Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Of the Feeling of Immortality in Youth by William Hazlitt / Two Versions Compared

I read in a biography of William Hazlitt that his practice, once fortified with stewed tea, was to take so many sheets of paper, fold them into a booklet that filled would be of essay length for whatever periodical he had in mind and setting to would write steadily without emendation until the job was done. Geoffrey Keynes in Selected Essays (pub.1930) follows Hazlitt’s final editing as the definitive version and I became aware of variants purely by chance as I looked up the famous essay On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth. The difference between the essay as given in Twenty-Two Essays of Wm. Hazlitt (selected by Arthur Beatty) pub.1920 and that of Keynes’ collection published to mark the centenary of his death is quite marked. Gutenberg Project has this final version in the collection of Hazlitt’s son Winterslow -Essays and Characters written there (pub.1850).

New improved Hazlitt seems ironic scoffing but in an observation about the willingness of youth to pore over what fascinates, his method is clarified.

A wrinkle in Rembrandt or in Nature takes whole days to resolve itself into its component parts, its softenings and its sharpnesses; we refine upon our perfections, and unfold the intricacies of nature. What a prospect for the future! What a task have we not begun! And shall we be arrested in the middle of it? We do not count our time thus employed lost, or our pains thrown away; we do not flag or grow tired, but gain new vigour at our endless task. 

You start with a detail, some characteristic quirk and from that a cosmos grows under your hand. You are always in the middle of it.

In the earlier version
though still excellent of course discursive diffusion predominates:

I remember to have looked at a print of Rembrandt for hours together, without being conscious of the flight of time, trying to resolve it into its component parts, to connect its strong and sharp gradations, to learn the secret of its reflected lights, and found neither satiety nor pause in the prosecution of my studies. The print over which I was poring would last long enough; why should the idea in my mind, which was finer, more impalpable, perish before it? At this, I redoubled the ardour of my pursuit, and by the very subtlety and refinement of my inquiries, seemed to bespeak for them an exemption from corruption and the rude grasp of Death.

His hopes for a general 'French Revolution’:
For my part, I started in life with the French Revolution, and I have lived, alas! to see the end of it. But I did not foresee this result. My sun arose with the first dawn of liberty, and I did not think how soon both must set. The new impulse to ardour given to men’s minds imparted a congenial warmth and glow to mine; we were strong to run a race together, and I little dreamed that long before mine was set, the sun of liberty would turn to blood, or set once more in the night of despotism. Since then, I confess, I have no longer felt myself young, for with that my hopes fell.

For my part, I set out in life with the French Revolution, and that event had considerable influence on my early feelings, as on those of others. Youth was then doubly such. It was the dawn of a new era, a new impulse had been given to men's minds, and the sun of Liberty rose upon the sun of Life in the same day, and both were proud to run their race together. Little did I dream, while my first hopes and wishes went hand in hand with those of the human race, that long before my eyes should close, that dawn would be overcast, and set once more in the night of despotism--"total eclipse!" Happy that I did not. I felt for years, and during the best part of my existence, heart-whole in that cause, and triumphed in the triumphs over the enemies of man! At that time, while the fairest aspirations of the human mind seemed about to be realized, ere the image of man was defaced and his breast mangled in scorn, philosophy took a higher, poetry could afford a deeper range.

I get the feeling there of a Times leader, ‘considerable influence’, ‘dawn of a new era’, dawn overcast/night of despotism - total eclipse’. Could do better, did do better. Even if we count the number of jumpers that Madame Dafarge knitted this was his feeling. The one is as brisk as the descent of the skewed blade, the other hacks.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Mandana Misra on Adhiropa/Apavada (from The Method of Vedanta)

The usual understanding of material causality that is offered in advaitin commentary and explication is one that I have questioned in the past. In summary it takes the form - in all the objects made of clay only the clay is real the names of the artefacts are merely names of clay. To put it in Aristotelian terms the substantial reality is clay and the objects that are made of it accidental modifications. My objection was that clay is always instantiated in some form or other, there is no ‘pure’ clay.

Sri SSS in The Method of Vedanta (pg.292/3) writing of the view of Mandana Misra (Sureshvara?) in his work Brahma Siddhi :

The method of false attribution followed by subsequent retraction (adhiropa-apavada) is also accepted. On this we have the following texts.

(Mandana Misra's view):
A thing can be described in words even when it is not known through any other means of knowledge apart from speech, and when there is no prior knowledge of of its connection with its name......

What is without particulars can be known through revelation. It is highlighted through the very negation of particulars. It is like the essence of gold. The essence of gold is never perceived unconcealed by some particular form, (my italics) whether it be a natural lump or a fashioned artefact like a necklace. And these latter are not the essence of gold. For when any of these forms are lost, the gold persists in another. But the entity that cannot be distinguished in perception from the particular form concealing it can be known mentally through the negation of the particulars and communicated to others. This method of communication is exemplified in the Veda in the text ‘This Self is expressed as “neither this not that”’. And it has been said by one of another school, ‘ When all universals have been eliminated , what remains over is the real’. (Bhartrhari, Vakya Padiya III.ii.21). Others again have said, ‘That which has no plurality is communicated through attribution followed by retraction’. (B. Siddhi p.26)

((Sri SSS adds a significant note))
It should be noted that there is here a certain difference from the doctrine of false attribution followed by later retraction taught by Bhagavatpada Sankara in that it is not taught that the attributions are false.

To put it another way, the concept ‘gold’ can be had without reference to anything given in sense perception. This incidentally is the position of Peter Geach in his classic Mental Acts. The notion of ‘false attribution’ cautioned against in Sri SSS’s note is the one generally offered and it seems to lead to there being a ‘real’ physical, actual clay that has no particular form.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Joycean Triad and a Poltroon with a Wooden Sword

The other day I had the very great pleasure of discovering error on the internet. Joyce Images is an excellent site which marries the myriad references in Ulysses to images of the day mostly in the form of postcards. I informed the editor:

Nice site and I am enjoycing it. I notice a small error on page 8 of telemachus where you identify an 'irish triad' as an 'irish bull'. A version of that triad (three things to be distrusted) Three things to be distrusted: a cow's horn, a dog's tooth, and a horse's hoof. 'Smile of a Saxon is an obvious varient. cf: Kuno Meyer Triads

May I add a little note which is missed. 'whose mother is beastly dead' said by Buck Mulligan and upsetting to Kinch - beastly dead is the inverse in English of 'beo beithioch' which is the Irish for 'beastly alive' a common expression.

Again fine work gathering up all those references and finding pcs to match,

‘That has the true scholastic stink’ with a verb sap. matiness. Scholars are touchy folk but correction from the likes of me is like a kindly hour before dawn in the stocks before the burghers emerge.

The triad collection of Kuno Meyer is a great find and I recommend it as a source of poetic compression.
Kuno Meyer

Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail, the slender blade of green corn upon the ground, the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.

Three smiles that are worse than sorrow: the smile of the snow as it melts, the smile of your wife on you after another man has been with her, the grin of a hound ready to leap at you.

Three signs of a fop: the track of his comb in his hair, the track of his teeth in his food, the track of his stick behind him.

Three idiots that are in a bad guest-house: the chronic cough of an old hag, a brainless tartar of a girl, a hobgoblin of a gillie.

Three things that constitute a comb-maker: racing a hound in contending for a bone; straightening a ram's horn by his breath, without fire; chanting upon a dunghill so that all antlers and bones and horns that are below come to the top.

One triad I two thirds remember (must talk to the brother) is - Three useless things that are as good as three right things: X, dirty water to quench a fire, a poltroon with a wooden sword (claiomh adhmaid ag cladhaire).

Proposals for X - a liars breath to blow out a candle.

Addendum 27/2/15: Aida of joyce images tells me that the image of Irish Bull refers to the smile of the Saxon. She wasn’t aware of the peculiarly Irish (and Welsh) tradition of triadic sayings. There’s a lot in Joyce and certainly he loved the obscure and recondite. Visit her site and experience the pantographical panoply of Dublin in June 1904

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Stamp of Approval from An Post

The apparent political unanimity on the same sex marriage referendum, with everyone singing off the one multicoloured hymn sheet is unusual nay uncanny. Even An Post has brought out a stamp with an explicit hurrah for equality. Its designer admits to this but the official line is otherwise:

The stamp’s designer, Oonagh Young, has admitted the inclusion was deliberate on her part. In a social media message she stated: ““I designed the ‘love&marriage’ stamp for An Post, including red equals symbol for marriage equality. Spread the love.”
However, when contacted, a spokesman for An Post insisted that the stamp was designed some time ago and has “no connection with any debate or referendum”, and went on to describe Ms Young’s comment as “poorly worded”.
(Iona Institute statement)

Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O’Brien) would identify this as Taurus Magnificus Hibernis and demand that it be put down and then fed hay. The impertinent use of a semi-state outfit to promote one side of a referendum may fetch up in the courts. Someone took their eye off the bull.

Friday, 20 February 2015

What is the stars?

To answer Captain Boyle’s question (Juno and the Paycock) and say that the stars and all the furniture of the cosmos is an illusion, in the simplistic way that some proponents of advaitic vedanta do, would be wrong. Or should I say non-wrong because that 'all’ is not describable as real or unreal. Our attempt at closure fails because the criteria of closure are only operative, if at all, within the cosmos. For this reason the jnanis direct seekers into positive methods of inquiry:

For this reason, from the standpoint of the highest truth Advaitins should not be considered and spoken of as people who proclaim the falsity of the world. They should be considered, rather, as people who proclaim the sole existence and (undifferentiated) reality of the self. A false notion cannot be real while it lasts and then undergo obliteration at the time of correction. We find in the world that a rope, for example, will remain exactly what it is, even it be falsely imagined as a snake or the like. And in the same way, the Absolute remains what it is, even when it is falsely imagined as the world and soul and so forth. This is the finally accepted truth.
(pg. 116 The Method of Vedanta by Sri SSS.)

The sentence beginning with A false notion seems to be backsliding into illusionism away from the positive inquiry of such as Ramana Maharshi with his Who Am I atma vichara or Nisargadatta’s reflection on I am. I rather take it to be a saving irony because analogies as such are still within the cosmos. There is no final answer in them.

Boyle: An’, as it blowed an’ blowed, I ofen looked up at the sky an’ assed meself the question — what is the stars, what is the stars?

Joxer: Ah, that’s the question, that’s the question — what is the stars?
Boyle: An’ then, I’d have another look, an’ I’d ass meself — what is the moon?
Joxer: Ah, that’s the question — what is the moon, what is the moon?
“Juno and the Paycock”, Seán O’Casey (1924)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Hindu Mormon Lock

Christian Proselytization
Arvind Sharma seems to take exception to the activity of Christian missionaries in India who attempt to proselytize. It offends some sentiment of parity of esteem because Hindus feel that there are many paths to the same goal. Christians evidently do not share this view. Sharma tries to make out that Christians are not being true to the intuitions of the primitive church re the scope of universality. Though he can find a couple of theologians who have reservations about universality I find that such a swerve from long standing belief and practice to be incredible. What to do? In Ireland we call the sliding bolt on a door a ‘mormon lock’ which allows us to view but not admit those missionaries. My own response is to say that I’m very happy with my religion and wish you all the best and I have no desire to waste your time in empty conversation.

May I recommend the installation of such a ‘device’.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Bhartrprapanca's Bhedaabheda (Identity and Difference)

You have established your philosophy camp. The next thing is to secure the perimeter. The primary boundary is that of the past of your tradition with its errors and insights, the secondary is that of the contiguous thought that may be confused with your own. Thus after a round-up of the main points of Sri Bhagavatpada (Sankara) Swami Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati (hereafter Sri SSS) deals with the vedic tradition of enlightenment gained through the karma of sacrifice and ritual. Firmly he rejects this with a stern adherence to the doctrine that only knowledge can banish ignorance.

(Liberation is said figuratively to be the ‘result’ of knowledge, because metaphysical knowledge puts an end to the obstruction caused by Ignorance , while Ignorance cannot be destroyed by action.) Nor can one conceive of any other obstruction to liberation apart from ignorance of a kind that might be removed by action. For liberation is eternal, and is nothing other than the true nature of the seeker himself. (Bhr.Up. Bhasya XVIII. 67 intro)

In Chap.IV of The Method of the Vedanta Sri SSS deals with contiguous error namely the identity and difference (bhedaabheda) doctrine which he associates with Bhartrprapanca Sankara’s ‘contemporary’. I mark that term given that Sankara’s dates are disputed and that Bhartrprapanca is known only from references in various works including Sankara’s commentary on the Brhad.Up.

The difference in identity is often explicated by the use of a master analogy. Water which is one and identical is manifested in different forms such as waves, foam etc. We recognise this difference and identity simultaneously.

In the same way, the Absolute is both dualistic and non-dualistic. The sea consists of water, waves, foam, bubbles and so forth. And the waves, foam, bubbles and the rest, that arise from the water, are just as much the nature of the sea as the water is. True, they come and go; but they are perfectly real for all that. And all this world of duality is perfectly real too, comparable to the water and the waves in the illustration. The Absolute in its supreme form is comparable to the water of the sea.

Sankara uses the concept of material identity also in a different way in discoursing on ‘clay’ and vessels of ‘clay’ in his commentary on Ch. Up. Personally I do not find his ontology convincing but that is a separate issue. Here Sri SSS applies the principle of non-contradiction to Bhartrprapanca’s theory. A thing cannot both be and not be one with itself at the same time.

Duality and non-duality are contradictories. The theory would therefore be in danger of undermining the Vedic texts which speak of Consciousness as a single homogeneous mass. If the Absolute were of both dualistic and non-dualistic nature like the sea or the tree (branches, boughs etc), it would have parts, and so inevitably would be impermanent.

The austere monism of Sankara rejects any assimilation of the Real and the Un-real even to the suggestion of a gradual wearing away of maya by action (ritual).
Some hold that all ritual leads to the cessation of bondage. As one is liberated successively from each ‘death’, meaning from each new body, so one attains a new one, not for the sake of attaining it but for the sake of getting rid of it. Thus until duality is finally destroyed, all ( as the Upanishad says) is death. But when duality is finally destroyed, then one is truly released from the prospect of undergoing further death. Before that, one can only speak of liberation in a relative or secondary sense. (Brhad. Up. commentary III.ii.1, intro.)