The Broom of the System takes its title from a philosophical lesson that Gramma Beadsman once imparted to Lenore’s younger brother, LaVache. While sweeping the kitchen floor with a broom, Gramma asked LaVache “which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental,” the handle or the bristles? LaVache replied that the bristles are the essence of a broom. But Gramma corrected him, insisting that the answer depends on the use to which the broom is being put: if you want to sweep, the bristles are the essence—in effect, the meaning—of the broom; if you want, say, to break a window, its essence is the handle. “Meaning as use,” Gramma intoned. “Meaning as use.” The reader familiar with Wittgenstein will recognize in Gramma’s words the governing slogan of his late philosophy: “the meaning of a word,” he wrote in the Investigations, “is its use in the language.”

David Foster Wallace and Wittgenstein.


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