Thursday, 31 October 2013

Shankara on Analogy (illustration)

Shankara's way with analogies (illustrations) has its contradictions but his starting position is that an analogy of its nature cannot be congruent with what it analogises.

Brahma Sutra Bhasya: III.ii.19, 20:

Opponent:The comparison with the reflection of the sun in water cannot be reasonably upheld her (in the case of the Self), since nothing like that is perceived (here). A material thing, such as water, is seen to be clearly separate from and remotely placed from the sun etc. which are themselves material entities (with forms). There it is proper that an image of the sun should be formed. But the Self is not such a material entity (having form); and since It is all-pervasive and non-different from all, It can have no limiting adjuncts either separate or remote from It. Hence this illustration is inapt:

Vedantin: The objection is being remedied:
On the contrary, this illustration is quite apt, inasmuch as the point sought to be illustrated is pertinent. For as between the illustration and the thing illustrated, nobody can show equality in every respect over and above some point of similarity in some way, which is sought to be represented. For if such an all-round similarity exists, the very relation between the illustration and the thing illustrated will fall through. Moreover, this illustration of the reflection of the sun in water is not cooked up by anybody's imagination. But this illustration having been already cited in the scripture, its applicability alone is being pointed out here.

Opponent: Where, again, is the intended point of similarity?

The reply is this: "A participation in increase and decrease”, inasmuch as the reflection of the sun in water increases with the increase of water, and decreases with its reduction, it moves when the water moves, and it differs as the water differs. Thus the sun conforms to the characteristics of the water, but in reality the sun never has these. Thus also from the highest point of view, Brahman, while remaining unchanged and retaining Its sameness, seems to conform to such characteristics as increase and decrease of the limiting adjunct (body), owing to Its entry into such an adjunct as the body. Thus since the illustration and the thing illustrated are both compatible, there is no contradiction.

This is a defence of the utility of the illustration of pure consciousness/Brahman as being like the sun reflected in many vessels of water. It may appear to be many according to the forms of limitation of the vessels but it is the one selfsame sun. When an illustration is taken as alike in every respect to the entity, an aspect of which it seeks to illuminate, then I would say that the analogy has become a metaphor. The curious thing is that Shankara appears to do this himself on occasion. More anon.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Agnes Repplier 1855 - 1950

Agnes Repplier: 1855 – 1950 Bio. note
I associate wit with compression and the ability to ignore your own felicities of expression. She combined this with perfectly weighted sentences that do not detain you with sententious uplift. Perhaps it was her Catholic, French and German background that saved her from this Puritan vice. The advanced thought of the day like that of our day or any day being vacuous fashion did not breach the consciousness of this independent woman who took to writing when the family finance foundered due to Papa’s unwise investment. She was a pert miss who was dismissed from two schools but by the end of her long life had received honorary degrees from several universities.

There are many collections of her essays in Internet Archive, cleanly scanned:

Is it, then, the mere desire to be obliging which induces a millionaire to surround himself with things which he does not want, which nobody else wants, and which are perpetually in the way of comfort and pleasure ? Does he build and furnish his house to support the dealers, to dazzle his friends, or to increase his
own earthly happiness and well-being ? The serious fashion in which he goes to work admits of no backsliding, no merciful deviations from a relentless luxury. I have seen ghastly summer palaces, erected presumably for rest and recreation, where the miserable visitor was conducted from a Japanese room to a Dutch room, and thence to something Early English or Florentine; and such a jumble of costly incongruities, of carved scrolls and blue tiles and bronze screens and stained glass, was actually dubbed a home. A home! The guest, surfeited with an afternoon's possession, could escape to simpler scenes; but the master of the house was chained to all that tiresome splendour for five months of the year, and the sole compensation he appeared to derive from it was the saturnine delight of pointing out to small processions of captive friends every detail which they would have preferred to overlook. It is a painful thing, at best, to live up to one's bricabrac, if one has any ; but to live up to the bricabrac of many lands and of many centuries is a strain which no wise man would dream of inflicting upon his constitution.
(From The Discomforts of Luxury (In the Dozy Hours coll.))

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Linear Narrative

Generally I’m relaxed about ‘thankfully’ as a sentential nimbus, impact as a verb has none and the ban on ‘before’ and its replacement by ‘ahead of’ passes with a momentary shudder but ‘narrative’ brings on the horripilations. This morning in a blog I was asked to consider how people ‘narrate’ their lives.

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.
'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

Now I see, ‘ahead of’ signifies linear ‘narrative’.

The Brother: You’re getting ahead of yourself
Moi: A bit previous. Where was I?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Metaphor: The Kingdom of the Undead.

Douglas Hofstadter knows what an oxymoron is, “genuine artificial intelligence,” as Hofstadter now calls it, with apologies for the oxymoron. (from James Somers's article in The Atlantic)
I doubt that Hofstadter, ‘he’, apologised for it because the bringing to computation of the human power of making analogies is the limen as he understands it. I first wrote ‘crucial limen’ there, and that would be a mixed metaphor which tends to take away what it never gave in the first place.

All these figure of speech can be considered as falling under the heading of Analogy (upper case). Different spheres of meaning are brought into association. In the Oxymoron they are contrary, in the metaphor there is the moving of one sphere totally into the domain of another. Thus language is full of dead metaphors that we no longer see as such because they have displaced their abstract analogues so effectively. We grasp, comprehend, apprehend and understand but what is it to do that, what is being shunted? Maybe to do philosophy is to try to find the basis of metaphor. What is that kingdom planted by the undead?

When I offer the distinction between the Analogy and the analogy(lower case) I mean that the latter can appear under various guises; attribution, proportionality and illustration. It early struck me that the confusion of metaphor with analogy/illustration is a major element in the misinterpretation of Advaita. I have recently been reading the Essays on Indian Philosophy by Professor J. Mohanty and find traces of that heresy. It is the hazard of offering analogies that they tend to be taken in a way that was not intended. Shankaracarya regularly finds the purvapaksha (opponent) guilty of this solecism. I have been collating his observations.

Monday, 21 October 2013


Is ‘Military Intelligence’ an oxymoron?
Is ‘streamlined government’ an oxymoron?

No, no, despite the insistence of wits and wags none of these expressions are oxymorons.
Well then give an example of a true oxymoron.
Still as they run they look behind,
They hear a voice in every wind,
And snatch a fearful joy.

His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true

foul justice

The idea is that each of those opposed terms standing singly seems to exclude the other so when they are conjoined in the one expression have a striking and arresting effect which moreover suggests a sense on a higher plane as it were. ‘Military’ and ‘Intelligence’ standing separately do not exclude each other. There is nothing about the idea of streamlining which excludes the idea of government. How about Morrissey’s Autobiography being an instant classic? This is an oxymoron as would ‘unrecognised classic’ or ‘unknown classic’might also be. When a book has the status of classic the implication is that it has been accepted as important by authoritative critics over an extended period of time. Could Morrissey’s book unread by any of the general public be regarded as a classic?

What about the (Penguin) Modern Classics series? That seems a a contradiction in terms which I think it is but it is also a true oxymoron. Some books seem to be raised into the classic status by acclamation practically immediately. There is no need to canonise them. They create the taste by which they are to be judged as Coleridge remarked (reported by Wordsworth in a letter):

These people in the senseless hurry of their idle lives do not read books, they merely snatch a glance at them that they may talk about them. And even if this were not so, never forget what I believe was observed by Coleridge, that every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.

From Wordsworth’s Preface to the Poem (1815)
And where lies the real difficulty of creating that taste by which a truly original poet is to be relished? Is it in breaking the bonds of custom, in overcoming the prejudices of false refinement, and displacing the aversions of inexperience? 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

George Moore and the Revival of Irish (The Untilled Field / An t-Úr Gort)

George Moore was caught up in the enthusiasm for the revival of the Irish Language and offered to do his bit. The idea was that he would produce a collection of simple tales that could then be translated into Irish and serve as headline for writers in the native language. The originals would then be destroyed. Tadhg Ó Donnchadha and Pádraig Ó Súilleabháin did the translation and it was published as An t-Úr Gort, The Untilled Field in the original. I have never seen a copy and it seems that it plunged into the pool of indifference without a splash like an expert diver. T.W. Rolleston translated it back into Sacsbhréarla (Speech of the Saxons) and Moore declared it improved by its bath in Irish. And I’ve never seen that either.

Scholars of Joyce claim The Untilled Field as an influence on Dubliners. There’s a nice blog entry by David Wheatley on Joyce and Beckett under the influence:
My own modest claim is that the story The Wedding-Gown has elements in it which seem translated from the Gaelic tradition picked up by Moore who if he had more that one hundred conversations with stable boys, jockeys and servants about Moore Hall would surely have heard. One of them is ‘bhiseach an bháis’ or the improvement in condition or lucidity that happens just before death to enable recollection and repentence. If you have seen or read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh the Irish Priest (Niall Tobín) at the deathbed of Lord Marchmain explains. It was the sign that Charles Ryder sought.
the divil in the room

The moiedered old woman comes to her senses and passes on the wedding gown to her niece. The garment has kept her chained to this plane but when the perfect moment has come she can let go. Fear of death in both the young woman and the old is vanquished. It’s a perfect story translated in so many ways, out of the grrreat Miiind as Yeats would say Out of the Grrreat Miiind . Indeed.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Mark Rowlands and the Moral Right to Believe

There has been a lot of talk recently about the danger of university teachers males in particular seducing their female students, in effect using the leverage of their status and power over academic careers. Personally I feel that agency on the part of these young women is not sufficiently stressed by academic philosophers, mostly males, who seem to take it as a given that they have but to cast their eye and ‘lovely woman stoops to folly’. Syllogism ripping stuff but it is the essay by Mark Rowlands of The Philosopher and the Wolf fame in Aeon magazine that brings to mind another aspect of the inevitable asymmetry of teacher and taught.
right to believe

The first thing to be said about it is the editorial decision I presume, to head the essay with a photo of people protesting the Obama administration’s health mandate relating to contraception, abortion and sterilisation. We are being led to accept that this is a typical issue where rational consideration can prevail over religious irrationality. Irish Catholics will remember the Penal Laws and the perfectly intellectually justifiable concern with the cancer of Popery.

What Rowlands maintains about the duty of teachers to challenge the beliefs of their students is correct. They also ought to present the strongest arguments for the position that they controvert. The difficulty is that there is a divergence of views on the rational defensibility of religion. What is being urged by Rowlands is that any position that cannot be rationlly held ought not to be held. Many philosopher Catholics believe that proofs of the existence of God are quite tenable. Others find that their faith is a self-validating experience, inevitably subjective but having the theological lineaments of their tradition. I have written before on Von Hugel’s description of the stages of spiritual development and the danger of getting stuck in any of the three phases.
law of trine

Rowlands introduces the classic dope trope: She has a valid claim to her belief that Pastafari created the world in the sense that she can defend it, if she so chooses, in the public arena. He has a moral right to be silly I suppose but when he introduces such arguments as arguments we have a right to shrug and move on.

The Gods, Sir Hugh, Mr.Perrin and Other Worlds

Why, good Sir Hugh, did you change the ending of Mr.Perrin and Mr.Traill for the American edition called The Gods and Mr.Perrin? I discovered this when I bought the 1939 Penguin yesterday. Right up to the last section the story remains the same even what I took to be a mistake in the American text referring to the little china man is there. I thought this must be the classic yellow and red porcelain mandarin 'di-di' which with dogs, girls in swings and shepherd lasses populated all available nooks, niches and shelves. I still hold to my original reading, there's something not quite right about 'little china man' which 'little Chinaman' corrects. That's a small or even a little point but to change the fate of Perrin alienates. I had suspended my disbelief in a certain direction even though the uplift factor was high and unreal. The original has a similar charity but with a different outcome. A reader is disinclined to make an emotional investment in inconsistent characterisation even though in his life he meets with startling alterations in habitual behaviour. In fiction we are determinists. Roll the dice and get an ending out of several offered, sealed naturally, but having done so please don't look at the alternates. Alea jacta est, les joux sont faites.

So what did you think of your ending? !

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mr.Perrin and Mr.Traill by Hugh Walpole

Hugh Walpole's (1884 – 1941) Mr.Perrin and Mr.Traill was published when he was just 27 (1911) and it must have incorporated some of the experiences he had as a master at Epsom College and at the several schools which he attended as a pupil. The novel is an astonishing achievement and does not belie the regard in which he was held by such judges as James, Woolf, Bennett and Conrad. O.K. So he networked assiduously and made himself useful but drawing a recommendation from Virginia Woolf who looked down the vista of her nose at practically everyone is not to be slighted.

Central to the story is the skewed, twisted and bitter consciousness of Vincent Perrin mathematics master, a Cambridge graduate who came to Moffat's 20 years previously as a temporary device, as did all the masters, and stayed and stayed and became the embodiment of all the sarcastic teachers you have ever known and loathed. He is a bachelor with his own room in the college and eating common meals in the refectory. It is mutton three times a week, hearty fat mutton. You can feel it as a skim on your teeth perhaps to be displaced by tapioca pudding. Perrin's only emotional tie is to his old mother to whom he writes every week. He is often at variance with the other members of the staff being a spy for the headmaster, the odious cleric Moy-Thompson.

It was about half-past nine when Perrin, looking up at the sound of the opening door, saw Traill standing there. Traill filled the doorway, and Perrin knew at once that there was going to be a disturbance. He had had disturbances before, a good many of them, and always it had brought to him a sense of pathos that he, with an old mother (he always saw her as a crumpled but vehement background), should have always to be fighting people—he, so unoffending if they would let him alone. However, if anyone (especially Traill) wished to fight him, he would do his best.

Traill is the new master and recent Cambridge graduate, rugger blue, hero to the boys, devastating swerve and all that and the lover, at a distance, of the young Isabel Desart also connected with the school. His early view of the school which he regards as a stop gap:

The Rev. Moy-Thompson, the head master— a venerable-looking clergyman, with a long grizzled beard and bony fingers—sat at the end of the table in an impatient way, as though he were longing for an excuse to fly into a temper. For the others, Traill only noticed one or two; Perrin, Dormer, and Clifton were there, of course. There was a large stout man with a heavy moustache and a sharp voice like a creaking door; a clergyman, thin and rather haggard, with a white wall of a collar much too big for him; an agitated little Frenchman, who seemed to expect that at any moment he might be the victim of a practical joke; a thin, bony little man with a wiry moustache and a biting, cynical speech that seemed to goad Moy-Thompson to fury; a nervous and bald-headed man, whose hand continually brushed his moustache and whose manner was exceedingly deprecating. There were others, but these struck Traill's eyes as they roved about.

Perrin's fantasy of marriage to Isabel Desart who is unaware of his existence and who is attracted to the uncomplicated Traill is the setting for a convincing depiction of a descent into madness. Even the ornament on his mantelpiece begins to take notice:

The little red and yellow chinaman on the mantelpiece, Perrin saw, had been watching the conversation with great curiosity, and Perrin felt that he was a little disappointed now when matters promised to finish comfortably. Perrin himself was only too ready for peace. These quarrels always brought on headaches, and, in his heart, he longed eagerly, hungrily, for a friend. He already was beginning to feel again that he liked young Traill very much.

Other divisions of Perrin emerge possibly watched over by Mother. There is a man in a box trying to get out but the lid is being sat upon by a skeleton, there is Perrin 2 – The Evil One – there is a simulacrum of Traill always watching him from beside the door, not that he sees him there precisely as he slips out when one tries to see him, soundlessly. Worst of all the Chinaman leaves his perch on the mantelpiece:

Perrin sat back in his chair; the room was going round and round, and he had a confused idea that people were running races. He pressed his hands to his head; the little chinaman leapt, screaming, off the mantelpiece and ran at him, kicking up his fat little legs; and with the breeze from under the door, a pile of French exercises fluttered, blew like sails in the wind, and then slid, scattering, to the floor.

And thoughts:
Perrin was quite clear in his own mind now that he hated Traill very much indeed, but he could not be very definitely sure of any reasons. There had been something once about an umbrella, and there was something else about Miss Desart, and there was even something about Garden Minimus; but none of these things were fixed very resolutely in his mind, and his thoughts slipped about like goldfish in a pond.

It's quite sustained until the unravelling of the shabby cardigan that is Perrin comes to the consideration of methods of slaughter. Here is the lair of Moy-Thompson:

And so he went to see Moy-Thompson. You can, if the simile is not too terribly old, imagine Moy-Thompson as a spider and his study as his web; it was certainly dusty enough, with faded busts of Romans and Greeks on the top shelves of the book-cases, and gloomy photographs of gloomy places on the walls. The two men seemed to suit the place well enough, and its depression really brightened Mr. Perrin up. But it must be remarked once more that it was not from any anticipation of doing Traill damage that he embraced and cuddled his little piece of news so eagerly, but only because it helped his sense of importance. He was already wishing that he had told Garden Minimus to write his Euclid thirty times instead of fifteen, so cheered and inspired did he feel.

This classic deserves to escape the doom of detention.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Gods and Mr.Perrin by Hugh Walpole

In Britain it had the title Mr.Perrin and Mr.Traill, in America it was called The Gods and Mr. Perrin(from Internet Archive). Who can plumb the mind of the marketing man but in the former a business relation is implied perhaps. If you called a man Babbitt for instance it was because you went to school with him or or belonged to the same fraternal society, the Masons,that sort of thing. In Britain of the early 20th.century that title means you are looking in and what you seeing as you read is the hell that is a minor public school in Cornwall. Hugh Walpole or Sir Hugh Walpole possibly not Sir Hugh, the idea of a people's knight had not caught on at that time though here my reading of the British mind falters in the fog of nuance. There are things which must remain opaque, high holy things. Yes.

This was Walpole's first success and with it he entered into the rising star category along with Compton Mackenzie and Somerset Maugham (D.H.Lawrence distant but gaining). A schoolboy who is bullied by both the masters and the other boys in the book is called Somerset Walpole which brings the common acquaintance with that hell to the fore. More anon but if you are down town and rooting in the barrows and find it under any style or title, buy it.

Friday, 11 October 2013


Are you getting bored with lifeless interviews 3amthat are in reality pseudo-responses to pre-issued questions which are merely prompts to the next slab of text. The internet makes it too easy to do this. It's like the wonderful retorts that you think of on the way home but life has no delete or ctrl+z function. Philosophers like to fine tune their arguments and given time enough and fear of making a blunder will surround the divine spark of insight with hedging locutions and an impeccable exposition of the history of a problem without actually saying anything new. Susanna Schellenberg interviewed by Richard Marshall uses 'I suspect' a mere once, the unmarked 'her' as a matter of course but does not get down to the metaphysical basis of her views beyond mentioning that she keeps such an exotic pet. Marshall who is 'biding his time' ought to be able to draw her on this. Perhaps he tried and the result was blanded out in the to and fro of e-mails. Schellenberg mentions De Anima and Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann and The Trial amongst her favourite books. What, no science fiction or comix, the trade will never stand this.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Twas on the Isle of Capri that I met him. (Lawrence and Mackenzie)

To balance and really ‘fair and balanced’ is a worthy goal, we must completely ignore the daft elements in the, well, not thought but visceral responses, or ‘gut reactions’ of David Herbert Lawrence. Compton Mackenzie in his novel The West Wind of Love (publ.1941) introduces us to the prating of one Daniel Rayner who requires no key to be seen as D.H.L. Only the names have been changed to protect the boring. This was literary revenge for the inclusion of the Mackenzies in two stories from the Collection The Woman who Rode Away. They were Two Blue Birds and The Man Who Loved Islands.

They met on the Isle of Capri IRL and the meeting in the novel is on Citrano somewhere in the South of Italy just after the end of the Kaiser War. Mackenzie best known now for Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen describes ‘our Davey’. Was he called that. I’m making it up. Why not? The sketch in ‘West’ is I think fair and represents the impression he might have had on a lot of people. Ford Madox Ford, who first published him, wasn’t much taken either.

In the first place he had sprung from the people, preserving the Midland accent of his upbringing among the ribbon-and-lace makers of Warwickshire and his education at a council school. Neither should have been a handicap at the University of Birmingham, but that English respect even for the synthetic gentility that is painfully manufactured by third –rate public-schools pretending to the authentic tradition of the historical factories of the English gentleman implanted in him early a resentment against the reminders, sometimes real but often imaginary, of his humble origin. The natural result was that conscious of his own genius he became aggressive and self-assertive.
(John Ogilvie’s, the protagonist of ‘West’, view of Rayner)

They discuss industrialisation:

”Man went off the track long before machinery was developed” Rayner replied contemptuously. “Man went off the track when he started to think here,” he tapped his forehead, “instead of here,” he pointed to the generative centre. “I want to find people who think here,” he declared passionately, and somewhat to the surprise of passing country-folk stood still in the middle of the alley with his long white index finger directed like a signpost towards the fly of his trousers.

On a personal note this is precisely the opposite of the advise given to me by the Clareman on the building job long handled shovel
“Use your head and not your lad”.

With a note of despair we are told:

Day and night for nearly a month John and Rayner talked, and then early on a June morning Rayner came to the tower when John was still in bed and announced that he and Hildegarde were leaving Citrano that morning.
“I’m choked here,” he announced. “These small bright people get on my nerves. It’s like watching a butterfly on the inside of a greenhouse fluttering up and down with the glass between him and the sun.”

A week later John received a postcard from Monte Cassino. This place is rotten with the past. A year later a postcard from Rarotonga: If you are thinking of coming here, don’t. These soft brown people are dissapointing.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

D.H. Lawrence on Democracy (pub.1936 in Pheonix date of writing uncertain)

Democracy as D.H.Lawrence sees it exalts the average over the individual. He presents this as obvious and not worth arguing for thereby denying the historical evidence to the contrary. In the Athenian progression to democracy via tyranny and oligarchy we see the rise of the personal voice as central to democracy. Its temporary lapse in the time of Socrates and their revenge on him for his apparent collaboration with the oligarchs demonstrates the Athenians desire not to have the individual voice that could participate in the polis thrust back down into a mass that required only a philosopher king to guide and decide.

Opposed to this specious cult of the average Lawrence opposes the doctrine of individualism. Only a new Democracy will bring about the rebirth of this. Now there is an outbreak of mystical capitalisation:

When I stand in the presence of another man, and I am my own pure self, am I aware of the presence of an equal, or of an inferior, or of a superior? I am not. When I stand with another man, who is himself, and when I am truly myself then I am only aware of a Presence, and of the strange reality of Otherness. There is me, and there is another being

So, now we know the first great purpose of Democracy, that each man shall be spontaneously himself - each man himself, each woman herself, without any question of equality entering in at all; and that no man shall try to determine the being of any other man, or of any other woman.

The straw from the straw man of ‘the average’ is recycled into corn dollies:

That is horribly true of modern democracy - socialism, conservatism, bolshevism, liberalism, republicanism, communism: all alike.

Bracing gibberish.

Some Books

The brother who gets out more than I do tells me that the ‘green shoots’ of a reviving economy is not a rumour put out by the government. You notice more houses with sale agreed signs on them, more building going on and reports of ready cash paid over by the prudent. Never being the first in or the last out, they build their middling wealth. It is their creeping confidence that draws the rest of us up. Down town today was busy and the book shop was full. Trove:
Paradox and Platitude in Wittgenstein’s Philosophy by David Pears(new, cloth, €10)
Dinner at Antoines by Frances Parkinson Keyes (€1)
The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg (pristine Penguin €4)
Selected Essays by D.H. Lawrence (Penguin/Belles Lettres€2)

The Keyes and the Schulberg came out in ‘49 & ‘50. Another keyes book Joy Street duked it out with 'Disenchanted' in the best seller lists of the time by Zhiv’s Zhiv latest post. The ‘Dinner’ is supposed to be a classic murder puzzle with all clues embedded. ‘Disenchanted’ is based on an alcoholiday in Hampshire with Scott Fitzgerald. Was it true, did his face draw back to a pallid skull as Hemingway describes in ‘Moveable’? Probably not.

I propose to educate myself on the nature of ‘Democracy’ by reading an essay of that title by D.H.L. He starts by reflecting on the meaning of ‘the average man’, the unit of democracy as he sees it. I fear this ‘average man’ may turn out to be inflammable.

Yesterday we here in Ireland had an outing in that popular exercise of democracy, the referendum. I am delighted that contrary to all polls the government parties were defeated.

Pears’s book on a quick scan seems a close examination of some of the points of the classic Philosophical Investigations which played its part in the ‘private cogito’ remark I addressed to Heaney.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Seamus and I at the Yeats Summer School

I can now reveal that I was snotty to Seamus Heaney once. This was 1966 at the Yeats Summer School in Sligo. Myself and Jimmy were having a drink in the evening at the Columban Club the apres lecture venue. It was crowded and we were standing up not far from the doorway. We were talking about Descartes as it happened and Seamus was behind us. 'Ah says he, with the Northern accent which seems to varnish all utterances with mocking drollery: 'Did I hear the name Descartes being mentioned'. 'Yes', says I, we're having a private cogito here'.

He took that as a rebuff, which it was and turned away as though he had tasted sour milk in his tay. He could have come back with a quip of his own. In Ireland, either you're quick or you're dead and an excellent recovery from a difficult position is respected. I still think fondly of the Dublinman who called me 'a fascinating gobshite'.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Santayana's marginalia on Dasgupta's A History of Indian Philosophy

Substance is not more real than appearance, nor appearance more real than essence, but only differently real. When the word reality is used invidiously or eulogistically, it is merely in view of the special sort of reality which the speaker expects or desires to find in a particular instance. So when the starving gymnosophist takes a rope for a serpent, he misses the reality of that, which is lifeless matter......W hen substance is asserted, appearance is not denied ; its actuality is not diminished, but a significance is added to it which, as a bare datum, it could not have.
(from Scepticism and Animal Faith)

The gymnosophists/naked sages known in India as ‘avadoothas’ or sky-clothed are generally far from starving. I’ve seen two myself, one basking on a pavement in Bangalore and the other marching along a country road in Andra Pradesh. The only kit they carry is a water pot made from a gourd and a strong staff. At the Kumba Meelah when they take their bath in the ganges en masse, films of this auspicious event show them to range from well-fed to corpulent.

The classical confusion of snake for rope occurs at dusk. Error happens as the result of a defect in the conditions of perception, the default is veridicality. The advaitic view is similar to Santayana’s (qv above) and marginal notes in Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy from Santayana’s library show that he appreciated its insights:

It is because we have an awareness of blueness that we speak of having perceived a blue object
How good all this is
Note on page 154 of History of Indian Philosophy (taken from George Santayana’s Marginalia: A Critical Selection Bk.I ed. John McCormick)

The idea of the illusion having its locus in the substratum of the rope broadly conforms to Santayana’s concept of substance and the illusion itself has its link to reality through its counterpositive or a real snake.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Santayana would reject the 'bundle of perceptions' theory of the self as espoused by David Hume. He says in his chapter on Objections to Belief in Substance (Scepticism and Animal Faith): “But it is utterly impossible that one perception should perceive another, and it is improper to call an intuition a perception when it has no existing object.”

There appears to be implicit in the Humean analysis an inner mental subject surveying an inner mental object. That internal division is assumed by classic meditation techniques which involve control of the mind, watching the thoughts arising and so forth. Why is a mistaken doctrine being accepted as a basis for practice? I think the answer lies in ripeness. While you are still green it is useless to mouth the slogans of advaita on the basis of an intellectual understanding of its philosophy. You have to ripen before you naturally fall. Ramakrishna said as much to Vivekananda when they first met. You live where you are until you realise a different level.

By observing the stream of consciousness one is accepting the dualistic stance that is normal alienation. However by continuous attention to it and analysis of its specious reality its grip is progressively weakened. One then may experience an unbroken stream of consciousness from time to time which is naturally blissful. Eckhart Tolle reports that his bliss came from the sudden breaking of the negative commentary of the divided self which was causing him to sink into despair. That absorption in the unbroken flow of consciousness is the report of mystics from all the great traditions.

When Blake writes:
“To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering”
“To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination”
“To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration”

and Yeats:
LOCKE sank into a swoon;
The Garden died;
God took the spinning-jenny
Out of his side.

they are not indulging in overblown rhetoric. They are pointing to the consolidation of alienation by philosophy and scientism. Certainly internal division has always been an element of human psychology but the intensity and virtual ratification of it as an element of human nature has increased in the modern age.

In a book written by Maurice Nicoll Psychological Commentaries II based on the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky that I came across recently he has a note on self-observation. (Great Amwell House, September 20, 1947)
Now the Work says, for instance, that self-observation is a method of self-change. It says this quite early........Now a man should observe what he observes. To observe is difficult. It needs a conscious effort. You cannot observe yourself mechanically. That certainly will change nothing. But in such a case, if you become cleverer, you will begin to observe that you always observe only two or three things over and over again. This will not separate you from your mechanical self. For has not observation now become a very part of your mechanical self? The function of Observing 'I' is to move inwards, more and more deeply, so that more and more of yourself can be seen by it. If Observing 'I' remains on the surface of yourself it cannot perform its real task, which is to make a man more and more objective to himself, more and more aware of what he has hitherto calmly taken as himself. If self-observation is truly carried out and not blocked by some strong attitude or picture that the man or woman cannot observe, then it leads to seeing bits of one's life and behaviour all together.