'I’ve been wondering whether, in most people, the instinct for agreement is stronger than the one for self-expression. When people agree they belong. And belonging doesn’t necessarily mean feeling yourself part of a larger society. Quite often it can mean defining yourself in opposition to something that you perceive to be the large society – ‘mainstream’ this or that. How do we agree? Not by discussion so much as quickly letting other people know what we think, or by a kind of rushed calibration where we can discover what it is we should think, what our position should be. Agreements are established through the tone taken and the language used. Particular words and phrases. Saying things in a correct and unexceptional way. Each agreement has its own personality, its way of talking – its creep or swagger.'
'What we have now with the Internet is, I think, a much more heightened tendency to agreement, disguised as self-expression. Pure self-expression doesn’t look like agreement. Not that it’s oppositional, it just has a different voice. Someone you can hear maybe from further off, at the other side of the room, a little out of the light, further from the fire and lamps, closer to the light of the window – like Jane Eyre hiding behind the curtains and reading a book about British birds. Maybe that someone one has their back to you, perhaps they’re walking away. But is walking away necessarily dissent or opposition? Maybe they’re just going for a walk, and doing a bit of thinking.'
One thing that comes back to me as I write is a sound, the stumbling buzz of an invisible bumblebee in the lavender bush by our front door, just before dawn, summer, the 12th of January 2001. My mother, my sister Sara, and I were returning from the hospital after Dad had died. The silence of the street, the silence of the house, Jack asleep, Fergus up waiting, and then a first sign of life after death, the stumbling buzz of an invisible early bumblebee in the lavender bush. When I think about that I am like one of those saints in the old paintings where the saint is his study, and on his desk is a human skull, a memento mori, a reminder of death.
We should be reminded of death. But usually we’re only being reminded of danger. Somebody has it in for us, somebody is going to kill us, there are those out there who hate us or what we hold dear. We get that all the time. We get what we can do to disguise the appearance that our lives are short. But what we need is the quiet study and the skull on the desk. We need to know that we will die, and that we owe something to our lives, and it must be something vital. Those lovely villains in old movies, the articulate Machiavellian ones, might say to the queasy heroine that ‘Hate is vital and warming’ – but the spectacle of people agreeing to hate isn’t of life, it’s the already bony thing, it’s the same words being used, having to be used, like a catechism; the same phrases, as if that’s self-expression.
Go back into the quiet room, the room empty of everyone but yourself. Go for a walk. Stand still and stare at something inhuman and alive, or inanimate and kinetic, like a river. Be with yourself and think, ‘Who am I apart from all this? What is the world to me? What is my life to me?’ Put out your hand and touch the top of the skull and think about life, what a short time there is in which to be yourself – your good self – and do good.
‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]
‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.
There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.
Sunday, 15 February 2015
From Elizabeth Knox's 'Thoughts Upon Watching People Shout People Down'
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