‘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.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Philosophical Content of Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers"

Wondering what the philosophical content of Tom Stoppard's famous philosophical play Jumpers (1972) was, I chanced upon some old issues of Philosophy: the Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy from the late 1970s. And here's a paper by Jonathan Bennett: 'Philosophy and Mr Stoppard' [Philosophy, 50: 192 (April 1975), 5-18].
Jumpers is a poor effort which doesn't deserve its current success. ... [It] is a mildly surrealistic farce and not a significant philosophical play ... [its philosophical content] serves the play only in a decorative and marginal manner ... it short [it] lacks structure, and lacks seriousness.
Oof! Harsh. But, wait: here's a rebuttal article by Henning Jensen, entitled 'Jonathan Bennett and Mr Stoppard' [Philosophy, 52: 200 (April 1977), 214-17].
Jonathan Bennett, in his article 'Philosophy and Mr Stoppard' [concludes] that Jumpers is a mildly surrealistic farce and not a significant philosophical play ... I agree with Bennett that Jumpers is not a significantly philosophical play ... Bennett's evaluation of these materials as thin and uninteresting is incontrovertible. The arguments are bad, there are inaccuracies in reporting philosophical positions, the whole tone is farcical, and the philosophical content is marginal rather than central to the structure of the play ... I must conclude, therefore, that although Jumpers is very witty, the weakness of its philosophical materials is such as to render it of no philosophical significance and of little worth as a play.
Not so much thesis, antithesis, synthesis, as 'thesis, thesis, yah-boo philosophic commoners'. The impression, rather, is of two philosophers ganging up to put the boot into Stoppard. That'll teach him!


  1. Hmmm - well from what I remember, Jumpers seemed to eschew the common Absurdist ideal - that existential attitude/disorientation whereby philosophising is just smoke and mirrors (or in this case, flashy acrobatics). The death of one of the Jumpers seems to be a plot device into delving into the debate between moral absolutism and relativism, which is flippantly concluded with an address to Beckett (Wham Bam, thank you Sam? as well as the One of the thieves was saved argument). George can never put together theory and practice together effectively - that scene where he mixes up Aesop and Zeno's arrow (the impaled hare in the wardrobe reveal with him subsequently squashing the tortoise is a well timed comic touch I think) and is quite telling. Hmmm, I have to read it again, I think. I remember reading once upon a time how someone related it to Stoppard's first marriage I think. It can be alluded to in the deromanticisation through the use of close-up, i.e. the moon and Dotty herself. George and herself seemed very detached throughout the play. Ah - found it! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/drama/3598287/Brilliant-blend-of-wit-and-woe.html

    I can see why they'd think that, but I guess that's part of the point in my opinion.

    I am a bit of a Stoppard Fangirl though!

  2. I'm with you, Susan. I love Stoppard, and it seems to me these philosophers have both missed the point of Jumpers, perhaps because their painstaking analytical approach has no room for irony in the broader, or comedy/wit/laughter in the more narrow, sense.