‘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 31 May 2021

Purgatory Mount: a Reader's Assessment


My friend Rich Puchalsky has written two twitter-threads on the Mount. The first records his reservations about the novel, which he thinks 'interesting' but not really successful; the second is about eagles. You should read them both.

I'm not going to reply to Rich's points here; an author bickering with a review is an unseemly sight, and anyway a reader is generally in a better place to judge the success or failure of a novel than its author is. So Rich is probably right that the book doesn't work. I will, though, add one short comment to his second thread. As he says, I had to swap out some Tolkien things, most notably the names of my five 'wizards', since my publishers baulked (understandably) at tangling with the Tolkien estate's notoriously protective attitude to its copyrights. This is a shame, I think (as Rich says: the swap doesn't work nearly so well), and he's right that it means the valence of the eagles as last-minute redeemers gets muddied. The eagle is an American symbol as well, and all the things Rich says are right, I think, about how the novel is interested in forgetting, individual and collective, and my sense, from the far side of the Pond, of America as 'the United States of Amnesia'. But he misses the specifically punitive eagles quoted in the book's epigraph, Portrait of the Artist, which are about pecking out your eyes unless you apologise, or are perhaps more alarmingly if more importantly about how those two things are, in some sense, equivalents. Joyce was certainly very interested in Dante. Whole books have been written on this topic: '"The past," warns Reynolds, "encumbers even while it enriches and invigorates".' Well. Quite.