Friday, 15 December 2006

The Curse of Opium

Have you noticed about drunkards; how they will worry; with a sublime sense of the pity of such folly, about the excesses of others. ‘I am but a man overcome by an excess of humanity but Tommy’s gone to hell’. From the vantage point of momentary righteousness the drunkard issues a mild sigh as though surveying the long gallery of pissartists and portersharks; the friendly, goodly company of the dunned and dammed. ‘If I am the way I am, my reasons are excellent; his are spurious’ is another theme. So it was with Coleridge and De Quincy on the subject of their addiction to opium. The complexities of the attack and counter attack on the high moral ground takes a tone of truly comedic sense of injury and injustice.

“A letter of his, which I hope he did not design to have published, but which, however; has been published, point the attention of his correspondent to a broad distinction separating my case as an opium-eater from his own: he, it seems, had fallen excusably (because unavoidably) into this habit of eating opium – as the one sole therapeutic resource available against his particular malady; but I, wretch that I am, being so notoriously charmed by fairies against pain, must have resorted to opium in the abominable character of an adventurous voluptuary, angling in all streams for variety of pleasures. Coleridge is wrong to the whole extent of what was possible; wrong in his fact, wrong in his doctrine; in his little fact, and his big doctrine. I did not do the thing which he charges upon me; and if I had done it, this would not convict me as a citizen of Sybaris or Daphne.”
(From Confessions of an English Opium-Eater)

When the pain for which opium was the anodyne is revealed we are reminded of two carpenters comparing the nicks and notches that tools and machinery have wrought on their limbs.

“Coleridge’s bodily affliction was simple rheumatism. Mine, which intermittently raged for ten years, was rheumatism in the face combined with toothache. This I had inherited from my father; or inherited (I should rather say) from my own desperate ignorance…..”

That’s right blame father. I ask you is it fortuitous that ‘father’ and ‘fault’ are side by side in the Irish sign language for the Deaf? How very adjacent?

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Louis and Henri

Louis MacNeice
The shutter of time darkening ceaselessly
Has whisked away the foam of may and elder
And I realise how now, as every year before,
Once again the gay months have eluded me.

For the mind by nature stagey, welds its frame
Tomb-like around each little world of a day;
We jump from picture to picture and cannot follow
The living curve that is breathlessly the same.

While the lawn-mower sings moving up and down
Spirting its little fountain of vivid green,
I, like Poussin, make a still-bound fete of us
Suspending every noise, of insect or machine.

Garlands at a set angle that do not slip,
Theatrically (and as if for ever) grace
You and me and the stone god in the garden
And Time who also is shown with a stone face

But all this is a dilettante’s lie,
Time’s face is not stone nor still his wings
Our mind, being dead, wishes to have time, die,
For we being ghosts cannot catch hold of things.

Was Louis MacNeice a Bergsonian? In Creative Evolution I find:

“Such is the contrivance of the cinematograph. And such is also that of our knowledge. Instead of attaching ourselves to the inner becoming of things, we place ourselves outside them in order to recompose their becoming artificially. We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality, as these are characteristic of the reality, we have only to string them on a becoming, abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge, in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself. Perception, intellection, language so proceed in general.” (pg.332, Mod.Library edn.)

Poems enact duration in such a way as to bring us into the reality of what makes knowledge possible, what Aquinas called connaturality. We find our way into the being of things through such artefacts.


Rumi refers to the myth of the naming of the animals as the type of the primal co-creation in which the world is blessed and accepted and inner and outer truth are made one:
When Adam became the theater of Divine inspiration and love,
his rational soul revealed to him the knowledge of the Names.
His tongue, reading from the page of his heart,
recited the name of everything that is.
Through his inward vision his tongue divulged the qualities of each;

This is the basis of what is called 'abjid' (arabic) or 'gematria' in Greek in which names are given a numerical value. The Hebrew Kaballah has this science also Aleph (1), Beth (2), Gimel (3) and so on.

In the Zohar it is written

"Had the brightness of the glory of the Holy One, blessed be his name, not been shed over the whole of his creation how could he have been perceived even by the wise? He would have remained (totally) unapprehensible, and the words "The whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3)could never be spoken with truth. But the closer man comes to his pure and divine essence, the more he experiences the intrinsic unity in all the emanations of the Sefiroth; for this unity is none other than the essence of man, the supreme 'self'" ((from 'The Universal Meaning of the Kabballah by Leo Schaya pg.28))

Singing Razor

Offered in the Axminster Tool catalogue of a few years ago were open razors from Thiers that are so thin that a moist finger rubbed across them causes them to sound like a wine glass. The sharpness of the tongue of Thomas Carlyle bids me call him the 'singing razor'. One would imagine that the flensing of the poltroon Diderot must be a warning to the enlightenment's darling Hume but no the man mellows most disagreeably. He's a homey don't you know.

The veneration of Samuel Johnson is a curiously British cult. T.C. finds a plinth of equal elevation for Hume, almost.

"Both realised the highest task of Manhood, that of living like men; each died not unfitly, in his way; Hume as one with the factitious, half-false gaiety, taking leave of what was itself wholly but a Lie; Johnson as one, with awe-struck, yet resolute and piously expectant heart, taking leave of a Reality, to enter a Reality still higher. Johnson had the harder problem of it, from first to last; whether, with some hesitation, we can admit that he was intrinsically the better gifted, may remain undecided."

Carlyle's Essays

In Charlie Byrne's the other day I got for a mere €4 an odd volume of Thomas Carlyle's Critical and Miscellaneous Essays. What a wonderful character, one can imagine his wife Jane saying to him - "Tom you ought not to read that if it upsets you so much". Yes, fatwas would have gathered about his prophetic head like the rooks of even at Drumcliffe church. By the bye In 'Bell, Book and Candle' I got a selection of critical writings edited by Harold Bloom on Carlyle, Weymouth Sands by John Cowper Powys and The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking by Dorothy Emmet. That completes the voting of the metaphysical jury.

Speaking of Diderot and his approach to Marriage, T.C. writes
"True, O Denis! the rock crumbles away: all things are changing; man changes faster than most of them. That in the mean while, an Unchangeable lies under all this, and looks forth, solemn and benign, through the whole destiny and workings of man, is another truth; which no Mechanical Philosophe, in the dust of his logic-mill, can be expected to grind-out for himself. Man changes and will change: the question then arises, Is it wise in him to tumble forth, in headlong obedience to this love of change; is it so much as possible for him?"

There's no date of publication of this volume but the selection from the catalogue of Chapman and Hall's Publications shows the date December 1st. 1888. We are offered Untrodden Paths in Roumania by Mrs. Walker and Paddy at Home or Ireland and the Irish at the Present Time, as seen by a Frenchman (Baron E. de Mandat-Grancy) A surprising number of writers have military background, Majors, Colonels and Generals e.g. Tiger Shooting in the Doon and Ulmer, and Life in India.

Patrick Melvin who indited his name so boldly to the inside cover, had left uncut pages even in the essay on Diderot which he has marked with an x. What a pleasure it is to cut them as though one were releasing a noetic genie.