Wittgenstein Elegies by Jan Zwicky


Wittgenstein Elegies
Jan Zwicky
October 2015
London, Ontario
Brick Books Classics (Book 6) 
80 pages
ISBN: 9781771313476
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Jan Zwicky’s new edition of Wittgenstein Elegies is a panoplied response to this, from Wittgensein ". . . philosophy ought really to be written as a poetic composition."

In order to create a complex choral conversation between philosophy and poetry, in general, and philosopher and poet, more specifically, Zwicky employed the risky art of appropriating others’ words for the purpose of more than homage, but for the repurpose of a different understanding.

The appropriation of specific philosophical passages (Wittgenstein, or is it Trakl?) and poetic fragments (Trakl, or is it Wittgenstein?) for collaging into her poetic series is more than bold, in Zwicky’s hands it feels like a revelation: a necessity. She understands how appropriate it is, really, and that appropriating such aphoristic propositions for poetry’s sake is, logically, an assertion. Zwicky makes this stance in a beautiful effort to underwrite the assertoric and the apodictic. Poetry as underwriter.

For as Wittgensein wrote in Philosophical Investigations, “Thought is surrounded / by a halo” (51). With Elegies, Zwicky enacts expansive halation.

This expansion and inevitable diffraction can only occur if a purported target is firstly the aim—a center that moves—and when there is an application of the matrix in order to dispel it: "[ . . . ] small points of light, faint gleam or slash / along some buried axis, white reticulated wink" (27).

Points of light like dots that are not only seen, but also heard, felt, sensed.  Zwicky’s poetics is a philosophical investigation for truth, in sensoria. And truth in “words and world” is anything but absolute. The dots have echoes and the sounds of names leave ghosting—visible traces. And the words we inhabit start the processes of remembering—memory offers the reticulated history we both experience and fail to experience.

The elegiac in Zwicky’s series comes as a fine balance of lamentation and respectful inquiry into misunderstanding and correction regarding Wittgenstein the man and Wittgenstein the thinker.

Zwicky understands what was not reconciled or what did not need to be reconciled between Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations; hence, she astutely culls, to contour a challenging topology of linguistic and poetic landscape, as well as the grammatological space of philosophical explorative combinatory arts: "Our language is an ancient city, maze of interlocking / streets and squares. To know it, we must / walk it, crawl through sewers, feel our way / by night along the walls . . ." (45).

In her line breaks, Zwicky gives us light and then blocks it with a sonic wall, and in doing so, reminds us that one is often without a lighted or clear path—successfully without it.

The lyric pull of this appropriative and extended epigraphic text resides in its seamlessness. Though this new edition includes original authors’ names at the margins, Sue Sinclair is correct in writing in her introduction: “[. . .] the separation of these names from the flow of the poem allows the voices to remain integrated” (14).

“Sometimes he speaks: echoes. / He speaks echoes. So pure, almost/ unrecognizable—and it’s / what one must wish: / no clutter, stripped bare, colours / pure, original: unsayable itself / directly echoed [. . .]” (34).

There is love, and there is must-ness, and one leads to the other, but never in the way that we presume, even hope that it will: “Yet still the sickness, clumsy need / to wrestle with the pattern, make one blueprint / to explain all bricks. / [. . .] love what must / each time we grasp it / vanish” (62).

“That we do mean, one overwhelming fact, / shall tear the axis of the universe / from stasis, wrench it live and open-mouthed / about the fixed point of our need” (48). Yet we continue to mean, cannot but continue to need to mean. And in Zwicky, Wittgenstein continues to mean again and differently. In reproduction, a new life has been given over from an older one, revered but made static from canonization.

“What they grasp, unpurified, / cracks on the adamantine face / of logic like a falling star” (43).

Poetry accepts the loss of knowing and wholeness that we cannot accept.

The prime fact of this new edition of Elegies is that all the words within create a totality that cannot be completely held or grasped. The panoply that is Zwicky’s gorgeous and smart lyric series is so much more than a posthumous poetic protection for Wittgenstein or a defense of Wittgenstein. It is a new light that sheds laminae to expose belief in the matricality of language and world as potentially mere but always stunning stokhos.

Michaela Mullin
Nomadic Press
Mullin resides in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, Bill, and her dog, Beatrice (named after French goddess Dalle). Mullin has a B.A. in English; an M.F.A in Creating Writing; and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought. Her poetry collection must (with drawings by Mariela Yeregui) is being reissued by Nomadic Press in March 2016.