‘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, 1 May 2014

Readthrough -- Antinomies of Realism: Chapters 1 and 2

And off we go. Jameson wants to argue, of course, that the realist novel is a historical form (‘closely associated with the bourgeoisie and the coming into being of bourgeois daily life’ [5]); but he wants to go deeper and more dialectically into it both as an aesthetic and a historical phenomenon. So he begins by setting out, across the first two chapters, two definitional concepts: narrative and affect.

The first of these is the subject of chapter 1: ‘The Twin Sources of Realism: the Narrative Impulse’. Here J. draws a distinction between récit and roman, the former a ‘tale, whose events are already over and done with before the telling of it can begin’ [9], the latter defined via Sartre as re-establishing ‘the open present of freedom, the present of an open undecided future.’ The introduction and first chapter of The Antinomies of Realism talk around this in a slightly hard-to-pin-down manner, although it gets in-a-nutshelled as James’s venerable distinction between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ [21]. Not that Jameson wants to privilege the latter over the former: this is a dialectical enterprise all the way through. True, ‘Malraux, along with James himself, is biased in favour of showing rather than telling’ [22]; but Jameson puts in a good word for the immediacy and symbolic force of ‘telling’ too, via Paul Heyse’s reading of a told-not-shown Boccaccio story. Chapter 1 finishes with a breezy intervention into the philosophy of time:
This then is the moment to distinguish two kinds of time, two systems of temporality, which will be the basis for the argument that follows. The distinction is one between a present of consciousness and a time, if not of succession or of chronology, then at least of the more familiar tripartite structure of past-present-future. [24]
The point of this comes into clearer focus in chapter 2: not that Jameson thinks that ‘consciousness’ exists in some magic space outside past-present-future, but rather that there is an apprehension of time, accessible in art, that transcends the mundanity of clock-time, an open-ended expression of being that J wants to call ‘affect’. ‘Affect’ is the second definitional concept Jameson wants to put in place before he moves on to his reading of specific realist novelists; but before we go there it’s worth noting that, in essence, the distinction Jameson is groping towards is that of Frank Kermode’s ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’ from Sense of an Ending, a work missing from the bibliography here. That’s a shame. It wouldn’t be right to call this ‘re-inventing the wheel’, but only because Jameson is too clipped to do anything so time-consuming as reinventing. It’s a gesture towards the idea that he could, if asked, invent a wheel.

And so onto Chapter 2, ‘The Twin Sources of Realism: Affect or, the Body’s Present’. This is a much more troublesome concept than the first. It doesn’t so much matter that Jameson is reappropriating a word with a pretty hefty semantic field: he is up-front about this. It is ‘a technical term which has been strongly associated with a number of recent theories which alternately appeal to Freud or to Deleuze’ [28], but Jameson doesn’t mean it that way. He wants to distinguish ‘affect (in my sense of the word) from emotions as such.’[29]. What does he mean by the word?
I wish to redefine emotion as ‘named emotion’ and thereby not only to mark a structural difference between emotion and affect but also to underscore yet a further dimension of this problem, which involves the intervention of language as such. The new implication is that affect (or its plural) somehow eludes language and its naming of things (and feelings), whereas emotion is pre-eminently a phenomenon sorted out into an array of names … —love, hatred, anger, fear, disgust, pleasure and so forth. [29]
For Jameson this ‘affect’ is ‘nameless and unclassifiable’ [33]; it is somatic (‘the senses are mobilised' [33]); it ‘seems to have no context, but to float above experience without causes’ [35] (although ‘this is not to say that in reality affect has no causes whatsoever’). He aligns it with ‘impressionism and post-impressionism in painting, the Wagnerian revolution in music’ [42]. Old fashioned récit-based emotions are like Beethoven’s sonata form, he suggests; affect is like Wagner’s sonic chromatism. And of course, most centrally of all, ‘affect’ is crucial to the way the Realist novel works; a new concept in the novel linked to ‘a new bodily reality’ [40], intimately connected in turn with the rise of the bourgeoisie. We are given a date: ‘it is towards the mid-century, let us say in the 1840s’ that this new thing ‘become[s] audible, at least for the most alert modern arts that scan the era for the new.’

This, though, is all wrong; and wrong in a way more fatal for the argumentation of a critic like Jameson (‘always historicize!’) than it might be for another kind of thinker. It’s not that his concept of the ‘affect’ is incoherent—it’s not, and it may even be an important way of reading Tolstoy, Zola and so on. But it does not begin in the 1840s (kind of late in the day to be situating the ‘rise of the bourgeoisie', don’t you think?). It begins earlier.

Specifically, Jameson is talking about, without mentioning, Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’. (There's one, baffling reference in passing to 'Wordsworth's imbeciles' [28]; but that's not right at all. The 'spots of time' are 'affects' in this sense that apply to the growing Wordsworth himself, not to one of his leech gatherers). The parallel, actually, is very precise. The Prelude falls formally outside the remit of ‘the realist novel’ because it is, you know, an epic-length blank verse poem; but Wordsworth’s textual strategies are very ‘realist’: the accumulation of precisely observed, specific real-life detail and qualia, a balance between ‘récit’-like summary of a life story with transcendent poetic presentisms.

It is not just nit-picking to point this out. Jameson applies ‘affect’ to the realist novel in this tail-wagging-the-dog manner because he wants to talk about the realist novel, and for no other reason: not because it leads historically into the period of the rise of Realism. In fact, suggesting that affect comes into being with the realist novel is historically wrongheaded. And what it so grievously misses is the way Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ very precisely name a politically revolutionary affect—bliss was it in that dawn to be alive and so on.

In other words, Jameson is running the risk of applying a central, defining feature of Romantic art (really: almost a thumbnail definition of Romantic art) to a completely different body of work. It's a kind of historical category error, and does not fill the reader-reviewer with confidence.

Nor, I have to say, does the general level of more trivial errors. Some of these are negligible (‘It is crucial not to load one of these dies …’ [22]: um, the plural is dice). There are various little slips, of the sort of which Jameson is often guilty, and indicative of haste, or a disinclination to revise, or perhaps of a haughty disregard for getting things spot-on (Aristotle never wrote a book called Nichomachean Ethics [29]; its title is Nicomachean Ethics. Stuff like that.) Some are more substantive.
It is indeed a delicate philosophical problem, if not a false one altogether, to distinguish between a phenomenological state of being—say the experience of anger—and the word by which it is is named: “Sing, Muse, the wrath of Achilles”—thumos. [30]
This is just wrong. θῡμός (‘the soul, or spirit, Latin anima’, sometimes used to mean 'passion') is not the word Homer uses in that desperately famous opening line: that’s μῆνις, ‘rage, wrath’. It’s the single most famous line of poetry in all of ancient Greek verse (Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος). Does Jameson really not know it?

Chapter 2 ends with this little 'emotion' versus 'affect' table which is, as near as I can figure it, complete bobbins:

[Part 2 of the readthrough is here]


  1. Weird. Is he trying to reinvent the sublime while he's about it? I'm not clear what any of this has to do with realism; it looks more as if somebody walked in on Jameson and said "but is Dorothy Richardson actually any good?" and this is is book-length "Yes, dammit!".

    Still, early days - keep us posted!

  2. To me that table is completely nonsensical; could you possibly extend it upward to reveal the preceding sentence? I suspect that without it I am (despite your explanations) misinterpreting the table. Certainly I cannot think of any emotion directly or distinctly related to the 'closed sonata form'.

  3. Roxton: the penultimate paragraph is about Zola ('it is with the development of Zola's extraordinary bodily and linguistic sensibility that the realistic novel is able to deploy the possibilities of what James was to call "the scene as such".') Then the final para: 'We may conclude this introductory discussion of affect with a table in which the variety of its forms is systematically contrasted with those of the older named emotions."

  4. Phil: weird indeed! And he doesn't do Richardson, more's the pity. It's Zola, Tolstoy, Galdos, Eliot, Kluge.

  5. Interesting post.

    I'm curious, Phil - what makes you mention Dorothy Richardson in your comment?