It took a very special kind of invention to get an awareness of the ‘erratic truth of death’s timing’ into a medium of mass entertainment. In the course of a shrewd and properly demanding analysis of Vertigo, Wood draws attention to sequences of shots in the first hour of the film that mark a narrative threshold: a step-change in its relation to its audience. During these moments, our eyes and ears are ‘co-opted’ for the ‘sense of the world’ somewhat precariously maintained by the agoraphobic private detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) ... In such cases, an alliance has been created between audience and camera, an alliance in suspense: sympathetic to the protagonist, but apart from him or her. These threshold moments are engrossingly human. They engage us fully in the protagonist’s first full engagement with the world’s meaningfulness. We, too, have been reanimated – thanks to the surrogacy of a machine’s-eye view. The something too natural for art that Wood discerns in the death scene in The Pleasure Garden has found a means other than jesting last words to embed itself in the narrative. Hitchcock, who never forgot what he’d learned as a director of silent films, understood that he didn’t need words at all, jesting or otherwise. For all the light at their disposal, his threshold moments have something of the feel of Larkin’s ‘soundless dark’. They all occur either without a word spoken, or deliberately against (or over) the distractions of speech. Their discrepant soundlessness puts us back inside the police van. The threshold moment could be our last glimpse of the ‘comforts of everyday living’: a world in which a bouquet is a bouquet, a bottle of wine a bottle of wine, a saw a saw, and a woman tidying a tidy woman. We know that the people on the streets are talking to each other as people ordinarily do, but we can’t catch a word of what they say.
‘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, 7 June 2015
David Trotter on Hitchcock
In the most recent LRB. His premise is that Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ functions as 'the best commentary' on Hitchcock’s films '(and on a great deal else besides)':