‘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.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Landor Anger

Landoranger? Important part of his psychological, and therefore literary, make-up of course. I come, belatedly to Andrew Stauffer's interesting book on 'anger' in the Romantic period.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, two closely related developments in Europe changed utterly the functions and forms of anger in public discourse. Firs, the French Revolution inspired intense debate over anger’s role in, and in creating, new forms of civil society. From its beginnings, the Revolution was centered in an assertion that the anger of the people deserved respect, and had a legitimacy of its own … Second, the periodical press began a phase of rapid expansion that transformed the substance, style, and reach of the public voice. [Andrew M. Stauffer, Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism (Cambridge University Press 2005), 1]
Stauffer traces this ‘redefinition’ of anger through political, literary, legal and medical discourses -- his claim that a shift of the ‘metaphor’ of post-French-Revolutionary medical practice mean that ‘raging inflammations (or “angry” swellings) are reconceived as destructive diseases rather than purgative symptoms’ is one of the more striking, though perhaps less plausible, points he makes. Broadly, though, his thesis that through this period ‘indignation becomes a moral stance detached from the emotion of anger as such, which is firmly identified as a dangerous loss of self-control’ [4] is compelling. Stauffer’s literary focus is on Blake, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Godwin and Mary Shelley—he doesn’t, for example, mention Landor at all—but his case can be more broadly expanded. I wonder, perhaps, about the focus on self control, though, Important of course, but perhaps less ideologically charged than the question of control over others. Dickens's version of Landor, Boythorn, is choleric in an endearingly eccentric manner; but Oliver Twist's Mr Fang the magistrate (also not mentioned by Stauffer) is a great representation of the evil of unfettered anger precisely because he has power over others. Stauffer also quoted this fascinating passage from Godwin:
The men who grow angry with corruption, and impatient at injustice and through those sentiments favour the abettor of revolution, have an obvious apology to palliate their error; theirs is the excess of a virtuous feeling. At the same time, however amiable may be the source of their error, the error itself is probably fraught with consequences pernicious to mankind. Godwin, ‘On Revolutions’ Enquiry Concerning Political Justice 1793.
On poetry specifically he (Stauffer, I mean) says: 'Primarily under Rousseau’s influence, English poetry came to be governed by an aesthetic ideology of (authorial) sincerity and (readerly) sympathy that prohibited the essential theatricality and confrontational implications of angry satire. As the voice of poetry became more disembodied and more isolated in order to avoid imputations of theatricality, anger—a violent passion that relies on tone, gesture and facial expression for its communication to others—necessarily grew more problematic for Romantic lyric poets, whose work assumes soliloquy and apostrophe as its ground. How does one perform anger without a body, a voice, or an established dramatic context? One answer is to write very strongly worded imprecations and curses; yet such an unlyrical strategy invites charges of overreaction and overacting, or madness and insincerity. [5]'

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