Thursday, 26 November 2015

Enda Kenny is a Moveable Feast

Enda Kenny, the famous Irish Prime Minister, was speaking on the floor of the House offering his commiserations. That it came out in a garbled Dan Brown way is perhaps the fault of his speech writer, Miriam O’Callaghan (the other one) who does the colour pieces for him. Usually they involve men coming up to him and telling him how surprised and delighted they were with the extra money in their pay packets and other equine compost activator. The story of how the police and the army were going to protect ATM machines during the early days of the financial crisis is probably his own.

A Friday evening in winter.
For many the end of the working week, in the city of Light.
Parisians got ready for the weekend.
Went home to pick up their children for the match, or met friends for a night out at Bataclan, or called into La Belle Equipe or le Petit Cambodge or Le Carillon, for a quick bite, a beer, a well-deserved pastis.
In 1307, almost to the month, the Knights Templar were arrested, interrogated, tortured, charged with heresy.
708 years on, in the particular blue, the cobalt, of an evening in Paris, ordinary yet extraordinary men and women, so many of them so young, paid with their lives, their futures, for another kind of ‘religious’ fear and loathing.
A fear and loathing that have nothing to do with any God, or any ‘faith’.
Its expression in Paris, and in other parts of Europe and the world, proof of the observations of Voltaire.
That those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Let’s comb the nits out of this piece. We know as a matter of history that Pope Clement avid for Templar loot instigated the action against them. We know that it was Catholics that Voltaire was inveighing against. Could the Paris atrocity be a Vatican false flag black op? If we draw lines between the places that were attacked the resultant figure is a skewed pentacle. That is very significant. Muslims have already suffered at the hands of the Templars and the Knights of Columbanus. Enough is enough.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Insolens Verbum

I am reading The Man who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton and as ever wonder whether his over use of paradoxes(oi) was a severe defect of his style. They seem like shiny, glittery objects which have a mesmeric effect and stun the judgement by their patent cleverality. It is, I suggest, a corollary of the principle mentioned by Coleridge in Essays on the Principles of Method:

For if he be, as we now assume, a well-educated man as well as a man of superior powers, he will not fail to follow the golden rule of Julius Caesar, Insolens verbum, tanquam scopulum, evitare. (De Analogia) Unless where new things necessitate new terms, he will avoid an unusual word as a rock.

Avoid reefs - you tend to get stuck on them. Unusual juxtapositions have that effect for they require unpacking. Richard Whately in his Rhetoric has the better procedure. First expatiate and then summate by the apothegm or other device. Oops, insolens verba.

Still, I enjoy his paradoxes, which is undoubtedly a defect in me:

"Listen to me," cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—"

((Full Quote from Caesar: tamquam scopulum, sic fugias inauditum atque insolens verbum trans:avoid a strange and unfamiliar word as you would a dangerous reef ))

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ibn 'Arabi's Four Tender Fire

Ibn ‘Arabi is not just prolific, many writers are, but he is well into the land of graphomania. Stephen Hirtenstein in his book The Unlimited Mercifier quotes from an introduction to one of his multitudinous works:

I what I have written, I have never had a set purpose, as other writers. Flashes of divine inspiration used to come upon me and almost overwhelm me, so that I could only put them from my mind by committing to paper what they revealed to me. If my works evince any kind of composition, that form was unintentional. Some works I wrote at the command of God, sent to me in sleep or through a mystical revelation.

How many works exactly? Hirtenstein tells us ‘over 350‘ of assured provenance and perhaps 700 altogether if one includes works that have not been fully authenticated. Did I read that one of these books runs to 3,000 pages? This is more than automatic writing, it’s automatic shorthand. There doesn’t seem to be a team of amanuenses involved. When you take account of the constant travelling I can only suppose that he wrote from morning till night every day. Naturally you do not revise divine inspiration but there were proof readings in his presence to establish the text and his accompanying disquisitions had an audience of up to 30 people.

He married twice or perhaps four times or more. If it is better to marry than to burn, his was a four tender fire. That is the aspect of Islam that definitively causes me to doubt its moral sense combined as it is with a concern for modesty and propriety in women. There is only a small percentage of polygamous marriages or should I say polygyny as Wikipedia does. One to three percent of all Muslim marriages are multiple even given the fact that it is not legal in every muslim majority country. cf: wikipedia polygyny
Ibn 'Arabi had a late onset of interest in sex. This was in his 30‘s even though in his spiritual tours up till then he had encountered many sufis who value celibacy. To clarify, Hirtenstein is not sure whether these marriages were successive or simultaneous.

I put this together with Arabi’s repeated assertions of spiritual prowess and considering that the philosophy that he wrote might have been the compound of Sufi theosophy with some simples of his own, I suspend judgment on him as a great master.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Could my own preference for writers' - not just Lawrence's - notes and letters be part of a general, historical drift away from the novel? For Lawrence the novel was 'the one bright book of life', 'the highest form of human expression so far attained'. Nowadays most novels are copies of other novels but, for Lawrence, the novel still contained these massive potentialities. Marguerite Yourcenar offers an important qualification to this idea when, in her notes on the composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (a text of far greater interest, to me, than the novel to which it is appended), she writes that 'In our time the novel devours all other forms; one is almost forced to use it as a medium of expression.' No more. Increasingly, the process of novelisation goes hand in hand with a strait-jacketing of the material's expressive potential. One gets so weary watching authors' sensations and thoughts get novelised, set into the concrete of fiction, that perhaps it is best to avoid the novel as a medium of expression. ((from Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer))

This is the thought of the ‘protagonist’ a near-Dyer beset by velleities from the book, - ‘we don’t like novel’ -, with the post colon - wrestling with D.H. Lawrence. I use quotes to mark the irony of ‘agonia’ or wrestling in Greek. In any case after a while one loses interest in pinning this ‘Dyer’ and not taking the book up again is easy.

How different it is with Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. When for the purpose of this little note I began to read it I found myself being drawn into it again. This author has nothing up her sleeve, no post modern meretriciousness, no theory and yet it’s more than a story. The beginning for instance with the gathering up of the laundry for the year at the home of Novalis.

Jacob Dietmahler was not such a fool that he could not see that they had arrived at his friend's home on the washday. They should not have arrived anywhere, certainly not at this great house, the largest but two in Weissenfels, at such a time. Dietmahler's own mother supervised the washing three times a year, therefore the household had linen and white underwear for four months only. He himself possessed eighty-nine shirts, no more. But here, at the Hardenberg house in Kloster Gasse, he could tell from the great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillowcases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard, where grave-looking servants, both men and women, were receiving them into giant baskets, that they washed only once a year. This might not mean wealth, in fact he knew that in this case it didn't, but it was certainly an indication of long standing. A numerous family, also. The underwear of children and young persons, as well as the larger sizes, fluttered through the blue air, as though the children themselves had taken to flight.

We are being introduced to the aery passage of the souls of the Hardenbergs, vestments that she will fill with their bodies one after the other and at the end of the book empty again with the record of the ways of their passing. It is simple ‘once upon a time’ storytelling that you surrender to with a child’s bated breath. There are 55 chapters, a form which suggests the Fragments of Novalis , occasionally rounded off with unstrained after aphorism.

Hardenberg was not really an old man - he was between fifty and sixty - but he stared at Jacob Dietmahler with an old man's drooping neck and lowered head. 'You are right, quite right. I took the opportunity. Opportunity, after all, is only another word for temptation.'

We know that Fritz von Hardenberg is going to die but this will be after his Sophia, Sophie von Kuhn, has pre-deceased him. That’s true but now in the nunc-stans of the novel he is alive and we forget much as we forget our own mortality. Artfully, Fitzgerald ends the novel with Novalis still alive and Sophie dead. In a previous experience of the flimsy boundary between the dead and the living he has had an intimation of the way to accept his grief:

The creak and thump of the pastor's cows could still be heard far into the burial ground where the graves and the still empty spaces, cut off from each other now by the mist, had become dark green islands, dark green chambers of meditation. On one of them, just a little ahead of him, a young man, still almost a boy, was standing in the half darkness, with his head bent, himself as white, still, and speechless as a memorial. The sight was consoling to Fritz, who knew that the young man, although living, was not human, but also that at the moment there was no boundary between them.
He said aloud, 'The external world is the world of shadows. It throws its shadows into the kingdom of light. How different they will appear when this darkness is gone and the shadow-body has passed away. The universe, after all, is within us. The way leads inwards, always inwards.'

The description of the operation on Sophie without anaesthetic is based on the reality and ought to be compared to that of Dr. Brown the Edinburgh surgeon.
surgeon brown
Sophie’s Operation:
'We will administer the cordial.'
It was a mixture of wine and laudanum, to Dr Brown's prescription, which Sophie drank down without protest. Then to the bedroom, where all must skirt awkwardly round the bed in its unaccustomed place. The students, to be out of the way, stood with their backs to the wall, darting sharp looks, like young crows, each taking out the pen and inkwell from behind his lapel.
Sophie was helped onto the pile of borrowed mattresses. Then the Professor asked her, in tones of grave politeness -suitable, in fact, to a child on its dignity - whether she would like to cover her face with a piece of fine muslin. 'In that way you will be able to see something of what I do, but not too clearly . . . There now, you cannot see me now, can you?'
'I can see something glittering,' she said. Perhaps it was a game, after all. The students wrote a line in their notebooks.
Following the medical etiquette of Jena, the Professor motioned Dietmahler to his side, and asked him,
'Esteemed colleague, am I to make the incision? Is that what you advise?'
'Yes, Herr Professor, I advise it.'
'You would make two incisions, or one only?'
'Two, Herr Professor.'

It was only after her death that Hardenberg became the Novalis , the clearer of new land. The story of the Blue Flower was never finished.
The novel of this Year and many a year for me.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Novalis and the Unity of Being

What Novalis understood was that ecstasy was amplified inwardness. Calling that a function of his idealism is to ignore his consistent proceeding by homologies. Formal unities are not replicated but are inflected by the possibilities of the material in which they are found. Analogies proceed by a focus on single aspects and that tends to create a pluralism. First there are beings and then there is a unity of beings and finally there is a unity of beings within Being.

The solipsism inherent in Idealism cannot trace 'the paths of Novalis’ and it has amused me that any path through a field making for a gap in the hedge does not proceed by straight logic but is curved into the line of beauty.

All things lead me back upon myself. I well understood what the second Voice said once. I rejoice in the wonderful collections and figures in the study halls; it seems to me as though they were only symbols, veils, decorations enshrouding a Divine Being ; -and this is ever in my thoughts. I do not seek for them, but I often seek in them. It is as though they might show me the path to a place where, slumbering, lies the Virgin for whom my spirit yearns. (The Disciples at Sais)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Paths of Novalis

Men travel by many different paths. Whoever tracks and compares their ways will see wonderful figures arising ; figures that seem to belong to the great Manuscript of Design which we descry everywhere, on wings of birds, on the shells of eggs, in clouds, in snow, is crystals, in rock formations, in frozen water, within and upon mountains, in plants, in beasts, in men, in the light of day, in slabs of pitch and glass when they are jarred or struck, in filings around a magnet, and in the singular Coincidences of Chance. In these things we seem to catch an idea of the key, the grammar to this Manuscript, but this idea will not fix itself into any abiding conception, and seems as if it were unwilling to become in its turn the key to higher things. It seems as though an Alcahest had been poured over the mind of man. Only momentarily do his wishes, his thoughts, incorporate themselves. On such wise do his ideas arise, but, after a short while, all swims once more vaguely before his eyes.
(from The Disciples at Sais by Novalis)

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Carlyle and Novalis - The Blue Flower

As a warming up exercise Carlyle lays about him with his blunted and gapped claymore; a weapon which is comically overspecified for the destruction of iridescent soap bubbles.

 Not as if we meant, by this remark, to cast a stone at the old guild of literary Improvisators, or any of that diligent brotherhood, whose trade it is to blow soap-bubbles for their fellow-creatures; which bubbles, of course, if they are not seen and admired this moment, will be altogether lost to men’s eyes the next. Considering the use of these blowers, in civilized communities, we rather wish them strong lungs, and all manner of prosperity : but simply we would contend that such soap-bubble guild should not become the sole one in Literature ; that being indisputably the strongest, it should content itself with this preeminence, and not tyrannically annihilate its less prosperous neighbors. For it should be recollected that Literature positively has other aims than this of amusement from hour to hour; nay perhaps that this, glorious as it may be, is not its highest or true aim.

It is the young Carlyle writing in the Foreign Review (1829) his assessment of Novalis's Writings. Edited by Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel). Fourth Edition. 2 vols. Berlin, 1826. He had not yet reached the stage of being a ‘singing razor’ cf.
singing razor
Never mind, he gives good value with 50 odd pages including translations from Flower Pollen and The Disciples at Sais and sundry fragments.

Here’s the one about the famous blue flower from Heinrich von Ofterdingen:

" The old people were already asleep ; the clock was beating its monotonous tick on the wall; the wind blustered over the rattling windows; by turns, the chamber was lighted by the sheen of the moon. The young man lay restless in his bed; and thought of the stranger and his stories. 'Not the treasures is it,' said he to himself, ' that have awakened in me so unspeakable a desire; far from me is all covetousness; but the Blue Flower is what I long to behold. It lies incessantly in my heart, and I can think and fancy of nothing else. Never did I feel so before: it is as if, till now, I had been dreaming, or as if sleep had carried me into another world •, for in the world I used to live in, who troubled himself about flowers ? Such wild passion for a Flower was never heard of there. But whence could that stranger have come ? None of us ever saw such a man; yet I know not how I alone was so caught with his discourse: the rest heard the very same, yet none seems to mind it. And then that I cannot even speak of my strange condition ! I feel such rapturous contentment; and only then when I have not the Flower rightly before my eyes, does so deep, heartfelt an eagerness come over me: these things no one will or can believe.

In a dream Heinrich is visited by the spirit of the Blue Flower:

" Intoxicated with rapture, and yet conscious of every impression, he floated softly down that glittering stream, which flowed out from the basin into the rocks. A sort of sweet slumber fell upon him, in which he dreamed indescribable adventures, and out of which a new light awoke him. He found himself on a soft sward at the margin of a spring, which welled out into the air, and seemed to dissipate itself there. Dark-blue rocks, with many-colored veins, rose at some distance ; the daylight which encircled him was clearer and milder than the common; the sky was black-blue, and altogether pure. But what attracted him infinitely most was a high, light-blue Flower, which stood close by the spring, touching it with its broad glittering leaves. Round it stood innumerable flowers of all colors, and the sweetest perfume filled the air. He saw nothing but the Blue Flower; and gazed on it long with nameless tenderness. At last he was for approaching, when all at once it began to move and change ; the leaves grew more resplendent, and clasped themselves round the waxing stem ; the Flower bent itself towards him; and the petals showed like a blue spreading ruff, in which hovered a lovely face. His sweet astonishment at this transformation was increasing, — when suddenly his mother's voice awoke him, and he found himself in the house of his parents, which the morning sun was already gilding."

There is a coarseness in Carlyle which arises out of his never having passed through the ‘gate of resignation’. His mystical apprehension is Vulcanite and doesn’t quite understand the surrender of Novalis. It’s a Shiva/Shakti polarity. Sophie von Kuhn was the Anima or Shakti rupa of Novalis.
My beloved is an abbreviation of the universe, and the universe is an extension of my beloved.
When you love her, you love life and accept that it has a terminus and after that more life and another death. The ordinary love that Novalis found after the death of Sophie is a puzzle to Carlyle. In Irish lore those that beat the coffin and cry ‘Why did you leave me’ will be remarried within the year.

The other mistake of Carlyle’s is the characterization of Novalis as the German Pascal. There was the love of Mathematics and Science but the crispness and clarity of the Frenchman is quite other than the vague palpations of Novalis. Carlyle admits that much of the writing is opaque to him as it should be given that it was per speculum et in aenigmata for its author also.