Thursday, 22 December 2016

"But is Indian Thought really Philosophy?" (really, really)

It was probably a rhetorical question – “But is Indian Thought really Philosophy?” I suggest ‘eating the peach’ on that one. Try the opening sutra of the Kena Upanisad:

Willed by whom does the directed mind go towards its object? Being directed by whom does the vital force, that precedes all, proceed (towards its duty)? By whom is this speech willed that people utter? Who is the effulgent being who directs the eyes and ears?

2: Since He is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Life of life, and the Eye of the eye, therefore the intelligent men, after giving up (self-identification with the senses) and renouncing this world, become immortal.

In so far as these things can be known the Kena Up. is dated around about 500 B.C. which puts it in line with the Pre-Socratics and their physics and Heraclitus and his gnomic logoi. No one has ever disputed that they promulgated philosophy. In the Kena you have Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, consciousness and the binding problem which continue to be an important part of Metaphysical speculation. What is perhaps different in Indian thought is that inquiry might lead to commitment. The immediate intuition that is Self-Realisation can lead to apodeictic justification or an intellectual reverse engineering. The analytically ‘trained’ will whinny and balk at that jump.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Time Travelling and Deontology

The stubbornness of clever people is commonplace and their retention of a view that is confounding to common sense should not astound us. But it does.

Have a look at
deontology paradox
and you will see what I mean. It exhibits the time travelling paradox whereby we eliminate one person to save the lives of many. Certainty applies to that scenario when we travel back in time to alter a present fact. From the present moment’s point of view looking to the prevention of multiple murders in the future only God could know that they were prevented because they never will happen or more correctly never shall have happened. Odd tense that. So now, having killed an innocent person, all we have is that death on our hands.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens (pub. 1957) / Trotsky, I concur.

Dwight Macdonald of whom Trotsky said:
- 'Everyone has the right to be stupid but Macdonald abuses the privilege', would never get away with such a careless review in the age of the internet savant, saving my presence. So often is the hatchet job that is supposed to have destroyed the literary career of James Gould Cozzens mentioned in reviews of Macdonalds essays that I must presume that it is on a publicist's cheat sheet of facts you ought to mention. Besides it will save you the considerable time it takes to read By Love Possessed. If you did as I did being as I am on the completist spectrum you would easily spot Macdonalds careless reading. But you probably won't because the book relates the adventures of a coterie of WASP lawyers and others in a county town in Pennsylvania or New England, I'm not sure which. It knocked Peyton Place off the best seller list in 1957 so it has some sex scenes in it which might have been written by that Egypto-Hellenic purveyor of filth, Plotinus. Is there some fustian in the book. Yes, certainly, some but not nearly as much as Macdonald makes out. Does it have some anti-Catholic, anti-Irish and anti-Semitic bias in it, via the characters in it? Yes it does reflect the reality of the characters, a primary aspect of any novel. Simultaneously it also depicts the Arthur Winner Jun. as a hypocrite and an enabler of the mingling of monies entrusted to his associate. Defalcation my friend. Over a weekend a deconstruction of WASP probity in every area of their lives is brought out into the strong sunlight from the usual adumbration. Like any long novel it has its parts that pull a bit like a razor that wants honing but it's never painful. I would recommend it.

find Macdonalds review at commentary
Find Cozzens' book in your friendly book barrow

Thursday, 15 December 2016

goober peas

You’d have to worry, if you were an American, about the unanimity of the liberal intelligentsia and its subsection the literary, liberal intelligentsia on the Trump phenomenon and now on the electoral college that must be extracted like an abscessed molar by a mad dentist who will wave it before your swimming eyes and say:
- Look at that baby!

But I’m not an American so I can be insouciant and sanguine yet, in my acceptance of that scenario as guaranteeing a permanent Democratic majority and the fife and drum band playing Goober Peas.

You had another question for me, Virginia, what was it again?

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


To add to my remarks on ‘losing your temper with metaphor and analogy’;
losing your temper
once you have managed to grind your blade or intellect without drawing its temper you need to hone it to keep it razor sharp - sharp enough to split hairs. For that you need a paragon. An ‘akone’ is a whetstone (Gk.) against which (para) you hone away your rough edges, emulous as you are. If you study philosophy let not your paragon be the terror of the seminar room. Such persons are abrasive certainly but produce a scabrous edge. Some would say a rough edge is a good working edge, suitable for politics. Certainly a knife edge won’t last very long on a hatchet.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Superimposition / Adhyasa as manifest in ordinary Awareness. Upadesa Sahasri 8

54. The teacher said, Listen. It is true that the Self and the body are well-known, but they are not well-known to all people to be objects of different knowledge, like a human being and a trunk of tree. (Question): How are they known then? (Reply): (They are always known) to be the objects of an undifferentiated knowledge. For, no one knows them to be the objects of different knowledge saying, "This is the body" and "This is the Self". It is for this reason that people are deluded about the nature of the Self and of the non-Self and say, "The Self is of this nature" and "It is not of this nature". It was this peculiarity with reference to which I said that there was no such rule (viz., only well-known things could be superimposed on each other).
(from Chap.2 Upadesa Sahasri)

What Shankara is doing here is moving the concept of Superimposition to a new locus viz. to human self-awareness. The Self as encountered empirically is not known as separable from the physical entity through which it manifests. Consciousness is always manifested under some form or other. We can conceptually grasp the reality of the Self. However this apprehension is always in some state or other of manifest awareness. This is the basis of the pratibodha videtam (known with reference to each state of awareness) as delineated in Kena Up. II.4. cf. my previous remarks:
pratibodha videtam

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Adhyasa (Superimposition) as a Two-Stage Rocket. Upadesa Sahasri 7

51. The disciple said, Though eternal, I am not the Supreme Self. My Nature is one of transmigratory existence consisting of agency and experiencing of its results, as it is known by evidences such as sense-perception etc. It is not due to Ignorance. For it cannot have the innermost Self for its object. Ignorance consists of the superimposition of the qualities of one thing on another e.g., well-known silver on well-known mother-of-pearl or a well-known human being on a (well-known) trunk of a tree and vice versa. An unknown thing cannot be superimposed on a known one and vice versa. The non-Self cannot be superimposed on the Self, for It is not known. Similarly, the Self cannot be superimposed on the non-Self for the very same reason.
(from Chap.2 Upadesa Sahasri)

Here is kernel of the problem with using analogies. They can be mistakenly understood in two ways. (I’d love to be able to find three ways to conform to standard philosophical practice) First there is the error of misconstruing what the element is that you are attempting to offer an analogy for and second the tendency to overgeneralize the point of the analogy i.e. to turn an analogy into an homology. So we can take the superimposition analogy to be about error or scepticism or belief and get sidetracked into the interesting but irrelevant to the purpose of the analogy, ways of establishing veridical knowledge or the status of the ‘false’ object etc.

The disciple here is making the over generalization error. He views the template of their having to be two separate and separable things as the fixed nature of superimposition. In fact as a teaching strategy the introduction to the advaitin concept via a graduated explication is an excellent one similar to the adhiropa/apavada device. It’s a two stage rocket!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Plea for Tolerance of WASPS....(James Gould Cozzens)

"I merit the reproof, no doubt," Julius Penrose said. "I can't say instinct is silenced; but I, perhaps, ought to be! Perhaps I should not glance at Mr. Brophy's religion. First; prejudice is in itself held censurable; an evil thing. So I'm anti-Catholic, am I? Still, in passing, I'll confess I wonder, as one of them, why the only people who may be openly criticized, found fault with, and spoken ill of, are those of white, Protestant, and more or less Nordic extraction. I, it seems, am game and fair game for everybody—a kind of caput lupinum. Nobody writes the papers threateningly when I'm decried or disparaged. I don't say this is unreasonable. I myself have no wish to abridge any man's right not to like me if he so chooses. Only, in my bewildered way, I keep thinking there ought to be a turnabout. There isn'tl Not only may each bumptious Catholic freely rate and abuse me if I reflect in the least on his faith; but each self-pitying Jew, each sulking Negro, need only holler that he's caught me not loving him as much as he loves himself, and a rabble of professional friends of man, social-worker liberals, and practitioners of universal brotherhood—the whole national horde of nuts and queers—will come at a run to hang me by the neck until I learn to love."
(from By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens)

I’m in the middle of this long, quite excellent novel, now moving in the direction of legal procedural which might be imagined to be dull but it isn’t. Clean, crisp prose which by not soaring shows that it is already elevated. I only came to know of him through an O’Hara biography. Naturally Cozzens was native to clubs which would not have O’Hara for a member. Don’t believe what you read about him. Some of his statements are not so much trolling as exquisitely delivered dry flies at the banks where the critics hover like cannibal trout.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Appointment in Linebrook with John O'Hara

The other biography of John O’Hara that I’m reading is by Finis Farr which was published just 3 years after the death of its subject. Just from the first chapter I can say that it is better written that the MacShane production which seems to be a quickly run off item. The Farr book hews more closely to the life reflected in the stories, the log of his life, as it were. Was O’Hara an alcoholic? Yes I would say but not a ‘fucking alcoholic’ who is someone that you don’t like who drinks as much as you do yourself. For a good account of the wreck alcohol has wrought amongst American writers read The Thirsty Muse byThomas Dardis. Some of O’Hara’s pals are there featured but he gets a billing in the also starring.

Subverting the normal arc of a life, Finis Farr begins at O’Hara’s last day on earth which was much like many of the others since he had given up ‘the drink’ 17 years previously and took to writing big novels interspersed with short story collections in the years between. Appointment in Linebrook (his house) was pencilled with the minor stroke that admonisheth firmed up by the stroke that felleth.

The description of the study where he wrote through the night on his Remington Noiseless is so complete that Farr must have been there.

Professional care had assembled the reference books around the writing hutch, and the number of dictionaries alone would surprise anyone except another writer. In a commanding position stood the 2,515-page Oxford Universal Dictionary, concise in comparison to its thirteen-volume parent, the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, which O'Hara did not own. But he had an unabridged Webster, and thirty other dictionaries in various languages. Macmillan's Everyman's Encyclopedia supported the two Britannicas, and a dozen histories of Pennsylvania showed O'Hara's interest in his home state

There are innumerable memorabilia and photos, silver boxes and ash trays but other than reference books and editions and translations of his own work there is no literature. He seems not to have read much but assiduously kept up with things by taking 5 newspapers a day. He yearned to be admitted to the club of the great writers but his novels of the rich and dissolute lacked spiritual scale. He thought himself due the Nobel Prize. Reading the requirements for its awarding:
Among the five prizes provided for in Alfred Nobel's will (1895), one was intended for the person who, in the literary field, had produced "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"
It is clear that the Nordic bluenoses would not consider his writing to represent an ideal direction. Any more than Joyce did.

He intended to buy a Rolls with the money if he won the Nobel. He bought one anyway:

O'Hara liked to use his money for the pleasure it would bring him and his family. He had always wanted a Rolls Royce and had promised himself that if he won the Nobel Prize he would buy one with the proceeds. But when it seemed unlikely that he would win it, he decided to buy the car anyhow. He went to New York to inspect the Rolls showroom and then, with feigned casualness, he ordered what he wanted by phone. It was a four-door Silver Cloud III, painted dark green. He asked that his initials be painted on the door and sent in his check for $17,300. Most of his rich friends had Bentleys, which is the same car as the Rolls except for the Rolls's distinctive radiator grille. But O'Hara decided he could not afford this kind of inverse snobbery. "None of your shy, thumb-sucking Bentley radiators for me," he wrote. "I got that broad in her nightgown on my radiator and them two R's, which don't mean rock 'n' roll. Maybe I ought to start going to the Friday concerts again. Who dat? Man, dat Johnny O'Hara, from Pottsville, writes like a son of a bitch, he do."
(from The Life of John O’Hara by Frank MacShane pub.1980.)

Friday, 2 December 2016

John O'Hara's Graven Image short story

Shall we read a story? Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Find E.L. Doctorow reading John O’Hara’s Graven Image (1943) at the New Yorker Podcast here:

My Thoughts:
So many layers, so many interpretations. I may be completely wrong about this but the anti-Semitic aspect that Doctorow sees seems to me to arise from his own Jewish sense of exclusion. You would need to be very ‘pushy’ indeed to want to join a club whose totemic animal was chosen to exclude the ‘chosen’. Another thing that was missed is the matter of loyalty. The hinge of the story is the recognition of the jerk in the blue suit who had been to Browning’s house in his father’s time. That connects to the Pocellian fraudster who commanded automatic loyalty. What would Browning’s father think of him, pork in pocket, if not cap in hand, going to Under mensch Secretary, one of the short assed ‘you fellows’. It is an unconscious reflex that causes Browning to throw the job back in in Joe’s face and win both ways firstly in the using of the under-secretary’s need to show dominance, a small man’s triumph, and secondly in saying just the wrong thing. One can imagine Browning talking to his fellow club members afterwards, saying –

- When it came to the point I just couldn’t go through with it.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

O'Hara joins the O.S.S.

I can now relate what O’Hara did in the war. Essentially he tried to join it. His drinking had ruined his gut and he was afflicted with ulcers which meant he was barred from normal active service. Trying every avenue of influence he finally managed to get accepted by the O.S.S.

Nonetheless, O'Hara kept up his efforts to be taken into the services and approached Colonel William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services. To his surprise, he was accepted for training in the OSS and was sent to a camp in Virginia for the first steps. There he grew a beard and, in order to preserve the anonymity required of all candidates, he used his Pottsville nickname of "Doc." Again, he was stricken with illness and had to withdraw in less than a month's time. He then tried to find something in the merchant marine or the Red Cross, but these possibilities also fell through.

Just as well for the war effort.

I said mean things about his looking after his widowed and impoverished mother particularly because he went through a period of earning 1000$ per week in Hollywood and as a columnist for Newsweek. This my calculator says is 16+ thousand dollars in today’s money. However in 1940, MacShane writes:

By 1940, he began to realize that it was foolish for his mother to remain in Pottsville, living alone with her younger daughter Kathleen in a house suited for a family of eight. He and Mary therefore found a modest but pleasant apartment at 107 University Place, just south of Fourteenth Street in Greenwich Village, and there he installed his mother and his Aunt Verna, together with Mary and Kathleen. O'Hara was very fond of his mother; they were friends. As she had a lively sense of humor and brought out her son's, there was always joking and laughter when they were together.

I’m really not sure what precise weight ‘installed’ has in this account. Does it mean he found the apartment or bought the lease. The family had a big house in Pottsville but that was probably re-mortgaged. This biography is very often slack on information but provides a good illustration of the massive demand for copy from writers in the age of the magazine. There were so many of them and they had such wide circulation that any talented writer had a outlet unlike the present day where ‘then he started a blog’ is a last post on a faltering bugle.

Monday, 28 November 2016

John O'Hara, drunken lout. (Frank MacShane, Biography)

To steal Yeats’s phrase O’Hara was a ‘drunken, vainglorious lout’, a bully, a snob, a slapper of women – hard, and of course for the only reason we do not allow him to drift into grateful disrememberance, a fine writer. I’m reading along with his stories which were selected by Frank MacShane the biography also written by him. When with his early success he had the money to travel to Europe he was hospitably received in literary circles in London but his behaviour soon burned away that good will. His life seems to proceed from one smoking ruin to another. Back in Pottsville his mother was genteely impoverished but our boy partied on. Bad son, bad husband, promiscuous and willing to share his feats of venery. He shouted after a man leaving a club with an ex-girlfriend:
- I slept with that woman
- Well, I’m going to sleep with her tonight.
was the reply

As I was reading about his London months I thought – here’s a chance for you to visit the old sod but I bethought myself when I considered how his pure Irish roots were the great impediment to rising in the world of Pottsville and how much he resented that. Too painful a reminder for the exquisite sensibility of O’Hara.

This is where I am now. What did he do in the war - Man the batteries in the Hollywood Hills, defend it to the last roll of film?

Friday, 25 November 2016

Short Stories I'm reading

I'm reading three collections of short stories these days sitting at the window as the low sun strikes over the frost rimed lawn. Blaze the tom is catching those rays too on the cill. He's a young one in his first season, black with jade eyes and as yet unmarked by fights. Which leads me to Thom Jones's The Pugalist at Rest. There is in his work a finely wrought amalgam of scholarly violence with an emphasis on the conclusion which is usually a knock out. Jones knows what he is talking about having suffered brain damage as a marine boxer who met someone harder and badder than he was. He died recently.
pugilist at rest
Jones never was in Vietnam but he met the scholars coming home. His account of action there demonstrates the very great advantage that fighting on your own turf brings even when the visitors are highly fancied. They can always go home and bring trophy noses home with them, the home side have nowhere to go and can die well knowing that their graves will be kept by descendents. Thom Jones draws in reflections on the Greek statue to make his point. Powerful and horrible. 'Can we win next time' asked John Rambo. This is an answer.

Another writer who died recently in the fullness of years and attainment was William Trevor, master fabulist who specialised in characters who suffer slippage in the clutch when changing from 'in here' to 'out there'. He makes a world in his stories by establishing each character however tangential with a quirky reality. This isn't the clotting of dense plotting (oh!). It's the swift touches of the master. An Evening with John Joe Dempsey begins:
In Keogh's one evening Mr.Lynch talked about the Picadilly tarts, and John Joe Dempsey on his fifteenth birthday closed his eyes and travelled into a world he did not know. 'Big and little,' said Mr. Lynch 'winking their eyes at you and enticing you up to them. Wetting their lips,' said Mr.Lynch with the ends of their tongues.'

John O'Hara's stories are of a very high order too with not a lot of humour but considerable delicate attention to the nuances of class. Some are slight enough, you know that reversal of what Malcolm Cowley said of the short story 'something happens as a result of which everything chages'. Here nothing happens as a result of which nothing is changed or a stasis which is its own denoument. Not having an American ear I can't judge the accuracy of his dialogue, many of the stories have little else and my informed sources tell me that he was uncanny. It's all so long ago anyway, all we have now are the rhythms and the repetitions but they would remain as echoes to the educated ear.

In Goodbye, Herman a man comes home to find that his father's barber from his home town has been waiting with a package. In it is his fathers shaving mug:

Herman stood still while Paul undid the package, revealing a shaving mug. "This was my father's. Herman shaved him every day of his life, I guess."

"Well, not every day. The Daddy didn't start shaving till he was I guess eighteen years old, and he used to go away a lot. But I guess I shaved him more than all the other barbers put together."

Damn right you did. Dad always swore by you, Herman."

"Yes, I guess that's right," said Herman.

"See, Elsie?" said Paul, holding up the mug.

He read the gold lettering: "J-D-Miller, M.D."

"Mn. Why do you get it? You're not the oldest boy. Henry's older than you." said Elsie.

Herman looked at her and then at Paul. He frowned a little. "Paul, will you do me a favor? I don't want Henry to know it, that I gave you this mug. After the Daddy died, I said, "Which one will I give the mug to?" Henry was entitled to it, being the oldest and all. In a way he should have got it. But not saying anything against Henry - well, I don't know."

We were told that brother Henry had been in for a shave three times while he was there for his father's funeral. Maybe there was a demand, an 'ask' there like the reason the Yale president refused an honorary degree to O'Hara. "Because he asked".

Monday, 21 November 2016

Italian Journey (into) Goethe

Once having gained a reputation for sturm und drang, you can be as timid as you like. In every sphere of life Goethe flinched and turned aside. Not having German I can offer no opinion of his verse but the novels seem vapid froth. His Italian Journey may well be as far as I can travel with him and it has its moments in which our author is lured out of his comfort zone while continuing to replicate the relationships he has left behind him. Angelica Kaufmann is the lady muse, he flirts with and instructs a Milanese beauty of the upper class while secretly ‘knocking off’ a waitress(not mentioned in this work). Pray excuse the vulgarism but what else was that sort of discreet prostitution, safe from the ever present threat of disease. Naturally it has to be aestheticised and drawn within the orbit of planet Goethe. The powerful male friendships are there too, those donkey-engines that he required to get his mighty creative mill going.

Well O.K. he did go up the side of an active volcano hanging on to the leather belt of a guide and run the risk of a shipwreck, so we are told. Otherwise G. was an ‘access all areas’ tourist who had introductions to the great everywhere and whose letters of credit showered sequins through the South of Italy that his powers of observation might be enhanced.

I console myself with the thought that, in our statistically minded times, all this has probably already been printed in books which one can consult if need arise. At present I am preoccupied with sense-impressions to which no book or picture can do justice. The truth is that, in putting my powers of observation to the test, I have found a new interest in life. How far will my scientific and general knowledge take me? Can I learn to look at things with clear, fresh eyes? How much can I take in at a single glance? Can the grooves of old mental habits be effaced? This is what I am trying to discover. The fact that I have to look after myself keeps me mentally alert all the time and I find that I am developing a new elasticity of mind. I had become accustomed to only having to think, will, give orders and dictate, but now I have to occupy myself with the rate of exchange, changing money, paying bills, taking notes and writing with my own hand.

But its not all sport:
One gets small thanks from people when one tries to improve their moral values, to give them a higher conception of themselves and a sense of the truly noble. But if one flatters the "Birds" with lies, tells them fairy tales, caters daily to their weaknesses, then one is their man. That is why there is so much bad taste in our age. I do not say this to disparage my friends; I only say — that is what they are like, and one must not be surprised if things are as they are.

Today was Sunday, and as I walked about I was struck by the uncleanliness of the streets. This set me thinking. There appears to be some kind of police regulation on this matter, for people sweep the rubbish into corners and I saw large barges stopping at certain points and carrying the rubbish away. They came from the surrounding islands where people are in need of manure. But there is no logic or discipline in these arrangements. The dirt is all the more inexcusable because the city is as designed for cleanliness as any Dutch town. All the streets are paved with flagstones; even in the remotest quarter, bricks are at least placed on the kerb and, wherever it is necessary, the streets are raised in the middle and have gutters at their sides to catch the water and carry it off into covered drains. These and other technical devices are clearly the work of efficient architects who planned to make Venice the cleanest of cities as well as the most unusual. As I walked, I found myself devising sanitary regulations and drawing up a preliminary plan for an imaginary police inspector who was seriously interested in the problem. It shows how eager man always is to sweep his neighbour's doorstep.

If only the Germans had run the Italian Renaissance it would have been a lot tidier.
But there is much to learn:
Soon I shall pay a visit to the Botanical Garden, where I hope to learn a good deal. Nothing, above all, is comparable to the new life that a reflective person experiences when he observes a new country. Though I am still always myself, I believe I have been changed to the very marrow of my bones.

The Intrepid Traveller:
Yesterday Kniep and I visited the corvette to take a look at our cabin. A sea voyage is something I still have to experience. This short crossing and perhaps a cruise along the coast will stimulate my imagination and enlarge my vision of the world. The captain is a likable young man; the ship, built in America, is neat, elegant and sails well.
(distance of Frankfut from Hamburg 497 km, from Amsterdam 441 km/ Coleridge would have walked it in a week)

There is almost humour in this encounter:
Then he inquired about the rest of Thuringia and, with special interest, about Weimar. "Whatever happened to the man — in my day he was young and high-spirited — who at that time set the tone in Weimar? What was his name? You know — the author of Werther." I paused for a moment, as if I was trying to remember, and then said: "As a matter of fact, the person you ask about so kindly is myself." He was visibly taken aback and exclaimed: "Then how things must have changed!" "Yes, indeed," I replied, "between Weimar and Palermo I have changed in many ways."

And that is a beautiful thing.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Macedonian Liar

First there was the Cretan liar - All Cretans are liars said the Cretan - if true false, if false true. We wobble between the two unable to decide. Is it even a statement?

Then there is the Macedonian Liar, which gives me hope for the future of Black Magic Realism. My favourite is ‘Hillary Clinton’s body double’ which has the slight nuance of the clever foreign student that you get in Wikipedia entries. I was making a collection of them but got bored as one does and forgot about it. It’s near idiomatic with a superimposition of Hollywood trickery on actual doubles as in ‘I was Monty’s double’, I was Churchill’s double. An episode in Friends had Joey getting a body double role as Al Pacino’s butt in a shower scene. The Daily Mail in Britain ran the story:
body double

For the Future: Believe Nothing and Doubt the Rest.

One fallin from the election in Ireland - an absolute dearth of sentences beginning with ‘Polls Show’ in the Irish Times and a pulling back from the education of the public on the 8th.Amendment (Protection of the Unborn). They will return after a few more boxes of tissues are shredded - ah lacrimae rerum.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Advaitin Negative Thinking

The advaitins are clever about negation. First of all there is the concept of superimposition or the mis-take i.e. you took something to be that which it was not. That such error is also the explanatory analogy for a theory of knowledge that slips between the Scylla and Charybdis of Realism and Idealism is a cunning lateral swerve. That requires deep explication but let it stand for now.

Next there is the unknown object, the ajnanatta satta. That an object can exist as an unknown object is an indication of its reality. It shelters under the great umbrella of being even if covered by a fog of ignorance. Mental existence is only for the time in which its object is present to the mind. It only exists by being known - it cannot be an unknown existent.

Finally there is the means of valid knowledge known as anupalabadhi or non-apprehension of existence. The book that was supposed to be on the table in the hall is not there. My friend was not in the cafe where I expected him to be. Please do not confuse this with the apprehension of non-existence which is impossible because that which does not exist cannot be apprehended.

Addendum: previously snakes and ropes

William James on Monism

I previously wrote:

It seems that Materialism and Idealism are now being described as monisms. So be it, as long as moving the terminological goal posts does not change the nature of the game. The plumping for one causes the other to be resorbed so to speak but not a quite vanished or banished twin. It's a position that always seem to be held 'against' the other one. Advaita is, in my view, a true monism in that there is always only a unity of being. However we do move from the 'natural' dualistic position of self and other towards it even if that 'movement' is purely notional.

Dipping in and out of the Hibbert Lectures of William James, reading them in no particular order, I finally came to the first lecture in which he proposes the characterisation of materialism and idealism as monisms . I still think that one is the dark brother of the other.

James writes of Monism:
For monism the world is no collection, but one great all-inclusive fact outside of which is nothing—nothing is its only alternative. When the monism is idealistic, this all-enveloping fact is represented as an absolute mind that makes the partial facts by thinking them, just as we make objects in a dream by dreaming them, or personages in a story by imagining them. To be, on this scheme, is, on the part of a finite thing, to be an object for the absolute; and on the part of the absolute it is to be the thinker of that assemblage of objects. If we use the word 'content' here, we see that the absolute and the world have an identical content. The absolute is nothing but the knowledge of those objects; the objects are nothing but what the absolute knows. The world and the all-thinker thus compenetrate and soak each other up without residuum. They are but two names for the same identical material, considered now from the subjective, and now from the objective point of view—gedanke and gedachtes, as we would say if we were Germans. We philosophers naturally form part of the material, on the monistic scheme. The absolute makes us by thinking us, and if we ourselves are enlightened enough to be believers in the absolute, one may then say that our philosophizing is one of the ways in which the absolute is conscious of itself. This is the full pantheistic scheme, the identitätsphilosophie, the immanence of God in his creation, a conception sublime from its tremendous unity. And yet that unity is incomplete, as closer examination will show.
The absolute and the world are one fact, I said, when materially considered. Our philosophy, for example, is not numerically distinct from the absolute's own knowledge of itself, not a duplicate and copy of it, it is part of that very knowledge, is numerically identical with as much of it as our thought covers. The absolute just is our philosophy, along with everything else that is known, in an act of knowing which (to use the words of my gifted absolutist colleague Royce) forms in its wholeness one luminously transparent conscious moment.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Norman Mailer Speaks

In the Temple of Asklepios as I lay on my bed awaiting a healing dream Norman Mailer came to me to explain everything:

“I thought her concession speech, too late for graciousness, just in time for contempt, was touchingly self-serving with her pleas to ‘little girls’. No the problem is not the ‘glass ceiling’ it’s the asbestos floor. He stood behind her, a sullen penitent, in his odd tie and good bad suit, he never forgets the country lawyer’s advice – don’t wear a suit before the jury that costs more than they earn in a month. No more will the plangent notes of the Sax sound through the White House or there be frolics in the sacred spaces. The golden nuggets of sophistry that Hillary delivered to bankers were fool’s gold that could buy a hollow laugh in the company store. Taking an early profit can be bad business, though no one ever went broke taking a profit. Ach the lost book deals, the lost book deals.!”

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Au Contraire M.Ruskin said M.Bergson

Even granting the constant vigour of observation, and supposing the possession of such impossible knowledge, it needs but a moment's reflection to prove how incapable the memory is of retaining for any time the distinct image of the sources even of its most vivid impressions. What recollection have we of the sunsets which delighted us last year? We may know that they were magnificent, or glowing, but no distinct image of color or form is retained—nothing of whose degree (for the great difficulty with the memory is to retain, not facts, but degrees of fact) we could be so certain as to say of anything now presented to us, that it is like it. If we did say so, we should be wrong; for we may be quite certain that the energy of an impression fades from the memory, and becomes more and more indistinct every day; and thus we compare a faded and indistinct image with the decision and certainty of one present to the senses. How constantly do we affirm that the thunder-storm of last week was the most terrible one we ever saw in our lives, because we compare it, not with the thunder-storm of last year, but with the faded and feeble recollection of it.

As I ironically wrote in my story Bodhgaya ‘every sunset is the most beautiful sunset'.
M.Bergson of whom I had not heard at that time would say that all memory is eternally present and compounded in duration so nothing is lost.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Avidya - Upadesa Sahasri (6)

A key term that appears early and often is 'avidya' or 'ignorance as is the usual translation. What does it mean in the context of Advaita? Ignorance is something that is displayed and the central paradigm case of that is the taking of something to be that which it is not. In other words a mistake displays your ignorance. The real nature of what we thought we knew escaped us. Now one might say that this is a very narrow definition of 'ignorance' almost amounting to a technical use which is correct because of course there are 'unknown unknowns' which we are not in the slightest danger of confusing with anything else. They do not exist for us.

The analysis of 'avidya' follows through to the manner in which is displayed. This is known as 'adhyasa' or 'superimposition' and here we get to the classic example of the snake/rope. The attributes of a snake i.e. being coiled, are projected/superimposed on to the harmless rope.

Friday, 4 November 2016

On the Spectrum

There are people who know exactly what to do, which is generally what they should do. They have a plan, yes; but they do not consider how it might encroach on others. You could say they are oughtistic.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Materialism and Idealism as Monisms

It seems that Materialism and Idealism are now being described as monisms. So be it, as long as moving the terminalogical goal posts does not change the nature of the game. The plumping for one causes the other to be resorbed so to speak but not a quite vanished or banished twin. It's a position that always seem to be held 'against' the other one. Advaita is, in my view, a true monism in that there is always only a unity of being. However we do move from the 'natural' dualistic position of self and other towards it even if that 'movement' is purely notional.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Norman Mailer on Queen Hillary

The Queen Hillary was about to dock, the engines were throttled back to assure a coast to victory and a glide to grandeur. Mentally the spoils were distributed, chines, hocks, liver and the succulent trotters for the faithful.

And then:
The reporter has in his time toyed with the power of coincidence in his view of a universe in which destiny orders things past the petty power of meddling agents. However the latest twist surpassed a writer's invention to revive a flagging story. Wienerwald my pretties. You would be thrown out of a script conference for suggesting it. But to the higher ground of serious commentary which is a dismal tar pit of viscous boredom compared to which Sartre looking at the roots of a tree in the park were Sartre looking at the roots of a tree..... Such boredom is recursive, he thought, I'll have none of it and he thought of a nobler time when pecadillos were absorbed in a grand narrative - who was inside the tent and who outside, who was the manic micturator marking a spot he might have to return to in the grim afternoon of his career. A sour whiff of old folly might be just another lamp post that lights our way to dusty death. So the reporter thought.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Come back Norman Mailer

Mailer thou shouldst be living at this hour, America hath need of thee. He characterised Hillary's adhesion to Bill as her fidelity to a conduit to power and told the Titanic joke at which the press laughed uneasily but this latest outbreak of hypocrisy would test his metaphoric powers.

'As though out of the permafrost of American puritanism the virus dormant in the exhumed corpse that had brought in Prohibition had mutated and commonplace lewdness was now a crime 'anathema sit' to be enforced by supporters of the sale of body parts. This from an administration that was not ashamed to photograph the cabinet watching the Bin Laden snuff movie and Hillary there rapt. Overseeing that mission was the work of military commanders not ghouls in suits. The spontaneous remark that captures her dangerous anger 'We came, we saw, he died'. What would Norman say? 'Marinated in the acid gravy of Bill's contumely there would be hell to pay when she became commander in chief and Bill would shrink to a purse sized Bubba.'

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Method of Enlightening the Disciple Upadesa Sahasri (5)

43. When ignorance is uprooted with the aid of the Sruti, Smriti and reasoning, the one-pointed intellect of the seer of the supreme Truth becomes established in the one Self which is of the nature of pure Consciousness like a (homogeneous) lump of salt, all-pervading like the ether, which is without the interior and exterior, unborn and is within and without. Even the slightest taint of impurity due to the diversity of ends, means, evolution, dissolution and the rest is, therefore, not reasonable.
(Upadesa Sahasri Chap.1: Para.43)

It is the mention of the Sruti (Scripture) and Smriti (exegesis) that has given rise to the notion that Sankara is primarily a theologian and not a philosopher and that the bit of philosophy he does is cancelled out by his acceptance of the incorrigibilty of scripture. He holds that scripture is an evidence (sabda pramana) on a par with others such as perception, evidence etc. The verbal testimony of the divine sages delivered by the Vedas is authoritative. Sankara in the view of many in the academy is not an epistemic peer. Stick your thumbs in your ears and waggle your fingers when you say that. A couple of years ago this was thrashed out. My observations on it are here:philosopher or theologian

The original post that sparked the discussion:
sankara is a theologian

That quote above is from the last paragraph of the first chapter entitled A Method of Enlightening the Disciple. Please note that it is ‘a method’ and not ‘the method’. It draws primarily on sruti and smriti with extensive quotations from the scripture. (a free download of the text can be got at :
Upadesa Sahasri
In the next chapter entitled The Knowledge of the Changeless and Non-Dual Self a greater emphasis will be laid on the reasoning element.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Method of Enlightening the Disciple Upadesa Sahasri (4 )

I was going to attempt to clarify the advaitic theory of how an object comes to be an object or how an object can be an object and at the same time have the non-numerical identity of being an object ‘in’ us. On consideration, interesting as that is, it would be a divagation from the actual course of the Upadesa Sahasri. One might consider it the ontological arm of the advaitic philosphy whereas the work under consideration focusses on the epistemological. The question that might ensue for the specialist in Indian philosophy is whether this onto/episto characterisation be not a Western confection from the sweet shop of Teutonic Hellenism. Certainly, maybe, remembering that Non-Dualism (a-dvaita) is reflected with only local refraction in what we know and how we know. In Upadesa Sahasri the weight of the inquiry is on the latter. The opening up of this anfratuous path proceeds by the progressive sublation of previous views, a procedure knows a adhiropa/apavada.

We start from where we are, immersed in a world where the ego is set over and against the other out there. Even scripture seem to reflect this with its injunctions and prohibitions.

41. If it be so, Sir, why do the Srutis speak of diverse ends to be attained, their means and so forth, as also the evolution and the dissolution of the universe ?

42. The answer to your question is this: Having acquired (having identified himself with) the various things such as the body and the rest, considering the Self to be connected with what is desirable and what is undesirable and so on, though eager to attain the desirable and avoid the undesirable by appropriate means - for without certain means nothing can be accomplished - an ignorant man cannot discriminate between the means to the realisation of what is (really) desirable for him and the means to the avoidance of what is undesirable. It is the gradual removal of this ignorance that is the aim of the scriptures; but not the enunciation of (the reality of) the difference of the end, means and so on. For, it is this very difference that constitutes this undesirable transmigratory existence. The scriptures, therefore, root out the ignorance constituting this (false) conception of difference which is the cause of phenomenal existence by giving reasons for the oneness of the evolution, dissolution, etc., of the universe.
(from U.S. Chap.1: 41,42)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Method of Enlightening the Disciple Upadesa Sahasri (3)

I mentioned, indeed repeated, the very characteristic recension of one’s views that occurs on deeper reflection, the process known as adhiropa/apavada. This conversion can also be an inversion so to speak. The first position is that the Self is other than the sensations and perceptions because they are objects for it. On reflection the question arises as to how they are objects for the self or in other words ‘what is the nature of an object such that it can be an object’? Instead of going on to give the advaitic view of how this is possible or the schoolboy’s cog, I will allow the question to remain suspended believing that you cannot gain the relief of an answer until you have felt the force of the question.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A Method of Enlightening the Disciple Upadea Sahasri (2)

Upadesa Sahasri 1:34:

If pain or its causes viz., burns or cuts were in the perceiver one would have pointed out the perceiver to be the seat of the pain, like the parts of the body the seats of the burns or cuts.
1:35: Moreover, (if it were in the Self) the pain could not be perceived by the Self like the colour of the eye by the same eye. Therefore as it is perceived to have the same seat as burns, cuts and the like, pain must be an object of perception like them. Since it is an effect, it must have a receptacle like that in which rice is cooked. The impressions of pain must have the same seat as pain itself. As they are perceived during the time when memory is possible (i.e. in waking and dream and not in deep sleep), these impressions must have the same location as pain.

This are interesting parallels between these basic intuitions and familiar views in the Western tradition. We translate the idea of awareness of an external reality to the internal sensation of pain etc. Objects of perception and objects of sensation are assimilated to one another. Please note that this position is subject to the adhiropa/apavada strategy. In other words it is an interim position which is later modified on further reflection. It is subject to recension and represents the typical level of apprehension of the of the beginner. The flavour that we associate with Cartesian Dualism is there.

Next is the idea of cause and effect being in the same sphere as they interact with each other. The one is continuous with the other. In a way there is an element of weak causal closure here with the important difference that mind is regarded as inert or reflective of consciousness rather than conscious by nature. This in intimated in the following insight about the objects of consciousness. They are only present when the mind is operative viz. in waking and dream. Impressions of pain and pain itself are, like memory, in the mind. ‘In the mind’ here has not the same connotation as ‘all in your mind’ or unreal. Mind is the aspect of the physical being pervaded by consciousness.

Shankara in his succinct way has drawn the boundaries of the average intelligent seeker’s initial position. The difficulties within it are made clear by self-inquiry/atma vichara.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Some Poems of Joseph Campbell (1879 -1944)

Some poems of Joseph Campbell (1879 -1944) cf.Joseph Campbell

I am the gilly of Christ,
The mate of Mary’s Son;
I run the roads at seeding time,
And when the harvest’s done.

I sleep among the hills,
The heather is my bed;
I dip the termon-well for drink,
And pull the sloe for bread.

No eye has ever seen me,
But shepherds hear me pass,
Singing at fall of even
Along the shadowed grass.

The beetle is my bellman,
The meadow-fire my guide,
The bee and bat my ambling nags
When I have need to ride.

All know me only the Stranger,
Who sits on the Saxon’s height;
He burned the bacach’s little house
On last Saint Brigid’s Night.

He sups off silver dishes,
And drinks in a golden horn,
But he will wake a wiser man
Upon the Judgment Morn!

I am the gilly of Christ,
The mate of Mary’s Son;
I run the roads at seeding time,
And when the harvest’s done.

The seed I sow is lucky,
The corn I reap is red,
And whoso sings the Gilly’s Rann
Will never cry for bread.

Note: 'bacach' is Irish for cripple, a 'rann' is a verse, a gilly (giolla) is a servant, termon is a sanctuary

The dawn whiteness.
A bank of slate-grey cloud lying heavily over it.
The moon, like a hunted thing, dropping into the cloud.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Italian Journey by Goethe

There’s a Irish Tourist Board ad with the tag line: The Road you’re on will take you there which suggest inevitability or a doom which will leave on lonely road in Connemara in the pouring rain wondering if you collected all the wool of the barbed wire would you have enough to knit a jumper with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made his escape from Weimar slipping away early and giving the impression that he would not be long, just popping out for a moment, which turned into two years from 1786 to 1788. This was a road he had to take.

Everything that was important to me in early childhood is again, thank God, becoming dear to me, and, to my joy, I find that I can once again dare to approach the classics. Now, at last, I can confess a secret malady, or mania, of mine. For many years I did not dare look into a Latin author or at anything which evoked an image of Italy. If this happened by chance, I suffered agonies. Herder often used to say mockingly that I had learned all my Latin from Spinoza, for that was the only Latin book he had ever seen me reading. He did not realize how carefully I had to guard myself against the classics, and that it was sheer anxiety which drove me to take refuge in the abstractions of Spinoza. Even quite recently, Wieland's translation of Horace's Satires made me very unhappy; after reading only a couple, I felt beside myself.
My passionate desire to see these objects with my own eyes had grown to such a point that, if I had not taken the decision I am now acting upon, I should have gone completely to pieces. More historical knowledge was no help. The things were in arm's reach, yet I felt separated from them by an impenetrable barrier. Now I feel, not that I am seeing them for the first time, but that I am seeing them again.

I am only at the beginning of his journey on his way to Rome down the Po, noticing everything recording and making a point of collecting shells at the Lido to crush for sand to dry his ink.

Early this morning a gondola took me and my old factotum to the Lido. We went ashore and walked across the spit of land. I heard a loud noise: it was the sea, which presently came into view. The surf was breaking on the beach in high waves, although the water was receding, for it was noon, the hour of low tide. Now, at last, I have seen the sea with my own eyes and walked upon the beautiful threshing floor of the sand which it leaves behind when it ebbs. How I wished the children could have been with me! They would so have loved the shells. Like a child, I picked up a good many because I have a special use for them. There are plenty of cuttlefish about, and I need the shells to dry the inky fluid they eject.

This pixel projecting ‘cuttlefish’ will continue to post at intervals on this classic of travel literature. Here he is on Raphael’s painting:

First of all, the Cecilia by Raphael. My eyes confirmed what I have always known: this man accomplished what others could only dream of. What can one really say about this picture except that Raphael painted it! Five saints in a row— their names don't matter — so perfectly realized that one would be content to die so long as this picture could endure for ever. But, in order to understand and appreciate Raphael properly, one must not merely glorify him as a god who appeared suddenly on earth without a father or a mother, like Melchizedek; one must consider his ancestors, his masters. These were rooted in the firm ground of truth; it was their labour and scrupulous care which laid the broad foundation; it was they who vied with each other in raising, step by step, the pyramid, on the summit of which the divine genius of Raphael was to place the last stone and reach a height which no one else will surpass or equal.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford by Derek Mahon

A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford

by Derek Mahon

Let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels.
  — Seferis, Mythistorema
(for J. G. Farrell)
Even now there are places where a thought might grow —
Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned
To a slow clock of condensation,
An echo trapped for ever, and a flutter
Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft,
Indian compounds where the wind dances
And a door bangs with diminished confidence,
Lime crevices behind rippling rain barrels,
Dog corners for bone burials;
And in a disused shed in Co. Wexford,

Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,
Among the bathtubs and the washbasins
A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.
This is the one star in their firmament
Or frames a star within a star.
What should they do there but desire?
So many days beyond the rhododendrons
With the world waltzing in its bowl of cloud,
They have learnt patience and silence
Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.

They have been waiting for us in a foetor
Of vegetable sweat since civil war days,
Since the gravel-crunching, interminable departure
Of the expropriated mycologist.
He never came back, and light since then
Is a keyhole rusting gently after rain.
Spiders have spun, flies dusted to mildew
And once a day, perhaps, they have heard something —
A trickle of masonry, a shout from the blue
Or a lorry changing gear at the end of the lane.

There have been deaths, the pale flesh flaking
Into the earth that nourished it;
And nightmares, born of these and the grim
Dominion of stale air and rank moisture.
Those nearest the door grow strong —
‘Elbow room! Elbow room!’
The rest, dim in a twilight of crumbling
Utensils and broken pitchers, groaning
For their deliverance, have been so long
Expectant that there is left only the posture.

A half century, without visitors, in the dark —
Poor preparation for the cracking lock
And creak of hinges; magi, moonmen,
Powdery prisoners of the old regime,
Web-throated, stalked like triffids, racked by drought
And insomnia, only the ghost of a scream
At the flash-bulb firing-squad we wake them with
Shows there is life yet in their feverish forms.
Grown beyond nature now, soft food for worms,
They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith.

They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,
To do something, to speak on their behalf
Or at least not to close the door again.
Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!
‘Save us, save us,’ they seem to say,
‘Let the god not abandon us
Who have come so far in darkness and in pain.
We too had our lives to live.
You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!’

(from New Collected Poems

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A Method of Enlightening the Disciple (A Thousand Teachings/Upadesa Sahasri_

So what then is the procedure for the instruction of the pupil? Nobody gets to the enlightened state, in one hop. 'With one bound he was free', certainly not. The master (guru) has to deal with the material, the normal crooked timber, not true and twisted. For a start he has to offer the teaching at the level that the pupil (sishya) is at. That means the method of approximation or more technically adhiropa apavada which is to say, assertion followed by subsequent retraction. Each understanding is refined by a subsequent one. It must be kept in mind that the instruction in the traditional manner is one to one which means that it is gauged by the material to hand. What are the aspirant's presuppositions? A Western student of philosphy might demur and ask 'Does that mean that everyone gets his own version of Plato's Republic? Essentially, is that not the actual situation? We get a hold on it using whatever prehensile capacity we have and progress from there.

Theoretically there are perfect souls who on hearing the mahavakya Tat Tvam Asi (that thou art) get liberated. This is the ultimate sravana, hearing. Shankara's typical disciple is not one of those. He is characteristically sceptical offering the standard arguments against the advaitic concept of the Self.

If he says, "The pain due to burns or cuts in the body and the misery caused by hunger and the like, Sir, are distinctly perceived by me. The supreme Self, is known in all the Srutis and the Smrtis ('heard' and 'remembered' or Scripture and Tradition) to be "free from sin, old age, death, grief, hunger, thirst, etc. and devoid of smell and taste.

In summary the student contrasts this with his own transmigratory being. He has identified himself with his own mental states, his sensations, perception and emotions. In response the teacher must suggest a higher synthesis that characterises thes events as objective happenings.

Chap.1 para: 34:
The teacher should say to him, "It was not right for you to say, "I directly perceive the pain in me when my body gets cuts or burns". Why? As the pain due to cuts or burns is perceived in the body, the object of the perception of the perceiver, like a tree burnt or cut, must have the same location as the burns or cut etc.

Here there are two themes emerging. One of them is like the Cartesian Inner Theatre and the other is Causal Closure. Assesing these must be the subject of another post. As they say in that aggregator, - a 5 minute read.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Joad on Whitehead (from Guide to Philosophy)

Well Joad does admit the difficulty presented by Whitehead. His ideas he says are "intrinsically difficult to grasp. They involve a total reconstruction of our imaginative picture of the universe, and, even when the intellect is convinced, the imagination refuses to implement the conviction". Yes I heartily concur, even after having read Process and Reality and read in it a few times I more feel it than get it. Joad finds "Professor Whitehead's mode of writing (is) exceedingly obscure".

There are as I have hinted in the Introduction, two kinds of obscurity - the expression of obscurity and obscurity of expression. The first is pardonable, perhaps inevitable. There is, as I pointed out, no a priori reason why the universe should be such as to be readily intelligible to a twentieth century mind, or why a man of average intelligence should be able to grasp the profounder thoughts of a philosopher of original insight. But obscurity of expression is simply another name for bad craftsmanship. A writer should study to make himself understood, and the more difficult his subject, the more paramount is the obligation of clarity. It is by no means certain that Professor Whitehead has always recognised this obligation.

Joad has a go but confesses that this chapter is the least satisfactory in his book ; feeling that he "may have said either too much for adequate interpretation , and too little for adequate comprehension".

Aiding the readability of Joad is the fact that the writing is beautifully punctuated.

Friday, 7 October 2016

William Faulkner and Henri Bergson

Being as I am a great stickler for evidence and avoiding the sweeping up of multiple inklings and intuitions in a great, if unwieldy, complex of recondite theory; the fibrillation of my antennae sensing a possible influence of Bergson on the work of William Faulkner just had to be tested in the light of google. I am occasionally right nor yet enough to be complacent but still a thin lipped wrinkle of satisfaction is allowed. In 1952 I am told that Faulkner stated that he agreed with his concept of time. In a interview with Loic Bouvard:
Since we have brought up Bergson. I next asked Faulkner to explain his conception of time. "There isn't any time", he replied. "In fact I agree pretty much with Bergson's theory of the fluidity of time. There is only the present moment in which I include both the past and the future and that is eternity. In my opinion time can be shaped quite a bit by the artist; after all, man is never time's slave.

Absalom, Absalom! is the Faulkner that I am reading now for the first time, I think, though one can never be sure with him, events get blended and blurry in various ways; and all the books are the same book if indeed we can call anything the same; crushed into a new form by the indomitable force of events that are transformed in their happening. Yess'm.

Probably, with its multiple references to 'wild niggers', this is one of the great unteachable books. In the institutes of higher learning there would be a crush in the safe spaces 'cept for Carries's spandrel. That would be free.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Joad on Bergson - "It all depends on what you mean by the Self" (Guide to Philosophy publ. 1936)

There is thus no self which changes, there is, indeed, nothing which changes, for in asserting the existence of that which changes we are asserting the existence of omething which, from the mere fact that it is subject to change, is not itself change ; there is simply change.The truth that we are beings whose reality consists in continuous change is for Bergson the clue to the understanding of the universe itself. For the universe is shown by him to belong to the same stream of change or “becoming” as Bergson calls it (since it never is actually any one thing, but is always on the way to becoming something else), as we do ourselves. Just as we are unable to
penetrate through the continuous changes of our consciousness to something stable that underlies them, so, when we consider the nature of the world around us, do we find it impossible to discover anything which passes through changes but is itself something other than the changes which occur to it. The universe, in other words, is itself a stream of perpetual change.
The development of Bergson's metaphysical theory, which includes the assertion that intuition is the faculty by means of which reality is known, and conception of the intellect as a faculty which misrepresents reality by cutting up the flow of change into apparently static objects, thus generating
such paradoxes as that of Zeno's arrow and Achilles and the Tortoise, will be described in a later chapter.
(from Guide To Philosophy by C.E.M. Joad publ. London 1936)

Paul Raymont in his blog has several posts on Joad
which were interesting so when I came across a copy of the Guide I for €1 couldn’t leave it after me. It is fairly extensively annotated and underlined so I would surmise that it passed through the hands of a student at some point. They could have done worse. He has the rare capacity of being able to explicate complex systems in a clear way without falsifying through over simplification. Chapter VII on The Problem of Change: Teleology and Mechanism is worth a read. Bergson is given some pages in this section and again toward the end he offers in Chapter XIX an Outline of Bergson’s Philosophy in 16 pages which has the advantage over other short treatments in delineating what Bergson though significant for Bergson. The ‘Guide’ was written in 1936 and thus a good while after Bergson’s debate with Einstein in 1922 which marked the beginning of the decline in his reputation.

He has another extensive treatment -Outline of Whitehead’s Philosophy - which I haven’t read. That will surely test his explanatory powers. For those of you with 1T of memory there is a copy of the guide on Internet Archive which is 229 mb complete with shots of fingers holding its pages. Too spooky.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Great Halloo

Tai.Up. III.x.5-6:
He who knows thus, attains after desisting from this world, this self made of food. After attaining this self made of food, then attaining this self made of mind, then attaining this self made of vital force, then attaining this self made of mind, then attaining this self made of intelligence, then attaining this self made of bliss, and roaming over these world with command over food at will and command over all forms at will, he continues singing this sama song: "Halloo! Halloo!Halloo! I am the food, I am the food; I am the eater; I am the unifier, I am the unifier, I am the unifier; I am (Hiranyagarbha) the first born of this world consisting of the formed and the formless, I as Virat) am earlier than the gods. I am the navel of immortality. He who offers me thus (as food), protects me just as I am. I, food as I am, eat him up who eats food without offering. I defeat (i.e. engulf) the entire universe. Our effulgence is like that of the sun. This is the Upanisad.

This indeed is the great 'Halloo' and world encompassing bliss. In Bangalore I met an Australian devotee of a teacher whose method of instruction was the progressive move through the koshas manomaya kosha, pranamaya kosha etc. as in the Upanisad.
cf. Kosha
I was brought to the teacher's house and there it was explained to me how he had come to this teaching. He had fallen ill of a fever and it seemed to him had left his body. (Stop me if you've heard this before.) In that sphere in which he now was he met the Septa Rishi (Seven Sages) who looked surprised to see him. What are you doing here, you're not supposed to be here for many years. We are going to send you back but with a teaching method that when it is transmitted to a suitable person and practiced faithfully for 15 minutes a day will definitely bring on a state of samadhi within a few years.

As an analogy for the progression through the koshas he offered the image of a series of airlocks in a space-ship. His own meditation space was behind a recess in a wall with a grill in front of it about 3'x3'. We talked outside it and there was a definite vibration of peace at that spot. That's totally subjective of course, just me projecting my own great 'halloo'.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Thousand Teachings (Upadesa Sahasri) by Sri Shankaracarya

Shankaracarya's Upadesa Sahasri/ A Thousand Teachings a work that is regarded as authentic and unique for him because it is not a commentary on any part of the triple canon i.e. Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras or Upanishads; presents in its first chapter A Method of Enlightening the Disciple. (All quotations are from the translation by Swami Jagadananda published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai) Text at:
A Thousand Teachings

Both to give and to receive instruction require preconditions. On the side of the pupil who is typically taken to be
a pure Brahmana disciple who is indifferent to everything that is transitory and achievable through certain means, who has given up the desire for a son, for wealth and for this world and the next, who has adopted the life of a wandering monk and is endowed with control over the mind and senses, with compassion etc.,

The central requirement is "self-control and a tranquil mind" which is not gender or caste specific. Clearly knowledge of this kind is not simply a matter of the transmission of information. Distortions will occur if the moral base is not established.

When the teacher finds from signs that knowledge has not been grasped (or has been wrongly grasped) by the disciple, he should remove the causes of non-comprehension which are past and present sins, laxity, want of previous firm knowledge of what constitutes the subjects of discrimination between the eternal and the non-eternal, courting popular esteem, vanity of caste etc., and so on, (he should remove) through means contrary to those causes, enjoined by the Srutis and Smrtis viz. avoidance of anger etc., and the vows (Yama) consisting of non-injury etc., also the rules of conduct that are inconsistent with knowledge.

The great teachers who are liberated themselves, the sat-gurus, can nullify the occluding factors and bring a glimpse of the truth even to the unworthy. Simply to be in their presence is enough. Other teachers not quite at that level must have
the power of furnishing arguments pro and con, of understanding questions and remembering them, who possesses tranquillity, self-control, compassion and a desire to help others, who is versed in the scriptures and unattached to enjoyments both seen and unseen, who has renounced the means to all kinds of actions, is a knower of Brahman and established in It, is never a transgressor of the rules of conduct , and who is devoid of shortcomings such as ostentation, pride, deceit, cunning, jugglery, jealousy, falsehood, egotism and attachment.

In the traditional way there is an order of business once the moral bases of both teacher and pupil are well founded. The scriptural texts which summarise the highest teaching are sown like seeds on well plowed and harrowed ground. "All this is but the Self", "All this is verily Brahman". The definition of Brahman comes next - "It is the seer Itself unseen", "Existence, Knowledge, Infinite". The texts from the scriptures on this topic are multitudinous.

This is the traditional foundation for a rational inquiry. Of that more anon.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Interdining in America

Daniel Kaufman writes:
Yet this is precisely what the hardest moral dilemmas involve: not figuring out which action will serve a lone already-established value, but which value, among many, should be served.  Is utility most important in this situation?  Respect?  Gratitude?  And it is for this reason that those who are in the grip of a moral theory behave so poorly on so many occasions.  The Utilitarian vegan, who upon finding himself at an ordinary dinner party refuses to eat the food, acts wrongly not just because he fails to recognize any value other than utility, but because that failure cripples his capacity to engage in sound practical reasoning and to decide among competing values: he is unable to properly navigate the moral demands of his situation, for he can’t see that the effects of his actions on the general welfare, under these circumstances, are negligible, the insult to his host and the disregard for his efforts are substantial, and the overall affect that characterizes his behavior is boorish and uncouth and is in fact made worse, not better, by his philosophic rationalizations.
(from ;
Going by Aristotle’s dictum that :
these things are both valuable and pleasant which are such to the good man; and to each man the activity in accordance with his own state is most desirable, and therefore to the good man that which is in accordance with virtue.

Putting the good man in the capacity of host it is apposite to consider whether offering a vegan food which he does not wish to eat is the mark of a good host. Is it not the business of a good host to find out the food preferences of his guests. That is hardly onerous and merely good manners. You do not offer the imam pork chops or a Hindu beef curry. The vegan might also inform the host that they are such - by the way I’m a vegan/vegetarian; Is that a problem?

The other odd food story Kaufman offers is:

Yes, sometimes the right thing to do *is* to suffer something disgusting, out of respect and caring for one’s host. A friend of mine was teaching English in a rural village in China, and he was invited to the home of one of the students for dinner. He was served a plate of Cicadas, of which the hosts were exceedingly proud — and which, apparently, cost a great deal, relative to their income. He said it was absolutely revolting and yet he ate it anyway, precisely because of the circumstances he was in and the people who were hosting him.

Are there any Chinese who don’t know that Westerners don’t eat insects? (and cats and dogs)) I suspect mischief. Was he being a good host in not making inquiries as to what Westerners like?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Nisargadatta on Samadhi (from I am That)

Matter is Consciousness Itself:
Maharaj: Everything moves according to its nature. ... Every action creates a reaction, which balances and neutraliszes the action. Everything happens, but there is a continuous cancelling out, and in the end it is as if nothing happened.

"Therefore I keep on saying that all happens by itself. There is order in my world too, but it is not imposed from outside. It comes spontaneously and immediately, because of its timelessness. Perfection is not in the future. It is now.

Maharaj is not bound by the maya of identification with a physical body. "I make no distinction between the body and the universe. Each is the cause of the other, each is the other, in truth. But I am out of it all."

"The most difficult are the intellectuals. They talk a lot, but are not serious."

How to go into Samadhi:

"If you are in the right state, whatever you see will put you into samadhi. After all samadhi is nothing unusual. When the mind is intensely interested, it becomes one with the object of interest - the seer and the seen become one in seeing, the hearer and the heard become one in hearing, the lover and the loved become one in loving. Every experience can be the ground for samadhi."
Questioner: Are you always in a state of samadhi?
Maharaj: Of course not. Samadhi is a state of mind, after all. I am beyond all experience, even of samadhi. I am the great devourer and destroyer; whatever I touch dissolves into void (akash).
Q: I need samadhis for self-realisation.
M: You have all the self-realisation you need, but you do not trust it. Have courage, trust yourself, go, talk, act: give it a chance to prove itself. With some realisation comes imperceptibly, but somehow they need convincing. They have changed, but they do not notice it. Such non-spectacular cases are often the most reliable.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

John Banville's review of Canales' book on the Bergson- Einstein debate on the nature of time

But who now reads Bergson apart from a few lonely specialists? He is remembered by Proust scholars - Proust was Bergson's cousin-in-law, and the best man at his wedding - since a la recherche du temps perdu was said to have been influenced by Bergson's theory of time. But very few contemporary philosophers consider him of any importance, and it would be rare schoolboy nowadays who would know his name.
(from John Banville's review (What do clocks have to do with it?)of The Physicist and the Philosopher by Jimena Canales in The London Review of Books pub.24/7/16)

Of course John that would be the case, inasmuch as the best way not to remember the work of any thinker is never to have read his work. That makes forgetting effortless. Bergson was dismissive of Einstein's view of time regarding it as merely the time of timetables. That was not a wise move rhetorically. The time of Bergson was evolutionary and personal. For Einstein a la Bergson it was a series of instants with gaps that could be elongated as in The Twins Paradox.

Banville's review was worth reading. He is interested in philosophy though he never read it in University never having been there which unusual in a major modern writer. He is much more than the average igger (intelligent general reader) but inevitably nudged by the prevailing scientistic ambience which pits vague dreams and speculation against hard measurable facts.

Bergson was seeking above all to assert the human dimension of experience, the validity of our intuitive sense that the world can be measured not only against scientific fact but also by way of our actions, thoughts, emotions. Einstein, more hard-headed, or at least wedded to a hard-headed interpretation of reality, preferred to put his trust in the empirical certainties, as he saw them , that science offered.
(Banville's review)

Yes true, sort of, with the qualification that Duration is the primary lived experience that gives rise to the concept of time and that the mathematization of time and space or space/time is the source of the scientific theory. This is Bergson's real point so to a degree in that debate in 1922 they were talking past each other.

At some point I may have to read Canales' work. Her special interest as a physicist is in time and measurement. Banville writes:

The Physicist and the Philosopher is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging work. Canales has rescued from near oblivion a fascinating , highly significant debate that is still relevant in an age which has begun to question the hegemony of science, and its uncontrollable child, technology.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Filial Piety

Consuming Justin Erik Halldor Smith’s philosophical doughnuts when I find them I feel like the twin on earth getting much, much, older. His latest post as a memorial to his father was different.
a life
A picaresque life without the native irascibility that makes you get down to things seems to cover its climate. There are several extracts from his father’s writing written in that breezy diction which is the hallmark of inconsequential journalism but the appalling thing is that as J.E.H. got further down in his piece that same diction began to manifest in his own writing. That dear reader is frightening. Can we slip our ancestral gravity by re-locating to France or Spain or India?

My father never went in for rhetorical questions. We respected each other by observing a decent manly reticence. Mum’s the word, Dad’s the word.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Johnson and Montaigne on Secrets

Samuel Johnson refers to Michel de Montaigne in Essay no 13 of The Rambler. May 1st. 1750. In an aside on the keeping and the telling of the secrets of others entrusted to one he writes:

There have, indeed, been some enthusiastick and irrational zealots for friendship, who have maintained, and perhaps believed, that one friend has a right to all that is in possession of another; and that therefore it is a violation of kindness to exempt any secret from this boundless confidence. Accordingly a late female minister of state has been shameless enough to inform the world, that she used, when she wanted to extract any thing from her sovereign, to remind her of Montaigne's reasoning, who has determined, that to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the same.
That such a fallacy could be imposed upon any human understanding, or that an author could have advanced a position so remote from truth and reason, any otherwise than as a declaimer, to shew to what extent he could stretch his imagination, and with what strength he could press his principle, would scarcely have been credible, had not this lady kindly shewn us how far weakness may be deluded, or indolence amused.

I am, with Johnson, against Montaigne's airy man of the world sharing and my own way with the secrets of others is to forget them as quickly as possible. Am I an abyss of discretion? I am not at liberty to disclose but I will say this... No better not. Have you ever met friends of a friend that you haven't met before and sensed the presence of forward intelligence that may not be altogether benign. They being forewarned and forearmed creates a blockade. Is this just paranoia? The common rationalisation that not gossiping is a sign of a lack of interest in people is destructive of friendship and you can be certain that you too will be served as a piquant dip.

The rules therefore that I shall propose concerning secrecy, and from which I think it not safe to deviate, without long and exact deliberation, are—Never to solicit the knowledge of a secret. Not willingly, nor without many limitations, to accept such confidence when it is offered. When a secret is once admitted, to consider the trust as of a very high nature, important as society, and sacred as truth, and therefore not to be violated for any incidental convenience, or slight appearance of contrary fitness.

I am taking two shots of The Rambler every day and besides the grandiloquence of the stately periods, his profound moral sense and seriousness blended with a realisation of personal fallibility does me good.

Addendum: As I suspected the Montaigne essay that Johnson refers to is De L’Amitie or On Friendship or by Screech On Affectionate Relationships

If one (of two friends) entrusted to your silence something which it was useful for the other to know, how would you get out of that? The unique, highest friendship loosens all other bonds. That secret which I have sworn to reveal to no other, I can reveal without perjury to him who is not another: he is me. It is a great enough miracle for oneself to be redoubled: they do not realize how high a one it is when they talk of its being tripled.
(Screech trans.)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Sheehan's Apologetics (Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine)

The book generally known as Sheehan’s Apologetics was the standard issue for Catholic Secondary Schools in Ireland for the study of Christian Doctrine. Archbishop Sheehan (Coadjutor Sydney) (1870
-1947) was a noted scholar of the Irish Language and had studied Latin, Greek and Sanskrit in Germany and taken his Phd. at Bonn writing on Isocrates. (in Latin)
Sheehan Wikipedia
Given all that and assuming his acquaintance with historical criticism and other German novelties his treatment of Darwinism and Evolutionism is extremely odd and reading it now one is reminded of the wilder shores of Bible Belt Evangelicalism.

After ten pages with extensive footnotes eg. Has Evolution taken place, remarks on the evidence, alleged causes:
Nor, as we shall see presently, have evolutionists succeeded
in discovering any natural cause which could have produced large scale evolution.
He disputes those alleged causes and offers the bolded heading: Evolution not Proved Scientifically but Useful as a Working Hypothesis.

For his final paragraph he offers 10 lines -(heading) If Evolution has occurred it is the work of God.Fine but why impugn the science which you don’t understand and lead others down an irrelevant cul de sac. There seems a lack of due epistemic modesty. On the charitable interpretation and from a rhetorical point of view which is suggested by his interest in Isocrates , Sheehan knowing that Darwinism as commonly presented has a corrosive effect on the sentiment of religion, would be justified in deflecting an interest in it.

On reflection it is a belief in the literal truth of the bible that guides his opposition to evolution.

The Church teaches that God built up the body of Eve from a portion of matter which he took from the body of Adam. So far, no interpretation of this teaching has been offered which would allow us to ascribe the origin of her body to evolution. And if evolution must be excluded in her case, it must be excluded also in the case of Adam.

At the end of that chapter he remarks:
The age of the human species is a question on which the Church has never given any decision, and may be left to the investigation of scientists.

It may, perhaps, be worth noting that the Church has never condemned the opinion, which was proposed centuries ago, that a race of men lived on the earth, but became extinct, before the creation of Adam.

Sheehan believed that myth can contradict science. Myth as I understand it is a symbolic representation of metaphysical reality. It draws us into relationship with it.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Rambler: Buchhandlung Suggestions

I bought for €15 a 2 vol. edn. 1877 of The Rambler by Samuel Johnson published by William Tegg ,Cheapside; cloth with gilding in the best Victorian gentleman’s library way. (condition good, slight foxing)Tegg was a pal of Dickens in his early days so as a suggestion to Myles’s Buchhandlung Service I would respectfully recommend a steel nib inscription: ‘As a break from ‘little D.’ best Bill - don’t forget lunch on the 30th.’ A Henry Irving play flyer as a book mark would complete the provenance. Expensive but worth it.

Yes, this question of book-handling. The other day I had a word to say about the necessity for the professional book-handler, a person who will maul the books of illiterate, but wealthy, upstarts so that the books will look as if they have been read and re-read by their owners. How many uses of mauling would there be? Without giving the matter much thought, I should say four. Supposing an experienced handler is asked to quote for the handling of one shelf of books four feet in length. He would quote thus under four heads:--
'Popular Handling--Each volume to be well and truly handled, four leaves in each to be dog-eared, and a tram ticket, cloak-room docket or other comparable article inserted in each as a forgotten book-mark. Say, £1 7s 6d. Five per cent discount for civil servants.'
'Premier Handling-Each volume to be thoroughly handled, eight leaves in each to be dog-eared, a suitable passage in not less than 25 volumes to be underlined in red pencil, and a leaflet in French on the works of Victor Hugo to be inserted as a forgotten book-mark in each. Say, £2 17s 6d. Five per cent discount for literary university students, civil servants and lady social workers.'
buchhandlung service

What I am suggesting verges on Le Traitment Superbe meretricious nay vulgar withal but with gilt que voulez-vous?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Hope on Earth: A Conversation by Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias

No matter how often history has falsified the predictions that are made by some big brains they still keep repeating them which is why the cover of the free e-book from the University of Chicago Press is appropriate. A certain amount of methane is generated in the conversation between Michael Tobias and Paul Ehrlich, not enough to threaten the planet, but certainly enough to clear a room. The Wikipedia entry on Arch-Doomster Ehrlich sketches his history of being wrong about everything and his vile recipes for avoiding certain disaster. England would no longer be in existence by 1970 possibly being overrun by ravening feral chavs.
cf: Wikipedia on Ehrlich

The University of Chicago recently issued a bulletin impugning the notion of the safe space to protect the delicate sensibilities of students. The cold hard wind of contrary opinion would blow to toughen them up -‘That’s the Chicago Way’ (The Untouchables) And now this book. Is there a conservative mole in the University? The blurb runs after this fashion:

Hope on Earth is the thought-provoking result of a lively and wide-ranging conversation between two of the world’s leading interdisciplinary environmental scientists: Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb shook the world in 1968 (and continues to shake it), and Michael Charles Tobias, whose over 40 books and 150 films have been read and/or viewed throughout the world. Hope on Earth offers a rare opportunity to listen in as these deeply knowledgeable and highly creative thinkers offer their takes on the most pressing environmental concerns of the moment.

When a university press blurb writer very likely steeped in a stiff brine of Rhetoric and Composition uses a phrase like ‘shook the world’ it doesn’t need quotes like I used to mark it off as irony. Adding ‘and continues to shake it’, the unsaid must be, ‘with laughter’.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Leslie Stephen and the 'Topic Sentence'.

Skholiast comments:
I have forgotten now which collection of L.S. (Leslie Stephen) it was that I was reading, but I realized I was completely charmed by the style and had not absorbed so much as a sentence of the content, and had to start over. Not that he is the greatest of writers. But I had been reading a steady diet of 20th c exposition, and in contrast, Lo, here was a paragraph which wended this way and that for line upon line until somewhere towards the end the language finally got to where the thought might be beginning. Not a "topic sentence" in sight. In short, ladies and gentlemen -- the Victorians.

Confession: I had to look up wikipedia to find out what a ‘topic sentence’ was. Doesn’t the firmness, definiteness, the nailing down of that concept work against the true nature of the essay. In that form ‘doing is the mother of doing’ (Samuel Johnson); each thought leads to another in an associative way. What is opened up is not a position but the many mansions of the writer’s mind. Now that I’ve found a readable translation by Screech of Montaigne’s Essays I realise that Michel rambles. He uses his Latin topoi to collect himself and ask 'where am I now, let me consult my map’. Johnson was the proto-Rambler and set down his grandiloquent projection with cherubs blowing and dragons breathing fire. The point is not to get anywhere but to know better where we are.

The task of an author is, either to teach what is not known, or to recommend known truths by his manner of adorning them; either to let new light in upon the mind, and open new scenes to the prospect, or to vary the dress and situation of common objects, so as to give them fresh grace and more powerful attractions, to spread such flowers over the regions through which the intellect has already made its progress, as may tempt it to return, and take a second view of things hastily passed over, or negligently regarded.
(from The Rambler No.3, Tuesday, March 27, 1750)

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Detail

If you want to create the feeling of a place or a time then the best way to start is by the close observation of some detail. How was it made? My spell checker predicted madeleine and that was prescient. One could write a novel being led into a plot by such predictions. Stately plumage of Mulligan about to be shorn. Downy gossamer of ancients swept up by the barber's son shifts on the floor as the door opens. 'Oh' was all he had time to say.

What I mean is that a detail can be not just a portal but also the Aleph or the single point from which all other points in the universe are visible. Borges has written about it. It is also the Colridgean protophenomenon, the one fact that is worth a thousand and that first makes those facts. Is S.T.C. suggesting that an experience demarcates itself and becomes a Platonic form for all other subsequent ones. The detail then can be formal, a particular that creates the universal but then somehow that initial event is forgotten and only the formal remains.

If I came to the bed where you lay sick and in fever,
I would not come with little tight-fisted flowers
But with the white heron's plume that lay in the forest
Till it was cooler than sleep.

(from Bk.Six: John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benet)