Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Bergson and Tribal Loyalty

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932) is a book that I have taken up in the past which failed to adhere then but somehow is doing so now. With work of this order of difficulty there has to be a feeling that it is speaking to us. He introduces the concept of two levels of moral engagement, the basic level of group behavioural constraints which are obligatory and virtually instinctual and advancing on from there to the involvement with an exemplar that embodies values that are satisfying and give us joy.

Who can help seeing that social cohesion is largely due to the necessity for a community to protect itself against others, and that it is primarily as against all other men that we love the men with whom we live? Such is the primitive instinct. It is still there, though fortunately hidden under the accretions of civilization; but even to-day we still love naturally and directly our parents and our fellow-countrymen, whereas love of mankind is indirect and acquired. We go straight to the former, to the latter we only come by roundabout ways; for it is only through God, in God, that religion bids man love mankind; and likewise it is through reason alone, that Reason in whose communion we are all partakers, that philosophers make us look at humanity in order to show us the pre-eminent dignity of the human being, the right of all to command respect. Neither in the one case nor the other do we come to humanity by degrees, through the stages of the family and the nation. We must, in a single bound, be carried far beyond it, and, without having made it our goal, reach it by outstripping it. Besides, whether we speak the language of religion or the language of philosophy, whether it be a question of love or respect, a different morality, another kind of obligation supervenes, above and beyond the social pressure.

He himself had moved towards Catholicism as the fulfillment, as he expressed it, of Judaism yet he was not baptized sensing the rise of antisemitism and thereby giving a witness to primal instinctual tribal loyalty. His queuing in bad weather to be registered as a Jew in 1941 was the direct cause of his death.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mill on the Irish Question / Carlyle on the Negro Question

((cogged from Henry Farrell/Crooked Timber))
Millian Liberalism
But the Irish peasant: what of him? Is he a similar paragon of industry, providence, self-reliance, and the other virtues of that mythological creation, “a stout peasantry?” Listen to Mr. Foster—listen to the “Times Commissioner,” and he will tell you that the Irish peasant, while he has his sufficient meal of bad, watery potatoes, will not stir two steps from the door of his turf hut to gain either comfort or luxury at the cost of half an hour’s exertion; that when a boat is found for him by his own parish priest, and a thousand herrings may be caught in one day, neither the prize can tempt nor the priest persuade him to make use of the opportunity; or he perhaps goes once, and brings home a week’s subsistence; but, declaring it too much trouble ever to go again, loiters at home and asks a passing traveller for money. Such are said to be the people to whom the Times wishes the Legislature to declare, that they need not take any trouble to feed themselves, for it will make the landlords feed them. … Because the Irish are indolent, unenterprising, careless of the future, doing nothing for themselves, and demanding everything from other people; because, being freemen, they want the characteristic virtues of freemen, it is proposed to create a fit soil for the growth of those virtues by placing them in the position of slaves!

The entire population of the country are coming upon us to be fed. And we are called upon to decide instantaneously whether we will or will not undertake the office. There is no retreating, no putting off. The burden of Irish destitution is now to be borne by us. Ireland can no longer suffer alone. We must take our full share of the evil, or put an end to it. For a few weeks or months longer we have the choice which. Wait a year, and we may have it no longer. Wait a year, and the mind of the Irish population may be so thoroughly pauperised, that to be supported by other people may be the only mode of existence they will consent to. There may be a Jacquerie, or another ninety-eight, in defence of the rights of sturdy beggary. It may require a hundred thousand armed men to make the Irish people submit to the common destiny of working in order to live.

When it came to consider the Irish Question Mill was no more enlightened than Thomas Carlyle if you take the standard view of his Discourse on the Negro Question. I have reservations about the justice of that and note that his compassion increased as the suffering came closer to home.
cf: Discourse
Mill was exercised by the plight of the West Indian colonies
and the exploitation of ex-slaves. His retort that pumpkins are every bit as good as spices, a high value cash crop Carlyle recommended that the ex-slaves grow; would not have gone down well with the masters of the East India Company, his employers, for whom spice was a source of massive profit.

Zizek whose normal turgid ebullience I can leave seems to be mostly right here:
refugees and global capitalism

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Calasso’s Ardor has had an antithetical effect which was stimulating. His remarks on the significance of Leviticus 17:17 particularly:
Elohim then proclaimed another innovation: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, like the green herb : I have given you all this.” Only one proviso was attached: ”But you shall not eat flesh with its soul, which is the blood.”

For the subtle essence to pass to God in sacrifice the blood had to be foregone. This was the first covenant. I reflected that in the second covenant due to the sacrifice of The Lamb of God the whole substance could be retained, both body and blood. It also could be assimilated in the bread and wine of the sacrifice of the mass, not in a symbolic or metaphorical way but through a transubstantiation as Catholics believe. Others take it to be a flagrant and intransigent atavism, a ‘blasphemous fable’.

Certainly it is a powerful doctrine when by divine fiat there is alteration of commonplace bread and wine in a further development of the concept of Judaic sacrifice. Viewed anthropologically the latter has features in common with vedic practice. No strangling though, the blood must be let. Modern Hindu practice of animal sacrifice would pass and in the West the devotees of Psych sacrifice chickens and rabbits. Common ‘christian’ slaughter has left all elements of sacrifice behind, a desacralization surely.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Anatman and Karma

The well known conflict in Buddhism between the anatman doctrine and personal karma has been the focus of a discussion recently.
buddhism and merciful lies

On a rational level the paradox remains intractable but perhaps it is the result of a false dichotomy. If the theory arises out of a mistaken view of the vedic atma then the opposition to that other vedic core doctrine of karma might fade away. What they suppose atma to signify is not what the Upanishads hold.

Atma is not the ego or a constitutive identity that is an element of the personality. It does not act and it does not change. As is said in the Brhad.Up. “It moves as it were, it shakes as it were”. It is a mistake to identify it with the ego and the Buddhist motto ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form’ is near to the essential vedic view. Consciousness that pervades the body, mind, and intellect is superimposed on them and becomes identified with them. Karma arises and is maintained by this and therefore liberation cannot come about through identification with personal action. Maya being the core of experienced reality the contradictions that ensue ought not to surprise or affright.

The corresponding paradox for the vedantin is the position that enlightenment is not personal.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Cranford Pym Terroir

Soon after Miss Mary Hoggins married Mr Fitz-Adam, she disappeared from the neighbourhood for many years.  She did not move in a sphere in Cranford society sufficiently high to make any of us care to know what Mr Fitz-Adam was.  He died and was gathered to his fathers without our ever having thought about him at all.  And then Mrs Fitz-Adam reappeared in Cranford (“as bold as a lion,” Miss Pole said), a well-to-do widow, dressed in rustling black silk, so soon after her husband’s death that poor Miss Jenkyns was justified in the remark she made, that “bombazine would have shown a deeper sense of her loss.”

 However, Mrs Jamieson was kindly indulgent to Miss Barker’s want of knowledge of the customs of high life; and, to spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid, ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow’s.

Very Barbara Pym I thought, the clothes signalling and the sharpness of observation. Mrs. Jamieson is a great snob and the other ladies are little snobs of the genteel order. Mulliner, Jamieson’s butler is a tyrannical servant, a British institution. Terroir, you know.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


I see neglected books decided to go on for another year of focussing on women writers only. And then on to the Red Haired Writers League. A useful site has become infected by the shuttlecock of misandry and misogyny floating over the net and a de rigueur potty mouth observation by Claire Vaye Watkins gives the honking seal of approval to something or other.

Let us embrace a do-it-yourself canon, wherein we each make our own canon filled with what we love to read, what speaks to us and challenges us and opens us up, wherein we can each determine our artistic lineages for ourselves, with curiosity and vigor, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a canon ready made and gifted us by some white fucks at Oxford.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Love Letters

I came across this in an anthology of English Prose. It’s from Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I found it moving.

Perhaps this reminded her of the desirableness of looking over all the old family letters, and destroying such as ought not to be allowed to fall into the hands of strangers; for she had often spoken of the necessity of this task, but had always shrunk from it, with a timid dread of something painful.  To-night, however, she rose up after tea and went for them—in the dark; for she piqued herself on the precise neatness of all her chamber arrangements, and used to look uneasily at me when I lighted a bed-candle to go to another room for anything.  When she returned there was a faint, pleasant smell of Tonquin beans in the room.  I had always noticed this scent about any of the things which had belonged to her mother; and many of the letters were addressed to her—yellow bundles of love-letters, sixty or seventy years old.
Miss Matty undid the packet with a sigh; but she stifled it directly, as if it were hardly right to regret the flight of time, or of life either.  We agreed to look them over separately, each taking a different letter out of the same bundle and describing its contents to the other before destroying it.  I never knew what sad work the reading of old-letters was before that evening, though I could hardly tell why.  The letters were as happy as letters could be—at least those early letters were.  There was in them a vivid and intense sense of the present time, which seemed so strong and full, as if it could never pass away, and as if the warm, living hearts that so expressed themselves could never die, and be as nothing to the sunny earth.  I should have felt less melancholy, I believe, if the letters had been more so.  I saw the tears stealing down the well-worn furrows of Miss Matty’s cheeks, and her spectacles often wanted wiping.  I trusted at last that she would light the other candle, for my own eyes were rather dim, and I wanted more light to see the pale, faded ink; but no, even through her tears, she saw and remembered her little economical ways.