Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

I’ve seen it denied that this is a ghost story. That makes nonsense of so much of the internal evidence that I can only interpret it as a rationalist attempt to shrink the data to fit a view that of course there are no such things as hauntings or possession. James himself as outlined in the opening quote above makes a conscious decision to contain the attempt at combating the evil force of Quint and Jessel within the personal power of the Governess. Why was an exorcist not used? The service of exorcism is available within the Anglican Liturgy and even in modern times people have recourse to it. James may have been personally sceptical but being early exposed to the teachings of Swedenborg through the medium of his father, as it were, was well aware of the arsenal of spiritual combat. Why the daughter of a Vicar would not call in the service of a priest of the church that is within walking distance is a mystery but it makes for a more dramatic tussle for the souls of Flora and Miles.

James is a master of voice and he can perfectly render the pluck of a girl who
unlike the other applicants for the job that declined the extra money and the onerous conditions, plunged on. She is never to bother her employer and she is to take the full responsibility for the children. She is on her own which is I suppose a psychological rationale for the curious containment of the struggle.
I proffered the idea that James may have created a slightly unrealistic scenario in which a vicar’s daughter does not seek the aid of an exorcist to combat the forces of evil but is not her isolation a part of the predator’s strategy: Like a pair of wolves Peter Quint and Miss Jessel cut out the Governess who is disabled by the conditions of her employment. Is this not a recurrent theme in the novels of James, a young woman cut out of the herd by a wolf couple for their prey? That these predators are, for the moment, discarnate makes her cornering apparently inevitable for how can you fight invisible evil? Somehow by her pure love of the children she can enter into their sensibility, see for herself, not be overcome, and retain her freedom to forestall. She has the care of their souls and it is never absolutely certain whether she will prevail.

But does she?

Addendum: 1/11/12
The connection between the Bensons and James is further established by the fact that The Turn of the Screw story had its genesis in an anecdote told by Benson Pere, the Archbishop of Canterbury to James in 1895. As related above in my post on Expiation E.F. Benson aka 'Fred’ took up the lease of Lamb House after the death of James.

Having purposely not read anything about the anti-apparitionist school of criticism in relation to the story I remedied that deficit by a perusal of the rather complete history of the critical reception of the story from the earliest times at turnofthescrew.com
Edmund Wilson it was that famously Freudianized the interpretation ingeniously subverting in a determined manner the plot and James’s intentions. Others have followed him into that labyrinth and having lost the clew remain trapped. I wonder if it is possible for the noonday mind to enter into a true reading of stories which involve limens, portals and parallel realities. I trail my ectoplasmic coat.

‘So get thee gone Von Wilson but with a blessing on thy head’. I have a copy here by me of Memoirs of Hecate County which I read some years ago but as a public service I will read Ellen Terhune again and see whether it is worthy of the haunted house seal of approval or drops into a bucket of whimsy.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Newman and the Gnu Atheists, Garraghan's Prose Types in Newman

I never knew until I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that rhetoric was studied in American universities. It appears that there was a hiatus in its study for about 40 years until the explosion in college education in the 60‘s. Now you can even do a Phd. in it, doubtless swimming in turbid theory.

I’m looking at a book which I got for €1 called Prose Types in Newman by Gilbert J. Garraghan S.J. which draws on various extracts from Newman’s writings to illustrate the elements of Rhetoric. It was published in 1916 and the author is identified as a teacher at St.Louis University.

I bought the book because I am a great admirer of what James Joyce called Newman’s ‘supple periodic prose’ a balance for the crisp definitions of the Penny Catechism
Q: What is presumption?
A: A foolish expectation of salvation without making use of the means necessary to obtain it.

The selections by Fr. Garraghan cover the topics of Narration, Description, Exposition, Argumentation and Persuasion. In the back of the book he lays out Topical Analyses:
Narration he breaks down into its
(2) Place,
(3) Plot,
(4)Character (dialogue)

II :Structure
(1) Unity - relevance of details
(2) Coherence - arrangement for order
(3) Emphasis - arrangement for effect
(a) A beginning to interest
(b) Suspense
(c) Climax

III. Style: vividness (picturesqueness, animation, movement, force) the typical quality.

So he goes on breaking down the Topics of Description &c.

I find it all very interesting laying out the cogs, racks and pinions and springs but I am not convinced that such close analysis is safe. The patient may not survive the operation. An intuitive cultivation of style through a constant reading of good prose may in the end be more effective. I have the same reservation about the French passion for explication de texte.

In secondary school we had books of essays which were part of the curriculum. Johnson, Steele, Addison, Belloc, Chesterton, Hazlitt, Lamb etc., All the classic masters of good style were simply read without dissection. I can’t lay my hands on Senior Prose at the moment. I think that this extract from The Idea of a University was in it under the title The Definition of a Gentleman. It can be found at

Here is an extract that the gnu atheist hobbledehoys might take to heart:

If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honours the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. He is of religious toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to look on all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness and effeminacy of feeling, which is the attendant on civilization.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Jolly Corner by Henry James

Obviously the ghost story was a nice little earner. No one was too proud to pick up the spectral shilling. Henry James, Edith Wharton, George Eliot, The Benson Boys all condescended. My reading today was James’s The Jolly Corner which is very good on every level, metaphysical indeed in both the vulgar and the special sense.

In his marvellously controlled sidling manner of indirection by precision and elaboration James constructs the portrait of a man intent on grasping his alternate might have been self.

Spencer Brydon recognised it—it was in fact what he had absolutely professed.  Yet he importantly qualified.  “He isn’t myself.  He’s the just so totally other person.  But I do want to see him,” he added.  “And I can.  And I shall.”

There is danger in meeting that stayed behind who may be the dark other and less than other. It is called by the Tibetan yogis a tulpa and of course the adepts can control this manifestation and concretisation of their own power. The hero of James’s story calls up or tries to call up by a constant revisiting of the house and a wandering through its dark passages always leaving the doors that communicate between the rooms open. It is a mark of this symbolic and practical detail that it operates at a subliminal level.

As related by Alexandra David-Neel in her book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet these tulpas have been known to elude the control of their creator and take an independent and rebellious life.

She writes:
However, the practice is considered as fraught with danger for every one who has not reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment and is not fully aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process.

Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control. This, say Tibetan occultists, happens nearly mechanically, just as the child, when his body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother's womb. Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one heahears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.

That the form may exist in the subtle plane is shown by his friend Miss Staverton’s experience of him in two dreams.
“I’ve seen him in a dream
Oh a ‘dream’—!”  It let him down.
“But twice over,” she continued.  “I saw him as I see you now.”

This intrigues Bryden but before he can absorb the delicious effect of his being dreamed of they part and the next chapter opens in which he begins to stalk the resident of the old house. What is he trying to catch? No more and no less than the Ka that is locked up in the tomb of the past.

 His alter ego “walked”—that was the note of his image of him, while his image of his motive for his own odd pastime was the desire to waylay him and meet him.

The hunt or haunt is on and it is a success:
On his return that night—the night succeeding his last intermission—he stood in the hall and looked up the staircase with a certainty more intimate than any he had yet known.  “He’s there, at the top, and waiting—not, as in general, falling back for disappearance.  He’s holding his ground, and it’s the first time—which is a proof, isn’t it? that something has happened for him.”

James’s special gifts of circling allusiveness, of vague palping of reality are especially suitable to this sort of tale. It is amongst his best writing.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Looper the movie

This is going to be a negative review.
I normally love time travel films, the paradoxoi that they generate are meat and drink to me. Millenium (director Michael Anderson) from 1989 with Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Lad and Daniel Travanti was an intelligent closely plotted examination of all the space/time perturbations and timequakes that can happen with unwonted interchange. It's worth having a look at

Millenium complete

12 Monkeys (director Terry Gilliam) starring Bruce Willis, Madelaine Stowe, Christopher Plummer and David Morse was an excellent film also with its own attention to paradox. How do you change the past to alter the future, the very future from which you operate? Millenium recognises this in all its complexity but 12 Monkeys has Bruce Willis contemporaneous with his younger self. Can that be a good thing? It's a great picture.

Loopers is a mess designed like most films from Hollywood at the moment for boys between 15 and 22. The women in it are either whores or a madonna with a potty mouth. That goes with the demographic. Noisy, stupid, confused. Bruce Willis is implicated alas and Gordon-Levitt with curious make-up and an incipient smirk like Bruce the Younger. Not possible without reconstructive surgery.

Not a timequake, more of s fart in a biscuit tin.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


But what are ghost stories to Brother Data with his ‘rational beliefs, reasonably held’? Can he move away for a brief holiday from the ‘space of reasons’? I suggest, probably not, that would be too uncanny. Brother Data remains strictly tied to a natural world bounded by naturalist type explanations. The idea that there might be an anomalous residuum is one which bounces off his deflector shield and clearly for the transporter to beam wraiths and spooks it would have to be switched off momentarily. An overriding of the frequency as one moves too close to Umbriel the dark moon of Uranus might allow penetration. It’s a theoretical possibility that there might be haunted sectors of the Cosmos subject to advanced disorder. Here your bright certainties are gloomed.
Umbriel by NASA

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Expiation by E.F. Benson

What E.F. Benson does is to involve you with his story by drawing in other witnesses of whatever was uncanny so that it is not a matter of subjective vapouring on the part of a single consciousness. Theories are offered which bring events that are supernatural into the sphere of the natural properly understood.

"Don’t you think that great emotion like that of Mrs. Hearne’s may make some sort of record”, he asked, “so that if the needle of some sensitive temperament comes in contact with it, a reproduction takes place? And it is the same, perhaps, about that poor fellow who hanged himself. One can hardly believe that his spirit is bound to visit and revisit the scene of his follies and his crimes year by year.”
“Year by year?” I asked.
“Apparently. I saw him myself last year, Mrs. Criddle did also.”
He got up.
“How can one tell?” he said. “Expiation, perhaps. Who knows?”

Expiation is the title of his story and it is about the events that occur during the holiday in Cornwall of two friends who have rented a cottage there..
It is all very beautiful but with an atmosphere that unsettles. One man is a doctor who specialises in nervous diseases the other the writer who is telling the tale. Both of them have had the experience of strange glimpses of another plane where an event continues to happen, a sort of supernatural cliche.

The Doctor explains:
”Look at that moth,” he said, “and even while you look at it it has gone like a ghost, even as like a ghost it appeared. Light made it visible. And there are other sorts of light, interior psychical light which similarly makes visible the beings which people the darkness of our blindness.

I like a resident expert in these tales, the Van Helsing in the form of Dr. Stephen who though called away to authorise an operation, trepanning I’ll warrant, has this advice for the narrator.

Meantime, do observe very carefully, and whatever you do, don’t make a theory. Darwin says somewhere that you can’t observe without a theory; but to make a theory is a great danger to an observer. It can’t help influencing your imagination; you tend to see or hear what falls in with your hypothesis. So just observe; be as mechanical as a phonograph and a photographic lens.
I found this story in one of those compendiums that are a relic of sea voyages and ship’s libraries - A Century of Ghost Stories It’s from his collection Spook Stories. Gutenberg of Canada have a copy:
Spook Stories

I have a note here about the remarkable Bensons:meet the Bensons

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Regal President

Looking at the American electoral system it’s easy to see it as a version of monarchy with the President as King George choosing his cabinet out of his backers and a handful of loyal Dukes, Kennedys and Clintons and the like. There are elements of benign despotism as well and the disputation of theologians holding that what the King does is right because him doing it makes it so. He, the President, is the Commander in Chief. That’s definitely regal.

Then there is the jousting of verbal combat between the King and his challenger. Let the tourney commence.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Is there anybody there? Atomjack is that you?

If you try to get in the front door of fusionanomaly.net your Java will be baffled. You’re better off going round the side entities
or trying a window. Where is Atomjack now? Has he been reduced to information and updated into a new vehicle? We shall never know but it doesn’t matter, the nodes remain endlessly fibrillating.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

This was her third novel (pub.1947) and one can see in it a willingness to expand her scope from the more restricted settings of the two previous. That would be one way of looking at it, imagining that more characters means more work, more narrative, more dialogue, more authorial business. On reflection though I now consider that it may have been easier to write because she is a natural fabulist and can conjure up stories in a trice like a modern scheherazade. More is less in this case.

In its way it is quite a narrative painting with visuals being provided by the hobby painter Bertram Hemingway a character of uncertain sexuality who is a retired naval officer on half pay. Out of this backdrop come all the characters that appear in the novel.

He drew in the buildings in squares and oblongs -the large stone house at one end of the row, the pub, the Mimosa Fish Cafe, the second-hand clothes shop, the Fun Fair, the Seamen’s Mission, the Waxworks, the lifeboat house.

Bertram notices things and has a way of insinuating himself into the lives of the rest of the cast of characters, Tara Foyle beautiful divorcee, Lily Wilson propritoress of the waxworks, lonely young war widow, fruity bed ridden scabrous Mrs. Brace of the clothes shop, Dr.Robert Cazabon and his wife Beth the published novelist who always has a book on the stocks, their two daughters Prudence and Stevie. Prudence by the way is described as having a Trilby fringe which goes to show how long that book stuck in the minds of the Great British Public. Tara and Beth are old school friends, their houses are next to each other and they drop in and out borrowing cups of sugar, mustard and sympathy. Tara and Dr.Robert have a spiky relationship but just now Jane Austen gave me a sharp elbow. Bertram befriends all the ladies in the cast, and is sympathetic, flattering and bracing but knows himself apt to vanish from people’s lives.

Bertram was worried about his shirts. He liked to rough it and to mingle, just as he did this evening, with men who wore coarse jerseys and smelt of fish and tobacco, as long as he could be sure of a drawerful of what is called dazzling white linen somewhere off-stage, something he could return to when he made his exit.

Tory is giving an omelette to Bertram:
When she cut the omelette in half grey mushrooms fell out. It was delicious he though, but not enough. Women never give one enough to eat, he decided, taking more bread. God know why men marry any of them.

When the energy that can be contained within a short book of 254 pages is spread over so many characters what is achieved is panoptic rather than focussed. It has its local intensities but like Mother said ‘divide small and serve all’. Some of the interchanges between Dr. Robert and Tara (Victoria) have the overwrought feeling of that film of the era Brief Encounter 1945. Even that prissy locution ‘I don’t know, I’m sure’ used in the film is used by Maisie the daughter of Mrs. Bracey. This latter offers the author many opportunities for low comedy. Bertram in his fretful search for dazzling white cuffs brings his shirts to the shop for the daughter to do. When he meets the bedridden Mrs. Bracey they recognise each other as forces:

His eyes went at once to Mrs Bracey and hers to him, as if each recognized in the other something above the stature of curates, charladies and young women. ‘Beauty in vile ugliness,’ he told himself, imagining he looked at her with the eyes of Rembrandt.

Bertram in his way is the ambulant form of Mrs Bracey and by way of acknowledging this he takes part in her death watch. He does this with great firmness but at the same time he does not go to the funeral as he feels that this would be imposing. This is the sort of observation that Taylor does so well.

There is fun and games with the donning of the female armour of the day, the corset.

’Persevere’ said Tory.
She sat on the fuschia-coloured sofa in her bedroom window and watched the sea.
‘I can’t,’ Beth gasped, trying to tuck great bunches of flesh into the corset.
‘If I can, you can,’ Tory said calmly.

Mrs Bracey watches as Mrs Flitcroft the Cazabon’s charlady tries on a corset only hoping that the curate Mr. Lidiard who is expected will arrive in the middle of it:
’Tighter, dear, I like to feel something in the small of my back.’

Such are the indignities that flesh is heir to. Mr. Lidiard does come in before Mrs Flitcroft is quite ready and what Mrs Bracey says to him you must read it to find out. Oh, all right so:
There’s Mrs Flitcroft’s cardigan. 'Take it out to her,’ said her mother. 'She’s putting on her drawers in the wash-house,’ she explained to Mr. Lidiard.
'Oh, yes,’ He seemed to take for granted that this should be, refusing to let her ruffle him or surprise him.

But what do you make of the last paragraph if you read it? Strange irony perhaps?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

How the East was Won

As he rolled into the estate which was still being built, on the fresh air of a fine day with the window down, the slagging of the builder’s men carried.
Run for gold sunshine (a woman passed), turnips.
Mangolds, the digger man shouted back.

It was Friday, no one would be working back, they were all in good humour. He had slipped away early form the Department of Social Welfare where he worked as a Junior Ex. There all the section heads were in a tizzy, a new minister and it seemed that all the lines of power and of influence the interlaced webs of sycophancy and animosity, would be swept away. They would be shifted around and like hermit crabs moved to a distant bay or tank have to discover a new moon’s pull on those tides of nuance.

God, it was good to get away from all that. He was driving slowly, the road was only a rough scrape with the digger, and stray blocks fallen off the dumper were a hazard. Their house was the last but one of the just finished section and it was still just that, a house, a month’s occupancy gave them no emotional title to home. This weekend I’m going to tackle the garden, Donal thought, put smacht on it.

Maggie, he called as he let himself in.

The name hopped tentatively off the bare walls and uncarpeted floor. A good shoulder and you could be in the next door’s living room. There was no one there as yet. Soon, soon the new settlers will arrive bringing civilisation to the wilderness. He savoured the pioneering spirit and muttered to himself in an ‘oldtimer’ voice, ‘Son, when the railroad comes to Maynooth everything gonna’ change round here real fast.’ Where’s my woman?

Maggie was putting out the clothes at the carousel line, trousers streaming in the breeze, legs on a chairaplane. Her hands dipped into the pooch of her apron after pegs. He leant over her bump, rising higher. The brown hair tied back into a tail he flicked.

- Hup, hup said Donal.
- How’s the great world out there?
- Hush puppies rule, is that all right! And the passenger, any sign of heshe getting off?
- Heshe fairly kicked this afternoon.

Her bag was packed and she was read though splashdown was three weeks away yet.

- It’s so long, I’m fed up waiting.
- Lucky, you’re not an elephant.

He thought to himself, when something is going on for so long it’s hard to keep up the tension. He saw the garden and his desk-bound back developed premonitory twinges. What was there in the little average space was half blocks, bricks, plaster bags (some quarter full and rock hard) lumps of concrete left over from path making, polythene sheeting, Styrofoam, broken planks and plywood flats. Clay subsoil of khaki daub.

- Listen, honey, this weekend I’m gonna turn this wilderness into civilisation and make it fit for white folks.
- O.K. pardner, the heck you will. You’re having beans for dinner tonight, John Wayne is on the box.
- Great! I’d watch him forever.

Like many another man he looked at his wife across the dinner table and wondered, who is she and what is this contract that we have wished ourselves into? It starts out on a disco floor in Galway. She is walnut-tanned, slim sly hips and tastes salty. A holiday thing maybe, this is an August weekend. You feel the sand in your underwear and hear the waves splash in the afterwards silence. There is an exchange of numbers and she calls up and unlikely love starts. Happy times rising now to surface over the table and the curtains blowing back.

What do you talk about when you’re happy? They who had a gift for it, who were not afraid of a light emotion talked about their carpet which was to come.

- Even now Ishpahan, a bearded Persian robed and hatted like a magus in the crib approaches the carpet dealer Kelliji Pasha with the work of art which had blinded half the women of his village. Into it a legend of downtown shopping is woven, imbued with the power of flittering all the €50 notes in your wallet.
- Step aboard, says Maggie, this will transport you to undreamt of bourgeois splendour. There is room for 1.7 children and a small pet.
- This is another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, he said, rolling up his tie and letting it unroll again like Oliver Hardy.

This was a strong part of their courtship, the pictures. They loved popular films, and had a firm distaste for significance delivered with a hand-held camera. Maggie actually liked cowboys too. Donal remembered saying to her:
- You actually like cowboys, this isn’t just part of your strategy for entrapment.

They ate their dinner, quiche and salad. She said:
- After you wash up, come and give my back a rub.

She had magnificent shoulders and a nicely turned ankle. He liked what he saw.
- Yes, that’s good.

The neck arched and stretched out under his fingers that dug. He looked at his fingers objectively as they moved the humped muscles into an exaggeration of tension that produced its opposite.

- O.K., O.K., that’s good, she purred.
- Where is John Wayne tonight?
- At the Alamo.

Before that there was a minor skirmish with politico-economico pundits who were talking about unemployment. One rogue said that the recession was to be allowed to deepen , money would be cleared away into oil and speculation and factories closed to re-open with robots. Redundancy payments are cheaper than Trade Union aggro. The others, though they didn’t say so, thought this to be a paranoid scenario. The presented twinkled at the inherent drama of Irish life and the nice shades of confrontation that were warming up. Next week would be even better.

John Wayne’s task was simpler. Early in the picture he drove in the buckboard down to the river with his woman, lifting her out by the waist like she was a doll. Magnificent shoulders too. On the banks of the river, symbol of mutability, all things run, you never step into the same river twice; John gave his discourse on the code by which a man lives.

- I came down to Texas, didn’t know what to do. I stomped on a lot of men, been stomped on too. I knew that there were two things a man could do – the right thing and the wrong. Do the one and you’re livin’, do the other and you may be walkin’ round but you’re deader’n a beaver hat.

John died later in a welter of Mexicans.

- It’s easy to mock and gibe, in her no-but-seriously voice; at least in those days honour and valour weren’t notions, they were real..
- The knights of wild west and all that. Did any of them think that they would really die? Even myself, I expected that the 7th. Cavalry would turn up. John Wayne getting killed is not good for the motion picture industry. Let’s go to bed.

Up the stairs they went and as they passed by the door of the box room they looked in at the cot and the new wallpaper of teddy bears and dolls. They had discussed all in detail: no to a catenary of plastic bells, yes to a mobile of a shepherd with sheep dog, tussock, staff and rainbow. Heshe would be breastfed so the cot would be moved beside their own bed. The rainbow spun slowly in the draught of warm air up the stairs. The sheep moved under it and the shepherd by the wafted tussock.

Early in the morning someone called.

- Hello, I’m Jimmy O’Neill from the other side of the road.

Donal looked. He saw a 4-bedroom version of his own house with more elbow room round the sides. The man was about 50, an ambulant version of a well trimmed lawn, glassed in porch and herbaceous borders. A B.M.W. sat in the driveway, a bucket, hand mop and squeegee could be seen at the hubcaps which were gleaming. His accent was London – Dublin. Donal thought uncharitably – a returned empty.
- I hope you’re settling in all right Mr…..
- McDonagh.

They shook hands

- I’m just calling to see if would like to join the Community Association.
- No not at the moment thank you.

O’Neill was braked a bit hard at that but he recovered.

- Some of us have to band together to make sure that the estate gets finished, trees planted as in the plan and so forth, grass mowed and all that.

His eyes flicked towards the chaos of the front patch that was rutted deeply by an enthusiastic reversal. Good, good, thought Donal, by God Red Cloud, this means war.

- I’m just a bird of passage really, the new man next door might be interested, Opisa Fanguto is his name, ah but he mustn’t be in, his van isn’t there. He’s hardly ever there at the moment, he’s waiting for the rest of them to come over. Extended family and all that, you know the situation.

Easy, eassy, white man speak with forked tongue, O’Neill looked as if he might fall over the milk cartons. He said good morning and off he went to Hazeldeane or whatever it was.

Donal went for the paper. Reviews and coffee, racing on the box and oh, the garden. On his way back he saw the diggerman taking out a trench. He seemed to be on his own, probably ‘job and finish’ and get paid for a half day. Donal stopped, got out and walked over. He put up his index finger in a sign which was taken to mean ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’

Switching off and removing his ear muffs the driver said:
- Howya
- All right. Can you do a wee job on your break, lift out a few stones and rubble out of the back garden and scrape it level - €40 ?
- Sound, I’ll tell you what, you probably need a bit of top soil. I can drop a few yards on it, 6” on top, give the grass a chance to get going, give the grass a chance to get going, €100 the lot.
- Grand job, second from the end.
- I’ll be down in twenty minutes as soon as I have this done.

Around the side of the house the digger man came and sitting up on his jacks, began to swing out the long claw. All the rubbish was scooped out and the subsoil levelled and raked deeply with the bucket’s teeth.

- That’s it, said Donal, loosen it up, this is better than double digging.

After 20 minutes there wasn’t a trace of rubbish left in Donal’s garden. ‘Fanguto’ had a nice mound of it. They had a cup of tea in the kitchen after that and a chat about origins. He was a Meath man who’d started out as an agricultural contractor.

- This crowd is not too bad, the foreman is a cute hoor, he has all the top soil cornered from the foundations and he’s going to sell it off by the load. He won’t miss the few shovels, it’s yours anyway.

Several full heaped shovels from the mountain at the end of the site hardly made a dent in it. The foreman had lime scattered over the top of the pile to betray any gouges but the diggerman mashed up a hard lump from ‘Fanguto’s’ and showered it over the smoothed earth to cover his tracks.

€100 later Donal was left with 6” of sweet soil that needed but the rub of a rake to have it ready for sowing. On a wave of enthusiasm he went to the garden centre and bought grass seed, a single children’s packet of flower seed, peas, carrots, beetroot, lettuce and scallion seed. With a few strokes of a spade he made wide beds with little paths around them like his grandfather did. ‘Don’t ever walk on them beds’, he could hear the voice in his head. He saw now the ancient Adam kneeling on a sack, weeding with his fingers in the closely planted beds. He used to broadcast the carrots. I’ll try that.

By six, Donal, like a walking bracket, sat to his tea, the garden sown. In his inner movie he had a flash forward. It is July, a sunny Saturday, the grass is showing well bar a bare patch where he missed but the vegetables are thriving. Maggie is inside feeding P.J. Their new neighbour is working with a pick levering at a solid lump of concrete. He’ll get it out if it kills him. His name is Jack Ryan, originally from Ballina. Donal himself is watching him to rest his eyes, the sun on his paper is dazzling. Jack is aware of his viewer:
- Your garden is in grand order there. How did you do it?
- Green fingers, I guess.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Microcosmography or A Piece of the World Discovered in Essays & Characters by John Earle

I'm looking at a little book called Microcosmography or A Piece of the World Discovered in Essays & Characters by John Earle.
John Earle
I found it second hand years ago and I have to confess that I'd never heard of it. The splendid Gutenberg Project has a copy
To whet your appetite I offer this typical essay which might be subtitled A Caution to Bloggers and Moodlers-at-Large:

Is one that knows himself so well, that he does not know himself. Two excellent well-dones have undone him, and he is guilty of it that first commended him to madness. He is now become his own book, which he pores on continually, yet like a truant reader skips over the harsh places, and surveys only that which is pleasant. In the speculation of his own good parts, his eyes, like a drunkard's, see all double, and his fancy, like an old man's spectacles, make a great letter in a small print. He imagines every place where he comes his theater, and not a look stirring but his spectator; and conceives men's thoughts to be very idle, that is, [only] busy about him. His walk is still in the fashion of a march, and like his opinion unaccompanied, with his eyes most fixed upon his own person, or on others with reflection to himself. If he have done any thing that has past with applause, he is always re-acting it alone, and conceits the extasy his hearers were in at every period. His discourse is all positions and definitive decrees, with thus it must be and thus it is, and he will not humble his authority to prove it. His tenent is always singular and aloof from the vulgar as he can, from which you must not hope to wrest him. He has an excellent humour for an heretick, and in these days made the first Arminian. He prefers Ramus before Aristotle, and Paracelsus before Galen,[22] [and whosoever with most paradox is commended.] He much pities the world that has no more insight in his parts, when he is too well discovered even to this very thought. A flatterer is a dunce to him, for he can tell him nothing but what he knows before: and yet he loves him too, because he is like himself. Men are merciful to him, and let him alone, for if he be once driven from his humour, he is like two inward friends fallen out: his own bitter enemy and discontent presently makes a murder. In sum, he is a bladder blown up with wind, which the least flaw crushes to nothing.


[22] and Lipsius his hopping stile before either Tully or Quintilian. First edit.

Monday, 1 October 2012

My Inner Kant that oppresses me

Instead of thought experiments we should try thinking. Working my way back through the older posts of yeahokbutstill I find this observation:
One of the most banal and unsophisticated manoeuvres one can encounter in a modern philosophical discussion is the denial that a theory has to conform to "our intuitions".

"Yeah," someone says, "my theory has results that don't match common intuitions. So what? Who says that I have to cater to your intuitions?"

This move was born out of a certain frustration with mid-20th century "thought experiments" in philosophy, which purported to demonstrate the truth or falsity of some theory by reference to an outlandish thought experiment and to what "we" would "say" about it in light of the theory. To many, it became increasingly clear that this sort of strategy accomplished very little.
philosophical intuition
It used to be that philosophers' fables were rare and where offered were clearly of the nature of nose rings, the better to lead you, but now it seems that students are to be brow beaten for a response. The maieutic method is pressed to the delivery of intuitions. The idea is that if we are divorced from the pressure of the potentially actual we may begin to feel free to get in touch with our intuitions. My inner Kant that oppresses me may be exorcised.

I would be inclined to say that intuitions are direct and immediate responses to the varied situations that we find ourselves. I like to bring in here the notion usually associated with female intuition but not limiting it to that gender where the response is correct and wise without a laborious application of principle. It's as though out of a sufficient range of these responses we discover a principle. It is all rough ore and we extract the gold of principle from it rather than using the golden rule.

This is of course simple and naive. No doubt the gold standard of principle is used by philosophers who can find a good word to say about bestiality and infanticide. Shouldn’t that alert us to the wrongness of that sort of straight line thinking? It doesn’t seem to, at least amongst the majority of the philo-philisophico class.