Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith

I often find I think that someone should be better known, only to discover that they are better known than I knew them. Running this risk may I offer for your perusal some of the trivia of Logan Pearsall Smith.

I woke this morning out of dreams into what we call Reality, into the daylight, the furniture of my familiar bedroom—in fact into the well-known, often-discussed, but, to my mind, as yet unexplained Universe.
Then I, who came out of Eternity and seem to be on my way thither, got up and spent the day as I usually spend it. I read, I pottered, I talked, and took exercise; and I sat punctually down to eat the cooked meals that appeared at stated intervals.

They sit there forever on the dim horizon of my mind, that Stonehenge circle of elderly disapproving Faces—Faces of the Uncles and Schoolmasters and Tutors who frowned on my youth.
In the bright centre and sunlight I leap, I caper, I dance my dance; but when I look up, I see they are not deceived. For nothing ever placates them, nothing ever moves to a look of approval that ring of bleak and contemptuous Faces.

The Sound of a Voice
As the thoughtful Baronet talked, as his voice went on sounding in my ears, all the light of desire, and of the sun, faded from the Earth; I saw the vast landscape of the world dim, as in an eclipse; its populations eating their bread with tears, its rich men sitting listless in their palaces, and aged Kings crying "Vanity, Vanity, all is Vanity!" lugubriously from their thrones.

For one thing I hate Spiders—I dislike all kinds of Insects. Their cold intelligence, their empty, stereotyped, unremitted industry repel me. And I am not altogether happy about the future of the Human Race; when I think of the slow refrigeration of the Earth, the Sun's waning, and the ultimate, inevitable collapse of the Solar System, I have grave misgivings. And all the books I have read and forgotten-the thought that my mind is really nothing but a sieve—this, too, at times disheartens me.

(from Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith Trivia )

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958)

Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.
(The Circus Animals Desertion by W.B.Yeats)

Was he wrong? Can character become fixed by a significant incident at a sensitive moment? Iris Murdoch proposes in her novel that the tentative grooming by Michael of Nick, a teacher and his pupil, had a disastrous effect on both their lives. He the priest manqué, and the other a ‘beautiful boy’ of 15. Of course Michael does not see that, it was all so aesthetic, so pure, almost holy. Now 15 years later He is running a Brotherhood attached to a convent of Anglican Benedictines. Nick’s sister Catherine is due to join the nuns and Nick is lurking at the lodge but not a serious member of the group quartered at the big house of Imber. Yes it’s that familiar one pot stew of Murdoch’s that you must stir, stir, stir and don’t let it stick to the bottom. She is a great fabulist and the story continues to hubble bubble.

James the second in command at Imber (it’s Michael’’s house and lodge) has a view which is a rough sketch of the course of the novel:

In so far as Michael had had serious hopes that any individual other than Catherine might be of any genuine help to Nick at Imber he had thought that James Tayper Pace was the man. He was disappointed in James's reaction. James showed himself, where Nick was concerned, stiffly conventional. 'He looks to me like a pansy,' he said to Michael, soon after Nick's arrival. 'I didn't like to say so before, but I had heard it about him in London. They're always troublemakers, believe me. I've seen plenty of that type. There's something destructive in them, a sort of grudge against society. Give a dog a bad name, and all that, but we may as well be prepared! Who'd believe that thing was twin to dear Catherine?'

James has no inkling of course of how Nick was ‘turned out’ by his interlocutor and how something of the same sort is to to be visited on the innocent Toby who is helping out at Imber before going up to Oxford in the Autumn. As I wrote in my previous post Toby is quartered with Nick at the Lodge to keep an eye on him. Is he being traded? Well you decide, Iris does not tell you everything.

Another interesting character is Dora, the errant wife of a resident at Imber Paul, who is studying the historical documents of the nunnery. She is a true Dora (Copperfield nee Spenlow) scatterbrained with a good heart but a ninny. Iris reduces many pc mansions to rubble in this novel. That was the 50’s for you, an era of great repression. On a day flight from Imber and her overbearing husband Dora visits the National Gallery and has a Murdoch moment:

Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvellous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect. Who had said that, about perfection and reality being in the same place? Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it part of her fantasy make it worthless. Even Paul, she thought, only existed now as someone she dreamt about; or else as a vague external menace never really encountered and understood. But the pictures were something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly and yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or value. But now there was something else in it after all.

The chief characters are developed through their own voice and consciousness which change as the novel develops. The craft is to make that credible and she does along with very fine nature word painting as well. A classic.

Trivia: Glenn Ford stars in a made for tv movie The Brotherhood of the Bell which is quite good and out there:

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Hallfway through The Bell by Iris Murdoch

I’m not sure if I read Iris Murdoch’s novel The Bell (‘58) before and I still haven’t read it being at the half way stage. I can project forward and feel my way towards possibilities only to have them confounded by the author. She will herself have been surprised by the lurch of the Jungian active imagination.. The recurring dream of Michael’s, the leader of the Anglican Community at Imber, is it clairvoyant? High, high, high, verily unto plain chant and incense Anglican. Smells and The Bell, quite. Will the period of very dry weather reveal the old bell in the lake? Will mythic history cast its doom on a suitable victim, the postulant Catherine. Why is homasegsshuall (Oxbridge) Michael putting Toby in the way of Nick his old love? Vicarious seduction or does he even see it? One’s own motives being opaque to one is the novel’s strength. Spontaneous goodness and overwrought goodness, which is the better would in a philosophical treatise run close to mere quibbling and deontic dancing on the head of a principal. We notice these things because that is what we do, yet they doesn’t impose and force acquaintance.

Tension is abuilding and the fine weather will be, should be, must be broken by a thunderstorm. Could I be wrong about this?

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Embryology and Abortion West and East

There’s a lot of moral idiocy about and it’s perfectly immune to scientific knowledge. Our enhanced scientific observation of life in the womb has not brought in its train a greater respect for that life. Posters showing sonograms are descried as offensive by pro-abortionists. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality” said Eliot. Indeed not. We feel that abortion is wrong but why? The move to place it under a rule that everyone accepts to be just namely killing persons is wrong, is rhetorically a poor strategy. The argument is then shunted into a siding where deep discussions about personhood take place. Someone once asked me, she was a philosophy Phd.- How would you characterise abortion then, as murder or manslaughter? I replied that I would call it, as per the 1861 act, the procuring of a miscarriage.

It is just that and ordinary undefiled moral sense knows that this interruption of the course of a life is just wrong. Hindu and Buddhist scriptural teaching is perfectly clear on this.
Hinduism and Buddhism on Abortion
(a good summary of the main sources)

Obviously the concept of personhood obtaining in Western disputation was not a factor and moreover the embryological knowledge was likewise fanciful. Thomistic theological wrangling about quickening and ensoulment are historically interesting but take place on a siding like the personhood puzzle. Making the gravity of the taking of a life a time limited matter is a mistake.

Monday, 15 July 2019

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

Is it snobbery to be aware that there is a class system and being born born into a more favoured one, the upper middle class, is a piece of acceptable good fortune? Dismissing Angela Thirkell (1890 – 1961) as a crashing snob because she writes about what she knows is a projection of dismal whiggery

All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.

In her delightful novels set in the Trollopian loam of Barsetshire she ironically adopts the continuing saga mentioning old Frank Gresham, Lord Pomfret and the Thorne Institute. I may be making that last up, but it doesn’t matter. She even occasionally addresses the reader as Anthony might, usually to dismiss a character - ‘we will speak no more of X who plays no further part in our story’. Bishops, canons and members of the inferior clergy though patched poor are still and all gentry. Bounders are clearly signalled and they are not necessarily outsiders but of course, as in life, they often are. In High Rising (1933) the focus is on Laura Morland a widow aged 47 with four sons who makes a living writing trashy thrillers with a haute couture setting which she earnestly hopes that her friends will never read. They in fact do and she is successful enough to educate her sons. Tony, an eleven year old schoolboy and model railway builder and train spotter, with the garrulous nerdaciousness that implies, is still with her. Her loving exasperation is beautifully observed.

When she got back to the house she found that Tony had already unpacked most of his railway all over the drawing-room floor, flung his coat and cap on the sofa, and settled down to the construction of a permanent way.
‘No, Tony,’ said his mother firmly. ‘Put all those things back in the box and take them upstairs. You know you have your own play-room. I will not have your rubbish all over the drawing-room floor. And take your clothes off the sofa and go and wash for supper at once.’
‘But, mother, you wanted to see the railway, because of settling about the engines.’
‘I don’t want to see the railway now, or ever,’ cried Laura, goaded to exasperation, ‘at least not this evening, and not in the drawing-room. Pack it up at once.’
Unwillingly, with a delicious, pink, sulky face, Tony put his engine and lines away, piled his coat and cap on the box, and staggered from the room, with faint groans at the tyranny under which he lived.
Stoker the cook and maid of all work watches over Laura with benign strictness that casts to one side formal differences.

When Stoker had removed the soup plates and brought in the fish and fried potatoes, she settled herself in an easy attitude against the kitchen door, nursing her elbows, and began to impart information.
‘Just as well I come down a week before you,’ she began. ‘There’s always more than enough to do. I tell you, when I saw the way things were, I felt my back open and shut with the nerves.’
The gently tart nature of her wit is a cumulative thing and the moral sense is refreshing. Men admire women for their beauty and their goodness. Women are often of a firm decided type who get on with it.

Thirkell’s books are to be found on fadedpage.com in all formats. After High Rising I recommend Cheerfulness Breaks In. They are beautifully written. Now find a shady tree.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Sydney Smith on Jeremy Bentham

I have previously quoted the Arch-Debunker Pareto on Jeremy Bentham. Pareto himself would be equally subject to Sydney Smith's criticism of Jeremy Bentham with his like mania for division and subdivision.

Whether it be necessary there should be a middleman between the cultivator and the possessor, learned economists have doubted; but neither gods, men, nor booksellers can doubt the necessity of a middleman between Mr. Bentham and the public. Mr. Bentham is long; Mr. Bentham is occasionally involved and obscure; Mr. Bentham invents new and alarming expressions; Mr. Bentham loves division and subdivision—and he loves method itself, more than its consequences. Those only, therefore, who know his originality, his knowledge, his vigor, and his boldness, will recur to the works themselves. The great mass of readers will not purchase improvement at so dear a rate; but will choose rather to become acquainted with Mr. Bentham through the medium of reviews—after that eminent philosopher has been washed, trimmed, shaved, and forced into clean linen. One great use of a review, indeed, is to make men wise in ten pages, who have no appetite for a hundred pages; to condense nourishment, to work with pulp and essence, and to guard the stomach from idle burden and unmeaning bulk. For half a page, sometimes for a whole page, Mr. Bentham writes with a power which few can equal; and by selecting and omitting, an admirable style may be formed from the text. Using this liberty, we shall endeavor to give an account of Mr. Bentham’s doctrines, for the most part in his own words. Wherever an expression is particularly happy, let it be considered to be Mr. Bentham’s—the dullness we take to ourselves.
(from Edinburgh Review essay on The Fallacies of Anti-Reformers by Jeremy Bentham)
Find a copy atFallacies of Anti-Reformers

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Taittiriya Upanishad II.i.1 //Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam Brahma (Interlude)

What happens when you have the interplay of three adjectives which inflect each other creating a boundless space? From Satyam we move to Jnanam to Anantam. One opens up to the other even demanding this extension. It's not that either, it's an encompassing and a nesting at once. There is a conceptual planetary system, so to speak, and our attention and absorbtion is the gravity that holds it together. "That is the infinite in which one does not know anything else". The inflection of the infinite creates a consciousness which is not a knower there being no second thing to know. The 'jnanam' (consciousness or knowledge) in its turn inflects the 'satyam' (true/changeless) so there is a triple system in which the divine energy moves back and forth.

The characteristic mistake of the 'objector' is to focus on one of these terms and try to show that there is an error.

Objection: From the denial of particulars in the (above) statement, "One does not know anything else", it follows that one knows the Self.

By isolating the boundless/infinite, the triple system effect is lost.