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.