Monday, 31 March 2014

Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

I have just finished reading it and in many ways it is the oddest unsettling and strangely lingering book. Like the remnants of a bad dream it remains as a shadow between me and the daylight of waking consciousness. It has as its central conceit the phenomena of doubling in all its forms from the malign to the transcendently redemptive. A frustrated scholar Laurence Wentworth creates for himself an elemental in the form of Adela whom he desires. He feeds her his energy and consuming is consumed. Peter Stanhope is the Magus figure, a playwright whose play the theatre group of Battle Hill is putting on and he represents the power of substituted love. This first becomes active when he takes away the fear of meeting her double that is Pauline’s bete noir. She fears that this wraithe who for now is seen at a distance will come closer and closer and end by walking in with her through her hall door. The supervening love takes away her fear and robs the apparition of its power. Pauline thereby learns that she can move back in time and strengthen the faith of a martyred ancestor. Pauline’s saintly grandmother who is dying has a similar connection with the ghost of a man who hung himself.

Her heart sprang; there, a good way off-thanks to a merciful God—it was, materialized from nowhere in a moment. She knew it at once, however far, her own young figure, her own walk, her own dress and hat-had not her first sight of it been attracted so?

changing, growing…. It was coming up at her pace—doppelgaenger, doppelgaenger—her control began to give … two… she didn’t run, lest it should, nor did it. She reached her gate, slipped through, went up the path. If it should be running very fast up the road behind her now? She was biting back the scream and fumbling for her key. Quiet, quiet! “A terrible good.” She got the key into the keyhole; she would not look back; would it click the gate or not? The door opened; and she was in, and the door banged behind her. She all but leant against it, only the doppelgaenger might be leaning similarly on the other side.

The witch figure in the book is a powerful characterisation, she gibbers extensively in a wheedling drooling manner promising in order to confound:’win us with honest trifles to betray us in matters of deepest consequence’.

“Why not?” Mrs. Sammile said. “Everything lovely in you for a perpetual companion, so that you’d never be frightened or disappointed or ashamed any more. There are tales that can give you yourself completely and the world could never treat you so badly then that you wouldn’t neglect it. One can get everything by listening or looking in the right way: there are all sorts of turns.”

One of the great effects of the writing, both Eliot and Auden were admirers, is the incantatory aspect, the falling continuous prose poetry that creates an uncanny atmosphere. C.S. Lewis was influenced by him and probably appalled too, the mixture of mystical theology, Golden Dawn theophany, all too Witch of Endor don’t you know. He was the oddest of the Inklings.
Charles Williams

I found this book on Gutenberg Australia.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Book of Trinity College,Dublin

Trinity College Dublin is spending €100,000 on rebranding. The crest is being modified to eliminate the closed clasped bible. An open book still gratifying substantial is being substituted. As well the blue and gold of its livery unfortunately associated with 'value’ brands such as Ryanair, Ikea and Maxol is being changed to pale blue. Quintessentially the standard fatuous mixture of marketing , the ahistorical and trendy atheism.

The other book which won’t be leaving Trinity is of course the Book of Kells because it is a nice little earner. Adults €9, €8 Seniors, Family 2+4 €18 Under 12‘s free and school groups free during term. (500,000 visitors per annum) Why is this book not in the National Museum where it could be viewed for nothing by the people of Ireland. It is a National Treasure and should have a National venue. Viewed historically it is part of the loot of the Reformation and therefore the College founded by Good Queen Bess should have it.

N.B.: This is not a Fool’s Day Joke, it is just perpetrated by fools.

New Crest:

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Matilal's War

It is disappointing when a person that has been educated in the traditional Sanskritic pandit way seems to have internalised what has been termed orientalism. In its crudest form it is more or less - you chaps do the mysticism and the religious stuff, leave the rational and the logical to sahib. Professor Matilal may have been perfectly sincere in his desire to keep out the ‘mad mystics’ but his principles of exclusion seem to follow an orientalist Western rule. Professor Stephen Phillips mentions his editorial policy which is consciously exclusionist:
Countering MatilarI noticed a certain reluctance in the Basil Fawlty manner to ‘mention the war’ but then going on to mention it:
don't mention the war

We need no concern ourselves too much this metaphysical thesis which is an integral part or a necessary consequence of the scriptural (and perhaps experiential in the mystical sense) assertion about the Brahman awareness. But this thesis need not be called (as it often is by some modern exponents) ‘illusionism’ in the ordinary sense of illusion. Rather, the model of sensory illusion is used as an argument to show that the world of experience is neither categorisable as real or existent nor as unreal or non-existent. The world does not strictly conform to the way we intuitively understand these terms, ‘real-unreal’ or ‘existent-non-existent’.

As I wrote before in my post on Perception:
his treatment of the central topic of error seems slack and his unwillingness to ‘mention the war’ goes a long way in explaining it.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Homo Habilis: Old Saws

As a warranted genuine old fogey I continue to be a late adaptor and very often a never adaptor. I shave with a straight (cut throat) razor and from time indite my lucubrations on a typewriter for the sheer pounding ping of it. The touch of cold steel on the throat focuses the mind wonderfully and typescript invites the crossing out and intercalation that Isaac Babels character finds missing in the manuscript of the young writer:

'You know, I must place this story, ' he went on.' They'll take it in anywhere. They print such rubbish nowadays. The main thing is to have some pull. I've had a promise. Sukhutin will fix everything.....'
'Misha,' I said, 'You should go through it again – nothing's crossed out...'
(from Inspiration)

Ordinary manuscript produced with a fountain pen, what else, does not have the same psychological distance and the speed that catches the flying thought. The instant correction of the word processor is a recipe for complacency. We have gotten general absolution without the grim experience of personal confession.

The use of older technology also involves skill due to the necessity for personal maintenance. We can no longer send out our razors to be honed if indeed the average user ever did. There are such services today and they are expensive but try and get a simple handsaw sharpened and you may have to send them to a expert who charges what you could buy ten hardened tooth throwaways for in the local box store. I have a few of them and the diabolism of them is that they are so sharp and dull so slowly they surprise you some fine day by refusing to cut to a line. 'Back to China with you to make another one' you utter as you put it into the green bin. As well as three disposables, I have a number of old fashioned steel ones of varying lengths and tooth styles. There's a couple of newish Disstons and some old ones. What a difference there is between them, big lumpish handles and thick stiff sawplate compared to whippy taper ground plate with handles that are just right visually and comfortable. They also have two lifetimes of sharpening below the handle whereas the other has a miserable half inch. Break a few teeth with a nail and you will never see them again. The beauty of hand filing saws is that over several rounds teeth that had quite vanished will come into being again. There's some metaphor there trying to get out but my maieutic skills are unequal to it. Saws like this are about £70 to buy new so over the weekend I spent many hours reconditioning them. I was also trying to develop my sawdoctoring skills which were rudimentary. After doing a few including a very extensive re-toothing on a sweet 20” Disston cabinet saw I have a better idea of how to go about it. It's the sort of a job that induces a focused reverie. Intellectuals that do not do any manual work miss a lot. The derogation of manual work in the caste system of India is a serious cultural lack. I remember when I was there in 2002 , Outlook magazine on Independence day had 55 great things about India. One of them was the invention of a low tech hand pump which had spread all over the developing world. The inventor was a mechanic from Hyderabad. Just that, they didn't know his name. They still don't:

The requirements for the pump included the need for a design simple enough to be manufactured in unsophisticated workshops, easy to maintain, and costing no more than US$200 (in 1970s dollars) The Mark II was based on the Sholapur pump, the most durable pump at that time and designed by a self-taught Indian mechanic. In just 20 years, 1 million of the pumps had been manufactured and installed in the developing world. An Indian magazine listed India Mark II hand pump as one of the defining inventions of the country.
(from:India Mark II,Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sankara, Santayana, and Animal Faith.

When in a discussion marked by terseness Sankara in an aside dilates on a topic, that is I think an indication that an unfamiliar line of argument is being broached. Santayana makes a similar point about what he calls animal faith namely that pre-theoretic, arational, immediacy of our confrontation with the world. He used it in Scepticism and Animal Faith to impugn the mentalistic folly of Cartesian foundationalism. Sankara drops in the claim that even animal consciousness involves superimposition/adhyasa. There is no subject/object consciousness without it. Not that animals can parse in this manner and that is just the point. Here we have something more basic than analysis.

Moreover there is no difference (of the learned) from the animals (in regard to empirical behaviour). Just as animals and others turn away from sound etc. when these appear to be unfavourable after their ears come in contact with them, and they move towards these when they are favourable; and they move towards these when they are favourable; and just as by noticing a man approaching them with a raised stick, they begin to run away thinking, “This one wants to hurt me”, and they approach another carrying green grass in his hands, similarly even the wise are repelled by the presence of strong, uproarious people with evil looks and upraised swords, and are attracted by men of opposite nature. Therefore the behaviour of men with regard to the means and objects of knowledge is similar to that of animals. And it is a familiar fact that the animals use their means of perception etc. without discrimination (between the body and the Self). From this fact of similarity, the conclusion can be drawn that so far as empirical behaviour is concerned, the use of the means of perception by the wise is similar to that of lower animals, (it being a result of superimposition).
(from the preamble to Brahma Sutra Bhasya by Sankara.)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Anscombe on Aristotle/Vritti & Upadhi

I mentioned in my previous post Snakes and Ladders that Advaita has found that narrow land between Realism and Idealism by using the concept of the vritti or mental modification which is identical to the object in a non-numerical way. That needs to be teazed out further but I offer this extended quote from Anscombe which indicates a ‘family resemblance’ between the theory of Aristotle on passive and active intellect and the Advaitins ‘vritti’ and ‘upadhi’/limiting adjunct.

Now the existence of the things is precisely the actualisation of this possibility: thus we find Aristotle constantly distinguishing between existence on the one hand and on the other (a) actuality (b) whatever is actualised by that actuality. In comparison with the latter, existence seems to relate to form; the existence of the matter that composes Socrates is substantial existence as a human being; but in comparison with ‘actuality’ or the formal cause, existence is is particular and material. The contrast between actuality and existence is drawn especially in his theory of knowledge, according to which if, say, a sighted animal receives a sense impression of red, the ‘actuality’ or ‘form’ signified by the word ‘red’ is one and the same in the seen object and the sensation, but the ‘existence’ of the red thing and the sensation of red is different. Either existence however, is the actualisation - and hence the actuality, and one and the same actuality - of what was before a mere potentiality. Similarly the intellect is actualised by the forms, which also actualise matter; again, the ‘actuality’ will be the same but the ‘existence’ different.

The theory has the attraction of seeming to preserve that internal relation which must be shown to hold between what we may quite generally call ‘cognitions’ and their objects, without falling into idealism. The forms which the intellect in understanding are without matter, and are made to be so by the intellect, which thus divides into a ‘passive’ intellect actualised by these forms, and a ‘productive’ intellect that makes the forms-without-matter: Aristotle compares this to light making colours actual. Thus it appears that the objects of understanding are only potential in material things, although, as they exist in material things, they are the actualisation of the matter of those things. It is ground for intense regret that Aristotle never expounded his ideas for the general public, shewing those unversed in these difficult conceptions how they might attain to them. For so far as his ideas are sound, they must be capable of a clearer exposition than he has given them.
(From Three Philosophers by G.E.M. Anscombe and P. Geach // citation: Anscombe on Aristotle)
Note: Italics in quote mine.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Snakes and Ropes. And Ladders?

That blend of Realism/Idealism in Advaitic Epistemology/Ontology is only intelligible from a perspective of non-numerical identity. Even in Western philosophy those slashed categories are not watertight compartments but in Advaita the being or nature of reality is the foundation of what the author of Vedanta Paribhasa, Dharmaraja Adhvarindra, calls its perceptuality or capacity to be perceived. For instance the intractable mystery of the unknown object for Berkleyean Immaterialism is avoided by holding that the reality of something as an independent entity is based upon the possibility of its being an ‘unknown object’/ajnanatta satta(bring your own diacretics). Something that comes into existence in the moment of the awareness of it does not have the independent status of the object which waits unknown to us.

What then of what has been called the snake/rope illusion, more properly confusion? Viewed from a Western perspective this seems to be the argument from illusion as a narrative. I speculate that neo-advaitins that have come under the influence of Descartes are led by the nose in that direction. However if you put yourself into the mind of the Advaitic lateral thinker as above in the ajnanatta satta the vertiginous thought that confusion is the perfect analogy for veridical perception may occur. The rope as it is in reality travels into the mind of the perceiver as a snake. It is superimposed on his mind as such for the duration of the confusion. The basis of the reality of that confusion is a real rope out there in the world. The language of ‘seeming snake’ is not retrospectively used to undercut our everyday undeluded experience.

The argument proceeds analogically. As in the case of admitted confusion the mind takes the form of the object or technically a mental modification/vrutti. The default presumption is that the perception is veridical. No one sees a seeming snake or diabused of their confusion a seeming rope. Somehow the object of perception is in the mind of the perceiver. The rock I am looking at is in my mind but not as a material rock. The ontology of the rock or its nature such that it can be a mental modification brings us to the concept of non-numerical identity. For another post.

My compression of the argument here is deliberate. I look on argument as a ladder. How is the correct distance between the rungs arrived at? It is assumed that ascent is twice as demanding as walking along on the ground. The normal stride is about 2 ft. and a bit. therefore the ladder rungs are 1 foot apart. Scholarment likes lots of rungs, the space of argument being infinitely divisible. One loses the sense of the argument as a whole by getting involved too early in discussions of a-khyati (no-knowledge).(cf. Perceiving in Advaita Vedanta by Bina Gupta pub.Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi Chap.6:The Nature Of Error.)

From every point of view, however, there is no difference as regards the appearance of one thing as something else. And in accord with this, we find in common experience that the nacre appears as silver, and a single moon appears as two.
(from Preamble to Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya by Shankara translated by Swami Gambhirananda pub. Advaita Ashrama)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Shankara - a Philosopher or a Theologian?

A few days ago it was asked (on another blog) whether one could really consider Shankara a philosopher because his base belief was in the ‘not of human origin’ (apoureshya) nature of the Vedas which he (Shankara) regarded as the truth against which all other truths could be gauged. Was he then ultimately a theologian and not a philosopher at all? The imputation was that his fundamental bias was such that rationality could not be a primary value as should be the case for all true philosophers, particularly if they are Scotsmen. My response to this was a kindly one. I pointed out several places in which Shankara was apparently doing what ordinary philosophers, in the common acceptation of that term, do. Was that obtuse of me? Is this a mistake on my part, not to recognise the contemporary fundamentalist assumption that if you are a believer you have disbarred yourself from the goodly company of the rational. On the other hand the question may have issued from a genuine need for clarification.

No one has yet spotted a monad (Leibniz) or an ‘eternal object’ (Whitehead). These are two philosophers who were believers without that being a contradiction in terms. Suppose then that we admit Enlightenment as the end and purpose of life. This is a difficult thing to demonstrate along Euclidean type lines. Is it an example or instance of a desideratum that we could rationally accept? The state of enlightenment though often spoken of and written about in the Eastern tradition is a mysterious and anomalous beast. It is not a state, they all agree. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, dream and samadhi are the same sort of fleeting state.

Can it be rational to pursue a state that you couldn’t even know you were in? How does the feeling that one is on a wild goose chase not overwhelm the seeker? Well yes, strictly it ought to be so but there are two major indications that one is on the right path. One is the teacher who is the embodiment of the goal and the other is the confirming experience as one progresses along the path. It is along this secondary trajectory of experience that philosophy becomes useful. We have to distinguish the true from the false and the half-true. Have we drawn the correct implication and what is the meaning of this utterance which even though it may be of non-human origin has to be understood as it applies to a situation.

What can Tat Tvam Asi mean? Shankara keeps circling around that mahavaka attempting to elucidate it. In another post I will attempt to hack a clearing in that jungle. Isn’t that what Philosophy tries to do - give us space to turn?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Priestcraft: Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's Come Rack!Come Rope!

I've read some of Benson's work before and posted on him and his family. In hand at present is Come Rack! Come Rope! a story based around the persecution of Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth. St. Edmund Campion Martyr comes into the tale which is quite absorbing and well told. He refers to his Queen as our Eliza and she is described thus:

She was dressed in some splendid stuff; jewels sparkled beneath her throat. Once a hand in an embroidered glove rose to wave an answer to the roar of salute; and, as the carriage came beneath, she raised her face.

It was a thin face, sharply pear-shaped, ending in a pointed chin; a tight mouth smiled at the corners; above her narrow eyes and high brows rose a high forehead, , surmounted by strands of auburn hair drawn back tightly beneath the little head-dress. It was a strangely peaked face, very clear-skinned, and resembled in some manner a mask. But the look of it was as sharp as steel; like a slender rapier, fragile and thin, yet keen enough to run a man through. The power of it, in a word, was out of all measure with the slightness of the face…. Then the face dropped; and Marjorie watched the back of the head bending this way and that, till the nodding heads that followed hid it from sight.

Fr. Edmund Campion in the disguise of a gentleman then says a strange thing:
He lifted his cap once more with grave seriousness. "God save her
Grace!" he said.

For all his loyalty he was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn after several interviews, or mechanically 'enhanced interrogations' with Richard Topcliffe priest-hunter in chief.

Addendum 11/3/14:

A character in the book mentions that he thinks the Papal bull of 1570 Regnans in Excelsis denouncing Elizabeth was a political error. It ushered in a period of persecution and repression that might have been avoided. One wonders whether the memory of this might not have played a part in the treatment of the Nazis by Pope Pius XII.

Blunders come in both directions. Obama and his Prayer Breakfast Waffle on Religious Freedom. He started a totally unnecessary fight with his contraception mandate. Why? It will be interesting to see how that proceeds.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Getting Carlyle Wrong

The problem with Carlyle is this. It is easy for hasty readers to be so dazzled by words such as 'nigger', 'chains', 'lash' and so forth that the lineaments of the argument escapes their grasp. A catenary or formula is created and used as the basis for an essay of their own. I generally begin a systematic study by reading an author for myself just applying my own wit without the prior influence of critics. The Reminiscences you will be told spoiled the reputation of Carlyle and people were aghast at the personal revelations about his wife. This obiter dicta seems to me to have no actual basis in the text. After the sudden death of his wife part of his grieving was to jot down his memories of her. They are a deeply felt mixture of guilt and gratitude. He spent 13 years of constant toil writing Fredrick the Great collating vast amounts of material, living like a hermit in his own house his only exercise going out horse riding at night. The Victorian Age was the golden era of valetudinarianism and both Jane and Tom stand well in the first rank. Poor Alice James was the Cousins champ. Could lead in the water pipes have something to do with it? We can only speculate but the breakfast exchange of symptoms was an augurs almanac. However after a fall Jane became much more frail and was often bedridden and weak due to a loss of appetite. Still she stood by him and let him get on with his work. His appreciation of this together with the regret at not paying more attention to her is the sort of double-bind that scourged him.

John Morrow's Thomas Carlyle I am reading by Googlepeek. He seems to me balanced without evasion of the rebarbative aspects of the man. As I discerned by mere dint of my reading finger work is at the centre of the Occasional Discourse.A subsistence type of farming carried on by the freed slaves does not exhaust the full potentialities of the West Indies. In the Calvinist work ethic which Carlyle never left behind, to fully exploit their environment was a duty but because of their innate shiftlessness they would not think to do so on their own. He was not in favour of re-enslavement as is suggested but was impressed by French public works programs. His was a paternalist approach and ties in with his support of colonialism as Morrow points out. If the natives don't do it we must make the desert bloom.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Fixing Rawl Bolts in Concrete, Brick or Stone

Having hung a couple of heavy gates and used expanding Rawl Bolts, the sort that as you tighten them a cylindrical plug moves into a sleeve which bites into the hole in the concrete or brick my initial experience with them was frustrating. Even when I kept the bolt in the hole with a screw driver and pulled back on the threaded shank there was a tendency for the bolt to wind itself out of the hole when I fixed the gate post on it. Discussion with others revealed that this is a common experience so much so that they resort to strong screws instead, resin fixed threaded studding etc.

The way out of this is easy. Get extra nuts and washers for your bolts. Snug the sleeve as before and then put on the spare nut and washer. Finger tighten it and then use a spanner to fully expand the sleeve. You can then take off the nut but if fixing a heavy baulk, batten, ledger, post etc I would leave it on and chop with a chisel a suitable recess/housing to go over the nut. To put on the post it is a simple matter to put it up to the shank, level or plumb and then give it a tap to mark the position for the hole. The extra nut will keep the plug in the sleeve locked in place.

Yesterday I was taking the bolts off to hang a new gate. Go backwards. Release the locking nut several turns out from the wall. Tap on the top of the shank to drive the plug back into the hole in the concrete. With a vice grips jiggle the shank until the sleeve comes back into the loose state. Remove.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Epistemic Humility

It is Carlyle, and not his critic Nietzsche, who is the true forerunner of twentieth-Fascism, with its mystical exaltation of the state and obliteration of compassion and the rights of the individual. That shadow cannot be removed from the later Carlyle, author of such efforts as The Nigger Question (1849) and Shooting Niagara: and After? (1867)and uncritical idolater of those iron men, Oliver Cromwell and Frederick the Great.
(from Introduction to Essays on Thomas Carlyle:1982)

This reading of Carlyle in Bloomspeak, can't stand, my dear. Heroes is about those men who surpass the state which in most of his essays he castigates as a pettifogging impediment. Open Latter Day Pamphlets (1850) at any point. Take this from the beginning of Downing Street :

From all corners of the wide British Dominion there rises one complaint against the ineffectuality of what are nicknamed our "red-tape" establishments, our Government Offices, Colonial Office, Foreign Office and the others, in Downing Street and the neighbourhood. To me individually these branches of human business are little known; but every British citizen and reflective passer-by has occasion to wonder much, and inquire earnestly, concerning them. To all men it is evident that the social interests of one hundred and fifty Millions of us depend on the mysterious industry there carried on; and likewise that the dissatisfaction with it is great, universal, and continually increasing in intensity,—in fact, mounting, we might say, to the pitch of settled despair.

From The New Downing Street first Para:

In looking at this wreck of Governments in all European countries, there is one consideration that suggests itself, sadly elucidative of our modern epoch. These Governments, we may be well assured, have gone to anarchy for this one reason inclusive of every other whatsoever, That they were not wise enough; that the spiritual talent embarked in them, the virtue, heroism, intellect, or by whatever other synonyms we designate it, was not adequate,—probably had long been inadequate, and so in its dim helplessness had suffered, or perhaps invited falsity to introduce itself; had suffered injustices, and solecisms, and contradictions of the Divine Fact, to accumulate in more than tolerable measure; whereupon said Governments were overset, and declared before all creatures to be too false.

Not much statolotry there, my dear! (Being a whale he spouts with careless ebullience.) I am led to think that the notion of epistemic peerage is overset by what Bernard Lonergan called scotosis. Not the Duns kind:

Let us name such an aberration of understanding a scotosis, and let us call the resultant blind spot a scotoma. Fundamentally, the scotosis is an unconscious process. It arises, no in conscious acts, but in the censorship that governs the emergence of psychic contents. Nonetheless, the whole process is not hidden from us, for the mere spontaneous exclusion of unwanted insights is not equal to the total range of eventualities.

A true or true-ish vision of things does not come by the application of knowledge and intelligence but by a vigilant epistemic humility.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question by Thomas Carlyle

To understand Thomas Carlyle and ‘the Negro question’ his attitude to work is central. In the alienated world of most of us that word signifies turning up, doing your bit and collecting your ‘green gauges’. Our man felt it to be a sacred duty that joined his energy to the force that flows through all things. Well yes but didn’t he have a wife that had an income and a father that waited calmly while he flailed about trying to establish himself? Indeed but considering that he was nearly 40 by the time he achieved any sort of reputation with The French Revolution I think that his high ground was righteous. Add to this the deep horror of the burning of the first half of ‘French’ by Harriet Taylor’s maid. (H.T. was the inamorata, as it were, of John Stuart Mill the ‘unheimlich’ as T.C. dubbed him) How do you burn that much manuscript to start a fire? Where were you H.T. on the night in question?

He rewrote it from memory that being his only copy and achieved his overnight success. Work then is not the curse of the drinking classes it is more - “It is a better thing to travel hopefully than to arrive and the true success is to labour”. (Robert Louis Stevenson)The great enemy of work is the ‘dismal science’ or economics. This brings me to the uncanny position that the anonymous author of the Wikipedia entry on Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question
has a better understanding of it than Harold Bloom in his introduction to a series of essays on Carlyle. In the first publication it was known as ‘the Negro Question’, in later editions Carlyle got thick due to Blooming misunderstanding and called it ‘the Nigger Question’.

The discourse is introduced to us as the work of one Phelin M’Quirk a journalist who has skipped his digs leaving it after him to be sold in lieu. Phelin represents the distillation of the common racism of the day and the attitudes of the average ignoramus. Bits of Carlyle break through but that is the preamble to the piece. As the wikiman says in later editions he got contrary and left out the preamble and substituted ‘nigger’ which is sheer anachronism to be appalled by.

If you don’t see as Bloom doesn’t that Oliver Cromwell under all the pumpkins is atrabilious celtic humour then go back to Swift and reacquaint yourself with A Modest Proposel.
A bit of the great Protector’s own life lies there; beneath those pumpkins is a bit of the life that was Oliver Cromwell’s.

A Roundhead and a Pumpkinhead too that flickers demonically on the porch of the Irish Mind. (Keep it goin’ Mikey, don’t stall the digger) Which bring me to Carlyle’s trip by open car through the Emerald Isle of the previous year. He saw a starving country exporting food workless and forbidden to work except for work relief paid for in Indian Meal or Yalla Buck. Thus the number of roads from nowhere to nowhere known in Irish as Bóthar na Mine (Meal Road). It was all down to the laissez faire, the leave alone the market forces of the dismal science. All would be well in the meliorist opinion of the Victorian. A bit of thinning of the Irish crop was providential. Applying the rational choice theory of the day to the West Indies where the sugar trade was failing due to the freeing of the slaves Carlyle could see that for them to choose to grow ‘pumpkins’ on upland farms was much more attractive than working for the man cutting cane. If more free blacks were imported then you would only get a replication of the Irish situation with too much labour and not enough work as conceived by the dismal science. Jimmy Rabbitte of The Commitments reprised the Carlyleean view:
Jimmy Rabbitte: Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.
What do you call a Northsider in a suit?
The defendant.

Mind you in Roddy Doyle’s book Jimmy used a more abrasive term; political correction came in brown envelopes then.

But I digress. Carlyle in that ‘Discourse’ and in his Latter Day Pamphlets saw the pious fable in continuous advancement. The main beams of the floor of the Polity had rotted and the floor was barely suspended by the beam-ends:

The front wall of your wretched old crazy dwelling, long denounced by you to no purpose, having at last fairly folded itself over, and fallen prostrate into the street, the floors, as may happen, will still hang on by the mere beam-ends, and coherency of old carpentry, though in a sloping direction, and depend there till certain poor rusty nails and worm-eaten dovetailings give way:—but is it cheering, in such circumstances, that the whole household burst forth into celebrating the new joys of light and ventilation, liberty and picturesqueness of position, and thank God that now they have got a house to their mind? My dear household, cease singing and psalmodying; lay aside your fiddles, take out your work-implements, if you have any; for I can say with confidence the laws of gravitation are still active, and rusty nails, worm-eaten dovetailings, and secret coherency of old carpentry, are not the best basis for a household!—In the lanes of Irish cities, I have heard say, the wretched people are sometimes found living, and perilously boiling their potatoes, on such swing-floors and inclined planes hanging on by the joist-ends; but I did not hear that they sang very much in celebration of such lodging.
(from The Present Day essay in Latter Day Pamphlets publ.1850)

Carlyle whose parents were barely literate had pride in good work well done at a fair rate. The father was a stone mason and farmer. People like them were wandering about as beggars and it appalled him that industrial workers in England had a greater infant mortality rate than slaves in the Americas whom the great and the good i.e. Exeter House, were campaigning about. Mill whose family battened off the Indian colony particularly must have struck him as a whited sepulchre. Even today debt slavery is rampant in India and it is passed on through the generations

The ‘Occasional Discourse’ is the exasperated saeva indignatio cry of a man sick of bien pensant waffle. I have yet to read Taylor and Mill’s response to it. All texts mentioned are available on Gutenberg Project.