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

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.

Friday, 28 September 2018

When You have Time.

Let’s call them time stutterers for now. They go forward and can’t find the clarification they seek. The only thing to do then is to go back and examine the starting point of their argument, the ur-thought, what might be called the undifferentiated cognitional continuum or in demotic, the first thought. Such a one is Irad Kimhi
thinking and being
who cannot come to terms with a conclusion. He has to keep moving around should it be noticed that he is not getting any older. That is not quite correct, he ages in starts and then he goes back in time by way of a wormhole that he bought second hand in the Foreigner’s Market in Tashkent. It’s a very delicate thing which he touches only with gloved hands. “If this breaks”, he said, “a great many great minds who have received seed thoughts from me will be unable to progress". The apparatus is the size of a creepie stool which I surmise he places over his head. It seems ancient but it’s hard to tell with brass. However, when he left for a moment I tried to lift it but couldn’t. Was it fixed to the floor? “You tried to lift it didn’t you, of course you couldn’t know that the object you are looking at is merely the emerging node of the great Wahad”.

It’s perfectly obvious to me that Rivka Galchen has met with one of these Cartonauts who fret without the security of a clear and distinct idea.
region of unlikeness
In nursery terms it’s the little square of blue flannel blanket we call a ‘wubbi’. Revka planted that hoax in the N.Y.T. which refers on to her own fiction if you can call it that. It’s unfinished, hesitant, provisional, abounding in possibility, scorning closure, reluctant and quaintly shy.

Irad will be back.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The Fox (1922) by D.H. Lawrence

I read The Fox by D.H. Lawrence last night for the first time and it confirmed my opinion that when constrained by the short form he was at his best. Give him prating room and he will take it. That mars the end of the novella which up to that was compressed and moved with the internal energy of the story. Then out comes the soap-box. ‘Can you hear me back there, I’ll capitalise so’s you won’t miss the important bits’.

Is the symbolism neon with directional arrows indicating an entrance into a magical playground where the dark forces of illness, repression and dismal Sapphism are defeated by manly health? Of course and no doubt for his red hair and beard D.H. might himself have been nicknamed ‘Foxy’.

We are introduced :"The two girls were usually known by their surnames, Bamford and March.” They are both nearly 30 and it is presumed they will never marry. The year is 1918. Bamford is the sickly one and the principal investor in their small holding. March is robust and practical:

March did most of the outdoor work. When she was out and about, in her puttees and breeches, her belted coat and her loose cap, she looked almost like some graceful, loose-balanced young man, for her shoulders were straight, and her movements easy and confident, even tinged with a little indifference or irony. 

Into this menage comes a trois in the form of a fox that is taking their chickens. Somehow he evades their gun:
The fox really exasperated them both. As soon as they had let the fowls out, in the early summer mornings, they had to take their guns and keep guard: and then again as soon as evening began to mellow, they must go once more. And he was so sly. He slid along in the deep grass; he was difficult as a serpent to see. And he seemed to circumvent the girls deliberately. Once or twice March had caught sight of the white tip of his brush, or the ruddy shadow of him in the deep grass, and she had let fire at him. But he made no account of this.

In one of her dreamlike rapt moments the fox appears to March like a spirit animal:

She lowered her eyes, and suddenly saw the fox. He was looking up at her. Her chin was pressed down, and his eyes were looking up. They met her eyes. And he knew her. She was spellbound — she knew he knew her. So he looked into her eyes, and her soul failed her. He knew her, he was not daunted.

Later she goes out to look for the fox:

She took her gun again and went to look for the fox. For he had lifted his eyes upon her, and his knowing look seemed to have entered her brain. She did not so much think of him: she was possessed by him. She saw his dark, shrewd, unabashed eye looking into her, knowing her. She felt him invisibly master her spirit.

Then a young man turns up, a soldier on leave. The fox is in the hen house toorallou. March has a dream:
That night March dreamed vividly. She dreamed she heard a singing outside which she could not understand, a singing that roamed round the house, in the fields, and in the darkness. It moved her so that she felt she must weep. She went out, and suddenly she knew it was the fox singing. He was very yellow and bright, like corn. She went nearer to him, but he ran away and ceased singing. He seemed near, and she wanted to touch him. She stretched out her hand, but suddenly he bit her wrist, and at the same instant, as she drew back, the fox, turning round to bound away, whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed his brush was on fire, for it seared and burned her mouth with a great pain. She awoke with the pain of it, and lay trembling as if she were really seared.

This is a great short read. I forgive him the ending and maybe I’m wrong about it. ‘tinged with a little indifference or irony’. Very fine.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Finne (witness) on Tuam Mother and Baby Home / T.V. program

I watched the documentary about the Tuam Mother and Baby home (on -subtitles are available, look for Finne (witness)) and it was quite good as far as it went if you can forgive the Netflixy style and the Gothic giant nun wardress with a six inch keyring and a rosary beads hanging with the keys. Peter Mulryan telling his own story suffered a great deal and still was not embittered only puzzled at how the nuns were so cruel. Can I suggest a possible answer. Those nuns did not come from Mars, they were Irish people. The parents who put the girls into those homes after they fell pregnant were not aliens. They were Irish. The government inspectors who viewed these homes and saw the neglect were nice middle class people with good pensionable employment and also Irish. The laundries were no secret soviet city plants. They were considered to be a solution to a problem. This loveless horror was better than baby farms where the infant mortality rate was higher and often they were merely a cloak for outsourced infanticide.

The historical facts have been swamped by film reconstructions which make any objective assessment seem like a whitewash. The McAleese report was accused of this.

McAleese Report

Have a look at Pt.4 if you are inclined to acquaint yourself with statements from those who actually went through the Magdalen system. It’s not as exciting as giant nuns and portentous music but it certainly isn’t something you’d bring to the beach. At 1000 pages you’d need a handcart.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Repairing Milinda's Chariot

And the venerable Nagasena said to Milinda the king: "You, Sire, have been brought up in great luxury, as beseems your noble birth. If you were to walk this dry weather on the hot and sandy ground, trampling under foot the gritty, gravelly grains of the hard sand, your feet would hurt you. And as your body would be in pain, your mind would be disturbed, and you would experience a sense of bodily suffering. How then did you come, on foot, or in a chariot?" "I did not come, Sir, on foot. I came in a carriage." "Then if you came, Sire, in a carriage, explain to me what that is.
Is it the pole that is the chariot?" "I did not say that." "Is it the axle that is the chariot?" "Certainly not." "Is it the wheels, or the framework, or the ropes, or the yoke, or the
spokes of the wheels, or the goad, that are the chariot?" And to all these he still answered no. "Then is it all these parts of it that are the chariot?" "No, Sir." "But is there anything outside them that is the chariot?" And still he answered no. "Then thus, ask as I may, I can discover no chariot. Chariot is a mere empty sound. What then is the chariot you say you came in? It is a falsehood that your majesty has spoken, an untruth! There is no such thing as a chariot! You are king over all India, a mighty monarch. Of whom then are you afraid that you speak untruth?" And he called upon the Yonakas [Greeks] and the brethren to witness, saying: "Milinda the king here has said that he came by carriage. But when asked in that case to explain what the carriage was, he is unable to establish what he averred. Is it, forsooth, possible to approve him in that?"

What we see here is a classic philosophical paradox by which I mean an argument that proceeds impeccably to a conclusion that we are loth to accept. The usual mereological discussion is guided by Nagasena’s suggestion and begins with ‘proper parts’. This I suggest is to start from the wrong end. Our primary concepts are of wholes. Grasping that reality we can now break it down into its constituent parts over which the chariot ‘shadow’ hangs. What I mean by this is that you can then grasp ‘wheel’(chariot), ‘pole’ (chariot) etc. Your chariot schema is like an exploded parts diagram or an image where the part is highlighted and the rest is greyed out.

The chariot wheel for example we can grasp as a whole without even knowing that its parts are felloes (wheel), hub (wheel), spokes (wheel), tyre (wheel). Leave out that ‘wheel’ part and what you have is an eccentric sculpture.

Zeno’s paradox that starts with the notion of instants or discrete fractions of time also starts from the wrong end. The proper start is with the concept of a complete unit i.e. speed and the realisation that Achilles is not running the tortoise’s race for him.

Is this too simple? The critique of the concept of Atma, that is the purport of this parable, assumes that we build it up out of momentary states. Wrong end again. The Self is known with each state of awareness but they are not the parts that make it up.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Professor Auerbach meets Mrs. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse

It’s pointless knowing a lot if you only see what you already know. Auerbach in Mimesis was hewing to certain lines but when he comes to modernist writers who run off those he seems to be a little blunted. Knots no doubt. The Brown Stocking which I skipped to wanting to see what he made of To the Lighthouse misses a great deal particularly the influence of Bergson via Proust. (Proust was the best man at the wedding of his cousin Louise Neuberger to Bergson.) The concept of Duration, how memory sifts it and the density of poetic expression which reflects its compression in the present moment; all these elements are present in To the Lighthouse. I have posted before on the panpsychist element in the book
Mrs. Ramsey is herself the lighthouse illuminating with intense beams different sections of the cone of memory.
cone of memory
She is compared in Auerbach’s citation to a Greek goddess. I think this must be an ironical reference to the Moirai (Fates), the spinners which decide the fates of men, here ironically knitting her yarn into a pair of socks. Her matchmaking schemes are the fates she ordains.

Mr. Ramsey shares with the author’s father fussiness about soup. Leslie Stephen in his essay A Bad Five Minutes in the Alps taken from the collection Essays on Freethinking and Plainspeaking admits to this crankiness but does not specify its exact nature. I take this essay i.e. ‘Bad 5 mins.’, to controvert William James’s Will to Believe. More on that later. L.S. edited a collection of the essays of William Kingdon Clifford of which The Ethics of Belief is one and of course Clifford is perhaps the first of the modern panpsychists. ‘What goes around comes around’.

((All of Sir Leslie Stephen's books can be found at wikisource:
Leslie Stephen

Correction: William James’s essay was delivered in 1896 and the Essays on Freethinking and Plainspeaking were first published in 1873 and so for James to tackle Stephen on the matter of faith under pressure would be proleptic time travel, or something. In any case the connection is clear because James mentions Stephen in his first paragraph.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Dog Story

She had two dogs, Jack Russell terriers. One of them was hit by a car and was so badly injured that the vet had to put him down. “Now”, said the vet, “what you should do is take the body home with you and allow his companion to smell him. By that he will know that he is dead and won’t be in a wondering state. He can get on with things then.”

How did Descartes form the clear and distinct nonsense that animals were automatons? Overweening or supervening theory is a quaking bog.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Fridge Magnet

Yes, moral contempt is not a pleasant emotion but I will admit that my irascibility has served me well. At a certain point I can say ‘enough’ and move away far and fast and fare thee well. Friendship is not a vow and may be set aside when common ground becomes so exiguous that there is no practical access. Old long maintained but essentially defunct connections are like the furry stuff at the back of the fridge. They must go. Not alone do they no longer nourish, they are poison.

How’s your fridge?

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Yama: Deathday/Birthday

On the beam of dawn light moving down the passage of the tumulus at Newgrange the souls that lay sequestered might ride the path of the sun and be free. Is it accidental that Yama the god of death is the son of Surya the sun god? Through death you hope to go back to the source of life, ‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ but there yet remains a doubt.

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

Yama is reluctant to give away the source of his power and by way of distraction instead offers babes and fancy vehicles:
Whatever things there be that are desirable but difficult to get - pray for all those cherished things according to your choice. Here are these women with chariots and musical instruments - such as are not to be had by mortals. With these, who are offered by me, you get yourself served. O Naciketa, do not inquire about death.

Naciketa declines:
O Death, ephemeral are these, and they waste away the vigour of all the senses that a man has. All life without exception, is short indeed. Let the vehicles be yours alone; let the dances and songs be yours.

I have always said this, yes. Honours have come unsought, and unsolicited crept to their due place. Complacently I review the tribute on this day, my birthday: a backpack, pyjama of some silken stuff of Heffneresque implication, a box of chocolates and later a trip to town to the bookshop. Is that all there there is? What about the coloured inks I mentioned and the typewriter ribbons? Have I lived so long to be thus frustrate?

Sorry, where was I?
Ka.Up. I.ii.2:
The preferable and the pleasurable approach mankind. The man of intelligence, having considered them, separated the two. The intelligent one selects the electable in preference to the delectable; the non-intelligent one selects the delectable for the sake of growth and protection (of the body etc.).

In the face of death there are difficult choices to be made. To a friend of very long standing who voted for abortion on demand in the referendum (Irish) I wrote: Are you a dupe or a dope? No card from him.

Later this day a card did arrive. No need to go into it. I'll just leave him the last word.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Katha Upanishad Triads

In the Katha Upanishad Naciketas’s father says a true thing which seems an irascible flash of irritation at his son’s correction of him. “Daddy”, says he, “ You’re giving away those more dead than alive cows as daana, where’s the merit in that. Who are you going to give me to?”

As any parent will be know ethical correction by an offspring rankles. That’s our job. Poppa replies - “I give you to death” which is perfectly true because by having children we put them in the queue for Yama’s (Death) place. Some thinkers, overthinkers really, have asserted that having the choice of not doing so, one of the benefits of science, we ought not to indulge our desire for progeny and the human world should gracefully die out.

Coming from David Benatar, a South Aftican, I am reminded of what his country’s immigration officer said to Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon when he enquired about emigration:

- But you’re black.

In the Afrikaans accent that sounded like ‘bleak’.

So Benatar, both bleak and black without a remedy for that sting.

Corinthians 15:55-56 King James Version (KJV)

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

In the Katha Upanishad there is proposed as treatment multiple triads:

Ka.Up. I.17:
The three-fold Nachiketas, being united with the three doing, the three-fold Karma, crosses birth and death, knowing the adorable, the bright, the omniscient fire born of Brahman and realising him, attains thorough peace. (17)

Commentary by Shankara:— Again he praises Karma ; the three-fold Nachiketas, . i.e., he by whom the Nachiketa fire has been kindled thrice ; or, he who knows, studies and performs in, the Nachiketa fire. United with the three, i.e., who united with his mother, father and preceptor, i.e., having duly received instruction from them ; for, that such instruction is a source of authority, is inferred from other Srutis, such as 'he who has a mother ' and ' he who has a father,' etc. ;. or, the three may refer to ' direct perception,' inference' and 'agamas '; or to the vedas,' the Smritis' and ' good men '; for, knowledge of virtue from these sources is an obvious fact. Doing the threefold karma, i.e., performing sacrifices, reciting the vedas, and making gifts. Who so does these, crosses or travels beyond birth and death ; again Brahmajagnam : Brahmaja means born of Brahma, i.e., Hiranyagarbha ; he who is born of Brahma and is omniscient is Brahmajagnam. Devam, so called because shining, i.e having ; the qualities of knowledge, etc. Idyam, worthy of praise. Knowing such fire, from the Sastras and having realised him as his own atman one attains this absolute renunciation which is realized in his intellect. The meaning is that one attains the place of the virat, by the continued practice of Upasana and Karma.
(trans: Sitarama Sastri: Katha

Friday, 24 August 2018

Bilocation as 'no there there'.

I have been reading recently about bilocation chiefly from a mathematical point of view. It’s an interesting approach that carries within it the source of its own Bergsonian nullification. Treating time and motion as a series of point instants as though this were ultimate is the crux of the impossibility of motion paradox. That this treatment is extremely useful and a practical device does not make it ultimately true.

Here in this note I ask what evokes bilocation or what is its occasion. I am taking it to be a fact well attested in the annals of the saints and the sages and adepts of all traditions. Does it happen sportively as a frolic with perturbations of the continuum and run the hazard of paradoxoi for fun? My view is that it is chiefly the answer to the prayer of the devotee. A cry starts a sympathetic resonance in the mind of the saint who may go to the devotee in an apparent physical form even though that may be far away. How can this happen? To quote Gertrude Stein - ‘there’s no there there’. It is the sphere of the imaginal.

Henry Corbin writes:

What is it like to enter into Nakoja-abad (the country of not-where). It is precisely the crossing of this limit, where the pilgrim no longer finds himself in the place, but is himself the place. To leave it (to pass beyond the Ninth Sphere) is to no longer be in the world, but to henceforth have the world in oneself, to be oneself the place where the world is. This is the imaginal space, the space where the active imagination freely manifests its visions and its epics.

(from: The Theme of the Voyage and the Messenger)

This world has also affinities with the world of formation of Kabbalah. It is next door to the world of 'action', the normal empirical domain. Introducing a passage from the Talmudists Adam Steinsaltz's 'The Thirteen Petalled Rose' Harold Bloom (Omens of Millenium) remarks: “Steinsaltz charmingly emphasizes, as does Corbin in his account of the Sufi imaginal world, that our perception of angels can be quite as ordinary as if such messengers dwelt entirely in the world of action”:

(Steinsaltz) "Similarly, the angel who is sent to us from another world does not always have a significance or impact beyond the normal laws of physical nature. Indeed, it often happens that the angel precisely reveals itself in nature, in the ordinary common-sense world of causality, and only a prophetic insight or divination can show when, and to what extent, it is the work of higher forces. For man by his very nature is bound to the system of higher worlds, even though ordinarily this system is not revealed and known to him. As a result, this system of higher worlds seems to him to be natural, just as the whole of his two-sided existence, including both matter and spirit, seems self-evident to him. Man does not wonder at all about those passages he goes through all the time in the world of action, from the realm of material existence to the realm of spiritual existence. What is more, the rest of the other worlds that also penetrate our world may appear to us as part of something quite natural."

As an archetypal world it is presented to us with the forms and usages of our own tradition. Those mansions are many and various and are not in time and space though they may appear to be so to the devotee. The cosmic mind of the siddha knows consciousness as instantaneous and omnilocated but the devotee experiences that immediacy as a bustle of dramatic business.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Davy Crockett's (John Wayne's) Discourse on Dharma

I’ve had this garbled memory in my head for a long time. I added the stompin’ bit probably from another picture:
- I came down to Texas. I didn’t know what to do. I stomped on a lot of men and I’ve been stomped on too. I knew there was two things a man could do, the right thing and the wrong. Do the one and you’re living, do the other and you may be walking round but you’re deader than a beaver hat.

His true discourse is to be found in the trailer for The Alamo here:

There are some actions that you don’t survive but regeneration is possible. I understand and accept that there is a difference between natural and supernatural hope while holding that contact with our authentic self can occur spontaneously. By natural grace and in a dramatic way we can stand outside our immersion in the personal and see ourselves objectively. We are both experiencing and experienced in the same instant. That dissociative shock starts the remorse of conscience. And so we are reborn.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Cloudless May by Storm Jameson

When I wrote that Cloudless May is the story of the machinations, plots, and stratagems of various personages in Seuilly a fictitious town on the Loire I meant that the dramatis personae are all highly ranked citizens. As leaders in their community they might be expected to defend the honour of France in her hour of need. The time is May 1940 and the panzer divisions are about to move rapidly in their direction. The town is the location of the prefecture in the French system of local government. We are first introduced to a Colonel Rienne of the local garrison. As an old war hand, wounded in the First, he senses that this is perfect invasion weather:

It was the 5th of May 1940. Seuilly was crammed with troops ; these included a regiment of Colonials and two armoured regiments : and with munitions, these included the newest tanks. The war in the meantime was only active in Norway ; west of the Vosges and in the Saar patrols of both sides played a risky game of Red Indians. Yesterday Johann was killed, tonight it may be Jean. It was not war. Rienne, like many middle-aged soldiers, felt uneasy ; his instinct warned him that these hot cloudless days, perfect for war, were peaceful for some bad reason.

The prefect Emile Bergeot is his closest friend and the same age 48 fostered with Rienne’s family after Emile’s mother died in childbirth. He can call in to the prefecture at any time:

The Prefecture was a fifteenth-century chiteau, built by the second Due de Seuilly on the cliff looking down on the Loire. The steep road climbing to it from the town had stiH an odd dozen houses built in the same century, under the surrounding wall. Their heavy doors arid the worn ends of beams supported too much ; it was easy to imagine people dying in these rooms, as low and dark as vaults, and hard to believe that anyone could be born there and receive a first glimpse of light from these crushing and dilapidated walls. Halfway up this dark lane the carriage road to the Prefecture turned off, and climbed further to a wide courtyard with superb chestnuts.

On his way to the office of the Prefect he meets the Comtess de Freppel:

The Comtesse de Freppel had been Bergeot’s mistress for nearly four years ; she was not discreet, but she had not outraged opinion more than a little : sober and stiff-minded persons, with a touch of the hypocrisy inherited from Protestant ancestors turned Catholic in 1685 to avoid being expelled, could pretend to know nothing about it, while making good and sly use of her influence.

As the novel progresses we learn just how much she cashes out her influence. She is avaricious and fearful of falling back into poverty. From being a dancer in cheap dives she managed to snag the Comte de Freppel who believes that she is the daughter of a rich shopkeeper. He refuses to give her a divorce. Only her friend in the town who shared her adventures knows who she really is. This friend is a procuress whose son is a thief and a spy in the pay of the Italians.

Next we are introduced to M. de Thieviers a banker and an aircraft manufacturer. Five aircraft a month are being produced by his factory, shambolic really. The French it appears are hoping to fold gracefully unless of course Joan of Arc turns up. Morally speaking they are prepared to lose the war. Why destroy the town needlessly? The generals who figure in the novel hold this view, Petain is their man.

Thieviers is a patron of Bergeot supporting him financially: hospitality and good suits don’t come cheap. He wants Louis Mathieu fixed.

Thiviers had come to complain about the Journal and its editor. Mathieu had published an attack on him, so injurious that even a convinced liberal, a man to whom the suppression of newspapers was a lay blasphemy, could not rest under it.
“What do you want me to do ?” Bergeot said in a lively voice.

“Suppress the paper and arrest Mathieu. We are fighting for our lives, we can’t afford weakness.”

Nearly everybody is fighting for their lives using the very best method - don’t put oneself in any danger to begin with. The importance of influence, of getting everybody behind an ‘honourable’ settlement without unnecessary heroics is the ruling thought of the elite of the town. Some of them have links with the Nazis and admire the way they have rescued Germany. The intermingling of the personal and political is very well described along with the texture of everyday life, feasting, enjoying a glass of plain wine, and waiting for direction from ‘our masters’. Somnambulistic dithering and a slow march into shame pervades this cloudless May. An excellent novel. (find it on

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Santayana's marginalia on Dasgupta's A History of Indian Philosophy

(repost from 2013)
Substance is not more real than appearance, nor appearance more real than essence, but only differently real. When the word reality is used invidiously or eulogistically, it is merely in view of the special sort of reality which the speaker expects or desires to find in a particular instance. So when the starving gymnosophist takes a rope for a serpent, he misses the reality of that, which is lifeless matter......W hen substance is asserted, appearance is not denied ; its actuality is not diminished, but a significance is added to it which, as a bare datum, it could not have.
(from Scepticism and Animal Faith)

The gymnosophists/naked sages known in India as ‘avadoothas’ or sky-clothed are generally far from starving. I’ve seen two myself, one basking on a pavement in Bangalore and the other marching along a country road in Andra Pradesh. The only kit they carry is a water pot made from a gourd and a strong staff. At the Kumba Meelah when they take their bath in the ganges en masse, films of this auspicious event show them to range from well-fed to corpulent.

The classical confusion of snake for rope occurs at dusk. Error happens as the result of a defect in the conditions of perception, the default is veridicality. The advaitic view is similar to Santayana’s (qv above) and marginal notes in Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy from Santayana’s library show that he appreciated its insights:

It is because we have an awareness of blueness that we speak of having perceived a blue object
How good all this is
Note on page 154 of History of Indian Philosophy (taken from George Santayana’s Marginalia: A Critical Selection Bk.I ed. John McCormick)

The idea of the illusion having its locus in the substratum of the rope broadly conforms to Santayana’s concept of substance and the illusion itself has its link to reality through its counterpositive or a real snake.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The Grain of Storm Jameson's Talent

It is said that you should write about what you know and that may be true if that’s all you know. For others writing about what they don’t know or what is outside their normal affiliations and interests can liberate their imaginative depths. Storm Jameson is freed from the constraints of her personal experience by moving to terra incognita. Company Parade mirrors her personal life and is marred by reticence, hesitation, and ellipses. It was supposed to be the first in a roman fleuve series and she wrote two more before giving up as it ‘went against the grain of my talent’. I hit the pause button on that novel but three others; Last Score, In the Second Year and Cloudless May were engrossing. None of those books have parallels in her own life and thus allow scope for imaginative penetration. There are those sudden shifts in awareness by which we become aware of her genius at work. I hold to the ancient idea that one has a genius and not that one is a genius. The first of the novels mentioned has a diplomat that adds to his mastery of rhetoric a branch accepted by Aristotle, torture. The second is the internal struggles of a English fascist family who are leaders of a successful coup. The third is a complex and quite long for her, story of various personages in a town on the Loire during May and June 1940. She published it in 1943 and Francophile though Jameson was it is clear that a massive dose of political cascara would be needed if ever Doctor Epuration made a country call. Which he did.

Cloudless May is over 500 pages long so evidently Jameson didn’t have the time to make it shorter. Leaving nothing out generates a nervous fervour. There is truth in the scenes that might be left out and this welds it all together. Things are after all going out of control and the hope that if the Nazis are long enough in France and eat enough black pate they may yet be humanised is a bleak irony. I will write more on this neglected classic.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Link to the Missing

Following through on a link... yes I know, I also read manuals; I came to ‘this page doesn’t seem to exist’. That set me off. Can a nonentity seem to do anything, particularly exist? Only, I think, if its existence is camouflaged so perfectly that it is not apparent. Its non-existence lies so perfectly, sublimely, congruent with reality. Its nonness is an onness as it were. The which it is. This you see is an example of the pramana (valid means of knowledge) known as anupalabadhi i.e. non-apprehension of existence. I expected to click to something, a background of purported existence was established which was flouted. I acquired a non-perceptual knowledge for it is clear that I cannot see what isn’t there. There is a Nyaya school which claims that this knowledge is an inference anuamana (pramana) from a non-perception but it seems to me that an inference even if Sherlockian fast is contrary to the immediacy of this knowledge.

Absence makes the mind to ponder.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018


If I lectured you on argumentum ad hominem you’d reply - ‘who are you to talk’?

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


There’s something deep, metaphysically deep, scientifically deep, drowned deep about waves. From the side they present periodicity and therefore time and causality as energy is transferred along the medium of the sea. Then we notice that boats bob up and down and the perspective of being directly in the path of the wave occurs to us. In the face of the wave the idea of the non-difference of cause and effect is operative. Every energy in the wave is transforming into its next phase ceaselessly. In the Sankhya philosophy this is known as satkaryavada. The vertical movement in the face of the wave is also a marking of time. Presumably speed pulls away some of that face, herniating it. Warp speed cap’n.

Neither being in the wave or to the side of it is an artefact of consciousness. Both are true views.



Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time, that gave, doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.