Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya: A Centenary Salute


"Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya: A Centenary Salute to Multifaceted Philosopher" by SK Pande, NewsClick, 05 Nov 2018

"A humanist, Marxist, staunch lover of reason, scientific temper and secularist to the core, Chattopadhyaya’s absence is greatly felt as secular India faces threats from Hindutva forces that strive to take the country back to the dark ages."

I have been familiar with the work of Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (19 November 1918 – 8 May 1993) for many years. Here are a couple items on my web site:

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction (Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1972 [orig. 1964]), chapter 28: Lokayata, pp. 184-199; notes, pp. 221-223.

Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. “Science and Philosophy in Ancient India,” in Marxism and Indology, edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta; New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 1981), pp. 231-262.

And see:

Ramakrishna, G. "Some Loud Thinking About the Bhagavadgita," in Marxism and Indology, edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta; New Delhi: K. P. Bagchi & Company, 1981), pp. 216-221.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

David Guest, aspiring to theory, killed in practice


"I have never felt so much the value of abstract things, of theory seen in its proper relation to practice, than just now. I think I can see things in their proper proportions. I have myself a lively and intense desire to explore whole fields of theoretical work, mathematical, physical, logical and far beyond these, when the conditions for this will become again possible."

-- Letter from Spain, David Guest, British communist mathematician, killed fighting fascism in Spain in 1938

SOURCE: Sheehan, Helena. Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1985, p. 347.

For more historical overview, see also my bibliography:

British Marxism in Philosophy, Science, and Culture Before the New Left: Essential Historical Surveys

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Praxis philosophers & the disintegration of Yugoslavia

I have blogged about the Yugoslav Marxist Humanist Praxis philosophers and documented their work on my web site:

Yugoslav Praxis Philosophy Study Guide

Among Marxist humanists, critical theorists, and other anti-Stalinists, the Praxis School was in the forefront and a pole of attraction world-wide. It is also known that, sadly, their politics disintegrated along with Yugoslavia and that their leading proponents, most shockingly Mihailo Marković, were swallowed up by nationalism. Apparently there was a dimension of the inner tensions in Yugoslavia reflected in the persons of the praxis theoreticians that was not grasped by foreign enthusiasts. This article documents the dynamics of the depressing devolution:

Secor, Laura. “Testaments Betrayed,” Jacobin. “How Yugoslavia’s vibrant Marxist humanists morphed into right-wing nationalists.” Adapted from:
Testaments Betrayed: Yugoslavian Intellectuals and the Road to War,” Lingua Franca, 1999.
Here we have a bone-chilling historical lesson in the failure of reason to be actualized in society even by its foremost representatives. This is a sobering lesson in how precarious are the prospects, if not altogether impossible under prevailing conditions, for achieving a rational society. Uneven distribution of resources, power, and loyalties foster eventual destabilization. In Yugoslavia, the uneasy balance between centralized power (dictatorial or not) and regional/national/ethnic autonomy was totally fractured, with lethal consequences. In the USA, scarcity is entirely artificial, and so barbarism must be perpetuated by even more irrational means, fueled by uneven social development, irreconcilable differences among the population, and the exploitation of competing demographics and ideologies.

The Praxis School developed general, abstract conceptions with global appeal, and also had specific objectives in reforming the Yugoslav social system. But the world view and social theory that they developed could not sustain their political practice once the social basis for it was obliterated. They have left us with advanced general ideas of continuing relevance, but if they, faced with social disintegration, could not sustain a corresponding political practice, then what hope is there for us, in a politically regressive and rapidly degenerating social order, where ideas are not valued by anybody, to actualize our most advanced rational thought and create a reasonable society?

Max Horkheimer on Montaigne

Max Horkheimer's take on Montaigne is far harsher than that of Ivan Sviták. (See previous post and Sviták's essay on Montaigne.)

Horkheimer, Max. "Montaigne and the Function of Skepticism" (1938), in Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer and John Torpey (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993), pp. 265-311.

Horkheimer sees skepticism, especially in the bourgeois period, as fundamentally conservative. He lays out the contemporaneous situation viz. the rising bourgeoisie, intensification of labor exploitation, the rise of Protestantism and its effect on Catholicism, the indictment of Montaigne by fellow-reactionary Pascal. Horkheimer analyzes skepticism as bourgeois inwardness, religion as the indispensable irrationalist undergirding of bourgeois rationalist existence, Hume's skepticism as liberal bourgeois status quo, the skeptical ego (290) esp. from the early bourgeois to the imperialist epoch, skepticism's adaptation to tyranny, transformation of skepticism into conformism, nationalism and fascism in 1938, hatred of the masses and celebration of Montaigne in the 19th century, Nietzsche's admiration for Montaigne (303-4), Dilthey's conservatism and advocacy of Montaigne, D.F. Strauss's demythologization of Christianity and its compatibility with authoritarianism, Hegel's dialectics as a way out, materialist dialectics vs. the unity of thought and history.

Here are a few choice quotes:

 "Just as bourgeois individuals reserve philosophy for their leisure hours and thus turn it into idle thought, knowledge and critique are isolated in the society as particular aspects of business." [p. 289]

"The idiocy of the notion that an individual or collectivity can save itself or the world by conciliation with the spreading rule of violence has now become so patently obvious that it can only be understood as a thinly veiled sympathy with that rule, or as an anxiety about sunk capital." [p. 293]

"The further society develops, the more obviously this principle [bourgeois equality], and with it that of bourgeois freedom, reveal their internal contradictions. The continued dominance of this principle, the skeptical rejection of revolutionary activity, and the hostility toward critique of the totality thus have something cynical about them. They reveal subordination to irrational relations, not integration into rational ones." [p. 295]

"Skepticism is a pathological form of intellectual independence: it is immune to truth as well as to untruth." [p. 307]

Conclusion:

"To be sure, it is typical of skepticism, as well as of the dominant character as such, to ascribe the vulgar motives--according to which alone the rulers of the world act--not to them and their principle, but to the idea of humanity itself. The difference here is that the critical theory which we espouse, in contrast to skepticism, does not make an antitheoretical absolutism of the insight into the inadequacy of things as they are and the transitoriness of cognition. Instead, even in the face of pessimistic assessments, critical theory is guided by the unswerving interest in a better future." [p. 311]

For noteworthy philosophical generalizations see esp. pp. 270-4, 278-9, 284-5, 290, 295.

Ivan Sviták on Montaigne

Once again:

Sviták, Ivan. The Dialectic of Common Sense: The Master Thinkers. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979.

This volume covers Montaigne, Voltaire, and Holbach (also published separately). I have added a link to the essay on Montaigne, which comprises pp. 1-42 of this book. The link is to a PDF file consisting of images of the text rather than true text.

It is a curious take on Montaigne, both praising him to the skies and analyzing the historical context and obsolescence of his philosophy. I am sure that this reflects Sviták's predicament under Stalinism. The extreme intellectual measures undertaken to escape reification remind me of Merab Mamardashvili in the USSR in a certain respect.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Christopher Caudwell's unpublished manuscripts (2)

Continuing on this work by Christopher Caudwell:

Scenes and Actions: Unpublished Manuscripts, selected, edited, and introduced by Jean Duparc and David Margolies. London: New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Preface
Introduction
Selected Bibliography
from The Wisdom of Gautama
from Heaviside
Short stories
      from The Rock
                Friends
                The Mother Superior
                Lodgings for the Night
                The Bully
                Thomson
      from The Island
                The Play
                A Bit in the Papers
                The Piston
                Homage to Calderon
                The Bank
                The Device

from ‘Verse and Mathematics’
Heredity and Development
Letters

While I have owned this book for a couple decades or more, I never actually read it through. Verse and Mathematics was the draft of what was honed to his published landmark book Illusion and Reality. The extract published here is interesting and I may make it the subject of another blog post. "Heredity and Development: A Study of Bourgeois Biology" was not included in Caudwell's Studies in a Dying Culture, though it belongs there. The letters outline Caudwell's aesthetic principles and his evaluation of his own fiction, as well as details leading up to his fatal participation fighting fascism in Spain.

The introduction places all this in context, also presenting the following poems in whole or part:
The Survival
The Unspeakables
In Memoriam [of T.E. Lawrence]
Artic Expedition
Soul's Progress [excerpt]
Smoke and Diamond
The Art of Dying
[untitled fragment]
The Object
Heil Baldwin!
Caudwell’s Collected Poems were published by Carnacet Press in 1986.

The balance of the book contains selections from Caudwell's hitherto unpublished fiction. Having read none of his published fiction either, though I knew of it, I experienced this facet of Caudwell for the first time. I turned to the fiction after perusing the rest of the book, not in order of the items presented. After reading the letters, I began with Caudwell's non-naturalistic fiction--the excerpt from the speculative fiction story "Heaviside" and the stories from "The Island," which Caudwell termed Kafkaesque, which are in any case extrapolations of ideas, situations, and institutions. This is an unfamiliar dimension of Caudwell for me and adds to understanding his originality and sensibility. The stories from The Rock are character studies. At various times in reading these pieces my attention flagged, but that may just have been an effect of my state of mind at the moment and not the prose itself. While Caudwell criticized his own fiction, as does the book's introduction, Caudwell's style as well as his probing of human character are noteworthy.

It was fortunate that the Stalinists had no idea of what Caudwell was up to or they would have squashed him like they tried to squash Jack Lindsay, an original polymath from Australia who was also a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  Caudwell indulged in formulaic political judgments in his analyses, but retained a freshness and originality in his approach.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Christopher Caudwell on religion as static imagination


I have blogged here before about Christopher Caudwell. As I also mentioned, I used the title of his essay collection Studies in a Dying Culture (1938, followed by Further Studies in a Dying Culture, 1949) as the title of my podcast/radio series and one of my blogs.  Here is an interesting quote on religion from Caudwell's correspondence:
As I see it, religion undoubtedly represents very strong emotional realities, but they only become religion by religious people’s making them static, i.e. by demanding that their formulations (angels, salvation, heaven, hell, God, etc.) represent actual existent entities with the same reality of existence as matter. It is just this static formulation which is the core of any formal religion (Buddhism, Christianity, Mohommedanism). Separate that out and what have you left? Primarily two currents. One: art, or ‘poetry’—The fluid emotional experimenting with illusory concepts drawn from reality, either felt as illusory, as in our civilised age, or felt as real, but unconsciously acknowledged as illusory by the very fluidity of treatment, as in Greek myth (not Greek religion). The other current is sociological, and is symbolical of the tremendously powerful and emotionally charged currents that hold a society together, and express, in a subtle instinctive way, the fact that though individualities, we yet have a real being in common: buds of the same tree. We are not completely divided by ‘The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.’ The power of this bond is expressed in the attitude of men to a drowning stranger, a ship in distress, in time of war, and so on. You may feel a sociological conception of religion arid and empty of content. So do I, but that is because we are children of a civilisation that necessarily sees society as linked primarily by money exchanges, I mean sees that intellectually, whatever we may sometimes feel emotionally. The first criticism of Communism is always that men would never do their best work for society, regardless of income, and this expresses perfectly how debased and empty of content our conception of social relations has become. But the Greek citizen, or the merest tribal primitive, would see nothing strange in our conception of the society as the basis of religion. To him the city or tribe is joined with religion’s bonds; and even to‑day, when religions are so palpably failing, we see, in Italy and Germany, how men are bowled over by the sociological as opposed to the theological element of religion, in however questionable a guise it comes.

But why not leave it at that, you may ask, and, seeing religion’s aesthetic and sociological credentials, say ‘Pass friend, all’s well?’. Just because religion, to be religion, formulates its sociological and aesthetic beliefs in terms of science, of external reality. So that on the one hand art is held back from developing, made to accept the outworn forms of yesterday, and, on the other hand, man, mistaking social relations for divinely ordained permanences, is held back to the social groupings of yesterday. So the Greek, cramped into the City State, was torn by internecine warfare and fell victim to the barbarians he despised. So we, with our national formations, and national churches, are involved in imperialistic wars, in which ministers preach from the pulpit the divine approval of a just war. And it is no answer to say that genuinely religious people are pacifists, for we can only take religion as it appears, and to do otherwise is to mean by the adverb ‘genuinely’—‘religious in a way we approve’, which, from a historical view­point, taking religion as it has manifested itself, turns out to be not religious at all, but people who put social reality before theological formulations—heretics, prophets, and rebels.

SOURCE: Caudwell, Christopher, Letter to Paul [Beard] and Elizabeth [Beard]. 21 November 1935 (from London), in Scenes and Actions: Unpublished Manuscripts, selected, edited, and introduced by Jean Duparc and David Margolies (London: New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), extract: pp. 220-221.