‘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, 23 October 2016

Thoughts on Dylan's Nobel

We're in a strange commentarium-space with regards to Dylan winning the Nobel. Simple reactions (as it might be, 'he deserves it!' or 'he doesn't deserve it!') are neither here nor there, it seems. But even first-stage meta reaction—the whole, 'should I inflict my "hot take" on Dylan's win on the world or not?' commenting-about-commenting thing seems otiose, somehow. We're further down the rabbit-hole than that, I suspect. Not only does nobody care whether I'm in favour of, or hostile to, Dylan's win, nobody cares about my thoughts about the fact that nobody cares whether I'm in favour of or hostile to Dylan's win.

Yet here I am, blogging, and there's Dylan at the head of this post. Why's that, you ask? Well, it's because the whole brouhaha has brought home to me something about the nature of awards. Indeed, as I write it out here it strikes me as such a glaringly obvious observation about awards I'm rather ashamed that it hadn't occurred to me before.

Although we pretend we give prizes to recognise and 'reward' excellence, we actually do it to provoke a particular response of gratitude in people we admire. So when Dylan declines to play the gratitude game, and refuses be all excited about and grateful to the Academy, people's niceness instantly curdles and they start calling him 'impolite' and 'arrogant' and saying he shouldn't get the prize after all—which of course makes no sense, if the prize is about his work. (My respect for Dylan has been greatly enhanced by his reaction, I must say).

I think all this is best framed in terms of the Barthesian 'Author is dead'. I should declare an interest where that notion is concerned, because it seems to me broadly right: the author has to die in order to allow the text, which is what matters, free movement through the world. But the outrage at Dylan's ingratitude suggests that I'm out of step with many people. Many people are libidinally (and, in some cases, financially) heavily invested in the 'idea' of the author, and grow irate if the reciprocity of that is interrupted in any way. Turns out people actually do think George R R Martin is their bitch.


  1. Adam, did you ever see Pres. Obama's comments, in Rolling Stone, on Dylan's appearance at the White House in 2010? Much more appropriate, I think:

    >>Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

    1. That's wonderful, Alan. I have always thought one of the noblest thing any philosopher ever said was when Alexander the Great approached Diogenes, living in his barrel, and said to him: 'I am told you are the greatest thinker alive; I am Alexander, conqueror of the world. I will give you anything you request. What do you want?' and Diogenes replied: 'I want you to get out of my light.'