Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Why Bother?

You have a neat clean metaphysical theory with crisp edges, open to attack of course but defensible. You have spent a long time developing this to the degree that you identify with it and would feel bereft if it were shown to be mistaken. Apart from that what difference does it make, other than the sense of having solved a standard puzzle? You might imagine that a Realist would place the world in a different context to the Idealist and I suppose there is truth in that, whatever truth is. Should that give rise to a specifically different quality of experience? Could a scientific experiment be devised to test this? I think not. It’s just philosophy after all.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Two Stephens, Dixon and Whitman

It seems impermissible to doubt that Stephen Dixon is a great writer. Famous unknowns, unrecognised celebrities and the outstandingly unobtrusive are the reclusive partygoers that it may be asked of - didn’t he die in 1963 and it was overlooked because of the other thing? No, not him, that one. Yes, I have you now.’

How does one discover Dixon if you don’t go to the parties that he’s never at. The answer to that is my new adage: A secret shared is a secret squared. News of the O. Henry awards where he is a fixture is where I spotted his name linked with the as usual genuflection. Via that great internet (why is internet regarded as a misspelling?) resource I downloaded 2 of his books for to sus. His big volume of Stories and Interstate ,a novel, are probably representative. Turgid, torpid, turbid is my initial reaction I fear but I will plough on and plough the rocks of yawn. Writing too for me must follow that Buddhist saying : Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. You do not colour in everything, how is the active imagination to be activated without imaginary space?

Onneglected books
I came across the F. Scott Fitzgerald proposal to Scribner’s re a library of the unjustly fallen into neglect. Stephen French Whitman is mentioned and some of his works are available on Languid, louche, lambent and a great laugh. Looking at Predestined mentioned by Scott, 25 at the time and famous already and won’t stop being famous either.

Felix was sent round the world. He saw strange seas and lands. On shipboard he awoke, sometimes, to find blowing through the open port-holes air as extraordinarily flavored as if enveloping another world. He perceived across water for the first time, yet with the inexplicable thrill of an old traveller returning after many years, minarets, pagodas, a Chinese junk, spider-like Malay catamarans. He became enamoured of strange perfumes, antipodal music, women so fantastically charming that they seemed unreal.

The cumulative effect of grandiloquence is the creation of unreality. Whitman does not ‘murder his darlings’, he breeds more of the divine creatures.

Here is the opening of Sacrifice (1922):

Lilla Delliver's parents, killed in a railway accident, left their child a legacy other than the fortune that the New York newspapers mentioned in the obituaries.
The mother had been tall, blonde, rather wildly handsome, with the look of one of those neurotic queens who suppress under a proud manner many psychic disturbances. Painfully fastidious in her tastes, she had avoided every unnecessary contact with mediocrity. Reclining on a couch in her boudoir, she read French novels saturated with an exquisite sophistication. Then, letting the book slip from her fingers, she gazed into space, as listless as a lady immured in a seraglio on the Bosphorous. At night, if the opera was Tristan, she went down to her limousine with the furtive eagerness of a woman escaping from monotony into a secret world. She drove home with feverish cheeks, and when her husband spoke to her she gave him the blank stare of a somnambulist.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

To alter the poster: Is this novel really necessary? I mean necessary to have read and that is placed as the keystone to an understanding of what happened to the Germans under the Nazis. I believe it is. It answers the question: how do you remain decent even if your resistance is not just personally futile but drags others to their deaths? If ever there was a test to destruction of the Categorical Imperative this was it. Helpless, powerless people can always do one small thing and what Foreman Otto decides is based on the true story of the Hempels who left postcards denouncing Hitler in offices and building all over Berlin for years. They hoped to incite resistance or at least a foot-dragging amongst the civilians. Fallada wrote the novel in 24 days and the hallucinatory intensity of the writing was likely aided by pharmaceutical stoking. There is no pause in the tension and though we want Otto Quangel and his wife Anna to come through, it can only end one way.

Along with the central characters of Otto and Anna there are police informants who allied to Gestapo Inspector Escherich try to trace the author of the postcards. Cunning deviants and thugs abound and the portrait of Obergruppenfuhrer Prall leaves no doubt that the Second World War was necessary. His like probably emerged after de-nazification with a sense of having been fooled by Hitler.

The translation I read is by Michael Hoffman and it reads smoothly. ‘Beauty is slowness’ said Ezra Pound who escaped hanging, pardoned for writing well as the poet said. No slowness here, so no lyrical interludes, no soaring, only burying in ground well trodden by jackboots. In the Modern Classic Penguin there is an extensive afterword with some excellent background notes.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pramanas as irreducible means of knowledge

An important and to my mind a very interesting aspect of the Pramana (Means of Valid Knowledge) theory is that each pramana is unique and cannot be reduced to any other. Dharmaraja Adhvarindra writer of the classic book on the topic Vedanta Paribhasa which he says is for the enlightenment of backward students is at great pains to stress this point particularly on the pramanas which are not universally recognised as separate by all schools. He recognised 6 whereas Vaisesika counted 2, Sankhya 3, and Nyaya 4. He justifies the inclusion of upamana (Comparison) and anupalabadhi (Non-Apprehension of Existence) as freestanding which other schools reduced to a function of pratyaksha (Perception).

This point is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the pramanas, unless I missed it. I also sense that this ‘gavaya in the room’ is overlooked generally but I could be wrong by those who would link upamana to modality. While on the topic of modality surely the ultimate source of deontic modadlity is the Gita - what ought I do, what can I do, what may I do, what must one do and what is impossible.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Real and the Really Real in Advaita Vedanta

The real in Advaita Vedanta is where you are now - qualified by the Method of the Vedanta i.e. As each new metaphysical level is attained the attributions superimposed on the real at the previous level are retracted. Ordinary perception is always taken to be veridical until it is discovered not to be. That is the default position. The discussion of snake/rope confusion refers to a metaphysical ajnana (ignorance) and does not infer a position of universal scepticism. as in the argument from illusion in Western philosophy.

It is the expression of the paradox of metaphysical realisation that gives rise to the Matilda Reaction:
Matilda told such dreadful lies
It made one gasp and stretch ones eyes
(Hilaire Belloc)

Swami Satchidanandendra (Method of the Vedanta):
(1) Therefore, since being embodied is the result of false notions, it stands proved that the enlightened person is not embodied even while still alive. (B.S.B. I.i.4)
(2)The question whether the soul ‘has’ or ‘has not’ a body depends simply on whether metaphysical discrimination has or has not arisen. For the Vedic text says, “Dwelling in all bodies, not Himself embodied” (Katha Up. I.ii.22) (B.S.B. I.iii.19)

The failure to discriminate between the metaphysical and the conventional often results in puzzles about whether realised sages actually feel pain or really need those glasses.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

White Noise by Don DeLillo

Coleridge said of Wordsworth that he had to create the taste with which he was read, DeLillo has gone further by creating the reader by which he is read.
gashouse scrapper
It may well have been the twinkling maestro’s work or an example of the phenomenon which I read about in the pull-out literary section of the National Enquirer which tells how an authors deeply meditated work can become actual and manifest. Tom Sawyer I know where you live!

White Noise read by everybody except myself until the other day is a masterpiece of sustained satire such that when you start to talk about it you realise you are in it and put down your signifiers and surrender to the fun and mockery of academics that were too long on the McLuhan teat and went solid with Barthes and the Hitler and the Holocaust industry which only abates during attacks on Gaza for reasons of sensitivity. Then the great theme of telly and its channelling of reality, parsing it as an all pervasive context. DeLillo hasn’t bothered to claim that there is no resemblance to anyone living or dead for that would be to draw the modern science of disclaimers that negate that which is denied. Some logician might take that up and discover the modifier ‘like’ as a paraliptic inversion.

To re-read, a must, to have only just read a criminal oversight.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A.E. Taylor's summation (Elements of Metaphysics)

Final Paragraphs:

Quite apart from the defects due to personal shortcomings and confusions, it is inherent in the nature of metaphysical study that it can make no positive addition to our information, and can of itself supply no motives for practical endeavour. And the student who turns to our science as a substitute for empirical Physics or Psychology, or for practical morality, is bound to go away disappointed. The reason of this we have already had occasion to see. Metaphysics has to presuppose the general principles of the various sciences and the general forms of practical experience as the materials upon which it works. Its object as a study is not to add to or to modify these materials, but to afford some coherent and systematic satisfaction for the intellectual curiosity which we all feel at times as to the general nature of the whole to which these various materials belong, and the relative truth and clearness with which that general nature is expressed in the different departments of experience. Its aim is the organisation, not the enlargement of knowledge. Hence for the student whose interests lie more in the enlargement of human knowledge by the discovery of new facts and laws, than in its organisation into a coherent whole. Metaphysics is probably undesirable, or desirable only as a protection against the intrusion of unrecognised and uncriticised metaphysical assumptions into the domain of empirical service. And similarly for the practical man whose interests in life are predominantly ethical, the main, if not the sole, value of metaphysical study lies in its critical function of exposing false metaphysical assumptions, which, if acted upon, might impair the vigour of spontaneous moral effort.

But for those in whom the speculative desire to form some coherent conception of the scheme of things to which we belong as a whole is strong. Metaphysics has a higher importance. In such minds the impulse to reflect on the nature of existence as a whole, if debarred from systematic and thorough gratification, is certain to find its outlet in unsystematic and uncriticised imaginative construction. Meta-
physics they will certainly have, and if not conscious and coherent, then unconscious and incoherent Metaphysics. The soul that is not at rest in itself without some " sight of that immortal sea which brought it hither," if hindered from beholding the object of its quest through the clear glass of rational reflection, will none the less seek to discern it amid the distorting hazes and mists of superstition. It is in such seekers after the Infinite that Metaphysics has its natural and proper followers, and for them the study is its own justification and its own reward. If a work like the present should prove of any help to such students, whether by offering positive suggestions which they can accept, or by assisting them to know definitely why they reject its conclusions, it will perhaps have achieved as much as its writer could reasonably expect.