Monday, 31 December 2018

Modern Identity

I got a second hand copy of Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity ; €10 if you want to know. It’s a massive survey which includes history or the history of history. I jumped forward to the Victorian era and read that chapter. It establishes that doing good just for its own sake was not what motivated the anti-slavery movement nor was it a utilitarian calculation.

Gen: 1.27 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

You can’t work everything in so from the literary point of view he leaves out the Gissing - Orwell line of the atomised individual. Possibly an argument could be made for the William Godwin - Shelley - Byron nexus of individualistic anarchy fetching up in the present confusion of gender as a choice or an imposition. That would be post the 1989 publication of the book. How fast that moved.

The universal exercise of private judgement is a doctrine so unspeakably beautiful that the true politician will certainly feel infinite reluctance in admitting the idea of interfering with it. A principal object in the subsequent stages of enquiry will be to discuss the emergency of the cases that may be thought to demand this interference.
(from Political Justice by Godwin)

Losing votes perhaps?

Friday, 28 December 2018

Bosthoon Strangler

I remember the cartoon in the Dublin Opinion satirical magazine which ran from 1922 - 1968. It shows a large priest in a cassock bisected by a wide leather belt with a cane tucked into it. He is being addressed by a man in a pin striped suit. By his side is a small cowering boy. Caption: I want you to make a bosthoon out of my boy.
A bosthoon (Irish) is a churlish ignorant fellow.

In Ireland the bosthoon/sleeveen (sly, unctous individual) cross has become a smooth urbanite with bien pensant views on everything who regrets the necessity to de-platform those that are deemed scabrous. As I have written recently John Waters and his book Bring Back the Bad Roads have been getting this treatment. Now that state papers from 1938 have been entering the public domain John may be savouring the acid drop irony of Patrick Kavanagh’s tussle with Irish booksellers who he felt were not displaying his newly published The Green Fool in the windows of their shops. Favouring direct action he threatened to wreck the joint if this wasn’t rectified.
journal report

The Green Fool was pulled from Fred Hanna’s because of anti-Catholic sentiment and a possible libel against Oliver St John Gogarty (Buck Mulligan) which actually transpired. Other booksellers had placed the book within the shop but due to the urging of the Monaghan native gave him window space. Move over ‘Michelle’.

Napper Tandy observes: ‘Tis in the body of the jail, Waters would be if he tried that today. Keep the plus ca change baby.’

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Santa Santosha

Santosha and variants in Indian languages is translated as ‘very happy’ but it’s more subtle than that. Some see it as a way of deflecting the sense of gratitude and obligation that may come from doing something for someone or giving them something. You are happy that they are happy. Just that and no more. You have left aside your own ego and complaisance and you do not savour your good deed. It’s done, I’m gone and I’m glad you’re happy. It’s not even my benevolence. Jillelamudi Ama of Southern India regarded as an incarnation of Sri Raja Rajeswari used to feed anyone who came to her ashram saying ‘I am not feeding them, they are eating their own food’.

So we step aside and Santa gets the credit. ‘Very Happy’.

Wikipedia article:

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Five Christmas Profs and a Paradox in a Pear Tree

At this time of the year philosophers visit their own personal grotto in Flatland where the ‘Christmas Lie’ is impugned. Usually they slay the myth of the sleigh: brace yourself Virginia. In 2010 I I watched:
philosophy tv
on the theme of Xmas. Of the 5 profs only one had any sense of the supernatural aspect and he reserved himself to the notion of the feast as a spur to reflection. No doubt he could have said more but there is the tacit rule that we must stay within the bounds of the naturalistic. A couple of the others chose to reflect on the Xmas lie which might mean Santa or Sanctissimus and I now understand why the common run of philosophers prefer science fiction. It is the only way they can immerse themselves in myth. Roy Sorensen, well it's the way he tells them, sorites as recursion. Ho, ho; ho, hum. Professor Brennan presented theodicy as the legend of Uncle Theo. It's essentially the present you get every year in a new wrapping. If we look at God and what he gets up to without the nouministic empowerment of the scriptures we are left with a cosmic tyrant. He told this story effectively and well and of course within the schema of naturalistic explanation he is entirely correct. It is true after its own fashion but it is also true that there is a larger truth that is self confirming which becomes more established the more we turn our faces to it. I read elsewhere that "We have the intelligence and the scientific and technological knowledge to avoid or escape many natural disasters." This childlike faith that under the tree of science will be found the counter-balance to the evil and mayhem that is facilitated by science is misplaced. In the crib it is to be found. (Without prejudice to Balarama, Balakrishna etc)

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Modern Censorship/Censorshop in Ireland

In the market-place of ideas you can pass by the vendor of crepes, filthy foreign food, past the vendor of scented candles, eating the wax of which is an unrecognised cause of spontaneous combustion (flatulence near a naked flame) first noted in altar servers; the cheese stall with the smoked cannon rounds, a vile impertinence. There’s the sourdough bread. Ah yes. What though if the comptroller general of the licence issuing authority granting you space in the market were to ban your product? No more bread. No, no, no; wails of.

So it seems that this is what has happened to the Irish journalist John Waters whose new book that I reviewed recently is not being offered for sale by any of the major book retailers in Ireland.
give us back the bad roads by John Waters

Let me established a guideline for judgement here, a moral surveyors bench mark if you will. White supremacy and the conviction that abortion is a bad thing are not on the same contour. Recollect that Ireland has a population less that that of Boston and has a limited number of contiguous cultural villages. A word in the right quarter can work wonders. John has unquestionably annoyed some long armed media folk and politicians. You’d have to read the book to find out. I got mine online from the publishers Currach Press

These are not commercial decisions by Easons, Dubrays etc. Waters in the past has sold by the cartload. What we have here is not a failure to communicate. It’s the interdiction of communication and a return to the 1950‘s when Hemingway was banned, Joyce of course, and the products of the Olympia Press tout court. Is that what the new liberal SJw’s want? Pathetic puling colouring book artists who fear to draw outside the lines. Archbishop McQuaid: What was the colour of the buttons on his cassock? OMG

Monday, 17 December 2018

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Hagar Shipley is the daughter of a self-made wealthy grocer in Western Canada in a bleak spot presided over by the stone angel on the hillside cemetery overlooking the town. This blank eyed symbol is over the grave of her mother who died giving birth to her. The father is a dominant, hard man that she takes after, her two brothers weaker and less intelligent fit only for the counter culture. Shop, I mean. She’s sent East for refinement to a school for young ladies. Now all she has to do is to be decorous and wait for a suitable marriage on which her father has the final say. From internal evidence the year of her birth was 1875 or so. The dominant strain in her temperament is firmness, a good trait that unless balanced by prudence leads to obduracy and spite. So it happens. Unable to show affection which can be read as dependence and weakness she resists her father’s attempts to find a suitable match and to spite him marries a widower 14 years older than her, a shiftless man by her father’s and her own striving standards. Possibly a unique event in modern literature is the description of her faking non-orgasm.

This book isn’t in the past but of the past, from the view on the hill of 91 years of age and a stone angel about to topple over. All the past is passing through her mind and her pride revived and celebrated as an antidote to her progressive defeat by A.D. Marvin and Doris her son and daughter-in-law look after her in their home and its wearing them down. She refuses to accept the offer of an old folks home and be the recipient of care which she needs. In between the present 1960‘s struggles with her son and the ghosts of the early 1900‘s the story of a life emerges that kept taking the wrong turns. There will be some insight but no hugs.

The writing is quite excellent and though a tray of madeleines could be binding the transitions are worked seamlessly. Here she is dancing with Bram her future husband:

We spun around the chalky floor, and I reveled in his fingernails with crescents of ingrown earth that never met a file. I fancied I heard in his laughter the bravery of battalions. I thought he looked a bearded Indian, so brown and beaked a face. The black hair thrusting from his chin was rough as thistles. The next instant, though, I imagined him rigged out in a suit of gray soft as a dove's breast-feathers.

Oh, I was the one, all right, tossing my black mane contemptuously, yet never certain the young men had really noticed. I knew my mind, no doubt, but the mind changed every minute, one instant feeling pleased with what I knew and who I was and where I lived, the next instant consigning the brick house to perdition and seeing the plain board town and the shack dwellings beyond our pale as though they'd been the beckoning illustrations in the book of Slavic fairy tales given me by an aunt, the enchanted houses with eyes, walking on their own splayed hen's feet, the czar's sons playing at peasants in coarse embroidered tunics, Housed and belted, the ashen girls drowning attractively in meres, crowned always with lilies, never with pigweed or slime.

Read this one. Canadians: bang it about a little, gently now; knock the chalk out of it.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Susan Wolf's Moral Saints and F.H. Bradley's Ethical Studies

When I read an essay on Moral Saints in aeon that begins:

‘I am glad,’ wrote the acclaimed American philosopher Susan Wolf, ‘that neither I nor those about whom I care most’ are ‘moral saints’.
aeon essay on wolf

I thought of the opening to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code

"Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

I have to say that I had never heard of Susan Wolf so I thought 'maybe I’d better read the text itself’, upon which I discovered it was well cited and studied. It was published in 1982 when she was 30 which in philosopher years is young, toddlingly so.

moral saints

Some remarks:
Moral Saints seems pleonastic. Are there ‘immoral saints’? Presumably she means moral perfection and whether it is an ideal to be sought after and achieved by taking on heroic tasks to the absolute exclusion of everything else that is good in life. There is a recruiting tone of being the best you can be to this project. She rejects it and proffers an epicurean stance as though there was no other concept of a life well lived. What of the faithful fulfilling of the duties of your station in life? Doesn’t that sound very class ridden, Victorian Christianity. Try this:

Son of Kunti (Arjuna), a man should not abandon the work he was born into, even if it is faulty, for just as fire is wreathed in smoke all undertakings are attended by faults.

(B.G. 18:48)

F.H. Bradley in:
Ethical Studies
writes on My Station and Its Duties (essay 5). Strongly anti-individualist and anti-utilitarian he stresses the primitive given of being born into a community, finding your place in it adapting that place to your capacities, your Dharma. Excuse this long citation but Bradley requires it: (Bradley was also a mere 30 years old when he published Ethical Studies but then Victorians were born at the age of 10)

 He learns, or already perhaps has learned, to speak, and here he appropriates
the common heritage of his race; the tongue that he makes his own is his country's language, it is (or it should be) the same that others speak, and it carries into his mind the ideas and sentiments of the race (over this I need not stay), and stamps them in indelibly. He grows up in an atmosphere of example and general custom, his life widens out from one little world to other and higher worlds, and he apprehends through successive stations the whole in which he lives, and in which he has lived.Is he now to try and develop his "individuality," his self which is not the same as other selves? Where is it? What is it?Where can he find it? The soul within him is saturated, is filled, is qualified by, it has assimilated, has got its substance,has built itself up from, it is one and the same life with the universal life, and if he turns against this he turns against himself;if he thrusts it from him, he tears his own vitals; if he attacks it,he sets his weapon against his own heart. He has found his life in the life of the whole, he lives that in himself, "he is a pulse-beat of the whole system, and himself the whole system."

And furthermore:

Leaving out of sight the question of a society wider than the state, we must say that a man's life with its moral duties is in the main filled up by his station in that system of wholes which the state is, and that this, partly by its laws and institutions and still more by its spirit, gives him the life which he does live and ought to live. That objective institutions exist is of course an obvious fact; and it is a fact which every day is becoming plainer that these institutions are organic, and further,that they are moral.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Kathleen Nott's Original Sin (The Emperor's Clothes 1954)

You will have been told if you are on the conservative spectrum - ‘I am surprised at a person of your intelligence holding such views’. The imputation is that your apparent intelligence is merely the surface sheen of education and that beneath it all you are as thick as a short plank. This of course is a variant of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy.

I, for my part, am not in the least surprised at Kathleen Nott in her book Emperor’s Clothes (1954) carrying the banner of the Church of Reason like St. Joan of Arc against the perfidious neo-scholastics. And who were they? Graham Greene, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers amongst others and all of them bemused by the doctrine of Original Sin. She writes:

The writers whom I discuss and whom I call neo-scholastic, because they are reverting, at various speeds and from various directions, to a pre-scientific philosophy, try to do just this. Chief among the dogmas which they try to import into our intellectual outlook is the dogma of Original Sin, which is certainly the psychological foundation of Christian orthodoxy. This dogma implies, not that we do not or are unwilling to use our reasoning powers upon our own natures, but that we are incapable of doing so.

In another swingeing blow at ‘original sin’ she states:

The disparagement of scientific method, and the refusal to admit that its applicability is potentially unlimited, express themselves among those who are not yet wholly convinced by dogma in general statements of the type—"Our moral progress has not kept pace with our material progress"; and among those who have become converted, in statements about Original Sin. The belief in Original Sin, the belief that human beings are born essentially 'bad' and cannot become 'good', except through supernatural assistance, generally implies in practice that we cannot become better by knowing more about ourselves and about the nature which we share with others.

She frequently reverts to the subject, tirelessly:

All dogma, in fact, including, and especially, the dogma of Original Sin, divorces us from real and natural morality, which can only be taught us by personal and individual love, generally experienced early and unconsciously. If we cannot learn out morality from that reality, we shall learn it from another: hate.

An initial faint grasp of the scope of the doctrine gives way to journalistic distortions. What is the doctrine of Original Sin when it’s at home? The Maynooth Catechism put out in 1951 has a succinct definition:

Because of Adam’s sin, we are born without sanctifying grace, our intellect is darkened, our will is weakened, our passions incline us to evil, and we are subject to suffering and death.

In 1954, nine years after the disruption caused by the pleasantries of the Third Reich you would have thought that the sense of a propensity to evil that could overtake a whole nation might make the suffix Q.E.D. after that definition seem a given. No, no, it was the Prussian father or mother or inflation or something, anything; oh, make a cup of tea.

Nott studied philosophy at Oxford taking her degree in 1929 so the bright ‘vorpel’ blade of verification smites right fiercely. (Oh Vienna, it means nothing to me, this means nothing to me: Ultravox)

 Thought that is concerned only with truth and is confident of its capacity for verification, for instance a scientific theory soundly based on investigation of observable facts, looks on criticism as an aid to development, a welcome corrective. In the Albigensian Crusades and in the Inquisition, the Church, we lament to recall, 'defended' its dogmas only too vigorously. 

That could have been written yesterday. Did the gates of ‘Vienna’ withstand the neo-scholastic horde? Basically they died off. In 1957 Harold Macmillan told the British - “You’ve never had it so so good”. Then came the 60‘s and so on and so forth.

No Kathleen, I’m not surprised at a woman of your intelligence espousing scientistic doctrines and shabby distortions of your opponents views. That maybe is a sin but it’s not original.

The Emperor's Clothes

Saturday, 8 December 2018


I saw this in the Heaps of Links side bar on Daily Nous:

Central European University is moving from Budapest to Vienna — owing to the Hungarian government’s Hungarian government refusing to let it continue to offer U.S. degree programs

The pure eidos of Hungarian Government is seen here drawing into coherence and firm outline the flickering shadows of Hungarian gov. as normally manifest.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Nihilist Catuskoti Logic

Graham Priest’s essay in Aeon on Buddhist catuskoti (4 cornered) logic displays the generation of paradox by a mathematization of reality. catusknot

Zeno’s paradox is a type of this. Motion is an unbroken flow not a progression through a series of point instants though viewing it as such may be useful mathematically even if physically that is not the case. Trying to justify the flouting of the principle of non-contradiction by esoteric logics shows a similar confusion. Consider the observation: ‘there is less toothpaste in the tube than there was last week’. That could be true, it could be false, it could be neither true nor false if the tube was switched. The fourth corner of both true and false represents a doomed method of discovery. It is absurd.

Nagarjuna 2nd. Century is the most notable proponent of this logic. Without naming him Sankaracarya 8th. C. declares:

II.i.32: As for the view of the absolute nihilist, no attempt is made for its refutation since it is opposed to all means of valid knowledge. for human behaviour, conforming as it does to all right means of valid knowledge, cannot be denied so long as a different order of reality is not realized, for unless there is an exception the general rule prevails.
II.i.33: To be brief, from every point of view that this Buddhist doctrine may be examined for finding out some justification, it breaks down like a well sunk in sand, and we do not find any the least logic here.
(from Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya)

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

A short review might read - Scobie was a very Roman Catholic. Those who had read the book would know what was meant. A snatch of Beatles here - ‘having read the book, I’d like to turn you on’, or not, maybe because I can’t make up my mind about it. Years ago I read it for the first time so the collapse of Scobie was a Greek fate or the unfolding of a moral mechanism. He was headed there, here’s the map and the road to Hell is clearly signposted. Does Greene have the moral nous and the depth of abandonment to his intuitions to surprise himself? Perhaps, as detractors have held, he is moving about big pieces on the board, the counters of novelettish Catholicism. Is The Heart of the Matter water I can walk on?
Something in me doubts and I sink.

First of all as they would say in the time of the novel ‘let me put you in the picture’. It is 1940, the location an unnamed colonial capital in West Africa actually Freetown, Sierra Leone. Greene was there in 42/3 as an M.I.5 agent with a cover role in the police. His prefatory note says that any resemblance to people he might have known during his tour is purely coincidental. Fiction, you know. Yes, quite. Scobie is an assistant police commissioner, a man of absolute probity, resisting all attempts to corrupt him by the wily Syrian trader Yusef. In Greeneland mentioning this acts like a shot of gophers in a cowboy picture as the stagecoach attempts to evade the injuns. Scobie has a wife Louise, a bit of a pill, who’s going mad in the vile climate. Long term residents are all slightly yellow like the Simpsons from the anti-malarial medicine atabrine. Conjugal felicity appears to be absent, too frightfully sweat-making. Their only child, a girl, died 3 years before and it seems grieving is in a suspended incomplete state. A photo of her in a first communion outfit with veil is on the dressing table amidst the pots. This is the crystallizing image, the ‘eidos’ of the book. Near its centre as an example of ironic authorial congruence the title is mentioned:

What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery.He had cut down his own needs to a minimum, photographs were put away in drawers, the dead were put out of mind: a razor-strop, a pair of rusty handcuffs for decoration. But one still has one's eyes, he thought, one's ears. Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil—or else an absolute ignorance.
Outside the rest-house he stopped again. The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn't known,just as the stars on this clear night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?

Scobie is in his role as assistant commissioner of police assisting the transfer of people who were in a ship sunk by a German submarine and put on boats to drift for 40 days. One of them is a child whose mother is dead and she is herself soon to die. While the nurse is absent he is sent to sit with her:

When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the mosquito net and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn't look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion. He prayed silently into his hands, "O God, don't let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back." 

There is the argument from evil which is so impressive for those without faith or for the convert Scobie who ‘turned’ as the Irish say on marriage to Louise. What’s missing I think in his faith is the belief in the devil until right at the end when he must finally acknowledge him as his master. Until then ‘poor devils’ is colloquial for colonials and natives both. Screwtape was right, not admitting the existence of the sulphurous gentleman gives him a free hand.

It’s a good novel even if theologically incorrect and with unlikely elements. He had a great ‘filmic’ capacity, there is that graphic storyboard effect of which he was a master. Read it; it will make you think, reflect and perhaps pray.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Pangur Bán Dreamtime

Morgan Meis has written a fine appreciation of Australian Aboriginal art:
aboriginal art
In their original manifestations they were enactments of the Dreaming not to be kept but let back into their source knowing that their power had visited us and would certainly return if we could apply ourselves to it. But how? It is a matter of using other means of finding the world, of grasping it with a light fervour.

As though a monk in Clonmacnoise in the scriptorium had looked up from his work and seen a swan landing on the lake. ‘That is just what I need for this space. What do you think Pangur? Ok, yes and a cat too, of course’.

Pangur Bán

By Anonymous
Translated by Seamus Heaney

From the ninth-century Irish poem

Pangur Bán and I at work,

Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:

His whole instinct is to hunt,

Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love

Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Happy for me, Pangur Bán

Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,

Housed alone, housed together,

Adds up to its own reward:

Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse

Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.

Next thing lines that held and held

Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye

Fixes on the wall, while I

Focus my less piercing gaze

On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails

Pangur springs, exults and kills.

When the longed-for, difficult

Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.

No vying. No vexation.

Taking pleasure, taking pains,

Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,

Pangur Bán has learned his trade.

Day and night, my own hard work

Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Bergson, a Dualist?

Right off in his introduction Bergson comes clean:
THIS book affirms the reality of spirit and the reality of matter, and tries to determine the relation of the one to the other by the study of a definite example, that of memory. It is, then, frankly dualistic. But, on the other hand, it deals with body and mind in such a way as, we hope, to lessen greatly, if not to overcome, the theoretical difficulties which have always beset dualism, and which cause it, though suggested by the immediate verdict of consciousness and adopted by common sense, to be held in small honour among philosophers.
(from Intro. To Matter and Memory)

My own view, no doubt contestable, and what in Bergson is not, is that here Maitre. B. Is sayingl; ‘let’s not get caught up in the eternal discussion of Dualism and Materialism rather we should bracket the problem and move on in the hope that further discussion will clarify. When you have read the book and are on the real first real reading, which is the re-reading, it is clear that that the imprinted philosophic division is transcended. If it is Dualism it is not the Cartesian kind. There is no interaction problem. In fact it is the bodily immersion in a physical material reality which evokes a reaction out of the repetoire in memory. Around every sensation is the aura of memory so rote that it barely impinges on our awareness. He might go so far occasionally as to say that sensation is memory and pure perception is a theoretical limit never encountered. Is this a prevision of the work of Piaget?

The shocking thing for the modern reader is the proposal that memory is not stored in the brain. Lesion injury seems to declare that it is but then if memory is annihilated by the destruction of a particular region of the brain how can it be re-established? By some neuro-philosophy epicycle does memory retreat to an occult location lurking there till fetched by intact areas of the brain?

My house is small, but you two have book learning by logic, you can create a mile wide space where there are only twenty feet. Let’s see if this place will do; otherwise, make it larger by talking, as is your custom.
(from The Reeve’s Tale by Chaucer)

Saturday, 24 November 2018


Johnson considered ‘narrate’ a word only used in Scotland.
Narrate (vb.narro, Latin) to relate, to tell; a word only used in Scotland.

Johnson offers a citation:
Consider whether the narrator be honest and faithful, as well as skilful, whether he hath no peculiar gain or profit by believing or reporting it. (Watt’s Logick)

Since Johnson’s time the word has become a fixture in the Anglosphere acting as verbal grout in its sententious Foucauldian form or as a genteelism for story. Prior to the 19th.Century it was not in general use. In Scottish law (S.O.D.): That part of a deed or document which narrates the relevant or essential facts.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym as told to E.A. Poe abides by this stricture though we note that Poe advised that it be presented as fiction. It reads like a bad opium trip drawn up from the orlop of his unconscious.

In Ulysses Joyce limns the post colonial narrative

It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking glass of a servant

The mirror that is too damaged for the house ends up in the servant’s quarters, as a superseded distortion. The Irish fear the fate of Jim, the boy who was eaten by a lion (Belloc):

His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

Narrative in the psychological sense is like the framing of a suspect by police through constant interrogation and sleep deprivation. After a few days Gerry Conlon told them that his Auntie Annie Maguire ran a bomb factory. That lady had a non-ironic photo of Queen Elizabeth in her living room.

Likewise over generations through stories confirming and enhancing nascent prejudices a population can come to believe almost anything. Narrative in this sense is a useful concept. Narrativity as an indication of a meaningful life or one which its events are connected in an orderly and consistent fashion seems a subjective criterion.

The spatchcocking of ‘narrative’ is a bad rhetorical habit. Replace with parable, tale, story, legend etc where they fit.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Google Hole

They say that the INTERNET (mad spell check correction) never forgets but it sometimes loses things never to be found again. This happened with a review of Give Us Back the Bad Roads by John Waters which I wrote some weeks back.
bad roads

I liked the book and I said so and it turned up on Google’s first page after the booksellers. Well it was the only review or the only review by someone who had actually read the book. For a few days it stood there and then disappeared. What happened? Did it move to the back of the class where it belongs? Or did it fall into the memory hole of Googles:
Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.

It seems that, as a protection from calumny and detraction, by making representations you can have search hits removed. John Waters is not loved by the Irish media and will never get a review in the papers even though he was a columnist for 25 years in the Irish Times. My little moiety of oxygen must be expunged.

Google cut the youtube line for the pro-life campaign in the referendum which John Waters supported. (If we only had old California over here.)

The Google hole is probably used extensively by publicists to eliminate negativity for their clients. In the internet of commerce it’s nice to be nice.

From 2013 a couple of Theo Dorgan (poet) reviews whose evil fetch had be exorcised:

theo waits for herod

move st.patricks day

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Free Speech Noise

In Dublin a sliding bolt is called a Mormon lock. You can peer over it to declare to those earnest young men, ‘no thank you, I’m very happy with what I’ve got’. We select which speech to listen to and that cannot be regarded as a limitation of free speech. John Danahar has a summary of Mill’s views on free speech much of which has the bland inevitability of the truism.
Mill on Free Speech
It is nevertheless sort of true but in what world, with what ideal interlocutors, epistemic peers and robust dialectic is some truthy formula arrived at. We are asked to engage with many viewpoints to achieve this but as we know the manufacture of consensus is the purpose of the curtailed rhetoric that we encounter. Logos is lightly used, what the celebrities of the day hold takes the place of Ethos and Pathos is the multitude of stories meant to sway us emotionally. Thus it happens that great issues are decided on the basis of tags, sound bites and images. Philosophers tend to be swayed by the major thinkers of their era much as sheep converge on the bellwether. Danaher who is an Irishman writes:

There are certain things I believe to be true (e.g. the theory of evolution, the non-existence of God as traditionally conceived, and the moral permissibility of homosexuality) that I really only first appreciated by systematically engaging with contrary points of view.

Whatever about homosexuality and the existence of God I have never met or heard of any Irishman of any educational attainment who thought of the theory of evolution as anything but scientific truth. That little chain of signals may be for any American academic wheeltappers in the vicinity. Free speech is constantly being refracted through several mediums. Much of it is just noise and you are more likely to find a satisfactory position in Burkean ‘prejudice’.

Burke's Prejudice

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Napper Tandy Report

Napper sez the country is being run by moral imbeciles. Veradkar confounds fiction but Writhing Simon Sez Harris has an assured niche as our very own Heep. Micheal Martin is a cynical sleeven, Iosagan and creeping jesus. Well hello Mary Lou McDonald - out, out, dammed spot. The Greens, South Dublin lifestylers, have they a seat at all? And the Labour Party led by Brendan Howlin, elderly former student activists. As president of Ireland, Miggledy The Visionary Owl. They’re a right crowd. Anyway I’m off, keep her goin’, don’t stall the digger.

He makes a quaint figure in his nankeen britches and high crowned hat and the curious short stick that he affects. ‘Feel the weight of that, ‘led’, begorrah. In his coarse but forthright way he outlines his position without fear or favour when it’s neither profitable or popular. His weather lore is extensive, the sheep going up the mountain foretells a good summer, I couldn’t see Knocknashee so I left the mowin’, the haws for the hard winter and so forth.

*sleeven - sly person // Iosagan - character in a well known story representing an innocent child

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Oscar the Therapy Cat

You’ve all heard of Oscar the Therapy Cat who predicts immanent death.
Oscar the Therapy Cat
How does he do that? Swami explained it to me. You see Oscar is the reincarnation of a man who missed being at the deathbed of his mother because he did not believe that she was about to die. Several times previously mother had been according to the doctors on the point of death but had pulled out. ‘Not my time yet’ she said to Jimmy (the son) sitting up in bed drinking a cup of tea. And then she died and he wasn’t there. Grief stricken and guilty he vowed ‘I would do anything for this not to happen to anyone else’. Being reborn into a lower form of life is not the usual fate but such was his desire that he took that form (karma - janma; Swami does that nod) in order that kin may be warned. So he walks the wards of the nursing home and when the doctor asks ‘how are we today’ the response is ‘Oscar thinks I’m fine, how are you’?

I have a black cat who helps me with the lotto. ‘Four, four’ how’s four’. No, ok. You’re not sure of seven. Two sevens. Come on, the draw is tonight’. My neighbour had a big win recently. I met her in the supermarket and she had some of those tuna pouches in jelly that you love. She doesn’t have a cat. Jade, are you picking for her? Cats have no loyalty. Except for Oscar. It comforts me to know that he’s there watching for the signs of pranic dissolution and the manifestation of the linga sarira.

Note on the Linga Sarira or Subtle Body:

The Linga Sarira or Subtle Body guarantees the continuance of identity of karma. Shankara explains:
B.S.B. the soul remaining still surrounded by the subtle elements, occur such thoughts about the future body as are called up by the accumulated results of past actions; and this expectancy becomes lengthened out to the next body like a leech. This being the manner of acquiring a fresh body, as shown by the Upanishads all other theories arising from the human intellect, such for instance as (the Sankhya theory) that when the all-pervasive senses and soul acquire a new body as a result of past actions, they start functioning there itself; or (the Buddhist theory) that the soul alone, by itself, acquires its function there, while the senses, just as much as the body, are born afresh in those different spheres of experience; or (the Vaisesika view) that the mind alone proceeds to the new place of experience; or (the Jaina view) that the soul alone jumps from one body to another like a parrot from one tree to another – all these are to be ignored as running counter to the Vedic view.

What your concept of personal identity is in this life will condition the view of your post-mortem identity. If you believe in the continuance of the karmic adventures of the Jiva or individual person after the 'great change' as James Carlyle, Thomas's father called it, then there must be continuity. The jiva in Vedanta is a body/mind entity so the subtle body must form a bridgehead to the next life. The material support for life is so to speak subtilised and this carries through the karma to its next venue.

Shankara indicates in a curtailed form how the different concepts of identity in this life, Sankhya, Jain, Vaisesika, and Buddhist, are reflected in the accounts of transition to the next. All show a definite metaphysical consistency and differ from each other.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Loyalty Oath

How quickly a constitutional change becomes of form of loyalty oath. A majority has voted for a change in the constitution in relation to the provision of abortion by a ratio of two to one. The fatuous idea that this has resolved a serious moral issue and we now have generally to accept that the people have spoken for all time and moreover that opposition is a form of disloyalty has become commonplace. Joan Freeman, a presidential candidate who was against repeal had her suitability as President questioned on that ground. Today in a letter to the pro-abortion Irish Times a group of Kildare feminists deplore the efforts of pro-life TDs to introduce amendments to the bill currently being discussed. As you would expect ‘patriarchy’, and ‘misogyny’ occur. The people or two thirds of them have spoken and that’s that. In 1983 the people spoke out of the other side of their mouths but things were different then and we are now in a new progressive era.

The new general hypocrisy will be to accept abortion as care and trust and a difficult decision that is never taken lightly etc, etc even while having reservations about the inevitable results. Except in one’s own case of course. Allowances must be made.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Come Back von Hügel

We are told that one of the great signs of development in philosophy is convergence or the general acceptance of certain positions. One of those positions is atheism which is purported to be left in the winnowing basket of the trained mind after the rational wind has whisked away the chaff. My own position is contrary to this complacent meliorism. Loss of faith or the drying out of the springs of faith is a much more complex process. Friedrich von Hügel in his book The Mystical Element of Religion describes the stages of the spiritual life.

About the first stage of the religious life, the child's religion, he makes an observation which history has belied:

And at this stage the External, Authoritative, Historical, Traditional, Institutional side and function of Religion are everywhere evident. Cases like that of John Stuart Mill, of being left outside of all religious tradition, we may safely say, will ever remain exceptions to help prove the rule.

One recalls the case of Andre and Simone Weil who were ignorant of the fact that they were Jewish until they both found out at the same time at the age of 13 and 10 respectively.

At that first stage there is a comfortable concreteness to the fact of religion but with adolescence:

But soon there wakes up another activity and requirement of human nature, and another side of religion comes forth to meet it. Direct experience, for one thing, brings home to the child that these sense-informations are not always trustworthy, or identical in its own case and in that of others. And, again, the very impressiveness of this external religion stimulates indeed the sense of awe and of wonder, but it awakens curiosity as well. The time of trustful questioning, but still of questioning, first others, then oneself, has come. The old impressions get now more and more consciously sought out, and selected from among other conflicting ones; the facts seem to clamour for reasons to back them, against the other hostile facts and appearances, or at least against those men in books, if not in life, who dare to question or reject them. Affirmation is beginning to be consciously exclusive of its contrary: I begin to feel that I hold this, and that others hold that; and that I cannot do both; and that I do the former, and exclude and refuse the latter.

Here it is the reasoning, argumentative, abstractive side of human nature that begins to come into play. Facts have now in my mind to be related, to be bound to other facts, and men to men; the facts themselves begin to stand for ideas or to have the latter in them or behind them. The measuring-rod seems to be over all things. And religion answers this demand by clear and systematic arguments and concatenations: this and this is now connected with that and that; this is true or this need not be false, because of that and that. Religion here becomes Thought, System, a Philosophy.

Clearly it is at this point that the rationalistic attitudes of mentors and teachers can have an effect and it is a commonplace if inaccurate theory that here there is an awakening into maturity expressed by the jettisoning of the cargo cult of childhood. Is it really like that or is it an atrophying of the religious life through disuse? There are philosophers who fancy that the Argument from Evil or lacunae in The Five Ways could play a part.

In any event in the natural progression there is a third opening to the religious life:

But yet a final activity of human nature has to come to its fullest, and to meet its response in a third side of Religion. For if in Physiology and Psychology all action whatsoever is found to begin with a sense-impression, to move through the central process of reflection, and to end in the final discharge of will and of action, the same final stage can be found in the religious life. Certain interior experiences, certain deep-seated spiritual pleasures and pains, weaknesses and powers, helps and hindrances, are increasingly known and felt in and through interior and exterior action, and interior suffering, effort and growth. For man is necessarily a creature of action, even more than of sensation and of reflection; and in this action of part of himself against other parts, of himself with or against other men, with or against this or that external fact or condition, he grows and gradually comes to his real self, and gains certain experiences as to the existence and nature and growth of this his own deeper personality.
Man's emotional and volitional, his ethical and spiritual powers, are now in ever fuller motion, and they are met and fed by the third side of religion, the Experimental and Mystical. Here religion is rather felt than seen or reasoned about, is loved and lived rather than analysed, is action and power, rather than either external fact or intellectual verification.

All religion, Friedrich von Hügel holds, will have aspects of this tripartite schema. He finds it in both the individual and the collective whether that be religious movements that seem absorbed in one stage more than another. Even orders of the Catholic Church seem to reflect this natural division. There is danger and difficulty in transition:

The transition from the child's religion, so simply naive and unselfconscious, so tied to time and place and particular persons and things, so predominantly traditional and historical, institutional and external, to the right and normal type of a young man's religion, is as necessary as it is perilous. The transition is necessary. For all the rest of him is growing, —body and soul are growing in clamorous complexity in every direction: how then can the deepest part of his nature, his religion, not require to grow and develop also? And how can it permeate and purify all the rest, how can it remain and increasingly become "the secret source of all his seeing," of his productiveness and courage and unification, unless it continually equals and exceeds all other interests within the living man, by its own persistent vitality, its rich and infinite variety, its subtle, ever-fresh attraction and inexhaustible resourcefulness and power? But the crisis is perilous. For he will be greatly tempted either to cling exclusively to his existing, all but simply institutional, external position, and to fight or elude all approaches to its reasoned, intellectual apprehension and systematisation; and in this case his religion will tend to contract and shrivel up, and to become a something simply alongside of other things in his life. Or he will feel strongly pressed to let the individually intellectual simply supplant the institutional, in which case his religion will grow hard and shallow, and will tend to disappear altogether. In the former case he will, at best, assimilate his religion to external law and order, to Economics and Politics; in the latter case he will, at best, assimilate it to Science and Philosophy. In the first case, he will tend to superstition; in the second, to rationalism and indifference.

But even if he passes well through this first crisis, and has thus achieved the collaboration of these two religious forces, the external and the intellectual, his religion will still be incomplete and semi-operative, because still not reaching to what is deepest and nearest to his will. A final transition, the addition of the third force, that of the emotional-experimental life, must yet be safely achieved. And this again is perilous: for the two other forces will, even if single, still more if combined, tend. to resist this third force's full share of influence to the uttermost. To the external force this emotional power will tend to appear as akin to revolution; to the intellectual side it will readily seem mere subjectivity and sentimentality ever verging on delusion. And the emotional-experimental force will, in its turn, be tempted to sweep aside both the external, as so much oppressive ballast; and the intellectual, as so much hair-splitting or rationalism. And if it succeeds, a shifting subjectivity, and all but incurable tyranny of mood and fancy, will result,—fanaticism is in full sight.

Friedrich von Hügel 's schema has the sense of a truth so true that it is easy to overlook. It may be and this is a speculation of mine own, that those who lose their faith and come back into it again have to revisit those three stages and relive them in a different light and also undergo the dangers of transition.

find readings at :
readings from Von Hugel

Friday, 2 November 2018

Political Nous

Harken unto me:
We have imported into this Ireland of ours, the 26 counties, a political ideology based on majoritarianism with a first past the post electoral system which in its degraded form means that when you have achieved a majority you must crush the opposition by denying them any significant forum or publicity and in effect to de-platform them. This dismal strategy does not even work in America or Britain, still less will it work for Proportional Representation which allows for independents and single issue candidates. When Matty McGrath and other T.D.s demand that amendments to proposed abortion legislation be considered and there is not a peep, a chirp or a tweet from any of the media, what we are seeing is a denial of oxygen to a group that is outside the political consensus or is taken to be. This is bad political judgement and will end in tears. Take for instance the mandatory referral by one doctor to another who will perform an abortion. The obvious point of this is to draw the whole medical profession into the provision of abortion even those who are conscientiously opposed. So keen are they on this that no one seems to have noticed that to refer someone you must know the doctor to whom you refer. What is to prevent the objecting doctor from refusing and letting activists know what surgeries to go to witness at? Is that what Varadkar and Harris want? It’s what they are going to get.

Watch Fine Gael when they reach a certain critical mass, if they ever do, begin to float the idea that P.R. is the cause of divisiveness and political stagnation. Fianna Fail did it in their day. They failed then when the public was less malliable and less moidered by social media.

Observation: One in Four first preference votes went to Peter Casey. The election was won on the first count by Michael D. Higgins, a visionary politician to whom I once gave my seventh preference in a general election. I regret that.

Anyway, the tallymen were there watching the count and must have been noting the Second Preferences. I think there may have been a lot of them for Peter Casey because there is no talk about it. I gave him mine. The media attempted to quash any notion of a Trumpian backlash but strangely they have nothing to say about 2nd.prefs. They’d know less as my mother used to say.

Watch rural T.D.s peeling away from the tight formation.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Give Us Back the Bad Roads by John Waters

I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand
and he said, "How's dear old Ireland and how does she stand?"
"She's the most distressful country that you have ever seen
they're hangin' men and women there for wearing of the green"
(fromThe Wearin’ of the Green by Dion Boucicault)

If you met John Waters author of Give Us Back the Bad Roads just out published by Currach Press he would tell you the same thing only the wearin’ of the green would be the values of an Ireland represented by his father and the hangin’ the attempt at his reputational destruction by fellow journalists. Luckily though he has a very accurate litigation rifle and caused some not very smart people to smart in the wallet Not that he was after a pay day as he explains. He was described as a ‘homophobe’ by a drag queen on a popular chat show that goes out pure live. The host did not attempt to challenge this characterisation which had and has no basis. At that point an Apology was sought to be broadcast the following week. The form offered by the legal weasels of R.T.E. was of the ‘we regret’ type. They played it out and were eventually brought to the point of settlement on foot of definite court action. His colleagues in journalism did not support him as it is supposed to be bad form to sue when you’re a journalist because as you know suing is ruinous for newspapers being a limitation on what they can print. It sends the wrong message.

Running contrary to the liberal consensus gets you into trouble when you work on the Irish Times, the paper of record. The Byzantine machinations of its hierarchy as they practiced what Sean O’Faoilan called the Irish art of palicide is told viz. ‘the art of drinking to your friend with one hand while stabbing him in the back with the other’. The story has a darkly comedic aspect to it particularly his encounter with the Religious Affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry at Waters’ mother’s funeral. Fintan O’Toole, Ireland’s one and only public intellectual of the Western world adds a sly Gramscian note to the liturgy.

John Waters supplied the conservative counter to the Times line on gay marriage and abortion. You might well say that was his role as a columnist. Unlike Paul Claudel he was not forgiven for writing well. He left in 2014.

If it was all just this then it would be a dispiriting read even if at the end calumny and detraction were vanquished. The book has a hero, Waters’ father and most alternate chapters focus on him. Does John mention his name, he may have but I choose to believe that he didn’t for his father is both a man and fatherhood, the good connection of a son working with him and not talking about it, not ‘sharing’. The grinding of the valves of an engine that his father set him to do when he was 12 was a way to condition his spirit and to show him that patience was all the strength man needs.

The job went on for weeks and then months, with occasional breaks when you were feeling unwell and I was required to come along on the run to help with the mailbags and the newspapers and the day-old chicks and the 80-year-old passengers. This was a welcome relief from the grinding and yet I remember going back to the task afterwards with a new zeal. The progress on any given day was so infinitesimal as to be undetectable......
But even towards the end, as I was beginning to note the fruits of my somnambulant exertions, you were relentless. Every evening you would return, shove up your glasses, peer expectantly at the valves and their seatings and pronounce: “More grinding”.

Eventually the valves pass:

That Sunday, we reassembled the engine, restoring the block with its new gaskets and the other reconditioned parts you had prepared. I remember watching you as you wired in the battery and connected the jump leads. The engine burst into life with a thunder of protest and a ferocious belching of smoke. It spluttered for a few moments, then found a rhythm and calmed down to a purr. We stood there listening to it, without speaking, each paying attention for any telltale irregularity. There was none. You nodded. “It might not be so bad,” you said. I don’t think you ever praised me so highly. To be standing there together in the balm of that noise, knowing what it signified and what it had arisen from, we were united in a way that would never be erased.

His relationship to his daughter Roisin and shared access with Sinead O’Connor, her mother, was gained by a court process which one gathers made valve grinding seem a pleasant hobby. Non disclosure agreements I surmise oblige silence on that subject. John has been a lone voice in support of father’s rights which are often ignored in court proceedings.

How does Ireland stand? Making great progress going backwards is the answer to that. I got this book on Friday last and finished it on Sunday morning, all 428 pages of small print. Nicely produced with a superb photo on the cover of the author’s father pulling an engineless Model T after him with a rope. The car is packed with children and young lads.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Katha Upanisad and Adhiropa/Apavada//Sublation (adhyaropa/apavada)

Let’s do philosophy as though the continuing development of science was irrelevant. Certain sorts of scientist agree that this is already being done and it’s not worth doing. How would science alter the following observations:

The self-existent Lord destroyed the outgoing senses. Therefore one sees the outer thing and not the inner Self. A rare discriminating man, desiring immortality, turns his eyes away and then sees the indwelling Self.
(Ka II.i.1)

What remains here (unknowable to this Self) through which very Self people perceive colour, taste, smell, sound, touch, and sexual pleasures? This is that (Self asked for by Naciketa).
(Ka II.i.3)

Anyone who knows proximately this Self - the enjoyer of the fruits of works, the supporter of life etc. - as the lord of the past and the future, does not want to save (the Self) just because of that (knowledge). This is that.
(Ka. II.i.5)

What, indeed, is here is there; what is there is here likewise. He who sees as though there is difference here, goes from death to death.
(Ka. II.i.10)

Note for a start the difference between this form of philosophising and that arising out of the Greek tradition. Is it a matter of style or substance? Is adhiropa apavada implicitly a dialectical process which the adoption by some advaitins of the concept of sublation implies or is it something else? Each of the Vedic sutras (logoi) are stated in order to be transcended and brought into a higher synthesis. To view them as arguments that are subsequently surpassed is too simplistic. We have to feel the force of each of them in turn not merely as logical positions. We realize them and then transcend them. That is wisdom and not a pat, rote learned position.

Going from the first citation to the last one the Western mind observes the contradiction between the Self that is the witness (saksin) of states of awareness, a quasi-dualistic position, and the Self which is both subject and object. How is that managed? Shankara in his commentaries on the individual sutras does not offer a reconciliation because his assumption is of a graded access to supreme wisdom.

Now excuse me while I get to work on Ka. II.i.10. The Tantric path regards a version of this - what is here is there, what is not here is not anywhere as paramount. (Tantra but not as you have heard of it, probably.)

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Passing the Saturnine ratchet of the climacterics every seven years offers a safe vantage point for the review of what has gone before. It is as though you were a new person with an interest in that individual back then but without the immediacy of the shame. We regret that those we offended took offence but, ‘moving on’.

This is not a bad strategy for those who believe in using themselves lightly, saving psychological wear and tear, rack, wreck and ruin. Using the climacteric metaphor as applied to fruit we may daily pick ourselves from the tree of life (oh God) and ripen a little faster that the seven years span. Meditation is that setting aside to ripen and as we know being in the presence of riper fruit or what the Hindus call satsang, accelerates the ripening process. [I can keep this up indefinitely] Feel the remorse, remordere, agenbyte of inwyt; now when it can be an effective engine of rectification. Balancing that is the bliss of being accepted by divine love.


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
By T. S. Eliot

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Caleb Williams opens the Book in The Trunk

But what was in the trunk, I asked. I can now tell you that it was the Technicolor version of Political Justice . The pallid philosophical musing of that text has a Lockean flavour which, given subsequent serious emendations, has only the appearance of deeply considered obiter dicta.

Consider this citation in the light of Caleb Williams’ association with a band of thieves during a period of his escape from false imprisonment:

The most desirable condition of the human species is a state of society.
The injustice and violence of men in a state of society produced the demand for government.
Government, as it was forced upon mankind by their vices, so has it commonly been the creature of their ignorance and mistake.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new occasions and temptations for the commission of it.
By concentrating the force of the community, it gives occasion to wild projects of calamity, to oppression, despotism, war and conquest.
By perpetuating and aggravating the inequality of property, it fosters many injurious passions, and excites men to the practice of robbery and fraud.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but its effect has been to embody and perpetuate it.
(from the summary of principles in Godwin’s introduction to Political Justice
Find it in a clean copy from Adelaide:
political justice

The captain of the brigands is angered that one of them has wounded Williams without any good reason:

"I have nothing to say to you; I have no hopes of you! Comrades, it is for you to decide upon the conduct of this man as you think proper. You know how repeated his offences have been; you know what pains I have taken to mend him. Our profession is the profession of justice." [It is thus that the prejudices of men universally teach them to colour the most desperate cause to which they have determined to adhere.] "We, who are thieves without a licence, are at open war with another set of men who are thieves according to law. With such a cause then to bear us out, shall we stain it with cruelty, malice, and revenge? A thief is, of course, a man living among his equals; I do not pretend therefore to assume any authority among you; act as you think proper; but, so far as relates to myself, I vote that Gines be expelled from among us as a disgrace to our society."

Throughout all his sufferings Caleb does a great deal of reasoning in an attempt to moderate his resentment at the cruel fate that a rotten system and its myrmidons have visited upon him.

The voluntary actions of men are under the direction of their feelings.
Reason is not an independent principle, and has no tendency to excite us to action; in a practical view, it is merely a comparison and balancing of different feelings.
Reason, though it cannot excite us to action, is calculated to regulate our conduct, according to the comparative worth it ascribes to different excitements.
It is to the improvement of reason therefore that we are to look for the improvement of our social condition.
(from Political Justice)
Yes what we need are more and better sermons and exhortations. Let them be as readable and exciting as Caleb Williams. It is a fine work of demented hyperventilation which gathers you into its paranoia and leaves you longing for some kind of resolution. Is there to be no justice, will he die as a scoundrel in the eyes of decent society, driven out, lonely, followed and harried by his relentless enemy whose conscience he has become. That conscience must be stifled but left to live, for if killed it would kill Falkland himself. They are bonded together and to the last the tension is maintained. Read it as a manic classic.

Political Justice is composed of mostly short chapters. One a day can be managed. Wonder at the original source, or one of them,of libertarian anarchism and in its way a response, inadequate of course, to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Burke's Prejudice

Perhaps a little Burke to balance all that Enlightenment individualism. The term ‘prejudice’ is being used ironically. Burke considers the slow accretion of many moments of of widely distributed wisdom to be the bank of ‘prejudice’ that we draw on.

You see, Sir, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we are generally men of untaught feelings: that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree; and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that the stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, (and they seldom fail,) they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to leave nothing but the naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.
(from Reflections on the Revolution in France)

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Falkland's Trunk (Caleb Williams by William Godwin)

Who has not felt this at some point in their lives?

My life has for several years been a theatre of calamity. I have been a mark for the vigilance of tyranny, and I could not escape. My fairest prospects have been blasted. My enemy has shown himself inaccessible to entreaties, and untired in persecution. My fame, as well as my happiness, has become his victim. Every one, as far as my story has been known, has refused to assist me in my distress, and has execrated my name. I have not deserved this treatment.
(the opening of Caleb Williams by William Godwin)

I confess for my part that when greeted on opening a book with such a peroration I must read on to discover what has evoked such an impassioned plea for life to ‘leave off’ and let one at last be vindicated. Whether or not that shall happen I do not know for I have not reached the half way mark of the book and yet I am still impelled forwards by the force of the story. When I first began to read Godwin’s classic tale of revenge, madness, despair and squirearchy I was looking for a bit of fun or that unconscious humour that is achieved by a sustained, nay relentless elevation of diction matched by a moral tone punctilious in the description of its origins. But, what, in the name of all that is holy, is in Ferdinando Falkland’s trunk?

After reading for a bit you become used to his style and in the end find it suits the high moral theme of pride and evil and the corruption of false honour. Now I am off again to wonder why Caleb is tormenting Falkland with hints of a knowledge that is no knowledge but feverish conjecture. Falkland confronts him:

Two days subsequent to this conversation, Mr. Falkland ordered me to be called to him. [I shall continue to speak in my narrative of the silent, as well as the articulate part of the intercourse between us. His countenance was habitually animated and expressive, much beyond that of any other man I have seen. The curiosity which, as I have said, constituted my ruling passion, stimulated me to make it my perpetual study. It will also most probably happen, while I am thus employed in collecting the scattered incidents of my history, that I shall upon some occasions annex to appearances an explanation which I was far from possessing at the time, and was only suggested to me through the medium of subsequent events.]
When I entered the apartment, I remarked in Mr. Falkland's countenance an unwonted composure. This composure however did not seem to result from internal ease, but from an effort which, while he prepared himself for an interesting scene, was exerted to prevent his presence of mind, and power of voluntary action, from suffering any diminution.

Please note the triple withdrawal from the scene indicated by the square brackets. You have the general story, the commentary on the rule of its narration and so to speak an interlineal correction. Such layering increases psychological compaction and power.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Henry Sidgwick's Esoteric Morality

Was Henry Sidgwick a twister by which I mean a low, dishonest fellow given to schemes and strategems? Yes, I would answer but a principled one.

It appears to me, therefore, that the cases in which practical doubts are likely to arise, as to whether exceptions should be permitted from ordinary rules on Utilitarian principles, will mostly be those which I discussed in the first paragraph of this section: where the exceptions are not claimed for a few individuals, on the mere ground of their probable fewness, but either for persons generally under exceptional circumstances, or for a class of persons defined by exceptional qualities of intellect, temperament, or character. In such cases the Utilitarian may have no doubt that in a community consisting generally of enlightened Utilitarians, these grounds for exceptional ethical treatment would be regarded as valid; still he may, as I have said, doubt whether the more refined and complicated rule which recognises such exceptions is adapted for the community in which he is actually living; and whether the attempt to introduce it is not likely to do more harm by weakening current morality than good by improving its quality. Supposing such a doubt to arise, either in a case of this kind, or in one of the rare cases discussed in the preceding paragraph, it becomes necessary that the Utilitarian should consider carefully the extent to which his advice or example are likely to influence persons to whom they would be dangerous: and it is evident that the result of this consideration may depend largely on the degree of publicity which he gives to either advice or example. Thus, on Utilitarian principles, it may be right to do and privately recommend, under certain circumstances, what it would not be right to advocate openly; it may be right to teach openly to one set of persons what it would be wrong to teach to others; it may be conceivably right to do, if it can be done with comparative secrecy, what it would be wrong to do in the face of the world; and even, if perfect secrecy can be reasonably expected, what it would be wrong to recommend by private advice or example. These conclusions are all of a paradoxical character: there is no doubt that the moral consciousness of a plain man broadly repudiates the general notion of an esoteric morality, differing from that popularly taught; and it would be commonly agreed that an action which would be bad if done openly is not rendered good by secrecy. We may observe, however, that there are strong utilitarian reasons for maintaining generally this latter common opinion; for it is obviously advantageous, generally speaking, that acts which it is expedient to repress by social disapprobation should become known, as otherwise the disapprobation cannot operate; so that it seems inexpedient to support by any moral encouragement the natural disposition of men in general to conceal their wrong doings; besides that the concealment would in most cases have importantly injurious effects on the agent’s habits of veracity. Thus the Utilitarian conclusion, carefully stated, would seem to be this; that the opinion that secrecy may render an action right which would not otherwise be so should itself be kept comparatively secret; and similarly it seems expedient that the doctrine that esoteric morality is expedient should itself be kept esoteric. Or if this concealment be difficult to maintain, it may be desirable that Common Sense should repudiate the doctrines which it is expedient to confine to an enlightened few.
(from The Methods of Ethics)

His student and later brother-in-law Arthur Balfour as Prime Minister followed this crooked line in relation to Irish Home Rule. Henry was in agreement with him and would have had his ear. This is the same Balfour who promulgated the Declaration which gave Zionists a carte blanche. But that was after Henry’s time. When reading that esoteric morality dodge which has the true Platonic stink I begin to feel doubts coming on about Sidgwick’s busting of subscription, to the 39 Articles that is, which you had to aver to be granted a fellowship. Leslie Stephen renounced his fellowship in 1865 due to religious doubts. Charles Darwin bowled him out. As I recall from Noel Annan’s intellectual biography he had to survive on scraps thereafter and went on to literary journalism after a time. In 1869 Sidgwick renounced his fellowship and all its works and pomps but retained a lectureship. In 1871 the requirement of subscription was dropped. Was Sidgwick the precipitating factor? Had he perhaps an inkling that it about to collapse under the weight of hypocrisy? This was a beautiful moment to make a Socratic gesture and write an Apology. His book The Ethics of Conformity and Subscription was written in 1870: a noble document full of nice distinctions and sublime casuistry.

In regards to colonial policy the plain man’s common sense of the time required no special understanding. One simply had to accept the white man’s burden “without a pedantic adhesion to the forms of civilized judicial procedure”.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018


Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the excellent ones. The wise ones describe that path to be impassible as a razor’s edge, which when sharpened, is difficult to tread on.
Katha Upanisad: I.iii.14

Yeats said:
“Man can embody truth but he cannot know it. The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work, and if it take the second must refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.”

Yeats was wrong about this. Work (karma) done without desire for its fruits can purify and is the path to excellence. Contrast the Bhagavad Gita to the Nichomachean Ethics with its alertness to benefits. The problem for us, in a world where caste and class are more flexible than in the past, is to find work that is aligned with our spirit and our competence. What is it that we find easy to do even if from the outside it looks extremely laborious and painstaking? We don''t think about it involved as we are in the process that grows under our hands into a product. James Krenov the cabinetmaker remarked that he sometimes pleasantly forgets to sign his work.

Son of Kunti (Arjuna), a man should not abandon the work he was born into, even if it is faulty, for just as fire is wreathed in smoke all undertakings are attended by faults.
(B.G. 18:48)

What is essential for the safe passage between the poles of action and consequence is the clarifying presence of ‘the excellent ones’. In that atmosphere our inner contradictions are made clear to us.

A man whose intelligence is free of any attachment, who has conquered himself, whose desire has evaporated, attains the supreme perfection of freedom from action and its results through renunciation.
(B.G. 18:49)

Sunday, 7 October 2018

James Family Psychodrama

I seem to remember that the account of the sick soul in James’s Varieties purporting to be a translation from the French was from his own experience.
“Whilst in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression of spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into a dressing-room in the twilight to procure some article that was there; when suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves against the wall, with his knees drawn up against his chin, and the coarse gray undershirt, which was his only garment, drawn over them inclosing his entire figure. He sat there like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear entered into a species of combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt, potentially.

Was this in fact William’s version of the vastation of his father. I could check but I choose to believe that it is.

In May 1844, while living in Windsor England, James was sitting alone one evening at the family dinner table after the meal, gazing at the fire, when he had the defining spiritual experience of his life, which he would come to interpret as a Swedenborgian "vastation," a stage in the process of spiritual regeneration. This experience was an apprehension of, in his own words, "a perfectly insane and abject terror, without ostensible cause, and only to be accounted for, to my perplexed imagination, by some damned shape squatting invisible to me within the precincts of the room, and raying out from his fetid personality influences fatal to life."
(from Wikipedia on Henry Snr)

Those parallel worlds of Swedenborg are of course echoed in the fiction of Henry Jnr and I would submit are also to be sensed in William James’s openness to realities which transcend the logical and flout the causal principle. Belief can make romance happen but can it conjure up the afterlife or be a refuge. His ‘French’ informant writes:
I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung to scripture-texts like ‘The eternal God is my refuge,’ etc., ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,’etc., ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ etc., I think I should have grown really insane.”
None of the family though they skirted the pit fell in. I append a previous post on a biography of Alice James with more on the family psychodrama.

Alice James: A Biography by Jean Strouse

Jean Strouse has excavated the land of the James Nation thoroughly. William James said of his brother Henry that he was 'a native of the James family, and has no other country' and the lifetime perigrinations of the family made their homeland into luggage or indeed baggage in the terms of the cliche ‘a lot of baggage’. The grim Calvinist Cavanman William James, who ate his dinner out of a drawer, established the family fortune. Because he did not approve of his children who did not keep to the true way he made an onerous will that was successfully challenged and Henry snr. came out with an income from property of $10,000 per annum and never worked a day in his life at a job. If the will had stuck none of his 5 children would have gotten a penny until they were 21. One can scarcely imagine the James clan landlocked. Henry Jnr. might have taken to ‘chaw’. Instead you have the exotic hothousing of all of them moving around Europe picking up languages and above all developing that intense family relationship which can be both a stifling and a resource.

For all their gifts Alice and the James Boys were a neurotic bunch. Where would they leave it? Old Father William, doommeister, then Son Henry an alcoholic who lost his leg in a drunken accident was afflicted in 1844 by a ‘vastation’. This was the Swedenborgian interpretation of a debilitating crisis in which he was oppressed by the fetid rays of a presence in his dining room after a good dinner. Henry Jnr. suffered a similar breakdown in his later years hoping that death might take him in his sleep. Brother William was also a ‘sick soul’ with suicidal ideation as a constant presence in his twenties. Wilky and Bob the less famous brothers one of whom was an alcoholic and the other a pursuer of the dream of fortune with schemes which failed. Both of them had fought in the Civil War and experienced the general restlessness of that generation. Then there is the subject of this book, Alice, who drained the Dismal Swamp of the family and throughout her life from adolescence was crippled by mysterious maladies that resisted the palpations and auscultations of quacks and knighted medics. The range of treatments that she underwent is a review of all that was available to the wealthy neuraesthenic of the 19th. Century. Strouse’s detail is excellent. In a curious way her book escapes the woman question interpretation that she promotes. It is clear that this is an under-determining factor, being a member of the James Nation is a sufficient explanation. They all had bad backs and stomachs, she simply moved it to the next notch of paralysis. Brother Henry (Harry) whom she was closest to was very kind and looked after her in her decline. There was also the resource of the Diary which she kept before her death in 1892 at the age of 44. The creative ebulliance which was the other hallmark of the James family if it had been expressed from an earlier point might have been sanitive. I haven’t read the diary but the extracts in the biography show the sharpness of her observation in a prose that is direct and vigorous.

This is a splendid biography and an essential primer in Famille James.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

John Kaag on Suicide

When I first read John Kaag’s essay on the value of life and the option of suicide I thought ‘this is his depression talking’.
is life worth living
Even the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge is changed into a humming windharp of misery. In that typical American way of starting an essay with a personal anecdote; are they taught this in school, J.K. at the entrance to the walkway of the bridge sees a little hand painted notice - ‘life is worth living’. That gets him going and allows him to call William James and David Hume as witnesses. The first offers as an indication of education in higher seriousness the occasional contemplation of suicide. In Hume’s intellectual frolic suicide is held to be a matter for the individual since "self-murder should not be regarded as illegal or immoral since it hurt(s) no one other than the perpetrator, and in many cases might alleviate great suffering”.
Hume on Suicide

The circumjacent devastation caused by suicide is well known and the thought that it would make no difference to anyone but the individual contemplating it is a sign of being dangerously suicidal. John Kaag alone on the bridge finds the choice of ending it all a continuous pragmatic resource. He tells us of William James - " James’s posthumous writings reveal a deep respect for the grim thinker’s (Schopenhauer) willingness to stare clear-eyed into the gloom of human existence”.

Kaag looking down is reminded of a suicide:

I almost always think about Steve Rose, a young black psychology graduate who threw himself off the William James Hall at Harvard University in 2014.

What does being a young black man have to do with it unless the metaphorical imputation is that he was pushed off by an old white man? As a tie in to the James theme it’s obtuse. Indicative of this blankness is the view that those who hold that life has an ultimate value cause the fatal jump.

The rest of this essay is essentially maundering waffle with an abundance of hedging locutions including two ‘I suspects’. Gratings of the great maybe.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Louis Auchincloss gets it (Portrait in Brownstone pub.1962)

Hugo looked at her suspiciously. He was not a bit sure that she cared about beautiful things. She lacked the smallest inclination for the abstract or philosophic. Her alert eye went straight from the general design to the specific detail, as her mind raced to the nearest pigeonhole. ‘I get it’ was the phrase most often on her lips. She seemed bent on reducing the wilderness of observed phenomena to an ordered garden, with white labels tied to the stem of every flower. But once defined there was an end to a subject; Alfreda was ready and eager to move to the next. She saw no point in dallying, in turning things over, in pondering their implications. Nor, in truth, did Hugo, but the exaggeration in her of his own intellectual bad habits made him uneasily aware of the toll of their kind of bright, picking mentality . And it exasperated him that everything he tried to teach her was immediately drawn through the tight sieve of her preconceptions, so that only what she had already believed remained.
(from Portrait in Brownstone by Louis Auchincloss)

A suitable match for darling Hugo and Mother will make sure of it. Alfreda is holding out for an ambassador and doesn’t see Hugo as a contender. He must be built up, amplified by power and position. It’s not the money, because one has never known anything else. Alfreda must be made to see him, to get him.