Sunday, 29 May 2016

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

I didn’t like Levels of Life. At a suitable distance from grief the warped perspective of close up suffering should have been corrected. He did not do so and some friends will have been hurt by his insisting that they said the wrong thing if they chose to mention the death of his wife and if they would not join in his attempts to talk about her they shirked a sacred duty to her memory. From a man who has confessed his fear of death to be a constant presence (cf: nothing to be frightened of this reticence and general windiness in the face of it must have been clear.

The format of the book joining an essay on early balloonists to one on his bereavement seemed tendentious. Any writer can connect anything with anything. The death of a wife and the requirements of the book trade ought to repel each other. It’s well written of course, Barnes never does less.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Mallock meets Carlyle

William Hurrell Mallock as I mentioned was the nephew of James Froude, the friend of Thomas Carlyle. In his memoirs he recounts his meeting with the great man.

My acquaintance with Mr. Bevan, however, and even that with Lord Houghton, were but minor experiences as compared with another meeting of a similar yet contrasted kind. At the time of which I speak there was one British author whose influence as a philosophic moralist eclipsed that of any of his contemporaries. This writer was Carlyle. His fame was then at its highest, and the moral consciousness of ultrapolite drawing rooms was being stirred to its well-dressed depths by his attack on "the dandies" in his book, Sartor Resartus, which many earnest and ornamental persons were accepting as a new revelation. I was myself sufficiently familiar with its pages, and, though some of them roused my antagonism, I could not deny their genius. One morning, during a brief visit to London, I received a note from Mr. Froude the historian, asking me to come to luncheon, and I duly arrived at his house, not knowing what awaited me. I presently learned that he was going to introduce me to Carlyle, and, as soon as luncheon was over, he walked me off to Chelsea. In a fitting state of awe I found myself at last in the great philosopher's presence. When we entered his drawing room he was stooping over a writing table in the window, and at first I saw nothing but his back, which was covered with a long, shapeless, and extravagantly dirty dressing gown. When he rose to meet us his manners were as rough as his integument. His welcome to myself was an inarticulate grunt, unmistakably Scotch in its intonation; and his first act was to move across the room to the fireplace and light a "churchwarden" pipe by sticking its head between the bars. As I watched him perform this rite, I noticed that close to the fender was a pair of very dirty slippers. To me these things and proceedings were so many separate shocks, the result of my reflections being this: If you represent fame, let me represent obscurity. But worse was still to come. It was presently proposed that we should all go out for a walk, and as soon as we were in the open air, the philosopher blew his nose in a pair of old woolen gloves. I here saw at once an illustration of the chapter in Sartor Resartus in which the author denounced what he christened "The Sect of the Dandies," as described and glorified by Bulwer Lytton in Pelham. Illustration could go no farther.
(from Memoirs)

The exquisite aesthetic shudder of those details - the gloves of Carlyle and the socks of Swinburne drying on the fender after his walk on the common. (cf. Dinner at the Pines )

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Tapas (Concentration) in the Taittiriya Upanishad

The Upanishad teachers realise that all aspirants seeking the absolute truth begin with an initial set or orientation and have to focus on that, analyse it, discover its shortcomings and move to a new state. The heat that they bring to their analysis is called tapah (tapas) or concentration. This is what evokes insight. Bhrigu approached his father Varuna:

O, revered sir, teach me Brahman. To him he (Varuna) said: “Crave to know Brahman through concentration; concentration is Brahman. He practised concentration. He having practised concentration, he knew the vital force as Brahman.

Moving through all the koshas (cosas) Bhrigu does not become settled in any one of them, never just accepting that it’s all just matter etc. The progress is from the immediately evident to the subtle:

To him he (Varuna) said this: “Food, vital force, eye, ear, mind, speech - these are the aids to knowledge of Brahman.” To him he (Varuna) said: “Crave to know that from which all these being take birth, that by which they live after being born, that towards which they move and into which they merge. That is Brahman.” He (Bhrigu) practised concentration.

The guiding ontological intuition is that Brahman must be uncaused. That is how they express the difference between the contingent and the necessary. Bhrigu’s natural first stop is to see the vital force that is sustained by food or organic life as being the nature of reality. He comes to doubt this: Shankara remarks in his commentary:

Objection: What was, again, the occasion for his doubt?
The answer is: Because food is seen to have an origin.
Concentration is repeatedly inculcated in order to emphasise the fact of its being the best discipline. The idea is this: “Concentration alone is your discipline till the description of Brahman can be pushed no further and till your desire to know becomes quietened. Through concentration alone, you crave to know Brahman.” The rest is easy.

One thinks here of Bernard Lonergan’s Insight and his elevation of the unrestricted desire to know. Skholiast in his post
truth both ways
quotes Thomas Nagle:

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (p 130)
(from: The Last Word)

Nagle wants to settle in a nice neighbourhood away from mad mullahs, glittering eyed Swamis and Darwin deniers. His earnest hope indicates his doubt. He is perhaps in that leafy suburb that Bhrigu dwelt in for a while:

he knew knowledge as Brahman; for from knowledge, indeed, spring all these beings; having been born, they are sustained by knowledge; they move towards and merge in knowledge.

Yes we all have a plan, a goal. But is that it? Back he goes to his father Varuna.

(Varuna) said: “Crave to know Brahman through concentration; concentration is Brahman.” He (Bhrighu) practised concentration. He having practised concentration...........

Friday, 20 May 2016

Boon Friends fall out. Wells and James, it would seem, and in this.....

Wells in Boon had fun but lost a friend. Henry James was not amused. The chapter in which he ‘slags’ him has the Mallockian conceit of a number of literary gents foregathering in a country house for a state of literature congress. They do so under their own names. Orage of the New Age arrives too late and is locked out:

Mr. Orage, the gifted editor of the New Age, arriving last, is refused admission. The sounds of the conflict at the gates do but faintly perturb the conference within, which is now really getting to business, but afterwards Mr. Orage, slightly wounded in the face by a dexterously plied rake and incurably embittered, makes his existence felt by a number of unpleasant missiles discharged from over the wall in the direction of any audible voices. Ultimately Mr. Orage gets into a point of vantage in a small pine-tree overlooking the seaward corner of the premises, and from this he contributes a number of comments that are rarely helpful, always unamiable, and frequently in the worst possible taste.

Boon (the purported author of the Boon papers) has George Moore and Henry James go for a walk. Can you identify the butt of this pastiche?

“Owing it as we do,” he said, “very, very largely to our friend Gosse, to that peculiar, that honest but restless and, as it were, at times almost malignantly ambitious organizing energy of our friend, I cannot altogether—altogether, even if in any case I should have taken so extreme, so devastatingly isolating a step as, to put it violently, stand out; yet I must confess to a considerable anxiety, a kind of distress, an apprehension, the terror, so to speak, of the kerbstone, at all this stream of intellectual trafficking, of going to and fro, in a superb and towering manner enough no doubt, but still essentially going to and fro rather than in any of the completed senses of the word getting there, that does so largely constitute the aggregations and activities we are invited to traverse. My poor head, such as it is and as much as it can and upon such legs—save the mark!—as it can claim, must, I suppose, play its inconsiderable part among the wheels and the rearings and the toots and the whistles and all this uproar, this—Mm, Mm!—let us say, this infernal uproar, of the occasion; and if at times one has one’s doubts before plunging in, whether after all, after the plunging and the dodging and the close shaves and narrow squeaks, one does begin to feel that one is getting through, whether after all one will get through, and whether indeed there is any getting through, whether, to deepen and enlarge and display one’s doubt quite openly, there is in truth any sort of ostensible and recognizable other side attainable and definable at all, whether to put this thing with a lucidity that verges on the brutal, whether our amiable and in most respects our adorable Gosse isn’t indeed preparing here and now, not the gathering together of a conference but the assembling, the meet, so to speak, of a wild-goose chase of an entirely desperate and hopeless description.”

If that wasn’t enough to put a dent in his dickey, Boon in his own voice, and here he has the hearty support of many readers, declares:

“But James begins by taking it for granted that a novel is a work of art that must be judged by its oneness. Judged first by its oneness. Some one gave him that idea in the beginning of things and he has never found it out. He doesn’t find things out. He doesn’t even seem to want to find things out. You can see that in him; he is eager to accept things—elaborately. You can see from his books that he accepts etiquettes, precedences, associations, claims. That is his peculiarity. He accepts very readily and then—elaborates. He has, I am convinced, one of the strongest, most abundant minds alive in the whole world, and he has the smallest penetration. Indeed, he has no penetration. He is the culmination of the Superficial type. Or else he would have gone into philosophy and been greater even than his wonderful brother…. But here he is, spinning about, like the most tremendous of water-boatmen—you know those insects?—kept up by surface tension. As if, when once he pierced the surface, he would drown. It’s incredible. A water-boatman as big as an elephant. I was reading him only yesterday ‘The Golden Bowl’; it’s dazzling how never for a moment does he go through.”

The bridge being blown and their being no hope of a cockleshell pontoon, Wells/Boon finishes:

“The only living human motives left in the novels of Henry James are a certain avidity, and an entirely superficial curiosity. Even when relations are irregular or when sins are hinted at, you feel that these are merely attitudes taken up, gambits before the game of attainment and over-perception begins…. His people nose out suspicions, hint by hint, link by link. Have you ever known living human beings do that? The thing his novel is aboutis always there. It is like a church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an egg-shell, a bit of string…. Like his ‘Altar of the Dead,’ with nothing to the dead at all…. For if there was they couldn’t all be candles and the effect would vanish…. And the elaborate, copious emptiness of the whole Henry James exploit is only redeemed and made endurable by the elaborate, copious wit. Upon the desert his selection has made Henry James erects palatial metaphors…. The chief fun, the only exercise, in reading Henry James is this clambering over vast metaphors….

One feels, how shall I put it a certain satisfaction that, what was probably James’s assessment of Wells as a common little man and a vulgar futurist, a rotter really, was borne out. Great fun, but.

Thursday, 19 May 2016


There are many fine aspects to Islam but my wife and I agreed that the main thing that lets them down is polygamy. A relation of hers married a Saudi in London and went to live in Saudi Arabia and had some children with the man. On her birthday, out of the clear blue, she was introduced to the woman that her husband had decided to take for another wife. Fortunately she had retained her passport, had her children’s names on it, and was able to make her way back to Britain with them. She now lives under a different identity in another part of the country. The new wife is a common reason for divorce in Islam. She loses the children of course.

It will be said that polygamy is uncommon and strictly regulated but what does it say about a society and a religion in which it is regarded as a right though one may not require or wish it for oneself. The soul of a person who holds this, the way that person lives his world, is atrophied, restricted, constricted, blunted by that attitude. As it stands the potentiality for a full marital relationship can never be activated.

My favourite wife is no wife.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Literary Notes on Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage

The very useful Neglected Books blog
neglected books
was where I first came across Dorothy Richardson. The editor/blogger Brad has posted a dialogue with Kate McDonald another literary blogger who is an academic with the twitch of being her own tipstaff. There’s a lot of that about. Miriam Henderson’s unwinning ways are agreed on by both sans spoilers and a certain amount of chat about how great London is. They don’t get between you and the books and concur on the difficulty for the general reader of the novels or chapters of a single novel that will never seem complete. Notice I avoided ‘finding closure’.

Here are novels which seem truer to the life of the writer than the Diaries of Anais Nin of whom a lady reviewer in the Irish Times wrote ‘me Anais, you ninny’. This was before boxer shorts. I’m still at Honeycomb in which Miriam gets out more.

Note: In 1917 when it was published H.G. Wells, who collected bluestockings, and with whom Dorothy Richardson had an affair, remarked that it was 40 years since Mallock’s The New Republic was written and it was high time for another such review of the state of England. Boon was the result. By God I think I’ll read a bit of it now.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Seductions of our Metaphors/ Bergson and James

Here Bergson and James are resorting to the same metaphors of dust that takes a form, that is given meaning through that form. They also reflect on ‘the sentence’ that has meaning as supervenient.

A philosopher worthy of the name has never said more
than a single thing: and even then it is something he has tried to say, rather than actually said. And he has said only one thing because he has seen only one point: and at that it was not so much a vision as a contact: this contact has furnished an impulse, this impulse a movement, and if this movement, which is as it were a kind of swirling of dust taking a particular form, becomes visible to our eyes only through what it has collected along its way, it is no less true that other bits of dust might as well have been raised and that it would still have been the same whirlwind. Thus a thought which brings something new into the world is of course obliged to manifest itself through the ready-made ideas it comes across and draws into its movement; it seems thus, as it were, relative to the epoch in which the philosopher lived; but that is frequently merely an appearance. The philosopher might have come several
centuries earlier; he would have had to deal with another philosophy and another science; he would have given himself other problems; he would have expressed himself by other formulas; not one chapter perhaps of the books he wrote would have been what it is; and nevertheless he would have said the same thing.
(from Bergson - The Creative Mind Lecture on Philosophical Intuition)

The rude synthetic vocal utterances first used for this effect slowly got stereotyped, and then much later got decomposed into grammatical parts. It is not as if men had first invented letters and made syllables of them, then made words of the syllables and sentences of the words;—they actually followed the reverse order. So, the transcendentalists affirm, the complete absolute thought is the pre-condition of our thoughts, and we finite creatures are only in so far as it owns us as its verbal fragments.
The metaphor is so beautiful, and applies, moreover, so literally to such a multitude of the minor wholes of experience, that by merely hearing it most of us are convinced that it must apply universally. We see that no smallest raindrop can come into being without a whole shower, no single feather without a whole bird, neck and crop, beak and tail, coming into being simultaneously: so we unhesitatingly lay down the law that no part of anything can be except so far as the whole also is. And then, since everything whatever is part of the whole universe, and since (if we are idealists) nothing, whether part or whole, exists except for a witness, we proceed to the conclusion that the unmitigated absolute as witness of the whole is the one sole ground of being of every partial fact, the fact of our own existence included. We think of ourselves as being only a few of the feathers, so to speak, which help to constitute that absolute bird. Extending the analogy of certain wholes, of which we have familiar experience, to the whole of wholes, we easily become absolute idealists.
But if, instead of yielding to the seductions of our metaphor, be it sentence, shower, or bird, we analyze more carefully the notion suggested by it that we are constituent parts of the absolute's eternal field of consciousness, we find grave difficulties arising. First, the difficulty I found with the mind-dust theory.
(from A Pluralistic Universe by William James: Lecture V)

In other times Berkeley would doubtless have formulated other theses; but, the movement being the same, these theses would have been situated in the same way with regard to one another; they would have had the same relationship to one another, like new words of a new sentence through which runs the thread of an old meaning: and it would have been the same philosophy.
(from The Creative Mind Lecture on Philosophical Intuition )

The theory of combination, I was forced to conclude, is thus untenable, being both logically nonsensical and practically unnecessary. Say what you will, twelve thoughts, each of a single word, are not the self-same mental thing as one thought of the whole sentence. The higher thoughts, I insisted, are psychic units, not compounds; but for all that, they may know together as a collective multitude the very same objects which under other conditions are known separately by as many simple thoughts.
(from A Pluralistic Universe by William James: Lecture V)

The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them into a superior synthesis or combine them with a new idea. One might as well believe that in order to speak we go hunting for words that we string together afterwards by means of a thought. The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple than a sentence or even a word: the meaning, which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. And just as the impulsion given to the embryonic life determines the division of an original cell into cells which in turn divide until the complete organism is formed, so the characteristic movement of each act of thought leads this thought, by an increasing sub-division of itself, to spread out more and more over the successive planes of the mind until it reaches that of speech. Once there it expresses itself by means of a sentence, that is, by a group of pre-existing elements; but it can almost arbitrarily choose the first elements of the group provided that the others are complementary to them; the same thought is translated just as well into diverse sentences composed of entirely different words, provided these words have the same connection between them. Such is the process of speech.
(from Bergson: The Creative Mind Philosophical Intuition)

Bergson and James were great friends of course and we see them here playing in the same sand box. I’m sorry, I’ll get my coat.

We had the experience but missed the meaning says Eliot. How could cerebral events even coagulate into experience without meaning? The engine of scepticism would not turn over without that spark.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The New Republic by William Hurrell Mallock (intro)

Dorothy Richardson could not bring herself to mention the name of the author of A Human Document evincing a mini spite that was the general strategy in dealing with William Hurrell Mallock. In the circles she moved in socialism would have been an established truth and sovereign remedy for the ills of society. Mallock opposed this and moreover proposed the reconstruction of religion as sanative. His Romish tendency came from his family connection with Tractarianism. His uncle was Hurrell Froude who died young but had together with John Keble begun the movement. Hurrell’s brother James Anthony the historian and ardent imperialist, pal of Thomas Carlyle and his biographer , was also the author of the controversial novel The Nemesis of Faith (1849),and the sort of Victorian who did in one lifetime what in these effete times would take three.

The New Republic which Mallock published at the age of 28 was an examination in dialogue form of the ideology of the great and good of the 19th.Century. The Dramatis Personae in transparent disguise are Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, William Kingdom Clifford, Violet Fane, William Money Hardinge, Professor Thomas Huxley, Benjamin Jowett, W.H. Mallock, Walter Pater, Edward Bouvarie Pusey, John Ruskin and John Tyndall. This book was instrumental in the scuppering of Walter Pater’s chance of the Oxford Professorship of Poetry as it intimated a connection between him and Hardinge aka ‘the Balliol bugger’.

I’m reading the book at the moment so I will reserve a fuller, in my languid definition of ‘fuller’, treatment, for later. As I mentioned Knox, also Balliol but not you know, considered it essential and continued the swingeing of Huxley fils in Broadcast Minds. It’s remarkable how those ideas that Mallock (Balliol) dramatises continue to thrive like perennial weeds.


'Sin, Lord Allen,' said Mr. Storks,(Thomas Huxley) 'is a word that has helped to retard moral and social progress more than anything. Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so; and the superstitious and morbid way in which a number of entirely innocent things have been banned as sin, has caused more than half the tragedies of the world. Science will establish an entirely new basis of morality; and the sunlight of rational approbation will shine on many a thing, hitherto overshadowed by the curse of a hypothetical God.'
' Exactly so,' exclaimed Mr. Saunders (William Kingdom Clifford) eagerly. ' Now, I'm not at all that sort of man myself,' he went on, 'so don't think it because I say this.'
Everyone stared at Mr. Saunders In wonder as to what he could mean.
‘We think it, for Instance,' he said, ‘a very sad thing when a girl is as we call it ruined. But it is we really that make all the sadness. She is ruined only because w^e think she is so. And I have little doubt that that higher philosophy of the future that Mr. Storks speaks of will go far, some day, towards solving the great question of women's sphere of action, by its recognition of prostitution as an honourable and beneficent profession.'

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Read Me/Write Me by Mallock and Richardson

Last night I read a bit of Mallock’s A Human Document: A Novel and I find that Richardson’s reference to it has depth as a primer on ‘How to read me’. The preamble is that a novelist has been given a packet of papers purporting to be the imaginary continuation of a current memoir by a Marie Bashkirtcheff. This packet, like a large scrapbook, came from Countess D. and it contains fragments of an ill-written novel that breaks down into convincing memoir, poetry, letters; fragments, as Yeats wrote, out of which we create a superhuman, mirror resembling dream. The novelist if he accepts this task must draw together all this flotsam and ullage into the shape of a novel that must not be recognisable as true to the life of its protagonist. He, Mallock imaginaire, is intrigued when told that a portrait that he has admired in the boudoir of a Hungarian castle is that of the lady who has assembled these papers which contain the truth of her life which is unsuspected by anyone around her.

How very Jamesian. Did he ever meet him at a country house party? No but he met the brother at Cambridge, Mass.

When the delivery of my addresses at Columbia University was completed I went from New York to Cambridge and remained there for ten days. Harvard in many ways reminded me of our own Cambridge. The professors, among whom I made many charming acquaintances, had not only the accent, but also the intonation of Englishmen. They had with them more, too, of the ways of the outer world than is commonly found in the university dons of England. Notable among these was Prof. William James, with whom I was already familiar through his singularly interesting book, Varieties of Religious Experience—to me very much more interesting than his brother's later novels.
(from Memoirs of Life and Letters)

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Dorothy Richardson and William Hurrell Mallock

My intuition about the relative unimportance of the tracing of incident for a deep reading of Pilgrimage (key of Miriam) was borne out by a passage which I came across today. To set the scene: Miriam is in her room reading a book called A Human Document: A Novel no author mentioned. It is by William Hurrell Mallock and was published in 1892. There’s a copy of it on Internet Archive (all 3 Volumes) as well as his most famous book The New Republic which Ronald Knox considered essential reading. Interesting chap - Mallock
Anyway Miriam is reading:

She sat long that night over her fire dipping into the strange book, reading passages here and there ; feeling them come nearer to her than anything she had read before. She knew at once that she did not want to read the book through; that it was what people called a tragedy, that the author had deliberately made it a tragedy; something black and twisted and painful, painful came to her out of every page; but seriously to read it right through and be excited about the tragic story seemed silly and pitiful. The thought of Mrs. Corrie and Joey doing this annoyed her and impatiently she wanted to tell them that there was nothing in it, nothing in the things the author wanted to make them believe; that was fraud, humbug . . . they missed everything. They could not see through it, they read through to the happy ending or the sad ending and took it all seriously.
She struggled in thought to discover why it was she felt that these people did not read books and that she herself did. She felt that she could look at the end, and read here and there a little and know ; know something, something they did not know. People thought it was silly, almost wrong to look at the end of a book. But if it spoilt a book, there was something wrong about the book. If it was finished and the interest gone when you know who married who, what was the good of reading at all ? It was a sort of trick, a sell. Like a puzzle that was no more fun when you had found it out. There was something more in books than that . . . even Rosa Nouchette Carey and Mrs. Hungerford, something that came to you out of the book, any bit of it, a page, even a sentence—and the " stronger " the author was the more came. That was why Ouida put those others in the shade, not, not, not because her books were improper. It was her, herself somehow. Then you read books to find the author ! That was it. That was the difference . . . that was how one was different from most people. . .
(from Honeycomb )

She may be right. Personally I don’t want to know the ending before I know the ending but once known it does not affect my rereading. Honeycomb was published in 1917 and this passage was very likely a retort to the puzzlement of the general reader at the open-ended inconclusiveness of the novels. Note the irony of her approval of the transmission of personal energy by the popular novelists Carey and Hungerford. I haven’t read any of Ouida yet. Mallock seems readable:

It was a singular record, not only on account of its contents, but of the manner in which it seemed to have been composed. The greater part of the narrative was just what I had been led to expect—an imaginary Journal of Marie Bashkirtcheff, during an imaginary continuation of her life. This was written in French ; and there was an obvious effort, at first, at reproducing the tone and manner of the
original. It was an effort, however, which was not very successful; and the authoress soon abandoned it, or rather forgot to make it. As she did so, she became more and more interesting; until gradually, instead of reading the literary exercise of an amateur, I seemed to be listening to the voice of a living woman who was confessing to me. The very defects of her style, which, though generally clear and straightforward, yet often broke down with a sort of pathetic helplessness, contributed to this illusion. I felt each time this happened, that a woman's eyes were looking at me, and that her lips, as she spoke, had a deprecating smile on them, or that they trembled. Had she written far better the effect would have been far less vivid.
(from A Human Document: A Novel)
A Human Document

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In the key of Miriam

Some reviews of Pilgrimage that I have glanced at seem to be drawn into a recitation of the incidents of the novels. That is a partial reading perhaps even an errant one. I see them as the music of character in the key of Miriam. In each situation the same themes return and the resolution of their oppositions follows a pattern; enthusiasm, disdain, intellectual snobbery, and retreat. So far so young.

None of this is retrospectively self serving. Miriam is a sort of bluestocking pill who has no discernable sense of humour. There are Four Volumes or Movements. I do not expect the strings of Romance to swell.

A Philosopher worthy of the Name

Henri Bergson writing in The Creative Mind:

A philosopher worthy of the name has never said more than a single thing: and even then it is something he has tried to say, rather than actually said. And he has said only one thing because he has seen only one point: and at that it was not so much a vision as a contact: this contact has furnished an impulse, this impulse a movement, and if this movement, which is as it were a kind of swirling of dust taking a particular form, becomes visible to our eyes only through what it has collected along its way, it is no less true that other bits of dust might as well have been raised and that it would still have been the same whirlwind. Thus a thought which brings something new into the world is of course obliged to manifest itself through the ready-made ideas it comes across and draws into its movement; it seems thus, as it were, relative to the epoch in which the philosopher lived; but that is frequently merely an appearance. The philosopher might have come several centuries earlier; he would have had to deal with another philosophy and another science; he would have given himself other problems; he would have expressed himself by other formulas; not one chapter perhaps of the books he wrote would have been what it is; and nevertheless he would have said the same thing.
(from Philosophical Intuition: Lecture given at the Philosophical Congress in Bologna, April 10th, 1911)

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Pilgrimage Vol.1 by Dorothy Richardson

A story that unfolds, that reaches a climax of some kind is a
fundamental characteristic of the novel. It is what carries us along.
Departing significantly from that pattern is to risk bathos.
Pilgrimage is very well written almost too evenly well written
with no dull shadows of ordinary prose to heighten. In Richardson’s
novel the interest lies in her alter ego Miriam Henderson as she moves
through life. Each of the first two books covers a year as a teacher,
first in Germany and secondly in North London aged 17 1/2 to 20 years.
Both avid of experience and resentful for having to take up a job due to
Pater’s financial incompetence Miriam oscillates between enthusiasm and
seething. She was happy with her three sisters living in Barnes but in the outside world she distrusts women particularly worldly North London women who inhabit the ugly villas of Finsbury Park. Being short sighted, earnest, dowdy, and by implication plainish Miriam feels that the lure of certification as a teacher might be a doom for her even though by the end of Backwater the second novel she has come to love her pupils and to inspire them. As is the case with English novels of that era, Queen Vic reigns O.K., class both rising and falling, out of and down from, is a
theme. The grocery trade which Pater dropped out of to become a
gentleman of leisure and culture would have assured his daughters a lady
like life of piano, botanising, the genteel wash of water colours and
thé dansant alas now only sensed In the form of Gerald the rich fiancée
of her sister Harriet who brings the sisters on outings and holidays
in Brighton.

This boat was Gerald's own private boat, a double-sculling skiff, slender and gold-brown, beautifully fitted and with a locker containing everything that was wanted for picnicking. They had arranged their expedition at lunch-time, trained to Richmond, bought fruit and cakes and got the boat’s water-keg filled by one of Redknap's men. Gerald knew how to do things properly. He had always been accustomed to things like this boat. He would not care to have anything just anyhow. "Let’s do the thing decently, la reine.'* He would keep on saying that at intervals until Harriett had learned too. How he had changed her since Easter when their engagement had been openly allowed. The clothes he had bought for her, especially this plain drill dress with its neat little coat. The long black tie fastened with the plain heavy cable broach pinned in lengthwise half-way down the ends of the tie, which reached almost to her black belt. That was Gerald. Her shoes, the number of pairs of light, expensive, beautifully made shoes. Her bearing, the change in her voice, a sort of roundness about her old Harryish hardness. But she was the same Harry, the Harry he had seen for the first time snorting with anger over Mr. Marth's sentimental singing at the Assembly Rooms concert. "My hat, wasn't la reine fuming!" He would forgive her all her ignorance. It was her triumph. What an extraordinary time Harry would have. Gerald was well-off. He had a private income behind his Canadian Pacific salary. His grandfather had been a diplomatist, living abroad nearly all the time, and his wealthy father and wealthy mother with a large fortune of her own had lived in a large house in Chelsea, giving dinner parties and going to the opera until nearly all the capital had gone, both dying just in time to leave enough to bring (Jerald in a small income when he left Haileybury. And the wonderful thing was that Gerrald liked mooching about and giggling. He liked looking for hours in shop windows and strolling on the Heath eating peppermints.

At the beginning of the third novel of the first Volume entitled Honeycomb Miriam is heading for her first meeting with Mrs. Corrie who is going to employ her as a governess. The feeling of constriction has left her once she settles into a comfortable little brougham which has picked her up from the station. This is where I am with her now hoping that she may at last find some happiness. She’s a brave gel you know. We begin to be drawn into this life as she tries to make her way.

Her writing is of a similar quality to Virginia Woolf’s and her lack of visibility is one of the oddities of literary history. Ease beckons her as the footman installs her in the brougham:

The brougham bowled away through the darkness softly. The lights of the station flickered by and disappeared. The brougham windows were black. No sound but the faint rumble of the wheels along the smooth road. Miriam relaxed and sat back, smiling. For a moment she was conscious of nothing but the soft-toned, softly lit interior, the softness at her back, the warmth under her feet and her happy smile; then she felt a sudden strength; the smile coming straight up so unexpectedly from some deep where it had been waiting, was new and strong and exhilarating. It would not allow itself to dimple ; it carried her forward, tiding her over the passage into new experience and held her back, at the same time; it lifted her and held her suspended over the new circumstances in rapid contemplation. She pressed back more steadily into the elastic softness and sat with bent head, eagerly watching her thoughts . . . this is me; this is right; I'm used to dainty broughams; I can take everything for granted. ... I must take everything absolutely for granted. . . . The moments passed, carrying her rapidly on. There was a life ahead that was going to enrich and change her as she had been enriched and changed by Hanover, but much more swiftly and intimately. She was changed already. Poverty and discomfort had been shut out of her life when the brougham door closed upon her. For as long as she could endure and achieve any sort of dealing with the new situation, they had gone, the worry and pain of them could not touch her.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Can you Adam and Eve it?

Reading Augustine’s City of God by sortilege, what else, my reading finger picked out Book XIII on The Fall of Man and his Consequent Mortality. Cockney rhyming slang has ‘Can you Adam and Eve it’ for ‘Can you believe it’. Belief in a literal truth instead of treating the story as a symbolic myth continues to draw justification from Catholic theologians even as elements wither before the sere winds of science. How do you insulate a required belief in a single set of parents of the human race? Ingeniously the doctrine of the infused rational soul is brought forward to enhance the status of a selected couple drawn from a population that is in an unregenerate state, withal being in all physical ways similar. They are then the first true human beings.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Pilgrimage by Dorothy Richardson (Intro.)

If one were to characterise the approach of Dorothy Richardson to personal identity Narrativism would be a good place to qualify from. Is there such a system? Have I just made it up? In the novel series Pilgrimage Richardson as Miriam Henderson tells the story of herself to herself and to we readers, updating regularly, each bulletin a short novel. Her sense of herself is as a catenary of linked self-expression events. She is then like that self-service mini-market in Paris that proclaimed itself le self de selfs. I am reading the First Volume in the Virago Edition and also as a ebook from Internet Archive. Under both species then but in this case the printed form has the edge because the links are separated by white which does not appear in the scanned page. In the ebook sections are numbered in each chapter which hs a disjunctive effect. That sense of duration, a la Bergson, of a life rolled up and expressing itself in a moment is aided by a typographical device.

Does this construction of identity lead to a journey round one’s navel? Not in Richardson’s case but not being aware of biographical details I have no knowledge of how self-serving the account she gives of herself is.

More anon.