Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Pangur Bán Dreamtime

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

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

Pangur Bán

By Anonymous
Translated by Seamus Heaney

From the ninth-century Irish poem

Pangur Bán and I at work,

Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:

His whole instinct is to hunt,

Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love

Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Happy for me, Pangur Bán

Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,

Housed alone, housed together,

Adds up to its own reward:

Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse

Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.

Next thing lines that held and held

Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye

Fixes on the wall, while I

Focus my less piercing gaze

On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails

Pangur springs, exults and kills.

When the longed-for, difficult

Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.

No vying. No vexation.

Taking pleasure, taking pains,

Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,

Pangur Bán has learned his trade.

Day and night, my own hard work

Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Bergson, a Dualist?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 November 2018


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

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

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

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

In Ulysses Joyce limns the post colonial narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Google Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

theo waits for herod

move st.patricks day

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Free Speech Noise

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

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

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

Burke's Prejudice

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Napper Tandy Report

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Oscar the Therapy Cat

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

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

Note on the Linga Sarira or Subtle Body:

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

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

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

Friday, 9 November 2018

Loyalty Oath

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

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

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Come Back von Hügel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

find readings at :
readings from Von Hugel

Friday, 2 November 2018

Political Nous

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

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

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

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

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