Friday, 24 October 2014

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada




To alter the poster: Is this novel really necessary? I mean necessary to have read and that is placed as the keystone to an understanding of what happened to the Germans under the Nazis. I believe it is. It answers the question: how do you remain decent even if your resistance is not just personally futile but drags others to their deaths? If ever there was a test to destruction of the Categorical Imperative this was it. Helpless, powerless people can always do one small thing and what Foreman Otto decides is based on the true story of the Hempels who left postcards denouncing Hitler in offices and building all over Berlin for years. They hoped to incite resistance or at least a foot-dragging amongst the civilians. Fallada wrote the novel in 24 days and the hallucinatory intensity of the writing was likely aided by pharmaceutical stoking. There is no pause in the tension and though we want Otto Quangel and his wife Anna to come through, it can only end one way.

Along with the central characters of Otto and Anna there are police informants who allied to Gestapo Inspector Escherich try to trace the author of the postcards. Cunning deviants and thugs abound and the portrait of Obergruppenfuhrer Prall leaves no doubt that the Second World War was necessary. His like probably emerged after de-nazification with a sense of having been fooled by Hitler.

The translation I read is by Michael Hoffman and it reads smoothly. ‘Beauty is slowness’ said Ezra Pound who escaped hanging, pardoned for writing well as the poet said. No slowness here, so no lyrical interludes, no soaring, only burying in ground well trodden by jackboots. In the Modern Classic Penguin there is an extensive afterword with some excellent background notes.



Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pramanas as irreducible means of knowledge


An important and to my mind a very interesting aspect of the Pramana (Means of Valid Knowledge) theory is that each pramana is unique and cannot be reduced to any other. Dharmaraja Adhvarindra writer of the classic book on the topic Vedanta Paribhasa which he says is for the enlightenment of backward students is at great pains to stress this point particularly on the pramanas which are not universally recognised as separate by all schools. He recognised 6 whereas Vaisesika counted 2, Sankhya 3, and Nyaya 4. He justifies the inclusion of upamana (Comparison) and anupalabadhi (Non-Apprehension of Existence) as freestanding which other schools reduced to a function of pratyaksha (Perception).


This point is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the pramanas, unless I missed it. I also sense that this ‘gavaya in the room’ is overlooked generally but I could be wrong by those who would link upamana to modality. While on the topic of modality surely the ultimate source of deontic modadlity is the Gita - what ought I do, what can I do, what may I do, what must one do and what is impossible.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Real and the Really Real in Advaita Vedanta


The real in Advaita Vedanta is where you are now - qualified by the Method of the Vedanta i.e. As each new metaphysical level is attained the attributions superimposed on the real at the previous level are retracted. Ordinary perception is always taken to be veridical until it is discovered not to be. That is the default position. The discussion of snake/rope confusion refers to a metaphysical ajnana (ignorance) and does not infer a position of universal scepticism. as in the argument from illusion in Western philosophy.

It is the expression of the paradox of metaphysical realisation that gives rise to the Matilda Reaction:
Matilda told such dreadful lies
It made one gasp and stretch ones eyes
(Hilaire Belloc)

Swami Satchidanandendra (Method of the Vedanta):
(1) Therefore, since being embodied is the result of false notions, it stands proved that the enlightened person is not embodied even while still alive. (B.S.B. I.i.4)
(2)The question whether the soul ‘has’ or ‘has not’ a body depends simply on whether metaphysical discrimination has or has not arisen. For the Vedic text says, “Dwelling in all bodies, not Himself embodied” (Katha Up. I.ii.22) (B.S.B. I.iii.19)

The failure to discriminate between the metaphysical and the conventional often results in puzzles about whether realised sages actually feel pain or really need those glasses.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

White Noise by Don DeLillo


Coleridge said of Wordsworth that he had to create the taste with which he was read, DeLillo has gone further by creating the reader by which he is read.
gashouse scrapper
It may well have been the twinkling maestro’s work or an example of the phenomenon which I read about in the pull-out literary section of the National Enquirer which tells how an authors deeply meditated work can become actual and manifest. Tom Sawyer I know where you live!

White Noise read by everybody except myself until the other day is a masterpiece of sustained satire such that when you start to talk about it you realise you are in it and put down your signifiers and surrender to the fun and mockery of academics that were too long on the McLuhan teat and went solid with Barthes and the Hitler and the Holocaust industry which only abates during attacks on Gaza for reasons of sensitivity. Then the great theme of telly and its channelling of reality, parsing it as an all pervasive context. DeLillo hasn’t bothered to claim that there is no resemblance to anyone living or dead for that would be to draw the modern science of disclaimers that negate that which is denied. Some logician might take that up and discover the modifier ‘like’ as a paraliptic inversion.

To re-read, a must, to have only just read a criminal oversight.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A.E. Taylor's summation (Elements of Metaphysics)

Final Paragraphs:

Quite apart from the defects due to personal shortcomings and confusions, it is inherent in the nature of metaphysical study that it can make no positive addition to our information, and can of itself supply no motives for practical endeavour. And the student who turns to our science as a substitute for empirical Physics or Psychology, or for practical morality, is bound to go away disappointed. The reason of this we have already had occasion to see. Metaphysics has to presuppose the general principles of the various sciences and the general forms of practical experience as the materials upon which it works. Its object as a study is not to add to or to modify these materials, but to afford some coherent and systematic satisfaction for the intellectual curiosity which we all feel at times as to the general nature of the whole to which these various materials belong, and the relative truth and clearness with which that general nature is expressed in the different departments of experience. Its aim is the organisation, not the enlargement of knowledge. Hence for the student whose interests lie more in the enlargement of human knowledge by the discovery of new facts and laws, than in its organisation into a coherent whole. Metaphysics is probably undesirable, or desirable only as a protection against the intrusion of unrecognised and uncriticised metaphysical assumptions into the domain of empirical service. And similarly for the practical man whose interests in life are predominantly ethical, the main, if not the sole, value of metaphysical study lies in its critical function of exposing false metaphysical assumptions, which, if acted upon, might impair the vigour of spontaneous moral effort.

But for those in whom the speculative desire to form some coherent conception of the scheme of things to which we belong as a whole is strong. Metaphysics has a higher importance. In such minds the impulse to reflect on the nature of existence as a whole, if debarred from systematic and thorough gratification, is certain to find its outlet in unsystematic and uncriticised imaginative construction. Meta-
physics they will certainly have, and if not conscious and coherent, then unconscious and incoherent Metaphysics. The soul that is not at rest in itself without some " sight of that immortal sea which brought it hither," if hindered from beholding the object of its quest through the clear glass of rational reflection, will none the less seek to discern it amid the distorting hazes and mists of superstition. It is in such seekers after the Infinite that Metaphysics has its natural and proper followers, and for them the study is its own justification and its own reward. If a work like the present should prove of any help to such students, whether by offering positive suggestions which they can accept, or by assisting them to know definitely why they reject its conclusions, it will perhaps have achieved as much as its writer could reasonably expect.

Monday, 13 October 2014

The Method of Vedanta by Swami Satchidanandendra


A giant tome arrived with a solid thump on the mat at the foot of the stairs. The door was open so Pat the Postman launched it in. . The Method of Vedanta: A Critical Account of the Advaita Tradition by Swami Satchidanandendra trans. by A.J. Alston. It’s a mere 975 pages long. Kuthastha (anvil) indeed. I’ve read some other of his shorter works but this is reckoned to be his magnum opus published at the age of 84. Trying the literary test of opening it at page 99, by then an author should be getting into his stride, I find a commentary on the Deep Sleep question - i.e. does the fact that we know we have been in a deep dreamless sleep infer anything about consciousness as such. Can we draw anything from that knowledge. I recently went into this in a short note covering much the same ground as Swami does - but he speaketh as one with authority.
dreamless sleep

A counter thought to the pure immediacy of D.S. is the possibility of a psychological master knowledge, an overseeing of time periods. It has been established that subjects left for long periods of time in deep caves without clocks or access to cues about night or day will fall into circadian rhythms alternating waking activity and sleeping in units of 23 hours.
circadian
One can readily admit that the ‘cellular clock’ is for something but what is D.S. for? Anything ‘naturalisable’ is for something and fits into a physical pattern. Mystagogic mystery.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington


Booth Tarkington is another double Pulitzer like Marquand who has dropped into obscurity. Though I have read only The Magnificent Ambersons (pub. 1918) his sepia oval portraits seem more Victorian than they ought to be. As you might expect there is no tumult in the knickerbockers or bother in the bustle of his upper class dramatis personae though there is intimation of genteel blenching and the manly firmness of jaw. That’s just a surface which is a challenge to the artist’s depiction of a profound Oedipal drama. George Amberson Minafer adores his mother who having produced him stopped, knowing that such perfection was not to be exceeded. The Minafer that she married is a mini-vir, a good grey little man who works in business of an unspecified sort. The man she might have married is Eugene (well born) Morgan who fell through a bass fiddle under the influence and fell out with Isabel Amberson, Mother Machree. He comes back 20 years later as an inventor and a developer of the snorting monster, the horseless carriage. With such adventurous competition in the vicinity Minafer pere does the decent thing; he dies. Minafer fils who paid no attention much to his father which he lived now finds himself the guardian of his mother’s honour. Greek drama is broad.

By way of gender equality there is an Electra, Lucy Morgan, daughter of the inventor, who is his housekeeper ever since her mother died. She sees clearly (Lucis) what George is, a monster of family pride and bumptious as a rook, yet she loves for he is a handsome lad with a gallant side to him. When it is brought to his attention by his scheming aunt, the sister of his late father, that Eugene Morgan is courting his mother, George is willing to cast his love for Lucy aside to protect his mother from scandal and the unspeakable.

Those are the deeps of the novel, the surface is light, witty and mocks the pretensions of the late Victorian moneyied classes, not real gold but gilded to a good depth. The capers of George who is a spoiled brat aren’t hated because both you and the author share the knowledge that the longed for comeuppance must happen. How it does I found quite realistic and you share or are tempted to the view that there is something to good old stock.

Certain social aspects may grate on the modern and one gets the sense that whatever was the reason that the Civil War was fought liberation of the ‘darky’ was not a major factor in it. A genial patronising which might be worse than outright contempt pervades their mention.

They have passed, those darky hired-men of the Midland town; and the introspective horses they curried and brushed and whacked and amiably cursed—those good old horses switch their tails at flies no more. For all their seeming permanence they might as well have been buffaloes—or the buffalo lap robes that grew bald in patches and used to slide from the careless drivers' knees and hang unconcerned, half way to the ground. The stables have been transformed into other likenesses, or swept away, like the woodsheds where were kept the stove-wood and kindling that the "girl" and the "hired-man" always quarrelled over: who should fetch it. Horse and stable and woodshed, and the whole tribe of the "hired-man," all are gone. They went quickly, yet so silently that we whom they served have not yet really noticed that they are vanished.

It’s a good novel. An American classic with Greek forbears.