‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

On Maturity, Christianity, Bombs

Thinking about childishness. Yesterday, I observed a group of 13/14-year-olds in Bracknell Waterstones larking about (it being school holidays) and despite the sour glances of middle-aged book-browsers. Not me: I approve of kids larking about on principle. The principle, precisely, of kiddishness. But then one of them rebuked the others, in that owl-hooty, deep/suddenly-piping/deep-again voice adolescents use: 'oh God you're so immature!' I remember that from my own school days: 'immature' was a frequently deployed put-down. How we yearned to be mature! To be suave, confident, to smoke cigarettes and have kneeling women clutching our left-hand-sides whilst we stared moodily out at camera with our arms crossed, like James Bond. Now that I am mature I have to say: I am/do none of those things. But I wasn't to know that in 1978.

Now, in one sense, the desire to be 'mature' is very obviously a good thing: It's one of those magnetic forces drawing us through teenagerdom towards the Land of Grown Up. But it has its pernicious side. Or do I mean: the Land of Grown Up has comprehensively misunderstood what 'maturity' means? There's a reason why it's kids who fret most about it.

These thoughts have been occasioned by my listening to a number of Christian commentators on the radio about the current situation in the Middle East. I wonder about a particular tangle of motivations in the souls of Christians who seek to engage with the larger world, especially those who think such engagement must involve sending in 'our' military. What interests me is how such Christians square their faith with their ideology. I don't say so in a sneering way, incidentally: for though there doubtless are hypocrites amongst the ranks of Christians, as there are amongst every other group, many believers strive in good faith to constellate what the New Testament tells them about turning the other cheek and becoming again as a little child, and what their heads tell them about the need to engage in the world in a more -- shall we say -- mature manner than that.

I often feel that many Christians labour with a buried, or half-buried, sense of 'all that peace, love and forgiveness stuff is fine for kids; but sadly we are grown-ups and must deal with a grown-up world.' A little while ago I wondered whether the enduring appeal of Lewis's Narnia books doesn't have something to do with this, the way those novels elevate the Lion of Judah ('an aspect of Christ only marginally adumbrated in the Bible') to the central expression of the messiah’s nature.
The lamb pops up too, from time to time, in the later books; but you can’t help feeling that, subconsciously, Lewis just wanted a more carnivorous Jesus than the one supplied by his actual Bible. A Christ with bigger teeth.

This is political too, of course; and for many (genuine, devout) Christians part of the struggle of their faith is precisely to find a way of decanting off all the hippy, Communist, wimpiness with which their saviour is characterised in the NT. There is a certain type of Conservative for whom, the cosier he is at home, the more he feels that Christian values of ‘love’, ‘mercy’, ‘forgiveness’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ are best manifested in the world via helicopter gunships, daisycutters and the sanctioned torture of tan-skinned detainees.
That last bit is a touch snidely put, I concede; but there's a real question behind my rhetoric. The question is: why do we tend to assume, in our post Lord of the Flies, post-Battle-Royale world, that becoming again as a little child is the same thing as abduring violence? Do we really think kids aren't violent? The issue is maturity; and violence, whatever else it may be, and whatever other satisfactions it offers us, is not mature. The moment when you stop debating with somebody and instead punch them on the nose is the moment your maturity deserts you. The thought of all those fireworky explosions going off in Syria (boom! smash! crash!) is the sort of thing that delights a 5-year-old, not a 35-year-old.

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