This article looks at the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s early philosophy of language on the Black Arts Movement. Amiri Baraka’s essay / prose poem “Expressive Language” ends with a quotation from Wittgenstein: “Can the concept of God exist in a perfectly logical language?” The problem is that Wittgenstein never wrote this. In tracking the meaning of Baraka’s pseudo ascription, this essay situates Baraka’s early work in the context of midcentury philosophy of language and the linguistic turn. It argues that Baraka’s extensive engagement with the form and thought of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is crucially important in Baraka’s narration of his conversion from Beat bohemianism to Black nationalism. Baraka’s argument with Wittgenstein anticipates the concerns of a debate that occurred several years later between Hans Gadamer and Jürgen Habermas. Reading “Expressive Language” and Baraka’s poetry and autobiographical writing alongside the exchanges of the Gadamer-Habermas debate, the essay argues that Baraka’s writings challenge the identification of critique with progressive politics that informs the work of Habermas and Paul Gilroy.

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