Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Twa Trillings

Of the twa Trillings I think I prefer Diana. She gave me a good laugh this morning when I read an extract from her The Beginning of the Journey. She was in her bed sick watching Lionel pushing the carpet sweeper one handed in a desultory fashion.

I would lie in bed, torn between guilt and impatience. It was unfair for him to have to do the housekeeping, it was not what he was supposed to do, but if he had to sweep the carpet, could it not put both hands on the carpet sweeper instead of gliding it about this loosely and aimlessly? I corrected him; he got angry. My criticism embittered him: Was he not already doing more than anyone had a right to expect of him?

Her claim that she taught him how to write is credible; just go from reading The Liberal Imagination to Matthew Arnold as I did. The former has sentences which have a flatness that could be used like a machinists surface plate in the testing of academic prose. Of the latter I thought, this is good, open, clear, non-recursive. She rewrote it for him it seems.

Lionel taught me to think; I taught him to write ... In a society such as ours, where despite the efforts of feminism, women continue to be treated with less generosity than men, I realise of course that whereas my statement that Lionel taught me to think will be received without a murmur, I put myself at risk by saying that I played a role in his literary accomplishment. In fact, I recently tested the response which I might expect to this bald assertion: I tried it on an old friend, the editor of a magazine to which Lionel and I had contributed. He made no attempt to conceal his displeasure. ‘How could you teach Lionel to write?’ he asked irritably. ‘He was a better writer than you are.’

There is a low peevishness to his criticism in The Liberal Imagination. In his mean essay on Sherwood Anderson he admits that he liked him when he first read him as a lad. Good, fine, splendid but a few pages later he remarks that when he lately re-read Winesburg, Ohio him he found he liked him even less. It’s the ‘even’ which suggests a correcting of an immature response. The source of this daft Orwellian critique appears to be Sherwood’s denouncing Henry James as a writer for those who hate. But I love James therefore ...... Even Boyd who wrote a harmless introduction to the Modern Library Edition must be disparaged. And why: Reading my own copy of that edition I see:

The rise of a serious periodical literature, whose virtue is neither the eternal negation of conservatism nor the mere success of immense circulation, is part of seems to be a genuine literary renascence in America.

An impugning of the New York Intellectual's mission is not to be borne. The worst sort of provincials are those who never leave the city. I will move on to Mrs. Harris by Diana and the Diet of Love that didn’t take.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Miss Anscombe and the Unmarked Pronoun

Why, when there is a perfectly good marked pronoun is it not used? What is wrong with actress? Who decreed that it should be dropped in favour of ‘actor’?

Wise editors of philosophy papers strike out ‘he’, the unmarked pronoun and replace it with ‘she’ the marked. I understand that they want to encourage that delicate plant, the lady philosopher. What do you think of that Miss Anscombe? It’s all in the intention, don’t you know.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Non-Apprehension of Existence as a Means of Knowledge - Anupalabdhi

The landscape of the pramana anupalabdhi accepted by Advaita is a strange one lit up by flashes of understanding. As ever negation is the way to knowledge. The Nyaya school do not accept non-apprehension of existence as a distinct valid means of knowledge holding that it is based on perception.

First though the positive thesis. Here I follow the line laid down by the Vedanta Paribhasa by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra. Put at its simplest it may seem otiose. Looking at a cleared table I can say ‘there is no jug on the table’. There is a non-apprehension of the existence of a jug. This is different from perception in that I cannot perceive what isn’t there. There is no non-jug that I perceive to be not there. I can further add that if there was a jug on the table I would see it. Only perceptible things are of interest here even if the pramana is not based on perception. It is claimed to be an immediate knowledge not delivered by sense perception. It proceeds direct to the mind.

It might be claimed that a vast number of things that are perceptible and tableable are not there so there is very little value in such information. That’s true but it is not the information but the means that is at issue. In any case this pramana is useful when we notice the absence of something that should be there. The book that was on the table is not there when I go to look for it. If the restaurant manager tells the waiter that ‘there is no water on the table’ that non-apprehension of existence is a direction to action.

My previous remarks on this topic can be found by putting ‘anupalabadhi’ in the search box. Notice the incorrect spelling - without spellcheck my English spelling would be no better.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Changeful Panoply of Consciousness (Upadesa Sahasri)

84. Disciple: If this is so, Sir, what is my fault when the mental changes resembling sound etc., and resulting in the reflection of Knowledge, My own nature, are produced in Me who am of the nature of changeless and eternal Consciousness?

85. Teacher: It is true that you are not to be blamed. Ignorance, as I told you before, is the only fault.
(from Chap.II Upadesa Sahasri Knowledge of the Changeless.)

Ignorance in Vedanta (avidya) has a specific meaning. The central example of ignorance is taking something to be what it is not. We mis-take the rope for a snake, the nacre (shell) for silver, the stump for a man etc. It does not have the meaning of being ignorant of the finer points or any point of string theory for instance, a particular blank spot in other words. What the Teacher is saying is that there is a natural tendency to get fascinated by the changing panoply of consciousness and to look for a central permanent element in those phenomena. This is a structural tendency, but it is not ontological because it can be altered. How?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The English Comic Writers by William Hazlitt

Of Montaigne Hazlitt writes:

He did not in the abstract character of an author, undertake to say all that could be said upon a subject, but what in his capacity as an inquirer after truth he happened to know about it. He was neither a pedant nor a bigot. He neither supposed that he was bound to know all things, nor that all things were bound to conform to what he had fancied or would have them to be. In treating of men and manners, he spoke of them as he found them, not according to preconceived notions and abstract dogmas; and he began by teaching us what he himself was. 
( The Periodical Essayists from Lectures on The English Comic Writers given in 1818)

The recourse to classical ‘topoi’ in Montaigne was part of a normal education and therefore not pedantry. They are the stepping stones across the stream of his consciousness and to experience them as obstacles signifies our decline. Hazlitt in his remarks on the writers he considers favours robust and manly forthrightness over the glancing tastefulness of conventional moral attitudes. Steele’s soldierly vulgarity is preferred to the harmonious musings of Addison. As a man given to like combat Hazlitt was perhaps thinking of:

What arms the great Alexander used, is uncertain; however, the historian mentions, when he attacked Thalestris, it was only at single rapier; but the weapon soon failed; for it was always observed, that the Amazons had a sort of enchantment about them, which made the blade of the weapon, though of never so good metal, at every home push, lose its edge and grow feeble.
(from The Tatler no 31)

He impugns the Rambler essays of Johnson for the attitude evinced by him when out strolling in the streets of London with Boswell they were accosted by a bawd. ‘Girl, this will not do’ said Johnson.

His ' Letters from Correspondents,' in particular, are more pompous and unwieldly than what he writes in his own person. This want of relaxation and variety of manner has, I think, after the first effects of novelty and surprise were over, been prejudicial to the matter. It takes from the general power, not only to please, but to instruct The monotony of style produces an apparent monotony of ideas. What is really striking and valuable, is lost in the vain ostentation and circumlocution of the expression; for when we find the same pains and pomp of diction bestowed upon the most trifling as upon the most important parts of a sentence or discourse, we grow tired of distinguishing between pretension and reality, and are disposed to confound the tinsel and bombast of the phraseology with want of weight in the thoughts. Thus, from the imposing and oracular nature of the style, people are tempted at first to imagine that our author's speculations are all wisdom and profundity: till having found out their mistake in some instances, they suppose that there is nothing but common-place in them, concealed under verbiage^and pedantry; and in both they are wrong. 

The report of the correspondent Amicus may have given rise to this attack:

The anguish that I felt, left me no rest till I had, by your means, addressed myself to the publick on behalf of those forlorn creatures, the women of the town; whose misery here might satisfy the most rigorous censor, and whose participation of our common nature might surely induce us to endeavour, at least, their preservation from eternal punishment.
These were all once, if not virtuous, at least innocent; and might still have continued blameless and easy, but for the arts and insinuations of those whose rank, fortune, or education, furnished them with means to corrupt or to delude them. Let the libertine reflect a moment on the situation of that woman, who, being forsaken by her betrayer, is reduced to the necessity of turning prostitute for bread, and judge of the enormity of his guilt by the evils which it produces.
It cannot be doubted but that numbers follow this dreadful course of life, with shame, horrour, and regret; but where can they hope for refuge: "The world is not their friend, nor the world's law." Their sighs, and tears, and groans, are criminal in the eye of their tyrants, the bully and the bawd, who fatten on their misery, and threaten them with want or a gaol, if they show the least design of escaping from their bondage.
"To wipe all tears from off all faces," is a task too hard for mortals; but to alleviate misfortunes is often within the most limited power: yet the opportunities which every day affords of relieving the most wretched of human beings are overlooked and neglected, with equal disregard of policy and goodness.
( from The Rambler of Tuesday March 26th. 1751)

Hazlitt used prostitutes himself to relieve an appetite he experienced as a burden. Married love eluded him.


What happened to The Leftovers show? It’s going Down Under to die. The first two seasons were excellent, inventive, obscure and coherent in their strangeness. In this season sex scenes are a clear sign of poverty of invention. Add dismal profanity for an unhappy death. Sad!

There was an avalanche of evidence against O.J. from which the defence team managed to take away a few snowballs and say - ‘there you see it’s not an avalanche at all’ thereby giving some reason, any reason, for the jury to do what it wanted to do. Their deliberation was shambolic. The documentary was superb. I will watch this again. Fred Goldman came out of it well as the Nemesis with the club of legal pursuit.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Sage Abides - Upadesa Sahasri

82. The disciple said, How then am I who am changeless, the knower, as you say, of all the mental modifications, the objects of my knowledge?

83. The teacher said to him, I told you the right thing. The very fact (that you know simultaneously all the mental modifications) was adduced by me as the reason why you are eternally immutable.

This is the insight which is confirmed by the protphaenomenon of Deep Sleep or Sushupti which I have written about extensively. The disciple fascinated by the constantly changing contents of consciousness is identifying with this mutability. He takes his Self to be those contents that are somehow knowing themselves. If that were the case then the contents would be known sequentially and the problem of identity would devolve into a ‘binding problem’. How does that series of conscious states related to the various sense modes come together or know itself as a series (Hume). The teacher cuts through the starting point for complex Buddhistic theories of the self, skandhas etc., by reminding the disciple that all mental states/modifications are known simultaneously. I would add that they are attended to sequentially according to a practical hierarchy.

Not identifying with the contents of consciousness gives the sage’s personality that bright alertness and lack of fixity. There are no special states of mind for him to focus on. In the chapter on Abiding in the Self Astavakra declares:

A stage of life or no stage of life, meditation, control of mental functions - finding that these cause distraction to me, thus verily do I firmly abide.
(Astavakra Samhita Chap.XII.7)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Fake News

April 21st. 1832.
There have been three silent revolutions in England: —first, when the professions fell off from the church; secondly, when literature fell off from the professions ; and, thirdly, when the press fell off from literature.
Common phrases are, as it were, so stereotyped now by conventional use, that it is really much easier to write on the ordinary politics of the day in the common newspaper style, than it is to make a good pair of shoes. An apprentice has as much to learn now to be a shoemaker as ever he had ; but an ignorant coxcomb with a competent want of honesty, may very effectively wield a pen in a newspaper office with infinitely less pains and preparation than were necessary formerly.
(from Table Talk)

Things have not improved particularly since the professionalisation of journalism in Ireland via a communications degree. Previously the better writers might have started out as office boys and brewers of tea and attenders at conflagrations to count the tenders. Gradually they came to develop their independent style and views. Now the graduates are quite progressively predictable and not worth reading or should I say not worth paying for the privilege of reading. For news I read aertel headlines being aware that any interpretation past the bare facts will be a partisan distortion.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Indian Jugglers Part 2

Moving from one sort of Indian Jugglery, Advaitic contortions, to another we note William Hazlitt asking himself:

The hearing a speech in Parliament drawled or stammered out by the Honourable Member or the Noble Lord; the ringing the changes on their common-places, which any one could repeat after them as well as they, stirs me not a jot, shakes not my good opinion of myself; but the seeing the Indian Jugglers does. It makes me ashamed of myself. I ask what there is that I can do as well as this? Nothing. What have I been doing all my life? Have I been idle, or have I nothing to show for all my labour and pains? Or have I passed my time in pouring words like water into empty sieves, rolling a stone up a hill and then down again, trying to prove an argument in the teeth of facts, and looking for causes in the dark and not finding them? 

Is this an irritating display of false modesty or inverse humilty? The skill that he developed as a painter under the instruction of his brother John was marked and if he chose to abandon painting for journalism, even of the higher sort, his justification that he would never be a Titian or a Rembrandt lacks scale. Why not be an excellent William Hazlitt? Looking at his portraits of which there are some examples remaining I consider them to have a firmness of line and the tincture of life and freedom. His refusal to leave out the warts was a hindrance to his professional progress and that characteristic he carried into his writing and life.

The willing submission to what is there issuing from the enforced humility of the copyist endued him with the realisation of the difference between mere mechanical skill which ought to service artistic vision but very often supplants it.

This power is indifferently called genius, imagination, feeling, taste; but the manner in which it acts upon the mind can neither be defined by abstract rules, as is the case in science, nor verified by continual, unvarying experiments, as is the case in mechanical performances. The mechanical excellence of the Dutch painters in colouring and handling is that which comes the nearest in fine art to the perfection of certain manual exhibitions of skill. The truth of the effect and the facility with which it is produced are equally admirable. Up to a certain point everything is faultless. The hand and eye have done their part. There is only a want of taste and genius. It is after we enter upon that enchanted ground that the human mind begins to droop and flag as in a strange road, or in a thick mist, benighted and making little way with many attempts and many failures, and that the best of us only escape with half a triumph. The undefined and the imaginary are the regions that we must pass like Satan, difficult and doubtful, ‘half flying, half on foot.’ The object in sense is a positive thing, and execution comes with practice.

His Satan is of course Milton’s from Paradise Lost Bk.II. together with his own characteristic slight misquote:

That fury stayed —
Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea,
Nor good dry land — nigh foundered, on he fares,
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flying; behoves him now both oar and sail.

Activity and the Changeless in Upadesa Sahasri

76. The disciple said, Knowledge is the meaning of a root and therefore surely consists of a change; and the Knower (as you say) is of a changeless nature. This is a contradiction.

77. Teacher: It is not so. For the word knowledge is used only in a secondary sense to mean a change called an action, the meaning of a root. A modification of the intellect called an action ends in a result in itself which is the reflection of Knowledge, the Self. It is for this reason that this modification is called knowledge in a secondary sense, just as the action of cutting a thing in two is secondarily called its separation in two which is the ultimate result of the action of cutting the thing.
(from Upadesa Sahasri Chap.II:The Knowledge of the Changeless)

The idea here, as I understand it, is that you have various inflections of the root ‘know’ e.g. knowing, known, knowable, knowledge. By implication you have also the polar opposite of ‘not know’ or ‘ignorance’ and its cognates. So we seem to have a condition i.e. knowledge, that arises out of activity or is an activity and is therefore not changeless. The Teacher does not deny that there is activity but he holds that it is only by being pervaded by Consciousness that knowledge arises out of it. Without that there would be no body of knowledge. This is the ‘secondary sense’ or ‘reflection’ of knowledge. In the cinema screen analogy, it’s as though the action had to pass through the permanent screen in order to be known.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Indian Jugglers by William Hazlitt (part 1)

Why anyone would spend their good money on a Fine Arts post graduate degree in Creative Writing when they have Table Talk by Hazlitt to read is clear to me. It’s the belief in instruction by osmosis or the sense that being in the presence of a master practitioner will cause a spark to jump. Also there is the corrective adjustment of your story offal that brings out the delightful oddity of your vision. Hazlitt describe the relationship between what can be taught and learned and what is true art:

You can put a child apprentice to a tumbler or rope-dancer with a comfortable prospect of success, if they are but sound of wind and limb; but you cannot do the same thing in painting. The odds are a million to one. You may make indeed as many Haydons and H——s as you put into that sort of machine, but not one Reynolds amongst them all, with his grace, his grandeur, his blandness of gusto, ‘in tones and gestures hit,’ unless you could make the man over again. To snatch this grace beyond the reach of art is then the height of art — where fine art begins, and where mechanical skill ends. The soft suffusion of the soul, the speechless breathing eloquence, the looks ‘commercing with the skies,’ the ever-shifting forms of an eternal principle, that which is seen but for a moment, but dwells in the heart always, and is only seized as it passes by strong and secret sympathy, must be taught by nature and genius, not by rules or study. It is suggested by feeling, not by laborious microscopic inspection; in seeking for it without, we lose the harmonious clue to it within; and in aiming to grasp the substance, we let the very spirit of art evaporate.

Calling those writing courses fine art degrees is a sad irony; not that Hazlitt in his need for folding green energy would not have set up a school and given good value. Eschew double negatives as tending to induce a state of bafflement would be a tenet of his I don’t doubt. What else might I fail to learn from him besides the sweet irascibility of which I am an apt student. The Lucknow boys will have learned that Hazlitt could revise and eliminate cf:Immortality, 2 versions the bum note. In the case of The Indian Jugglers it would be hard to find any. What of the caudal obituary for John Kavanaugh? Is it there to fill up the quire? If you have ever played a sport or practised a craft seriously you will know that beyond the mechanical skill there is pure effortless flow. We know that it’s art but we don’t like to say so in case it might be thought that another locker room is needed.

It’s a very fine day here and there is a lot to do in the garden. I will get back to a consideration of The Indian Jugglers this evening.
((Rule No.1: Write to please yourself))

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Hazlitt, Macaulay and The Indian Jugglers

The few Indian readers that I have are probably less in number than the metals that make up the amalgam (panchaloha) used in sacred vessels. The gold and silver are drawn to my advaitic rambling, the baser metals hope to get an idea that they can use in a paper on Hazlitt’s essay On the Feeling of Immortality in Early Youth. Oh ye deluded ones lost in the mists of Maya. I allude to both groups but here I concentrate on those of a Macaulayist tendency:

It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England.
(Thomas Babington Macaulay: 1835 Minute on Indian Education)

If ‘Immortality’ is the only one of Hazlitt’s essays that you have read then your English medium education will merely befit you to be an engineer. May I suggest that you next read the essay in Table Talk called The Indian Jugglers.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Zeus, Thor, Nietzsche and the BBC

Jim Al-Khalili lays out the history of Magnetism and Electricity in a very clear way on BBC 4‘s Open University Course. It’s wonderful the way you are whisked to all the laboratories where the pioneers worked and their experiments are demonstrated on the very equipment that they used. Yet why does Jim traduce the power of Zeus, Thor, and Old Jehovah to create lightning and assign its understanding to mere mortals clothed in the alb of science? Does he not fear their wrath? How can it even be possible for religious persons to pursue science and continue to hold to such beliefs? Baffling indeed, but yet they do.

Bettany Hughes on the BBC 4 Open University great minds program on Nietzsche found that God was dead because he said so. Transvaluation of all values particularly slave values and so forth. What might this mean for the Samaritan for instance? Leave him there, don’t waste valuable resources on a stranger. Bettany had to be reminded by another expert that Nietzsche did not score high on compassion. But it was his bad sister that made him sustenance for Nazis. Really? One doesn’t have to look very hard in his books to find their comfort food. Bettany who is a humanist likely takes the view that if N. was anti-Christian then he can’t be all bad. There was scarcely any critical examination of his ideas. This is the OU you know.

The other mystery is why Bettany wore the same clothes throughout her trips to London, Sils Marie etc? Is it the BBC as magic carpet? Those boots, Canadian lumberjack lace ups, were suitable for Nurenberg but wrong for Turin.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Changeless Consciousness

74. ......but I have doubts about the changeless nature which, you say, pertains to me.
Teacher: What doubts?
Disciple: Sound etc., do not exist independently as they are non-conscious. But they come into existence when there arise in the mind modifications resembling sound and so on. It is impossible that these modifications should have an independent existence as they are exclusive of one another as regards their special characteristics (of resembling sound etc.,) and appear to be blue, yellow, etc. (So sound etc., are not the same as mental modifications). It is therefore inferred that these modifications are caused by external objects. So it is proved that modifications resemble sound etc., objects existing externally. Similarly, these different modifications of the mind also are combinations and therefore non-conscious. So, not existing for their own sake they, like sound etc., exist only when known by one different from them. Though the Self is not a combination, It consists of Consciousness and exists for Its own sake; It is the knower of the mental modifications appearing to be blue, yellow and so on. It must, therefore, be of a changeful nature. Hence is the doubt about the changeless nature of the Self.

75. The teacher said to him, Your doubt is not justifiable. For you, the Self, are proved to be free from change and therefore perpetually the same on the ground that all the modifications of the mind without a single exception are (simultaneously) known by you. You regard this knowledge of all the modifications which is the reason for the above inference as that for your doubt. If you were changeful like the mind or the senses (which pervade their objects one after another), you would not simultaneously know all the mental modifications, the objects of your knowledge. Nor are you aware of a portion only of the objects of your knowledge (at a time). You are, therefore, absolutely changeless.
(from Upadesa Sahasri Chap.II: The Knowledge of the Changeless)

The core idea is this: all the mental modifications (vritti) come along in waves and are distinguished from each other by their relation to each sense modality. Note that the disciple proffers a representational account of cerebral events. These events become knowledge successively and in a self-luminous way. The self of this series of conscious states must then be changeful. This view has a Buddhist cast.

The teacher rejects this mental compartmentalisation of consciousness i.e. each sense modality serving the cause of knowledge successively. He asserts that the totality of consciousness takes in all that is present to the person. It is immediate and global though he would not deny that attention can switch as we navigate through our situation. Otherwise the practice of ekgratha (one pointedness) as a useful mental discipline would be pointless. Possibly it is this input switching which gives the feeling that consciousness is moving along with our attention. In reality events are moving through the screen of consciousness. As the Zen teacher said: The bridge flows, the river stands still.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be. We weep at what thwarts or exceeds our desires in serious matters: we laugh at what only disappoints our expectations in trifles. We shed tears from sympathy with real and necessary distress; as we burst into laughter from want of sympathy with that which is unreasonable and unnecessary, the absurdity of which provokes our spleen or mirth, rather than any serious reflections on it.
To explain the nature of laughter and tears, is to account for the condition of human life; for it is in a manner compounded of these two! It is a tragedy or a comedy—sad or merry, as it happens. The crimes and misfortunes that are inseparable from it, shock and wound the mind when they once seize upon it, and when the pressure can no longer be borne, seek relief in tears: the follies and absurdities that men commit, or the odd accidents that befall them, afford us amusement from the very rejection of these false claims upon our sympathy, and end in laughter. If everything that went wrong, if every vanity or weakness in another
gave us a sensible pang, it would be hard indeed: but as long as the disagreeableness of the consequences of a sudden disaster is kept out of sight by the immediate oddity of the circumstances, and the absurdity or unaccountableness of a foolish action is the most striking thing in it, the ludicrous prevails over the pathetic, and we receive pleasure instead of pain from the farce of life which is played before us, and which discomposes our gravity as often as it fails to move our anger or our pity!
(from On Wit and Humour by William Hazlitt from his series of lectures on The English Comic Writers)

If you read The Assistant by Bernard Malamud keep this in mind but remember also that the very same story told by an Irish writer would have to be a comedy, the beal bocht (the poor mouth) and the catalogue of catastrophes being a form of scorn which is the lustral water that accompanies ululation. Here we are deep, deep, deep in woe is me Jewish writing. Don’t paint all four walls of your room black, allow a contrast wall, canary yellow would be good. Aubergine would not be good. The blending in of humour adds pathos and human scale to the tragedy but at this point in his writing career Malamud lacked the wit to, as Johnson said, to keep it sweet.