‘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, 26 July 2015

Supposed Brontë Photograph

This image has been doing the rounds, after being released to the public as a photograph of the Brontë sisters. Almost certainly it's not: in the Guardian, John Sutherland mocks the very idea. Of course we can't be adamant it's not. It is, for sure, three 19th-century females, which the Brontës also were; and the back of the image has the word 'Bell' written on it, which was the Brontë pseudonym. Since Emily died in 1848, Anne in 1849 and Charlotte in 1855, it would have had to be taken in the mid-1840s, which would mean it most likely would have been a daguerreotype. That's not impossible. Although the image revealed to the public is not a daguerreotype, but a paper photograph, it is true that after daguerreotypy went out of fashion in the 1860s older photos were sometimes re-photographed in newer media. (The image has something of the floaty silvery quality of a reproduced daguerreotype: the way the faces and hands seem like separate elements from the rest, as if superimposed; I'm not sure a later wet collodion image, a more nuanced process, would have isolated face and hands so starkly). Then there's the question of resemblance: do you think those three females look at all like the three women so famously, if clumsily, painted by Branwell?

This guy thinks so: here's his manipulation of the images using facial recognition software.

Spotting resemblance is always going to have an element of the subjective about it, and the manipulations recorded here strike me (subjectively) as pretty distorting: three blokes in drag. There are other problems with identifying the original photo with three not-well-off parson's daughters in the 1840s. The clothes, for example, are rich; especially the dress of the woman on the left. The fashion is more 1860s than 1840s. 'Bell' was, apart from being the Brontë nom-de-plume, a pretty common surname.

What else? Well, the woman on the left surely looks facially older than the other two: I'd peg her in her late 30s and the other two in their late teens (all three would need to be in their 20s for it to be the 1840s-era Brontës). That's subjective too, but we don't need to rely on the faces. The woman on the left is dressed quite differently to the other two: they are in simple button frocks, she in an expensive gown; they are unadorned, she is wearing hoop earrings and a necklace. This looks pretty comprehensively like a mother posing with her two daughters. I'd suggest the mother is wearing a wedding ring, but the image isn't clear enough to determine whether she is or not.

Still, though not echt Brontë, it's a lovely image. Full of marvellously humanising touches. You can just make out one spar of the frame used to hold the right girl's head still long enough for the lengthy exposures required by 1850s photography. Maybe she was the family fidget and so got her head clamped; although her sister's face, ever so slightly blurred, maybe could have done with being restrained. The book in the mother's hand probably is a Bible or a Book of Common Prayer.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Tragic Content

Derek Walcott, writing in Poetry Review on the subject of ‘The Poet in the Theatre’ [PR 80:4, 1990-1], asserts:
Great tragedies are based on the propulsion of metre as well as of character; that is, a symmetry of sound as well as of plot.
Wishful thinking, this (of course a poet would like to think this is the case). But nobody ever cried at a poetic sound effect. Even if Walcott means 'tragic content is rendered more tragic by the proper use of metre and language (though that's not what he said), I suspect he is seriously underestimating the ability to drop into the melting mood at the prompt of an old song, an advert, a limerick, a pub anecdote, a look in a paticular somebody's eye ...

Later he is more on-target:
The idea of vacuity in modern tragedy is like the idea of the existential or the nihilistic: spiritual vanity. The depth of modern contemplation is of staring into the holes, the emptiest ‘O’ of all. Such vanity lies in the faith that for the tragic poets of the modern theatre, be they absurdists or minimalists, history happens only where it has meaning. And since for such writers history is now meaningless—at least as morality—where history does happen is the only place where modern tragedy can be played.
There's definitely something in this, I think. Although, on the other hand, that 'O' has tragic potential, don't you think ...? A kind of Singularity of tragic content; the black hole of empathetic affective suffering.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Strange Adventures on Other Worlds

Cover art for Planet Stories, January 1954. I like to think it's an illustration to the classic story 'Her Futuristic Golf-Clubs of Terror'.

Friday, 10 July 2015


If it weren't for the restrictions of copyright, I'd quite like to write a Grendel-style novel that retold the events of Harry Potter from the point of view of the Dementors. I mean, don't you wonder what the world looks like to them? How does it feel for them to consume the happiness of other beings? Do they experience the emotions they devour as happiness and joy? Might it be that this predation provides their only chance for happiness?

Imagine yourself a member of an intelligent, sentient species doomed to pass your life in sorrow and despair except when you are able to feast upon the happiness of others. What others? Why, these scurrying, diminutive creatures, who seem to spend all their energy and time fighting amongst themselves, trying to outwit and hurt one another, and who despite their gift of joy are so frequently sad and self-obsessed. They have the happiness which you yourself have been denied. Do they deserve it? What is it about their behaviour, their manifest selfishnesses and carelessnesses and violences that leads you to think they do?

No: they are better off without their happiness, for then they at least lose their frantic restlessness and become calm. And why should you live your life in misery when so much happiness is scattered around, unnoticed and unappreciated, waiting for you to harvest it?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Gernsback's 'Radio Police Automaton' (1924)

What could possibly go wrong?

The tiny penile 'tear gas outlet' is an especially nice touch.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Ghost Man

Mid to late 1930s: from the same stable as the very popular 1933-34 Spanish SF magazine serial 'Los Vampiros del Aire'.

These 'Aerial Vampires' are a crime-fighting crew who use technology to be able to swoop down on criminals from above. They predate Batman by seven years.