Monday, 24 April 2017

Literary Oddity: Irene Iddesleigh by Amanda McKitrick Ros

Irene Iddesleigh by Amanda McKitrick Ros was read by the Inklings on quiet nights when none of the participants had any of their own work to read to the club and there was no particular pressing matter to discuss. The crack was: how much could be read before the audience laughed. Here is an example from Chap. IV:

WHEN on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life.

Sir John’s visits began now to be numerous at Dilworth Castle, each visit serving further to strengthen the link of relationship, and bury, in the heaving breast of seeking solace, the dull delight of the weary past. As the weeks wore on, he reckoned them only as days, when comparing their loving length with those of the bleak years he tried to enjoy alone, before taking such steps—yes, serious steps—as those fancied by the would-be bachelor.

At first he was careless and indifferent to the flowery harangues of mothers who paid him periodical visits, with their daughters, of apology, and firmly retained the obstinate qualities of an autocratic ruler, until softened in the presence of one he found he was learning to steadily love. He believed now that the chief stripes, viz.—observation, inclination, advancement and accomplishment, in the well-spun web of matrimony, must harmonise with the groundwork of happiness, without which our lives are not worth an unstamped coin.

Is this purple? Nay, the grape crushed by the grateful feet of Umbrian peasants on a fine autumnal morning is merely the diaphanous transparency of a sky of bewildering clarity. I in my occluded state of consciousness adumbrate the ineluctable modality of the risible.

Wikipedia entry: Amanda McKitrick Ros

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A History of Tom's Cheating from Aylwin by Theodore Watts-Dunton

This exclamation, however, aroused my ire against Tom; and as I always looked upon him as my special paid henchman, who, in return for such services as supplying me with tiny boxing-gloves, and fishing-tackle, and bait, during my hale days, and tame rabbits now that I was a cripple, mostly contrived to possess himself of my pocket-money, I had no hesitation in exclaiming,

'Why, Tom, you know you're drunk, you silly old fool!'

At this Tom turned his mournful and reproachful gaze upon me, and began to weep anew. Then he turned and addressed the sea, uplifting his hand in oratorical fashion:—

'Here's a young gentleman as I've been more than a father to—yes, more than a father to—for when did his own father ever give him a ferret-eyed rabbit, a real ferret-eyed rabbit thoroughbred?'

'Why, I gave you one of my five-shilling pieces for it,' said I; 'and the rabbit was in a consumption and died in three weeks.'

But Tom still addressed the sea.

'When did his own father give him,' said he, 'the longest thigh-bone that the sea ever washed out of Raxton churchyard?'

'Why, I gave you two of my five-shilling pieces for that,' said I, 'and next day you went and borrowed the bone, and sold it over again to Dr. Munro for a quart of beer.'

'When did his own father give him a beautiful skull for a money-box, and make an oak lid to it, and keep it for him because his mother wouldn't have it in the house?'

'Ah, but where's the money that was in it, Tom? Where's the money?' said I, flourishing one of my crutches, for I was worked up to a state of high excitement when I recalled my own wrongs and Tom's frauds, and I forgot his relationship to the little girl. 'Where are the bright new half-crowns that were in the money-box when I left it with you—the half-crowns that got changed into pennies, Tom? Where are they? What's the use of having a skull for a money-box if it's got no money in it? That's what I want to know, Tom!'

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Fathers and Children by Ivan Turgenev

To see things clearly you must get yourself out the way. That was Matthew Arnold’s dictum but those great writers and artists who have affected us deeply and permeated our aesthetic sensibility are in the vedic phrase the eye of the eye. In Fathers and Children (Constance Garnett’s trans.) we see what we have been trained to see and that is something we have to admit before our natural guile or critical intelligence subverts the author’s leadingi. We notice then that Turgenev’s own soft hearted love of the rising generation and Bazarov his ‘favourite child’ can rebut materialist ideology by following with a lyrical passage. Nikolai the father of Arkady represents this aspect of Turgenev:

In vain, then, had he spent whole days sometimes in the winter at Petersburg over the newest books; in vain had he listened to the talk of the young men; in vain had he rejoiced when he succeeded in putting in his word too in their heated discussions. 'My brother says we are right,' he thought, 'and apart from all vanity, I do think myself that they are further from the truth than we are, though at the same time I feel there is something behind them we have not got, some superiority over us.... Is it youth? No; not only youth. Doesn't their superiority consist in there being fewer traces of the slave owner in them than in us?'

This regret is balanced immediately by the evocation of a beautiful evening:

'But to renounce poetry?' he thought again; 'to have no feeling for art, for nature ...'
And he looked round, as though trying to understand how it was possible to have no feeling for nature. It was already evening; the sun was hidden behind a small copse of aspens which lay a quarter of a mile from the garden; its shadow stretched indefinitely across the still fields. A peasant on a white nag went at a trot along the dark, narrow path close beside the copse; his whole figure was clearly visible even to the patch on his shoulder, in spite of his being in the shade; the horse's hoofs flew along bravely. The sun's rays from the farther side fell full on the copse, and piercing through its thickets, threw such a warm light on the aspen trunks that they looked like pines, and their leaves were almost a dark blue, while above them rose a pale blue sky, faintly tinged by the glow of sunset. The swallows flew high; the wind had quite died away, belated bees hummed slowly and drowsily among the lilac blossom; a swarm of midges hung like a cloud over a solitary branch which stood out against the sky. 

He can also cast a cold eye on the progressive:

The town of X—— to which our friends set off was in the jurisdiction of a governor who was a young man, and at once a progressive and a despot, as often happens with Russians.
The woman question gets a mention:
Bazarov scowled. There was nothing repulsive in the little plain person of the emancipated woman; but the expression of her face produced a disagreeable effect on the spectator. One felt impelled to ask her, 'What's the matter; are you hungry? Or bored? Or shy? What are you in a fidget about?' Both she and Sitnikov had always the same uneasy air. She was extremely unconstrained, and at the same time awkward; she obviously regarded herself as a good-natured, simple creature, and all the while, whatever she did, it always struck one that it was not just what she wanted to do; everything with her seemed, as children say, done on purpose, that's to say, not simply, not naturally.

Arkady gets a glimpse of the cruelty that is not too far away from the behaviourism that Bazarov espouses. They are about to quarrel; enacting an anticipation of of class war:
Fighting?' put in Bazarov. 'Well? Here, on the hay, in these idyllic surroundings, far from the world and the eyes of men, it wouldn't matter. But you'd be no match for me. I'll have you by the throat in a minute.'

Bazarov spread out his long, cruel fingers.... Arkady turned round and prepared, as though in jest, to resist.... But his friend's face struck him as so vindictive—there was such menace in grim earnest in the smile that distorted his lips, and in his glittering eyes, that he felt instinctively afraid.

Madame Anna the aristocrat and Bazarov the Nihilist are hobbled by their cool rationalism and unable to move towards ordinary human happiness. Ideology and prudence are a non combustible mix. Some people are pursued by happiness but they manage to keep ahead of it.

At many points in this novel I was moved but did not feel that I was being cozened into emotion. Being a father you have to stay where you are and let your child come to you. Bazarov was coming back, doctoring in the district, helping his father out and then well ...

Friday, 21 April 2017


Shaving with a genuine antique, a Wilkinson’s straight razor from 1893, is a very pleasant way to do experimental archaeology with an added smug factor of 9.5 because those plastic gadgets that are the usual tools for this task are not recyclable. They go straight to landfill and their minute but cumulatively significant energy is lost for ever and well, they are expensive. My razor in its original case cost me 6 Pounds sterling. Can you even buy a 4 blade refill for that? There was a couple of spots of surface rust on the blade and it needed bevel setting, honing and stropping. Warranted real German hollow grind is stamped on it. A real singing razor. A gruff 5 day crop is swished away without tiresome clogging and skidding with manly sound effects. A one pass shave taking 5 minutes is quite adequate but I generally take a second.

I read that in America 2 billion disposable razors per year end up in landfill. Do the world wide sums. I’m greener than Kermit.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

William Law on Reason

God Almighty has entrusted us with the use of reason, and we use it to the disorder and corruption of our nature. We reason ourselves into all kinds of folly and misery, and make our lives the sport of foolish and extravagant passions; seeking after imaginary happiness in all kinds of shapes, creating to ourselves a thousand wants, amusing our hearts with false hopes and fears, using the world worse than irrational animals, envying, vexing, and tormenting one another with restless passions, and unreasonable contentions.
(from A Serious Call pub.1729)

Monday, 17 April 2017

New Loyalty Oath

Reading the usual blogs that someone such as myself with an interest in literature and philosophy would read I feel as though I had somehow got on the wrong bus and was delivered to a re-education camp. Like a travelling symptom the 'paranoid style' which afflicted conservatives has jumped to the other side of the American divide. Perfectly legal immigrants such as Amod Lele feel that they might be lifted and find themselves back in, OMG, in Canada.
disengaged Buddhism

Amod make it a nine-fold path. Add 'get real or 'get a grip'. Declaring yourself anti-Trump is becoming the liberal version of a loyalty oath.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A Song from John Ford's The Broken Heart

O, no more, no more, too late
Sighs are spent; the burning tapers
Of a life as chaste as fate,
Pure as are unwritten papers,
Are burnt out: no heat, no light
Now remains; ’t is ever night.
Love is dead; let lovers’ eyes,
Lock’d in endless dreams,
Th’ extremes of all extremes,
Ope no more, for now Love dies,
Now Love dies, — implying
Love’s martyrs must be ever, ever dying.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Bergsonian Meditation

Experience the present as though it were being remembered.

Is that dissociative or is it trying to do what we are already doing? The latter is a blocking regress or a trying to try. It initiates an automatic pause or poise and that is a good thing for the mental carousel.

That is what I would call a special meditation as against a general practice like mantra/japa. It might be considered an experimental reconfiguration.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Hedda Gabler, Hair Puller, Mean Girl

I watched on youtube Hedda Gabler with Ingrid Bergman, Ralph Richardson and Michael Redgrave. Bergman acted with high Strindbergian, Nordic devil woman twitching. Richardson as Judge Brack was a fine insinuating seducer,Redgrave a perfect bemused scholar, and Trevor Howard a fair Lovborg. I also looked at briefly Janet Suzman (B.B.C. play)who adopts a malign sweetness.

“Her hair is not particularly abundant” says Ibsen in his stage directions. Of Mrs. Elvsted he directs "Her hair is remarkably light, almost flaxen, and unusually abundant and wavy”.

She is remembered by Hedda as that girl with the irritating hair. Mrs. Elvsted also has a memory:

Yes, but you were in the class above me. Oh, how dreadfully afraid of you I was then!
Afraid of me?
Yes, dreadfully. For when we met on the stairs you used always to pull my hair.
Did I, really?
Yes, and once you said you would burn it off my head.

The startling thing is that the timid Mrs.Elvsted has left her husband, an up country official to be the muse and sponsor of the alcoholic genius Lovborg while Hedda a maenad manque is terrified of scandal.

[Clenches his hands.] Oh, why did you not carry out your threat? Why did you not shoot me down?
Because I have such a dread of scandal.
Yes, Hedda, you are a coward at heart.
A terrible coward. [Changing her tone.] But it was a lucky thing for you. And now you have found ample consolation at the Elvsteds'.
I know what Thea has confided to you.
As a woman without much of an inner life she fills the void with the confidences of others, Lovborg’s and Elvsted’s. Knowledge is power and that is what she wants but somehow her plans go awry and Brack is too cunning for her. Too cunning for himself in fact for instead of playing his trump he ought to have held back and Hedda would out of boredom agreed to the triangular set up. Because she’s worth it.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope

Here is a man who is about to be denounced as a beast:
As he thought of it, and as that visit up-stairs prolonged itself, he almost thought it would be best for him to be round with her! We all know what a husband means when he resolves to be round with his wife.

Louis Trevalyan is Mr.Right in this case and Mrs. Right nee Emily Rowley daughter of the Governor of the Mandarin Islands, Sir Marmaduke. She is a proud creature, unwilling to be corrected and as a colonial perhaps unaware of the nuances of proper stiffness with any males. Colonel Osborne an old friend of her father and the same age as him is regarded by Trevalyan as being overly familiar with his wife. He is a jealous man and conscious of the great benefits he has conferred through his generous taking up of a dowryless wife and her sister. There is no doubt that the Colonel likes to hover about pretty married women and has been the cause of rifts.

Trollope can be acute and the analysis of polite marriage requires his anguished ironies. Will he forbear to talk to the reader, well hardly, for my citation shows that he already has. Will there be fox-hunting? I like it when there's fox-hunting. Someone will come a cropper, I feel it in my water. The edition I've just begun is in the Oxford Classics series, a beautiful format 6x3.75 inches, virtually the golden section with a dust cover for 1Euro.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Understanding, Intuition and Adhiropa/Apavada

It might well be insisted that you either understand or you don’t, there is no liminal condition. Understanding is a success verb. When you understand you’re there, you’ve got it. That is the rigorist view and it has its place in the Q.E.D. world of Euclidean demonstration. What of the more hazy world of philosophy, politics and economics in which understanding is vague and can be said to dawn where there is a gradation of let us call it nous factor from one to five, i.e. from god like clarity to ‘sit down O’Toole you’re wasting the time of the class’.

Sometimes understanding is at the tip of your mind, it’s dawning; the night of inconscience is giving way to the bulking shadows of cows and trees. Philosophy of a certain sort has this gradualism of understanding. Even the hyper-smart philosophers of the Partially Examined Podcast speak of the initial recoil from the counter intuitive theories of Bergson
P.E.L. on Bergson
to a later feeling that there was a profound point that required time to develop.

The First Rule of the Podcast is: Only talk about the set text. That is a limitation for the discussion of difficult Bergsonian concepts of intuition, image, duration etc. The text in question was an essay Introduction to Metaphysics first published in 1903 and included in the book The Creative Mind.

In an essay on philosophical intuition, in the same book, he discusses the difficulty of attaining the intuition of Berkeley. What was his sense of the wholeness of things, that unbroken continuity, that plenum. and not merely the elements lain side by side which we get in any account of his thought? Bergson in the attempt to draw us into his own intuitions of the real used analogies and metaphors which highlights his idea that the image is next to the intuition. An analogy is, so to speak, an active image and can function as a portal to the central intuition. Here I think is the key to deep understanding and how it might relate to Coleridge and the adhiropa/apavada of Advaita is something I will have discern through the fog of inconscience. Later.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The basis of Bergson's Holographic intuition

The whole difficulty of the problem that occupies us comes from the fact that we imagine perception to be a kind of photographic view of things, taken from a fixed point 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 (pg 32) the mirror of the universe. All philosophers, then, agree on this point. Only if when we consider any other given place in the universe we can regard the action of all matter as passing through it without resistance and without loss, and the photograph of the whole as translucent: here there is wanting behind the plate the black screen on which the image could be shown. Our ‘zones of indetermination' play in some sort the part of the screen. They add nothing to what is there; they effect merely this: that the real action passes through, the virtual action remains.
(from Matter and Memory pub.1896)

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dr. Robbins on Sartre and Bergson's 'images'.

I have been watching the youtube lectures of Dr.Robbins and they are an excellent way of getting a grasp of the exceptionally complex and difficult thought of Henri Bergson. What I found particularly useful was his explication of the concept of images. The analogy that he uses is that of holographic reconstructive waves. Until they are used there is no imageable content. It looks nothing like what was first projected in the initial wave. The brain is the instrument of the reconstructive wave. Now it may seem anachronistic to apply such an analogy to Bergson's thought on the image but in fact he prefigured the theory in Matter and Memory when he stated that the brain was not the repository for images, like an album of photographs but that in fact the photo was out there already taken. I found this illuminating.

The concept of the image in general is like an iron mountain creating deviation into the classic patterns of thinking about it. Sartre's critique of Bergson on the nature of the image is selected by Robbins for castigation. One doubts that the notion of the hologram ever came up in the interminable discussions in the Dome.
Sartre and Bergson

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

William Hurrell Mallock Vs William Kingdom Clifford

we believe a thing when we are prepared to act as if it were true. Now, if you and I had not habitually acted on the assumption of the uniformity of nature from the time when we could act at all, we should not be here to discuss the question. Nature its selecting for survival those individuals and races who act as if she were uniform ; and hence the gradual spread of that belief over the civilised world.

This uniformity may be merely a uniformity of phenomena, a law relating to my feelings. So long as I only am concerned, it seems to me that the idealist theory is perfectly sufficient. It is quite capable of explaining me but when you come into the question it is perfectly at a loss. ... I do believe that you are conscious in the same way that I am ; and once that is conceded, the whole idealist theory falls to pieces. For there are feelings which are not my feelings, which are entirely outside my consciousness; so that there is at least an external world. But let us consider now in what way we infer it; why do I believe that there are feelings which are not mine ] Because, as I belong to a gregarious race, the greater part of my life consists in acting upon the position that it is true,

Thus spake William Kingdom Clifford as quoted by William Hurrell Mallock in his review (included in Atheism and the Value of Life) of the Essays and Lectures of same (Lectures and Essays by the late William Kingtdom Clifford, F.R.S. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock, with an Introduction by F. Pollock. Two vols. 8vo. London : 1879.)

It is just on this external world idea that Mallock finds the error in his thought and the inconsistency in the well known principle concerning the ethics of belief. Gregariousness seems a frail foundation for belief in the external world. It is an impasse for Clifford particularly as he holds that all knowledge is based on experience:
How,'he says,'this inference is justified, how consciousness can testify to any thing outside itself,I do not pretend to say .I need not untie a knot that the world has cut for me long ago....The jwsition of absolute idealism may therefore be left out of count, although each individual may be unable to justify his dissent from it.

Perhaps Clifford might have been wiser to say that experience is itself the proof of the external world or is the world rather than a proof of the external world. I think I mean something by that. Invarient events imply invarient structure. We know from the work of Piaget that it takes time in the early life of a human being to establish this.

Clifford reflects on the ding an sich and ventures a theory:
The thing in itself is, he tells us, elementary feeling, mind-stuff, or quasi-mind ; and this is known to us as matter. With every moving molecule of matter there moves also a small particle of mind-stuff which is attached to it.

This form of panpsychism, of feeling without consciousness, seems to have come round again. He was the first to take it up in the English speaking world. As with others who followed him in that philosophy it appears to be a naturalistic answer to the problem of how consciousness could have emerged given the fact of evolution. Mallock finds it incomprehensible.

If what we have said applied to Clifford only, it would hardly perhaps have been worth saying ; but, as we have observed already, it applies not to Clifford only, but to the whole modern school. If, as many think, that school is a really formidable foe to religion, it will be at any rate some comfort to know that it will certainly not destroy religion by replacing it. Its prestige, further, will be rendered less formidable if we reflect on how one of its best instructed and most gifted spokesmen has exhibited himself in these two volumes as hopelessly untrained in philosophy, hopelessly ill-read in history, and without the smallest grasp of that refractory human character of which he boasts that in the future his school will have the sole guidance.

Much as I sympathise with Mallock's views it the following citation is more the bay of the liberal intelligentsia:

Only for another half-century let us keep our heavens and "hells and gods." It is a piteous plea; and it has soiled the hearts of these prophets, great ones and blessed, giving light to their generation, and dear in particular to our own mind and heart. These sickly dreams of hysterical women and half-starved men, what have they to do with the strength of the wide-eyed hero, who fears no foe with pen or club . . . That which you keep in your heart, my brothers, is the slender remnant of a system which has made its red mark on history, and still lives to threaten mankind. The grotesque forms of its intellectual belief have survived the discredit of its moral teaching. Of this what the kings could bear with the nations have cut down; and what the nations left the right heart of man by man revolts against day by day. You have stretched out your hands to save the dregs of the sifted sediment of a residuum. Take heed lest you have given soil and shelter to that awful plague which has destroyed two civilisations and but barely failed to slay such promise of good as is now struggling to live among men.'
(from Clifford)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Snake/Rope Analogy in Advaita and Analogies in General

Analogies are fluid devices that can easily be expanded to comedic levels. If I were were to say to you:
- I feel like my life is a play, a drama that will end inconsequentially.
You might respond:
- Have you forgotten your lines, or are you being upstaged by a clever dog?

Philosophical analogies or improvised epistemological devices can likewise expand past their original intent, not explosively but of the order of a trick cigar. The superimposition (adhyasa) snake/rope analogy has a slight touch of this. We can break it down into it two parts:
(a) Something is transferred to the mind of the percipient
(b) And this something is false.

There is in the preamble to the Brahma Sutra Bhasya a recognition of the aporetic nature of perception, namely - how is it possible given the disjunction between the conscious and the inert. This is the (a) part often termed the chit/jada granthi (the knot between the inert and the conscious).

Generally though (a) and (b) are run together as a unit even though Shankara plays down the mechanism by which it happens as not being relevant to his main point which is the demonstration of transfer of the object into the mind of the percipient. The paradox of the false perception being the exemplar of any perception has not been remarked on.

The (a) + (b) understanding is spun out into - only two perceptible things can be confused, both must have a potentially objective status. Shankara counters this, asserting that both elements do not have to be perceptible. Is this a defence of the original analogy or a wholly new understanding which refers back to (a)? That has the flavour of the adhiropa/apavada strategy.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Shankaracharya not a Philosopher or a Theologian.

Sonia Sikka in a note on Shankaracharya refers to him as an 8th.C. philosopher and theologian.
global philosophy
I don’t think I’m being captious when I offer the criticism that this is a reduction to Western ‘forms of life’ of the great acharya. Why not immediately call him that or hasten to qualify? Hidden in that description is the sense that being a teacher is a lesser role than philosopher or theologian. As one progresses in those professions one expects to have less to do with the 101 classes and the great luminaries hardly teach at all. What the average student remembers is the teachers that he has encountered and for the culture at large they are the most important members of the profession and not the purveyors of papers hardly ever read even by their peers.

Wikipedia has a definition:
The term "acharya" is most often said to include the root "char" or "charya" (conduct). Thus it literally connotes "one who teaches by conduct (example)," i.e. an exemplar. (citation needed)

By the way that ‘citation needed’ a favorite Wiki sprinkle is fatuous. When you’ve given the etymology presumably from a Sanskrit dictionary then what more certification do you need. Is there a dispute? If I wrote ‘domicile’ originally from ‘domus’(Lat.) a home must I cite ‘White’s Latin Dictionary’ as a source. Now I’m getting captious.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Hard Problem of Consciousness and Ananda

The hard problem of consciousness is supposed to be about our own personal feeling of the world. This is as far as I, or anybody, understands it, that peculiar cast that the generic experience of red for example has. Yes but isn’t that problem a subsection of the main problem of how the cerebral events translate into an experience of red as such? Talking about neural correlates has embedded in it the assumption that we know that this neuronal traffic ‘is’ red. This is what Stephen Earle Robbins calls the coding problem.
Three dots represents S in Morse code. This is the convention. How do we know ‘red’ before we know it. It’s an unknowable convention so to speak.

Are Plato’s forms and the substantial forms of Aristotle an attempted solution to the problem of conscious experience? The upadhis (limiting adjuncts) are proposed by Advaita. If we knew what consciousness was such that experience is possible would that bring an alteration to experience as such? Shankara says no and insists that it is a matter of insight. Would, however, the cast of general experience alter and the hard problem now be the source of ananda (bliss)?

Monday, 13 March 2017

Behe's Irreducibly Complex Mousetrap

Behe’s irreducibly complex mousetrap and its critics such as Macdonald are I think succumbing to the same reasoning . They view a mousetrap as a construction out of individual components that come together as a complex unit by design or as an accretion of individual elements. The number and variety of mousetraps, there are thousands, shows that their devising is a holistic process at a higher level of generality. Thus you have stored energy, a trigger, method of despatch i.e. choking, drowning, etc. A surprising variety of materials and methods bring together those requirements. Shawn Woods’s site has many examples of traps for large and small game. See particularly his Mousetrap Mondays in which he demonstrates both new and antique traps:
shawn woods on mousetraps

Friday, 10 March 2017

Unexplained Laughter by Alice Thomas Ellis

It’s pointless trying to sketch a plot outline for the novels of Alice Thomas Ellis. They are as formless as life itself and yet substantial because we travel with our own solidity. Lydia and Betty are going to be on holiday for 3 weeks in Wales. A device polished by usage is to place protagonists in a strange setting and subject them to events. There is a neat entrance and an exit like a what I did on my vacation essay for grownups. Lydia is a well known and strikingly beautiful journalist aware that there is a pattern to her love affairs.

Lydia had intended to spend the next few weeks alone attempting to eradicate those shafts of reminiscence, determined not to follow the common course and go round seeking replacements for her lost love, an undignified and doom laden procedure, leading to recriminations and disgust. On several occasions she had done this, trying to persuade herself that the new Tom, Dick or Harry was quite as desirable and worthy as the missing Harry, Dick or Tom. It had never proved satisfactory, and as she grew older she was beginning to recognise and make sense of the repeating pattern, like someone unrolling a flamboyant wallpaper.

Betty is good and being plain saves her from the trials of the proud beauty whom she does not know very well but having been invited in the polite way that you are supposed to decline decides to come anyway. Lydia to her chagrin twigs that Betty is being kind to a suffering exotic. Being pitied is not soothing.

Up the lane are a farmer Hywel, his wife Elizabeth, his brother Beuno and sister Angharad. This girl is a mute with a hint of deformity not made quite clear. Call her an Ariel Caliban mix, a damaged aer-sprite. She tells us:

Hywel’s brother Beuno is coming home. He is my brother too. It is his Christian duty to love me.
I am laughing in the darkness

Is this the unexplained laughter of the title? But why does no one else hear it but Lydia. Must you be tuned to the same pain station? Angharad roams the hills and peers in windows without being discovered. She tells us:The wind is coming up the valley - quite slowly, like an army that will win.

Alice Thomas, that’s very good. You complicate things beautifully like the good cook that you were in life. There is sour misery, a jack by the hedge that got mixed in with the sorrel which dries your tongue to a log and as well the blancmange of comedy.

She (Lydia) felt the desolation of a child in a strange house, saddened by the alien nature of the sandwiches, bewildered by the peculiar quality of the trifle which the family of the house take greedily fo granted, almost afraid of the unfamiliar shape of the jelly, choked by the frogspawn lump of unshed tears, past which not one small sweetie can negotiate a passage.

Frogspawn must refer to that comfort staple, which I call love pudding, that you may know as tapioca. Lumps in tapioca. One shudders.

This is a very short novel a mere 202 pages of well spaced lines of large type. It’s that sort of thing that real readers read. She’s good. Does Lydia carry that laughter with her back to London?

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Lear of the Steppes by Ivan Turgenev

Turgenev liked to hunt and the observation of ground, wind, rain, the tingling chill of autumn and days when the field is closed strike to his heart. We feel that there are two kinds of weather, good for hunting and bad for hunting:

In the middle of October, three weeks after my interview with Martin Petrovitch, I was standing at the window of my own room in the second storey of our house, and thinking of nothing at all, I looked disconsolately into the yard and the road that lay beyond it. The weather had been disgusting for the last five days. Shooting was not even to be thought of. All things living had hidden themselves; even the sparrows made no sound, and the rooks had long ago disappeared from sight. The wind howled drearily, then whistled spasmodically. The low-hanging sky, unbroken by one streak of light, had changed from an unpleasant whitish to a leaden and still more sinister hue; and the rain, which had been pouring and pouring, mercilessly and unceasingly, had suddenly become still more violent and more driving, and streamed with a rushing sound over the panes.
(Constance Garnett trans.)

Harlov (Martin Petrovitch) is too proud to rue his foolish signing over of his estate to his daughters but it is inwardly tormenting him. His sense of being born of righteous people is affronted by their treatment and surely his volcanic nature will assert itself. That this should happen to him:

One day my mother took it into her head to commend him to his face for his really remarkable incorruptibility.
‘Ah, Natalia Nikolaevna!’ he protested almost angrily; ‘what a thing to praise me for, really! We gentlefolk can’t be otherwise; so that no churl, no low-born, servile creature dare even imagine evil of us! I am a Harlov, my family has come down from’—here he pointed up somewhere very high aloft in the ceiling—‘and me not be honest! How is it possible?’

The narrator’s mother, offers a doubt about Harlov’s proposed division:

‘Death is in God’s hands,’ observed my mother; ‘though that is their duty, to be sure. Only pardon me, Martin Petrovitch; your elder girl, Anna, is well known to be proud and imperious, and—well—the second has a fierce look.…’
‘Natalia Nikolaevna!’ Harlov broke in, ‘why do you say that?… Why, as though they … My daughters … Why, as though I … Forget their duty? Never in their wildest dreams.… Offer opposition? To whom? Their parent … Dare to do such a thing? Have they not my curse to fear? They’ve passed their life long in fear and in submission—and all of a sudden … Good Lord!'

Why would he do such a foolish thing? I think that it was due to the capture of his intelligence by an inflated idea of his heritage and his confidence in his own noble character together with a omen of death. His loud and perhaps imperious ways may have been the seed of a resentment that turned on him when he abrogated his power. And yet such stories are so commonplace everywhere that there’s even a name for it - elder abuse. The young narrator has encountered evil with bemusement. A proper plan is required, adjustments are to be made. What exactly is the misunderstanding? This can be fixed. ‘Honour thy father and thy Mother, that thy days may be long in the land’. Can I get back to you on that?

This novella reads beautifully. Newer translations there are, doubtless; publishers are always ready to open up old spent mines to extract new copyrights. I found ‘Lear’ at:
A Lear of the Steppes

Monday, 20 February 2017

Dr. Stephen Earle Robbins and Bergson's Holography

Dr. Stephen Earle Robbins has produced an excellent series of youtube lectures on Bergson’s theories ie. notes and bullet points with voice over.
They are adjunctive to his series of papers
papers on Bergson
on the holographic reconstructive wave theory of awareness which eliminates the need to solve the ‘storage’ problem in the brain and the conundrums generated by the classic metaphysic of an external world. By developing the difficult and counter-intuitive concepts more slowly than would be possible in a written paper and adding the enhanced instructive effect of voice plus diagrams and headings one understands more easily rather profound concepts.

Having been struggling with Bergson for years the work of Dr. Robbins is the first I’ve come across that has an understanding of this uncannily neglected philosopher.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Maigret and the Tall Woman by Simenon

In linear measure a perch aka pole aka rod is 5 1/2 yards, so Long Tall Ernestine is known as La Grand Perche, the beanpole. Maigret met her before, 17 years ago:
Looking for information on the girl, he had gone into two or three of the local bars and might have drunk the odd Pernod or two.
He could almost smell them again, along with the whiff of armpits and feet that pervaded the tiny hotel.
As it happens he arrested her for the theft of a client’s wallet which she claimed she was holding for Lulu another girl. A likely story which happened to be true but that’s all water under the Pont Michel. What she has to tell Maigret is the bizarre event of her burglar husband finding a dead body in the dentists house whose safe he has just rifled. Panicking he leaves his tools and the loot behind and flees fearing that he would be blamed. Alors!
All this detail is related in the laconic expert storytelling manner of Simenon. He is a master in the show don’t tell school of narratology. For instance the pungent world of the cop is contrasted with the fragrant world of Madame Maigret but the information is so separated that it’s planted in you without you being strictly made aware of it.]
Madame Maigret had said this morning that she would be going to the flower market and asked him, if he was free around midday, to meet her there. It was midday. He hesitated, leaned out of the window, from where he saw the splashes of vivid colours behind the parapet of the embankment.
Maigret’s nose leads him elsewhere towards an excuse to visit the dentist who lives alone with his mother. His wife it seems has but recently left for Amsterdam curiously around the time of Sad Freddy’s burglary. It stinks, this story, but there is no body.
There are plenty of other bodies and bistros and the Pernod gets caned. In deft lines a life is demonstrated: Sad Freddy’s mug shot:
The face of an ascetic, really, rather than a thug. There was hardly any flesh on his bones, his nostrils were long and pinched, and there was something almost mystical in his gaze. Even in these stark mug shots, without a false collar and with his Adam’s apple protruding, you could sense the deep loneliness of the man, and a sadness that was in no way aggressive.
Jussiaume had been born to be hunted, and he found it completely normal.

Superb. Not a word wasted. A classic of the ‘I know you did it, so you might as well confess’ to which the answer comes back – ‘so prove it or let me go.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Richard Whately on genealogical folly, John Hurt and Kevin Whately

An instance has been known of persons, who were the descendants of a celebrated and prominent character in the Civil War, and who was one of the Regicides, being themselves zealous royalists, and professing to be ashamed of their ancestor. And it is likely that if he were now living, they would renounce all intercourse with him. Yet it may be doubted whether they would not feel mortified if any one should prove to them that they had been under a mistake, and that they were in reality descended from another person, a respectable but obscure individual, not at all akin to the celebrated regicide.
(from Richard Whately's annotations to Bacon's Essay On Nobility)

I was reminded of the actor John Hurt, recently deceased, who was on the genealogy programme Who do you think you are and who hoped to discover that he was a descendent on the sinister side of Lord Altamount the Marquess of Sligo whose residence is at Westport. The present incumbent is reduced to the status of the purveyor of heritage. 'Boating on the lake, m'Lud', Chinese pigs and a saunter round the house by the peasantry. What John Hurt discovered was wholly other.

After this discovery that he was not in fact Irish though he felt himself so to be John went off to England. Whether it was the locals 'takin' the Arfur Bliss' or humming the tune from HMS Pinafore, 'and its greatly to his credit', we shall never know. Fair play to him, he was a great actor. Will you ever forget the surprise on his face when the Bitch jumped out of his chest in Alien?

Another actor Kevin Whately on the same genealogy program. discovered that Richard Whately was his great-great- grandfather. Looking at images of the two men a resemblance can be discerned. But there I am, projecting again.

Friday, 10 February 2017

'And the First to Stop Crying Award' goes to David Bromwich

My ‘First to Stop Crying’ award (recall: stop crying
goes to David Bromwich. As a scholar of Edmund Burke and a man who has conned well the ‘sweet ‘n sour’ of the master it will be interesting to discover how the whining puppies, that have been put outside to do their business on a cold day, will take it. I am unlikely to find out what they may paste on him not reading at all in the tweet world whose denizens if they ever rest on the ground of sense are like swifts unable to launch again. His lectures (Sterling Prof. at Yale) if he ever gives any to the gen pop may be turbulent.

cf:LRB essay 'Act One Scene One' by David Bromwich

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Was Gaudapada an Idealist?

Was Gaudapada an idealist as many scholars have asserted? Without going into the knotty questions as to what sort of idealism it was that he might or might not have been; I think it more fruitful to ask - what did Gaudapada aim at in his inquiry.

Let’s have a cup of chai and focus on this. In his own way he was a strict eliminativist. What is it that’s left and cannot be denied if one ignores the differences between the various modes of consciousness?What but consciousness itself which is never not ‘on’ even in Deep Dreamless Sleep (sushipti). The latter observation is very important in the thought of Sankara. Gaudapada threw all states and modes of consciousness into the pot and distilled their essence to find the unchanging, unborn, pure, consciousness. This and not a quasi method of doubt is the source of such verses as IV. 41: (Karikas)

As some one, owing to lack of discrimination, may, in the waking state, be in contact with unthinkable objects, fancying them to be real, so also in dream, one sees the objects in that dream alone, owing to lack of discrimination.

To say that Gaudapada was an ‘illusionist’ is to escape the gravamen of his case against trying to find ultimate reality within the data of awareness. He never leaves off his ontologically eliminativist cap but can recognise that there are grades of realisation:

Instruction about creation has been imparted by the wise for the sake of those who , from the facts of experience and adequate behaviour, vouch for the existence of substantiality, and who are ever afraid of the birthless entity.

Sankara in his commentary adds to his observation that:
That creation has been preached as a means to an end (for generating firm discrimination) under the idea: “Let them accept it for the time being. But in the course of practising Vedanta, the discriminating knowledge about the birthless and non-dual Self will arise in them spontaneously."

So it looks like Idealism, talks like Idealism but doesn’t walk like Idealism. The world is a given yes, but a given open to ontological question.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis (publ.1980)

What is the collective noun for five English people gathered in a small house? A situation comedy. Alice Thomas Ellis was a Welshwoman so the exotic forms of social torment are as fascinating as the rites of the Trobiander Islanders to the anthropologist. As a Catholic and a very committed one Thomas Ellis has also the perspective of another world and the intercession of the loved dead. In ‘Birds’ Mary has her son Robin who has gone beyond the natural world taken suddenly and so there but not present. We gather that Mary was a single mother. She is broken by her bereavement and has retreated to her mother’s house to recover. Nourishment and nurture are closely aligned in the view of Mrs. Marsh her widowed Mum.

She pulled up a small round table and unveiled the tray with its lidded pot of tomato soup, lightly boiled egg hidden in a cosy, strips of toast ready buttered, banana and glass of water. The cosy was painstakingly embroidered to match the roses and forget-me-nots of the egg cup, as this was a district where the members of the Women's Institute were dainty rather than robust, embroiderers and flower-arrangers rather than makers of chutney and whole-grain bread.
Soldiers of toast! There is now the enforced cheerfulness of Xmas and snow and the whole family coming to visit, her sister and husband and two children with neighbours dropping in. It’s a snowed in situation with two visitors stranded. An inch has stuck and that means traffic chaos.
There’s a lot of fine literary writing which may sound like a sneer to you. For myself, I love it. Pain such as Mary's needs the help of nature.
The wind had taken over the dark winter garden, growing wilder as the morning passed, rattling through the bluntly pruned twigs of the rose bushes, which clanked like an armoury, and arbitrarily re-disposing the few remaining leaves of autumn, sweeping them past her gaze, lost and despairing -the unquiet dead taken by surprise.
No woman, well or ill, could sit in the garden today without looking foolish and feeling harried. The wind changed course, sycophantically smoothing the uprising mane of the cypresses and tearing away to flatten the common yellowed grasses that still stood, lifeless and fading, on the ridge.
In the Celtic way animals are familiars full of counsel. On this twee estate where the novel is set they are mostly banished as contributing to untidiness and the thin edge of rude nature.
There were only the birds, summer-fat in midwinter in this bird-loving environment. There were no cats; and dogs were discouraged, except for old Miss Jones's scottie, who was permitted, because his mistress was said to be of county descent and therefore at once deserved him and could be relied upon to look after him. The people at No. 5 who owned a chain of hairdressing shops had originally moved in with a bedlington, a boxer and a dachshund looking like an incomplete set of old-fashioned pictorial cigarette cards, but although there had been no unpleasantness they had soon realised that dogs didn't fit in to the Close and had given them away to friends who lived in ampler surroundings. There had been angry consternation when the Close heard that a policeman was to move in to the house next door to Mrs Marsh's. The neighbours were relieved to learn that he was a Chief Inspector, but still they wished he'd chosen a different place of retirement. He’ll bring his alsatian or his dobermann pinscher,' prophesied the lady from No. 5. They were all quite surprised when he didn't.
Will Mary find peace? Will her sister strike a blow against her husband Seb the philosopher who might be described in ordinary language as a dismal gobshite? Ask the turkey if Xmas is a good idea? But read this book, it’s very short, anguished, funny, desolate, satiric and life affirming in a contrary way. You need the loved dead.
Mary had gone back to her room. She opened the French windows and went out into the garden.
She could see the snow falling through the small rounded light from the downstairs lavatory window, a light as pure as from any cathedral clerestory. It fell with such soft determination in the still silence -soundless, weightless: gentle alien blossom that would melt, if she waited long enough, into familiar wetness, tears on the face: bathetic melting, mud in the garden, slush on the roads, useless tears.
She lifted her face to the angelic descent in the muted darkness, to the movement compelled by something other than desire, the lifeless idle movement of the drowned, to the veil, grave cloths, the floating sinking cerements, untroubled by blood, by colour: the discrete, undeniable, intractable softness of the slow snow in the night and the silence . , , 'Robin . .. she said.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Ring and the Book : Dowry Wrangling

Based on a famous murder trial in the late 17th. century The Ring and the Book reminds me of similar dowry wrangling that is commonplace in India now.dowry deaths

Wikipedia’s article on the book
gets a major historical point wrong. Guido set it up to look as though Pompilia was conducting an epistolary affair with the young priest to disgrace her and get her out of his house into a closed penitentiary convent. He would still retain the dowry of course and her parents would be disgraced.

I met a literary person over the Xmas who claimed that they had never read Browning. This is just possible I suppose. They may have been mocking my enthusiasm which is entirely possible, likely even. This is a charitable view. Here then is an excerpt from the supposedly rational voice of Tertium Quid:

A pet lamb they have left in reach outside,
Whose first bleat, when he plucks the wool away,
Will strike the grinners grave: his wife remains
Who, four months earlier, some thirteen years old,
Never a mile away from mother’s house
And petted to the height of her desire,
Was told one morning that her fate was come,
She must be married — just as, a month before,
Her mother told her she must comb her hair
And twist her curls into one knot behind.
These fools forgot their pet lamb, fed with flowers,
Then ’ticed as usual by the bit of cake,
Out of the bower into the butchery.
Plague her, he plagues them threefold: but how plague?
The world may have its word to say to that:
You can’t do some things with impunity.
What remains . . . well, it is an ugly thought . . .
But that he drive herself to plague herself —
Herself disgrace herself and so disgrace
Who seek to disgrace Guido?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Gaudapada takes a Berkeleyan Turn

In accord with the perception of its cause, knowledge is supposed to be based on external objects. But from the standpoint of reality, it is held that the external cause is no cause. (G.K. IV.25)

There is an intimation here of the advanced position of what I have been calling 'non-numerical identity' between the object and the vritti. An object in this sense is not the cause of itself. The initial stage is of course the classical causal therory of perception.

Meaning : "The Chitta (mind) does not touch the object ; for that reason only it does not touch the Arthabhasa (the reflection or appearance of an object). For, Padartha (an object) is verily Abhuta (not really existing) ; therefore, apart from it Arthiibhasa also does not exist." (Translation or import of 4: 26 Gaudapada Karikas from The Essence of Gaudapada by Sri S.S.S.)

"Consciousness has no contact with objects; so also it has certainly no contact with appearances of objects. For according to the reason adduced, an object has no existence, and an illusory object is not separate from the awareness". (Swami Gambhirananda trans. Advaita Ashrama pub.)

Gaudapada is here ascribing an Berkeleyan turn to the Vijnanavadin and in the subsequent verse takes their position to its inevitable conclusion:

Consciousness does not ever come in contact with external objects in all the three states. There being no external objects how can there be any base false apprehension of it.

In Sankara's own critique of the Vijnanavadin position he uses that point. (cf. B.S.B. II.ii.28) In his commentary on the Mandukya Karika of Gaudapada he states:

The text starting with, "In compliance with the perceptions of its cause, Knowledge" (IV.25) and ending with the previous verse, which represents the view of the subjective idealists among the Buddhists, is approved by the teacher (Gaudapada) in so far as it refutes the view of those who believe in external objects. Now he makes use of that very argument (of the idealists) as a ground of inference for demolishing their own points of view:

Hence consciousness has no birth, and things perceived by it do not pass into birth. Those who perceive the birth of that consciousness, may as well see footmarks in space itself. (G.K. IV.28)

The upshot is that nothing gives rise to consciousness. Consciousness always is - unborn or ajati. Even if wholly wrong the vijnavadin is half right.a

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis

Sebastian had devoted his life and his career to the proposition that words should be used with tremendous care, that no statement should be made that wasn't capable of precise utterance, and that anyone who couldn't say exactly what he meant should keep his trap shut. In the heady days earlier in the century when this novel idea first began to gather adherents, it was held by them that a massive, invincible engine was being constructed that would overturn all false, all mistaken structures of human thought - such as religious belief - and clear the ground for true human progress. But as time passed it began to seem that this tool resembled not so much a mighty bulldozer as that useful but scarcely earth-shaking, and indeed slightly anachronistic, implement - the thing for taking stones out of horses' hooves. Sebastian didn't care. His philosophy perfectly fitted his personality, and he had nearly finished his latest book - would have finished it, if it hadn't been for Christmas.
(from The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis)
I shall have more to say about this novel, with, I hope, a degree of modest clarity. This writer does things with words.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Conversation Game

So it was a dream and it may be just another story that we tell at the breakfast table. This one was vivid and detailed. I was at a dinner party, enjoying raucous fun and talking about inventing a conversation game. It had just been decided that a ‘stoat’ defeated a ‘boast’, the latter being an exaggerated claim and the former a nip that exsanguinated. It seemed such good sport and the puzzle of how to decide a winner my waking excogitations must leave so.

Think of a hat with slips in that are drawn with several questions and topics that are gauged to the present company. We might ask:

Is a S.J.W. and a Contrarian cross sterile or an obliging mule?

How many roads must a man go down?
(a) till he buys a map
(b) Till he asks a local
(c) Till he decides that he should never have left home

Central heating has killed the art of conversation?

Cliches are cold porridge, unsalted.

The sentence before ‘We never talk anymore’.

Is talking in sentences a thing, really, actually?

And so forth:

Is X living a hand to nose existence?
For the gossips.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Thomas Carlyle on the Trump of Doom

For my own share, far be it from me to say or insinuate a word of disparagement against such characters as Hampden, Elliot, Pym; whom I believe to have been right worthy and useful men. I have read diligently what books and documents about them I could come at;—with the honestest wish to admire, to love and worship them like Heroes; but I am sorry to say, if the real truth must be told, with very indifferent success! At bottom, I found that it would not do. They are very noble men, these; step along in their stately way, with their measured euphemisms, philosophies, parliamentary eloquences, Ship-moneys, Monarchies of Man; a most constitutional, unblamable, dignified set of men. But the heart remains cold before them; the fancy alone endeavors to get up some worship of them. What man's heart does, in reality, break forth into any fire of brotherly love for these men? They are become dreadfully dull men! One breaks down often enough in the constitutional eloquence of the admirable Pym, with his "seventhly and lastly." You find that it may be the admirablest thing in the world, but that it is heavy,—heavy as lead, barren as brick-clay; that, in a word, for you there is little or nothing now surviving there! One leaves all these Nobilities standing in their niches of honor: the rugged outcast Cromwell, he is the man of them all in whom one still finds human stuff. The great savage Baresark: he could write no euphemistic Monarchy of Man; did not speak, did not work with glib regularity; had no straight story to tell for himself anywhere. But he stood bare, not cased in euphemistic coat-of-mail; he grappled like a giant, face to face, heart to heart, with the naked truth of things! That, after all, is the sort of man for one. I plead guilty to valuing such a man beyond all other sorts of men. Smooth-shaven Respectabilities not a few one finds, that are not good for much. Small thanks to a man for keeping his hands clean, who would not touch the work but with gloves on!
(from On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle)

In the end we may pray for boredom and a technocrat to save us. Donald John Trump is doing exactly what he said on the tin and the New Yorker magazine’s pearly words are clutched but availeth not.

As for the Wall I take counsel from Ezekial 13:12

Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?

Nevertheless be ye earnest:

Plausibility has ended; empty Routine has ended; much has ended. This, as with a Trump of Doom, has been proclaimed to all men. They are the wisest who will learn it soonest. Long confused generations before it be learned; peace impossible till it be! The earnest man, surrounded, as ever, with a world of inconsistencies, can await patiently, patiently strive to do his work, in the midst of that.

Richard King on Asparsa Yoga in Gaudapada's Karikas (Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism)

Writing on Asparsa Yoga: the Gaudapadian Phenomenology of Perception:
Perception is base upon the possibility of contact (sparsa) between a perceiver and a perceived object. An attack upon this notion then is fundamental to an attack upon all “realist” theories of perception. The Nyaya Sutra, for instance, defines perception (pratyaksa) as “the determinate, unnamed, and unerring knowledge which arises from the contact of a sense organ with its object.” This is an inherently dualistic understanding of experience and as such is clearly unacceptable to the non-dualistic authors of the Gaudapadiya Karikas. An attack upon the notion of “contact” is fundamental to a thorough-going non-dual theory of perception. In fact, it is the GK’s position that:

“Consciousness does not make contact with an object, not even with the appearance of an object. In fact, the object is unreal, and the appearance of the object is non different. (GK IV.26)
(pg.154 Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King)

There is a dense tangle of non-dual epistemology here. What we are immediately aware of is the mental modification (vritti) ‘caused’ by the object. In that sense we are not in contact with the object. But we are also aware of the object as it is because the same reality is fundamental to the vritti and the object. The object is a form of limitation of Consciousness (an upadhi) and it is this which allows it to be superimposed on the consciousness of the perceiver. The ‘unreality’ of the object, for Gaudapada, is due to the fact that it can be sublated. It is not changeless. Objects in the dream world on waking and illusory objects in the waking state are sublated because they are ultimately only true or real as consciousness. In fact the fundamental reality is Pure Consciousness, a boundless (anantam) unity of being in which there is no separation and therefore no contact (sparsha).

It is non-duality which makes perception possible, what Vedanta Paribhasa calls perceptuality. Non-duality makes duality and veridical perception possible to put it aporetically. In disagreeing with King on this point I believe that I am tracing Gaudapada’s core insight which was explicated by Sankara particularly in the preamble to his commentary on the Brahma Sutras.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

Just to remind you that you have that more than slightly foxed copy of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. The usual Norman as ‘this reporter’ did not write it, he was hiding behind the arras listening to the flat locutions of ‘Western voices’. And he heard them. Those that know say he got them down pat and it must have been hard for him. How could he have stopped letting Mailer be Mailer? “She really cared about being dainty”. Yes of course, but messes occurred. “She felt like a lady of leisure”. Mailer gutted the language back to kernel sentences. How can cliché have such weight? Because it is a tired bandage.

Read it, hope for a stay of execution.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Sri SSS on Gaudapada

A great teacher whose name I forget said that in the great city of Mumbai (Bombay) there were 6 seekers who understood Advaita. As I am no longer living there itself there must be 5 now. Seriously, the difference between the Buddhist doctrine of Sunya and the Ajativada propounded by Gaudapada is that each successive level of realisation is absorbed or sublated by a greater reality using the adhyaropa /apavada dialectic. The Buddhist sunya is accomplished in one rapture. This is my present understanding which may be altered by my next meeting with the panc rishi. Here is a summary of the procedure given by Sri SSS in The Essence of Gaudapada

Even so, for the sake or benefit of those seekers who are endowed with limited or low-grade intelligence (discriminative faculty) and are having predominantly an extroverted view, point, the Sruti, adopting tile ancient time-tested traditional methodology of 'Adhyaropa Apavada Nyaya' (axiom of Superimposition and Rescission), deliberately superimposes on It certain Dharmas (special features or attributes) which do not really exist in It and relatively rescinds certain other Dharmas, showing that they do not exist in It. Those preceptors who are well-versed in this traditional methodology of teaching are utilizing as an aid to this teaching the empirical logical arguments (Loukika Tarka) in consonance with that methodology.

With this very purport in mind the knowers of the Sampradaya (traditional methodology of spiritual instruction) have stated : -(GIta Bhashya, 13-12), meaning -"By virtue of the axiom of Adhyaropa-Apavada (Superimposition and Rescission) tre Tattwa (Reality) which is Nishprapaiicha (devoid of any world of duality) is taught in full detail." (Doubt) : Even if it is so, does not the defect of having uttered a lie entail them ? Even though the phenomenon of birth does not really exist, they have taught that it exists, is it not so ? (Solution) : Not so. For, they have not at all instructed, preached so in the Paramarthika . (Absolute) sense. Although the Shishyas (disciples) have believed firmly that the Dvaitavastu really exists, in the Absolute sense, none of tIle Dvaita-Vikalpas (misconceptions of duality) of the type -'Sastra', 'Sllishya', 'Guru' etc. does exist whatsoever in reality ; this alone is the ParamaItha Siddhanta (the Absolute philosophical or spiritual teaching of Advaita Vedanta
(page 531)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Proleptic Reading of Sri Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati's The Essential Gaudapada

It took me a week to learn to spell his name so I’m going to refer to him as Sri SSS from now on. Reading his Method of Vedanta and the chapter on Pre-Sankara advaita there is but glancing reference to Gaudapada. Those of you who have read M.V. will be aware that he published it at the age of 84 and considering the amount of scholarship in it, 975 pages of 8 point, where are my glasses, type, you will know that it might well take even a dedicated life that long to master the material therein. I therefore surmised that he had written a separate book on Gaudapada’s Karikas. There it is for free download on his ashram’s site.
english books
under the title The Essential Gaudapada

Before I read in it my prediction would be that he might well say something like this. ( a single quotation mark meaning a non-quote speculative attribution, ye Americans) ‘The apparent difference between Sankara and Gaudapada is that Gaudapada starts at the perfectly realised apprehension of reality and stays there while Sankara works his way through the dialectical stages of successive insight using adhiropa/apavada’. Or words to that effect. I’m not going to read it all, it’s 277 pages long, so highlights but more than ‘just flashing’ on it. How, though, can The Essential Gaudapada be longer than the Karikas themselves?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

King on Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism

Even the author of the fourth prakarana (treatise) is an heir to the atman tradition which upholds permanence and constancy as the fundamental nature of reality. For the GK (Gaudapadiya Karika) as a whole the appearance of the world can only be adequately explained if there is some unchanging substratum supporting its manifestation. Reality must have an unchanging intrinsic nature or it could not be “reality”. This is clearly a Vedantic and not a Madhyamaka conception of reality, dispite the GK’s propensity for Buddhist arguments and terminology.
(pg.140: Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King)

Would it be invidious to suggest that one might start with a Buddhist conception of non-origination and work one’s way out of it? My own sense of the Buddhist influence is the severely monolithic monism which declares:

GK IV.23 : A cause is not born of a beginningless effect ; nor does an effect naturally come out (of a beginningless cause). (Cause and effect are thus birthless); for a thing that has no cause, has certainly no birth.

GK:IV.26: Consciousness has no contact with objects so also it has certainly no contact with appearances of objects. For according to the reasons adduced, an object has no existence, and an illusory object is not separate from awareness.

This latter goes even further than Madhyamaka’s “for impermanence is never absent in entities”. There are no such things as entities for them to be impermanent. Their being is the being of the unborn (ajativada) and they cannot be other than such.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The First to Stop Crying

Over this
solnit, lrb
irony circles and moves away disconsolate avoiding eye contact, such is the shaming of fabulism by the real. If it were a creation of satiric mischief we might bow to genius. Who living under the monumental plinth of Major public intellectual will be the first to stop crying and what will be ‘pasted’ on them.

I was thinking of the story of the man who was the first to stop clapping:

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name).... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the 'stormy applause, rising to an ovation,' continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop?... After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first!... At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly - but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?... With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers!...

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

‘Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.’

(From The Gulag Archipelago by A. Solzhenitsyn)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

F.X. Clooney on Advaita Vedanta (

It would have been nice if Jonardon Ganeri had allowed F.X. Clooney simply to give his account of what Advaita Vedanta was rather than continuing to try attach the label 'theology' to it.
fx.x Clooney
That interlocutor format has its limitations particularly when such an articulate speaker as FX is in a 3 legged race and not allowed to get into his own stride. Despite being hampered he gave a good account of a venerable tradition that asks large questions and assumes that inquiry leads to commitment. Consider the modern Vedantin Ramana Maharshi and his method of atma vichara driven by the one-pointed inquiry into the nature of the Self - Who Am I. Any particular theological system is left behind in this practice and even Zen folk have taken it up. This is beyond ritual and ashta devata (personal form of divinity) but not antithetical to them.

What FX makes of that method of vedanta known as adhiropa apavada was not specifically addressed by him though he mentioned the ultimate transcendence of form and ritual once their propaduetic function was surpassed by the seeker.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracarya

Received opinion is a good place to start but don’t live there permanently. The clever people who inhabit philosophy are often complacent about their surroundings and tend to accept the wisdom of their elders. Their examined life is no more than a cursory glance to discover what the experts tell them is the case.

However there is often little in the way of conscious effort to substantiate the Brahmasutra’s (Sankara’s Commentary is meant here) own position by the use of logical arguments and philosophical problems are often circumvented by the use of parables and references to the infallibility of scripture. This is not surprising given that the Brahmasutra’s essentially theological approach, and foundational regard for the Vedas. As a means of persuading one’s philosophical opponents, however, it remains highly unsatisfactory.
(from Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King.)

There is nothing more misleading than a half truth but to be mislead by a smaller proportion is due to careless prejudice. My copy of Brahma Sutra Bhasya has more post it notes than spines on a hedgehog and most of them indicate a rational argument or clarification. I have often written here about the Preamble which is a profound metaphysical intuition of the basis of superimposition. Vedic or eternal words is a another topic with Platonic overtones. Satkaryavada or the doctrine of the non-difference of cause and effect is a major rational exploration of the problem of causality. Being orthodox he will of course try to find vedic texts that support his view.

Another way that he develops the rational basis of his thought is by engagement with what he considers error. This is like drawing by tracing the negative space around an object thereby revealing it. His refutation of Vaisesika, Samkhya and Buddhist thought on various topics by implication reveals what his positive thought is. A discussion of the Atomic theory (B.S.B. II.ii.17 ) allows him to reveal his own views on substance and quality.

This is just a short note on a prejudice which will not survive any thoughtful acquaintance with the famous commentary but to be cynical for a moment good grades are not achieved by immersion in long and complex texts. That sort of reading has to be strictly rationed so you are better off taking your nourishment in pill form. Check my labels/topics for dietary supplements.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sankara's Afterimage

The truths of religion delivered by the scripture can be known with greater certainty than those which we puzzle out by ourselves personally or hearken to. Such would have been the attitude of Sankara and it would seem an ostensible flouting of our rational nature until we scry the small print where he adds that scripture cannot establish fire to be cold or water not wet. Nor indeed can logical reasoning achieve truths which are in the province of religious faith. To react to Shankara as one cowed by the authority of scripture is a facile and false conclusion. Yet, as he experienced it, the great light of scripture was like an afterimage that burned out normal vision. This would cohere with his non-dualism of atman and Brahman. An individual consciousness was a limiting adjunct (upadhi) of pure unlimited consciousness.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Ganeri on Advaita Vedanta

I’ve been listening to some of the podcasts on Indian Philosophy put out by Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri on history of philosophy It’s good that it is being done but I have to say I found the talk on Advaita Vedanta
advaita vedanta
to be coarse grained for the undergraduate level at which they aim. What Shankara said was that what we take to be reality is like an illusion not that it was an illusion through and through. In fact the import of what he said is that conventional reality is like a mistake or a confusion. The rope/snake is an analogy with a strictly focussed point namely that an attribute of a real entity i.e. the coiledness of a rope becomes a snake in the mind of a perceiver in poor visual conditions. It is this transfer of attribute that connects to the philosophical concept of superimposition. Adhyasa (superimposition) is linked to Upadhi (limiting adjunct) and to Vritti (mental modification).

This is much more philosophically interesting than to say ‘conventional reality is an illusion’ and it could serve as an introduction to Shankara’s theory of analogy and his ideas on the continuous development of insight in the student. That of course is getting a little deep and far from the shore.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Goldilocks and the Seven Sages

Perhaps you’ve seen already this essay by Derek Parfit from the files of the London Review of Books:
why anything why this
I spent a couple of hours pre-dawn this morning reading it and when I crept back to bed, I sleep in shifts these days; a great Odin sleep came over me and I awoke refreshed and perfectly unenlightened. More than anything it demonstrates how little space a philosopher needs to turn and how a 5,728 word essay can be generated by the application of judicious extrapolation. I resist the idea of selection points which he proffers as it seems to represent a mathematical view of time as a series of instants with all the information present for the next predictable move. I feel that there is unbroken action on all fronts in both a monistic and a pluralistic sense.

The Hindu theory of world cycles with its vertiginous yugas, kalpas and days of Brahman holds that the dissolution and the re-projection of the universe is endless but there is one constant; the Vedas. They emerge in every cycle and are heard (sruti) by the Sages. The sage of Kanchi in his book on the Vedas has interpreted this doctrine. More anon.

Monday, 2 January 2017

My Xmas Reading

Apart from the big books that sit like big faithful dogs where I left them what am I reading over the Xmas? Are reviews of the half read useful? Perhaps they are twice as useful as the normal journalist’s offering compounded from publicist’s simples and an instinct for what it is safe to like. So here, so there:

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson a simple everyday Swedish story of snow and slow cunning. Yes I see those bare faded blue rooms with a dried sunflower in a pot. Nothing much has happened after 75 pages because your tracks are covered as soon as you make them. By the snow.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. A re-reading of the tale of a Southern Gothic anthropohage. The spoon, the spoon!

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama with a David Peace recommendation on the cover ‘Simply one of the best crime novels I have ever read’. Could that be amended to ‘ …… I have ever written’? It seems in a way an impossibly slow extension of the closely observed weave of a tatami. I am at page 279 and what is emerging is evidence of a police cover up of a police cock-up. Even in Japan this terrible vista appals. I am not even half way but never mind they have left me the moon and a large piece of Xmas cake.

Carnival by James Thurber. It was disputed amongst the staff of the New Yorker magazine (they always say magazine) whether he or O’Hara, John was the most difficult to deal with. He put the irascibility into his life and sweetness into his art. A great American wit.

The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning is a dog that has woken from a dream of bones. I have found his beat and adjusted my spiritual metronome to his pulse. You must submit to everyday banality and complication of lies, plots and conflicting testimony. I shall continue to read it by sections:
True, Excellency — as his Highness says,
Though she’s not dead yet, she’s as good as stretched
Symmetrical beside the other two;
Though he’s not judged yet, he’s the same as judged,
So do the facts abound and superabound:
And nothing hinders, now, we lift the case
Out of the shade into the shine, allow
Qualified persons to pronounce at last,
Nay, edge in an authoritative word
Between this rabble’s-brabble of dolts and fools
Who make up reasonless unreasoning Rome.
“Now for the Trial!” they roar: “the Trial to test
“The truth, weigh husband and weigh wife alike
“I’ the scales of law, make one scale kick the beam!”
Law’s a machine from which, to please the mob,
Truth the divinity must needs descend
And clear things at the play’s fifth act — aha!
Hammer into their noddles who was who
And what was what. I tell the simpletons
“Could law be competent to such a feat
“’Twere done already: what begins next week
“Is end o’ the Trial, last link of a chain
“Whereof the first was forged three years ago
“When law addressed herself to set wrong right,
“And proved so slow in taking the first step
“That ever some new grievance — tort, retort,
“On one or the other side — o’ertook i’ the game,
“Retarded sentence, till this deed of death
“Is thrown in, as it were, last bale to boat
“Crammed to the edge with cargo — or passengers?
(Opening to Tertium Quid section)

Lest it be thought that I have forsaken philosophy I give you Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King the exfoliation of his Doctoral thesis. Pegasus hobbled, quite. Anyways by page 25 I can believe what seemed obvious to me on first reading of Gaudada’s Karikas, me an anaSanskrit , that Gaudapada was mightily influenced and that Adi Shankara with the piety of lineage ignores or minimised this whilst taking positions contrary to his esteemed forbear.

Christmas makes ‘hikikomori’ of us all
- How was the Xmas
- Quiet.
(Irish Dialogue heard in the New Year and the book-end to:
- Sure, we won’t feel it to the Xmas.