‘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.

Monday 1 June 2015

One thought about sexism in SF and Fantasy

This is a topic much discussed, and the sexism of most older and much newer SF and Fantasy is very often deprecated, rightly so. But discussion sometimes seems to me to miss a crucial point. Sexism is much less a matter of content than it is of form. One does not 'solve', or even really address, the sexism of SF and Fantasy by swapping out a kick-ass hero for a kick-ass heroine, if one thereby keeps all the other elements untouched. Levi R. Bryant makes this point over on his Larval Subjects blog:
The difficulty is that it is the form or structure, not the content, that must be transformed to produce genuine psychodynamic or political transformation. One might believe that they’ve produced a radical transformation by switching from donuts to coffee, but both are still toruses. The structure remains the same. This was the criticism of Soviet style socialism. At the level of content it had changed the nature of distribution, but structurally, in its reliance on the Fordist factory model, it still had the same structure or form of alienation. Similarly, one does not undermine patriarchy simply by putting a woman in charge. Patriarchy is not defined by its content—a particular gender occupying the position of power—but by its structure: an autarch at the top structuring social relations. It’s that structure that has to be addressed, not the organ of a person that occupies a particular point in a topology. In this regard, it is not unusual to encounter atheists that were once religious fundamentalists that still have exactly the same structure of thought they had when they were religious fundamentalists. The content of their thought has changed, yet they still have the same structure of thought: dogmatism, evangelicism (their message of atheism and science must be shared with everyone as it’s the Truth), belief in a being that holds a privileged position (man replaces God), and inflexibility when encountering things that don’t fit their dogma, a curious lack of open mindedness, etc. The question is that of how it’s possible to produce a structural transformation that is not simply a variation of the same, that’s not one more iteration of the coffee cup that is a donut.
If you follow the link you'll see a nifty little animated gif that makes sense of his donuts/coffee-cup analogy.

1 comment:

  1. On twitter Kate Elliot rebuked me for, as she saw it, implying that women don't engage in discussion of precisely this question ('well yeah except us women who discuss this but our voices and comments get discounted or aren't heard I guess') Well, that wasn't my intention, and have amended 'discussion often seems' to 'discussion sometimes seems'. If I'm personally not aware of so many women -- or men -- discussing the specifically structural question, and have sometimes come across feminists arguing that changes need to be made to the content of classic SF/Fantasy modes, then that probably reflects my own inevitable sexist biases.