Friday, February 16, 2007

The Lyre and the Lamp

Working on a slightly different problem over a year ago, I said in passing that I would like to find a word that is for philosophy what "lyric" is for poetry. I think I have now found it.

Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms tells us that "a lyric is usually fairly short ... and it usually expresses the feelings and thoughts of a single speaker in a personal and subjective fashion." The philosophical unit that resembles the lyric in size is the aphorism. Interestingly, it expresses the thoughts and feelings of any speaker in an impersonal and objective fashion. The lyric is an emotional specificity, I want to say, while the aphorism is a conceptual generality. They are staples of poetry and philosophy respectively. As Cuddon notes, while there are other kinds, "lyric poetry, which is to be found in most literatures, comprises the bulk of all poetry." I'm not sure that aphorisms comprise the "bulk" of philosophy in the Western tradition (though certainly its popular reception), but it is iconic of philosophy in an important sense.

Etymology offers an interesting insight here. Lyric can of course be traced back to the lyre that accompanied the lyric (a song) in ancient Greece. Aphorism, meanwhile, can be traced to the horos, meaning boundary. An aphorism is the use of words to mark off an area with boundaries. A lyric is the use of words to sing a tune accompanied by a lyre.

So the question of the correspondingly concrete "instrument" of philosophy became clear to me. A lamp. Philosophy consists in the construction of "elucidations", Wittgenstein said.

"I am looking for an honest man," said Diogenes, holding up his lamp in broad daylight.

The light that a lamp spreads marks a boundary. This also grants philosophy a suitably spatial orientation, while poetry, in its association with song, is oriented in time. All this is working out quite nicely. But there's more.

The lamp is to the eye what the lyre is to the hand. (Roughly. Bit more work to be done there.) Finally, expanses are the pangrammatical homologue of vibrations. A vibrating string in a circle of light. There is an ideogram of the relation of poetry to philosophy in that image.


Presskorn said...

It's nice(i.e. interesting) to see how your homologies are expanding. And quite amazing how they seem soo obvious, once they have been put into writing. A propos your homologies, I wondered whether you had ever stumbled upon the fragment from TS213, where Wittgestein says: "Grammar is.. everything that concerns facts rather than feelings". I wonder furthermore how such a statement stands with your project? (And I wonder too, perhaps, how such a statement stands within Wittgensteins own project too). The context of the remark is a discussion of the concept of 'interpretation' - a concept, which Wittgenstein is quite ambivalent towards, cf. PI §201. This context perhaps makes the meaning of the (marginal) variation in the manuscript clearer: "...everything that concerns essential facts rather vague feelings". And perhaps nothing is quite clearER here, since Wittgenstein here underlined "essential" and "vague" with wave-lines, thus indicating his dissatisfaction.

Presskorn said...

I should note - now that I am being exegetical - that Wittgenstein also, and perhaps quite significantly, underlined (with dissatisfaction) the word "facts" in the first version of the comments. It makes one wonder what should have been there instead of "facts"...

Thomas Basbøll said...

I haven't looked at the Typescript at all but...

The first version seems wrong to me. That is, grammar is as much about feelings as facts. But once we get that "essential" and "vague" in there I think I see his point.

Grammar is the condition of the possibility of articulation or, better, articulateness. (Calling it "grammar" simply emphasizes that this condition arises and evolves through use.)

So a vague sense of something, an inarticulate inkling, is not a grammatical construction.

Cribbing a phrase from Sarah Manguso's blurb for Tony Tost's Invisibile Bride I would replace "essential facts" with "rigorous articulations" maybe.

This somehow reminds of that line in the Crucible: "We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise."

Without having read the passage, I think he was trying to fight the idea that calling something an "interpretation" frees you from ordinary standards of rigour. It may also go for "grammar"; the dictum "meaning is use" cannot be taken to mean "anythign goes".

As Heidegger says of the humanities: they are inexact but rigorous.