‘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.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

British Fantasy Award Shortlisting for "End of the World"


Equal parts chuffed and amazed to see It's The End of the World on the (strong!) shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards. Winners will be announced at FantasyCon in September.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

News and Reviews


Here's a thoughtful post on Purgatory Mount by Alan Jacobs. And here, via Soundcloud, is an event I did with Andrew Biswell of the Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester, on Dystopias. At the Scottish festival Cymera I appeared in conversation with Arkady Martine, talking about galactic empires and space operas. I'm not sure if this discussion has been posted online yet (though I blogged a little about some of the thoughts it prompted in me, here). This year's Hugo and Nebula awards have been announced. I have never won, never been shortlisted for, or even been longlisted for any fiction or non-fiction Hugo or Nebula, a state of affairs that has continued this year and that will, clearly, continue as long as I live.  What can I say? If I aspired to such honours I should, I suppose, write books that are less shit. I mean, that sounds like hard work; but there you go. In more positive news: my son Daniel became Bar Mitzvah recently: I wrote about the experience here.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Purgatory Mount: a Reader's Assessment


My friend Rich Puchalsky has written two twitter-threads on the Mount. The first records his reservations about the novel, which he thinks 'interesting' but not really successful; the second is about eagles. You should read them both.

I'm not going to reply to Rich's points here; an author bickering with a review is an unseemly sight, and anyway a reader is generally in a better place to judge the success or failure of a novel than its author is. So Rich is probably right that the book doesn't work. I will, though, add one short comment to his second thread. As he says, I had to swap out some Tolkien things, most notably the names of my five 'wizards', since my publishers baulked (understandably) at tangling with the Tolkien estate's notoriously protective attitude to its copyrights. This is a shame, I think (as Rich says: the swap doesn't work nearly so well), and he's right that it means the valence of the eagles as last-minute redeemers gets muddied. The eagle is an American symbol as well, and all the things Rich says are right, I think, about how the novel is interested in forgetting, individual and collective, and my sense, from the far side of the Pond, of America as 'the United States of Amnesia'. But he misses the specifically punitive eagles quoted in the book's epigraph, Portrait of the Artist, which are about pecking out your eyes unless you apologise, or are perhaps more alarmingly if more importantly about how those two things are, in some sense, equivalents. Joyce was certainly very interested in Dante. Whole books have been written on this topic: '"The past," warns Reynolds, "encumbers even while it enriches and invigorates".' Well. Quite.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Middlemarch: Epigraphs and Mirrors (2021)


Today my short monograph Middlemarch: Epigraphs and Mirrors is published by @OpenBookPublish. It is, as its title suggests, a reading of Eliot's marvellous novel via the text's many epigraphs and embedded quotations, some of which I track-down and identify for the first time. That sounds dry I know, but I hope I make something a little more illuminating and engaged out of these readings, to do with Eliot's distinctive and powerful modes of realism, reading the mirror-like and lens-like effects of Eliot's complex allusiveness in terms of her mimesis. There are chapters on the novel's intertextualities via George Sand and Pascal, Sappho, 19th-century Science, Tolstoy and Zola, Rousseau, Homer and Sophocles, Goethe and Guizot, bits and bobs on paintings and music and bells, Brownian motion and Herodotus. I am Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature and Culture after all. 

Sunday, 4 April 2021

It’s the End of the World: But What Are We Really Afraid Of?


Delighted and, I'm not going to lie, a little surprised to hear that my It’s the End of the World: But What Are We Really Afraid Of? (Elliot and Thompson 2020) has won the non-fiction BSFA Award. It really is an extraordinary and unexpected honour, particularly considering the strength of the shortlist. It was a strange business, writing a book about the end of the world whose publication coincides with a global pandemic and lockdown. next time I'm going to write a book about world justice, communism, happiness and utopia and see what happens.