‘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.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Readthrough 5 -- Antinomies of Realism chapters 8-12

Increasingly sticky. I've taken advantage of a slow Sunday morning to press ahead with this, but the returns seem to be diminishing. Chapter 8 'The Swollen Third Person, or, Realism after Realism' purports to be an analysis of what happens to 'style indirect libre' in the realist novel over the 20th-century. Briefly: J. thinks that the 'classic' novel is written in what he calls 'the objective third person', a more-or-less plain and declarative style; where, as the century goes on, it increasingly comes to be written in 'the subjective third person, [a] swollen or blank unidentified third person' style [174]. There's something in this, I think; the Flaubertian or (more to the point) Faulknerian style does interestingly blur third and first, objectivity and subjectivity. The point could have been more crisply made, perhaps. As it is, J. detours through a lengthy and rather rebarbative summary of Käte Hamburger's structuralist-narratological The Logic of Literature (1973) (J. calls her 'Käthe Hamburger' throughout, which is unfortunate) plus gobbets of Sartre. I don't know Hamburger's book, but the thicket of pseudo-Lacanian Sartrean notation it provokes in Jameson makes rather dreary reading.

The brief chapter 9 ('Kluge, or Realism after Affect') is hard to judge, since I am almost perfectly ignorant of Kluge's work (Wikipedia makes him sound interesting; and there's this, too). The chapter is a quick trot through the dialectical interaction of 'high' Modernist culture and mass popular culture; ground J. has covered pretty thoroughly elsewhere. There's some discussion of Doktor Faustus, a novel he sometimes calls Doctor Faustus. I wish he'd make up his mind what he wants to call it (there's a similar inconsistency with many other novel titles throughout the book).

So now we're into the study's final straight, a three-section 'Part Two' called 'The Logic of the Material'. The first chapter of this is 'The Experiments of Time: Providence and Realism'; and it starts promisingly enough:
Happy endings are not as easy to bring off as you might think, at least in literature: but they are in any case a literary category and not an existential one. [195]
There's a good reading of Dick's Martian Time-Slip which I'd have liked to see expanded: the weird left-field moments, almost never at the end of the story, when Dick's fiction sudden open into 'happiness'. J. then reads The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, a novel whose title he misremembers as The Personal Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner [200], but, hey: who's counting? Wilhelm Meister is presented via some further elephantine quotations [204-05 is one; 205-07 is another], followed by a more roundabout discussion of Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert. Some of this is a more than a little baffling: 'what we call ontological realism is to be characterized as a truly immanent kind of immanence' [211]. Indeed, there's a fair bit of this rather zen-like contemplating:
Would it make any sense to propose a parallel category of transcendental transcendence? I think so, provided we understand once again that we are operating within a secular corpus from which all genuine transcendence has been eliminated. [212]
I'm still thinking about that, but it's a little like pondering the sound of one James sunning.

James is there, too. The female characters in The Bostonians function as a 'far nastier and more malicious repudiation of politics than anything in the experiment of The Princess Casamassima' [214], which I think is right (although it's not helped by the fact that the latter novel is, pretty much, a failure). I'm still on the fence about the larger point: that actual novelistic representations of 'politics', as in Trollope's parliamentary novels say, are paradoxically not political but ontological; and vice versa. It's neat, but neatness in itself isn't necessarily an index of truth. And there are more errors in this chapter than any previous one, which is just distracting. A big one: the long and detailed discussion of Our Mutual Friend gets derailed when J. reveals he thinks 'Mr and Mrs Boffin miraculously survive a destructive railway accident' [221], something that never happens in the novel. (J. is thinking of the postscript, where Dickens recalls how he had to rescue the manuscript of the novel, for which Mr and Mrs B. are metonyms, from the actual Staplehurst railway disaster in which he was himself caught up.) It gives the impression that J. really hasn't been paying close attention during his reading. 'The very word "providence" is dropped fatefully in the course of every chapter of Middlemarch' [222]: 10 seconds online tells me that the word occurs 23 times in this 86-chapter novel; but the point still stands, I suppose. Indeed, J. is probably onto something when he notes that the realist novel is caught between the logic of (pseudo-Providential) emplotment and the logic of (verisimilitudinous) openness and freedom. The result, he argues, is a kind of formal fragmentation:
When relationships are focussed close-up in their intolerable proximity ("marriage is so unlike everything else," Dorothea reflects, "there is something even awful in the nearness it brings"), then a new dimension, a social continent has been discovered, which is the microcosm corresponding to the new macrocosms of collectivity on the level of cities and social classes. After this, the intricate molecular patterns of a Henry James; or the violent spasms of cruelty and self-abasement of a Dostoevsky; and on into the multiple sub-atomic languages of what we are pleased to call modernism itself. [226]
It's almost a cliché to read late Dickens as proto-Modernist; but it's quite striking to read Eliot that way too.

The next chapter, 'War and Representation', carries this larger argument through: how to 'write' war realistically, such that it comes over both as an individual experience and a collective, historical one? The epigraph is from Joseph Goebbels: 'Stalingrad is like a painting that cannot be observed from close up, but from which one must step back in order to do it full justice' [232]. There's discussion of the topography of war; of the fallacy by which war is represented as (for instance) 'Napoleon versus Kutuzov', Clausewitz's 'anthropomorphic notion of war as a duel' [239] (Clausewitz nowhere, I think, compares war to 'a duel': on the contrary, he sees it as lacking any of that kind of formal structure: 'War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will ... To introduce into the philosophy of War itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity'. But OK). Long quotations from Golo Mann's Wallenstein (1971) stand-in for analysis. I was puzzled by J. saying that in Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut 'sets the firebombing of Dresden offstage' [251] -- does he?

And so to the final chapter: 'The Historical Novel Today, or, Is It Still Possible?' and J.'s attempt to reconcile the fact that 'the historical novel has never been so popular or abundantly produced' despite the fact of our 'present-day enfeeblement of historical consciousness' [259]. The prestidigitator's flourish in this chapter is the thesis that historical novels are not really about history, and that 'History' often appears much better (though even then, only 'fitfully' [262]) in non-historical novels. There's a long and interesting account of War and Peace via Boris Eikenbaum's observation of three levels of 'historical error' in the novel: one, the anachronistic (lots of the specific details are wrong because Tolstoy is reproducing the experiences of his own youth in the 1840s/50s rather than researching the 1800s-10s); two the 'generic discontinuities' of mashing together the immiscible 'domestic or family novel' and 'the war novel'; and three the embarrassing and dull second postscript 'philosophy of war' stuff [280]. J. thinks the postscript is actually an attempt to solve narratological, not philosophical or historical ones (the 'solution' is that 'named characters are able to stand for the masses behind them in an non-allegorical way' [285], it seems). There's some stuff on Dos Passos, on The Waste Land, and a cool mention of the excellent Red Plenty. The chapter, and book, closes with a reading of Christopher Nolan's Inception (which J. likes because its dream sequences are not 'cut aways' or 'flashbacks' but complexly embedded contemporaneities: an 'aesthetic of absolute present, where, as Adorno warned about late capitalism, all negativity has been tendentially reduced and extirpated' [300]); and a reading of Cloud Atlas as 'a new form of the historical novel defined by its relation to future fully as much as to past' [305]. I'd like to buy this latter, if the future sections of that novel weren't so much feebler than the historical ones. But Jameson gushes, rather, over Mitchell's novel (and even over its 'excellent' film adaptation: 'a magnificent collection of performances'), which results in a mushy sort of ending. There's also some discussion of a text identified as 'Road Warrior'; but I don't know what this is. Mad Max 2, maybe?

So the read-through is done, and so am I. I'll digest for a bit and then write up my review. Current status: hmmm.


  1. I would have said that the firebombing of Dresden was the stage of Slaughterhouse-5.

    The references to Cloud Atlas et al gave me a jolt - I had no idea the book was that recent. I somehow always think of Jameson as an early post-modernist (or a slightly belated modernist), not as our contemporary. Incidentally, IMDB suggests that Mad Max II was first released in the US as The Road Warrior, before being re-released as Mad Max II: The Road Warrior.

    J. is probably onto something when he notes that the realist novel is caught between the logic of (pseudo-Providential) emplotment and the logic of (verisimilitudinous) openness and freedom. The result, he argues, is a kind of formal fragmentation

    That would have made an interesting book.

  2. I didn't get anything very much from the Cloud Atlas section other than a slightly queasy sense of J. patting himself on the back for name-checking a contemporary novel, and SF to boot.

  3. The firebombing of Dresden is off stage in Slaughterhouse-5 in that we don't actually see the bombs falling. But then, the novel concerns the aftereffects of the bombing, rather than the bombing itself.

  4. Paul: but aren't there also scenes of Billy P. in the train being taken to Dresden, and of him in Dresden when the bombing happens locked in his cellar, as well as scenes to do with the after effects?