‘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 8 May 2016

Be Bloody, Humboldt and Resolute

I'm reading Humboldt's Gift (1975) at the moment (I've read a lot of Bellow, but oddly not this one, although it is one of his most acclaimed titles). Good it is, too, as Yoda might say. I find myself thinking: how desperately Martin Amis wishes he had written this novel. No dice there. There's a depth and resonance to the ill-temper of Bellow's imaginative vision that Amis just can't seem to reproduce. With Marty it always come over as common-or-garden grumpiness. With Bellow, it starts to approach something more crankily magnificent. Although in this novel the rage starts slow. Charlie Citrine, the narrator, wrestles with his poisoned oedipal relationship to Humboldt, an older writer, and as ornery an old dinosaur as you please. When Charlie was young, Humboldt nurtured him. After Charlie became successful, Humboldt turned on him:
When reports were brought of the damaging remarks he made I often found that I agreed with them. "They gave Citrine a Pulitzer prize for his book on Wilson and Tumulty. The Pulitzer is for the birds—for the pullets. It's just a dummy newspaper publicity award given by crooks and illiterates."
Here's the bottom of the back of the bashed-about old Penguin edition I'm reading:

Lovely stuff.

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