‘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.

Monday 2 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War (dir Anthony and Joe Russo, 2016)

Nobody seems to have a bad word to say about the recent Captain America: Civil War: 'a blast of a movie' according to the Guardian; 'Marvel's best film so far' according to the Telegraph. I enjoyed it, too. Quite apart from anything else, it's impressive that the directors are able to juggle so many narrative-lines and characters without dropping any of them. But there are two things in this movie, I think, that don't work very well; and they are fairly big things, not specific-point pedantry or snark. Not, of course, that I have any principled or personal objection to a touch of pointless pedantry and snark.

One is that Civil War doesn't really pass the Pixar test. One of the things that Pixar recognised early is that a movie aimed at kids also needs to include material that will entertain the adults who are accompanying the kids to the cinema, and more to the point to do so without making the movie incoherent on its own terms. Without making the film a mere laminate of kids-pleasing-stuff and adult-pleasing-stuff, welded clumsily together. Movies like The Incredibles, Up or Inside Out are masterclasses in the seamless blending of kid-enchanting and adult-entertaining elements.  Civil War frankly does not manage the same seamlessness. I enjoyed the serious talky-talky sections about whether the Avengers should submit to international political authority or whether such a strategy entailed greater dangers than it allayed. My 8-year old, sitting next to me, was bored out of his head by all that. He liked the big Iron Man/ Captain America/ Black Widow/ Panther-Man (Is It)?/ Carved-From-A-Giant-Stick-of-Rock Guy/ Ant-Man/ Spiderman/ Flyman/ Beetlebum/ Curly-Fingers-Eastern-European-Witch-Woman beat-em-up at the airport; where I felt that whole sequence went on too long, that nothing was very much at stake in it, and that it looked like it had been staged in a pub carpark.

Which brings me to number two. One thing I did like about Civil War was that it confronted the question of collateral damage: all the civilians inadvertently killed in New York during the climactic scenes of the first Avengers film, and then again in Sinitta's hometown Somachovia during Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first forty-five minutes of this movie did a good job (within the limitations of its mode, of course) of laying out some of the human cost of all that: the bereaved and the traumatised rubble of humanity, the stuff the adrenaline rush of the explosions and the tumbling towerblocks had encouraged us not to think about. This collective sense of ordinary people caught in the crossfire as 'enhanced' armies battle one another over remote and abstruse stakes is well caught in Civil War, and the demand made by the U.N. that the Avengers sign legal accords to try and prevent such collateral damage happening again was well dramatised and believable. What was less believable was the 'principled' stand of Captain America, and those of his superpeople who agreed with him, not to sign these accords. The reasons contra were debated, but in a rather arid, abstract sort of way.

The thing that's missing is the sense that being the Avengers has in any sense 'cost' the Avengers. There's been a certain amount of Tony Stark hyperventilating and getting a bit sweaty on his top lip, it's true: but only as a plot point on the way to his overcoming his panic and defeating the bad guys yet again. What's missing, in other words, are Avenger casualties. Imagine, for example, if Thor and Hulk had been omitted from Civil War because they'd both been killed in Age of Ultron, rather than because the contract negotiations to add Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo to the ensemble pushed the whole project over-budget. Then Captain America would be emotionally, as well as intellectually, invested in his opposition to William Hurt's gruff-voiced US Secretary of State. He could reply to the U.N. mandate with: 'civilians died during those battles, yes; but so did Avengers. People are angry and hurt by those civilians losses; so are we, by ours. Your plan to defang our attempts to combat evil are foolish, but also insulting to those Avengers who laid down their lives to etc etc.' It would give the Captain a reason to care, and make the whole dynamic work much more effectively.

The reason this couldn't happen is that the owners of this franchise are too commercially cautious to write-out any of their extraordinarily popular and merchandisable superheroes. And that's a shame. It's a shame for this movie, and for subsequent movies. Don Cheadle gets to totter around on poorly functioning automated leg-calipers because his back is broken (talking of which ... seriously? in a world where Bucky Barnes has a metal whole-arm prosthesis that is not only fully functional but super-strong and bullet-repellent? In such a world the best Tony Stark—Tony fucking Stark—can do for one of his closest friends is a pair of motor-driven calipers so bad the man can't even stand up in them?) ... wait: where was I? Oh, yes: so, Don Cheadle gets to totter around on poorly functioning automated leg-calipers because his back is broken. But that's the absolute closest these film-makers will ever get to actually thinning out their cash-cow herd. Tant pis.


  1. What's missing, in other words, are Avenger casualties.

    Poor Quicksilver! How quickly people forget.

    1. Well I have to say I think that rather reinforces my point than otherwise. He was an Avenger for, what, seven minutes? Did Captain America even meet him?

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