Thursday, 29 June 2017

On Precision in the Essay

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

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

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


Craig (Reinbold)

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

Try Coleridge’s Essays in The Friend

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

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

Best Wishes,

Chris Arthur on the National Essay, a dubious entity.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 June 2017

Mary worries about Verification (The Fox in the Attic)

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 June 2017

If we only had old Israel over here

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

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

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

Friday, 23 June 2017

Characteristics (1831) by Thomas Carlyle

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 June 2017

Between Tick and Tock

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

Friday, 16 June 2017

Aristotle, Holmes, The Buddha, and Bergson on Memory

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

This is the storage theory also espoused by Sherlock Holmes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Benefits of Meditation

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

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Your Vote is Important to us

He said:

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

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

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

What are you going to do for Bloomsday?

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Anscombe on Memory

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

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

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A.D. Woozley on Memory

- Who is that you are playing?

- Nick Drake. He died in the 1970‘s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Astavakra says: Take it Easy Man

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

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

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