Monday, 25 September 2017

Katha Upanishad - Death Answers

This doubt that arises, consequent on the death of a man - some saying, “It exists” and others saying, “It does not exist” - I would know this, under your instruction. Of all the boons, this one is the third boon.
(Ka. Up. 1.i.20)

Naciketa, in the crisis evoked by the curse of his father, asks Death (Yama) whether our post mortem fate is continuance or annihilation? Being born is being given to death. Is that all there is?

The answer he receives is that it is better not to ask that question. Only the renounced individual is fit to pursue this, it being far easier to gain wealth and delightful nymphs. Knowledge such as this can only be imparted by a realised teacher and not through philosophic lucubrations.

The Self is not certainly adequately known when spoken of by an inferior person; for It is thought of variously. When taught by one who has become identified with It, there is no further cogitation with regard to It. For It is beyond argumentation, being subtler even than the atomic quantity.

The wisdom that you have, O dearest one, which leads to sound knowledge when imparted only by someone else (other than the logician) is not to be attained through argumentation. You are, O compassionable one, endowed with true resolution. May our questioner be like you, O Naciketa
(Ka. 1.ii.8, 9)

A large powerful magnet will magnetize a small piece of iron. Vedantic tradition emphasizes the ideal of a living Master.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Matthew Arnold on Literature

Now, in literature,—I will limit myself to literature, for it is about literature that the question arises,—the elements with which the creative power works are ideas; the best ideas on every matter which literature touches, current at the time; at any rate we may lay it down as certain that in modern literature no manifestation of the creative power not working with these can be very important or fruitful. And I say current at the time, not merely accessible at the time; for creative literary genius does not principally show itself in discovering new ideas, that is rather the business of the philosopher; the grand work of literary genius is a work of synthesis and exposition, not of analysis and discovery; its gift lies in the faculty of being happily inspired by a certain intellectual and spiritual atmosphere, by a certain order of ideas, when it finds itself in them; of dealing divinely with these ideas, presenting them in the most effective and attractive combinations, making beautiful works with them, in short. But it must have the atmosphere, it must find itself amidst the order of ideas, in order to work freely ; and these it is not so easy to command. This is why great creative epochs in literature are so rare; this is why there is so much that is unsatisfactory in the productions of many men of real genius; because, for the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment; the creative power has, for its happy exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own control.
(fromThe Function of Criticism (Essays Literary and Critical by Matthew Arnold))
Stimulating but is it true? In an era of bad, false, meretricious and vacant of sense ideas can there be great literature? Is there out there now some great book that floats above ‘ the filthy post-modern tide’?

The Lost Stradivarius by John Meade Falkner

The preamble of this story is that it is being told to the son of John Maltravers by his aunt the sister of his father. It is told in a stolid, laboured way that assures us that what she is telling us is true for she would not have the imagination to concoct a florid lie. This is a stroke of craftsmanship that when I come to think of it is often used and moreover can disguise limitations in the prose style of the author.

It all began in his rooms at Magdalen College Oxford where the manuscripts of 17th.century music that his friend Gaskell had brought back from Italy lay on a table.

Perhaps by accident, or perhaps by some mysterious direction which our minds are incapable of appreciating, his eye was arrested by a suite of four movements with a basso continuo, or figured bass, for the harpsichord. The other suites in the book were only distinguished by numbers, but this one the composer had dignified with the name of "l'Areopagita." Almost mechanically John put the book on his music-stand, took his violin from its case, and after a moment's tuning stood up and played the first movement, a lively Coranto. The light of the single candle burning on the table was scarcely sufficient to illumine the page; the shadows hung in the creases of the leaves, which had grown into those wavy folds sometimes observable in books made of thick paper and remaining long shut; and it was with difficulty that he could read what he was playing. But he felt the strange impulse of the old-world music urging him forward, and did not even pause to light the candles which stood ready in their sconces on either side of the desk. The Coranto was followed by a Sarabanda, and the Sarabanda by a Gagliarda. My brother stood playing, with his face turned to the window, with the room and the large wicker chair of which I have spoken behind him. The Gagliarda began with a bold and lively air, and as he played the opening bars, he heard behind him a creaking of the wicker chair. The sound was a perfectly familiar one—as of some person placing a hand on either arm of the chair preparatory to lowering himself into it, followed by another as of the same person being leisurely seated. But for the tones of the violin, all was silent, and the creaking of the chair was strangely distinct. The illusion was so complete that my brother stopped playing suddenly, and turned round expecting that some late friend of his had slipped in unawares, being attracted by the sound of the violin, or that Mr. Gaskell himself had returned.

This is the beginning of his oppression by the spirit of Adrian Temple who once had these rooms. The primary vehicle of his reach is the Stradivarius that he left after him in a secret cupboard built into the wainscoting but obscured by a century of overpainting. Playing the Gagliarda becomes obsessive, at first on his own violin but then on the instrument owned by Temple. This misprision or larceny by finding Maltravers hides from his friend Gaskell who has been accompanying him on the piano. They both hear the creaking of the cane armchair but see nothing. After the completion of the gagliarda the reverse manouver of a person leaving the chair is heard. The guilt that he feels at the retention of this valuable instrument begins his alienation from the world at large and it creates the void that is filled by the malign spirit. Naturally as an Englishman and a Protestant one looks for a rational explanation:

I shall not weary you, my dear Edward, by recounting similar experiences which occurred on nearly every occasion that the young men met in the evenings for music. The repetition of the phenomenon had accustomed them to expect it. Both professed to be quite satisfied that it was to be attributed to acoustical affinities of vibration between the wicker-work and certain of the piano wires, and indeed this seemed the only explanation possible. 

The tragic events that unfold utterly belie the rationalism that tries to comprehend the evil that reaches them from the past. Its path is enhanced by the connection that Temple has with the wife to be of Maltravers. He is an ancestor of hers and the portrait in the gallery of her home has always unsettled. Coincidence? With a fate many paths cross.

A good read find it on Gutenberg project:the lost stradivarius

Monday, 18 September 2017


I’ve been reading here and there about panpsychism, panexperientalism, protopanpsychism and whatever you’re having yourself. It’s various and varied and those deeply read in the literature of the topic such as David Skrbina, (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), would claim that many thinkers hold it. Among them would be Henri Bergson. His ideas on memory and duration fit with only light trimming into the information based intuitions of David Chalmers. The concepts of ‘experience’ and ‘memory’ are analogical applied to inanimate nature. We feel that they are present in some rudimentary form. The canyon holds the memory of many floods, the pitting of the rock is the memory of rain. Their history is written on them, they are informed and their nature is made manifest. Inanimate matter is submissive to events. Simple cells and bacteria can ‘select’ their experience and move to a better part of the petri dish of life. This is all metaphorical and that is just the point.

In the concrete object memory and experience are layered as information. They are embedded. In the sentient creature they can be separated out and considered in a an abstract way as well as interact. The greater the separation the more consciousness their is. In the human we have memories, dreams, and reflections all inter- penetrating yet Bergson would say that our soul reality is duration. All these elements which are conscious are compacted in a sold ‘I AM’.

The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.
(from Biographia Litteraria by Coleridge)

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (pub.1967)

The story is told with the yarning tone of a cowboy God hopping from mind to mind. Pay attention; everything is significant, anything that is left out would have impeded the story that you the listener can plait in yourself. Phil is the older brother of the two that run a big cattle spread in Montana. They trail a thousand head in the fall down to the railhead at Beech a dismal little town that has the amenities that a cowboy might require, whiskey and sporting women. The time is 1925 as near as I can make out. Phil is the smart one that affects yokelosity. There’s a sneer in that and surely must have been part of the profound contempt that drove his parents to a retirement in Salt Lake City. They originally came from Boston, Mass. and they brought their gentility with them even unto fingerbowls which the invited rich ranchers and distinguished locals never knew what to do with. The other brother is George a stocky, slow, reliable sort of sound man. Between them they run the ranch and share the tasks. Phil does the castration of the bull calves and George ropes them. My stockman pocket knife has a round ended blade for popping out the testicles, Phil tears them out. Is that a signal one asks oneself? Is Phil a self-emasculating man whose need to control everything has eliminated a point of weakness. I guess.

After an embarrassing visit to the bunkhouse a callow hand asks:

When he had gone, one of the new loudmouthed young cowhands spoke right up. "Hey — he's sort of a lonely cuss, ain't he? Like about what we was saying before he come in, do you guess anybody ever loved him? Or maybe he ever loved anybody?" The oldest man in the bunkhouse stared at the young fellow. What the young fellow had said was unsuitable, even ugly. What had love to do with Phil? The oldest man in the bunkhouse reached down and patted the head of a little brown bitch that slept close. "I wouldn't want to be saying nothing about him and love. And if I was you, I wouldn't call him a cuss. It don't show respect."
"Well, hell," the young fellow said, blushing.
"You got to learn to show respect. You got an awful lot to learn about love."

Phil is a puzzle to all. He can do anything he sets his mind and hands to, woodwork from the little to the large, inch high Sheraton chairs carved with a scalpel and giant derricks for stacking the hay bales adze dubbed and hand planed. He’s a first class blacksmith and taxidermist and a banjo player. This last may have been part of his rube persona to annoy the aesthete parents and their Victrola charged with classical music. Little Red Wing, heh, heh. He likes too to talk about the old times, he’s 40, which is a touch premature. Anyway Bronco Henry was his mentor when he was a young feller who taught him how to fashion a hide lariat. Modern man gets to wondering about this relationship and Annie Proulx in her afterword comes right out with it. Was Phil a repressed homosexual? Plait that in if you wish but it’s a frail strand. Phil has a good college degree from a California university (where George failed), he keeps up with things and if there were the slightest impulse towards homosexuality he would not talk about Bronco. Phil is too guarded to give anything like that away. Bronco was a loved mentor and he died, stomped to death in a corral. Sometimes a lariat is just a lariat.

George is the antithesis of Phil in being not very smart but very kind and he springs a surprise by a secret marriage to Rose the widow of a doctor who committed suicide. The suggestion is that it was the result of a humiliating incident with Phil. Young Peter the son knows this. The interesting element in the characterization is the contrast between clever Phil and clever Peter who according to the code of the cowboy is a certified sissy.

Phil resents the intrusion of a woman into the life of the family, a cheap schemer after the money . He sets out to break her and sets about it methodically.

After supper Phil read for a time close by the lamp; then he rose abruptly and marched down the hall to the bedroom, closed the door behind him and got out his banjo and tuned up. He had to smile, had to smile thinking of George coming into that house with this woman, trying to make things smooth. How had he said? You remember Rose? That was it. What kind of a name was Rose. The name of somebody's cook. He had to smile, had to smile thinking of George down on one knee before the unlighted fire — a little disappointed that Phil had not lighted it before their arrival, that the room might be all comfortable and welcoming. Ha-ha-ha. George should have known Phil better than to think he would do something he didn't feel. Phil had to smile thinking of the sidelong glance Rose gave him at the supper table. He knew how he looked, knew it would get her goat. It used to get the Old Lady's goat, the rumpled shirt, the uncombed hair, the stubble of beard, the unwashed hands. She might just as well get smart to the fact that he didn't do things like other people because he wasn't like other people, that he left his napkin pointedly untouched, reached for food rather than asked for it, and if he had to snuffle his nose, he snuffled. If the fancy relatives back East could stomach it, God knew this woman could, and if she was unused to a man's leaving the table without first bowing and scraping and saying ''Excuse me," she might just as well catch on now. Oh yes (he had to smile) she was in for a few surprises.

I’ll say no more about this book which though it was well received critically in 1967 didn’t sell much and then disappeared. The many strands in it are twisted together smoothly and there is no makeweight filler. Quite simply, this is an American classic.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Unattached Self

Besides, one has to imagine that the Self can have the attribute of coming into contact with others, which idea is repugnant to the Vedas and Smirtis; for such are the Vedic and Smirti texts: “Unattached, for It is never attached” (Brh.III.ix.26) “It is unconnected, and is the supporter of all” (B.G. XIII.14) Moreover, since logic demands that a thing that has attributes, and is not of a different category, can come into contact with another having attributes, therefore it is illogical to hold that the Self which is attributeless, undifferentiated, and distinct from everything else, can come into contact with anything whatsoever that does not belong to the same category. Hence if the Self is the witness of all cognitions, then and not otherwise is established the idea that the Self, which is an effulgence that is in reality eternal and undecaying knowledge, is Brahman. Therefore the expression pratibodha videtam (known with every state of awareness) has the meaning as explained by us.
(from Shankara’s commetary on Kena Up. II.4)
Here we have presented an idea similar to that of Aristotle in De Anima namely that only things of the same sort can interact. That book is not to hand at the moment so I will search out that citation later. Unchanging and present in all states of awareness means that it is identified with pure consciousness or Brahman and therefore the highest state of consciousness is spoken of as sahaj samadhi or natural samadhi.
Ramana Maharshi defined it as:
Sahaja samadhi is a state in which the silent awareness of the subject is operant along with (simultaneously with) the full use of the human faculties.
Ramana in the meditation hall sitting on his couch reading the newspaper, chatting with the devotees, ‘it says here’, never loses contact with the Self.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Gulliver's Plea Bargain

It was a custom introduced by this prince and his ministry (very different, as I have been assured, from the practice of former times,) that after the court had decreed any cruel execution, either to gratify the monarch’s resentment, or the malice of a favourite, the emperor always made a speech to his whole council, expressing his great lenity and tenderness, as qualities known and confessed by all the world.  This speech was immediately published throughout the kingdom; nor did any thing terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his majesty’s mercy; because it was observed, that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment, and the sufferer more innocent. Yet, as to myself, I must confess, having never been designed for a courtier, either by my birth or education, I was so ill a judge of things, that I could not discover the lenity and favour of this sentence, but conceived it (perhaps erroneously) rather to be rigorous than gentle.  I sometimes thought of standing my trial, for, although I could not deny the facts alleged in the several articles, yet I hoped they would admit of some extenuation.  But having in my life perused many state-trials, which I ever observed to terminate as the judges thought fit to direct, I durst not rely on so dangerous a decision, in so critical a juncture, and against such powerful enemies. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Twin Peaks got lost on the way home.

Twin Peaks has come and gone with the emphasis on Twins. Did it ever get home? Unlike the dogs of legend that turn up years later this dog didn’t. The longeurs, not more unspooling night-time road, no, no. Don’t stop for gas.

I watched Season 1 again and the superior wit and invention compared to 3 was evident. Lissome, lippy Audrey Horne turned into a hag. Well, that happens but when a biker turns cop I am stretched past my elasticity. The great mistake was sending S.A. Coop into a bardo for most of the show. You can’t do that. It’s bad artistic judgment writing yourself into a hole to demonstrate your ingenuity at getting out again. Paint into a corner then you must wait for the paint to dry or spoil the job. With one bound he should have been free.

Lynch and Frost, it’s just over, leave it alone, walk, don’t look back. This is the correct, proper, honorable and precise thing.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is not as simple a novelist as he might perhaps appear to be with his, to our post-modern eyes, silly framing of the story. That it was told to him by the protagonist lulls you into the easy acceptance that this is a yarn with our understanding of it to naturally align with the writer’s. He sets up the pattern with an explanation at the start:

There are two kinds of Pity
One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart's impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another's unhappi-ness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one's own soul against the sufferings of another; and the other, the only kind that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond.

But is that so? Can one not start with a guilt edged response to a person that then grows in a more profound acceptance and a happy marriage? Four cases of marriage are considered in the novel. To start first with the pity of Anton Hofmiller 2nd. Lieutenant in a crack cavalry regiment stationed in border town of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the fateful November 1913. Anton or Toni as he is to his comrades is 25 years old and has been in a military environment since the age of 10. The apothecary of the small town who is a friend of the local Baron gets him an invitation to a musical evening and dance at the mansion. We have already learned that he is a fine figure of a man and a great dancer. Shake your shako, baby.
He dances with all the ladies and then considers that he has forgotten to dance with Edith the 17 year old only daughter of the Baron who is seated behind a low table to the side. He approaches her and asks her to dance.

I went up to the table - the music rattled on in the next room - and bowed a polite invitation to dance. A startled pair of eyes stared up at me in amazement, the lips remained parted in the very act of speaking. But she made not the slightest movement to follow me. Had she not understood? So I bowed again, my spurs jingling softly as I said: 'May I have this dance, gnädiges Fräulein'
What now happened was appalling. The bowed head and shoulders jerked backwards, as though to avoid a blow; the blood came rushing to the pale cheeks; the lips, parted the moment before, were pressed sharply together, and only the eyes stared fixedly at me with an expression of horror such as I had never before encountered in my whole life. The next moment a shudder passed through the whole convulsed body. With both hands she levered, heaved herself up by the table so that the bowl on it rocked and rattled; and as she did so some hard object, either of wood or metal, fell clattering to the ground from her chair. She continued to hold on with both hands to the swaying table, her body, light as a child's, still shaking all over; yet she did not run away, she clung more desperately than ever to the heavy table-top. And again and again that quivering, that trembling, ran through her frame, from the contorted, clutching hands to the roots of her hair. And suddenly there burst forth a storm of sobbing, wild, elemental, like a stifled scream.

What he hadn’t noticed when he was briefly introduced to her at the dinner was that she was paralyzed from the waist down due to a riding accident. She can only be wheeled about in a bath chair or use crutches with great difficulty. Toni leaves the house feeling that he has committed a brutal faux pas. He sends flowers with a profound apology and Edith likewise apologizes for her outburst and invites him to tea. In this way he is drawn into a relationship with Edith and her family. The boredom of a small garrison town is relieved by his daily visits and he does not consider the Baron’s daughter as a woman unlike the older cousin Ilona, magnificent shoulders, arms like peeled peaches. That latter does not quite work in English but in any case she is affianced and the Baron has promised her a magnificent dowry on her marriage for remaining as a companion to her cousin. Everything is focused on the poor crippled child as Toni takes her to be but we the astute readers know that he is being groomed as the saviour that will generate emotional and physical healing. Now the central figure of Dr. Condor enters the novel and being the chief personal physician to the family notices that the daughter is less in despair about her condition. Has there been another doctor brought in he asks? He becomes aware of the source of the change and warns Toni of the danger of a relationship based on pity. He also relates the background of the supposed aristocrat Baron who started off life as a Jewish peddler. Even though Zweig was a Jew himself the lay figure of the Jew bounder was operative. Building up his fortune by degrees his major coup is to swindle a woman out of her estate and feeling guilt and pity for her defencelessness offers to marry her. She accepts him and curiously the marriage is a happy one. Similarly Dr. Condor, being a stubborn healer continuing treatment by other means, has married a blind woman that he could not cure . That too developed into a loving marriage.

How Toni gets drowned in the emotional needs of Edith and is both repulsed by her sexual desire for him and yet unable to break with her fearing her reaction makes a superb novel and a febrile page turner. I found my copy on

Beware of Pity

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Suspicious Minds

This suspicion thing intrigues me because there’s so much of it about in philosophical discussions. Suspicion can be confirmed or disconfirmed on the basis of further evidence. But is philosophy that sort of scientific empirical activity? An inference to the best explanation makes a suggestion we call a suspicion. I would call it ‘ a theory of interest’ in the way that certain police forces refer to a person of interest i.e. a suspect. Philosophy in the rationalist tradition certainly spins out its web from the basis of axioms, clear and distinct ideas, fundamentals etc. It is not evidential in the way that science is.
In soccer terms I’m probably taking too much out of the ball.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Force of Death from Simone Weil on the Iliad

This is very fine:

War is then a lark and vulgarly loved. But for the majority, this situation does not last. A day comes when fear, defeat, the death of beloved comrades make the soul of the warrior succumb to necessity. War then ceases to be a game or a dream; the warrior finally understands that it actually exists. It is a harsh reality, infinitely too harsh to tolerate, for it embraces death. The idea of death is insupportable, except in short bursts, when one knows that death is in fact possible. It is true that every man is destined to die and that a soldier may grow old in battles, but for those whose soul is bent beneath the yoke of war, the connection between death and the future is not the same as for other men. For others, death is a limit imposed on the future. For soldiers, it is the future itself, the future their vocation allots. That men should have death for their future is unnatural. Once the practice of war has made clear the possibility of death contained in every moment, thought becomes incapable of passing from one day to the next without encountering the image of death. The spirit is then strained so much that it can endure only a short time; but every new dawn brings with it the same necessity; days joined to days fill out years. The soul undergoes duress every day. Each morning it amputates itself of all aspiration, for thought cannot travel in time without encountering death
(from The Iliad: The Poem of Force

Friday, 25 August 2017

Weil on Slavery

The Need for Roots is probably not one of the books that most reflects her particular genius. Given the circumstances under which it was written and the relative youth of the writer, one cannot expect a comprehensive work but as ever her overwrought emotional cerebrality has its own persuasive power. To dismiss her as a clumsy neurotic whom it was physically dangerous to be around would be facile and yet I can imagine the foreman saying – don’t let that lassie carry planks. She means well under both species that of ignorant benevolence and in a strained sense, acute insight.
That particular work is available
Need for Roots
She castigates Maritain:
For instance, a lover of Ancient Greece, reading in one of Maritain’s books: ‘The greatest thinkers of antiquity had not thought of condemning slavery’, would indict Maritain before one of these tribunals. He would take along with him the only important reference to slavery that has come down to us—the one from Aristotle. He would invite the judges to read the sentence: ‘Some people assert that slavery is absolutely contrary to nature and reason.’ He would observe that there is nothing to make us suppose these particular ‘people’ were not among the greatest thinkers of antiquity. The court would censure Maritain for having published—when it was so easy for him to avoid falling into such a mistake—a false assertion, and one constituting, however unintentionally, an outrageous calumny against an entire civilization.
The tribunal she talks about is one of those which would assess the Truth in the News, once on the banner of The Irish Press newspaper. Right now they would be busy.

However in her essay on The Iliad or The Poem of Force written in 1939 she could describe the enslavement of those defeated in battle thus:
At least some suppliants, once granted their wish, become again men like others. But there are still more miserable beings who, without dying, have become things for life. In their days there is no play, no space, no opening for anything that comes from within. These are not men living harder lives than others, or socially inferior to others; they are an alternative human species, a hybrid of man and corpse. That a human being should be a thing is a logical contradiction; but when the impossible has become a reality, the contradiction lacerates the soul. This thing aspires at all times to be a man or a woman, and never attains the goal. This is a death that extends throughout a life, a life that death has frozen long before putting an end to it. 15. The maiden, daughter of a priest, will suffer this fate:
I will not return her. Before that old age will seize her,
in my home, in Argos, far from her homeland,
moving along the loom and lying in my bed.
Find a copy of the essay here:
Poem of Force

Thursday, 17 August 2017

John J. Kelly and Matthew Arnold on Thomas Gray

It has been said that the whole piece is so “inevitable” that it is interesting to know it caused Gray immense trouble. Many lines and phrases have become household expressions. It has made and still makes a personal and direct appeal because of the truth, the sincerity, and the dignity of the poet’s matter and the expression of the matter. Gray was a born poet, a man of immense learning. His style is graceful, vivid, harmonious.

In a much owned copy of The English Parnassus this is written across the fold of pages separating Gray’s Elegy and his The Progress of Poesy. Going by the names of the previous owners and its writing in headline copy cursive with a fine nib dip pen in the unmistakable ink that was used in National Schools back in the time of the Barmecides I take it to be the reflection of John J. Kelly, Boys N. School, Mohill, Co. Leitrim. I can still smell it. Whether there was gall in its concocting or gall only in its use it remains with me. “That was the queer smell”. Sit down Joyce.

Like the plays of Shakespeare the poem has been mined:

“The short and simple annals of the poor”
“The Paths of glory lead but to the grave”. (great film)
“Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood”.
“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”
Said to those daytime nappers:
“His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.”

True for you J.J.

Matthew Arnold in his essay on Grey (Second Series of Essays in Criticism writes:

We will begin with his acquirements. "Mr. Gray was," writes his friend Temple, "perhaps the most learned man in Europe. He knew every branch of history both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his study. Voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture and gardening." The notes in his interleaved copy of Linnaeus remained to show the extent and accuracy of his knowledge in the natural sciences, particularly its botany, zoology, and entomology. Entomologists testified that his account of English insects was more perfect than any that had then appeared. His notes and papers, of which some have been published, others remain still in manuscript, give evidence, besides, of his knowledge of literature ancient and modern, geography and topography, painting, architecture and antiquities, and of his curious researches in heraldry. He was an excellent musician. Sir James Mackintosh reminds us, moreover, that to all the other accomplishments and merits of Gray we are to add this: "that he was the first discoverer of the beauties of nature in England, and has marked out the course of every picturesque journey that can be made in it."
find it at:
Thomas Gray

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Famous Mental Modifications (Vritti)

The teacher said to him, "I told you the right thing. The very fact that you know simultaneously all the mental modifications was adduced by me as the reason why you are eternally immutable".

This has been the subject of much reflection for me manana (reflecting) and nidhidhyasana (meditation). What I mean by this is the holding in the mind or making the context of my ruminations the immediacy of consciousness. Is the assertion that mental modifications are immediately known otiose or not informative. Mental modifications are those states of awareness that we are immediately aware of by definition. Daniel Dennett speaks of fame in the brain. Those states (vritti) are merely the most salient of our brains function. Information is being processed in an unconscious way and what we become conscious of is merely the last stage that wins out so to speak. They are famous i.e. well known. Only when the activity that is beneath this level goes wrong do we come to know of it.

I feel that there is an important insight in Dennett's view and it moreover does not contradict the advaitin view of mental activity. Recall that in the preamble to the B.S.B. (Brahma Sutra Bhasya) Sankara does not concern himself with the psychological theory of how superimposition (snake/rope adhyasa) takes place. It is the end result i.e. the mental modification/confusion, that is important. There are routines that are 'beneath' consciousness but that is not the point. Fame is the thing.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The World of Yesterday: an autobiography by Stefan Zweig

Yes, I’m all Hitlered up, suas go ruball (up to my tail). Reading and abandoning A Small Circus by Hans Fallada, and The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig. The last mentioned I finished last night and it is possibly the most unsatisfactory memoir ever written. His parents and their origin are not mentioned. How did they make their money? Did he have any siblings? Growing up, what was his attitude to Judaism in a religious sense? He married but who and how did they meet? Not revealed but a great deal of information on his manuscript collecting, Goethe’s laundry list amongst them. There is much about his connection with famous men, writers, artists and composers. His snobbery is vast and comprehensive. How, with Romaine Rolland, I tried to save Europe from itself. During the Kaiser war he met James Joyce in Zurich:

The people in this circle who affected me most deeply —perhaps by way of premonition of my own future fate— were the ones without a country or, worse still, who instead of one had two or three fatherlands and were inwardly uncertain to which they belonged. A young man with a little brown beard, with keen eyes behind strikingly thick lenses sat, usually alone, in a corner of the Cafe Odeon; they told me that he was a highly gifted English author. When I became acquainted with James Joyce a few days after that, he harshly rejected all association with England. He was Irish. True, he wrote in the English language but did not think in English and didn't want to think in English. 'Td like a language," he said, "which is above all languages, a language to which all will do service. I cannot express myself in English without enclosing myself in a tradition." This was not quite clear to me; I did not know of his Ulysses, on which he was then working; he had merely lent me A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, his only copy, and his little drama Exiles which I had thought to translate in order to be of use to him. The better I knew him the more his incredible knowledge of languages astonished me; his round firmly sculptured brow, which shone smooth like porcelain in the electric light, stored every vocable of every idiom and he was brilliantly able to toss and keep them balanced in the air. Once when he asked how I would reproduce a difficult sentence in the Portrait of an Artist in German, we attempted it first in French and then in Italian; for every word he was prepared with four or five in each idiom, even those in dialect, and he knew their value and weight to the finest nuance. He was inclined to be testy, and I believe that just that irritation produced the power for his inner turmoil and productivity. His resentment against Dublin, against England, against particular persons became converted into dynamic energy and actually found release only in literary creation. But he seemed fond of his own asperity; I never saw him laugh or show high spirits. He always made the impression of a compact, somber force and when I saw him on the street, his thin lips pressed tightly together, always walking rapidly as if heading for a definite objective, I sensed the defensive, the inner isolation of his being even more positively than in our talks. It failed to astonish me when I later learned that just this man had written the most solitary, the least affined work—meteor-like in its introduction to the world of our time.

Exile, Silence and Zweig. We share that asperity Stefan. Actually no, but in the end his complaints that the rich and well connected, famous people who were Jews, people like me, me, me, could not get out of Germany and Austria is wearing. He got out in the early 30‘s and lived in England. He met H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw. Of course he did. Zweig was an international best seller. His short stories are quite good and some were made into films - Letter from an Unknown Woman is one. He reminds me of Somerset Maugham and Louis Couperous.

Read not as a self-styled autobiography; there is much to enjoy.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pradhana and Intelligent Design

The discussion about the pradhana of the Samkhyas starts out with a rejection of its identification with the Existence mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad (Ch.VI.ii.1):
O amiable one, before its creation, the universe was but Existence (Brahman), one without a second.

Pradhana (primal matter) has as its constituents sattva, rajas and tamas or the pure, the active and the inert. There is extensive coverage of the influence of these as regards the human character in the Bhagavad Gita. As one or the other predominates so do certain traits. When sattva is in the ascendant as with the perfect yogi then omniscience is the result. As an implication of this belief the Samkhyas identify the Upanisad primal Existence and its creative power with Pradhana. Sankara rejects this though he admits that sattva is predominant in the case of the all knowing yogi.
Besides so long as Sattva is not illumined by the consciousness of the witnessing soul, no change in Sattva can be called knowledge; and insentient Pradhana has no power to illumine. Therefore the omniscience of Pradhana is not justifiable. The all-knowingness of the Yogins cannot be quoted as an example, for they are conscious beings, so that they can become all-knowing through a perfection of their Sattva.
(from Sankara's commentary: B.S.B. I.i.5)

This rejection of the identification of primal Existence as per the Ch. Up. with Pradhana is important for the establishment of coherence and consistency with the scriptures. Further on Sankara adds an objection to creative Pradhana from the perspective of design. This occurs in B.S.B. II.ii.1:
....then it is not seen in this world that any independent insentient thing that is not guided by some sentient being can produce modifications to serve some special purpose of a man; for what is not noticed in the world is that houses, palaces, beds, seats, recreation grounds, etc., are made by the intelligent engineers and others at the proper time and in a way suitable for ensuring or avoiding comfort or discomfort. So how can the inconscient Pradhana create this universe, which cannot even be mentally conceived of by the intelligent (i.e. skilful) and most far-famed architects, which is seen in the external context to consist of the earth etc. that are fit places for experiencing the results of various works, and in the context of the individual person, of the body and other things having different castes etc., in which the limbs are arranged according to a regular design, and which are seen as the seats for experiencing various fruits of actions?

Design, order and arrangement are the result of intelligent guidance which is more complex than what even highly intelligent and capable people can comprehend. Therefore insentient Pradhana cannot be the cause of the universe. This is not an Argument from Design per se only an argument against Pradhana being able to supply it. Pradhana is not an actor.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


“In language as in politics the conservative runs into the fact that the old is only what used to be new.” *(Bernard Williams)
This is one of these observations that has a specious air of correctness. Much of what conservatives hold was never newly fangled but is natural. There are truths which are held to be self-evident and in that sense atemporal. Their implementation politically may happen at a certain point in history.
This neo-conservative (neo-con) business. Obviously pejorative. Put neo to anything and you have suggested that it is only trotting after a foolish doctrine which had at least the merit of being original in its day.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Continuous Immediacy (Upadesa Sahasri)

75. The teacher said to him, Your doubt is not justifiable. For you, the Self, are proved to be free from change and therefore perpetually the same on the ground that all the modifications of the mind without a single exception are (simultaneously) known by you. You regard this knowledge of all the modifications which is the reason for the above inference as that for your doubt. If you were changeful like the mind or the senses (which pervade their objects one after another), you would not simultaneously know all the mental modifications, the objects of your knowledge. Nor are you aware of a portion only of the objects of your knowledge (at a time). You are, therefore, absolutely changeless.

The response to this can take a number of forms, two of which are ready to hand. One is that ‘mental modification’ linked with immediate awareness is no more than a dormitive definition so named after the doctor who said that opium cause sleepiness because of its dormitive power. A mental modification is an awareness by virtue of being a mental modification.

The second rebuttal which is identified with Buddhism within the Vedic tradition suggests that knowledge is constantly changing. Apprehension is a progressive affair. As we go on perceiving we come to know more and more. Knowledge is then an active business and is therefore not changeless. This is the line taken by the Disciple.

The Teacher in his reply does not deny that there is an experience of change. What he wants to stress or the insight that he wishes to induce is the immediate nature of the consciousness that accompanies any sensible state. This is a reflection of the nature of the Self. In an image used elsewhere in the book the Self is likened to a mirror that is not changed by the reflections that occur in it.

May I offer the idea of continuous immediacy paradoxical as that sounds. It has I maintain a connection with the Bergsonian concept of duration. Eliot in The Four Quartets wrote about the ‘still centre of the turning world’.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
(Four Quartets Section 5: Burnt Norton)

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Vision Thing

A critique of the notion of perfect objectivity as represented by the 'Universal Language' and other similar notions.

The effect of this vision on the modern mind has for the last fewˋ centuries been progressive and profound. It shows, for instance, in the pervasive attachment of educated opinion in the West to the belief that unless moral principles can be shown to be “objective,” which is to say, somehow or other inherent in a “Nature” untouched by human hands, we have no option but to embrace a noncognitivism according to which morality is a tissue of subjective “feelings” or “commitments,” and as such immune from rational criticism. In another way it shows in the conviction, widespread in literary studies, that there is ultimately no distinction of value to be drawn between great literature and the most trivial piece of kitsch, as literature per se is a fantasy; a further layer of coloured illusion that we interpose between ourselves and the realities of which we would be glumly confined to speaking, did we but speak a language as hostile to fantasy as the Universal Language would be, and as such putative fragments of it as, say, the languages of the physical sciences already are.
(from: Word and World by Patricia Hanna and Bernard Harrison)

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Princess Casamassima by Henry James

In the oeuvre of Henry James The Princess Casamassima is something of an odd duck or a black swan. Belying the title most of the characters are of the skilled artisan class. There is a seamstress, bookbinders, a chemist, a music hall fiddler with only a Princess and Captain (ret.) to balance the rude mechanicals. In fact calling the serial production The Princess Casamassima is a bow to James’s normal social order for the book is well underway before she gets on board and she is only described objectively whereas Hyacinthe has a subjective voice, an inner life. But really for a title The Little Bookbinder would never do. The novel was produced as a serial for Atlantic Monthly and published in the same year 1886 as The Bostonians bostonians:both received no likes. This may have been the impulse that moved him to remain with tales of the genteel upper classes. I feel that his writing against his own personal knowledge and character in both those novels brought out his wit and invention. He had to use his imagination more. That he might have smashed his Europe Vs America template had they made him some money is a arguable speculation.

Anarchism today is within the bounds of propriety and resembles an endless committee meeting. In the 19th.century it was explosive, incendiary and murderous activity carried out by otherwise pleasant people. I can’t say too much about the plot as that would ruin a virgin reading. It’s uncanny that Lionel Trilling could tell all in an introduction to an edition of the book back in the 1940‘s. That is reproduced as an essay in The Liberal Imagination. Don’t read it, don’t read any of it. You have better things to do. Make a cup of tea.

The key to the character of Hyacinthe Robinson lies in his origin as the love child of a French prostitute and her aristocratic lover whom she slays with a knife when he repudiates his paternity. The child is adopted by Amanda Pynsent, sempstress, and reared by her to have a sense of a noble origin. Attraction to the amenities of the high born and repulsion for the actual state of the social order that it supports draws him into a nest of anarchists the moral centre of which is Paul Muniment, a chemist. Hyacinthe’s friend is Millicent Henning a striking beauty who works in a fashionable haberdashery and ladies clothing emporium. She models the fine clothes there. The Peter Pannish Hyacinthe is asexual but has a strong aesthetic sense and a cultivated almost aristocratic manner. As the story develops the Princess comes into it and a stay with her in a country mansion further increases his antithetical repulsion and attraction for its culture. His artisan class fashions its fittings and ought to have a better life.

This novel has more than the usual variety of character and incident in a James novel, always very readable without the stateliness of diction that Maitre Henry can fall into. On a couple of occasions he commits the solecism which he castigates Trollope for - he talks to the reader. That is due to the serial form probably and perhaps a personal indecision as to whether to introduce documentary evidence for his knowledge of the inward parts of Hyacinthe. Jarring but not important for this excellent novel.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Memory Hole

How can we forget anything that we have paid attention to? Is that making an event in consciousness that has occurred dependent on personal omission? In the view of Bergson everything remains 'out there' requiring only retrieval by a focussing of the brain. Using a holographic analogy Dr. Stephen Robbins writes of a reconstructive wave which requires a similar wavelength to the original conscious event. The idea of the brain scanning the contents of the brain itself is rejected. The loss of memory due to brain damage is not due to the destruction of storage there because in time the reconstructive aspect of brain function can pass to another area of the brain. Stroke patients can recover language and memory returns.

In his simpler formulation of the brain's function Bergson likens it to a reducing valve. We screen out the dross and retain only the highlights so even the events we think we are attending to are chopped up. Forgetting is a good thing, the totality of the flow of events would overwhelm us. Living in an extended intuition of duration requires a special environment like a monastery or an ashram or a well appointed cave.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Upadesa Sahasri: Route to Idealism through Mental Modifications (Vritti)

74. To this, the disciple replied, The delusion, Sir, is gone by your grace; but I have doubts about the changeless nature which, you say, pertains to me.
Teacher: What doubts?
Disciple: Sound etc., do not exist independently as they are non-conscious. But they come into existence when there arise in the mind modifications resembling sound and so on. It is impossible that these modifications should have an independent existence as they are exclusive of one another as regards their special characteristics (of resembling sound etc.,) and appear to be blue, yellow, etc. (So sound etc., are not the same as mental modifications). It is therefore inferred that these modifications are caused by external objects. So it is proved that modifications resemble sound etc., objects existing externally. Similarly, these different modifications of the mind also are combinations and therefore non-conscious. So, not existing for their own sake they, like sound etc., exist only when known by one different from them. Though the Self is not a combination, It consists of Consciousness and exists for Its own sake; It is the knower of the mental modifications appearing to be blue, yellow and so on. It must, therefore, be of a changeful nature. Hence is the doubt about the changeless nature of the Self.
(From Upadesa SahasriChap.2:The Knowledge of the Changeless)

Here I suppose is a statement of the obvious which like anything in philosophy which is too clear and straightforward has in it the possibility of error. Sounds etc. occur as the result of an interaction between an aware subject and the world. Sankara reminds us elsewhere that we do not perceive perceptions, we perceive objects. That route to idealism which holds that we are immediately aware of our mental states and by inference from those states to an external object which is their cause, is cut off. Perception is clearly distinguished from inference as a valid means of knowledge. Inference is a movement of the mind itself on the basis of some evidence.

The disciple seems to hold to the idea that there is a inner mental subject with special access to inner mental objects, those mental modifications. This ever changing data must be known by a subject which to keep up with them is changing also. The self in its self knowledge is continuously taking the form of the mental modifications and cannot therefore be changeless. This is his dilemma.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Rumours of Reality

There’s a persistent philosophical rumour that there are different sorts of objects of varying saturation of reality. First among those is the unknown object which might be a Saxon hoard or a shilling under a rock. It’s there, the unknown unknown. That a thing could be an unknown object is a guarantee of its independent reality status. As a corollary there are those mental states that only come to exist in the moment that they are known. An emotion comes into existence as it is known and then after it has abated drops into the memory well. So they are not really objects but they are real as objects of awareness. Other items have a reality contingent on agreements, legal instruments and so on. There are wills, contracts, vows, promises that are eternal or temporary or transient; fragile or adamantine. They exist within the sphere of the commitment of the parties involved and are real enough but they have ‘no face before they were born’ as the Zenists say.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Empty Rocks

When Brian (BBC Science prog) Cox picks up a stone and tells us that it is mostly composed of empty spaces he is speaking in analogical terms as though what we consider as empty in the normal way applies to the molecular level description. It involves a freezing in time of the molecular events which is essentially a falsification for practical purposes to produce a model of the molecule. This is useful but is not to be taken as the reality. It is an analogy with a very narrow focus in order to enhance understanding. Such abstraction is like the reducing of time to instants that gives rise to Zeno's paradox

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Perception in Advaita Vedanta

Now as the water of a tank, issuing through a hole, enters in the form of a channel a number of fields, and just like them assumes a rectangular or any other shape, so also the luminous mind, issuing through the eye etc., goes to the space occupied by objects such as a jar, and is modified into the form of a jar or any other object. That very modification is called a state (vritti). But in the case of inference etc., the mind does not go to the space occupied by fire etc., for the latter are not in contacty with the eye etc. Thus in cases of perception such as, “This jar,” the jar etc. and the mental state in the form of these combine in the same space outside the body, and hence the Consciousness limited by both is one and the same, for the mental state and the objects such as a jar, although (usually) they are dividing factors, do not (here) produce any difference, since they occupy the same space. For this very reason the ether limited by a jar and that which is within a monastery is not different from the ether limited byh the monastery. Similarly, in the case of the perception of a jar as, “This jar,” the mental state in the form of the jar being in contact with the jar, the Consciousness limited by that mental state is not different from the Consciousness limited by the jar, and hence the knowledge of the jar there is a perception so far as the jar is concerned. Again, since the Consciousness limited by happiness etc. and the Consciousness limited by the mental state relating to them are invariably limited by the two limiting adjuncts that occupy the same space, the knowledge, “I am happy,” is invariably a perception.
(from Vedanta Paribhasa on Perception)

Professor Bina Gupta (in The Disinterested Witness pg.103ff.) is dubious about the claim of V.P. that the luminous mind goes out to take the shape of the object. The shape of the object is what is termed the vritti or mental modification in the usual translation. What Gupta offers is a separation of these two assertions (a) the going out (b) the vritti. Retaining the vritti as an internal event is a turn towards psychologism and representationalism. The well known vulnerability to the private language argument proposed by Wittgenstein is a salient feature of these views. The strength of the traditional advaitin view is in the radical externality of the object of perception and the securing of our knowledge of it as it really is. The basis of this perceptuality lies in the common substratum of pure consciousness of both the mind and the object.

Gupta claims that this going out is a primitive physiological theory also held by the Greeks and is suggested by the problem :

How is it that the object is there at a distance, yet I am able to see it from here. What bridges this distance? This is an important issue in the psychology of perception. Thus the Advaitins had a nice, though scientifically incorrect, answer - the mind itself goes out there, the form I perceive is not just in my brain but is also out there in the thing perceived.

Here we are at the confused borderland of Metaphysics and Psychology. In the Advaitin metaphysics subject and object meet in the extra-personal field of Pure Consciousness and the knowledge precipitate is superimposed on the mind of the individual perceiver.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Memory and Identity

I am I. I was I. Do I need evidence for this? Could memory be evidence?? How might that be wrought? Might I look back and having a series of inward images, me climbing a wall, stealing pears, stuffing my shirt. And then my assessment: yes, that’s definitely me, no mistake about it. However as we and the bad cop know, memories can be induced and a person can be brought to believe a story in which they are the chief actor. Even if there was a movie made of my life that was the the same length as my life would that establish self-identity i.e. my identity for myself? It would prove that I was not in Bangkok on the day in question, maybe but should someone splice in a double boating down a canal even I might be bamboozled. Whether in Thailand or not I was still I. If that knowledge resists true evidence in the sense that we do not have to use a memory to establish identity then false evidence does not undermine identity either. It is immune to evidence. The empiricist hunger must rest unassuaged.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Matthew Arnold in Literature and Dogma on Verification

And this is the aim of the following essay: to show that, when we come to put the right construction on the Bible, we give to the Bible a real experimental basis, and keep on this basis throughout j instead of any basis of unverifiable assumption to start with, followed by a string of other unverifiable assumptions of the like kind, such as the received theology necessitates.

Norwich demurs:
Maudlin sentimen talism," says the Dean of Norwich, "with its miserable disparagements of any definite doctrine; a nerveless religion, without the sinew and bone of doctrine."

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Nobody says and maybe they should, of Leonard Gardner, ‘he coulda been a contender’. Or ‘he retired undefeated’ or ‘there are no second acts in American lives’. There is a comeback kid who defies the cliché by not coming back. It is an awful fate to hit the highest point of your oeuvre on your first book and then fall back into self imitation subsequently. Gardner declined that shame. Fat City is an American classic and it is quite acceptable to have gone some rounds with Ernesto Hemingway and then knocked him on his ass.

It opens:

He lived in the Hotel Coma—named perhaps for some founder of the town, some California explorer or pioneer, or for some long-deceased Italian immigrant who founded only the hotel itself. Whoever it commemorated, the hotel was a poor monument, and Billy Tully had no intention of staying on. His clean laundry he continued to put back in his suitcase on the dresser, ready to be hurried away to better lodgings. He had lived in five hotels in the year and a half since his wife had left him. From his window he looked out on the stunted skyline of Stockton—a city of eighty thousand surrounded by the sloughs, rivers and fertile fields of the San Joaquin River delta—a view of business buildings, church spires, chimneys, water towers, gas tanks and the low roofs of residences rising among leafless trees between absolutely flat streets. Along the sidewalk under his window, men passed between bars and liquor stores, cafes, secondhand stores and walk-up hotels. Pigeons the color of the street pecked in the gutters, flew between buildings, marched along ledges and cooed on Tully's sill. His room was high and narrow.

Smudges from oily heads darkened the wallpaper between the metal rods of his bed. His shade was tattered, his light bulb dim, and his neighbors all seemed to have lung trouble.

It’s not so much noir as grey, the colour of Tully’s underwear. If there’s hope it’s a rumour. He goes to the fields to top onions.

There was a continuous thumping in the buckets. The stooped forms inched in an uneven Hue, hke a wave, across the field, their progress measured by the squat, upright sacks they left behind. In the air was a faint drone of tractors, hardly audible above the hum that had been in Tully's ears since his first army bouts a decade past.

He scrabbled on under the arc of the sun, cutting and tossing, onion tops flying, the knife fastened to his hand by draining blisters. Knees sore, he squatted, stood, crouched, sat, and knelt again and, belching a stinging taste of bile, dragged himself through the morning. By noon he had sweated himself sober. Covered with grime, he waddled into the bus with his sandwiches and an onion.

Going to his old trainer and getting a few easy marks to ease his way back was a plan. He was good until he was let down and robbed off a title in Mexico City by crooks. He resents Ruben Luna but he knows him:

Confidence, Ruben Luna believed, was the indispensable ingredient of success, and he had it in abundance —as much faith in his destiny as in the athletes he trained. In his own years of battling he had had doubts which at times became periods of terror. With a broken jaw wired into silence, he had sucked liquid meals through a tube, wondering if he were even sane. After a severe body beating and a bloody urination in the dressing room, he had wondered if the big fights and large sums he had thought would be coming but never came could be worth what he had already endured. But now Ruben's will was Hke a pure and unwavering light that burned even in his sleep. It was more a fatahstic optimism than determination, and though he was not immune to anxiety over his boxers, he felt he was immune to despair. Limited no longer by his own capacities, he had an odds advantage that he had never had as a competitor. He knew he could last. But his fighters were less dependable. Some trained one day and laid off two, fought once and quit, lost their timing, came back, struggled into condition,gasped and missed and were beaten, or won several bouts and got married, or moved, or were drafted, joined the navy or went to jail, were bleeders, suffered headaches, saw double or broke their hands. There had been so many who found they were not fighters at all, and there were others who without explanation had simply ceased to appear at the gym and were never seen or heard about again by Ruben, though once in a while a forgotten face returned briefly in a dream and he went on addressing instructions to it as though the intervening years had never been.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

On Precision in the Essay

Subsequent to the previous post the editor of Essay Daily asks:
Hey Michael,

Craig here - I edit this series and am interested in your statement here, "I write this in the interests of precision which is a feature of the essay form". Is precision necessarily a feature of the essay form? I'm not so sure it is, at least not in many of the forms an essay may take.

Anyway, if you ever see this, I wonder if you might expand on this idea a bit.


Craig (Reinbold)

Hello Craig,
It is certainly a feature of the classical essay. I’m thinking here of Montaigne, Bacon, Johnson. They often attempt an analysis of some topic or a received opinion. Hazlitt asks himself - ‘what is skill really and how does it differ from art’. They want to clarify for themselves as much as for you.

Try Coleridge’s Essays in The Friend

Even the modern essay if a collection from 1922 can be called modern respects the overwhelming givenness of the fact and its lineaments. Augustine Birrell writing about Carlyle:
No one at all acquainted with his writings can fail to remember his almost excessive love of detail; his lively taste for facts, simply as facts.

There is a secular reverence in precision. It genuflects before the fact but if it stops there cannot inspire. Samuel Butler in his Ramblings in Cheapside considers the turtle and its defensive apparatus and concludes that he cannot really understand the beast until he consumes it but not having the half-crown to purchase it must move on: to metempsychosis.

Best Wishes,

Chris Arthur on the National Essay, a dubious entity.

So I cross post, Sue me. I left this over at essay daily site Chris Arthur's views on the National Essay. Is it even a thing?

Hello Chris,
You’ve been away for a while so let me correct you on a few points. The N.I. troubles are generally reckoned to have lasted 30 years, from Burntollet ‘69 to Good Friday ‘98. Others say 300 years but we won’t go into that. In terms of nation and national identity people on the island of Ireland are beginning to accept that there are British Irish, Anglo-Irish, Plain Irish and New Irish. What you refer to as Ulster is not the 9 county entity of the Gael but the Wee Six which the 26 regard as an ingrown toenail of a place and dread the idea of unity. The Irish essayists that you referred to were almost all Anglo-Irish. You left out Hubert Butler and Elizabeth Bowen both Anglo, the latter even spied for England during the Hitler war.

I write this in the interests of precision which is a feature of the essay form. It is combined with concision and, as a counterweight to incipient punctiliousness, creative rambling. As a Plain Irishman I freely admit that the English are pre-eminent in the field of essay writing. Amongst the Anglos that you mentioned it is Richard Steele that most has the Irish tint or taint of not coming to a point, of creating an emotional wash. Yeats valued that ‘stern colour and delicate line, that are our secret discipline’. Paudeen does not go in for that. It’s all allusiveness and whatever you’re saying say nothing when you’re talking about you know what.’

Another thing before I go, he said a half hour before leaving, give up that dismal ‘suspect’ and ‘suspicion’. It’s a hedging locution usually followed by waffle. Offer a ‘theory of interest’ by all means.

Best Wishes,
P.S. Keep her goin’, don’t stall the digger.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Mary worries about Verification (The Fox in the Attic)

Here for your delectation, on historical principles, is an early use of a philosophic locution that is all too frequently encountered. I mean ‘worry’

Wantage had been shocked at the idea that he should go to bed before the Master got home, and was there to attend his needs. But Mary was already asleep when Gilbert and his guests arrived, and it must have been an hour or two later that she woke abruptly. Something was worrying her - what someone had said earlier about religion subsiding “below the level of belief or disbelief”. Surely that wasn’t quite right? ‘Below the level of argument’ he ought to have said. We have learned to distinguish these days between concepts which are verifiable and those by nature unverifiable - and which therefore can’t be argued about: so really we now need two words for ‘belief’ and two words for ‘truth’ in both cases.

After all, even Aquinas spoke of faith, as an act involving the will that distinguishes it entirely from verifiable truth - which is the only real truth, of course, she hastened to assure herself.

The time is 1923 and the young men discussing belief are Mary’s brother Augustine and his friend Jeremy both not long down from Oxford. The book is The Fox in the Attic published in 1948 by Richard Hughes. It is the first part of a trilogy left incomplete at his death in 1976. Augustine, up to the point that I have read is the protagonist. He like Hughes is the same age as the century. I read his A High Wind in Jamaica some months ago. Am I wrong in sensing elements of the same perversion in both these books? It hovers like a whiff of bad drains.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

If we only had old Israel over here

How far can you trust the moral sense of someone who thinks that Israel is a modern and liberal democracy? That is an obvious big lie, the whopper so big the stunned mind thinks there might be something to it. After a cup of strong tea you recover your wits and realise that this is the belief of someone who is so blinded by sectarian interests that the truth is beyond their reach. Like a man lost in a snowstorm they are moving in a circle thinking that they will eventually arrive in a place of safety. I often consider what the situation in Northern Ireland would be today if Israeli tactics as applied to Gaza had been used. Assassinations, razing of the family homes of convicted terrorists, drone bombs and the disregard for civilians that the Israelis attempt to justify. To qualify: their justifications are a function of their contempt in that they are not intended to persuade. 'You need this kind of thing, we don't care. Every now and then the grass needs cutting.' The Israelis are at the Cromwellian phase of dealing with the natives who are offered the choice of 'to Hell or to Connaught (Gaza)'.

At this point even the liberal voices in Israel itself that deplore I.D.F. and settler actions in the Occupied Territories seem to be part of the plan to convince doubters that there is a reasonable element that can be talked to and will listen to reason. Meanwhile expropriation and extirpation can go on. They really don't care.

I once bought by mistake an Israeli product. A packet of razor blades. The good news is that they were useless.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Characteristics (1831) by Thomas Carlyle

In those days we didn't know we had a system.
Carlyle's system always had his own initials on it even at an age when one might be supposed to be working one's way out of a system he, following his study of Goethe, knew that you had to spin that web out of your own innards. Now it certainly might be a trap for yourself but it had the mark of your own spiritual power. To release that true energy, that ergos/work, it is necessary to bypass the rationalist system building that he took metaphysics to be. It is not thought but action that is the mainspring of life.

This is he whom business-people call Systematic and Theorizer and Word-monger; his vital intellectual force lies dormant or extinct, his whole force is mechanical, conscious: of such a one it is foreseen that, when once confronted with the infinite complexities of the real world, his little compact theorem of the world will be found wanting; that unless he can throw it overboard and become a new creature, he will necessarily founder. 

This theme is dominant in all his writings and in his consideration of the West Indian negro's condition post emancipation certain rebarbative seeming comments are understandable. The freed slaves had no real work in the striving, strenuous sense that Carlyle understood it. Subsistence farming was a failure to truly exploit the possibilities of the colony. Very white man's burden. The potato was the Irish analogue to the pumpkin and evoked the same exasperation. Oatmeal was ever his own favourite food though arrowroot was his frequent recourse. I imagine grisly comedy of breakfast bulletins of the dyspeptic insomniacs Jane and Tom particularly during the period of the writing of Frederick the Great whose last victory was over their marriage.

Is Characteristics for all its verbal ebullience overstated? With Carlyle that's an axiom, he's a Lambeg drum man for subtlety. My own view is that you can leave the connatural good man alone, it is the majority addled by fake news that inquiry serves to free from the bondage of the bogus.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Between Tick and Tock

Taking the idea of re-membering which an anonymous commentor offered and distorting it into strange shapes I oppose it to its counter corellate dis-membering. We break into pieces the words of our interlocutors and create an index as when a book is broken up into its natural kinds but here only those elements that interest us are indexed and we reconstitute a different book. Memory is selective and even the association, the madelaine moment, reflects a bias. To keep our story straight we put as much truth into it as possible. The level of attention we give to our present moment predicts narrative detail. Would it be adaptive to live so close to the still point? Elision and omission may be necessary for reaction unless we can speed up our perception to where the bee’s wings are flapping like a heron’s. Bergson proposed a god for whom the whole history of the universe happens between tick and tock.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Aristotle, Holmes, The Buddha, and Bergson on Memory

One might ask how it is possible that though the affection (the presentation) alone is present, and the (related) fact absent, the latter-that which is not present-is remembered. (The question arises), because it is clear that we must conceive that which is generated through sense-perception in the sentient soul, and in the part of the body which is its seat-viz. that affection the state whereof we call memory-to be some such thing as a picture. The process of movement (sensory stimulation) involved the act of perception stamps in, as it were, a sort of impression of the percept, just as persons do who make an impression with a seal. This explains why, in those who are strongly moved owing to passion, or time of life, no mnemonic impression is formed; just as no impression would be formed if the movement of the seal were to impinge on running water; while there are others in whom, owing to the receiving surface being frayed, as happens to (the stucco on) old (chamber) walls, or owing to the hardness of the receiving surface, the requisite impression is not implanted at all. Hence both very young and very old persons are defective in memory; they are in a state of flux, the former because of their growth, the latter, owing to their decay. In like manner, also, both those who are too quick and those who are too slow have bad memories. The former are too soft, the latter too hard (in the texture of their receiving organs), so that in the case of the former the presented image (though imprinted) does not remain in the soul, while on the latter it is not imprinted at all.
(from On Memory and Reminiscence by Aristotle - memory)

This is the storage theory also espoused by Sherlock Holmes:

“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
(from A Study in Scarlet)

The alaya vijnana of the Buddhists (storehouse consciousness) is sometimes understood as a ‘personal’ unconscious but that does not agree with the Buddha’s statements about his previous lives.

With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (lit: previous homes). He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction and expansion, [recollecting], 'There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.' Thus he recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details. Just as if a man were to go from his home village to another village, and then from that village to yet another village, and then from that village back to his home village. The thought would occur to him, 'I went from my home village to that village over there. There I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I went to that village over there, and there I stood in such a way, sat in such a way, talked in such a way, and remained silent in such a way. From that village I came back home.' In the same way — with his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — the monk directs and inclines it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives... in their modes and details.
(From Kevatta Sutta)

Here we have moved away from the storage concept of memory, the standard model of neuro-science, to the transpersonal. This is the photo that is already taken (Bergson) and that exists ‘out there’ in the noos-sphere.

The whole difficulty of the problem that occupies us comes from the fact that we imagine perception to be a kind of photographic limited by view of things, taken from a fixed point indeterminate by that special apparatus which is called an organ of perception—a photograph which would then be developed in the brain-matter by some unknown chemical and psychical process of elaboration. But is it not obvious that the photograph, if photograph there be, is already taken, already developed in the very heart of things and at all the points of space ? No metaphysics, no physics even, can escape this conclusion. Build up the universe with atoms: each of them is subject to the action, variable in quantity and quality according to the distance, exerted on it by all material atoms. Bring in Faraday's centres of force : the lines of force emitted in every direction from every centre bring to bear upon each the influences of the whole material world. Call up the Leibnizian monads: each is the mirror of the universe. All philosophers, then, agree on this point.
(from Matter and Memory)

From a certain point of view memory as storage is like internal phrenology.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Benefits of Meditation

What I took from my reading of Astavakra this morning was that there is nothing arising out of the practice of meditation. There are no benefits to enjoy if there is no enjoyer of those benefits. Feeling the force of this I fell into a mood of sobriety which resisted the insolence of ego. Almost.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Your Vote is Important to us

He said:

And on the seventh day He almost rested. A fragment of the Great Mind, a junior god, made mud pies and dishes but not being very good at it was mixing in sand with the clay. In time as they dried they fell apart. That was the beginning of politics.

What do you think of Leo V., I asked:

Fianna Fail love him. He’s the blue shirt my father wore with a pink collar. He will be hard to remove. So very intersectional.

What are you going to do for Bloomsday?

Get out the iron frying pan and send a corner of lard skating. Fire down liver of any beast, rashers, tomatoes, sausages, an egg, fried bread with good red tea to gently ease it over the bourne of my tonsils.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Anscombe on Memory

The person believes, that is assents to, the content of this experience. This assent does not, as in our previous argument, involve judgement of what the memory experience presents. For no one has the idea of 'the past' except in the first place from memory, and hence if memory is an experience the idea of the past must simply be in the experience: one cannot bring any primary judgement about the past to bear on the presentation. It is indeed difficult to see what the belief or assent consists in, as it cannot involve assessment of the experience. This was a problem which Hume felt strongly, and could not solve. It seems that assent can only be: allowing the memory experience to feel 'solid'. Plainly we have fallen into idealism.
(from Memory, Experience and Causation (Contemporary British Philosophy ed. H.D. Lewis publ.1974))

The empiricist orientation which seeks a mark of some kind to show that an experience is a memory experience throws its weight against the solid supposedly idealist view. A house has fallen on you and you have been buried for 3 days. I would say that such was a solid memory marks or no marks. You don't need to have the impossible re-experienceable original for that. Nevertheless there's a spectrum from the very definite to the imaginary re-constitution of the original. Both count as memory because the same power is at work. Woozley's point that even if the original experience is not around anymore memory is still involved with it seems to be non informitively obvious. It's a route on which one might meet Bergson on his way back.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A.D. Woozley on Memory

- Who is that you are playing?

- Nick Drake. He died in the 1970‘s.

- Never heard of him. When you come to your autobiography write 'my father was musically illiterate. Books were his life. He lived in a world of books. Unfortunately he died a raving lunatic.’

- That book there< A.D. Woozley’s Theory of Knowledge : An Introduction pub.1949) looks weighty.

- It is only an introduction. The main thing would be too much for me.

Woozley’s (1912 - 2008) Introduction is a sly thing and owes more to the English habit of understatement than to the import of its content. By the way he was the last surviving member of the group of philosophers who started what became known as Ordinary Language Philosophy.

Woozley was the last surviving member of the original group of seven philosophers whose informal discussions from 1937-39 were the beginnings of Oxford ordinary language philosophy.  There is an account of these original meetings in Isaiah Berlin's *Personal Impressions*, the chapter on J.L. Austin.  Austin and Berlin organized the group; besides Austin, Woozley and Berlin, the members were A.J. Ayer, Stuart Hampshire, Donald Macnabb and Donald MacKinnon.
(from Cora Diamond his widow)

There are two chapters on Memory which might be worth anyone’s consideration. He makes the point that although memory is fallible yet:

All collection of evidence, all theories, depend on memory, as Descartes found to his distress when he was trying to elaborate an error-proof method of attaining knowledge in any sphere

Memory is not regarded as a pramana (valid means of knowledge) in Hindu systems which is odd given that for the orthodox Smirti (remembered i.e. Tradition) is revered next only to Sruti (heard i.e. Scripture).

Memory has that mark of the individually dubitative which the sense of familiarity does not dismiss, in Woozley’s opinion. More anon.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Astavakra says: Take it Easy Man

Astavakra in Chap.XVI.3 entitled Special Instruction whether that is witty subversion of his own or the editor’s is not clear, writes:

All are unhappy because they exert themselves. But none know this. The blessed one attains emancipation through this instruction alone.

The striving of the Trillings through depression and the Depression, and neurosis and feuds and the keeping of meticulous accounts of invidious behaviour is wearying. Marxism and Freudianism now of course utterly exploded were to them a frail wand of support. Can one imagine them as lifestyle Buddhists and Vegans?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Twa Trillings

Of the twa Trillings I think I prefer Diana. She gave me a good laugh this morning when I read an extract from her The Beginning of the Journey. She was in her bed sick watching Lionel pushing the carpet sweeper one handed in a desultory fashion.

I would lie in bed, torn between guilt and impatience. It was unfair for him to have to do the housekeeping, it was not what he was supposed to do, but if he had to sweep the carpet, could it not put both hands on the carpet sweeper instead of gliding it about this loosely and aimlessly? I corrected him; he got angry. My criticism embittered him: Was he not already doing more than anyone had a right to expect of him?

Her claim that she taught him how to write is credible; just go from reading The Liberal Imagination to Matthew Arnold as I did. The former has sentences which have a flatness that could be used like a machinists surface plate in the testing of academic prose. Of the latter I thought, this is good, open, clear, non-recursive. She rewrote it for him it seems.

Lionel taught me to think; I taught him to write ... In a society such as ours, where despite the efforts of feminism, women continue to be treated with less generosity than men, I realise of course that whereas my statement that Lionel taught me to think will be received without a murmur, I put myself at risk by saying that I played a role in his literary accomplishment. In fact, I recently tested the response which I might expect to this bald assertion: I tried it on an old friend, the editor of a magazine to which Lionel and I had contributed. He made no attempt to conceal his displeasure. ‘How could you teach Lionel to write?’ he asked irritably. ‘He was a better writer than you are.’

There is a low peevishness to his criticism in The Liberal Imagination. In his mean essay on Sherwood Anderson he admits that he liked him when he first read him as a lad. Good, fine, splendid but a few pages later he remarks that when he lately re-read Winesburg, Ohio him he found he liked him even less. It’s the ‘even’ which suggests a correcting of an immature response. The source of this daft Orwellian critique appears to be Sherwood’s denouncing Henry James as a writer for those who hate. But I love James therefore ...... Even Boyd who wrote a harmless introduction to the Modern Library Edition must be disparaged. And why: Reading my own copy of that edition I see:

The rise of a serious periodical literature, whose virtue is neither the eternal negation of conservatism nor the mere success of immense circulation, is part of seems to be a genuine literary renascence in America.

An impugning of the New York Intellectual's mission is not to be borne. The worst sort of provincials are those who never leave the city. I will move on to Mrs. Harris by Diana and the Diet of Love that didn’t take.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Miss Anscombe and the Unmarked Pronoun

Why, when there is a perfectly good marked pronoun is it not used? What is wrong with actress? Who decreed that it should be dropped in favour of ‘actor’?

Wise editors of philosophy papers strike out ‘he’, the unmarked pronoun and replace it with ‘she’ the marked. I understand that they want to encourage that delicate plant, the lady philosopher. What do you think of that Miss Anscombe? It’s all in the intention, don’t you know.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Non-Apprehension of Existence as a Means of Knowledge - Anupalabdhi

The landscape of the pramana anupalabdhi accepted by Advaita is a strange one lit up by flashes of understanding. As ever negation is the way to knowledge. The Nyaya school do not accept non-apprehension of existence as a distinct valid means of knowledge holding that it is based on perception.

First though the positive thesis. Here I follow the line laid down by the Vedanta Paribhasa by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra. Put at its simplest it may seem otiose. Looking at a cleared table I can say ‘there is no jug on the table’. There is a non-apprehension of the existence of a jug. This is different from perception in that I cannot perceive what isn’t there. There is no non-jug that I perceive to be not there. I can further add that if there was a jug on the table I would see it. Only perceptible things are of interest here even if the pramana is not based on perception. It is claimed to be an immediate knowledge not delivered by sense perception. It proceeds direct to the mind.

It might be claimed that a vast number of things that are perceptible and tableable are not there so there is very little value in such information. That’s true but it is not the information but the means that is at issue. In any case this pramana is useful when we notice the absence of something that should be there. The book that was on the table is not there when I go to look for it. If the restaurant manager tells the waiter that ‘there is no water on the table’ that non-apprehension of existence is a direction to action.

My previous remarks on this topic can be found by putting ‘anupalabadhi’ in the search box. Notice the incorrect spelling - without spellcheck my English spelling would be no better.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Changeful Panoply of Consciousness (Upadesa Sahasri)

84. Disciple: If this is so, Sir, what is my fault when the mental changes resembling sound etc., and resulting in the reflection of Knowledge, My own nature, are produced in Me who am of the nature of changeless and eternal Consciousness?

85. Teacher: It is true that you are not to be blamed. Ignorance, as I told you before, is the only fault.
(from Chap.II Upadesa Sahasri Knowledge of the Changeless.)

Ignorance in Vedanta (avidya) has a specific meaning. The central example of ignorance is taking something to be what it is not. We mis-take the rope for a snake, the nacre (shell) for silver, the stump for a man etc. It does not have the meaning of being ignorant of the finer points or any point of string theory for instance, a particular blank spot in other words. What the Teacher is saying is that there is a natural tendency to get fascinated by the changing panoply of consciousness and to look for a central permanent element in those phenomena. This is a structural tendency, but it is not ontological because it can be altered. How?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The English Comic Writers by William Hazlitt

Of Montaigne Hazlitt writes:

He did not in the abstract character of an author, undertake to say all that could be said upon a subject, but what in his capacity as an inquirer after truth he happened to know about it. He was neither a pedant nor a bigot. He neither supposed that he was bound to know all things, nor that all things were bound to conform to what he had fancied or would have them to be. In treating of men and manners, he spoke of them as he found them, not according to preconceived notions and abstract dogmas; and he began by teaching us what he himself was. 
( The Periodical Essayists from Lectures on The English Comic Writers given in 1818)

The recourse to classical ‘topoi’ in Montaigne was part of a normal education and therefore not pedantry. They are the stepping stones across the stream of his consciousness and to experience them as obstacles signifies our decline. Hazlitt in his remarks on the writers he considers favours robust and manly forthrightness over the glancing tastefulness of conventional moral attitudes. Steele’s soldierly vulgarity is preferred to the harmonious musings of Addison. As a man given to like combat Hazlitt was perhaps thinking of:

What arms the great Alexander used, is uncertain; however, the historian mentions, when he attacked Thalestris, it was only at single rapier; but the weapon soon failed; for it was always observed, that the Amazons had a sort of enchantment about them, which made the blade of the weapon, though of never so good metal, at every home push, lose its edge and grow feeble.
(from The Tatler no 31)

He impugns the Rambler essays of Johnson for the attitude evinced by him when out strolling in the streets of London with Boswell they were accosted by a bawd. ‘Girl, this will not do’ said Johnson.

His ' Letters from Correspondents,' in particular, are more pompous and unwieldly than what he writes in his own person. This want of relaxation and variety of manner has, I think, after the first effects of novelty and surprise were over, been prejudicial to the matter. It takes from the general power, not only to please, but to instruct The monotony of style produces an apparent monotony of ideas. What is really striking and valuable, is lost in the vain ostentation and circumlocution of the expression; for when we find the same pains and pomp of diction bestowed upon the most trifling as upon the most important parts of a sentence or discourse, we grow tired of distinguishing between pretension and reality, and are disposed to confound the tinsel and bombast of the phraseology with want of weight in the thoughts. Thus, from the imposing and oracular nature of the style, people are tempted at first to imagine that our author's speculations are all wisdom and profundity: till having found out their mistake in some instances, they suppose that there is nothing but common-place in them, concealed under verbiage^and pedantry; and in both they are wrong. 

The report of the correspondent Amicus may have given rise to this attack:

The anguish that I felt, left me no rest till I had, by your means, addressed myself to the publick on behalf of those forlorn creatures, the women of the town; whose misery here might satisfy the most rigorous censor, and whose participation of our common nature might surely induce us to endeavour, at least, their preservation from eternal punishment.
These were all once, if not virtuous, at least innocent; and might still have continued blameless and easy, but for the arts and insinuations of those whose rank, fortune, or education, furnished them with means to corrupt or to delude them. Let the libertine reflect a moment on the situation of that woman, who, being forsaken by her betrayer, is reduced to the necessity of turning prostitute for bread, and judge of the enormity of his guilt by the evils which it produces.
It cannot be doubted but that numbers follow this dreadful course of life, with shame, horrour, and regret; but where can they hope for refuge: "The world is not their friend, nor the world's law." Their sighs, and tears, and groans, are criminal in the eye of their tyrants, the bully and the bawd, who fatten on their misery, and threaten them with want or a gaol, if they show the least design of escaping from their bondage.
"To wipe all tears from off all faces," is a task too hard for mortals; but to alleviate misfortunes is often within the most limited power: yet the opportunities which every day affords of relieving the most wretched of human beings are overlooked and neglected, with equal disregard of policy and goodness.
( from The Rambler of Tuesday March 26th. 1751)

Hazlitt used prostitutes himself to relieve an appetite he experienced as a burden. Married love eluded him.