Friday, 31 July 2015

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

One imagines an account of The Way We Live Now after the fashion of the instruction of Ernest Hemingway by Ford Madox Ford. Hem Lady Carbury, schemer; Sir Felix Carbury, young blackguard; Melmotte, bounder; Hetty Carbury, fair maid; Paul Montague, weak but essentially sound; Winifred Hurtle, American woman, slack moral and physical corsets; Ruby Ruggles, rustic ingenue loved by John Crumb loike she were loike; Roger Carbury, pucca Tory and gentleman. distant relative of Sir Roger de Coverly, Beargarden Company, chinless sprigs of the Aristocracy and usual cad and cardsharp (recommend glass of whisky and a pistol - not likely old chap), Assorted and Interchangable Jews of the merchant bank class; Alf & Broune journalists, lightly treated - don’t shoot yourself in the inkwell, what!

So it goes on and on. That’s the English episodic novel from 1874 to 1875. Good read though and if there are more cliches than you can subdue with a stout blackthorn it grows on you like ivy. Moreover on consideration types do exist and the ponzi scheme and Bernie ‘Madeoff’ continue to flourish on the basis of the motto - you can’t con an honest man. The writing is quite good and the narration pacey. The action seems to happen over a short period of a few months which flouts a classical unity; reading time ought to be less than narrative time. The diction is modern apart from the information that Paul Montague had 'daily intercourse’ with Mrs. Hurtle. He is a regular visitor though.

The Literary Types:
Mr. Alf had, moreover, discovered another fact. Abuse from those who occasionally praise is considered to be personally offensive, and they who give personal offence will sometimes make the world too hot to hold them. But censure from those who are always finding fault is regarded so much as a matter of course that it ceases to be objectionable. The caricaturist, who draws only caricatures, is held to be justifiable, let him take what liberties he may with a man's face and person. It is his trade, and his business calls upon him to vilify all that he touches. But were an artist to publish a series of portraits, in which two out of a dozen were made to be hideous, he would certainly make two enemies, if not more. Mr. Alf never made enemies, for he praised no one, and, as far as the expression of his newspaper went, was satisfied with nothing.

The Religious particularly the convert to Romanism (Newman type?)
A man more antagonistic to the bishop than Father John Barham, the lately appointed Roman Catholic priest at Beccles, it would be impossible to conceive;—and yet they were both eminently good men. Father John was not above five feet nine in height, but so thin, so meagre, so wasted in appearance, that, unless when he stooped, he was taken to be tall. He had thick dark brown hair, which was cut short in accordance with the usage of his Church; but which he so constantly ruffled by the action of his hands, that, though short, it seemed to be wild and uncombed. In his younger days, when long locks straggled over his forehead, he had acquired a habit, while talking energetically, of rubbing them back with his finger, which he had not since dropped. In discussions he would constantly push back his hair, and then sit with his hand fixed on the top of his head. He had a high, broad forehead, enormous blue eyes, a thin, long nose, cheeks very thin and hollow, a handsome large mouth, and a strong square chin. He was utterly without worldly means, except those which came to him from the ministry of his church, and which did not suffice to find him food and raiment; but no man ever lived more indifferent to such matters than Father John Barham. He had been the younger son of an English country gentleman of small fortune, had been sent to Oxford that he might hold a family living, and on the eve of his ordination had declared himself a Roman Catholic.

That English view of enthusiasm as bad form is a trait which has persisted. The characters in the novel wriggle under the burden of expectation just enough to be credible. It is panoptic but not a panopticon full of captive creatures. I found it a lively story.

The only other novel of Trollope’s that I have read is Can you forgive Her. How had she offended? I forget. Perhaps there was a gentleman caller who sat down without being asked. I have now moved to A Small House at Allington. I feel that its restricted compass may be more to my taste.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Memory Cone, Cones & Gyres

Yeats's Gyre:

The implication of Bergson’s moving point of the cone of memory for meditation is this. Ekagrata is our natural state and the skittering away from it is a free act or a minor fugue. To excavate a metaphor, there is a lot of heat or what the yogis call tapas. at the focal point. In alchemical terms there is fractional distillation as the dross memories that guard the tip of the cone burn off. Nice colours.

As a symbol I have seen the double cone done in Kolam powdered rice patterns outside homes in Andra Pradesh. Yeats adopted it for his gyres (supra). MacGregor Mathners the’psychopomp’ of Yeats in the Golden Dawn was married to Bergson’s sister Mina. I draw no conclusions from this, I merely point it out.

Note: Yeats’ s tower at Thoor Ballylee in Galway is open to visitors again. For €7 you will get a conducted tour right to the top plus a cup of tea and biccys and maybe a rendition of Down by the Sally Gardens in a nice baritone. The most important public building in Ireland said Seamus Heaney.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sketch of a Bergson patch for Locke

In that time of the early morning when the review of your life generally drives you from your bed do you really believe that your identity survives after all those years? What was I thinking of you ask yourself. If it's not the same I, if that I is an illusion not even operative in the present then what does the hot prickling sweat of embarrassment signify? Why should I take responsibility for that faux pas? Linking the concept of identity to memory as was done by John Locke is too easily dismissed.

This being premised, to find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what person stands for; for which I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it; it being impossible for anyone to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive.
(from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding II.28.9)

There are well known difficulties with this theory particularly when he adds further down:

......and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that this action was done.

Locke by the way is perfectly aware of the problems of forgetfulness and deep dreamless sleep which would create breaks in consciousness (cf. II.28.10) His proposal of serial substances with the same consciousness is an interesting one and is at least as intelligible as the claim that there is no such thing as a self.

An intuition of the connection between consciousness and identity that seems as firm as an anvil may be a very good place to start. Could memory taken in the Bergsonian way patch Locke's assumption of 'same' as in - same consciousness equals same man? Bergson maintained there is only ever a single consciousness with compresent elements that is constantly being rolled up in a single duration. It is this duration or memory working on a single moving point that establishes identity. Moreover this source of identity is most intensely felt as a contentless present moment. There is therefore no series of states as an ontological foundation. The series of states is a psychological construct that seems to underpin our identity. That part of Buddhism is right but that’s not all there is.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Imaginal

Here again it would be fitting to illustrate the function of the active Imagination, for this is a science which eludes rational demonstrations and dogmatic theorems alike. Nor should it be condemned as a mere theoretical view. It is not theory; it is an initiation to vision. Is it possible to see without being in the place where one sees? Theophanic visions, mental visions, ecstatic visions in a state of dream or of waking are in themselves penetrations into the world they see.
(from Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi by Henry Corbin pg.93)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ekagrata for cats

Puss was sitting on my lap as I was meditating. She couldn’t settle. Up, down , sideways, turn around and around. ‘My tail is in the way’. Ekagrata (one-pointedness) just wouldn’t come. I said:

- Think of yourself outside a mouse hole in the skirting board. You’re watching and waiting. Try that.

- Till the last blade of grass
- Till the last nibble of kibble.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


The odour of solipsism hangs about a certain version of persuasion. Irresistible arguments are marshalled then an interlocutor is wheeled in, a person of impeccable rational propriety. The persuasive arguments do their work and conviction ensues. When this does not happen it is obvious that there is some fault in the reasoning capacity of the persuadee combined with a wilful recalcitrance. They are not a true rational Scotsman.

Let’s just argue.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

John locke's Style

At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor.
(from a cliche infested review of a book on Browne in the NY Times)

Jim Holt’s view of Locke is the received, accepted and established one. I have never felt that it was fair so as a random test I did a sortilege on a lightly used copy of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding bought for the long introduction by A.D. Woozley. Out came the plum Chap.XXVII: 15

§ 15. And thus we may be able, without any difficulty, to conceive the same person at the resurrection, though in a body not exactly in make or parts the same which he had here, the same consciousness going along with the soul that inhabits it. But yet the soul alone, in the change of bodies, would scarce to any one, but to him that makes the soul the man, be enough to [339] make the same man. For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince’s past life, enter and inform the body of a cobbler, as soon as deserted by his own soul, every one sees he would be the same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince’s actions: but who would say it was the same man? The body too goes to the making the man, and would, I guess, to every body determine the man in this case; wherein the soul, with all its princely thoughts about it, would not make another man: but he would be the same cobbler to every one besides himself. I know that, in the ordinary way of speaking, the same person, and the same man, stand for one and the same thing. And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply what articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases. But yet when we will inquire what makes the same spirit, man, or person, we must fix the ideas of spirit, man, or person in our minds; and having resolved with ourselves what we mean by them, it will not be hard to determine in either of them, or the like, when it is the same, and when not.

This a well known early thought experiment which is extensively considered in Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity by Sidney Shoemaker sticking to his last as it were. TE supplies the first two letters of ‘tendentious’. (This is Sunday, I should be resting). My point here is the clarity of the exposition. I have never found clarity to be dull. Dullness is the first stage on the way to Opacity. The dull surface of an exposition obscures its sense and whether you agree with Locke or not his meaning is clear and there is a vigour to - “And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply whatever articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases”.