Monday, 29 December 2014

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta

I first became aware of the writing of Tom Perotta through The Leftovers show which I liked for its odd premise of a secular rapture. All over the world people of all faiths and none are whisked into non-existence. Between 1 and 3%. simply vanish in the blink of an eye. Nora Durst’s husband and two children are taken while she is in the kitchen getting paper towels to mop up an apple juice spill which has not yet begun to cascade to the floor over the edge of the table. She wipes it up in an empty room and two weeks later comes to herself after a fugue. How can you accept what is unintelligible? As though some humans were a mirage.

The major characters and their relationships in the book are the same as in the show. Wisely, there is no explanation offered for the inexplicable. Attempts to grapple with bafflement takes many forms. It is three years on from what the authorities are calling a sudden departure. Kevin Garvey the Mayor of Mapleton who has been elected from a Hopeful Party platform navigates by niceness. His daughter Jill 17 begins to fail at school and screw around led astray by Aimee her pal. Son Tom dropped out of college and has gotten involved with Holy Wayne a minister who absorbs the grief by hugging the afflicted. His son was taken and he is hopeful that one of his six underage concubines will give birth to a replacement. Opposed to any rapprochement with the event even unto ‘moving on’, are the ‘guilty remnant’ a cult who dress in white and by their silent witness haunt and stalk the populace.

There’s more, much more. It’s a rich Xmas cake and indeed Xmas features in the book as an attempt to make a family holiday of it. Kevin Garvey’s cheery banalities fail to exorcise the haunt by his wife who calls to the house on Xmas day. She is now a member of the G.R.

Tom Perotta doesn’t do fancy prose on principle and this suits the novel. Verisimilitude is rendered by the refusal to engage with the mystery and staying penny plain. The gothic is reduced to the suburban by the accretion of mundane detail and the credible deeps of the plot. One could take the novel as a metaphor for the missing while present ones, the ignorable that generate this version of society as their dream or myth. Suddenly everyone is made to care. It’s as the philosophers say, multiply realisable or something. You’ll be sorry when I’m not here anymore after a fashion but the where I’ll be is uncanny.

It was a good novel. I started it on Xmas Day and finished it yesterday. Its ending, though not I would hope leaving itself open to a sequel, Warmedover, falls where the first season ended. Can they resist the need to explain the Event.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Ripe and Unripe Advaita

He who thinks that liberation is something that has to be literally ‘produced’ has in mind a ‘liberation’ that would depend on action of body, speech or mind. The same is true of those who think that the soul has to undergo transformation to become the Absolute. Liberation as conceived in both these views would necessarily be impermanent. (B.S.B. I.i.4)

Nor does liberation depend on action in the form of purification (samskara). Purification is brought about through conferring some new attribute on the thing to be purified, or else removing a defect. But in the case of liberation it is not possible to confer a new attribute. For liberation is the Absolute in its true nature to which nothing can be superadded. Nor can there be purification through removal of defects. For liberation is the Absolute in its true nature, eternally pure and free from defects. (B.S.B. I.i.4)
(from The Method of Vedanta by Swami Satchidanandendraa pg.167)

Presumption is both a method and a danger in advaita. Liberation being our natural state should require no recourse to means. That’s true but as a practical balance to no scales no weights there is the procedure of adhiropa/apavada (attribution and retraction) which is a progressive elimination of false views and the view that there are no views. When Vivekananda met Ramakrishna for the first time he spouted pure advaita to the Master. ‘True enough’, he was told,’ but not for you who are still green and unripe’. (from memory)

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Original Sin, Original Deficit

After reading Ed Feser on Polygenism, Monogenism, the infusion of a rational soul and other topics relating to Theology’s third rail
monogenism and polygenism
I felt the need to acquaint myself further with the topic. A review from a faithful position is at
original sin
On Mastermind it would definitely qualify as a special subject. It is an issue which sprouts rather quickly the neon word heretic. As a heretic but not I insist an apostate I find it fascinating. It is a story out of the human race’s dream time when metaphysical speculation was expressed symbolically. When however the story is treated as quasi history at the same time as its inner meaning is parsed and analysed, theological epicycles are spawned.

From a comparative religion viewpoint the Hindu view of original deficit works the same ground. Here ajnana or avidya or ignorance is the structural fault. Human consciousness itself is locked into the subject/object dyad and the inevitable I, me, mine which it is argued is an error and the source of sin. Darwinian evolution is a problem for the Orthodox in relation to the doctrine of Karma. Clearly if birth is due to action in a previous incarnation it can’t get started, there cannot be a first man. Sankara posits a beginingless creation for this reason. Hindu creationism is the polar opposite of the Christian.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Will to Believe by William James

Part of the reason that the notion of volition in relation to belief has gained credibility must be due to the essay The Will to Believe. Here belief is presented as a pragmatic device to get over the angst of indecision that is a torment. Living in Keatsian negative capability just won’t do so we plump. John Watson
John Watson/Wikipedia in The Philosophical Basis of Religion (1907) writes with a brio equal to James:

Can we wonder if those bred in the rugged and manly school of science should feel like spewing such subjectivism out of thdr mouths? The whole system of loyalties which grow up in the schools of science go dead against its toleration; so that it is only natural that those who have caught the scientific fever should pass over to the opposite extreme, and write sometimes as if the incorruptibly truthful intellect ought positively to prefer bitterness and unacceptable-ness to the heart in its cup.

It fortifies my soul to know
That though I perish Truth is so

sings Clough, While Huxley exclaims: My only consolation lies in the reflection that, however bad our posterity may become, so far as they hold by the plain rule of not pretending to believe what they have no reason to believe, because it may be to their advantage so to pretend, they will not have reached the lowest depth of immorality. And that delicious enfant terrible Clifford writes; “ Belief is desecrated when given to unproved and unquestioned statements for the solace and private pleasure of the believer. . . , Whoso would deserve well of his fellows in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away”

If we look at the normal manifestations of faith we can see that those who have had it from infancy in general pass through its three stages as sketched by Baron Von Hügel.
Von Hugel's stages
I surmise that there is a universal aspect to this which spans all the major traditions. Contra James when the second rationalising aspect of faith is dominant the temptation to plump for faith is an itch that often goes away leaving a shallow scientism in its place.

If James had understood that the cultivation of faith has an active and experimental aspect to it then this concept of a leap across the abyss would have been altered to a position that reflects reality. Those who never had or have lost their faith in God can surrender to a higher power by whatever name they call it and receive a response which does not come from themselves They have tried the application of will power and admit themselves to be powerless before their addiction. This is the core of the 12 step program and the ancient De Profundis clamavi ad te Domine

This may be scouted by sceptics who would claim that this is a mere projection. They really don’t believe in what works.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Belief in God as a choice

Is belief in God something you can choose? How would that point at which the choice is made be arrived at? By grace we might find ourselves pitched into belief willy-nilly. That certainly happens and seems to me more likely than a cool appraisal followed by a decision. It appears as though there ought to be an answer to the question - why do you believe in God. Because he, she, it is there. Choosing to believe in God may be a sophism like choosing to believe in the evidence of your senses in your normal state of mind.

Thursday, 11 December 2014


Impanation could be described as theological trepanation whereby a hole is bored in the mind for the insertion of heresy. I came across the term in
pruss on impanation
Fetching from my Holmsian lumber room a dusty copy of Sheehan’s Apologetics I seemed to remember that it was heretical. New Advent confirms that it is:
 Orthodox Lutheranism expressed this so-called sacramental union between the Body of Christ and the substance of bread in the well-known formula: The Body of Christ is "in, with and under the bread" — in, cum et sub pane; really present, though only at the moment of its reception by the faithful — in usu, non extra usum. The theologians of the Reformed Churches, calling this doctrine, in their attack against the Lutherans, impanation, use the term not in the strict sense explained above, but in a wider meaning.
(new advent)

Alger of Liège
writing in an era before ecumenical tact calls impanation an absurd novelty ((quia nova et absurda). I’m not sure what Archbishop Sheehan of Sydney called it. The odd thing is that though second hand bookshops show in their 1 euro barrows the detritus of the breakup of seminary libraries no Apologetics has emerged before me in its usual brown parcel paper cover. I could send to Amazonia for it but that would be too wilful and I rather await its providential manifestation. My providentialism is a shade away from presumption which the catechism defines as:
A foolish expectation of salvation without making use of the means necessary to obtain it,

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Sankara and Rope/Snake analogy

That the Chinese character for sunya (emptiness) is the character for sky assures me that abstraction has a solid foundation. In the Hindu Sankhya system of 5 elements akash or space is sometimes translated as sky. When Sankara was attempting to answer the objection to his superimposition/adhasya analogy in which the attributes of one thing are transferred to another as in the coils of a rope being seen as a coiled snake, he took the example of akash. The objection took the form of saying that the analogy presupposed two sensible items being confused whereas the attributes of the Jiva, weight, complexion etc cannot be superimposed on that which is not a sensible item namely the Self. On the contrary wrote Sankara (Preamble to B.S.B.) akash/sky which is without attributes has the convex shape of a frying pan (wok) and the smudges of clouds projected on to it.

Two observations are pertinent. One is the patent misunderstanding of the role of analogy in argument. It is narrowly focused to bring out some point that its proposer regards as salient. Why then does Sankara,who understands this well, attempt to extend the analogy to answer a specious objection? Perhaps here we have the operation of a temporary approximation which will be discarded as knowledge increases similar to the method of adhiropa/apavada (attribution followed by retraction). The objector is at a level which is not very sophisticated. The important element of the teaching, adhyasa, should be retained for further reflection without being diluted by irrelevant considerations. In time it will be understood that it is the fact of the movement of attributes that is the important point and not the objects involved whether sensible or not.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

William Cowper: Hare of God

Finally Evangelicalism – and in this also it was unique among the philosophies of its day – could satisfy the temperament of the artist. For it alone set a supreme value on that emotional exaltation in which the greatest art is produced , it alone make the imagination the centre of its system and not a mere decorative appendage to it. An attitude of civilized disillusionment is all very well in its way, but it is not conducive to creative art. Wesley could have understood Dante as Voltaire or even Dr. Johnson could never have done. The Evangelicals may have disliked poetry, but their sublime conceptions of the universal plan is the most imaginative poem of its day.

Surging and swirling, flowed on the vari-coloured dream of eighteenth-century life. People were born and grew up; made money or lost it; were serious, were frivolous; yielded to a good impulse, yielded to a bad one; had moments of ecstasy and forgot them; made resolutions and failed to keep them married and grew old and died – their life an incoherent tangle of hopes and fears, desires and inhibitions, aspirations and apathies; heterogeneous, hand-to-mouth, without order or sequence. But though it moved a small band of people for whom the whole multifarious complex was resolved into a single and majestic action- that conflict which, as long as life lasts, the children of light must wage with the Prince of the powers of the air. They were sometimes feeble and sometimes erring, for they were mortal; but they never faltered in their effort to measure their every word and act by the highest standard they knew. They did what they though right whatever trouble it got them into, and whatever pleasure it deprived them of. Indeed, the ephemeral joys and sorrows of the world meant little to them. On their brows lay the shadows of the wings of death, and in their ears chimed ever the bells of Paradise.
(from The Stricken Deer (Life of Cowper) by Lord David Cecil)


William Cowper kept pet hares. They cheered and distracted him from the doom represented by the scrap of Latin that he retained from a dream:
Actum est de te, periisti (It’s all over with thee, thou has perished)

Epitaph on a Hare
By William Cowper

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
Must soon partake his grave.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Colm Toibin was on the telly last night - Imagine with Alan Yentob

Colm Toibin was on the BBC last night attended by acolyte Alan Yentob.
He was given the magic carpet treatment, ‘ten minutes in Barcelona’, done, ‘a stroll through Enniscorthy’, done, the display of the famous writer’s chair with lumbar numbing back, done, done, done. The BBC is like that; mention a place and you’re there. The low respectful feed of Yentob skied close to the ravine of mockery at times - ‘your countryman Samuel Beckett’. Toibin has a fine actorly voice with its regular scansion modulated by occasional strange pauses as though to fetch from a Bergsonian hidey hole a memory that eluded. Hardly, as the anecdotes and observations are well worn banalities sanctified by their long residence in the fanum of the writer’s mind.

Brooklyn his novel is being made into a film, the short story A Priest in the Family which I wrote about some years ago has been shot. I haven’t seen it. If it ever is shown on the telly I may watch it.

a priest

The next time I meet Professor Mickey we’ll have a good laugh. Three homes, how are you!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Seeker's Sabda

Nor can anyone acquire new and different knowledge of anything under the force of an injunction it he has already known it as different through a valid means of cognition. Even if he thinks of it differently (e.g. thinks of woman as the sacrificial fire, (cp. Chand:V.viii.l) under the conviction that he is enjoined to do so, this does not amount to knowledge, but only to imaginative mental activity. And if a thing that had been properly known through a valid means at cognition suddenly began to appear different of its own accord, that would simply he error. (B.S.Bh.III.ii.21)

(Swami S. Note)
Let us suppose that a person, who has know something in one way through a valid means of cognition, meditates upon it as something different in obedience to a Vedic injunction. The point here made is that genuine knowledge will remain unchanged by this, even though the person is obeying a vedic injunction. For instance, if one is enjoined to see vishnu in a stone image, that does not abolish the notion that it is a stone image. The notion of vishnu is the product of subjective human endeavour. It is only a piece of meditation, and so a piece of mental activity. If, however, there were only the stone image, and through darkness or some other obscuring factor there arose other ideas of it, such as the notion that it was a man, that should be considered simply as error.
(from The Method of Vedanta 134/5 by Swami Satchianandendra)

If, as is the case with most people, one has come within the purview of vedanta through the mediation of a teacher then the confirmation that one has experienced will become virtual sabda or a valid means of knowledge. That remains the touchstone in contrast to the mental understanding of even the highest teaching. The Master has become the portal. May I suggest that the presence of the Master becomes subtilized as the Seeker progresses. Even Ramana was first drawn by Arunachala Shiva. His atma vichara method or who am I inquiry is energized by his presence.