We should not think of aesthetic form in terms of shape, but rather, as Susanne Langer argues, as a reflection of "orderliness" or relation. When thinking of form, we should not think of Keats's Grecian urn (embodying in its shape the beauty of the eternal)--not, at least, if this leads us to think of the urn's reified shape as somehow fundamental and therefore a kind of language. Rather, we should think of the relation between binary code and the image it produces on a computer screen, as prototypically "formal." Such images certainly do have shape, but those shapes are the product of underlying acts (here a set of computer instructions), which accordingly are more fundamental.
This allows us to understand Coleridge's mature insistence on the reciprocal formality of the Father and the Son (for in any case the Son cannot have "shape" in any spatial sense). It also allows us to rehabilitate Coleridge's problematic concept of organic form. Building on Louis Arnaud Reid's arguments against the representative theory of perception, I argue that the qualitative dimensions of everyday sensory perceptions cannot in themselves be characterized by primary qualities like spatial shape, for it is absurd to think that we have anything like Polaroid snapshots floating around within our synapses. Rather, the qualitative dimensions of sensory perception (colour, perceived shape, and so forth) are "presentations" of the relevant aspects of the world--presentations which bear a formal relation rather than immediate likeness to the world. Sense-perception is thus "formal." And we can thus also claim that an art work formally embodies its meanings; that the concept of "form" has work to do; and that form is implicitly qualitative, being characterized by texture, sound qualities, shapeliness, etc..
In a Notebook entry from December 1823 (chosen almost at random) Coleridge explains that
Evil in potentia can only become positive Evil, evil in Actu, by borrowing a form of Good—or rather borrowing Form from Good.Notebooks 4:5076, f.30v
My interest in this is not so much in what Coleridge says about evil as in his implicit assumption that form lies at the heart of Being. Similarly, in considering the nature of consciousness, Coleridge claims that "self-consciousness [. . .] is the Form and indispensable Mark of [. . .] Individuality." He goes on to comment:
Only [. . .] be aware of the full import of " Form " as here applied—Consciousness is not an impressed Shape, as the Seal on the wax, or as the Pyriformity on a Marble Pear—nor can it be compared even to the characteristic Type, or distinctive Shape, resulting from the formative power of Life, in the natural fruit, or in each animal. No! It is Form, as the correlative of Essence—distinct but even in thought inseparable, and co-inherent.Notebooks 4:5377, f.44v; May 1826
Form, then, is somehow related to consciousness, which in turn is the "correlative of Essence" (or Being). A third related term may be taken from Coleridge's unpublished "Folio Notebook": he explains that Ideas can only be defined negatively (since they depend upon an act of the reader for their positive existence), but that such definitions are not themselves the Idea—for the Idea itself is "the Form in which the Absolute distinctity yet entirety [i.e. the Logos] is realized and revealed" (ms. HM 17299, f.35).
In each of these cases, form lies at the centre of Coleridge's thinking—and these three examples could themselves be multiplied a hundredfold. Form is clearly fundamental in Coleridge's system; indeed, just how fundamental it is becomes clear when we consider that each of the examples above relate to the Trinity, the bedrock of Coleridge's thinking. For the very moment of instantiation within Coleridge's system occurs when the Father recognises himself in the Son, a relation not of subject and object (for those are terms of the Understanding and cannot be applied within the higher realm), but of the self, known or embodied formally. The Father knows himself in the Son not in the linguistic sense in which one knows a proposition, but in what I have argued elsewhere is the more fundamental and concrete way of knowing, the way, for example in which we know or see a tree, through a process of imaging. The Son embodies the divine idea in an "image," an aesthetic form, just as a piece of art can embody an idea.
But what is less clear is what Coleridge might mean by these claims about form, for they are not self-evident. Nor are the origins of his mature view of form clear. Coleridge's interest in a broadly platonic world view, from his schooldays on, is attested to by Charles Lamb in his famous essay, "Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago," and is further evident in Lectures 1795, "The Destiny of Nations" and the conversation poems. And Coleridge early grasped from Cudworth the argument that the eternal ideas must be acts and energies rather than reified entities (Cudworth 737). (Cudworth 737). Moreover, Coleridge is consistent, and from very early on, in his view that a form is not the same as a "mould" ( Notebooks 1:1433; August 1803), for while he speaks in "Dejection: An Ode" of "outward forms," he is careful to emphasize there that the "passion and the life" are "within" (45-46). Similarly, in Notebooks 2:2444 (February 1805) Coleridge distinguishes between form ab intra and form ab extra, a distinction reflected in Notebooks 2:2453, which speaks of "the spirit not the [outer] form."
But this talk of "form ab intra " is still not wholly clear, for it does not fully characterise the relation between the inner and the outer spheres. One way to do so is in terms of limitation. In Notebooks 1:1561 (October 1803), Coleridge describes form as "by its very essence limited—determinate—definite," a view which at first sight seems to reduce form to a product of deeper forces which limit one another. This either echoes or anticipates Schelling's view that the existence of the self and of the world can only be accounted for in terms of the limitation of a primary, outward-looking act by a second, equal and opposite, inward-looking act, and may derive more generally from neoplatonic sources like Proclus, who identifies the limiting bound as "the form and morphe" of the power behind the act of generation (Proclus 196).Notebooks 2:2402 (January 1805) continues in an even more Schellingian mode, claiming that forms are "limited things"—or indeed that form "[exerts] its main agency [. . .] in individualizing the Thing, making it this, & that. " For Coleridge tells us that:
Wherever action is resisted, limitation begins—& limitation is the first constituent of body [. . .;] thus all body necessarily presupposes soul, inasmuch as all resistance presupposes action [. . .].
However, the limitation theory (and this is the major lack in Schelling's early work) cannot explain why the act of limitation should issue in the manifold forms which we see in Nature: it can perhaps "explain" how act or energy is reified into body, but not why body should take the particular forms which it does. Coleridge, so far as I know, did not ever fully explain this either, but as we should expect, his later meditations centre on the Trinity. In the "Formula Fidei" (1830) limitation is still part of the story, but in a way which has subtly changed and is no longer Schellingian. He there defines the Father as "the essentially finific [that is, the limiting power] in the form of the infinite," and the Son as "the essentially infinite in the form of the finite." The interesting thing here is that "form" is no longer merely a product of deeper forces: those forces (the finific and the infinite) are themselves essentially characterised by form. Thus where Coleridge often later distinguishes between forma formans (the inner principle) and forma formata (the outward form), he is careful (in the immediately preceding quotations, for instance) to avoid thinking of the inner principle as formless. Both inner and outer are formal reflections of one another, and in neither case can their formalness be removed.
Coleridge's early thinking about the Trinity centered on triune logic as a response to the ancient problem of the One and the Many (along with the abyss of Spinozism which threatened to open up in the face of too great a concentration on the claims of the One) and also to the more modern version of the problem in Kant's doctrine of the antinomies. This concern with logic was to remain with Coleridge throughout his life, but in conceptualising the Trinity, form later came to be just as fundamental. The source for Coleridge's thinking here is not fully clear, but it may derive in part from Eriugena, who Coleridge was reading enthusiastically in June of 1803 ( Letters 506), and who, astonishingly, entered an erotic dream Coleridge had concerning "criminal intercourse with a girl" ( Notebooks 1:1824; January 1804). Coleridge's interest was in part piqued by Eriugena's flirtation with pantheism, but the passage he writes down in Notebooks I.1369 (circa March 1803) contains Eriugena's description of the Son as "the essence which is known through quality, quantity, form, matter, or a certain differentia [. . .]" (my emphasis). A more substantial source for Coleridge's interest in form appears in his notes in October 1804, taken from Harrington's A System of Politics— an apparently unpromising source for such a metaphysical topic. Notebooks 2:2223 reads:
There is in Form (says Harrington) something which is not elementary but divine. The contemplation of Form is astonishing to Man and has a kind of Trouble or Impulse accompanying it, which exalts his Soul to God. As the Form of a Man is the Image of God, so […].
Harrington himself adds that "That which gives the being, the action and the denomination to a creature or thing, is the form of that creature or thing"—a claim which again makes form ab intra a source or foundation rather than a product (273). And in 1821 Coleridge similarly draws on Jacobi with his observation in the Notebooks that a
form, a shape, or figure must all things have, and to remove all shape from a thing is the same as to annihilate it. But still it is not the Shape [i.e. form ab extra ] that brings forth the Being, but it is the Being that in all cases assumes a Shape, as the condition of its existence.Notebooks 4:4818
All of this is consistent with Coleridge's broader claim, in the "Opus Maximum," that "[e]very reality must have its own form" (2.265). But once again we do not quite get an explanation of the concept of form. Coleridgean criticism has not, I think, sufficiently pondered this question, for critics tend to view Coleridge's claims about form merely as rhetorical tropes, moments in inherently unstable texts which are licensed, if at all, by the thought that Coleridge's universe is a "symbolic" one and that expressions like "form" and "organic form" belong within the broader valence of that term. Moreover, criticism in the last thirty years has tended to focus on "symbol" and has wanted to co-opt Coleridge in one way or another within a more contemporary and linguistic understanding. This has perhaps preserved for Coleridge at least a nominal place in the critical canon, at a time when Coleridge's broader aesthetic concepts, like organicism and imagination, have lost favour.
However, I think that there are good reasons for paying more attention to Coleridge's view of form than has been usual. In part this is a question of doing justice to Coleridge's long-held and fairly consistent views on the subject, and part of what I want to do here is to document at least the outlines of those views. Indeed, I shall claim that form is the single most important concept in Coleridge's thinking. But the broader problem is that Coleridge only rarely explains his concept of form, which is perhaps why its central place in his thought has not been fully realised. I shall point below to a marginal note on Schelling in which Coleridge argues that form is related to "relation" rather than shape. But in order that we might understand that rather gnomic distinction, I must first discuss the concept of form in a rather broader frame—one indeed which I hope will suggest that the concept can still do work within a twenty-first-century aesthetic.
2. The Concept of Form
The concept of form, in English usage, is not a clear one. Its most familiar source is Plato, in whose work, as the Oxford Companion to Philosophy tells us, "[t]he word "Form" is used to translate [the] Greek word idea, [which] means the look of a thing, but was commonly extended to mean a sort, kind, or type of thing" (288). There is of course an enormous jump from the look of a thing to its type or kind, for the latter in Plato turns out to be a quasi-ideal entity. Plato's story is at first sight fairly straightforward. How, he asks, do we recognise a general class, like "horse," when we see particular and very different instances (black horses, white horses, horses large and small)? Plato's answer is that there must be a common element within each of the various instances and that we recognise this element. Since the "ideal" form of the horse is not to be met with in human experience, our recognition of it suggests a prior acquaintance with it, before birth, in a transcendent realm, the world of the forms. (I have qualified the word "ideal" above because the transcendent forms in Platonism, unlike neoplatonism, do not appear to have any necessary connection with either human or divine minds and, at least in twentieth-century theory, a number of philosophers have tended to treat the Platonic view as the ultimate in "realism" since it implies that the archetypal numbers really do exist, independently of mind, somewhere within the universe).
At its simplest, we are invited to think of these transcendent forms merely as being "like" their finite copies within this world—"like," that is, except for being more perfect, or lacking any of the imperfections evident in particular worldly examples. Deeper problems for the platonic view emerge when we go on to ask what this likeness can consist of. Can we really think of all the horses which we see as merely more or less blurred copies of the image of the "ideal" horse? Does the ideal horse also contain, or participate in, the ideal form for the broader class, "animal"? Does the ideal form participate in its own form? And are there thus deeper "forms" which are not to be conceived of as in any sense shapes or visual images? If they are not to be conceived of "visually," as images or quasi-images, then what is their nature? These questions all suggest that what at first seemed a relatively straightforward concept (that the "form" is somehow "like" the real-world instance) turns out to be more complex.
Perhaps we should conclude from this that the term "form" is simply incoherent. After all, Aristotle's reduction of the forms to entelechies, or solely-immanent essences, has the virtue of a greater realism, but hardly gets us much closer to understanding what such forms could be. Aristotle uses the term morphe rather than Plato's idea, pointing to form as an inner principle or "soul," but these terms turn out on examination to be no less mysterious than Plato's.
Nonetheless, there are I think grounds for retaining the concept. The key here is to abandon our more usual notion that "form" is based on "shape," or external "likeness." Susanne Langer, in her Introduction to Symbolic Logic, insists that logical form reduces to orderliness and implies structure rather than shape (23-24), while the early Wittgenstein thinks of the relation between language and the world as a formal relation, involving a logical projection (4.0141). In both cases (though some qualifications need to be entered for Wittgenstein), form characterises a relation where there is no actual "likeness" (Warnock's term). This can be seen easily in cases like the relation between the binary code supplied over the internet and the resulting picture which appears on our screen, but it is less easy to see in the case of a Grecian Urn that the form similarly reduces not to shape but to a characteristic of relation. In the body of this essay I shall try to show that this is the case not only for the aesthetic form of a Grecian urn, but also for perceptual images more generally. I shall do this by briefly outlining Louis Arnaud Reid's theory of perception, a theory which unlike Coleridge's proceeds in a realist context but which, in the final section of the essay, I shall suggest can be generalised to explain Coleridge's views on the perceptual imagination and the Trinity.
3. L.A. Reid's theory of perception
Reid was a student of Muirhead, the Coleridgean, during the First World War, though he developed his own ideas in a realist rather than an idealist context. Reid's crucial step was to reject the representative theory of perception (6, 11 etc.). This is the theory which most readers have found in Locke and which claims that when we perceive (say) a tree, the light which bounces off the tree registers on our retina, causing a nervous impulse to be transmitted into our brains where an image is formed. The internal image is thus a representation of the external scene. But as Berkeley pointed out, the viewer is effectively viewing an internal image rather than anything external, being entirely cut off from any knowledge of the latter. And the slippery slide to idealism is only one of the many shortcomings of the representative theory, for it seems to suggest that the image appears before our visual imagination in a relatively passive fashion, besides suggesting the ludicrous but unavoidable notion that something like a Polaroid snap floats within our synapses.
But Reid argued (in terms which largely anticipate Warnock's useful book, Imagination ) that the representative theory was itself the product of a faulty analysis of perception. The sense datum, he claimed, is not what is known but is an active way of knowing the world. Moreover, the sense datum per se is an abstraction rather than a substantial entity, though sensation (conceived as an act ) is very real. In Locke's account (above) the "seeing" should not be taken, as Locke appears to take it, as a seeing of an image which appears automatically before the homunculus in Dennett's "theatre of the mind": the "seeing" is in fact the act by which the "image" is constructed in the first place.
Imaging can be compared for instance to the act by which a blind person constructs an "image" of the external world on the basis of information transmitted through his or her white cane; for though our visual sense is much more sophisticated and appears immediate, it is in fact mediated by light (a physical intermediary) and involves the same kind of construction. The "image" is thus not a substantive object (a Polaroid picture free-floating in our visual cortex) but a dynamic entity—an (object-directed) act. This emphasis upon the image as an act of seeing is not to deny the story about the mediating function of light, nor is it the kind of extreme realism (with corollaries within the phenomenological tradition and positivist phenomenalism) which denies the phenomenal/noumenal distinction (Warnock 141-149). It merely asserts that the act of "seeing" (or "seeing" considered as a mode) is essentially mental, an act by which mind directs itself to ("knows," "feels") the physical evidence available to it about the external world. As Reid puts it, "Imaging [. . .] is just thinking of the real world, and images are the real world as appearing in a certain way" (105). And "in the end there are no images, but only imaging of real things" (113).
I have written elsewhere on the recent scientific evidence produced by Damasio, Ellis and others for the constructive view of perception. And, as Coleridge was very much aware, this constructive view of perception finds support from marginal perceptual phenomena, like optical illusions which catch the mind in the act of (mis)construction. In Notebooks 2:2720, Coleridge speaks of the role of logic and rational thought in changing visual misperceptions, something he had observed in November of 1803 while looking in one very particular direction at a single and quite real kite (the bird) in the distance:
turning suddenly round I saw [. . . another] pair of Kites—floating about—I looked at them for some seconds when it occurred to me that I had never before seen two Kites together—instantly the vision disappeared—it was neither more or less than two pair of Leaves, each pair on a separate Stalk, on a <young> Fruit tree that grew on the other side of the wall, not two yards from my eye.Notebooks 1:1668.
The sight of the first, and real, bird led Coleridge to interpret and image, or to see, the new phenomena as being again kites until the countervailing evidence caused the vision or image to change—countervailing evidence which here had less to do with the immediate sense data than with Coleridge's knowledge of the world in an abstract sense (the knowledge that kites do not usually hunt together). Coleridge points to similar constructive illusions involving candle light ( Notebooks 1:1751) and was particularly interested in the way in which we recognise faces, seeing (at least momentarily) what we have been expecting to see ( Notebooks 2:2080, 2619, etc). Moreover, as one who believed that "objects" are illicit products of a reificatory understanding, Coleridge would have endorsed Reid's view that perception has a dynamic basis, depending (as I shall show in my conclusion) on an act rather than a passively received "image."
We should think, then, not of "images" which are "like" or "represent" objects—for example, trees—in the external world. Since there are in fact no images, there can be no question of the primary qualities (length, breadth, or extension more generally) existing within the putative image. Nor does it make sense to conceive of an immediate likeness between the secondary qualities (colour, et cetera) and the qualities of external objects in themselves, for so far as we know colour does not correspond (in the sense which involves an immediate likeness) to a secondary quality possessed by atoms themselves, but rather to the amount of energy absorbed from light by the atom concerned. In both cases, the relation is more akin to that between digital code and the picture which appears on a computer screen. I shall suggest that in both cases there is a transformative process which interposes between the input and the output, and that the relation is thus formal rather than one of immediate likeness.
4. Formality and Perception
As Berkeley long ago pointed out (though to rather different effect), the distinction between primary and secondary qualities is less clear cut than Locke made it seem. Indeed, once one abandons the notion of "images" per se, their putatively primary qualities come, as we have seen, to seem similarly secondary. I have tried to show elsewhere that the concrete or qualitative or "secondary-in-this-wider-sense" dimension of imagings are not immediate reflections of the way the world itself is, but are themselves bearers of meaning—that the qualitative dimension of sensuous experience is cognitive in nature rather than being immediately like the world it presents. (This is just like saying that the binary data stored by a digital camera is "electrical" in nature without thinking that the world itself is "electrical." So one can say that our sensory perceptions of the world are cognitive and qualitative in nature without implying that the world itself is cognitive or qualitative in the same way, but also without implying any radical anti-realism.)
However, what I want to do here is to establish what at first sounds improbable: that the sensuous qualities of an "image" (or, better, of imagings) are not only qualitative, but formal ; that there are indeed reasons for thinking that a defence of the idea of form, in the aesthetic sense, can usefully be mounted against those who believe that "form" reduces to trope, the use of a figure "in a sense other than that which is proper to it" (OED). In a sense I have already presented the argument as such above. What I want to do here is to talk more about usage and to qualify our usual conceptions of aesthetic form—a demystification but not I hope a reduction. I shall demonstrate this formal quality in three ways, analysing "form," applying the idea of logical projection to visual perception, and testing these ideas against the idea of "form" in art.
5. An Analysis of "Form"
The word "form" is used in a number of ways. We fill in forms, we form material or an argument into a shape, we speak of a work as having a form (by which we may mean a shape in an abstract sense, or we may mean the concrete sensuous qualities of the work in a more encompassing sense), and we produce formal specifications for jobs or for engineering works. In each case, however, (and no doubt more could be collected) there seems to be a consideration that something existing has been put through a transformative process in which (and the caveat is essential) relevant data is preserved within a new medium (or even a new structure). The relation between prior and subsequent states is formal not only because it is a product of a transformative process, but because the shift in medium (or structure) implies that no other relation of likeness in kind exists between them. Thus pre-existing data (embedded in their own structure/s of what ever kind) are catalogued when we fill in a form (with its own, and unalike, structure), raw clay is transformed into a vase, inchoate thoughts are formed into an argument, and the shape and structure (considered abstractly) of a building is realised in its final construction. Similarly an idea is (in ways which must be highly qualified) realised in the final form of a work of art.
It should be noted that my proposed definition of form (as the outcome of a transformative process) specifically widens the term to cover all transformative processes where data (or structure which can be interpreted as data) is preserved within a new medium (or even within a new structure). (The term data here is meant to cover a broad spectrum from physical states which embody structure with the potential for interpretation to "meanings" which are already thoroughly cognitive.) This way of speaking about form echoes Susanne Langer's talk of "transformation" in her Introduction to Symbolic Logic, where, as we have seen, she insists that "logical form" reduces to "orderliness" ( not "shape") and implies structure. It is clear, however, that not just any transform is aesthetic (it would be absurd to call a tax form aesthetic). I wish to restrict the aesthetic domain to those transformations which involve sensuous qualia : the specifically qualitative medium of the sensuous in the case of sensory perception, and the perceptual qualities of the physical medium (clay, paint, sound, et cetera) in the case of art. Smashing the Portland Vase was not, in my sense, transformative since it did not in any useful sense preserve meaning or structure, and the destructive act did not in any useful sense exploit its qualities as a medium.
How does this help? It will be clear from my earlier discussion of perception and imaging that sensuous experience does not simply "represent" an external reality (in a relation of immediate "likeness"). Sensuous experience also is the product of a transformative process, the perceptual process by which features of the external world (the properties of the surface of a table, as mediated by light) are "presented" in a specifically mental mode (colour) which in the relevant sense (as a secondary quality) is unlike the original. Of course, the table is not in itself transformed (as the clay is perhaps transformed into a vase), but the process is transformative. The light which mediates between the table and us is at least physically transformed since certain wavelengths are selectively absorbed by the table (the current theory is that the absorbed wavelengths are those which provide just the right amount of energy to jump the outermost electron into its next highest orbit). The transformed and modified light, moreover, contains a physical structure which is interpreted by the body's sensory organs and brain, with the structure being abstracted and transformed in the interpretative/perceptual process into sensation (colour). We must thus recognise that qualitative sense data ( qualia as they are often called) are a specifically cognitive mode rather than an immediate reflection of the outside world, for the perceptual process involves a change in medium for the relevant data or structure from its physical embodiment to its cognitive interpretation. And the advantage of this account is that, given its transformative nature, we are now entitled to speak of sensuous qualia ( all sensuous qualia) as "formal."
6. Logical Projection
As I suggested in my introduction, the concept of form here is close to the earlier Wittgenstein's idea of "logical form" in the Tractatus, though it takes the idea of "logical projection" further than the Tractatus does in denying the tendency there to conceive the relation as pictorial and thus in a sense "representative." For Wittgenstein sought to reduce language (in the tradition of Russell and Frege) to what he thought of as its underlying logic, "showing" that its structure embodies a fairly straightforward one-to-one correlation with the basic or factual relations between objects in the world—a correlation in which states of affairs in the world are primary, and in which linguistic representations are mere copies (that is, secondary). He did, however, insist that the form of the logical projection is inscrutable since that form is not itself a relation of objects in the world—which, in the view of the Tractatus, is the only kind of relation about which language can speak. The Tractatus protests too much at this point, for the idea of logical projection, drawn from Wittgenstein's days in the engineering workshop, is clear enough in the Tractatus, even if not wholly licensed by the Tractatus's peculiarly narrow view of language .
However, as one who does not believe in any of the kinds of reified mental entities which would be required for a straightforward logical relation between world and mind (the representative view), I do indeed regard the form of the logical projection as necessarily mysterious—but only in the sense that, though physiology and psychology can tell us much about how the process works in practice, I do not believe ( pace the cognitive scientists) that we yet have the basis for a complete understanding of the mind. On my view the relation is one between a qualitatively characterised act (sensation) and the world. This view is non-representative in that it denies the presence of any kind of "likeness" other than formal.
This needs unpacking, for it might be felt that the cognitive activity is still a representation, albeit as act rather than as substantive image. The problem here is that representative views are tacitly empiricist, encouraging us to view the represented object (again) as primary—and the "representation" if not as something quite passively received, then at the most as a fairly straightforward product of a quasi-automatic process (the brain has evolved selectively to respond to stimuli in such and such a way).
However, though realist, the position I am sketching here is not empiricist, for Reid wanted to place mind at the heart of the knowledge-relation—not to view the brain as responding passively to stimuli but to think of the very perception of stimuli as a constructive act, though not in a Kantian, anti-realist fashion. In this sense, M.H. Abrams (writer of The Mirror and the Lamp, the standard account of romantic theory) was right to use the metaphor of the "lamp," for the direction of causality is reversed: the formal projection involved in perception is a mental act and runs from mind to world rather than vice versa. Susan Haack's recent views are somewhat similar in thinking that mind does something interesting in "knowing."
The claim that all data-preserving transformations are formal, and the consequent claim that all sensuous qualia are formal, does admittedly sound odd at first hearing. However, an image contains elements which most of us would be prepared to call formal—elements of shape which may seem to fall under the category of primary qualities. But to think that the word "form" in this more abstract (or "primary") sense refers to something which is different in kind from other ('secondary") sensuous qualities is probably mistaken (Langer, Feeling 51). For as we have seen, though Reid allows the primary-secondary quality distinction to be made, he insists that since there are ultimately no images (merely acts of imaging) there can be no question of the images in our heads having "extension"—which means that the primary qualities (as qualities) are ultimately just as transformative as the secondary, because of the shift in medium from physical object to mental percept ( Knowledge 143-46). If the distinction between primary and secondary qualities ultimately collapses, then so does the putative distinction between formal and other properties. And we can appeal more directly to our experience in imaging the everyday world. For, surely, the "images" that we have in our heads do not consist of shapes (formal elements) which are then "coloured in" with putatively "sensuous" quality. Rather, our sense of the putatively sensuous qualities is part and parcel of our sense of the more "formal" aspects of the object. (It may be objected that different parts of our brain are responsible for detecting aspects like colour and shape, but nonetheless these elements are put together within a single intuition. It is the nature of that intuition which is relevant here, for that is how, phenomenologically, we are conscious of the world—and consciousness is our subject here.)
7. Form in Art
I suggested in the previous paragraph that with the collapse of the primary-secondary quality distinction, the distinction between formal and other qualities also collapses. This is illustrated, I think, by the observation that we are in fact happy to refer to the putatively "sensuous," or secondary, qualities of a work of art as formal—a practice that we should extend to the putatively secondary qualities involved in everyday perception (sensuous qualia). I suggest that the term "form" in art has two senses which are similar to the two senses dealt with in the previous paragraph—but that again both senses are analogous. The first sense is the abstract one, in which we might think of the form of a Grecian urn as its shape in silhouette. But if we think of this as the form of the urn, we are mistaken, for the urn's shape is only one of a number of its concrete qualities which together constitute its form. These include the fineness and fragility of its shell, the colours, textures and sheen of its glazes, along with decoration, figuration and possibly a kind of bas-relief. Thus form in art refers both to 'shape" and to putatively more 'sensuous" qualities. The argument given in the previous paragraph demonstrates that these two senses of the word form do not demarcate differences in kind: both are transformative and therefore formal.
Another example may help to clarify this point. When we speak of a Romantic poem as having "organic form" we are presumably thinking abstractly of the ways in which stanza length, line enjambment or closure, et cetera are determined by the immediate subject matter rather than by a pre-existing form like the heroic couplet or the Spenserian stanza. But this again is not entirely what we mean by a poem's formal qualities, for we also speak of its sound qualities as "formal." This, I believe, is not merely an accident of speech, for shape is never purely abstract: it is always embodied in a concrete form, and it is the concrete or sensuous qualities of a work, considered in their totality, which constitutes the work's form. The old saw, that the work and its form are only notionally distinguishable, has, I suggest, deeper implications than is normally realised.
I hope that this account will help to demystify the idea of form in art, for it is now apparent that form in art is not a special case, but merely a variety of the more generally formal nature of perception. It may be objected that in reducing all perception to form I have really eliminated the concept of "form" altogether. In a sense this is true, for I regard the common or naive view of "form" (as meaning something like "shape") as the mystificatory product of an illicit form-content distinction—a category mistake. As I argue in my forthcoming article "That Eternal Language," content and meaning do not in fact belong to a prior and pure realm of thought, but are products of abstraction from the concrete "presentation."
But in another sense I have not eliminated the concept of form, for I have denied the representative thesis (that a relation of likeness pertains between "object" and "representation") and have insisted upon the transformative nature of perception, a point which brings us back to our broader concern with sensuous qualia. Understood in this light, as the products of a transformative act, sensuous qualia become bearers of meaning, and the analogy with the way the formal qualities in art bear meaning forces us very directly to recognise the concrete nature of sensuous qualia and the ultimately concrete nature of mind. To speak of form, then, is not to speak of something quite separate from a putatively "pure" meaning (for the form-content distinction misleads us here: "meaning" in this sense is always abstracted from a presentational form). Rather, to speak of form is to point to the formal or logical projection which underlies all meaning—a cognitive act which the apparent immediacy of our sense perception hides from us, causing us to view form in art as a special case and as a mystery.
In the pages above I have tried to present reasons for taking seriously the idea of form, which I take to be Coleridge's most fundamental concept, in a climate which in recent years has tended to dismiss such ideas. Some readers will have found the mentalist language of this discussion unpalatable, and I can here only refer them to my forthcoming article for a discussion of the change in thinking which has occurred in sections of the Anglo-American philosophical world since the publication of Searle's The Rediscovery of the Mind. Other readers will want to see a much more detailed account of terms like idea and meaning and concreteform : they will again find much on these matters in the forthcoming article. The more detailed working out of the theory of art which is implied by these articles will I hope follow quickly.
Here, however, I want to return the discussion to Coleridge and suggest some reasons why we should take Reid's realist account as a model for certain aspects of Coleridge's view of perception. This can be done briefly. In one sense there is an enormous difference, for Coleridge's theory is an idealist one, and his view of the "constructed" nature of the image is often conceived in terms of the Kantian understanding, a faculty which supplies all of the "formal" (spatial, temporal and logical) characteristics of phenomena. (See my "Coleridge, Language and Imagination" for a detailed discussion of the Coleridgean imagination from that perspective.) But Coleridge always questioned the central Kantian tenet that there is nothing in the noumenal world which determines the formal properties of phenomena. And for Coleridge, the Kantian world of the understanding is relatively less interesting than the higher world of reason, the realm of the divine mind. There we do not find the individual acts by which finite minds perceive the world around them, but we do find the divine archetypes which underlie the finite forms of nature. The archetypes, sometimes called the divine ideas, are themselves forms of will (by which I mean that unlike platonic forms they have no substance other than as acts of the divine mind, which in turn consists solely of will, and which accordingly can only be differentiated by form rather than substance).
Perhaps this could be put more clearly. The divine ideas are not themselves constitutive of God, but they are part of the pleroma, within the divine intelligence which is the realm of the Son. Moreover, they are not "ideas" about entirely contingent matters: they are reflections of the manyness (the manifoldness) of the Son, and thus reflect the nature of the Son himself. The Son, moreover, is the formal embodiment of the Father, the embodiment in which the Father recognises himself and thus instantiates the Trinity and everything which is actual within the Coleridgean universe. One can think of the Son as being like a Grecian Urn, in the sense in which Keats is tempted to see the urn as a concrete embodiment of the ideas of beauty and time. But I think it is also possible to think of the relation between Father and Son in the terms of "relation" or formal projection which I have outlined above. For the key to the Trinity is the idea that its members are both identical (consubstantial) and different. If the Father is to recognise himself in the Son, there must be an essential sameness; but also an "otherness" which prevents the relation from being empty or solipsistic. To use a term which has been central to my argument, the Son must in a sense be unalike, and where there is no "likeness" then the relation must be formal in the terms which I have argued for.
And, as I suggested in the introduction, Coleridge adopts exactly this language in a marginal note on Schelling when he insists on the difference or "otherness" of the Son vis à vis the Father: "It [i.e. the Father] has all reality in itself; but it must likewise have all reality in an other "—that is, in one who is unalike the Father (400; my emphasis). But he goes on to insist that this unalikeness cannot be a matter of differing substance, for he claims that "there can be difference but of relation " (Coleridge's emphasis). Nonetheless, if the only difference consists in "relation" (there being no difference in substance), he still insists that "this must be a real relation," that is, one in which there is genuine difference or Alterity. And in a cancelled draft for the sixth of the "Essays on Method" in The Friend, Coleridge suggests that the concrete qualities of an artistic medium derive originally from "the divine Relation"—a comment which confirms the centrality of relation within the Trinity, but which also insists that it has the qualitative character we ordinarily ascribe to sensuous experience (465n2).
Form is thus central to the Coleridgean Trinity, and in turn to the divine ideas, and it ought accordingly to be no surprise that the "repetition in the finite mind" of these eternal acts, in the everyday acts of the primary imagination through which we perceive the world, should lead us to speak of the "forms" of Nature. I have tried to show elsewhere how this idea underpins Coleridge's broader conception of the universe as "symbolic," and thus of his views on mind, myth, higher criticism and art.
On the subject of evil, see Harding and my response, "The Satanic Principle."
I have glossed "the Absolute distinctity" as the Logos, though it is possible Coleridge here means the pleroma within the Logos.
In the Notebooks (which do not yet have an index) and unpublished metaphysical manuscripts, the more interesting of Coleridge's references include: Notebooks III 3246, 3584, 3587 f.43, 3819, 3973, 4066, 4369, 4427; Notebooks IV 4679, 4726, 4728, 4730, 4818, 4831-4832, 4835, 4839, 4907, 5076, 5133, 5233, 5377; British Museum Egerton Ms 2801, ff.48, 75v, 81v, 82, 89, 98, 104v, 117, 129v, 143, 263v, 158, 161; British Museum Egerton 2800 ff.63-63v, 67; Notebook 26 ff.45, 90v-91, 124v-125; Notebook 37 ff.35-35v, 48; Notebook 44 ff.1v, 35v; Notebook 49 f.3v; Notebook 50 f.37v; Notebook 51 f.15; Notebook 55 ff.20-21-21v; Victoria College Library Ms 6 ( passim ); Ms. HM 17299 (Huntington Library) ff.i-iii, 26, 35, 37, 40-41, 84; "Opus Maximum" (Victoria College Library Ms 29, elsewhere referred to as "Say") Vol.III, f.18; Vol. II ff.21, 82-83, 114, 118, 147, 265-272, 280; HM 8195 ff.13, 31, 37-39, 45, 89-93; and "Ms B Supplementary" (Victoria College Library Ms 28) f.29v. For published materials the indexes should be consulted.
"Opus Maximum" 2:265, 272; "Formula Fidei de Sanctissima Trinitate, 1830." On the question of subject and object, see my "Coleridge and Schelling" 457, 466-72.
See my forthcoming article, "That Eternal Language."
Bloom 668. Lamb's value as a witness here is somewhat lessened by his later admission that many of the details about Coleridge's schooldays came rather from Coleridge himself than from Lamb's actual memory. See also "The Destiny of Nations" 131-48 and especially 13-26. On the conversation poems, see my article, "Coleridge: The Conversation Poems."
See also Orsini 63.
Proclus, in combining Aristotle's term "morphe" with the more centrally Platonic concept of form, was perhaps typical of the neoplatonic tendency to read Aristotle in a Platonic sense.
See Copleston 89.
L.A. Reid deals with this lack of "likeness" in chapter 6 of his Knowledge and Truth.
See (e.g.) Warnock 156, 158, 172, 182. Though Warnock is not a reliable guide to the details of Coleridge's philosophy (she has not read his philosophical manuscripts), her general treatment of the question of imagination is helpful.
Daniel Dennett of course (and rightly) argues against the existence of a theatre of the mind in his Consciousness Explained. Damasio does argue that "the entire prefrontal region seems dedicated to categorising contingencies in the perspective of personal relevance" (182), but he sees this region as part of a whole and thus not commensurate with the homunculus.
In "That Eternal Language" I consider the broader implications of this view for theories of knowledge in the light of possible objections from Wittgenstein, Frege and the doctrine of anti-psychologism. See also Ellis.
The triangular brackets are used by the editors of Coleridge's Notebooks to mark a later insertion by Coleridge.
Elsewhere I shall present a formulation designed to avoid what Vincent Tomas has called the expressivist fallacy, the view that there is a division between that which is expressed ("pure" idea or feeling) and its expression (e.g. the tone of the violin). See Tomas.
"Information" might, in the everyday sense, have been a useful synonym for "data" were it not that the term's etymology--with its suggestive reference to "form"--would cause confusion.
This is not the place to go into the issues of conceptual art.
L.A. Reid, Langer, Humphrey and Damasio claim that the bodily feeling lies at the heart of perception. Feeling first emerged as a means of monitoring the body itself, and the external world is sensed when it disturbs that background feeling. In this sense background feeling is itself transformed in perception.
Kant also rejects the representationalist story about the image, and says of schematism (the element which mediates between the image and its concept) that it is "an art concealed in the depths of the human soul, whose real modes of activity nature is hardly likely ever to allow us to discover" (B.180-181).
Abrams account is, however, at times too subjectivist.
See 170-179 for her discussion of the theory of mind. My forthcoming article, "That Eternal Language" deals with the neurophysiological evidence which Ralph Ellis points to for the constructivist view in Questioning Consciousness. L.A. Reid's theory, like Haack's, is realist, rather than impositionalist, in the sense that the acts of perception are always subject to disconfirmation: the structures projected will only be isomorphic with the structure of the world after the fact, if at all, and are likely to be modified as new explanatory models subsume the insights of the old. As a realist I take it, however, that at some levels the theory-determination problems are not insoluble-that our senses have evolved to the point where they reveal at least some points of natural cleavage in the world.
Peter Lamarque suggested to me that a painting might have the quality of being a representation of a person-and that such a quality would not be formal. However, though there is more "likeness" here (since images constructed of paint do have, for instance, extension), paintings still rely upon a logical projection, a formal relation. Moreover, even a photograph, taken with the most realist intention, has this mediated quality, requiring for instance an understanding of the rules of perspective (some cultures notoriously, for instance, interpret a picture of an elephant in the distance as a picture of a small elephant: cats and dogs do not respond to still photographs at all). What of a perfect hologram? In so far as it deceives the viewer, it is not understood as "representative." In so far as it is understood as "representative" (Ryle's act of looking at the photograph while thinking of the dog which is its subject ), it invokes the memory of the original. This memory is itself a formal act (since it involves a relation to the physical object), as is the perception of the hologram itself: the hologram's putative property of being a "representation" is so only in virtue of its intentional history, and its presence as a phenomenal or perceived object. Such intentional qualities must be formal.
Reid is confused on this issue when (in A Study in Aesthetics 73, 80) he suggests that there are "irreducible qualitative differences" between the same note played (say) on the flute and the clarinet. Here he is thinking that the notes are formally the same, though sounding different. In fact, they are only formally identical in terms of one respect, frequency-but form in any other than an abstract sense is a much broader concept than that. And indeed, Reid dismisses such abstractions on 193-94. Curiously, Coleridge too seems to have thought in terms of a purely sensuous quality, sui generis, within the single note ( Notebooks 4:4734).
Kathleen Wheeler quotes Coleridge's marginal objection to the Critique of Pure Reason : "the perpetual and unmoving Cloud of Darkness that hangs over this Work to my 'mind's eye', is the absence of any clear account of … What do you mean by fact, an empiric Reality, which alone can give solidity ( inhalt ) to our Conceptions … well! but first what is this tree? How do I come by this Tree?" ( Sources 29). See also Coleridge, Biographia 1:155.
See my "Coleridge, Akenside" and my "The Ancient Mariner."
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