Success through Failure: Wittgenstein and the Romantic Preface

Mark W. Rowe


I argue that the Preface to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations represents a form of preface found in several other major works of Romanticism. In essence, this kind of preface says: ‘I have tried very hard to write a work of the following conventional type … . I failed, and have thus been compelled to publish, with some reluctance, the following fragmentary, eccentric, unfinished or otherwise unsatisfactory work.’
It sometimes transpires, however, that a work which appeared unfinished and unsatisfactory to the author and his contemporaries, later comes to be seen as both complete and startlingly original. Indeed, not initially recognizing what you have achieved is sometimes a mark of the greatness-through-originality so highly prized by Romantic writers.
Besides the Investigations, I concentrate on Coleridge’s Preface to ‘Kubla Khan’, and the first 269 lines of Wordsworth’s Prelude (in both the 1805 and 1850 versions), discussing exactly why all three authors found their projects so recalcitrant, why their solutions were so original, and why the magnitude of their achievements was not appreciated from the first.
I end with some reflections on why Wittgenstein’s work on aesthetics, the aesthetic impact of his work, and the cognitive impact of his work should not be separated.


Wittgenstein; Aesthetics; Romanticism; Wordsworth; Coleridge

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