Jan Zwicky. Courtesy Gaspereau Press.

Jan Zwicky (born May 10, 1955) is a Canadian poet, philosopher, and essayist, who is also a violinist.


Zwicky received a B.A. from the University of Calgary and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto in 1981 with a dissertation entitled "A Theory of Ineffability". She has since taught philosophy at Princeton University; philosophy and interdisciplinary humanities at the University of Waterloo; and led a writing workshop at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[1] philosophy at the University of Western Ontario; philosophy and creative writing at the University of New Brunswick; and philosophy at the University of Alberta. She has served as a faculty member at the Banff Centre Writing Studio, has conducted numerous writing workshops, and edits regularly for Brick Books.

Professional careerEdit

Zwicky was associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Victoria, British Columbia from 1996 until 2009, where she taught both philosophy and interdisciplinary humanities courses. In the summer of 2009 she quit her post at the University and retreated to Quadra Island in order to pursue a number of writing projects.


Zwicky is an eco-political and anti-colonial thinker, comparable to fellow Canadian poets Tim Lilburn and Don McKay, who promotes the fundamental unity of ontology and ethics by laying emphasis on the act of attention. Her poetry, which is featured in a number of anthologies, deals frequently with music, as well as the natural world and is often cited for its intense lyricism. It has been translated into Czech, French, German, Serbian, Spanish and Italian.

Heraclitus, Plato, Freud, Woolf and Wittgenstein are among the thinkers who figure prominently in her philosophical work, which challenges the hegemonic status of logico-linguistic analysis in 20th and 21st Century Anglo-American philosophy by drawing our attention to the ontological significance of poetic ways of knowing, particularly metaphor.

Zwicky writes on philosophy as a poet. In both Lyric Philosophy and Wisdom & Metaphor, the form of her text (how it means) is integral to its content (what it means): her own aphoristic remarks on the left-hand pages are meant to be compared and contrasted with excerpts from the works of others on the right-hand pages. These latter include not only excerpts from the history of philosophy, but also musical scores, paintings, photographs and poems. One effect is that her books are dialectical or polyphonic in nature (i.e. there are many voices that range across disciplines); another is that her books have both a linear and a non-linear structure.

Zwicky carefully orders her remarks and has a rational, linear argument to make. The books can (and should) be read from front to back. On the other hand though, every page is meant to evoke remarks or images from other pages, so the book is also fractal or holographic in nature: a dense, non-linear web of inter-connections. Any section, it seems, can be connected to any other section and the book can be read in any order. This latter way of thinking, reading and writing she calls lyric, and this kind of double structure is at least part of what she finds intriguing about the writing of Heraclitus, Plato and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Zwicky's early and sincere interest in Physics and Logic prevents her from seeking to completely supplant logical analysis with lyric understanding, however. Instead she is out to construe the two as legitimate and genuine alternatives - to correct our otherwise excessively narrow view of what constitutes "good" philosophy. She thinks that we neglect lyric thinking to our ontological, epistemological, ethical and political peril. The great virtue of her philosophical writing is that it is enactive, leaving the reader with the very experience (and therefore some real understanding of what) she is discussing.

Dr. James Young, chair of the University of Victoria philosophy department has said: "There's a reasonable chance that people will be reading her work a century from now. This is something that one says about only a very small number of philosophers."[2]

Lyric Ecology: An Appreciation of the Work of Jan Zwicky is an anthology of essays about her life and work, edited by Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet. (Toronto: Cormorant Books, 2010)



  • Where Have We Been. Ilderton, ON: Brick Books, 1982.
  • Wittgenstein Elegies. Edmonton: Academic Printing & Publishing, 1986.
  • The New Room. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1989.
  • Songs for Relinquishing the Earth. London, ON: Brick Books, 1998.
  • 21 Small Songs. Mission, BC: Barbarian Press, 2000.
  • Wisdom & Metaphor. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2003.
  • Robinson's Crossing. London, ON: Brick Books, 2004.
  • Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2005.


  • A Theory of Ineffability. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1982.
  • Lyric Philosophy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
  • Contemplation and Resistance: A Conversation (with Tim Lilburn). Saskatoon, SK: JackPine Press, 2003.


  • Why I Sing the Blues: Lyrics & poems (edited by Jan Zwicky and Brad Cran). Vancouver: Smoking Lung Press, 2001.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy Brock University.[3]


  • "Wittgenstein and the Logic of Inference", Dialogue, Vol. XXI, No. 4, December 1982
  • "Bringhurst's Presocratics: Lyric and Ecology" in Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays and Interviews (edited by Tim Lilburn) - 1995
  • "Plato's Phaedrus: Philosophy as Dialogue With the Dead", Apeiron, Vol. 30, No. 1, March 1997
  • "Being, Polyphony, Lyric: An Open Letter to Robert Bringhurst", Canadian Literature, No. 156, Spring 1998
  • "The Geology of Norway", Harvard Review of Philosophy, Vol. 7, Spring 1999
  • "Dream Logic and the Politics of Interpretation" & "Once Upon a Time in the West: Heidegger and the Poets" in Thinking and Singing: Poetry & The Practice of Philosophy (edited by Tim Lilburn, with an introduction by Brian Bartlett (includes works by Robert Bringhurst, Dennis Lee, Tim Lilburn, and Don McKay)) - 2002
  • "Wilderness and Agriculture" in The Eye in the Thicket: Essays at a Natural History (edited by Sean Virgo) - 2002
  • "Integrity and Ornament" in Crime and Ornament, edited by Bernie Miller and Melony Ward 2002
  • "Oracularity", Metaphilosophy, Vol. 34, No. 4, July 2003
  • "The Ethics of the Negative Review", Malahat Review, No. 144, Fall 2003
  • Introduction to Hard Choices: Climate Change in Canada, edited by Harold Coward and A.J. Weaver 2004
  • "Mathematical Analogy and Metaphorical Insight", The Mathematical Intelligencer, Vol. 28, No. 2 2006
  • '"Lyric, Narrative, Memory" in A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory (includes works by Robert Finley, Patrick Friesen, Aislinn Hunter, and Anne Simpson) - 2006
  • "Lyric Realism: Nature Poetry, Silence and Ontology", Malahat Review, No. 165, Winter 2008
  • "Alcibiades' Love" in Philosophy as a Way of Life: Ancients and Moderns, edited by Michael Chase and Michael McGhee, Oxford: Blackwells, in press.


  • "There is No Place That Does Not See You" - 2002 Interviewed by Anne Simpson in Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation (edited by Tim Bowling)
  • "The Details: An Interview with Jan Zwicky" - 2008 Interviewed by Jay Ruzesky in the Malahat Review, No. 165, Winter 2008


  • "Contemplation and Resistance: A conversation [with Tim Lilburn]" reprinted in Lyric Ecology (edited by Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet, 2010)

See also Edit


External links Edit

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