Thursday, 1 October 2015

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Years ago I started reading Lucky Jim then put it down and somehow forgot to pick it up again. That happens in a reading life and is not necessarily a signal but having gone on with it recently I found myself not getting on with it. I could have put it down at any point of the story without a pang as a tale of everyday pissartistry, wistful and full of wonder as to why it is so lauded. The internet has open sesame search words. It’s no use trying ‘Lucky Jim by Amis reviews’ as they are all enthusiastic; hilarious satire, savage analysis that sort of thing. No, the magic word is overrated. Yes, I’m a Dissenter and we have a small but select Church that is sparing of incense. In the work of Amis the Elder that I’ve read it’s not as bad as The Anti-Death League nor as good as The Old Devils.

A partial reason why it fails for me is that it has only fleeting moments where Dixon is about to realize that he is a pathetic creature. Everybody else is that but not him. That’s not lucky. Satire has to fill the world; all of it has to be subverted. No one is saved and that includes you Jim lad. By contrast the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend are genuinely satiric and witty. Should I reach out to my left and, take The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole and pick a page, any page, I might be gone for some time.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Jane Austen's Temper

‘Temper’ is a word that in our modern vocabulary has become reduced to two sorts; good and bad. For Jane Austen there were 47 varieties of it. In Emma I find it and mentioned 47 times. I find ‘amiable’(temper), ‘social’, ‘sweet’, ‘contented’,’sweetness of temper’, ‘good’, ‘benevolence’, ‘sour the temper’,’ill-tempered’, ‘best-tempered’, ‘cheerful’, ‘odd-tempered’, ‘devil of a temper’, ‘recover his temper’, ‘sanguine temper’, ‘restlessness of temper’, ‘open temper’, ‘faults of temper’.

It is clear that someone with the writerly resources of Austen could have avoided that repetition and chosen cognates and near synonyms for what we might call 'characteristic disposition’, 'dominant mood’, 'general feeling’ , 'personality’ and so on. We need not have recourse to ‘premsia’ and ‘threctia and the universe of Cattell to vary the delineation of temper. That she did not do so is very likely because of its importance to her. It is the natural word. Living in a restricted closed off world as she was, attention to the moods of others and navigation of their reefs and shoals would be a useful skill. On an open tempered, interpretation it might be a loving awareness. I find her acerbic ironies refreshing and I shouldn’t wonder if some of her family found her temper a little sharp betimes.

Related Post:Losing Your Temper

Monday, 28 September 2015

Who Adheres to the Anatman Doctrine?

Any answer is a retorsion.

A Question which is strictly unanswerable is hardly a question.


To, ‘Is there anybody at home?’, shouted through the letter box.

No answer is an answer.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Imagination of Ibn Arabi

The imagination is the place of apparition of spiritual beings, Angels and Spirits, who in it assume the figures and forms of their ‘apparitional forms’ and because in it the pure concepts and sensory data meet and flower into personal figures prepared for the events of spiritual dramas, it is also the place where all ‘divine history’ is accomplished, the stories of the prophets, for example, which have meaning because they are theophanies, whereas on the plane of sensory evidence on which is enacted what we call History, the meaning, that is, the true nature of these stories, which are essentially ‘symbolic stories’ cannot be apprehended.
( from Alone with the Alone by Henry Corbin)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Indian Intro. to the Philosophy of Perception

There may be many who wish to find out more about Indian Philosophy but are put off by the Sanskrit jargon which surrounds it, pretty but prickly like a Berberis hedge. It keeps common cattle off of course. A good introduction to the problem of perceptual error, illusion, confusion and delusion is an essay in a collection that is available on Internet Archive, Contemporary Indian Philosophy by Various Authors
Contemporary Indian Philosophy
(note: the epub version is clean) pub. 1950 in a revised and extended edition.

The Problem of Truth by M. Hiriyanna is an exposition along classical Vedanta lines which avoids having to learn the rudiments of philosophy bazaar Sanskrit. The philologically minded may deplore this but philosophy isn’t poetry, it’s not lost in translation. In any case that classic text Vedanta Paribhasa by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra who flourished in the 17th.century seems to be the guiding light. It is also available on internet archive and a more modern version with glossary translated by Swami Madhavananda is (pdf)
Vedanta Paribhasa

Take a break from malign demons.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Miss Austin (Austen) and Aristotle

Miss Austin (the form of Jane’s name that Dr. Whately uses) pays attention and can conjure a world out of fragments:

Harriet, tempted by every thing and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over muslins and changing her mind, Emma went to the door for amusement.—Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury;—Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office-door, Mr. Cole's carriage-horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.

That episode of Harriet shopping and going back to the Bates house with Frank Churchill and his step mother Mrs. Weston and then Mr. Knightley passing by on his horse on an errand and the meandering conversation, the teasing of Miss Fairfax, the fixing of a rivet on a pair of spectacles; one thing after another in a flow so natural that we hardly notice the art. Whately praises her in his review for her achievement of Aristotelian perfection.

It is a remark of the great father of criticism, that Poetry (i.e. narrative, and dramatic poetry) is of a more philosophical character than History; inasmuch as the latter details what has actually happened, of which many parts may chance to be exceptions to the general rules of probability, and consequently illustrate no general principles; whereas the former shows us what must naturally, or would probably, happen under given circumstances; and thus displays to us a comprehensive view of human nature, and furnishes general rules of practical wisdom. It is evident, that this will apply only to such fictions as are quite perfect in respect of the probability of their story; and that he, therefore, who resorts to the fabulist rather than the historian, for instruction in human character and conduct, must throw himself entirely on the judgment and skill of his teacher, and give him credit for talents much more rare than the accuracy and veracity which are the chief requisites in history. We fear, therefore, that the exultation which we can conceive some of our gentle readers to feel, at having Aristotle's warrant for (what probably they had never dreamed of) the philosophical character of their studies, must, in practice, be somewhat qualified, by those sundry little violations of probability which are to be met with in most novels; and which so far lower their value, as models of real life, that a person who had no other preparation for the world than is afforded by them, would form, probably, a less accurate idea of things as they are, than he would of a lion from studying merely the representations on China teapots.
(from Miscellaneous Lectures and Reviews by Richard Whately)

And Mr Knightley, that paragon, is he a little whim of improbability on the part of Miss Austin, a mocking perhaps of the beau ideal of ladies fiction, a snapping of the knight’s garter as it were. What evidence have I for this mischief? Alas none.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Rossetti Interpretation

Myself and Siris have been having an interesting conversation about the Christina Rossetti poem An Apple Gathering.
An Apple Gathering
His observations are true after their own fashion but not entirely apposite. What has evidence which implies consistency and corroboration to do with poetry? Expect only hints, guesses, intimations.

In any case I find it a bleak merciless little poem. The persona adopted seems to be that of a woman who is disinclined to regret her preemption of conjugal felicity. She appears to be mocked by those who have been continent. Or is it that they are more forgiving of themselves or have accepted forgiveness? Plump Gertrude and
A voice talked with her through the
shadows cool
More sweet to me than song

Cue Abide With Me.
But the narrator remains outside all joy and stays out in a permafrost world.

In the Goblin Market collection as a whole I find 27 mentions of ‘cold’ and there are 5 of ‘blossoms’; all overwhelmingly negative in tone. There is no note of joy in this liturgy.