a whole piece.

  5. djc says:

    There is also the classic “Tractatus Suite” by M.A. Numminen (see also here and here). Years ago someone gave me a tape of the 1989 version, which has six excerpts from the Tractatus in six different musical styles, from punk (“A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions…”) to jazz (“A thought is a proposition with a sense…”) to dirge (“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann…”). I think I still have it somewhere.

  6. Aidan says:

    Just count yourselves lucky that the US version of the album has Little Thoughts on it. The UK version doesn’t, so I’ve been making do with live versions.

    The lyrics are also on the pop-up free Bloc Party website.

  7. Allan says:

    A reply, from “Chump Change” by New Pornographers:

    Now wipe that look from your face
    The world is that which is the case

  8. Allan says:

    A reply, from “Chump Change” by New Pornographers:

    Now wipe that look from your face
    The world is that which is the case

  9. Blar says:

    I have heard that:

    You can’t hide from the truth
    Because the truth is all there is

    -Handsome Boy Modeling School, “The Truth”

    However, The Truth seems to contradict itself when it adds:

    ‘Cause the truth hurts just as much as [dealin’] with lies will

    (link should be popup free)

  10. Varol Akman says:

    I always thought that David Byrne’s “I can’t seem to face up to the facts” is a great reply to the Tractarian LW.

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