MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2021
First Encounter Beach: Last week, to our surprise, we found ourselves thinking about First Encounter Beach.
We're not sure we've ever been there! Presumably, its name got embedded in our head when we held summer jobs on Cape Cod during the years when we were listed as a college student.
First Encounter Beach is in Eastham, just north of Chatham, as you round the corner of the Cape and head up toward Provincetown. Because it's on the Massachusetts Bay side of the Cape, not the open ocean side, we doubt that we ever went there for recreational purposes.
Back in 1620, it's the place where the people we typically call "the Pilgrims" had their first encounter with some of the people who were already inhabiting the area.
There are various ways to describe that (unfriendly) encounter. This can be seen in the dueling accounts which appear on the historical markers concerning the incident, apparently three in number, which were erected in Eastham, first in 1920 (two markers), then in 2001.
None of this has anything to do with the reason why the name of that beach was suddenly floating around in our head.
Why was it floating around there? We were about to engineer a first encounter for interested readers with Philosophical Investigations (1953), the most important philosophy book of the 20th century.
Philosophical Investigations is the book which defines the work of the so-called later Wittgenstein. The text of the book is extremely obscure. For almost anyone who tries to read it, this obscurity will inevitably create a puzzling first encounter.
We took the undergraduate course on the book, taught by Rogers Albritton, in the street-fighting second semester of the 1967-68 school year. The following year, when we were listed as a senior, we took the graduate seminar on the book, taught by Stanley Cavell.
The book was extremely hot at the time. That undergraduate course would have been our own first encounter.
It's strange to think that a book so obscure could be the last century's most important. For our money, the book is highly instructive in spite of itself, but we'll also say that it has had exactly zero influence on the public discourse in the more than sixty years since it first appeared.
It's the most important philosophy book of the 20th century! Despite that fact, no one has the slightest idea what is said in this important book, and it's never discussed in public. We'd chalk that up to the following cause:
Our logicians and philosophers, such as they are, have long since walked off their posts. They swim at private beaches and clubs. With them, there are zero encounters.
Tomorrow, we'll start engineering your first encounter with this maddening yet highly instructive book. It's the most important philosophy book of the 20th century—and given the way our culture works, its contents are never discussed!
At low tide, the tide goes way, way out on the bay side in Eastham. According to Professor Horwich, the tide went out on this book long ago—and it never came back!