Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Matthew Arnold on Literature


Now, in literature,—I will limit myself to literature, for it is about literature that the question arises,—the elements with which the creative power works are ideas; the best ideas on every matter which literature touches, current at the time; at any rate we may lay it down as certain that in modern literature no manifestation of the creative power not working with these can be very important or fruitful. And I say current at the time, not merely accessible at the time; for creative literary genius does not principally show itself in discovering new ideas, that is rather the business of the philosopher; the grand work of literary genius is a work of synthesis and exposition, not of analysis and discovery; its gift lies in the faculty of being happily inspired by a certain intellectual and spiritual atmosphere, by a certain order of ideas, when it finds itself in them; of dealing divinely with these ideas, presenting them in the most effective and attractive combinations, making beautiful works with them, in short. But it must have the atmosphere, it must find itself amidst the order of ideas, in order to work freely ; and these it is not so easy to command. This is why great creative epochs in literature are so rare; this is why there is so much that is unsatisfactory in the productions of many men of real genius; because, for the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment; the creative power has, for its happy exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own control.
(fromThe Function of Criticism (Essays Literary and Critical by Matthew Arnold))
Stimulating but is it true? In an era of bad, false, meretricious and vacant of sense ideas can there be great literature? Is there out there now some great book that floats above ‘ the filthy post-modern tide’?

The Lost Stradivarius by John Meade Falkner


The preamble of this story is that it is being told to the son of John Maltravers by his aunt the sister of his father. It is told in a stolid, laboured way that assures us that what she is telling us is true for she would not have the imagination to concoct a florid lie. This is a stroke of craftsmanship that when I come to think of it is often used and moreover can disguise limitations in the prose style of the author.

It all began in his rooms at Magdalen College Oxford where the manuscripts of 17th.century music that his friend Gaskell had brought back from Italy lay on a table.


Perhaps by accident, or perhaps by some mysterious direction which our minds are incapable of appreciating, his eye was arrested by a suite of four movements with a basso continuo, or figured bass, for the harpsichord. The other suites in the book were only distinguished by numbers, but this one the composer had dignified with the name of "l'Areopagita." Almost mechanically John put the book on his music-stand, took his violin from its case, and after a moment's tuning stood up and played the first movement, a lively Coranto. The light of the single candle burning on the table was scarcely sufficient to illumine the page; the shadows hung in the creases of the leaves, which had grown into those wavy folds sometimes observable in books made of thick paper and remaining long shut; and it was with difficulty that he could read what he was playing. But he felt the strange impulse of the old-world music urging him forward, and did not even pause to light the candles which stood ready in their sconces on either side of the desk. The Coranto was followed by a Sarabanda, and the Sarabanda by a Gagliarda. My brother stood playing, with his face turned to the window, with the room and the large wicker chair of which I have spoken behind him. The Gagliarda began with a bold and lively air, and as he played the opening bars, he heard behind him a creaking of the wicker chair. The sound was a perfectly familiar one—as of some person placing a hand on either arm of the chair preparatory to lowering himself into it, followed by another as of the same person being leisurely seated. But for the tones of the violin, all was silent, and the creaking of the chair was strangely distinct. The illusion was so complete that my brother stopped playing suddenly, and turned round expecting that some late friend of his had slipped in unawares, being attracted by the sound of the violin, or that Mr. Gaskell himself had returned.

This is the beginning of his oppression by the spirit of Adrian Temple who once had these rooms. The primary vehicle of his reach is the Stradivarius that he left after him in a secret cupboard built into the wainscoting but obscured by a century of overpainting. Playing the Gagliarda becomes obsessive, at first on his own violin but then on the instrument owned by Temple. This misprision or larceny by finding Maltravers hides from his friend Gaskell who has been accompanying him on the piano. They both hear the creaking of the cane armchair but see nothing. After the completion of the gagliarda the reverse manouver of a person leaving the chair is heard. The guilt that he feels at the retention of this valuable instrument begins his alienation from the world at large and it creates the void that is filled by the malign spirit. Naturally as an Englishman and a Protestant one looks for a rational explanation:



I shall not weary you, my dear Edward, by recounting similar experiences which occurred on nearly every occasion that the young men met in the evenings for music. The repetition of the phenomenon had accustomed them to expect it. Both professed to be quite satisfied that it was to be attributed to acoustical affinities of vibration between the wicker-work and certain of the piano wires, and indeed this seemed the only explanation possible. 

The tragic events that unfold utterly belie the rationalism that tries to comprehend the evil that reaches them from the past. Its path is enhanced by the connection that Temple has with the wife to be of Maltravers. He is an ancestor of hers and the portrait in the gallery of her home has always unsettled. Coincidence? With a fate many paths cross.

A good read find it on Gutenberg project:the lost stradivarius









Monday, 18 September 2017

Panpsychism


I’ve been reading here and there about panpsychism, panexperientalism, protopanpsychism and whatever you’re having yourself. It’s various and varied and those deeply read in the literature of the topic such as David Skrbina, (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy), would claim that many thinkers hold it. Among them would be Henri Bergson. His ideas on memory and duration fit with only light trimming into the information based intuitions of David Chalmers. The concepts of ‘experience’ and ‘memory’ are analogical applied to inanimate nature. We feel that they are present in some rudimentary form. The canyon holds the memory of many floods, the pitting of the rock is the memory of rain. Their history is written on them, they are informed and their nature is made manifest. Inanimate matter is submissive to events. Simple cells and bacteria can ‘select’ their experience and move to a better part of the petri dish of life. This is all metaphorical and that is just the point.

In the concrete object memory and experience are layered as information. They are embedded. In the sentient creature they can be separated out and considered in a an abstract way as well as interact. The greater the separation the more consciousness their is. In the human we have memories, dreams, and reflections all inter- penetrating yet Bergson would say that our soul reality is duration. All these elements which are conscious are compacted in a sold ‘I AM’.

The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.
(from Biographia Litteraria by Coleridge)


Monday, 11 September 2017

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (pub.1967)


The story is told with the yarning tone of a cowboy God hopping from mind to mind. Pay attention; everything is significant, anything that is left out would have impeded the story that you the listener can plait in yourself. Phil is the older brother of the two that run a big cattle spread in Montana. They trail a thousand head in the fall down to the railhead at Beech a dismal little town that has the amenities that a cowboy might require, whiskey and sporting women. The time is 1925 as near as I can make out. Phil is the smart one that affects yokelosity. There’s a sneer in that and surely must have been part of the profound contempt that drove his parents to a retirement in Salt Lake City. They originally came from Boston, Mass. and they brought their gentility with them even unto fingerbowls which the invited rich ranchers and distinguished locals never knew what to do with. The other brother is George a stocky, slow, reliable sort of sound man. Between them they run the ranch and share the tasks. Phil does the castration of the bull calves and George ropes them. My stockman pocket knife has a round ended blade for popping out the testicles, Phil tears them out. Is that a signal one asks oneself? Is Phil a self-emasculating man whose need to control everything has eliminated a point of weakness. I guess.

After an embarrassing visit to the bunkhouse a callow hand asks:

When he had gone, one of the new loudmouthed young cowhands spoke right up. "Hey — he's sort of a lonely cuss, ain't he? Like about what we was saying before he come in, do you guess anybody ever loved him? Or maybe he ever loved anybody?" The oldest man in the bunkhouse stared at the young fellow. What the young fellow had said was unsuitable, even ugly. What had love to do with Phil? The oldest man in the bunkhouse reached down and patted the head of a little brown bitch that slept close. "I wouldn't want to be saying nothing about him and love. And if I was you, I wouldn't call him a cuss. It don't show respect."
"Well, hell," the young fellow said, blushing.
"You got to learn to show respect. You got an awful lot to learn about love."

Phil is a puzzle to all. He can do anything he sets his mind and hands to, woodwork from the little to the large, inch high Sheraton chairs carved with a scalpel and giant derricks for stacking the hay bales adze dubbed and hand planed. He’s a first class blacksmith and taxidermist and a banjo player. This last may have been part of his rube persona to annoy the aesthete parents and their Victrola charged with classical music. Little Red Wing, heh, heh. He likes too to talk about the old times, he’s 40, which is a touch premature. Anyway Bronco Henry was his mentor when he was a young feller who taught him how to fashion a hide lariat. Modern man gets to wondering about this relationship and Annie Proulx in her afterword comes right out with it. Was Phil a repressed homosexual? Plait that in if you wish but it’s a frail strand. Phil has a good college degree from a California university (where George failed), he keeps up with things and if there were the slightest impulse towards homosexuality he would not talk about Bronco. Phil is too guarded to give anything like that away. Bronco was a loved mentor and he died, stomped to death in a corral. Sometimes a lariat is just a lariat.

George is the antithesis of Phil in being not very smart but very kind and he springs a surprise by a secret marriage to Rose the widow of a doctor who committed suicide. The suggestion is that it was the result of a humiliating incident with Phil. Young Peter the son knows this. The interesting element in the characterization is the contrast between clever Phil and clever Peter who according to the code of the cowboy is a certified sissy.

Phil resents the intrusion of a woman into the life of the family, a cheap schemer after the money . He sets out to break her and sets about it methodically.

After supper Phil read for a time close by the lamp; then he rose abruptly and marched down the hall to the bedroom, closed the door behind him and got out his banjo and tuned up. He had to smile, had to smile thinking of George coming into that house with this woman, trying to make things smooth. How had he said? You remember Rose? That was it. What kind of a name was Rose. The name of somebody's cook. He had to smile, had to smile thinking of George down on one knee before the unlighted fire — a little disappointed that Phil had not lighted it before their arrival, that the room might be all comfortable and welcoming. Ha-ha-ha. George should have known Phil better than to think he would do something he didn't feel. Phil had to smile thinking of the sidelong glance Rose gave him at the supper table. He knew how he looked, knew it would get her goat. It used to get the Old Lady's goat, the rumpled shirt, the uncombed hair, the stubble of beard, the unwashed hands. She might just as well get smart to the fact that he didn't do things like other people because he wasn't like other people, that he left his napkin pointedly untouched, reached for food rather than asked for it, and if he had to snuffle his nose, he snuffled. If the fancy relatives back East could stomach it, God knew this woman could, and if she was unused to a man's leaving the table without first bowing and scraping and saying ''Excuse me," she might just as well catch on now. Oh yes (he had to smile) she was in for a few surprises.

I’ll say no more about this book which though it was well received critically in 1967 didn’t sell much and then disappeared. The many strands in it are twisted together smoothly and there is no makeweight filler. Quite simply, this is an American classic.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Unattached Self


Besides, one has to imagine that the Self can have the attribute of coming into contact with others, which idea is repugnant to the Vedas and Smirtis; for such are the Vedic and Smirti texts: “Unattached, for It is never attached” (Brh.III.ix.26) “It is unconnected, and is the supporter of all” (B.G. XIII.14) Moreover, since logic demands that a thing that has attributes, and is not of a different category, can come into contact with another having attributes, therefore it is illogical to hold that the Self which is attributeless, undifferentiated, and distinct from everything else, can come into contact with anything whatsoever that does not belong to the same category. Hence if the Self is the witness of all cognitions, then and not otherwise is established the idea that the Self, which is an effulgence that is in reality eternal and undecaying knowledge, is Brahman. Therefore the expression pratibodha videtam (known with every state of awareness) has the meaning as explained by us.
(from Shankara’s commetary on Kena Up. II.4)
Here we have presented an idea similar to that of Aristotle in De Anima namely that only things of the same sort can interact. That book is not to hand at the moment so I will search out that citation later. Unchanging and present in all states of awareness means that it is identified with pure consciousness or Brahman and therefore the highest state of consciousness is spoken of as sahaj samadhi or natural samadhi.
Ramana Maharshi defined it as:
Sahaja samadhi is a state in which the silent awareness of the subject is operant along with (simultaneously with) the full use of the human faculties.
Ramana in the meditation hall sitting on his couch reading the newspaper, chatting with the devotees, ‘it says here’, never loses contact with the Self.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Gulliver's Plea Bargain


It was a custom introduced by this prince and his ministry (very different, as I have been assured, from the practice of former times,) that after the court had decreed any cruel execution, either to gratify the monarch’s resentment, or the malice of a favourite, the emperor always made a speech to his whole council, expressing his great lenity and tenderness, as qualities known and confessed by all the world.  This speech was immediately published throughout the kingdom; nor did any thing terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his majesty’s mercy; because it was observed, that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment, and the sufferer more innocent. Yet, as to myself, I must confess, having never been designed for a courtier, either by my birth or education, I was so ill a judge of things, that I could not discover the lenity and favour of this sentence, but conceived it (perhaps erroneously) rather to be rigorous than gentle.  I sometimes thought of standing my trial, for, although I could not deny the facts alleged in the several articles, yet I hoped they would admit of some extenuation.  But having in my life perused many state-trials, which I ever observed to terminate as the judges thought fit to direct, I durst not rely on so dangerous a decision, in so critical a juncture, and against such powerful enemies. 


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Twin Peaks got lost on the way home.


Twin Peaks has come and gone with the emphasis on Twins. Did it ever get home? Unlike the dogs of legend that turn up years later this dog didn’t. The longeurs, not more unspooling night-time road, no, no. Don’t stop for gas.

I watched Season 1 again and the superior wit and invention compared to 3 was evident. Lissome, lippy Audrey Horne turned into a hag. Well, that happens but when a biker turns cop I am stretched past my elasticity. The great mistake was sending S.A. Coop into a bardo for most of the show. You can’t do that. It’s bad artistic judgment writing yourself into a hole to demonstrate your ingenuity at getting out again. Paint into a corner then you must wait for the paint to dry or spoil the job. With one bound he should have been free.

Lynch and Frost, it’s just over, leave it alone, walk, don’t look back. This is the correct, proper, honorable and precise thing.