‘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.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sendakian Shibboleths

Amy Sonheim ['Sendak's Sustainable Art', PMLA 129:.1 (Jan 2014), 116] says that when she began studying children's literature at grad school 'I did not know how to read a picture book.' Why not? 'I could not appreciate a picture book because I had internalized the following shibboleths, which stack children's books below adult ones':
Text for children are less thoughtful because children are less intelligent.
Art for children is less fine because children are less observant. Illustrations for children reiterate texts and decorate pages, playing negligible roles in the storytelling.
If a book is short, it is simple.
Of course she sets these claims up to demolish them. I sort of see where she's coming from, but these still strike me as strawman shibboleths. Has anybody not obviously a dunderhead ever actually believed anything so foolish as these statements? I doubt it.


  1. I would say that there's a perception that texts for children are simple in the sense that they are simple to produce, as in "anyone could do that" (see the rash of celebrity picture books and YA novels that crop up every few years). When the truth is that to create something as affecting and enduring as Where the Wild Things Are takes a lot of talent and work, and not a little bit of luck.

  2. What you say is clearly right, Abigail; though I'd still suggest that nobody could actually think properly for 5 seconds and still believe her 'shibboleths'.