‘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, 23 August 2015

Adam Mars-Jones on Postmodernism.

Long critical-analysis short: he doesn't like.
Postmodern games have a necrotising effect on a novel’s flesh. The dispiriting thing about literary postmodernism is that it reinforces the writer at the expense of the reader in what was already an asymmetrical relationship. Art is always a one-way sharing: I can be privy to Dante’s mind but he is impervious to mine. Readerly freedom operates within constraints, and abrupt changes of convention paralyse it. If it was crass on some readers’ part to have confused the narrator of Portnoy’s Complaint with its author, what is the correct readerly response to the lengthy passage in The Counterlife in which Nathan Zuckerman’s young editor gives a eulogy at his funeral analysing the dead man’s succès de scandale? (‘It’s still diabolically funny, but what was new to me was a sense of how sad the book is, and emotionally exhausting.’) Numbness perhaps. Later it turns out that Zuckerman himself wrote the eulogy for the editor to deliver. Meta-numbness.

Having the rug pulled from under your feet certainly gives you a fresh perspective on the ceiling, but it’s also likely to breed a chronic mistrust of rugs.
Snappily put, as ever with Mars-Jones. The puzzling thing for me, here, is the implicit though unarticulated contrary: as if he actually believes the business of the novel is to enhance our trust in rugs. Because, you know: if we can't trust our rugs, our own damn rugs, then how can civilized life continue?

I like The Counterlife a good deal more than Mars-Jones, evidently, does, though I'd agree it is a novel with various, quiet serious problems. Then again, many of those problems would be addressed by tugging its own rugs with a little more force.

No comments:

Post a Comment