Wisdom & Metaphor

by Jan Zwicky
ISBN: 1894031784

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A Review of: Wisdom & Metaphor
by Michael Greenstein

Kudos to Gaspereau for granting Jan Zwicky so much breathing space in Wisdom & Metaphor, a blend of philosophy and literature that enacts its own aesthetic on the printed page. A sequel to her Lyric Philosophy (1992), this book uses a similar format: left-hand pages offer Zwicky's own musings on art and philosophy, while the right side comments on her thought through the numerous voices of other poets and philosophers, with a particular focus on Wittgenstein. In another light, she has compiled an anthology on the right side with her own commentary opposite: her ambidextrous text fits both on the scholarly shelf and coffee table.
Connecting the linked pages is akin to combining the tenor and vehicle of a metaphor-terms that Zwicky avoids, just as she fails to take into account the structuralist relationship between metonymy and metaphor. Instead, she is more interested in phenomenological resonance, flow, paradox, and ambiguity. Her opening words go to Charles Simic: "Metaphor is a part of the not-knowing aspect of art, and yet I'm firmly convinced that it is the supreme way of searching for truth." Keatsian notions of negative capability and suspension of disbelief pervade the pages. The philosopher-poet weds "lyric" to "domesticity": the former involves aesthetics of coherence, resonance, integrity, balance, symmetry, and harmony; the latter enables us to come home to ourselves. She progresses from lyric and domesticity to wisdom and metaphor, eschewing logic's need to resolve contradictions in favour of unresolved tension.
A three-dimensional diagram of a cube floats above Wittgenstein's discussion of "astonishment" for a change of aspect, or Zwicky's recurrent "gestalt shift." The cube may be viewed as either projecting downward to the right or upward to the left, and indeed much of the book concerns the problematic of perception or "seeing-as." Although she discusses neither mundane mixed metaphors nor similes (whose "like" presumably renders comparison less astonishing than pure metaphor), she introduces the Spanish concept of "duende"-a kind of meta-metaphor or metaphor of a metaphor. She quotes from Lorca to elucidate this mysterious quality of art: "All arts are capable of duende, but where it finds its greatest range, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, for these arts require a living body to interpret them, being forms that are born, die, and open their contours against an exact present." To which Zwicky replies: "The experience of the inadequacy of language to comprehend the world is the experience of the duende of language. And it is this that metaphor carries."
Other voices that echo through Wisdom & Metaphor include Simone Weil, Herakleitos, Max Wertheimer, Jane Hirshfield, Tim Lilburn, Anne Michaels, Zbigniew Herbert, Denise Levertov, Wislava Szymborska, and Lao Zi. Zwicky reminds us that "metaphor" derives from the Greek "to carry over": her book involves both a literal and figurative transference of eye and sense between left and right pages where meaning arcs across the gap in geometric patterns. Aphorisms scattered throughout the text force us to consider vast blank spaces as much as black typeface in a resonant ecology. Zwicky's "Wisdom is a form of domestic understanding" is filled out on the opposite page by Denise Levertov's lovely poem, "Illustrious Ancestors". A nice balance for this book would be Cynthia Ozick's essays in Metaphor & Memory and Fame & Folly. Both are reminders that sagacity is an endangered species in contemporary society.

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