Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Tag

The 100 best novels: No 69 – The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)

Elizabeth Bowen: ‘a unique sensitivity to the lives of ordinary English men and women in extremis’. Photograph: Jane Bown/Observe

Robert McCrum writes:

London in the blitz influenced the creative lives of many important English writers, from Graham Greene to Rose Macaulay. But none captured wartime London as memorably as Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), an Anglo-Irish writer who first attracted critical attention with a collection of short-stories in 1923.

Like The Death of the Heart, her prewar masterpiece, The Heat of the Day opens in Regent’s Park, on “the first Sunday of September 1942”, with the sinister figure of Harrison, a counterespionage agent posing as an airman, chatting up a woman at an open-air concert. He’s killing time till his evening “date” with Stella Rodney, the novel’s protagonist, an attractive, independent woman “on happy sensuous terms with life” who works for a government agency called XYD and is described as a “camper in rooms of draughty dismantled houses”.

Stella is dispossessed, but she has in her lover Robert, a Dunkirk survivor, someone with whom she can share mutual passion and “the continuous narrative of love”. But even this is in jeopardy. Harrison, who has been watching Robert, advises Stella that her lover is suspected of passing information to the enemy. He offers Stella a bargain: his silence about Robert’s treachery for an impossible price – herself. Once Robert confesses, his love will be doomed.

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“Jung Revisited” by Brian Inglis

Brian Inglis

In a lecture given in 1977 John Beloff recalled that although when he read Jung’s Synchronicity he had been intrigued, regarding it as ‘one of the more extravagant products of Jung’s fertile imagination’, he had not expected it to catch on. Events had proved him wrong; ‘fourteen years later, although it could not be said to occupy a paramount place in contemporary parapsychological speculation, it has become a firm fixture.’

Thirteen years later still, it has spread out to establish itself among what used to be described as the intelligentsia, a species which today lacks an identification, but for convenience can be described as the readers of the ‘quality’ newspapers and magazines. Synchronicity can no longer be closely identified, however, with Jung’s concept; partly because Jung himself did not claim to present it as a fully-fledged theory. In the foreword to his essay on the subject, he explained that he was making good a promise which for many years he had lacked the courage to fulfil; ‘the difficulties of the problem and its presentation seemed to me too great; too great the intellectual responsibility without which a subject cannot be tackled; too inadequate, in the long run, my scientific training’. His research into symbols, however, had brought the problem closer; and as he had been alluding to synchronicity for twenty years he felt it was time to explain what he had in mind by it – though this would entail, he feared, ‘uncommon demands on the open-mindedness and goodwill of the reader.’ It still does, not least because Jung was not good at elucidating obscurities in his ideas. His ‘scarab’ illustration of synchronicity gives a clearer picture than his attempts to describe it as a theory: the unconscious minds of therapist and patient, brought into collaboration by the need of the patient to find a way out of her problems and the need of the therapist to help her, are assisted by synchronicity in the form of a contribution from the collective unconscious – an archetype, the scarabeid beetle, arriving at the opportune moment in the session.

How, though, was this done? Jung turned to Pauli to explain that the new physics left the door open for the acceptance of acausal forces; and to Rhine, for the evidence which his research at Duke University had provided for the reality of psi phenomena, showing how the intercommunication between individuals – and, presumably, between individuals and the collective unconscious – could be accounted for. But this pushed Jung into accepting that the phenomena should be considered acausal: a source of confusion.

It was Jung’s harping on acausality which chiefly irritated Koestler when he came to examine the theory of synchronicity. Starting from the acausality premise, he complained, Jung had nevertheless ended up with the notion that the archetypes had somehow engineered the scarab’s appearance at the window. The confusion had arisen, John Beloff has explained, because of Jung’s arbitrary decision to restrict the meaning of causality to the way in which it is understood in physics. Jung had taken for granted that because trials had shown that telepathic communication appeared to be instantaneous, regardless of the distances involved, it must be acausal, as this was how quantum physics classified acausality.

But ‘what this argument overlooks is that the concept of cause was not invented by physicists’. It was surely nonsensical to claim that the findings from card-guessing trials for telepathy, if they were positive, were not causally related. Whether Uri Geller bends keys by normal or paranormal means, ‘the one thing we can be sure about is that he causes them to bend.’ ‘Meaningful’ has also raised problems. When Jung recalled that his interest in synchronicity had been roused by coincidences which were connected ‘so meaningfully that their “chance” concurrence would represent a degree of improbability that would have to be expressed by an astronomical figure’, he was using the term in a special sense. It is usually employed – as, for that matter, is ‘synchronicity’ – to describe a coincidence which has a meaning for the person or people it has involved, in the sense of giving the impression that it may have been designed for them, for good or ill. An improbable coincidence excites curiosity, but the improbability does not make it meaningful in this second sense; whereas a coincidence which ordinarily would be readily attributed to chance can become meaningful if it leaves those concerned wondering if it has implications for them, personally.

Synchronicity may be the best known theory to account for meaningful coincidences, Grattan-Guinness has observed, but it is ‘probably the most feeble’ – he is one of many parapsychologists who share Koestler’s irritation with it. As an alternative Grattan-Guinness offers ‘propensity’, a hypothesis covering a group of theories which have in common the assumption that ‘nature’, including the person involved and his environment, ‘has a propensity to fall into certain states of affairs which are favourable (or unfavourable) to psi events’ – a notion related to Sir Karl Popper’s theory of probabilities, set out in his Logic of Scientific Discovery. The most convincing criticism of Jung’s theory, however, is Eisenbud’s.

Jung had the idea of synchronicity, and then contrived to fuse psi into it. But if psi is accepted on Eisenbud’s or Sheldrake’s model, there is less need for synchronicity.

Most meaningful coincidences can be accounted for without it.

As things stand, therefore, it would be unwise to try to resuscitate synchronicity in its original form. Nevertheless the basic idea of an acausal connecting principle, as Beloff concedes, ‘is not devoid of meaning’. The concept of acausality may have to be dispensed with, ‘but the type of cause that we are left with is very different from the type of cause we associated with mechanical forces’. The essential point, David Peat claims in Synchronicity (1987), is that Jung presented a hypothesis which spanned the apparently unbridgeable gap ‘between the objective and subjective approaches to the question of the universe and our role within it.’

Synchronicity provides us with a starting point, for it represents a tiny flaw in the fabric of all that we have hitherto taken for a reality.

Synchronicities give us a glimpse beyond our conventional notions of time and causality into the immense patterns of nature, the underlying dance which connects all things and the mirror which is suspended between inner and outer universes. With synchronicity as our starting point it becomes possible to begin the construction of a bridge that spans the worlds of mind and matter, physics and psyche.

“Jung Revisited” is an extract from Coincidence: a Matter of Chance – or Synchronicity? by Brian Inglis.

Colm Tóibín Reads Mary Lavin/ Podcast

Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín joins Deborah Treisman to read and discuss Mary Lavin’s “In The Middle of The Fields”.

George Bernard Shaw Interview – 1937

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw is interviewed in 1937. He speaks about communism, Russia and America.

Endeavour Press issues Kindle edition of Brian Inglis’s 1974 biography of Roger Casement

Brian Inglis

Neil Langdon Inglis, U. S. General Editor of Interlitq, and a contributor to Issues 18, 19, 20 and 21 of Interlitq and English Writers 1, English Writers 2 and English Writers 3, wishes to announce that Endeavour Press in London has issued a Kindle edition of his father Brian Inglis’s 1974 biography of Roger Casement, the Irish revolutionary executed for treason in 1916.  Sympathetic, but in no way hagiographical, Inglis’s account explores all dimensions of Casement’s life–in particular, Casement’s unsparing investigations of the rubber trade in the Belgian Congo, and atrocities in Latin America.

Passionate but naive, a visionary lacking in sound judgment, Casement was devoted to the cause of Irish freedom, yet spent years as a willing servant of the British Crown–and ended his days disastrously as a supporter of the Kaiser. Inglis quotes at length from Casement’s “Black Diaries,” having concluded they were genuine and an indispensable source of insight into his subject. “Roger Casement” is widely regarded as one of the classic biographies of the 20th century.

Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s interview about his father, the author Brian Inglis.

Read Neil Langdon Inglis’s 3 question interview for Interlitq.