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Critical Discussion LYRIC PHILOSOPHY by Donald Phillip Verene Lyric philosophy is based on a critique of both analytic and systematic philosophy. Lyric philosophy, as Jan Zwicky presents it, and also invents it, requires a special layout on the printed page. The pages of this work are approximately the size of sheets of typing paper; often there is only a sentence or so on a page. On other pages there is a full or partial text, often with some particular layout of passages. Throughout the work, the left-hand (verso) page contains thoughts of Ms. Zwicky. These are opposed on the right-hand (recto) page by passages she quotes from other works, including definitions of words from the Oxford English Dictionary, Klein's Comprehensive Etymological LHctionary, the Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a large number ofpoems, and passages from literature, philosophy, and criticism. There are right-hand pages reproducing sheets of classical music (Mozart, Bach, etc.), some of the ten oxherding pictures prominent in Zen Buddhism, photography of Ansel Adams, works by Vermeer and Rodin, and on one page an advertisement for a life vest for dogs, with Zwicky's comment on the left-hand page: "A domestic relation with another species is one predicated on mutual respect." There is also a blank right-hand page opposite her comment on the structure of Wittgenstein's "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Lyric Philosophy, byJan Zwicky; xvii & 566 pp. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992, $65.00 cloth, $25.00 paper. Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 124-130 Donald Phillip Verene125 Thus the work is a series of aphorisms and observations on the lefthand page, paired with items on the right intended by Zwicky to oppose, illuminate, or extend her views, the work as a whole being a kind of graphic. The content moves from a critique of analytic and systematic philosophy from the standpoint of lyric philosophy to the use of this standpoint to elucidate two key ideas as they relate to human existence —technology and domesticity, e.g., "Domesticity refrains from attempts to eradicate difference—either by eliminating what is 'other,' or by denying our own natures. It leads to a genuine combination with art, technology, and the natural world" (no. 143). Running throughout the text are repeated reflections on the relation of lyric philosophy to the problem ofform and content, the relation oflanguage to the world, the various kinds of meaning and their presence in human activity, etc. What sort ofwork is this? It is the publication ofwhat at an earlier time would have been known as a "commonplace book," that is, a book in which the author copies literary passages, cogent quotations, and records occasional thoughts, all of which may or may not be arranged in a particular order of subjects. Commonplace books came into wide use in English in the early modern period, as a means for students and scholars to record their thoughts and to preserve passages from their reading for reference. A partial example would be Berkeley's so-called Commonplace Book, or, in a sense, Descartes's Cogitationesprivatae. To this old-fashioned notion of a commonplace book Zwicky added modern conceptions of layout, reproduction of lines of music, visuals, etc. To identify Lyric Philosophy as a commonplace book may take the edge off some of its novelty for the reader, and I doubt that the idea of a modern, published commonplace book was what Zwicky had in mind. Instead, I think she took the idea from an interest in extending Wittgenstein. She is an independent scholar and the author of two books of poems, one called Wittgenstein Elegies. What she seems to have done is to formulate her own views in the manner of Wittgenstein's aphoristic statements (left-hand side) and to combine this with the contemporary continental, especially French fascination withjuxtaposing texts with other texts, texts with comments, and otherwise moving things around for effect. Is this done with brilliance and originality, as the persons quoted on the back cover say? Readers will have to decide for themselves. It is the work of a poet trained in Wittgenstein and contemporary AngloAmerican philosophy, applying her insights and basic approach to...


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pp. 124-130
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