‘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.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

This Forthcoming The This

 


There's an Amazon page up now so I guess it's gone public: the cover of my next novel, due out February 2022 (or possibly a little later than that). The ‘terrible secret’ mentioned in the cover blurb might be that this is, in a manner of speaking, a science-fiction novelisation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (although of a much looser kind than was the case with my Kantnovel, The Thing Itself, which stuck quite closely, really, to the Critique of Pure Reason). ‘The This’ is a piece of Hegelian terminology. He was fascinated by the way ‘this’ is simultaneously the most general word imaginable, since literally anything can be a ‘this’, yet always intensely specific and individuated (this mug of tea, this person, this blogpost). Anyway, the novel is really about what this other blogpost calls ‘a Twitter analogue that may or may not be a nascent hive-mind poised to amalgamate all of humanity into a Borg-like synthesis.’ So I wouldn't worry too much about the Hegel side of things, if you'd rather not. It's all geisty good fun.

I wanted to use this line by Elvis Costello as my epigraph: when are you going to rise up? Wise up, Ghost. But though I tried several times I couldn't get copyright permission from Costello's people (couldn't, indeed, get so much as a reply) so I had to cut it. ‘What's that?’ I hear you ask. ‘Do you need to get and likely pay for rights clearance when all you're doing is quoting a single line from a pop song in a published book? Surely that counts as fair use!’ Oh my sweet summer child, no. Not in the least. Try dropping some Beatles lyrics into your next novel without clearing the rights, and wait for the lawyers' emails to come dropping into your inbox. Our copyright laws are messed up, really. But there you go.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Mind the Mount

 


Mount the mind! I don't have the mental resiliance and general writerly wherewithal to work through my Goodreads reviews (I have a similar egofragile aversion to my Amazon reviews, Waterstones reviews etc) but 4/5 and 3.8/5 is what the summary above suggests. Are those numbers right? Too high? Perhaps too low? There's only one way for you to know: get hold of a copy of my latest novel and have a read.

Friday, 6 August 2021

The Big Read Podcast: "The Thing Itself"



It feels, somehow, deplorably self-regarding to link to this, but it's so interesting and wide-ranging a discussion (over and above what these gentlemen say about my novel) that it would be a shame no to flag it up here. So: click this link to a more than two-hours discussion of my Kantian SF novel The Thing Itself. It, I promise you, is worth your time.

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.