Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Carlyle, Stephen, Wilberforce Triangle.

Readers of the previous post may have been puzzled by the apparent acceptance by Sir Leslie Stephen of Carlyle’s proposal to force the pumpkin growing freed slaves into useful employment. It all goes back to the Clapham Sect and their founding of the Sierra Leone Company. William Wilberforce and Sir James Stephen, Sir Leslie’s father were leading lights in this venture which became a centre for the ‘retraining’ of recaptured slaves taken from pirates probably supplying the American trade after it was declared illegal by Britain and subject to confiscation on the high seas. However when the captives were delivered to Sierra Leone they were forced either to accept indenture for a fixed term at a cost of 20$ to their ‘employer’ or join the navy or army. Women were given away. No one was paid and only food, shelter and clothing provided. If an ‘apprentice’ ran off he was re-rescued in chains. This they had to suffer for I think fourteen years at first and later after agitation it was down to four.

Given that background Stephen was in no position to chide Carlyle if indeed he might wish to. Though expressed in brutal terms was Carlyle that far from what Wilberforce was obliged to accept in Sierra Leone? A sketch of that tangled history from a source likely to offer a charitable reading:
Sierra Leone Company

A Guardian review of a book on the Clapham Sect by Stephen Tomkins is, guess what, harsher:
wiberforce condoned slavery

William Wilberforce was influenced by the same escape clause which colonizers often offer as an excuse - ‘We are in principle in favour of independence/freedom for X, Y, Z countries but we feel that they are not ready for it yet. Our duty of care does not permit us to simply throw them into an unfamiliar state of freedom. It would lead to chaos.
Later in the same year (1816) he began publicly to denounce slavery itself, though he did not demand immediate emancipation, as "They had always thought the slaves incapable of liberty at present, but hoped that by degrees a change might take place as the natural result of the abolition."

(from Wikipedia Entry on William Wilberforce:wilberforce

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thomas Carlyle and the Negro Question

My previous post on this topic is
negro question
Carlyle's Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.

Today I was reading in the blog of a Carlyle scholar who criticises the use of the term 'nigger' in the work of Thomas Carlyle. He is aware that there is a certain anachronism involved, but he insists that by the start of the 19th. century things were changing and polite society represented by such as John Stuart Mill used the term 'negro'. There is an irony there in that Mill and his father worked in India House the H.Q. of the colonial plunder and the swag that was the white man's burden. One recalls too that Mill fils took a dim view of helping the Irish during the Famine. Offering this whited sepulchre as an example of probity is ironic.

However the fierceness of Carlyle's scorn in his Discourse on the Negro Question and his apparent support of slavery as superior to anarchic idleness has an unlikely supporter in Leslie Stephen. Writing on Carlyle's Ethics.

It shocks one to find an open advocacy of slavery for black Quashee. But we must admit, and admit for the reasons given by Carlyle, that even slavery may be better than sheer anarchy and barbarism; that, historically speaking, the system of slavery represents a necessary stage in civilisation ; and therefore that the simple abolition of slavery—a recognition of unconditional " right" without reference to the possession of the instincts necessary for higher kinds of society—might be disguised cruelty. The error was in the hasty assumption that his Quashee was, in fact, in this degraded state; and the haste to accept this disheartening belief was but too characteristic. That liberty might mean barbarism was true; that it actually did mean it in certain given cases was a rash assumption too much in harmony with his ordinary aversion to the theorists of his time.

Stephen's father Sir Joseph was the Colonial Undersecretary of State and a noted abolitionist. More irony there. A brother was a legal aide to the Council of State in Delhi. Compartments were hermetically sealed, one from the other.

Text for the Day:
Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

May i add that I understand perfectly that a young academic would want to draw a cordon sanitaire around Carlyle on this question

Leslie Stephen - Hours in a Library

There is something very modern about the note of plangent sadness which Leslie Stephen sounds as he regrets the seeking of signs and wonders by the devotee who is looking for confirmation of the truth of his faith. One might read this gentle lament in an essay by Gary Gutting in the Opininator of the New York Times.

You are seeking for outwards signs and wonders when you should be impressed by the profound and all pervading mysteries of the universe; and therefore falling into the hands of mere charlatans, and taking the morbid hysterics of over excited women for the revelation conveyed by all nature to those who have ears to hear. Has not the word 'spiritual' till now expressive of the highest emotions possible to human beings, got itself somehow stained and debased by association with the loathsome tricks practiced by importers aided by the prurient curiosity of their dupes?

Stephen is writing about Carlyle's Ethics and mentioning in passing the sad decline into what he could only see as charlatanry of Edward Irving, Carlyle's friend.

This point is made as it were in passing but from other of his writings I feel that he went out of his way. You see Sir Leslie Stephen was a Victorian freethinker and therefore somewhat at bay and inclined to growl. The portrait of him in To The Lighthouse as Mr. Ramsey does not shed a kindly light. The Calvin Carlyle which he offers us was probably influential. More on that perhaps.

Find the essay on Carlyle's Ethics in Bk.III of Hours in a Library
Hours in a library

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Knowledge and Awareness

If knowledge is identified with mental ideas of objects, then, in the case of shell-silver and the like, there will be no true cognition or real object. But if knowledge be taken as identical with awareness, then the cause is different. There is no falsity in awareness. For awareness is real and still present at the time of correcting the error, when it takes the form 'Although I was aware of silver, it was in fact shell that was at time misperceived'. Awareness then apprehends the silver and the mental cognition of it as false. The knowledge at the time of the correction was real as awareness; but it does not follow that the silver on which it bore was real too.
(Sri S.S.S. Method of Vedanta

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Anatole France's Library of Babel

Endowed with business-like energy and dogged patience, Monsieur Sariette himself classified all the members of this vast body. The system he invented and put into practice was so complicated, the labels he put on the books were made up of so many capital letters and small letters, both Latin and Greek, so many Arabic and Roman numerals, asterisks, double asterisks, triple asterisks, and those signs which in arithmetic express powers and roots, that the mere study of it would have involved more time and labour than would have been required for the complete mastery of algebra, and as no one could be found who would give the hours, that might be more profitably employed in discovering the law of numbers, to the solving of these cryptic symbols, Monsieur Sariette remained the only one capable of finding his way among the intricacies of his system, and without his help it had become an utter impossibility to discover, among the three hundred and sixty thousand volumes confided to his care, the particular volume one happened to require. Such was the result of his labours. Far from complaining about it, he experienced on the contrary a lively satisfaction.
(from Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France)

The Library of Babel according to Anatole France. I can sympathise with his taxomania being forced as I am to build a large bookpress for the overspill and the very explicable congeries which had their logic at some point but now have achieved a declension into chaos. (or is it it's as congeries is singular. Where's Fowler?) The press will be 8' x 5' with glazed upper section and drawers and cupboards below. It is after the plan of the bookcase of the Director General of Railroads from Rodale's Desks and Bookcases. I built one in white oak years ago which looked well. I will make some visual and constructional changes to the plan as shown: a solid plinth, a fancy cornice, lighter glazed doors. Bails or knobs turned in a contrasting wood. So many decisions knowing that at a certain point when you do too much you pass over into fussiness.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Vimuktatman. Time?

It’s a curious business, this nonchalance about dates in Indian Philosophy. Swami Sadchidanandendra Saraswati in his discussion of the text Ista Siddhi of Vimuktatman Acarya neglects to mention his historical background, when he flourished or where he came from. I can now tell you that he flourished between 850 and 1050 A.D. or thereabouts. You may well say that this is a result of a career move into a no career, sanyas. Personal history is eliminated. We are now in the absolute present in the presence of the absolute. Doctrines flow and ebb and what Sri S.S.S. is concerned with is the moola avidya novelty proposed by Vimuktatman which is obviously later in planet side time that Shankara’s advaita. What more do you need to know?

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Moola-Avidya/Primal Ignorance

The moola-avidya people hold that avidya-sakti is a powerful primitive force, a force that prevents us from realising our true nature as existence//consciousness/bliss. Opposed to them are advaitins of the school that maintain that avidya is another name for superimposition. This is a simple characterisation of the divergence of views but I think it is fair to say that understanding ignorance as a force or a real existent arises from moving from an analogy i.e. ‘like a cloud’ to a metaphor,‘is a cloud’ . It may be just that simple.

Ignorance essentially is a non-cognitive relationship. We may know in general what the outlines of a topic are but the core of it is opaque to us. It also is the case that we may be in a state of complete ignorance in the case of the unknown unknown or the perfectly camouflaged. It just isn’t there for us. I would suggest that avidya/adhyasa is more like the known unknown that can be pointed to via the finger-post of a transcendental postulate. Start from the hard question - how is consciousness possible? On the face of it it ought to be impossible and there are various arguments for this ranging from causal closure to the gulf between the extended and the non-extended or cerebral events and qualia. Yet it happens. Here the outlines of a known unknown begin to become clear. We are at the start of atma-vichara or sefl-inquiry.