A couple of posts back, I asked what a musical philosophy might sound like — how it would differ from more clinical or problem-solving approaches. A friend has just reminded me that I had faced that question – the question of a musical or lyrical philosophy — 16 years or more ago in an essay he had just read for the first time. It was on Henry Bugbee and it explored what I called his “Lyrical Philosophy of Place.” It was blushingly refreshing to reread those forgotten passages. They go like this:
So I return to Socrates and the voice that whispered, “Socrates, make music and compose.” Does this mean his life was off-course, that he should have turned to music, become less cerebral, more poetic? Or is he musing on a vision he has in fact partially fulfilled, that he finds himself answering in his action? If his life served to answer this haunting voice, it would be already not merely critique but musical, poetic.
Architecture has been called frozen music. We could alter this image to our advantage: when music freezes, it becomes architecture. If Bugbee ever had to choose between thought as music-frozen and thought as music-fluid there’s no doubt which he’d have. The thinking of our best builders aspires to erect a frame to outlast floods and fires and ravages of time, a frame aspiring to immortality. Yet the power and eternity of liquid streams is something else again.
Music is the most passing of the arts, yet nonetheless eternal for all that. As music, lyrical philosophy is not depleted by being transitory, caught only in passing. Its power lies in how it passes, how it grows and builds, winds down, and disappears into a silence not alien to itself but all its own—and lasting in its passing. It creates its own life, and its own wake and aftermath, which is its eternal glory or sadness—its lightness or heaviness—all spun out as flow.
If philosophy resurrects only Descartes’ or Kant’s architectural aims—to build a lasting edifice on strong foundations to span the ages—then we will sadly gravitate toward an impersonal, weightless language, and thus become weightless ourselves, good mainly for detached, clinical cogitations. There is an austere beauty in the static reflections of remote cables of logic and engineering, a beauty that can attain the frozen eternity of geometry. But lyric philosophy will aspire to embrace the prospects of a contrasting and fluid eternity. It will be held in the fragile perishability of flowing streams and simple calling sounds.
 That essay appeared in a collection I edited, Wilderness and the Heart: Henry Bugbee’s Philosophy of Place, Presence, and Memory, foreword by Alasdair MacIntyre, and later as a chapter in my Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Personal Philosophy from Thoreau to Cavell.