Friday, 31 July 2015

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope


One imagines an account of The Way We Live Now after the fashion of the instruction of Ernest Hemingway by Ford Madox Ford. Hem Lady Carbury, schemer; Sir Felix Carbury, young blackguard; Melmotte, bounder; Hetty Carbury, fair maid; Paul Montague, weak but essentially sound; Winifred Hurtle, American woman, slack moral and physical corsets; Ruby Ruggles, rustic ingenue loved by John Crumb loike she were loike; Roger Carbury, pucca Tory and gentleman. distant relative of Sir Roger de Coverly, Beargarden Company, chinless sprigs of the Aristocracy and usual cad and cardsharp (recommend glass of whisky and a pistol - not likely old chap), Assorted and Interchangable Jews of the merchant bank class; Alf & Broune journalists, lightly treated - don’t shoot yourself in the inkwell, what!

So it goes on and on. That’s the English episodic novel from 1874 to 1875. Good read though and if there are more cliches than you can subdue with a stout blackthorn it grows on you like ivy. Moreover on consideration types do exist and the ponzi scheme and Bernie ‘Madeoff’ continue to flourish on the basis of the motto - you can’t con an honest man. The writing is quite good and the narration pacey. The action seems to happen over a short period of a few months which flouts a classical unity; reading time ought to be less than narrative time. The diction is modern apart from the information that Paul Montague had 'daily intercourse’ with Mrs. Hurtle. He is a regular visitor though.

The Literary Types:
Mr. Alf had, moreover, discovered another fact. Abuse from those who occasionally praise is considered to be personally offensive, and they who give personal offence will sometimes make the world too hot to hold them. But censure from those who are always finding fault is regarded so much as a matter of course that it ceases to be objectionable. The caricaturist, who draws only caricatures, is held to be justifiable, let him take what liberties he may with a man's face and person. It is his trade, and his business calls upon him to vilify all that he touches. But were an artist to publish a series of portraits, in which two out of a dozen were made to be hideous, he would certainly make two enemies, if not more. Mr. Alf never made enemies, for he praised no one, and, as far as the expression of his newspaper went, was satisfied with nothing.

The Religious particularly the convert to Romanism (Newman type?)
A man more antagonistic to the bishop than Father John Barham, the lately appointed Roman Catholic priest at Beccles, it would be impossible to conceive;—and yet they were both eminently good men. Father John was not above five feet nine in height, but so thin, so meagre, so wasted in appearance, that, unless when he stooped, he was taken to be tall. He had thick dark brown hair, which was cut short in accordance with the usage of his Church; but which he so constantly ruffled by the action of his hands, that, though short, it seemed to be wild and uncombed. In his younger days, when long locks straggled over his forehead, he had acquired a habit, while talking energetically, of rubbing them back with his finger, which he had not since dropped. In discussions he would constantly push back his hair, and then sit with his hand fixed on the top of his head. He had a high, broad forehead, enormous blue eyes, a thin, long nose, cheeks very thin and hollow, a handsome large mouth, and a strong square chin. He was utterly without worldly means, except those which came to him from the ministry of his church, and which did not suffice to find him food and raiment; but no man ever lived more indifferent to such matters than Father John Barham. He had been the younger son of an English country gentleman of small fortune, had been sent to Oxford that he might hold a family living, and on the eve of his ordination had declared himself a Roman Catholic.

That English view of enthusiasm as bad form is a trait which has persisted. The characters in the novel wriggle under the burden of expectation just enough to be credible. It is panoptic but not a panopticon full of captive creatures. I found it a lively story.

The only other novel of Trollope’s that I have read is Can you forgive Her. How had she offended? I forget. Perhaps there was a gentleman caller who sat down without being asked. I have now moved to A Small House at Allington. I feel that its restricted compass may be more to my taste.





Thursday, 30 July 2015

Memory Cone, Cones & Gyres

Yeats's Gyre:


The implication of Bergson’s moving point of the cone of memory for meditation is this. Ekagrata is our natural state and the skittering away from it is a free act or a minor fugue. To excavate a metaphor, there is a lot of heat or what the yogis call tapas. at the focal point. In alchemical terms there is fractional distillation as the dross memories that guard the tip of the cone burn off. Nice colours.

As a symbol I have seen the double cone done in Kolam powdered rice patterns outside homes in Andra Pradesh. Yeats adopted it for his gyres (supra). MacGregor Mathners the’psychopomp’ of Yeats in the Golden Dawn was married to Bergson’s sister Mina. I draw no conclusions from this, I merely point it out.

Note: Yeats’ s tower at Thoor Ballylee in Galway is open to visitors again. For €7 you will get a conducted tour right to the top plus a cup of tea and biccys and maybe a rendition of Down by the Sally Gardens in a nice baritone. The most important public building in Ireland said Seamus Heaney.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sketch of a Bergson patch for Locke




In that time of the early morning when the review of your life generally drives you from your bed do you really believe that your identity survives after all those years? What was I thinking of you ask yourself. If it's not the same I, if that I is an illusion not even operative in the present then what does the hot prickling sweat of embarrassment signify? Why should I take responsibility for that faux pas? Linking the concept of identity to memory as was done by John Locke is too easily dismissed.

This being premised, to find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what person stands for; for which I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it; it being impossible for anyone to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive.
(from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding II.28.9)


There are well known difficulties with this theory particularly when he adds further down:


......and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that this action was done.


Locke by the way is perfectly aware of the problems of forgetfulness and deep dreamless sleep which would create breaks in consciousness (cf. II.28.10) His proposal of serial substances with the same consciousness is an interesting one and is at least as intelligible as the claim that there is no such thing as a self.

An intuition of the connection between consciousness and identity that seems as firm as an anvil may be a very good place to start. Could memory taken in the Bergsonian way patch Locke's assumption of 'same' as in - same consciousness equals same man? Bergson maintained there is only ever a single consciousness with compresent elements that is constantly being rolled up in a single duration. It is this duration or memory working on a single moving point that establishes identity. Moreover this source of identity is most intensely felt as a contentless present moment. There is therefore no series of states as an ontological foundation. The series of states is a psychological construct that seems to underpin our identity. That part of Buddhism is right but that’s not all there is.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Imaginal


Here again it would be fitting to illustrate the function of the active Imagination, for this is a science which eludes rational demonstrations and dogmatic theorems alike. Nor should it be condemned as a mere theoretical view. It is not theory; it is an initiation to vision. Is it possible to see without being in the place where one sees? Theophanic visions, mental visions, ecstatic visions in a state of dream or of waking are in themselves penetrations into the world they see.
(from Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi by Henry Corbin pg.93)

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ekagrata for cats


Puss was sitting on my lap as I was meditating. She couldn’t settle. Up, down , sideways, turn around and around. ‘My tail is in the way’. Ekagrata (one-pointedness) just wouldn’t come. I said:

- Think of yourself outside a mouse hole in the skirting board. You’re watching and waiting. Try that.

- Till the last blade of grass
- Till the last nibble of kibble.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Persuasion


The odour of solipsism hangs about a certain version of persuasion. Irresistible arguments are marshalled then an interlocutor is wheeled in, a person of impeccable rational propriety. The persuasive arguments do their work and conviction ensues. When this does not happen it is obvious that there is some fault in the reasoning capacity of the persuadee combined with a wilful recalcitrance. They are not a true rational Scotsman.

Let’s just argue.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

John locke's Style



At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor.
(from a cliche infested review of a book on Browne in the NY Times)

Jim Holt’s view of Locke is the received, accepted and established one. I have never felt that it was fair so as a random test I did a sortilege on a lightly used copy of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding bought for the long introduction by A.D. Woozley. Out came the plum Chap.XXVII: 15

§ 15. And thus we may be able, without any difficulty, to conceive the same person at the resurrection, though in a body not exactly in make or parts the same which he had here, the same consciousness going along with the soul that inhabits it. But yet the soul alone, in the change of bodies, would scarce to any one, but to him that makes the soul the man, be enough to [339] make the same man. For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince’s past life, enter and inform the body of a cobbler, as soon as deserted by his own soul, every one sees he would be the same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince’s actions: but who would say it was the same man? The body too goes to the making the man, and would, I guess, to every body determine the man in this case; wherein the soul, with all its princely thoughts about it, would not make another man: but he would be the same cobbler to every one besides himself. I know that, in the ordinary way of speaking, the same person, and the same man, stand for one and the same thing. And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply what articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases. But yet when we will inquire what makes the same spirit, man, or person, we must fix the ideas of spirit, man, or person in our minds; and having resolved with ourselves what we mean by them, it will not be hard to determine in either of them, or the like, when it is the same, and when not.

This a well known early thought experiment which is extensively considered in Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity by Sidney Shoemaker sticking to his last as it were. TE supplies the first two letters of ‘tendentious’. (This is Sunday, I should be resting). My point here is the clarity of the exposition. I have never found clarity to be dull. Dullness is the first stage on the way to Opacity. The dull surface of an exposition obscures its sense and whether you agree with Locke or not his meaning is clear and there is a vigour to - “And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as he pleases, and to apply whatever articulate sounds to what ideas he thinks fit, and change them as often as he pleases”.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lecter Vs. Nucatola


Thank you Deborah, that was delicious. You like a full bodied red swilling sort of wine, I have always favoured a Chianti with offal.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Sishyphean Task/Pramana


It occurred to me that by taking pramana as a means of knowledge the focus is taken away from the means as an end in itself. We are shunted into wrangles about whether a particular end might not have been achieved by some other means. Is our knowledge of the denotation of ‘gavaya’ due to the testimony of the forester or an inference and so on and so forth? The logical end point of these diversions are a reduction of all pramana to perception. However if you take like/unlike as a knowledge bearing dyad which is immediate and irreducible to any other, the primitive insight is preserved. The Sisyphean task of contriving an example which isolates the single pramana that plucks the fruit is left as the sport of philosophy.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Consider the Platypus ye scryers by Upamana


The ghost of the forest dweller haunts the simple fable of the Nyaya version of upamana. He it is who gives a name to the cow-like creature you might come across in the forest. The discovery of the denotation of the name ‘gavaya’ is what upamana is about. A contrary view is that denotation of this kind is achieved by the use of upamana but is not its sole fruit. Dharmaraja Adhvarindra of the advaitic vedanta school manages to send off our intrepid explorer without mentioning the ‘forester’. However the name ‘gavaya’ is given which seems to suggest denotation as an end point. If one omitted to mention the name and simply stuck with the core knowledge of ‘like and unlike the domestic cow’ that would be a means of knowledge. As the logical operation of the simple binary, like/unlike, it would tie in with the likewise simple switch of background/foreground of the arthapatti pramana. They both have a simple immediacy.

Another concern is the supposed use of memory when you spot the gavaya. Your memory of the cow may be operative in your judgement of likeness/unlikeness and memory is not regarded as a reliable means of knowledge. The normal counter is that likeness or unlikeness in the gavaya is a contemporary experience and therefore not a memory. I sense here a frail subtlety which is in any case not needed as having a concept does not involve the use of memory once that concept is acquired. You have the capacity to use the concept permanently present to you.

In short the restricted diet of examples of upamana may be due to seeing denotation as its exclusive fruit. Consider the duck-billed platypus:

The platypus is among nature's most unlikely animals. In fact, the first scientists to examine a specimen believed they were the victims of a hoax. The animal is best described as a hodgepodge of more familiar species: the duck (bill and webbed feet), beaver (tail), and otter (body and fur). Males are also venomous. They have sharp stingers on the heels of their rear feet and can use them to deliver a strong toxic blow to any foe.
(from National Geographic: platypus

Utter unlikeness to anything ever seen before may be a means to knowledge in the sense that it mediates an expansion of knowledge.




Saturday, 11 July 2015

Tabula rasa with desk-like features.


When my wife points out that I am leaving books on every surface and turning the sitting room table into a desk I respond:
- It's not a desk, I know that, it's a table with desk-like features.

Is this upamana at work? I think so. Moreover, rather than being restricted to the gavaya (bos gaurus) of the standard example and its configuration which seduces us into trying to devise congruent examples; we are in fact using the pramana all the time in various ways. The usage in translation of 'means of knowledge' may be a misdirection. We are inclined then to think of some sort of device that we utilise whereas upamana as a capacity that only exists as it is being used, mysterious as that sounds, may be closer to its reality. My resistance is to a Lockean abstractionist view which sees the the tabula rasa as the primitive condition.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Scholars: surpass your learning!


When Ibn'Arabi first met Averroes (Ibn'Rashd) :

At that time I was a beardless youth. When I entered, the master arose from his place, received me with signal marks of friendship and consideration, and finally embraced me. Then he said: 'Yes.' and I in turn said: 'Yes.' His joy was as great at noting that I had understood. But then taking cognizance of what had called forth his joy, I added: 'No.' Immediately Averroes winced, the colour went out of his cheeks, he seemed to doubt his own thought. He asked me this question: 'What manner of solution have you found through divine illumination and inspiration? Is it identical with that which we obtain from speculative reflection?'. I replied: 'Yes and no. Between the yes and the no, spirits take their flight from their matter and heads are separated from their bodies.' Averroes turned pale, I saw him tremble; he murmured the ritual phrase 'There is no power save in God' – for he had understood my allusion.

They again met on the subtle plane though Averroes was not aware of the presence of Ibn'Arabi and in any case was too absorbed in his meditation to take notice of him.

Ibn'Arabi remarked:
He was indeed too absorbed in his meditation to take notice of me. I said to myself: His thought does not guide him to the place where I myself am.

Further:
I had no further occasion to meet him until his death which occurred in the year 595 of the Hegira (1198) in Marakesh. His remains were taken to Cordova, where his tomb is . When the coffin containing his ashes was loaded on the flank of a beast of burden, his works were placed on the other side to counterbalance it . I was standing there motionless; with me was the jurist and man of letters Abu'l Husayn Muhammad ibn Jubayr, secretary of the sayyid Abu Said (an Almuhad prince) and my friend Abu'l-Hakam 'Amr ibn al-Sarraj, the copyist. Abu'l-Hakam turned to us and said: 'Have you not observed what serves as a counterweight to the master Averroes on his mount? On the one side the master (imam) and on the other his works, the books he wrote.' And Ibn Jubayr answered him: 'You say I do not observe, O my child? I assuredly do. And blessed be your tongue!' Then I stored up within me (Abu'l-Hakam's words) as a theme of meditation and recollection. I am now the sole survivor among that little group of friends – may God have mercy on them – and then I said: 'On one side the master, on the other his works. Ah! how I wish I knew whether his hopes have been fulfilled.'
(from Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn'Arabi. by Henry Corbin)

Monday, 6 July 2015

Fowler bags Partridge


What about this:

By the time of his death—he fell from a fifth-floor window in a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the birds—Hrabal was one of the world’s most famous Czech writers and the author of nearly fifty books
(Lit Hub intro.:
hrabal

We understand what he’s saying of course but the general flaccidity is not helped by the consideration that there can only be one most famous. Similarly Hrabal could be the best known Czech writer but not ‘one of the best known’. The usage “one of the world’s most famous Czech writers” brings forward the mistaken idea that ‘Czech’ is a genre like ‘science fiction’ or ‘historical fiction’.

By the time of his death the Czech writer Hrabal was very well known outside his own country. He fell from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital attempting to feed birds outside his window. It is not known if his last words were ‘little sisters'.

Then the business of ‘nearly 50 books’. Fifty in itself is not a huge number. If you said forty eight or forty seven that would be fine if in fact the number is known for sure. Perhaps one of the books is incomplete. It’s not that either, but the awesomeness of 50, the wow of fifty which 48 doesn’t have. It would be a puzzle if you wrote ‘nearly forty eight’. Why?

If you know please tell me, don’t keep it to yourself.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Pro-Life march Numbers


In India when you ask - ‘were there many there?’ you will be told- ‘lakhs’. Being the populous country that it is, the unit lakh i.e. 100,000 is appropriate. In Ireland with the population of a Bombay suburb, thousands is the unit. How many thousands exactly? Take the pro-life march in Dublin for instance which I was at. The Gardai (police) estimate from 5 to 8 thousand with a counter demo from pro-abortion groups at a few hundred. Passing that gauntlet of anger which was outside the GPO I would concur.

The figures vary. The Independent newspaper yesterday in its update section estimated ‘upwards of 3 to 4 thousand’. The Irish Times rounded up to ‘10 thousand’. The Irish Examiner was covering a different planet yesterday so there was no mention of any march.

Today in the Sunday Independent Claire McCormack tells us ‘as many as 20 thousand went head to head in O’Connell street’. One scuffle where a guard pushed back a pro-abortion man back from the march is not a cage fight Claire.

So how many were actually there? Police presence was adequate, so overtime to cover a peaceful march was handy. They seemed unstressed. So how many? We shall never know.
Thousands. Are you happy now?

Update: Organisers of the March claim 25 to 30,000!

Friday, 3 July 2015

The World as Will / Chandogya Upanishad VII.iv.2


‘O venerable sir, I read the Rg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, and Atharva-Veda the fourth. History and mythology which are the fifth Veda, grammar, the rites for the manes, mathematics, the subject of natural disturbances, mineralogy, logic, ethics, etymology, the subject of ancillary knowledge concerning the Vedas, the sciences of the elements, the science of archery, astronomy, the science of serpents, the subject of fine arts - I know all these, O venerable sir!’

In the commentary Sankara notes that the fine arts are perfumery, dancing, music (vocal and instrumental), sculpture, painting, handicrafts, etc. My early exposure to the writing of James Joyce has brought a comedic air to long lists of accomplishments. Myles na gCopaleen does it also. Nevertheless the Vedic education system was of long duration, from 9 to 36 years. Learning off the 4 Vedas, which is still being done, takes 21 years.
Still:

'O venerable sir, such as I am, I merely know the subjects textually. But I am not a knower of the Self. It has been heard by me, from venerable people like you, that a knower of the Self goes beyond sorrow. Such as I am, I am full of sorrow, O venerable sir, please take me beyond sorrow.’

To him he said: All these, whatsoever that you have learnt are merely names.'

Contrasted with ‘name’ is ‘speech’. It is the difference between the taxonomical and the creative. Speech is greater than name as it makes meaning known. Mind is greater than speech. In Ch.Up. VII.4.1 we are told that ‘will’ is greater than ‘mind’. This is the typical successive
nesting of the powers. The World as Will and Representation preserves this connection though of course the Subjective Idealism is Schopenhauer’s own.

'Those things that are thus, have will as their one goal, are identified with will, are established on will. Heaven and earth willed. Air and space willed. Water and fire willed. Rain wills in accordance with their will. Food will through the will of rainfall. The vital forces will in accordance with the will of food. The mantras will in accordance with the will of the vital forces. The rites will in accordance with the will of the mantras. The result (of rites) wills in accordance with the will of rites. Everything wills in accordance with the will of results. This as such is will. Meditate on will.
(Ch.Up. VII.4.2)

Nature is evidently teleological and dharma is the alignment of man and nature.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Summer Flummery



For reading under the apple tree there are some books which engage the mind easily without being a grievous injury; I mean books which pause the ‘borne back’ and permit us to remain suspended like pond skimmers on imaginations surface tension. There is a time for flummery. I have just read we have always lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson:

"He used the most sugar," Mrs. Wright said.
"Alas," Uncle Julian said.  "Then, on either side of my brother, his daughter Constance and my wife Dorothy, who had done me the honor of casting in her lot with mine, although I do not think that she anticipated anything so severe as arsenic on her blackberries. Another child, my niece Mary Katherine, was not at table."
"She was in her room," Mrs. Wright said.
"A great child of twelve, sent to bed without her supper. But she need not concern us."


The sugar is passed frequently in this macabre comedy. Uncle Julian is the family historian and the shambling relic of an event that he can’t get quite straight. Mary Katherine ought to concern us. Constance we are inclined to suspect may be an agent of deadly nurturence. Are we correct?

Zuleika Dobson by Sir Max Beerbohm is pure fun. She is visiting her grandfather in Oxford and her unpacking is :
All the colours of the rainbow, materialised by modistes, were there. Stacked on chairs were I know not what of sachets, glove-cases, fan-cases. There were innumerable packages in silver-paper and pink ribands. There was a pyramid of bandboxes. There was a virgin forest of boot-trees. And rustling quickly hither and thither, in and out of this profusion, with armfuls of finery, was an obviously French maid. Alert, unerring, like a swallow she dipped and darted. Nothing escaped her, and she never rested. She had the air of the born unpacker—swift and firm, yet withal tender. Scarce had her arms been laden but their loads were lying lightly between shelves or tightly in drawers. To calculate, catch, distribute, seemed in her but a single process. She was one of those who are born to make chaos cosmic.

The Incomparable Max is incapable of cliche without at the same time straining after novelty of expression. That happens.

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer is a English comedy of resolute indecision which I have begun (again and again). Beyond changes of venue nothing much will happen in a trance like way. He will notice things and then recant and then grudgingly accept. This is dangerous fiction for those dogged by velleity. I wish I could make up my mind whether this persona is a gimmick that allows Dyer to plunge his sink and carry on.

Because life is serious I continue to read The Road to Wigan Pier (unabridged, uncorrected) and enjoy bloody Orwell laying about him. Decent sort of chap: play up, play up and lay the blame.