In a response to two essays by Jan Zwicky on “lyric philosophy,” this piece questions whether there are positions that cannot be fully articulated in conventional, linear prose without contradiction and, if so, whether or in what sense they can be considered philosophical positions. Zwicky's experimental deployment of polyphonic textual structures to render her conception of a patterned and resonant whole is, Hobbs argues, part of a tradition, going back to ancient Greece, of radical philosophers struggling to express themselves without pragmatic self-refutation. In particular, Hobbs explores Zwicky's acknowledged debt to the paradoxes and aphorisms of Heraclitus, in whose thought the “backward-turning connection” of the lyre plays a central role. Hobbs suggests that, although both Heraclitus and Zwicky use language to stimulate profound changes in the reader's perception, understanding, and ethical outlook, there are important divergences in their projects: Zwicky assumes that humans have access to the resonant whole, while Heraclitus chooses to write in paradoxes partly in order to highlight the inevitable limitations of mortal knowledge of the Logos, which is known fully only to god. Zwicky's depiction of a generalized “analytic” philosopher may also be thought oversimplified: few analytic philosophers, if any, would claim that meaning can only be “linguistic in form,” and it is unclear what is meant by “technocratically acceptable prose.” Nevertheless, Zwicky's claim that the practice of philosophy is “better understood as an exercise of attention disciplined by discernment of the live, metaphorical relation between things and the resonant structure of the world” is an important one, and the challenges that it poses to our conceptions of what philosophy is and how to write it are not ones that should be ignored.
Angela Hobbs; Under Which Lyre. Common Knowledge 1 April 2014; 20 (2): 265–272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2422944
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