‘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 31 December 2014

Scattered Thoughts on Animal Ethics and 'Divinanimality'

Earlier this year I read certain books on 'animal ethics' and 'divinanimality' for review, and blogged my progress through them. I meant to post a round-up of links to those individual posts at the time, but didn't get around to it. So here, better late than never, are the posts:

First, I read Cynthia Willett's monograph Interspecies Ethics (2014) at some length.

Second, I read Andrew Linzey's edited collection of essays that sets out to prove The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence (2014)

Thirdly I read Stephen D Moore (ed), Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology (2014). One of the contributors, Eric Daryl Meyer, responded (courteously) in the comments to my not-very-positive review, and pointed out a few things I missed. Accordingly I read Professor Meyer's essay at greater length, here. Discussion continued in the comments.

Sticking with 'Divinanimality', I found little of substance in Erika Murphy's essay: 'Devouring the Human: Digestion of a Corporeal Soteriology'.

Monday 29 December 2014

My Secret Fear of the Theatre

I went to a number of plays this year, an observation remarkable only in the context of how rarely I go to the theatre. In part this reflects the restrictions and exigencies of having small children (although, that said, two of our theatre ‘outings’ in 2014 were with the kids in mind: Emile and the Detectives and the Slava Snowsnow, both at the South Bank). Partly it is a bias, or prejudice, by which, my sensibilities having been shaped by cinema and (especially) TV, I prefer my acted drama in screen form. I sometimes joke with my friend Dan Rebellato, Professor of Theatre at Royal Holloway University of London no less, and a man who feels his day incomplete if he doesn’t see three separate avant garde theatrical performances at three different dramatic spaces—that I find his love for the living stage incomprehensible. And he jokes in return that my obsession with science fiction strikes him exactly the same way. But where the joke is, I suspect, close to the truth for him, I’m not really baffled by his love for the Stage. On those rare occasions where I do see a play, and a story is told in the sweat and breath of present actors, I am always struck by the power of the occasion. In fact, it is probably that very power that disinclines me from going to see more live plays. It’s like William Empson says, in his Essays on Renaissance Literature:
It was quite frequent on the sands for one of the kids to bellow because Punch was too hard to take, and this unfortunate would be carried away by its nurse; but the elder children, when I was one, proud that they could take it, would laugh on till the final hanging of Punch as their Victorian parents had done at the same age. I have been secretly afraid of the theatre ever since, but I feel I know what it is about.
Both my undergraduate degree and the subject of my PhD were English Literature/Classics, and in both cases the Classics side was heavily inclined toward the theatrical: my UG dissertation was ‘colour terms in Euripides’ (exciting, no?) and my PhD looked at Robert Browning and (mostly) Aeschylus and Euripides. The thing about the Athenian stage is that it was a holy ritual as well as being the performance of a diverting narrative; and the heart of the holy ritual is fear—a timor divini either elevating or a debilitating, depending on the individual. People gather together and recite their resonant rote-learned lines in church, and in the theatre, and in both venues they do so to ward something off. It’s the thing being warded that scares me, I suspect; though I wouldn’t go so far as Empson in claiming quite so vehemently to know what it is about. The intervening screen (televisual, or cinematic) filters out much of this ancient numinous potency. Indeed, many of our screen texts are dimly aware of this fact, and respond by ramping up the volume. To capture the merest glimmer of the awful wonder of Lear’s pentuplet ‘never’ thousands must die on screen, disaster and catastrophe must be hyperbolically bodied forth in global disaster, city-obliterating explosions and the like. It’s a losing game, of course, and the more cinema increases the intensity the less we feel it. This, incidentally, is an occasion for relief rather than anything else; if we really felt the force of the deaths in Star Wars or The Avengers we'd be catatonic by the end of the performance.

Saturday 27 December 2014


I wonder exactly when the shift in the public perception of Ruskin occurred, from seeing him as a great sage and inspiration (as Gandhi, for example, saw him) to seeing him as a Victorian weirdo unable to contemplate his wife's pubic hair without freaking out—to, in short, seeing him as risible and dismissable? Of course, whilst our attention is wholly on our own sense of superiority to Ruskin's oddball sexual hang-ups, we are able to ignore the fact that he posed some of the most profound and relevant questions (today, if anything, more relevant than they have ever been) worth asking about the logic of Capitalism. This fact may not be a co-incidence. Sesame and Lilies 3, for instance:
Which of us, in brief word, is to do the hard and dirty work for the rest, and for what pay? Who is to do the pleasant and clean work, and for what pay? Who is do no work, and for what pay? And there are curious moral and religious questions connected with these. How far is it lawful to suck a portion of the soul out of a great many persons, in order to put the abstracted psychical quantities together and make one very beautiful or ideal soul? If we had to deal with mere blood instead of spirit, (and the thing might literally be done--as it has been done with infants before now)--so that it were possible, by taking a certain quantity of blood from the arms of a given number of the mob, and putting it all into one person, to make a more azure-blooded gentleman of him, the thing would of course be managed; but secretly, I should conceive. But now, because it is brain and soul that we abstract, not visible blood, it can be done quite openly, and we live, we gentlemen, on delicatest prey, after the manner of weasels; that is to say, we keep a certain number of clowns digging and ditching, and generally stupefied, in order that we, being fed gratis, may have all the thinking and feeling to ourselves.

Did you ever send your Wife to Camberwell?

Well? Did you?

[This is from the title page to the Victorian farce Duck Hunting, first performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1862.]

Friday 19 December 2014

Early Experiments with Electricity

It was in the year 1746 that those celebrated experiments were made by Muschenbroek, Cuneus, and Kleist. ... one of the party who was holding the bottle attempted to disengage the wire communicating with the prime conductor of a powerful machine; the consequence was, that he received a shock, which ... his fright magnified and exaggerated in an amusing manner. In describing the effect produced on himself by taking the shock from a thin glass bowl, Muschenbroek stated in a letter to Réaumer, that "he felt himself struck in his arms, shoulders, and breast, so that he lost his breath, and was two days before he recovered from the effects of the blow and the terror," adding, "he would not take a second shock for the kingdom of France." M. Allamand, on taking a shock, declared "that he lost the use of his breath for some minutes, and then felt so intense a pain along his right arm, that he feared permanent injury from it." Winkler stated that the first time he underwent the experiment, "he suffered great convulsions through his body; that it put his blood into agitation; that he feared an ardent fever, and was obliged to have recourse to cooling medicines." The lady of this professor took the shock twice, and was rendered so weak by it, that she could hardly walk. The third time it gave her bleeding at the nose.
From Henry Minchin Noad, Lectures on Electricity (1844).

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Richard Dadd, Frontispiece to The Kentish Coronal (1841)

This is pre-insanity Dadd, and apparently one of the works that established his reputation as an artist. Not sure about that, myself; but it's nice to see the county in which I grew to adulthood recorded. The 'Invicta' motto, and the white horse on its back legs, is still on all Kent County Council buildings and paraphernalia to this day. As for the volume itself:

Monday 15 December 2014

Peter Blake, Four Wood Engravings for "Under Milk Wood" (1999)

Walter Savage Landor, 'Britannia' (1858)

OK, I said the last one was the last; but this is only one line long, and I rather like the implicit imperial vainglory in it (since Landor himself was a lifelong Republican). It's 'Number 368' of the Dry Sticks, Fagoted, and it reads:
Ubicunque pontus est ibi Britannia est.

Wheresoever is the sea, there is Britain.
It was, it seems, a phrase often quoted by British writers in the second half of the 19th-century, to stress our imperial reach and manifest destiny (check it out; scroll down past the first hit, which is Landor's original). What's really interesting about this is that Landor is riffing (as it were) off another famous Republican poet and Latinist, John Milton. In a letter of 15 August 1666, to Peter Heimbach, Milton wrote: 'Ubicunque est bene, Patria est': 'wheresoever one is happy, that is one's homeland'. A rather different sentiment, I'd say!

Right: definitely enough Landorian Latin, now. Onwards!

Water Savage Landor, Ad Suthei (1858)

The third, and last (for a while) of these: since I need to crack on with some real work. So, another poem from Dry Sticks, Fagoted, these hendecesyllabics are addressed to Landor's close friend, Robert Southey. They are translated into rather halting eleven-syllable lines (harder to get the proper hendecesyllabic effect in English than you might think, it turns out). As with the previous post, it's tricky to know how to replicate in English the effect of repeating the same word in a different inflection, in the last line.

To Southey

Heu patrum optime, quanta perdidisti
Vitae commoda, filio vocato
Illuc unde homini nefas redire!
At scis qui vocatesse redditurum
Detersis lacrimis in omne seclum.
Si tanta abstulit auferetque paucis,
Paucis, quod superbat tibi, reliquit ...
Sublime ingenium, probos amicos,
Et domum unanimam haud dolore solo.
Fles natum pater, atque fles acerbé:
Mox tecum reputes, pius tenerque
Quanto fleret acerbius parentem
Et solatia quae forent ademti!
Non ut parcius hunc minusve amanter
Tandem respicias rogo aut probarem,
Sed suave alloquium venustaque ora,
Quae natura dabat, sinas perisse
Et quodcumque dare assolet juventae,
Impertita licet minore cura.
Tu, quodcunque erat unico his in annis,
Doctrinae bona sanctitudinemque
Morum, qua melius probentur esse
Jam ducas utinam, petoque, Suthei!
Famae pars ea magna sunt paternae,
Perennique perenniora fama.

Alas, strength of our Fathers: how much is lost,
Of their upright way of living for that man
on whom men’s evil rebounds—the poet-son!
But be aware who speaks of reclamation,
who has wiped away each generation’s tears.
Since he took away much from those with little
only little remains to give—surpassing you…
of your sublime character, upright friendship,
your well-ordered, never sad or lonely home.
You grieve, son to father, and grieve bitterly:
pressing innocence, kindness and tenderness,
yet how much harsher for the weeping parent
who would have been deprived of suchlike comfort!
Not through any lessening or lack of love
that could at last look, or ever ask to test,
but from these eloquent and graceful mouths
that nature gave, that you never relinquished
and whatever the saying is to give youth,
having fitly communicated small cares.
you alone gave us, through such uncertain years,
the virtue and the sanctity of well-learnt
manners, making us more upright and honest:
lead us now in that, I beseech you, Southey!
May you share the great fame of your parents’—
Perennial fame that lasts forever.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Walter Savage Landor, 'Dolendus' (1858)

Another piece of Landorian Latin from Dry Sticks Fagoted. I had several goes at this: it's a little tricky to get right. 'Dolendus' is the gerund of 'deleo', which means both 'physical pain, hurt, suffering' and 'mental pain, grief, lamenting' [update: my mistake. Phil, in the comments, is right: this is the Gerundive, not the Gerund--'to be lamented', 'lamentable']. 'Dolentur', in the first line, means 'with pain or sorrow, painfully', and the repetition of terminology is hard to recapture in English. The sense, broadly, is: 'Unhappiness itself is when a man unhappily says ['dixerit' is third-person singular perfect active subjunctive of dīcō, 'I say', and the subjunctive is famously tricky to put across in English] he had once been a friend, now he is unworthy of that name.'

Dolendus ille qui dolenter dixerit
Erat olim amicus, esse nunc indignus est.

The saddest thing is that man who'll sadly say
He who'd been a friend once is unworthy today.

Suffering itself: the man who will sadly say
He was my friend once, but he is not so today.

Grievousness itself is he who'll say in grief
His passing time as my true friend: it was too brief.

Or maybe without the clunking rhyme:

The most painful thing: he who's pained to say:
He had been my friend once; now he's unworthy.
Still not there. Hmm.

Water Savage Landor, 'Amicus Meus, Strenuus Miles, Vulneratus' (1855)


Perfusa quanto sanguine Hyems tepet
Britannico de fonte! Virilium
Semper fuisti victimarum
Prodiga, Taurica Chersonese!

Quis vulneratum deferet auribus
Nuper relictae celsum animi virum?
Pallebit ut conjux sub Haemo
Vipereo moritura morsu.

Spes insusurret credula credulae
Jam jam reversurum edomito Scythii,
Jam jamque sanandum; salutem
Contulerit popularis aura.

Equus sed idem non revehet domum,
Discerptus ille est sulphureo globo,
Restabat ante atque inter hostes
Solus eques, medius suorum.

Plerosque mortis perpetuus sopor
Pressit : quibusdem cara parentium,
Quibusdam et ipsis cariora,
Nomina contremuere labro.

Sublimiore, O Anglia, anhelitu
Nunquam attigisti culmina gloriae,
Nec fortiores militfirunt
Sub ducibus magis imperitis.

'To a Friend of Mine, A Hard-Fighting Soldier, Wounded'

So much gushing blood, enough to warm Winter,
flows from British fountains! It was always men
who were your sacrificial victims,
and in great numbers, Tauric Chersonese!

Who will carry such wounding news to her ears
tell the new widow of her hero-husband?
She will pale, like the wife under Haemus,
Bitten by a viper and certain to die.

Hope whispers credible credulity:
Right now he's coming, leaving conquered Scythia!
And right now: restored to health; delivered!
Or so the general rumour tells the story.

But his own horse can't carry him back home now,
Ripped to shreds by a sulphurous cannonball;
He stood, enemies before and beside,
The only cavalryman left alive there.

The rest taken by death's perpetual sleep.
As it pressed them some called for their dear parents,
And some for others dearer than themselves,
Whose names trembled on their dying lips.

Such heights, o England, strenuously achieved
Were never before reached: such peaks of glory;
Never have such brave soldiers
Served under officers so incompetent.

Note. The friend was Major David Paynter. The Athenaeum in 1899 noted the circumstances of this poem: 'Major (afterwards General) David Paynter, H. A , was in command of 1-A Battery at Inkerman, when his horse was shot under him. Landor's Latin verses on this incident were published in the Athenaeum, January 6th, 1855.' The verses were afterwards collected in Dry Sticks, Fagoted by Walter Savage Landor (1858)

So, yes: this is a Crimean War poem. The 'Tauric Chersonese' is the peninsular of Tauris, as in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris: modern-day Crimea. In Euripides' play, Iphigenia's opening monologue reveals her duties as the priestess of the goddess: 'There is a law here. A law that says that if a Greek man sets foot on this land, he will be sacrificed to the goddess. My duty is to purify him and to prepare him for the slaughter. The rest of the work—work that can not be talked about—is done inside. Inside the temple.' [George Theodoridis' translation]. Hence the reference to male sacrifices, in the first stanza. Similarly, 'Scythia' is the poetic-Latin for 'Russia'. Other references are equally classical: Mount Haemus is a Balkan peak, whose name means 'bloody'. The identity of the woman, snake-bitten and dying, is probably Eurydice, who was bitten by a viper and passed into the underworld from where Orpheus later rescued her. Ovid's Metamorphosis 10:77 has Orpheus grieving for his loss on 'windswept Haemus'. The point, presumably, is that Orpheus eventually got his woman back; and so too did Landor's friend emerge from the valley of death. Still: not even Tennyson's 'Charge of the Light Brigade' was so direct in calling the idiocy of the generals as Landor is, in the last line here.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Elena Ferrante

A rather more positive vision of the role of literary critics than is usual:
I appreciated James Wood’s review very much. The critical attention that he dedicated to my books not only helped them find readers but in a way it also helped me to read them. Writers, because they write, are condemned never to be readers of their own stories. What happens to the reader when he reads a story for the first time is effectively what the narrator experiences while he writes. The memory of first putting a story into words will always prevent writers from reading their work as an ordinary reader would. Critics like Wood not only help readers to read but especially, perhaps, help the author as well. Their function also becomes fundamental in helping faraway literary worlds to migrate.
From this interview with The New York Times.

Walcott: Puns as Praise

No opera, no gilded columns, no wine-dark seats,
no Penelope scouring the stalls with delicate glasses,
no practiced ecstasy from the tireless tenor, no sweets
and wine at no interval, no altos, no basses
and violins sobbing as one; no opera house,
no museum, no actual theatre, no civic center
—and what else? Only the huge doors of clouds
with the setting disc through which we leave and enter,
only the deafening parks with their jumping crowds,
and the thudding speakers. Only the Government
Buildings down by the wharf, and another cruise ship
big as the capital, all blue glass and cement.
No masterpieces in huge frames to worship,
on such banalities has life been spent
in brightness, and yet there are the days
when every street corner rounds itself into
a sunlit surprise, a painting or a phrase,
canoes drawn up by the market, the harbour’s blue
the barracks. So much to do still, all of it praise.

The 'setting disc through which we leave and enter', I suppose, is a Wordsworthian sun ('a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused,/Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns' and so on); and one of the questions this poem poses us is whether there's a deeper, we might say spiritual, significance in the principle of punning by which it structures itself. I don't just mean stuff like 'wine-dark seats', fine and groany though that pun is. I mean the visual punnning whereby the architecture of clouds and the architecture of opera houses are somehow juxtaposable, art and nature become versions of one another. It's the same gag as Joyce (ordinary life punningly recapitulates Homer), but that's not a problem; sometimes the oldest puns are the best; and like Joyce Walcott understands that puns' doubleness has depth that resonates in important ways, where plain one-to-one significance doesn't. I have no problem with puns, you'll be unsurprised to discover. And there's genuine splendour in the poem's last nine words. Now, that's a place to get to. Now there's a way to approach life!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Some More Thoughts on Harry Potter; or 'Kings in Disguise'

Gearing up to lecture on Harry Potter tomorrow, and pondering the sheer scale of its popular success. Really, it's only the more astonishing now that it is starting to wane and we can look back upon the phenomenon with a more objective eye. What was it about these novels that made them so huge? 'Because they're relatable,' says my teenage daughter and she has a point: kids at school read stories about kids at a school (except, a better, more wonderful school where kids learn magic) and connect with them. But actually I wonder if there's something more particular going on here.

When I last pondered these novels, after re-reading the whole lot earlier this year, I thought there was an unresolved contradiction in Rowling's attitude to 'pure blood' as a value and source of power:
On the one hand, there's the sustained critique of those Voldermortians (Voldermorticians?) and Malfoyers who believe that being 'pure blood' makes a person superior to mudbloods and muggles. Rowling makes the point repeatedly that they're idiots for thinking this; and quite right too. Plus you have Dumbledore's commendable and repeated insistence that a person is defined not by their birth but their actions. A bloodline is not some magic passport to special-ness or power. On the other hand is the fact that Potter's early life has been protected from being Death Ate by, precisely, his blood; or more precisely his mother's blood. And his aunt's. And Voldemort is undone by the same magic substance. ‘He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it!' explains Dead-Dumbledore; 'your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you!’ [Deathly Hallows, 568]. So it turns out a bloodline is a magic passport to special-ness or power after all. It just has to be the right bloodline! Which, when we come to think of it, is precisely what the pure blood brigade have always claimed.
I still think this is a problem, only now I think I'd frame it slightly differently. It's going to sound oblique (and in order to explain it I'm going to quote C K Chesterton at length, which may simply put you off), but bear with me. So: I think that, amongst other things, Rowling is trying to do a Dickensian something with her YA fantasy, not just formally but in terms of an agenda of social justice: girls are as clever as boys; racial purity is a noisome and destructive lie; fairness, decency, friendship and love are as important on the social as the personal level. I'd even be prepared to believe that Rowling is self-consciously 'doing' Dickens: big novels, bursting with characters and incident and so on. But actually I think that Rowling doesn't have the heart of Dickens. I think she has the heart of Scott. And to explain what I mean, here comes the long passage from Chesterton's 1906 Dickens book. It's one of my favourite pieces of critical prose, actually, with respect to Dickens but also, really, tout court; so I'm not going to apologise for the length.
Of all these nineteenth-century writers there is none, in the noblest sense, more democratic than Walter Scott. As this may be disputed, and as it is relevant, I will expand the remark. There are two rooted spiritual realities out of which grow all kinds of democratic conception or sentiment of human equality. There are two things in which all men are manifestly and unmistakably equal. They are not equally clever or equally muscular or equally fat, as the sages of the modern reaction (with piercing insight) perceive. But this is a spiritual certainty, that all men are tragic. And this, again, is an equally sublime spiritual certainty, that all men are comic. No special and private sorrow can be so dreadful as the fact of having to die. And no freak or deformity can be so funny as the mere fact of having two legs. Every man is important if he loses his life; and every man is funny if he loses his hat, and has to run after it. And the universal test everywhere of whether a thing is popular, of the people, is whether it employs vigorously these extremes of the tragic and the comic. Shelley, for instance, was an aristocrat, if ever there was one in this world. He was a Republican, but he was not a democrat: in his poetry there is every perfect quality except this pungent and popular stab. For the tragic and the comic you must go, say, to Burns, a poor man. And all over the world, the folk literature, the popular literature, is the same. It consists of very dignified sorrow and very undignified fun. Its sad tales are of broken hearts; its happy tales are of broken heads.

These, I say, are two roots of democratic reality. But they have in more civilised literature, a more civilised embodiment of form. In literature such as that of the nineteenth century the two elements appear somewhat thus. Tragedy becomes a profound sense of human dignity. The other and jollier element becomes a delighted sense of human variety. The first supports equality by saying that all men are equally sublime. The second supports equality by observing that all men are equally interesting.

In this democratic aspect of the interest and variety of all men, there is, of course, no democrat so great as Dickens. But in the other matter, in the idea of the dignity of all men, I repeat that there is no democrat so great as Scott. This fact, which is the moral and enduring magnificence of Scott, has been astonishingly overlooked. His rich and dramatic effects are gained in almost every case by some grotesque or beggarly figure rising into a human pride and rhetoric. The common man, in the sense of the paltry man, becomes the common man in the sense of the universal man. He declares his humanity. For the meanest of all the modernities has been the notion that the heroic is an oddity or variation, and that the things that unite us are merely flat or foul. The common things are terrible and startling, death, for instance, and first love: the things that are common are the things that are not commonplace. Into such high and central passions the comic Scott character will suddenly rise. Remember the firm and almost stately answer of the preposterous Nicol Jarvie when Helen Macgregor seeks to browbeat him into condoning lawlessness and breaking his bourgeois decency. That speech is a great monument of the middle class. Molière made M. Jourdain talk prose; but Scott made him talk poetry. Think of the rising and rousing voice of the dull and gluttonous Athelstane when he answers and overwhelms De Bracy. Think of the proud appeal of the old beggar in the Antiquary when he rebukes the duellists. Scott was fond of describing kings in disguise. But all his characters are kings in disguise. He was, with all his errors, profoundly possessed with the old religious conception, the only possible democratic basis, the idea that man himself is a king in disguise.

In all this Scott, though a Royalist and a Tory, had in the strangest way, the heart of the Revolution. For instance, he regarded rhetoric, the art of the orator, as the immediate weapon of the oppressed. All his poor men make grand speeches, as they did in the Jacobin Club, which Scott would have so much detested. And it is odd to reflect that he was, as an author, giving free speech to fictitious rebels while he was, as a stupid politician, denying it to real ones. But the point for us here is this that all this popular sympathy of his rests on the graver basis, on the dark dignity of man. "Can you find no way?" asks Sir Arthur Wardour of the beggar when they are cut off by the tide. "I'll give you a farm . . . I'll make you rich." . . . "Our riches will soon be equal," says the beggar, and looks out across the advancing sea.

Now, I have dwelt on this strong point of Scott because it is the best illustration of the one weak point of Dickens. Dickens had little or none of this sense of the concealed sublimity of every separate man. Dickens's sense of democracy was entirely of the other kind; it rested on the other of the two supports of which I have spoken. It rested on the sense that all men were wildly interesting and wildly varied. When a Dickens character becomes excited he becomes more and more himself. He does not, like the Scott beggar, turn more and more into man. As he rises he grows more and more into a gargoyle or grotesque. He does not, like the fine speaker in Scott, grow more classical as he grows more passionate, more universal as he grows more intense.
The response the beggar gives Sir Arthur Wardour (from The Antiquary, of course) is so brilliant and powerful, Chesterton is absolutely right to pick it out. Sends chills up my spine. But the properly salient passage here is this one: 'Scott was fond of describing kings in disguise. But all his characters are kings in disguise. He was, with all his errors, profoundly possessed with the old religious conception, the only possible democratic basis, the idea that man himself is a king in disguise.'

This, I think, is the ground of the strange 'relatability' of these globally popular novels: not class, or race, or gender, or school experience or anything like that; and neither because of any quasi-Dickensian textual campaigning against social injustice, creditable though that aspect of the novel-series is. It's that Rowling says to her child readers, repeatedly and eloquently: you are kings in disguise. You possess magical validity and force. And her child-readers grok it, because kids understand the Scottian insight better than adults do. Maybe that's because they are closer to the time when all human beings share perfect, imperial elevation and power, when the whole of creation bends its efforts to placating and maintaining them -- when we are babies, of course. Or maybe it is a more Chestertonian 'old religious conception', the same numinous if unconscious awareness that Wordsworth ascribes to childhood in the Immortality Ode. At any rate, it goes some way to explaining (I think) why Harry has to be the central character, rather than Hermione. Hermione is too obviously special: too clever, too multi-talented and self-disciplined and grounded and so on. Potter is the chosen one not despite but because he is so ordinary; because (the novels are saying) mere common ordinariness, like yours, like mine, is the absolute ground of magical royalty. We are all kings in disguise.

And the stamps at the top of this post? They're there because I like them, and because each of the four of them insinuate an actual monarch into their top right hand corners. But they do bring out one related point: the equally popular, equally enduring Narnia books say the same things, for (where Lewis was concerned) equally Chestertonian reasons. Lewis's ordinary English children are kings and queens of Narnia, not because Lewis thought representative parliamentary democracy delinquent and wicked, but because his faith told him that we are all of us, the entire demos, kings and queens of Narnia.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Landor's Cleanness

Out now. It's £50 in hardback, and though I'm proud of it (I might say 'I don't know of a better critical book about Landor', which in turn might look rather deplorably self-regarding, except that, really, there are no other critical books about Landor) I can hardy ask you, individually, to shell out such a sum. But if you have ordering rights at a University, or even a Public, Library I might beseech you to invoke them. Landor deserves to be better known.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

On Frege On Numbers, or: '135664 Fingers'

I've been trying to get a sense of Frege's critique of Kant's transcendental inductions by reading Anthony Kenny's book, which, had it been me, I'd have called Quoth the Fregean, Nevermore. The point of this post, though, is not puns; it's to notate a few thoughts and objections that occurred to me. Since these are second-hand, thoughts on Kenny's summary of Frege, I'll need at some point to go to the source if I ever want to firm them up. But this's close enough for government work for now (I'm sure Frege scholars have rehearsed all these points many times, and it's very possible I'm being boneheaded and myopic in my criticism. Let that stand for now).

1. So: Frege denies that numbers 'refer' to actual objects in the world; or rather (since number obviously do this: 'two dogs', 'three bananas') he wants to deny that this is all there is to numbers. Logic and arithmetic, he says, are realms of a priori truth. In The Foundation of Arithmetic, he insists that 'nobody can give a coherent answer to the question of what the number one is, or what the numeral "one" signifies.' To bring this out he imagines the following dialogue' [K, 50]
A. What is the number one?
B. It is a thing.
A, But what thing?
B. Anything you like.
A. So in an equation I can replace '1' with whatever I like?
B.Just as in 'x + x - x = x' you can replace x with any number.
A. In '1 + 1 = 2' can we replace '1' with 'the Moon'?
My objection here is the one I presume (I don't know) critics of Frege have already made: that there is semantic slippage away from 'replace "1" with any item I like' and towards 'replace "1" with a singular, non-additive object of my choice'. We could summarise this as the veiled shift from 'a' thing to 'the' thing. If cheeky little 'A' had decided to replace 1 with 'a' moon, there would be no problem. To spell this out, let's imagine that numbers refer not to 'the' thing but to accumulations of 'a' thing (apples, dogs, moons). A moon plus a moon equals two moons -- for instance, in orbit around Mars. This is clear enough, even in Kenny's summary: 'if we put "the Moon" in place of "1" both times, we seem to produce a falsehood: there is only one Moon circling the earth, not two. On the other hand, if we put something else in the second place, say "the Sun", we are doing exactly what we would not be allowed to do in B's parallel case. The algebraic formula expresses a truth only if we always substitute the same numeral for the same letter.' But this isn't right ('only' isn't right, I mean). It makes more sense to treat this shift from number to thing as following a particular grammar. So let's substitute the Moon for the first "1" and the Sun for the second. We get:
The Moon + The Sun = ...?
We're only puzzled because we haven't grasped the way plural forms inflect expression. So to preserve the 'truth' Frege thinks so paramount, we need only complete the 'sum':
The Moon + The Sun = Two astronomical objects.
Frege's unhappiness here is akin to the man who says 'one goose plus one goose equals two gooses, but gooses is not correct English usage, so there can only be one goose!' on account of not knowing that the plural for goose is geese.

2. What else? Well, Frege adapts Kant's distinctions between a priori and a posteriori, synthetic and analytic. There's some interesting stuff in Kenny here, not least this:
Frege allied himself with Kant in stating that the truths of geometry are synthetic and a priori. Geometry is a priori because geometrical theorems are provable from general laws (for example, from the axioms of Euclid) and make no appeal to any particular lines, figures or solid. Bodies. But geometry is not analytic, because its axioms involve spatial concepts; and these concepts are not applicable in all disciplines, since not everything we can think about is spatial. As non-Euclidian geometries show, some of the geometrical axioms can be denied without self-contradiction. [58]
So: a triangle may have straight edges and still not sum its angles to 180-degrees is it is drawn between two points on the equator and the north pole of our globe. Fair enough.
The great question to which Frege addresses himself is whether arithmetic, like geometry, depends upon specific non-logical laws, or whether it can be proved purely from general laws of logic. This question can only be satisfactorily answered only if arithmetic, like geometry, can be successfully axiomatised. ... Well, can arithmetic be axiomatized? Can, for instance, the formulae
7 + 5 = 12
135664 + 37863 = 173527
and infinitely many other similar sums be reduced to a handful of self-evident truths?
That first sum is there because Kant cites it in the Critique of Pure Reason: he says there's nothing 'in' 7 or 5 that can logically lead us to 12; that the fact that we know 7 + 5 = 12 is an intuition. To this Kenny (ventriloquizing Frege) makes the following interesting comment:
Kant claims each arithmetical proposition is known by intuition. In adding together 7 and 5, he says, we 'call to our aid the intuition corresponding to one of them, say our five fingers' ... But do we really have an intuition of 37863 fingers? Or of 135664 fingers? And if we did, would not the value of 135664 + 37863 be immediately obvious without needing to be worked out? Perhaps Kant meant his thesis to apply only to small numbers. But even in the case of ten fingers, many different images come to mind, depending on the positioning of the fingers. And how can we make a fundamental distinction between small and large numbers? [K.60]
This gives me pause. It is interesting; I almost wonder if Kant is tacitly working with a sense of human 'intuition' that resembles the 'one, two, many' mode of counting supposedly prevalent in early tribal cultures. Maybe '1, 2, 3 .... 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, many'. At any rate:

3. Frege thinks arithmetic prior to everything else. 'Physics and psychology deal with the active world of cause and effect; geometry deals with the world of the imaginable; arithmetic deals with the world of thought. Everything that is thinkable is also countable, and the laws of numbers cannot be denied without calling into question the laws of thought' [64]. The woahh! part of this is
Everything that is thinkable is also countable ...
as if my love for my kids, my aesthetic appreciation of King Lear or Quadrophenia, or the dread in the pit of my stomach that afflicts me as I try to fall asleep and which relates to my increasing sense of existential confinement ... as if these things are all countable. As for the 'laws of numbers', though Frege doesn't admit it, these are predicated on the Wittgensteinian language-game context, the getting behind of which there is none, and the which determines that '7 + 5 = 10' is perfectly true in base-12.

4. We lumber on. Frege insists that number is 'not a property', and he has this to say on the 'difference between numbers and properties such as colour'.
We speak of a tree as having 1000 leaves and as having green leaves; but there is this difference, that each leaf is green, whereas each leaf is not 1000. The leaves collectively form the foliage of the tree; the foliage, like the leaves is green, but again the foliage is not 1000. So 1000 considered as a property seems to belong neither to any single leaf nor to the totality of them all. [67]
I don't see this. Picture an autumnal tree with 500 blue and 500 yellow leaves, equally spaced about the foliage. From a distance this tree would look green. 'Each leaf is green, whereas each leaf is not 1000' speaks only to the vagueness of expression. We might easily rephrase: 'each leaf is a little bit green, and each leaf is a little bit of 1000; all the leaves together are very green, and all the leaves together are 1000'. It's almost as if Frege isn't trying, here.
While I cannot alter the colour of a thing by thinking of it differently, I can think of the Iliad as one poem, or as 24 books, or as 1154777 words. [68]
Well now I have to assume he's just taking the piss. Because we can (of course) and do (often) talk of a blue object as 'the colour of my lover's eyes', or as 'sea-blue', or as 'dark (as opposed to light)', as 'Chelsea kit', as 'true blue' and so on.

5. 'The idea that numbers are something subjective, like a mental image, leads to absurd results. Mental images are private in the sense that my mental images are not your mental images, and your mental images are not mine, then it would have to be private to individuals' [K. 69] -- Frege mocks this notion:
We should then have it might be many millions of twos in our hands. We should have to speak of my two and your two, of one two and all twos ... as new generations of children grew up, new generations of twos would continually be being born, and in the course of millennia these might evolve, for all we could tell, to such a pitch that two of them wold make five.
This is a restatement of Kant's Transcendental Unity of Apperception, concerning which I have expressed my doubts in another place. Saying 'my mental images are not your mental images, and your mental images are not mine' ignores the myriad way that my mental images can copy themselves into your head, by me telling you about them. William Blake had a mental image privately in his head of a sick rose, in which the invisible worm that flies in the night in the howling storm has made its bed. He writes the image into his poem. Now it is in the heads of millions of readers. It continues to be duplicated into millions more, and yet in none of them does the Frege reduction absurdum come to pass, such that the sick rose evolves into a sick tulip, sick iPhone or sick Ford Mondeo. Funny, that.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Kant's Transcendental Deduction of the Categories: ILLUSTRATED EDITION

I'm engaged in some Kant-related business, now and through til Christmas at least. Trying fully to grasp the transcendental deduction of the categories is, well, fun fun fun. Til our daddy takes the T-Bird away, at any rate. I recommend interested parties do a Google Image Search on 'Kant's transcendental categories'. It's a blast. My two favourite:

I think we can agree that makes matters clearer. Then there's this adorable chap, wandering the suburbs of Cairo with a weird Pringles-tube funnel where his face should be, through which he takes in all his sense data. I say 'he'. Maybe this person is a she.

And people say philosophy is dull.

Saturday 22 November 2014


Reading this John MacFarlane paper (on Frege, Kant and versions of 'logic'), I came across the following sentence:
By arguing that the Begriffsschrift fits a characterization of logic that Kant accepts, Frege could blunt one edge of Wang’s double-edged sword.
Philosophers, eh? In other news, 'Wang’s double-edged sword' is the name of my new band.

Friday 21 November 2014

Jane Porter, Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803)

Scholars from Lukacs on have insisted that Walter Scott 'invented' the form of the modern Historical Novel; but here, more than a decade before Waverley, is an internationally successful exercise in precisely the mode that Scott made his own: Jane Porter's Thaddeus of Warsaw. The earliest edition Google Books has is the fourth edition of 1806:

(Here's a link to the in-one-volume revised edition of 1831). Wikipedia draws on the NDNB to tell the rather mournful tale:
It went through at least 84 editions, including translations into French and German. The German edition was praised by Tadeusz Kościuszko, the inspiration for the "Thaddeus" of the title and a hero of the American Revolution, and earned Porter a ladyship from the King of Württemberg. The book was responsible for the name of Warsaw, North Carolina (founded c. 1838). The character of Thaddeus Sobieski was the namesake of Thaddeus Lowe (b. 1832), the father of aerial reconnaissance in the United States, and Pembroke Somerset was the namesake of Pembroke, Kentucky (est. 1836). Nonetheless, in the shadow of Walter Scott's Waverley and the general dismissal of early female novelists by late Victorian critics,[2] Porter came to be so disregarded that the editor of an 1897 edition of Porter's diary took it for granted that her readers would not have heard of her and an 1905 edition of Thaddeus was published as part of a series on Half-Forgotten Books. By 1947, the Marxist critic Lukács felt entitled to argue that Scott's was the first "true" historical novel, which presented the past as a distinct social and cultural setting.
Booo! Porter, in her courteously phrased but still damning preface to the 1831 edition, is quite well aware of her rights of precedence, for all that Scott shot past her in fame:

The novel is set during the Second Partition of Poland. The novel deserves to be rediscovered.

Monday 17 November 2014

The Revolutionary Plutarch (1805)

Dedicated (a touch hauntologically) to the ghosts of Louis XVI and Edmund Burke, the preface to this collection of French capsule biographies leaves us no doubt as to its ideological orientation:
The Corsican adventurer continues, almost daily to inflict new, deep, and almost incurable wounds on the civil rights of individuals, on the prerogatives of sovereigns, as well as on that system of public morals called the law of nations. He, therefore, who is destined to relate the present wretchedness of society, if actuated by the spirit of truth, honour, and independence, will have to recapitulate such a multitude of enormities, that the reigns of Nero, Caligula, Domitian, and Robespierre must appear less intolerable and less tyrannical than the usurpation of Napoleone Buonaparte. Slavery, in its most odious hue, as well as in its gloomy shades, continues still to degrade most of the continental nations; but though outraged nature, ever intent to uphold her dominion, constantly haunts the offender, by means of the demon of never-ceasing suspicion, and not unfrequently torments him with the scorpion of never-dying revenge, no prospect is visible of modern bondsmen possessing courage and energy enough to break their chains on the head of their guilty and cruel master.
I like the spelling 'Napoleone Buonaparte' used here; a nice rocking-horse rhythm to the name: Na-POLE-ee-oh-nee Bu-OHN-ah-par-tee. A shame it didn't catch on, really. (It goes on in this Gothic mode: "Backed by accomplices, by gaolers, dungeons, racks, executioners, and gibbets, Buonaparte with one hand tears the social compact of civilized people, and with the other seizes a privileged British agent! with one hand he stabs a Bourbon, and with the other drags a trembling pontiff sacrilegiously to place the crown of the Bourbons on the head of their assassin!")

Sunday 16 November 2014

[G W M Reynolds], A Sequel To Don Juan (1843)

Reynolds' name is in square brackets, in the title to this blogpost, because it's suspected but hasn't, I think, been proven he's the author. It is what it says it is: an (unauthorised, of course) sequel to Byron's Don Juan, five cantos with a further eleven promised if the work prove popular. We assume it didn't.

I've owned this for many years, although now I am selling it -- it's on ebay, although I'll do a discount for readers of this blog. *grins* (Lord knows how painful it is for me to part with any of my books, but needs must when the devil of financial squeezing drives, and a bunch of books have gone into the e-marketplace. *sigh*) You can get a sense of the versification easily enough:

Never a good sign when an author feels he has to explain his jokes. So: in keeping with the through-line of the poem (viz., the redemption of Juan into polite society), the volume is illustrated throughout with contemporary society beauties posing as characters in the poem. Frontispiece:

And the rest:

I don't want to give the impression it's all well-bred politesse. For an 1843 publication it gets pretty racy, although in the soft-focus rather dishonest mode of 1970s porn rather than the honest obscenity of Byron's original:

Saturday 15 November 2014

Divinanimality 3: Eric Daryl Meyer, 'Giorgio Agamben and the Gospel of John'

Quite properly rebuked (very politely) by Eric Daryl Meyer for generalising about the Divinanimality volume [in the comments to this post], I read his essay: 'The Logos of God and the End of Humanity: Giorgio Agamben and the Gospel of John on Animality as Light and Life'. It does, as he notes, pose the question that seems to me so crucial in the 'divinanimality' discussion:
Should God's incarnation be understood as a celestial endorsement of the exceptional status of humanity over against all other creatures or as the deconstruction of humanity from within, a salvifically subversive maneuver undertaken for the sake of all God's beloved creatures? [148]
Meyer goes with option B. He starts by deftly sketching in the traditional readings of St John's Logos, from Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianus up (bit of a leap, but OK) to Agamben and Derrida. The thesis is intricate, but very roughly: there are two logoi, the divine and the human. 'Human life (ζωή) radiates as light from the Logos of God ... but John writes of a darkness that refuses the light. The world of humanity, the kosmos, is the site of this darkness; humanity fails to recognise the Logos as its very life' [146]. Some thinkers see these two logoi as congruent, either actually or potentially. Meyer wants to argue, via Agamben, that not only are they not so, but that the divine logos works (if we understand it properly) precisely to undermine the complacencies of the peignoir of our own beings-in-the-world. So: one of Agamben's more famous distinctions is between βίος ('political life', fully realised human life) and ζωή ('the bare life of eating, sleeping, breathing and procreation'). Meyer notes that this distinction is tricksier than you might think:
For Agamben, it is not the case that one finds ζωή out in the world in order to organize it and found a city. Agamben inverts the commonsense political myth of origins, arguing that the production of the category ζωή is the fundamental business of political life. So βίος is not so much an improvement on a ζωή that was already there, but an operation that is suspended over ζωή as a rhetorically necessary category. ... Political life (βίος) produces bare life (ζωή), then, in two ways: First, bare life functions as a mythical Ur-concept that marks political life as better than the brute life that preceded it, even if no concrete memory of such a life exists. Second, political life produces bare life by exclusion, by occasionally denuding somebody of the protection of the law and exposing him or her to whatever death or misfortune might befall him or her. [152]
Hence homo sacer. Meyer agrees with Derrida that Agamben can't really claim to have discovered this 'Foucauldian biopolitics' already fully formed in Aristotle (as he does). But what he wants to do, broadly, in this essay is constellate 'animal' and 'human' in ways analogous to this ζωή/βίος distinction. 'The Logos of God is no longer the Master Signifier', he insists. A slightly longer quotation:
It will be helpful to locate the divine Logos within each of the three aligned distinctions from Agamben's text. First, with regard to the distinction between bare life and political life, it is commonplace to recognize Jesus as the figure of the outcast, the scapegoat, the refugee, whose life cannot be assimilated to the order of his society. ... In this regard Jesus the Logos clearly stands on the side of ζωή rather than citizenship Second, with regard to the human-animal distinction, the Logos obviously bears human flesh, but his alignment with humanity rather than animality is less secure than it might first appear ... One might ask whether the Logos of God appears in the place of the animal [Meyer has been arguing eg as the lamb-to-the-slaughter] to endorse eating, slaughter and experimentation, or to loose the knots holding these cultural structures together? Third, where is the Logos situated with regard to the interior distinction between humanity proper and human animality? Does the incarnation of the Logos as a human being underwrite or undermine the workings of the anthropological machine? ... I suggest that the Logosas the very ζωή of human beingsis aligned with human animality against humanity's proprietary logos as it disavows animality through the anthropological machine. [158-9]
This is cogently thought-through, but I don't think I agree with it. Taking 'one' first: isn't it one-sided to read Christ as (in effect) the scapegoated solitary homo sacer? He was sacrificed, its true, and scapegoated; but considering his ministry as a whole, isn't it closer to the truth to see him at the centre of a community (the disciples and the larger group that formed around them) instead of outcast from community? Isn't one of the main thrusts of Christ in the gospels congregrationalist (I mean, in the neutral, not the sectarian, sense of that word)? His preaching gathers many people together, and its that gathering-together that is the real point. Two I think is on even shakier ground, as it happens. Thinking contextually, one of the most distinctive breaks Christianity makes with the religious practice that preceded it was not only to anthropomorphise the incarnation, but to exclude the divine animals that form so prominent a part of the pantheons of the Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks and so on. Around this time everybody was worshipping divine animals. Rather than being some special sign of divine respect for the animal kingdom, one of the newnesses of Christianity was to mark out a radical new divine-conceptual territory: humans only. (The counter point here is that, in doing this, it was only following in the footsteps of Judaism: which is a fair point. But Jews were still sacrificing animals to their non-animal God; Christianity substituted a human being even for that sacred role.)

I'm being polemical, of course; but I do detect a subtle gravitational pull at work (in this essay, and the others from this volume that I've read) tugging the gospels in order to draw them closer towards 21st-century Green (and further away from 1st-century tribal) mores. Maybe that's fine. Maybe that's the best thing to do with the gospels. But it leaves me pulling my 'not sure I agree' face when I read things like this:
God is present as the incarnate ζωή-Logos of creation, but the human form of the Logos does not validate humanity's ideological projects, but presents God's most personal judgment upon them. In Barthian terms the Logos of God sounds out a thundering "Nein!" to humanity precisely by taking on human flesh. [159]
I dig the Barth line, of course; but I don't see why God is present as the incarnate ζωή-Logos of creation. Wouldn't it make more sense (as per Agamben) to think of God as the βίος-Logos of creation, suspended over the human ζωή as an ontologically necessary category? The pre-existent βίος needful such that the ζωή can come into its fullest being?

Thursday 13 November 2014

Sophocles Long Ago ...

Here's an old chestnut of 19th-century scholarship. It's an unidentified allusion in Arnold's 'Dover Beach' (probably written 1851), one of the most famous short poems of the 19th-century:

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
So 'Sophocles long ago ...' Where in Sophocles? Nowhere, according to scholarship: 'Sophocles was Arnold's favorite Greek dramatist, but no passage in the plays is strictly applicable. See Baum 88: "the alleged parallels simply do not meet the case; they are irrelevant".' [Kenneth Allott, The Poems of Matthew Arnold (Longman 1965), 255]. But that edition is as old as I am: surely somebody has something more, now? Apparently not. ('The passage most often adduced,' said Richard Cronin in 2012, 'is from the third chorus in the Antigone.' But that hardly fits. Check for yourself.)

Well, I have a suggestion. I recently chanced upon William Crowe's Lewesdon Hill (1788) and noticed that it, from the first edition through to later ones, carried the following epigraph on the title page:

Click to embiggen. That must be the passage Arnold has in mind, yes? I think it fits. Here's the Greek as Crowe quotes it:
Χαιρ’ ω ϖεδον αγχιαλον,
Και μ’ ευπλοιᾳ ϖεμψον αμεμπτως
Ενθ’ ἡ μεγαλη μοιρα χομιζει,
————— χψῶανδαματωρ
Δαιμων, ος ταυτ’ επεκρανεν.
The Greek is Englished, presumably by Crowe himself, as:
Farewell thy printless sands and pebbly shore!
I hear the white surge beat thy coast no more,
Pure, gentle source of the high, rapturous mood!
Where'er, like the great Flood, by thy dread force
Propelled—shape Thou my calm, my blameless course,
Heaven, Earth and Ocean's Lord!—and Father of the Good!

So, it turns out that this is a slightly mangled version of Philoctetes' last speech in Sophocles' play of that name:
χαῖρ᾽, ὦ Λήμνου πέδον ἀμφίαλον,
καί μ᾽ εὐπλοίᾳ πέμψον ἀμέμπτως,
ἔνθ᾽ ἡ μεγάλη Μοῖρα κομίζει
γνώμη τε φίλων χὠ πανδαμάτωρ
δαίμων, ὃς ταῦτ᾽ ἐπέκρανεν.
Here's Gregory McNamee's 1986 translation:
Farewell, Lemnos, bound by waves [Crowe changes this to 'Farewell shores of Lemnos'], give me no further cause to mourn, but send me off on fair seas to win my glory where fate now carries me, to the judgment of friends [Crowe omits these last five words] and the all-governing spirit that rules these events.
Part of the issue here is that Crowe reads 'αγχιαλος' ('maritime, of the sea shore') for 'ἀμφίαλος' ('place where two seas meet, headland'). He also reads 'χψῶανδαματωρ', which isn't a word in any Greek Lexicon, but which we can take as a typo for [χὠ] πανδαμάτωρ, 'all-governing'.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Dog-headed Saint Christopher

A 17th-century icon (from here). *sings* Wah-OOOOO! Were-wolves of Russian Orthodox Christianity.

Monday 10 November 2014

Two-Step-of-Terrific-Triviality: Animal Studies Edition

One last notation on this, before I turn to writing up my ideas properly (not for blogging, I mean: for a paying market). I was looking again at Stephen Moore's Divinanimality collection. Now one of the problems I had, here (as I blogged previously), was with the way 'divinanimality' theorists draw on the experiential world of humans and pets, whilst simultaneously stressing the radical alterity of animals. The former, it seems to me, is a complex relationship established over tens (possibly) hundreds of thousands of years, in order precisely to erode the latter. Part of the problem is the fatuity inherent in assuming that the 'special bond' and a quasi-spiritual connection you really believe you share with your beloved pet scales up. My go-to counterexample is poor old Timothy Treadwell (I mention him twice in the various blogposts I've posted this month on this topic). This in turn means I'm interested in theoretical questions of predation. There is a kind of principled vegetarianism that regards humans eating animals as a profound betrayal of our responsibilities of care, trust, community and so on. That seems to me (a) asymmetrical, to put it mildly and (b) to entail practical consequences few animal lovers would embrace, given the scale of the diminution of the number of animals that would be alive on earth if humankind stopped growing them for food.

Anyway, given all this, I was intrigued by the title of Erika Murphy's Divinanimality essay: 'Devouring the Human: Digestion of a Corporeal Soteriology'. But I was disappointed. Murphy identifies a promising area: Christianity of course does have a foundational relationship with the idea of a (divine) man being eaten, the lamb-of-god sacrificed upon the cross, communicants eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But this essay does not persuade me that this speaks to a broader logic of 'the edible human', the human being as preyed upon, and so on. Murphy starts:
Acknowledging that human beings are a consumable product, I contend, is not just a point of ecological correctness: Recognising our fleshy vulnerability may be vital to creating an opening for the divine. [51]
That 'may' is a bit foggy, there. 'Ecological correctness' is odd, too: it is ecologically correct to recycle as much of our waste as we can, in the sense that we ought to do this; but it's surely not the case that we 'ought' to be eaten by bears. I suppose Murphy is implying that a man or woman who considered themselves, somehow, perfectly invulnerable might be closed-off to the possibilities of the divine ('I don't need God: I'm immortal, flawless and impervious to pain!'). So s/he might; but s/he is also a straw wo/man, never to be found in the actual world. Then the turn to bathos:
The philosopher Hélène Cixous draws our attention to human corporeality when she recounts being bitten by the family dog, Fips. After Fips releases his grip from her ankle, she tells us, "I saw the meat we are. We came out of the mortal spasms broken lame and delirious. Unrecognizable." ... Strikingly, the bite draws this atheistic postmodern thinker into the world of the biblical: the experience with Fips echoes for Cixous the narratives of both Job and Jesus.
Muprhy takes this at face value: there's a long discussion of the crucifixion and the eucharist, before she cycles back to 'Fips as Christ figure ... both the attacker and persecuted teacher, the wolf and the lamb' [61].

I found this essay most provoking. Murphy can see there's something interesting about the theological implications of predation and devouring, but hangs back, gesturing in the direction of significance rather than engeging. There's nothing to link the awakening she discusses (the awakening of one's awareness of corporeal frailty I mean) specifically to animals. It might proceed, as with Cixous, via a nip on the heel by Fips; but presumably it might also happen via a broken arm, a skinned knee, a fever; a car crash or a bike accident; or even by observing somebody else experiencing one of these things. Where's the specific animal connection? And the sheer banality of the Fips' nip, the great gulf between what Cixous experienced and what Timothy Treadwell experienced, seems to me entirely to undo the force of the main argument.

It is, I thought, another example of John Holbo's celebrated 'Two-Step-of-Terrific-Triviality'. Viz.:
Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.
The two steps here are 'being nipped on the heel by a dog makes one aware of the vulnerability of the flesh' on the one hand, and 'Fips is Christ' on the other. It's naked enough, in this essay, for Murphy to anticipate resistance ('Although Cixous never claims Fips is Christ ...'), doing so to row-back only far enough to leave the desired 'obscure grain of truth': 'Although Cixous never claims Fips is Christ his strong somatic presence and grief-stricken bite do lead Cixous to approach the transcendent through the animal etc etc' [61].

Saturday 8 November 2014

Edmund Dulac and the Unerotic Banknote

Famous as an illustrator of children's stories, especially fairy tales, I was reminded of Edmund Dulac's work today when Francis Spufford blogged this lovely image: 'Princess in the Fields at Twilight'

I especially like the as-it-were visual pun between the princess's flowing red-gold hair (running away in the wind towards the top right), and the flowing silver of the stream at her feet, running off towards the bottom left. Indeed, the colour palate of the image is rather remarkable altogether. There's something moneyed about the world Dulac portrays: a lavishness that finds a sensual, even erotic sheen in the fineness of its surfaces.

Then browsing idly online, I discovered this Wikipedia factoid about the French-born, English-naturalised Dulac: after WWI the market for expensively illustrated children's book contracted sharply and he moved onto magazine work and designing stamps. Then: 'in the early 1940s Edmund Dulac also prepared a project for a Polish 20-zlotych note for the Bank of Poland (Bank Polski). This banknote (printed in England in 1942 but dated 1939) was ordered by the Polish Government in Exile and was never issued.' Not only did he design images of a moneyed world, he designed actual money! This intrigued me enough to want to track these banknote designs down, so here they are:

Well well. If I had more time (which I don't) I'd say something more about the visual aesthetic of the banknote, of which this striking but rather dour and charmless design is exemplary. Why would it be so counter-intuitive to talk about the erotics of banknote art, given the well-established libidinal dynamic of money as such? It's odd. It's certainly a long way from this:

Friday 7 November 2014

Stephen D Moore (ed), Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology (2014)

Mournful kitty is mournful. This collection of essays from Fordham University Press brings together proceedings from 'the eleventh Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium held at Drew Theological School in 2011'. It's animal studies from a Green-Christian bent, mostly, and the prime jumping-off-point, in terms of Theory, is Derrida's late writing about animals, most especially his essay 'L'animal que donc je suis (à suivre)' [which first appeared in L'animal autobiographique (1999), and subsequently appeared in English in 2002 as 'The Animals That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)']. One particular moment from that essay is cited by a number of contributors here, more than once paired with Donna Haraway's critique of it. It is Nude Derrida Meeting A Cat, also coincidentally the name of my next band. Jacques encounters the cat, and is aware of the cat's radical alterity, and the wrongness of seeking to assimilate the cat to a human paradigm. This he styles the cat's 'divinanimality', deploying one of his double-meaning pun phrases (which when I was an undergraduate I thought were so clever, but which now I tend to think are mostly just vexing). There's another, too: 'animot'. Since animals are named in the 'mot', or word, and that we need to give the word back to the animals and so on (or not that latter, precisely: 'it would not be a matter of "giving speech back" to animals but perhaps acceding to thinking that thinks the absence of the name and of the word otherwise, and as something other than a privation'). Thankee, Jacques.
When I feel so naked in front of a cat, facing it, and when, meeting its gaze, I hear the cat or God ask itself, ask me: Is he going to call me, is he going to address me? What name is he going to call me by, this naked man, before I give him woman?' [Derrida, 'The Animals That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)', 18]
Moore's collection returns to this 'primal scene' repeatedly, to spin various cogitations about what it tells us concerning the abyssal alterity and heterontology of the animals as in some sense expressive of the divine, not only underwritten by but in some sense the truth of God. Which is all fair enough. Contributors also tend to see this Derridean encounter as insufficient, after the manner of Haraway's engagement with the passage.
Yet Haraway, who is thoroughly familiar with Derrida's animality work, is also deeply critical of it. She gives him credit for much, not least that when he encountered that little black cat in his bathroom it was not as a Cartesian that he appraised her ...[but] the philosopher faced with the cat however was able apparently only to philosophize. [Stephen Moore, 'Introduction: from Animal Theory to Creaturely Theology.', 7]
Bad philosopher! Naughty philosopher! On your bed!
For Haraway, "Derrida failed a simple obligation of companion species; he did not become curious about what the cat might actually be doing, feeling, thinking." In this regard, Derrida, for all his philosophical profundity, fell short of "a Gregory Bateson or Jane Goodall ... or many others [who] have met the living gaze of living, diverse animals and in response undone and redone themselves and their sciences. Derrida's full human male frontal nudity before an Other, which was of such interest in his philosophical tradition, was of no consequence to [the cat], except as the distraction that kept her human from giving or receiving an ordinary polite greeting." [8]
That Haraway's response seems to me fatuous would, if ever brought to their attention, surely alienate me from the authors of the essays in this collection. Is fatuous too strong a word? There Haraway is quoted from the beginning of the collection. Here she is quoted from the end, in an essay that reads two examples of New Testament apochrypha, the Acts of Peter, where St Peter meets and chats with a talking dog, and the Acts of Paul where Paul meets and chats with a talking lioness. Laura Hobgood-Oster elaborates.
Haraway states that "Derrida failed a simple obligation of companion species; he did not become curious about what the cat might actually be doing, feeling, thinking or perhaps making available to him in looking back at him that morning." Peter and Paul were more curious; they did not miss the invitation. And, it must be added, neither did the dog or the lion. The lion even initiated the invitation by speaking first. [Hobgood-Oster, 'And Say The Animal Really Responded', 219]
'It must be added', must it? Well, it must be added that, unlike Derrida's encounter with an actual dumb cat, these two encounters are stories, fables; and (it must be added) didn't really happen. Talking animals, of which there are of course a vast number in human culture, literature and film, are animals that have already had their alterity violated by being assimilated to human mores and attitudes. This is what strikes me as fatuous about Haraway's insistence that it is a failure for a human being not to grasp that the cat wants to swap polite greetings. Projecting human social protocols onto cats, like this, is to do violence to the very otherness that is the premise of the entire collection. And, actually, I'd say it's the smugness of Haraway's position that annoys me, her placid felinophilic insistence that if a philosopher 'opened himself' to the loveliness of communing with cats the encounter would 'undo and redo' all his/her basic assumptions. I am wary of snarking: I know a great many cat owners who genuinely love their cats, and who find solace and emotional security and strength in their relationships with their pets. Many people consider cats 'beautiful', and take pleasure in stroking them, feeding them and so on. There's nothing wrong with that. But kindness to others is not in itself reciprocity. The gesture of reciprocity being posited by Haraway is, as she suggests it, perfectly open. It could just as well be that properly opening herself to her cat would undo and redo her preconceptions -- maybe her cat holds her in contempt, loathes her, endures her company for purely practical reasons of food and a warm place to shelter. It could be that the cat is perfectly, flawlessly indifferent to her: a more profound alterity than the anthropomorphic assumption that cats are basically like people and want to be treated with such human values as courtesy and respect. To make only the most obvious point: Derrida's 'failures of courtesy' when he shared his space with a small carnivorous predator are functions of their respective sizes. Timothy Treadwell shared his personal space with a rather larger carnivorous predator, and was only too courteous and respectful of his ursine Other. Didn't do him any good.

The prime anthropic distortion here, I suppose, is fitting the non-human semiotic forms of animals to a specifically human, Christian God. As far as that goes, it might have been interesting to have commissioned essays in this volume from Muslim or Jewish scholars, who would then be unburdened by that specifically central-to-faith non-animal incarnation. The editor's brief didn't run so far. What we're left with is a conceptual hole that none of essays even acknowledges, let alone attempts to address: Christ incarnated God as a human being. In Lewis's Narnia (also not discussed here) Christ incarnates as an animal, but a talking animal, because Lewis believed Christ to be the logos. I am unaware of any culture text in which Christ incarnates as a dumb creature. Derrida is at least aware that the logos is not the frame of a properly bestial being-in-the-word. I wonder if there's a sense that the animal theology of the moment hopes simply to elide that difference. In my blogpost on Andrew Linzey's most recent collection, I quoted him as follows:
"Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God's absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering ... Christians haven’t got much further than thinking that the whole world was made for us, with the result that animals are only seen in an instrumental way as objects, machines, tools, and commodities, rather than fellow creatures."
I need a proper believer to steer me through this, I think: but to me the notion of (say) a dog crucified upon a cross flirts with blasphemy, even with Satanism. Linzey I suppose doesn't want to suggest anything so literal-minded; but he also doesn't explain to what degree it makes sense to call an animal 'innocent'. It seems to me that animals are neither innocent nor not innocent. Now, I'm being a little awkward when I say so, of course. In one sense (in frequent popular usage, for example) it's clear enough what is meant by 'an innocent animal': the IRA blow up certain British soldiers who happen to be parading on horseback. The soldiers are killed, but they chose to be soldiers, and so our grief for them is 'limited' by that fact. Ah, but the horses are 'innocent victims'; they never consented to being put in the line of danger. I don't agree with that, I must say; although I can I suppose see why people might believe it. But surely if we want to think the question through a bit more thoroughly, we have to ask ourselves: can it be meaningful to call a being innocent if there's no possibility of it ever being guilty? I'm not sure it can.

Christian theology also has problems, it seems to me, with what the New Testament actually says about animals. Laura Hobgood-Oster, above, cites two apochryphal books because they show St Paul and St Peter interacting with the animal kingdom on terms of mutual respect, and that suits her argument, and indeed the overall thesis of this volume. But neither she nor any of the other contributors discuss St Peter's vision of the sheet filled with all the world's animals in Acts of the Apostles chapter 10:
Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. [Acts 10:10-16]
Rise, humans; kill, and eat. I'm not snarking about Christians picking and choosing which Biblical verses they want to follow and which not; I suppose that's how all but the most extreme Christians and Jews behave. But I am suggesting that this major strand in New Testament Christianity, one of the things that obviously separates Christian religious praxis from the praxis of Muslims and Jews, cannot simply be wished away, ignored or not discussed. In this context, of all contexts, especially not!