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.