‘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 5 December 2016

Scott Eric Kaufman

It's been a couple of weeks since my friend Scott Eric Kaufman died. He was 39. I've been sitting on the notion of writing a blogpost memorialising him for a while, and although I'm (evidently) now attempting just that, I'm still uncertain whether it's a thing to do. It seems an inappropriate forum for registering grief, somehow. And yet one of Scott's greatest accomplishments was to forge an idiom by which brilliant and serious critical work could be done via blogs and other online modes. His critical intelligence was both deep and wide, lively and compassionate and insightful, and although he cornered the market in illuminating analyses of the formal composition of visual texts he had a restless curiosity about a whole range of literary, historical and philosophical matters, and wrote superbly on all of these things. Above all he was funny: a brilliant observationalist with a wonderful gift for comic phrasing. Trust me when I say: that stuff is much harder to write than it looks; and Scott was a natural. If I had to pick one word to describe his mind it would be witty: his deft, capacious and penetrating wit is palpable in pretty much everything he did.

I got to know him when we both blogged for the now-defunct 'literary organ' The Valve and we became friends in the first instance without ever meeting face-to-face—that characteristically 21st-century state of affairs. I wrote him into my novel New Model Army as a minor character (he's the young professor researching the battlefront in a Watchman T-Shirt) and he was so pleased I did it again, in my forthcoming novel. He knew this was coming, but I'm sad that he'll never see it in print now. We met in person when he came over from the States to stay with us a few years ago. His stay was elongated by the fact that that Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull decided to erupt and his return flight was cancelled. He cooked us Southern cuisine and it was delicious. He slept half-sitting-up in an easy chair—we had a spare bed, but he preferred the semi-recumbent posture for reasons to do with the longterm effects of his cancer (in remission at that time, but still impacting his health), the same cancer that eventually claimed him. He joined us when I drove my wife and our kids to synagogue on the Saturday: I think, as a Jew, he was curious to see what an English synagogue looked like. Eventually he was able to return to the States, but I flatter myself that it was during his time with us that he picked up his taste for Doctor Who: he'd never seen the show before, he said, but a little saturation UK telly viewing turned him into a fan. Like all his many friends, I'm desperately sad that he has gone.


  1. I've been totally unsure about how to / whether to memorialize him as well. A memorial seems like an appreciation of a whole person, and that exactly what an online correspondence can't show you. I have no idea how much I thought of as being his characteristics were really characteristics of his online persona. When a person goes it feels potentially disrespectful to talk about a persona.

    Also, the sadness is mixed with anger. Insofar as I interacted with him, I saw a young and promising Ph.D. not find work and turn to a succession of precarious temp jobs -- basically, his whole visual rhetoric era. He always was very gracious about it, but I didn't feel gracious about it. I never knew how to talk to him about it and don't really know how to write about it in memory now either.

    1. For what it's worth he came over in real life pretty much as he came over online. I share your anger over the way US Academia neglected him: he should have been headhunted by the top departments. I don't really understand why he wasn't.

    2. He wrote a good deal about it at the time. It had to do with the whole of the U.S. humanities basically hired no one in that year -- or something like that? -- rather than his personal qualities. I may be misremembering it. But he went on to writing what seemed to me to be first his visual rhetoric pieces, which were the kind of thing an academic writes to educate the public as a sideline from their research (which he wasn't getting to do), and then after that what mostly seemed to be clickbait.

      He Emailed me when he was sick and asked if he could ask me some questions. I Emailed back with OK, what questions? And he evidently couldn't reply, and I never found out and never will.

    3. That's so sad. His final illness was unusually cruel in its capriciousness: he seemed to be getting better, even went back on Facebook briefly, and then: gone.

  2. That was lovely. I learned so much from SEK over the last few years, not least how much fun/not fun it is to live with aging cats. So much seems so much less for him being gone.