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Abstract:
This document contains poetry, prose, interviews, essays, pages from my memoirs, indeed, a pot pourri of material from the years 1995 to 2001.
Notes:
My memoirs are now in the form of a five volume 2500 page document. They have been reviewed by the NSA of the Bahais of the USA and I have been given permission to post them on the internet. A few pages are here to introduce the work. Interviews and essays are here to introduce the prose-poetry. Roert Bly, the famous American poet, says that prose-poetry is the most common of all poetry.

Autobiographical Poetry Volumes 1 to 5:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs

by Ron Price

published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and A Study in Autobiography, A Pot Pourri From 1995-2001
2004
VOLUME 1: CHAPTER ONE

Some Introductions and Genres

"Not beginning at the Beginning...."

Dispositions are plausible responses1 to the circumstances individual Bahá'ís found themselves in and they led, in toto and inter alia, to the gradual emergence from obscurity of their religion over these four epochs. The story here is partly of this emergence and partly it is myself telling my own life-story, as Nietzsche writes in his life story, in his famous autobiographical pages of Ecce Homo.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Joseph Kling, "Narratives of Possibility: Social Movements, Collective Stories and Dilemmas of Practice," 1995, Internet; and F. Nietzsche in Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Adriana Cavarero, Routledge, NY, 2000, p.85.
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I am intentionally not going to begin at the beginning. Most autobiographies that I have examined thus far seem to be sequential exercises beginning with the author's first memories and proceeding logically until the last syllable of their recorded time, their allotment on earth, at least up to the time of the writing of the said autobiography. This is not my intention here. Anyway, when does one really begin a journey, a friendship, a love affair? Beginnings are fascinating, misunderstood, enigmatic. I've written many poems about various beginnings and the more I write the more elusive they become. But there comes a moment, a point, when we realize that we are already well on the way; we know the journey has definitely started. And as we travel along we mark historical moments which we weave into our narrative. They often change, our view of them that is, as we grow older: these rites de passage, these coming of age moments, these transition periods, these passages, these crises, calamities and victories.

I frankly do not know how I am going to approach this story, though I have no trouble finding such historical moments. Thinking seriously about autobiography or, indeed, any of the disciplines, requires us to acknowledge our ignorance of the subject. This is a prerequisite. Our past, any past, is another country, a place that exists in our imaginations and in those uncertain and often unreliable echoes of our lives that we traces in words, in places and in things. There is, then, an inscrutability which paradoxically lies at the heart of this work. I return again and again, taking the reader with me, to absences, spaces in my knowledge, my memory, my construction. I recognize that the act of making this my life, into a whole, from the pieces I have left from my past is necessarily a creative one, an act of imagination, what one writer calls "the dialectic between discovery and invention." In the process I transform my history and the history of my times, from something static into something lived. I am not imprisoned in some imagined objectivity; rather, I reenter the moment, the hour, the days and the years and imagine it as something experienced from multiple perspectives, simultaneously acknowledging its erasures and silences. This book compels me to think again about my life and readers to think about theirs.

I don't see my life or make any claim to my life being necessarily representative of that of an ideal Bahá'í or a Bahá'í pioneer. I find there is something basically unstable or slippery about experience or, to put it in even stronger terms, in the words of Bahá'u'lláh, there is something about experience that bears only 'the mere semblance of reality.' There is something about it that is elusive, even vain and empty, like 'a vapour in the desert.' There are so many exegetical and interpretive problems that accompany efforts to tie down the meaning of a life, of an experience, of a relationship. There is something divided, duplicitous, something that has happened but has yet to be defined and described or never described, depending of course on the experience and the person. There are innumerable and indispensable points of reference in a life and yet so many of them take on the feeling of a mirage, as if they are not really there, like a dream, particularly as the years lengthen into later adulthood and old age.

I take the view, too, that our experience is, what some sociologists call 'socially constructed;' or what some feminist theorists, who do not exalt the self to the centre of their universe, call the socially and emotionally self mediated by the environment in which it lives and works. Thus, the nature of our inner thoughts and feelings are not purely personal or individual. The community in which we interact, the system of thoughts that serve as our beliefs, is a crucial determinant of who we are.

I intend to take a line, an approach, from the Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje, who said, in an interview with Gary Kamiya, that when he writes he has no sense of what is going to happen next. Plot, story and theme unfold. I also want to do what that popular English writer Kingsley Amis said he wanted to do when he wrote: give shape to the randomness of life, to make sense of things, to create and resolve some of life's enigmas, to give meaning to the endless repetition in life, to the things we experience again and again, a thousand and a thousand thousand times or in merely unusual combinations of what is around us. Personal habit is an expression of this repetition, laws of nature predict it, genes direct it, the edicts of organization and state encourage it and universals, as William Gass puts it so nicely, "sum it up." The exercise is somewhat like the work of Michelangelo with marble. Always there is an unfinished struggle to emerge 'whole' from life's block of matter.

This autobiography is based, then, on what is often called the narrative construction of reality. There is in life, in adulthood, a rich domain for development and learning, a domain which recognizes the utility of narrative. This work, this story of a life, is an experiment with autobiographical form. One of my aims in writing this extended piece of narrative and analysis is to find the most effective way to give this narrative theoretical interest for readers. Over twenty years now I have written four editions. Each edition explores the field of human development and the uses of narrative. Hopefully this exercise will prompt readers to study autobiography and see how it contributes toward the realization of a multi-disciplinary form of learning. It may be, though, that readers will see, as Adriana Cavarero writes, that "to tell one's story is to distance oneself from oneself, to make of oneself someone other." Some readers may also find the process of writing autobiography pretentious or a somewhat artificial, a little unreal, externalization of inner and intimate, essentially private, reflection. They may see biography as the appropriate, natural, act but not autobiography.

An autobiography is not the story of a life. More accurately, it is the recreation, the discovery, of a life, in this case the life of a pioneer, a pioneer who brought a better order of society, an inner life, something private, something that moved him confidently 'in the direction of his dreams.' It was a type of pioneer that had a noble lineage in both Bahá'í society and in the secular society he was a part of. What this pioneer does, here, is arrange and rearrange things from this blooming and buzzing confusion called life to give point and meaning, direction, flow, ambience, simplicity and a certain coherence to complexity. He doesn't have to create these things ex nihilo and he doesn't create for the pure pleasure he gets in creating, in telling the story, although the pleasure he gets in writing takes him, with the poet Paul Valery, a long way.

Pleasure, I find, tends to help me take the ride of life and the ride of writing. But, of course, there is more, for pleasure itself is never enough, never the whole story. It occupies only part of life's experience. "Experiences," writes that articulate psychohistorian Peter Gay, "testify to the uninterrupted traffic between what the world imposes and the mind demands, receives and reshapes." We construct our experience, says Gay, and that construction is "an uneasy collaboration between misperceptions generated by anxiety and corrections provided by reasoning and experimentation." There is more to our ideas and actions than meets the eye. Our life, our experience, is at one level simply what it seems to be. It is rooted in external reality. And it is also, paradoxically, not what it seems to be. Much of our life is silent; it seems to take place underground or in some inner ground. This autobiography tries to deal with both the obvious and the paradoxical.

Most pioneers, in both the secular world and the Bahá'í community, have exhausted themselves in external activity or filled their lives with events, comings and goings, that seemed to leave, so often, just about always, no record for future generations. This is not necessarily a bad thing; for we can not all be good gardeners, cooks, car mechanics or writers. Over the years I have known many talented pioneers. But as a writer, my task is different. I want to place my readers on a stage, swarming with detail, dense with meaning; I want to give readers some of that constant sense of things and ideas that exist outside themselves and outside myself in my time, in these epochs, as Walt Whitman did when the Bahá'í revelation was first bursting on the world a century and a half ago. But these words are not the reality of my experience. The text is not the true and only protagonist of this my finite existence. In the end, at the end of this story, silence speaks; narration is suspended. My role as poet, historian and storyteller comes to an end. In the book of history, a book of single and unique stories interwoven on the landscape of earth, I have made myself into a narrator of a story. I am a protagonist, a pioneer, who has narrated his own story and, in the process, rescued myself from oblivion. I have configured my story in community. I do not swallow or erase the scene I tell of, rather I describe it, paint it, represent it.

Autobiographers bring specific words to their narrative, words with great explanatory power and emancipatory potential due to the traditions they live within. The Christian, the Moslem, the Marxist, the Bahá'í, the secular humanist, among a great many other traditions, reify special words that take on very important meaning for them. Christ, Muhammed, class, freedom, justice, Bahá'u'lláh, oneness: words which can not be divorced from the narrative voice of their respective autobiographers. And so it is I have my special words, my special vocabulary which will unfold in the pages ahead.

Poets wo take their readers on spiritual journeys each have their own special languages. Unlike the great medieval poet Dante Alighieri I do not paint the hell I have experienced in colourful and lively imagery but, like him, I do have my metaphorical dark wood with its sinful aspects. Dante has his virtuous non-Christians placed in Limbo. I have my virtuous non-Bahá'ís whom I am not confident of placing in any particular theological abode. Perhaps I should be confined to Dante's second circle where 'the lustful were punished by having their spirits blown about by an unceasing wind.' For I too have had my lust's to battle. I always thought Dante was a little hard on flatterers who were 'mired in a stew of human excrement.' Dante is so often ridiculed now and so might this work of mine be in the years ahead even if my vcabulary is so very different than Dante's.

I have written several editions of this work in the midst of a "series of soul-stirring events" that celebrated the construction and completion of the Terraces on Mount Carmel and in the first two decades of the "auspicious beginning" of the occupation by the International Teaching Centre of its "permanent seat on the Mountain of the Lord." I see my work, too, as a spin-off, part of that generation of spiritual nerves and sinews that is the result of "the revolutionary vision, the creative drive and systematic effort" that has come to characterize more and more the work of all the senior institutions of the Cause." This lengthy narrative is also my own humble attempt to "comprehend the magnitude of what has been so amazingly accomplished" in my lifetime and in this century just past. What I write is part of "a change of time," "a new state of mind," a "coherence of understanding," a "divinely driven enterprise." The story and the meaning I give it are crucial to my life for, without them--story and meaning--the days of my life would remain, would be, an intolerable sequence of events that make no sense. They would be, at best, a dabbling into things, a sort of entertainment, a search for fun in the midst of love and work with their inevitable pleasures and frustrations. They would express a kind of absurdity which many can and do live with, but which I would find an inadequate philosophy. Telling a story of my life is like a natural echo, an automatic repetition, a rhetorical sequence in the effort to define and link my identity to who I am and to unfold the meaning of it all. Self-interrogation joins the self and produces the story of its life.

In the process of this production I like to see myself somewhat like a jazz musician. The modern novelist Toni Morrison said she saw herself like a jazz musician, as 'someone who practices and practices and practices in order to be able to invent and make her art look effortless and graceful.' I like that concept, but only readers will tell of whatever effortlessness and grace I have achieved.

I do not possess that encyclopedic interest that some seem to have in absolutely everything. It is an interest described by Mark Van Doren in 1937 when the first Bahá'í teaching Plan was being launched in North America. Given the pervasiveness, the multiplicity, the vast complexity, the multitude of academic and non-academic disciplines, the great ocean of humanity and its immensity, it is only too obvious that I must confine my wandering mind, and I do, in this autobiography. I find I must focus my thinking on single points if I want my thought to 'become an effective force,' as 'Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized. I mention this theme, this concept, several times throughout this work. I mention, too, the private disorder and the public bewilderment of our times, a subject which the generations I have lived and worked with tire of as this bewilderment knocks them around and around, but by bit over the decades of their lives. I approach these concerns in a variety of ways and try not to dwell on them for this is not a piece of sociology, politics or economics. There is more of the personal, the literary, the humanly human, here. Readers, though, especially those with a peculiarly forensic mind, may still find this work far too rambling, with an under-belly that is just too complex and detailed for their liking, too much work and not enough payoff, not enough of the right kind of focused stimulation, the kind they get on TV, to suit their tastes. The forensic mind is useful in the who-dun-it detective stories and it is useful here, but it must persist in this long work if it is to come up with useful clues to its existential angst, if it is to derive the pleasure I know is there, the pleasure I find.

Narrative or story construction is an increasingly influential and integrating paradigm in psychology and the social sciences generally. The conceptual foundations of a narrative perspective can be traced thematically and contrasted with more traditional models of human psychological functioning. Autobiographical memory, self-narrative and identity development as well as narrative interpretations of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are all part of a relatively new field. Contributions from the cultural and social constructionist traditions to narrative psychology are relevant to my writing here and I go on to explain them briefly. Recent advances in narrative research methodologies, particularly those qualitative approaches which focus upon interview and other autobiographical sources of data can be helpful. This autobiography does not deal with all of these aspects of narrative or autobiographical psychology. It draws to some extent on the academic, hopefully not too much, not too esoterically. I am only too conscious of the jargon of academic discourse and of how unfamiliar terminology switches readers off swifter than the twinkling of an eye. For I was a teacher for thirty years and, by the time I retired in 1999, I could just about feel the switch-off process in its first few seconds of mental down-turning with a class of students.

Much that is part and parcel of academic discourse is seen by the great mass of humanity as unreality. And I am sure that no matter how I write this book many readers will find what I write as unreal, over their head, too many words, too long, too heavy. To each his own. As T.S. Eliot once wrote, the world can not bear either too much reality or too little. But the pursuit of truth need not have the additional burden of the use of complex language. I avoid it as much as I can. I am aware, too, how much the world is weary of a certain stock-in-trade of ideas, myths, scenarios and problem/issue topics that find their origins in the academic world. I assume that readers are more versatile, more limber, more educated and want something fresh, some fresh language, something simple. That is difficult to deliver. I think it can only be delivered to a point. For much of life in the end, no matter how much we want to simplify, is complex. "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make simple-simpler and simpler," as Charles Fair once wrote. The world abounds in Terrible Simplifiers.
Given the plethora of books, journals, magazines and programs in the electronic media everyone can find and enjoy what they prefer. Although I do not see myself as an elitist, I am inclined to think that what I write here would probably appeal to no more than ten per cent of the population and, it is my considered view, that during my lifetime, it will be read by a coterie so small as to be statistically irrelevant. This would have been true in 1903 as well. This is not a book for mass consumption. I wish it were. But I know of few people who read the Bible, Shakespeare or any of the great poets for that matter. So if few people read me, I know I am in good company.

It seems to me that, as W.H. Auden once wrote, the pleasure of readers and any ensuing literary success gives but small satisfaction, a momentary pleasure or a series of moments, to an author and his vanity. What is worth winning, Auden went on, was to be of use to future generations in the inner sanctum of their thoughts, to be a hallowed mentor. I like the way Auden puts it but, of course, it is unlikely that I will ever know if I have been successful in this sense, certainly while I am alive. And not having tasted literary success significantly, publicly, in this life thusfar, I do not know what the level of satisfaction is that might accrue to my ego and my vanity. I like to think, indeed I believe, that it is possible to reach the whirling mind of the modern reader, to cut through the noise and reach that quiet zone. The fact that the great majority of humankind will never read this book does not concern me. If I can find a few in that quiet zone that will be a bonus. For my real reward has been the pleasure I have found in writing this book in the first place. I don't find any pleasure in gardening, in cooking, in fishing, indeed, in a long list of things. Each person must find their own pleasures in life. Sometimes pleasures can be shared and sometimes they can't. We all contribute, it must also be added, each in their own small way, to the big picture that is history. This book is part of my contribution.

For many the threat of death multiplies stories of life; for others it is the simple opportunity to tell an interesting story and tell it well, with or without a moral. For still others it is love for some other: friend, loved one, community. This is a difficult question for me to answer: why do I write this story? There are probably many answers I could give but the one that comes most readily to mind is: to play my part in contributing to an ever-advancing civilization. This sounds somewhat pretentious but, however over-the-top it sounds, it honestly expresses the big-picture, the motivational matrix of my narrative, my metanarrative. I've liked this phrase since I first came upon it in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I sense in what I write a destiny that proceeds through the events and occurrences of my days. It is a unique destiny; it is partly unmasterable; it is unrepeatable; it is the course our life traces. Some have called this destiny, their daimon. There is clearly in all our lives something we cannot refuse. Perhaps it is the price we pay for our life.

I can interpret my life and try to explain it; I can search out its unity in the events of my life or the hidden substance, the soul, that dwells with this body in some mysterious, indefineable way. I can look inside it and excavate its appearances, discover its interiority and, in the process, hopefully bring my readers closer so that they see me as more like them, more of a friend. But no matter how I examine it in all its complexity and simplicity, I only partly control it, plan it, decide it and make it. There is much that is simply uncontrollable, that has no author, that is solely in the hands of God or what might be called those mysterious dispensations of Providence. As Producer and Director Who defines the mise-en-scene, Who sets the stage and the choreography, He provides the context in which many lives intersect and mine is but one. My life does not result from a story; but this story results from my life. Unscripted, flawed and plausible, this life can not be lived like a novel or a movie. There is no "choiceless invulnerability" in our lives as there is in the edited and celluloid safety of lives on film in what Roger White calls the tedium of their impeccable heroes. But still there is, for the Bahá'í, some plan, some form, some idea, some centre, to focus the dazzling and frenetic blooming and buzzing confusion of existence. Even with all the plans and programs, there are barricades in the way of the Bahá'í who is also an autobiographer, barricades that prevent his understanding. His passionate convictions and the historical experience that forms these convictions, are, as Eric Hobsbawm puts it, part of these very barricades. The road to understand is not always smooth and untroubled.

In my copy of God Passes By, the 1957 edition which I purchased in the first year of my pioneering experience, 1962, I have written many quotations from Gibbon and commentaries on Gibbon. I wrote the quotations on the blank pages at the beginning and the end of the hard-cover volume I own. There is one quotation, I think it is from J.W. Swain, which goes: "history is an endless succession of engagements with a past in which the dramatis personae were never able to fathom, control and command events." This could equally be said of autobiography. Roy Porter also writes that "diligence and accuracy are the only merits of an historian of importance." While these qualities are certainly of benefit to the autobiographer, the ability to write well and in an interesting way is critical or no one will ever read his work.

There are other quotations which I have written on the blank pages of this great book by Shoghi Effendi, quotations which apply as much to this narrative as to Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Gibbon's work, writes Keith Windshuttle, is a demonstration that much of history is driven by the influence of unintended consequences, chance and a human passion which "usually presides over human reason." My own work, while finding no conflict with Gibbon's words, demonstrates in addition, I like to think, a Bahá'í philosophy of history "which has as its cornerstone a belief in progress through providential control of the historical process." But neither is man "a thrall to an impersonal historical process." He must deal with the forces of fate, perhaps battle with his fate, as Nietzsche once put it, of socialization and of free will and a prophetic view of the modern age which can only be "proved" in part. But with David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, and with Edward Gibbon, I have come to regard my life and, indeed, all of history, "as a drama of human passion." For human passion is many things, some associated with sexual love and others with strong emotion and belief. The former perpetuates the species and the latter is the motivational matrix behind so much of action. Passions are timeless but the circumstances in which they occur are never the same.

Although I build a narrative out of individual agency, the agency of my own actions, and the surprises, the events, "the shadows on the high road of an inevitable destiny," a peaceful and secure world, like Gibbon, "the sheer accumulation and repetition of events," the unprecedented tempest of my times, in the end, leaves the reader, I am inclined to believe, with patterns and processes, ideas and ideals, philosophy and analysis, a much bigger picture than an individual life.

If the autobiographer is sensitive to the processes of minute causality, he will slowly and inevitably come to see that behind each fact there is a "swarming mass of causes on which he could turn the historical microscope." The fragmentary, ambiguous and opaque material of our days makes it difficult to wield the pen with any kind of authority over our lives. What started off with a sense of my authorial imperium, as was the case at the start of writing this autobiography in the early 1980s, is often the case with writers and was the case with Edward Gibbon. Such a feeling of literary authority often results, though, over the long stretch of writing in an increasing vulnerability. There is, too, some degree of frustration in trying to put words behind the elusive complexities of life and the multitude of unfocused and divergent aspects of one's days. Giving life a unity of form, if one attempts to give it a literary expression, can beat the best of them. One toils with a performance that struggles endlessly with ideal. I may generate a powerful impression of sequence and it certainly does exist behind the pages of this narrative. But readers may also find that there is just too much to be contained by their intellect in a narrative that contains such frequently competing claims of evidence and experience and such a variety of standpoints. My imagination is always active to enlarge the narrow circle in which nature and circumstance confine it. And enlarge it I do, perhaps by "the revelation of the inner mysteries of God," mixed with that 'obscuring dust' of acquired knowledge. It is often difficult to know what is revelation and what is dust, although intuition's unreliable guide often gives us a feeling of certainty. And there is much, too, that eludes the net of language no matter how active the imagination.

Millions of human beings in the years at the background of this autobiography came to find in cinema insights into their personal life-story by observing the director's insights into himself or his society. Some film directors, like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, offered film goers a cinematic persona that reflected their own personality. Fassbinder's films are autobiographical in the sense that they attempt to confer shape and meaning on a chaotic life and a scandalous society, on a catastropic social and political environment. As Fassbinder said in an interview his films "always place himself at the centre." This literary work Pioneering Over Four Epochs, like Fassbinder's work in cinema, tells of my experience. Other people, other Bahá'ís, inevitably have a different setting for their lives but, ultimately, there is a sameness, a strong similarity. Like Fassbinder, I tell my story very personally but in universal terms. Film directors have their signature; no matter how they like the work of other directors, they try to tell their own story in their own way. I do the same; this autobiography has my signature and no matter how much I borrow and blend, copy and plagiarize, I draw the lives and experiences, the ideas and concepts of others making them into my own unique recipe. In the details I can not and do not imitate even if I use some of the same ingredients and even if I sometimes borrow with appreciation. I adapt to fit my particular constellation, my interpretation, of reality. I react differently, sometimes with more spontaneity or more reserve, more adventurousness or more caution. I create my own personal world, tell of my own emotional and intellectual cells and their depths. I hope they resonate with readers; I hope they sensitize readers.

Just a final note from one of the interviews with Fassbinder. I include it because I think film, philosophy and autobiography have, or at least can have, one thing in common and that is the world. Their mutual interrelations are complex and, as Andrew Murphie puts it, hectic and in need of mutual nurturing. He was asked if film making was "a sort of love substitute." His response was that his first take "was more fantastic that the most fantastic orgasm....a feeling indescribable." The finished product, the film we see, is indeed a collage. Sometimes, if not frequently, the visual immediacey of film prevents reflection. All the takes are the materials that have to be reduced and assembled to form the coherent whole of the film. It is this that eventually comes to be the final art-product ready to come to life in the perceptions of viewers. The other finished product, this autobiography, also involves reduction and an assembling of material to form a coherent whole, but there are no problems of visual immediacey. There are no problems either of the collaborative nature of film making. For the most part, autobiography is a solo event.

I would not put writing in quite the same context as making love. Orgasms are shortly lived experiences; love relationships are complex in different ways to writing. But writing and love have many similarities. Writing goes on for years, for a lifetime like a permanent, long-term loving relationship in marriage. The passion of writing obviously lasts far longer than any single erotic act or collection of them. I should add, too, in this connection, that memory is filled with images of the nonself, with all sorts of things from the physical, human and religious worlds and a multitude of disciplines that attempt to assimilate this information and these images and these memories enrich and frustrate, deepen and accompany both love and writing. To put some of this another way: in The Ethics of Ambiguity Simone de Beauvoir argues that we are born in the midst of others without whom the world would never begin to take on meaning. For me, writing helps me make of the world much more. For writing helps me to fertilze the solitude that, as Beauvoir adds, is as essential as interrelationship.

Poets, writers and many others, often turn away from the world of objects in their jouissance and they rediscover the non-self within the self; or to put this idea more concretely, self and world are rediscovered in a richer symbiosis. "It is in themselves," as Leo Bersani writes, "that their insatiable appetite for otherness is satisfied." This idea is a complex one; perhaps it is just another way of saying the cultural attainments of the mind, that first attribute of perfection as 'Abdu'l-Bahá calls it, have more lasting power than anything associated with the physical.

I should say at the outset that this book will contain an autobiography, several essays about autobiography and generous helpings of poetry. The general principles of the subject of autobiography are, as yet, hardly agreed on. Perhaps they never will be. Like other kinds of history, autobiography has its own styles and themes as they involve in their diverse ways, in both settled life and movement, living and teaching, learning and consolidation, development and stasis, a broad range of dichotomies. Then there is the relation of these themes and topics to the social imagination. Imagination is involved with all these dichotomies. Imagination has its own rhythms of growth as well as its own modes of expression. I feel strongly that autobiography, whatever its inherent merits and demerits, is, for some people anyway, an indispensable aid to our knowledge of the history of Bahá'í experience. The hundreds, indeed thousands, of life's anecdotes have varying degrees of dramatic immediacy. This autobiography absorbs these anecdotes, all these deeds of commission and omission, into a ceremony of recitation, recreation and renewal. They are seen both as life and as material for art, as part of a material transformed into self-expressive speech, as the utterance of an individual voice and as an aesthetic performance, as the deployment of a perspective and as a form that reverberates with the interpretations of my own consciousness. Perhaps, too, what I write is also a "relational move" by which I try to complete myself "by connecting to the eternal" or some ideal within myself.

Identity is unquestionably central to any autobiography. The theme of identity will appear again and again in this narrative. There are lived identities and identities that one talks about. I like to think there is a balance between these two types of identity in this autobiography. There is also in this work of my mind a relief of tensions created by my own needs. My mind is given its grammar by the world; my wishes give it a vocabulary and my anxieties its object or so one writer put it. The experience of each of us is different from that of others, sometimes just slightly, sometimes significantly. To hazard generalizations on a whole group is a risky business, although these generalizations are often a highly instructive witness to one's several worlds.

My experience is only a part, a small part, of the vast intricate mosaic of Bahá'í community life, of Canadian life, of Australian life, of the life of a teacher, a parent, a husband, a man of the middle class in the closing decades of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first. But it is experience which I have, at least in part, recovered, reconstructed and recounted. This experience is also written in the early evening of my life and does not convey that quality of excitement it might have conveyed had I written it forty years ago when my youthful enthusiasms influenced my thinking more. I like to think, though, that my learning is lighter and my humour easier, that I am more the observer and the analyst and my seriousness less heady and intense than it might have been had I written this in early adulthood or the early years of middle adulthood. I like to think that my historical sensibility has been sharpened by years in-the-field, a pioneering field going back to 1962.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once wrote that 'God gave us memory so we could have roses in winter.' Here, then, are some of my roses and, inevitably, some weeds from what is sometimes called episodic memory. I hope that, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, I do not rob this "story of its reality" by making "it too true." Also, if Wilde is correct when he says that "the interesting thing about people in good society....is the mask that each one of them wears," then I hope that I at least describe accurately that mask and, however partially, reveal the world that is underneath. For, as Wilde says again, "we are all of us made of the same stuff" and differ only in accidentals. And oh, what accidentals!

The wilderness of western society in which I have lived and had my being over forty years as a pioneer was much more demanding and wild than I had anticipated at the dawn of my manhood in the early 1960s. It has been intricate and complex, subtle and, for the most part, seemingly impenetrable to the teachings of the Cause I espoused in any direct sense. This is not to say that many, a multitude, of seeds were not sown, 'like the infinitude of immensity with the stars of the most great guidance,' as 'Abdu'l-Bahá puts it so beautifully in the opening paragraph of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. I did indeed find, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá went on to write in His opening tablet, that 'heavenly outpourings' descended and 'radiant effulgences' did appear in my life and in my society. This autobiography is, in many ways, a tribute to those effulgences and those outpourings. But there was also a dark heart to the age and to my life; there were millions of 'gray, silent rocks,' a dreary and desolate scene, a vast, titanic, catastrophic tempest that 'remorselessly gained in range and momentum' throughout all the years that this narrative is concerned with.

How shall we excuse the supine inattention of the vast majority of humankind to those evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence in the personages of two prophets or God-men for the modern age? Is it due to humanity's lack of reason or the simple failure of its several senses? During the century of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and His eldest Son, and the many incredible personalities who could be designated as apostles or as Their first disciples, the doctrines which They preached were confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame did indeed walk, the blind did see, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were often suspended for the benefit of this embryonic community. But the sages and indeed the ordinary masses of West and East, North and South have, for the most part, turned aside from this awful spectacle, and, pursuing their ordinary occupations of life, of work and of study, have, for over a century and a half, appeared unconscious of the wondrous miracles associated with the lives and works of the Central Figures of this new Faith. There were and are innumerable reasons and this narrative deals with some of them in a serendipitous fashion.

This modern age has seen a host of miracles partly due to the inventions of technology, partly due to the explosion in knowledge, partly due to the sheer expansion in population from about one billion when these two manifestations of God were born to the present six billion. Whatever the case, whatever the reasons, however slow the growth of this Movement may appear, during the half-century I have been associated with its growth and consolidation, it seemed to me to develop to a degree that, in many ways, far exceeded my expectations.

From time to time in this five volume work I refer to The Prelude by William Wordsworth, the first and the major long autobiographical poem in the history of modern English literature. I refer to it because it contains a number of useful comparisons and contrasts with this work. The theme of Wordsworth's long poem is "the loss of the paradise of childhood" and the regaining of that paradise through the power of the developing imagination. I certainly deal with the loss of my childhood; I deal with the power, the experience, of a developing intellect and imagination. I also deal with the regaining of that paradise in the years of a different prelude, the years in which there was an entry-by-troops into the Bahai Cause. The fifty year period from 1953 to 2003 witnessed a growth of the Bahá'í community from two-hundred thousand to nearly six million. And it appeared as I wrote these several editions of this narrative work that this period of prelude before a mass conversion would continue in the years ahead, as far as I could prognosticate anyway, until at least the end of the first century of the Formative Age in 2021 and probably well beyond. To Wordsworth the transformation of the world was through the mind of the writer, the poet. This is unquestionably true and this autobiography is, in some ways, a testimony to the "new and wonderful configurations" that derive from the luminous lights of the mind.

There is little description of the pastoral, of place, of setting, of locale, in my poetry or my prose. I do not record in minute detail the landscapes, what I saw and heard, on Baffin Island in northern Canada, along the Tamar River in Tasmania or in any of the several dozen cities, towns and hamlets where I have lived, visited, moved and had my being. I do not measure these earthly days, as Wordsworth and the nature poets often have done, by the mountains, the stars and the river valleys I have gazed upon, however inspiring, lofty and pleasant the verdure and grandeur. The minutiae of nature, the myriad sense impressions, the sunshine and shadow where gaiety and pensiveness so often met, the solitude and silence, the noise and the tumult that occupied my hours and days, the industrial, the technological, the machine: there is so much that I have not described, that I have not even attempted to enter a word about. Landscape, or place, always includes the human presence, of course, and, in fact, is centred around it. Place is where our embodied selves experience the world, receive its nurturance and energy. Place is where, as David Abram wrote, "the sensing body is....continually improvising its relation to things and to the world." Place is also an agent, a locus of action and significance.

By the 1940s and 1950s both Australians and Canadians "accepted as conventional wisdom that the local territory in which they lived was a defining force in their lives and their nationality." But in the last forty years, during my pioneering journey, uncertainty has crept into any simplistic identity associated with land, with region. Other bases of identity have come to occupy the attention: the arts, the media, ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality, wealth, social and political issues, inter alia. Region was not as important as it had been two, four or six generations before, in the first centuries of the history of these enormous countries. But place could not be ignored even if the bases of identity were more diverse, more complex, morre confused.

My schooling is yet another of the many aspects of life I hardly mention. The curriculum was inherited from Great Britain, and consequently it was utterly untouched by progressive notions in education at least until the early 1960s when I graduated from high school. We, that is Canadians, took English grammar, complete with parsing and analysis; we were drilled in spelling and punctuation; we read English poetry and were tested in scansion; we read English fiction, novels, and short stories and analyzed the style. Each year we studied a Shakespearean play committing several passages to memory. If I had been a student in Australia, the story would have been the same.

I might have been living in Sussex or Wessex or Essex or Norwich for all the attention we paid to Canadian poetry and prose. It did not count. We, for our part, dutifully learned Shakespeare's imagery drawn from the English landscape and from English horticulture. We memorized Keats's "Ode to Autumn" or Shelley on the skylark without ever having seen the progression of seasons and the natural world they referred to. This gave us the impression that great poetry and fiction were written by and about people and places far distant from Canada. We got a tincture of Canadian prose and poetry, of course. We knew we had some place. We were so big; we had to have some psychological existence. The educational process gave us some appreciation for the Canadian landscape and its culture. It was not as tidy or green as England's. It deviated totally from the landscape of the Cotswolds and the Lake Country or the romantic hills and valleys of Constable. If I had been given an Australian education I would have had even less of an appreciation of my native land.

In Canada in the 1950s textbooks were often written by Canadians. This was not true in Australia. In mathematics, for example, Australian kids studied arithmetic and simple geometry, five times a week. The textbooks were English and the problems to be solved assumed another natural environment. It was possible to do them all as a form of drill without realizing that the mathematical imagination helped one explore and analyze the continuities and discontinuities of the order which lay within and beneath natural phenomena. I could say so much more about those eighteen years of institutionalized education in Canada, as I could about so many other aspects of life, but I must of necessity limit the details, the story, to a confined space and quantity.

The fluid and impermanent nature of relationships with the minimum of formality that Tocqueville said characterized democracies were certainly part of these years in both school and in all the other aspects of life. Tocqueville's analysis said much about my time. The individual, he wrote, shuts himself tightly within a narrow circle of domestic interests and excitements and from there "claims the right to judge the world." As social, community, ties loosened, they became more impersonal, Tocqueville said, and "domesticity was reinforced." I could expatiate at length on the insights of this French scholar in the decade before the Bab's declaration in 1844, but it is not my intention to offer a long, detailed, sociological analysis of my time. The search for the secret, the basis, for a just social order for human beings was part of Tocquville's search as it has been for political philosophers and theorists as far back as the pre-Socratics and the prophets of the Old Testament. The search for a just social order in the years of this prelude would continue though, it seemed, on some predestined path, a path in which a tempest was blowing with great force and a path in which the social order was given an articulate expression in the writings of a new world Faith. My task was to help give this Order physical expression in the communities where I lived.

The tempest that was blowing through the global society that this narrative takes place in was so severe that its very origins, its significance and its outcome were, for the most part, impenetrable. Most of the people I came to know, to have any association with, outside the Bahá'í community, in Canada and Australia, in these years of the prelude, were caught up, in a host of ways, by this great onrushing wind. Whatever was available at the banquet table of the Lord of Hosts would simply have to wait as the great masses of humanity continued to be swept along by this tempest, this onrushing gale-force-wind. The tempest was simply so immense; the upheavals so extreme, that the average person or the greatly endowed, the intelligent and the ignorant were swept along by its devastating and complex forces.

I muse, with Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote 65 days after the Bab declared His message to Mulla Husayn: 'When we see how little we can express, it is a wonder that any man even takes up a pen a second time.' But I have tried as many have tried. And I have tired. I do not dwell on the various tensions in relationships: in classrooms where I taught, in homes where I lived and in offices, mines, mills and factories where I was employed. I mention the tensions and pass on. The element of dramatic tension, then, which is essential to any drama and which could be defined as "the gap between a character and the fulfillment of his purpose" is present but it is highly diffuse, diverse. It is present in the constraints I face in life, in the pursuit of the resolution of my several purposes. As one analyst of drama put it: "drama is the art of constraint." But the drama here does not transport the reader into a fictional world, either metaphorically or literally. The drama here is mostly the common, everyday stuff. I can not claim that my drama is particularly unique or is capable of holding the interest of the reader due to its unusual qualities or fascinations. This is no pretend world of fictional characters in which you have to suspend disbelief, as Coleridge once put it. The reader's relationship with myself and what I have written is infinitely negotiable and the meanings that emerge are dynamic and shifting. Perhaps I can contribute here, a little to some future prudence which Plutarch referred to as: "the memory of the past, the understanding of the present and the anticipation of the future."

There is a bewilderingly luxuriant and immensely complex aspect to the human condition. It offers many illegible, contradictory and paradoxical clues. There is often only a superficial unanimity in the attitudes and values, the behaviour and thoughts of the members of any of the groups I have been associated with in life. If what I write earns "the judgement of gratitude and sympathy," as Matthew Arnold described the reaction of readers to writers who help them and give them what they want, I will also have won the day. But I'm not sure if I will achieve this. There is a gentle and, perhaps, not-so-gentle advocacy here as I attempt to transform circumstances into consciousness. There is much digression, some disproportionate, which is one of the prime luxuries and blemishes of this work. It is difficult, if not impossible, to consider every particle and fragment of this work in relation to some overall design. There is metanarrative here, but not everything can be connected to its design.

In movies such as Oliver Stone's JFK, Edward Zwick's Glory and Spike Lee's Malcolm X the director has an audience far greater than any documentary or autobiographical work that can, if desired, clearly present all of the facts from both sides of the spectrum. The content of such a film is usually the only version of the story that many will see, read or know about. The directors of such films, knowing that they have a captive audience, can therefore choose which facts that they place in their film to create the myth or message that they wish to create and leave out the facts and events that, although important and relevant, go against their beliefs and destroy the myth they wish to create. Those directors who somehow manage to entertain the masses and make an argument are very special. They can stimulate the study of history but, more often, they simply entertain. Oliver Stone, Edward Zwick and Spike Lee are three directors who possess the talent to entertain and present an argument successfully, making it difficult for others, concerned with the truth but with
less money and no talent for directing or writing a film, to argue against their views.

Such "historical" film directors cleverly create myths to promote their own beliefs or sometimes mischievous speculation and the average movie goer, faced with no other opinion than the one on the screen, generally believe that myth as reality. As film director of my own life in this autobiography I try to avoid clever myth creation, mischievous speculation and manipulation of a captured audience. Given that readers will have no other opinions on my life than the ones presented here, although they will certainly have other opinions on the Bahá'í Faith and society, I am certainly aware how much I am in control of the story and of the truth, of my own history. I am aware, too, that, although history and my life can be studied scientifically, the field is immensely complex--both history and my life--and immensely subtle.

However vast, self-evident and urgent the field is, and surely one's life is all of these things, generating a certain anxiety as one proceeds in its examination; however esoteric and divisive it also seems thus precluding any unified approach to its examination and perhaps even any general and organized, any systematic and intense, interest---if there is to be any concerted action towards the goal, a map for the journey must be found and applied. Vague sentiments of good will, however genuine, will not suffice. Some basic understanding of principles and processes, of ethics, philosophy, ontology and history, indeed a host of fields of knowledge are required if the seeker, the writer, is to even approach the first "attribute of perfection" and its "qualification of comprehensive knowledge" that 'Abdu'l-Bahá exhorts us to attain. If any coordinated progress is to be achieved there is much to be done. I make a start.

The literary architecture here requires some foresight; if it is to be rich and expressive it must subsume the irregularities and afterthoughts of day to day life into some kind of harmonious whole. It must acknowledge the uncertainties and the ambiguities which I and others have lived with, at least since the appearance of the two-God men of our age. This task is as difficult to do in real life as it is in writing about real life. If it is to be at all useful to people of our time it must define and describe the nature of our "frantic need for guides through the jungle of modernity." Sadly, in our time, there is so much said about everything that there is little assurance about anything, except perhaps the great material and technological apparatus of society which brings to those who can afford it comforts never known in all of history. And so I hold no high hope for the results, the affects, of what I write here for it is not part of that immense scientific apparatus.

The distinctions of personal merit and influence are tempered but still conspicuous in any Bahá'í community. The oneness of humankind does not imply that the distinctions between people are feeble or obscure. Neither does the concept of oneness imply that the abilities and talents of everyone who cross our paths be ignored. The severe subordination of rank and office, which often pertains in societies that raise egalitarianism to unrealistic heights of value, which do not see equality as the chimera it is, was and is not characteristic of the Bahá'í community. The Bahá'í community recognizes a wide range of statuses and roles resulting from talent and appointment, election and pure ability, and it sees oneness as more of an integrated multiplicity than any conception of sameness.

I hope there is little of that 'twotwaddle' that William Gass said Freud wrote and little of those strange illusions which seem to cloud the clear skies of relevance that are essential to creative and productive lives and works. Inspite of the fact that I have the feeling that we all have from time to time; namely, that life possesses a hopelessly insignificant aspect, an impossible to comprehend reality, in the grand scheme of things, I want to venture on the sea of autobiography avoiding as far as I can the many familiar formulae used by autobiographers. Readers will respond to this work the way audiences do to film: in patterns of meaning and symbols, not as stimuli or messages. I trust, too, that in stepping back and reading this, readers will see themselves by distancing themselves from their own lives and by being implicated in what they read. For I think there is more here than 'the clothes and buttons' of a man, as Mark Twain described biography. And much more than some gray transit 'between domestic spasm and oblivion.'

I feel a little like a tourist guide taking a bus-load of people through the historic places, the interest sights and the beautiful spots in some part of the country in order to make a package-tour of several days. The aim is to both entertain and inform the travellers and send them on their way with their time having been pleasantly occupied. Like the guide and the tour, I do not take my readers everywhere. In fact most of the places in the urban-rural complex that this bus travels through and around are never seen by the tourists for fear of boring them to death with repetition and the tedium of endless streets in the city and field-after-field in the country. But in the midst of these repetitious scenes and the dullest of exteriors which are about as interesting as the eye of a dead ant, there is drama, comedy and tragedy. It's just a matter of digging it out, ferreting it out, going down and in, behind the windows and doors of a dozing world which often is just watching TV, doing some house-cleaning, some gardening or, perhaps, having a meal at the time.

One day in the not-too-distant future I hope I will be content to lie beneath a quiet mound of grass and a small monument of stone. But in the meantime, I am not content just to go into the hereafter, however joyful or regretful I may be on that journey into eternity; I do not seem content with the role of a thoroughly commonplace, nameless and traceless existence which, to some extent is the lot of all of us or nearly all; I seem to be drawn to autobiography as a bee to a honey-pot. Perhaps I should regret, as some readers may be in the end, that I did not apply my abilities to more useful fields. Why should anyone care what the merits of an obscure Bahá'í are, one who came to live at the ends of the earth, the last stop before Antarctica? Can it really matter that he lived in 25 towns and 40 houses, is now on a disability pension and all of this over a period of several epochs during the growth of a new world religion which has been emerging from obscurity during his lifetime. Does it contribute any benefit to humankind to have a printed version of his particular form of navel gazing?

We all walk through our lives partly blindfolded. This is partly due, as Oscar Wilde once noted, to a certain "extraordinary monotony," itself a product of an underactive imagination and inner life. There is simply too much to take in. You could call it a cultivated blindness, as Wilde does, or a cultivated inattention, as some media analysts refer to the way we watch television. Extensively canvassed in the popular press, in specialist journals and at the turn of this century and millennium on the Internet; meticulously documented in the electronic media, however unsatisfactorily to the proclivities and prejudices of many, the happenings, the news, the events, of the day occupied people's minds in various degrees. And so, too, did the events of family life, jobs and the multitude of human interests, quite understandably, fill the space available, both for me and those wo were in my company.

As I pondered this reality of life, I mused about the impossibility of the thoughts and events of one life, in one autobiography, in my autobiography, ever finding a place in the minds of just about everyone or indeed anyone on the planet. These thoughts might reach a coterie, a small coterie as I have already said above, and that's about all. Half the art of storytelling, of course, no matter who the story reaches, is to keep the story free from too much of that deluge of information and too great a quantity of the plethora of explanation one acquires as one walks down life's path. If this art is practiced well, readers will be left free to interpret things the way they understand them. I'm not sure how well I do this. I try to please readers. Writing is somewhat like talking; hopefully someone is listening and wants to listen. I leave the reader free to interpret the way he or she wants but, along the way, I provide great dollops of explanation and plentiful helpings of information and analysis. I try to do this with the same art that good cinema possesses: "the art of the little detail that does not call attention to itself."

I provide an episodic structure, careful selectivity and analysis. The reader can enter, can gain access to the text by any one of many entrances, none of which is the main one. Readers could begin at the beginning or in the last chapter. there is no pre-ordained sequence to follow. I like readers to feel they have gained something on their own and to feel that all I have done is help them along the way. But, like George Bernard Shaw, I can no more write what people want than I can play the fiddle to a happy company of folk dancers." The balance between pleasing people and pleasing myself, between honesty and tact is as difficult in writing as it is in life. While I portray some of my own secrets and desires, understandings and analyses in this text, readers, it is my hope, will find themselves. I can but hope.

As a stenographer of reality, as a mirror of the world I lived in, this autobiography does less distorting than a novel, which often manipulates, modifies and exaggerates truths about the past in deference to cultural , literary and highly personal pressures. There is more caution required, at least it can be so argued, of a reader vis-a-vis a novel than an autobiography, at least this one, if the reader is trying to get a picture of the past. Often great novels are not realistic; they distort and, as Peter Gay argues, they have done history a disservice. I do not claim that my experience, my view, my vision, is necessarily shared with other Bahá'ís, except in the broadest of outlines and except insofar as all Bahá'ís share the Book and its Interpreter and the Universal House of Justice in a pattern of centres and relationships in their lives.

I trust the reader will not find here any gnashing of teeth, any strutting and stridence, any fretting and fulminating as, like Marzieh Gail, I summon up remembrance of things past, my early life, the Bahá'í communities and the general society I have lived in over the last half a century. In the process I hope to sketch something of what T.S. Eliot said was the great need of modern man: a larger polity. But my sketch is not an in-depth socio-historical study, a politico-economic treatise; it is autobiography by traces, history by traces, as F. Simiand defines history. I give the reader vestiges left behind by the passage of a human being through four epochs in a Bahá'í timetable, a Bahá'í framework of the passage of history. Details crystallize, images are isolated, moments are seen that fascinate as I gaze back in time; there is a certain fetishizing of otherwise ordinary, fleeting, evanescent, subjective, variable moments. What is seen and discussed here is in some ways "in excess of what was lived." It is a little like what film critic Paul Willemen claims of the cinephiliac moment: "what is seen is in excess of what is being shown." It is not choreographed for you to see; it is a kind of addition, a synergetic-add-on that is the result of thought, the "new and wonderful configurations" of these epochs.

The starting point here is something like Carlyle's analogy between the history of the world and the life of the individual. In my case a history of modern civilization and of my religion which has grown up in the light of modern history occupies the central place alongside my own life. The Victorians saw their age as an age of transition and so, too, is our time one of transition, we who have inherited the interpretations of our time by the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith and Their trustees, the international governing body of the Bahá'í community. I impose a pattern on this age of transition, a pattern which is partly unidirectional and partly cyclical. It possesses the halo of inevitability but not the patina of triumphalism. It has grown out of the Bahá'í conception of history and it gives direction and meaning to the immense dislocation of these times. It possesses, too, a sense that history is coherent, rational and progressive. I am conscious that this view can be disputed but I am confident that my views flow logically from the texts and its interpreters in this Faith that inspires what I write. I don't think my contribution to the study of history is important in any way but I think the mix of the humanities and the social sciences I bring to the study of the individual in society is, if not unique, at least possessed of a certain originality, an original mix of Bahá'í ideology and large dollops of historical theory found among the wide range of theories and theorists.

The lives of the obscure, the ordinary and the unknown members of society at any given historical period some have argued can never be satisfactorily recovered. I possess a different take on this theme. It is my view that their inner world can be penetrated, can be recaptured. Michelle Johansen takes a similar view in her analysis of an obscure London librarian. This autobiography, like Johansen's, examines the life of an essentially obscure person, in my case someone who has held many jobs in and out of teaching, lived in many places and been involved for more than half a century with an emerging world religion in the first century of its Formative Age.

The use of the first-person voice is always a conscious narrative choice. In the writing of history its official use is restricted. The "I" of the historian is usually absent. It is simply not invoked. Subjectivity is the great unmentionable in historical narratives. Historians are not encouraged to relate their personal reactions, motivations, emotions, dreams or other imaginative connections between their reading, research, and writing or envisioning. But this work is only partially a history. The use of the first-person seems natural here.

Traces are left, a trace remains. Thus we can speak of remnants of the past in the same way or a different way, from the way we speak of relics or monuments. And so I hand over to the contingencies of preservation or of destruction this autobiography. Like all traces, it now stands for a past, mine and society's, mine and my religion's, an absent past. The past may be absent but this trace, this writing, is and will be(I hope) present, thus, in a certain way, preserving the past even though that past is gone, it no longer exists.

We all see different aspects of life as expressions of our ultimate journey, at least for those of us who see life in terms of some ultimate journey. The whole question of ultimate journey has so many many meanings to people. In some definable and indefinable way these expressions are symptomatic of what life is all about to each person. Some see the quintessence of life's journey best through the medium, the mediating role, of film; some hear it in music or in one of the other creative and performing arts; some see in nature the supreme moving impulse in creation; some find it in love and relationships; some in learning and the cultural achievements of the mind. The list, were I to try and make a comprehensive one, could be continued on and on. For we are creatures of heterogeneity and, more than knowing ourselves directly, we seem to know about ourselves by knowing about other things. I was one of those, like many others, for whom the ultimate journey was observed, defined, expressed through many forms. My experience of some of these forms is described in the following narrative of nearly seven hundred more pages. This narrative has become larger than I had originally anticipated. However long it has become, it seems suited to my particular literary and psychological needs. Whether readers find this length suitable to their tastes is another matter.

Perhaps I could say I am 'rendering' the past as a painter renders. I have rendered my life, given it a certain transparency, refigured my world, re-described it, appropriated it, re-enacted it, reeffectuated the past in the present. I have brought things out into the open, the way we all do when we tell stories about ourselves. I have transformed my life in the sense that an examined life is a changed life, a different life. So many Bahá'ís have achieved great things for their Faith. Many have achieved little. The portion of some and the portion of others varies as to their respective receptacles. Comparisons may be partly odious, but they are inevitable.

In the kingdom of fiction, novels, stories and science fiction, the constraints of historical knowledge have been suspended or considerably loosened and played with. There is a great freedom to explore imaginative variations of history, of the past in these literary forms. In autobiography I do not enjoy this luxury but, still, reconstructing the past needs the help of imagination. Just as fiction has a quasi-historical component, so too does autobiography have a quasi-fictional component. History and fiction intersect in autobiography in the refiguration of time, in that fragile mix where the facts of the past and human imagination join in an effort to produce the deepest observations and the liveliest images, to enlarge the narrow circle of experience and to penetrate the complexities of life. As Canadian writer Margaret Atwood once wrote "the mind is a place where a great deal happens." I hope readers find a lot happens here.

The British sociologist, Anthony Giddens, wrote that a person's identity is "not to be found in behaviour, nor in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going." That person must continually integrate events and sort them into an ongoing story about the self. He must, and in this case the self is a 'he', "have a notion of how he has become who he is and where he is going." There is a process of selecting and of discarding memories, a partly robust and partly fragile set of feelings and self-identity. And that is what I do here. Perhaps Sir Francis Drake put it more strikingly and eloquently in his prayer:

O Lord God!
When Thou givest to Thy servants
to endeavour any great matter,
Grant us to know that it is
not the beginning
But the continuing of the same
to the end,
Until it be thoroughly finished,
Which yieldeth the true glory..

Autobiography is interpretive self-history and an interpretive self-history that goes on until one's last breaths. It is a dialogue with time and I have spent various periods of the last twenty years(1984-2004) trying to give my experience a cast, a shape, and make a coherent intervention into my past not just write a chronicle of elapsed events. As I do this I find I nourish the past, anticipate the future and face unavoidable existential realities like death, my own limitations and failures. While my account is ostensibly about myself, I like to think that it becomes, in the end, about the reader. For there is a complex symbiosis here between me and you and the many readers not yet born. "I'll live in this poor rime," as Shakespeare writes in Sonnet 107. Every writer worth his salt likes to think, hopes, as the Bard wrote in the last couplet of this sonnet, that

thou in this shalt find thy monument
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.

It is difficult to present an orderly account of one's story, one's "monument." Frankly, though, I don't think orderliness is crucial. As the American novelist Henry James once wrote, back in 1888, the crucial thing is to be saturated with life and in the case of this autobiography: my life, my times and my religion. Time has a corrosive quality and produces a certain vacancy of memory. Space and time are, as de Quincey once wrote, a mystery. They grow on man as man grows and they are 'a function of the godlike which is in man.' So what I tell here is some of this mystery. I am conscious of what the writer and philosopher H.L. Mencken wrote about autobiography, namely, that no man can 'bring himself to reveal his true character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen and as a believer, his true meannesses, his true imbecilities, to his friends or even to his wife.' She, like servants of old, though, are most likely to see the true colours of a man or a woman. Honest autobiography, Mencken wrote, is a contradiction in terms. All writers try to guild and fresco themselves. There may be some guilding here, but I think I make an improvement on most biographies which A.J. P. Taylor said were mostly guesswork. There is a tone of tentative enquiry in this work; there is inevitably some guesswork; there is a recognition that truth is often elusive and subtle. I have chosen the title and the theme 'pioneering over four epochs' advisedly. There is some fundamental connection with my life's journey, my soul, that is contained in these words which now roll off my tongue with deceptive but now familiar ease.

I have taken, too, Taylor's advice on politics. Taylor wrote that "the only sane course is never, never, to have any opinions about the Middle East." If anything, I point toward a way; I urge and encourage, but I do not offer answers to complex political questions by taking sides, criticizing governments or taking positions on various crises and issues. If anything, my book is a timely, anecdotal and impressionistic examination of the historical origins of the Bahá'í alternative in my time, an alternative embedded in my life and my four epochs. Life's sense and nonsense have pierced me with a feeling, a view, that much of existence is strange and absurd; there is much that is vain and empty in what passses through our sensory emporiums; there is much that is wonderfully awesome and staggeringly mysterious. History for millions is more nightmare and panorama of futility and anarchy. So many millions of human beings seem ill-equipped to deal with the forces of modernity. The resulting social commotion, the resulting disarray is evident all around us.

As my own days pass swifter than the twinkling of an eye, I offer here in this autobiography something of my experience with the relentless acceleration of forces in the dynamic span of epochs that have been the background of my life. I offer, too, layers of memories that have coalesced, that have condensed, into a single substance, a single rock, the rock of my life. But this rock of my life possesses streaks of colour which point to differences in origin, in age and in the formation of this rock. It helps to be a geologist to interpret their meaning and I, like most people, have no advanced training or study in geology. So it is that my memories have fused together and they are not fully understood. Perhaps by my latter, my later, years; perhaps in an afterlife, in that Undiscovered Country when I enter the land of lights, then, I will understand.

I could begin, for example, with my first memory in 1948. I remember making a mud-pie in the spring; perhaps the snow was still on the ground or the April rains had come after a Canadian winter. Perhaps it was March or perhaps it was April of 1948 as the Canadian Bahá'í community was just completing the first fifty years of its history. Perhaps it was on that weekend of the 24th and 25th of April 1948 when the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada was elected by 112 Bahá'ís in Montreal. That's when I'd like to think my first memory occurred in real time. But, alas, I do not have a unified, factually accurate, version of that first event in my mind's eye. I am saddled, as we all are, with a host of variations of what happens to us, what is around us and what it all means.

We can only connect with a portion of our own lives and of the great mass of facts and details that makes up the history of our time. Even if one assumes that you can explain human personality totally in terms of culture, there is only so much culture one can analyse. The writer, the historian, the autobiographer, all analysts of the modern condition and of the human beings in it, must face limitation. They must face minutiae and avalanches of information. I could take refuge in a more distant past as many do these days and tell of my mother's and father's life going back to the turn of the century, or of my grandparents on my mother's side in England or on my father's side in Wales in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Or I could write an account of my great-grandparents' lives taking readers back to the beginning of this New Era in the 1840s. Few people exhaust the surface, much less the contemplation, of their own experience, how much less that of their forefathers. The years before my birth I shall mention from time to time if and when I feel they illuminate the theme I am pursuing.

The days of my life are gone, at least as far as late middle age or middle adulthood as some human development theorists call the years from 40 to 60. Some of these days return as if from the dawn of my life and, as Wordsworth expressed it so beautifully, "the hiding places of man's power/Open: I would approach them, but they close." I scarcely see them at all, Wordsworth continues, but he says he tries to "give substance and life to what he feels," thus "enshrining...the spirit of the past/For future restoration." And so, writing this autobiography is, in some ways, a job of restoration, restoration over four epochs. I leave the previous epochs of the Formative and Heroic Ages to the pens of others, the thousands of others whose lives were lived in the years after the beginning of this New Era in 1844. These earlier years will, as I say, get only the occasional mention when they function to illuminate the present or the future. For this autobiography focuses on a history that has been part of my bones: the first six decades of the second Bahá'í century.

In a recent edition of the journal Cultural Logic I came across the following quotation which expresses, in some ways, what I am attempting to accomplish here. The author wrote: 'I am speaking my small piece of truth, as best as I can. We each have only a piece of the truth. So here it is: I'm putting it down for you to see if our fragments match anywhere, if our pieces, together, make another larger piece of the truth that can be part of the map we are making together to show us the way to get to the longed-for world.

So many changes have taken place both in public space and private thought that the world I set out in in 1962 as my pioneering life began has been transformed. One mundane and in some ways trivial example in public space is described by R. Shields: 'Hyper-realities are found in malls, restaurants, hotels, theme parks; in self-contained fictional cities such as Disneyland, in California, Tokyo and Paris, and Disney World, in Florida; and in real cities such as Los Angeles and Miami. All are facades woven out of collective fantasy. The original for these, of course, is Disneyland, built in the mid-1960s. It is tempting to laugh off all of this as an amusing curiosity, but shopping malls are the most frequented urban social spaces in North America now.' They play a pivotal position in the lives of billions of consumers and are a new focus of communities.' And as one writer put it: shopping is the most creative act western man performs. (See also: R. Shields, 'Social Spatialization and the Built Environment: The West Edmonton Mall,' Society and Space, Vol. 7, pp. 147-164.)

In my forty years of putting up posters, 1964-2004, I could always rely on the shopping mall to say no to my request to put up a poster. It was an out-of-bounds zone to any kind of political or religious activity. I have no intention or interest in describing my shopping activities in malls or, indeed, in any other commerical establishments over the years, although I must have put up several thousand posters in smaller shops: newsagents, florists, hardare stores, delis, retaurants, inter alia, and had light-hearted and easy-going relationships with many a shop-keeper. I'm sure I could write a small book on my experiences putting up all these posters. And in a society which is nothing, if not a consumer society, much could be said about my shopping experiences, even if they were minimal and occupied an essentially periferal part of my life.

In the macro-political domain there were a core of events which took place in the more than four decades of pioneering experience that affected the climate of western thought. One of the more recent was in 1989, two centuries after the French Revolution, which did more than merely terminate the bipolar balance of terror that had kept the peace for nearly half a century; the fall of the Berlin Wall brought to an end the older ideological equilibrium and the habit-encrusted formulation of issues which went with it. The concepts my generation used to describe the world after WW2 urgently needed to be reformulated after 1989. And they have been reformulated in the last fifteen years, 1989-2004, in a much more complex global community. This is not to say, of course, that everything changed in 1989. Many aspects of the world in the years 1945 to 1989 have remained the same, but the tendencies were exacerbated. 'The wealthiest and poorest people,' according to a U.N. Human Development Report of 1996, 'are living in increasingly separate worlds.' The three billion in 1945 has become six billion and the hostile camps of WW2 have changed their complexions, their names, their features. But it is not my aim to discuss the socio-political world in great detail in this work. The reasons for war now are different from those seventy or ninety years ago in the last two major world wars and I am confident they will change their spots yet again in this new millennia.

'Without a revolutionary theory, 'wrote Lenin, 'there can be no revolutionary movement.' I have been convinced the Bahá'í teachings provides both; but the revolution is spiritual, evolutionary and, like Christianity 2000 years before, slow to work itself out in the context of society. There is a repetitive aspect to both life and history that gives rise to the cyclical aspect of religion. Comments like the following of British novelist E.M. Forster(1879-1970) reveal the repetitive aspect of life: 'Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it, one is obliged to exaggerate in the hope of justifying one's own existence.' While I find this statement a little over the top, to say the least, there is undoubtedly some truth to it, a truth based on the repetitious nature of life, the routine, the weariness, some of what the Romans called life's tedium vitae. It is one reason, among many, that most people would never think of writing an account of their lives and, if they did, they would find it difficult to get any readers or, more importantly, publishers to put their book on the marketplace. Of course, this may be equally true of my book. I'm sure some would have no trouble seeing my book among the more tedious reads.

"Ultimately, we always tell our own story, not the story of our life, our so called biography, but the other one, which we find difficult to tell using our own names," so writes Jose Saramago, "not because it brings us excessive shame or excessive pride, but because what is great in human beings is too great to be told with words, even when there are thousands of them, and because what usually makes us petty and mediocre is so ordinary and commonplace that we would not be able to find anything new that would touch a chord in that noble or petty human being that the reader is."
However one cuts the cake, so to speak, telling one's story is not easy. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put his finger on part of the problem when he wrote that: 'it is perfectly true that life must be understood backwards. But philosophers tend to forget that it must be lived forward, and if one thinks over that proposition it becomes clear that at no particular moment can one find the necessary resting place from which to understand it backwards.'

It is perhaps for these and other subtle, complex and difficult to define reasons that in their stories certain authors, among whom I believe I could include myself, favour a complex mix in the narrative they live and have lived, the story of their memory with its exactnesses, its weaknesses, its truths, its half-truths, even its fictions some of which they are blinded to and some they are quite conscious of, although they would not want to call them lies. This is not the only story that they can tell honestly; it is the one that makes it to the surface of the paper from among the options they are conscious or not conscious of. They try to touch a chord, the one in their own heart and mind and the many in those of readers, in the best way they know how and in some cases the chord is actually touched.

Mark Twain says to describe everything that happens each day would require a mountain of print. However much a life is enjoyed, to write about it in an engaging way is another question, another topic, another world. Although many enjoy their lives, few could write an account that would give any pleasure to readers. There are many skills in living and another set in writing about them. I'm not sure this book falls into the category of entertaining reading. It is written to satisfy my own sense and sensibility, my proclivity for analysis and my personal desire to give shape to my life, a shape that at least will exist on paper when I am finished. My tale is neither a bitter-sweet tale of a charmed and lamplit past; nor is it a narrative of loss and its lumps, its fragmentation and loneliness. It is closer to a poem, a hypothesis, a construct.

A narrative, like the one I present here, provides a 'unifying action to temporal sequences,' and it is 'fundamental to the emergence and reality' of the subject, namely myself. Self-understanding and self-identity are dependent on this narrative. The process is not a simple mirroring but, rather, an updating, a refiguring, a process of being perched, as Proust says, on the pyramid of my past life as I launch into the future to create, to refine, to define, the self yet again. And while this exercise takes place one must be on one's watch for self-aggrandizement, self-indulgence and self-dramatization. For self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá, once wrote back in 1875. It is as natural as air.

While religious or political commitment, as expressed in terms of some religious or political affiliation, is not a rare or unique phenomenon among writers, most writers today do not incline to commitments in these areas. Most of the people I have known in my life outside the Bahá'í community are similarly inclined. They possess broad commitments to family, to job, to their writing or any one of a range of personal interests, activities and artistic pursuits. Gardening, hobbies of different kinds, sports and the many pleasures and enjoyments of their leisure time seem to lead the way. There is, it seems in the decades of my life's experience, an adversarial relationship between writers and thinkers of various ilks, with aspects of government policy, indeed, with all institutions of political and religious orthodoxy. This adversarial relationship gets expressed throughout their writings and their life.

So many get aroused over what they don't want. And millions don't get aroused at all, except in their private domains. For the world of information and entertainment got increasingly mixed in these several decades and in the pluralistic society that imbibed it all, and in which I had my own life and being. The result seemed to be a mixed bag around which most people spun the web of their lives.

Proust once said that "in reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without the book, he would never, perhaps, have preconceived in himself." And so, as I survey the interstices of my life, I hope I can make of the exercise that optical instrument for the reader that Proust refers to here. Language offers, as Janet Gunn put it so well, a peculiar fitness for the expression and creation of the self. It is a common tool, a tool we all possess, perhaps the best there is if we want to be the novelist, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, of ourselves. It is also a tool with which I would like to mildly disturb the rebellious and lively minds of readers but not to cut their throats; or, as some writer whom I have now forgotten, once said: I'd like to be seen as a surgeon who gives his patients a whole new set of internal organs but leave them thinking they did it all by themselves.

But while possessing this disturbing, this therapeutic, function, with J.B. Priestly, I like to think this autobiography has some of that sin-covering eye, that eye of kindness, where I take in the washing of others and they take in mine. We need to be kind to ourselves as well as others. For many this is a hard lesson to learn. While we are being kind, though, we must be careful that we are not being indolent and aimless, that we attend to that "first attribute of perfection:" learning and the cultural attainments of the mind and, in a series of fundamental exhortations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, that we oppose our passions.

I have already, in a first edition of this autobiography, written a version, a story, of my life. It was about 40,000 words. I finished more than ten years ago now, in May 1993. On reading it, though, I felt some of that tedium vitae mentioned above. I thought to myself "surely there is more to my life than this?" So, I collected the best literature I could find about the process of writing autobiography. It was a literature that began to accumulate in libraries to a significant extent starting in the 1960s. I read everything I could find about this literary activity which arguably goes back to St. Augustine in 426 AD when he wrote his Confessions. I also read many autobiographies but I found them, for the most part, uninspiring, predictable accounts along predictable lifelines. Some autobiographies seemed of excellent quality and I learned a great deal about a person's life that I did not feel I needed or necessarily wanted to know. So, I only read a few chapters and stopped in most cases. So often a student of autobiography, biography and history is faced with cliche, imitation, pietism, affectation, useless fact and much that is trivial and simply irrelevant to their lives. I try to overcome these problems here, probably only partly successfully.

At best one seems to get entertained, mildly informed and occasionaly stimulated with yet another story. As I near the age of sixty I feel as if I have read and seen, lived and heard, a million stories. I don't feel the need to imbibe yet another story of how someone made it from cradle to grave. Inevitably dozens and dozens of stories will come my way as life takes its course. People's inclination to tell stories seems endemic, pervasive, part of the very air we breath. In the end, anyway, it may be "style alone that makes a great memoir" or autobiography, with story taking a distant second place. There is, yes, story here but this is no psychoautobiography or psychobiography in the tradition begun by Freud in 1910 with his study of Leonardo da Vinci. There is no formal reliance on a case study. Rather the reader will find here a much looser, informal, construction.

Wanting and needing coral, pearls and rare salts the student of autobiography so often gets shells and sea-weed and cloudy water in the ocean where autobiographies are published. I hope this account furnishes more than sea-weed, more than shells. I hope those that walk along the beach of this autobiography find rare ocean gems of imperishable value. That is what I hope readers will find here. That is what I looked for in the autobiographies of the famous, the rich and the daring. But, they could not satisfy nor appease my hunger and, in the end, I got a small collection of beach detritus, smooth rocks, pieces of fish bone and coloured glass. Needing to be oceanographers, needing degrees in aquatic zoology or botany, needing a highly refined aesthetic sense, we so often have to settle for building sand castles in the sand and strolling casually along the beach with our brains addled by life's minutiae. Needing more than the sun-warmed sand we seem to stand in our separate solitudes, strangers in so many ways to ourselves and to life itself. There is, it seems to me anyway, an irreconcilable gap between expectations and outcomes, at least in some areas of life. Sometimes, too, outcomes exceed the expectations; the ocean deeps contained specimens beyond my wildest dreams. My hope was that this work would add to this special collection of specimens.

Sometimes, though. both in life and in reading(surely that is a false dichotomy) I found that I had simply no expectations at all. When young, for example, I simply had no idea what to expect from the trip that was in store for me. I took what came my way. Often it is best not to have expectations. But much of the time they are unavoidable. I hope the tree of your expectations, your longing, dear reader, does not yield the fruit of disappointment. I hope, too, that the fire of your hope does not become ashes as you search this autobiographical account for some helpful perspectives on your life and times. I hope there is life here, perspectives of relevance.

May there be little of the kind of life that begins in romance and high hopes, like that of Deborah-Kerr's and Burt Lancaster's tryst on the sand in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity,and ends, as so much of romance does end, in sadness and the dashing of hopes. 1953 was a big year for me, too, and for the narrative at the centre of this autobiography. But my romance, at least back then, had nothing to do with the erotic and everything to do with an idea. I hope readers are enticed after a sort read of this autobiography. May they put the book down to cook their evening meal, work in the garden, watch that movie or attend to their many responsibilities and pick it up again with enthusiasm. That would indeed give me pleasure. I can but hope.

The wonder of this age is that it has become so varied, so rich, so full of change and movement and of novelty that it seems to stand in little need of what I have written here. The great books of history, too, for the most part stand unread by the hapless millions as they read another 'how-to' book, the latest 'therapy manual,' or some magazine of their choice before browsing through the local paper or, perhaps, some advertising leaflets placed in their mailbox. Ironically, at the same time, more history gets read than ever before. There is more print passing over the eyes of the human community than ever before in history. Whether that will include this work of mine, time will tell.

Our age provides a cornucopia of stuff, intense, engrossing, distracting, mundane, secular and spiritual, material to refine and elaborate our pleasures. In many ways it is easier now to be happy. Pleasantness is scattered everywhere. But so, too, is there horror, anxieties and uncertainties. And there are autobiographies. After ten more years of writing and note-gathering, building on the first edition of this autobiography, I felt I had a second edition. I had altered my basic narrative only slightly, but I had built up a supporting structure of material that analysed autobiography as a genre. I had a helpful resource of literally hundreds of thousands of words. I was ready for another assault on this enigmatic, subtle and, I find, elusive act of writing one's story. The elusiveness lies in finding some quintessence of story, some essential meaning that one can give to one's experience or, as T.S. Eliot puts the idea in his poem The Dry Savages:

It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern,
and ceases to be a mere sequence-
Or even development.(lines 85-87)

And again:
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.(lines 93-96)

Some of this elusiveness, this curious creature, that is a person's life is described by Emily Dickinson in the following poem:

The Past is such a curious Creature
To look her in the Face
A transport may receipt us
Or a Disgrace--

Unarmed if any meet her
I charge him fly
Her faded Ammunition
Might yet reply.

I look on this curious creature, the past, with much more humour and dispassionateness than once I did and I seek the 'reply' of that 'Ammunition.' The nostalgia I have often come across for 'the good old days' distorts the real harshness of the past. There is, too, a fascination for the incredible story of the evolution of man and his communities. Perhaps what I have written here in this fourth edition is the start of the release of that 'Ammunition' that Dickinson refers to. "The world is," as Horace Walpole wrote back in 1776, at the outset of the American Revolutionary War, "a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel." It can also be a rich tapestry to those without an historical sense and don't tend to think about history, but that tapestry must be composed of threads from other domains of human experience.

As I approach the age of sixty I see much more of the comedy, the subtlety and the complexity of the human narrative than I once did; the serious tragedy that I once saw in life has been softened, ameliorated, but not entirely eliminated, with the years. Humanity's collective adolesence and the momentous transition of our time have brought and are bringing crises and turmoil on an unprecedented scale amidst a torrent of conflicting interests. I look, too, at this curious creature the past, and in particular the forty years of pioneering that is at the heart of this story, as Hosein Danesh put it in an essay he once wrote on the subject, as part of the outstanding contribution to the history of the unity of the world that is the Bahá'í pioneering activity. But it is an outstanding contribution that I have only just begun to understand. In some ways the truths associated with pioneering give substance to a concept of truth expressed in a history text, Making Sense of Modern Times: "Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its truth is an event or process. Truth is provisional and changing." I'm sure this is part of truth's relativity. And, of course, there is much more. Emerson wrote in his essay "The Poet" that half of what makes human beings is their expression. For me that expression is, significantly, the written word. Writing and artistic expression in general, Emerson concludes, is an ability confined to a few. I think that is true of writing, although people express their creative bents in a wide variety of ways.

Donald Horne, Australian social critic, suggests that we reserve autobiography "for books that are primarily concerned with the changes, surprises and shifting around of the self." Perhaps he will add my book to his list. For there has been much shifting and many changes and surprises insofar as the self, myself, is concerned and much else during these four epochs. I hope he would not consider my work an 'autoglorification.' There have been continuities in the midst of the ups-and-downs, the crises and the victories. Like A.B. Facey in his autobiographical work, A Fortunate Life, there has been a continuous core to my experience that has remained unchanged despite the changes and challenges from life. No matter how continuous and how shifting, I'm sure there will be some who will wish I had devoted this work to, say, an animal autobiography. Tess Cosslett, of Lancaster University, in his article Subjectivity and Ethics in Animal Autobiography: Black Beauty and Others, discusses the use made of the autobiographical genre by humans about their animals.

Given the enthusiasm in our culture for pets, many may wish, after they have sampled this narrative, that my account was about one or several of the cats in my life, the many dogs or horses that crossed my path, or the birds, the fish or any one of the host of animals that became part of my life since I was a child and which David Attenborough and others have colourfully presented to my eyes and mind over the years. For many, especially those who seem to love animals more than humans, I'm sure would prefer my own story was left right out, although it is unlikely that such a person would ever pick up this narrative and try it on for size.

There is little reference to animals at all in this story, although I did have a cat around the house off and on from about the age of ten until the age of fifty. And, interestingly, I became quite fond of cats, spent much time in their company, particularly because I was often up at night when everyone was in bed but the cat. Details about my experiences with cats and with dogs, other peoples' who provided an unpleasant musical background on many of my evening walks in many towns I lived in, the occasional bird, animal menageries, visits to zoos, aqua-marines, inter alia, I virtually ignore because, if nothing else, their significance in my life has been negligible. If, though, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, stories repeated about others are seldom good, a silent tongue is safest," perhaps it would have been better to write more about the animals in my life and less about myself, at least for those animal lovers. The same argument could be made about plants and minerals, insects and vegetation, although that is a more complex argument and I will leave that for later.

Indeed, as I try to place this Bahá'í, this pioneering, experience, 1953/4-2003/4, into some context, I'd like to draw on the writings of Arnold Toynbee in his A Study of History, Vol.2 which was first published in 1934 as Bahá'í Administration was taking its initial form in several countries around the world. Toynbee quotes the eighteenth century philosopher David Hume, who concluded his essay Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences with the observation that "the arts and sciences, like some plants, require a fresh soil; and, however rich the land may be, and however you may recruit it by art or care, it will never, when once exhausted, produce anything that is perfect or finished in the kind. For some reason, for many reasons, in August 1962, on the eve of my pioneering venture I felt quite exhausted or should I say I felt a sense of the tedious, the tedium of the environment, the environment in which I had lived for the previous dozen years in my childhood and adolescence. I required a fresh soil. I needed to move on, to travel, to see the world, what young people have been doing extensively since the late eighteenth century. Each generation in the twentieth century seemed to travel more; the generation that came of age in the 1960s made a quantum leap out into the world. While we leaped, or at least after I leaped, I tried to convey something of the nature of the leap and of the conventional life that occupied the ground-tone of my days. For no matter how much the music varies, there is always a gound-tone of conventionality, like some sort of glue that helps keep us from being unstuck. And having been unstuck several times, I am more than a little conscious of the importance of stuckness, of conventionality.

Toynbee also draws on the mythology of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition to discuss the stimulus of new ground. I want to draw on this same mythology as I try to place this pioneering venture into a fitting context. Toynbee writes that in their removal out of the magic garden into the workaday world, Adam and Eve transcend the food-gathering, the hunting and gathering, economy of "Primitive Mankind and give birth to the fathers of an agricultural and a pastoral civilization. In their exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel....give birth to a generation which helps to lay the foundations of the Syriac Civilization in taking possession of the Promised Land." Such is part of the symbolic significance of, arguably, the first pioneers.

I argue here, and it has insensibly become my conviction with the years, that Bahá'í pioneers around the world are helping to erect, in ways they are quite unable to conceive or understand, the nucleus and pattern of a future world Order. It is not an agricultural and pastoral civilization they are building but, rather, a global civilization. The Promised Land they are taking possession of for the Lord of Hosts, the blessed Person of the Promised One, they do so as part of a heavenly army and the land is the entire planet. Just as the highest expression of the civilization that the Israelites represented was to be found on new ground--in the land of Israel--so, too, does the international pioneer in this embryonic global civilization find the highest, the finest expression, the fruit of his own life, in the place he has taken up root, the new soil.

This autobiography is not born out of the pain of exile, alienation or some metaphysical homelessness, as is so often the case. Rather, it is born out of what you might call the restorative power of narration, out of a writing process that transforms through a general autobiographical impulse, an impulse that creates a certain reportage, that documents a life, a self-story and a time, that serves as a symptomatic or transfigurative symbolization of an experience, an experience that looks like it is going to last the rest of my life. It is born, too, out of a series of certain kinds of symbolic markers and consummations that have defined where I have been in relation to others in my life, both living and dead, that have served as signposts helping me to make sense of my life in terms of place and time and to help give it a coherent narrative shape in spite of the many disorienting, fragmenting, effects of experience. For the project of one's survival and growth, the contribution to self and society and one's meaning and purpose all have a place in time and space. This project must be understood in its temporal and spacial dimensions, in addition to whatever metaphysical and ideological abstractions underpin the whole exercise.

Some may find this context in which I attempt to place this international pioneering story a little too lofty or pretentious, a little too over-the-top as it is said these days. And that is an understandable reaction, especially for those who interpret life in terms of some local landscape, some local region with family, job and garden occupying centre stage. In the bewildering range of autobiographical writing now on show some tell their stories in terms of geography and the nation-state, their homeland, some in terms of their family and career, others in terms of their private interests and hobbies, and still others as an expression of their religious, political or social commitments. I have always seen my life in terms of some big picture, some metanarrative, some global story. I feel this international pull and have felt it since my teens. I see what I write as part of a mosaic of a time when the world seemed to be shifting on its axis, when there was much impoverishment of life and much enrichment. What I write is shaped by narrative paradigms which I select, by a certain literary plotting, by ideological investments, by the caprices of memory and forgetfulness and by my own psychic needs. In the process of writing this autobiography I examine various forces at work in the pioneering process, the interplay of history and autobiography and the complex relationship between the autobiographer who lives in history and the narrative I construct regarding that history. There is, too, some of that nectar, that celestial life, that divine animal that allows the mind to flow, as Emerson said in one of his essays, "into and through things hardest and highest" and the intellect to be ravished "by coming nearer to the fact." By the time I was writing the fourth edition of this autobiography my "habit of living was," as Emerson called it, "set on a key so low that the common influences" delighted me.

As a child, like virtually everyone else I knew or did not know in the 1950s, local activity filled my daily life. My imagination played all over this world and at its fringes. There were then, as there are now, many whose life occupied some central pivot around things beside the private, the personal and the familial, but over these last five decades the vast majority of people whom I have come to know, outside the Bahá'í community that has been at the centre of my own life, have an individual ethos, a milieux, a reason d'etre, you might even call it a religion, that is a composite of: job, family, home and garden and a set of interests, hobbies and activities to occupy them as pleasantly as possible in life's space and give it meaning. I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again because it was such a pervasive part of what you might call the social and philosophical part of the environment of my life.

I often recreate images of those halcyon days but, by 1962, a new set of continuities were forming around beliefs and a new community. My identity was reforming around a whole new set of relations between home, culture, intellectual tradition and nationality, marriage and landscape, career and the profound changes associated with movement to new places, what Bahá'ís had called 'pioneering' for some twenty-five years by 1962. Over the years I felt a Babel of my multiple selves being created and writing this autobiography is, in part, an attempt to harmonize these voices, to thread the maze of the past into some tapestry of colour and shape.

The self as a unified, stable, entity existing through time, is a traditional autobiographical perspective that, while I have been pioneering since the 1960s, has been unravelled by many theorists of autobiography. Like the land I walk on, my self is an even more changing, a more unstable and indefineable entity, because it is ultimately associated with the soul. The self, of course, appears to the senses as a fixed form. Writing this autobiography is as much a cognitive self-reconstruction as it is a performative act. But it is not a fiction, not a giving face; it is, rather, a document of self-exploration and self-defence, a document of catharsis and elaboration. It is also what Emerson said was a characteristic of the poet: being inflamed and carried away by thought and heeding my dream which holds me "like an insanity." The Bahá'í Faith, in the course of my pioneering venture, became what America was to Emerson, a poem. Its ample vision dazzled my imagination. My art, my writing, became the path by which I defined "the work." With Emerson, too, I doubt not "but persist." The impressions of the actual world do seem to fall, as Emerson put it in the final paragraph of his essay on "The Poet," like summer rain washing the lines of this narrative account.

The wider society in which I live gives little recognition to the world view which I feel and think about, although the global nature of society, the ethic of one world that is part and parcel of the Bahá'í teachings is quickly and confusedly making its appearance as the decades spin by insensibly and sensibly. The wider society, for the most part, has virtually no conception of the contribution that I and my coreligionists are making. What I do, I do virtually entirely in an obscurity that is, thusfar, virtually impenetrable, although the rise from this obscurity has been taking place slowly over these epochs. I find it interesting, somewhat surprising, but partly predictable, given the pattern that has repeated itself in the story of western civilization going back to the Israelites, that religious pioneers have "transformed themselves" but "continued to live in obscurity." In the case of these same Israelites this obscurity lasted for, perhaps, seven or eight centuries. I see myself as one of a second generation, during the years 1962 to 1987, of international pioneers, the first generation going back to the start of the teaching Plans in 1937.

If the work I do has taken place largely in obscurity it is hardly surprising, as I have just said, given that the Israelites lived in an equal if not greater obscurity for over 700 years in the land they moved to as pioneers. Actually and ironically, I see my life and its significance largely as one that has seen a gradual coming out of obscurity or, as the Universal House of Justice put it in 2002, a "continuing rise from obscurity." It is difficult to judge either my own life or that of the Bahá'í Faith in the long term "before the play is done," as Frances Quarles once wrote. Although I take account of my life every day, and have for years, it is impossible to judge one's ultimate achievement or lack thereof. The ultimate achievement of this Faith I have been associated with for fifty years, though, is rich with promise. There has certainly been, for these several decades, these epochs, a process of coming out of obscurity both for me and for the Bahá'í Faith, but so much of the inner experience one has as a Bahá'í, at least in so many of the pioneer places I have lived since 1962, is one of the relative obscurity of the Movement I am associated with.

Perhaps the years I taught in high schools and post-secondary schools in Australia, 1972 to 1999, saw a personal rise from obscurity take place in my life. More than half my life now has been lived as an overseas pioneer, from the age of twenty-seven to fifty-nine. More recently the rise out of obscurity is taking a different form through my writing; perhaps my late adulthood and old age will see in this creative field what the House of Justice called this "continuing rise from obscurity" The expression "continuing rise from obscurity" is an apt one for both my own life and the life of this Cause. In so many ways, I have come to see my life and the life of the Cause as obverse, like opposite sides of the same coin, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá once described the relationship between this life and the next.

The character of individuals rises and falls with the roles, activities, practices and customs that make them social animals. And so it is that this book, this story, will inevitably dwell on the web of relations that have cultivated and educated me. It will dwell on the circumstances of my time and my religion, my family and my profession, and how they bear on my social identity, on the psychological glue that holds me and especially my religious community together. It is not my purpose here to dwell on the many theories of identity. However important they may be, this autobiography is not essentially a work in psychology, sociology, history or literature. It is a compendium and as such may not satisfy those who want a depth of perspective deriving from one or more of the social sciences.

The distinctions of personal merit and influence are tempered but still conspicuous in any Bahá'í community. We are not, of course, aware of all these distinctions. Many of them are feeble and obscure. Others are brighter than the noonday sun. Most of humanity is not conscious of the abilities and talents of others who cross their paths. Indeed, we all wear differently constituted blinders for various reasons of time and circumstance. So it was that there were many, if not most, whom I scarcely appreciated, to whose true virtues and talents I was insensible. The severe subordination of rank and office, which often pertains in societies that raise egalitarianism to unrealistic and undesireable heights of value, which do not see equality for what it is, a chimera, was not characteristic of this community which recognized a wide range of statuses and roles resulting from talent and appointment, election and loyalty, mature experience and selfless devotion. So it was that I came to be more than a little conscious of the very real abilities of people I came to know as a result of seeing them week after week in their homes, their lounge-rooms, seeing them serve tea and chat with the wide variety of humanity that were present in any community of even a few souls. So, too, did familiarity often dull or prevent my appreciation of the true worth of many of the friends and associations who were part of my life in this incredibly diverse community in the last half century.

Bahá'u'lláh says in a prayer for assistance, assistance for both the individual and the Cause: "Guide me then in all that pertaineth to the exaltation of Thy Cause and the magnification of the station of Thy loved ones." Life brings out in our experience, it would appear, events which 'magnify our stations' and events which 'draw away and hinder' us from 'approaching Thy court.' The battle, it also appears, never ends in this earthly life. For, ultimately, all the battles in life are within and so they have been all my life, no matter what the external war: WW2, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and the Middle East, an aggressive secularism and the multitude of others that have dotted the landscape of my life since 1944. Much of this inner battle we never see. That, it seems to me, is only natural.

So many events, or appearances, or accidents, which seemed to deviate from the ordinary course of nature were often rashly ascribed to the immediate action of the Deity or the will of God, as I found it so often expressed by my coreligionists. The credulous fancy of the multitude often gives some theistic contour to the shape and colour, language and motion, to the fleeting, common and sometimes uncommon events of daily life. I found myself disinclined to attribute such events to the direct intervention to the Central Orb of the universe. Conscious as I was, very early in my Bahá'í experience, certainly by 1962 at the age of eighteen, of the several protocols of Bahá'í piety; stranded as I so often was on uncertainty both before and after trying to enter that rare Presence--as I attempted to do in prayer; giving expression to a skepticism which was part of the very spirit of my age, I was a humble petitioner, or so I tried to be, who was often joyless and empty-handed. An innocence and exaltation was also mine as was a sense of the knowingness of my knowledge.

As far as my life is concerned, I feel a little like Mark Twain who wrote: "I have thought of fifteen hundred or two thousand incidents in my life which I am ashamed of, but I have not gotten one of them to consent to get on paper yet....I believe that if I should put in all or any of those incidents I have felt in my life I should be sure to strike them out when I revise the book." Twain's hyperbole is delightful here and, although I can only think of several incidents that caused me to feel a sense of in- tense and prolonged shame, incidents that one could argue are worthy of recording in an intimate autobiography, I, like Twain, would strike them out here, if indeed I had included them at all in my first edition ten years ago. Most of the incidents that caused me to experience a sense of shame, were brief, short verbal exchanges, remembered for perhaps a few days, a few months or even a few years, but are now lost to my memory, and thankfully so, in the sands of time. "The tongue," as Bahá'u'lláh said in a richly textured and profound passage, "is a smouldering flame." "Excess of speech," He went on, "is a deadly poison," and I have had more than my several drops over what is now six decades of life. Some of these shame-causing incidents involved the erotic inclination, or the concupiscible appetite as Bahá'u'lláh called it and the readers has these incidents to look forward in the chapters ahead.

This autobiography is not intended as an unburdening or baring of my soul. There is some psychotherapy here; there is also some history which is awakened, as Toynbee notes in the opening sentence of his final volume of A Study of History, "by the mere experience of being alive." I engage in some confessionalism but, it seems to me, it is a moderate amount relative to the great quantity that could be given the light of day. Some readers, I anticipate, will regard the confessionalism they read in the pages ahead as far from moderate; others will say 'he has not gone far enough!'

But I write what I do about my personal battle, its failings and its successes, because, as Elizabeth Rochester once wrote in her personal letter to Canadian pioneers overseas, "I believe we Bahá'ís need to know that we all experience the effects of the world around us and we all are vulnerable to stress when things are different from what we are used to. Bahá'u'lláh knows it is hard work. We don't overlook what isn't there! We are not called upon to deny the existence of faults or to pretend that we don't know they are there." Elizabeth shares some of her thoughts about acknowledging our sinfulness. "How will we learn from one another," she goes on, "if we are not open enough to acknowledge the process between the discomfort and the joy?" If I do not let others know that I struggle and have struggled in the same way that they must struggle, Elizabeth concludes, will they have the courage to try, to endure, to be steadfast until the victories come? Such is the spirit within which much of what I have written in the struggle department is included. Failures, like successes, are part of the very clay of life. Guilt, shame, loss and feelings of incompetence and inadequacy are built into the fabric of my life, all our lives and readers will hear some of my cry, my admissions, my confessionalism in the pages ahead.

If, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes, "stories repeated about others are seldom good, a silent tongue is safest," then, "even good may be harmful if spoken at the wrong time and to the wrong person," I am sure to cause offence to some in the course of this book. So......I will get the apologies out of the way right now. Autobiography is an art that can open the passage from feeling to meaning. It can be a detonator of intellect and will in its attempt to translate the intensity of the life of human beings through a play with the familiar, dealing as it does with both the ordinary and the deeply felt. I'd like to think I give to readers a great narrative achieving what great narratives are supposed to achieve: provide a background readers can understand, present a character readers can believe in and care about, provide an adventure and tell a story in which something surprising and yet partly inevitable occurs, which moves readers, makes them question things they believe in and fills their emotional selves. That's what I'd like to think. I don't think I achieve all these things. Few stories, narratives, novels, books, autobiographies, do. I please myself here and, in the process, I hope to please a few readers. I try to provide what Canadian poet Ken Norris says contemporary poets do not yet achieve: a unifying vision. I try to do, too, what T.S. Eliot confessed that writers should do. 'Meaning,' he wrote, 'is the bone you throw a reader while you do your real work upon him.' I suppose this raises the question 'what is my real work?' I will leave that to the reader to assess as he or she plows through the next seven hundred pages.

I'd like to return to a few more comments from Arnold Toynbee on the strength of the impression, the affect on the receptivity, the vividness, of historical circumstances. I have been reading Toynbee from time to time now for forty years and what he writes is so often pertinent to this autobiography. Toynbee says that the affects, the strength, of the impact of historical circumstances is "apt to be proportionate to their violence and their painfulness." When the process of civilization is "in full swing," he goes on, then "a thousand familiar experiences" constantly make us aware of our "goodly heritage."

The Universal House of Justice put it a little differently, but in the same vein, by saying that we should "take deep satisfaction from the advances in society." As these epochs moved insensibly through the decades of my pioneering experience more and more people seemed to sink into a slough of despond and were "troubled by forecasts of doom." I, too, and the Bahá'í community were deeply aware of the dark heart we were travelling through, but there were always those deep satisfactions in the progress we had made as a society. The Bahá'í Faith also leads ultimately to an optimism regarding the future of humanity but the process of getting to that distant 'golden age' is fraught with problems with which we must struggle. And so the optimism is liberally coated with realism.

By the time my first memories were taking form in this earthly life, in 1947 and 1948, radio was in the first years of its second quarter century and TV was just starting out on its journey for the masses after twenty years of technological development. My parents were in their teens and twenties when they listened to their first radio programs in the 1920s; my grandfather was in his fifties back in that roaring decade. These two mediums brought an immense quantity of historical impressions into my life and the lives of millions in the fifty-six years that constitute my present memory-bank: 1948-2004. In fact, I was a member of that first generation that enjoyed television, radio, newspapers and magazines, computers and satellite communication all together, as the basis of a continual swill from a print and electronic media that was our lot. And we came to enjoy much more: jet travel, flights in space, a cornucopia of gadgets and devices, a host of technological conveniences that resulted from advances in the physical and biological sciences. They all seem to have come trundling into our lives at different points in the first century of this Formative Age, as Bahá'í administration was spreading out over the planet, especially after 1953 when this Kingdom of God, this "most wonderful and thrilling motion" appeared.

There is, as Toynbee noted in that same eleven volumes of history, "an automatic stimulus from the social milieux in which a human being grows up and in which he continues to live and work as an adult." But in 1952 for a full three quarters of the human race, on the eve of my first contact with that revolutionary force that was and is the Bahá'í Faith, history signified nothing. It was "full of sound and fury," but it had little to no meaning outside the family and the local community. This picture changed rapidly in the next half century. It is difficult to summarize the affect here but, suffice it to say, that the quantity of information that poured into the eyes and minds of increasing numbers of human beings left the educated portion of the human race--and the uneducated--swimming in a sea of ideas, events and information. Of course, even as the new millennium came upon us, half the world was still illiterate and had a minimal access to electronic media. But the global scene was changing fast. As we strove to be more precise, even fastidious and scientific in our language, the world got more complex; people used language casually and so inexactly. We became much more conscious of ambiguity even as we tried to strip language of its poetic allusions, its vagueness. I say this because, however precise I try to be about my life and times, I can not avoid the consequences of the ambiguous, the complex and the inexactitude of language and life.

It required a creative stirring of curiosity, a voyage of intellectual exploration, a response to the challenge of the great complexity of history, society and life to make the writing of this autobiography an experience similar to that of the excavator of the treasures buried in the Second City of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann. "It is not from any feeling of vanity," Schliemann wrote in trying to explain the origins of his personal story, "but from a desire to show how the work of my later life has been the natural consequence of the impressions I received in my earliest childhood." This intellectual exploration into my early days is, like Schliemann's, part of my effort to show the interconnections of my life and its wholeness. Although I appreciate the importance of the contribution of these early childhood years to my life, I do not dwell on them unduly. They are but one of my chief exhibits or foci, as I try to lay a foundation of understanding for myself and, if all goes well, for some readers.

Like the poet Coleridge I see myself as a solitary but gregarious person in the presence of a fascinating, an enigmatic, a reticent stranger who is striving to be understood. That stranger is myself. Although I can write about other people and other things, I write here about myself, the cri de coeur of the modern author. What made some of the first and significant impresses on my receptive mind, quite unbeknownst to me at the time and still difficult to explain and understand in a satisfying way, even after the passing of five decades, was the daily exposure to a grandfather who was seventy-two when I was born. This grandfather, who had come to Canada from England at the age of twenty-eight, had raised three children and seen four grandchildren arrive in and around Hamilton in southern Ontario, before I was born. He read insatiably as he had since his own childhood to kill the various pains of life and to satisfy his own endless curiosity. The influence of a very attractive, a deeply introspective and religious woman, my mother; and a strong, an energetic and emotional Welshman, my father, provided a triumvirate of forces that combined to exercise an influence, to this day, which is mysterious, explanatory and filled with endless hypotheses--and absolutely no memories. For these were the years 1944 to, perhaps, 1948 when I was four years old. Crucial to my development were these years but containing nothing but some faint whispers, grey and subtle plays with space and time, which I can remember.

1944 was also the scene of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the religion that my mother enquired into in 1953, the Bahá'í Faith. Of course, I have no memory of that date, 1944, either nor of the earlier date in April 1937 when the first teaching Plan, 1937-1944, put 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan finally into action. At that earlier date, in 1937, my parents had yet to meet. They met during that first Plan and my grandfather enjoyed the first years of his retirement after going from job to job and place to place for so many years of his adult life as he had done during his childhood. His life, it would appear, was as gregarious as mine has been. My grandmother died of cancer two years into the Plan, in 1939; my mother reached forty and my father forty-nine when the Plan ended in April 1944. Two months later I was born, in the two year period between Plans, 1944-1946. This pattern of relating my life to the several Plans for the extension and consolidation of the Bahá'í community I follow occasionally but not religiously in this autobiography.

"During the year 1944," says British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his own autobiography, "it became gradually clear that the war was ending." This was certainly the major event of that year of my birth although, to my mother, the major event was giving birth to me and it nearly killed her. The following prose-poem places this event in a wider context. The famous American poet, Robert Penn Warren, says that a poem is 'the deepest part of autobiography.' Here, then, is the first portion of this deepest part.

A GIFT

In the first weeks of my life, in August 1944, Shoghi Effendi was able to celebrate the completion of the first Seven Year Plan. He marked the moment with a gift to the Bahá'ís of the world. It was the publication of God Passes By. The book provided 'a window on the spiritual process by which Bahá'u'lláh's purpose for humankind is being realized.'1 At the time of this celebration in August 1944 my mother nearly died from the birth process that brought me into this world. She was a forty year old Canadian in Hamilton Ontario Canada who, in August 1944, prayed to be made well with a promise to her God to give her son to the Lord. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, January 17th 2004.

A perspective on the past,
a light on the future,
awakener of capacities,
maker of sense of the world,
and my experience of it,
enriches life, a gift, a shaper
of civilization's long course,
a great work of the mind,
history taken to a new level,
vehicle for understanding
the Purpose of God,
converging as it did
with Revealed Texts,
summoning up the full
mystery and meaning
of one hundred years
of ceaseless sacrifice.1

And my mother's prayers
in that same month, August,
must have been answered
as all prayers are
with a resounding 'yes!'
'I will make you well,
if you give the boy to Me!'
And so He did and so you did.
It was a gift for a gift
in a season of gift-giving.

1 The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, pp.69-70.

Ron Price
17 January 2004

To the world Jewish community, the first year of my life was the last year of the holocaust, an event many regard as the nadir of history. For my father, I can only hypothesize that, since he had just lost two sons in that same war, sons who were from his first marriage, I was, perhaps, a last glow of light on his mountain-top as was the marriage relationship he had just entered. I shall never know, though, for I never asked him in all those years I spent under his roof before he died at the age of seventy when I was twenty-one. I never asked him what his own personal myth or meaning system was, as Carl Jung described the effort to explain his own life in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections. For my father was a man who did things, worked hard at his job, gardened endlessly at home and gradually fell asleep reading the newspaper in the evenings, but he did not tend to analyse his life and its meaning, at least not verbally and not in conversation with me. Indeed, we had few conversations in all those years I spent in his company, 1944 to 1965. I was 'tin-ribs' who 'tinkered in the trees.' I was the light of his life but such a strong statement was never uttered, as he battled on in his final years, glad to leave this mortal coil when he did in the mid-1960s as I was about to enter maturity.

I was born, then, during WW2 during what I have come to see as the second phase of that modern tempest that Shoghi Effendi had described in his book, The Promised Day Is Come, published in 1941. My mother and father had been in their teens in the first phase of that tempest, the first world war, 1914 to 1918. My grandfather had just entered middle age. The remaining years of my life, the years after 1945, occupy the third phase of that tempest, a phase quite different from the first two phases, a phase which Henry Miller described as "far more terrible than the destruction" of the first two wars, the first two phases, with fires that "will rage until the very foundations of this present world crumble." It is not my intention to document any of these three phases of the destructive calamity that visited humankind in the century I have just left, for this documentation has been done in intimate detail elsewhere, both visually, orally and in print. I do not document but I frequently refer to these three phases. I have different purposes here than historical documentation.

This destruction of the third phase, it could be argued, began symbolically, if not literally, on August 6th 1945, when I was just one year and two weeks old, with the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki in Japan. As I have just indicated, it is not my intention to document the fine details of this destruction, this destructive process, this third phase has been documented more than any period in history in volumes that fill libraries all over the planet in books too voluminous for any human being to read, except for some infinitesimal portion for whom modern history is their special interest. Most people now get their history via television. It's not necessarily a bad thing for there is so much to know and understand in this new age we are just entering.

There are dozens of history books that describe the process in fine, in minute, detail. My intention is to draw together my own life, the history of my times and the religion I began my association with when my mother started to investigate the ideas of one of its small groups in Burlington Ontario. It was indeed a small group of a dozen or more people in a religion that was perhaps 200,000 strong globally, back then in 1953. For the next nine years, 1953 to 1962, a creative stirring of curiosity, the beginnings of an arduous journey of intellectual exploration, from about the age of nine until I was eighteen, served as the personal backdrop of my life. At the front of my life, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963) which took the Bahá'í Faith to the furthest reaches of the world and played a significant part in making this new Faith the second most widespread religion on earth by the 1990s. I was no more aware of this Crusade, then, than I was aware of the second world war which was waging fiercely when I was born. This lack of awareness is often the case with human beings who travel life's paths for, as I have just said above, there is so much to understand and to know, and so many different voices claiming the attention of the masses of citizens as they try to make their way.

For the most part back in what many saw as the quiet fifties, my attention, my spiritual resources, my curiosity, was channelled into sport, school and an emerging interest in the opposite sex. The energies of this young child and adolescent, who had just begun the long race of life, were, indeed, stretched to the full during these halcyon days by activities having little to no connection with any organized religion. The following poem tells a little about one of the sports, baseball, its context in my life, in modern history and this new Faith whose connection with my life was a largely peripheral one during these years. I wrote this poem six weeks before leaving the classroom and retiring from employment as a teacher at the age of 55 in 1999. I draw on many of my poems in this work for I find the empirical distinction between prose and poetry is largely an illusory one. In some ways my poetry is just another pattern I introduce from time to time to illustrate my story. My poetry is as much about things as it is about ideas.

Before including some dozen poems, of which two about baseball begin the series, I'd like to say a few things about poetry. Some readers will find the effect of my introducing poetry will be to create a multiple, interwoven, narrative thread, a sort of flexi-narrative, to draw on a term used by Robin Nelson in his study of television drama. Nelson also points out that television drama by the 1990s had come to emphasize short-term aesthetic pleasure over reflective intellectual stimulus. Perhaps my use of poetry will have some of this kind of short-term aesthetic effect as well. If nothing else my poetry and prose is a response to the Bahá'í Faith in a critical half century of its growth and to the tempest that has been blowing through society as long as I and my parents have been alive.

And so I commence and interpret a story which the reader alone must complete. I construct what readers must take in actively if they are to read uch of this text. The details I provide make for a type of perfection but, in the end, perfection is no mere series of details, as Michaelangelo once put it. I enter, as I do in the following poems about baseball, with a certain glow of enthusiasm. The melody of a life escapes; I catch up with it; I retrace my steps; my life flies again; it disappears; it plunges into a chaos of emotion and thought; I catch it again; I seize the moment; I embrace it with delight; I multiply the modulations, the repetitions and a whole series of symphonies are produced. There is much trial and error as I am driven relentlessly on day after day year after year to write this music which I have played over so many years. Just as Beethoven's first movement of his Quartet in F Major consists of 'a long F, a turn around it, and a jump down to C' and 'repetitions of it-well over a hundred of them,' so does this autobiography consist of a long life, many turns around some basic notes, occasionally a jump up or down from the basic pattern and endless repetition.

To continue this musical analogy I'd like to quote the words of several conductors because what they say about music and the process of conducting has many parallels with the writing of this autobiography and of poetry. Herbert Blomstedt, speaking of composers, says, "everyone has a different pace and develops in different ways." In some ways this seems as obvious for conductors as it does for autobiographers but, however obvious it may be, it is a crucial point. I was really not ready to write about my life in any meaningful way until I was nearly sixty. Blomstedt also said that some artists need to work out a way of having a break or they will work themselves into the grave. At fifty-five I gave up my paid employment as a teacher out of emotional exhaustion or, as I felt at the time, I would have worked myself into my own grave.

Only after determining how I would fill in my own day, rather than having it filled in by the demands of job, of community, of family and the various human associations that had come to fill my life, was I able to continue writing with any real fertility. In the first four years of retirement I was able to develop my vision of how I wanted to work, what I wanted to say, in what way I was going to be able to contribute to the growth and consolidation of the Bahá'í community now that the major pattern of the last forty years had been broken or ended by the inevitabilities of the retirement process.

My writing is simply the realization of the vision, an evolving construct which is itself fertilized by my work, my life and the developments in the wider Bahá'í community, society and the micro-society in which I live, move and have my being. Like the conducting and the music Blomstedt talks about in his interview, my writing is "very personal." Like Blomstedt, I strive to be exactly myself. Catherine Comet, says the conductor must "be able to reconstruct from scratch what the composer originally did and then put it back together again." That is not a bad way of expressing what the autobiographer must do. In both cases it takes hundreds of hours. One per cent of the work of conducting is done at concerts. In writing, the same is the case. Time and experience function to expand the repertoire so that interesting programs can be put together. This is true in both music and in writing autobiography. The conductor Margaret Hillis says she has no more energy left after conducting. She says music bosses her around, tells her what to do, but it is so beautiful she is prepared to pay the price. Writing is like this for me.

So, here is the first of many poems which will appear in this autobiography. A critical observer might say the same things about my poetry as were said by Fannie Eckstorm about the poems of Henry David Thoreau. Nearly one hundred years ago now she said his poems were 'not resolved into rhythm. It is poetry but not verse...Judged by ordinary standards he was a poet who failed. He had no grace at metres....his sense always overruled the sound of his stanzas. The fragments of verse.....remind one of chips of flint....the maker's hand was unequal to the shaping of it.' I know, too, that poetry does not enjoy here the legendary significance it has in the former communist block countries or in South America. Some have even announced the end of poetry. I leave it to readers who must cope with my poetry, a poetry which may not be verse, these chips of flint which follow. These prose-poems may be part of a dieing genre, but they are useful to my purposes here and so I include them.

BASEBALL AND THE BAHA'I FAITH

When a series of programs about baseball, a series called The Big Picture, began to unfold on television, I quickly came to realize the remarkable similarity between the story of baseball and the story of the Bahá'í Faith, both of which grew up in the modern age. Indeed, there are many organizations, activities, interests which were born and developed in this modern age, say, since the French and the American revolutions. The points of comparison and contrast between the great charismatic Force which gave birth to the Bahá'í Faith and its progressive institutionalization on the one hand, and the origin and development of other movements and organizations on the other, is interesting to observe. -Ron Price with thanks to Ken Burns, 'The Big Picture: Part Two,' ABC TV, 18 February 1999.

They both grew slowly
through forces and processes,
events and realities
in the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries:
baseball and the Bahá'í Faith
along their stony and tortuous paths,
the latter out of the Shaykhi School
of the Ithna'Ashariyyih Sect
of Shi'ah Islam.

And it would be many years
before the Bahá'í Faith would climb
to the heights of popularity
that baseball had achieved
quite early in its history.
Baseball was a game
whose time had come,
a hybrid invention,
a growth out of diverse roots,
the fields and sandlots of America,
as American as apple pie.

And the Bahá'í Faith was an idea
whose time had come, would come,
slowly, it would seem, quite slowly
in the fields, the lounge rooms,
the minds and hearts
of a burgeoning humanity
caught, as it was, as we all were,
in the tentacles of a tempest
that threatened to blow it--
and us--apart.

Ron Price
17 February 1999

A second poem, written about a year after retiring, also conveys something of the flavour of those 'warm-up days' when my curiosity about this new religion was exceeded by curiosity about other things.

A BASEBALL-CRAZY KID

In October 1956 Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the only perfect game in post-season baseball. Yogi Berra was the catcher.1 That same month and year R. Rabbani advised Mariette Bolton of Orange Australia, in the extended PS of her letter, that it was 'much better for the friends to give up saying 'Amen.'2 I was just settling into grade seven at the time and, even at this early age, was in love with at least three girls in my class: Carol Ingham, Judy Simpson and Karen Jackson. I found them all so very beautiful. Karen was the first girl I kissed.3 -Ron Price with appreciation to: 1"The Opening of the World Series: 2000," ABC TV; 2Messages to the Antipodes, Shoghi Effendi, editor, Graham Hassall, Bahá'í Publications Australia, 1997, p.419; and 3Ron Price, Journal: Canada: To 1971: 1.1, Photograph Number 102.

I was just starting grade seven
and still saying amen
occasionally when I went
to that Anglican Church
on the Guelph Line
in Burlington Ontario
with my mother and father
and saying grace
just as occasionally.

I watched the World Series,
a highlight of autumn
for a twelve year old
baseball-crazy kid, back then.
And I passed the half-way point
of my pre-youth days1
when I was the only kid
with any connection
with this new world Faith
in these, the very early days
of the growth of the Cause
in the Dominion of Canada.2

1 1953 to 1959: my pre-youth days.
2 In 1956 there were only about 600 Bahá'ís in Canada. The 400 Bahá'ís that started the Ten Year Crusade in Canada became 800 by the time I became a Bahá'í in 1959. In southern Ontario, from, say, Oakville to Niagara Falls and Windsor, to several points north of Lakes Ontario and Erie in 1956 I was the only pre-youth whom I then knew, or later came to know. There may have been other pre-youth but at this early stage of the growth of the Cause in Canada, year fifty-eight of its history, I was not aware of them.* *--Canada's Six Year Plan: 1986-1992, NSA of the Bahá'ís of Canada, 1987, p.46.

Ron Price
23 October 2000

Before I continue on with my story, wandering as it does via a circuitous route, I shall include here a poem about my grandmother, my mother's mother, who died five years before I was born, just as the first Seven Year Plan was completing its first phase, in 1939. My grandfather was 67 at the time and he was left alone in life with his three grown-up children, one of whom was my mother. She married five years later at the age of forty, at the end of that Seven Year Plan. But first this poem about my grandmother:

YOU LOVED KISSING

My grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, to whom I dedicated this narrative, wrote a four hundred page autobiography covering the period from his birth in 1872 to 1901, his arrival in Canada. In it he briefly describes his wife, my grandmother, Sarah Cornfield. He said that before they were married she loved kissing more than anything else. My mother, my grandfather's daughter, spoke of her mother many times over the years. The following poem is about this woman, my grandmother, whom I never met.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 17 October 1998

She told me you were kind,
a woman who was all heart.
He told me you were no woman
of the world, but you loved kissing.

I never knew you at all,
taken as you were by cancer
in '39 after you had raised
your family and earned a love
that was a legend in its time,
at least in that small family circle.

Now that photograph
looks down from the shelf,
speaking volumes of articulate silence
and a loving-kindness
which joins our hearts in mystery
from your kingdom of immortality,
your glorious paradise,
your retreats of nearness.

Ron Price
17 October 1998

The craving to write this autobiography has been damned back, only allowed to trickle in the last two decades, but has accumulated a powerful pressure of urgency; I'm not sure exactly why, but a major difficulty has been to find a form, a process, a context, to say what I wanted to say. After a decade of a narrative effort, 1983-1993 and another of poetry (1992-2002) and resource-gathering, this third edition gushed out like a fountain in a period of four months. Now I pray to be carried on 'by the divine wind of curiosity's unflagging inspiration' in the years ahead in further editions. Perhaps it is a curiosity which, as Toynbee argues, has finally generated higher activities, a mind that has blossomed in a higher flight; a life-long communion with my Creator, a communion that goes back at least to 1953 at the age of nine, 'like a light caught from a leaping flame,' which has resulted in this extended piece of prose I call my autobiography.

No matter how infinitesimal are the quanta that I examine, no matter the infinite magnitude and immensity, they all demonstrate infinitely complex forms. I'll say a few things here about form, performance and the shape of this narrative I am creating here:

PERFORMANCE

What excites some writers most in their work is themselves as performers. Performance is an exercise of power, a very curious one.1 Power, of course, is a complex, subtle and difficult term to define, unlike authority which is associated with a role or an institution, and it can bind people together due to its association with miracle and mystery and its capacity to hold the consciences of human beings.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Richard Poirier, 'The Performing Self', Twentieth Century Literature in Retrospect, Reuben Brower, ed., Harvard UP, 1971, p.88; and 2Richard Sennett, Authority, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1980, pp. 193-195.

This writing of poetry is performance:
like dancing, singing, sport,
part of being fully alive,
like film-making or playing golf,
aspires to some popularity,
some shaping of my self,
is a type of work, discipline,
not easy, but enjoyable
or I would not do it.

Some would say this writing
is an exercise in power,
yes a type of power, a type of love,
of endurance, of pleasure,
way of spending one's leisure-time,
of becoming immortal, now.

Ron Price
7 May 1996

MISTY FORMS AND A FROSTY GLAZE

A good third of one's life is lost to the observer in sleep and dreams. The nearest one can get to the other two-thirds is the autobiographical notes of a Montaigne, a Samuel Butler, an Emerson: conscious intellectual portrayals of introspection and reflection. In the end, only a fragment of the totality of our living is graspable, engraveable in words. Most of the pages of our days are lost or only barely graspable, only partly intuited, grasped intellectually or emotionally. A purely external selection of materials dominated by chance, by arbitrary choice and distortions of various kinds is counter-balanced by the value of personal witness, of small impressions, of a fine sense for the infinitessimal, of a perception of the significant in the insignificant, of the trivial incident and of vivid anecdotes, however fleeting and partial they may be.

If to these largely external realities the writer adds the dimension of the inner life and private character one can unmask a life, reach into its roles, the parts played on the stage of life, approach the life as closely as can be and give the reader a concentrated symbol, a genuine picture as well as an inner portrait of a life, an ordinary life, one that approximates the life of the reader more closely than the famous, the brilliant, the distinguished achiever and the genius whose auto/biography so often focuses on the externals. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, April 4th, 1999.

Anyone looking at these poems
sees an essential discontinuity,
a discontinuous story,
a narrative arrangement of reality,
purely fragmentary, purely incomplete,
partly verifiable, buried in cultural history,
lost in this writing, a symbol of endurance,
beyond misty forms, only partly concrete,
spiritual intimations, spiritual pretensions,
across a golden bridge to shoreless eternities,
to the inner life through windows
that are unclear and covered
with the frosty glaze of language.

On one of those cold
Canadian winter mornings
those windows reveal a world
that is half beauty, half mystery,
always cold and wet to the touch.
You can only see the real world,
partially and, then, only in special places.

Writers are getting closer
to our inner worlds
as science is unfolding
another set of inner worlds,
for that is where the action is
below the surface, unseen, invisible.

Ron Price
4 April 1999

INFORMING PRINCIPLE OF POETRY

When you write is it for a particular audience or just yourself? Initially, the thrust of the poem, any poem, seems to be for self, from self, about self. But as the poem develops the audience widens to include my contemporaries, those dead and those yet-to-be-born. Sometimes the focus of the poem is futuristic, utopian; sometimes I go back in time to an individual or a group. This is part of the wonder of poetry, the ability to write about, include, virtually anything in existence or in the imagination. Michael Palmer says the informing principle of poetry is that the poem intends as it comes into being; it moves toward a particular meaning. That is unquestionably the way I experience the writing of a poem. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 October 1998.


There are always people writing.
I call them my students;
one day they will be gone.
I have grown tired
of the endless talk, talk, talk
and their piles of writing
which has virtually no interest to me
anymore: is so excessively banal,
repetitious, try fifty million pages
over thirty years to dumb the brain.

My wife gives me her critical view now
and I think this is enough, enough to view
this cleaner and tighter form.
Read what I want now--no obligation.
Of course, I like people to read my poetry
but, in this world of confused alarms,
this is not the most important thing to me:
a world where anyone can write a poem
on anything they want and only a few
want to write anything at all.1

1 The irony, the paradox, is that there is now more being written by more people than ever before in history.

Ron Price
31 October 1998

THE ONENESS OF FORM AND CONTENT

We must write for our own time, as the great writers did. But this does not imply that we must shut ourselves up in our words. To write for our time does not mean to reflect it passively. It means that we must will to maintain it or change it; therefore, go beyond it toward the future; and it is this effort to change the world which establishes us most deeply in it, for our world can never be reduced to a dead mass of tools and customs. What the poet writes should not always correspond to anything outside the mind of the poet. His words should bring together apparently unrelated phenomena in a unique world that is the writer's own, freed, as far as possible, from the rusty hegemony of angst. What results is a written expression which is both form and content. They are one and the same. The general context is an 'independent search for knowledge' and a continual renewal of 'one's conception or one's vision of the world.1 -William V. Spanos, 'A Discussion of Eugene Ionesco,' A Casebook on Existentialism, Thomas Crowell Co., NY, 1966, pp.151-157.

Yes, Eugene........
I write for my time
and a future time.
This is no dead mass of letters,
but things from inside my head,
from all over the place,
a unique concatenation
of form and content,
as I renew my vision of the world
and help lay that foundation,
for that apotheosis which I saw
several weeks ago on a warm day
up on a hill in a city in Israel.

The inner essence thereof
I knew was for my time.
I knew this, partly,
from something He wrote,
something eternal, yes, Eugene:
and I was only eighteen, then.
And, now, I'm getting old
and closer, it seems, to the eternal.

Ron Price
24 July 2000

GIVING THE POEM FORM

Much of the writing in western civilization since I became a Bahá'í in 1959 and went pioneering in 1962, is what one could call post-Canadian, post-Australian or post-American, post everything except the world itself. A global culture, which had been emerging slowly, perhaps as far back as the period 1475-1500,1 with a global technology which brought the various centres of culture around the world so much closer than they had ever been. The literary sensibility is no longer dependent on a national environment, although writers continue to be influenced, consciously or not, by their predecessors and the cultural climate in which they are socialized. To give a poet's sensitivity and expression a form suited to his personal proclivities he could study the classical and contemporary literary monuments,2 indeed the entire intellectual tradition of the planet. After twenty-five years in the pioneering field(1962-1987) I did just that, at least as far as I was able.

I also drew on literary monuments that had impressed me during those pioneering years: Toynbee, Gibbon, John Hatcher, Roger White, Robert Nisbet, among so many others. But I think what gave my poetry, my writing, its vitality was the struggle of my mind over decades to come to terms with the cynicism and skepticism of modern society vis-a-vis religion and provide intellectually relevant responses to the questions of the seekers among my contemporaries.-Ron Price with thanks to: 1 Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 8, p.115; and 2Northrop Frye, The Stubborn Structure: Essays on Criticism and Society, Methuen and Co. Ltd., London, 1970, p.311.

A striking fact about that society
I grew up in back then
and for most of its history
was the domination of narrative form,
a narrative poetic and its impersonal,
bald, dry, statement to portray action.1

A deep moral silence also filled the land,
amidst massive indifference, solitude
and a social ideal that still inhabits our soul.

And now, as the imaginative centre
of Canadian life moved to the metropolis,
and faster in Australia
and for the international Bahá'í pioneer
a feeling of nomadic movement
over great distances filled his consciousness,
standards for a world culture of the arts
were insensibly established.

They arose out of an almost continuous probing
into the distance and the fixing of one's eyes
on an ever-changing skyline.

1 my own narrative poetic is, unlike this Canadian tradition of the impersonal in poetic narrative, highly personal.

Ron Price
22 July 2000


I like to think, as I begin this narrative with its poetic inclusions, that prophets, poets and scholars are chosen vessels 'who have been called by their Creator to take human action of an ethereal kind.' But it is my feeling that, however much I feel I am being called, my spiritual armament resembles an archer's who is aiming at a target which is too far distant to be visible. As the years go on, and especially now after forty years on a journey as a pioneer to the seekers among my contemporaries, I have come to feel the truth of the words of that Roman poet Horace who wrote at the time of the appearance of another manifestation of God: 'Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.' And if this piece of literature, autobiographical literature, is ground-breaking in any way; if it has any particular kind of originality and is in any way equal to the challenge of the new internationalism and the new institutions that this Faith I am associated with, only those mysterious dispensations of time as it hurries by on its winged chariot will reveal.

I have also come to feel, as Toynbee expressed it so well writing when he was on the eve of the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth in 1952, that 'It is Man's task to execute, within the time that God alots to him on Earth, a human mission to do God's will by working for the coming of God's Kingdom on Earth.' The Bahá'í Faith provided, through its Founder, His Successors and now its administrative institutions a strong sense of divine appointment, of a specific, a guided, direction, in establishing that very Kingdom. Working now with some psychic chronometer, with intellect and spiritual creativity defining the working tempo of my days, I work, as the poet Andrew Marvell expressed it perhaps somewhat archaically, while 'at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot hurrying near.' I was slowly learning one of writing's secrets, namely, what to put in and what to leave out. I was learning, too, other things about writing prose and poetry, as I have expressed them in the following prose-poems. One thing seemed to come easily and that was prose-poetry which, as Mary O'Neil notes, goes back to the Renaissance.

THE BRILLIANCE AND THE WONDER

'In the fact that the subject is a process lies the possibility of transformation,' writes Catherine Belsey.1 And there is transformation, several over a lifetime, perhaps innumerable ones, before the final bodily separation, before the cage is burst asunder and soars into 'the firmament of holiness.'2 The cage is often drawn back to the earth again and again, the transformation never complete, and then the cage is gone and the soul, that acme of mature contemplation, continues the journey. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Catherine Belsey in Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autobiography, Jeanne Perreault, University of Minnesota Press, London,1995, p.1; and 2Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words.

While thoughts press on
and feelings overflow
and quick words 'round me
fall like flakes of snow,
the years go on,
each year adding one
and I grow old,
hardly known and quietly:
drifts of snow the wind has blown
against a wall or house
one day will melt
while new spring sun brings
green grass, flowers bloom
the final transformation of June,
repeated so often, so regularly,
so predictably, that somehow
the transformation becomes
a part of the air we breath
and we only notice,
for such short times,
the brilliance and the wonder.

Ron Price
7 September 2000

TRANSFORMED

There is a definite relief in simply writing a poem, in completing it, in having one's imagination aroused to give life and significance to the world. In some ways that is enough. In other ways, the poet wants others, as many others as possible, to speak to other minds, to see and share his expressed feeling and, hopefully, have then enthuse over what he has written. I would have liked a wider audience. I may one day get such an audience. But I think it unlikely. Even the likelihood of obtaining an audience beyond the grave is, I think, small. I have said a great deal about poetry, about my poetry, in the more than five thousand poems I have sent to the Bahá'í World Centre Library. Like a spider, I spin my poems out of my own vitals, out of some inner necessity, so as to catch life. Like a spider, too, I don't mass-produce the same poem, at least not yet. I write another poem and another as circumstances and some combination of inner desire and necessity require.

There is seriousness present; there is lightness. What it means for me, I can not expect it will mean to others. Thus, I have a sense of my poetry's worth, but I am not obsessed by its importance or my own. Life drove me, as it drove T.S. Eliot, into a wasteland of suffering when I was young, in the first ten years I was a Bahá'í(1959-1969) and, along with other precipitating influences, it formed, or better, transformed me slowly, insensibly and eventually, perhaps inevitably, into a person who felt compelled to write poems. -Ron Price with thanks to T.S. Matthews, Great Tom: Notes Towards the Definition of T.S. Eliot, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1974, pp.95-96.

I think I felt old at fifty.
Dieing, like being born,
is a long process.> I was tired with
what you might call
a bone-weariness.
Who can say when it really begins?
But, as Eliot advised,
I still felt like an explorer.
I venture out to encounter
life's last adversary:

the slow decline of old age,
a senescence which explores
the old man, me,
as my friends go through
alarming and not-so-alarming
changes and chances.1

My poetic opus,
my celebratory note,
has been struck to its full.2
And all that's left one day
will be one final exploration,
one final note
on the keyboard of life.

1 T.S. Matthews, op.cit., p. 170.
2 Over 5000 poems sent to the BWCL

Ron Price
30 December 2000

The necessary and passive receptivity of so much of life becomes, as it must, an active curiosity if one is to know anything about one's life, one's times, one's religion, indeed, if one is to know virtually anything at all. The mind's mill must be set and kept in motion by a perpetual flow of curiosity and this curiosity must be 'harnessed to the service of something more purposeful and creative' than pure curiosity itself. There is always opportunity for rest, for ease, for contemplation, unless one completely stuffs one's life with activity. But that is not my story now in these early years of the evening of my life, these golden years, free from so many of the responsibilities that kept my nose down and my emotions engaged: job, family, sex and love and people in community, for so long.

Toynbee says our search, our quest, is 'for a vision of God at work in history.' Slowly, unobtrusively, by an endless and sometimes exhausting seriousness, the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith filled in this vision. By the beginning of my pioneer venture on or about August 20th 1962, at the age of eighteen, this vision had taken root in the soil of my life. In the last forty years the painting, the sculpture, the poem that this vision has taken its form in, has added light and shadow, colours, tones, texture and literally millions of words. They could probably be reduced to several bottles of ink. As I listened and watched a thousand musicians, heard more comedians than I could count, attended talks, seminars, deepenings and meetings of many kinds, got my hair cut by old men and young, by beautiful women across two continents, watched more who-dun-its and documentaries than the mind can hold, that vision drifted through my mind, again and again and again, caught the accents of voices too many to remember and touched my heart like trapped starlight, like fleeting green tints from passing lights that struggled in the eyes of someone I loved, like the colour of rain. And the vision kept passing and returning.

This is no settler narrative, the kind that filled many an autobiography in British and other nation's colonies around the world and in nations as they expanded west and east, north and south in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I do refer to my work as a pioneering narrative, though, one of many which I am confident will be produced in these epochs and in the many epochs that will succeed them in the decades and, perhaps, centuries ahead. Like many of the settler narratives, this narrative should be seen as a volatile subject not as something fixed in black and white. The apparent marginalia that I bring into the framework of my story, should not be seen as a distraction but as part of the main game. I manoeuvre myself into many corners. The prescriptions and formulations of a pioneer narrative which authorize my text, so to speak, are many and ill-defined, making manoeuvring inevitable. This is no archtypal pioneering history for, thusfar, I have yet to read a thorough and systematic or anecdotal and serendipitous account of a pioneer. If any exist, they have yet to be published. But whatever is published by Bahá'í pioneers in the years to come, I am confident that the one common denominator, uniting all those who try to tell their story, will be their devotion to the possibilities and the inevitabilities, the certainties and the complexities, associated with the Faith they have taken to the corners of the earth and the thousands and thousands of places in between. Their writing will be seen in many ways but certainly as a bi-product, a detailed, circumstantial, portrayal of their pioneering experience.

In the fifty years since I first came in contact with this new Faith, the years 1953/4 to 2003/4, it has spread around the world and multiplied its numbers thirty times. I feel a little like the historian Polybius(206 BC to 128 BC) must have felt when he observed the unification of the Hellenic world within his own lifetime, between 219 BC and 168 BC, when 'almost the whole world fell under the undisputed ascendancy of Rome.' I had observed the Westernization of the entire planet and the sense of that planet's global reality. I knew I was at the beginning of what would be a long process. The transformation of the entire world within the dominion of a single system was, without doubt, part of the long-term Plan of the Bahá'í community. It would be an exercise that would take place without arms, swords and uniforms, at least not as far down the road as I could see. It would be an exercise that had taken place for the most part quite unobtrusively with increasing speed perhaps as far back as the years of the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution and the American revolution in the years 1760 to 1780, approximately. Alvin Tofler called it the second and third wave. From my perspective it has been one long wave since the 1750s, since Shaykh Ahmad was born or, to choose a personage of greater popularity and renoun in the West, since J.S. Bach died in 1750.

This immense wave has swept over humanity in a context of such complexity and over so many decades and now nearly three centuries, that the average person came, in my time, to have little to no idea what the overall process was, no idea of the meaning of the events, except in some microcosmic sense. Indeed, this was hardly surprising. In some ways the decades and, indeed, the next several centuries were coming at humankind like the sound of a distant train: the vast majority just could not hear its faint, its light echo in the distance. The noise of civilization and the jumble of an endless subjectivity produced a cacophony that completely muffled the sound of distant trains. So few heard the distant whistle or the quiet drum-beat of civilization's inherent pattern. It was the drum-beat of a new revelation, little did the multitudes of humankind know, at least as the years of new millennium began.

It was also an exercise, a phenomenon, that was taking place under my very eyes in the two dozen towns and cities in which I had lived. No one had any idea that this was the Plan; even I and the Bahá'ís who lived and had their being in the context of that Plan had a great deal of trouble keeping their eyes on this particular aspect of the Plan, so awesome and so obscure was it at the mundane level of their own lives. Seeing the unification of the planet, the planetization of the globe, the increasing oneness of the world of humanity, take place with more and more evidences in my lifetime: this is at the heart of my story. Ironically, it took place in the context of intense conflict and millions, hundreds of millions, of deaths. The context did not change, either, in the generation before me, the generation of my parents, in which two wars decimated the value and belief system of a whole civilization; or the generation of my grandparents before that, say, back to the 1870s. A great wind of change seemed to be blowing and blowing, generation after generation. Perhaps, as Robert Nisbet pointed out, that wind had been blowing at least since the fifth century BC; or, perhaps, since the Tree of Divine Revelation was planted in the soil of the Divine Will with the prophetic figure of Adam. This historical question is far too complex to pursue here in this short space.

Indeed, my pioneering venture, it seems to me in retrospect, has been part and parcel of the very reconstruction of a civilization that, arguably, began to occur in the lifetimes of the twin-manifestations of our time and their precursors. That reconstruction, one could argue and I do so here, has taken place to a significant extent in the context of a Plan, a Plan that was put into action just seven years before I was born. But, as the culture critic Lionel Trilling once wrote, speaking of the form, the existence, of a culture, in this case the Bahá'í culture, "the form of its existence is struggle." Some artists, he went on, contain the very essence of this struggle and its contradictions and paradoxes. I am not inclined to think my life, my autobiography, contains this essence, nor do I think it is the most suggestive testimony to what the Bahá'í Faith is and was in this half century under review. What I write here is one of virtually millions of tangents to a set of concentric circles that are at the core of this new and emerging society. To scale the moral and aesthetic heights of what constitutes this new society I use the ladders of social observation and analysis. And so this autobiography should not be seen like a novel. Readers should not expect an interesting story with tension, plot, dialogue and a what's next atmosphere. Those that want to read a story, of escape or adventure, of mystery or science fiction, of romance or one of innumerable forms of entertainment, are advised to watch TV, go to the movies or read one of a multitude of books in any book store or now on the Internet. The story here is of a different ilk and for many I'm sure not their cup of tea. But then, I'm not writing this to give people what they want, create a reading public and then, perhaps, some fame and glory along the way. If they come my way, fine. I've got nothing against the acquisition of these attributes of conventional success.

I often draw on a myth which narrates a complex interaction between individual and community and a promise of a world at peace, in unity and imbued with an ongoing progress that is both inspiring and a source of long-range hope. The essential quality of the Bahá'í experience in the first century and a half of its history came to reside in its expansion and consolidation and the opportunities that such expansion and consolidation offered to individuals and communities as the medum in which they could and did inscribe their destiny. This struggle, for it was nothing if not a struggle, became central to the myth. It was a myth, though, that would never be transmuted into an avowedly hopeless quest, although from time to time a sense of crisis seemed to threaten "to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered." It was a myth, too, that I use as my starting point in many basic ways, for my own story.

I am contributing in my own small way to the fathering and mothering of a tradition of becoming, a tradition which finds in my own experience the seeds and the sinews, the warp and woof, of what I am confident will one day be a compelling and instructive literature. And the myth at the centre of this account is what John Hatcher once called the metaphorical nature of both physical reality and Bahá'í history.

To become a reader of this work one enters a force-field of anxieties and delights where cultural ideologies intersect and dissect one another, in contradiction, in consonance and in adjacency. As Firuz Kazemzadeh once said, we are one per cent Bahá'í and ninety-nine per cent the culture we live in. In this work the 99 per cent and the 1 per cent blend and flow in a myriad eddies and tides. Then there are the readers and they will bring to this work their passions and unreliabilities, their talents and interests, their desires to escape from the pull of my argument or swim in its persuasiveness, their pleasure in the use of my language or their preference for slim books or fictional narrative. There are a tangle of problems which are fundamental to thinking about and writing autobiography. As this book procedes there are shifting sands, moving constructions of agency, subjectivity and truth as I change with time, place and intent, untethered by everything except the memory and the imagination that is my life and how I put it into words. There are, too, highly volatile components and serious blind-spots to my life story that make the story capable of being played out in different and quite unpredictable ways to the ones I have chosen. It is also difficult to invoke various verbal and conceptual totalities embodied in such words as: marriage, childhood, Bahá'í Administration, Bahá'í theology, Bahá'í history or even pioneering, oneness and 'the Writings'. These are all terms which proliferate in my account and make understandings sometimes more difficult, clumsy and non-specific due to their very complexity, a complexity that is difficult to negotiate and describe. Sometimes such terminolgy hides the ambiguities and the inconsistencies, the complexities and wealth of detail that exist in much of life's experiences and they raise in their stead certain obscurities, flatnesses and grey-coveralls. As Anton Zidjervelt once wrote in his stimulating book, The Abstract Society, which I read when I was teaching at a College of Advanced Education in the late 1970s, so much of our world and virtually all of the conceptual material is abstract making the majority of people whose minds work best with practical realities lost in a sea of quite excessive complexity. Still, these abstract terms come in the end to be second nature, part of the air they breath, even if not ever fully understood: democracy, Christianity, Islam, community, politics, inter alia.

There are several reasons why an autobiography like this is useful. One: it is itself a form of social action and an important one; two: it is a useful source of evidence for the future, evidence for grounding intellectual claims about social structures, relations and processes. Three: texts of this nature are sensitive barometers of social processes, movement and indicators of social change. And, four: texts of this nature are integral parts of a text-context, theory-practice nexus. I have drawn here on a paper by Urpo Kovala, a teacher at the university of Jyvaskyla in Finland. I think, though, that autobiographies, much like conversation and people's oral accounts of their lives, can feature difficult and sometimes ambiguous engagements with an accepted, orthodox or mainstream Bahá'í story and its history of persecution and idealism in various modes and mixes. Since there is, as yet, a distinctive but small literature of autobiography, the autobiographical tradition in the Bahá'í community, a tradition that creates, invents or imagines some international self for an international community; since there is no pioneering self that floats free of social, national, psychological, sociological, ethnic, sexual differences; since that self is only constituted by and through difference and in history, I am forced to script that self in its relation to others, through adjacencies and through intimacies, through associations and disassociations. This makes for complexity and it has produced this ongoing narrative.

I think it unlikely that there will ever be one compact, professional and efficient Price Industry, as such an Industry might come to be called some decades hence. It may loom into existence, if it ever does, with many points of origin, numerous individual starting points, evolving so unobtrusivley, so obscurely, so slowly as to be unnoticed by the vast majority of readers bent on absorbing the burgeoning lines of thought that are increasingly available to the public. If there is an escalating, a future, absorption in autobiographical and biographical studies in the Bahá'í community, due partly to a slowly engendered and multiform enthusiasm of readers, due to the priviledging of print over performance and the apparent stability or consistency of the literary script over its theatrical realization or completion and due also to an emerging world religion moving completly out of an obscurity it has been in for a century and a half, then this work may yet find a significant reading public.

'I can call it back,' writes Mark Twain in his autobiography, 'and make it as real as it ever was and as blessed.' But what is real the philosopher Merleau Ponty argues are 'the interlocked perspectives' which we must 'take apart step-by-step' and relive them in their temporal setting. And just as "the crossing, the process of departures and distancing from Europe are germinal in nineteenth century emigrant autobiographies," as Gillian Whitlock notes, so are these same features germinal in the stories of international pioneers. The crossing, like the journey of the pioneer, initiates a new consciousness of the self through emigration;" or, as Samuel Beckett wrote in 1931: "We are not merely more weary because of yesterday, we are also no longer even what we were before the calamity of yesterday." There is, too, some of what novelist Joseph Conrad calls the detritus of my life. There is a detritus that surrounds the "minute wreckage that washes out of" my life into its "continental receptacles" on both of the great landscapes where I have lived: Canada and Australia. The flotsam of a difficult first marriage, now partly forgotten but an important, a formative part of my life and the recontained shipwreck of its bourgeois domesticity in a second marriage, may well be minute in my memory now nearly thirty years later, but that upheaval, like all upheavels, leaves its mark in quite complex and difficult to describe ways, as do other traumatic events and personal tests. The marks of life, major and minor, are difficult to paint with words on the emotional equipment of one's psyche.

I will say no more about this 'sea-change' which has been written about in great detail by many writers. The words of Roger White, though, are timely ones here:

CALLED

A word is inundation, when it comes from the sea.-Emily Dickinson

The shore is safer than the sea,
It does not seethe nor call
Nor buffet and betray who'd quest
Nor heinously appal.

Astute's the pilgrim on the land
Who never heeds the sea
And resolutely walks away-
It is not so with me.

I gaze upon the bitter wrecks
Mercilessly broken
And guage my craft and weigh my words
The scheming waves have spoken.


The confrontation of sharply diverse cultures caught the imagination of the historian Herodotus(485-425 BC) and the modern philosopher civil-servant Turgot(1727-1781). It was this diversity and this confrontation that helped to provide the motivational matrix for the writing of their histories. They both saw in this diversity 'a key to the understanding of history.' The confrontation of sharply different cultures has been a phenomenon that goes back probably hundreds of thousands of years if one draws on the science of paleo-anthropology . More recently, at least since Columbus and the beginnings of modern history, if one defines 'modern' as that period going back to the end of the Middle Ages, that clash of cultures has been increasing in extent and intensity. And this clash affects modern writing. Walter Benjamin once said that the most modern of texts would be made entirely of other texts. While this is not true of this text, it is difficult to ignore the partial truth of Benjamin's remarks as they apply to this autobiography. For as I write these words there are over one thousand references that I draw on to elaborate my story.

The confrontation of elements within this diversity seemed to be coming to another head, to a climacteric, in the half century that has been both the years of my life and the first five decades of this Kingdom of God on earth. Two of the greatest, the most bloodthirsty, wars in history had been fought in the thirty-one years, 1914 to 1945, ending just as I had come into the world. It was a period which coincided with the adulthood of my parents and grandparents. And in the eight years preceding the inception of that Kingdom, 1945 to 1953, the atomic bomb had lent a special element to the range and momentum of the catastrophic aspects of the twentieth century. In a strange and nearly unbelievable way, it was all part of what the Bahá'ís came to call the process of the Lesser Peace.

Toynbee points to the Peloponnesian War(431 to 404 BC) as the beginning of the decline of Hellenic and Roman civilization. Perhaps 1914 marks the beginning of the end of the civilization into which I was born, Western civilization, and the beginning, three years later, of the Lesser Peace and the new civilization that would emerge from the destructive fires of this age. Certainly the organizational aspects of the Cause, teaching plans, the embryo of Bahá'í Administration could be said to go back to these years in the last half of the second decade of the twentieth century. While the old world began its decline, a new one was taking form. In 1919, at the heart of these embryonic years, when this new world was taking form and the Lesser Peace could be said to have just begun, my father was 24, my mother 15 and that other major influence on my early life, my mother's father, was 47.

I'll include two poems here to convey some perspective on these three souls. What I write here is a far cry, a distant cousin, apparently, to the wide vistas of history and social analysis I have been writing about above. Readers will have to bear with me as I dance and dart from the macrocosm to the microcasm. Apologies to those readers who find my 'darting-and-farting', as they say in the vernacular here in Australia, frustrating. I think those who are comfortable with my style thusfar should have little difficulty wading through the six hundred pages to come. For those who find my style, my approach, too weighty, too cumbersome and difficult to take in, I can only say that, hopefully, there will be a reward for effort. Perhaps, too, this text would be improved by following the advice of American poet laureate Louis Gluck who wrote in 1994 that: "Writing is not decanting of personality." At the start of a volume of essays called Proofs and Theories she wrote: "The truth, on the page, need not have been lived. It is, instead, all that can be envisioned." In my case, for the most part, these words are lived. Gluck's words which follow, written in 2001, could very well describe many of my desires at the outset of this autobiography, especially the solitude I need to work:

Immunity to time, to change. Sensation

Of perfect safety, the sense of being

Protected from what we loved

And our intense need was absorbed by the night

And returned as sustenance.

MY MOTHER

A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.
-Wallace Stevens

She was born just after they arrived
from the old country1on a cold winter day
while hope still filled the air of our spirit,
before two wars sucked us a little dry
to put it absolutely mildly.
We really had no idea how sucked
we had been and still don't, not really.
We were left to face a continuing tempest
even in these fin de siecle years.

She came into that northern land
by a lake, below an escarpment,2
and stayed for seventy-four years.
She had one child
in twenty-three years of marriage,
played the piano, was very beautiful
and chanced upon a new Faith
as the ninth stage of history
and the Kingdom of God on earth
were just breaking in
and a new beginning for humankind
was on the way: little did we know.

Ron Price
6 December 1996

1 my mother was born in 1904 after her parents arrived from England in 1900.
2 my mother lived in and around Hamilton Ontario all her life.

THINGS GOT AWEFULLY COMPLEX

This poem tries to take an overview of my mother's life. She was 16 in 1920 and living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The Bahá'í Faith had just begun its story in Ontario, in Toronto, 40 miles away, seven years before. Gertrude Stein said my mother was part of a lost generation. Stein also felt and wrote about the ethic of the pioneer.1 My mother, it has always seemed to me in retrospect, was one of those pioneers Stein wrote about. Fitzgerald said that generation was bright and with infinite belief. Sometimes my mother lost the patina of brightness during life's inevitable struggle, as did many of that generation. Ernest Hemmingway dramatized the disappearance of that brightness and that belief in The Sun Also Rises in 1926.
-Ron Price with thanks to Henry Idema III, Freud, Religion and the Roaring Twenties, Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1990, p.135; and 1William H. Gass, William H. Gass: Essays By William H. Gass, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1976, p.122.

You were part of what they called
the lost generation, after that first war,
when the spiritual dynamic
seemed to fall out of the bottom,
some spiritual debacle
where the roots of faith
were finally severed
and some kind of secular tree
grew out of depression and more war
and the necessity for something to fill
the all-pervasive spaces and holes of existence.

Things got awfully complex too, for you,
as the years went on and a hundred options
on a hundred trees tried to interpret
what was really happening
and the tempest blew and blew
across the face of the earth
through your towns and days.

But not many figured it out,
not many back in the fifties
even tried.
Maybe the war,
and the one before
had shattered their world,
but they didn't really know it
while they watched 'I Love Lucy,'
Westerns and Dragnet
and ate hot dogs.

You had some of that
'what's it all about?' sense,
that search, that endless search,
that pioneer mentality,
otherwise you would not have
been there when the Kingdom of God
got its kick-start back in '53.

I wrote the following piece as an introductory statement to my grandfather's autobiography. His autobiography, writtenh in the early 1920s, covered the first twenty-nine years of his life, up to 1901. I place this statement here because it puts my grandfather's life in a context that I think is useful and covers the years 1901 to 1958. It provides, too, a helpful backdrop, background, mise-en-scene, for my own life and, given the fact that it was my grandfather's autobiography, an autobiography of his years from 1872 to 1901, that inspired mine, some general statement on his life is pertinent at the outset of this life-story of mine.


ALFRED CORNFIELD: THE MIDDLE AND LATE YEARS

It has been some twenty years since my grandfather's autobiographical work The Adventures of Arthur Collins was finally typed and distributed to each living member of the family. Arthur Collins was, of course, Alfred J. Cornfield, and the adventures were his own from 1872 to 1901, from his birth to his marriage in early 1901. He writes his story in some four hundred pages, an impressive work for a man who had but two or three years of formal education in the newly established Board Schools in London in the first decade after primary education had become compulsory in England by the Education Act of 1870. It is my intention in this brief biographical piece to complete the account which my grandfather began, which he wrote in the years 1921-1923 during his forty-ninth to his fifty-first year when his daughter, my mother, was in her late teens. It is my intention to take his story from his early adulthood, his marriage at the age of twenty-nine, to his death in 1958 at the age of eighty-six when I was thirteen.

A common pattern with autobiographies and biographies is to divide a life into early, middle and late. Often, too, when an autobiography ends without completing a life or leaving a large part of a lifestory untold, some other literary genre is used to provide for those years unaccounted for in the original story. Applying this early, middle and late division to Alfred Cornfield's life it could look something like this:

1872 to 1901-early
1901 to 1931-middle
and 1931 to 1958-late

The early part of his life is covered by the account he himself wrote up to his marriage in 1901. The second and middle part covers the period up to the birth of his first grandchild and the third and final part covers the period from that child's birth in 1931 to Alfred Cornfield's death in 1958. My intention here is to convey something of the life-story of my grandfather, a man whom I know so little about after he reached the age of 29 in 1901. Like so many of us, we come to know someone in our family or an acquaintance, but we never really know them in any meaningful, any detailed, sense. What follows here is a short statement, a brief description, of my grandfather's life from 1901 to 1958, a man I hardly knew.

THE MIDDLE YEARS: 1901-1931

During these three decades, 1901 to 1931, western civilization went through the worst war, the most traumatic and horrific experience since, arguably, the Black Death in 1348 when one in every three people from Iceland to India perished. History books have documented this period and its Great War of 1914 to 1918 in great detail. It is not the purpose of this biography to dwell on these events of history, however briefly, except insofar as they impinge on the life of Alfred Cornfield. It is my purpose, though, to outline in as much detail as possible my grandfather's life from the age of twenty-nine to fifty nine, the middle years of his life until the birth of his first grandchild, Murray, the first son of his eldest daughter, Florence, who was then thirty.

Six months after Alfred's marriage, in late August of 1901, a severe storm lashed the city of Hamilton. The green leaves of late summer's trees were blown from their branches and the Works Department were kept busy cleaning up the streets. It had been a hot August and now, after this storm, people sat outside in the evenings looking at the trees "gaunt and leafless as midwinter" as Alfred describes it in the closing pages of the autobiography of his early years, the first three decades of his life. Perhaps this storm was a sign of things to come. For the next fifty-seven years a tempest blew through the institutions and society of western civilization and it has continued blowing into the lives of Alfred's grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the closing decades of the century into the opening years of the new millennium.

In late 1901 Alfred and Sara had their first child, Florence. Florence was followed in 1904 by Lillian and in 1908 by Harold. Alfred was thirty-six when he had his last child and his first son. He was forty-two when the first WW began and fifty-seven when the depression hit in 1929. I know very little about his activities during these years except that he worked as a shirt-cutter while he was writing his autobiography and that he and Sara and their children moved frequently during the first three decades of the twentieth century living as they did in Hamilton. Searching for a cheaper and better accommodation, searching for a better job, another job, a more secure job seemed to be the general story of these years.

I remember my mother, Lillian, telling me about how her father used to stop off at a butcher on the way home and pick up a steak for the evening meal. But I do not remember any other anecdotes from these middle years of Alfred's life: 1901-1931. These brief notes will, for now, have to suffice until more information comes my way or some inspiration arrives to provide a base for more details for these Middle Years. The Great War and its aftermath, 1914 to 1931 decimated the value system of western man. Whatever beliefs my grandfather had in 1914 at age 42 got completely catapulted into oblivion by the age of 59 when this stage of his story ends. With his wife Sara the story of belief seemed to dominate over skepticism.

I was able to write more on my grandfather's 'later years' before handing the story to my cousins Joan Cornfield and David Hunter in 2002 to add what they could.

THE LATER YEARS: 1931-1958

The years from 1931 to 1945 saw the end of the Depression and a second great war from 1939 to 1945. If belief were annihilated in WW1, optimism in the future had trouble surviving WW2. Alfred Cornfield was a struggling young immigrant from England at the turn of the century and by the early 1920s, when he wrote the autobiography of the first twenty-nine years of his life, his life's struggle had continued for another twenty years. It was becoming difficult for him to maintain a sense of a bright future, but he did acquire, insensibly over the decades a philosophical attitude that resulted in an apparently calm demeanor by the time he was in his seventies. The storm clouds of war and poverty that kept blowing through western society from 1929 to 1945 would temper any philosophy of progress and belief in God even more; at least that was the case for millions. Anything associated with theistic belief that might have stirred in Alfred's soul had difficulty breaking in by the late forties when I have my first memories of grandfather.

"There exists in human nature," wrote Gibbon with his long view of the times, "a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times." Alfred's skepticism was rooted in the historical experience of the first half of the twentieth century whose evils were justifiably magnified. Whatever optimism had existed in the West in the closing years of the nineteenth century, and it would appear from the writings of many analysts in these years that a good deal of optimism did prevail, it was bashed out of western man in the first half of the twentieth century.

These cruel events of history did not seem to affect the beliefs of Alfred's wife Sara, as my mother was to inform me in the late 1950s, some fifteen to twenty years after Sara's death in 1939. Even Alfred's two daughters, Florence and Lillian, at least as I remember them in the 1950s, continued to enjoy the seeds of belief perhaps taking more after their mother than their father who remained until his death an agnostic. The last years of my grandfather's life, then, after 1945, from the age of seventy-two to eighty-six were years of his retirement. He had retired from the world of employment by the age of sixty-five in 1937, if not before. His employment history was a chequered one and the thirty-six years from the age of twenty-nine to sixty-five involved many positions, living in many houses, always trying to make ends meet, as it were. But my memory yields little on this period of Alfred's life and my sources of information have, as yet, provided little supplementary detail.

Alfred lived to see the beginning of the space age, the first man to encircle the earth in a space vehicle, Yuri Gagarin in the Sputnick in 1957. Alfred Cornfield died at age eighty-six in 1958. This period is easier to document since all of Alfred's grandchildren lived during this period and came into their teens and twenties. His oldest grandchild, Murray Hunter, was twenty-seven when Alfred died.

My first memories of Alfred Cornfield were in about 1948 when I was four. My memories are from the years 1948 to 1958, a brief time, when Alfred lived with my mother's sister's family, by then, in Burlington. The memories are few, but quite graphic: babysitting me on cold Canadian evenings when my parents went out to choir practice; sitting in his chair in his bedroom/study on Hurd Avenue in Burlington reading a book; walking over to our home on Seneca Street from his home on Hurd Avenue; speaking quietly and gently to my mother or father in our home on Seneca Street in Burlington. I was thirteen when Alfred died and had just entered secondary school.

My mother used to tell me things about her father whom she loved deeply and respected highly. She saw him as one of the best read people she knew in her life. She saw him as highly virtuous: kind, patient, self-controlled, thoughtful, wise, courteous, considerate. My memories, again, are sadly, few and far between. I shall leave this very brief account, having made an initial effort to put something down on paper. Perhaps when time and circumstance permit more can be added to this life of Alfred Cornfield.

I place these few words, this brief summary of parts of my grandfather's life, at this point because I have a strong appreciation for his own autobiography. Immediately after reading it in 1984 and 1985 I began to write my own. My mother's poetry, too, seemed to finally bear fruit in my own poetry within two years of her death, hence my inclusion of this brief account of my mother's poetry and art. It was timely, too, to include this brief digression into the life of my grandfather because his own autobiographical work was read during my third and forth years in Katherine, 1985-6, and it served as a crucial inspiration to the beginnings of my own work. Alfred Cornfield's work was prototypical, provided a principle of coherence and generativity, a kind of helpful simplicity of aim and purpose to my own work. His work has served as an anchor point for what instructor in methods of autobiography Todd Schultz calls 'personalogical inquiry.' Having seen how my grandfather creatively crafted some clarifying coherence in his own uneven and complex life

At this stage of my life I have written little about my grandfather's days after 1901 and little about my parents. I will close this opening chapter with an introduction I wrote to a collection of my mother's art and poetry that I put together after her passing. This piece will also help to provide some autobiographical background, a setting, a context, for what follows in the chapters ahead.

LILIAN PRICE'S 'POETRY AND ART' IN CONTEXT

One of Canada's major writers in the last half of the 20th century, Mordecai Richler, left Canada in 1950 at the age of 20 for the UK. Among the reasons he left was his opinion that he could not publish his writings in Canada. Canadian literature was still in its infancy, then, as a literary genre. It was about this time that my mother started to write. Except for only occasionally published pieces, most of my mother's work was unpublished. After some twenty years of gathering quotations from varied sources(1930-1950) and more than thirty years of extensive reading, mostly in literature, philosophy and religion, she began writing poetry. She was about forty-six.

The view of Canadians then, and now, was that they were "nice but solemn." At least that was how Richler expressed it in an interview fifty years later on Books and Writing, ABC Radio National(1:00-2:00 pm,18 July 2001) By the last decade of the twentieth century Canada had found a rich vein of literature in the form of several major writers on the international stage. By that time my mother had passed away. But during those years when Canada was moving from its infancy in literature to the more mature work that was beginning to be found in bookshops around the world in the years 1950-1980, my mother produced this body of poetry. It was not the work of a major poet or even, perhaps, a minor one. But it was the poetry of someone who loved words and who tried to put life's meaning into words. It was the poetry of someone I loved very much and to whom I owe much more than I can measure for my own interest in writing poetry as well as a wole attitude to life.

In the same way that autobiography provided an event of super-saliency in the life of my grandfather, the writing of poetry served as a similarly salient event in the life of my mother in terms of their influences on my own experience. It is difficult to know just how this process works but I would accord these events a central status. They help to counter the looseness of method in autobiography and they help me deal with the puzzling multiplicity of interpretations that attempt to explain a life. Some interpretations seem better, more pronounced, even if not definitive. One strives for a degree of interpretability, continuity and cogent coherence, for self-defining memories and prototypical scenes. Perhaps, too, as Schultz argues, it is a manifestation of 'the principle of parsimony in action.' It draws webs of meaning together in one concise package, providing a handy touch point to remind myself who I am.

Canada's history was not as bloody and angst-ridden as that of the United States, England or even Australia. Canada's novelists and poets simply 'mapped the territory' as Richler put it. In 1950, until her death in 1978, my mother, Lilian Price, was mapping her territory through poetry and, I should add, through art and music.

Building on the work of her father, Alfred J. Cornfield, whose autobiography was written when she was only sixteen or seventeen but was not published until 1980, less than two years after my Mother's passing and twenty-two years after Alfred Cornfield had passed away, Lilian was, indeed, 'mapping her territory,' as her father had mapped his more than thirty years before. Whereas he did his mapping in the form of autobiography and a life of extensive reading, Lilian used poetry for her main artistic medium.

By the time I began to write poetry in 1980, my mother had been gone for two years. Interestingly, my grandfather's work had only been published perhaps three months before I started writing poetry. By the time I began to write poetry and autobiography my grandfather had been gone for nearly a quarter of a century. I write these words to give perspective and context to my mother's work, work that I keep in my study here in George Town Tasmania. I keep it in a file and in a small booklet I have entitled Poetry: Mother. Around it, on the walls, are three of her pastel drawings which, with two photographs of her, keep her memory alive and well twenty-five years after her passing. After I left home, first in 1964 and then, when my father died in May 1965, my mother began to take up art. I do not know the exact date of the pieces in the collection here, but my guess is that they come from the years 1965 to 1978. To her musical talents and her poetic inclinations were now added the artistic in her latter years, after the age of sixty.

Then, as the 1970s, neared their end, my mother passed away. The many battles between heart and head, which were the pleasure and pain of her life and which were at the root of much of her artistic work, were at last over.

Ron Price
18 July 2001

And so, in a rambling sort of fashion I introduce my life and something of my family in the twentieth century. This chapter provides a start to what has become a long story and an equally long analysis. I hope readers will find the chapters which follow both entertaining and instructive. If at times they seem a little boring and mechanical, as so many autobiographies are, I hope that readers will also find that they are usefully informative from time to time and intellectually simulating on occasion. I may not lift ticks from the clock and freeze them as Proust once did and as Vermeer once did in his paintings, but I try to save some of this swiftly passing life and invest it with a verbal value that time never permitted me to give it when it was happening. The discipline of psychoautobiography confines itself to salient episodes, special fragments, illuminating gestalts, persistent modes of behaviour, formal symmetries and constellating metaphors in a life. I cover more ground than just the salient features. I solve enigmas but leave many unsolved and so can not apply psychoautobiography to what has become a seven hundred page narrative. But there is an informed use of the psychological in this narrative and I hope it makes for a more well-rounded, a more satisfying life history.

The information I have sought and the experience I have had has been used and lived over these many decades in the service of a commitment I grew into, insensibly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This information and this experience I now frame as I did while I travelled along the path within the context of goals I have had, goals which have determined what I needed to do on the journey. This information and this activity has been part of a life of committed action, what Kierkegaard called life in the ethical sphere. Now, in these early years of retirement, the information I am obtaining in abundance is supporting an engaged intellectual activity, furthering the coordination of my action in the Bahá'í' world and the life I live in relation to that world. My everyday commitments have always had a context within an overall framework of what ultimately makes sense to me. And that is still the case providing, as this framework does, the terms of reference in which I obtain the information I do. There is a passion and energy in my work and now a harmony; this is no mere dabbling. Kierkegaard says that 'will is the real core of man. It is tireless, spontaneous, automatic and reveals itself in many ways.' Seven or eight hours a day in the service of ideas and print is all my will can muster. There is spontaneity and the automatic in this exercise of writing and reading. For the remaining seven or eight hours a day during which I am awake I must turn my will to other things to refresh my spirit and survive in the world of the practical, the world of people and places.

An insidious bi-polar illness, a long list of sicknesses beginning in early childhood, sadness and melancholy, fatigue resulting from fifty to seventy hours a week talking and listening, reading and writing, marking and planning as a teacher; guilt from crimes, follies and sins of a major and minor nature, baseness, impatience, lack of self-control, lust, indulgences of several kinds, the litany could go on and on; periodic failure in employment, in marriage, in relationships of various kinds, incapacities on a host of fronts--and still with this sense of burden there arose this call to write.

I remember back in the mid-1990s, as I was beginning to plan my exit from the world of endless talk, people and listening as a teacher; I remember that tastes, touches, sights and smells began to take on a new meaning. I seemed to recapture the past and live in the present with a greater intensity than I had been able to do in previous years. As the new millennium opened and I was at last free from meetings and people coming to me and at me at a mile a minute, the present and especially the past began to come at me noticeably free of those disappointments and anxieties that had for so many years accompanied my life. There was the sense of blossom, of freshness, of new colour, of bright intensity and there was also the sense of calm and a solemn consciousness.

This consciousness seemed productive of a quiet joy that had not been there before, perhaps this was partly due to fluvoximine and lithium's soothing presence in my brain and body chemistry, especially at the synaptic connections. They were certainly essential but, as I listened to Chopin's Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Opus 23 and gazed occasionally out of the window of my study at the lemon tree, the impatiens and the flowers my wife had recently planted in our garden here in northern Tasmania, I felt a quiet joy. It was a joy which resembled that equable temperament that Wordsworth is said to have had and which allowed me to experience the emotions and events of earlier days, only this time they were recollected in tranquillity, in that "bliss of solitude."

I do not so much want to recover the past; this work is not so much an autobiography of remembrance, although there is inevitably some of that. It is an autobiography of analysis and reflection. I want to write, also, about what I have not experienced and about what gives this life of mine meaning and worth. I am not living in this work the way some writers have done who failed to live in their life. I am certainly appraising my life, my times, my religion and the myriad relationships involved in such an appraisal, for appraisal has been for me somewhat of an obsession as these four epochs evolved and as the content of the appraisal shifted. For some writers, the great ones, it is style that endures. Lies, subterfuge and dissimulation become part and parcel of the text. This was true of Proust. For me, my aim is the essential truth of my life and times, however difficult it may be to find and describe it. Style is something of which I am hardly conscious.

I am conscious, though, of the epistemological upheaval taking place in the historical profession and in the field of autobiography. This upheaval has several major forms. One of these forms is based on the view that there are only possible narrative representations of the past and none can claim to know the past as it actually was. Of course, some historians maintain that conventional historical practice can be continued. Others say that the writing of history must be radically reconceived. The historian and literary analyst, Raymond Williams, says that the word 'narrative' 'is one of the most difficult words in the English language.'

My work may be out of step with the modern consciousness; my sexual revelations may be tame; my social preoccupations of interest to only a few; my politics irrelevant to the vast majority; but I like to think there is a rich and analytical base that is quiet and possessed of what many I'm sure will find to be a dull but hopefully pleasing silence, a silence which will, in time, attract some readers from among the loud impatient honks and belches that occupy so much of the public space these days. For there is, amidst the noise and tumult, a serious and sophisticated reading audience that has developed in the last several decades and now includes millions. This work may find a home among some of these millions. But whether it does or whether it doesn't for a citizen who acts or a writer who spends periods of time cloistered from society, the dilemma is the same. It is the dilemma of the witness. As witness, one asks: "Who am I to say?" Or: "Who am I, if I don't say." The more deeply you examine your own life, the more deeply you enter your times, and from there, history.

Were we endowed with a longer measure of existence and lived perhaps two or three centuries, we might cast down a smile of pity and contempt on the crimes and follies of human ambition. But given the narrow span in which we live, that we are given, we seem eager to grasp at the precarious and short-lived enjoyments with which we are blessed. It is thus that the experience of history exalts and enlarges or depresses and confuses, the horizon of our intellectual view. In this autobiographical composition that has taken me some months or years, in this perusal that has occupied me for some several dozen days of total time, perhaps hundreds of hours, two centuries have rolled through these pages, with more attention paid to recent decades and less as the years go back. These are the two centuries since Shaykh Ahmad began his years as the Bab's precursor in Iran, circa 1804-6.

The duration of a life or an epoch, my life, is contracted to a fleeting moment. The grave is ever beside life's achievement, however unconscious I am of its presence or should I say its absense. The success of life's ambition is instantly, or virtually so, followed by the loss of the prize. Our immortal reason survives as it reflects on the complex series of calamities and victories which pass before our eyes in our own lives or in history's larger and multi-coloured garment. The entire panoply and pageantry of it all faintly dwells in my remembrance as I go about my daily duties. So is this true in varying degrees of all of us. And it is this remembrance that I write about in this autobiography, these fleeting years in which the Bahá'í Faith and the world has been transformed; in which the proceses of integration and disintegration were gathering momentum, accelerating unobtrusively and yet quite conspicuously; in which the world's landscape daily grew more desolate, threatening and unpredictable and yet more comfortable physically due to a range of consumer durables that were not enjoyed by the world's peoples at any time in history.

Liberal relativism and capitalism represent a single, a dominating and comprehensive world-view, as they have in "Western civilization" during all these epochs and especially since the fall of communism in the late 1980s. Against this background, during these several epochs of my life, great conceptual, political and social changes have taken place in the midst of terrible suffering. The Faith itself has undergone a succession of triumphs which are documented elsewhere. It would appear an even greater toll of grief and travail, unimaginably appalling, is in the offing in the remaining years of this epoch and the epoch to come which will take us to 2144, in all probability. But there is too, somewhere down the track, a vision of great glory and beauty for man and society--from a Bahá'í perspective.

I think that I have some advantages over the film-maker who tries to reduce a life to 24 frames per second. Something happens on the way to the screen that does not happen on the way to the page. Despite the evocations of the past through powerful images, colourful characters and moving words, film so often does not fulfill the basic demands for truth and verifiability used by writers of history. Film compresses the past into a closed world by telling a single, linear story with essentially a single interpretation at least such is the general pattern in the first century of film history. I try to avoid this trap. I do not deny historical, autobiographical alternatives. I do not do away with complexities of motivation and causation. I do not banish subtlety. I explore it in all its paradoxes and nuances. But in a world where most people get most of their information about history from visual media, I am conscious that history and one of its sub-disciplines, autobiography, have become somewhat esoteric pursuits, that a large part of the population not only does not know much history but does not care that they don't know. It would seem that it is becoming difficult for many writers about the past to tell stories that engage people. At the same time there is a plethora of books that tell wonderful stories. Film tells stories so very well. We are certainly not short on stories.

To render the fullness of the complex, multi-dimensional world in which we live we need to juxtapose images and sounds; we need quick cuts to new sequences, dissolves, fades, speed-ups, slow motion, the whole panoply and pageantry of film to even approximate daily life and daily experience. Only film can recover all the past's liveliness. So goes one view. On the other hand, some critics of film say that film images carry a poor information load. They say that history is not primarily about descriptive narrative. It is about debate over what happened, why it happened and what significance it had. It's about personal knowledge. What I try to do in this book is get six each way. In the absence of film's captivating charm I try to do what film can't do or certainly won't be doing with my life while I am alive. This book contains much that is the stuff of film, a surface realism, the truth of direct observation, but I try to reach out to people through the inner life, through character, through psychology and what is private and not visible or catchable on camera. In the process I am confident I will catch or contact some and with others no contact will be made. tis is inevitable.

I do with my life what history tries to do with people's lives. I write and in the process feel less peculiar and less isolated, less alienated, less lonely. The wrap-around feeling one gets at the movies, the swamping of the senses, the feeling of being there, I get in the writing of this autobiography. I also get elements of reflection, evaluation, argument, weighing of evidence, dealing with inaccuracies and simplifications. Whether the reader can get both is another question. The intellectual density of the written word can be conveyed in film and the senses can be stimulated as much by print as by the cinema. One can try to do both but to really pull it off is no mean feat.

My work possesses, for me, an escape from the world and its complex of incidents, demands, compulsions and solicitations of every kind and a degree of urgency. These external and never-ending minutiae of life, these incidents, 'overtake the mind," as Paul Valery once wrote, "without offering it any inner illumination." Now and in this work the world blows through me like the wind, as it has blown through my life and my times. Writing this account is a world of wait and watch, ponder and ponder. Its chief reward is a stimulating affect on my mind. Sometimes there is exhaustion.

What I write here is closer to history than most dramatic film or documentary television. Things have to be invented to make stories, the content of dramatic film, a smooth documentary hour, coherent, intense, fittable into a two hour time-slot. The most difficult thing for many to accept about film is that this most litteral of media is not at all literal. What we see on the screen is less a description than an invention of the past. But what is here in this autobiography deals with 'just the facts, mam.' It deals with them in a certain fashion to deal with coherence and incoherence, intensity and boredom, time's regularities and irregularities. It deals with history in a way that is new in the history of literature. For literature until the last century or so has dealt with the upper classes, the well-to-do, and only since the coming of these two modern Revelations have ordinary, everyday, men and women, even begun to tell their stories or have them told by others.

The awful mysteries and the true nature of the institutions of this Faith I have come to believe in and give a context to in this narrative as well as the devotional side of my life's experience I have both concealed from the eyes of the multitudes of humankind. Indeed, it seemed necessary to exercise the utmost caution, even to affect a certain secrecy, in these early epochs of this Formative Age when the tenets of this Faith are, as yet, "improperly defined and imperfectly understood." It was a secrecy, a caution, that for me derived from the implications of the claim of Bahá'u'lláh, a claim which over time would involve both opposition and struggle, authority and victory. I often felt a little like a secret-agent man possessed of knowledge no one around me had. Sadly, it appeared that those around me, for the most part, did not want that knowledge. So it was that I possessed only some of the equation, the analogy, the picture of the secret-agent man. I often felt the romance and the excitement of the role, however subdued it was by reality.

I am more than a little conscious that I am, like Benjamin Jowett of Balliol College, "swallowed up in a corporate body" which will outlast me. I possess, then, a kind of derivative immortality. My own life is only an element in that body's more permanent life. My work, like that of all my fellow Bahá'ís, will be carried on by our successors. Our story and the story of our successors will be found in many places. This is only one small part of that story. For we will "again become united around a transcending moral issue." At the moment the transcending pathfinders among us can not be spotted; society does not appear ready to risk a new path. But these pathfinders will not be going away; they will be waiting to help a confused society find its way back to a clarity of purpose. This autobiography is part of that effort to breathe a new life in this "spiritual springtime" and "array those trees which are the lives of men with the fresh leaves, the blossoms and fruits of consecrated joy."

In my dress, my food, my homes, my furnishings, my gardens, my transport, my employments and enjoyments, I was clearly one of those favourites of fortune among the global billions who united every refinement of convenience and of comfort, if not elegance and splendour. So many of these emoluments soothed my pride or gratified my sensuality, insensible though I was to their continuous presence like the very air I breathed. One could not give the name of luxury to these refinements of mine. Nor could I be severely arraigned by the moralists of the age for possessing these basics. But I often thought that it would be more conducive to the virtue, as well as happiness of mankind, if all possessed the necessities and none of the superfluities of life. And one day, it was my view, that would be the case.

Many autobiographies purport to deal with one thing while, in reality, dealing with something else. Hillary Clinton's recent autobiography was intended to be about the many controversies and scandals in Bill Clinton's campaigns and presidency, presumably to get these issues behind her before she contemplated running for the White House herself. Yet the book skates over the problems the Clinton administration faced in its rocky debut and in the impeachment crisis and skims over details of matters like Whitewater and "travelgate." It expends a startling amount of space on Mrs. Clinton's trips abroad and her personal appearance. I hope this book of mine avoids this unfortunate trap of the populist autobiographer. I hope I achieve what I set out to do.

Michiko Kakutani writes that Katherine Hepburn was decidedly unaccustomed to the art of introspection. Revelations in Scott Berg's biography of Hepburn, published two weeks after her death, are few and scattered. "Hepburn, I learned," Mr. Berg writes, "always lived in the moment; and once an event had been completed, she was on to the next. There was no looking back." This work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, is strongly, decidedly introspective. It is just about entirely a book that looks back, but with one eye firmly fixed on the future. My role as witness to, as a contemporary of, the developments in the Bahá'í community in the half-century 1953-2003 is a major feature of this narrative. It is a witness that has an eye on the future, that feels like it has the very future in its bones.

VOLUME 1: CHAPTER TWO
"Breaking New Ground"

When people collectively explore, in various ways, the real commitments that define their lives as human beings, they can create a vision of self-actualization in their social environment, a new way of expressing what their world is, who they are and what they ought to be. And when that vision is already defined in specific terms so that their analysis and discussion is about the elaboration of that vision, the results can be staggering. It is like a second coming into being of the self. -Ron Price with thanks to James Herrick, "Empowerment Practice and Social Change: The Place for New Social Movement Theory," 1995, Internet, 12 January 2003.
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The Bahá'í experience has generated a massive quantity of print in the first two centuries of its experience, if we go back as far as the arrival of Shaykh Ahmad in Najaf and Karbila in about 1793 and his becoming a mujtahid in the following years as the beginning point for that history. This generation, the generation that came of age in the 1960s, has seen a burgeoning quantity of print become available, more than any generation in history. The Writings of the Central Figures of this Faith and its two chief precursors produced a mountain of print. What is now a monumental quantity of official documents, primary source materials like letters and reports from both within and without the Bahá'í community and its efflorescing institutions around the world, and detailed analyses in book form and on the internet is bringing to the generations after the 1960s more print than they can deal with and absorb. -Ron Price, "A Contemporary Bahá'í Autobiography to the Beginnings of Bahá'í History: 1993-1793," Pioneering Over Four Epochs, Internet Document.
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But there have been many aspects of the Bahá'í experience, its history, the individual stories of what are now millions of adherents, which have been resistant to literary and historical representation whether as narrative, novel, play, poem, letter, diary, biography or autobiography, among the many genres in which humans convey their experience. Moojan Momen points out that "Bahá'ís have been lamentably neglectful in gathering materials for the history of their religion."1 But as the new millennium approached this has begun to change.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Moojan Momen, The Babi and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.xvii.
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In volume two of Toynbee's A Study of History, he discusses the concept or doctrine that 'the ordeal of breaking new ground has an intrinsic stimulating effect,' and 'the stimulating effect of breaking new ground is greatest of all when the new ground can only be reached by crossing the sea.' Toynbee cites many examples and focuses especially on the Etruscans who 'stayed at home and never did anything worth re- cording"'and the 'astonishing contrast between the nonentity of the Etruscans at home and their eminence overseas.' This eminence, he argues, was due to the 'stimulus which they must have received in the process of transmarine colonization.'

My pioneering experience took me across the sea, first in 1967 across the Davis and Hudson Straits, extensions of the North Atlantic Ocean; second in 1971 across the Pacific Ocean and third, in 1974, 1978 and 1999 across the Bass Strait, an extension of the Great Southern Ocean, to live on Baffin Island, the continental island of Australia and Tasmania, respectively. These pioneer moves could have had the soporific effect that the migration of the Philistines had on them about the same time as the Israelites were transforming themselves from nomadic stock-breeders into sedentary tillers on stony, barren and landlocked highlands and pasture-lands east of Jordan and south of Hebron.

But I found these moves, like the Volkerwanderungs that is, the wanderings, of the past, those of the Ionians, the Angles, the Scots and the Scandinavians, possessed an intrinsic stimulus. For these moves were part of a modern Volkerwanderung, an national and international pioneering exodus. My own role in this story was as a part of that national exodus, the opening chapters of the push of the Bahá'í Faith to 'the Northernmost Territories of the Western Hemisphere' and Canada's 'glorious mis- sion overseas.' And to put this venture in its largest, its longest perspective and time frame: my work is at the outset of the second 'period' of a 'cycle' of hundreds of thousands of years, in a second 'age', over four 'epochs'; or to use yet another paradigm, my life is at the beginning of the federated state, after successive units of political and social organization on the planet: tribe, chiefdom, clan, city state and nation after homo sapiens sapiens emerged some 35,000 years ago from a homo sapiens line beginning 3mya.(ca)

If such are the most general perspectives on time in relation to where I am in history, the spiritual axis, mentioned by Shoghi Effendi in his 1957 letter, and a series of concentric circles define the spacial parameters of my life, in several interlocked and not unimportant ways. The southern pole of this axis is "endowed with exceptional spiritual potency." Many years of my life have been lived at several points along the southern extremity of this pole: in Perth, in Gawler and Whyalla, in Ballarat and Melbourne and in several towns of Tasmania. All of these points lie at the outer perimeter of the ninth concentric circle whose centre is the "Bab's holy dust."

In anatomy the second cervical vertebra is the axis on which the head turns. Axis also refers to any of the central structure of the body's anatomy, the spinal column. The term is also used as a positional referent in both anatomy and in botany. Such is a brief exposition of the analogical importance of where I have spent my life as an overseas pioneer. Living, as I have at the end of the planet's axis, endowed with an exceptional spiritual potency, an axis on which the Bahá'í world, it could be argued, turns and serves, the line between Japan and Australia, as the central structure or positional referent, of the global community, gives me a crucial spacial orientation the significance of which only the future will re4veal.

My several moves, part of the laying of the foundation for this federated, this future super-state, resulted in a periodic change of outlook and this change of outlook gave birth to new conceptions. The process was an insensible one at first but, over more four decades, the process resulted in a change which one could analyse at many levels. It took place in such small incremental steps, especially in the first ten years of the adventure, 1962-1972. But in the second decade, 1973 to 1983 'new and wonderful configurations' developed, again, not overnight, but measurably and accompanied by difficulties as well as victories. Indeed, the temple of my existence was 'embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendour, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought.' Perhaps this puts it too strongly, makes too extensive a claim. It may not have been wisdom, nor 'the dazzling rays' of 'a strange and heavenly power' but, rather, a progressive healing of my bi-polar disorder.

After six months in several mental hospitals in 1968 and an emotionally unstable first decade on the pioneer front, 'a new horizon, bright with intimations of thrilling developments in the unfolding life of the Cause of God' was clearly discernible. Such was the general hope for my own life, 'intimations of thrilling developments,' as I flew, with my first wife, Judy, across the North American continent and the Pacific Ocean: Toronto to Sydney, in early July of 1972. Within two years of these bright intimations Judy and I were divorced. But the first evidences of any kind of writing ability surfaced in these years. Such are the paradoxes and contradictions of life which I have lived with, as we all live with as we try to apply the teachings of this Cause to our daily lives.

Many theories of self have become useful, as I examine the past retrospectively, if I am to possess 'an adequate definition of self-conception.' The capacity to evaluate the qualitative worth of my desires and my actions, to express whatever is contradictory, paradoxical, ironic, complex and difficult if not impossible to understand, are part of creating accounts, reconciliations and explanations of my life or just small parts of it. The process is facilitated by the narrative self-conception of autobiography, a self-conception that surfaces from the interplay between events and the perception of them re-constructed in narrative form.

There is a multiplicity of narrative frames in this autobiography: gender, religion, family, nation, history, politics, sociology, psychology, that exist, all of which govern the narrative I endorse and the associated actions that take place in these pages. There are, too, the narratives of hope and accomplishment, those of dissillusionment and failure, as well as those of faith and belief as opposed to skepticism and doubt. In each of these, or some mix of all of them(which it seems is the case with mine), individuals act to create or fulfill their identities. The narrative serves to frame or orient action and action transforms the narrative by enriching and validating it. If the public narrative is consistent with our actions, we can say that self and identity are authentic. If there are opposing narratives, contradictions or even falsities, you might say that this is simply part of the dynamic nature of identity, an identity which operates in the context and texture of daily life with the same contradictions and falsities. For identity is not static, pure and unadulterated: context and audience are critical variables in what is inevitably, and certainly for me, a hybrid reality.

Judy and I flew to Australia to work for the South Australian government as primary school teachers in Whyalla. By April 1971 when the international Bahá'í body sent its Ridvan message we had been hired and began planning for our overseas move. The Formative Age of this new Faith was rapidly approaching the mid-point of its first century. Those "bright intimations" certainly filled our world as we got ready to move to Australia in the southern hemisphere. We were hardly conscious of just how far from home this move entailed. Just how far it was I came to discover in the next several decades. I only saw my mother once again and my cousins not for more than thirty years.

However unstable that first decade of pioneering was, the memories I have of that period constitute what social scientist Peter Braustein calls 'possessive memory.' These memories now exist with me 'in a lover's embrace.' I feel as if no one else can touch these memories, even if I share them with others in this autobiography. These memories, in a way, possess me. I do not possess that "sense memory" that, say, British actor Michael Caine enjoys in which he can go back to a point in time in his life and relive the emotional event in the same way. A tearful event will bring tears to Caine again by the simple but intense contemplation of the memory. The memory, for me, is very real but the experience is more like Wordsworth's: "emotions recollected in tranquillity."

Braustein says of the activists of the sixties that they 'experienced a sense of self-generation so powerful that it became a constituent part of their identity.' My activism was not based on rejection or opposition but, rather, on the part I played in the development of Bahá'í communities in the ten towns I lived in during the sixties. I was fifteen when the sixties started and twenty-five when they ended. My pioneering life began during those years and that 'sense of self-generation' is still part of my identity. Identity is, of course, a complex question and one's identity, my identity, has many sources. I felt then, as I do now, that sense of urgency, as if I was an agent in history. Hippies and student activists made the counter-culture between 1964 and 1968, 'by their explicit attack on technology, work, pollution, boundaries, authority, the unauthentic, rationality and the family,' wrote Ortega y Gasset as he attempted to define the essence of that generation and its particular type of sensibility.

As I look back over what is now half a century, I perceive the panorama, the chaos, the picture of discrete events as they roll by my mental window indiscriminately. Humans and perhaps their several progenitors have had this ability for, perhaps, several million years. With the arrival of the train early in the nineteenth century, human beings were able to triple the distance that had been covered in a given period of time throughout all of recorded history by horse and cart. They could "perceive the discrete as it rolled past the window indiscriminately" three times faster than in a horse-drawn coach. Wolfgang Schivelbusch says this is the defining characteristic of the panoramic. In fact he says the really crucial feature of the panoramic is "the inclination to fix on irrelevant details in the landscape or in the images that pass before the viewer's eye." As I scan, in my mind's eye, the multitude of events in the panorama of my life, I fix first on this event and then on that, as Schivelbusch describes. Of course, there is some pattern in this autobiography, but there is also much that is serendipitous, spontaneous, highly discontinuous. Readers may find this latter quality somewhat disconcerting, especially those readers who are more comfortable with a sequential, a simple and somewhat predictable narrative.

The electronic media in the same half century that this autobiography is concerned with(1953-2003) have also brought to the individuals--at least this individual--a profusion, a diaspora, of public spheres and so very much more of those discrete events rolling past my window indiscriminately. The imaginative resources of lived and local experiences have become globalized. Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1936 that the process of nation-building had come to an end and, in my early years as a Bahá'í I often wondered at his meaning. The issue is, of course, complex, too complex to pursue here, but the window on my world, the imagined community, in the half century of this narrative, has become the entire planet. "The creation of selves and identities," as Imre Szeman wrote recently, takes place in a volatile and unstable mixture. The imagination now can play everywhere and instability, volatility, is part of the result. The autobiography of anyone living in this period must take cognizance of this colonization of the imagination by the media and what many call commodity capitalism.

However serendipitous this account may be, however much I improvise as I tell my story, as I move the events around in what seems like a loose, easy-going and fortuitous fashion, my aim is not that of those two famous American novelists of this period: Kurt Vonnegut Jr and John Updike. The former's novel Timequake is written with irony, humor and sarcasm to wake people from their stupor and apathy and to warn them of what awaits if they do not try to radically transform their society. Likewise, John Updike's Toward the End of Time presents readers with a future that is so grim and characters that are so repulsive that the very hideous images force them to either embrace his work masochistically or reject it outright and work towards preventing the dystopia. Both writers try to jolt their readers, shock them.

There is little irony in this narrative, not anywhere near as much humour as I would like and hardly any sarcasm or shock tactics. If there is anything grim, it is my portrayal of aspects of the society I have lived in since the mid-twentieth century. My work is, rather, an attempt to hint at the utopia that I see at the heart of the Bahá'í System, my experience of it at this embryonic stage of its development and the effort I see that is required to achieve its reality. I am aware as I write that for the Bahá'í the future has never looked so bright and the Bahá'í community has itself been gathering strength all my life. And so my aim is far removed from that of these two famous novelists.

I used to work at a College of Advanced Education in the late 1970s where one of my fellow lecturers in the social sciences aimed to dismantle the world views of his students, to shake them up, so to speak. I, too, want to do this, but my method is to be much gentler, to go around to the back door and, like a surgeon, give someone a new set of lungs without them feeling the experience with too much of a jolt.

Various fiction writers, famous and otherwise, assume the roles of performers in their books. At the centre of brilliantly imagined worlds these writers become actors who put on dazzling performances. The narrative personas in these works assume roles which lead readers to question the reliability of their authors. If drama is the sister-art to life-writing, as some claim it is, then we must consider that the life writer can use dramatic technique to shape what and how the reader imagines. By using stagecraft life-writers have the power to distort or to enhance the truth about what they are illustrating in their lives.

As an autobiographer I am conscious of creating a certain narrative persona and of establishing a context of dramatic art but, the critical variable for me, is style. Style is a distinctive selection of words and phrases to express thought or feeling; it is a certain mental attitude peculiar to myself; it is the opposite of affectation which is an assumed habit or manner of expression; it is part and parcel of my very character. "The most perfect development of style," writes Archibald Lampman, "must be sought in those whose experience of the world has been full and at the same time in the main joyous and exhilarating." There has been, he goes on, a certain exquisite indulgence and graciousness of disposition, a capacity to delight others, to put others at ease, a happy attitude of mind, impulsive yet controlled.

It would be a rare soul who could do all these things all the time. And I am only too conscious of my many inabilities in these several domains especially the absense of joy from time to time due to a life-time of manic-depressive illness. But I am also conscious of the exhilarating aspects of my life and of the pleasure, the stimulus, that I brought to many, especially in my role as a teacher and lecturer. Lampman continues in many directions one of which is to associate "true style" with genius, to emphasize the unconsciousness of its acquisition and the writer being "haunted persistently by certain peculiar ideas." There is much in Lampman's analysis which resonates with my experience. In the end only the reader, at least some readers, will discover this style. But, whatever the case, it is here in this elusive world of style that my dramatic art lies. Whatever excitement there is in the creation of this narrative persona it lies not in some conscious dramatic invention for the stage of life, however brilliantly devised and dazzlingly performed. For years I have been reaching out for a subject to give coherent form to my "voice." Poetic and non-poetic narrative has helped me find this "voice" in the last decade and lifted, refined and lifted it again. Form and voice has brought content into being, as Joyce Carol Oates describes the process. And now this autobiography spins in orbit about that kernel of myself, my society and my religion. In a very general--and yet quite specific sense--the kingdom of God is both within and without. To put this idea a little differently: there is no dichotomy. Every atom in existence is testimony to the names of God. And every atom of this autobiography springs from my fascination with the movement of thought, of inner experience. There is here a braiding together of disparate fragments jotted down and refined and refined again.

Sometimes the experience of writing this account, like the experience of life, is euphoric; sometimes it is homely and domestic; sometimes there is the sense of the ceaseless surge of the sea, of a fierceness of energy; sometimes I feel as if I am in possession of the heart's foul rag and bone shop, as the elder Yeats poignantly described his inner life. Sometimes I feel as if I am obsessively preoccupied with refining perceptions, with analysing. I feel no need to continue the external journey, occupied as it was with living in some two dozen towns over the last forty years. But continue it I will, as we all must to the end of our days. As Emily Dickinson puts it:

The Brain--is wider than the Sky--
For--put them side by side--
The one the other will contain
With ease--and You--beside--

The Brain is deeper than the sea--
For--hold them--Blue to Blue--
the one the other will absorb--
As Sponges--Buckets--do--

The Brain is just the weight of God--
For--Heft them--Pound for Pound--
And they will differ--if they do--
As Syllable from Sound--

Many autobiographers and analysts of autobiography examine their lives and the field of autobiography in the context of postmodern theory. Postmodernism is a movement, a theory, an approach, to life which encapsulates the arts, the sciences, society and culture, indeed every aspect of day to day life. I also find this theory useful. It suggests an external world of ceaseless flux, of fleeting, fragmentary and contradictory moments that become incorporated into our inner life. The modern hero is the ordinary person and the world is filled with abstract terms. This postmodern society could indeed be called 'the abstract society.' It is a society filled with a commercial, private, pleasure-oriented, superficial, fun-loving individual. This type of society and this type of individual began to appear, or at least the beginnings of post-modernism, can be traced back to the 1950s. The post-modern in autobiography tends to doubt everything about both self and society. After examining more than fifty biographies of Marilyn Monroe the post-modernist is left with plausibilities and inscrutibilities but not unreserved truth. We are also left with multiplicity rather than authenticity. If we ultimately can't be sure of why we did what we did in life, we can exercise great control of the process of explaining it retrospectively. The post-modernists raise many questions about the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of doing genuine, real, authentic biography and autobiography. I find their approach mildly chastening.

There is so much information in this information-loaded society and so many interpretations that shift and slide that an atmosphere of meaninglessness or unreality prevails, of absurdity or the comic, of an essentially problematic and unresolvable set of human dilemmas. Novelty, indifference to political concerns, no ideological commitments or beliefs in any metanarratives, but rather a commitment to hobbies, to entertainment, and a host of pleasureable pursuits and pastimes fill the private space. Commitment and continuity become less important, except of course a commitment to a world of the private, the personal and the relationships contained therein, in their many forms. The analysis of postmodernism in social science literature is extensive and too vast to deal with here. As a philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, postmodernism helps furnish an understanding of society and the individual in the years since the mid-twentieth century, the years of this autobiography. Postmodernism is a state that inclines people to self-reflection, self-apprehension, self-definition. Autobiography is a natural bi-product of postmodernism. Given both the complexity and the lack of consensus, though, about what constitutes postmodernism, I am hesitant to deal with the term in any depth here.

This autobiography also needs to be seen in the context of a wider and emerging autobiographical experience of many groups and peoples. Autobiography has undergone great changes during the years with which this particular story is concerned, the last fifty years of the twentieth century. It is seen now, much more among women writers, ethnic writers, gay and lesbian writers, indeed the writings of a host of indigenous and minority groups on the planet. Since the autobiographical tradition prior to this time belonged mostly to men and men in the upper classes, women's voices, particularly "ordinary" women's voices, and men's, ordinary men's voices, were relatively unheard. In addition, earlier autobiography was typically motivated by the desire of famous or "special" individuals to record and preserve significant thoughts and historically important experiences. Recent autobiographies of the 'ordinary' person, however, appear to grow most often from the need of people to make sense of their lives, to define themselves by intellectually mastering their experiences, and to locate their place in a broader concept of history. But autobiography, for all its potential depth and insight into life, its witness and contribution to history, is far from commanding a canon. Like journalism, for different reasons, a canon is difficult to locate in such a burgeoning and complex field. Any attempt to do so must inevitably be challenged and reevaluated. This is not my task here, although I refer frequently to the autobiographies of the famous and not-so-famous in history for their relevance to this work.

I write of this theme in other contexts in this work, for this broad theme of the 'coming out' of the ordinary, people who otherwise would have been nameless and traceless, is a part of what is involved in this narrative. Autobiography, according to Nellie McKay, has been "the preeminent form of writing in the U.S.A." since the seventeenth century. And it has had an important place in the literary history of other nations, too many to describe in even the briefest of outlines here. What I do, and one of the things that distinguishes this autobiographical work, is "borrow", "adapt", and "modify" different theories, sources and ideas and use them to organize my own observations and experiences.

Jos(c) Saramago, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, argues that for all of us the words we utter between the moment we get out of bed in the morning and the moment we go back there at night, as well as the words of dreams and thought, memory and imagination, all constitute a story that is concurrently rational and crazy, coherent or fragmentary. A story, an autobiographical narrative, can at any moment be structured and articulated in a written or an oral form or simply thought out or thought through. And the story is always only partial; it can never be complete. Even when we do not write, he continues, we live as characters. We live as characters in the story that is our life. For we are all on the stage now.

The life-long project that living has been in the past due to a career in business, the military, the bureaucracy, a profession, et cetera, or a belief system or an embeddedness in a family structure in a place of local habitation is, so often in recent decades-in this tenth stage of history---not as possible, as likely, now. These careers, these systems, were often 'for keeps' in what Weber called 'an iron cage,' an institutional context. This is not so much the case now. Career, family and a collection of interests still has centre-stage in the autobiographical accounts that make it into the public eye.

Of the half a dozen major theories of learning to develop in the last century constructivism has, arguably, the most application to this autobiography. Constructivism is based on the view that we construct our world from our experience and science is, then, for the autobiographer, 'the enterprise of coordinating and arranging this experience.' Knowledge, here, is the reconstruction of our experience and is relative to each person. We make, we define, we construct, our worlds and that is what I have done here in this autobiography. Family, career and interests is what makes up the core of the experience of most of us and so autobiographies inevitably deal with these three foci in some shape or form--and mine as well.

In my own life my profession was not tied to a locality. I was a cosmopolitan rather than a local. Coherence and security came from the exercise of my skill more than from doing the job in a place which, as Sennett writes, was often an "empty arena," a place of intermittance, of lesser loyalty. The career-long project was not, for me anyway, associated with a location, a place. A new economic map emerged in the half century I was involved in the workforce and many older workers felt obsolete as their working lives came to a close. I wanted out of the workforce by my fifties and experienced a sense of relief rather than failure when I retired at 55. My consanguinial family(birth) became, by stages from the age of 21 to 33 when my parents passed away, my affinal family(marriage) as the sociology of the family demarkates the two major types of family. My interests changed and developed as well and this autobiography provides more detail in each of these three areas of autobiographical investigation in the six pages remaining.

As the century was ending, I wanted to attend to the inwardness of my mental life. This inwardness, this inner world of thought, feeling and wish had undergone a transformation in the forty years I had been a Bahá'í, 1959-1999. This inner world was not some permanent, inescapable, lifelong and unchanging reality. By my fifty-fifth year this inner world had gone through a host of changes; something new had been gradually acquired; it had accummulated, widened, grown, developed. It was, too, a product of cultural history, of my religious experience, my reading and study. My poetry, my writing and especially earlier drafts of this autobiography made me aware that I could give myself over and up to this inner world and put it into words. But I was also aware that much of this inner world could not be articulated by language. I simply had to admit defeat in the face of the inability of my ear, as Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "to hear" or for my "heart to understand." Perhaps, Geoffrey Hartman put the idea aptly when he wrote that "Art represents a self which is either insufficiently present or feels itself as not presentable." Looked at from a certain angle, there are simply few words for what happens inside us. Looked at from another angle the inner life is an endless spinning tumbler of verbiage. And so in the midst of this autobiographical memoir intersecting the discourses of my identity, my social and historical analysis and my religion, I try to give form to both the verbiage and to what can not be contained in words.

Locality was important to me especially as a node in a global network. Place had power through this exercise of talent, but it was not isolated power. Self had power, but was not a burdensome possession, rather, it was tangentially connected and yet an integral part of a durable institution with an important role to play as an emerging organization on the planet. Yes there was the fleeting, the disjointed and the fragmented; one could not avoid or ignore these realities of contemporary life. But some of these fortuitous fragments of reality lodged and embedded themselves in a place, my human spirit, where they could grow and endure. An attitude of blase indifference was a necessary defence against emotional overload, but spontaneous enthusiasm could and was cultivated and expressed in an individual way. As a pioneer, I was often a stranger and, as such, I possessed, it seemed, an inherent mobility, freedom and a type of objectivity. People often felt they could confide in me. At the same time, I was sometimes a little like the European Jew, the "internal other." At other times I was one of the gang. Strangeness, of course, can enter even the most intimate of relationships and it has certainly entered mine, all my life. I have grown to think it is part of life.

'Abdul-Baha seems to be an example of how to overcome this strangeness and I learned much from His example. I could write more on this process for strangeness is "one of the most powerful sociological tools for analysing social processes of individuals and groups." For I have been for so many years, at least forty, a potential wanderer who comes today and is gone tomorrow, with the possibility of remaining permanently.

Australian psychologist and social analyst Ronald Conway once wrote, "The soul of the Australian is a starving captive in a dungeon created by generations of either not caring, or dreading to show care". Conway is harsh and I'm sure many would disagree with his comment. Yet it is the view of many of our writers, poets and film makers. D.H. Lawrence, a rather famous visitor to Australia right at the start of the Formative Age, observed "the disintegration of social mankind back to the elements".
He saw, too, in Australia "a generous but shallow personality" groping vainly for integration in a society that was "chronically skeptical." There are now a volume of analyses of the Australian psyche which as a pioneer I have had to learn to deal with. This brief analysis goes some way to explaining the difficulty in teaching the Faith here. And there is much more to say.

In Canada one could find equally damning quotations like the following: Canadians 'are a nation of contradictions floating helplessly in a sea of confusion with no framework for living, with no proper definition of justice and without a single philosophical clue as to how a nation of civilized men interacts and sustains itself." In the Guardian's letters to Canada and Australia one can find more honorific quotations to balance these pejorative characterizations. Between the two poles of opinion and some complex reality, this pioneer worked his way, plied his trade.

As an international pioneer, I have had to learn how to overcome strangeness, to make a home of whatever place I inhabited, dwelled in, occupied, however temporarily and however skeptical and shallow it may have been. My life-long project was associated with a value system that was part of my religion and, in retrospect, it appears that has been the case for at least those forty years. I have been "no owner of soil," not radically committed to the unique ingredients and peculiar tendencies of the places I have lived in but, rather, possessing a particular structure of nearness and distance, indifference and involvement. I have been close but yet far from the locals. This year, in 2004, I will have been in this town in northern Tasmania for five years; I will be sixty and strangeness still exists on this suburban street, in this small town even as I own my home; even as I exhibit a friendly demeanor; even married as I am to a local. I think strangeness is part and parcel of the very pervasiveness of existence.

All the world is unquestionably a stage and as I write about my experience on this stage I have a double intention in mind. Some of this intention is clear and transparent. Indeed, it is highly desireable that the story the person tells is recognised as clear and transparent at every stage by the reader. The intention of the storyteller is also in some ways that of a conjuror, an unapologetic and unrepentant conjuror, who has no other excuse but his or her genius. And this genius is only, is simply, some extraordinary luck, some gift of unmerited grace if you prefer, a gift at some exact moment that cosmic grace was distributed among the several billion human inhabitants of the globe or a gift diffused insensibly over a whole lifetime.

In retrospect, to return to my own story and its thread of events, I now see my move to the Canadian Artic in 1967 at the age of 23 as, among other things, part of my rejection of the middle class culture I had grown up in during the 1950s and which I became more critical of during my further education in the early to mid-1960s. Of course, this move was part of the Bahá'í community's pioneering thrust as well. It was a thrust I first became conscious of in the late fifties. The fifties may have given the world silly putty, Mr. Potato Head, barbie dolls, rock 'n' roll, paint by number and the first TV shows, but the affluent fifties were alienated years which worried about communism, the atomic bomb and possessed "a convulsive craving to be busy." This desire to be busy was an important quality because it was one which contributed to the massive extension of the Bahá'í community to the uttermost corners of the earth.

But for the most part my identity did not derive from rejection, from alientation. I was not trying to forget the first or the second Great War, for they were history to me in the fifties, a history I knew little of as I played on the street, in the woods, in parks and in my back yard. When in 1960 that mask of Faith and belief was drawn aside again, as it was in the 1920s after the first war, "to reveal a changing face, regretful, doubting, yet also looking for a road to a rebirth," I had begun searching for my own form of authenticity. By my mid-teens the Bahá'í Faith seemed to represent that form. In 1980 when I read Roger White's poem, New Song I realized quickly that he had said much about the identity I acquired in those critical years of the late 1950s and sixties. So, I will quote some of that poem here:

And he hath put a new song in my mouth......
-Psalms 40:3

It was comfortable in the small town smugness
of your childhood.
You were born securely into salvation's complacent trinity:
A Catholic, Protestant or Jew.

So begins this delightful poem by Roger White. He seems to describe the tone and texture of my childhood and adolescence. He continues:

The world was small and safe and familiar.
And very white.
No red or black offended
our prim steepled vaults of self-congratulation.
Indians were the bad guys who got licked in movies,
Dying copiously amid candy wrappers
And the popcorn smell of matinees.
.........
Yes, it was comfortable then.
.........

When you heard that God had died, you wondered
Whether it was from sheer boredom--
...........
The tempest came in your twelfth or fifteenth year,
a clean cold wind
and you were left like a stripped young tree in autumn
with a cynical winter setting in
and nothing large enough to house your impulse to believe.
The need lay as quiet, unhurried and insidious as a seed
Snowlocked in a bleak and lonely landscape.


So White describes my personal condition from about the age of ten or twelve to fifteen, the years 1954 to 1959. "The need' was there to believe. It "lay as quiet" as a seed and grew, germinated. The tempest blew into my life at eighteen, a little later than it did in White's poem, his life. But, in the years 1959 to 1962, fifteen to eighteen, I caught a glimpse of the Bab 'in the clearing smoke of the rifles in the barrack-square of Tabriz." I heard His "new song./Up from the Siyah-Chal it rose." I could draw many parallels between my own life and the one described by White here. Perhaps at a future juncture, in a future edition of this work.

Manic-depression, or what is now called a bi-polar disorder, afflicts 1.5 to 2 per cent of the population. It also afflicts its sufferers in quite different ways. During the years 1962 to 1980 I had half a dozen major episodes as they are called. Only two of them required hospitalization and the worst were in the 1960s. Robert Lowell, the famous American poet, was hospitalized for most of his episodes which occurred each year from 1949 to 1974. In a book about his life, a bi-polar disorder is described as follows: 'that terrible condition in which the mind is bombarded by more sensation than it can accommodate, when associations succeed one another so quickly that the mind feels stretched to the breaking point, painfully drawn out as though forced through the tiny aperture of a needle's eye.' But, thanks to lithium treatment in 1980, I was finally sorted out, well just about. Fluvoxamine, twenty-two years later, put the finishing touches on this treatment by medication leaving only a mangeable residue of emotional/mental difficulties by the time I came to write this fourth edition.

Due to my most extreme episode I had to leave the Canadian Arctic and return to Ontario in June of 1968. Here is a poem, a reflection on the process of pioneering, written over thirty years later. It is a poem that puts this Arctic part of my venture, August 1967 to June 1968, in perspective. I wrote about:

THE PULL OF PIONEERING

I would not want anyone to be under any illusions regarding the pioneering experience, at least the experience that was mine and many others in the last half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I would not want to see future men and women looking anxiously in towns, villages and cities, farms and rural aspects, large and small organizations for non-existent excitements and the thrill of adventure due to some mythic pioneering identity, some imaginary creation, some literary and artistic representation of pioneering that had a particular potency in the collective imagination but was false. Some internal and external view of pioneering created by pioneers and travel teachers whose poetry and fiction, whose prose and story created an idealised and Romantic myth, I want to counter and clarify. I would want the pull of pioneering, the quest for the heart of its potential experience to be a realization that, although one detaches oneself completely from one's normal social environment, much of life can and often does remain the same. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Aitchison, N. MacLeod and S. Shaw, Leisure and Tourism Landscapes: Social and Cultural Geographies, Routledge, London, 2000, p.89.

It's been an adventure, mate;
you could even make it
into one of those movies
for the evening escape.

This story is unscripted,
flawed and plausible,
only the predictable wonder
of an ordinary life,
none of the tedium of
the choiceless invulnerability
of the movie-evening-hero,
none of the glitter and gloss.

You can't edit your life
to emerge in celluloid safety
with that toothpaste-ad-smile finish,
sliding smoothly from scene to scene
with that sense of story-writ-large
across the two hour coloured show.

This one you have to make
which, like nature, is slow
and uneventful, quietly enduring.
The big story is on the inside;
the technicolour manipulation
is largely unbeknownst to all,
silent, rich, self-created
or not there at all.

Ron Price
2 November 2000

The next poem focuses more sharply on that Arctic adventure twenty-eight years after it ended. The word 'transformation' has much meaning for me when I view life over many decades. A different person emerges, perhaps several times in life but, in the short term, in the day-to-day grind, I would use the term epiphany to describe some intense experience but not transformation. We each describe our life in different ways for we are, as that 18th century autobiographer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, "sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime."


GONE FOREVER

Genuine self-revelation is a rare gift, almost a creative gift. How alien, how remote, seem most people's memoirs, autobiographies and confessions from the real current of their actual days. Perhaps many who read this will find it alien and remote, as well, but I have tried to connect it as far as possible to the real current of my times, my days and my religion. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 27 April 1996.

Autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation. The self at the centre of all autobiographical narrative is in some basic, subtle and quite mysterious ways a fictive structure. But whether fictive or non-fictive, there was at the centre of this narrative an explicit avowal, an acceptance, of the embodiment of moral authority in the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith and Their elected successors, the trustees of a global undertaking, the Universal House of Justice. -Ron Price with thanks to: Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention, Author Unknown, Princeton UP, 1985, p.3.

Price often wrote poems about his past. This one, written some twenty-eight years after the event, attempts to summarize my year among the Eskimo and some of its meaning in retrospect. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 27 April 1996.

Like some shot out of the night,
a blast from the past,
from a frozen land
where big pioneering began,
where I was worn to a frazzle,
burnt to a crisp and at forty below!
Taken away on a jet and put in a net,
like a bird in a cage,
frightened on every page,
my brain burning with rage;
slowly it soothed
and the cold Artic air
became a thing of the past,
some moment in time,
like a memory sublime
with adventure writ high
and many a long sigh,
long before I was to die.

Some passing few months,
over in the blink of an eye,
there, for a time, I nearly died.

Ron Price
27 April 1996

This poem, one of the few rhymng poems that I have written, for I don't seem to enjoy rhyming poetry, still says something about that experience I had at the age of 23 on Baffin Island. However intimate my autobiography, I see my life as part of a universal history, a history that Lord Acton, one of the great modern Western historians described in a letter he wrote to the contributors to The Cambridge Modern History, dated March 12th 1898. His vision of universal history contains some of the perspective within which I write about my own mundane and ordinary life. Acton wrote: "By universal history I understand that which is distinct from the combined history of all countries....a continuous development...not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul. It moves in a succession to which the nations are subsidiary.' In the twentieth century a succession of universal histories followed: Spengler's in 1918, H.G. Wells' in 1919; Toynbee, who began his monumental work, in 1921; and Eric Hobsbawn's four volume work completed in 1996, among others.

In a strange and certain way pioneering, and especially international pioneering which was three years away, lifts one into this universal history. Perhaps that is why I have found reading Toynbee so stimulating over these four decades of pioneering. There is another historical paradigm that I have found useful for interpreting my times, my life, my religion, all that I have seen in history and anticipated in the future. It is what could be called 'the decline and fall' paradigm. Saint Jerome, while writing his 'Commentary on Ezekiel', in 410 AD said that he was 'so confounded by the havoc wrought in the West and above all by the sack of Rome" that long did he remain silent, "knowing it was a time to weep.' So, too, is our time a time to weep. With Rumi, the Persian poet, we are justified in saying: "do not mock the wine, it is bitter only because it is my life." The generations of the twentieth century have seen, heard or read about billions dieing. Is this a taste of things to come? Whatever wine of pleasure and comfort we in the West have enjoyed in these decades, and there have been many pleasures and comforts, there is a tincture of bitterness, of sadness, of sorrow, of melancholy, in the cup from the immense and tragic sufferings which have afflicted the human condition in our time, the generations born in the twentieth century.

Toynbee sees the period of what historians call the 'fall of the Roman Empire in the West' as 'vultures feeding on the carrion or the maggots crawling in the carcass' of that society. Roman society, argues Toynbee, especially in the days of the Empire(that is after 31 BC), was moribund. So, too, I would argue is our own society. The society we live in in terms of its traditional political and religious institutions is moribund. There are vultures feeding on the carcass of all its traditional institutions all over the planet. In such a climate autobiographers like myself must be on guard that, as William Maxwell says, "in talking about the past" it is possible that we may "lie with every breath we draw." The story, the history, is complex and one can easily get one's interpretations of the reality of our circumstances wrong. Our views are, so often, not so much lies as Maxwell saw it, but simply or not-so-simply errors.

We also need to develop, as Dr. Johnson did centuries ago, an acute sensitivity to artificiality in our writing and to the very nature of our analysis. In a resonant phrase by language theorist and social philosopher Roland Barthes, ours is a 'Civilization of the Image.' To get behind the image, away from the pervasive penetration of the image, requires the penetration of imagination, creativity, understanding and insight. I hope I provide some of these items in the recipe, the mixture, here.

Doomsdaying, present to a greater or lesser extent in all ages, has become a chief mode or form of social activity in modern culture. The ancient Romans are often compared to the Americans in what Patrick Brantlinger calls a 'negative classicism.' We have developed, many argue, some of the negative features of classical civilization. The serious literature of most Western countries, at least since 1914 writes W. Warren Wager, has been 'drenched with apocalyptic imagery.' It is not my purpose here to outline the optimistic and utopian or the pessimistic and dystopian scenarios that have filled the print and electronic media in my time, though Brantlinger does one of the best jobs of doing so. The analyses of our social, economic, political and psychological cultures now available is burgeoning and often enlightening. Indeed, I could devote a special chapter to what I see as relevant commentary and from time to time I will refer to some theory, some theorist, some commentary, some analysis. But I do not want to burden readers or myself with analysis. Readers will probably find I have provided more than enough analysis in my own individual way.

But, like Leon Edel, the chief biographer of American writer Henry James, I feel as if "my life has been the quintessence of what I have written......The way I am and the way I write are a unity." So, analysis is, for me, just part of the story, part of me, my thought, who I am. For the self is not a thing, but the meaning embodied in a man, in a life.

Just as our Western world emerged out of the chaos of the break-up of the Roman Empire and 'the deep sleep" of the interregnum(circa AD 375-675)' which followed, so is a global civilization emerging out of the break-up of the traditional societies all around the world including our own western society. We, too, have a deep sleep in our own time in the midst of the break-up of the old world. The roots of faith, without which no society can long endure, have been severed. Perhaps they were severed in that blood bath of WW1; perhaps the severing was completed in WW2 just as I was born, but certainly in the half century that it has been my privilege to serve in this embryonic chrysalis church, the institutional matrix, the embryo, of a new world Order, the chord of Faith has been cut. In many ways, this chord has been recreated, rebuilt, reshaped around a thousand alternative faiths, sects, cults, isms and wasms creating a sense of confusion and noise that is part of the new set of problems of these epochs.

The policy of the many governing bodies, as far as they concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the supersticious, part of the citizenry. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in this emerging global society, like the Roman world two thousand years before, were all considered by the people, with equal indifference or on some basis or principle of exclusivity or preference. Most philosophers, intellectuals and academics saw the multitude of religions as equally false. There were many, though, among the great masses of humanity, who saw these religions, or at least one, as true, useful, pernicious, absurd or simply the leftovers of a previous age. The blight of an aggressive secularism often replaced inherited orthodoxies. Such was part of the climate that was the backdrop for these epochs.

But, however one analyses the process of social disintegration, the death of an old Order and the birth of a new one that is characterizing this age, for me the great historian and sociologist, Reinhardt Bendix puts my life and this pioneering experience in its primary and, what you might call, its existential setting. He quotes Jacob Burkhardt's emphasis on "man suffering, striving, doing, as he is and was and ever shall be" at the centre of the process. In autobiography this centre is inevitable whether one acknowledges a transcendental Centre or no centre at all.

The revolution of our time, as historian Doug Martin put it in a clever turn of phrase, 'is in essence spiritual.' It is also universal and out of our control, he went on in what I always found a style of writing that has had a significant impact on my thought. Martin was one of the many influences on my life that led, by the 1990s, to produce the following poems, poems that played with concepts of civilization, society and the future.


THE GENUINE ARTICLE

The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset writing about the Roman Empire said that "the heads of the most powerful state that existed....did not find any legitimate legal titles with which to designate their right to the exercise of power...they did not know the basis on which they ruled....at the end of the whole thousand-year process which is Rome's history, its chief of state went back to being just anybody. Hence the Empire never had any genuine juridical form, authentic legality, or legitimacy. The Empire was essentially a shapeless form of government...without authentic institutions....but the famous Roman conservatism resided in the fact that a Roman knew what law is....it is that which cannot be reformed, which cannot be varied. -Jose Ortega y Gasset, An Interpretation of Universal History, WW Norton, NY, 1973, p.120, 197 and 293.

We may eventually learn that
nothing in life is meaningless;
that it has all happened
with one grand purpose,
one unifying scheme;
that the tragedy of history all fits,
is not purely fortuitous,
not a set of chance-couplings,
on-and-on forever.

And that a genuine legitimacy
is a slowly evolving entity
like man himself, or homo erectus,
or the events of the Carboniferous:
you need several thousand years.

Developing out of a prophetic
an exemplary charisma,
the legitimacy of its institutions
found in a routinization
that has successfully negotiated
the first century and a half of its life:

Is this the genuine article, the key
to the puzzle of history?

Ron Price
10 January 1996

CIVILIZATION SLIPPING

During the 1980s, the concept of globalization began to permeate a diverse body of literature within the social sciences. An intellectual fascination with globalization, in which daily processes were becoming increasingly enmeshed in global processes, contributed in subtle ways to that rampant force that seemed to be part of the dark heart of this transitional age. During these dark years, too, perhaps as far back as the 1960s, it became obvious that the controlling strain of my character was clearly emotional. It would have been impossible for me to work as a teacher and serve in the Bahá'í community as a pioneer if my character had not been dominantly emotional.1 The other parts of my nature merged into or were contained in an earnest expression of devotion to God and man in a framework defined by this new Faith.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 29 October 1997 and 1Alfred Marshall, "On Arnold Toynbee: Marshall Studies," Bulletin,Vol.6, editor, John Whitaker, pp.45-48, 1996. The mystical and the emotional seem to be strongly linked.

While I was watching
the slippage of civilization
into its heart of darkness,
like some kind of secondary
or should I say primary reality,
out there, on the box, periscopes up,
bringing it in through the tube,
some intensity was sucked out,
down, in, away from my heart,
day-after-day, hour-by-hour,
year-by-year, until now
a strange quietness invades my soul,
an easy peace, as I watch
the endless succession of signs
in an endless conversation with life,
where an uneasiness, cold and dark,
whispers through the spaces,
the rooms and high into the trees,
harrowing up the souls of the inhabitants
like some mysterious, rampant force.

Ron Price
29 October 1997


GLOBAL CIVILIZATION AND ITS SPIRITUAL AXIS

Civilization lies in an awareness shared by a whole people. And we, all six billion of us, are slowly acquiring a common awareness.1 Increasingly, the cities of the world in which I had been born and lived during these epochs, began to fill like Rome, the capital of that ancient empire or some great monarchy of old, with travellers, citizens and strangers from every part of the world. Some introduced and enjoyed the favourite customs and superstitions of their native country. Some abandoned them. The sound and the clamour, the diversity of appeal, the richness and the confusion of cultures was incessant. In the midst of all this cultural diversity, the decline and the diversification of authority, an authority which once had been transmitted with blind deference from one generation to another, now provided opportunities for human beings everywhere to exercise their powers and enlarge the limits of their minds.

The name of Poet was in most places forgotten, although their number increased with every passing decade. Many of the orators were like the sophists of old. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning. At the same time learning was advancing by leaps and bounds the world over. If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, not name that time which elapsed during the epochs of this Divine Plan serving as the background for this autobiography. Although the benefits of this period to many millions of people have been obvious and impressive, a sense of optimism has not resulted. A slough of despond has resulted from the troubled forecasts of doom and the light of the twentieth century is hardly appreciated. The vast array of changes and the complexity and the relativistic ethos of the times makes humanity, for the most part, ill-equipped to even interpret the problems of society.2 1-Thomas Mallon, A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries, Ticknor and Fields, NY, 1984, p.143 and 2 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 156, p.4 and Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Internet Quotations.

It kept moving west,
civilization on the move,
centre of gravity:
Fertile Crescent, Greece, Rome,
north and west Europe,
then North America.

And He kept sending Them:
One by One,
every thousand years or so.
And where now is the centre
as we go global?
Everywhere?
Yes, He's popped Them
all over the place,
but did not tell us
until just recently.

Can we prevent extinction
so we don't go the same way
as the Easter Islanders,
or the Anastazi Indians?

Where will our children be
after the disappearance
of the tropical rainforest in 2030?
Or all the primary products in 2050,
in a global population
of twelve billion in 2040 or 2060
when they are sixty or eighty
and we are long gone?

Perhaps civilization will continue
its drift west into the middle of the ocean!
Perhaps that spiritual axis
he told us about before he died,
just after the first satellite
showed us ourselves as round ball,
this federated ship, beginning to sail
behind its powerful lights of unity,
for there is a manifest destiny
beyond this tempest blowing,
which will take us, crying, pleading,
bleeding humanity to the blessed mansions
of a global father and motherland.

Ron Price
19 January 1997

So much that we do in life we know we could have done better. Our sins of omission and commission are legion. It is not my intention to commiserate on the long list of my failings; the world will not benefit from such a litany. This autobiography is not quintessentially confessional. From time to time, though, I mention some failing, some sin; an autobiography would hardly be an autobiography without one or two or three of such confidences. It may just be that history is the essence of innumerable autobiographies, however confessional they may be; however private, silent, obscure and ordinary; however glamorous and in touch with the seats of authority and influence.

But I would like, here, to quote a poem by Emily Dickinson which puts so much that we do in life, whatever our role and place in society, in perspective. Her poem is philosophical, theological, psychological and speaks to both our hearts and minds:

A Deed knocks first at Thought
And then--it knocks at Will--
That is the manufacturing spot
And will at Home and well

It then goes out to Act
Or is entombed so still
That only to the ear of God
Its Doom is audible.

It is not my intention to get my readers to see things the way I see them. I like to think that this life story is open to interpretation in ways other than those which I intend or don't intend. As philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, points out in discussing autobiography 'a Work does not only mirror its time, but it can open up a world which it bears within itself.' It opens up possibilities, he goes on, for others to recompose their lives and their own life stories.' Readers should also be aware in their reading of autobiography of what Irving Alexander calls "identifiers of salience.' These are psychologically important features of autobiography that can help readers understand autobiographical texts more fully. These salient features include: primacy, uniqueness, frequency, negation, omission, errors, incompleteness and isolation. I deal with all of these factors of salience, but not in a systematic, ordered, way; rather, readers will find these features dealt with in a spontaneous fashion each in its own way in the chapters which follow.

"Wars and the administration of public affairs," wrote Gibbon, "are the principal subjects of history." During these epochs this view has been challenged by historians with other views of history and this autobiography sees history quite differently as well. However the autobiographer views history, though, this old and established discipline is one of autobiography's major boundaries; several other social sciences occupy, let us say, the south side of the boundary. Tedium and anxiety, suffering and tribulations of various kinds can be found on the east rising like the sun to bring new challenges to humankind and obituary waits patiently on the west.

I would like to comment briefly on 'primacy' and 'uniqueness' before continuing on my way in this narrative. My life, this autobiographical statement, takes place in a world that is "shatteringly and bewilderingly new," that is part of the "break-up" of civilization in a divide greater than any, arguably, since the neolithic revolution. Like the neolithic revolution which was spread over several thousand years, so too is the one we are experiencing. It is not confined to these four epochs but is, rather, one whose time frame is difficult to define with any precision.

Some put the break-up of the old civilization in the early twentieth or late nineteenth centuries; others in the middle of the nineteenth century. We are, it seems to me, unquestionably in a new and radically different world and this autobiography is part of this modernist, postmodernist, unprecedented, catastrophic and unpredictable world, a world which eludes precise characterization. Surrounded as I am with imperfect fragments of my life, sometimes concise, often obscure, sometimes contradictory and often clear elements of fact in space and time, I am reduced to a vast exercise of collecting, comparing, and conjecturing. Such is the nature of autobiography, the nature of much of life in our time. And it must be asked: is this particular autobiography symptomatic of the general, the typical, story of the pioneer, international or otherwise? Or is each story so idiosyncratic and particular, so unique and individual, that one person's story is not of much value in conveying the general narrative for a community moving unobtrusively onto the global stage? There is for each Bahá'í writer of autobiography a dialectic between the banal, the vacuous, the ordinary and what holds intense significance, what are vital and delightful moments of being as Virginia Woolf calls them. Another dialectic of equal importance is that between the culturally common, the shared values and beliefs, the unific and the whole and the culturally idiosyncratic, heterogeneous, divergent and partial. Readers of this work will, inevitably, get some of both sides of both dialectics.

I have tried in my day-to-day experience to implement a way of life that has a very wide embrace. Containing the diversity of human types that this way of life incorporates, it also contains a philosophical system, far from systematized yet. This philosophy is not a dead piece of furniture. It is something that, as Johann Gottleib Fichte said, 'we accept or reject as we wish; it is a thing animated by the soul of the person who holds it.' Any of the difficulties I have experienced in implementing this philosophy in my relations with others are a reflection, as William James once put it, 'of a certain clash of human temperaments.' Temperament is often the source and cause of an individual's biases more than any of his more strictly objective premises. Temperament 'loads the evidence" for us "one way or the other.' It is this temperament that individuals come to trust in themselves and they are often suspicious of the temperaments of others. The psychological sources of this temperamental orientation are important and complex. They are also beyond the scope of this narrative to deal with in any depth.

Some writers refer to this temperament as 'inner biography' or 'psychic constitution.' I don't want to dwell on this theme of relationships too extensively here for the issues are subtle and require much attention to grasp and, even then, they are often elusive. A poem or two is appropriate, though, to expand on this complex subject. I deal with the sometimes elusive, sometimes quite specific and obvious factors involved in understanding self and its failings in my poetry. What started out as a simple handshake with my life twenty years ago has become something of an arm-wrestle. Simplicity may derive from knowing little and thinking less, from a certain philosophical view as was the case of Thoreau, or from a sharp focus on one thing. Emerson once wrote, 'great geniuses have the shortest biographies.' After a century and a half since Emerson wrote these words and many massive biographies and autobiographies, he may have revised his words.


PROJECT OF THE SELF

According to Ulrich Beck, the most dominant and widespread desire in Western societies today is the desire to live a 'life of one's own'. More and more people aspire to actively create an individual identity, to be the author of their own life. The ethic of individual self-fulfilment and achievement can be seen as the "most powerful current in modern societies." The concept of individualisation does not mean isolation, unconnectedness, loneliness or the end of engagement in society.

Individuals are now trying to 'produce' their own biographies. This is partly done by consulting 'role models' in the media. Through these role models individuals explore personal possibilities for themselves and imagine alternatives of how they can go about creating their own lives. Tis is also done partly by reading history, for it is in history that some theoretical framework can be found. It is also done partly by reading biography, for here the autobiographer finds himself at every turn. In effect, it is one grand experiment or project of the self, with strategies for self and reinventing self, as it is often said in contemporary parlance. -Ron Price with thanks to Judith Schroeter, "The Importance of Role Models in Identity Formation: The Ally McBeal In Us," Internet, 11 October 2002.

I define myself in community
which is not the same as being
surrounded by people ad nauseam,
nor does it mean doing what I want
as much of the time as I can
or being free of difficulties,
stresses and strains--
which seem unavoidable.

I've been creating my own biography--
my autobiography--for years
and getting very little sense
of who I am from the media
and their endless role models.

I've been in a community
with two hundred years
of historical models
and literally hundreds,
of people I have known
who have shown me
qualities worth emulating,
helping to make me
some enigmatic,
some composite creature.

Ron Price
11 October 2002

The lives of others then, biographies in short, shelter autobiographical features within them. We collect these features or, at least we can, into bunches of flowers, ones that brought sweetness into our life and present them, as Andre Maurois suggested, as an offering. He suggested the offering be made to 'an accomplished destiny.' I might put it a little differently and suggest the offering be made to 'the souls who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God and fulfilled in their lives His trust.'

MORE THAN A TRACE

Zygmunt Bauman, one of the leading sociologists at the turn of the millennium, wrote in his book In Search of Politics(Polity Press 1999, 1988, p.54) that "sufferings which we tend to experience most of the time do not unite their victims. Our sufferings divide and isolate: our miseries set us apart, tearing up the delicate tissue of human solidarities." In the Bahá'í community, as a pioneer in isolated localities, small Groups and larger Assembly areas, in my family and in the wider community, I have found this to be only partly true during these forty years 'on the road,' so to speak.

"Belief in the collective destiny and purpose of the social whole," Bauman continues, gives meaning to our "life-pursuits." Being part of a global collectivity with highly specific goals, purposes and a sense of destiny has not only given meaning to my life-pursuits but it has tended to unite me with my fellows even when isolated from them. It also gives me a special sense of consecrated joy; the consecration comes from the difficulties endured. Although these difficulties seem to tear that "delicate tissue" that Bauman refers to, they also provide some of that chord which binds. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 29 July 2002.

Often it was largely in my head,
that tissue of solidarity,
especially in Frobisher Bay,
Whyalla or Zeehan,
on the edge of a universe.

But always, they visited me
when I was sick, somehow
they were always there,
even when they left me alone.

For this is a polity which
gives you lots of space
when you need it and,
you can always go and get it
because there's so much out there:
solitude and sociability
in these vast and spacious lands.

Life is no mere sequence
of instantaneous experiences
without a trace left behind.
Here is a trace with my inscription
of lived time on astronomical time.
This is no singular, self-same identify,
shared or common ancestral, historical,
self. Fractured and fragmented it is,
spread across two continents,
two countries and four epochs,
cutting events out of flow
turning grief into lamentation
and lamentation into praise,
little by little and piece by piece.

See ibid., p.165.

Ron Price
29 July 2002


TOKENS

Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Keats felt 'the burden of the mystery' that was part of 'this unintelligible world.'1 This orientation of these romantic poets fits into what Horace Holley calls "the principle of struggle" which is our reality, which is deeply rooted in the very being of man. "The first sign," writes Holley "of the purification of the human spirit is anguish."2 There is, too, a great mystery in all of life: no man can sing that which he understandeth not, nor recount that unto which he cannot attain.3 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p. 151; 2Horace Holley, Religion for Mankind, GR, London, 1956, p.217; and 3Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Prayers, USA, 1985, p.121.

I can, I can, recount His tokens,
tokens that tell of His handiwork.
I see them in the community,
in the proximity and otherness
which stirs me: a beautiful face,
an exquisite mouth, such kindness,
a gentle voice, a garden of beauty
and, yet, it wore me out to the bone.

Pleasures they know nothing of,
worlds I can not enter: community
we are just beginning to learn to build.

Emblems of a mind that feeds on infinity,
sustained by transcendence,
attempting converse with a spiritual world
and the generations of humankind
spread over past, present and to come.1

1 Wordsworth, "The Prelude," Book Fourteenth.

Ron Price
23 January 2002

The question about what constitutes genuine understanding or a valid interpretation of an ongoing life story is a crucial one. Obviously, not all interpretations are valid. Valid interpretation relies on good guesses, partly because all our actions are what one could call plurivocal. They are open to several readings, views, opinions on their meaning or purpose. Guesses only enable the process of interpretation to begin; it is a necessary step in judging what is important in life, in one's own life, in gaining any understanding. Certitude in so much of the interpretations of our actions, if not all of them, cannot be demonstrated. The best we can get most of the time are strong probabilities. 'We can not possibly evaluate what befalls us or anyone else in terms of whether it ultimately results in justice or injustice,' writes John Hatcher, 'or whether it is harmful or beneficial.' The fruition of our life and its actions is destined for another plane of existence. Is it difficult to evaluate this pruning process.

There is, then, an ongoing recomposition, involving imagination and critical reflection, in the writing of autobiography. The story is never ended until we die and the meaning changes all the time. There are, though, what you might call valid understandings which possess an internal coherence; they do not violate the whole of the story; they seem to be authentic, genuine. In the end, though, as Paul Ricoeur notes, 'it is still possible to make an appeal.' The appeal process, Ricoeur argues, belongs in the realm of the poetic, the metaphorical. 'Truth,' he says, 'no longer means verification but manifestation.' Here language is a vehicle of revelation, intuition. Ricoeur emphasizes the importance of this 'poetic understanding' to project a new world, to break through, to open. It involves opening or exposing 'oneself to receive a larger self.' Readers will, then, find many a poem that I use to try and 'break through' 'open,' to intuit and manifest some larger, deeper, perspective, to obtain 'a radical personal engagement with the truth claims' of my life, my religion and my views of my world. Ricoeur adds that in autobiographical writing: "The task of hermeneutics is to charter the unexplored resources of the to-be-said on the basis of the already said. Imagination never resides
in the unsaid.' To put this idea in a slightly different way: every image of the past that is not recognized and expressed in the present as one of the present's own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably from our grasp. This autobiography is in some ways my simple attempt to tie down what tends to be somewhat slippery, somewhat evanescent.

In the pages ahead, then, readers will find imagination and critical reflection working together. We all take up things differently. We play with the materials of our world differently. Imagination brings home unreliable and often shady friends such as dreams, questions, flashes of insight; critical reflection's friends are eminently respectable, though often difficult for imagination to bear. Sometimes they work together well and it is impossible to tell what is going to come of their intimate collaboration. But the work of the imagination is in the context of reportage and form. If falsehood is detected, says Richard Coe, autobiography fails. And this is a serious statement for who can be absolutely honest every minute or every day and every minute when one writes! Noone: not in everyday life nor in the writing of autobiography. But, if I am successful here, through poetry, interviews and anecdotes, I will so personalize this narrative as to actively engage readers. As the actor Kevin Klein said in relation to ideas and words he has 'stolen,' I graft the words and ideas of others if they resonate with my own experience and, as far as possible, I acknowledge the source. The result, I trust, is a person who is complex, contradictory and flawed, with subtle and gross features and qualities that are liked and not liked.

In some ways the question of honesty in life is more accurately a question of what is appropriate and timely for the occasion, what is disclosed is, hopefully, suited to people's ears. In some ways, too, this whole question of honesty is encompassed by the words of Harold Rosenberg, the famous art critic, who wrote in 1959--the year I joined the Bahá'í Faith--that American art is a tradition of non-tradition. It is a tradition of solitary and isolated effort. For many international pioneers, and certainly for this one, I find much of my work, both as a Bahá'í and as a person, is indeed a solitary and isolated effort. This makes it easy for me to see myself in idiosyncratic terms with a unique tone. There is, as far as I know, no autobiography on anywhere near the scale of this effort by an ordinary Bahá'í who is part of the basic warp and weft of the community. And so I have nothing with which to compare or contrast my work.

There are, of course, great religious autobiographies I could have drawn on like those of: George Fox, the "Confessions" of St. Augustine, Saint Teresa's "Life," Bunyan's "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," the "Life of Madam Guyon, Written by Herself," and John Wesley's "Journal." They all lay bare the inward states and processes of the seeking or the triumphant soul. I do as well, but I would not claim for this autobiography the same status or ranking as these great works. William James, one of the founding fathers of psychology, states that religion must be studied in those individuals in whom it is manifested to an extra-normal degree. I'm not so sure. It is certainly one way to study religion. I'm not so sure I would want my life to be an exemplum for others to emulate. Studying the lives of those individuals who have a particular genius for religion, for whom religion has constituted well nigh the whole of life, like the founders of the great religions and many of the exemplary figures in these great religious traditions would, I think, be useful. But such a life is not found here. George Fox, St. Augustine and Saint Teresa, perhaps, are the eminently worthy characters of this sort. Not Ron Price.

"The world-events which moved rapidly across the stage during the crowded years of his activity," writes Rufus M. Jones in the preface to George Fox: An Autobiography, "receive but scant description from his pen. They are never told for themselves. They come in as by-products of a narrative, whose main purpose is the story of personal inward experience." And so is this true, for the most part, of my own work, although I give more social analysis than Fox does in his work. Fox provides a minute study of the hamlets of his microworld and the sects and cults of the Christian relgion that existed at the time. Readers will look in vain for such a study in this autobiography. Fox, according to Rufus, saw everything he wrote of equal importance. I find it difficult to assess the relative significances of the many sections of this work and leave it to readers to find the mantle of meaning that is relevant to them and their world.

One problem in assessing and analysing the events of contemporary society has been in evidence since, arguably, November 12th 1960 when Kennedy defeated Nixon owing largely to the TV debates. Many writers have been talking about the triumph of the image over the content since the massive spread of TV in the 1950s. Daniel Boorstein's The Image(1961) introduced the concept of pseudo-events and before him Kenneth Boulding in a book by the same name(1956) wrote about pictures becoming a substitute for reality. Louis Menand thinks the reason for this developing feature of western life is the pleasure people take in "artificially enhanced reality." People have difficulty facing "ordinary life, in which the excellent and the extraordinary are rare and most things are difficult, imperfect, disappointing or boring." Needing life to be sweetened, we have the media industry which has grown up and presented us all with many realities, distractions, allurements and trivialities, knowledge and insight.

At the same time we need to be aware that in our words, too, there is, as Erica Jong points out, 'fiction in autobiography and autobiography in fiction.' Gustave Flaubert wrote of his character Madame Bovary: 'Madame Bovery c'est moi.' Philip Roth's book My Life as a Man is part novel, part autobiography, mirroring as it does the chaos of life. I could site other examples. Like Louis Armstrong's aim in jazz in the 1920s, I try to tell a story, to convey an intimate experience of life. Perhaps if I introduced more fiction into my narrative it would grab the reader more effectively. But, to a significant extent, I am imprisoned in the facticity of my life. 'History,' wrote Brent Robbins 'is the resolute taking up of one's heritage as a destiny.' This heritage, though, is both facticity and destiny.

My own autobiography tends less toward the novel and more toward interpretive history, sociology, psychology and philosophy. This book is also somewhat like the description that the French poet Paul Valery gave of his books. He said that they were merely a selection from his "inner monologue.' These inner monologues are intended to enhance, to enrich, the inner life of readers. I try to establish a beachhead in the brain of my readers by my reactions, my comments, my words that try to etch into the sensory and the ineffable in life. In the process I supply, furnish, outline a structure for the amorphousness of life itself. The task is impossible to achieve. I make a start. This amorphousness is strongly coloured by the past which is never really dead. It is not even past. "Its reverberations inside the human mind," as the American novelist William Faulkner wrote, "are continuous." The realization, the understanding, of human experience seems to be possible only after we have lived it.

'I can only write about myself,' wrote Enid Bagnold at the start of her autobiography, 'But oneself is so unknown. Myself has no outline.' This is arguably the cri de coeur of the modern author. The autobiographical unravelling is a created thing: part artifice, part work of art, part slippery and unpredictable discourse. The essential glue in the process of constructing autobiography is memory which is 'a complex cultural and historical phenomenon constantly subject to revision, amplification and forgetting.' There are other glues, though, that are involved in the writing of an historical account like an autobiography. One such glue is the explanatory power of culture itself. Meaning construction is at the very nexus of culture, of social structure and social action. It is this meaning construction that must be the explicit target of investigation when writing autobiography, for it is not so much the events of life but their meaning that is the crucial variable. When one is involved, as I am in the cultural dimension of historical explanation, the culture of my time, my religion and the very landscape of where I have moved and had my being, are all part of my autobiography.

There is a strenuous and ceaseless exertion of the intellect here which has gone on for years, decades, epochs. It is largely a pleasurable exercise and it occupies the interstices of life for the most part quite pleasantly, although that is not always the case. This exercise of the intellect is partly a compensation for the blindness of the heart, its passionate and seemingly insatiable lifeforce where man often explodes in the service of his passions. I have certainly had my destructive, irrevocable explosions and, like a chronicler, I go back into the past to put it together again. "Desire,", 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote back in 1875, "is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned." Accumulated knowledge can not quench this flame. Only the holy spirit or, as Jack McLean puts it, waging a mental jihad can control and guide this desire. And waging jihad, mental or otherwise, has never been one of my gifts.

But this book has become part of an ongoing project in life, a project that Edward Said described in his first book, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography(1966). It was not a career, Said wrote, that a writer should aim for but rather a project that a writer pours himself into. A series of such works in turn define who the writer is. And such is this particular work: part of a project, part of a definition of self. However strenuous and ceaseless the exercise of the intellect, it is not a mental jihad but, rather, a milder exercise of the faculties. There is, though, a type of portraiture which we usually find in literary autobiographies and biographies. These portraitures usually focus on their subjects exclusively, reducing to shadows friends, relatives, and influential contemporaries, and barely sketching in the social milieu which they inhabited. The portrait here in this autobiogrpahy is certainly guilty, to some extent, of this shadow effect but it does sketch the social milieux more fully. The landscape of my work is broad; it is filled with figures, many of them usefully if not minutely articulated and set in motion. I have written what amounts to a general social history of my times from a western perspective in the last half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first, and in its midst, one can trace the frequently detailed and sometimes obscure narrative of my life, its dark places made sufficiently visible, part of a broad canvas, a many-toned-and-textured picture. I have made a strenuous effort to integrate my life, my society and my religion.

I often speculate, argue from probability and by analogy, and relentlessly mine passages from poems I have written, notebooks I have gathered, letters I once wrote and memories that sit vaguely or precisely in my brain for what they can yield that is relevant to the text. One can argue about my conclusions and disagree about the nature of my evidence, for they are all just one man's view. But I think this work is arguably one of the important studies in autobiography from a Bahá'í perspective and, if taken seriously, will have a role in shaping the course of autobiographical and biographical studies in the years to come.

I flesh out my portrait by investigating my family, perhaps too briefly, my sexuality again perhaps too briefly, my finances hardly at all, and my religious proclivities and involvements more thoroughly than some may like. I try not to paint, as William Wordsworth did, a poet of calm tranquillity amidst the storms of his times, a self-conscious creation of a man whose early life was anything but tranquil. I try not to paint an account of myself, again as Wordsworth did in that first and great autobiographical poem The Prelude, which must be handled with care because it leaves far too much out. Johnson remarks that Wordsworth's portrait is "like one of those Renaissance paintings with the artist himself represented down in a lower corner, gesturing toward his subject. Except that, in this case, the subject turns out to be the subject himself." To break through all this self-fashioning, Johnston adopts a simple rule of thumb for the biographer: "when there's a choice of possibilities, investigate the riskier one." Such a procedure is bound to create controversy. This rule of thumb should not be necessary here although, as many writers have found, man is an infinitely mysterious quotient with endless depths to pursue.

Wordsworth, Johnston maintains, possessed "remarkably low powers of invention." He almost never made anything up. Consequently, there exists in his poetry a rich reciprocal relationship between historical and biographical data, on the one hand, and the details of his verse, on the other. This, of course, is not news to Wordsworth scholars. But Johnston's use of facts and source material to illumine the verse, and then his use of the verse to provide further facts about Wordsworth's life, is astonishingly new, and more often than not, convincing. Johnston uses factual data to explain peculiarities in the poem and shows how, in later revisions, Wordsworth progressively disguised factual details, usually by substituting vague generalizations for what was originally quite specific, and he points out clear differences between the poem and its literary source. These differences, according to Johnston, provide further clues about Wordsworth's life: where Wordsworth departed from a literary source, he drew directly from his own experience. And Johnston then presents further evidence to corroborate this hypothesis. History, biography, and literary art are inextricably bound together, and must be so, for anything like coherent meaning to emerge. Johnston repeats this procedure time after time, with passage after passage of Wordsworth's poetry. Evidence from a wide variety of sources is laid out for us clearly, with the dispassionate detachment of a legal brief, a number of possible interpretations are set forth, and while always offering his own preference, Johnston gives his reader space to disagree and dispute, and take up the argument in another forum. Even where his specific conclusions are not wholly convincing, he has defined the procedures by which future Romantic criticism must be carried out.

I quote from this article by Bruce Graver at length because it places my own work and whatever future it may have in a relevant context. There are a number of inconsistencies and inaccuracies, as one would expect in the first printing of a 720 page book with scholarly pretentions. One would think, for instance, that an autobiographer who quotes so liberally from so many sources would have these sources more firmly in hand, but I often have to leave a source incomplete with a page number not even cited. Some of the so-called facts are clearly errors of fact. This is often due to my not having access to a published volume or have found it too difficult to obtain such access. My references are sometimes several pages off due to my utilizing of internet sources rather than the books themselves. These are errors, of course, that can be easily corrected and, as this autobiography will hopefully go into further editions, one hopes too that such errors will be corrected.

Autobiographer and poet, poem and autobiography, are so deeply implicated in each other, and it will be essential, for many years to come, to read the one beside the other. My portrait, I often feel, is of the something that is not there. To reveal the something that is requires a fuller text: letters, poems, essays, interviews, notebooks. And if Freud is right, that biographical truth can not be had, this autobiographical statement in all its genres, is an absolutley critical, fundamental, foundation for any architecture that is to be built. Should anyone ever want to do so.

I have been a competent teacher, a kind and, I think, judicious, father and a compassionate if not especially practical husband. I have come to master the ability to speak to a group, to keep a good set of minutes and wash dishes with a regularity I have rarely seen exceeded in other company. I came to see myself, by the age of sixty, as a talented poet, a disinterested gardener, a poor cook and a capable note-gatherer and writer. I certainly lacked any mechanical ability or interest, at least none has surfaced in the course of my life thusfar. In the mundane necessities of life I also seemed to show little interest: shopping, the car, the garden, cooking, the finer points of cleaning, clothes, inter alia.

As my wife put it, perhaps eloquently, I lived, at least after my retirement, largely in a world inside my head, although I came out from time to time to interact when necessity or pleasure dictated, when the world's getting and spending required my presence and when people, in some shape and form, nibbled at what was left of a lifetime of affability and sociability. What I tried to do in my writing and in this autobiography was, as the literary critic Alfred Kazin put it, "tell over and over the story" of my life and its fatal deeds until I found "the obstinate human touch that summed up every story." Kazin goes on to say that he sees himself, and writers in general, becoming as old as thought itself as they examine their younger selves rushing through the past. Some, like Faulkner, try to put it all in one sentence; others need great and long stories. It seems that I am closer to the latter than the former.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the first 'moderns' to write his autobiography, wrote in the eighteenth century and, in the process, constructed a particular model for what a self should be and do. He constructed a self that served as an idealized identity: static, unchanging and only altered by the varied interpretations of his readers. This process was repeated over and over again in autobiographical writing, perhaps until just the other day, during these four epochs. Now, on the Internet, Franklin's work is interlinked with literally thousands of other texts and his work has ceased to be a discrete document. It has become a fluid text, more fluid than it ever could have been when it occupied a small space on a library shelf, as it did for perhaps two centuries. Of course, Franklin is still there in the library, but he is also on the Internet. There he changes with each reader and each time that reader accesses his documents. There is now so much more cross-fertilization, interdisciplinary commentary. The author, the autobiographer, is far less able to manipulate the reader; for readers have at their disposal more than ever before the tools for critical analysis. They can construct the author in new and different ways, explore through quite subtle and sometimes revolutionary processes, if they have the interest, the motivation. At the same time, of course, one can argue that the reader is more easily manipulated than ever.

And so the memories I live with and by, my spiritual self, which is at bottom simply the effort of my memory to persist, to transform itself into hope, into effort, into vision, into patience, into a host of qualities, into a survival pattern for the future, I cast down in this story, this narrative, which I write down for readers, piece by piece, paragraph by paragraph. The ownership, the boundaries of this text, have become fragile in the expanding circle of information that has become instantly or at least easily accessible in cyberspace and in life's burgeoning reality of this new age. I can and I do, place my story firmly in the context of my culture. This is not the story of an isolated individual but rather a person within an intricate societal network where self-teaching occupies centre stage. Like Saul Bellow I'm sure I influence myself far more than I am influenced by others, although collectively and over the decades there is an immense, an immeasureable influence from others, writers and non-writers, friends and associations.

Perhaps these influences are due to the fact that thinking is "the most accessible form of virtue." There is an urgency to my thoughts and my recent writings, including this autobiography, and I have found several narrative and analytical, poetic and prose forms for their expression. I will conclude this chapter now with some prose-poems to illustrate some of what I am saying here:


UNITY OF CULTURE

W.B. Yeats' last poetry was "the fulfilment of his whole life; it made him write about our times as no other poet has."1 He had seen the world he wanted and the woman he wanted move further and further away; he saw, too, that his work and his misery had been useless. R.F. Price's poetry, especially after 1992, was especially fulfilling. He, too, had had his misery, his sense of uselessness, his sense of the world moving away, even his desire for the world to move away and disappear entirely. This, among other things, was what brought poetry near and, by 2004, in six thousand poems. -Ron Price with thanks to Randall Jarrell, "The Development of Yeats's Sense of Reality", Kipling, Auden and Co: Essays and Reviews: 1935-1964, Carcanet, 1981, pp.97-99.

You had wanted that unity of culture
and only got that bitterness
and a fanatic for a lover.

The world had been split in pieces
in a bundle of fragments
with specialized abstractions.

And you thought you could
bring it together through your poetry,
your sense of life and vigour.

And all you got was one long struggle
with reality...which is all some get
if the cause is worth fighting for,
for others a consecrated joy.

Unity is this dark age,
this formative age,
this age of transition
is a slow working out,
a tortuous, stony road.

Accepting this, then,
everything is easier.
This is really the only fight
to accept, to quit life
and then reenter it,
becoming one with all creation
and tasting some of that joy.

Ron Price
21 June 1998(begun)
21 January 2004(finished)

SOCIALITY AND SOLITUDE

We must be others if we are to be ourselves. For the imaginations which people have of one another are the solid facts of society. To observe and interpret these imaginations must be one of our chief aims. The definition of our inner life and private character must, in the end, be partly a product of how we see and interact with others. At the same time we can't put everyone else in our books. There is only so much of life and of others that can be assimilated, absorbed, made a part of our life. What I write about here is the spillage, the leftovers, the excess, the largeness and passion of temperament. -Ron Price with thanks to George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley and Shoghi Effendi Rabbani in Reflexivity and the Crisis of Western Reason: Logological Investigations Volume 1, Routledge, NY, 1996, p. 267; and Guidance for Today and Tomorrow, George Ronald, Oxford.

So much of who we are
is socially constructed,
through detours
into the referential perspectives,
the attitudes of others
we come back to ourselves.

It is as if we are enveloped in others,
in their encompassing signs and voices
and we are literally made from words
and speech which interweave themselves
into our being and we rise,
differentiate and evolve.
We respond to our own responses,
making our experience and the self
which emerges in this process.

Networks of social interaction
produce highly complex
individual self-understandings,
enhanced creative existence.

We are socially constructed realities,
needing large helpings of solitude
for our highly divergent minds.

Ron Price
6 December 1997

THE SOCIAL FABRIC

Whatever kind of life a writer lives, what he writes is infinitely more important than the way he lived. This remark was made of the great Russian poet Pushkin1 and it has been said of others. I'd like to think it is true of me for, as I approach the last years of middle age, I am only too aware of my many accumulating sins of omission and commission. I would like to take refuge in this writing; I would like to think of it as a wondrous legacy, as part of the important traces left behind from my age. That's what I'd like to think. But I can not afford this luxury.

The vulnerability of the soul is only too apparent. How often, Bahá'u'lláh declares, at the hour of the soul's ascension 'the true believer' can descend, speaking metaphorically, to 'the nethermost fire.' How we live, the composite of inner and outer activity, is unquestionably important. But this poetry will remain, whatever I have done or not done in life, as a series of pictures of what I trust is meticulously observed spiritual experience.2 At the heart of both my poetry and my life, is mystery, loss and victory, sadness and joy. -Ron Price with thanks to Robin Edmonds, 1Pushkin:The Man and His Age, Macmillan, London, 1994, p. 240; and 2H. Summers in The Autobiographical Passion: Studies in the Self on Show, Peter Steele, Melbourne UP, 1987, p.79.

Is there some authoritative sway
of imaginative perspicacity here,
which cannot let go of what it finds
uniquely precious,
nor leave isolated
what it finds congenial, collegial,
but which must stitch together
across the wounds
of a psychic and a social fabric
the fibres of private and public meaning?1

I write to overcome death,
in a state, as I am,
of intense expectation of it,
in these lingering moments
of a life that will be over
in less than the twinkling of an eye.

1 Gerald Manley Hopkins in Peter Steele, op.cit., p.113.

Ron Price
3 May 1999

NEW STRUCTURE

After reading and indexing my poetry from 1980 to 1995 I feel as if the entire body of work is "Warm-Up." The period September 1992 to June 1995 inclusive I shall now call "The Golden Dome." It is phase three of my 'warm-up.' The period July 1995 to May 2001, nearly six years, I shall now call "The Terraces." Reading my poetry from phase three, perhaps the first time I have read it as a whole body of work, allowed me to make the first overall assessment of my poetry from this phase of its development. It still seems to be, for the most part, 'juvenilia,' immature and, except for the occasional poem, singularly unimpressive. I have, though, established a new general structure, sequence, order, for my poetry during the years 1980 to 2001, a twenty-one year time span. It is a structure in which I have utilized the names of the general phases of architectural development for the Shrine of the Bab and the gardens and terraces which embellish it. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 17 April 2001.

I am that modern hero
who preserves and maintains
a face of my own--no epic,
no universal epic,
but an epic of sorts;
no romantic hero--just
a personal self now formed
around more than twenty years
of poetry symbolically developed
as the Shrine of the Bab was developed
over more than one hundred years.
And here I have access to such power
as can generate the attitudes and names
of God1 as citizen and philosopher,
as public and private poet and person
in this the beginning of the fifth epoch.

1 Thomas Lysaght, "The Artist as Citizen," The Creative Circle: Art, Literature and Music in Bahá'í Perspective, editor Michael Fitzgerald, Kalimat Press, 1980, pp. 121-157.

Ron Price
18 April 2001.

And so, to go back to my story and its sinuous line, water was crossed, perhaps for the last time in my life in August 1999. As the fifth epoch went through its third month in April 2001 when I wrote this poem, I had been in Tasmania for nearly four years. I had no plans to cross any more water and find some new stimulus by breaking more new ground as Toynbee had referred to in his Study of History as a key to creating astonishing contrasts in our life. But, as the gerontologists were informing us at the start of this new millennium, many of my generation could last well into their second century. So, who knows what would transpire in my life in the years of late adulthood and old age. Perhaps a future edition of this autobiography will be able to provide some brilliant inventiveness and help tidy-up and synthesize some of the loose ends that have resulted from jumping off at so many and so various places in my life story, from such a wide variety of social analysis and from what I'm sure for some readers will see as the unfortunate results of this writer's divergent brain.

Famous anthropologist Clifford Geertz sees human beings as animals suspended in webs of significance they themselves have spun. Those webs are essentially the cultures human beings live in and they are composed of strands, strands that are their personal histories. These histories, these stories, these autobiographies, help us understand and explore these cultural webs and their many and myriad connections that ultimately make up their communities. Personal stories themselves, when shared with audiences, are often signatures of cultures in capsule form. They contain archetypes and standards for acceptable cultural behavior. The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once maintained that through the stories of a culture, the stories we ourselves tell, the entire culture is accessed and interpreted in a meaningful way. The storyteller gives her or his listeners such interpretation in subtle and entertaining ways, and in ways far more important than the mere ethnography or ethnology of a social group.

One of the tacit aims of the personal history performer is to disseminate such information and interpretation through channels that are more spiritual and more subconscious than the anthropologist's cold ethnographic narrative. When people engage in the telling of their personal histories, a spirit of communitas pervades the entire attending group, regardless of the various backgrounds each individual member of the group possesses. Communitas is a feeling of equality, a profundity of shared, vital and spiritual involvement that a group experiences in the process of ritual or quasi-ritual activities. It is this spirit that is part of the goal of the autobiographer, the teller of the story.

It is my hope that readers encounter here feelings of communitas. This writing, this activity has the goal of reasserting shared paradigms and celebrating the known and common social structures that exist around us in the Bahá'í community. Communitas is an important step in bringing people together, and in a world in which diversity and variety are not only becoming more prevalent, but are also becoming increasingly sought after, it is vital in creating individuals who value others and other cultures. It is my view that the paradigms of Bahá'í culture are shared through the telling of our personal histories. My personal and individual interpretations of life and the moral and ethical codes that accompany these interpretations are also shared in this story. Society and the individual are brought together in a synergy of experience for both the teller and the audience, for me and readers. This is part of the magic of personal history performances. The telling of personal histories has an advantage over many other arts in creating a culturally sharing atmosphere since it is so ephemeral and so personal an art. Through storytelling, other cultures and differing personalities can actually be accessed and shared in real and entertaining ways, with narrative that sparks interest in and personal involvement with characters from diverse and varying backgrounds.

By telling my story, as I do here, others can participate in the process of reaffirming qualities of the human, the personal, in a society that sorely needs it as it becomes further technological and impersonal. In fact, if such story telling, such autobiographical statement, ceased to exist, meaningful and artistic communication would also cease to exist and the very foundations of vital sharing would collapse and society with it. Tellers of personal histories are givers. They give their stories to others, hoping that in some way, other individuals' lives will be improved. They are intended to be service-oriented, unselfish exercises that seek to make others happy. I gladly make this story available to others. When the imagination is stirred and feelings and attitudes are explored and reaffirmed, the most fulfilling type of entertainment occurs. The personal history performer brings images and visions of people and places to life for her or his listeners. Such engagement does not numb the mind, although one can never write iron-clad guarantees. Movies or television often stimulate and often numb the faculties. Storytelling demands that the audience share with the teller in creating the pictures, scenes, actions and emotions of the story. This is not always attainable. The mind may be stimulated and exercised; the listener and teller may leave the experience invigorated and energized or bored to death.

The ways I have responded to public figures both inside and out of the Bahá'í community, the feelings these many people have evoked, the interpretations of life they invite or inflict, the meanings they embody in the few or many interactions that take place, these are not shadows cast upon a wall but the very stuff of my experience. It may all be like a vapour in the desert; it may be in reality a dream and not the water of life at all; indeed, it may be mere illusion, as Bahá'u'lláh says, but it is the metaphorical vehicle within which I am intended to grow and acquire virtues for mysterious purposes beyond the grave. And so, to decry the human inadequacies and the faults and failings of my fellow beings or the lack of response of my contemporaries, however natural this voice of complaint may be, simply betrays an unwillingness to reckon with, to understand, the realities of this postmodern world.

I would like to say some things about community, both the Bahá'í community and the various collections of individuals I have had association with over the last half a century. I will begin with three poems, some ideas from Georg Simmel one of the finest analysts, I have found, of sociability and some of my own experience as a way of introducing some general comments about the social dimension of this autobiography:
TRIUMPH

It is the nature of sociability to free concrete interactions...and to erect its airy realm...the deep spring which feeds this realm and its play does not lie in...forms, but exclusively in the vitality of concrete individuals, with all their feelings and attractions, convictions and impulses....Yet it is precisely the serious person who derives from sociability a feeling of liberaiton and relief. -Geoege Simmel, The Sociology of George Simmel, Kurt Wolff(ed.), Collier-Macmillan, NY, 1964.

This is unquestionably the community,
an instrument of mega-proportions
with a community feeling that will
triumph over everything and become
as natural as breathing, necessity itself....

So: what is crucial is
our subjective orientation
toward the community
in all its manifold aspects.
This is our elan vital;
this is our therapy, our centre,
our norm, our basis of judgement,
our overcoming of antisocial dispositions,
our indestructible destiny.

Here is creative tension:
the individual and community,
much talked about dichotomy
that stifles our capacity for joy;
where we are learning new bases,
new instrumentalities for happiness
after centuries of darkness;
where guilt and innocence play
in a drama whose roots are largely unseen;
where the alone and the lonely are found
in a complex web of social interstices;
where the greatest theatre of all
plays life on the stage
and we play with a required courtesy,
hopefully genuine, a certain reservedness,
but not as stiff and ceremonial as the past.

It seems purely fortuitous: the harmony,
contact and dissonance, the easy replaceability
of everyone we meet, the democracy we play at.
And we must play on the stage as players
with our parts-not indifferent-interesting,
fascinating, important, even serious,
with results: after the action,
the play of several acts with many scenes
and exchangeability. Ourselves, our self,
our personality may just vanish
or become coated with the many colours
of 'otherness'.

Enter thou among My servants,
And enter thou My paradise.*
For here you must lose your self
to find community
and we have much to learn
about loss of self.
It is here we shall find
the community feeling that will triumph
over everything, as naturally as breathing.

Ron Price
1 December 1995

* Seven Vallies, (US, 1952), p.47.

These are perspectives on conversation, on the social, written after more than thirty years on the pioneering road. In the first years, the first decade, 1962 to 1972, I found the conversational milieux, a source of great frustration. there was pleasure, too, but frustration made up many of its threads.

LIQUID CRYSTAL PING PONG

When life touches us
poems appear like bruises
-Roger White, 'Bruises', Occasions of Grace, 1994, p.164.

'Surely, this game evening
was not bruising.'
-Participant in a game evening organized by a friend for a group of nine.


The candle splutters in the cool evening air;
it has been a hot day, one of the first of the summer.
The air is so refreshing, it matters not if
the games this evening,
the basis for tonight's sociability,
are somewhat tedious.
This is another of those
'make the best of it' settings;
you get better at it with the years,
even become a bit of the entertainer,
synthesizer, unifier, charmer, raconteur
(for that has been your ostensible goal)
in one of these planned or thrown together,
four hour, eight hour stage performances,
leg-on-leg, the finest and subtlest dynamics
of broad, rich, oft-repeated, social existence.

The girl beside me, Kate,
catches the warm light
on her brown legs and hair.
Her eyes are the colour of rain.
I'm sure the frangapani frequent her boudoir.
We talk, so briefly;
we could have talked long, dined,
perhaps had an evening swim and made love,
but not in this world and probably not the next.

The art in art, he said, consists in:
having the courage to begin,
the discretion to select
and the wisdom to know when to stop.
I have gone too far, for some,
not far enough for others.
But what of me?
What of my many selves
that I've been trying to bring together
into some wholeness, an integration,
in a perpetual balancing act,
an unstable reconciliation of forces
in my psychic life, a battle that
once tore at my edges, but now
provocative stimulation,
challenge and response,
assertion and withdrawal,
no erotic push or poetic madness.

And so we chat; we play the evening's games.
The air cools, the balmy breeze blows Kate's hair
across a thousand stars. Like liquid crystal
our words dance in unpredictable patterns,
as if blown by the wind
in serendipidous, if unremembered,
weavings, gropings and groupings,
never too turbulent.
I think of a way to make a quick exit
for I have tired of conversational ping-pong
in a group of nine. It is an old game for me,
at least since 1962. I've never played it well,
although I'm better at it now,
just about comfortable.
I play it better in groups of two.
It requires a brilliant inventiveness,
after 255 minutes of backs-and-forths
I exit as courteously as possible.

8 January 1996

And, finally, a third poem:

LET'S GO ALL THE WAY

Described below is an evening spent in the home of an Australian couple. It was a typical evening. The conversation flowed smoothly and quickly. On other occasions, with other couples, the conversation is often not as flowing. This couple is one which my wife and I have known for about five years. I have tried to describe, as graphically as possible, the nature of the evening and the difficulty of talking about the Cause in any meaningful sense. The evening represents one venue, one situation, one typical teaching activity in a person's home. It must be repeated ad nauseam across Australia and has been for many decades. -Ron Price, 11:00 am., 1 January 1996, Rivervale WA.

Well, there's a five hour
whiz-around-everything-under-the-sun
evening, occasionally coming up for gas
conversations, all very stimulating
as long as you can keep feeding
the machine with verbal fodder
just to maintain the pace at all times
with lots of food and drink thrown in
for good measure and sociability.

How many evenings I've had
like this in twenty-five years
on the international pioneer stage
in the Antipodes: Australia.
By God, I can talk
with the best of them now,
shift conversational gears1
with razor-sharp speed,
touch down on the serious
or the inner life just to measure
the waters, mention the Cause
once or several times en passant
just to see if someone
would like to pick up on it,
play mental gymnastics,
a pot pourri, keeping it light,
humorous, dexterous,
from here to eternity.

I question the mileage gained,
the meaning, the purpose, the value
of endless discussions about trivia.
Make friends, you say,
get to know people, lay the foundation,
make a start, lay before these contacts
your inner life and private character
which mirror forth in their manifold aspects
the supreme claim of the Abha revelation.2

You become the entertainer, the raconteur,
the man-for-all-seasons, everybody's somebody,
bouncing the verbal ball for five hours;
maybe there's an infinitessimal glimmer,
the smallest of look-sees
into the inner chambers
of each other's hearts, minds and souls.
Perhaps to the extent that
the outer is a reflection of the inner,
we make a start, build a bridge.
How many only saw the outer life of 'Abdu'l-Bahá?
Only a few seemed to see what Howard Ives saw.
So, too, do we dance around each other's outer shells.

After twenty-five years of playing
pass-the-parcel in lounge rooms
and gardens all across Australia
I've become quite adept.
I've heard that faith is patience to wait;
I wonder if my inner life
will ever be good enough
and I ponder at the nature of a society
which rarely gets beyond the outer layers
of the parcel.3 I'm tempted to yell:
take it off! take it off! Let's go all the way!


Ron Price
1 January 1996

1 "The ability to change topics easily and quickly is part of the nature of social conversation." Georg Simmel, op.cit., 1964.
2Shoghi Effendi, Guidance for Today and Tomorrow. This quotation is part of one of the more famous of the Guardian's statements. It begins: 'Not by the force of numbers...' Shoghi Effendi says that our success in teaching ultimately rests on our inner life and how that inner life mirrors, in its manifold aspects, the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.
3pass-the-parcel is a children's game that can also be played by adults and consists of passing a small article, wrapped up in many layers of paper, from one person to the next. The person who has the parcel when the music stops takes off one layer of paper and then must leave the game. The person who is never caught with the parcel when the music stops wins. The game usually generates lots of laughs and excitement and the pace is quite fast. I have a theory, developed from twenty-five years of playing this game-as a pioneer-that social evenings like the one described above are just that, social. We take layers of ourselves off. The Bahá'í should not attempt to get into anything serious insofar as the Cause is concerned, or indeed any other serious topic for that matter in the course of the first few evenings. People seem to find it difficult to take off too many layers to pursue the serious, the inner person.(See the writings of sociologist George Simmel on sociability for a theoretical/analytical discussion of what I am saying here). Serious stuff comes outside this context on a one-to-one basis or a special meeting convened for seriousness because the person has indicated their interest or you have spontaneously invited them. These are just a few reflections on a 'fireside' situation I have been in so many times and which this poem attempts to describe.

I often think, as I look back on the multitude, the seemingly millions, of fleeting, fragmentary, ephemeral dissolves, moments into which life can be seen and described in retrospect, that it is process that one should emphasize again and again, not product, the fortuitous and not-so-fortuitous fragments of reality with the aid of psychological microscopy and sociological detachment even aloofness and a fine mix of an alternating and modulated intense concern and blase indifference. And just as the metropolitan consumer has come to feel at home, even stimulated, amidst a fragmented multiplicity of objects and styles, goods and services, which overlap and fill a world, so too does the individual, so too has this individual, come to feel at home in this world of variegation. And, if not at home, in this work I at least demonstrate that I am capable of capturing how I have experienced contemporary reality and the meaning that radiates from the multitude of points in time and space along the many continuums of his existence. During these several decades of pioneering adventure I have developed a passionate feeling, an intense collection of thoughts, for the human condition and this narrative allows me to give expression to this collection, to construct a totality from the great number of fragments. This account is, though, not so much the story of a unique individual but "an individual in a community," in an intersecting set of social circles, in a world where I am perpetually confronted by a multiplicity of cultural objects: ideas from religion to a pervasive secularism, from science to custom, internalized yet alien, in fixed yet coagulated form, subjective and intimate, restless and distant, meaningful yet incapable of being fully assimilated. And so is this the experience of my contemporaries throughout the world I have inhabited these many years. The six variables of social analysis used by Simmel could very well be mine: size, distance, position, valence, self-involvement, symmetry. But his cage of the future and its impending doom, his prediction of the atrophy of the soul, partly fulfilled by the hundreds of millions of deaths that were to occur in the century after he wrote and the cancerous materialism that gripped western civilization, I have replaced by the vision, the dream, the reality of the flourishing of a new religion and its succession of triumphs in the last century and a half but, more importantly, in the half century that is at the basis of this narrative.

Some of this personal story, some of my experience, may be of help to readers by means of a type of healing process which, if I gave it a name, would be 'understanding.' "My name is Ron and I'm a Bahá'í who has battled along this road," could be the beginning to my story. Hopefully, some readers will experience healing through a sense of understanding, as they read my story and reflect on the frustration, the damage and the hurt they have had in their lives. For the Bahá'í community is engaged in a very serious business: the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. It is no tea-party, although sometimes it may feel like that and there is certainly a lot of tea consumed in the process. It is impossible to be involved in an exercise of such importance, such seriousness, such global dimensions and such intensity without people being hurt from time to time. It's really part of the process no matter how hard we try; in fact the harder we try, often the more hurt comes our way. Again, that too is part of a bigger process.

There is something about telling others about our disappointments that heals. A broken relationship, a sad heart, personal trials and tests demand that we tell the story to our closest confidant. There is some of that in this work, although I would not call what I write, as I mentioned before, a confessional. I do put my heart on my arm occasionally, but I don't stick it out with all its warts and bruises. Some of us need to sing the blues to help us get over them. Some stories from our lives we carry around and they feed us with damaging, confusing and inaccurate information. These stories need to be told, and then replaced with healing, accurate, positive stories that are based on understanding and insight, stories that maintain the factual basis of our life but facts that are rooted in 'wisdom and the power of thought, that are embellished with a fresh grace, distinguished with an ever-varying splendour and the new and wonderful configurations of existence.'

Perhaps, to some extent, Theodore Adorno, the critical theorist of the Frankfurt School was right: thinking and writing domesticate our explosive impulses; they sublimate anger. They channell painful emotion in the direction of socially critical thought. They purge the tensions of life, which might otherwise be purged by sport, an active sex life, soap opera or any one of a multitude of socially functional gratifications. You pays your money and you takes your choice, as my philosophy professor used to say. But whatever we do to deal with life's tensions it is often the case that "to reach our goals we are forced to precede along increasingly long and difficult paths with the connection between ends and means often elusive, veiled, obscured and entirely lost.

While parents or others may have told us "you can't," others will help us replace this negative story with the "I can" story. The dichotomy, of course, is not simple for, as the Alcoholics Anonymous motto emphasizes, there are things we cannot change and we need to have the wisdom to accept the things we can't change. Our lives will reflect this new story of success, these new understandings. Telling stories that are dark and painful and that embody new understandings give us a chance to realize that we are in the middle of our great Life Story, and that the future contains the hope of possibility. Personal stories are for sharing and for hearing and for seeing and for feeling. As the storyteller, as I paint with words and the gestures of meaning the varying sensory images in my personal history, readers' imaginations will I hope take them to often faraway places, let them meet people they have never met or remember those whose voices have become faint in their memories, and give them an understanding of experiences they may or may not have experienced. This is all accomplished by a portrayal of both the familiar and the unfamiliar-made-familiar as the teller identifies, internalizes, and then portrays the images and events in the story.

There has developed in the last half century or so what some have called a "culture of celebrity." Its roots can be traced back to the 1830s, Charles L. Ponce de Leon has suggested. Leo Braudy in The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History traces the roots of this Western preoccupation with fame and the public person back to Roman times. It is not my intention in writing this autobiographical work to join this frenzy, this cult of celebrity, this preoccupation with fame. But given its dominance, its presence, on the public landscape over such a long period of time, over two thousand years and more, I can't help but reflect to what extent these very preoccupations occupy my attention, even unconsciously, without even wanting to admit to their presence. They creep in whether I want them there or not. Perhaps there is an inevitability to the existence to these kinds of tendencies in any autobiography. They certainly play a part in the long history of autobiography and readers may find some of these inevitable tendencies slipping in here. With nearly six hundred pages to go in this account, perhaps readers would be advised to wait, to read a good deal more before they try to answer this question.

I'd like to turn now in the third chapter to a discussion of the collection of letters that has gradually been accumulated during my pioneering experience for the last forty years. Perhaps they will reveal part of some unconscious preoccupation with fame, although my conscious mind thinks tis unlikely. I'm confident the discussion of my letters will reveal, what is also the intention of this long narrative to reveal, namely, that full understanding of social phenomena and of our own dear lives is impossible "save in terms of a recognition of the unalterable, irreducible role of the religious impulse," as expressed through the one Power that can fulfill the ultimate human longing of the minds and hearts of the people of the world. This brief overview of some three thousand letters suggests a context. These letters represent the expression, among other things, of my religious values, embedded in social relations, in one of the multitude of social forms with its infinitely manifold contents. Readers will find in both this general overview of my letters and the letters themselves, should they ever be published, a strange mixture, a melange, of my attempts at selfless devotion and the multitude of my human desires that are far from selfless; my pretensions, my efforts, to acquire, to develop humility's necessary spirit and the many forms of enthusiasm and elation, joy and pleasure, of sensual immediacy and spiritual abstractions. Some might call these emotional elements 'the religious frame of mind.' At least Georg Simmel did. He equated it with piety and without this pietas Simmel said society would be impossible. It is the essential bond by which society is help together. It was certainly one of the bonds that held my life together. There were many others.





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VOLUME ONE:
CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS

"The very texture of history....."

Perception, reflection and social interaction are at least three of the many psychologically diverse contexts in which the word 'self' appears in our everyday discourse. Autobiography is an important part of the narration of this self and this autobiography, like all autobiographies, finds its home in all of these contexts.1 But since the reality of man is his thought and what endures, after life has completed its course, is the soul, it is hardly surprising that there is a 'curious intangibility,'2 an inherently spiritual abstraction, associated with defining, with expressing, who we are. And it is hardly surprising that this work of mine, this autobiography, contains a great deal that is better described as thought and not so much that one could describe as action. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jens Brockmeier and Donald Carbaugh, editors, Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography: Self and Culture, John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001; and 2Hannah Arendt in Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Adriana Cavarero, Routledge, NY, 2000, p.ix.

Although there is this curious intangibility that makes up any attempt to describe who we are, men's beliefs in the sphere of human conduct are part of their conception of themselves and are intrinsic to their picture of the world. Both these beliefs and this conduct can be found expressed again and again in my letters.-Ron Price with thanks to Isaiah Berlin quoted by Robert Matuozzi, 'When Bad Things Happen to Other People,' Philosophy and Literature, Vol.25, No.1, 2001, pp. 173-177.
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On the dust jacket of The Selected Letters of Marcel Proust: 1880 to 1903 the publishers, Doubleday and Company, have written 'letters are the strongest indicators of personality, perhaps the purest form of autobiography. We look at them as a means of knowing the author as a human being, of gaining perspectives on his life and work and, perhaps, divining the secret foundation of his creativity.' I think there is some truth in this remark. There is also, from my own experience, some truth in the sentiments of Thomas Wolfe who is quoted by Elizabeth Nowell in her introduction to the Selected Letters of Thomas Wolfe 'a writer writes a letter in order to forget it.' Once down on paper, I find, the emotion or experience loses its compulsive force and can be stored away and forgotten. I have stored away some 3000 letters in over twenty volumes. Since beginning to collect these letters in 1967 I have come to see them as an autobiographical tool.

If this autobiography 'works' for readers, it will not be because I have filled it with facts, with details, with the minutiae of life documented with great enthusiasm and eagerness in letters to friends and a variety of institutions. Success in this life narrative that has been going down on paper over many a year will be due to its basis, its centeredness, in ideas, the quality of the writing and the narrative's connection with an emerging world Faith. If it becomes a success, as I have indicated before, in all likelihood it will still resonate with only a few people. But whether it resonates with many or a few, I believe, as Gilroy and Verhoeven argue, these letters are "marked by and sent to the world." They counter, too, tendencies to flatten out the uniqueness of the individual in some falsely understood egalitarianism or sense of human equality. For our uniqueness as individuals derives from our constitutive relation with others, from our living in community. The epistolary form was long associated with the feminine and the history of female subjection. As far back as Cicero in the first century BC, it was associated with everyday speech. Here in this autobiography my letters function as a crucial form of communication in the teaching and consolidation work of a pioneer. Indeed, one could say that my story, the narratability of my life, my very uniqueness, arises within the context of an interaction process based on the letter.

The dynamics of epistolary writing have been much studied in recent years. Analysts who read and study letters see them as something more than simple documents of a particular time and place. They see the letters as "texts" that are only partly susceptible to explication or decipherability. Such documents bear a different relation to the world for a future reader than for the writer at the point when the letter was originally written. In some ways tis is only stating the obvious. The act of reading a collection of published letters is inevitably shaped by a series of decisions made by both the letter-writers themselves and the readers. Letters are often exchanged, perhaps for years, usually without either participant considering them as an exercise leading to publication. There are several components in what we could call an epistolary machine: the act of writing, the act of reading and the world of interpretation. To focus on reading is to bring to light the complexity of the communication process, to recall that not all of a reader's questions are going to be answered by reading the said letters. Readers may only have partially formulated questions in their minds or, perhaps, they may not even understand their own questions. Any message, including a letter, encounters a scrambling process upon entering the reader's zone of associations and responses. I wish readers well dealing with the inevitabilities of scrambling which they will have to deal with in my letters. There is a conceptual intersection in each letter between reader, writer and 'world.' And it is a busy intersection. And the discourse that takes place at these intersections possesses a paradoxical entwinement of minds and words. This is true of snail-mail or fiber-optic-borne email.

A recent essay that I wrote introducing a volume of letters gathered in the first years of my retirement will serve to illustrate many of the things I'd like to say about the overall collection of letters. I think, as Emerson wrote, that 'letters often put things better' than verbal communication and provide perspectives that are timely here in this ongoing autobiographical statement. The letters of James Boswell, to chose for comparison one historical example from collections of letters, open a window onto the real man, a man hidden behind his great biography, his biography of Samuel Johnson. Of course, one must be sensitive, too, to epistolary disguise, posing, theatrical attentiveness to the social presentation of self, concern for appearances, standardization of responses and what might be called mannerisms in letter writing. As in life, there are many selves which write letters.

I wrote the essay which follows as part of the second edition of this autobiographical work. It was one of my essays that was, at that point in the evolution of this autobiogrpahy, simply gathered into an appendix and not integrated into the body of that edition. In the third edition I achieved a better integration of material, of autobiographical resources. My imaginative function became more fertile in the third edition. As the poet Wallace Stevens writes, referring to imagination: "I am the necessary angel of earth/Since, in my sight, you see the world again," I am seeing the world again with greater vividness than I once did. Robert Graves, a prolific letter writer, saw his letters as a sort of 'spontaneous autobiography' and his poems as his 'spiritual autobiography.' I like the distinction. Perhaps, one day, a selection of letters from my spontaneous autobiography will become available.

As the 38th, 39th and 40th years of pioneering took their course in the first years of my retirement, I wrote some of the following about the letter-writing experience:

"Across the line of time I thought I would try to make a brief summary of this letter writing experience, an experience which goes back to the first letter I received from the international pioneer Cliff Huxtable in St. Helena in 1967. Cliff's wife Cathy had just died at the age of thirty-five. Cliff is still in St. Helena thirty-five years later. He never wrote again. I replied but I did not keep a copy of the letter; indeed I kept few of my personal letters until about 1982, twenty years into the pioneering venture.

"As I have pointed out on previous occasions I wrote and received letters going back as far as about 1962 when this pioneering journey began, but I have not kept the letters from the earlier period before 1967. There were many letters after 1967, at least up to about 1980, which were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no fame, no significance in the general public eye, it is unlikely that many, if any, letters are being kept privately by their recipients. I find it interesting, more than coincidental, that these letters come from a period that began with what the Universal House of Justice in 1967 called 'the dark heart of the age of transition.' By that date, by 1967, 'a mood of cultural crisis: a sense that something had gone terribly wrong in the modern world, something that we could neither assimilate nor put right,' had entered our psyches. One writer called our society a post-traumatic culture. Indeed there have been, since the fifties and sixties, a host of characterizations of the shift, the crisis, of these days.

"If one tried to get a picture of the hey-day of my letter writing I think it would be in the 1980s when I lived, first in Zeehan on the west coast of Tasmania, and then in the north of Australia, north of Capricorn, although in the early years of the new millennium, after my retirement, there was a new lease on letter-life in the form of emails. I do not have any interest in going through this collection of letters that I wrote 'north of Capricorn' or, indeed, from the full period 1967 to 2001, now in over thirty two-ring binders and arch-lever files. Perhaps a future day will see me making some minute analysis of the extent and the content of these letters. Perhaps, should their potential value become more evident to me, I shall take a more serious interest in them. Thusfar I have made only the occasional annotation to these letters.

"I have, though, taken a very general interest in the collections of letters of other writers to help provide useful perspectives on my own collection. I have opened a file of 'introductions to collections of letters' obtained from books of the letters of famous writers and have kept additional notes on the genre because I think in the years ahead I may write a history drawing on letters, mine and those of other Bahá'ís in the world during these four epochs. But that activity is far off. In the meantime these letters are like "arrows from the same quiver." I send them "just as high and far" as I can. In my "journal it is the same."

"This is not a collection of lettters of a famous person or to famous people, like the collections of letters of Einstein to President Roosevelt, or the collection of Jane Austen's letters or those of, say, one of the Presidents, Prime Ministers or other prominent members of the community. My collection has no curiosity value like the letters to Santa Claus or to lovers or to mothers or from children, suicide victims or entertainers to an assortment of people. Whatever significance this collection has is tide-up with the emergence of a new world Order and a new religion and whatever future that religion may have. These letters bear the traces of contemporary historical practices, literary styles and tastes and they are surrounded by what could be called "the envelope of contingency." In this sense they are communications to and with the world, with society, however personal and private they may appear to the casual observer.

"These letters are, for me at least, part of a potential global epistolary collection, part of the literary expression of a global diaspora, an international pioneering movement, that was only in its second generation when I got into the field in the 1960s. The recent eighteen-volume series on global diasporas and the six volume work of the International Library of Studies of Migration, will, in all likelihood, have no mention of the Bahá'í diaspora when they are completed. The former is or will be made up of original works, while the latter is a collection of previously published articles on selected themes. International migration and diasporas have come to constitute distinctive fields of inquiry and there is considerable overlap between them.

"The study of international migration is broader in scope and partially subsumes diaspora studies. Diasporas arise from international migration. Constant interaction between diasporic communities in dozens of sovereign states and with various homelands is one of the defining features of this international migration. After nearly seven decades of international pioneering as part of an international teaching Plan, this interaction and these many diasporas seem to me, in many ways, to have just been initiated and only briefly been given any academic study. The major events of this pioneering venture, the various processes concerning its growth and development, and aspects of the diasporic life of, say, Bahá'ís from North America in Australia would necessarily interest only a small body of people at this stage of that group's history. Indeed, at this early stage, however massive the exercise involved, and the global pioneering venture is indeed a massive one, the significance of collections of letters is hardly appreciated as yet; indeed, I would think for most people including the pioneers themselves there would be very few collections of letters extant.

"What are termed Bahá'í studies or international Bahá'í pioneering studies will one day, though, I am confident, be a part of an extensive study of the great Bahá'í international diaspora of the last sixty-seven years(1937-2004), a full two-thirds of the first century of the Formative Age. So I am inclined to think, anyway. And these letters are part of what is, in fact, a grand narrative.

"Specific letters relevant to the history of the Cause in the Northern Territory(NT) I kept for two decades(1982-2002) in special files as resource material to help me write the Bahá'í history of that region. I have now given them to the Regional Bahá'í Council for the Northern Territory. Much more collecting of letters written by Bahá'ís in the NT could be done by history writers and archivists with greater enthusiasms than I now possess and I hope some day such an exercise will be accomplished. In the disintegration of society that is part of the essential backdrop to these letters and the contrasting integration, the generation that began the pioneering venture in the years 1962 to 1987, marks the first years of the tenth and final stage of history. It is a stage coextensive with the institutionalization of the charismatic Force, the routinization of that charisma to use Weber's term, in the Universal House of Justice.

"If these letters apppear to indicate an aloofness from the controversies of the day, from the endless issues that occupied the front pages of the newspapers and the images and sounds from the electronic media; if they refrain year after year from any association "by word or deed with the political pursuits" of the various nations of the world, "with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programmes of parties and factions," it is because this is the advice, the position, taken by the leaders of my Faith following principles and practices laid down by the Founders and leaders of this Faith beginning in the 1840s. I, too, following these considered views, have tried to further the aims of what is to me a beloved Cause and to steer a "course amid the snares and pitfalls of a troubled age" by steering clear of partisan-political subjects.

"What does occupy the Bahá'í often appears trifling. Such is the feeling I have frequently had in relation to these letters. The words of Thomas Henry Huxley, the nineteenth century biologist and educator, I find encouraging. He opened his autobiography with a quotation from a letter from a Bishop Butler, a bishop of the episcopal seat of Aukland, to the Duchess of Somerset. The bishop wrote: "And when I consider, in one view, the many things . . . which I have upon my hands, I feel the burlesque of being employed in this manner at my time of life. But, in another view, and taking in all circumstances, these things, as trifling as they may appear, no less than things of greater importance, seem to be put upon me to do." As archaic, as anachronistic, as the style of the good bishop's words may be, the point for me is important, namely, that Huxley saw his autobiography, even the humble letter, as something "put on him to do," by the interpositions of a watchful Providence, the eye of a necessary Fate or the simple needs of circumstance, however trifling it appeared to be.

"I am reminded, in this context, of the words of Roger White from A Sudden Music. White says that the highest service a Bahá'í can often render is to simply do "the thing under his nose that needed doing." For me, writing letters was often this 'thing.' And so it was, that over time, as the years went on, what was once seen as a trifling exercise took on a patina of gentle significance, perhaps even the sense of letters being a small example of what the Universal House of Justice called "nobler, ampler manifestations of human achievement" in their discussion of the subject of 'freedom of thought.' If I was not a good cook, a good gardener, a good mechanic, a good painter, indeed, if I did not operate successfully in so many areas of life, as indeed most of us can say about so many domains of activity, I could at least write a letter and do it well, at least such was my personal view. I've always appreciated the words of Evelyn Waugh in terms of this particular capacity to write letters. "Beware of writing to me,' he once said, 'I always answer.' He referred to his letter writing habit as 'an inherited weakness,' part of his 'great boringness.' It was partly due, he said, to 'never going out or telephoning.'

"Like Thoreau my life "showed a devotion to principle," but by the time I was sixty I was only too conscious of just how far my life had been from the practical application of that principle. I have little doubt that were many more individuals, more sincere and more genuine in their devotion to that same principle or principles, than I have or would be. As Clausewitz notes in his On War "to be faithful in action to the principles laid down for ourselves" this is our "entire difficulty."

"The "many things" to which the Duchess's correspondent here refers are the repairs and improvements of his episcopal seat at Auckland. I doubt if Huxley, the first great apologist of Darwinian evolution, this largely self-educated man, one of England's founders of primary schools for all, this father of eight children, this coiner of the term 'agnostic,' saw himself as an instrument of the deity. But, like the good Bishop Butler, I'm sure he felt he had "things of great importance" to do and that they had been "put upon him." Even the humble letter. Virginia Woolf wrote that it was not until the nineteenth century that "self-consciousness had developed so far that it was the habit of men to describe their minds" when they wrote their letters and their autobiographies. I write in this new tradition, although I am conscious, as Woolf puts it plainly, of "the world's notorious indifference." And it may be many years, if ever, before this collection of letters has any interest to even a coterie of people.

"Letter writing has occasionally been a routine, perfunctory, exercise; occasionally a joy, a pleasure, a delight; occasionally part of some job or community responsibility. 'Letters were the very texture' wrote Henry James 'of Emerson's history.' There is certainly a texture here that is not present in the other genres of my wide-ranging autobiography. This texture is also a result of a new written form, the email, a form which was present in Volume 5 of my personal letters as well, but makes a strong appearance in this Volume 6 of these letters. Nine out of ten communications by then were emails not letters. I think the first email I received was in 1990 or 1991, but I have kept few emails before the mid-to-late 1990s when email traffic began to replace the letter and, for me at least, by 2000 the telephone to a significant extent. For in the early years of retirement I rarely used the telephone. In retirement I had come to find the telephone an intrusion after more than forty years of my finding it a pleasure, a convenience and a necessity. Of course, I still owned a telephone and answered it when circumstances required with courtesy and kindness and, when possible, humour and attentiveness.

"A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter. Much of letter writing falls into this category; it spoils a good story and blunts the theme, like much of conversation it is random, routine and deals with the everyday scene, ad nauseam. But these letters tell of a life in a way that is unique, not so much as a collection of letters, for collections are a common genre over the centuries, but as a collection of letters in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age of the Bahá'í Era. They present pictures that tell of a concrete reality, a time and an age, that I hope will stand revealed to future readers. For these epochs were characterized by what Toynbee calls "a schism in the soul in an age of social disintegration." A fully seasoned universal state with its supreme authority and its supreme impersonal law, argues Toynbee, were not part of the cosmology and the basic unit of social organization, for humankind in this half century, although some serious and significant beginnings to that process were made in that direction.

"What is here in these letters and in my other writings is, in part, some signs and signals of the embryo of that unit of social organization at the global level. What is here is spiritual autobiography and psychological revelation in a different literary form than my poetry and it tells of a period during which the Bahá'í Faith made a significant leap forward in its numbers and in the maturity of its community. Often, to the Bahá'ís working in their personal lives and in their communities this maturity and this growth was either not evident or not appreciated. Often, too, readers' awareness of the many Ron Price's that make up my life and whatever maturity I have or have not attained is sharpened by their dip into the pool of my letters. But perhaps most importantly the number of collections of letters from international pioneers during this period may not be that extensive given the busyness of people's lives and what seems to me to be a quite natural disinclination to keep letters beyond a salient few of some personal importance."
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Film critic Gerald Peary notes in his essay on the biography Clint: The Life and Legend, there are at least two Clints. I think it is fair to say there are probably more than two Clint Eastwoods. There are certainly more than two Ron Price's with hopefully a golden thread joining all the selves as well as threads of many other colours. After fifty years of excessive contact with human beings, the quiet, only child, the self who had learned in his early childhood how to occupy himself in a solitary way, seemed to want more of that solitude. Price was ready by the turn of the millennium for television's more metonymic contact with others. He found in this medium, a medium which had been part of his life on and off for half a century, that all of those storytellers, priests, wisemen and elders which in many ways had become lost to society in the years of its disintegration in the previous century and especially in recent decades, the decades of his life, had become restored to cultural visibility and to oral primacy in his nightly fare on TV and in the daily fare of radio programs. With embellishments from the internet and books, he felt little need for any human contact at all. And society, he felt, had little need, for his story, drowned as society had become in a plethora of stories, day after day, night after night and year after year from the tidal wave of productions of the print and electronic media.

Those storytellers came along in the convincing guise of highly literate specialists: newsreaders, commentators, scientific and artistic experts and writers and producers with their endless capacity to generate stories in the form of movies, interviews, who-dun-its, soap-operas, a cornucopia of stuff that rested the eyes and stimulated the mind in varying degrees. It was here in the media that the sophists of ancient Greece were reborn. The sophists with their emphasis on the power of the intellect arose as Greek society in the fifth century BC was becoming more complex. They were rootless people without any commitment to community. And they are very much like many of the worldly wise who come upon the scene and pontificate, publicize and entertain millions but, unlike Socrates of old, they generally have no commitment to community. Our troubled times approximate more closely the conditions of Greece and Rome and comparisons like those of the sophists are useful. The media now tend to direct not only our knowledge of the world but our knowledge of ways of knowing it. And the new sophists play an important role in this mix. Not to mention this important aspect of contemporary social and intellectual life in an autobiography of this nature would be a serious omission.

The media had many functions. It allowed me to get back to my writing day after day, having been gently and alternatively amused, stimulated, entertained and informed. I could see why millions had no need to write letters for that human contact, except perhaps those with a high degree of need for sociability. As I mentioned above though, by the year 2000, I seemed to be writing more letters than ever. By nine o'clock at night my eyes and mind were so tired from reading and writing--usually at least a six hour minimum of the day's time--that I was happy to consume television's products. Millions of my words were slowly permeating some of the literally millions of internet sites. Yes, I was writing more letters than ever.

My letters were, among other things, strands of experience woven into patterns, pat- terns in a channel, a channel that in the early years of my retirement became filled with electronic signals and, in the end, many arch-lever files, an expression of an art, a means of communication. By the time Volume 4 of this collection of personal correspondence in 1995 I had, as I had indicated, become exhausted by personal contacts. Perhaps this was due in part to my male proclivity for solitude in contrast to a female inclination to a more social mode of existence. I was more inclined to think that this social disinclination was due to many things in a list too long to ennumerate here. This may be part of the reason for any apparent aloofness and any insistence on solitude that is found in either my letters or my poetry, especially after about 1995. My autobiography arises out of this temperamental disinclination more than a loss of curiosity about the future which Evelyn Waugh says is the origin of autobiography.

Perhaps, like Rilke, I had been "too responsive for (my) own peace of mind."1 Perhaps my letters are, like Rilke's, an indication of a "great need of imparting the life within"2 me. Perhaps they are simply a matter of pouring experience into a mould to obtain release, to ease the pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to correspondence. It was a "handicraft", a tool among several others, that could keep me "at work in constant preparation for the creative moments."3

The drama of my life, beginning insensibly as the 1990s came to an end, was largely an inner one. The external battle, its pleasures and anxieties, went on but in a much more subdued form. Perhaps, like Thoreau, I lacked "a certain breadth and coarseness of fiber" and by my fifties I came to prefer, as Thoreau had been all his life, to be more isolated from my surroundings, more insular and solitary. I came by my late fifties to plant myself near the sea with a granite floor of principle beneath me, although often there were layers of intervening clay and quicksand which, even in my solitude, seemed to entrap me. Of course, that trap was the one I had seen all my life: the trap of self, of ego, of nature's insistent self. Was I too quick or too slow to answer life's call, too inclined or not inclined enough to switch off its insistent urgings? Lacking the right words for the right time or failing to come up with the right verbal package did I rush in where angels reared to tread? Was this equally true in the letters I wrote? One could not always frame the words to 'say-it-right' in every letter and email. I hope, I believed, I was saying it better in my poetry which Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said is the poet's true autobiography.

These letters, it seems to me, stand in sharp contrast to what Frederic Jameson refers to as the four losses that are symptomatic of a postmodernism. These losses have come to characterize our society increasingly since the 1970s: the suspension of subjective inwardness, referential depth, historical time and coherent human expression. These letters in some basic ways define my identity and my community's by telling the story of myself, the community I have been part of and the events of the time. There is clearly referential depth here, subjective inwardness, the story of a search, an open-ended drama of personal narratives, a sense of the complexity of these historical times. There is also here in these letters what Roland Barthes calls an "image of literature to be found in ordinary culture." This image, he goes on, "is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism consists for the most part in saying that" my failure is the failure of Ron Price the man. "The explanation of a work," he concludes, "is always sought in the man or woman who produced it....in the voice of a single person, the author 'confiding' in us.

While the art and craft of letter writing have declined in this century, letter stories have thrived. Cast as love letters and Dear John letters, as thank-you notes and suicide notes, as memos and letters to the editor, and as exchanges with the United States Post Office, examples of epistolary fiction have been published by the hundreds, among them the work of many of our most notable authors. Why has this form of fiction writing remained so popular? Gail Pool, the editor of Other People's Mail says it has something to do with the rhetorical question: "Who is immune to the seduction of reading other people's mail?" I like to think my letters offer a similar seduction. That is what I'd like to think. Time, of course, will tell.

Although epistolary fiction enjoyed its greatest popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when letters were central to daily life, this style of writing still has a place and a popular one it would seem. Letter stories are about communication and they are effective in framing our modern concerns: the struggle to find meaningful stories, relationships, and lives amid the social and moral disarray of the era and the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, artist and audience, private and public domains. My own letters accomplish this similar framing exercise.

Written and received over nearly forty years, my collection of letters delineates the themes of our time as do the themes of the stories in Other People's Mail. Offering seventeen stories written by a culturally diverse group of authors, Other People's Mail represents what letter tales, at their best, can do. They may be written from the Canadian wilderness, a private school in Geneva, a concentration camp, or beyond the grave. They may be comic or satirical, poignant or tragic, but all are united in their distinctive format. For letters are distinctively individual. Other People's Mail is the first collection of its kind. It is a unique and important anthology. Pool's highly informative introduction explores the nature of letter fiction. Literature and writing instructors may find in this lively anthology a useful resource. My collection offers a single perspective, a single individual, a single background to a life, a distinctive format, at times satirical, at times poignant, tragic, humorous and lively and, no doubt and inevitably--as collections of letters are for most people--boring and therefore unread. In that tidal-wave of print and visual stimulation that occupies today's world, collections of letters, for the most part, slip into a quiet niche, unknown and unnoticed and not missed.
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"The tangled root" and "the tranquil flower" is here: cool detachment and an anguish of spirit.4 I leave it to future readers to find these roots and flowers. I trust their search will have its own reward. I hope, too, that this opening comment on Volume 6 of my personal correspondence in Section VII of Pioneering Over Four Epochs sets an initial perspective of some value. These words above written on several occasions from 1999 to 2003 for the third and fourth editions of this autobiography were completed after living for more than four years in George Town.

During the time the letters in this particular part of the collection were written I began work on some thirty-two instalments on 'The History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997;' I also completed my book The Emergence of a Bahá'í Consciousness in World Literature, organized and refined the second edition of my website Pioneering Over Four Epochs into fifteen hundred pages and gathered together a body of resources for what became the third edition of my autobiography which I wrote later in the twenty-first to twenty-fourth months of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). During this same period a feeling of approaching apocalypse was tending to drown out humanist beliefs in history as the progressive development towards a better world. Bahá'ís, of course, remained optimistic but often the battle tired the spirit and, in some cases, turned that spirit to letter-writing.

1 Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910, trans: J. Greene and M. Norton, WW Norton, NY, 1945, p. 12.
2 idem
3 idem
4 ibid.p.13.

Ron Price
17 February 2003

PS. The genre that Henry Miller enjoyed writing most was 'the letter.' "Long letters to close friends,"1 were his favourite pieces of writing. I must add that I, too, have come to enjoy this form of writing much more since retirement, but they are rare occurrences these long letters, if one defines a long letter as, say, four typed pages, 2000 words, or more. I suppose the attitude is: wy write it if you can say it on the telephone. -1Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.12.
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I have read or browsed through many books of the collections of the letters of famous and not-so-famous writers and, for the most part, have not found them enlightening, although the introductions to several collections have provided very stimulating perspectives for my own work. Keats, the nineteenth century poet, seems to be the most attractive of the letter writers. He seems likeable, lovable, someone we would enjoy travelling with. Unlike Shakespeare or even Jane Austin, who remain impersonal, elusive, inscrutable, enigmatic, we feel we know Keats through his letters. He does not hide himself. My letters clearly bring me closer to a Keats or an Emily Dickinson, than a Shakespeare, although I know I shall never be in the league of any of these great writers. Dickinson tended to blend poetry and prose in her letters and, in the last decade this has been true increasingly of my letters. I strive to fashion a lively interchange between poetry and prose and, as yet, I have really only just begun this process with any effect.

I feel an immense kinship with that American philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, in so many respects. His hunger, as John Burroughs points out, was for health and the wild, wilderness, wild men, Indians. He felt close to "the subtle spirits" in this wilderness. He lived life delicately, daintily, tenderly. Burroughs said he was unkind. By contrast, I see myself as kind, one of the kind Canadians 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to in His immortal Tablets, although my affinity for the wild and the wilderness is clearly not as strong as Thoreau's. But I have his hunger, although it expresses itself differently to Thoreau's. It is an isolating hunger, as Thoreau's hunger isolated him. My hunger is not for health or the wild but, rather, for knowledge and civility. When younger, until the age of about forty, I hungered for health. By my mid-fifties I hungered for solitude. In my late teens and twenties I hungered for sex. After working in the garden, I hunger for water. Since I eat a very light breakfast, by two in the afternoon I hunger for lunch. Our hungers change with the time of day and the season, with the stage of our life and our psychological needs.

By my years of middle adulthood, forty to sixty, knowledge became, increasingly, my great desire. By sixty the symptoms of my bi-polar disorder were, for the most part, treated. I yearned, too, for that quiet civility with which genuine engagement with my fellow men could be enjoyed when that engagement was either necessary or desired. Perhaps this was due to a fatigue with much conversation, my sense of an immense ignorance and my awareness of a strong strain of grossness and the many traces of moral laxity that not only stained my life but the name of the Faith I regarded as holy and precious. For, as Shoghi Effendi stated so boldly at the start of the first Plan in 1937, "the controlling principle in the behaviour and conduct of all Bahá'ís" has implications for "modesty, purity....cleanmindedness...moderation...and the daily vigilance in the control of one's carnal desires." Any thorough examination of the last fifty years of my life, 1953 to 2003, would reveal that I am far from casting that "sleeve of holiness over all that hath been created from water and clay."

Sometimes my letters reveal a melancholy cast of mind or hide a personal belief that I am a contempible animal. For, as Bahá'u'lláh wrote, we all have our backs "bowed by the burden of our sin" and from time to time we need to feel that our "heedlessness has destroyed us." This need is particlarly apparent when we say the Long Obligatory Prayer. Sometimes my letters reveal a host of other characteristics: humour, delight, pleasure, joy, fun, insight and understanding, et cetera.

I'd like to think that, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, my letters could be read in the same way Katherine Suzannah Pritchard read those of Miles Franklin: 'Every literary nerve in me thrills to your lovely breezy way of saying things....And it's almost as good as a yarn with you to read one. I just simmer and grin to myself when I do: with a sense of real contact with you.' That's what I'd like to think. I'd like to think, too, that others might learn not to be too tedious in the exposition of whatever Gospel they may be espousing, particularly that associated with the two nineteenth century God-men at the centre of the Bahá'í paradigm. But I am more inclined to think these letters simply preserve a record of a life or a period of four epochs in the historical development of a new world Faith. Perhaps I give my life and times "a fresh and novel colouring;" perhaps I make the whole world interested in the great experiment of which I am but a part. Again, I'd like to think so. But it is difficult to know. In a world of mass entertainment, a diversified print and electronic media, collections of letters don't rate highly on the scale of popular interest, as I've already said. That's just a simple fact. A coterie of people, it seems to me, may take an interest in these letters. One day in a world of say, twelve billion, in which the Bahá'í Faith is playing an important role in a future world Order, that coterie may be a significant number. We shall see.

These letters 'hang there,' as Thomas Carlyle wrote of the letters of Oliver Cromwell, 'in the dark abysses of the Past: if like a star almost extinct, yet like a real star; fixed ...once a piece of the general fire and light of Human life.' Or, indeed, my letters may become extinct. The nine hundred letters of Cicero written in the middle of the first century BC were one of the first, arguably the first, in history to give us an understanding of the times. Of course he had, and his society had, no telephone, fax, email, computer, et cetera, to convey messages. The letter was, for perhaps two and a half millennia, much more crucial as a genre of communication. Somewhere in the nineteenth century, gradually, letters, like biographies, became much more human and revealing, not like the wax figures they had been. After perhaps a century and a half of this fresh wind, my letters join, add-onto this new tradition. Perhaps readers will find here: the creative fact, the fertile fact, the engendering fact. One can but hope. However much my life and my thinking have been focussed on a single point, elaborated across a wide field of action and behaviour, I would think my letters are a good illustration of the application, the delineation, of this focus. During these four epochs there was so much happening in the public and private spheres to fragment daily life.

Signs of the continuous evolution of a lifelong scheme of devotion are difficult to describe without appearing to be fanatical or obsessive or unduely pious, in a world that has lost any interest in piety. Years even decades of concentrated effort are easy to accummulate but the evidences of that effort are not as easy to amass given the hurried, the frenetic, excitements of modern society which militate against any pretensions of devotion to a single purpose. Daily life, indeed, one's entire life, tends to be fragmentary because we live in a perpetual hurry. And even when not in a hurry we get inundated in our daily life by a host of usually disconnected, often interesting and stimulating but so frequently, if not always, fragmentary events and happenings, news and entertainment. If a life of devotion involves any serious writing as mine clearly does, the vast accumulation of materials and the demand for exhaustive inquiry often overpower the potential and would-be-conscientious writer. Should he or she go down the literary trail it often becomes difficult to maintain vivacity and spontaneity. If writers can not bring the stars of the universe closer, if they cannot wake their fellow human beings up, give them a certain morning freshness and elan, some sparkle of understanding, they might be advised to pursue other lines of work. For, as Lord Altrincham, noted with some humour and some truth, 'autobiograpy is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.'

Here are four letters taken somewhat at random from my collection. Readers will not find here in this autobiography much of my letter collection, but I include a few to illustrate various themes. The first is written to a radio station program presenter for a discussion program on a particular theme: the topic of early retirement. It seemed a fitting topic for, at the time of writing the letter, I had been retired from my career for eighteen months. I strive to address both the universal and the individual in my letters, both the quick and the dead as Dickinson put it referring to the living souls and the dead of spirit, the quotidian and the philosophical. I try to leave meaning unsettled or open-ended, organized but not a simple step-by-step series of prose assertions. I often bow to convention, to cliched phrases, like the ending of letters which are often more conventional courtesies than content.

All letter writers have a landscape, a background, a mise-en-scene: perhaps some great city, like Boswell's historic London; or some rural milieux of beauty like Wordsworth's Lake District; some intense social activity like Evelyn Waugh's twentieth-century London; a world of travelling like D.H. Lawrence; a particular correspondent as did Joseph Conrad; or some of what the writer thinks and feels as was the case with Alexander Pushkin. There is a little of many landscapes or backgrounds in my correspondence, spread as it is over nearly forty years now.

6 Reece Street
George Town
Tasmania 7253

4 October 2000

Dear Rebecca

The program Life Matters today, Wednesday October 4th, was on the theme 'Taking Time Out.' I won't try to summarize all the points made by the guests: Ester Buchholz, Margaret Murton and Gavin Smith and the many callers discussing as they were, what one speaker called 'the neurosis of our time: a lack of aloneness.' I will briefly tell of my own experience here in this letter. Fit in what you can when, and if, you read this letter.

Eighteen months ago I retired after 30 years as a teacher in primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions. I was fifty-five and, with community obligations outside my classroom in the evening and on weekends, I felt 'talked-and-listened-out.' I felt I had had enough. I wanted some time out. I wanted to give some time to what had become a personal, a private, interest in reading and writing poetry. In the last 18 months I have had six to ten hours a day given to this engaged, alone, solitary, stimulating exercise.

The person who takes on such a 'time-out' over extended periods of time needs to know themselves, though. I knew I had to cater to my social side. I could not cut it all out or I'd get some kind of withdrawal symptoms. So I spend time helping organizing the local seniors' group; I have a radio program for half an hour a week; I am involved with the Bahá'í community and my wife's family here in northern Tasmania. All of these activities together do not involve a lot of time, but they give me that needed social contact, that balance between solitude and being with others, which I find essential to my comfortableness.

I would not go back to the work-a-day world. After a lifetime of talking and listening, I knew at 55 I had had enough of full time engagement with others. I wanted time out to engage in interests that did not involve people at all. I got it. After 18 months I feel the story has just begun. And it has. Gerontologists are talking about our living to well over 100 if we take care of ourselves. they talk, too, of the loneliness of the aged. I see no evidence of that emotional construct on my horizon but, who knows, I could be back with people one day. For it's possible that, at 55, my life is just half over!

Cheers

Ron Price
George Town
Tasmania

This letter to the program presenters of an ABC Radio program Life Matters is one of a type that I sent over the years to various people in the media to drop a gentle note from the sweet-scented stream of eternity into someone's lap. It was a form of teaching I was able to do but, like so many forms, it was always difficult to measure its effectiveness, its result.

This next letter is one written to my family members thirty-one years after leaving Canada, thirty-five years after leaving southern Ontario and nearly forty years since I had seen any of them. Eight months before writing this letter I did have a visit with my cousin, my mother's sister's son, David, himself a retired teacher as well, and his wife, Barbara.

Dear Dave and Barb

Time seems to go by faster as you get older, you hear it said so often, and it certainly seems to be the case. I'll soon be sixty and I assume, as long as I am in good health and I have a range of interests, the years will spin by 'irretrievably from my grasp' as one writer put it. And so is this true of all of us. And so the time has come again for the annual letter to what is for me about a dozen or so friends and relatives, the periodic up-date of events in this swiftly passing life. At one level not a lot seems to take place: the same routines, habits and activities fill the days as they did this time last year. At another level a great deal takes place. On the international and national landscape the events continue to be of apocalyptic/cataclysmic proportions as they have been off and on it would seem since 1914--or, as the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued persuasively , since about 500 BC. Mark Twain once said that to write about everything that took place would make a mountain of print for each year. James Joyce produced several hundred pages to describe one day in his book Ulysseys. I'll try to reduce the mountain of life to a small hill or two in this email.

Chris and I have been here in George Town at the end of the Tamar River in northern Tasmania for three years and three months. Daniel has been with us and working at the Australian Maritime College as a research engineer for two of these years. He is happier with his job now than he was in the first year, although occasionally he applies for another job somewhere for graduate engineers; Chris is not suffering from ill-health quite as much as this time last year, having received some useful medication from her doctor and treatment from an osteopath. Both Dan and Chris plug along battling with the forces that destiny or fate, divine will or predestination, free will or determinism, circumstance or socialization throw up for them to deal with from day to day.

I feel as if I have completed the first stage of my final domestic training program that qualifies me for shared-existence with Chris in matters relating to hearth and home. I seem to have been a difficult student but, after nearly four years of being 'under-foot' we seem to have worked out a reasonable modus vivendi(those four years of Latin in high school were unquestionably of some value). The in-house training had been rigorous, to say the least, but I received a passing grade-which was all I was after! And now for the second stage....

My step-daughters continue their work, Vivienne as a nurse in the ICU at the Laun- ceston General Hospital(20 hrs/wk) and Angela in public relations for an international firm centred in Bali. Thankfully Angela did not suffer from the recent bombings in a place that had been seen(until the bombings) somewhat paradisiacally in the Indian Ocean, although even Bali has had its traumatic problems in the last few decades as a brief history of the place will reveal. I wonder if there are any places in the world left which haven't been significantly touched by the changing landscape and the traumas of our times. Angela travels for a real estate firm selling time-share apartments. Lives seem to be busy, active things, for those you know well, those whose lives are intertwined with your own and I could write chapter and verse on all the comings and goings of family and various close friends. But I think this will suffice for an annual letter.

I continue writing, an activity which was one of the main reasons I retired at the early age of 55. After nearly four years away from the work-a-day world, I get the occasional magazine and journal article published(listed on the Net in section 24 part (v) of my Website). It's all just smalltime stuff you might call it, nothing to make me famous or rich, sad to say. My website is now spread over 15 locations on the Inter- net. The simplest spot to locate my material is at http://users.intas.net.au/pricerc or go to the Yahoo search engine. You can also find me at the 'Poetry Superhighway.' Then go to 'Individual Poets Pages' and type 'Ron Price.' I also finished a book of some 80 thousand words on the poetry of a Canadian poet who passed away in 1993: Roger White. You can locate this book at http://bahai-library.com/books/white. Of course, much of this material may not interest you. Poetry is not everyone's game even if it's spiced with lots of prose. Don't feel any obligation to check it out, just if it interests you. It will give you an idea of some of the stuff that goes on in my head, for what it's worth. Other than these Internet developments my day to day habits and activities are much the same as last year at this time: walks, presenting a radio-pro- gram, 2 hours of teaching/ week, two meetings(school/Bahá'í)/month, radio/TV programs to take in, lots of reading, etc...

You may find my writing a little too subjective, introspective. Like Thoreau I seem to be more interested in the natural history of my thought than of the bird life, the flora and fauna that I find here in Tasmania. I read recently that Thoreau took twelve years to identify a particular bird. I found that fact comforting. I understand, for I have the devil of a time remembering the names of the birds, the plants and the multitude of insects that cross my path and my horizon from month to month. But what I lack, what interest is deficient with respect to the various forms of plant and animal life here in the Antipodes, I make up for in my study of the varied humanities and social sciences. In the three decades of my teaching career I have acquired, if I acquired nothing else, a passion for certain learnings, certain fields of study. My study is littered, I like to think ordered, by files on: philosophy, psychology, media studies, ancient and medieval history, modern history, literature, poetry, religion, inter alia. I move from one field to another from day to day and week to week and I can not imagine ever running out of gas, of enthusiasm, interest. Thus, I occupy my time.

One delightful event this year which I'd like to comment on was a visit with my cousin Dave Hunter, his wife Barb as well as Arlene, the wife of another cousin, John Cornfield. I had not seen any of my family members for some forty years and we had a day in Melbourne travelling hither and yon, eating delicious meals and getting caught up on many years of life. I found I had an appreciation for my family that had got lost in the mists of time living as I have been since my mid-twenties first in the far-north of Canada and then on a continent far removed from North America. There is nothing like forty years absence to make the heart grow fonder and give one a fresh appreciation for one's family.

As you all get stuck into winter(at least those of you in Canada who receive this email), summer is just beginning here with temperatures going into the mid-twenties in the daytime occasionally on the hottest days and the low-to-mid teens at night. This is about as hot as it gets in any part of the summer in this section of northern Tasmania. I look forward to your annual letters again this year in the weeks ahead and to the news from your life and your part of the world. Am happy to write again in another email to anyone wanting to write occasionally in more detail on whatever subject but, if that does not eventuate, I look forward to writing to you again at the end of 2003. I trust the up-coming season and holiday is a happy one and the Canadian winter(or the Australian summer, as the case may be) is not too extreme this year.

Greetings and salutations

Ron
For Ron, Chris and Dan Price

PS I'll send this a little early again this year to avoid the Christmas rush of letters/cards and emails.

My letters, it seems to me, do not have that naturalness and general amiability that the poet Matthew Arnold possessed. He was endowed with a sunny temper, a quick sympathy and inexhaustible fun. I have some of these qualities and more now that I do not have to struggle with a bi-polar disorder, the endless responsibilities of job and a large Bahá'í community. Arnold was endowed with self-denial; indeed it was a law of his life; he taxed his ingenuity to find words of encouragement when he wrote letters. I do, too, but I don't tax myself too much. They come quite naturally really, but self-denial is not a quality that I feel particularly well endowed with. Perhaps I was once, but less so in recent years. As the years have gone on into late middle age, I have slowly discovered, as William James put it, 'the amount of saintship that best comports' with what I believe to be in my powers and consistent with my 'truest mission and vocation.' We were both men who were, for the most part, free from bitterness, rancour and envy and, it seems to me, this is reflected in our letters. But the inhibition of instinctive repugnances, perhaps one of saintship's most characterisitc qualities, is difficult to determine by an examination of a person's letters.

I take much pleasure from most of my letter writing which obviously the poet Samuel Johnson did not. I don't think my letters have that 'easy power' which those of Henry James possessed. Indeed, so much of their content, it seems to me, is repetitious. In a large collection of letters, like a large collection of life, repetition it seems to me, is unavoidable. I am encouraged, though, by some of the remarks of language philosopher Roland Barthes. He says that readers learn how to acquire the experience of those people they are reading. Rather than being consumers of my letters, then, they become producers. This is partly because literature, of which letters and autobiography are but a part, takes in all human experience, ordering, interpreting and articulating it. Readers learn "to set aside many of the particular conditions, concerns and idiosyncrasies which help define them in everyday affairs."

And so I have hope that what may be for many readers a banal collection of decades of letters, may be for others a body of print that will arouse a response in the reading self, the reading system, the meaning, the identity, system, of others. Perhaps, too, that response will be something quite significant, something that their interpretive principles allow them to see and that even a relaxation of cultivated analytical habits which often happens while reading a letter may help them to see. Of course, whatever reasonable arguments I present, whatever challenges to magnanimity I raise, they are, again, as William James puts it so succinctly, 'folly before crocodiles.'
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Here is an introduction I wrote to a collection of letters to Bahá'í institutions in Canada going back to 1979. By 1979 I had been an international pioneer for eight years and a pioneer for seventeen. This letter I keep in a two-volume, two two-ring binder, set to institutions and individuals in Canada.

INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 4.1

Who knows what will become of all these letters, now contained in some fifteen volumes of assorted sizes and contents. 'Letters enabled Emily Dickinson to control the time and place of her relationships,' writes James Lowell in his introduction to a volume of her letters.1 I'm sure they have a similar function for me; I have become even more conscious of this as the email grew and developed throughout the 1990s and became a more important part of my life and as my world of employment became a world of retirement filled as it was with writing and reading. I do not keep a copy of all my emails, only the main ones. Since so many emails are of the short and snappy variety, basically a form of entertainment, 'the funny' and 'the wee-wisdom', as I call them, the variety which exercises that control which Lowell speaks of in a light way, an important part of this new variety of my correspondence I simply do not keep a record of in my files. I suppose, though, that since they are never recorded in the first place, it will never be missed.2

Lord Melbourne, writing about George Crabbe, indicated that 'I am always glad when one of those fellows dies, for then I know I have the whole of him on my shelf.'3 There is certainly a type of person, perhaps many, a variety of selves, a type of prose, that is unique to the letter. I sensed I had something of Roger White when I had even the few letters he wrote to me in one file on my shelf. The sombre and weird outlook in Dickinson's poetry, by no means the prevailing condition of her mind, is not pre- sent in her gay and humorous letters. For those inclined to judge White too harshly or strongly from some of his poetry, if they read his letters, they would get quite a different picture of that wonderful poet. I leave it to future commentators to evaluate this dichotomy between my correspondence and the other genres of my writing, should they wish to do so. No amount of imaginative activity can recreate a genuine experience of things and letters convey the timbre and tone, the texture and the reality of genuine experience. The necessary narrative ability in writing a letter to order and unify the past, present and future, coloured by words and the imaginative function that dances with them seems to be a rare and creative gift. But, as Sharon Cameron notes in her analysis of Emily Dickinson's letters, they may "tell us more about postures that replace relationships than the relationships themselves" however creative and imaginative they may be.

Letters at one time in history had a function, at least in the more literate quarters, that is conveyed in the following quotation from David Marr's introduction to a collection of Patrick White's letters:

Are there no letters? There's nothink I like better than a read of a good
letter. Look and see, Mrs. Goosgog, if you can't find me a letter. I'm
inclined to feel melancholy at this time of night.4
-The Ham Funeral

The TV, video and the DVD proably have this entertaining function now, largely replacing any function the letter may have had to keep people amused. As I indicated above, the letter may even have been on the verge of extinction had it not been for the email's resurrecting role. As the 1990s progressed, the email came to dominate the landscape and replace the letter. With the world population doubling in these three epochs, too, I'm sure the letter/email is now in safe hands, even if nine-tenths of the production is not worth saving or pondering over after an initial read.

And so here, in this small volume, the reader will find my correspondence (i) with the Canadian magazine Bahá'í Canada going back to 1985, fourteen years after I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer, (ii) with the International Pioneer Committee as far back as 1979 and (iii) from National Convention communications with pioneers overseas from 1990. With its companion Volume 4.2 any interested reader will get a correspondence from Canada to and from a pioneer overseas in the third, forth and one day soon fifth epochs of the Formative Age.

Perhaps at a future time I will provide a more extended analysis of this collection, but for now this material is at least placed in a deserving context for future readers.

1 James R. Lowell in The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Vol.1, T.H. Johnson, editor, Belknap Press, 1958, p.xix.
2 See my collection of unpublished essays. they are now in the Bahá'í Academic Resource Library. I have written a 2000 word essay on the 'funnies and wee-wisdoms' email style.
3 Christopher Ricks, Beckett's Dying Words, Oxford UP, NY, 1996, p.205.
4 David Marr, Patrick White's Letters, Random House, 1994, p.vi.

Ron Price
10 February 2000

Such are the introductory words to another volume of letters, one of many introductons written in the fourth decade of this pioneering venture.
_____________________________________________________________________

And finally, on this subject of the letter, let me add this short essay in relation to a special type of letter, the job application, which was arguably the dominant form of letter I wrote during all my pioneering and job-seeking life, 1961-2001.

INTRODUCTION TO FILE OF JOB APPLICATION LETTERS

This is Section X of the 'Letters' part of my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. 99% of the letters which I wrote in connection with job seeking are not in this file; indeed there is very little in the way of correspondence here in this two-ring binder. This file was opened on the day of my last interview with 'Mission Employment', the private provider whose role was to help me get a job. I was told in this last interview, in May 2001, that I would be able to receive a Disability Pension and would no longer have to look for work. And so the job-hunting period of my life had ended: 1961-2001.

The file contains all that might be useful at some future time in connection with getting a job, should the desire to resume some kind of employment, full or part-time, return to my sensory repertoire. This file will also serve as my archival file on the 'job hunting' topic, a process I began in about May of 1961 to obtain a summer job while I was in high school. I have now been on a Disability Service Pension for 14 months and it does not appear that I will be seeking employment in the near future, although I may take up some Bahá'í service position one day. If historian Michael Oakeshott is right when he says that great achievements are often accomplished "in the mental fog of practical experience,' then it may be that I achieved great things over these years, for there was certainly plenty of that mental fog.

During the forty year period, 1961 to 2001, I was out of work for four years due to illness and unemployment. During the years 1961 to 1967 I worked at summer jobs for an average of three months each year and was a student for those same years. This student life could be quantified as: 9 x 6=54 months or 4 1/2 years. My student/ working life totalled, then, 36 years beginning in 1961. So summarizes some of the quantitative aspects of my working/student life. During those 36 years, about 90 per cent of the forty year student/working life period, I applied for some 4000 jobs, an average of about two a week for all those years.

One day I may write a more complete statement in relation to 'job hunting' and the contents of this file but, for now, this will suffice to provide a general overview of an activity that occupied a central part of my life for forty years and was one of the major three or four of life's 'tasks.' Making one's experience, fragmentary and in a jumble as it often is, into an intelligible form requires some trimming and shaping. To see and find coherence, pattern and a self-contained world of ideas and events requires some sort of intellectual organization. The historical past, both the big picture of history and the microworld of one's own life, is often complex in the extreme. Unity of feeling and a clear outline often eludes the would-be-autobiographer or historian.

Ron Price
26 July 2002
_____________________________________________________________________

Randall Jarrell says that Robert Frost's letters "unmask" him "at least partially". They also show that "his life was as unusual as his poetry." I'm not so sure that is true of me and my life. It is very hard to judge your own work and your life. Jarrell also says that Frost was very concerned to know what others thought of his work and whether he was "any good."1 This subject of the reactions of others to my work, particularly my poetry, also interests me, but I know that this is always an unknown land filled with so many different reactions from total indifference to great enthusiasm. I must leave the evaluation of my letters to future readers. For I can't imagine any interest being shown in my letters except perhaps when I am so old as not to care a jot or a tittle what people think.

Now that I have passed out of the shadow of decades of manic-depression, or the bi-polar tendency as it is now called, thanks to two medications: lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine; now that I have passed out of the shadow of a working-meetings-talk-and-listen week of 50 to 60 hours, there is an emotional steadiness to my everyday experience that generates, that provides, a subtle and a quiet exquisiteness that augers well for the years ahead and for the writing program that I am presently embarked upon. Even at my weakest and most exhausting moments which in the past were often filled with the wishes of thanatos, the depths of depression can not be visited. It is as if there is a wall of emotional protection that won't let my spirit descend into the depths, even though death is sometimes wished for late at night, from midnight to dawn, out of a certain tedium vitae and a complex of factors I'm not sure I fully understand myself.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine "what really happened" in life, as distinct from simply "what the evidence obliges me to believe." What is known in one's life or in history is never fixed, finished or independent. Our life, like history itself, is created, revived, re-enacted, re-presented again and again in our mind's eye. All autobiographers can do, or their fathers the historians, is to shape the rudimentary collection of ideas about the multi-coloured and multi-layered narrative of life into an intelligible idiom. Some of the events are understood better than when they happened, when they were lived, and some are not. Some are completely forgotten and some one goes over in one's mind ad nauseam. Some become part of the great mystery that is life and some become part of the great foam and chaff that disappears on the shore of the sea. Some of my life can fit into the model, the framework, I give to it. Some can not be fitted in to any pattern, any grand design or sweeping theme, no matter how I chop and analyse the experiences. Whatever unity and pattern there is, I must construct myself; it is I who confer any novel coherence onto the whole, any shifts of direction in life's expression, any understanding on the changes and chances of the world.

My relationship with my wife is more comradely and affectionate, more united, after years of difficulties, after nearly forty years of difficulties in two marriages. We are more accepting of each other's peculiarities, shortcomings and eccentricities. There is lots of space between us as we share the solitude of life, as Rilke describes it in his Letters and there is, too, a fresh spark of delight that accompanies the familiarity. I could write extensively about my wife, so important is she to this entire story. But were I to do so it would lead to prolixity. So, instead, I will write about her from time to time as the occasion arises in what has become a 725 page book.

A poem of Emily Dickinson is timely here, timely in relation to all the sad aspects of the past which she says can 'silence' us, if we give them too much of our time, if we 'challenge' them. Dickinson, who writes a very useful juxtaposition of prose and poetry in her letters, prose that opens into poetry and poetry that opens into prose, writes:

That sacred Closet when you sweep--
Entitled 'Memory'--
Select a reverential Broom--
And do it silently.

'Twill be a Labour of surprise--
Besides Identity
Of other Interlocutors
A probability--

August the Dust of that Domain--
Unchallenged--let it lie--
You cannot supersede itself.
But it can silence you.

And in a short poem that that talks of her desire of a "fairer house" for her expression than prose alone could build, she writes:

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous for Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

I like that attitude to letters that Dickinson describes. Her letters construct "possibility." I like, too, that attitude to the past that Dickinson describes so succinctly in the above poem. There is a reverence, a sacredness, to memory, a need to let it lie in its august state, a recognition that it is a source of our identity, a need for silence while following its paths and always the possibility that it can take over your life if you let it and, of course, often you do. For, however sacred it may be, there is an enormous tangle to our days, a tangle, as Germaine Greer describes it, 'of telling, not telling, leading, misleading, allowing others to know, concealing things from others, eavesdropping, collusion, being frank and honest, telling lies, half-truths, white lies, letting out some of our story now, some of it later, some of it never."

'Pure autobiographies are written,' wrote Friedrich Von Schlegel, 'by those fascina- ted by their own egos as was Rousseau; or by authors of a robust or adventuresome self-love as was Cellini; or by born historians and writers who regard their life as material for future historians and writers; or by pedantic minds who want to order their lives before they die and need a commentary on their life.' I suppose there is some of me in each of these characterizations of the autobiographer. Let me include two poems about this autobiographical process because, it seems to me, the process is as important as the content of autobiography.

HONEST AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Kevin Hart, a poet who lives in Australia, says that writing poetry is about retrieving something you have lost. When you write a poem you lose that thing again, but you find it by writing about it--indirectly. This indirection involves, among other things, finding how to write about this lost person, place or thing in your life.1 One thing I find I lose frequently and have to retrieve, recreate, find again in a new, a fresh way, a way with hopefully more understanding than when I last passed by, is history, mine and all that is the world's. I need a narrative, a chronological, base to bring out the truth of the past; I need silence to contemplate the sources of inspiration and know- ledge; I need to be able to tell a good story in my poetry for this is what will give it enduring literary worth. Oliver Goldsmith once said, "the most instructive of all histories would be each man's honest autobiography."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Kevin Hart, "Poetica," ABC Radio National, 2:05-2:45 pm, 3 November 2001; and 2 Mark S. Phillips, "Reconsiderations on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain," The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.57, No.2, pp.297-316.

Can we have a dialogue
with all that is and would be?
Can we enjoy a special happiness
in the energy of contemplation,
honoured as we are
with the two most luminous lights
in either world?
Can we work
with this structure and this Plan
travelling as we do
or staying put in this one place?

Two great tendencies
seem to fill the mind:
mystery and analysis
before the ever-varying splendour
and the embellishment of grace
from age to age.

Ron Price
3 November 2001

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FEVER

Price's attitude to his poetry was not unlike that of Sylvia Plath's. He saw himself as an artisan. He was an artisan with an idea. All of his poems began with an idea, a concept, a something; at worst the beginning of a poem was what Roger White called a poor connection on a telephone line. But it was a connection. Sometimes the connection was sharp and clear. He was happy to flow down whatever river the water was willing to go down, to make whatever product he could make, as long as it exhausted all his ingenuity in the process, as long as the water flowed to the sea becoming part of that great body of life. Sometimes Price's poetry was confessional, showed the indictment of immediate experience. Some of his work was what Robert Lowell once described, in reference to the poetry written in the last year of Plath's life, as the autobiography of a fever. Sometimes Price would disappear into his poem and become one with it. -Ron Price with thanks to Stanley Plumly, 'What Ceremony of Words,' Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath, editor, Paul Alexander, Harper & Row, NY, 1985, pp.13-17.

You were always an intruder, then,
in the natural world, self-conscious,
uneasy, an unreal relation to the grass,
better to withdraw, you thought,
and did, right out of it into oblivion.1

I've earned my place, especially now,
after all these years; there's a sacredness
here and in the grass; there's a glory
in this day, the day in which the fragrances
of mercy have been wafted over all things2
and there is the in-dwelling God
to counter the scorn, contempt,
bitterness and cynicism
that fills the space and time
of so many of the spaces
of modern life.

Part of the entire stream, the river of life;
part of a global sanctification,
far from any emotional cul-de-sac,
any bell jar, close to truth's irrefutable
and exciting drama, but far, far
from the Inaccessible, the Unsearchable,
the Incomprehensible: no man can sing
that which he understandeth not.3

I belong here, Sylvia,
in this incredible universe.
I was just getting launched
when you were bowing out;
you'd been trying to bow out since 19534
when I'd just breathed the first words
and the Kingdom of God on earth
had begun in all its glorious unobtrusiveness.

1 Sylvia Plath's suicide in 1962
2 Bahá'u'lláh, Tablet of Carmel.
3 Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Prayers, p.121.
4 Plath's first attempt at suicide was in 1953.

Ron Price
23 February 2000

I'd like to think that one day I might have some of the experience that Thomas Carlyle had back in 1866, as the very outset of a new Revelation that Carlyle had absolutely no awareness of in the England of his home. In that year, two months after the death of his wife, he was reading some of her letters from the year 1857. He said he found in those "dear records a piercing radiancy of meaning." Carlyle wanted his own letters preserved as a record of his life so that his record would be "as full as possible."

Carlyle writes eloquently concerning the value of letters, the careful preservation of them, the authentic presentation of them and an adequate elucidation of them by future critics. In this age of speed, of the email, of the burgeoning of communication in all its forms, I hesitate to wax enthusiastic about the value of letters. Instead I simply leave them for a future generation and wait to see what those mysterious dispensations of Providence will bring. So much of life is waiting. Indeed, as one definition of faith I always liked put it: faith is the patience to wait.

For a perspective on this theme of faith I conclude this chapter with a letter and a poem, one of the few poems I have written thanks to Emily Dickinson which I feel has been successful. She was a great letter-writer, a great sufferer and an enigmatic person which, in the end, I think we all are.

ANGELS

The unseen heroism of private suffering surpasses that to be found on any visible battlefield...the lonely soul's unnoticed though agonized struggle with itself....the struggle for higher life within the least believer partakes of the same basic ingredients as the most heroic....The ordinary self must respond to the dull pain at the heart of its present existence. -With thanks to Benjamin Lease and Geoffrey Nash in Emily Dickinson's Readings of Men and Books, MacMillan, London, 1990, p.69 and 'The Heroic Soul and the Ordinary Self' Bahá'í Studies, Vol.10, p.28 and 25, respectively.

Success is counted sweetest
when life has given all,
even if in bits and pieces
amidst its ever-present call.

A nectar goes right into
the marrow of the bone
as if destroying cancer
in the centre of one's home.

There is an outer victory;
'tis measured every day,
tho' so frequnetly it's defeat
that faces us when we pray.

Then there is what's inner;
few can define its charms,
slowly distant strains of triumph
burst free of all alarms.

All those many losses
on all those battlefields
proceed this plumed procession,
a rank of angels heals.

Ron Price
29 October 1995

And so, at the end of several thousand letters, at the end of all the battles and the losses, I anticipate that there will be "a rank of angels" who will, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá puts it in so many different ways in His Memorials of the Faithful, be there as I am "plunged into the ocean of light." And there, "lapped in the waters of grace and forgiveness" I shall review my days on this earthly plane which passed as swiftly as the twinkling of a star. I trust I will be able to recall that I made my mark at what was a crucial turning point of a juncture in human history the like of which never came again in the story of human civilization. Will I be able to recall, at that future time, a time beyond time in that Undiscovered Country, deeds that have ensured for me "celestial blessings?" Will there be regrets and remorse? Will letters continue to be written in that place? Who knows!

Here is a letter, the penultimate letter to those I worked with in the teaching profession in Perth sent eighteen months after I left the classroom and at the start of my fortieth year of pioneering, written from Tasmania where I began the years of my retirement.

6 Reece Street
George Town
Tasmania 7253

Email Address: pricerc@tas.quik.com.au

8 September 2000

G'day from Tasmania!

It has been nearly a year since I wrote to you folks at the Thornlie Campus of the SEMC of Tafe but, since I have been thinking recently of the place where I spent more than ten years teaching, I felt like writing. John Bailey, now a retired Tafe teacher, writes occasionally, as do several of the Bahá'ís and others that Chris and I got to know in Perth. Sometimes we get a phone call and, on one occasion, a visit from a student. So we keep in touch in one way or another. Most emails and letters end, though, within the first few years after moving from a town or city. Such are the perils of living in two dozen towns over your adult life. There was, though, one chap I wrote to for a dozen years from 1980 to 1992 and we never even met. He was a poet who lived in Israel at the time and passed away in his early sixties, in 1993.

It has been 18 months since teaching my last class in Human Services and 12 months since my wife, Chris, and I moved to George Town in Tasmania. Time flies! I'm glad I pulled the plug when I did at the ripe old age of fifty-five. The time was right for me. It felt right in leaving and the first 18 months have confirmed that was the right decision. Twenty-nine years in the game was enough for me. Centrelink and the several private employment providers don't put any significant pressure on you here in northern Tasmania, a region of high unemployment. The concept of 'mutual obligation' has not resulted in me taking on any jobs I don't want. I have a Web Page which is considered 'an embryonic business' by Centrelink; I also work for a home tutoring organization in Victoria and am the President of the George Town School for Seniors. The total time per month, in recent months, on all of these 'exercises' together is about two to three hours. Of course, in addition to the above, I must apply for 3 jobs/fortnight and that takes, roughly, two hours a week of various forms of paper-schuffling. It is a pleasing change from the mountains of marking and endless talking and listening.

When I left the classroom in early April last year I was really emotionally worn-out, in 'emotional labour,' I think was the term I came across on a Four Corners program about Call Centres I saw a few weeks ago. It was not just a fatigue with teaching but, it would appear in retrospect, a fatigue with a range of other social obligations I was involved with in Perth. Wall-to-wall talking and listening. Now, after 18 months, I have just enough social contact to satisfy my needs for sociability and enough time in solitude to cater to that other side of me. I have a weekly radio program on the local community radio station which I run for the Bahá'ís of Launceston; and there are activities in the Bahá'í community in Tasmania to keep me in touch with humanity and prevent me from becoming the total hermit which part of my personality seems to need at the moment. I write lots of poetry and prose, read lots of books, walk 45 minutes every day and argue more with my wife, who has been going through meno- pause and giving me the biggest challenge of my early time of retirement.

George Town is a town of about 8000 people. I look out my lounge room window (the whole wall is window) and can see the Tamar River, the Bass Strait and the Asbestos Mtns(soon to be renamed). Winter temperatures go down to zero to five at the low end and ten to fifteen in the day. Things are warming up now in the early days of spring, but won't get to the high temperatures of Perth, perhaps thirty degrees once or twice during the whole summer. We are half an hour from Launceston and other critical points on the Tamar River where my wife's family lives. My family, consisting now only of cousins and their children in Canada, might as well be on another planet. One perfunctory letter a year is the only contact left now. Moving many thousands of miles from home, after thirty years, tends to limit intimacy in most cases. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, only to a point, I guess.

I do not miss teaching, although I enjoyed it immensely for most of the time I was in Perth. I get my kicks from writing and reading, a lot of little things, and the slower pace of life. I think one needs to get some intellectual/psychological/emotional sub- stitute for whatever one gets from the teaching profession, if one is not to hanker after it when it's gone. Of course, we are all different and must work out our own game plan, so to speak.

I have been thinking of Thornlie Tafe, where I spent ten pretty intense years, in the last week or so when I've been out for my walks in the bush near my home here in George Town, and so I decided to write. If any of you feel like writing do so; I'd love to hear from you. But I know you are all busy and getting in gear for the last term of another year. After living in so many towns since I left my home town in 1962, I find the places I have lived in become a little like chapters in a book, slices of memory.

Time moves us all on, whether peripatetic creatures like myself or more sedentary types who live and die in the same city. I have happy memories of Thornlie from 1989 to 1999; one leaves a little of oneself wherever one dwells. And so I write this letter.

I wish you all well in your own careers and in your personal lives. May you all be survivors and, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, if you can't find much happiness perhaps you can settle for measures of pleasure that you can tease out of existence. I will enclose 3 or 4 poems to that end.

Cheers!


Ron Price

encl.: poems(4)

I will not include those poems here, but I will quote the prolific letter writer Anais Nin who said that "the living moment is caught and in catching this moment, by accumulation and by accretion, a personality emerges in all its ambivalences, contradictions and paradoxes--in its most living form." Some of me the reader will find here in this chapter. If readers want any more of the personas they have found here, they are advised to go to my collections of letters. And there they will find the dispersed and isolated facts of my life and some of continuity's threads. But there is much in my life that is not in my letters. My childhood, adolescence and, indeed, much of my adulthood is just not there, for there are no letters for long periods of my life. Readers are best advised to go to films of the period, the print and electronic media and books from the last half of the twentieth century. These letters and my life provide only a small window. Although much of the electronic media is bubble and froth, light and noise and, although its mindlessness may be having a negative affect on western civilization, there is much there that can supplement rather than supplant the civilization of the book and fill in a picture of society and life that my letters, no matter how comprehensive and exhausting, simply can not describe.

In the foreword to a collection of the letters of poet Robert Frost, Louis Untermeyer wrote that Frost's letters provided a "portrait of a man and his mind" and "a gradually unfolding and ungarded autobiography." The same could be said of the collection of my own letters and the thousands of pages found therein. There are vivid pictures of character and personality and glimpses into life, art and the meaning of the Bahá'í experience over several epochs found in these letters. But whether a future reader can find me in my art, my letters, is questionable. Freud did not think it was possible and an able novelist like Henry James challenged his future biographers to find him in his art, is novels and his letters and in his many moods.

As epoch followed epoch, first the third, then the fourth and finally the fifth, as this autobiography finally found its form, western culture became increasingly complex, although there were strong currents of conformity, perhaps as there always had been and as there always would be for the social animal who was man. I like to think, although it is difficult for me to measure, that there was a gradual evolution in my personal letter writing style, evidence of a search for delicacies of feeling and the intricacies and subtleties of human beings in community. This was true of the letters of Henry James, wrote Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James. I find it difficult to discern the quality of my own letters but, as the outward battle of life lost its fire and its heat by the turn of the millennium, the interior world felt vivified and redeemed. The former enthusiastic temper of espousal that I poured into people and relationships with that 'rapturousness of life' that James writes about, I came to pour into the intellectual side of life by the year 2000.

Some biographers and autobiographers regard a judicious selection of letters as the most useful and succinct aid to their task that there is. I'm not sure if that is the case, although it may be true for some people. Benjamin Franklin, for example, lived much more than he had time to write "the story that he was perpetually telling." It seems to me quite impossible to write all of life, certainly all of mine, into the shape and form of a series of letters, no matter how numerous. The electronic age has made our communications more audible and therefore, in some ways, more ephemeral and so I must confess to some skepticism regarding the future of my letters or, indeed, the future of the vast majority of letters that have been written in this new age of the print and electronic media that has emerged in the first century of the Formative Age.(1921-2021). At the same time, I am forced to admit that I have just lived through "one of the most enriching periods" in the history of the Bahá'í Faith and who knows, who can measure and define, the nature and extent of one's achievements? We, into whose hands, as Shoghi Effendi once wrote, "so precious a heritage has been entrusted" have helped in our own small ways to advance the Cause toward its high destiny in this the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history.
And the humble letter may just endure. For this Cause is, indeed, one constructed around the letter, a veritable treasure-house of correspondence. No other religion, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani notes, "has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange." And so I live in hope!

The life I have lived, and expressed as it is in the letters I have written, has made this art of writing possible. The boundaries within which I write I have set out in these letters. The energies out of which I write find their source in my religion and my experience in late middle age and these energies enable me to work hard at this literary craft. The passion to write or erotic passion seems to come unbidden although there are often specific stimuli to arouse the energies in both of these domains. The structures within which the poetic, the literary, flashes are put are, I hope, intellectually interesting. I have worked over the years to make it more distinctive. But I know from my many years as a teacher that appreciation of distinctiveness is entirely in the mind of the beholder, the reader.

The political action of ordinary people in relation to the transformation of the cultural and political landscape of Europe since the Reformation in 1517 has become a serious object of historical study. This historical study is recent. In the years since I have been pioneering, that is since 1962, ordinary people have come to occupy a much more central place in history's story. Such study naturally takes issue with previous scholarly interpretations relying as they did on elite-centred accounts of the big changes of the last five hundred years. This emphasis on ordinary people explicitly undermines these elite-centered accounts of both the Reformation and the consolidation of the peculiarly European system of states. It also brings into question the explanation of other developments and changes in western society in the last five centuries. In a far more constructive sense, however, these more recent studies of the role of ordinary human beings have broken the exclusive claims of rulers and the ruling class to political and cultural sovereignty. The ordinary citizen, by boldly entering political arenas that had been legally closed to them, helped to shape the cultural and political landscape of modern Europe. In the last forty years this fact has been at last recognized.

I mention the ordinary man, in closing this section on letters, because underpinning this autobiography is the view that ordinary people doing ordinary things within the context of the Bahá'í community can and do play an important part in contemporary history, unbeknownst to the majority of humankind. Letter-writing is just part of this ordinariness; indeed, ordinariness is enshrined in the letter making published collections of letters, for the most part, tedious reading to contemporary readers. This essay does not try to resurrect the letter from its insignificant place in the lives of pioneers around the world. That would require a much greater force than this simple essay. But, it seems to me, I have provided a context for the 3000 letters I have written which, it is my considered opinion, will remain in the dust-bin of history unread by the great majority of humankind. Given the burgeoning quantity of print human beings are and will be faced with in their lives I think that conclusion is reasonable. Time, of course, will tell.





VOLUME 1:
CHAPTER FOUR:
DIARIES AND THE TURN TO POETRY

"Enormous piles of trivia......"

One's identity is tied to an interpretive appraisal of one's personal past as it takes place in autobiographical narrative and it is inseparable from normative ideas of what a life is or what it is supposed to be, if it is lived well.1 This identity is being increasingly expressed in this new millennium in the form of memoir which, as critic James Atlas wrote, is displacing the novel. People want to read "nonfiction about ordinary people."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Mark Freeman, Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative, Routledge, London, 1993; and 2 James Atlas, New York Times Magazine, quoted in Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, Vol.19, No.2, Fall 2002.
_____________________________________________________________________

After seventeen years of haphazard diary keeping(1987-2004) there looms ahead of me the shadow of a type of diary that it has already attained to in part: some of the shadow is prospective and the other retrospective. I say 'shadow' because there is so much more that remains to be done. The retrospective part is my attempt to 'diarise' the parts of my life when I kept no diary. Virginia Woolf describes the shadow of her diary briefly in one of her essays. What will I make of the loose, drifting material of my life, as Virginia Woolf calls the material for her diary and which very accurately describes mine. Do I want it to be so elastic as to embrace anything solemn, slight, beautiful or ugly that comes to mind, a capacious hold-all? Will it, when all is said and done and the roll is called up yonder, resemble a place where I have flung a mass of odds and ends, some with reflective ardour and others with fatigue and sadness? The diary has the power to bring meaning to the otherwise random assaults of daily life. Thusfar, I find that meaning through poetry. Poetry has become my diary. And so too has this narrative autobiography, this memoir, this first person story of an ordinary person, myself. The narrative coherence and continuity that I provide through several autobiographical genres can and does counteract some of the fragmentary, impersonal nature of much of modern life and reconstruct much of le temps perdu. There is in so much of modern life an incessant stimuli, the exposure of feelings to contrasting excitations, rapidly changing, closely compressed, requiring from time to time a withdrawal from this outer world, a retreat into what you could call a blaze attitude, a protective reserve, a seclusion from stimuli and, most important to me since the age of fifty-five, an ardent journey in an intellectual life. There is even a slight aversion, a strangeness and a repulsion for much that is modern life. This dichotomy of psychic life, the enormous impact of so many stimuli and forces of modernity in part, accounts for the withdrawal into diary, into writing, into poetry, into art and the "fateful struggle," perhaps the most fateful we all experience in our time between the two ways of defining ourselves: in community and free of community.

Arendt writes that the narratable self, the story of our life "cannot be said to be a product of his or her life-story." To put this idea another way: our life, who we are, our identity, is not reducible to the contents of our story. It is rather something that is interwoven with our autobiography and coincides in complex and subtle ways with "the uncontrollable narrative impulse of memory which produces the text." This story, this narration, "reveals the finite in its fragile uniqueness." Indeed it sings its glory and tells of its tragedy. But one does not live in order to "leave behind a design, a destiny, an unrepeatable figure of one's existence." To tell a story is not our "only aspiration deserving of the fact that life was given us." But telling stories says something about the meaning of life and "the fleeting mark of a unity that is only glimpsed." "It is the gift of a moment," Cavarero writes, "in the mirage of desire." To put it even more strongly: our story and the world are "like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water but, on coming upon it, he finds it to be mere illusion." The Bee Gees put it a little differently after five decades in the world of popular music when they said 'this is where we came in.' I certainly feel an element of this, but I also feel a sense of great personal transformation as well.

Perhaps this fragility, this elusiveness, this illusionary nature of life, is why I have found diaries tedious in the composition, often pointless even as I make the entry. Diaries tell more about what we don't know and don't experience than the banalities we might enter. Is this part of the reason why so few people even keep a diary in these days of profound changes in a world history that are so little understood? Is this why, according to Hannah Arendt, it is others who must tell our story? Here is a poem that deals with diaries. There is a tendency to anaesthesia, to banality, implicit in the development of our technological society and the diary can counter some of this. Indeed, there is much in our society that can and does counter these negative tendencies, that expands our horizons, enlarges our imaginative faculties and sympathies. I like to think that the diary can animate and enlarge our response to 'the other' rather than cloistering it. As James Boswell's 'London Journal,' which covered a major portion of his life, filled more than 8000 manuscript pages, perhaps there is hope for my own. And if my journal, my diary, can not do it, poetry can.

THE EFFERVESCENCE OF THE SOUL

Some diarists, writers of memoirs, autobiographers, have very little from the hand of destiny or, even if they have, they are not able to turn what they have been given to much meaning--and if they find great meaning they are not able to put it into written form. The exercise of introspection and of soliciting the external tale of one's own life-story into some literary form does not become part of their experience. Often meaning is found, indeed, everyone finds some meaning in their lives, but it can not always be turned into a written form. With death giving chase to those who can write and with huge or not-so-huge ambitions shouting to get out, these writers turn their book into a universe over which they are the sole ruler and in which they are the only subject. The diary, the memoir, the autobiography, becomes like an addiction, a lover, a basis for scientific investigation of the self. And so often the result is, sadly, just an enormous pile of trivia, of words of 'distressing insignificance' as Andre Gide calls them. -Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Mallon, A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries, Ticknor and Fields, NY, 1984, p.286.

Some call it the poor man's art1
with a slowly accumulated past
which makes the shrinking future
bearable, as if one is writing
for some 'you', some person
never quite known.

Here you can create a life,
your flesh is made word
while time's wing'd chariot
hurries near and you hold on,
cheating the clock and death.

Some find therapeutic relaxation
in this art,
this happily lawless enterprise,
like knitting
or unpremeditated scribbling.
writing on a blank page,
a sort of chronicle of everything,
the effervescence of the soul.

Ron Price
7 October 1996

1 the art of personal reminisence in a written form.

The diary is an underrepresented and loosely conceptualized genre and can be looked upon as a more 'fluid' type of autobiography. It constitutes a valuable basis for the investigation of the strategies and influences that make up the multiple processes of our identity-construction. Several possible purposes have been suggested for a diary: expression, reflection, memory and creation. But in today's email world diaries "are virtually an archaic art form," says Australian writer Barry Oakley. They go back to Greek and Roman times. In recent centuries groups like the Society of Friends kept diaries instead of going to confession. The diary provides a type of historical artifact that gives readers access to the dividing line between public and private. A hundred years ago there was a great gulf between the two spheres; it is a gulf which has been reduced in the recent epochs of this Formative Age. Diaries are not so much the incarnations of privacy they once were. But all art is autobiographical, as Federico Fellini once said, and a diary is a form of art.

The diary has a noble and interesting lineage, a long and distinguished history. Over the years my diary has felt more archaic than noble, more tedious than stimulating, no matter whether I took a highly organized and systematic approach like Ira Progoff recommended or whether I took a more subjective and idiosyncratic approach as Anais Nin would have recommended. If Boswell was right "that a man should not live more than he can record, as a farmer should not have a larger crop than he can gather in," I should have given up diary keeping long ago, for I have lived far more than I could ever record. In this sensate culture, to use a term from the sociologist Pitrim Sorokin, the diary offers an opportunity for a short period of reflection on someting about the day, someting worth saying something about.

Had I kept a comprehensive diary it would reveal the many things I have never been good at or interested in: gardening, cooking, mechanical work, building, interior decoration, shopping, physics, fishing, outdoor camping, shooting, playing basketball or soccor, cricket or water polo. Good God! The list is endless. It is highly unlikely that when and if this journal is ever published 'many statues will come down,' as the Duke of Wellington is reported to have said. For not only have I not written about many areas where I had no interests, I have not written a great deal about so many where I did have interests. Unlike the Duke of Wellington, though, I don't have to worry about statues of myself falling down or staying up.

To record my impressions of a deepening, a Feast, a conference, a study circle, a devotional meeting, a cluster meeting, an LSA meeting, a meeting for prayer, a gathering for purely social purposes; my impressions of special committee meetings or any one of a myriad institutional meetings associated with the Cause, with the many schools where I worked as part of the teaching profession or with some sector of any one of a number of organizations I worked in during the years 1961 to 2001, and to do this with regularity, would certainly have filled up many a diary. There may have been Bahá'ís and others during these epochs who, while being able to keep up such a regimen, would never have done so. Inconvenience, a failure to appreciate the significance of the event, the lack of a desire to put those sort of experiences in writing--there are many reasons--for few descriptions of these sorts of events being left to posterity by the great masses of the faithful. There is something about routine, repetition and a complex series of circumstances unique to each person, that make these kinds of events simply impossible for virtually everyone to record in any way at all. The few that make it, the exceptions, prove the rule.

But, if Oscar Wilde was right and 'a man's face is his autobiography,' then many a story can and might yet be told. Still, I am sure that there are millions of faces which will remain undescribed and unillumined by the words of writers and poets, philosophers and academics. They will remain, as the Roman poet Horace once wrote, 'unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night,' in the main because they simply have 'no spirited chronicler,' as Horace concluded. And those who own the faces are not likely to produce the memoirs that might have given them an earthly immortality. For, as the famous English novelist George Meredith once said, memoirs are like the backstairs of history and few seem to want to describe and give an account of those stairs. Indeed, there is much that one could list as part of those backstairs, extensions of memoirs you might call them: cheque-stubs, grocery lists, a range of financial statements, doctors reports, insurance and government forms, great accummulations of personal documents of various kinds, accummulations which get higher as the years get longer.

Some of these documents and papers would or could be immensely revealing, but virtually all of them, like some vast landscape of gray detritus, will remain condemned to oblivion, to dust and ashes, as if it had never existed at all. Often the best of a person can be found in these gray non-entities, but to pour over them for insights, for statements of a person's character, for the goings-on of smeone's life, often results in simply giving attention to the pettiness of their lives and the irrelevance of the multitude of the sources. Teasing sense and nonsense from what is often chaotic and prolix, often trivial even if once important, among the its-and-bits of paper scattered in the personal and archival files of individuals, either before or after their deaths, would test the energies and interests of most would-be researchers should they ever get on the path of some biographical investigation. Naturally, they do not even tread the path or want to tread the path and these details of people's lives, along with virtually all of the other details that never make it to paper, disappear into oblivion's vast reaches which know no bounds. The paper remains just so much stuff in old boxes, the last stage on the road to oblivion's boundless reaches.

Archives, like memoirs, can be both seductress and deceptive mirror of reality. They can falsify and distort the person being studied. They can be both too facile and too ambiguous as a means of entering into any kind of meaningful discourse with, or any detailed analysis of, the person under consideration. In the end, they can often tell very little anyway about the reality of a person's life. And so they remain, if used at all, as just a pile of dry bones transferred from one graveyard to another. The mere contemplation of such material, for most people, produces a kind of weariness and, so often, a profound sense of irrelevance at the weight and extent of the mountain of paper and memorabilia. And so, if the person's life had any worth recording in some way, beside a small box/insert on a family tree, there evolves a lamentable but quite understandable neglect and disinterest in the attitude of those living to the vast majority of those who are dead. And their lives slip as close to oblivion as can be and as quickly as possible, as the sands of time cover their lives forever.

Sometimes an account is produced. The first century BC was probably the first century which produced a great stock-pile of resources for a future age. This stock-pile is often referred to as history. Sadly, perhaps predictably, the vast numbers, the great mass of humanity has little or no interest in this stockpile. For the professional ants who deal in Roman history, a small coterie, this archive of knowledge is crucial. Along with this professional enthusiasm which has actually increased during these recent epochs, there prevails an atmosphere of anarchic confusion, apathy and disinterest, in the attitude of western man to this first blossoming, the first eruption, of memoirs and archives, known as part of Roman history. In the end, it seems, there is a fragility in the lives of those who even get around to producing their memoirs.

My diary has largely fallen into disuse in the last several years. Given my comments in previous paragraphs about memoirs it is hardly surprising. When I make a diary entry there is a feeling of dullness and poor writing and, if I am pleased about the entry, I am disinclined to make another and another. So the diary falls into disuse with the rare recrudescence. Making diary entries seems like a type of housecleaning, a getting rid of garbage, a sort of exhibitionism, a running on and to what end? There is an inevitable retrospective gaze in diary keeping, a type of self-confinement in the solipsistic sphere of recent and personal memory. I have always sensed that somehow my diary concealed rather than revealed who I was. My diary felt like what Arendt called "the radical model of the unreliability of every autobiography." Occasionally, if I examine its contents going back as it does more than fifteen years, and in a wider retrospective form for my entire life back into previous generations, I see gleams of light and fascination. I certainly think there is potential there, a potential far from being realized as yet in its first four volumes, a potential for something unique, for some unique contribution to my overall autobiographical opus: Pioneering Over Four Epochs. The retrospective side, the side that goes back to my youth, begun with some enthusiasm several years ago, has yet to really amount to much other than the occasional entry. The fact that I have a diary at all, suggests a desire on my part to tell my story in this particular way but, for the most part, it would appear that this desire for narration must become, what Arendt calls, Sophoclean, biographical, not autobiographical.

There is, it seems, an inevitable fragmentariness to diary keeping and, for some, a philosophical, transcendental, content, somewhat characteristic of the writing that has accompanied drug-taking over the centuries. This is certainly true, at least in part, of my diary writing, although the only drugs I take are for my bi-polar tendency and they slow down my mental activity and its imaginative function not speed it up in colourful directions. Looking back to the beginning of my efforts to write a diary in the early 1980s, I think one of the reasons I turned to poetry and autobiographical narrative was my dissatisfaction with the diary, my diary. Many of my entries are a reflection of my practice of writing down sentences, photocopying pages from what I am reading and eventually including them in a prose-poem, a diary entry, an essay. I found over many years that I integrated this material into genres other than the diary. My method is diaristic in practice. I scrupulously record but the product is not a diary.

"The best one can hope for," writes Simon Brett in his Faber Book of Diaries, "ís to present an entertaining selection." Selectors would have to eliminate the repetitious, for the diary is traditionally the home of the repetitious and this is true no less of my own occasional reportings. I would hope, though, that selectors might find what Brett calls "serendipitous juxtapositions of material." I hope, too, they would come across some versatility, the variety of roles the diary can fulfil: confessional, apologia, a venting of spleen and a colouring of reality, a bald record of facts and a seesawing of emotions, a chronicle of the aspirations and the disillusionments of time. There is no doubt that the diary provides an experimental canvas for a writer's identity, for his personality. Should my diary ever be published I trust readers will not find in its pages the self-righteous, hectoring, frequently insufferable smugness that characterizes so much religious verse and autobiography and is essentially contrary to my temperament. For I am only too conscious that, as Tom Dooley once wrote, so very many people in my life are "like children growing up in an alcoholic household. They're hungry for trust. They want to believe. They want the truth to be out there. But experience has made them too cynical to believe anything." And so, to some extent, as I write these words, I have in my mind's eye, some of those wonderful people I have known in my life, people whose cynicism and skepticism are as thick as a brick. After a lifetime of hearing and experiencing broken promises and unbridgeable gaps between ideals they want to believe and practices they know and see that abound in their families, their body politics and the places where they live, work and have their being, belief even in the breathings of the Revelation that is the Bahá'í Faith becomes impossible.

Such people represent the great majority of people I have known in my life and their cynicism and skepticism, their doubts and their incapacity to commit has complex and very real roots. Many of these people have very positive and enthusiastic attitudes to a wide range of personal activities like: gardening, maintaining their home and their family or improving their tennis, their boating or their artistic skills and they were usually intensely pleasure-loving people. But to expect them to sign on the dotted line, to make a commitment to a religious organization like the Bahá'í Faith, was a completely unrealistic expectation on my part. This I was soon to learn and to learn insensibly by degrees in the nineteen sixties. It was an expectation that became more realistic, more tempered, adjusted to the realities of the western culture I lived, moved and had my being in for half a century by the time I wrote these words. So many seemed to get their meaning systems topped up by the print and electronic media and its secular and spiritual humanism, by a belief in nature or an enthusaism for one or a number of life's activities. The Bahá'í Faith became just one more of literally dozens of claimants to a pluralistic spiritual throne in western society.

Going back to the start of the Heroic Age, as I do in that first volume of my journal, was an imaginative thrust, but whether it will yield much of an autobiographical nature, yield much of value for this journal, this diary, only time will tell. My idea, my plan, in my first volume, was to recreate the years before 1987, the year I began making regular and periodic entries into the journal. I have added some photographs going as far back as 1908 and a brief sketch of my family history going back to 1844. But there is little flesh on the bones of this long era and its several epochs and stages: 1844-1921, 1921-1944, 1944-1962 and 1962-1987. It is my hope that in the years of my late adulthood and old age I may take advantage of this diary-form and add some detail, some comments perhaps on the many moments in le monument psychoanalytique of my life. But, as anyone following my poetry or my autobiography will realise, much of what I want to say is being said in my poetry and my narrative. And it may remain so for, immersed as I am in the naturally spontaneous auto-narration of memory(as we all are), self makes its home in this familiar place. I become, through my story, what I already was. And I seem to go through this process much more comprehensively, effectively and efficiently, through genres other than the diary or journal. I both discover and create myself more clearly, more usefully, in my poetry and narrative, even in my letters and essays. If, as M. Brodie writes, 'autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become,' then perhaps the diary has its place.

Here is a short essay I wrote introducing that retrospective part of my diary from 1971 to 1987. I wrote it on two occasions, in 1996 and in 2000:

"The value to future historians of this resource, a lengthy manuscript divided into many pieces, the episodes of a diary, from a pioneer during the second, third and fourth epochs, is difficult to assess, caught-up as I am somewhere, perhaps, near the middle of the experience. Only time will test the usefulness of all that I have put together illustrating as it does the complex relationship between a human being, his life-story and the society in which that story takes place. This is an intimate construction of a self that narrates his self to himself and to others who will one day read the story, for this story, this writing, is all I will leave behind, however real or artificial the text is. In some ways, as Carolyn Heilbrun puts it, "we live our lives through texts." An autobiography, it can be said, swallows up my life in a monolithic statement. I try to counter this reality as best I can. I try to provide a multi-vocal account. For in whatever way I write my story, there is always so much more and so many other ways of telling the story. Perhaps Cavarero is right when she says that "autobiography does not properly respond to the question 'who am I?" It can't, at best only in part.

Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, there began to appear in the Bahá'í community, some quite reflective books on the experience of Bahá'ís in this Formative Age. From my own experience, David Hofman's George Townshend(1983) or even The Priceless Pearl(1969) by Ruhiyyih Khanum was a beginning point in this direction of commentary on the inner landscape of people's lives. A new era of introspective writing opened up and I think my own contribution here will become but a small part of what I am confident will become a burgeoning field of biography, autobiography, essay, report, indeed, a host of printed matter that will threaten to swamp any interested historian, reviewer or analyst in the future.

'Cyril Mango says in his introduction to Byzantium that '...these texts, 'the fifty thousand manuscripts in libraries from the Byzantine period(324-1453 AD)', have a strangely opaque quality; and the more elegant their diction, the more opaque they become. That is not to say they misinform us: on the contrary, Byzantine historians and chronicles have a reasonably good record for veracity. They give us the external husk of public events; we look in vain for the underlying realities of life. If we turn to epistolography, a genre that was assiduously cultivated throughout the existence of the Empire, we are even more disappointed: instead of personal reflections, we are offered erudite cliches. Only on rare occasions is the curtain raised.' (Cyril Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome, Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, 1980, p.7.)

'If there has been any tendency for this to occur in the world of Bahá'í manuscripts, the great mass of letters that all Bahá'í communities have begun to collect in their archives in the last several decades since the growth, the flowering of Bahá'í administration in the 1950s and 1960s, and, indeed, this is a possibility, perhaps what is found in introspective works like those cited above, autobiographies like this and diaries and collections of letters like my own, will compensate, counter, any tendency to opacity. With the decline in letter writing on the part of a good many of the people of this age and with the tendency of many of the existing letters to be 'official' and 'concerned with business and policy,' there is often little that has 'personal' value. The email, of course, has arisen in the last decade and it seems to represent a renaissance in letter writing.

'Given the plethora of written communication from Bahá'í institutions, especially as these four epochs have advanced insensibly during my life, communication which has what you might call 'an opaque, institutional,' quality; given the disinclination of most of the people I have ever met in the Cause to write the story of their experiences, what is here may enrich the archives for a future person examining the first century of the Formative Age(1921-2021). We shall see. Certainly this new world religion became, by my late adolesence and early adulthood, the central preoccupation of my life. Through its paradigms and sifting mechanisms I explore the major issues of life and, in this autobiography, I report what I have found through what is my "letter to the world." For me, this diary, represents a very small part of this letter. Much more is found, as I have said before, in my poetry which is the quintessence of my autobiography.

'This section of my journal, 1971 to 1987, has been written in retrospect, since I did not begin to keep a journal even on rare occasions until 1984, when I was aged 39, some twenty-five years after beginning my Bahá'í experience. It is an exercise that has, as yet, not yielded much fruit. Perhaps the years ahead will be more successful. In 1971 I arrived in Australia aged 27 and by 1984 I had been living north of Capricorn for eighteen months. During those years I remarried, had one child, took care of two step-children, enjoyed an interesting career as a teacher and lived in four states and territories of Australia; indeed, my autobiographical narrative and my poetry tell a great deal about this period.

'The prospective side of these journals has also received only the occasional visit in recent years. And, if this pattern continues, it may be that this volume, Volume 4, becomes, in the end, my last volume. This will certainly be the case unless I feel moved to add more than I have in the last several years. I am only too aware that, although I can produce what might be called an autobiographical self, a self-portrait of sorts, in these pages, I am unable to reproduce a real self which reflects a continuous inner truth and shares the beauty and ugliness of life. There is some of what you might call my attempt to record what the Puritans and Pietists might have called my 'progress in piety.' There is little of that diversity of material that Leonardo da Vinci kept in his celebrated diary. There is little of the recorded conversations and sexual exploits that James Boswell recorded in his memorable diaries. I do not preserve with any taste for this restricted form of exhibitionism, a chronicle of my days and my little adventures. The meticulous care and enviable precision that has characterized many thousands of diaries in the last two centuries I can also find, but only on rare occasions, it seems. The congenial habit of writing which enriched the modicum of leisure I enjoyed for many years and which I now enjoy for great quantities of time I reserve for the most part for my poetry. I have been faithful, assiduous, to my silent friend. But that friend is not the diary, except on the rarest of the rare occasions. Perhaps it is because I see the exercise somewhat as Daphne DuMaurier once saw it: 'self-indulgent.' Or perhaps I see it to some extent, as Quentin Crisp did, 'an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing.'

'Factors that are involved in the growth of people are exceedingly elusive and I don't seem to be able to deal with them as well in my diary as in poetry. It seems just too difficult to make entries on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. After nearly twenty years of thinking about it and making occasional entries, there is little evidence that the diary is going to be a fertile field for this autobiography. I have a good deal of company in this regard for many people have a similar problem. And many others who are able to diarize with regularity gather up endless piles of trivia, dreamy adolescent fantasies and egotistical meanderings. For others, too, the diary was their conversation, their society, their companion and their confidant. Perhaps mine may function in this way at some future time in the later evening of my life.

'A description of a life without secrets, and without privacy' wrote Boris Pasternak, describing only the life that is on display in society in its different forms like in some show window is "simply inconceivable,' he concluded. For many the diary has been the target of affection, of sensual infatuation; indeed, some seem to have virtually lived for their diary. For it was here that the secrets of life were revealed in all their boldness and honesty. The famous Russian diarist Marie Bashkirtseff was such a person. This talented and ambitious woman lived in and for her diary. Perhaps this is because the process begins with a sense of being alone. It is an orphan form.

'I can appreciate this sentiment of living for writing, but for me it is not in the diary. It is in a different genre. Pasternak was not inclined, and neither am I, to write about the smallest impulses, the most trivial details of everyday life in his dairy or anywhere else. This excessive, indeed, entire occupation with everyday stuff, is the lifeblood of most diaries that I have tried to read and read about. The diary of Thomas Mann was of this sort. For me, privacy is essentially the life of the mind. That is what is found in my diary, my journals, when time and the inclination combine to allow me to make some entry. And there is so little there, thusfar. The maelstrom of my life, it must be said, is found elsewhere: not in my diary. And the maelstrom that I write of is largely an intellectual one, a life of ideas, of the wider world and of relationships. And I deal with that in this book, this narrative, little by little, page after page--with a moderate confessionalism. In this I do not follow the advice of US author Evelyn Waugh who advised me not to write my opinions about life and art and especially myself. He suggested that I just 'give the relevant facts' and let readers make their own judgements.

'Readers will find disclosed in what I do write in my diary an active emotional investment in sympathetic and silent introspection, in pent-up feelings and unrealized wishes. They will find, I trust, a balance between emotional excess and reserve, between effusions of hope and self-esteem and self-critical comments and feelings of despair. I like to see in the little diary that I have thusfar kept: frankness not familiarity, emotional honesty not sentimentality, a moderate vitality of feeling not repression nor abandon. That's how I'd like to see my various entries; I leave it to readers to make their own particular assessments.

'These were some of my thoughts in the early stages of Volume 4(2000-2004) of my diary. I may come back to these thoughts, these words, at a future time to make some more detailed comments as I expand on this introduction to this fourth volume, but for now these words will suffice. The canvas on which I have sketched my self-portrait and my portrait of these epochs has expanded with the years but that canvas has yet to include the diary as a source of paint and colour to any significant extent.

'For most diarists, it would appear, the diary is not essentially a reflective instrument. Like the Earl of Cadogan, most diarists regard day to day or even periodic self-examination in the form of a diary as a waste of time. The recapture of atmosphere or even evocative descriptions, purely topographical reporting, are for most practitioners of this historic art not part of its essential purpose. The diary is a place for matter-of-fact material to the point of banality. So, in the end, one gets a corner of a person's life: weather, a practical grip on the essentials of daily life. Sometimes the person revealed in the diary is the antithesis of the person people meet in life. The result is that most diaries are really of value only to the study of history and then the history of the quotidian, the everyday life. In life and in diaries there are many houses in which we dwell: the house of food, family, landscape, flora and fauna, friendships, job, hobbies, interests. There are central facts at the core of people's diaries: pain and pleasure, failure and success, commitment and dalliance, ability and inadequacy, crime and punishment, inter alia.

'Your average reader would just never get near a diary and, if he did, he'd drop it soon enough after a boring tour of dairy trivia. For a diary is not a novel or a biography, a colourful magazine or a human interest story in the daily paper. For the student of history, of course, the diary represents a house of possibility: military diaries, travel diaries, fictional diaries, intimate reminiscences by all sorts of people, reflect the inner movement of a human life, successive cycles of self, spontaneous accounts suited to the temperaments of their writers, spontaneous accounts that reflect human temperament. For the psychoanalyst the diary can often tell much about a person's inner life, their emotional investments, their capacities, their talents and their weaknesses, their joys and tragedies, their sexual bewilderments and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sometimes our psychopathology is friendly to our creativity; the disturbance is productive. This is often true of writers and it is certainly true of me. The journey from psychopathology to creative writing, though, is a complex one to describe and I shall not pursue that road here.

'Some diarists put their most intimate secrets into print and then, like Evelyn Waugh, have to destroy the contents. Waugh refers to his 'quite incredibly depraved' morality, his undergraduate homosexual experiences. Occasionally I put some of my own 'intimate-dark-secrets' on paper but I don't insert them in my diary, at least not many of them. The sense of shame, Bahá'u'lláh says, is confined to a few, but Rosamund Dalziell in her book Shameful Autobiographies discusses how shame shapes us all. I may not reveal many of my dark secrets and the few I do reveal may lead others to a confrontation of shame in themselves. Certainly to Dalziell shame is the driving force in many Australian autobiographies. My own presentation and representation of shame in my life is important; I would agree with Dalziell here. But, as she continues, shame seeks concealment. It is central to problems of identity. The autobiographical confrontation with shame can and does heal deep wounds, as Dalziell argues. In my own case, I have found the exercise of writing this narrative one of increased understanding, part of that general literary attitude of 'how do I know what I think until I see what I've said.' This aphorism applies as much to my dark secrets as it does to my general life.

'Hermann Kesten, in his introduction to the diaries of Thomas Mann, informs us that Mann's interest in himself was based on his desire to know others better. His penetrating interest in himself helped him portray others more convincingly. Many of his diaries he burned because he wanted to get rid of that part of his past which was "a mass of secret, very secret, writings lying around." Although secret, although intimate, he felt they were the most human of what he had written, all-too-human. I have very little in this category, although there are some things I have written about or experienced that I would not leave lying around in a diary should I decide to describe them in intimate detail. Neither do I feel the same way that Mann did about what to put into a diary. Mann wrote that:

I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking back, reviewing, maintaining awareness achieving perspective.

'I achieve these things through my poetry, although I do not attempt to capture each day, as Mann does. If I felt the way Mann did there would be more in this diary for a future age. Whatever degree of self-revelation and self-description I want to achieve is, for me, best achieved through poetry. Mann's extant diaries came to occupy a great bulk. The banality, the indiscriminate agglomeration of everyday detail, the constant repetition of physical and psychological detail and everyday happenings, what for Mann was the photograph of a life, is impossible for me to record. It simply seems pointless and, more importantly, it is largely painful to record this quotidian reality. It is not that the daily life itself is painful, far from it. But the process of writing about it for the consumption by a coterie or a mass seems totally irrelevant. I am not trying to fill in a vaccuum of loneliness or a great store of unoccupied hours. I have been occupied for years with quite intense relationships and the solitude of these years now in late middle age is a blessing. I fill in the spaces of this blessing with writing about three large and sweeping concepts: my religion, my society and myself.

'I want to live my life and I also want to write about it. Most people seem to have little to no interest in writing in general and writing about their lives in particular. The physical act of making the kind of recordings found in most diaries is actually psychologically quite uncomfortable for me; recording mundane material, however insightfully written down, is simply beyond me, beyond my desires. The surface of life acts as a stimulus, but I am more interested in what is below the surface. It is not the events of my life that I find fascinating but their interpretation. My energetic temperament, my varied activity over so many years serves as a backdrop for the real life, the inner life. The circumstances of my life could have quite easily ended in failure due to ill-health or unemployment; or in the kind of career success that would have prevented me from ever putting pen to paper. But through a mysterious and not-so-mysterious set of circumstances I was able, by my mid-fifties, to devote a very substantial amount of my time to intellectual pursuits. In the years 1999 to 2004, for example, I could work an average of six hours a day, inspite of the hectic and hurrying pace of modern technological society. Often, especially in my lower moments, I could not help agree with the sentiments of Franz Kafka who wrote that "In the fight between you and the world, bet on the world." Without a group ethos, without agreement on a plan, a way, a set of principles, there is no way the lone individual could do this alone, achieve what I wanted the world to achieve.

'Perhaps part of the reason for my discomfort in writing about the quotidian is an attitude similar to that of the twentieth century writer and philosopher H.L. Mencken who wrote that "in the end every man of my limited capacities must be forgotten utterly. The best he can hope for is a transient and temporary postponement of the inevitable." Like myself, Mencken spent endless hours writing; writing absorbed him, as it does me. These words of Mencken struck a chord of familiarity with my sensory equipment. It is said that within two and, at the most, three generations, there will be no one on earth who will even remember I have been here, unless I create something or something is written down about me of some note. I feel the way Mencken did about so much of what has been my life. Perhaps, too, and much more basically, we simply cannot know our own life. As Hannah Arendt might add, "only those of others," only others, as I've said above, may be able to tell our story and reveal our identity. Still, Bahá'u'lláh says we should look within and find Him standing within us "mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." For the qualities, the talents, the abilities, we possess are, indeed, a gift. They are all gifts. They are not "us." They are "gifts." It is these gifts that we expose to the gaze of others, to the world of appearances, the world of corporate materiality and its perceptible concreteness, its sensed reality, its embodied uniqueness. They are difficult for us to see; they seem hidden and when I go to write of them in my diary they seem banal, empty, hardly visible. In the interactive exhibition of life which Bahá'ís call 'the Bahá'í community,' among other names, we strive to know what is significantly unknowable, unmasterable, invisible.

Still there is the impulse to self-revelation, to action. For action is, as Hegel once wrote, "the clearest illumination of the individual." The heightened impulse to self-revelation can result in great deeds but the meaning of those deeds is not in the story which follows. The story saves the deeds from oblivion; it immortalizes them. For actions are fragile things: they appear, are consumed and are gone. But the poet and the historian save them, interlace them, recount what has happened in the shared space of appearances and, when I am gone, this story will be left. But little of it will be in this diary. This protagonist will be found elsewhere. The protagonist of this narrated story, this agent of a life of action, leaves behind his story. My story is not one of wild animation or of an especially vital energy. My energy is on the whole quietly expressed. There is no bold and vivid dance to lift the reader into a world of fame and celebrity. But the reality, the origin, of the story is the thought and the action that took place in this world of appearances. The story is a series of events not a text, not words on paper. It is an irrefutable aspect of my life not so much in terms of a guarantee of a post mortem fame, but in terms of something unrepeatably unique.

'The American poet William Carlos Williams put the transient insignificance of this life more succinctly in the foreword to his autobiography:

"Nine-tenths of our lives is well forgotten in the living. Of the part that is remembered, the most had better not be told; it would interest no one, or at least would not contribute to the story of what we ourselves have been. A thin thread of narrative remains, a few hundred pages, about which clusters, like rock candy, the interests upon which the general reader will spend a few hours. The hidden core of my life will not be easily deciphered." So...here are a few hundred pages of a thin thread of narrative, my rock-candy.

'I do not assume there is going to be a coterie of souls hanging onto my very words, those words about my life which have aspects which are difficult to decipher. But if a coterie does arise to trumpet this Cause and my words, if that does happen and my words are of benefit to people at a future time, that is well and good. If not, let these words become dust and ashes. Within two or is it three generations anyone who actually knew me will have died. This is true of all of us, as I have indicated before. The vast majority of humankind have been nameless and traceless. Time will tell if these words of mine will live on, if the vicissitudes of my odyssey in this external world or the battles of my inner consciousness will find any degree of immortality.

'Virginia Woolf describes the essays about self written by the philosopher Montaigne. His diary was the essay. He told the truth about himself, and invented and reinvented himself in a series of essays. This was in about 1580. In the end, writes Woolf, "his book was himself." For me, my book is my poetry and to a lesser extent my essays, my interviews, my diary or journal, my letters, my efforts at writing a novel, my notes on various subjects and finally my autobiographical narrative. My self is articulated in and by historical particulars which this diary seems unable to provide. The forensics of remembrance are part of what has become a bewildering quantity of autobiographical material and the diary is only a small part of that material. I kept no diary, except a small retrospective edition as I indicated above, until I was in my forties. What happened to me and my society in the years 1944 to 1984 or to 2004, then, can best be found in other genres of history and literature, psychology and sociology, the print and electronic media, not in any diary for these years, except for a few miniscule and sometimes not-so-miniscule entries.

Readers may not find much of the quotidian here, but they will find pieces of my political and social philosophy, my religious views and some of my sociological and psychological orientations. There may be none of the partisan political, party programs, sectarian and factional interests and their clamorous and contending interests, but there is much of the political in the sense described by that historian of ideas Michael Oakeshott. "The whole impetus of the enterprise" of political philosophy, Oakeshott stated in his introduction to a 1947 edition of Hobbes' Leviathan:

"....is the perception that what really exists is a single world of ideas, which comes to us divided by the abstracting forces of circumstance; is the perception that our political ideas and what we may call the rest of our ideas are not in fact two independent worlds, and that though they may come to us as separate text and context, the meaning lies, as it always must lie, in a unity in which the separate existence of text and context is resolved."

Such is some of my own political philosophy expressed through the mouth of a prominent twentieth century thinker. I juxtapose this snippet of philosophy with some of my experiences as a teacher from the 1970s to 1990s. Many of my male students in high school and in post-secondary colleges were fascinated by motor-bikes and the outlaw biker motor cycle movies, beginning with the Wild One in 1953 and ending in the early 1970s, chopper-operas as one reviewer called them. Such media material may provide these students, these bikie-enthusiasts with a greater connection with the fifties and sixties than reading this autobiography and going with me on the several backward glances I take at these years. If it is history and general and detailed social comment on my early decades in society(say 1944-1964) that readers want they are probably best advised to go elsewhere. I provide some, but not enough to satisfy and appease the hunger. The potential of the diary, too, at least for me, I just have not been able to exploit.

'I write to transport myself, to approach the ineffable and there, on the rarest occasions, I tremble and cry. There is a happiness which is paradisiacal, silent and just but impossible to share. I have yet to come close to this sort of experience while making entries in my diary. Sometimes a diary or journal can help describe the spiritual path. Even with all the guidance and illumination of a particular spiritual path, the process, the factors involved in personal growth seem exceedingly elusive. After more than forty years as a Bahá'í and a Bahá'í on the journey of a pioneer I am faced with an intangible growth process that has gone on over the years. Active germination of this process often takes place, so the Bahá'í writings emphasize, at the low end of a seemingly negative phase of a psychological cycle, that is, during calamities and crises: the tests.

'This autobiography is an attempt to establish a personal relation with this elusive phenomenon of growth, this subtle movement and the changes in my life. It is an attempt to establish an instrument capable of drawing together the contents of my life and to compress then into a manageable space. This may allow me, hopefully, to put the change process, the quality of movement, of my life under the microscope. It is the closest I can get, with the other several genres of my writing, to intimate documentation of a full life, or nearly full, within the protective and nurturing wings of this new world religion.

Readers will get neither a bittersweet tale of a charmed lamplit past, nor a narrative that is a dark figure of loss, fragmentation and loneliness. Rather, they will get a poem revised and revised and revised. They will also get a diary sketchy and limited. They will get thousands of letters, ten attempts at a novel, perhaps 300 essays and over 150 binders and files of notes on unnumbered topics. Some, if not much, of this material was written hastily; some of it is superficial. The haste and the superficiality is partly due to the vast quantities of print that became available during these epochs and the virtual impossibility of achieving what 'Abdu'l-Bahá called "the necessary qualification of comprehensive knowledge." The sheer speed of the age and its postmodern quality, a quality and a word which came into western vocabulary for the first time in the 1950s and 1960s, define speed and superficiality as inevitable features of life in the years of this pioneering venture.

'This autobiographical work is indeed an instrument capable of mirroring the inner process of the psyche. A diary can be even more helpful in this direction, but it would appear not to be helpful yet as I approach the years of late adulthood. The diary is loose and unstructured, spontaneous and a reflection of my particular temperament. It reflects the inner movement of life in ways not-yet-suited to my particular ways of writing; hence the absense of any significant degree of continuity and structure. Hence, too, there is little of it available to readers. But autobiography in the wider sense of life-writing, with continuity and structure, readers will find here aplenty.

"The road is before us!" Walt Whitman proclaims in 'Song of the Open Road,' asking us to drop everything in an endless journey on: "The long brown path before (us) leading wherever (we) choose.' Whitman's poem, in fact, all of his work establishes the model for an American attitude toward travel. It is an attitude that is not oriented around an end to be gained, but a never-ending movement, expansive, restless, and difficult. It was an attitude I observed a great deal in the decades of this study. My life echoed some of this attitude but, for the most part, my work was goal directed and expansive within a context.

"In Paul Bowles' 1949 novel, The Sheltering Sky, considered by some to be one of the great accomplishments in fiction of the first years of my life, is a novel that transfixes readers with its presentation of a bleak landscape and the gradual swallowing of its characters into death and cultural strangeness. Bowles chose the title Without Stopping for his autobiography. It's a title that indicates that he never arrives and never returns and that he engages in a continuous passage. He seems to echo his maternal grandfather who 'never slept twice in the same town' during his own years of travel. Bowles scarcely seems to pause, though those pauses can be months, even years, long. That continuous passage, a characteristic he largely shares with other writers like Henry Miller, allows us to see the three characteristics of passage: danger, trance, and failure, in all of his travel. Incessant movement through incessant dangers, in a dream-like trance, and becoming lost to the activities of home are the themes of much of Bowles' writing.

"Bowles' actual method of composing is one that literary historians can better discuss. Like most autobiographers Bowles himself is uninterested in the factual; his autobiography is an autobiogony, a creation of the self. What he creates is a self who writes in a manner essentially connected to passage, without stopping. He must write without reference points, without the conscious, by allowing random events to hold the pen and by opening the doors of the unconscious by whatever means he can including cananabis. Only the unconscious can write about death, he says; in fact, in passage, even a passage lasting decades, any activity must be a death, a rupturing of the usual, the accomplished, a rupturing of home. The unconscious can write about death because the unconscious is death. While I give much more importance to the conscious, the rational faculty, I try to open doors of perception by means of prayer, meditation, study and the cultural attainments of the mind. There is certainly the feeling of no stopping, except of course, for sleep and those meditative moments. There is also the feeling of creating myself, of autobiogony.

'My autobiography is, for me, a single instrument, a single form, far from succinct, spread over several genres, and it reconstructs the range and movement of my life, aspects of the religion I have believed in and features of the society I have lived in. It is encompassing and open-ended. My version of reality is conveyed here among these millions of words. Generally my work is more therapeutic than confessional. My silent past is recreated. I reenact the drama of my life. I have a springboard to dive into the past and the rest of my life. I reread my past and create, in subtle and difficult to define ways, my future. But, thusfar, I seem to achieve these goals more happily through poetry than diary. I insert much of what I have to say at a juncture of history and psychology, history and memory, psychohistory and autobiography. Much, if not most, of history I do not include. History presents evidence of great change and discovery, but it also presents us, as Alexander Herzen noted, with 'the autobiography of a madman.' So it appears from some perspectives.

Some diarists, like Evelyn Waugh, have a taste for exaggeration and fantasy. The diarist, on considering publication, must cut out libellous or offensive passages. There is a need to protect the privacy and reputation of the diarist. No future publisher will have that problem with the little there is in my diary entries. If excisions are to be made it will be to protect readers from boredom. A cautious abbreviation here and there would be, the removal of phrases and sentences, I would think, would be a wise editorial move. I have tried to avoid ample and excessive accounts of various activities in my diary entries. Repetition has been limited but is, inevitably, unavoidable. Any records of social engagements, indeed, anything of a trivial nature that would weary a reader is best left out. Ultimately, autobiography, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, is best written after one is dead.

Nietzsche once said that three anecdotes were enough to describe a man perfectly, to illustrate the truth of a person's life, especially those who love privacy and solitude. If this were true then certainly this diary will reveal three anecdotes, but I am inclined to think that much more is required and, even then, the entity, the man, remains somewhat elusive. An autobiography like this needs to have shape. Life, it is often said, has none. If this is true then it explains the problems autobiographers have in giving it shape.

'One of the reasons that my narrative autobiography insensibly was replaced by poetic autobiography after 1993--and then integrated into that narrative-- was that, as Maurice Blanchot writes, 'the phenomenon of recall, the metamorphosis it heralds in the transmutation of the past into the present, the impression that a door has just opened onto a peculiar realm of the imagination' was a more frequent occurrence when I wrote poetry. Writing poetry, among other things, revived such moments of the past and was a response to a very basic inspiration. The imagination takes possession of what is basic in my life during the act of writing poetry. Truth palpitates, at least occasionally, at these moments of writing. These rare moments, which have been occurring on average once or twice a day for the last ten years, are secret centres where time is reborn from its own ashes in mysterious flashes of luminosity and timelessness, freed from its own tyranny. But these occurrences are not confined to the experience of that day and so 'diary' seems an inappropriate vehicle for these processes I have just described. These occurrences are also not so much determinants of my present memory, although one can't deny past events, as it is my adult personality that determines what I remember and how; it is also social organization and interpersonal context which gives a "persistent framework into which all detailed recall must fit." Maurice Halbwachs argues all our memories are collective except dreams and, he concludes, "we are never alone."

'The reimagining, the reimaging of my past and the world's, of at least some elements of it and the present--the act of autobiography--is expressed for me at the threshold of various genres. One of the essential difficulties writers, and especially autobiographers, have is that they are several people, several personalities, in one. There are the developmental personalities, the people they are at different stages of their life. There are the personalities they are as a result of the several roles they have at any one time in their lives. In addition, there are the opinions that others have of them and these often range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The autobiographer is caught at the centre of a web of contradictory voices. It is impossible to avoid some confusion in this jungle of options, variations and differences.

For some autobiographers, some diarists, what they write is a description of the constant war they fight with these conflicting selves. My own life has sometimes been a war, sometimes a battle, sometimes a game, sometimes a laugh, sometimes a search for pleasure, for meaning, for entertainment. The infusion of the practical as a result of years of being a classroom teacher, of attending Assembly meetings dealing as they always do with people in everyday situations, of being in a marriage and raising children all tend to give a texture of reality to what I write. This immersion in the practical made me quite conscious that I could never claim to be a great man, an outstanding citizen but it just might help to make what I write significant. For what I write about is within the context of a Movement with a great future. Any greatness I achieve will be due to my association with this Movement. But I shall have to leave this decision, the relevance of what I write, to history. I shall never know. It seems pretentious to even consider the question.

The process and the content that the autobiographer and especially the diarist is engaged in, is often trivial, sometimes disturbing, part of an apocalyptic age and I think one of the greatest possible consciousness-altering activities available. But this activity is not, at least for me, part of my writing in my diary. Reminiscing takes a richer form, for me, elsewhere. Autobiographical introspection finds a happier, deeper, home in other places. If great memoirs are the result of style, in the main, readers must look elsewhere. But wherever one looks, like Samuel Johnson, my writings teem with self-references, with efforts to be acquainted with myself, with some moral analysis of my psychological predicaments, with what one could call my spiritual autobiography.

Autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation. The self at the centre of all autobiographical narrative is the product of a partly fictive structure and process. It is shaped by the needs of the present: memory and imagination come to these needs like a bee to a honey pot. For this reason, in part, an autobiographer like Ghandi saw a hollowness in his pretensions. For this reason, too, autobiographers spar with their readers and potential judges, as Erikson notes, 'at least between the lines.' Thusfar my sparing is largely on pages outside my diary. The changes, surprises and shifting ground of life and self, which spar with an inner man and an outer world, will be found in a thousand other places.

'The fate of ideas living against the grain,' writes William Carlos Williams 'have always held me breathless.' So wrote Williams at the age of sixty-eight after what he called 'a more or less uneventful existence.' So much of the day to day scene falls into this uneventful category; although it may be eventful in the daily run of life it is difficult to see the event and write about it as an event of some significance, some note, something worthy of recording for posterity. What is meaningful is so often an inner event, an inner journey. The external voyage is usually so common as to end in a tedious repetition should the writer decide to put the event on paper. "I can't seem to get beyond a somewhat superficial discussion of what's going on," is a common complaint. And it is a complaint that I voice as well.

As a pioneer of a new idea, a new message, I would like to think that I have made some small contribution to the ever-advancing civilization that is enshrined in the Bahá'í conception and philosophy of history. I would like to think, on balance, too, that there has been a personal accretion of virtue but that is difficult to quantify and evaluate. Something, though, has grown in the soil of my heart and mind and I see it in what I write on the page. It could be discussed in my diary, but I seem to prefer poetry for this discussion. There is a great virtue in both solitude and in the community activity of helping to lay the foundations of this new Order of Bahá'u'lláh. The relationship between this solitude, this isolation, this contribution to the new Order and 'the days of blissful joy' off in some future place and which Bahá'u'lláh describes as pertaining to the afterlife are impossible to describe.

There is here, though, in this autobiography what the Australian writer Donald Horne says autobiography can do quite well: handle the complex development of a particular person's intellectual ideas. I think my diary helps a little here toward that end. And the end, in this regard, is achieved via a circuitous route, unsystematically, in an enigmatic process that is difficult even for this author to understand.

Another possibly useful embellishment to this autobiography are the some fifty to sixty files, arch-lever and two-ring binders, on such subjects as: ancient history, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, media studies, personal writing, post-graduate studies, literature, poetry, Bahá'í files, writing, autobiography and biography, miscellaneous, letters, et cetera. I can't imagine anyone keeping this material, although it provides insights into my spiritual pilgrimage and into my reading, an activity which has given many of my days a solidity and value that was invaluable. It is a type of diary, a type of academic journal. I will not try to summarize this vast collection of material here but, when and if this autobiography comes to see the light of day, I would like to emphasize that the absence of this body of notebooks, if absent it becomes, would be a loss in the overall understanding of a life, my life. There is simply too much of this type of material to keep in the event of my demise given that I possess niether name, nor fame nor rank but, perhaps a list of the titles of the files and binders would be useful:

BOOKLETS/FILES THAT WERE NOT USED IN MY PROFESSIONAL TEACHING BUT WERE USED FOR PERSONAL PURPOSES:
especially after retiring at age 55 in 1999

The booklets listed below contain information of value to any comprehensive autobiographical or biographical study. Of the nearly 100 booklets/files currently on my shelves the ones listed below were not used in my professional teaching up to 1999. Other files, now long thrown or given away, were essentially notes I used and lecture resources for in-class work until I retired in 1999. These 'other' files are listed under 'subjects taught' in my resume in section 24(v) of my website.

Another category of 'other' files were academic courses I taught before 1999 and which continued to be part of my studies after retiring in 1999. History, sociology, literature, media studies, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and religion, inter alia, occupied about 50 of my 'other' files.

1. Notes/Quotes: Vol.A and Vol. B
2. Notebook: 1 and 2: Autobiography/Journal
And Letter Writing
3. Published(2 vols) and Unpublished(2 vols) Writing
4. Conferences Booklet
5. Roger White: Essays/Book: 6 volumes
6. Sing Alongs
7. Novels/Sci Fi: Vol.1-3(1983-2001)
8. Journal: 7 Volumes(2 of which are photos)
9. Dreams
10. Bahá'í Model
11. Publishers: Vol.1-6
12. Pioneering Over Four Epochs(2nd edition) 1 copies;(1st edition)-1 copy.
13. Pioneering Over Three Epochs: original set of notes
14. Individuals:Biography
15. Epic
16. Letters: 21 volumes
17. Necrology: Recent Reading
18. 27 brown A3 size-files on 27 topics
19. Mother
20. Bahá'í History
21. A.J. Cornfield's Story
22. Emails: Family and M. Knopf
23. Bahá'í Resources, Talks, etc.
24. Published Articles: Newspapers
25. Essays: For Loan
26. Website/Internet/Computer File
27. Universal House of Justice Letters: 3 Volumes
28. ABS Newsletters
29. Book Ordering
30. George Town School for Seniors: 3 volumes
31. Post-Graduate Studies: 5 Volumes
32. Outback/NT Bahá'í History: Returned to the NT
Bahá'í Council

Ron Price 20 January 2003

The private record of notes taken, materials gathered and written in personal and scholarly mills which often grind exceedingly small, with their apparent concern with intellectual minutiae, over four decades and for my own immediate purposes reveal many things. They show the workings of my mind, for what that may be worth and for me, it is worth much. They show me in my private workshop. For those who are interested they show someone who became over the epochs a compulsive note taker, note maker and preserver. I will leave it to posterity to analyse further the voluminous contents of these notes, should posterity ever desire to do so.

Compartmentalizing or dissociating one's various online identities can be an efficient, focused way to manage the multiplicities of selfhood. William James, one of the greatest of American psychologists, talked about how the normal mind operates in a "field" of consciousness in which one's awareness shifts among different hot spots of ideas, memories, and feelings. Role theory in social psychology speaks about how a successful life is an efficient juggling of the various tasks and positions we accumulate and develop from childhood through adulthood. Cyberspace living is yet another manifestation of this shifting, juggling manoeuvre. It gives people the opportunity to focus on and develop a particular aspect of who they are. It may even give people the chance to express and explore facets of their identity that they do not express in their face-to-face world. Most people in my interpersonal world never see the much more intellectual, serious, spiritually inclined person that I exhibit on the Internet at my website. In some ways the Internet work is like a diary revealing a private area for the most part not discussed with others. It is a rich world with its excitements, its pleasures, its enhancements and its dangers to a spiritual life as well.

Those who read my diary, indeed any part of this autobiography, will know of a man who is only partly seen in the outer world by his colleagues and friends. It is curious, I find, but many relationships seem to have little to gain from face-to-face meetings. Many diaries seem to benefit little from the exploration of a writer's mind and soul. Kafka's diary, writes Heinz Palitzer, "neglected the reality around him." For him the weather, who did what and when were essentially trivia. Dostoevski's diary is 1200 pages long and "far from recording daily events, either in the author's life or in that of his society, it mostly consists of sustained sermons and harangues." So, perhaps there is hope for my diary yet!

Albert Stone, in his introduction to The American Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays, says that autobiography is the most democratic province in the republic of letters. It mirrors and creates the social, historical and aesthetic varieties of our national experience and increasingly, it seems to me, our international experience. It is the artistic effort to rescue the self from time's flux and fix it in words forever. It is the history of changing self-concepts. It aims to recreate the self in-its-world by patterning the past into a present symbolic and literary, historical and sociological, truth. The result is that readers can find out how people, events, things, institutions, ideas, emotions and relationships have become meaningful to a single mind as it uses language to pattern the past. After writing 80,000 words of my own autobiography, I have conveyed the substance of my own transformation. Some of this transformation I am proud of and some aspects of my development have clearly been in a negative direction or, at least, manifested in the reality of my life the potential for the negative that was there right at the start. Although the diary can reveal much of this I have revealed it in other genres of my work.

In this reconstruction, review, analysis, of my life, the tension that can exist between 'the paralysis of fact' and 'the heightening of life' in that borderland self between fact and fiction, is largely absent. I have not seized the fleeting moment as diarists do in their writing and imprisoned my writing in the day to day facts of my life. I have seized it in a different sense, a sense that a perusal of my poetry will reveal. I have made a continuing effort over many years 'to integrate the theory and practice of my own life in a manner that facilitates constructive continuance,' as we all do in our own haphazard ways. I have found that my life story is incomplete and episodic and, therefore, I have turned to poetry to provide experiential self-continuity. This poetry provides the remobilization of memory in the service of the living more effectively, for me, than the diary or journal. It also provides freshness of surface and depth of retention in the process of recall.

There is some inner judge to which we must submit and whether we manifest this submission in diary or in poetry matters not. "Nor is there anything sweeter than the chime" writes Montaigne, "of his approval." Montaigne wanted to conceal nothing or pretend nothing about himself. I find, in life and in writing, I can only say certain things. The guidance of the Bahá'í writings, namely, that "we are forbidden to confess to any person" operates as a principle of living--and writing. I am not interested in commenting on my faeces as Montaigne was in his Essays or expatiating, as so many autobiographers and biographers do, on the various and several activities of my penis or someone's vagina over the last half century after I discovered in 1965 at the age of 21 that these organs were a source of some use and stimulating pleasure in addition to their normal anatomical functioning. Unlike Montaigne I do some concealing but, like Montaigne, I reveal some of my secret domain.

The hazardous enterprise of living takes place on a day-to-day basis that is so much of the time not experienced as hazardous at all at least for those of us in the West, like myself, who come from the middle classes. My aim, among the many aims I have, is to achieve that "miraculous adjustment" of all my wayward parts, the wayward parts of my body, mind and soul. I live them openly before my eyes, and to some extent here before your eyes, dear reader. I only give you part of that "enthralling spectacle" of my life.

To Montaigne there was no answer to the mystery of life, no explanation. That is true for this Bahá'í, as well. We are all surrounded, drowned in mystery. At the same time there is, ordained for our training, "every atom in existence and the essence of all created things." Perhaps in my late adulthood and old age some of this mystery will be found in my diary. As yet, readers will not find a great deal there, for alas there is no ear to hear nor heart to understand, nor writer to put it into words. I did not even begin to write a journal until I was forty-three. Compared to, say, the Catholic philosopher Newman who "kept diaries and journals from his early youth onwards," my effort could be said to be a little late. But compared to the vast majority of people in today's fast-moving world who keep no diary at all, I could be said to slightly ahead of the normal or average.

Compared to, say, St. Augustine whose autobiographical channel was set in the ancient world and was "the first to see his life as a synthetic enactment of the heroic lives honoured in his religion," my channel is clearly set in the modern world and in the lives of a new Heroic Age. My life, I like to think, mirrors some of these lives, some of these souls from the Heroic Age of my Faith, whom I honour and whose virtues I synthesize and reanact in my own way in these four epochs, as one of the descendents of the Dawnbreakers, perhaps.

I'll close this commentary on the diary with a quotation and a comment from the diary that is in my computer:

Henry Miller wrote: "At the last desperate moment-when one can suffer no more!-something happens which is in the nature of a miracle. The great open wound which was draining the blood of life closes up, the organism blossoms like a rose."1 In 1992, after a series of tests and trials going as far back, perhaps, as 1962, there was, it seems to me now in retrospect, the beginning of a blossoming like a rose. That blossoming was poetry and a life devoted to writing. I had started a diary, in 1987 perhaps five years before this poetic blossoming. But unlike famous diarists like Pepys and Swift, who recorded their daily life virtually hour by hour, my diarizing resembled more, what V.S. Pritchett calls, the Great Snail. Prudery, accident, a life filled with a host of odds and ends and the anticipation of the tedium of keeping a diary have kept the English speaking world far removed from the great diaries of writers like Pepys and Boswell. Perhaps the extensive and fascinating diaries of these men were due to the fact that they were lapsed Puritans and they owed "something to the Puritan tradition of the diary as a training of conscience."

Conscience certainly plays a part in what I write and a sense of the tedium involved in trying to translate my daily activities and thoughts into writing about the everyday keeps me away from diarizing about this infinite oddity that is life with its endless repetitions. Unlike Thoreau, who kept a diary, a journal as he called it, from 1837 to 1861, and who said that "no experience is too trivial for me," I see so much of the day to day as simply not worth commenting upon. And so, again, dear reader, I leave you with a life that is found much more in other places. I leave behind no ornate exercise in etiquette and few startling revelations from the day's intimacies.

I have no incentive to make my story especially interesting through embellishment, accentuation or exaggeration; nor do I want to reveal more than a few of my secrets. That instrument that the famous diarist Anais Nin used to help her know herself and create herself I do not yet use to any significant extent. I achieve those aims elsewhere. I do not reveal it all, nor do I tell of it endlessly as Nin did over decades of her life in one of the longest diaries in the history of that genre.

Before concluding this section on diaries and notebooks, I'd like to add a small section, a short commentary on the memoir. The term "memoir" has been applied to any autobiography, yet strictly speaking, memoirs are autobiographies of a special kind. While autobiographies usually relate the career of an author from birth to maturity or old age, stressing exploits and achievements, memoirs tend to focus on specific occasions or themes. Both are reflections of a struggling self, but in this more limited sense, memoirs suggest a closer kinship with the reflective first-person novel, the only perceptible difference being the criterion of truth. Many problems and events in people's lives can give rise to memoirs, indeed, there is a wide cluster of memoirs on related themes: themes peculiar to women's lives, themes of confession and religious awakening, or themes about the horrors of the 1930s, '40s, and beyond, penned by both perpetrators and victims. If it were not for the medium of the memoir that links us closely with visionary monologues evoking various periods of history, our sense of specific periods of time, some hazy but unforgotten world would be sadly deficient.

Displacement is an overwhelming twentieth-century experience which touches a raw nerve of many memoirs of our time. Sometimes the relationship between the remembered and recreated self is extraordinarily close. There are aspects of my work that resemble the memoir. I leave it to readers to make their assessment should they wish to do so. In some ways the issue is not significant. In some ways my autobiography resembles the memoir.

"Autobiography," wrote the poet Wallace Stevens "is the supreme fiction." For someone like me who is striving to tell it straight, this is a challenging idea from Stevens. If he is right, that all my life, no matter how I tell it, is a fiction then perhaps it is in the sense that Bahá'u'lláh once wrote: that life is like "a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water, but when he comes upon it he finds it to be mere illusion." But there is so much more to this whole concept. Indeed, the Bahá'í experience, at least the experience of many Bahá'ís, was much richer than its expression in print, rich as that was from time to time. The modesty, the reticence, the reserve, the quietness, the tendency, so often, to look and listen, to a certain kindness provided them with time and space for organizing and reorganizing their responses to a world in flux. But, for the most part, those responses did not take the form of a written memoir or autobiography.

There comes a time in our lives which Joseph Campbell, expert student of mythology, says raises the curtain, opens the window of meaning. It is a call. In the process of responding to this call we undergo the mystery of transfiguration. He says it is a rite, moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. For me, the familiar life horizon in Burlington had been outgrown as I turned eighteen. The old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns didn't fit any longer. They tired me, fatigued my spirit: like the pebbles on a path I had walked along too many times. They did not become imbued with the nostalgia of familiarity; they became imbued with the dust of staleness. The time had come for the passing of a threshold, for a change of scene, an adventure. I had no idea what was to come, what was in store as I finished my exams in grade 12, played my last games of baseball in the juvenile league, filled the slot machines for Frank Duff in Dundas or went for evening walks with my mother in the months of spring and summer of 1962.

Typical of the circumstances of the call, writes Campbell, are the dark forest, the great tree, the babbling spring. And there is in the background of all of this the underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of destiny. For me, the Great Tree and the underestimated power of destiny was this new Faith I had been playing with on the edge for perhaps a decade in late childhood and adolesence. At the time, in 1962, I had absolutely no interest in keeping a diary, as some young people are want to do. That desire was more than twenty years away on another continent.

The herald of this archtypical adventure I was about to embark on, wrote Campbell, is quite often something or someone who is dark, loathed, terrifying, with evil in the eyes of the world, a beast, a mysterious stranger. This is an indication of the herald's connection with the Other, the Sacred Power. For me, this herald was 'a mysterious stranger,' a new Faith. It represented something quite beyond the ordinary, the everyday, the routine, the familiar. It had a connection, I was only too aware, with the Sacred, the Other. Crossing the boundary, the wilderness, the desert, the sea, the forest, the hidden room, the cave, and the mountain, as I was about to cross, or begin to cross, are typical boundary markers delimiting the rational and civilized from the non-rational, unconscious, and relatively chaotic forces that bear upon our existence as human beings. And the chaotic was about to hit me insensibly in the next several years. In order to put this Faith at the centre of my life I knew I had to cross a boundary; I had to leave the ordinarily ordinary. Crossing boundaries is always a religious action and calls for rituals, Campbell argued. Boundary crossings are dangerous. Guardians guard the border. At the border of this crossing was my mother. By 1963, by the summer of that year, just after the Universal House of Justice had been elected, she had resigned from the Cause and advised me to do the same. It would have been useful, in retrospect, to record some of my thoughts and activities as I experienced them in these early formative years in a diary. But I did not. Hopefully, I will attempt this exercise as a retrospective, as I indicated above, in much more detail than I have thusfar.

The archetypal hero, writes Campbell, may have any one of several typical battles to fight. He may have to fight a brother, battle a dragon, be dismembered by demons or wild animals, be crucified, or be abducted. The hero may have to make the dangerous night-sea journey, descend into the whale's belly, or be taken on a miraculous journey through the heavens, the underworld, or enchanted realms. The journey into the underworld in search of the lamp of knowledge and power is a dangerous undertaking. Danger always lurks on the borders where life is making a transition from one state to another. And danger certainly lurked in my world as I journeyed to the next town. It was a danger that lasted for at least six years in its initial chapter, although in some ways, the danger is still with me. In the forty years since I arrived in that first, that next town, I have been in the whale's belly, gone on many a night-journey, been dismembered and gone on miraculous trips through the heavens. And so is this true of all Bahá'ís, each in their own way, although they may never put their experiences on paper, in a diary or any other literary form.

A great prize was won in the next town. The hero in Campbell's version of this mythical journey inevitably came into good fortune and won a great treasure. And I did. I won two university degrees, a wife, a good job, eventually, good health and the religious experience in a new Faith that has been beyond ay initial imagination I might have had. Campbell says this fortune may take the form of a sacred marriage in which the hero becomes the prince wedded to a king's daughter, as with Aladdin. For me the sacred marriage was a commitment to this new religion. Moses marries the daughter of the priest of the Mountain of Sin, the Moon God. The hero may find reconciliation with a father from whom he has been alienated as in the case of the Indian Hero Twins who brave many trials before coming at last to the house of their father the Sun who acknowledges them as worthy sons. The hero may be transformed into a god as with mortal Psyche who is given the ambrosia after her successful completion of the four impossible tasks. Satan declares that Jesus is the Son of God and obeys him as God's chosen king as the other angels come to be Jesus' ministers, as Matthew was. The hero may steal a great treasure as did Bilbo the Hobbit who stole the dragon Smaug's treasure in The Hobbit. One way or another, the hero achieves the pearl of great price. Indeed, I did find this pearl. A new source of energy was discovered and I was duty-bound to take it back into society. This was the pioneering process that I had embarked upon and would stay as the central part of the journey of my life for decades to come. One goes back, one returns, many times in the long and drawn out process of withdrawal and return. I certainly did. But I needed to record this story in poetry and narrative, somehow the diary just could not do it for me.

In the return the hero must eventually come back into the ordinary world bearing great energy to be used for the renewal of society. Moses returns to Egypt to liberate his people from slavery. Jesus emerges from the wilderness to begin a public career of healing, exorcism, and teaching. Bilbo the Hobbit comes back to Bagshot Row in the Shire to become a solid citizen, a pillar of the community who unsuspectingly holds the Ring of Power that is the key to the great events of his age. The return is also a border crossing and danger threatens here too. The crossing must be negotiated with care. The hero may escape, be resurrected, be rescued by outside forces, or fight a battle at the border as he seeks to return home. Sometimes I have found that the return has been so dangerous that the negotiation has proved impossible and a rescue was required: a woman, a hospital, a retreat, a move to another town. And in my case the return has rarely been recorded in a diary, although I have been able to write of it in poetry and narrative forms.

The basic hero pattern and its motivational base, may be supplemented by a variety of other, ancillary, motives. At any stage in the journey, the hero may encounter unanticipated help. Wise old men and wise old women appear to give sage advice, to pose helpful riddles, or to give a magic implement. Help may come in many forms; helpful animals, plants, or objects are not unusual. The cosmos itself may be working for the hero; so may an assortment of gods and goddesses; for example, Odysseus is aided, guided, and protected by Athena. In my life there were many old men and women as well as many not so old whom I met in and out of the Bahá'í community in my travels. I was protected by the Central Figures of a New Faith and Their words of guidance and protection, aid and assistance.

Tests are the essence of the heroic journey. The hero must prove his or her worth. The tests tend towards the impossible. The Bahá'í road is, if nothing else, a testimony to the impossible journey. Ordinary mortals could not hope to solve these problems which only the hero can solve. Remember The Sword in the Stone which only King Arthur may remove? The test may range from solving a riddle, as with Oedipus and Bilbo, to making a dangerous cosmic journey as in the cases of Gilgamesh and Psyche descending into the Underworld. I've certainly had my riddles to deal with. Don't we all?

Flight is as prevalent as the helpers and the tests. Fear is always present as a threat to the hero. Helplessness is frequently the case. Sometimes only flight will avail the hero in the face of the absolutely impossible task. In the final analysis, the hero is always pitted against superior powers, archetypal forces, whom he can never overthrow. His or her task is to gain the great prize and then to escape. I have often felt my life was a series of gaining prizes and then escaping. As I write these words I have escaped yet again to a place of withdrawal, retirement. The impossible task remains, always remains.

Frequently, the hero returns with a great prize like a herb that bestows immortality, a magic cure, the aqua vitae, or other enchanted brew. The medicine of immortality, the Writings of this Faith, that I found long ago and have enjoyed for these several decades is, in many ways, the key to my immortality. I am the hero who has been to the centre of the cosmos from which all power emanates. Of course, philosophically and theologically these issues are complex and I don't want to go into the implications here. For the Centre here is this religion of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. Campbell says that this hero is in touch with the source of energy and life. Jesus as the Christ, the guide of the soul, tells the woman at the well in Samaria: "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14) Bahá'u'lláh may have added: 'possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting."

The basic hero story can be elaborated by multiplying any or all of the above features. The embellishments to this story are myriad. And so are mine. We can have a very brief presentation of Parzifal, for example, or an elaborate romance, but it is still the same hero story. As the centuries passed, the Arthurian romance increased in its elaboration. Mallory's Le Mort de Arthur is around 1500 pages while the simplest Parzifal story is only a couple of paragraphs long. The test that we have to apply to each of these is simply, "Are the basic themes which define the story present?" For example, what themes have to be present for a story to be The Story of Little Red Riding Hood? Clearly, there must be Little Red Riding Hood, a mother's warning, a journey through the forest to grandmother's house, an encounter with the wolf, and a confrontation with the wolf as an imposter for the grandmother, and a liberating figure like the woodcutter. All other factors are embellishments that lengthen and enhance our enjoyment of the story. In my life there has been a mother's warning, the journey, the encounter, the imposter, the liberating figure. And very little of the great cosmology, mythology, paradigm of tis Cause is to be found in my diary, at least not yet.

Quite frequently, we find that stories have overlays of rationalization and moralizing as a result of scribes seeking to bring the symbols and images into the world of fact, a move which often kills the images. As stories get longer, they tend to acquire such moralizing and rationalizing layers. As readers, we must learn to see through and beyond these rationalizations and moralizations. We must keep to the scent of the Questing Beast. We must find the liberator, or what has been the point?

If, as Harre and Secord, Shotter and Gergen argue, "the individual is nothing but how he or she appears in the eyes of others;" if "the individual is not the sole active being in a world of objects;" if "human agency is defined by the picture one presents, not of oneself, but to others; if "conversation is the basic social reality," then this diary requires an audience to determine identity, to mould the diary entry or the autobiography according to the values which define the group. I look forward to the arrival of such an audience. But I will not hold my breath.


VOLUME 1:

CHAPTER FIVE
"Defining who we are......"

One quality of the narrative textures of autobiographies is their ability to create a fabric of cohesion and plausibility around a person's life. It is all part of meaning construction that evokes the teleological order of a life. Like clothes, fabrics, on a body; like jobs we hold and relationships we invest our hearts in, this autobiography can help define who we are and give meaning, pleasure and protection to the selves that we are, to our lives.-Ron Price with thanks to K.M. Langellier, "Personal Narrative, Performance and Performativity: Two or Three Things I Know For Sure," Text and Performance Quarterly, Vol.19, pp.125-144.

In the first ten years of my writing poetry I simulated some nineteen interviews. It is not the intention of this chapter to include all the interviews. But perhaps three, one from the early years of my writing of poetry and two from the more recent years will suffice. Before the interviews, though, I'd like to introduce this section with two short essays and two poems that I drew on for presentations at Bahá'í conferences in the 1990s.

In 1999, at a Bahá'í Conference in Melbourne on Creative Inspiration, I provided for those who attended the workshop on poetry some essays, the script from some interviews, as well as some twenty poems, which attempted in their different ways to illustrate something of both the inner life and the creative inspiration. I'd like to quote from some of this material, as a way of introducing this chapter that focuses on interviews. I have also updated that material so that it covers more adequately the first major decade of my poetry writing: 1992-2002 and the second stage of writing this narrative autobiography, 1993-2003, what I came to call the second edition.


POETRY AS A SOURCE OF SOCIAL GOOD

If my booklets of poetry, some fifty, written over the decade 1992-2002, help to establish nothing else it will be my search for a context in which relevant fundamental questions about the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, the societal need for legitimate and just authority and our need as individuals for solid thinking about the organic change in the very structure of society that the world has been preparing for but has not yet experienced...can be examined. In nearly six-thousand poems, a massive corpus, this search for a context for the examination of fundamental questions may not be so obvious. For I try to do a great deal in this poetry.

The fluid and elastic qualities that underpin the expression of freedom assume a different latitude from one mind to another. Indeed in this Faith there are 'unique methods and channels'(1) for the exercise and maintenance of freedom. The very meaning of freedom has been deepened, its scope extended. The very fact that my writing poetry, an expression of art, is elevated to an act of worship augers well for the 'enormous prospects for a new birth of expression in the civilization anticipated by His World Order.'(2)

Much, if not virtually all, of my poetry is about personal experience, a personal view of some sociological or historical process or fact. I see this poetry as essentially lyrical, as capable of expressing a sense of commonality and, for me, unparalleled intimacy. Some of what I write could be termed confessional. The first person 'I' is vulnerable, dealing as it does with varying degrees of self-revelation. But even in the second and third persons there is the poet's view, less direct, self-revelation less obvious. The poetry is self-serving; the reader is invited to share in my experience, in my thoughts. The poetry also serves the community, however self-focussed my poems are, and they all are to some extent. They deal with the universal and with the growth and development of that universal Force and Cause behind these poems. They deal with community. And the quest for community, it would seem, has always involved some conflict, some anxiety. They deal with the self and as Jack Steele, pioneer in cyborg space exploration, argues the self is multiple, a little more tightly organized than the multiple personality. We are different people in different circumstances. We cultivate these personalities for protection and sometimes the protective coating is not sufficient and we lose control or we react in ways that others perceive negatively.

The protective coatings I had cultivated by my late teens were penetrated by a thousand forces: illness, incapacity to deal with children in classrooms, relationships in my family, in my marriages, in relationships, et cetera et cetera. "When the outer battle is lost," as William James puts it so eloquently, the inner world is redeemed and vivified. My battle, my experience of outer loss, of calamity, of crisis, of inadequacy and failure, especially in the years from my late teens to my mid-thirtees, but also in the next quarter century to the age of sixty, was extensive. There was much basis, much food, to feed whatever constitutionally sombre personality I had started out with in the 1940s. There was much basis, too, for feeding my constitutionally sanguine personality which drew on and emphasized the opposite aspects of what presented itself to my eyes. The opportunities to inhibit instinctive repugnances and genetic predispositions to depression, as well as instinctive urges and temptations continued to present themselves all my pioneering life, beginning in the first six months of the tenth and last stage of history which we entered in April 1963. Opportunities to be vigilant, striving to overcome a test of some sort, seemed to present themselves again and again. This is a theme I return to often in this autobiography.

Perhaps I did not develop sufficient contempt for my own person in the war that is life. I certainly felt like giving up frequently over those forty years. I seemed to have to discover again and again 'the amount of saintship which best comported with what I believed to be my powers and felt to be my truest mission and vocation.' I was able, for the most part, to exercise control over what were some of life's sweetest delights, the physical sensations that were available from the opposite sex, because I knew they would check my spiritual and moral development. My higher indignations were elicited, as James put it. This, in many ways, is a separate story and I come back to it frequently in this narrative.

I strive, of course, for moderation, refinement, tact and wisdom in any of my poetic expressions of human utterance. But for everything there is a season. Thusfar, the season of my poetic writing in public has been minimal. I have been quite happy that the public utterance of my poetry, at poetry readings, has been minimal. I have written about this before in the five interviews recorded in previous booklets of poetry. Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, reinforces this idea in the maxim that: Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed...nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the ears of the hearer.' As the Universal House of Justice says in its expatiation on the theme of speech and freedom 'an acute exercise of judgement' is called for. Perhaps when, and if, I become 'public property' I will have acquired more of that quality of acute judgement.

The freedom of the poet to declare his conscience and set forth his views is at the root of the foundation of this Order, but poetry of a negative quality should be strictly avoided to prevent confusion and discord reigning in community life and to remedy divisiveness. The process of criticism is baneful in its effect and, therefore, the nature of my poetry is intended to counteract dissidence which I see as 'a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating'(3) my words. But often what I write is simply ordinary speech, sometimes emotionally loaded, raised to a high level, the highest level I can, of expressiveness. I strive for what the Greeks called kairos: tact, discretion, prudent restraint, maturity, for the quality the poet Pindar expressed.(4) For humanity today needs that communitas communitatum and this Faith, the Bahá'í Faith, has an important role to play in this unifying process. This poetry is part of that wider process, that wider phenomenon.

I seek a judicious exercise in my writing. I try to be sensitive to content, style, sound, tact, wisdom, timeliness in order to 'give birth to an etiquette of expression'(5) worthy of that term 'maturity', which Pindar possessed, and which this age must strive to attain. There must be a discipline here in this poetry if it is to attain the status of being a 'dynamic power in the arteries of life.'(6) If my words are to attain 'the influence of spring" and cause "hearts to become fresh and verdant', they shall have to be seen as 'acceptable to fair-minded souls.'(7) I can not make such a claim of my poetry, yet.

I am sensitive to my poetry's tenderness, as I am to the tenderness of the Cause which motivates so much that underpins my poetry. The rigorous discipline that must be exerted when putting print before the public eye, I have not exerted, not entirely. For I have assumed that, for the most part, the public will not see most of my poetry, at least for some time to come. But I strive to speak the words of both myself and my fellow human beings as part of a whole; this autobiography serves the whole. It resonates in the immediate and the concrete, in the inner and the outer values of our lives, or in some sociohistorical framework. However idiosyncratic and autobiographical a particular poem may appear it is related to the totality, the cosmic, the grand-scale, the great system of time and place. For mine is the poetry of a metanarrative. Hopefully different readers will be cheered or saddened in different ways as my poems drift through diverse human situations.

Spontaneity, initiative and diversity must be encouraged, but everything in its time, the right time under heaven, so to speak. The individual in this Cause is 'the focus of primary development'(8), but within the context of the group; for the individual is essentially subordinated to the group. The individual should be seen as a source of social good. This is his most supreme delight. This is the essential context for poetry. When, and if, this occurs my poetry will find its right and proper place in community life. Dealing as my poetry does with the fragile, confused and ever to be rediscovered and redefined self, the place of the inner life and private character, the delight to which I refer will, hopefully, be associated with understanding, with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in the world of creation.(9)

Ron Price
1997-2002

** 1,2,3,5,6, 7 and 8: all of these references are found in the letter from the Universal House of Justice to the followers of Bahá'u'lláh in the United States of America, 29 December 1988. 4. Joan Aleshire, 'Staying News: A Defense of the Lyric', Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, editors, Gregory Orr and Ellen B. Voigt, University of Michigan Press, 1966, pp. 28-47. 9. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, USA, 1970, p.1.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ANALYSIS YET AGAIN

By 1992 I had written a succinct narrative account of my life. It was chronological; the factual material was ordered, sequential. But, clearly, sharpness of detail, revealing anecdote, even suspense and analysis of motivation are given with insight and style much more effectively in my poetry. There is so much poetry now, some 4000 poems spread over at least 2000 pages, but this collected and compendious mass of material, if it is ever to provide a basis for biography in the future, must be shaped, interpreted, given perspective, dimension, a point of view.

Such a biographer must provide the creative, the fertile, the suggestive and engendering fact, an imaginative, a referential dimension. Such an analyst must enact a character, a place, a time in history. He will do this through language, through imposing a formal coherency on my material, although inevitably there will be present the incurable illogicalities of life, as Robert Louis Stevenson called the inconsistent, the unresolved paradoxes of life. He will give the reader a portrait not an inventory. This is what any biographer must do. I do this in my autobiographical poetry. But I provide many pictures, many moods, many sides. Details balloon; they repeat; they illuminate. I discover things about my life, but I do not invent them.

As Plutarch and Boswell, two of history's most famous biographers, demonstrated: "anecdote rather than history teaches us more about the subject."1 I see my narrative as the home of history and my poetry as a source of rich anecdote. It was for this reason I turned to poetry as a reservoir of autobiography; it seemed to teach, to convey, much more than narrative. Claude Levi-Strauss helps us to understand why several poems about one object, or person, provide more significance or meaning than a narrative when he writes:

To understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts. The resistance it offers us is overcome by dividing it... Being smaller, the object as a whole seems less formidable....it seems to us qualitatively simplified.2

One can not know everything about anyone, even oneself. The mountain of detail would sink a ship and would not enlighten anyone. The task of achieving comprehensiveness not only is impossible, it is irrelevant. But there are intelligible dimensions of one's life and it is these dimensions that my poetry deals with best. Imagination is critical in writing biography. Some writers see invention more important than knowledge. Inevitably, there is an element of invention, of moving beyond the factual, but my own preference is to use imagination in a framework of factual experience, as far as possible. To read my poetry should be to immerse oneself not only in the Bahá'í writings but also in the first several decades of Bahá'í experience in what the Bahá'ís see as 'the tenth stage of history' and, especially, that time when the spiritual and administrative centre on Mt. Carmel received some of its initial, its richest, its definitive, elaboration and definition. There are several unifying nodes of experience for my poetry, in addition to the above. I have drawn them to the reader's attention from time to time in the introductions to some of my poems.

From a Bahá'í perspective my poetry will undoubtedly possess a moral appeal associated with overcoming hardship, a quality that characterized most nineteenth century biography. But the moral framework, while retaining a certain simplicity, is expressed in a portrait of complexity, refinement, mystery, a slumbering world, my own idle fancies and vain imaginings and the streaming utterance of a new Revelation. I have often read that certain writers were attracted to light: Dickens and Dante are examples. By the time I came to write much of this work I had lived much of my life in a world of light, for such is the environment of so much of Australia. So it was that I enjoyed the dark, the cloudy, the rainy, the evening and the night as conducive to writing as the day, if not more so.

Freud commented that biographers choose their subjects 'for personal reasons of their own emotional life.' 3 I'm sure this is equally, if not more, true of autobiographers. After criss-crossing Australia as an international pioneer and teaching in the northernmost and southernmost places in Canada-all of this over thirty-six years, I have watched this emerging world religion grow perhaps fifteen times. I taught in schools for nearly thirty years and came by the twentieth to feel a certain fatigue, what in Latin is called a tedium vitae. It seems that I must write this poetry for the same reason a foetus must gestate for nine months. I feel, with Rilke, a great inner solitude and that my life and history is itself a beginning, for me, for my religion and for the world. I feel as if I have sucked the sweetness out of life and tasted of its bitter fruits and now it is time to tell the story. Yes there is a bitter-sweetness in my taste now just seventeen months short of sixty. I have a quotation from the poet Rumi in my notes: "do not mock the wine; it is bitter only because it is my life." For me this overstates the bitterness; for I have found enough sweetness in life, from His sweet-scented streams, among other sources.

I sigh a deep-dark melancholy from time to time, but keep it in as far as I am able as I mix with others. Only my wife and son, who live with me now, hear of this melancholy and this is usually late at night. I am lonely and attentive in this sadness, this solemn consciousness. It is a sadness, a solemnity "which is itself the wellspring of the most exquisite celebratory joy." My poetry gives expression to this process and to my destiny which comes from within. My poetry is the story of what happens to me. For the most part "life happens" and one must respond to the seemingly inevitability of it all, although the question of freedom and determinism is really quite complex. Readiness is all as Shakespeare says in Hamlet. Reality, I record in my poetry, comes to me it seems slowly, infinitely slowly. My poetry records this process. My poetry is an expression of a fruit that has been ripening within me: obscure, deep, mysterious. After years it now comes out in a continuous preoccupation as if I have, at last, found some hidden springs. It is as if I have been playing around the edges, with trivia, with surface. Finally something real, true, is around me. I stick to my work. I have a quiet confidence, a patience, even a distance from a work that always occupies me. And so I can record a deep record of my time. I am preparing something both visible and invisible, something fundamental. I feel as if I am preparing this as part of a larger process which some mysterious Providence has let me play a part, has let me "draw nigh" during these several epochs.

Ron Price
25 September 1998

1Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984, p.60.
2idem
3 ibid, p.122.

And so here is some of that ripening fruit which I refer to above. One poem is about those earliest years of Bahá'í experience and another is a more philosophico-historical piece:

A GOLDEN BALL

During a brief span of time, some nine years, so greatly enriched as they were by the moving narrative, the immortal chronicle, of the lives of the twin-prophets of the nineteenth century, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, the episodes of the first act of the awkward and precious drama that has been my life, can now be surveyed with some understanding and equanimity. These years from the age of fifteen to twenty-four can now be seen as something more than an endless succession of engagements with the society and life around me in which I could not fully fathom, control and command events; in which I was the victim, apparently, of body chemistry and socialization influences; in which the light of a new religion became a flame and sent me across a vast and cold Canadian sky from Windsor in the south to Frobisher Bay in the north before I perished, as any critical observer may have hypothesized at the time, in a mental hospital on the shores of Lake Ontario not far from my home town. As a historian, the historian, of my life I can now give these years their meaning, perhaps not their final meaning, but certainly a meaning they did not possess back in those years 1959 to 1968. -Ron Price with thanks to Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p.3.

I was a nice boy,
one of the nicest
you could imagine.
I pleased everyone I knew,
especially myself,
for it seemed to me
life was one long indulgence.

And then the first pains came
and the winter of life set in
faster than a cold wind
bringing the first snows
and blanketing everything
with a white disguise,
with freezing ice.

I'd had a golden ball,
or so I thought, for years,
made of sensitivity, receptivity,
responsiveness, cooperation,
nonaggression, but I lost it
in those winter winds.
Perhaps it froze under the snow.
Perhaps those winds blew it away.

Then, unobtrusively,
on the way to or far up in
the Canadian north country,
where the world freezes
just about permanently,
I glimpsed that ball,
kept it within reach
in my new-dark world
of aloneness and fear.
It had golden thread.
I could see it in the distance
when I went for walks:
just, out there, sometimes
across Lake Ontario.
I held it in my sights
with dear life, intense.
I was becoming one of
that new race of men,
little did I know it.

Ron Price
26 January 2002

A NEW NOTION

Until the nineteenth century little meaning was attached to age, nor to time as we measure it today. Time and place were not separated as they are now. Evening began when the cows came home. Households, guilds, churches and community were the great determinants in people's lives. People's lives were largely circumscribed by place. Life was lived day-to-day and year to year, within "that small parenthesis." The notion of a continuous lifetime proceeding in a timely and sequenced manner, in stages from birth to death with some degree of planning was simply unavailable for generations which had little control over their lives. In the nineteenth century there emerged, first in northwestern Europe, the concept of the good life as a journey of continuous spiritual development.1 -Ron Price with thanks to John Gillis, A World of their Own Making: A History of Myth and Ritual in Family Life, Oxford UP, 1997, p.52.

It arose first in the merchant classes
and those patriarchal households,
in Protestant inner-worldly asceticism
and in the writings of those prophet-
founders of an emerging world religion,
all in the nineteenth century.

Sacred and resplendent tokens
to attract us from this place of dust
to the heavenly homeland,
to the court of holiness;
seeking every company,
fellowship with every soul,
consorting with people
of the immortal realm,
looking for Israfil
in the jewelled wisdom
of this lucid Faith
to bestow the spirit
on the mouldering bones
of this existence.1

1 Much of the phrasing in the 2nd stanza of this poem comes from Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952.

Ron Price
8 January 2002


And now for the first of three interviews which I include in this chapter of my autobiography. The interviews are from the years 1999 to 2002. I hope readers find some refreshing perspectives here, not just on poetry but on writing, on life and on the religion and society that have affected in so many ways my thoughts and my days and how they were lived.

SEGMENTS FROM INTERVIEWS IN 1999

INTERVIEWER(I):

Carlyle, the British historian, says that no great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men. What are your views on this concept?

PRICE(P):

One can not ignore the role of great men and great women but, if anything, this poetry is a testimony to the contribution of the not-so-great. One of the poems in this collection, a collection I have entitled Cascading Down1 after '15 small pools of water in the centre of the two sets of stairs leading from the Entrance Plaza to Terrace one.'(Bahá'í Canada, Baha, BE 156, p.5), answers this question in part. I refer you to that poem: 'At Speed and in the Darkness Before the Dawn' in which I have drawn heavily on J. Harrison's book The Common People.2 Obviously, Bahá'í history has great souls. Our history is a documentary to them; but it is also a history of the ordinarily ordinary and a greatness that comes from the humble and the unrecognised. This poetry is as much a tribute to this latter category, as the former. I see myself, in some ways, as a symbol of the ordinary.

Before continuing this interview, though, I would like to include the two references in the above section. The first reference is to a booklet of poetry, the thirty-fifth in the series, the last I wrote while living in Perth Western Australia.

1INTRODUCTION TO BOOKLET NUMBER THIRTY FIVE

What we have in these several genres, and especially in this poetic matrix, is a meticulous examination of a life(1944-1999) over several epochs of the first century of the Formative Age. Mine is a unique approach to autobiography within the existing body of Bahá'í literature and commentary. I speak from the interior of a life so that others may imagine themselves speaking; I also speak from the merely local and time-bound perspectives of the eighth, ninth and early tenth stages of Bahá'í history. I address both the externals of my life and our times as well as my unknowable inside, the inner life and private character.

For me this poetry is partly a romance of epic proportions. It is a romance that is also a tragedy and triumph, a vocabulary and a perspective, an interdependence of diverse points of view that lie along the linking line of my life's response in the space inhabited by my thinking and moving soul. It is not the poetry of 'white heat',1 as Emily Dickinson described her work in 1862, or 'faithful self-abandonment' as George Walley describes the poetic process.2 It is, rather, the poetry of a certain mysterious quietness that descended on my life after three decades of pioneering(1962-1992) a Cause that is the spiritual underpinning of the whole oeuvre. Perhaps it was what Dickinson described in:

..............................the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame's conditions,
It quivers from the Forge
Without a colour, but the light
Of unanointed Blaze.

By the early 1990s I had had some forty years of contact with this new Force with pretensions to being the newest of the world's great religions. The wider society I worked in and through, however, was largely unresponsive to its radical, its subtle, its new message. After three decades of pioneering its teachings among my contemporaries I seemed 'called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness', as Shoghi Effendi had been in his later years.3 At least, my experience, by 1993, had some similarities to his state, what you might call 'spiritual fatigue.' Only in my case it was a much more minor key than his. This factor, among a complex of other reasons, was what turned me to poetry. I think. It is difficult to know for sure.

I strive, as far as possible, to be understood in what I write. For I see my poetry as history, biographical source material, autobiography, an archive of our times. Like talking and wanting to connect, this poetry aims itself at an audience, an audience that is not yet. I try to surprise, 'Truth's superb surprise', to provide 'expression kind' and to say it all in a gradual and gentle form that is honest and direct.4 I would like to think that I am forging a link, one of many, for future generations to see into our times, the traces of our times by means of simple links of human experience. This is my aim. It is not so much a longing to be known, to acquire some of fame's fragile glory, some posthumously conferred immortality, but rather a perspective that sees-

The Poets light but lamps-
Themselves-go out-
The Wicks they stimulate-
..........
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference-6

With Dickinson, I see my poetry as disseminating something of the 'circumference' of both my time and my own life. The subject, the content, gives my voice, my poetry, form. To achieve this I need to focus on my ego. This is natural, a necessity, as natural as being centred in one's own brain, in one's own body. In the end, we must all nourish ourselves. It is all part of that self-love which 'Abdu'l-Bahá says is the very clay of man. And it must be done in both solitude and with people. My poetry is my fascination with the movement of my mind, my thought, my interior experience. I try to make of my dieing, immortality.7 For the last several years, since the Holy Year in 1992, this activity, this writing of poetry, has seemed ceaseless, a part of me like my own face. Hopefully, the winter of my life, the years ahead, will be 'as arable as (this) Spring.'8

I have moved on a teaching stage as wide as two continents, closer than most people get to the two poles9 of this bi-polar world. I have experienced the intensities that come from possessing a bi-polar tendency, formerly known as manic-depression, and can appreciate the view that my 'quietness' is simply a part of the levelling out of this tendency due to lithium carbonate treatment. By 1992 I had come to accept this treatment with equanimity after a decade of struggling to accept its necessary part of my life. I have spent a good deal of my time looking inward and this writing of poetry seemed to offer an opportunity to retreat to my innermost being, to that interior to which He summons us. Perhaps my poetry was a symbol of a recommitment to the Covenant, a rededication to duty, a revitalizing of my energy for teaching, that the Universal House of Justice wrote about10 when my commitment to poetry was just emerging. Time would tell.

Thirty-seven years after leaving home, of moving from place to place, for the Cause, for career, for psychological necessity, I trust I will feel no need to leave home, to move any more. My soul's passions can be as readily at hand in one's home, as elsewhere; although more moves may be inevitable in the last years of middle and late adulthood and old age. This poetry, then, is but one attempt, however inadequate, to describe the effects on one person, a pioneer within the framework of Bahá'í administration, of this new Revelation from God. It is my hope that my own effort will assist others in their efforts to define, to express the mystery of the interrelationship between their lives and a religion with the future in its bones, between the flower of their lives and the garden of the Cause.

Poetry comes unbidden, like flashes of good luck, some whelling up from within. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani expresses the process best in her 'Artist, Seeker and Seer'11 where she talks of 'the cleansing of the heart with the burning of the spirit'.12 I am not particularly conscious of possessing 'a clean heart'; like everyone's it is only partly clean. She goes on: 'the heart can recognize the relationship between dissimilarities, can reflect the patterns in which the blinding shapes and colours of human conscience revolve, and see a glimpse of certitude...'13 Astonishment and wonder certainly fill the veins, but so too does a sense of powerlessness, nothingness, a burden of sin and a heedlessness which threatens to destroy one's life, if one lets it.

I express the Beauty I have seen in my poetry. My poetic form, my method, is an expression of 'a form of seeing'14 that reflects the motions of my heart. It is a motion that has had the aspiration of 'the true believer': of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of fervid love, of rapture, of ecstacy.15 It is a motion, too, which increasingly observes 'the patterns of our lives' as they 'unfold through the dazzling coloured mansions of our Lord';16 or to put what Nakhjavani is saying in a different poetic context, the river of my life has come to dance in the sunlight of this new Revelation. There are mysterious subtleties of colour dancing in this sunlight. There is an abundance of life, of sight and sound, threading my life, my darkness, with the colours of day. My poetry is but one more attempt 'to find a fit vessel in which to sail on this light-filled and shoreless ocean of Baha.'17 As yet, this vessel is inaccessible, an interior, a private skiff, as far as the wider world and its audiences are concerned. Small parts of my opus are relevant and interesting to a mass audience; indeed, I have shared it with small parts of that audience in my contact with it in my personal and professional life.

It is difficult to know just where I am in the acquisition of my poetic voice. Perhaps a retrospective examination of my work one day will reveal that I have found it. I tend to think I have but, after only seven years of intensive writing of poetry, I am disinclined to say definitively. But whatever state I have achieved in the development of a distinctive voice, a body of poetry quite unlike any other has been created. It is the expression of a unique, a highly individual life. All of us have such lives, really when one examines them at the micro level, however similar they may be when examined in general terms. Mine is just one of the millions of potential lives that could be recorded autobiographically, diaristically. The main difference is that mine has been given definition and description in this autobiography. My quest is at once epistemological, personal and emotional. I like to see my quest as Everyman's, with my own particular colour, texture, tone, manner and mode, my own story.

As I gaze at my production of poetry over the last seven years, over four thousand one hundred poems, I am struck by its amplitude. I celebrate and commemorate hazardous states of the psyche, the wholeness of the psyche, the mysterious integration of the psyche that one could theologically define as grace, the balance between the known and the unknown in life. I am a proselyte for a new belief, a belief with a public character; I am also a person whose belief wants to express itself in art, in a deeply introspective and private way. I trust, though, that the different colours of a deeply inlaid skepticism, a cynicism, a pessimism and an optimism painted over half a century now of listening and observing, will provide a rich texture for any simple statement of dogma that is necessarily present in my poetry.

Many poets have a central theme. I suppose if I were to pick one from an off-the-cuff first impression of my work it would be: the Bahá'í Faith and me. Indeed both are the raison d'etre for my poetry. Take away these two topics and there is little left. We are all unique people and our unique personality constructs taken through the sifting mechanism of the Cause in this first century of the Formative Age produce a quality of individual personality and vision unlike no other: a heightened sense of the mind's uncharted possibilities; a triumphant sense that the solitary soul can define its own 'Superior instants' as Emily Dickinson called them; and a story of pain, anguish and powerlessness that can produce, paradoxically, an artistic, a spiritual, abundance.
But I must be cautious, as Gibbon notes in his history, for there "exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times." In these present times there were many evils to magnify, if I wanted to do so.

May 1999
FOOTNOTES

1. Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems, Number 365.
2. George Whalley, Poetic Process, Cleveland: A Meridian Book, 1967, p.xxv.
3. Dickinson, op.cit.
4. Ruhiyyih Khanum, Priceless Pearl, p.451.
5. Emily Dickinson, op.cit., Number 1129.
6. Number 883.
7. Emily Dickinson in Joyce Carol Oates, 'Soul At White heat: The Romance of Emily Dickinson's Poetry', Critical Inquiry, Summer 1987, Internet, p.6..
8. ibid.,p.7.
9. 63? north and 42? south: Frobisher Bay NWT to Queenstown Tasmania
10. Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1992, p.6.
11. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, 'Artist, Seeker and Seer', Bahá'í Studies, Vol.10, pp. 4-5.
12. Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian Number 8.
13. Nakhjavani, op.cit., p.4.
14. ibid.,p.5.
15. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.267.
16. Nakhjavani, op.cit.,pp.5-6.
17. ibid.,p.6.

And now to that book referred to at the opening of this interview.

2AT SPEED AND IN THE DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN

This poetry is by one of those who, were it not for his writing, would probably be left out of history, one of the seventy to ninety percent of the population who are neither rich, nor influential, not one of the major players on the stage, not famous as a writer or artist, just one of the many threads in the warp and weft that make up the Bahá'í community, who strove within the limits of his incapacity while he was alive to spread the Bahá'í teachings among his contemporaries and to be an example of its teachings. As the difficulties of his life continued in different ways over forty years of pioneering, poetry was produced like some diamond transformed from coal. This is often the case with writers. As the fog and pestilential smell of London thickened in the middle of the nineteenth century, the private life of Dickens got more and more difficult and his novels poured out of him giving vent to the harm he felt he had been afflicted with. While I, too, felt saddened by life's various forms of travail, I did not feel it ultimately to be tragic; nor did I feel harmed or injured by life. I often felt tired, sometimes despondent but, by the time I penned this work most of my despondency had been removed by the treatments I had received for my bi-polar tendency.

This document, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, in its many genres, may be useful in reconstructing the lives of the people of this age, the last three quarters of the first century of the Formative Age. There has been, throughout history, an inarticulateness on the part of the many that usually results from a shortage of community records, an inability to write, a lack of interest in leaving any record, a view that history is made by people in or with power, a perception that one's life is unimportant, insignificant.

This lack of records is clearly being remedied in our 'paper age', this 'age of analysis' with seemingly endless correspondence, computers, cassette and video tape. But the task of recreating our present age and how it felt to live in these times to those living in them may not be as easy to achieve as one might think. Individual statements, autobiographies, especially from the ordinary believer who lacks fame, rank, status or wealth are not among the sort of books that publishers seriously entertain for their markets. So, there is little payoff, so to speak, in putting your story down on paper, if you are one of the ordinary 'blokes.' Whatever is written of this nature seems to achieve its usefulness decades, if not centuries, later, when the history of the period in question is written.

Future historians must construct the pattern of our time through selection, suggestion and implication. Often the further historicans get away from the period about which they are writing, the better they are able to write about it. I trust what historians and sociologists find here will be of some use. -Ron Price with thanks to J.F.C. Harrison, The Common People: A History from the Norman Conquest to the Present, Flamingo Paperbacks, London, 1984, Introduction.

Seeing how long it has taken
for the writings, diaries, letters,
poetry and historical records of
our first century to get published,
I bequeath this my magnum opus
to posterity, testifying as I do
to the complexity of the task
for an ordinary believer,
an international and homefront pioneer
in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th epochs,
to recount in some meaningful way
the endless flux of events
that make up his Bahá'í experience
and that of his fellows
over four decades, or more
in this century and beyond.

It seems, as I look back
over all these years in the field,
like I have spun a thin tissue,
a web, across two continents,
from pole to pole,
in this darkness before the dawn,
by some instinctual force, some feeling,
with the mind on all-ahead-full,
always running, a new rung every second,
making one of a thousand designs:
the funnel, orb, dome, bowl, tub or purse.1
Using the same principles and materials,
forms that will evolve over generations
perhaps millennia or more.
And here I am right at the start,
in the first quarter-century
in nearly all the communities
where I have lived and had my being.2

Ron Price
10 May 1999

1 Guy Murchie describes the variety of webs spiders weave at speed 'in the darkness before the dawn.'(Seven Mysteries of Life, p.250.)
2 Except Toronto Ontario, where I lived for a few months in 1969 and which had had a Bahá'í community for more than half a century, all the other communities I worked in, about two dozen, were in their first twenty-five years of their Bahá'í experience, as far as I know.


To return to that interview..........

I: Is there much in your poetry about your family history and its relationship with the Cause?

P: The first two poems in the collection of poetry I sent to the World Centre were written in the first week of September 1992. They were addressed to my mother who passed away in 1978. She started investigating the Bahá'í Faith in 1953. One of the poems in this collection was inspired by my grandfather's autobiography, A.J. Cornfield's Story, about his early life from 1872 to 1901. I refer you to this poem: '1953: A Turning Point in History' to partly answer this question. There are, of course, many other poems that involve my family history. It is impossible to separate family history from one's autobiography, whether that autobiography is poetic narrative or simple narrative prose. I know nothing at all of my family history before 1872 and so, as yet, there is no poetry about it. Something may come up that is based on history in Wales, England and France. Time will tell. We could hold a separate interview on the influences of family; I have referred to some of them in the first eleven interviews. But I think this is enough for now.

I: Have you written many poems about specific contemporary events in the political, social, economic and historical worlds?

P: Only very occasionally. I think there are a number of complex interacting factors that, for various reasons, make writing poetry about 'the news' difficult. There is something about 'the news' that has an air of fantasy, of make-believe, about it. There is also the problem of making sense of the recent past. Kosovo or East Timor are good examples, to chose two from a potential multitude. You really have to give the issue a great deal of time to unravel the complexity. There is just so much going on that the mind is on overload. Getting a precise knowledge seems just about impossible except for the specialist. There is no cultural and classical consensus any more and there hasn't been, perhaps since the beginning of the Formative Age in 1921, perhaps since the 1950's and the onset of postmodernism; so what the individual gets is an enormous plethora of opinions, a pastiche, incoherence, with little sense of overview. As the French sociologist/philosopher Jean Baudrillard puts it: it has became very difficult to plot reality, or even get a sense of who you are. Any poems I do write in this area of social analysis tends to be 'big picture', 'whole culture', 'wide angle' stuff.

I: I understand you have just retired from teaching. What is the experience like thusfar?

P: Yes I've had over six weeks thusfar, what you might call the honeymoon period of retirement. The first thing I notice is that I've slowed down. I wrote a poem this morning about the hibiscus(see the enclosed poem: 'Flame Out'). The poem would not have been written under normal circumstances because I needed to be in low gear, enough to stop and have a good look, especially standing out in the rain trying to write the poem. I get a good forty minutes of brisk walking in every day. I've never been able to do that before. I'm also getting to know my wife again after years of running past her on my way to work, meetings, or something that I had to do. We are also getting ready to move to Tasmania so I'm useful around the house in preparation for the departure.

I: Spike Milligan says his father said that he would rather tell him stories about himself that were exciting but a lie, than tell him stories that were boring but true. For some of us the incurable romantic never dies. Is there any of this romanticism in your poetry?

P: My mother used to say to me, I remember, back in the early 1960s before I went pioneering, that the Bahá'í Faith was a good religion for me because of the strong element of the theatre in its framework of activities. The social dimension of life and the arts inevitably involves a certain theatricality. As I said, too, in my introduction to Roger White's Occasions of Grace there is in the Bahá'í ethos, at least there is for me, a stong element of the cry of all Romantic artists since the industrial revolution: I don't want comfort; I want God; I want poetry; I want real danger; I want freedom; I want goodness; I want sin. Well, I'm not so sure about the real danger any more; I'd like to avoid sin as much as possible as the evening of my life beckons, but a certain amount of sin, or the shadow life as Jung calls it, seems integral to existence; and I do like my bourgeois comforts. So I suppose I'm just a part Romantic on these qualified terms.

I: How are your ideas born, where does the energy come from and how do they develop into poems? Do you know what you're doing? Are you perfectly secure in your writing?

P: Ideas for poetry are born of intuition, there's a lightness right at the start, a quickness, a feeling of 'connection, of yes, of aha, there's something here, this is good, I like this.' The poem is an effort at taking these feelings, this brightness and giving it form, development, substance, more than the airy-nothing, the vagueness, the potentiality which it is at that starting point and which it will be, if I don't work on it and give it shape.

The energy comes from books, from experiences, from being in a room alone and being with others in social situations. Ideas come in a myriad of ways. The poem becomes a stopping point in my journey, a brief visible moment, a resting place in that same journey, a sustained note, a punctuation mark, a point I can look back on later in life in quite a different way than the normal memory trip. The whole exercise of writing the poem is usually quite spontaneous, quite fast, although on occasion the poem takes two or three hours to take form. I think, too, it is born from the repetitious aspect of life. There is translation involved, a translation of the world into language.

I feel a strong sense that I know what I am doing. I also have an equally strong sense of security, but it is always mysterious, the process of writing a poem. With each poem, or group of poems, I define the process more sharply, more definitively, more comprehensively. In writing poems I pay a lot of attention to what I am doing, to giving the process a description. I would say, looking back over what must be at least two million words now, that there is an ongoing poetic analysis of process, of content, of relationships between what I am doing and both myself, my Faith and my society which are the three corners of the geometric triangle that is my poetry. The sense of security is not arrogance, superiority, or self-righteousness. It is a composite feeling that is firstly inspired by my religious commitment, the faith that is built on this commitment, something that is reflected in all the appropriate protocols of piety I know as a faithful petitioner and practitioner. It is also a feeling that takes me out to sea, with my spirit wrung, with remorse on my wings, with an open wet world beyond which I do not always approach with courage, often with sadness, for I am aware of my cowardice, for I am human. My poetry is born from experience and trying to put this experience into words.

I: Obviously, then, you see your own life in, and as, your poetry?

P: Yes, I often feel I am the path which is outlined in my poetry. It is a line of movement between the many places, many towns I have lived in and travelled through, the many experiences I have had. It is a path, a line, conditioned by my thoughts, feelings, indeed everything that has happened to me. Not all of it is down on paper, but what is not there will disappear into oblivion and be no more, eventually. What is there is my line; I walk my line. We all walk our own line; it is the easiest thing a human being can do to put our mark on a place...and the hardest! My words have a substantive actuality about them for my poems are autobiographical and I bring my society and my Faith into relation with my self. I don't do this in all my poems but many of them I do.

Every work of art, every poem, has its own mysterious sense of purpose about it, except for the works of those, I suppose, who see their work as devoid of purpose. This purpose comes partly from the traces of energy used in the making of the work. There is an energy connected with the spiritual path as defined in the Bahá'í teachings. There is an energy in aloneness and its simplicity. Purpose is also connected with a withdrawal of energy and its defining, delimiting, function. Purpose also comes from the viewer's own inner journey in relation to mine, to me, the provider of the poetry. I try to keep all channels of sensitivity open, to experience things as keenly and immediately as possible and to explore as deeply into reality as I can. My poetry, in the end, should be a conveyor of this feeling ; for, as Pound once said, only emotion endures.

I: Tell us a little about some of your thoughts on poetry.

P: Writing poetry is like finding your place in a room, in a group, on a street, in a town, in a state, in a country, in the world. Finding your place, bringing the physical things around you into the right, the most suitable, relationship. The process is dynamic; so is the process of writing poetry. You have to find the right set of words and when you find it, you move on to another poem, to another part of life. It's like making everything your friend, making it familiar, even when you've never seen it before. You do the same with people, so you are comfortable wherever you go in the world, as long as you're not freezing or roasting. The process of writing poetry is a poeticizing of your world, of a translation of the familiarization and the estrangement, yes, estrangement, because you can't win it all. You are going to hurt, be hurt, feel alone, afraid, joyful, et cetera.

I: Do you always feel happy when writing poetry?

P: Most of the time it is an exercise in concentrated pleasure. Effort, my life, my world, come together in a pleasing mix. This is what keeps me at it day after day, year after year. Also, by the time I had started writing poetry seriously, I was tired of a lot of things in life. Poetry was clearly a new lease on life. I'm happy and relaxed when I write; occasionally, when something has got under my skin and I'm feeling sad, despondent, unhappy, or whatever, writing poetry is like a conduit for this negativity. I usually work it out, like someone else might do a physical workout. Of course, some problems, as Jung says, are never worked out. I write poetry because it has deep meaning to me; the most profound, sublime feelings come to me, from time to time, when I work in the privacy of my chamber. I hope this sublimity comes through to the reader.

INTERVIEW NUMBER FIVE WITH RON PRICE

This is the fifth interview in fifteen months. It resulted from reading a series of interviews with Edward Albee over the twenty-five year period 1961 to 1987 and published in Conversations With Edward Albee, Philip C. Kolin, University of Mississippi Press, London,1988. Knowing as I do that these are historic days, days of infinite preciousness in the brief span of time before the end of the century, days of urgent and inescapable responsibility as I strive toward my God-promised destiny in the midst of a spiritual drama,1 provided a motivational matrix for the comments that follow.

1Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1997.

Questionner(Q):Are you conscious of influences on your poetry?
Price(P): Yes and no. My religion, my reading, 'big' events in my life, people(family, friends, associations) are each and all immense influences on what I write. Given the time and the inclination I'm sure I could point to literally hundreds of poems that have direct links to one of these four influences. That's the 'yes' part. The 'no' part would go something like this: often I begin a poem and I have no idea how it will end and I have no idea just where it came from, the germ of the idea. It's like the birth of a baby and you did not know you were even pregnant. Keats put it well in a letter he wrote in 1820 and which I often quote, or paraphrase. Once a poet gets to a certain intellectual maturity ethereal finger-paintings can be engendered, voyages of conception he calls them, which arise out of the most mundane experiences.

I must say, too, that I feel a proud identification with the Bahá'í heritage which, arguably now, goes back two centuries or more. It informs my quest for a better world. My whole sense of belonging, or being part of something important, something far bigger and greater than I will ever be, indeed, and my entire life experience has allowed me to develop a world view which transcends any specific situation I find myself in; for example, the many years I have spent pioneering in remote places where my wife and I and my children and sometimes a few others, were the only Bahá'ís. I extrapolate my referential framework of Bahá'í philosophy and its politico-sociological thought and this extrapolation gives me an understanding of the roots of the unfolding world-wide crisis that I have lived through, that my parents lived through and, perhaps, as far back as the history of human beings on this planet.

My enthusiastic subscription to Spinoza's concept of the organic unity of God, man, and nature which proclaims the world's moral regeneration; indeed much in the whole history of philosophy, I find relevant to the Bahá'í vision, the basis for a vast synthesis which I'm confident will take place in the centuries ahead. My faith in the Bahá'í teachings, not merely as the basis of an international movement, but as the materialization of universal ideals of brotherhood and peace, also informs everything I write.

Q: Are there any serious problems with the interview method?
P: The viewer or the reader who comes across a transcript must keep in mind that answers change. Truth is relative. Individuals change. Ways of thinking about things go through processes of complete overhauling. As Edward Albee put it in an interview in 1980 with Peter Adam, an interviewee finds as he is giving an answer, one he has given many a time, and in mid-stream he realizes he does not believe that answer any longer, or it is just not true. It's part of that idea "how do I know what I think until I see what I've said." The interviewer also has to keep in mind that we all have many selves, many 'positions', we are many things to many different people. I find a position, a point of view, evolves with each poem; it's an organic process.

Also, the concept that the spark of truth comes from the clash of differing opinions means that the interviewee often will play the devil's advocate just to generate that truth spoken of above. I've played that role as a teacher to precipitate that spark, that verbal polarity. The observer may often wonder 'just what is it that Price does think?'

A sociologist with what is called 'the interactionist perspective' might say something like 'a sense of self results from the process of interaction.' Putting this a little differently, he might say the interviewer strongly influences the way the interviewee comes across. There are many things that affect an apparently neutral or objective interview. There's a whole literature available now on the subject of interviewing. I often play the devil's advocate game when my wife and I are in company. My wife used to find it quite annoying, but she's used to it now, well nearly. We've been married for 22 years now.

Q: Do you prefer the ambiguities of life or the simple, clear and factual in your poetry?
P: You really need both in poetry. They compliment each other over and over again. As Carl Jung says most of the really important things in life don't admit to answers. It's better that way, he argues, they give us something to work on right to the end of it all. They help us grow. The endless analysis of issues helps to fill life's spaces in with challenges, enigmas, paradoxes that the mind can play with forever; for so much of the everyday is factual and beyond analysis, the routine, the sensory, better just enjoyed without too much thought.

Q: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
P: I don't consider writing as work. I like to read, eat, drink, sleep, walk; I actually like my job as a teacher; I enjoy relationships, some of the time; I enjoy shopping, although my wife would never believe that; I enjoy driving in air-conditioning on a hot day; I like swimming, sauna-bathing, good grief, I could go on and on. 'The usual stuff,' as Edward Albee put it when he was asked the same question.

Q: Why did you stop sending your poetry to the Bahá'í World Centre Library?
P: After sending nearly 3000 poems in less than five years--1992-1997--I felt a little pretentious that so much of my work was being stored there and me not being either famous or rich. I felt I had expressed my enthusiasm to a sufficient degree for the marvellous developments on the Arc and it was time to leave it off, so to speak. I got the idea of sending my poetry to other places and this is what I plan to do since it is really impossible to get my poetry published at the various publishing houses around the Bahá'í world.

Q: Do you think much of your audience as you write?
P: They drift somewhere out on the periphery. Our society is largely a film and television culture with poetry just about irrelevant, 'cauterized, coterized'. Millions write the stuff, on the net, in little magazines, probably more poetry being written than in all history. But, like the theatre, it's not mainstream, although when I read Pamela Brown's description of poetry as 'close to popular culture', I understand what she's driving at.1 My concern is with the reality, the honesty, the poem I'm writing. It's quite an introspective process. It's not about popularity. I'm in there but the audience hardly exists, except in a posthumous sense. I like to think what I write may be valued, as W.H. Auden put it once, by some future generation. Time will tell.

Q: The Polish poet Cszeslaw Milosz said that poetry should be written rarely and reluctantly under unbearable duress and only in the hope that good spirits choose us for their instruments. Your poetry would seem to testify to the opposite of this philosophy?

P: I like the last part of the idea. I like the concept of being a channel for good spirits beyond the grave, although it is always difficult to know for sure when you are serving in such a capacity. As far as the frequency of writing is concerned, I think that is quite an idiosyncratic issue. The opus of each poet is different; the published portion varies from virtually nothing to many volumes; for still others, like Emily Dickinson, it all gets published after their death. For still others it happens, like Keats, when they are young, like a flood; or like me, in middle age, another flood. In some ways I think poetry chooses you; it is not forced. I think the confluence of the death of Roger White and the anchorage I found here in Perth after years, two decades, of moving from town to town and job to job allowed my poetry to find a home in this world.

I must say, though, that Milosz has put his finger on part of the essence of poetry-the pain of life, the suffering in human existence. But this is only part of the story. There is also the public pain in this dark heart of an age of transition, as the Guardian calls our times. There is also the joy, the adventure, the knowledge and understanding and so much, much more.

Q: Do you plan any of your poetry? Do you worry about where the next one will come from?

P: Ralph Waldo Emerson used to worry about the ending of his creativity. I come across this idea from time to time in reading about other poets, not frequently, but occasionally. The only time I worried significantly about creativity was when I used in argue with myself about taking lithium which seemed to have an effect on my creative edge. That was in the 1980s, by the '90s I did not concern myself at all. If I lose interest in writing poetry, I will probably miss it because it has been such a source of pleasure, for at least five years now. One can't predict this sort of thing in life any more than one can plan the next poem. Poems seem to pop out of some intuitive, cognitive-emotional zone. The only planning that takes place is while I write but, even then, the whole thing usually comes pretty fast, like the rushing current of a river. It is very cathartic.

I don't have time to worry about the process, although occasionally I agonize over a phrase, an ending, a word. I've been averaging a little under two poems a day for five years. I'm awake for about 16 hours a day and two poems does not sound like much: a poem every eight hours, some 500 minutes. One could argue that this is not that prolific. But given the fact that I'm a teacher, a parent, a husband and am involved in the local Bahá'í community, I would not want the process to be any faster. When I retire in a few years perhaps the production rate will increase. I'm not sure who controls the assembly line. I have a central role and certainly push alot of buttons. Perhaps, if the stuff is not very good I can blame Ford!

Q: Gwen Harwood the Australian poet who died two years ago in Hobart said she did not think about her position in the literary field; she did not intellectualize about her writing. You appear to do some intellectualizing about your work. How would you describe your attitude to your writing?

P: I don't really have a position in the literary field, not yet anyway. I am a solitary person after I leave my various professional and public responsibilities. I am not against the idea of a public definition, fame or wealth and if it comes my way that will be fine, but I don't seek it out. One of the reasons I have put these interviews together, though, is that I think about what I write. I seek out a sense of definition, a sense of an articulated perspective. I want to be able to put into words what I'm trying to do. It is part of being a wordsmith, part of the autobiographical process. But it is not just an autobiographical surge of the spirit.

Gwen calls herself a Romantic. She said she thought it was 'a nice thing to be called.'2 I've always thought of W.B. Yeats as the last of the Romantics, although certain Romantic tendencies linger: the desire to reform humanity, messianic interests. I have such interests. It would be difficult for a Bahá'í not to have them. These interviews express a certain intellectualization of what I do, where I'm at. My writing is also a bi-product of tranquillity, emotions recollected in tranquillity as Wordsworth put in 200 years ago. After three decades of the hectic, the problems of maturity, marriage and career I feel a certain peace, what one poet called the golden years.

Q: Why do you write poetry when you are obviously an effective communicator in your profession as a teacher? I would have thought you'd had enough 'communicating' at the end of the day.

P: Yes, for twenty years, beginning in 1973, I've seen myself as an effective communicator in the classroom. Student evaluations of my work also support my own view and I enjoy the teaching process immensely. But I have found communication in my two marriages has not been easy. Also the general difficulty I have had, and the rest of the Bahá'í community in the West, in communicating the Bahá'í teachings to the people we contact each day...and the importance given by the Bahá'í community to this teaching process...creates a pressure that the Bahá'í lives with year after year. I think writing poetry has partly been a response to this pressure and the tensions in my two marriages over more than twenty-five years. Also, no matter how popular one is as a teacher, there are inevitably tensions associated with one's professional life as a teacher. I also read an average of a book a day and have for years and my mind just gets so full of stuff-in addition to the endless output of the media and what one gets from the seemingly endless conversations with people-that I need some outlet. Ideas build up, float around, scratch about. I should say something, too, about Rilke in closing because so many things he said in his 'advice to poets' explain the reasons I write.3

Q: Why the sudden outburst in poetry in your late 40s and early 50s?

P: By my late forties I'd written 150,000 words of published essays in Katherine when I wrote for newspapers in the Territory. I'd also written enough academic essays to sink a ship, although I still did not have a Master's Degree. I'd tried writing sci-fi, but ran out of ideas and found it too demanding. I think I got to 40,000 words one summer holiday; I even went off my lithium in the hope that the creative edge would be sharper. But I found the exercise too onerous. A lady in California, Betty Conow, who had edited some of my essays at the request of Roger White, suggested I write poetry. I had been doing a little poetry writing, perhaps two dozen poems a year from mid-1980 to early 1992. Then the surge started. In the last four months of 1992 I wrote 75 poems; in 1993, 700 poems; in 1994, 708 poems; from 1995 to April 1997 another 1500 poems. I have tried to answer this question in other interviews in other ways. This is yet another stab at it.

Q: Would you say your poetry is strongly 'message oriented'?

P: Some of it is clearly didactic. I've got something to say, about a thousand-and-one things. There are probably several major themes which I've commented on before in other interviews(Volumes 17, 20, 21 and 24) I try to be humorous when it comes naturally; I try to contextualize the message in history, in my own life and ideas. But I don't worry too much about how people are going to react. I did in the early years of my writing and I think the worry was useful because I wound up simplifying my poetry so people could understand it and, in the main, I achieved this. I've had several public readings of my poetry in Fremantle and I was well received. I felt like I was in a classroom. Of course, not everyone is going to understand what you write and there will often be interpretations of your words that you had no intention of putting in. But I think you have to let it go, let it travel on its own, wild and free so to speak.

Q: How would you label yourself as a poet?

P: I don't like labels. I'm a Bahá'í who writes poetry, or should I say I'm trying to be a Bahá'í and I try to write poetry. I find the term 'poet' a little pretentious. Even with the terms 'husband' and 'father' I sense a gap. They are roles you only partially fill. Being a poet is not a career position, a career move, part of a trajectory. It's an occasional experience. It is not loaded with expectations; you don't have to prove anything. Occasionally when I read in public I feel like a performer, an entertainer. The label 'poet' is not one I wear comfortably. In some ways writing is more what you hear than what you write. Labels tie things down too much; I want to savour the experience in all its complexity and expansiveness in a living world. A poem can not be summed up in a glance, any more than a painting. It needs time and patience. The more time and patience, the more labels disappear. I don't like to see a break between the aesthetic, the poetic, the sociological, the historical, the psychological. The whole of existence is multi-dimensional, interdisciplinary, incredibly complex and utterly simple all at once. It can't be reduced to some label, although I like Judith Rodriguez's definition of poetry as 'the habit of squeezing for the essence.'4

Poetry has a long history now of movements, positions, ideas, approaches, styles. It's like many other disciplines there is alot going on in them when you start to get into them. I'm teaching a course now in sociological theory; I used to teach philosophy. I took an eclectic approach to these subjects and I do the same with poetry.

Q: You have been asked many times about the influence of the Bahá'í Faith on your poetry. Could you answer this question again?

P: Some poets are ambivalent about the influence of religion. Fay Zwicky thinks of religion as one great confidence trick, for example. Other poets are clearly Christian in some way or other; sometimes the influence is obvious; sometimes it's indirect. Sometimes poets talk about how Taoism or Buddhism influences their perspectives. Anyone who reads my poetry to any extent will know that the Bahá'í teachings, its history, its organization, its philosophy, etcetera are manifest again and again in my poetry. In fact, I would say if you are not interested in the Bahá'í Faith you would have to cut away, what, fifty to ninety per cent of my poetry? So much of what I write is inspired by, a comment on, a wrestle with, some aspect of this Cause that I have belonged to for nearly forty years.

Also, it is my view that no sage in modern times has conceived a more exalted or a juster idea of human nature, though it must be confessed that, in any sublime inquiry into the System which had evolved out of the ideas of Bahá'u'lláh. His reason was always guided by His belief that He was unerringly guided and that His imagination was totally in tune with the powers and wisdoms of Divinity Itself. When I viewed, even with a complacent temper the extent of His wisdom; when I exercised my various faculties of memory, of fancy and of judgment, in the most profound speculations of which I was capable or in the most important labours which had devolved to my duty, and when I reflected on that which would transport me into future ages, far beyond the bounds of death and of the grave, I was lost in awe at the contemplation of this precious Being. No influence could exceed that influence on my work.

Q: How do you cope with all the personalities that come into your life?

P: I try to cut off when I'm finished with the 'duty' side of my life. I'm a little like Keats in the sense that I absorb alot of my environment when I'm out in it. It's like being fully turned on, ultra-receptive; things impinge, sometimes quite acutely. So I try to turn that whole world off and read and write. This way I can control the input totally. I like to think this will be a permanent diet when I retire. For now I can only get a few weeks, a few days, a few hours, of solitude. I desire invisibility for the next dip into the jungle of life and all its complexity and stimulation. When I have had humanity in and out of every corner of my being, then I seek silence, solitude. It's then that I read about poetry, but I rarely read poetry itself. I want to listen to my own voice; the voice of others gets in the road, or it's just plain uninteresting. But some poetry you want in your head so you read and reread it: Shakespeare, Dickinson, Keats, Dawe, etcetera.

Q: You plan to read at the July 1997 Conference on Global Governance in Perth?

P: Yes, I have not read publicly in the Bahá'í community yet. I've given many Bahá'ís a poem or two, or more. I've read a poem once or twice in Belmont at a Feast or a deepening. I've written many essays about poetry, especially Roger White's. I've got nearly 3000 of my poems at the Bahá'í World Centre Library. I've read publicly, as I've said before, at a cafe in Fremantle. But no official exercise like this conference in Perth. I read rarely because I find it limits the text of my poetry; it is too oriented to the trivial, to entertainment. It must be if it will be heard and enjoyed. It limits the reader's reaction by imposing the author's view, although being a teacher I'm used to doing that. You have to when you're on the stage with an audience. I'm not a performance poet, although on those occasions when I have been 'performing', it has been quite successful. I enjoy pleasing people but, after twenty-seven years of teaching on a thousand platforms, it does not have the turn-on it used to do. I prefer the page, the book, kept, preserved.

I think my general lack of interest in self-promotion, voyeurism as some call it, begins in the desire for solitude. I'm not interested in being a personality. I've done this for nearly thirty years as a teacher and lecturer. Public reading tends to put a portrait around the poetry. Tagore or White would have preferred a focus on the poetry not the personality. Some publishers prefer it that way too. They don't even put photographs in with the poetry. Maybe in the next five years of writing poetry I may find myself with a more public profile. We shall see.

Q: Tell us a little about your concept of the imagination and how it works in your poetry.

P: I think imagination functions firstly in terms of history. If I think of it, virtually all of my poetry is about remembering, remembering the past and projecting a future. There is in my poetry what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls a 'depth hermeneutic' of historical imagination. I am involved deeply in a reinterpretation of our cultural memory, my society's, my religion's and myself. The remembrance of things past is a motive power in the struggle I and my fellow Bahá'ís are involved with in changing the world. I am involved with breaking the stranglehold of dominant and modern ideologies; I am involved with taking the struggle to the very centre of the world past the right and left wings of the hosts of all the countries. My ethical and poetic imagination is involved with telling and retelling the story of myself and my religion. I know my story is never complete. In the process there is a great deal of pleasure and delight associated with what, for me anyway, is authentic learning. The task of the imagination and out of all this learning is, what you might call, the creation of a narrative identity. For this identity is not a fait accompli.

Q: Thank you again for your time. I have lots more questions but no more time. I wish you well, Ron, in the years ahead and to many more years of writing poetry.

P: Thank you; I hope the buzz continues to enrich my middle years.

Ron Price
25 April 1997

1 Pamela Brown in A Woman's Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets, Jenny Digby, University of Queensland Press, 1996, p.183.
2Gwen Harwood in A Woman's Voice: Conversations With Australian Poets, Jenny Digby, University of Queensland Press, 1996, p. 45.
3 R.M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, W.W. Norton and Co., 1962(1954).
4Judith Roriguez, ibid., p.164.

Ron Price
23 April 1997

INTERVIEW 19

The interview below is intended to provide some helpful perspectives in relation to my poetry. Anyone interested in following-up on this interview, in obtaining more details on my approach to poetry, can read a number of the other 18 interviews, book reviews, history, poetry, etc. available on the Internet at: users.intas.net.au/pricerc

Note: All 'interviews' are simulations and this one was prepared as part of a package inclusion in a booklet called Twenty Years On for the Bahá'í Council of the Northern Territory late in 2002.

Interviewer: (I) Would you say your poetry has evolved, especially in the last twenty years, to serve specialized uses that cannot be served by other means?

Price: (P) Poetry, for me, serves many uses: some academic, some exegetical, interpretive, imaginative, some narrative, some active, some polemical, some autobiographical, some creative, some communal-community oriented, some confessional, some conversational, some identity defining: my identity, my society, my religion, my ideas. I think I can achieve these ends, serve these uses or purposes in other forms of writing but not as efficiently, as conveniently, as succinctly, as through poetry.

I've tried novels, some dozen efforts in the last twenty years but the furthest I've got is about 30,000 words, perhaps twice; I've tried autobiographical narrative twice: 30,000 and then 60,000 words in a second edition. Maybe someone will publish it long after I've gone. I've kept a journal, a diary, off-and-on, even retrospectively, becoming a narrative in the century 1944 going back to 1844. This loose, drifting material of life, as Virginia Woolf calls it, this place where one flings a mass of odds and ends, I only turn to occasionally, perhaps half a dozen times a year these days. Maybe I'll utilize this genre in my later adulthood. I've never counted the words but it occupies four volumes here in my study.

Essays give my poetry the only real competition it needs to concern itself with. I must have 150 essays unpublished and another 150 published. I tend to turn to the essay for some extended piece of thinking and writing. It is about as extended as I want to be, say, two or three thousand words. This amounts to two to three hundred thousand words. I write short, two to three hundred word, items for magazines and letters to family and friends, publishers and magazines. Finally, I keep notes on a myriad subjects in over one hundred binders in my study. But, without question, poetry is king for me and has been for ten years: 1992 to 2002.

I: Could you comment on the notion of form in your poetry?

P: Over these ten years a poem has become for me, firstly, a combination of prose and poetry. I usually introduce a poem with a prose epilogue, often quite a long epilogue, one of fifty to a hundred words and sometimes two hundred or more words. I think my poetry has as its first major feature this prose-poetry form. Perhaps the word category is better than form; it is certainly another word I'd use to provide some typology, some organizational model for what I call poetry. My poems are conversational, autobiographical. They are my way of telling the story, a story, my story, or, as Robert Pinsky calls it, they are each a thing in itself, not a member of some category. Each poem is an organic crystallization of experience and thought. It involves the play, the interplay, of imagination and thought. The result is the experience of the power to discover form. For me, though, a poem's content is largely, though not entirely, independent of its form. I agree with poetry critic Jonathan Holden who says that the main anxiety of modern or postmodern poetry is "anxiety with respect to poetic convention." What is the most suitable form for my verse, for what I want to write? Since there is no sure sense of what poetic form should be, what are the most favourable conditions for my poetry? In the last ten years I found a form, a style, that was suited for where I was at in my life--a man in his fifties on the edge of retirement from his profession-- and where society was at, if I can be so presumptuous to define such a complex thing.

I: Since so much of your poetry could be labelled conversational poetry, could you tell us a little about how you see it in overview?

P: In conversational poetry the poet or the speaker in the poem is not famous or well known. They are ordinary men and women, unless the persona they create for a particular poem is famous in some way. In my case the ordinary person is myself sharing the same quotidian life as my readers. If I am to get the attention of the reader I must establish some element of extraordinariness in my poem, in my conversation. Unless it is at least equal in value in some way to the best or the most useful conversation the poem has no raison d'etre. I'm sure that is the main reason why most of what I write, what most poets write, fails to attract a readership. People find other art forms, other activities including conversation, quite simply more attractive, more engaging. For the most part, there is little I can do about that. Wordsworth and many since him in the last two centuries wrote conversational poetry, but their language is now seen as hackneyed and obsolete, at least for most readers. Wordsworth's vision was lofty but it does not capture the modern imagination.

I certainly have vision in my poetry but getting the attention of readers is no simple art today. My free-verse, narrative, conversation poem or voice, what you could also call 'prose lyric,' establishes its authority, its arousal of interest, by means of some narrative, some ethical, tone inherent in the voice and sensibility of the poem. It's very informality and familiarity is its strength. Another type of conversational poem is the rhetorical, with its heightened and dignified language. It is digressive, abstract, meditative, speculative, philosophical in type. It establishes itself through an aesthetic, intellectual voice.

I colour my conversation like some stained-glass window which colours the daylight and, whereas conversation is generally lost to history, I see my poetry as more enduring since my intentions are to a large extent communal. My work is part of a texture of community, in this case the Bahá'í community, with its pretensions, aspirations, to a long range future and role to play in the history of global civilization.

The evolution of nearly half a century has instructed me not to press too closely the mysterious language of prophecy and revelation that is part of my Faith. The concept and, I believe, the reality, of the sublime language of revelation is productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of the Bahá'ís, who live in the inspired expectation of that period, that golden age, when the globe itself, and all the various races of humankind, will gather together in one human family under the authority and guidance of their divine Judge and Lawgiver. My poetry is, in some ways, the quintessential opposite, the polar opposite of the language of prophecy and revelation.
In the most general sense my poetry is an expression of what Freud says about knowledge that it "begins with perception and ends with response." My poetry is part of my life's response to seemingly endless perception.

I: The poet Robert Hillyer sees poetry as a more natural form of expression than prose. Poets often turn to what you might call non-literary analogues such as conversation, confession and dream to recover some of the favourable conditions for poetry. Do you agree with Hillyer?

P: He certainly tells it as I experience it. Of course, not everyone sees it the same way. But there is certainly a naturalness to poetry for me, unquestionably. There is a naturalness for me in writing letters and essays too, but little naturalness in writing novels and diaries. Poems furnish a subtler vocabulary than other forms of writing for my experience, for how I want to write about my life, any life, anything. My poetry is not narrowly self-involved, although some critics may find it so. It is not self-pitying and whiningly confessional, although occasionally it may slip into that niche. There is playfulness here and a facing of life's issues squarely, at least sometimes, like everyone else. I have been hurt, cowed and intimidated along with the rest of my fellow man by various situations in life and this rich, but not so happy experience, is reflected in my poetry. Yes, to answer your question, I think my poetry has that naturalness.

I: Do you think interviews like this help others to get into your poetry more easily?

P: I'm sure some will find interviews like this invaluable. They help provide a critical context and introduce readers to poems that might have eluded their notice. Here is someone explaining a context for his poetry and giving readers a certain illumination often before they have even seen the poetry. My aim is to enlarge the vision, the appreciation, of the reader. It is all part of trying to win over the readers. They have a lot of people vying, playing for their attention. I know I have to work at it and, even if I work hard and do my darndest, the great bulk of the reading public in these early years of the twenty-first century is going to pass me by.

It's a ticklish business trying to describe poetry, trying to find the right words. The effect on a reader of a fully achieved poem, if there is such a thing, can be no more rationally explained or methodized than a composer can explain a haunting melodic line, although one can try--and many do--I among them. All of my consciousness, all of the meaning I find and the self I construct from this is all dependent on my habits of attention, as William James puts it.

I have found there to be a dizzying effect of wearing one hat and then another, of spreading my attention across so many fields and so many personalities, so many places and so many jobs. I think this can be mitigated by taking stock of myself in this process of writing autobiographical poetry. Becoming a well-developed, well-rounded, happy and well-oriented being is no easy task. For some it is more difficult than others. To know thyself is an old bit of advice and I think it still is a useful one to heed. All good inquiry starts with a good and thorough self-examination. Developing the self-as-an-instrument in research or in therapy, getting to know oneself is a rather useful enterprise. Self-referential curiosity can be rather awkward at first, but it is well worth the work (and play) in the long run if one really wants to become a more self-aware person. And-again-to answer your question-I think interviews are a tool in tis process.

But sometimes think I have analysed my self and my poetry too much, that I have not learned to shut up. So, perhaps, on that note, I'll shut up.

I: T hanks again, Ron, for your time. I'm sure we will pick up some of these threads again at a future interview. Happy writing!


So, there you have it, three interviews from the nineteen that I simulated in the ten year period 1992-2002. This was the fourth decade of my pioneering and it represents a certain fruition of my life, or should I say another type of fruition. As my professional life as a teacher was ending this new life was being born. As I began to settle into a life of writing, poetry offered a window to this new experience, an experience of a much more sedentary and solitary existence. I seemed, like Don Quixote, to be a pursuer of wonder and my adventures to a great extent were happening in the silence of my study. After forty years of moving from town to town, community to community, it may be that I was going to stay put for the last decades of my existence.

If readers are finding a certain degree of irregularity, of discontinuity, of fragmentariness in my story thusfar, in these first four chapters, they should keep in mind that these are qualities that tend to be found in women's autobiographies. The reality of life is for the most part also one of discontinuities and fragments. The straight line from cradle to grave with all the wins and losses stuck in the middle is not what readers will find here. The only place I have ever been able to locate life in little bundles of tidy regularity is the resume, the CV. There is an emphasis, here, on the personal, the inner-man, the interpersonal, in the female story-line and not on professional attainments. My work, it seems to me, has certain female characteristics. Perhaps, right from the start, the female was more a part of my life than in the typical male. My mother wanted me to be a girl and had pink clothes waiting for me.


VOLUME 1: CHAPTER SIX

A LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHS
1908-1953 and 1953-2003

I always think photographs abominable and I don't like to have them around, particularly not those of persons I know and love.-Vincent van Gogh, "Letter of September 19th, 1889," The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.

Due to the physical action of light and the chemical action of development there is a tangible link between what was photographed, through the developing process to the gaze of the viewer. It is a process involving something that has been, due to the photograph as an object, due to the action of light, due to radiations that ultimately touch me and due to the photograph being something for the gaze, the visual memory, of the viewer. The photograph of a missing being, Susan Sontag says, touches me like the delayed rays of a star.-Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977.
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As I approach the age of sixty I now possess a dozen albums of photographs. They represent a significant aspect of any autobiography I might want to write. This essay tries to put all these photograhs in perspective. I have been working on this essay for several years, since the late 1990s, and it finally has a form that is useful. Much more work on the contents of this essay is required, but its relevance to my autobiography is clear and so I include it in this fourth edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs. I have found the content of this essay the most intricate and complex of all the sections of this autobiographical narrative but, because the ideas are important to me--and I hope to readers--I want to include them.

In a collection, the first album, of some forty photographs for the years 1908 to 1953, fifteen of which are friends of my mother and people I do not know, there are some twenty-five photographs of my mother and various members of her family. The photographs provide something of a pictorial backdrop for the transition period from my grandfather's autobiographical story. That story ended in 1901 and is kept in a green two-ring binder in my study. My own pioneering story I take back to 1962, to 1953, to 1944, the year of my birth and to 1844, in Volume 1 of my journals to give a perspective that goes back to the start of this Bahá'í Era.

"The effort of thinking which is at work in every narrative configuration," wrote Paul Ricoeur, "is completed in a refiguration of temporal experience." These photographs provide help in the narrative configuration of the years before I was born and the early years of my childhood. Although I am unable to refigure the early years of my own experience and the years before I was born with any sense of totality, these photos provide some knowledge in terms of traces. They take me back to the last dozen years of the Heroic Age of my Faith in an indirect sort of way.

These photographs provide a means of capturing the past, fragmenting it and removing it from any fixed context, at least that is how Scott McQuire puts it. Photographs, he says, suspend images 'between the silken promise of liberation and nostalgia at loss of anchorage.' In this promise of liberation, the world is called upon to live up to its images, but there is no single way to capture, to encapsulate, the world in all its complexity even if that world is the lives and times of my family in the first half of the twentieth century. There is always a process of selection. There is always, at least for this selection of photos, a touch of pathos and pensiveness mixed with my inability or difficulty to negotiate my displacement from these years before I was born and my early childhood. But still: they pierce my vision.

These forty photographs serve as a pictorial backdrop which both reveals and conceals, which both heightens the expression of my family's life and paralyzes by fact and the absense of fact. These photos both pass and fail in their mnemonic function. They are both mobilization of memory in the service of my life and framers, fixers and freezers of the objects as the objects float free of their context. The paradox inherent in the presence of photography within autobiography is that the photographs have a tendency to simultaneously document and yet undercut the narrative. The photographs, as I say, both reveal and conceal.

I tend to make confident determinations about the content, the incidents, in these photos and am hardly aware that these determinations are, for the most part, conjectural, approximate imports scanned quickly by my gaze over the many scenes. There is, as John Berger notes, "an innate ambiguity of the photograph," a pseudo-intimacy, an inferential status which is, sometimes at least, softened by the warmth of spectator usefulness. However intimate, however soft the gaze, though, we are not ourselves made contemporaries of events by a vibrant construction and reconstruction of their intertwining. If history is "a reenactment of the past," to use an expression of R.G. Collingwood, then photographs certainly help. They certainly help in the reenactment of past thought in my own mind which, arguably, is as close as one gets to the reality of history. Then there are the dozen or so more recent albums with literally hundreds of photos and perhaps, as the years go on, I will make a more complete analysis of them. But that is not my intent at this early stage of the discussion. I want, rather, to find a context in which relevant questions about photography can be discussed and understood by myself and, hopefully, others who come across this essay into the subject. It seems to me there are many misconceptions about photography and photographs and, while not claiming to sort them all out, I would at least like to allude to them as part of placing the photographs in my life into some useful perspective.

If Time magazine's nine New York-based photo editors can sift through some 15,000 pictures a week, selecting about 125 for each issue, surely I can sift through a lifetime of several hundred photos and select a few for autobiographical use? The task is not difficult, but I question the relevance and that is what I discuss in this brief essay.

I place these photograpic images from 1908 onwards in various visual categories and frameworks and, as I do, I place myself with the images in a sort of photographic archive. And the photographs which flooded my world after 1953 and which I now can view with ease and convenience in a series of a dozen albums provide me with a reality that, for the most part, I can no longer touch. There is a certain magic I experience as I look at these pictures from my life. They are, not so much a place of images as they are a place of thoughts or, perhaps better, a place of mnemonic devices. Indeed, their highest merit is their suggestiveness, the suggestion of a beauty, a character, a place, which the photo itself does not reveal. It is as if a camera was nervously clicking over the surface of my life and my job now is to piece together, to paint, to translate from feeling to meaning and find some overall pattern in the kalaedoscope of images. It is as if, while the camera caught fresh moments of my life, my task now is to keep a freshness of vision as I write amidst a vast, a pervasive and immense incoherence, with impressions always outstripping my capacity to analyse the data. I need to possess a similar degree of sensitivity as the plates, the developing equipment that photography requires to record my own impressions of life.

Due to the physical action of light and the chemical action of development there is a tangible link from what was photographed, something "that has been", from the photograph as object, through the action of light, "radiations that ultimately touch me," to the gaze: "the photograph of the missing being which,' as Sontag says, 'will touch me like the delayed rays of a star." There may be a pseudo-intimacy and an ambiguity to the photograph, but there is also something wondrous and mysterious. In 1839, at its invention, it was considered a 'pencil of nature' transcribing reality directly. But this belief in the objective state of the photograph did not last long. The photograph did continue to meet modern man's need to express his individuality and shape his visions. It did so with immediacy. It did not evoke the world; it represented it and it did so with tremendous power. Photographs circulated in unprecedented numbers in the epochs associated with this autobiography and satisfied the desire for the authentic.

"There is no visual analogue in time," as Max Kozloff notes, "between what we call character or even mood and outward demeanor." Moments of serenity are often nominal and discomfort is often not far-off, if not actually present behind the photographic facade. Photographs can and do illuminate the microhistory of our sociability and offer insights into our social and psychological reality. It is understandable, it seems to me, why so many people in this audio-visual world of modern technology try to define their lives visually with photographs, videos, films and a variety of memorabilia. James Agee, in his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men writes, expressing his disillusionment with the ability of words to express, to define, his life, any life:

If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art? And I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlour game.....A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.

Agee gives the body an important place in his attempt to define his life. Often, for other autobiographers, though, the body is nearly effaced in a tradition, the Platonic, that opposes the corporeal to the spiritual and defines the self as essentially spiritual. But I would not want to ignore the body, where my soul has come to dwell and will dwell for as long as I live on this mortal coil. Surgeons, cosmeticians, hairdressers, fashion designers and an army of sales people with something for every conceiveable part of my anatomy and the microworld within which I dwell inscribe an idealized body and a spiritual, cultural body. Indeed, there is a vast multitude in the world who have a great deal to say about this body of mine and its environs and they have photographed this world, put it on video and in film and it is difficult for an autobiography to ignore this vast panoply and pageantry of data. In the approximately ten thousand autobiographies written during my life, just in North America, the human body tends to play second fiddle to thought, action and the events of the time. My autobiography is no different in this respect. If I was to examine the body, place it on the stage more than I have, this would be a fitting section in the examination of the photograph, the photographs in my life.

But I say little about my body here and in the rest of this autobiography. I mention my body in passing in connection with my health and some of my interests. But my body and its activity in sport, at a series of health studios where I tried to keep fit, in its scenarios with yoga and meditation, in walking, in jogging, in taking vitamins and minerals, in maintaining my house and garden, in what I ate and drank and in the many things I did with my body from brushing my teeth, to cutting my hair and nails, inter alia---this long list of items simply plays no part in this autobiography. Their importance in popular culture can not be denied. The attention played to this list of activities associated with the body in the media and in conversation seems endless. But readers will learn little to nothing here about these normal human interests in the late twentieth century. There is no need to provide more information on these topics; the burgeoning print and media culture can take care of this for me and for any readers who come this way.

The photographer Lucien Clergue would probably agree about the importance of the place of the body in photography for Clergue is an author of photographic essays, stories told by the use of images. Clergue and his camera are there to tell of the march of time, to bear witness, to be awed, to define a theme, to document, probe, question, intuit, to record transitory signatures and signs. He is a poet with a camera and this is what I would like to do with the collection of the photos I have gathered about me after sixty years of living and in more than a dozen binders, folios and booklets. Like Clergue, I understand some of the interrelatedness and interdependence, the unity of man and what I want here is my own photographic essay. I want to combine the views of those observers who are captivated by, and those who are critical of, the photograph's capacity to present the realities of life.

There is no question that words often fail us, in life and in writing autobiography. But pictures often fail us; they can't quite do it either. Roland Barthes' third book in his autobiographical trilogy, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, I found to be a useful comment on the visual, the photographic, context in relation to my family and my life and the limitations of the photograph.

His book is a meditation on an absence inherent in photography. Barthes wrote before radical manipulation of the image had become a standard practice in photography as the twentieth century came to an end. Barthes is only interested in photographs insofar as they depict something that was there at a particular and past time and is now entirely gone or has changed out of sight. He is particularly eloquent on one special photograph which he deliberately does not reproduce in his book. It is a photograph of his beloved mother who died shortly before he began to write his book in the late 1970s. Barthes does not try to elaborate any grand theory of photography, but he does write quite unashamedly about himself in Camera Lucida. He writes about his loss and suffering in life and he writes about how this loss is echoed and prefigured in the photographs that he holds dear. In the explosion of autobiographies in the last two decades, photographs have played an important part, had a special place, especially among the marginalized groups and sub-cultures that thousands of recent autobiographies are identified with. As they evoke minority literatures, cultures and subjectivities they place before the readers an array of photographs. Perhaps I should do the same. We shall see.

Barthes is able to write as movingly and beautifully about people he does not know and has never met as he does about those in cherished photographs, those of his mother and others he loves. He doesn't reproduce any photographs in his book because, as he says, these photographs exist only for him. Barthes wouldn't feel much at home in the digital age. For all his academic reputation as a whip-cracking avant-gardist, his most powerful and convincing writing always involves a yearning for the past. He almost manages to make nostalgia seem not only respectable but a sine qua non of life. His generosity prevents him from imposing this point of view on everyone else. That's what makes him a great writer. If I can achieve in part what Barthes achieves my work in this far from neatly typified genre will be a success.

Barthes recognized the linkage between haiku and photography. He undertook to define the essence of photography. He found the photographs that 'animated' him and that he in turn 'animated' consisted of two co-present elements: Studium and Punctum. According to Barthes, Studium is an extent, an extension of a field, which we perceive quite familiarly as a consequence of our knowledge, our culture (Barthes, 1981, p.25). It is by Studium that one takes a kind of human interest in many photos that refer to a classical body of cultural information, photos that educate, signify, represent, inform, and reveal the photographer's intentions. The second element, Punctum, will break or punctuate the Studium(Barthes,1981, p. 26). Punctum rises out of the scene, seeks out the viewer, disturbs the Studium, wounds, pricks and stings the viewer. It is very often a detail.

According to Barthes, Punctum has the power to expand, to provoke a satori, a measure of spiritual enlightenment. A detail overwhelms the entirety of my reading; it is an intense mutation of my interest. By the mark of something, the photograph is no longer 'anything whatever.' This something has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori, the passage of a void. This brings the photograph, certain photographs, close to the Haiku." (Barthes, 1981, p.49). 'The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: 'Technique,' 'Reality,' 'Reportage,' 'Art,' etc.: to say nothing, to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness.' (Barthes,1981, p.55).

Jewish and Catholic religious practices raise questions about the difference between the function of memory and the use of images as a memento mori to retrieve the past. For Bahá'ís photographs pertaining to their religion have come to possess an important significance. Are photographs able to recuperate or recapture the "essence" of the person or the idea we love? Clearly to some extent, but it is the qualities that are recaptured not the essence. Do photographs invigorate our memories and 'prove' that a person existed? They do a bit of both. I shall try to address these questions by discussing more of Roland Barthes' writings on photography. I also want to examine Seigfried Kracauer's analysis of the photograph and the function mental images have in mediating between the past and the present. I shall rely on three of Kracauer's publications in which photography is discussed. An essay called "Photography" was written in his early Weimar period, in 1927, his book Film Theory(1960) which starts with a short summary of the history of photography and, almost forty years after that initial essay on photography, History: The Last Things Before the Last (1969).

I will discuss the difference between Kracauer's early and late writings in relation to Barthes' writings on photography, which can also be divided roughly into two periods. In Barthes' early writings on photography his semiotic and structuralist approaches to language and culture influenced his reading of photographs in articles such as "The Photographic Message" (1961), "The Third Meaning" (1970) and "Rhetoric of the Image"(1964). But in Camera Lucida (1980) Barthes' writing became more personal and this impacted upon his reading of photographs as being capable of transparency.

I shall illustrate this theoretical discussion(a discussion I do not want to become too complex, too theoretical and abstract) with a sample of photographs from a family album given to me by my mother, Lillian Price. She took most of the photographs or received copies of them from others during the years 1908 to 1953. My mother labelled some of the photos with dates and names and in other cases she did not. The first photograph was of her sister in 1908 when my mother was four and the last photo was in 1953 just before my mother's fiftieth birthday. Thus, during her childhood and adolescent years into the first years of middle age taking photographs occupied her leisure time, among a host of other activities. Perhaps collecting this small group of photos was her own way of immortalizing herself and rekindling the first several decades of her life, up to the time she began to be involved with the Bahá'í Faith. But I think this is unlikely. The photos seem to be a haphazard, random, somewhat serendipitous, collection of odds and ends. In this my deeply singular attempt to inscribe my times, my religion and my individuality, I also paint a vast mosaic which I trust resonates with a world that is far, far, from my own self. I trust, too, that it provides a multiple perspectival set of positionings and understandings within a genre and genres. My mother's photographs are just a part of that paint, part of that mosaic.

This set of photographs serves as the pictorial base for nearly half a century, the half century before my family began its association with the Bahá'í Faith. If I draw on the philosophy of Lucien Clergue to explain people's use of photos, though, then these photographs become much more than a historical package of photos. They approach what Joseph Campbell described in his book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. There is a vitality to symbols, to photographs, as metaphors, not simply ideas or things, but "a sense of actual participation, a realization of transcendence, infinity and abundance." Campbell says, as he continues discussing these symbols, they open "the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being." It is a spectacle "known to the mind and beheld by the eye" and, he concludes, you exclaim "ah...as a recognition of divinity." Perhaps this is much like that "reverence for life" that Albert Schweitzer experienced.

I want to balance these other-worldly notions, these transcendental feelings, with the ideas of Seigfried Kracauer and Roland Barthes. In the process I hope to achieve a more balanced view of the nature and function of this collecton of photographs and, at the same time, provide a relevant comment for my own autobiography. To begin somewhat at random with one of the photogrpahs I have selected my grandfather sitting on the porch of the first house I lived in in Hamilton Ontario. The click of the camera has frozen him and removed him from the flow of time or fixed him in the flow of time. The year is about 1940. The pose, on the other hand, belonged to a more predictable rhetoric of gestures; it enabled sitters to assume a social pose, which they thought was expected of them by their peers, or to adopt an attitude they imagined other respectable people had performed in the past. The pose is not as stiff as those of the previous century. There is the beginning of a more relaxed demeanor, perhaps the result of WW1 which took some of civilization's stiffness out of those stiff upper lips.

Given the fact that my grandfather had just retired this relaxed pose is somewhat logical. But given the fact that his wife, my grandmother, had just died, perhaps, on second thought, it is not. It is utterly impossible, really, to know how he felt at the time or indeed what was going on in his outer life let alone his inner life, for that matter. And I think that is true for virtually all the photos from these years 1908 to 1953.

"Is this what grandfather looked like?" I might ask, as Kracauer asks of the grandmother at the start of the "Photography" essay, as though he was actually scrutinizing a photograph. The question instills doubts about the capability of photography to represent the essence of a person and cajoles us into remembering people. Several issues are at stake. Kracauer argues that "were it not for the oral tradition, the image alone would not have sufficed to reconstruct his grandmother's identity." Only subjective memory and knowledge of the grandmother, transmitted by generations of her family, could lead to a true understanding of her personality. Once her contemporaries are gone, who can attest that this is truly a photograph of a particular grandmother? Maybe it is simply someone who resembles her? In fact, in the course of time, the grandmother turns into just "any young girl of 1864." One's love, as Shakespeare writes, "shall in my verse ever live young," but in a photograph? Ah, there's the rub! No one in my life on this side of a great ocean has ever met my grandfather, indeed, has never met anyone in my famly except my mother and that for a period of several weeks nearly thirty years ago.

Moreover, once the person dies the mimetic function of the photograph changes its role and function, for there is no longer a need to compare the image to its referent. Most of the people in this collection of forty photos are now dead. My grandfather's calm demeanor may have been arrested and attested to by the camera but "no longer refers to the life from which it has been taken. Likeness has ceased to be of any help. The smiles of mannequins in beauty parlors are just as rigid and perpetual," writes Kracauer. Grandfather's old-style garments become a metaphor for the disparity between fashion and history. Kracauer claims that "photography is bound to time in precisely the same way as fashion. Since the latter has no significance other than as current garb, it is translucent when modern and abandoned when old."

In making an analogy between photography and fashion, Kracauer was targeting the proliferation of current-event photography in the Weimar Republic. He perceived the surge of photographs in the illustrated press as a sign of a culture afraid of death. Mechanical reproduction replicated a culture that was attuned to fashion and technical innovation, enabling the snapshot to create a world that had taken on a "photographic face." In this self-satisfied narcissistic mood of self-replication the flood of photographs "sweeps away the dams of memory and the sheer accumulation of photographs aims at banishing the recollection of death, which is part and parcel of every memory image." In this sort of mood, photography is unable to resurrect the dead because even the recent past appears totally outdated. I wonder what Kracauer would say in our media-saturated world?

Kracauer finds memory images, pictures we put in our head as a result of thought, far more useful than photographs. History can only be brought back through the medium of subjectivity. He sees Proust's m(c)moire involontaire as the perfect model. A person is able to condense or embellish memory, unlike the photograph that in the passage of time only appears to darken, decay and shrink in proportions. The camera is capable only of capturing a brief moment that accentuates space rather than temporality. The medium of subjective memory, however, can shatter the space-time configuration in order to piece the salvaged fragments together into a new meaningful order. When my grandfather sat in front of the camera, sometime perhaps during WW2, he "was present for one second in the spatial continuum that presented itself to the lens." And it was this aspect and not my grandfather "that was eternalized."

In contrast, the memory image is capable of giving the impression of the whole person because it condenses the subject into a single unforgettable image: "the last image of a person is that person's actual history," writes Kracauer. It is presented by the monogram "that condenses the name into a single graphic figure which is as meaningful as an ornament." Another form of condensation takes place in the making of a painting. The history painter does not paint his subject in order to present him in a naturalistic setting, but instead, through many sittings, aims to achieve an idea-image that captures the spirit of the sitter. Photography, on the other hand, is limited to showing us the appearance of the subject. It does not enable us to penetrate through the outer veneer to find the essence of the subject. This superficiality extends to the inability of photography to divulge the process of cognition of history. Kracauer regards photographs as a heap of garbage, as merely able to stockpile the elements of nature without a selective, a reflective, a subjective, process. Perhaps, though, the photo can stimulate the reflective side of the observer. For now, I leave this interesting question open and unresolved in its fascinating complexity.

In the closing pages of his essay "Photography" Kracauer makes an unexpected turn in his argument. Photography is given a role in the study of history. Suddenly, there is an advantage in the mute surface appearance of the photograph whose essence was impenetrable to probing. The photograph becomes an object that can signify meaning in hindsight, especially after people have died. Moreover, in Kracauer's dialectical fashion, the fault he found in photography's capacity to simply stockpile the elements of nature becomes an asset once the photographs are piled and viewed en masse "in unusual combinations, which distance them from human proximity." Photography can yield information that had hitherto gone unnoticed. In writing that "it is the task of photography to disclose this previously unexamined foundation of nature," Kracauer anticipates Benjamin's definition of photography's optical unconscious; namely, that it enables an image to store and release meanings that were neither perceived by the photographer nor recognized by his peers. Kracauer notes that "for the first time in history, photography brings to light the entire natural cocoon; for the first time, the inert world presents itself in its independence from human beings." Perhaps this is why, among the commonly expressed attractions of the extremely hazardous careers of war photographers, was the feeling of being part of history and the sense of their importance beyond just supplying illustration for magazines or newspapers.

The natural cocoon of my mother's and father's lives, the lives of my grandparents, my uncle's life, two of my aunts' lives, some of my cousins' lives is, in Kracauer's perspective, brought to life. Their inert world does indeed present itself "in its independence from human beings." These images store and release meanings, fresh meanings to my eyes, meanings not present long ago when the photos were taken. Information never noticed before or forgotten is revealed to the observer. Photography is able to change perspective through showing us aerial views and bringing "crockets and figures down from Gothic cathedrals," and people out of the past down from their remote locations beyond our lives. In this collection of photos between 1908 and 1953 perspectives on: seasonality, on the texture of life in Canada between the wars, on the beauty of my mother and her sister in her teens and twenties, on a grandfather twenty-five years younger than I ever knew him, perspectives on cars, my mother's boyfriends, my mother's sociability and much more, come into focus. I could provide a much more specific analysis here but I think it would depart more than I already have from the confines of my autobiography, confines as I have defined them.

Without a healthy market for the photographs, without some clear direction for their future value, even the most personally useful work, there is a risk of descending into a spiral of irrelevance. And the great catcher and coach of the New York Yankees was right when he said that everything is difficult to predict, especially the future and, for me, the future of these photographs. Although, if I had to put my money down, I would say that the spiral of irrelevance might be the winning horse inspite of all their present source of pleasure and delight and their mnemonic relevance.

There is a tension between photography's capacity to negate history by dwelling on the moment and its capacity to open up new ways of interpreting reality. Once the interest in redeeming the singular subject disappears, leaving no need for the photographs to perform the task of resurrecting the dead as a memento mori, then the function of the archive becomes important. The collection of photographs, lying and waiting to be sorted, evokes a context of homeless images. One can suddenly find a new order in the images, an order that enables reality to be examined critically through the use of film montage, the photographic collage, and through adopting a surrealistic approach that estranges reality or an approach that brings them close. The photographic collage can possess a certain estrangement from reality, a certain homelessness or, as in my case, I give them all a home in my mind's eye, as best I can, a home touched by the warmth of nostalgia and memory. I could also, should it be desired, add creative, eye-catching drawings and paintings, both my mother's and my second-wife's. They would not appear as often as photographs to illustrate this narrative, but they could enrich the total package for some readers. Or I could add some poetry, as I do in one small collecton of photos from a trip my second wife and I took from Pertth WA to Tasmania.

In Camera Lucida which Barthes described as his "last investigation," as though he envisaged his own unexpected death shortly afterwards, his writing became more personal. He searches for the quintessential image of his mother which he criticizes photography for not being able to provide him. The photograph of his mother which he eventually finds becomes his guide, like Ariadne's thread, for his entire desire to understand the meaning of photography. This "last investigation" into photography leads him to characterize photographs as wounds that are capable of resurrecting very strong personal traumas. His search for his mother's photograph starts on a November evening, shortly after her death. He sits in her apartment looking through some photographs with very little hope of "finding" her. Barthes believed that one of the agonizing features of mourning was that no matter how many times one might study old photos they would not be able to summon up the people concerned "as a totality."

Barthes only finds fragments of his mother that he is also able to recall from his memory. They are unable to produce "a living resurrection" of her beloved face. Photographs from her distant past make him realize that history separates him from her. He sees her now in ways he had never witnessed during his lifetime. I, too, am separated from my mother and the photos, in some ways, do not bring her near, do not produce that "living resurrection."

"Is History not simply that time when we were not born?" asks Barthes, and adds, "I could read my nonexistence in the clothes my mother had worn before I can remember her." "Grandmother's garments" as seen in Kracauer's essay, take on a different meaning for Barthes. Seeing a photograph of his mother from 1913 leads him to remark that "there is a kind of stupefaction in seeing a familiar being dressed differently." Like the peculiar effect the old clothes were shown to have on contemporary spectators, in Kracauer's essay, Barthes too realizes that his mother is "caught in a History" of taste that distracts him from his personal view of her. However, unlike Kracauer, he does not perceive the photograph as a timeless testimony of the way people looked, as some intact remanant on a body that has turned into a mannequin.

The clothes, for Barthes, only reinforce the materiality of the subject's body as he notes that clothing too is "perishable," making "a second grave for the loved being" who is visible in the photograph. This leads him to conclude that a photograph of a person whose existence preceded our own constitutes the "very tension of history" because its existence relies on our ability to consider, observe and contemplate it. In order to look at it, though, we must be excluded from it." History, as the time that existed "before me," is what interests Barthes because it cannot entail any anamnesis, any of his personal recollection.

Barthes paradoxically searches in photographs for the monogrammatic, the definitive image of his mother. Kracauer argued, of course, that only subjective memory would give Barthes his mother. "The last image of a person is that person's actual history." Nonetheless, Barthes reverses Kracauer's axiom when he finally finds the essential photograph of his mother, not in the last images from her life but in the earliest photograph of her as a child, which serves more as a premonition of what she will become than as an indication for him of what she had been. Barthes is in fact caught in a division between pre-self history, the photograph of his mother before he was born, and anamnesis, his recollections of his mother. The photograph shows her at the age of five with her brother at the age of seven standing by a wooden bridge in a glassed-in conservatory, known in those days as a Winter Garden.

I find these comments by Barthes and Kracauer illumine the understanding of my own experience of photographs especially those between 1908 and 1953 but also, increasingly, those after 1953, after my family's first contact with the Bahá'í Faith. One day I may outline a greater range of personal reflections on these photos; but that time is not now. At this stage of this essay I simply want to outline some general perspectives on photographs since there are so many that provide a useful resource for this autobiography and because they have played such an important source of pleasure in my life.

Some photographs move away from the ordinary and instead present some unique, utopian, being. Where does this utopian being exist? Possibly somewhere beyond the camera's mechanical ability to record a presence. While Kracauer relied on a metaphysical and materialist reading of images in his early writings, Barthes made use of phenomenology to combine a concrete reading of photographic objects with the need to emphasize the role that mental intentions like reception, retention and projection perform on them. In L'Imaginaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, to whom Barthes dedicated Camera Lucida, makes a distinction between the photograph, the caricature, the sign and the mental image, in a section aptly titled "The Image of the Family." A photograph can show us people's features but still fail to show character because it lacks life and does not reflect the varied expression that is their real physical reality. A mental image may be equally imperfect because it lacks clarity. The person we see in the photograph may invoke a completely different image to that of the person we know in our minds. Hence, we become aware of our ability to animate the photograph, "of lending it life in order to make an image of it." This is precisely the process I have gone through in my own reading of the old photographs whose corners have been blunted from having been cut and pasted into an album.

"Photography," writes Barthes, "began historically as an art of the person, of identity, of civil status, of what we might call, in all senses of the term, the body's formality." The nature of photography was founded in and by the pose. What makes the photograph different from any other type of art is that it is a certification of a presence. The simple paradigm of life/death is reduced to a click of the camera that separates the pose from the final print. In early societies, Barthes notes, memory, the substitute for life, became associated with the eternal. Memory and immortality were part of the same package. But by making the photograph, a mortal thing, into the general and somehow natural witness of what has been, modern society has renounced the monumental, the immortal aspect of the photograph; or, to put it another way, the photo has for many become a symbol of immortality for their own belief in immmortality is either non-existent or very weak, simply a vague hope.

The same century, the nineteenth, invented history in the modern sense and photography. But history is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic time and reduces it to a set of facts and meanings. The photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony. Everything today prepares us for this impotence, this absence of duration, this absense of a sense of history. The age of the photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of everything which denies ripening. And so it is that historical perspective is often absent for millions. Of course, this is not the case for everyone and what I say here is not universal. For others, the photograph embellishes, enhances, history, gives it texture, illumination.

Photography and death represent a complex relationship. Looking at the persons in the photograph can bring them to life in the mind of the viewer. "Photography has something to do with resurrection," writes Barthes; yet photographers determined to capture actuality are also described as "the agents of death," despite the fact that they may stage photographs to give the impression of life to ward off death. Kracauer similarly described the purpose of the proliferation of photography magazines in Germany after WW1. They distracted people from the fear of dying because they emphasized current events and not historical ones. The most crucial analysis of photographs that Barthes undertakes involves providing photography with a grammatical tense. I don't think most people today see photos in terms of their being a distraction from death or in terms of grammar. Death, it seems to me, for most people, hardly if ever comes into it. Perhaps, though, Barthes is right in theory at least. I leave this issue up in the air for now.

The photograph does not necessarily say what is no longer, what has been. In front of a photograph our consciousness does not necessarily take the nostalgic path of memory. The experience of the photos is often like inscriptions we find on gravestones. The photograph is never in essence a memory. It is indefinite and often blocks memory, is a counter-memory. Photographs often shock us precisely because they are incapable of retrieving the past. All they can do is to attest that a "now" in the past existed. If this autobiography ever comes to "matter," insofar as it inhabits, or stands for, one of the commonly acknowledged vectors in the field of cultural production: literary artistry, bio-history, autobiography, socio-history, psycho-history, it will not be due to embellishments from the world of photography.

When one realizes that in a photograph one is looking at a person who looked at, say, Napoleon or Bahá'u'lláh, there is a triangulation, a triangular time-formula. Sometimes there is a dizzying of consciousness in this triangulation. Present, historical time and the time of the photographer, all this under the instance of `reality' produces this dizzying effect. It is a sort of hall of mirrors. Bahá'ís have this sort of experience with the myriad photographs that have been taken of historical figures in the history of their Faith going back to the 1840s, in the first decade after the invention of photography.

Barthes refers to the ability of the historical photograph to contain a "defeat of time" that alludes to a double absence. Forty years after writing his "Photography" essay, Kracauer returned to the subject in his books Theory of Film and History: The Last Things before the Last. The Proustian subjective process of m(c)moire involontaire that Kracauer relied on in his early writings is replaced by an image of photographic self-alienation to describe the condition of detachment that is necessary for the sense of knowing history. Photographs of the past bring about a return of the people in the photographs.

From a Proustian point of view, Barthes sees some scenes in our life experience as lending themselves to becoming a photograph because the passivity of the observer is likened to the notion of the camera as an objective mirror. Kracauer disagrees with this and claims that these experiences are more complex. He sees photography as combining a "realistic" and a "formative" approach. The nineteenth-century definition of the subjectless camera that merely records the world is replaced with the belief that the camera is able to convey the subjective creative will of the photographer through his choice of filters, camera angles and printing styles.

The new and old identities, which we all have, reside together in a state of flux and uncertainty that ensures we will never belong to the community to which we now belong in the same way we once did. The condition of being somewhere and nowhere and of carrying one's past identity into new surroundings produces a sensibility where the old is replaced by the new. This is the realm of the stranger that Kracauer claims gives us the felling of having ceased to belong. It is the mode of existence of that of the stranger. And so we look at our previous existence with the eyes of one "who does not belong to the house" of someone who is not the person they once were. The experience is universal and somewhat enigmatic to say the least.

The next turn in Kracauer's argument is to compare the stranger with the historian and his methodological approach to the study of the past. The photographic relationship between the "realistic" and the "formative" approaches are compared to the "passive activity" of the historian's journey during the research and interpretation of historical material. When the historian sifts through the primary material he resembles the stranger as his thoughts ambulate between the past and the present with no fixed abode. The historian must be detached and self-effaced at the first stages in order to prevent his theoretical ideas from obstructing the "unexpected facts" that turn out to be "incompatible with his original assumptions."

The historian's subjectivity enters at the stage of interpreting the material. A gray area exists between the ability of the material to do its own talking and the historian's subjective skills as a story teller. For Kracauer, self-effacement does not imply a quest to reach an objective state of knowledge. Instead, objectivity is replaced by "unmitigated subjectivity." The historian's journey does not imply an ability to divide history into universal abstractions and neat epochs. He is free to move from the present to the past as he pleases and, to use a reference to mythology, "he must return to the upper world and put his booty to good use." Elsewhere in History Kracauer cites another example of the historian's journey from darkness to light to describe this freedom of mobility:

"Like Orpheus the historian must descend into the nether world to bring the dead back to life. How far will they follow his allurements and evocations? They are lost to him when, re-emerging into the sunlight of the present, he turns for fear of losing them. But does he not for the first time take possession of them at this very moment, the moment when they forever depart, vanishing in a history of his own making?"

History is thus perceived as the moment in which the past is petrified into an image. Orpheus's journey from darkness to light evokes, one could argue, the process of printing a photograph. The image is developed in the dark room. A precise amount of time marks the journey in which it emerges from the paper, making its way to visibility like Euridyce's ascent to reality, the return of the dead. We have here an impatient photographer who prematurely turned on the light to see the photograph before it has been transferred from the developer to the fixative bath that protects it from fogging. The image simply vanishes. Both Orpheus and the photographer are tested for their patience; their faith relies on a prerequisite to wait. Both take hold of reality precisely at the moment when they lose sight of it.

In his article on the photographic paradox Thierry de Duve discusses the distinction between photographs that act as "pictures" and those that act as "events." The photograph as "picture" is an autonomous representation of reality that curiously ceases to refer to anything outside itself, especially when it is framed and hung on a wall; here it represents the real as a frozen gestalt. The photograph as "event," in contrast, makes us aware that it is only a fragment from reality, which calls attention to the fact that something has been frozen precisely because life is continuing outside the frame. The photo-portrait is an example of a "picture": "whether of a live or a dead person, the portrait is funerary in nature, like a monument. Acting as a reminder of times that have died away, it sets up landmarks of the past." But the real landmarks, the forming crucibles, were not photographs but, rather, complex socio-historical processes and traumatic inter and intrapersonal events whose intensity clarified and crystallized my values and attitudes to life.

Many photographs give the impression that something has been witnessed that no longer exists; such photographs produce a paradoxical effect of capturing life but not being able to convey it. Hence, "whereas the snapshot refers to the fluency of time without conveying it, the time exposure petrifies the time of the referent and denotes it as departed." De Duve claims that the portrait "picture" is conducive to the family album because "time exposure is congenial with the ebb and flow of memory" as it "does not limit its reference to the particular time when the photograph was taken, but allows the imaginary reconstruction of any moment of the life of the portrayed person to be imagined." Hence, the charm of a photo album relies on the fact that while each photograph is a landmark in a person's lifetime, memory is able to shuffle "in between landmarks, and can erect on any of them the totality of this life."

Knowledge of the people in the photographs and the ability to recount anecdotes about their lives affects our way of looking at them and causes the inevitable question to be raised: is the oral testimony of equal or more importance than the photographs themselves? Aided by memory, especially by autobiography, and visiting the residences of people we knew who are no longer alive appears to give us a special access to the past. Three tenses jockey for position in some portraits. These three tenses of the photograph could be described as: an event in the present, an event that people want to document for posterity and a celebration that actually takes place now. The connection between photography and fashion, a photograph from the recent past that "claims to be alive" can appear more outdated than the representation of a past that existed long ago.

It is not the passage of time that creates the comical tension between the present and the past. The effect of prolonged sitting often gives the impression that photographs were set up to last for a long time. A photo enters almost unnoticed into immortality; the forms which it assumes befit the qualities of the photo. According to Benjamin, the stiff pose betrayed the condition of impotence of an entire generation in the face of technical progress in the mid-nineteenth century. The direct look of the sitters encapsulated them in their cocoon while the stillness that was required of them by the long exposure was felt in the general impression of silence they exuded. "The procedure itself," wrote Benjamin, "caused the models to live, not out of the instant, but into it." During the long exposure they grew, as it were, into the image. Benjamin evokes an image of becoming that recalls the actual way the figures emerge on the photographic paper during the developing stage.

De Duve's definition of time exposure recalls how nineteenth-century caricaturists depicted the photographer standing by his camera with little to do but to look at his watch until the exposure was over. Could the duration of time exposure be visible in the enforced stillness of the sitters? The mystery of making a photograph, according to Stanley Cavell, "lies not in the machinery which produces it, but in the unfathomable abyss between what subjects it captures and what is captured for us." There is what might be called a metaphysical wait between exposure, exhibition and the absolute authority or finality of the fixed image. The image of the photographer waiting passively for the long exposure to be completed is, of course, gone now with modern photographic technology. It is replaced with the click of an instant in time. And that, of course, is what we get now: an instant in time, preserved.

Even in candid photographs there is a process of selection. This led Kracauer to describe the street photographer as an "explorer" with a melancholic disposition, strolling aimlessly in the streets intent on finding his elegiac objects. Their sudden abduction from reality recalls the way Proust described photography's "affinity for the indeterminate. Proust saw photography as unable to be entirely selective and its role, he saw, was mainly to record "unshaped nature" as it appeared in all its disorderly details.

Of all the photographs I have I chose particular ones for my desk for several reasons. One snapshot is, for me, a remarkable feat because the photographer had succeeded in providing a pose, a photograph of my mother's family when she was, perhaps, twelve years old. It is the only photograph from that period in which my mother's family members are all present. This was a type of photograph I could never have had of myself because I was an only child, although I suppose there is an equivalent one of my mother and father and I taken in about 1956 in colour when I was twelve. By looking at either of these photos I am able to project my deep affection for a person who had introduced me to life. They enable me to identify with the person my mother was and the person she was nearly thirty years before I was born.

In my own childhood there was a joy in life. I make up my mother's life when I see her there on my desk. In the photograph of my father who occupies another place on my desk, the city, Hamilton, was a text of signs that enabled his mind and body to engage in activity that I know little of to recount his past. He was a walking ball of energy who comes to life when I see him in this photo.

These photographs produce for me my own Proustian moment. When I first saw them my entire attention was captivated by the erectness of my father's posture and my mother's beauty. These features exist here only because the camera was able to fix then and remove them from time. They both transported me to different periods of my life. The feeling of comfort and security I had received from my father as a child was recalled as a remembered sensation of getting my hair rubbed.

Transitional objects, animate and inanimate, such as the snow or books on a shelf confer security and comfort. I recognize the objects as "not-me" during a period when I started to realize that I was separate from my mother, perhaps, 1947. The association of my life with books, certainly the first visual association, provides me me with a symbolic representation of my mother and my life, which enables her to exist in my mind even when she is not present, when she has been dead for more than a quarter of a century. This is the beginning of my capacity to distinguish between reality and phantasy and it opens up an intermediate area of experience, which enables me to keep inner and outer experience, subjectivity and objectivity, illusion and reality both separate and yet interrelated. Thus I can speculate that these two photos can serve to keep memories alive and, particularly, help give me a sense of my mother's and father's immortality. I could say more about the photos of my mother and father but I will leave that to a later date. In this essay I want to get a context for analysis.

At first we detect a slight animosity regarding the limitations of the photographic surface in Kracauer's "Photography" essay. Unlike the ability of the monogram to condense a person's past into a single image, "in a photograph, a person's history is buried as if under a layer of snow." Barthes expressed similar frustration when looking at his mother's Winter Garden photograph. He noted that if we scrutinize a photograph long enough we wish to turn it over as if to learn more by looking behind it; and if we blow it up and enlarge its details we expect it to provide more meaning. Such was the case with the photograph of my mother's family blown up by my mother's borther's daughter and sent to me in 2002. In fact, however hard we look we discover nothing more because the knowledge of the photograph is already construed at first glance. Kracauer's criticism was odd considering that only a year earlier, in his influential essay "The Mass Ornament," he had celebrated the importance of surface manifestations in reality as being capable of revealing unnoticed aspects of popular culture that were neglected by historians. The significance of surface details became pertinent in Kracauer's writings. Once he shifted from the subjective-memory process as being the sole model for recuperating the past to realizing that reality and history were fragmented and random experiences that did not rely on chronological time, surface details became more important.

For this reason photography, especially the snapshot, came in handy because it emphasized the discontinuous aspects of reality; it enhanced the need to delve into the particular and overcome any tendencies for abstraction and generalization that Kracauer abhorred in the study of history and philosophy. It took Kracauer a few more decades to readdress these issues in Theory of Film. Here he proposes a "material aesthetics" approach to the study of film based on the premise that the medium has no connection with the realm of art. By placing it as a direct continuation of photography's affinity to the "visible world around us," he claims that cinema's aim is to record "physical reality" because it pays special attention to capturing the transient atmosphere of "street crowds, involuntary gestures, and other fleeting impressions." Such chapter subheadings as "The Unstaged," "The Fortuitous," "Once Again the Street," and "Concept of Life as Such" reveal Kracauer's preoccupation with the elusiveness of physical reality, which he wishes to redeem by rescuing forgotten and despised elements of mass culture from oblivion.

Barthes preferred photography to films precisely because of the inherent limitations he found in the surface of photographs. "Such is the photograph," writes Barthes, "that it cannot describe in words what it lets us see in images." The inability of photography to redeem reality is already visible in the photographic surface that Barthes describes as a "flat death." What made Kracauer so ardent about the ability of film to bring things to life was precisely the limitation Barthes found in it: "Film can no longer be seen as animated photographs: the having-been-there gives way before a being-there of the thing; which omission would explain how there can be a history of the cinema, without any real break with the previous arts of fiction, whereas the photograph can in some sense elude history." Barthes refuses to consider photography as a progressive continuation of perspectival experiments in art that have taken place ever since the fifteenth century. He wishes to break away from history and start to consider photography from the vantage point of the nineteenth century, by conferring on it a special status, made possible by the modern invention of a chemical solution that is able to fix images forever.

The affinities and differences between Kracauer and Barthes are even more fascinating in wake of the criticism they received for being "realists" in their dealings with photography. How could a historian and film critic, who professes to want to analyze cultural codes, rely on the optical impressions of unmediated realistic details as a means of redeeming reality? What exactly did the avid semiotician imply when he claimed that, although the reading of images takes into consideration cultural codes, the photograph is inherently an image without a code?

It is perplexing that both Kracauer and Barthes take pleasure in seeking details that give the impression they exist for themselves, as though their transparency is due to the impression they give of not being an outcome of a formative approach or a contemplative gaze. I press this point because, ironically, the discovery of these realistic details relies on the most subjective process of detection that emphasizes the receptive process of a unique and individualized subject far more than the quality of the object under scrutiny or its meaning in reality. Kracauer offered a solution to this paradox by giving the example of Marcel and discussing the way that formative and realist approaches in photography can coexist. Barthes does the same thing by comparing the mechanical and personal aspects of photography. The scene in a photo is captured mechanically, not humanly. The mechanical is here a guarantee of objectivity. Man's interventions in the photograph: framing, distance, lighting, focus, speed, all effectively belong to the plane of connotation; it is as though in the beginning (even if utopian) there were a brute photograph (frontal and clear) on which man would then lay out, with the aid of various techniques, the signs drawn from a cultural code.

Barthes adopted this subjective/objective model to the methodology of reading images. In "The Photographic Message" he makes a distinction between "denotation" and "connotation." The former represents the brute facts we see in photographs, and the latter the coded messages that the photograph implies. In his essay "The Third Meaning," these sets of terms were then exchanged for the difference between the "obvious" and the "obtuse." The obvious meaning governs the semantic relations between denotation and connotation while the obtuse meaning represents the ability of details to grab hold of his attention without his being able to place them in any fixed interpretation.

Kracauer recalls being fascinated by the representation of the surfaces of reality already as a child. In his youth he had scribbled a title for a future paper on cinema: "Film as the Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life." The use of the word "marvel" to denote the moments of the everyday that are usually not noticed reminds us that the everyday relies on repetition, giving the impression, as Maurice Blanchot pointed out, that it was not invented but has always existed. Kracauer responded in particular to Lumi(r)re's first films and mentioned such scenes as the arrival of the train in the station, the workers leaving the factory, and especially the shot of leaves rippling in the wind. These scenes were described by him as "detached records" that "resembled the imaginary shot of the grandmother which Proust contrasts with the memory image of her." Here, again, Kracauer uses the impassive detached observer to define the qualities of images in nature that suddenly reveal themselves after having persistently been veiled by ideologies.

Barthes too was enticed by this sort of optical allure. Writers on Barthes appear to have overlooked the obvious analogy between how he described his relationship with his mother and the fascination he had for the uncoded aspects of photography. He intricately defines portraits according to how the pose is construed in social terms but never reveals the real person. In order to impress upon us the experience of unmediated reality that exists as such, and unlike Kracauer's emphasis on the optical experience, which leaves the spectator always alienated from the object of his vision, Barthes emphasizes the concrete relationship between the photographic object and its referent.

Kracauer did not compare history and photography to prove a mimetic relationship between them but only one of affinity and correspondence. Barthes was not at all interested in the analogical relations between photography and reality that other forms of art, like drawing, were capable of having. Both writers stressed the problematic connection between the photograph and the referent by opening up a new territory for investigation that examines the space between reality and representation, the present and the past, the act of observation and the process of imagination; a space whose intermediary appeal recalls the character of Kracauer's evocative definition of the anteroom area. In the last chapter of History Kracauer examines the relationship between philosophy and history. He concerns himself with the difference they pose between the need to define absolute truths and relative truths, between generalized concepts and concrete particular details. Kracauer disregards the "either/or" distinctions between philosophy and history and suggests a "side by side" approach that enables polarities to coexist. Anteroom thinking designates this sort of approach of attentive openness and waiting that recalls the stranger's "extraterritorial" sensibility. The relationship between history and photography is defined by Kracauer in terms of the anteroom area. Both realities are of a kind which does not lend itself to being dealt with in a definite way," because both elude "the grasp of systematic thought." The anteroom area defines the way history and photography "share their provisional character with the material they record and explore," and this especially concerns the levels of reality that Kracauer analyzes in the study of the daily.

I believe that the image of this intermediary area, typified by the dialectical possibility of the side-by-side approach, can serve as representative of all the issues discussed in this article. Kracauer's subjective/ objective stance toward the analysis of reality; the formative/realist approach to photography; the active passivity of Marcel the lover and the detached observer are examples.

I have tried to find a concrete image for this space in photography and films. In Camera Lucida it exists in the simple example Barthes gives to explain that reality and photography are intertwined by a special relationship, another sort of skin, which makes photography belong to "that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the window pane and the landscape." But an even more pertinent example exists in the realm of film. The cinematic dissolve that is used to signal the passage of time superimposes two images. The transition between these images is often imperceptible on the screen unless its motion is arrested on the editing table: there in the blurred space that reveals the relationship between cinematic movement and stilled images. This space between the image that has not fully departed and the new one that has not yet been fully formed, this combination image is formed whose beauty and particularity cannot be foretold is an optical no-man's land that cannot be grasped and belongs to no one. It is a space of freedom and distraction that presents a pure optical experience that makes the real unreal.

This collage of forty photos which I have referred to replaces narrative as mechanism for understanding or, perhaps more accurately, these images serve as memory's only or at least useful tool for a period of time lost now to history. These photos enable me "to negotiate" my "displacement from the past. They are nostalgic items coloured with pensiveness, each with a point that pierces our vision." As I gaze on these photos I indulge myself in a "sentimental yearning for an irrecoverable past." These photographs are traces of moments in life, traces captured by cameras. The photograph mechanically repeats what could never have been repeated in day-to-day existence. Is what is real defined by what is empirical, what is observed? If so, this 650 plus page autobiography is quite deficient. For I record little of "everyday gestures, habits, manners, customs, styles of furniture, clothing, decoration, styles of travelling, eating, keeping house, modes of behaving toward particular groups of people, the looks, the poses, the glances, styles of walking, watching TV and other symbolic details that exist in the day to day lives of either myself or the many others I have known. As Niall Lucy notes, they are the least understood.

When the first photograph in my collection was taken, the Bahá'í Faith had been in Canada for ten years. 'Abdu'l-Bahá would arrive just a few miles away four years later when His train stopped in Hamilton in 1912. These photographs preserve my family life as far back as 1908 through their simple representation of life. They allow me to relate, perhaps as simple mnemonic devices, to people who are now dead and environments which have been completely transformed in my time. My words can not embody these people but they can describe them. Readers do not have to suspend disbelief in what is the effect of my own meditation, mediation, my own individual anti-authoritative human consciousness.

This autobiography, thusfar, provides no photographs and this chapter says a few things about why. The first photo in my collection was taken in 1907/8 when my mother was three or four, when her brother, Harold, was perhaps one and her sister, Florence, six or seven. My father at this same time was twelve or thirteen and most likely living in Wales, but no pictures of him from this period are available; in fact no pictures of my father exist before 1944. I've often wondered if this was because he belonged to a secret service organization and would never talk about it in the years I was growing up. My mother is in fifteen of the photos and all of the others in this sub-set of twenty-five photographs, are of her family. I have tried to put together something of the story of my family in the years 1844 to 1944. We all engage with the world in different ways. For some this engagement involves lengthy introspection; for others there seems to be little reflection. Perceiving the reality of self and world is no simple matter. The photograph, transferring awareness to memory, imperceptibly shifting our gaze and our attention to material previous stored, we tend to reconstruct our present in a manner more fitting to our gaze, to what we are recalling in the photograph. Again the process is complex and I do not want to dwell on the matter to too great an extent here. Perhaps at a future date some of these photos will embellish this autobiography.

Readers will find my attempts at a brief overview of my family in the century 1844-1944 in sections 3.A.1 and 3.A.2 of my unpublished Journal: Volume 1.1. This overview will remain in perpetuity in the archives of my family until and if they are required elsewhere. Perhaps in a future edition of this autobiography some of my Journal will see the light of day. But, except for the occasional foray into my Journal, this book will not deal with this enriching source of possible autobiographical material and its accompanying photographs.

The photographs in section 2 of my Journal: Volume 1.1 will serve, one day, perhaps, to help provide more detail than I have been able to gather in the last few years. A start has been made, though, to a process, to a period of history, of family history, which I hope I will be able to outline in much more detail in the early decades of the twenty-first century, decades which will see my own life draw to a close. I will have, I trust, more time to write relevant and embellishing autobiographical detail. Future members of my family or other interested parties may be able to ferret out information I am unable to obtain. I wish such seekers well in their efforts to extend my family's autobiographical efforts well into the third and possibly fourth century.

I often feel the way literary critic and contemporary philosopher Susan Sontag does about photographs. The main effects of photographs, she writes, are to convert the world into a department store or museum-without-walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation. The camera becomes a huge repository of secrets and the result of its fervent, eloquent and learned exploration is to discover for us that everyday reality is possessed of a chill. The language accompanying the photograph is, so often, banal, obtrusive and strips everyday life of reality, giving us, in its place, a cold and distant surface, a spacial configuration at a moment in time with pretentions of a reality that no one can touch.

Perhaps this view of Sontag's is a little too strong for the average taste. I find her ideas provocative. They make me think about photographs and their functions. That some people find the photograph possessed of reality, possessed of a close, warm, personal creation, a taste of immortality, of a transcendent dimension, one can not deny. But there is so much more to a person. It is like saying that I am this body you see before you and nothing else. What of mind, what of spirit, what of soul, what of all that is not capturable on camera! One of the functions of my poetry, my writing, is to try to capture this soul that the photograph only hints at from some camera obscura, some darkened chamber. This Journal contains many photographs which I trust receive some illumination in this way.

To part with photographs is to forget. Photographs are a mnemonic archive that enables us to negotiate our displacement from the past and our placement in the future. They are nostalgic items coloured with pensiveness, each with a point that pierces our vision. Viewers' memory traces are developed through photographs; their sentimental yearning for an irrecoverable past is indulged. There is recuperative power in this process of temporal and spacial transference. The vicissitudes of life seem to be reduced if not eliminated as we gaze at the photographs. Life's brevity seems to be partly an illusion. We achieve an immortality here, an at-oneness with all time, an annihilation of the years. Walter Benjamin says that the person who views a photograph "feels an irresistible urge to search the picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the here and Now, with which reality has seared the subject." And so I do. But readers of this autobiography will be spared that exercise. Even though many of these photos are outside my experience, I still may be seized by these images of the past or some details within them, the ephemeral cultural detritus that photography illuminates so effortlessly. Even though they are beyond the reach of my intellect in some ways they open-up new spaces, quasi-memories.

"It is not the person who steps out," writes David Frisby, "but what can be stripped away from him." Instead of being an aid to memory and knowledge photos often function to encourage the opposite tendency. Photos, writes Frisby, gobble up our world. They snatch our world from death; total presentness is established and history is absent inspite of the sense of reality conveyed by the photograph. It is a reality we can no longer touch. We experience nostalgia, the inevitability of separation, mystery and, sometimes, bitterness. We experience a feeling of magic. Sometimes narcissism is fostered, Baudelaire once wrote.

But just as a photographer cannot take the subject as it is, the viewer should not assume that what he or she sees is what it seems. In art there is something more than the appearance. There is the power of symbol. As Turner said, "Photography can use fact as a metaphor to create new fact." Another well-known photographer, Jonathan Bayer, said, "Good photographic images intrigue, present a mystery, or demand to be read. They are constructs of frustrations and ambiguities which force the viewer to actively interact with the photograph." Prominent art critic Berger holds a similar view that photography is a "quotation from appearance rather than a translation," because extraction from context produces a discontinuity, which is reflected in the ambiguity of a photograph's meaning.

However critical one is of photographs, the family portrait and the photo album assume a significant place in people's homes. Although the photo may give an undue emphasis to the outer world, they can also become part of a balanced inner and outer experience. "The best part of beauty," wrote Francis Bacon, "is that which no picture can express." Photos are suggestive and, if they do not suggest much more than is in the photos, they have little use or power. Diane Arbus puts the idea in a clever way: "A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know."

Psychologist Rudolf Arnheim considers photography an improper medium to express a person's personality. In one of his many books on aesthetics and psychology he has said that the "presence of a portrait photographer's camera tends to paralyze a person's expression, so that he becomes self-conscious, inhibited, and strikes an unnatural pose. Candid shots are momentary phases isolated in time and space from the action and setting of which they are a part. Sometimes they are highly expressive and representative of the whole from which they are taken. Frequently, they are not. Furthermore, the angle from which a shot is made, the effect of lighting on shape, the rendering of brightness and color values, as well as modifications through retouching, are factors that make it impossible to accept a random photograph as a valid likeness."

Arnheim also criticizes photography for lacking visual dynamic and carrying disorganized natural accident because it is from "outside in." Photography can not truly express a person's essence because the photographer intervenes and manipulates the media. Actually, artificial procedures in photography such as switching angles and retouching might contribute to a valid likeness. Furthermore, psychologists generally agree that one's personality is situational rather than stable. It is doubtful that we can find one "right" representation of anyone's personality. On one occasion perhaps a snapshot of a natural accident shows an expressive gesture of a person vividly, but at another time a picture taken in a studio setup may manifest his/her essence clearly. Sometimes a painter can reveal the very nature of a person in a particular situation, but a photographer might handle this job better under another circumstances.

Photos are enticements to reverie, wrote Susan Sontag. They are like a woodfire in a room. They have a surface heat but there is something beyond them, something we intuit, some inexhaustible invitation to deduction, speculation and fantasy. "The very muteness of what is, hypothetically, comprehensible in photographs," writes Sontag, "is what constitutes their attraction and provocativeness." Reality is interminably rich, its vertiginous treasure can not be exhausted by photographs, by language, by a life.

Writing is, of course, also problematic. As James Agee pointed out in an interview published in the Partisan Review in 1939, writing "draws in to the point of a pin and it spreads out flat like a qoit. some of the time you are writing for all men wo are your equals and your superiors, and some of the time for all the deceived and captured, and some of the time for nobody. Some of the time you are trying to communicate(not necessarily to please)."

Several years ago, just after retiring from my professional work as a teacher, I organized some of my photos into the context of my Journal. I wrote this introduction to my collection of photographs:

INTRODUCTION TO THIS PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM

In July 1971 my first wife, Judy, and I moved to Australia from Canada. The photographs from the period before this move belong in other places, mainly in my Journal Volume 1.1, although some can be found in my first volume of poetry, entitled, Warm-Up: The Tomb's Chambers. The photographs in these two volumes come from the period 1908 to 1971, before the international pioneer experience that my book Pioneering Over Four Epochs attempts to describe.

The photographs found here, part of Section VIII of this larger work Pioneering Over Four Epochs, in what is in some ways the second chapter of my life, were arranged by my second wife, Chris. They are a rearrangement of an initial organization of photos I put together in the early 1990s. They are also a companion piece to: (i) an additional collection of photographs in my study, under volume numbers: 5, 7.1, 8, 8.1, 9.1, 10 and Mother(1/2); and (ii) the four volumes of my Journal, Volumes 1.2, 2, 3 and 4.

The work, the writing, on the volumes of my journal is incomplete. I hope to continue the work on them, in what might be called 'a retrospective autobiography', gradually during the years of my retirement. This 'retrospective journal', is an extension, in some ways, of an initial narrative I wrote in the late 1980s and redrafted to completion in 1993, entitled, Pioneering Over Three Epochs. This journal is also an extension, a companion piece, to my poetry, now in forty volumes, which I began writing in 1980.

I hope, during the years of my retirement ahead, to provide some comment and analysis of these photographs but, for now, I simply want to write this introduction, this 'general perspective' on just where these photographs fit into the overall collection of my autobiographical material. Inevitably, were my wife to write this introduction, she would place these photos in a different context. For we are all different; we lead different lives, even--and perhaps especially--within any one family.

This introduction is a 'first start' to what may become a fuller and more comprehensive statement, as the years go on and as I see my life differently, as we all do from our earliest years to our final hours. As I gather together my thoughts for an autobiography, I continue to ponder just exactly what, if any, photos I will include. If the reader finds in the final text of this work no pictures to embellish the narrative, the the ideas of Susan Sontag, especially her ideas on photography, will tell why.

Reality is the given-the donnee-of photography. The pictures set the limit on what and how much the photographer can transform into a personal creation. Baudelaire once said of photography that its "major negative psychic effect was its encouragement of narcissism, the most regressive and involuted of psychic tendencies." That is probably true, too, of autobiography. Hopefully, though, these tendencies can be dealt with by this practitioner to his own satisfaction and the satisfaction of his readers.

I am aware how much pleasure most people get from photographs. People often seem drawn to the photos in a book before they read the book and, often, instead of reading the book. If this book ever gets published, then, some photos may be included. And, if they are not included, then readers will have some understanding of my attitude to these pictures of life.

My narrative is `built' around my life as a house surrounds and contains memories of experiences. But no matter how many photos I might have used to embellish this autobiography giving my house a colourful and attractive exterior, no matter how many letters, interviews, items of memorabilia or even if I used a video or a DVD as part of my back-up material, all narratives in relation to my self are necessarily acts of negotiation between my individuality, my personal life and the various collectivities that have made up my world. The strategies I employ in this negotiation represent some of the central features of this text. Autobiographers must identity and analyse these strategies for in many ways they form a critical base for the structure of the text. They are much more complex than inserting some photographs, labelling them appropriately and having readers enthuse over them.

Some autobiographers focus their critical energies on the ideological program underlying their assertion of collectivity. This exercise, within the framework of a Bahá'í ideological framework and the framework of a western nation state and its vast array of institutional appurtenances, certainly occupies my attention again and again in my narrative. I construct myself, see myself, not only as part of various collectivities but as separate from them. I like to think I achieve a balance between these two general emphases with, perhaps, a slight leaning toward the extent to which there is a social construction to my reality. I do not see these collectivities as entities that are homogeneous or univocal in form and content as some make them out to be. My life as I describe it is part of these various collective identities and my narrative strategy sets my life in these contexts. This is an intentional strategy I take like other strategies, neither more nor less natural than those employed by individualist authors who play-down collectivities and play-up some individualist ethos that has governed their lives.




VOLUME 2:
Pre-Pioneering


CHAPTER ONE
"Ready to begin at the beginning....."

Art and a certain literariness are built into the very fabric of life; narrative cognition has a basic poetic quality and is part of the creation of meaning. By writing autobiography we open the way toward a more expansive and serviceable conception of truth as well as a more humane conception of human lives, our own lives and how to approach and understand them.-Ron Price with thanks to Mark Freeman, Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative, Routledge, London, 1993.
_____________________________________________________________________

Having set a bit of a stage, provided some perspectives, wandered about in a philosophical and literary way and suggested a backdrop for this autobiographical study in the first six chapters, I am now ready to begin at the beginning. It is not a beginning that tells of my family background going back to 1844. I have set that out in my Journal: Volume 1.1 and I do not want to repeat that exercise here. It is not a beginning that goes back to my birth in July of 1944, two months after the centenary of the inception of the Babi Faith and just as WW2 was beginning to end its gruesome story. The beginning that is the genuine beginning for this story I have selected somewhat arbitrarily and somewhat pointedly in 1953 when my family had its first contact with what was then more aptly described as a Movement and now is more aptly described as a world Faith, the Bahá'í Faith.

The literary and art critic, sociologist and philosopher, Walter Benjamin describes two kinds of experience. One kind can be integrated into our lives and the other is "merely lived through." This latter category is characterized by ahistoricity, repetition, sameness, reactiveness, a liquidation of what could be called the cultural achievements of the mind. This autobiography deals with both these kinds of experience. As I go back to the beginnings of this story, this narrative of my pioneering life, both kinds of experience come onto the stage and are dealt with. It is also my intention as I survey these days "to cauterize the exposed tissue of too-easy hope" and too high and unrealistic short-term expectations that are so often offered by the dogmatic ameliorists in our midst. Although I feel a sense of responsibility in what I write, I do not feel that burden of messianic responsibility which artists have often felt. Writing has become, as I near the age of sixty, simply a part of that dominating passion of my life which is to "teach the Cause" in whatever way seems most fitting, most suitable to my talents and capacities. I think I felt the weight of that messianic responsibility much earlier in my life. The years have softened the edges of my sensory emporium and I feel a kindness to myself I did not feel in my more rigorous, more emotionally intense and more enthusiastic days. My work, however imbued with and centred in autobiographical narrative, is a plea for largeness and difficulty, modulation and complexity, variousness and possibility. I plea, too, for the many-sidedness of man. As I point out elsewhere, were my wife, my son, my mother-in-law, my step-dauthers or, indeed, one of many who have known me and found me wanting in one or many ways to write my biography there would be much revealed that is not revealed here. This is the second sustained iece of writing in my life and I hope it has provided a grounding for sustained works in the years to come. It is so easy to get caught up in the endless details of the quotidian, the burgeoning material coming out of just about every aspect of intellectual thought and the responsibilities of home, family and community.

"There are two very natural propensities which we may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions," Gibbon wrote over two centuries ago, "the love of pleasure and the love of action." To the love of pleasure we may ascribe most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may attribute most of the useful and respectable, qualifications. The insensible and inactive disposition we must reject, by the common consent of mankind, as utterly incapable of procuring any happiness to the individual, or any public benefit to the world. Gibbon notes, with some of his typical wit and skepticism, that for the early Christians it was not in this world that they were "desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful." Bahá'ís on the other hand, although believing strongly in an afterlife, see the betterment of this world as one of their primary duties. A strong 'this-worldly attitude' has certainly played an important part in the evolution of my life and the writing of this autobiography.

I really did not take my family's, my mother's, involvement in this new Faith very seriously at first, back in the 1950s. The people were friendly and the ideas basically reasonable even to my middle to late childhood and earlt adolescent brain. More importantly, though, I liked the food you got when you went to the meetings in other people's homes; even when the meetings were in our family's home the food, the tucker as they call it in Australia, was better than you'd ever get in a normal evening. But my heart had just begun its long scenario with baseball. School, girls, TV, family life, the everyday stuff that occupies most nine year olds filled my head. It would be another nine years before I began to take this Movement at all seriously.

"A beginning," the orientalist Edward Said wrote, "methodologically unites a practical need with a theory, an intention with a method." A beginning, Said went on to say, is chosen. And this is for me the beginning of my autobiography. We are a people, we Bahá'ís, of messages and signals, of allusions and of direct and indirect expression. We seek each other out but, because our interior is nearly always to some extent occupied and interrupted by others and by life's continuing demands, we have developed a technique of speaking through the given, expressing things obliquely and, to my mind, often so mysteriously as to puzzle even ourselves. But still, we strive for directness, and this narrative is part of my striving.

I have written many poems about these earliest days of my family's coming into contact with the Bahá'í Faith at a time when over ninety per cent of all the Bahá'ís in the world lived in Iran. Here are three written in the last three years of my teaching career(1996-1999), over thirty years after my pioneering life began and more than forty years after the Bahá'í Faith first came into my life.

DROPPING PEARLS ON FOREIGN SHORES

This poem is essentially a meditation on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet to the Bahá'ís of the Northeastern States in the Tablets of the Divine Plan and my own role as an overseas pioneer. It is also, as Barthes says below, an attempt to integrate, unify and synthesize my own life into some coherent whole, to construct, to define, my particular version of reality.1 -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 19 June 1996; and 1 Linda Hutcheon in "Writing the Self: Selected Works of Doris Lessing," Lynda Scott, Deep South, Vol.2 No.2, Winter 1996, p.2.

Narrative does not show, nor imitate, nor represent. Its purpose is to produce a spectacle. At the very least: language is produced. There is an adventure in language. To put it another way: stories are not lived but told. Their function is integrative.
-Roland Barthes in Narrative and the Self, Anthony Paul Kerby, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1991, pp.93-94.

One spring, while Hattie Dixon
was bringing hot soup and rose hip tea,
surrounded by more than
a superficial propriety
in those seemingly halcyon years
when deepest needs and wants
remained always unexpressed:
the fifties.

And the Canadian Bahá'í community
was launching the opening chapter
in its glorious Mission overseas,1
my mother started going to firesides.

I, too, enjoyed the hot coffee and apple-pie
on cold Canadian winter evenings
becoming, unobtrusively, insinuatingly
part of that overseas mission,
little did I know, then.

So it is that I now measure the origins
of my overseas pioneering identity:
generation no. 1: 1953-1978.
So easy it is to spell out these years
dropping pearls on foreign shores
from the great sea of His Name.
How difficult to quantify, to judge
the quickening, the variegation,
the radiant effulgences,
the portion and the share,
the blessing of the seed.

I don't think I ever can,
but I try to fix my gaze
upon the favours and bounties.2
And I do, I shall, I will, I forget,
I despair and I do not understand.

I seem to need reminding
again and again and again.

Ron Price
19 June 1996

1 Messages To Canada, Shoghi Effendi, NSA of the Bahá'ís of Canada, 1965, p.69.
2'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, p.7.

1953

By the 1950s it was clear that the British Empire, long the world centre of power, was a thing of the past, even though Queen Elizabeth was coronated that year. Russia and the USA had become the centres of a bi-polar world. These two countries were at the centre of the secular world as it was defined in 1953 when the Kingdom of God on earth made its obscure, its unobtrusive, debut. Oscar Wilde had noted, more than half a century before, that 'the only excuse for making a useless theory is that one admires it intensely.' I find that over the years I have come to admire, to be immensely drawn toward, this association of 1953 with the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth. This date has a number of personal and historical meanings for me in association with what I call my "1953 theory." -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.

Quite a year that coronation year:
Stalin's death,
Churchill's unsuccessful
quest for peace,
the completion of the
Mother-temple of the West
and the Shrine of the Bab
and the inception of
the Kingdom of God on earth,
an old world dieing,
a new one being born.

Ron Price 15 July 1999

1953: A VERY BIG YEAR

The year October 1952 to October 1953 marked a Holy Year commemorating the centenary of the birth of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh. -Ron Price: see Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá'í World: 1950-1957, USA, 1958, p.50.

Patti Page's 'Doggie in the Window'
was the best-selling song in America;
Frank Sinatra's 'Lean Baby,'
a new country and western,
Willie Thornton's Hound Dog
and the Drifters' Money Honey
were all turnin' them on,
makin' it big in music's world.

A most wonderful and thrilling motion1
appeared, back then, in the world of existence
and the Kingdom on earth began
with the opening of the greatest
architectural creation since the Gothic.2

That year my mother saw an ad
in the Burlington Gazette
and began going to firesides.
I was in grade four,
in love with Susan Gregory
and on the eve of my baseball career.

1 'Abdu'l-Bahá predicted that this would occur with the completion of the mother Temple in Chicago. This occurred in 1953: God Passes by, p.351.
2 So said George Gray Barnard, widely respect sculptor in the USA: God Passes by, USA, 1957, p.352.

Ron Price
6 July 1998

Burlington was a quiet conservative town in 1953, indeed the whole country had a conservative temperament. But, as the Canadian philosopher and cultural historian George Grant was to observe, it was impossible to build a conservative nation on a continent right beside the most dynamic nation on earth. I comment on this conservatism in the following two poems:

A MINEFIELD

Most Canadians dislike and mistrust any great show of cheerfulness. Australians are the same. The uncertainty of the weather makes Canadians morose, haunted, apprehensive. Perhaps the cynicism and skepticism in Australia is due to the unalleviating glare of the sun and the dryness. Canadians once battled their furnaces in the winter and the weeds and mosquitoes in the summer, as late as the fifties; Australians swatted flies in the summer, ran to the beach to cool off, where they swatted flies some more and worried about bush fires. Still do. In the winter they kept warm by their electric heaters and fireplaces.

If a national literature develops out of such experience, if a civilization or a religion grows and flourishes, it evolves through different stages in relation to that experience. People go over to gas and the coal-furnace becomes a relic; people move into small flats and never fight weeds again. Air-conditioners become plentiful and then you can be comfortable at 50 degrees celsius. People become less affected by climate with the comforts of modern life and the basis for a literature, civilization and religion shifts.
-Ron Price with thanks to Robertson Davies, Major Canadian Authors: A Critical Introduction, University of Nebraska Press, London, 1984, pp. 197-211.

A consciousness had grown
in the quiet backwaters of our1 lives,
so silently, so inarticulately,
so unbeknownst to even
our most exemplary members;
it slowly just emerged,
stuck its head above the ground,
found form, words, shape, texture,
direction, a place in the sun.

It was scarcely visible back then,
but you could get your teeth into it
and your mind: some of us could.
There was a philosophy there
in a minefield of gems and rare metals
where great wealth could be amassed
and great distinctions made
between a mysterious loftiness
and the many degrees of baseness.

Ron Price
14 February 1998

1 I am referring here to the Bahá'í community.

THE FIFTIES

In the fifties, the decade my family contacted and joined the Bahá'í Faith in Canada, the period when the opening scene of the initial act of the great drama ahead was played out, this new Faith grew slowly from under three hundred to nearly a thousand. In the United States, in the same period, the various forms of Christianity grew from strength to strength according to Robert Elwood in his The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace. The fifties were, he wrote, the decade of Catholic triumphalism, of mass evangelism within Protestantism and of the rise of the Black Church as a platform for the nascent Civil Rights movement. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Elwood, The Fifties Spiritual Marketplace, reviewed on "The Religion Report," ABC Radio National, 18 April 2001, 8:30-9:00 am.

It was a booming business
below the border
when my family contacted
a new world religion
with its temple in Chicago
in the fifties
in that conservative culture.1

Ours was a much quieter world
back then, little of that
mass evangelism,
Billy Graham never came near us,
not as far as I remember.
There was none of that
Catholic triumphalism
from New York to L.A.,
at least none that I could see,
not that I was looking that hard
in my childhood and adolescence
when life was simple and safe
and sweet-at-home,
at least most of the time.

All I wanted to know in those days
of Ike Eisenhower and Doris Day
was who was playing on Saturday,
whether the Maple Leafs or Canadians
were still at the top of the National League
and whether the Tiger Cats game
was being televised this week.

Slowly a new wind blew,
I guess from about '53.
It was nothing flash,
natural, organic, as everyday
as the hot soup the Dixons
brought over when we were sick.

And slowly I began thinking
about birds flying over Akka,
about history since the Enlightenment,
early Christianity especially around Nicea
and the future of mankind.
And I tasted from sweet-scented streams,
always wondering just what they were.
And my little blue prayer-book
seemed to get thinner and thinner
before I gave it away to an Eskimo,
Josephee Teemotee in, what was it, '67?

1 Canada is well-known for its conservatism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ron Price
18 April 2001

1953 marked the beginning of the ninth stage of history according to an outline of history presented in a talk written by Shoghi Effendi and presented by Ruhiyyih Khanum in Chicago that same year. 1953 also marked the first year that the "first impulse of a momentous Revelation" was communicated to me thanks to my mother. I was only nine. I read a copy of that talk of Shoghi Effendi's in 1966 or 1967 when I was living in Windsor, going to teachers' college and learning about Eskimos from Jamie and Gale Bond. In 1953 the religion, the Bahá'í Faith, was nine decades old after a fiery beginning from 1844 to 1853 surrounding the Babi Faith.

There were about two hundred thousand adherents in 1953. It had grown in the sixty years, 1892 to 1953, from some fifty thousand. By 1963 it would grow to about four hundred thousand and as I write this, at the end of a fifty year association(1953-2003) with this emerging world religion, there are between five and six million followers of Bahá'u'lláh in the world. I provide these general statistics and the picture of the growth of the Bahá'í community over these several decades because this autobiography emerges from a matrix of concerns: my religion, my family, my society, my sense of identity. In saying this I say a great deal and what I say unfolds in the pages ahead. And just as the popular sci-fi series like Star Trek is positioned "within the workings of an always-already ideological(and scarcely neutral) system," so, too, is this autobiography positioned within an ideological system, an ideological system that is partly my religion, partly an inherited, a socialized system of values from parents, teachers and society and partly a complex web of beliefs and attitudes that have grown and evolved, changed and differentiated as the decades have advanced obtrusively and unobtrusively. It must be said, too, that this autobiography is positioned in an opinionated and passionate life, a life that has been on a steep learning curve for nearly sixty years, a life which has sought to influence others primarily through speech, a life which has tried to achieve some degree of moderation but, I often feel, without much success.

Freud's An Autobiographical Study first appeared in America in 1927. Two themes run through these pages: the story of Freud's life and the history of psychoanalysis. They are intimately interwoven. An Autobiographical Study shows how psychoanalysis came to be the whole content of Freud's life. This book also assumes that no personal experiences of his are of any interest in comparison to his relations with that science. At the end of his life Freud returned to the investigation of interests that held his attention as a youth, that of culture. There can no longer be any doubt that psychoanalysis will continue; it has proved its capacity to survive and to develop both as a branch of knowledge and as a therapeutic method. The number of its supporters has considerably increased. Some supporters lay most stress upon clarifying and deepening our knowledge of psychology, while others are concerned with keeping in contact with medicine and psychiatry. From the practical point of view, some analysts have set themselves the task of bringing about the recognition of psychoanalysis at the universities and its inclusion in the medical curriculum, whereas others are content to remain outside these institutions and will not allow that psychoanalysis is less important in the field of education than in that of medicine.

I mention Freud's autobiogrpahy because there are some interesting parallels with my own. In some ways it could be said that two themes run through my pages: the story of my life and the story of the Bahá'í Faith. They are intimately interwoven. This autobiographical study shows how the Bahá'í Faith came to occupy virtually the whole content of my life. I did a great deal that did not have any apparent relation with the Bahá'í Faith but, as I gaze back over these fifty years since my mother first saw an advertisement in the Burlington Gazette, there is no doubt that there has been one dominating passion, however quietly brewing under some cloak of triviality, some allurements and attractions of the wider world or some human interests that kept me occupied with family, job or any one of innumerable activities.

There is an assumption in this work that no personal experiences of mine are of any relevance outside of their relation with this emerging world religion. This may sound somewhat puritanical, fanatical and extreme, but my life is only a single organism, the story of a single creature. It would be presumptuous, it seems to me, given that I have made no earth-shattering or even mildly significant contribution to the overall human condition beyond what millions of others like myself have contributed, to claim that my story is worth recording in the long-haul of history. During my life I have returned again and again to an investigation of the contemporary relevance of this Faith I joined back in the 1950s, to an investigation of the realities of its literature and its community that held my attention as a youth and kept that attention in the decades of my adult life. There can no longer be any doubt that the Founders of this Faith will continue, as the famous psychologist Rollo May once said, to have a great influence on the human race. It has proved its capacity to survive and to develop both as a world religion and as an historical reality. The number of its supporters has considerably increased in the half century that this autobiography is concerned with.

A condition of entrenched scepticism amused many an inquisitive mind as the decades of these epochs insensibly rolled along. The practice of superstition was so congenial to the multitude that, it was difficult to awaken them from their pleasing visions. So urgent is the necessity of believing something, that the fall of old, time-honoured and powerful strongholds of orthodoxy and systems of mythology, in this case a multitude of brands of Christianity and of parties of partisan-politics, a fall which was increasingly manifest during these epochs, was succeeded by the introduction of other modes of superstition. A belief in God seemed to be substituted by a belief in anything. But along with this credulity was a cynicism that was entrenched and pervasive. If political journalism extended to autobiography there would sure to be a psycho-analysis of me and my work, cynical evaluations of who I was and why I was doing all this navel-gazing and a skepticism that would require me to find a minder, a group of handlers and stage-men sensitive to image and impression management. Thankfully political journalism does not come into this world and, given the few readers that I anticipate in this earthly life, I don't have to have one eye of the entrenched and deepening skepticism of humanity.

Some of the supporters of this new Faith that became an increasingly important part of my life in the 1950s lay much stress upon clarifying and deepening their knowledge of its significance. Others were concerned with its contact with other religions and with the multitude of publics in the wider society. From a purely practical point of view many, if not most, of its coreligionists set themselves the task of bringing about the recognition of the Bahá'í Faith by one or more of a host of the specific publics that occupied contemporary society. Many of its promoters set themselves the task of establishing its inclusion in the many curriculums of the educational systems around the world. Others were content to work outside the burgeoning institutional framewords of the world and, forming relationships with friends and associations, strangers and individuals, in a vastly expanding global population, sought to share its teachings among their contemporaries.

There exists in our society, at least in that portion of history in which my parents and I have been alive, an insatiable desire for an image of ourselves which is somehow true. We represent and re-represent this image so often that our world becomes papered with many versions of our own reality. The fictional loses its distinction from the real. Often the fantastic, the unreal, the copy, the image, reigns and our job becomes one of consumption or, as Neil Postman expressed it critically, Amusing Ourselves to Death. There are millions now, as I write this, consuming an average of seven hours a day of television. Perhaps this process of the consumption of versions of reality and of ourselves became stronger and stronger after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh and the beginnings of film in 1896; then after 1919 when the Tablets of the Divine Plan began to be implemented at about the same time as radio came on-line; then after television increasingly became a part of our lives after 1937 when the Teaching Plan was first implemented and; then finally, after 1953, when the Kingdom of God on earth began to be realized. Society could be said, from a Bahá'í perspective, to be disintegrating as all these forms of audio-visual communication became part and parcel of our way of life. Thereby hangs a tale which I will return to several times in this narrative.

As space travel, satellites and the computer came into our lives during this pioneering account, we entered the 'dark heart of this age of transition.' An old world clearly has been dieing since the message of Bahá'u'lláh was first enunciated as far back as the 1860s and a new one has been forming right under our noses. I am not blaming the media and technology, but the processes of disintegration and integration that are taking place in our time are complex and very difficult to analyse and clarify. This autobiography takes place in the midst of this disintegrating-integrating process, this process in which a new world is being formed. In the midst of this complexity I would like to bring to my writing what Joseph Conrad said Mencken brought to his, an astonishing vigor. "Mencken's writing," wrote Conrad, "was like an electric current." "In all he writes, continued Conrad, "there is a crackle of blue sparks like those one sees in a dynamo house amongst revolving masses of metal that give you a sense of enormous hidden power. For that is what he has . . . ." With such writing skills someone might actually read this weighty tomb.

The perpetual stream of strangers and provincials that once flowed, according to Gibbon, into the capacious bosom of Rome, now flowed into the lounge-rooms of everyone who had a TV and before that the radio. And virtually everyone in my world was fully connected to these electronic media by the time I went pioneering in 1962. By 1962 most people were getting their news from TV, at least in western societies. So much in this world of mine became for millions and by degrees, strange or odious, stimulating and attractive, fascinating or boring. Not that this was a new experience; it was just that there was so much more of it. Millions who were guilty or were suspected of crime, might hope, in the obscurity of an immensely burgeoning world and its immense number of huge cities, to elude the vigilance of the law. Another group which became larger with the years, found themselves a celebrity, a centre of media attention or simple popularity for a few minutes or seconds. There were so many sub-groups in this pluralistic society. Not only was it a society of groups, it was a society of the isolated individual and family.

In such a varied conflux of peoples, nations and institutions, every teacher, either of truth or of falsehood, every founder, whether of a virtuous or a criminal association, might easily multiply his disciples or accomplices. The result was a world packed with information, events and personalities, committed and uncommitted, a world that simply overwhelmed the average person in a sea of activity that was impossible to take in and synthesize into some concrete whole. Escape was often the only answer and, if one could hear the sound of this escape, it would be deafening. The reality was, though, that this great escape was silent and obscure, subtle and complex. For the most part, the silent escape of the great populations of the west was barely conscious to the mind or visible to the senses. As they walked their suburban streets with only the sound of barking dogs at night and a strange assortment of people by day, a curious, a pervasive and mysterious normality prevailed.

Perhaps what I describe here, however inadequately, was part of the disintegrating process in the West. There were, of course, many aspects of this disintegrating process. There was also a pervasive and positive integrating process at work. I began to feel both as early as 1947/8, although I would not have been able to put it in those words. The theme is a difficult one to pursue and I will return to it from time to time during this narrative. For now, let us return to 1953.

Just before my ninth birthday, in July of 1953, in the early months of my mother's involvement with this new Faith, Shoghi Effendi wrote an important letter to the American Bahá'ís. In it he said, writing about the process of entry by troops, that it would "be a prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion....as a direct result of a chain of events, momentous and possibly catastrophic in nature....will revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, derange the equilibrium of the world and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Bah'u'llah." In the early 1960s that process of entry by troops began in Canada and it has been occurring at various places around the planet over the last forty years. I experienced some of the more numerically successful manifestations of the process, first in Picton Ontario in 1970 and, second, in Whyalla South Australia in 1972. The following poems tell of some of that second experience:

NO ENTRY-BY-TROOP

The poetic view of life consists in...the extraordinary value and importance of everybody I meet....when the mood is on me. I....see the essential glory and beauty of all the people I meet....splendid and immortal and desirable.1 This poetic view is reinforced by Renan's words2 "What one says of oneself is always poetry." 1-Rupert Brooke in: A Letter to F.H. Keeling, September 1910; and 2Earnest Renan's comment on Goethe's Dichtung and Wahrheit in: Georges Gusdorf, "The Conditions and Limits of Autobiography," in Olney, editor, Autobiography, Princeton UP, Princeton, 1980, p.42.

My productiveness proceeds in the final analysis from the most immediate admiration of life, from the daily inexhaustible amazement at it. -R.M. Rilke, Selected Letters.

In one Bahá'í community where we experienced entry-by-troops I had the experience I describe below. The poem is factually based, although an element of poetic license trims the edges. Some poets, some writers, do not let you past the front door of their lives. I, too, have my reservations. But I let you in, give you a cup of tea and chat. The many privacies of life I keep, as most of us do with most people who come to our door. On the two occasions when entry-by-troops became part of my life, it felt like the whole world coming through my front door.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 5:50 pm., Saturday, 30 December 1995, Rivervale, WA.

She really was a beauty;
one of those women I always
wanted to take to bed with me.
And here I was in her lounge room,
late at night and alone
and she wanting it
and telling me so.

It's funny the sort of people
you attract to the Cause
in these early epochs
of its global spread.
You'd think it would be
those spiritual types
you read about, saintly women
who have always been
waiting for the truth,
usually thin and old
and with false teeth,
at least that's the way
you used to think.

This bed-wise woman
was no Mary of Magdala,
but she had her garden of pleasure,
her perfume, her glistening hair,
smooth-armed, gold-bangled,
fingers slender, knowing the words
men like to hear.

Marking me tonight, probably
knowing I was beyond her wiles,
part of some new marble dream
I'd brought to town with its words
of soft rain for the dry and stony hills;
somehow she knew it could not be.

Not these words, they could not
penetrate her urgent desire,
her full warm breasts
and her endless curves
with that sweet new life
for which she might live
and some day die
in a greater fullness and joy
than she could imagine.

And so I passed her by;
my days of infidelity
had not come yet.
Someone else would teach me
the lessons that could have been
mine that night.

Ron Price
30 December 1995
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