A Form of Attunement

Image from the series “The double and the half” – Slow Panic by Hanan Kazma

In Lyrical Philosophy, Jan Zwicky writes:

“Resonance is a function of the integration of various components in a whole. (Integration, not fusion. Resonance occurs in the spaces between.)

In pure, schematic argument, ‘content’ is of no interest. The form does not arise from it. The form itself is unidimensional. Only the most minimal resonance is possible, the most rudimentary of non-algebraic meanings. The spaces in analysis are necessarily discontinuities, not chambers.–Integrity is a form of attunement.”

Echoes and resonances are central to Zwicky’s writing on Wittgenstein, her suggestion that you might take a number of randomly selected propositions, say half a dozen, from the Tractatus and see them not only as self-sufficient utterances, but also appreciate their bell-like resonant interconnectedness.

As Zwicky remarks, “Imagine doing a similar thing with randomly selected sentences from one of the standard treatises of systematic philosophy.” To what extent I understand Zwicky on Wittgenstein I find her account insightful enough to tackle the Tractatus directly, aided from to time by Michael Morris’ elegant Routledge ‘guidebook’.

I am struck by this idea of resonance to the point of waking up at three o’clock in the morning buzzing with associations. Many of the utterances in Tractatus appear bland, even unoriginal, taken as single entities, but the cumulative effect and patterns start to appear, if only flickeringly.

The resonances work a little like memories, which, for me, arrive primarily in image form; the associations between memory images being deeply resonant. Resonance is spatial, occurring as Zwicky writes “in the spaces in-between”, not unidimensional, and these associations do not arrive in linear form.

To drag another analogy into this raggedy post, I could compare it with my library where, for me, it makes sense to shelve my newly acquired Zwicky and Wittgenstein beside Rilke, Walser and Akhmatova, my library organised by resonance and not by alphabetisation. Wittgenstein wrote that philosophy should only be written as poetry, so these shelf companions somehow seem more fitting.

With Wittgenstein, and in the same sense Zwicky, I read slowly, retracing my steps often to push against the resistance to comprehension. I recall Wittgenstein acting as the benefactor to the poet, Georg Trakl. When he first read Trakl’s poems, he confessed, “I don’t understand them. But their tone delights me. It is the tone of … genius.”

12 thoughts on “A Form of Attunement

  1. I’m really enjoying your Wittgenstein posts. They are giving me the courage to dip my toes into his writing. I’m also having a very hard time getting that Zwicky book. It’s out of print on Amazon. I ordered it on Abebooks and the seller canceled my order.

  2. Attunement. I’m not sure I’ve heard that word before. I understand your ‘resonance’ better. It brings to mind my recent post on Eliot on the Metaphysical poets (perhaps not for any other reason than its recentness): his concept of the ‘dissociation of sensibility’ that took place, he suggests, after them; true poets, he argues, are always ‘amalgamating disparate experience’. For them the reading of Spinoza (or Wittgenstein or Zwicky!) is associated seamlessly with ‘the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking’. Admittedly he had his symbolist-modernist take on all this, but I find it helpful in ‘comprehending’, to use your word again, what JZ seems to mean by ‘attunement’. I’ve struggled with those propositions or statements in the Tractatus too. They do perhaps have more in common with poetry than philosophy or semantics/linguistics, so this way of approaching them makes sense (literally!)

    • I’ve encountered attunement before in Phaedo. Some Plato translators use attunement for harmonia in the sense of a lyre, and also a soul as harmonia. Zwicky also uses the musical instrument as a metaphor for both attunement and resonance elsewhere in Lyric Philosophy.

      I gave up on Tractatus years ago, arguably too young for the attempt, but read, as lyric philosophy, it resonates differently.

  3. Great post, Anthony. I can well understand your enthusiasm. In some ways Zwicky informed my embrace of butoh… a language of the body… and finding something beyond words or the language of the body… Zwicky, Wittgenstein, Trakl, Zen, Tao, whatever… all point to something beyond language… but language (word or body) can serve perhaps as a musical/poetic note to that resonance. One reason why I haven’t gone on to read Wisdom and Metaphor was that I thought Lyric Philosophy and her poetry were so good at allusion (and resonance), I didn’t feel inclined to go after more words. Now, after these exchanges with you and Michelle (and now Melissa, too) (and Tredynas Days above) I might well go there… like listening to a different symphony, or chamber music, by a favourite and brilliant composer. There… some random thoughts…

    • Thank you, Des. I’ve always been drawn to literature’s (and I use the term loosely enough to embrace both Wittgenstein and Nietzsche) power to offer a glimpse of the ineffable, a realm beyond the bounds of language, perhaps even reason. In Tractatus, Wittgenstein even, as I read it, drifts into contemplation of the mystical. I’m drifting back and forth between Zwicky and Wittgenstein; its beginning to merge and take interesting form as dreams and reveries.

  4. In one of her essays (printed in the back of Chamber Music), Zwicky talks about her idea of “lyric availability”, which I think is another way of talking about attunement to echoes – an idea I’m drawn to, the echoes of thought and art and literature and the constantly evolving, echoing conversation. I keep working on my own vision or understanding of that lyric availability. And that evolves as I continue reading Lyric Philosophy. You’ve beat me to the end, and I’m enjoying your posts on it. Thank you.

    • I read far too fast the first time, keen to see just where she was leading me. This second reading, taking special care to understand the right hand pages is much more rewarding. I am also so drawn to this idea of resonance.

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