Race in Wittenstein’s Aesthetics Lectures

In preparation for a talk by Richard Eldrige (from Swathmore), I ran into the following selections from Wittgenstein’s lectures on aesthetics:

Lec. I, §26. What belongs to a language game is a whole culture. In describing musical taste you have to describe whether children give concerts, whether women do or whether men only give them, etc., etc. In aristocratic circles in Vienna people had [ such and such] a taste, then in came into bourgeois circles and women joined choirs, etc. This is an example of tradition in music.

Lec. I, §27. [Rhees: Is there a tradition in Negro arts? Could a European appreciate Negro art?]

Lec. I, §28. What would tradition in Negro art be? That women wear cut-grass skirts? I don’t know. I don’t know how Frank Dobson’s appreciation of Negro art compares with an educated Negro’s. If you say he appreciates it, I don’t yet know what this means. He may fill his room with objects of Negro art. Does he just say: “Ah!”? Or does he do what the best negro musicians do? Or does he agree with or disagree with so and so about it? You may call this appreciation. Entirely different to an educated Negro’s . Though an educated Negro may also have Negro objects of art in his room. The Negro’s and Frank Dobson’s are different appreciations altogether. You do something different with them. Suppose Negroes dress in their own way and I say I appreciate a good Negro tunic—does this mean I would have one made, or that I would say (as at the tailor’s): “No… this is too long”, or does it mean I say: “How charming!”?

I asked a few of my colleagues to read over these passages to tell me what they think. They all read it with a look of disgust. Their impression was that Wittgenstein could have made the same point without the racial commentary, but I’m not sure Wittgenstein’s sense would have been preserved without it.