Friday, 28 September 2012

The Jew in Literary Fiction

In most literary fiction prior to the Hitler war the stock characterisation of the Jew is the Jew as bounder. It’s ‘bizness’ as usual. I can think of only Rebecca West in her book The Fountain Overflows who portrays a Jew who helps the family that has lapsed into poverty due to a feckless Irish Father. A gross offender would be George Du Maurier in Trilby a frothy, sentimental, deft and witty book published around about the time of the Drefus case. Svengali. We are introduced to him in this manner:

First, a tall, bony individual of any age between thirty and forty-five, of Jewish aspect, well-featured but sinister. He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red béret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears on to hisshoulders, in that musicianlike way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long, heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black which grew almost from his under eyelids; and over it his mustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists. He went by the name of Svengali, and spoke fluent French with a German accent, and humorous German twists and idioms, and his voice was very thin and mean and harsh, and often broke into a disagreeable falsetto.

He is a marvelous pianist up to point of extreme facility but lacking the qualities of soul adequate to Beethoven. He has a poor singing voice but a great appreciation of the art and a desire to find a talented singer that he could train and accompany. He thinks he has found one:

Svengali had heard her sing at the Brasserie des Porcherons in the Rue du Crapaud-volant, and had volunteered to teach her; and she went to see him in his garret, and he played to her, and leered and ogled, and flashed his bold, black, beady Jew's eyes into hers, and she straightway mentally prostrated herself in reverence and adoration before this dazzling specimen of her race.
So that her sordid, mercenary little gutter-draggled soul was filled with the sight and the sound of him, as of a lordly, godlike, shawm-playing, cymbal-banging hero and prophet of the Lord God of Israel—David and Saul in one!

Svengali has entered the language as any mesmeric manipulator of his fascinated creature.

Graham Greene in his entertainment Stamboul Train (1932) draws on reserves of suburban prejudice in his portrayal of a Jewish currant merchant, Myatt on his way to a sharp and treacherous deal in the dried fruit trade. To quote would be to eviscerate the book. Greene’s entertainments mostly fail in my view, the usual doom and guilt that is his USP a faltering wistfulness and snobbery. I haven’t seen the film they made of it but I believe that Myatt is more sympathetically portrayed than in the book.

Now that the Jew is out of bounds the literary intelligentsia have only the Muslim to play with. It was ironic to see Netanyahu’s sinister clowning at the U.N. with a bomb that we last saw being held by a cartoon anarchist. Behind the anarchist, a simple goodhearted fellow, was a hook-nosed Svengali with a similarly shaped object, a bag of gold.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Victory Roll and Folding Body Press

Philosophers are a troublesome lot who are very keen on principles that are to be followed through in a very thoroughgoing way. It does tend to turn difficult ethical issues into a form of algebra. For them, once a principle has been established then not following through on it is simply incoherent. Not for them the havering and dithering of the 'profanum vulgus' which they keep at a distance. The ignuus fatuus that they forever chase across the quaking empirical bog or indeed blog is the knockdown argument, the 'folding body press and victory roll' of freestyle intellectual wrestling. It is beloved of the young male of the species and if you wonder why more women aren't involved in academic philosophy this might be the reason. I see it as the equivalent of the 'good manly tackle' in Gaelic football that induces temporary concussion.

In a recent discussion on abortion that I participated in before I was silenced and following my sequestration in moderation a woman professional philosopher remarked that there was no room in this debate for someone who thought the fetus was central to the issue. Do you see the principle?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Bostonians by Henry James

Ransom as a Southerner it may be said has a particular perspective on Northern righteousness. He has the experience of how retrospective justification of the war between the states/civil war was based on the emancipation of the slaves rather than a resistance to the constitutional break up of the union. Likewise we looking at The Bostonians may succumb to anachronism damming Ransom as a male chauvinist or seeing the busy lady burghers of Boston as same new same new to alter a phrase. It would be easy to do as the New Age elements are all there. We reach back and decorate the rooms with our own palette forgetting that there are shadows our thin beams will never dissapate. Take the theme of passionate friendships. Perhaps Henry James himself uncertain of where he stood brings a deliberate ambiguity into play and raises doubts where there would have been none. Verena Tarrant is certainly an innocent, in filly terms, inspiration out of claptrap and fraud. James is more circumspect than this but his continuous sly acerbities contra the American religion, prosperity gospel and flagrant boosterism gave rise to a cool reception of the novel from his compatriots. The target audience had an uncomfortable feeling that their aims were being mocked. There’s a sniffy review from The Atlantic of 1876 by Horace Elisha Scudder.
scudder review
The Horace Elisha seems a perfect combination of the classical and Hebraic in Arnoldian terms.

A. S. Byatt in a short essay published in the Guardian pencils in the background of high mindedness , New Thought and Old Money that obtained in the James family.
Byatt Essay

Verena is based on the woman Byatt calls Cora Tappen who was married for a while to the famous Samuel F. Tappen. Wikipedia has an article on her cora

A much fuller treatment and perceptive analysis of the milieu which bubbled like a cauldron in James’ day is detailed in Hatch wonder girl
(Cora was married 4 times and as Hatch was the first and most famous husband himself a mesmerist, she is generally known in the literature as Cora Hatch. He was also a Dr. like Dr. Tarrent.)

In mediumistic terms both Olive and Basil want to control Verena. Olive is a Chancellor of the Exchequer and Basil a would be the king. When one looks at the Cora Hatch phenomenon Ransome’s views are less antipathetic than we might from a modern day perspective suppose them to be. He sees a beautiful, clever young girl whose talent for impromptu speechifying is to be used in the service of dubious ideology.

The more Olive learnt of her visitor's life the more she wanted to enter into it, the more it took her out of herself. Such strange lives are led in America, she always knew that; but this was queerer than anything she had dreamed of, and the queerest part was that the girl herself didn't appear to think it queer. She had been nursed in darkened rooms, and suckled in the midst of manifestations; she had begun to "attend lectures," as she said, when she was quite an infant, because her mother had no one to leave her with at home. She had sat on the knees of somnambulists, and had been passed from hand to hand by trance-speakers; she was familiar with every kind of "cure," and had grown up among lady-editors of newspapers advocating new religions, and people who disapproved of the marriage-tie. Verena talked of the marriage-tie as she would have talked of the last novel—as if she had heard it as frequently discussed; and at certain times, listening to the answers she made to her questions, Olive Chancellor closed her eyes in the manner of a person waiting till giddiness passed. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Identity and Upadhi

There’s an interesting contrast between the western metaphysicians who have considered the problem of identity and the Eastern sages for whom it was a lifetime quest. The who-am-I inquiry for Ramana Maharshi is made into the purpose of life whilst for Lewis or Parfitt it seems just another topic to be made interesting by the devising of science fiction scenarios to stress test their concepts. The level of seriousness or engagement seems trifling in comparison and it may be significant that when the Western metaphysician turns to the East for inspiration it is Buddhism of a nihilist cast that captures his attention.

The problem of personal identity is fraught by circularity because it cannot be isolated and therefore it creeps into our definition of it through insidious assumptions. Without ruling out the consideration of identity over time, its persistence and whether the understanding of that persistence is fraught by a facile analysis the sages preferred to remain in the present moment in which each state, if indeed a state, is saturated by I-ness or that experience of self-identity which is ‘kuthasta’- solid as an anvil. The feeling is, that if this experience is understood then the problem of its continuity over a series of point instants will be dissolved.

What that understanding means in the advaitic tradition is not a breaking down of a problem into its elements and seeing how they all fit together it is more a sinking down into, and a complete feeling of, the reality of the intuition of self-identity.

Mental Modifications:(from Upadesasahasri by Shankaracarya)
The teacher said to him,"your doubt is not justifiable, for you,
the Self, are proved to be free from change, and therefore perpetually
the same on the ground that all the modifications of the mind are
(simultaneously) known by you. You regard this knowledge of all the
modifications which is the reason for the above inference as that for
your doubt. If you were changeful like the mind or the senses (which
pervade their objects one after another), you would not simultaneously know all the mental modifications, the objects of your knowledge. Nor are you aware of a portion only of the objects of your knowledge (at a time). You are, therefore, absolutely changeless."

At the same time the sage Ramana is willing to have Lewisian fun with his devotees:

In Talks with Ramana Maharshi the paradox is clearly stated:
Devotee: There was the case of the boy who was seven years old. "He recalls his past births. Enquiries show that the previous body was given up 10 months ago. The question now arises how the matter stood for 6 years and 2 months previous to the death of the former body. Did the soul occupy two bodies at the same time?
Sri Bhagavan pointed out that the seven years is according to the boy; 10 months is according to the observer. The difference is due to these two different upadhis. The boy's experience extending to seven years has been calculated by the observer to cover only 10 months of his own time."

The upadhis are different. But what is an upadhi? Various analogies are given but for Ramana’s purposes we can generalise. Everything that exists as an individual does so as an upadhi/limiting adjunct/form of limitation. It is a manifestation of pure being as that individual thing. The individual mind for instance is an upadhi of pure consciousness. Spacetime is also an upadhi and of course the individuals within this continuum appear under its dispensation. When that dispensation is altered or abated, when physical bodies no longer have the same power or presence, then the particular upadhis of body and mind i.e. the Jiva/Person are also altered and the rules of the normal spacetime continuum and sequence change. Thus “the upadhis are different”.

Because there is serious involvement with the problem then the fun has the capacity to throw new facets into view. Paradoxoi and aporiai come when identity is stretched over a period of time. Is that significant?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Suspicious Minds

I blame Wittgenstein with his Philosophical Investigations for bringing forensic language games into philosophy. The 'I suspect' trope has become global. None of those that use it should join the police force should the world of philosophical employment prove inhospitable. For them suspicion is guilt. Perhaps they mean a Theory of Interest (TOI).

In suspicionI discussed this.

Where does it come from? It is hard not to avoid the 'suspicion' that they are following like Tinbergen's ducklings the great bearded Prof., first sighted as they emerged from the philosophic egg.

POI (Western Australia Police)
Person of interest. A POI is a person who has come into the scope of an investigation in some way, or may have information relevant to assisting an investigation. A person of interest is NOT necessarily a suspect.

The unmarked pronoun 'he' in philosophical papers is now being replaced by 'she' which is a sort of role reversal. In fifty years time editors will have little footnotes saying 'I have replaced 'he' for 'she' when it is an unmarked pronoun as being less confusing to modern readers. cf.golden cobra

'Egregious' in the present American usage cuts itself adrift from its etymological moorings 'ex' 'grex' that is to say out from the flock. 'Egregious' on its own does not refer to what flock it stands out from. Egregiously foolish, an egregious error. On its own 'egregious' leaves us wondering what flock. Curious that in Latin 'egregius' means excellent or eminent and that it has in the American free standing form become pejorative as in the linked form generally also.

Monday, 10 September 2012

More on Parade's End the B.B.C. dramatisation

My wife and I have been watching Parade's End on the B.B.C. She hasn't read the books so her opinion of it is not deflected by the halo effect. She thinks it's a hopeless muddle and not likely to send many to read the book. I am coming to agree. A major cause of my dissatisfaction is the altering of the character of Sylvia to make her more sympathetic. That just isn't in the books and it wouldn't surprise me if HBO who are partners in the effort had a hand in it. Lest you think that a reading of her egregious misandry is my own projection, this blog on the tetralogy by a woman
parade's end
concurs in her estimation of Tietjens demon wife.

Two more episodes to go. The production values are top-notch. Quite!

Modal Wars

Being a snob I regard most s.f. as science porn. Why would one prefer gruel when there are proper vittles to be had unless of course you have no teeth. I am reading The Bostonians by Henry James at the moment. It's about Planet Boston in the 1870's which is under threat from an asteroid called New York. This is during the First Galactic Woman Question War. Trains run from Boston to New York so that makes it perhaps an example of the sub-genre knows as steam punk.

I see that in America Republicans are trying to humanise Mitt Romney. They feel that he is a changeling. I can now reveal that he has Smiths scrying stone and the white hat and what he sees when he achieves a trance state is buried treasure.
scryingseer stones in Mormonism
Perhaps that trance state is his natural condition? Who is the evil Blonde Woman that always accompanies him? I'm worried.

Really Obama is the Changeling and for him every Tuesday is a Super Tuesday with a real death panel. Slayer of Jihadis, O Great One. Why are they called drones when they are so busy? This is a modal war: a known and proven liar against a probable one.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Book of Authors by William Clark Russell

What you can find in Charlie Byrne’s. The Book of Authors by W. Clark Russell(1844 - 1911). In beautiful copperplate the original owner has written his name: J.B. Hudson March 15th. 1879. Many of the pages are uncut and my switchblade is the perfect cutter, its long narrow wedge shaped blade slicing without tearing.

The book consists entirely of the comments of authors on other authors and is a fund of acerbic deprecation, encomia, mockery and persiflage.

Some are drawn from a merciful obscurity to be given a verbal drubbing. Elkanah Settle (1648 - 1742) is thus described by Dryden.

He’s an animal of a most deplored understanding, without reading and conversation. His being is in a twilight of sense and some glimmering of thought which he never can fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn, his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and ill sounding. The little talent which he has is fancy. He sometimes labours with a thought; but with the pudder he makes to bring it into the world, ‘tis comonly still-born; so that for want of learning and elocution he will never be able to express anything either naturally or justly.

They did not get on. He likewise took a dim view of Jeremy Collier (1650 - 1726):

I will not say, the zeal of God’s house has eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good manners and civility.

I openly admit that I never had heard of William Clark Russell till I came across this book but Wikipedia
William Clark Russelltells me that he was very popular in his lifetime and that his novel The Wreck of The Grosvenor was read right into the middle of the last century. It’s there on his Internet Archive
W.C.Russellcollection along with The Book of Authors.

The Wreck of the Grosvenor seems a nice tidy seafaring yarn, nothing to worry Conrad but workmanlike.
The interior of the cabin looked like some old Dutch painting, for the plain mahogany wood-work gave the place an antique air. The lamps were alight, for it was dusk here, though daylight was still abroad upon the sea; and the lamplight imparted a grave, old-fashioned coloring to the things it shone upon. The skipper sat near the mizzen-mast, stirring the sugar in a cup of tea. He looked better without than with his hat; his forehead was high, though rather peaked, and his iron-gray hair, parted amidships and brushed carelessly over his ears, gave him a look of dignityi The coarse little pilot was eating bread and butter voraciously, his great whiskers moving as he worked his jaws.

Mouldy ship’s biscuit, foul tea and stinking pork have started the men muttering. The chief mate is a bully. Now read on.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Dead by James Joyce

You will be told that the short story depends on the pivotal event; ‘something happens as a result of which everything changes’ is the expression that has lodged in my memory and is therefore probably false but it’s near enough to the intent and to its contrary which is that the Irish short story is one in which nothing happens as a result of which nothing is changed. .  That’s true enough to be significantly false.  Just being written of in that close allusive familial world of the Irish who live in a small country that is constantly being written about draws  into the light familiar mysteries.

Now you’ve said it’.
'Amn’t I tellin’ ya’.

Have you noticed how many doors there are in the Morkan residence on Usher’s Quay?  I count 24. They are both portals and vistas.   We are invited to look from one room into the other.  Gabriel Conroy is both aloof and locked out and in the end when he crosses the river to his hotel there is an acceptance of the ultimate limen, that bourne from which no traveller returns.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

There are subtle changes in the authorial voice which drop like filters over a spotlight.  It is at first clichéd and familiar.  Individuality is smoothed out till what is left is a tone of voice, an intonation and an emphasis that is of the family and the class.

LILY, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. ...... It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also......That was a good thirty years ago if it was a day.

This is your old comfortable aunt speaking.  The Morkan sisters Kate and Julia are firm women like herself.

They were fussy, that was all. But the only thing they would not stand was back answers.
But Julia is failing a little:
Though she was stout in build and stood erect, her slow eyes and parted lips gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going. 

You can see that we are invited to complete the cliche - where she was or where she was going is just near enough to - she didn’t know whether she was coming or going; a usage that is often accompanied by a tug with both hands on the lapels of a cardigan. Psychic self-assembly how are you!

I was amused to read in the latest L.R.B. about cool Lady Chat who crept out of the abode of her husband in her sneakers that were soled with latex in its natural unvulcanised state. cf. Lady Chatterly’s Sneakers by David Trotter. Gabriel Conroy has got for his wife
galoshes which as may be expected have little downstram erotic benefit:

"And what are goloshes, Gabriel?"
"Goloshes, Julia!" exclaimed her sister "Goodness me, don't you know what goloshes are? You wear them over your... over your boots, Gretta, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Conroy. "Guttapercha things. We both have a pair now. Gabriel says everyone wears them on the Continent."
"O, on the Continent," murmured Aunt Julia, nodding her head slowly.

There is more flourish in the introduction to Gabriel Conroy:

The high colour of his cheeks pushed upwards even to his forehead, where it scattered itself in a few formless patches of pale red; and on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes.

He waits outside the door of the drawing room and also culturally outside:

He waited outside the drawing-room door until the waltz should finish, listening to the skirts that swept against it and to the shuffling of feet. He was still discomposed by the girl's bitter and sudden retort. It had cast a gloom over him which he tried to dispel by arranging his cuffs and the bows of his tie. He then took from his waistcoat pocket a little paper and glanced at the headings he had made for his speech. He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers.

He is also locked out from the cult of Gaelic culture represented by Miss Ivors looking as he does towards London and the continent for his culture and his absurd footware. He turns down Miss Ivors invitation to join her in a trip to the Aran Isles. Gretta his wife would like to go and later when he learns the reason she is crying he suspects that she wants to see the boy that loved her once again. But he is dead and it was just a song that he used to sing, The Lass of Aughrim

The precise and exact modulation of the diction from the clichéd familiar to the elevated is accomplished by 'that queer thing, genius’. Like a conductor Joyce evokes the grand themes not with the irruption of bad art but with an absorption into the music itself.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.