Saturday, October 29, 2016

Quotes: Stability of personal identity

C. J. Ducasse:

"A mind, then, is a set of capacities of the three generic kinds mentioned, qua interrelated in the systematic manner which constitutes them a more or less thoroughly integrated personality; and the mind, of which we say that it "has" those capacities, is not something existentially independent of them, but "has" them in the sense in which a week has days or an automobile has a motor. That a mind exists during a certain period means that, during that period, ones or others of the capacities, which together define the particular sort of mind it is, function. That is, the existing of a mind of a particular description is the series of actual occurrences which, as causally related one to another, constitute exercisings of that mind's capacities. A mind's existing thus consists not just of its having a particular nature, but of its having in addition a history."

Mircea Eliade:

"The world (that is, our world) is a universe within which the sacred has already manifested itself, in which, consequently, the break-through from plane to plane has become possible and repeatable."

Johannes Climacus:

"Can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure be of more than historical interest; can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?"

John Locke:

"[Consciousness is] a present representation of a past action.

Rollo May:

"History – that selective treasure house of the past which each age bequeaths to those that follow – has formed us in the present so that we may embrace the future. What does it matter if our insights, the new forms which play around the fringes of our minds, always lead us into virginal land where, like it or not, we stand on strange and bewildering ground? The only way out is ahead, and our choice is whether we shall cringe from it or affirm it.


C. J. Ducasse, The Belief in a Life After Death, p 55

Mircea Eliade. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957, 1959, 1961. p 30.

Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Fragments. ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 1.

Rollo May, Love and Will, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1969. p 325.

Friday, October 28, 2016

On perception and the unconscious

R. W. Fevre:

"Well, perhaps we can make use of this awareness [of ourselves and our world and how our actions affect the world], but this is not going to be easy because human beings do a lot more things than make sense, and some of these things — pursuing power, money, status, security and so on; or simply taking our ease — can get in the way of making sense.

Calvin Luther Martin:

"The words of the magician snaked in and out of my consciousness: 'It has become clear to me that perception has to be understood and recognized as a reciprocal exchange. When we see things we are also being seen by them. When we hear things we are also being heard. Perception is a type of communication that precedes language.'"

Alan Watts:

"There may be no reason to believe that a return to the lost feeling will cost us the sacrifice of the individualized consciousness, for the two are not incompatible. We can see an individual leaf in all its clarity without losing sight of its relation to the tree."

Antonio R. Damasio:

"Some organisms have both behavior and cognition. Some have intelligent actions but no mind. No organism seems to have mind but no action. My view then is that having a mind means that an organism forms neural representations which can become images, be manipulated in a process called thought, and eventually influence behavior by helping predict the future, plan accordingly, and choose the next action."

Jonah Lehrer:

"'The conscious brain may get all the attention,' says Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at NYU. 'But consciousness is a small part of what the brain does, and it's a slave to everything that works beneath it.'"

Norman Mailer:

"Sometimes I think you have to groom the unconscious after you've used it, swab it down, treat it like a prize horse who's a finer animal than you."

G. W. F. Hegel:

"Only when spiritual unity steps beyond this circle of feeling and natural love, and arrives at the consciousness of personality, does that obscure and rigid nucleus emerge in which neither nature nor spirit are open and transparent and where both can become open and transparent only through the further working of that self-conscious will and, indeed, through the long drawn-out cultural process, the goal of which is very remote. For consciousness alone is that which is open, that to which God and anything else can reveal itself."


R. W. Fevre. The Demoralization of Western Culture: Social Theory and the Dilemmas of Modern Living. London: Continuum, 2000. p 196.

Calvin Luther Martin, In the Spirit of the Earth, p 24

Alan Watts. Nature, Man, and Woman (1958). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 8.

Antonio R. Damasio. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Avon Books, 1998. p 90.

Jonah Lehrer. How We Decide. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. p. 23.

Norman Mailer. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2004. p. 142.

G. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. (Originally 1837.) p 74.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Eunuchs in the 'Percheron Saga' by Fiona McIntosh

Fiona McIntosh's trilogy The Percheron Saga contains the novels Odalisque, Emissary, and Goddess.

I used to have an article here that discussed the character of Salmeo in the Percheron Saga. I incorporated that material in my book Painting Dragons (2018), and so I have taken down the article here. Please check out Painting Dragons (paperback and Kindle eBook).

Quotes: A mythic interpretation of relationships

Mircea Eliade:

"Speaking for myself, the definition that seems least inadequate because most embracing is this: Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the ‘beginnings.’ ... Myth, then, is always an account of a ‘creation’...

* * *

Myth teaches him the primordial ‘stories’ that have constituted him existentially; and everything connected with his existence and his legitimate mode of existence in the Cosmos concerns him directly."

Allan Bloom:

"A father must prefer his child to other children, a citizen his country to others. That is why there are myths — to justify these attachments."

Lawrence Kushner:

"I'll let you in on a trade secret: After you do enough weddings, you realize that every bride and groom are the same. Don't misunderstand me, of course each one is unique. But in a broader context, every bride and every groom are Adam and Eve. They are players in an eternal drama. They look at one another, their heart's desire, and realize that the other person is a stranger. They live together for forty or fifty years and realize that, for all of their love, the other person is still a mystery. The power of their love is that these feelings transcend them as individuals. That mystery smelts us down into one lump of humanity and makes literature and art possible. The greater the emotion the more intensely personal and intimate the feeling, the more likely it is shared with all human beings."

Joseph Campbell:

"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to he center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."


Mircea Eliade. Myth and Reality. (1963) Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975. pp. 5-6, 12.

Allan Bloom. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. p. 37.

Lawrence Kushner, "'Our Town'," in I'm God; You're Not: Observations on Organized Religion & Other Disguises of the Ego. Jewish Lights Pub, 2010.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (1949) Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2008 (third edition). p. 18.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Writing what you don't know

"There are only two or three human stories," said Willa Cather, "and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." When a story is told enough, it becomes a "ritual of truth," to use Thomas Dumm's phrase. He wrote that "democracy itself depends upon the continuing and autonomous iteration and reiteration of the meaning of words, sentences, paragraphs, and fragments. Instead of reaching final conclusions, perhaps we would do better to think in terms of the rituals of truth that govern our lives together and apart, truths that are radically historical in character." Why isn't a truth-ritual a final conclusion? Because a truth-ritual is a story, and stories contain unresolved ideas. Joan Didion wrote: "The idea that fiction has certain irreducible ambiguities seemed never to occur to these women, nor should it have, for fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology." Those unresolved ideas are why the stories repeat as if they'd never happened before, to answer Willa Cather's question.

Arthur Herzog explained C. Wright Mills' use of the term "sponge words," meaning words that are vague and flexible.

The verbal concoctions dripping from our lips can easily lead to illusion and error, and result in the inflamed rhetoric and unceasing cant of our day. Words are means of doing things, and chaos in language brings chaos in deed.

* * *

Let us take an example from business. As a red-blooded American businessman, you might say (in fact, you do say) that the American business system is historically unique. But you also claim that free enterprise is natural to human beings. Logically, it is impossible to have it both ways. Either free enterprise as practiced here is unique, in which case it can hardly be called natural, or it is natural, in which case it is not unique. Rather than facing up to the contradiction, the temptation is to summon what the sociologist C. Wright Mills called sponge words — such as "freedom" — which soak up the inconsistency.

Iris Murdoch said that we should strive for more "verbal precision" since it is through language that we are able to reveal truth. To deliberately strive for precision is good, and to deliberately obfuscate to gain power is evil. (Note the distinction between the idea that truth is revealed and that, as suggested earlier, it is created through ritual.)

Words constitute the ultimate texture and stuff of our moral being, since they are the most refined and delicate and detailed, as well as the most universally used and understood of the symbolisms whereby we express ourselves into existence.

We become spiritual animals when we become verbal animals. The fundamental distinctions can only be made in words. Words are spirit. Of course eloquence is no guarantee of goodness, and an inarticulate man can be virtuous. But the quality of a civilization depends upon its ability to discern and reveal truth and this depends upon the scope and purity of its language.

Any dictator attempts to degrade the language because this is a way to mystify. And many of the quasi-automatic operations of capitalist industrial society tend also toward mystification and the blunting of verbal precision.

"Every story arises out of perplexity," said Manohar Shyam Joshi:

"I started writing and found that composing a story about perplexity was itself a perplexing and troubling thing, partly because perplexity is beyond words and partly because words themselves produce perplexity. Even by being written down, no final form and no fixed denouement could be given the story of the perplexity of Hariya Hercules. Every story arises out of perplexity and it is the responsibility of every story to explain that perplexity in the idiom of everyday language. But where in the idiom of everyday language is there any scope for perplexity?"

Mo Willems said:

“I learned that I love writing for kids because you don’t have to deal with cultural modifiers. I’m just writing about emotions. I like to say: ‘Love, jealousy, hatred, wanting to drive a bus — the fundamental, core things.’ As I’ve evolved, I’ve started to realize that every book that I write is a philosophical question that I don’t know the answer to. And therefore it interests me. If I know the answer, I won’t make a book out of it.”

This drive to explain the perplexity is a drive to transform mere data into usable information. “Many people think all written words and numbers are information," said Richard Saul Wurman, "but if they don’t inform — if you do not understand them — they are data, not information.”

A novel by Sharad P. Paul poses this question: "This is the paradox of journalism. If it is all about uncovering the truth, then why are their newspaper articles called 'articles'? Sometimes I have found that truth can be like one of those Russian dolls. You know the ones I mean, the ones with sequentially smaller dolls inside larger ones. Sometimes you have to open many dolls before you find the real one." Uncovering the truth is difficult because people hide it. As Julie Jensen put it: "Now a human truth and also a character truth: Characters, like most people, almost never tell the truth. Sometimes they're protecting themselves, sometimes they're manipulating others, sometimes they've got a skewed vision of the world. And sometimes they're just polite and go along when someone else seems to know more." People's truth-telling is often confined to private journals, which are, themselves, written in "ambiguous language" to maintain privacy. One of Amin Maalouf's fictional characters said:

"But sometimes I ask myself: why keep a diary, and in this ambiguous language, when I know no one will ever read it? When in fact I don’t even want anyone to read it? I do it precisely because it helps me to clarify my thoughts and memories without having to tell my travelling companions about them.

Other people write as they speak. I write as I stay silent."


Willa Cather, quoted in the Ithaca, NY Journal, quoted in The Week, Feb. 11, 2011, p. 21.

Thomas Dumm. Loneliness as a Way of Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008. p. 34.

Joan Didion. The White Album (1979). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990. p. 112.

Arthur Herzog. The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Technique of Faking It in America. (1973) Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books Inc., 1974. p. 22.

Iris Murdoch, reported in The Times. Quoted in Arthur Herzog. The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Technique of Faking It in America. (1973) Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books Inc., 1974. p. 202.

Manohar Shyam Joshi. The Perplexity of Hariya Hercules. Translated from the Hindi by Robert E. Hueckstedt. New Delhi, India: Penguin, 2009. p. 154.

“Thinking like a child.” Mo Willems, as told to Visi Tilak. Boston Globe Magazine. June 14, 2015. p. 10.

Richard Saul Wurman, interviewed by Nadine Epstein, “In Search of the God of Understanding.” Moment Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013, p. 31.

Sharad P. Paul. Cool Cut. London: Picador, 2007. p. 145.

"Playwriting Quick and Dirty." Julie Jensen. Printed in The Writer's Handbook, 1998 Edition. Ed. Sylvia K. Burack. Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1997. p. 422.

Amin Maalouf, Balthasar's Odyssey (2000) Translated from the French by Barbara Bray. New York: Arcade, 2002. p. 50.