The Impersonal Within Us (Lyric Thought)

Scene from Orson Welles’s “Don Quixote”

There is still much I wish to share of Jan Zwicky’s reflections in Lyric Philosophy. Her highly compacted approach to questions of subjectivity and language are developed  with an acute elegance that owes much to Wittgenstein’s style. Her arguments and thoughts, presented through fragments and crystalline prose have none of the patient, and frankly dull linear narrative of claim and counter-claim that characterises much philosophy.

As Wittgenstein, there is little sense that Zwicky’s reflections add up to a philosophical system but they throw an illuminating light on the “I speak” of Foucault’s simple sentence, “It it therefore true, undeniably true, that I speak when I say that I am speaking. But things may not be so simple.”

In Book 1 of Lyric Philosophy Zwicky argues that emotions are an integral part of human nature and unjustly set in opposition to reason and logical thought. Emotions shape how we see our world, a necessary factor in how we acquire knowledge. Although emotions are profoundly interior they also reach outwards. On that note, let me share two of Zwicky’s propositions:

“It is in this way, then, that philosophy might assume lyric form: when thought whose eros is clarity is driven also by profound intuitions of coherence – when it is also an attempt to arrive at an integrated perception, a picture or understanding of how something might affect us as beings with bodies and emotions as well as the ability to think logically. Or when it is an investigation informed by or moving towards an appreciation of such a picture or understanding.

When philosophy attempts to give voice to an ecology of experience.” – § 68

“This is not lyric in a sense that emphasises the role of the individual ego: the ‘outpouring of subjective emotion’ connected with the rise of Romantic poetry. That sense is corrupt and is based on a subversion of the desire that fundamentally underlies lyric expression – relinquishment of the individual ego rather than celebration of it.

Lyric thought springs from love, love that attends to the most minutes details of difference; and in this attention experiences connection rather than isolation.” § 69

This seems important to the place of subjective emotion in written thought, whether expressed as fiction or non-fiction – to what extent these terms remain useful today – that it is rooted in emotion but directed outward towards things in the world, or as Zwicky writes, “It bespeaks an awareness that is vulnerable to the world.”

2 thoughts on “The Impersonal Within Us (Lyric Thought)

  1. I like the phrase ‘the ecology of experience’. The presence of emotion in each perception or action is undeniable – a truism, really. Thoughts arise for me as to how it’s considered that in any scientific experiment, the attitude of the experimenter will influnce the result. What a genius is Zwicky to use the language and forms of western philosophy to appreciate, or give access to, a field of experience for the reader, who then becomes the perceiver, who can then become a component themselves in the appreciation of a unified field. It’s a delight to ‘listen in’ on your reading. I can’t say I’ve read Wittgenstein in any depth, so I couldn’t comment on his approach, other than what I glean from Zwicky. But for me, her approach lets a reader access ‘an awareness that is vulnerable to the world’ without woolly thought, sentimentality, or New Age delusion, via her unique thinking, and writing, in relation to Wittgenstein and others. Great picture of Quixote by the way.


    • Yes! That is precisely Zwicky’s genius. Her prose is so compact and yet densely packed with insight. One of those writers, to quote Tim Parks, that “open our eyes to different worlds of feeling from our own”.


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