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