Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The beginning of the first edition of Tender is the Night by Scott Fitzgerald is for me one of the great openings in literature. That he should have thought to change it and substitute historical time for dream time is an indication of how played out he was and addicted to the glamour of being loved like Dick Diver himself. He admits to the starlet Rosemary Hoyt that he is not practising as a doctor but may well go back to it someday. In reality though and it is a truth that Mrs. McKiscoe stumbles on during a 4th. of July party at their home on the Riviera, the Diver menage is a troisee with Nicole, Dick and the shadow Dr.Dick. What they have is a mobile nerve clinic and he is the pet doctor that the wealthy Warrens have bought. Isn't this what he was educated for says Baby Warren the older sister of Nicole at a later stage in the novel. Harsh as it sounds Baby has his number.

Baby looked calmly at her sister.
“We should have let him confine himself to his bicycle excursions,” she remarked. “When people are taken out of their depths they lose their heads, no matter how charming a bluff they put up.”
“Dick was a good husband to me for six years,” Nicole said. “All that time I never suffered a minute’s pain because of him, and he always did his best never to let anything hurt me.”
Baby’s lower jaw projected slightly as she said:
“That’s what he was educated for.”

If the story had been told according to the revised version which Malcolm Cowley does his best to justify, it turns into a case history and we are left with an inevitable unfolding. The marriage has been founded on the basis of a transference between fragile Nicole and the strong handsome Doctor. Her healing must mean that the transference has been worked through and the relationship is at an end. When her father is reported to be dying and asking to see her, Dick does not want to tell her about this because of the supposed trauma this might bring on. That is a real fear but it also has the aspect of keeping her sealed like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin. When in fact through the wife of his partner in the clinic Nicole finds out she rushes to see her father. However when she arrives he has left the hotel though genuinely moribund. There is a comedic ‘Freddie’ aspect to the father.

Nicole’s willingness to attempt reconciliation with her father is the beginning of her healing and the end of the Diver dispensation. There is a Hemingway figure in the form of Tommy Barban, a soldier of fortune, with an eighth of his skull missing but the rest of him intact ready to step in and bring Nicole and the children along with him into brusque sanity.

Rosemary Hoyt is the star of Daddy's Girl, Nicole was also Daddy's girl, an event which precipitated her onset of schizophrenia. The first section, the glamourous one is related from the perspective of Rosemary which is appropriate. We are told:
The hotel and its bright tan prayer rug of a beach were one.

What is a prayer rug in the idiom of Hollywood but a fantastical suspension in a celluloid imaginal. This is palace of props which include the workroom of the Doctor where the papers which are to be the basis of a new work on psychiatry are gathered. Rosemary suspects that there is something not quite right with the Diver family. Why is Barban fighting a duel with McKiscoe? She worries her pretty little head which her mother keeps screwed on.

There are plenty of comic moments in the book. Baby Warren brings out the best in him:
“You put on your hat and come with me right away.”
The mention of his hat alarmed the Consul who began to clean his spectacles hurriedly and to ruffle his papers. This proved of no avail: the American Woman, aroused, stood over him; the clean-sweeping irrational temper that had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent, was too much for him. He rang for the vice-consul—Baby had won.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pelham or Adventures of a Gentleman by Bulwer-Lytton

Many of you will no doubt have heard of the Bulwer Lytton contest
which honours writing that most closely achieves that seeming level of vain portentousness. Many, indeed most of you, will never have read anything else by him. If you had , the suspicion that he himself was mocking the otiose windiness of the popular novel would have checked a precipitous judgment. I see that the competition was established by a professor at San Jose University which is a clue. Sometimes, as John Le Carre calls them, the cousins don't get it.
I have been reading Pelham or Adventures of a Gentleman by Bulwer-Lytton which he published at the age of 25. This Pelham is a sprig of the aristocracy steeped in the family tradition of blackguardism and bounderism. Here in this extensive passage in which he marshals his gear before the new season we get the taste of the high seriousness of vanity:

Cum pulchris tunicis sumet nova consilia et spes.—Horace.

And look always that they be shape,
What garment that thou shalt make
Of him that can best do
With all that pertaineth thereto.—Romaunt of the Rose

How well I can remember the feelings with which I entered London, and took possession of the apartments prepared for me at Mivart's. A year had made a vast alteration in my mind; I had ceased to regard pleasure for its own sake, I rather coveted its enjoyments, as the great sources of worldly distinction. I was not the less a coxcomb than heretofore, nor the less a voluptuary, nor the less choice in my perfumes, nor the less fastidious in my horses and my dress; but I viewed these matters in a light wholly different from that in which I had hitherto regarded them. Beneath all the carelessness of my exterior, my mind was close, keen, and inquiring; and under the affectations of foppery, and the levity of a manner almost unique, for the effeminacy of its tone, I veiled an ambition the most extensive in its object, and a resolution the most daring in the accomplishment of its means.

I was still lounging over my breakfast, on the second morning of my arrival, when Mr. N—, the tailor, was announced.

"Good morning, Mr. Pelham; happy to see you returned. Do I disturb you too early? shall I wait on you again?"

"No, Mr. N—, I am ready to receive you; you may renew my measure."

"We are a very good figure, Mr. Pelham; very good figure," replied the Schneider, surveying me from head to foot, while he was preparing his measure; "we want a little assistance though; we must be padded well here; we must have our chest thrown out, and have an additional inch across the shoulders; we must live for effect in this world, Mr. Pelham; a leetle tighter round the waist, eh?"

"Mr. N—," said I, "you will take, first, my exact measure, and, secondly, my exact instructions. Have you done the first?"

"We are done now, Mr. Pelham," replied my man-maker, in a slow, solemn tone.

"You will have the goodness then to put no stuffing of any description in my coat; you will not pinch me an iota tighter across the waist than is natural to that part of my body, and you will please, in your infinite mercy, to leave me as much after the fashion in which God made me, as you possibly can."

"But, Sir, we must be padded; we are much too thin; all the gentlemen in the Life Guards are padded, Sir."

"Mr. N—," answered I, "you will please to speak of us, with a separate, and not a collective pronoun; and you will let me for once have my clothes such as a gentleman, who, I beg of you to understand, is not a Life Guardsman, can wear without being mistaken for a Guy Fawkes on a fifth of November."

Mr. N—looked very discomfited: "We shall not be liked, Sir, when we are made—we sha'n't, I assure you. I will call on Saturday at 11 o'clock. Good morning, Mr. Pelham; we shall never be done justice to, if we do not live for effect; good morning, Mr. Pelham."

Scarcely had Mr. N—retired, before Mr.—, his rival, appeared. The silence and austerity of this importation from Austria, were very refreshing after the orations of Mr. N—.

"Two frock-coats, Mr.—," said I, "one of them brown, velvet collar same colour; the other, dark grey, no stuffing, and finished by Wednesday. Good morning, Mr.—."

"Monsieur B—, un autre tailleur," said Bedos, opening the door after Mr. S.'s departure.

"Admit him," said I. "Now for the most difficult article of dress—the waistcoat."

And here, as I am weary of tailors, let me reflect a little upon that divine art of which they are the professors. Alas, for the instability of all human sciences! A few short months ago, in the first edition of this memorable Work, I laid down rules for costume, the value of which, Fashion begins already to destroy. The thoughts which I shall now embody, shall be out of the reach of that great innovator, and applicable not to one age, but to all. To the sagacious reader, who has already discovered what portions of this work are writ in irony—what in earnest—I fearlessly commit these maxims; beseeching him to believe, with Sterne, that "every thing is big with jest, and has wit in it, and instruction too, if we can but find it out!"

1. Do not require your dress so much to fit, as to adorn you. Nature is not to be copied, but to be exalted by art. Apelles blamed Protogenes for being too natural.

2. Never in your dress altogether desert that taste which is general. The world considers eccentricity in great things, genius; in small things, folly.

3. Always remember that you dress to fascinate others, not yourself.

4. Keep your mind free from all violent affections at the hour of the toilet. A philosophical serenity is perfectly necessary to success. Helvetius says justly, that our errors arise from our passions.

5. Remember that none but those whose courage is unquestionable, can venture to be effeminate. It was only in the field that the Lacedemonians were accustomed to use perfumes and curl their hair.

6. Never let the finery of chains and rings seem your own choice; that which naturally belongs to women should appear only worn for their sake. We dignify foppery, when we invest it with a sentiment.

7. To win the affection of your mistress, appear negligent in your costume—to preserve it, assiduous: the first is a sign of the passion of love; the second, of its respect.

8. A man must be a profound calculator to be a consummate dresser. One must not dress the same, whether one goes to a minister or a mistress; an avaricious uncle, or an ostentatious cousin: there is no diplomacy more subtle than that of dress.

9. Is the great man whom you would conciliate a coxcomb?—go to him in a waistcoat like his own. "Imitation," says the author of Lacon, "is the sincerest flattery."

10. The handsome may be shewy in dress, the plain should study to be unexceptionable; just as in great men we look for something to admire—in ordinary men we ask for nothing to forgive.

11. There is a study of dress for the aged, as well as for the young. Inattention is no less indecorous in one than in the other; we may distinguish the taste appropriate to each, by the reflection that youth is made to be loved—age, to be respected.

12. A fool may dress gaudily, but a fool cannot dress well—for to dress well requires judgment; and Rochefaucault says with truth, "On est quelquefois un sot avec de l'esprit, mais on ne lest jamais avec du jugement."

13. There may be more pathos in the fall of a collar, or the curl of a lock, than the shallow think for. Should we be so apt as we are now to compassionate the misfortunes, and to forgive the insincerity of Charles I., if his pictures had pourtrayed him in a bob wig and a pigtail? Vandyke was a greater sophist than Hume.

14. The most graceful principle of dress is neatness—the most vulgar is preciseness.

15. Dress contains the two codes of morality—private and public. Attention is the duty we owe to others—cleanliness that which we owe to ourselves.

16. Dress so that it may never be said of you "What a well dressed man!"—but, "What a gentlemanlike man!"

17. Avoid many colours; and seek, by some one prevalent and quiet tint, to sober down the others. Apelles used only four colours, and always subdued those which were more florid, by a darkening varnish.

18. Nothing is superficial to a deep observer! It is in trifles that the mind betrays itself. "In what part of that letter," said a king to the wisest of living diplomatists, "did you discover irresolution?"—"In its ns and gs!" was the answer.

19. A very benevolent man will never shock the feelings of others, by an excess either of inattention or display; you may doubt, therefore, the philanthropy both of a sloven and a fop.

20. There is an indifference to please in a stocking down at heel—but there may be a malevolence in a diamond ring.

21. Inventions in dressing should resemble Addison's definition of fine writing, and consists of "refinements which are natural, without being obvious."

22. He who esteems trifles for themselves, is a trifler—he who esteems them for the conclusions to be drawn from them, or the advantage to which they can be put, is a philosopher.

The quotation from Horace you will find in full in The Anatomy of Melancholy as one of the remedies against Melancholy. From the vault of my schoolboy Latin comes in vile cerements: With beautiful clothes, I will take new resolve and hope.

Besides, fatuous parenthesis is mocked in a letter Henry Pelham receives from his mother:
My Dear Henry (began the letter,)

Find an extensive collection of the works of Bulwer-Lytton on Gutenberg Project and Internet Archive. Find indeed that you are micturating against the wind.

From the preface to the 1840 edn. of Paul Clifford:
A second and a lighter object in the novel of "Paul Clifford" (and hence the introduction of a semi-burlesque or travesty in the earlier chapters) was to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice, and that the slang of the one circle is but an easy paraphrase of the cant of the other.

I rest my case.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Problem of Evil: West and East (some citations)

The concept of God as an agent amongst other agents is one that is commonly encountered but it does not represent the most sophisticated thinking. For this you have to confer with St. Augustine in his Enchiridon who presents evil as privative:
11. In this universe, even what is called evil, when it is rightly ordered and kept in its place, commends the good more eminently, since good things yield greater pleasure and praise when compared to the bad things. For the Omnipotent God, whom even the heathen acknowledge as the Supreme Power over all, would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil. What, after all, is anything we call evil except the privation of good? In animal bodies, for instance, sickness and wounds are nothing but the privation of health. When a cure is effected, the evils which were present (i.e., the sickness and the wounds) do not retreat and go elsewhere. Rather, they simply do not exist any more. For such evil is not a substance; the wound or the disease is a defect of the bodily substance which, as a substance, is good. Evil, then, is an accident, i.e., a privation of that good which is called health. Thus, whatever defects there are in a soul are privations of a natural good. When a cure takes place, they are not transferred elsewhere but, since they are no longer present in the state of health, they no longer exist at all.

Unfortunately of course this concept has traction only with metaphysically minded believers who are rare; for others, believers and unbelievers both, it seems too nebulous for consideration but it is there and those of an ontological cast of mind will appreciate it.

Within the Vedic matrix Shankaracarya in his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras (Brahma Sutra Bhasa II.1.34) says this:

Opponent :God cannot reasonably be the cause of the world.


For that would lead to the possibility of partiality and cruelty. For it can be reasonably concluded that God ((Ishvara)) has passion and hatred like some ignoble persons, for He creates an unjust world by making some, eg. gods and others, experience happiness, some, eg. animals etc., experience extreme misery and some, eg. human beings, experience moderate happiness and sorrow..........
God will be open to the charge of pitilessness and extreme cruelty, abhorred even by a villain. Thus on account of the possibility of partiality and cruelty, God is not an agent...........

((Rebuttal)) for God makes this unequal creation by taking the help of other factors.
Opponent: What factors does He take into consideration?

Reply: We say that these are merit and demerit. No fault attaches to God, since this unequal creation is brought about in conformity with the virtues and vices of the creatures that are about to be born. Rather, God is to be compared to rain. Just as rainfall is a common cause for the growth of paddy, barley, etc., the special reasons for the differences of paddy, barley, etc., being the individual potentiality of the respective seeds, similarly God is the common cause for the birth of gods, men, and others, while the individual fruits of works associated with the individual creatures are the uncommon causes for the creation of the differences among the gods, men and others. Thus God is not open to the defects of partiality and cruelty, since He takes other factors into consideration.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Saturday by Ian McEwan (pub.2005)

As Henry Perowne sits in his Merc (silver, 500S) and turns on the stereo what he hears is the sound of sustained applause. This could the ironic adjudication of the gods who are preparing a dismal fate for him. When an author has given everything to a protagonist it is only Greek justice that it should be taken away in as painful and as surprising a manner as possible. Balance must be restored.
Let me do the list: 48 years old H.P. is a neurosurgeon of renown who lives in a 7,000 square foot mansion in the heart of London. This is the family property of his wife whose father the renowned poet John Gramatticus is living in the family's château in France. His wife with whom he has a wonderful relationship is a lawyer attached to a newspaper. Theo his 18 year old son is a John Mayall in the egg who has received the accolade of Ry Cooder at one of his gigs. Daisy the daughter is 25 and is just about to publish her first book of poetry having previously won the Hawthornden prize. She is due to come back from Paris that night. Henry Perowne enjoys vigorous conjugal felicity regularly, plays a good squash game and runs a creditable half marathon. A direct hit on the house from a small asteroid might be in order.

What has Henry Perowne worried is the state of the world in February 2003 the day of the giant demonstration against the proposed Iraq war. You remember that, Blix, WMOD, Saddam the Bad, Not in Our Name. The novel is, and here the reviewers follow closely the bullet points on the publicist's hand out, a post 9.11 one. It's not that of course, it's a post Iraq War II one with retrospective justification for the mess that bleeds and bleeds. There was an inevitability about it then and a lot of ill-informed and lied-to people, I include myself in this, thought that it might be, on balance, a good idea, to take Saddam out. That seems to have been wrong. H.P. represents enlightenment man with values that are rational and balanced, erring slightly on the scientistic side perhaps, who feels that his world is now the prey of fundamentalists of all persuasions.

What then is in the novel by way of writing? Not much, but the noetic load is light. It's a series of tableaux vivants with the connective the complacent ponderings of H.P. Two of the set pieces have a degree of force, one is the encounter with the thug Baxter and the other a visit to his mother who is in an old peoples home suffering from dementia. The goddess Nemesis who punished hubris is portrayed with a club. Baxter who seemed to this reader to be her agent needs no club, his fist is hard enough. I was wrong about that too. There's a fantastical denouement that allows H.P. to go on unscathed by the sharp end of shock and awe but is given the opportunity for compassion that would be a credit to a Bodhisattva.

There is great deal of medical procedural, a very boring squash game and a visit to 'my' fishmonger in this Gloomsday. John Banville's dissenting review in the NYRB is acerbic. Read it here:
banville on saturday

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mount Whitehead

you can't possibly believe that because you've never doubted it. That is what the belief in the external world amounts to.

They say that the first lecture in philosophy Whitehead ever attended was his own. That allowed him to dodge the classical path into the maze, of Realism, anti-realism, irrealism, idealism and all the other holds the masters teach. In the multiple choice question about the world doubt had no little box to tick with your special pencil. What though was the special combination of climate and topography, that raised those fata morgana of the mind, was an interesting question.

Inevitably, because the old maps were faulty, Whitehead had to reconfigure the territories. New finger posts were erected, actual entity, eternal object, event, object but not as you knew them and ways of getting to those places which seem to have more in common with alchemy. One senses the overheated alembic of the Whitheadian conk.

I've done the pradakshina (circumambulation) of the sacred mount Process and Reality twice before and now it seems that I am due to do it again. Because it's there I suppose.

My compass will be:

Now I dream of the soft touch of women, the song of birds, the smell of soil crumbling between my fingers, and the brilliant green of plants that I diligently nurture. I am looking for land to buy and I will sow it with deer and wild pigs and cottonwoods and sycamores and build a pond and the duck will come and fish will rise in the early evening light and take the insects into their jaws. There will be paths through this forest and you and I will lose ourselves in the soft curves and folds of the ground. We will come to the waters edge and lie on the grass and there will be a small unobtrusive sign that says, THIS IS THE REAL WORLD, MUCHACHOS, AND WE ARE ALL IN IT. - B.TRAVEN.

(Charles Bowden: Blood Orchid)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Whitehead meets Bhagwan Hamsa on Mount Kailas

This misapprehension is promoted by the neglect of the principle that, so far as physical relations are concerned, contemporary events happen in causal independence of each other.  This principle will have to be explained later, in connection with an examination of process and of time.  It receives an exemplification in the character of our perception of the world of contemporary actual entities.  That contemporary world is objectified for us as 'realitas objectivas', illustrating bare extension with its various parts discriminated by differences of sense data.  These qualities, such as colours, sounds, bodily feelings, tastes, smells, together with the perspectives introduced by extensive relationships, are the relational eternal objects whereby the contemporary actual entities are elements in our constitution.  This is the type of objectification which (in Sec. VII of the previous chapter has been termed 'presentational objectification'.
(from Process and Reality by A.N. Whitehead. Chap. II: The Extensive Continuum

From Sankara's commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad II.iv.11:
Objection: In everyone of these instances the mergence of the objects only has been spoken of, but not that of the organs.  What is the motive for this?
Reply: True, but the Sruti considers the organs to be of the same category as the objects, not of a different category.  The organs are but modes of the objects in order to perceive them, as a lamp, which is but a mode of colour, is an instrument for revealing all colours.  Similarly, the organs are but modes of all particular objects in order to perceive them, as is the case with a lamp.  Hence no special care is to be taken to indicate the dissolution of the organs; for these being the same as objects in general, their dissolution is implied by that of the objects. 
I place these citations together to show that the dissolution of the subjective point of view arrived at by the progressive absorption of lower perspectives into higher ones, brings in its train the monistic condition of pure self-awareness, "one without a second".  According to Whitehead the natural awareness of the subject is an atomised one because "The notion of a direct 'idea'  (or 'feeling') of an actual entity is a presupposition of all common sense." (P&R)  From that bare pre-theoretic intuition Whitehead concludes:
Some real component in the objectified entity assumes the role of being how that particular entity is a datum in the experience of the subject.
All actual entities are open to all other actual entities in a philosphy of organism. In short to divest the essential insight of the bewildering prolixity of Whiteheadian categories - everything is open to everything else and this openness is limited by the nature of each entity. But what is an entity? It is from our subjective point of view, according to the evolved interests of the human being, that we divide the world. Ecology has taught us, that, although these are natural to us, Nature continuously draws back into seamless unity the pieces we have cut out of the whole.

I believe that I can connect these two citations, not by an easy assimilation but by the  telescoping that is a feature of both.  In the way that actual entities are in each other according to the rubric of their eternal objects, do I dare to call them limiting adjuncts, so are the limiting adjuncts/upadhis successively dissolved.  as described in the experience of the sage on Mount Kailas.  That this is merely a fanciful connection with the philosophy of organism must be countered by the remark of Whitehead’s in Process and Reality:
This conception of an actual entity in the fluent world is little more than an expansion of a sentence in the Timaeus “But that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in the process of becoming and perishing and never really is.” Bergson in his protest against ‘spatialization’ is only echoing Plato’s phrase “and never really is”.

The words of the sage Bhagwan Hamsa on Mount Kailas mirrors the progressive dissolution of the stages between becoming and being:

Here my Manas merged into Antahkarana (heart); the antahkarana with the Manas merged into Chitta (mind-stuff); the Chitta along with Antahkarana and Manas merged into Buddhi (intellect); the Buddhi with Chitta, Antahkarana and Manas merged into Ahankar (egoism); and the Ahankar along with Buddhi, Chitta, Antahkarana and Manas merged into Absolute Brahma! I found myself reflected everywhere in the whole Universe! It was all one harmony - full of wisdom, Infinite Love Perennial and Bliss Eternal! Where was the body, its tenements and the ‘I’! It was all Satchitananda. (Truth, Wisdom, Bliss).
(from The Holy Mountain by Bhagwan Shri Hamsa)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

George Moore: 1852 - 1933 by Adrian Frazier

In the Moore Family there is no doubt that George took the part of Fredo. Old Moore, though it would be unwise thus to sneer, was a parliamentary thorn in the side of the landlord class to which he equivocally belonged, as he fought for reform of the system of land tenure but would not consider its total derogation. Peasants and land not the yearning for independence is the spiritual core of the Irish struggle and albeit as I previously recounted, an excellent landlord during the Famine of '47, his life was threatened and rents were tardy landing in the hat of the steward on gale days. Adrian Frazier tells the tale of how George Père sensing that the peasants were not so much restless as ebullient and requiring the calm of the cold metal spoon of the Master's pewter eye. The Moores were grey eyed hard riding men who did not baulk shocking English jockeys by their abandonment of due pause before a fence. Therefore in 1870 he came home to his 12,481 acres. He was dead within the week not from the uncertain discharge of a rusty fowling piece but twas apoplexy that took him. Dr. Barron a sound local man gave his diagnosis:
Mr.Moore has an attack of apoplexy such as statesmen very often get.

George Fils and his capers at boarding school in England from which he was expelled may well have contributed to that brick red congestion of the face which marks the condition but it is also certain that the long thin upper lip formed barbs of sarcasm which crushed back the already otter-like shoulders of his eldest son. The cover of the book shows the Edouard Manet portrait in which George looks like a whiskery otter that has emerged from the stream with a vaguely puzzled appearance.

By right of primogeniture George was now master with all the dwindling revenues of the estate, half afraid of the stove pipe hatted tenantry with their knee britches and their clay pipes and land league notions. Begob, says George, I'll go for an artist which he did, first to London and then to Paris in 1873. Excellent timing.

The French bohemians liked him and his landed credentials gave him an entrée into the salons of the Mme de Staël manques of the raffish upper class. He had a fine time soon realising that his talent as a painter was slight and here his characteristic lack of self-belief which kept him from settling in mediocrity moved him on to the writing of bad poetry. As a result of all the contacts that he made he later became Zola's man in England and the promoter of Impressionism there through his reviews.

Adrian Frazier's excellent biography runs to 604 pages of smallish print, copiously annotated and referenced. The scholarship runs smoothly without breaking up into lumps of sidebar disputation. Very readable indeed. The adventures of George in the book trade in which he took on the three volume tyranny of the circulating libraries is well covered as are his rows with everyone in the Irish Literary scene during his ten years residence in the heart of the Hibernian metropolis. It seems his impudent self-revelations seduced others to admissions which he gossiped about. One has the feeling that his squabble with Yeats who wrote with spiteful inelegance about him may have damaged his literary reputation. Frazier does not flinch at judging the seedier aspects of Moore's character.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bloomsday/Father's Day

Around the Hibernian metropolis scorchers in straw hats are strolling. Later in the day that sentence will defeat them. And tomorrow is Father's day. Let us have by all means O Mine Papa sung by Eddy Fisher.

- There's the box, help yourself.

Bloom and Rudy, Bloom and Stephen, Bloom and his father Rudolf Virag, Stephen and Simon. One piece of worldly wisdom for you today, old son, if she is fond of her father and speaks well of him you will be safe enough. If not, prepare to be scarified. That letter from Milly in Mullingar so affectionate and reaching through him to Bannon who sings the Blazes Boylan song. Mother Molly sings that song too. Major Tweedy reared her on Gibraltar but what was Bloom doing there. Only old Rudolf Virag late of Hungary fares poorly having poisoned himself but he too will be remembered on his anniversary.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Manservant and Maidservant by Ivy Compton-Burnett

Ivy Compton-Burnett decided that the artifice of individual voices in the novel could be dispensed with. In her novel Manservant and Maidservant (1947) if J.L. Austins's The Man on the Clapham Omnibus should turn up he would speak not with the expressions of Ordinary Language but oracularly jocose locutions.

From J.L.Austin/A Plea for Excuses:

“Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations; these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon.”

Bullivant the Butler, Mrs. Selden the Cook, Horace Lamb the Master, his cousin Mortimer Lamb, Grand-Aunt Emilia, Charlotte the Master's wife, all speak with the aforementioned locutions. Even the 5 children lisp in the numbers of the Authorised Version virtually. It produces an air of dignified unreality as though a goodly pinch of it were added like salt into the porridge by each family member who trusted not the others to salt adequately. To me it adds piquancy, to others it may be eccentric and inedible. Ivy Compton-Burnett's hand is up everyone's jumper so to speak.

The equal weight given to everything is marvellously funny but there are turns in the observations which pierce when laughter has relaxed us.

She was built on Gertrude's generous scale, and moved with a gentle heaviness that was her own. Her service to her family was seen as a life work, and the illusion could not be dispelled as she herself held it.

Instead of voice we have individual psyche and each emerges from the author's marble clearly separate. It's a mystery as to how she does it and I shall have to read it again and again. Horace Lamb is a miser who stints coal for his fires and clothes for his children. The novel ends and opens with a fire that requires mending. Despite I.C-B.'s dialogue only reputation her descriptions are no killing bottle:

Horace put his hands in his pockets, and caused an absent sound to issue from his lips. He was a middle-aged man of ordinary height and build, with thin wrinkled cheeks, eyes of a clear, cold blue, regular features unevenly set in his face, and a habit of looking aside in apparent abstraction. This was a punishment to people for the nervous exasperation they produced in him, and must expiate.

The atmosphere of the novel is odd, with the sadism of Horace turned into a curious pathos as he becomes aware of it and the children watchful with the hyper-alertness of the perpetually harried. It's that uncanny thing, a work of genius. The edition I read was an NYRB classic from 2001.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Homo Non Habilis: The Long Handled Shovel

Well yes there’s a problem. None of the people who demonstrate the use of the long handled spade or shovel on you tube are doing it correctly. The man digging in the Muybridge action photo puts me in mind of the advice of the Clareman that I worked with in London putting screws into asbestos ceiling panel battens in a factory at night. This was before the advent of Pozidrive and speed control on drills. We drove them in with a hammer. We drilled pilot holes of course. The old craftsmen!
- Use your head and not your lad: He’d say frequently.
Good practice for the overhead backstroke with the hammer.

I'd put out a video if I had the camera to do it but then on the other hand as the Frenchman who refused to wear shorts said:
- There is already too much suffering in the world.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge by Bimal Krishna Matilal

I am reading the book Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge published by O.U.P. in 1986 written by Bimal Krishna Matilal who was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford.

In his section on Knowledge and Illusion he discusses what he calls The Advaita View of the Inexplicability of the Appearance. I would be very happy to be able to say that his treatment of the topic of what he calls illusion reflected his undoubted scholarship and his lifelong immersion in Sanscritic culture but on the contrary it seems slack and unfocussed. To begin with a petty point, it has always seemed to me that instead of illusion in the snake/rope example or nacre/silver in the other canonical example we ought to be speaking of confusion. To take one thing for another thing I.e. Taking Young Jack for Old Jack from a distance is not an illusion. We may speak of the Myer-Lyer illusion or the illusion of the meeting rail lines and so forth. Not to labour the point there is illusion, delusion and confusion each perfectly distinct from the other in the precise discourse which is the wont of philosophers when they do not want to get lost.

His introduction is questionable:
The first well-known non-Buddhist view, which is in a way derivable also from the Buddhist position, is called the anirvacanayakhyati which says that the object-form, the silver form or the snake-form, in sensory illusion (expressible as 'this silver' or 'this a snake') must belong to a third realm of objects which is neither existent nor non-existent. This view resolves the problematic character of the object-form which is sometimes called (wrongly, I think) in modern interpretations as the 'transcendental' realm.

To characterise something as an object is to say that it exists. If you can't say whether it exists or not then you a fortiori cannot say that it is an object. One of the definitions of purely mental existence as a mental modification (a vritti) is that it does not have the capacity to be an unknown object. It exists only during the time that it is experienced I.e. during the time that the mind has taken that form.

He goes on to say something which while it reflects much of the loose talk of the traditional advaitins who are without the philosophical background that he has, does not correspond to the core teaching.

Rather the model of sensory illusion is used as an argument to show that the world of experience is neither characterisable as real or existent nor as unreal or non-existent.

An analogy is not an argument. It may be a helpful way to orient oneself towards a truth which is ineffable but it does not in any way establish or demonstrate that truth. When the status of creation is likened to that of the snake that is seen in the rope, the point that being stressed in a focused way is that as the appearance of the snake has its reality grace of the substratum of the rope so too does creation as an appearance (vivarta) have its reality from the substratum of Brahman.

Matilal does make the point that the use of ‘reality’ in the case of the snake/rope does not have the same import as ‘reality’ in the case of Brahman/creation. The one is a straightforward illusion (confusion) and the other has a metaphysical background of contingency, necessity, mutability, a priori demands and so forth.

Or the world we experience behaves strangely enough to enable us to say that it contradicts or a priori notions of real and unreal. The snake that I experienced in my sensory illusion had, with all its peculiarities and generalities, the unmistakable mark of being real and existent but now it has vanished, and a thing as real as a snake cannot do this. Therefore, how else could we classify that snake-form in our illusion except as neither real nor unreal? This theory in fact tends more towards realism that phenomenalism or idealism. For it accepts the external world more seriously as real and existent. It is only in the context of the ultimate Brahman awareness that the reality-status of this world becomes questionable.

That is a fair summary. It is cheeky of me to incarnadine the notes of The Spalding Professor but the impression remains that he could do better.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Lost in Translation

I’m looking at an edition of what is regarded as an important basic text on Vedanta called Vedanta-Sara of Sadananda translated by Swami Nikhilananda and published by Advaita Ashrama. In a chapter on The Jiva and Superimposition the various positions of The Carvakas, The Buddhists, Mimamsakas, and Sunyavadins are delineated in summary form.

All those views are different which ought to warn us that even though those ancients dreamed in Sanskrit they could still disagree. What is the significance of this for those who impugn an understanding of Vedanta on the basis of translations? It is simply this. Those who claim that an understanding as a native speaker is necessary for the understanding of Vedanta are simply wrong. It is neither necessary nor sufficient.

I draw a distinction between Philosophy and Literature in the matter of translation. Poetry is what is lost in translation. If the Philosophy is lost then there was not much there in the first place or the translator is incompetent and lacks a good grounding in Philosophy. I am assuming that he is practically bi-lingual in the ideal case. The difficulty is of course that when the understanding of the text in the original is a matter of contention then that contested understanding may well be transferred to the translation in the matter of difficult issues. Here textual notes are vital. In any case there is no such thing as a vital text that stands alone in an unglossed state in various languages. The serious student will be able to find in the competing interpretations his own rapprochement with the original. I have been pleased in the past but not surprised to find my own interpretation of a difficult text such as the Brahma Sutra Bhasya by Sankara validated by authors with a scholarly knowledge of the orignal combined with a similar acquaintance with the philosophical issues.

So what is at play in the insistence that a knowledge of Sanskrit is a sine qui non of engagement with the philosophical issues? In some cases particularly of the traditionalists there is the belief that Sanskrit is a sacred language and the further away one moves from that initial divine transmission of the scriptures the more one departs from authenticity. This attitude is also to be found in the proponents of Arabic as the language of God and to a lesser extent in the scrying of the Hebrew Bible by kabballists. That is to imagine that ‘messer’ has more cutting power that ‘knife’ or ‘scian’.

That may be the esoteric reason for the elevation of Sanskrit scholarship but the exoteric reason may be even more powerful. Is it not a matter of Brahminical gatekeeping?

An interesting article by Rajesh Kochhar brings the historical roots of this out.
There is nothing in the laws or institutes of the Hindus which authorizes a monopoly of a knowledge of the Sanskrit language by any one caste or order of the people. The only monopoly insisted upon by the Brahmans was that of tuition. They allowed no other caste to teach—they enjoined the military and agricultural castes to learn, even the holy books, the Vedas. 


Since career as a teacher or priest was out of bounds for non-Brahmins, undergoing a 10-year regimen would not be worth the effort for them even if it were permitted. Upper-caste non-Brahmins desirous of learning Sanskrit for the sake of literature may have been taught the language, but their number would necessarily be small. There was resistance from Brahmins to admitting non-Brahmins into the Sanskrit club. In the mid nineteenth century when Isvarchandra Vidyasagar as principal of the Calcutta Sanskrit College proposed the admission of non-Brahmins, he was opposed by the faculty. He silenced his opponents by pointing out that they had willingly taught the Shastras to a Sudra like Raja Radhakanta Deb and the mlechchha Europeans.

Now everyone can join the club but once you are a member the belief that you have interpretive preeminence takes hold.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Homo Habilis: The Spanish Azada and Stefan's Claw (German)

When I was on holiday in Spain I saw the Azada in a hardware shop. I got two of them and gave one to Joe the Gardener. That was 15 years ago and it's still going strong. Its main purpose is for general weeding and light cultivation of borders before planting. It has a shortish handle and a thin sharp head and can hack out the clumps of scutch/couch grass which are normally tough to extract. The spear shaped back draws a nice drill.

You've never seen Stefan's Claw before because it is the work of a German smith/woodworker/mason/gardener who lived in the area for about 10 years and built himself a little forge in his back garden. The nearest thing in the catalogues that I have seen like it is the Cobrahead hoe. Whether he was inspired by that design or not I don't know but I have the feeling that the Claw is more ergonomic in that the natural chopping vertical motion turns into a curve at ground level to whisk away a weed in tight situations like an onion bed. It can also be used like a mini-pickaxe to cultivate or scratch a hole for planting. He made several sizes of them and Joe passed the smallest on to me. Stefan welded a piece of hard steel into the underside of the tip so it stays sharp. Nice tool.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Homo Habilis: Irish Digging Shovel

What you see here in front of the shed (notice man-trap at door) is an Irish digging shovel a superlative tool not to be confused with the Suffock pattern or West Country shovel. The latter has a flatter face with a less pronounced fold in the middle. It is the weapon of choice in the building trade but it can also be used for digging. Due to the flatter fold they are less resistant to bending force as you pry rocks out of the stubborn soil. Still I used one for 20 years as an all purpose tool before it split across the face. Spear and Jackson Suffock pattern as I recollect. An excellent tool but the slightly narrower at 9" and slightly longer at 13", with a more cranked face makes the digging shovel a must for rough ground. A good spade will do that too but at a much slower pace. The pointed end for easier insertion and the slicing action of the curved sides as you lep' on the shoulders make for easier work and you take out more with each fill. It is 5ft. long overall with a stout ash handle which saves bending as you can lift the load by using your knee as a fulcrum. The short English spade is a device designed to break the backs of subject peoples. A terrible tool.

Oh yes, it comes without a tread or step which can be ruinous to the boot so buy a spring clip and tap it on to suit your digging foot. 'He digs with the other foot' is the code for Protestant or Catholic as apparently there was this difference in country districts long ago. Even though I'm naturally left-footed I find it awkward digging with that foot. Recalcitrant Papist!


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

(From Death of a Naturalist)