After 58 years of association with the Baha'i Faith, 1953-2011, I had collected some 200 unpublished essays written during the 4th and 5th epochs (1986-2011). I wrote many essays in epochs 2 & 3(1944-1986), but they are virtually all lost in times sands.
This collection is a pot-pourri of material: essays written for academic institutions, for the internet and for various Bahai and other interest group publications. Readers will find many of these essays written to introduce a range of themes on the internet. By 2011 I had come to consider these internet essays as published items. Each of my first 65 collections/booklets of poetry has been introduced by an essay. Some of these essays are found here, but most of my unpublished essays are not yet available. Time and circumstance may see them become accessible on the internet. Time will tell.
Autobiography: Section VI.1
published in A Study In Autobiography and A Study of Autobiography
, 5th Edition
The essays here are not organized in any way. I think, ideally, they should be arranged chronologically but: time and lack of interest in making any special arrangment does not permit me to organize this material. It is, then, as I said above, a pot pourri of resources for a future time.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKLET
'THIRTY YEARS OF INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING'
In the sixteen months before the opening of the Seven Year Plan(1979 to 1986), I experienced a recurrence, a debilitating manifestation, of my bi-polar tendencies. At the time I had been an international pioneer to Australia from Canada for seven years. In March 1979 I wrote to the Universal House of Justice, for the first time since I had been on the pioneer trail, requesting their prayers. About a year after receiving their letter informing me of their prayers I was finally treated for this disabling illness.
And so in the first two years of the Seven Year Plan I received the assurances of the House of Justice, their prayers for my 'serene happiness' and eventual healing of my illness. Sixteen months later, in May 1980, I wrote what was to become the first of a series of thousands of poems of which those contained in this booklet are but a few. Writing poetry was to become an important, a major, source of whatever serene happiness I was to achieve.
My poetry from 1980 to 1995 I now see as my juvenilia, an early developmental stage of fifteen years, a warm-up period. I have divided this stage into three sub-stages named after three phases of the construction of the Shrine of the Bab: The Tomb's Chambers(August 1980 to April 1987), The Arcade(May 1988 to August 1992) and The Golden Dome(September 1992 to June 1995). These slow and gradual developmental sub-phases led to what I now see as a more mature poetry which, for convenvience as much as anything, I see as beginning in July 1995. I have called these last six years(July 1995 to July 2001) The Terraces.
There are now some 46 booklets of poetry, of between five and six thousand poems and two to three million words in the entire opus. In February of 1997 I sent to you(Canadian NSA) a booklet of poetry entitled Canada's Glorious Mission Overseas. I also sent a booklet of poetry to you in April 2001: Fifty Years From F.O.G. Somehow it was misplaced and for that reason I forward to you this third booklet. This third booklet, Thirty Years of Pioneering, celebrates thirty years of my international pioneering here in Australia from Canada(1971-2001). It also celebrates the opening of the terraces, the Arc Project, in May of this year and the beginning of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006), the first Plan of this new millennium.
These three booklets could be seen as a report to you written during the 26th to 30th years of my pioneering in Australia from Canada. I have also sent two different booklets of poetry to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Canada during this same period, partly to serve as a report to them. There are now an additional 42 booklets in the Bahá'í World Centre Library sent from 1992 to 2000. Together, all these volumes serve as a poetic expression of nearly forty years of service and experience in the Cause. They may be useful one day as an interesting historical record for a period which, if one draws on the Guardian's ten stage model of history, covers the last years of the ninth and the early decades of the tenth stages of history.
Generally, what I try to do in my poetry is to play with three interrelated themes or topics: my own life, the life of the Cause and the experience of society, the global civilization that is emerging and its history and future. I have found poetry to be more suitable to my literary aims and goals than essays, novels, or indeed other genres of written expression, although I have an extensive personal archive of these other forms and one day they may be useful as historical documents that speak of our time and age.
With six months gone in this the Fifth Epoch I send to you another expression of the spirit of that exaltation with which the Universal House of Justice opened the Fifth Epoch. May your services to the Cause in these opening years of this new millennium be rewarded with His abundant blessings and may we all continue to observe this Faith going from strength to strength in the years ahead. I hope, too, as I point out in the introduction to that first booklet of poetry I sent to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia in 1997, that future generations of international pioneers,1 generations that will see many more individuals come to Australia's shores, will enjoy the richness of experience this pioneer has enjoyed. and come to win, as Shoghi Effendi encouraged Australian Bahá'ís back in 1954, "a still greater measure of fame in the service"2 of the Cause.
1 I have defined a generation as 25 years and the four generations thus far are: 1921-1946, 1946-1971, 1971-1996 and 1996-2021.
2 Shoghi Effendi in Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand: 1923-1957, NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia, 1970, p.122.
12 July 2001
I am often and very much at the center of my essays, that taken together they form a kind of autobiography. On a more somber note I've achieved an age where the time has come for an end to preening if, indeed, I have taken part in such an inappropriate literary exercise in my younger years. I do not think of myself as still youthful in body or spirit and so it is that the future is not an endlessly expandable entity. Still, the way things are going with modern medicine I could be around for several more decades. I have developed a slightly curmudgeonly tone, a tone which is knew to me since I have always seen myself as a friendly Canadian, easy to get along with and patient with even the most difficult of people. It is hard to know how much this recognition of my own aging has affected my work and I'm certainly still the central presence in most of the essays, so this may all be more a matter of self-consciousness than of life change. Whatever the case, I'm aiming in the years ahead to come to the top of my essayistic game as I profit from my decades of reading and experience. Of course, only time will tell.
I have always liked the way Mr. Joseph Epstein describes himself. Much of how he describes himself here could apply to me and so I quote:
My talent is to unfurl slightly oblique observations in sentences that, if properly spun, sometimes yield a small surprise. I operate at the level of the sentence. I live less in the world than in my head. I long for a wisdom I know I shall never attain. I am a writer lucky beyond all luck to have found not only his forms but his perfect audience. The number of this audience is small--ten or twenty thousand maybe--but select.
MY JOURNEY THROUGH SOCIOLOGY:
My experience these days of sociology, as a formal discipline, as just about entirely on the Internet. Occasionally I dabble(for I am retired now and I have made of dabbling an art-form) in this rich and variegated field which forty years ago I had just entered. I remember well that first year of the formal study of sociology, which ended in early May of 1964, just before I got a job checking telephone poles for internal decay. In about February or, perhaps, March, a tutor joined the sociology staff. He was able to explain the mysteries of Parsons better than anyone. And at the time, Parsons occupied a position in the emperean of sociological godheads. Everyone admired this tutor as if he was some brilliant theologian who had just arrived from the Vatican with authoritative pronouncements for us all to write down on our A-4 note paper to be regurgitated on the April examination. He was an Englishman, if I remember, rather slim and a good talker. And Parsons, for all of us, was about as intricate as you could get and still stay in the same language and on the same earthly plane.
For a year I had no contact with sociology, except for a short period of time toward the end of my second year at university. I got to know a young woman of 27 who had one son and who studied sociology. I took her ice-skating in about February of 1965. I can’t quite remember how I met her but for two or three months I went to the occasional lecture with her in sociology. She had a passion for helping Africans and I had a passion for her. Our mutual passions interlocked nicely and it was this reciprocity that led us to join together in third year sociology.
I took six courses in sociology that year, enough to bring the dead to life, or is it the living to death or, perhaps more accurately, I should say enough to kill any enthusiasms for sociology. In retrospect it was fortuitous that Canadian universities begin in mid-September with exams starting in mid-April. With the Christmas break, the week off for Easter and exam study the student is left with six months of lectures-reading-tutorials. That is about all one can stand of reading sociology. The cold Canadian wnters keep it all on chill: nothing like a brisk walk to class in sociology 3A6 to examine the essence of Marxism, if there is an essence, or the intricacies of functionalism and it has many intricacies especially the Parsonian brand. From Comte to the 1960s in a quick hit. Part of me always wanted to take it seriously and part of me found it such a burden of words that my already incipient depression just got another kick-start on its way.
Anyway, I got through my third year and found myself with a BA bracket sociology end-of-bracket. I did not get my degree until November because when the transcript came out in June I was four or five marks short of a passing grade, 60%. I had to pay a visit to the Head of the Department, a gentle spirit who frequently imbibed a white wine, a beer or was it a claret? He taught me sociological statistics. This was the most mysterious of all arts in this youthful discipline which by 1963 was about 100 years of age with roots going back into the dawns of time. I remember, yes, as if it was yesterday, sitting in his class writing down as much as I could in the hope of unravelling it leisurely at home in a quiet evening where I lived over a restaurant in the small town of Dundas, 15 minutes away on a good hitch-hike. Of course I never did, unravel it I mean; night after night I’d ponder these mathematical symbols in the hope that sincerity and effort would pay off. In this case they did not and here I was eight weeks after the end of the year asking him for a few marks. He came to the party, probably because it was late afternoon and by then he’d already had a few and he was one of those drinkers who gets friendlier after knocking back a few.
I had periodic dalliances with sociology after that graduating year of 1966. At teachers’ college we had a sociology unit. I had to go to a teachers' college to get some practical qualification because sociology was good for absolutely nothing insofar as a career was concerned. I could have tied it to social work as well as teaching, but untied to anything about the only use it had was at a bar in the evening, with your girfriend discussing your(and her) inner life, driving a taxi and sitting around filling in time reading books. However useful sociology may be in this private domain, you can’t take it far as the cornerstone of a career.
I came to teach sociology in 1974 to trainee teachers in Launceston, in 1975 to library technician trainees in Melbourne, in 1976-78 in Ballarat to engineers and social science majors. When I lived in Katherine I taught it occasionally in adult education to evening classes and in Port Hedland to students in management courses. In the early 1990s in Perth I taught sociology in Certificate courses and again in 1997-8 teaching sociology for human service workers. Now after more than forty years I find myself finally finished combing library shelves through books which I first saw over forty years ago and the hundreds of additions. Some of the material is highly stimulating and some as dry and coagulating as a sewer after a long period of no rain. The books are still as fat and I find I can not spend more than an hour hunting them down. An immense fatigue sets in toward the end of my first hour in the library and I must scoop up my allotment of seven or eight books to read in the leisurely quiet of my home with a cold or a hot drink in my hand depending on the time of year.
I look forward in my dotage to a long and happy life with this strange field I chanced upon more than forty years ago when I was trying to avoid the world of work and its deadening and so often predictable stamp of boredom. The labyrinthine channels of sociology one can travel in forever; the library shelves are getting more extensive; it is a burgeoning field as are all fields now. The river of sociology, now in its middle age, perhaps, will flow on into its third century while I get old. And when my days are long and I am freed from the work-a-day world and its routines I will play among its waters, bathing myself in its endless streams, having learned how to avoid drowning in its heady froth. I will only sample its choicest and its freshest glasses of refreshment. For by then I will be an accomplished connoisseur of its mysteries. I will be old and ready for my final hour.
Revised March 7, 2004
* Two years and two weeks after writing this essay I retired from the teaching profession and from teaching sociology. By March 2000, three years after the pleasure of writing the above 'summary of experience,' I had seven arch lever files of notes, the residue from those many years of dabbling in sociology in my study in a house in George Town, the oldest town in Australia. By then I had begun to sample only the choice bits of the field that I enjoyed the most: sociological theory. I continued what I had done since my first contact with sociology in 1963, enlarge my understanding of the Cause through the insights of this useful discipline. I also found myself teaching sociology in a School for Seniors (19/8/2000). My final hour had begun.
PREFACE TO THIS ESSAY COLLECTION
Most of the material in this collection falls into the category of essay. A small portion of what is found here belongs to other genres: short-story, letter, indeed an odd assortment of this and that. Some has been published and but most not so. All of it is useful insofar as the autobiographical thrust of my writing is concerned. What I’d like to do here is make some introductory comments about essay writing, the major genre in this collection of material.
In 1580 Montaign published a selection of his essays. My first published essay was in 1983 in Katherine, four hundred and three years later. Essays, I realize now, a dozen years later, are autobiographical, particularly in the sense that they tend to prescribe a certain philosophy of life. The essayist’s truths are “for me” and “for now”, personal and provisional as Graham Good says in his The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay(1988). There is an unsorted wholeness of experience which can only be held together by the concept of the self, Good argues. The essayist communicates as himself. Montaign did this four hundred years ago and I do this in my essays. The study of one man is one way to study humankind. The essayist is typical of how we experience ourselves as untypical. He is typical insofar as he focuses on experience. The intellect is part of that experience. For some, like Montaign, the cultivation and pleasure of the intellect stands out in the essay. So, too, does a humility and unassuming quality. Whoever the essayist, the human being behind the words stands revealed.
William Hazlitt possesses an extreme skepticism in all things. The more evidence we accumulate about others, Hazlitt would argue, the more complex and difficult the assessment of others. His preference is for the solitary. Company inhibits spontaneity. Bacon is a practical man whose essays serve as counsel to harmonize self-interest and public interest. Dr. Johnson is an acute observer and offers up essays like TV programs or newspapers. Henry James is guide, interpreter and provider of vicarious experience. The detailed describer of settings, James did what I do very little of, except on rare occasions. Virginia Woolf sees the self in socio-historical terms as part of one large piece of art and moments of being are the crucial centre pieces. Each essayist has their own particular perspective, philosophy and style. And I have mine. In some of my essays I allude to my aims and philosophies.
The essayist goes out into the foray anticipating anything, seeing virtually everything and anything as fodder for his pen, his essay. The basis of his involvement is disinterested curiosity, contemplation, spontaneity, eagerness. The essayist accepts a basic fluidity to his self, his experience, his understanding: what he records is provisional and any truth he sees is part of his relationship with his reader. This relationship is characterized by friendship. Essay writing began for Montaign as a substitute for conversation. It was a friendly dialogue. It shows the process and flow of thought, open, receptive and often untidy. This is true of me, of my essays, which function in part as a substitute for conversation which I have grown tired of for various reasons.
There is an intuitive intensity in the essay that is directed toward the mystical moment of union between outer and inner, between soul and form. It is this which makes for refreshing autobiography. In the essay it is the process of judgement that counts not the judgement. The essayist is a combiner, a producer of configurations who declares a direction after a play of ideas and images, after presenting a constellation of material. The essayist is a coordinator, a crystalliser, an interweaver,an interpenetrator. At the heart of the essay is a moment where the self, the writer, finds a pattern in the world and the world finds a pattern in the self. Essays are unquestionably a useful extension of the autobiographical focus in Pioneering Over Three Epochs.
The first essay in this collection is an ‘introduction’ to the published essays I wrote in Katherine between 1983 and 1986. These essays appeared in Katherine papers and may be the first extended series of serious essays in the popular press by a Baha’i in Australian Baha’i history. I do not know. I sent them to the BWCL several years ago. Now the essays have a fitting introduction, one I am happy with anyway.
These essays, in the pages that follow, might one day appear in a collection of published essays. For several reasons they are not the kind of writing that Baha’i publishers are interested in putting on the market. Other publishing priorities are paramount. They contribute to my story in ways that my poems do not and so I include them here in this booklet. With the unpublished essays I have already sent and the published ones this should bring the total number of essays to two hundred, or about one hundred and fifty thousand words.
31 January 1998
For the most part, if not entirely, these essays were written in 1993 and 1994. For the most part, too, they were never published. They represent an archive of material from my second decade of significant writing, the first decade being 1974-1984 during which I kept very few of my essays, and during which I worked at post-secondary schools and colleges and wrote a great deal. Some were published in Katherine newspapers.
I now see these essays as part of a long warm-up phase of writing, some thirty years(1962-1992), a warm-up phase that, arguably, could be seen as going back to 1962/3 when I began my matriculation studies, my pioneer life and my four years of study in the arts and teaching.
Some of my writing in this second decade, 1984-1994, got published, about 150 essays in Katherine NT. and various other pieces. I keep the published pieces in four other files. After this long warm-up period of three decades I began writing in a serious, committed way and have done so for ten years(1992-2002). These essays will serve as a useful base for evaluating what might be seen as the end of what has been a long and critical 'developmental phase' and the beginning of what has now been ten years of more 'mature' writing.
March 26, 2002
This collection of resources on the subject of ‘essay writing’ has been twenty years in the making: 1984-2004. It should be seen in conjunction with the resources on the same subject in my ‘creative writing file’ which I put together after I retired from teaching in 1999. Of course there are other resources like my two files of unpublished essays and my published essays files which provide samples of my work. But, given the importance of the genre: essay/article/think piece, et cetera, both in the past 45 years and in the years ahead, it is timely that this sub-section 3 of Published Essays Volume 1 be given more order after 20 years of a haphazard arrangement.
December 2 2004
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
VOLUME 1: 1979-2002
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
These essays were first gathered together in 1996, some 17 years of mostly unpublished but also some published pieces. There were, of course, essays written before 1979 back as far as 1962 and before, for many years before the first essay appearing here but, except for a small handful of pieces, none of them has survived here or in other collections of my writing. I continued adding essays to this collection after 1996 and, by the end of 2002, I needed to open a second volume since there was no more room in this arch-lever file. That second volume contains essays for the period 2003 to the present. A great number of the essays in the second volume were placed on the internet and I consdier these in the ‘published’ category.
In 1979-80 I found myself unemployed for at least half of the time. After five years teaching in post-secondary education(1974-78), six years in primary and secondary education as a teacher(1967-1973) and five years as a student at the start of my pioneering life(1962-1967) when I wrote or read an uncountable number of essays none of which has survived, I began writing essays that, for various reasons, I began to keep. The first volume of essays(1979-2002) contains some 125 pieces. I was 35 years of age when I wrote the first piece for The Tasmanian Mail and 58 when I wrote the last piece here for the Australian Baha’i Bulletin. Some of the pieces here, like the last one named, did get published.
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
VOLUME 2: 2003-2011
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
I began collecting these essays at the start of 2003 as volume 2 of my unpublished essays. Volume 1 of these unpublished pieces were first gathered together in 1996, some 17 years of unpublished pieces. As I pointed out in my preface to volume 1, there were essays written before 1979 back as far as 1962 and before, for many years before the first essay that appeared in volume 1. But virtually none of them has survived. I continued adding essays to volume 1 after 1996 and by the end of 2002 I needed to open a second volume since there was no more room in this arch-lever file. That second volume, this file here, contains essays for the period 2003 to the present.
During this period beginning in 2003, I began placing or posting essays on the internet. Although such pieces could be considered unpublished, I considered these postings as published pieces and some of them are included in this file.
LIPSTICK AND BRUISES
In the 1990s I wrote a book devoted primarily to the poetry of Roger White. In that book I added special chapters to focus on a small selection of his letters, on his books of prose and here in this chapter which I have given to Orison on some of his other activities involving writing and poetry. I have done this to place his poetry in the wider perspective of a creative and imaginative life.
In a book celebrating the first hundred years of Hansard in Canada's parliament, John Ward wrote that Roger White was "acknowledged by his colleagues as one of the finest shorthand writers ever to serve his country." He also served as the official reporter for the Supreme Court of British Columbia. These were some of the skills White brought to the Publishing Department at the Bahá'í World Centre where he was editor-in-chief of several volumes of The Bahá'í World in the 1980s. He wrote the lyrics for 'Songs for Solo Voice' by Jean South in Luxembourg and the text of a book Forever in Bloom: The Lotus of Bahapur. Indeed, I am confident White had many other talents and abilities that are not mentioned in my book, devoted as it is to a study of White's poetry not his life's activites.
In 1989 White gave a poetry reading in Haifa. He had been at the Bahá'í World Centre for eighteen years by that time. The evening's program was called 'Lipstick and Bruises.' The tone was entertaining with a gentle satire in the air as he read and spoke. White was a sit-down, not a stand-up, comedian. He really was quite funny, not a surprising quality to anyone who knew his poetry and had received some of his letters. White satirized almost everything that the Bahá'í World stood for but, in the end, everything and everyone's emotions and standards were left intact. Most contemporary comedians who have gained popularity leave not a stone or an institution standing after a thoroughgoing evening of satirical work is done. Not so with White. He certainly turned stones over with his satire but the process was gentle and embodied an etiquette, a refinement, of expression.
I was reminded, as I listened, of the Jews who for centuries have been 'the funny guys,' the comedians. There seems to be something about suffering that brings out the lighter side of life as a survival mechanism. It seemed most fitting that two hundred Bahá'ís should join White in an evening of laughter and pure delight. Somehow it was a sign of the maturity of the Bahá'í community, so often measured in blood, sweat and tears, dogged persistence in the face of massive indifference and a faith which it was their hope and belief would move mountains, if not tomorrow, then over the centuries. One way of characterizing the Bahá'í experience, White's experience, perhaps, was with, as White put it in the title he gave to the program, 'Lipstick and Bruises.'
White read many of his old favourites and the audience's. He also read some new material: from letters he had received, from his experiences and those of others. He joked; he played the raconteur, the provocateur, the stimulator, the titillator, the poet-who-lived-there, the kind man that he was.
I was not present at the evening's entertainment which was organized, White informed us, by the Department of Organization and Personnel. I was one of those who received a cassette-tape with the background music of the Iranian musician Masoud Rowshan who played the santour. I was one of those who heard the voice of the poet, I think for the first time, after enjoying his many voices in poetry.
There was a dryness in his voice, a little like the dry humour that comes out of Canada, at least the kind I got used to back in the 1950s and 1960s as a youth and young adult. But there was that kindness, the kindness that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had pointed to when He visited Canada in 1912. White was one of those 'kind friends' that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had raised up just about the time when Canada was forming its first National Spiritual Assembly in 1948. With a lifetime of service, over forty years, and the experiences of lipstick and bruises behind him, White was a veteran. He was also greatly loved. There would be four years of 'lipstick and bruises' to go before his innings were to be completed.
I wish I could have been there, although I was able to savour each line as it came off my cassette tape. I felt as if I finally had White to myself after all these years, such are the illusions of technology. Nineteen months after this poetry reading White would leave the Bahá'í World Centre. With a quadruple bypass operation under his belt, so to speak, which he likened to "being struck down by a herd of stampeding rogue elephants or perhaps a small Sherman tank," he still had a little left. He put that little into three books of poetry which were published within three years of this public reading at the Bahá'í World Centre.
These were the words from my chapter ‘lipstick and bruises’ in The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. But let me close for this essay in Orison some of the background that led to this short essay.
Geoffrey Nash, in a review of Roger White's poetry in 1982, wrote that White heralded "the development of Bahá'í consciousness in world literature." Literature, poetry and prose, letters and other genres, have been arriving on the world's literary stage from the pens of Bahá'ís for more than a century and a half. White certainly has been, in Nash's words, a herald. White's work emerged from obscurity at the same time as the Bahá'í Faith was rising from an obscurity in which it had existed for nearly a century and a half. The Revolution in Iran in 1979 marked a significant point aloing the road of that emergence. It is more than coincidental that White's first major book of poetry Another Song Another Season was published that same year. There is now a burgeoning literature on the Bahá'í Faith provided by individual Bahá'ís the world over in the two decades since Nash wrote what have become prophetic words. White has, indeed, become a herald. Though I'm sure he did not set out to become the brilliant initiator that he has been.
There are others I could focus on to describe this 'development of a Bahá'í consciousness in world literature': Robert Hayden, Bahiyyah Nakjavani, H.M. Balyuzi, M. Momen, Adib Taherzedeh, John and William Hatcher, among others, whose books, each in their own way, played their unique parts, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, in laying this foundation of consciousness. To pick one example: in April 1966 Robert Hayden was awarded "the Grand Prix" at the Third World Festival of Negro Arts for "the best" recent volume of Anglophone poetry. This was without doubt a milestone in the emergence of a Bahá'í consciousness in world literature. I could cite other events along the road of this emergence, but my purpose here is to focus on the poetry of Roger White. The focus is timely since he passed away ten years to the month that Juxta Publications in Hong Kong placed my e-book on their website.
The efforts of poets and critics to come to terms with the legacy of a post-traditional poetry that had begun as early as the second decade of the twentieth century with Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, especially its disturbing mixture of poetic innovation and reactionary politics, its vast international influence and intense Eurocentrism amounted to a kind of collective anxiety attack and this anxiety was reflected in post-war II poetry right up to the seventies. By the 1990s, by the time White died though, it had become clear that these sometimes embarrassing ancestors who appeared about the time 'Abdu'l-Bahá went on His western tour, had laid the foundation for a post-traditional poetry. That new poetry had been growing by the time of White's first major publication in 1979 for at least six decades. Brian Conniff describes its last phase in the 1980s in the African American Review. This poetry, he writes, is "more explicitly heterogenous and more international, both in its sources and its influence, in such works as Adrienne Rich's Your Native Land, Your Life(1986), Seamus Heaney's Station Island (1983), and Derek Walcott's Omeros (1990)." And I would add the poetry of Roger White here and his three books of poetry written from 1979 to 1984. Much of White's poetry has a very traditional style and tenor, although its content is for the international stage. White gives his readers what Arthur Koestler said was crucial for modern men and women: truths which were perennial without being archaic. He also gives his readers the global Bahá'í community, its history and its teachings. His is both a very traditional and an international poetic mix.
As a fellow poet I am only too conscious of the remarks of Charles Martindale in his introduction to the Roman poet Ovid that "artists, for all their intuitive insights, are often both idiosyncratic and egocentric when responding to the work of others." Martindale notes "the comparative poverty" of the critical tradition of Ovid." The afterlife of a great poet, the artistic responses of the generations that follow a writer, shows how even the finest writers can fail to be understood and appreciated. This first generation following the death of Roger White and the industry of critical reflection that it creates has yet to establish any pattern. I trust my book, essays like this and the writings of others will initiate a pattern of enthusiastic appreciation.
I think the period 1979 to 1984 was especially significant in bringing about a transformation in the literature available to Bahá'ís on their Faith. White published three books of poetry and a novella which I deal with in essays later in this book. Nakjavani published two books: Response and Four On An Island in a refreshing and highly stimulating idiom that was as much poetry as prose and, like White, left many readers puzzled. Others found her writing possessed of a vitality and originality that, as Henry Moore once put it, were uniquely her own.It was also a style of writing that was inspired by that same universal vision that inhabited White's poetry and that, I am confident, will take on additional significance as time goes on. And there were other books. But this series of essays deals with the poetry of Roger White. I leave it to other writers and critics to deal more comprehensively with the other authors who have been part of this emergence beginning, say, with the first teaching Plan(1937-1944) when, arguably, this Bahá'í consciousness made its earliest appearances in world literature and the Faith itself begin to expand over the surface of the earth to become the second most widespread religion on the planet.
The course of development of the prose, the language, the thought--and especially the poetry--of a group of people: a nation, an ethnic group, a religion, indeed any group with a specific identity, a specific set of characteristics is, as the nineteenth century literary critic Matthew Arnold wrote, "profoundly interesting." "By regarding a poet's work as a stage," he continued, "in this course of development we may easily bring ourselves to make it of more importance as poetry than it really is." Perhaps I am guilty of this literary sin in what I admit to be, again in Arnold's words, my quite exaggerated praise, my arguable overrating of White's work. What may be the long term historical estimate of White's work and what is the intrinsic estimate of his work to a contemporary individual--and particularly this critic-are not necessarily identical.
The internationalization of literature, its global orientation, its planetization, its planetary consciousness, the perception of literature as part of the essential fabric of a global civilization or culture has really only emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Goethe, at the turn of the nineteenth century, was the first great thinker to suggest that the literature of the future would be a world literature with a planetary consciousness. A. Alvarez remarks, in analysing modernism in literature in the first three decades of the twentieth century, that it was "synonymous with internationalism." The scholarship of comparative literature and the histories of comparative literature have demonstrated that a common vein of ideas and conventions runs through all of Western literature. Indeed, there is unquestionably an underlying uniformity in the literary heritage of humankind, although an outdated nationalism, parochialism and insular local traditions still militate against the thrusting sense of global culture. Of course, traditionality, localism, associations of a national culture will remain, will continue to be enriched. That, too, is part of the process currently underway on this planet.
Mr. T.S. Eliot once wrote that “literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint.” I’m not sure that is necessarily the case. It would appear than many of the greatest painters and writers did not write from an explicit, a defined and articulate philosophical perspective, but in the case of this work, this literary evaluation of the poetry of Roger White, I do write from much the same ethical and theological standpoint as White.Perhaps more importantly,though,the White I am analysing in this book is a very personal White.He is my White. A personal relationship grows up between poet & reader,a personal interpretation. My commentary on White is based, as Northrop Frye emphasized, in "the actual experience of art" that is in my actual experience of White's poetry. It is based, too, on a conceptual universe of analysis that I have constructed on my own with the aid of a range of ideas and concepts from the literary arts and social sciences. The poet may be part of an embryonic Bahá'í consciousness in world literature, but he also becomes part of the individual reader's consciousness in a very private and personal world often quite different from the world's of other readers. Lionel Trilling made this same point in relation to Robert Frost's poetry at a talk he gave at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in 1959 in celebration of Frost's eighty-fifth birthday.
For this reason and the personal friendship that I had with White over many years, I feel somewhat like the famous literary critic Helen Vendler who said in a panel discussion just recently in New York "I don't often do negative reviews…that does not seem to me an interesting kind of writing to do." Vendler went on to say that the negative, the critical, side of reviewing detracts from the affect, the vitality, of the content on the page. Critics want to write about the kind of poetry they would like to write themselves or they'd like to sponsor. No critic wants to write about some poet they don't like especially, Vendler concluded, as they get older and especially if they know the poet. Marjorie Perloff, another critic on the panel, said that to demolish or trash a poet was a devastating thing to do. Her approach was to say 'if you can't say something good about the poet, don't write the review or the book.' She said this is especially true for poets you know personally and when the review is not anonymous. Who wants to be critical of someone you know personally? It's not natural or instinctive, said Perloff. Some critics can hide behind the veil of anonymity and psychological distance and thus make more devastating comments. Others simply won't write about living poets. As far as these essays are concerned, then, readers will find little overt and strong criticism of White. There is, I trust, much of that etiquette of expression, that judicious and disciplined exercise of the writtten word, that moderation which "ensures the enjoyment of true liberty." Such is my aim.
I like to think my study, my literary criticism, is similar to that of the father of literary criticism, John Dryden. "His is the criticism" in the words of Samuel Johnson, "of a poet, not a dull collection of theorems, not a rude collection of faults….but a gay and vigorous dissertation, where delight is mingled with instruction, and where the author proves his right of judgement, by his power of performance." Whatever the standpoint, though, theological and otherwise, my aim, like the aim of White’s poetry, is to awaken and enlarge the mind by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand otherwise unapprehended combinations of thought. White knows that:
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until death tramples it to fragments.
And so he gives us that ‘many-coloured glass,’ some of his philosophy ‘the white radiance of Eternity’ and the process of the familiar feet of death trampling life ‘to fragments.’ And I give you this review of White's poetry. I try to convey something of the new voice that White creates for us in his several books of poetry. I try to save the poetry from the artist who created it. For this is what White wanted. He was quite insistent in making this separation. This book opens with a short biography in three parts. I know that readers are as much interested in the man as the poet and his poetry. I don't think I overdo it, though. I hope Roger would find my weighting of these two distinct categories in good taste. He was always so kind in his letters that even if he disagreed with you he would always let you down slowly, laughing as you went. And he is no longer with us, with me, to say "I think you overdid it here, Ron." He was also adventurous and frank, so you knew where you stood. He did not beat around the bush, as they say.
There is a high seriousness in White but his alembic is humour. For some readers the affect of his poetry is a lightness and pleasure that only humour can provide; for other readers White's seriousness and his language place too much of a demand and, not willing to read and reread his poems, these readers put him down without extracting the intellectual delights; for still others, White has the affect of an invigorating exercise of the mind. For them the laughs are a bonus and the reward is more than pure delight. These readers gain an understanding of the religion they joined at some time in the last half century, an understanding perhaps deeper than any learned commentary or, indeed, the efforts of their own investigation. These readers get a sense of a Bahá'í consciousness, a Bahá'í sensibility, a Bahá'í voice, from a poet who has made a distinctive contribution to the birth of a spiritual and universal art.
Blended with this voice are interlacing strains of White's literary ancestry. They influence his style in quite complex and mysterious ways making whatever seems original and a fresh creative force partly and inevitably derivative. At the same time, as the sociologist Levin Schuckling emphasizes: "Somewhere, at some time, the poet follows the divine summons sent him and, true to an inner urge, responsible only to himself and answering no call from the outer world, creates his works of poetry that are dictated by the ideal that floats before him. The works brought into the light of day often show divergencies from existing forms and do not fit into the contemporary scheme of taste. Over time, though, the poetry finds friends, gains recognition and affects the general poetic taste."
Matthew Arnold, writing about the 'sanguine hopes' which accompanied the splendid epoch of poetry in European civilization in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, said there was a 'prematureness' to its expression. He said that, inspite of its energy and creative force, that epoch did not know enough. The creation of a modern poet, he went on, "implies a great critical effort behind it" or it will be a short-lived affair. Time will tell, of course, if there has been enough of that critical effort behind the poetry of Roger White to make it a long-lived affair. There is certainly a critical effort required on the part of the reader if White's work is to be appreciated. In this twenty-first century, sinking deeper as it appears to be into a slough of despond, one can't help but wonder with Harold Bloom what will survive in the long term from the world's burgeoning literary and media productions that fill people's lives today to assume a home in the world's literature in history's long arc.
In this greatest drama in the world's spiritual history in which we are all engaged, Roger White appeared for a time on the stage and is gone. But his poetry remains: as playful as Robert Frost and as serious as Ezra Pound, with his delightful metaphor and the freshness thereof, with his sympathy, infinitude and expansive virtues which, as Shelley once wrote, await "a world of peace and justice for their due recognition.” White, the voyager, is gone, ten years now. He gave himself, the only thing a writer has to offer. And where life is concerned, a writer, a poet, can only truly see, as he does through his own eyes and his own heart. He gave us the results of his search which, as Mark Tobey once wrote, are "the only valid expression of the spirit." He gave us what Dante says are the proper subjects of poetry: venus, virtue and salus.
He liked the term ‘minor poet,’ at least he used that term to apply to himself in one of his first poems. I think he would have eschewed the term ‘major poet’ for many reasons but, if a distinction can profitably be drawn between ‘major’ and ‘great,’ then White, for me anyway, deserves recognition as a great poet. Minor writers, minor poets, can be loved as purely and appreciated as much as major ones, and sometimes more easily, as another great analyst of poetry, Helen Vendler notes. The distinction between talent and genius may also be useful here. The former, said Arnold, gives the notion of power in a poet's performance, while the latter denotes felicity and perfection in the art. For me, White has some of both.
It is, perhaps, unimportant to "decide" whether White was a great poet. Pursuing labels of this kind and making such distinctions, may not be that helpful. White was good enough to provoke the question; perhaps that is enough. He was an exquisite craftsman. He produced an ample body of powerful poetry. That was enough, in the case of Balzac, for Somerset Maugham to use the term genius, or in the case of Wordsworth for Matthew Arnold to use the same term. Arnold also felt that "poetry to be truely excellent must have a high seriousness."-White certainly had that.
Arnold also wrote that: " Whether one is an eagle or an ant, in the intellectual world, seems to me not to matter much; the essential thing is to have one's place marked there, one's station assigned, and to belong decidedly to a regular and wholesome order" as one gave others a taste for the things of the mind. Bahá'u'lláh explored the same idea in writing about the portion of some lieing in a gallon measure and others in a thimble. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote much about the cultivation of the mind. Arnold was in good company. I got the impression these questions did not matter much to White.
Now, of course, I think it unlikely that recognition of this or any kind concerns him in the slightest. As he writes in one of his last poems:
wanting and having, I shall only be.
Occupied with boundlessness
I shall yet divine your unspoken question:
Were you drawn away by the music,
The promised ecstasy of reunion?
The work of a critic can be fantastically overestimated. Readers often forsake the works critics are writing about. Instead of enjoying the poet, the reader turns to the critic as specialist, to his prodigalities of implication, his hyperboles, his nimbuses of rhetoric, his exaggerations and the various promptings that the critic places before the reader. This I do not mind. I think there is a certain inevitability here, at least for some readers. As long as all that I have written convinces you, the reader, if only for the moment, of White's talent and genius, I will have done my job. For my main responsibility is to the poet, Roger White, and the need to be truthful. If what I write appears over the top, as it is said colloquially these days, that is because of the genuine enthusiasm and pleasure I take in reading his poetry. White is a subtle, yet bewilderingly gifted poet. I would not want you to miss the experience of Whiteland. I like to think that most of White's life consists of only those things that weren't good enough to go into his poems. So, if his biographical details are a little light on, readers should not feel they are missing much. White wanted it this way.
The nineteenth century literary critic Amiel, describing perhaps that century's finest French literary critic Sainte-Beuve, wrote that "it is only at fifty that the critic is risen to the true height of his literary priesthood, or, to put it less pompously, of his social function." Only then does a critic have the required critical judgement. These essays were put in their present form when I was in my late fifties. I'm not so sure I qualify for any literary priesthood; I'm not sure I possess the maturity of judgement Amiel refers to, but I hope that readers enjoy the essays that follow.
Samuel Johnson wrote biographies of each of his subjects before proceding to comment and evaluate their works. Such a combination satisfies, it seems to me, a perfectly proper curiosity. Johnson's Lives of the Poets is part of a biographical tradition going back to the early seventeenth century and earlier, a tradition that keeps separate a man's poetry and the man. Gradually, in the nineteenth century, the study of a man and the interpretation of his work began to mingle and to mingle more in the twentieth century. I do some mingling. I am a moderate mingler. This is what White wanted. I hope both White and readers of these essays will find my mingling helpful but not intrusive.
AN INTRODUCTION TO MY NOTEBOOKS
In his work from day to day Leonard da Vinci concentrated on one thing at a time and, while he concentrated on that one thing, that thing was the most important in the world. Not much got done in the short term because da Vinci seemed interested in everything but, over a lifetime, da Vinci accomplished many great things, albeit unfinished. After his death Leonard da Vinci’s Notebooks were hidden away, scattered or lost. His wonderful ideas were forgotten; his inventions were not tested and built for hundreds of years. It was largely due to his wide interests that the things he started were never finished. These casual, passing, fleeting, but intense, interests can be found described, outlined, in those Notebooks. These Notebooks record his observations, his sketches, his notes. They are all scattered through 28 Notebooks in over 5000 pages from 1490 to 1519. The Notebooks are a fascinating mixture of philosophy, scientific enquiry and art with, arguably, four major topics: painting, architecture, mechanics and anatomy made when he was 37 to 67.-Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, “Leonardo da Vinci,” 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., October 31st, 2004.
Some may see it a little presumptuous to compare my Notebooks to those of one of the greatest geniuses of history. But, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes in her article Artist, Seeker and Seer, our greatness “rests not in ourselves as much as in our ability and desire to circle around the great.”1 ‘Contrast’ is a better word than ‘compare’ because my Notebooks are so very different than da Vinci’s. I won’t ennumerate all the differences; perhaps the main difference is a visual bias in his work and a print bias in mine. Mine were collected some 500 years after da Vinci’s. Perhaps the first Notebook I created was in 1949 in kindergarten and from that year until 1962 I created many a school Notebook. None of these notes now exist except two essays from English class in 1961-2 and now located in my Journal Volume 1.1. I have some other notes going back to the early to mid sixties, to the start of my pioneering life in 1961-2, newspaper columns by Richard Needham of the Toronto Globe and Mail, and the 1970s, mostly (a) photocopies of material given to me by students at Box Hill Tafe, (b) from Baha’i books which I keep in my Notebook: “Notes/Quotes file B,” (c) from a sociology of art course I taught in 1974 and (d) from media studies courses I taught in Ballarat in 1976-7. But the vast bulk of my notes comes from the period 1982 to 2004. Many notes and Notebooks from 1982 to 2002 were given to the Baha’i Council of the Northern Territory as part of the History of the Baha’i Faith in that territory.
What exists now in my study are notes and Notebooks for a twenty year period, 1984 to 2004, from the age of 40 to 60.2 The collection of 160(ca) Notebooks, in the form of two-ring binders and arch-lever files, consists of written notes and quotes from books on a multitude of subjects, photocopies and typed copies of the works of others and notes taken mostly from my reading and to a far lesser extent my observations and experiences. There are many categories of these Notebooks: (i) journal and diary Notebooks, (ii) Baha’i Notebooks and (iii) Notebooks on a multitude of humanities and social science disciplines or topics. I have made a list of these and previous Notebooks in Section VI, Volume 2: Unpublished Writings. I have also added additional information on the notebooks of other writers to help provide perspectives on my own notes and note-keeping. I should add, too, that there are many (iv) poetry Notebooks which occupy an extensive category unto itself. One could say that these are the four main categories of Notebooks that I have in my study twenty or perhaps more years after I began to keep notes that became the collection that now exists.
New ideas are incubated, to some extent, in these Notebooks. I have squeezed brief writing periods, sketches of varying lengths and tasks of different kinds, into my frenetic life out of necessity because I was teaching a particular subject, out of interest because it was associated with my involvement in the Baha’i Faith or because I wanted to write about a subject, an idea, an experience, if not at the time I recorded the words, at least later on. I rarely recorded observations of nature in any detail, although occasionally I did in my poetry. The accounts of my experiences can be found in my journals and my poetry.
There are 1000s of pages of notes; I would not even want to begin to count them. Over time I hope to write a more detailed outline of their origins, their evolution and their present contents. I’m not sure they are worth preserving as da Vinci’s were hundreds of years after they were written. I think it unlikely, although I will leave that to a posterity that I can scarcely anticipate at this climacteric of history in which I am living. For now, though, this brief statement is sufficient.3 _____________________________________________________________________
1 Bahiyyih Nakhjvani, “Artist, Seeker and Seer,” Baha’i Studies, Vol.10, p.19.
2 My Notebooks from the age of 18 to 39, from 1962 to 1984, are so minuscule as to hardly rate a mention. Those from the age of 5 to 18, although extensive, have disappeared into the dustbin of history. My first notes from the period 1984 to 2004 come from January 19th 1984, a journal entry. A more extensive analysis than this cursory one here may reveal a different timetable, a different history of my Notebooks.
3 Ron Price, “In Commemoration of the 47th Anniversary of the Passing of the Guardian in 1957,” Pioneering Over Four Epochs, November 4, 2004.
This may not turn out to be the 'final word,' but a response to all these comments generated by my first review and the comments of others seems to be in order.
The Passion of the Christ: A Second Look
There has been so much reaction to my first review, critique, comment on Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ that I felt a need to write a second statement. This statement will deal with some, but not all, of the main threads of response that I received. The responses, the postings at internet sites, of most people were responses not so much to what I wrote but, rather, responses to issues raised by the film itself--not necessarily my article in particular. There were so many responses over so many areas that they made me think, not so much about this film of Gibson's but about wider issues. Some readers may find what follows not sufficiently focused on Gibson and his film. For such readers they may be advised to discontinue reading at this point.
The first concern of many commentators, critics and casual observers alike, was the violence in the film. That seemed to be the most generalized concern, although there were many cryptic responses that gave vent in sometimes creative and often puzzling ways to various conspiracy theories, to a range of anti-Jewish or government sentiments and a host of other passionate and not-so-passionate worries. Many of the respondents' comments focussed on what they felt were Gibson's poor directing, his failure to develop the characters of the actors making Jesus, in the end, not very likeable. of course, other commentators stress just the opposite.
The literature on violence in cinema and society is burgeoning. That was a major concern more than 25 years ago when I taught media studies at what became a university in Ballarat, an old gold mining town, in Australia. So, too, is the concern with real violence in the wider society, the global society we all live in. The violent image has been extraordinarily preeminent in the visual media as is the profound concern about the culture of violence in general. There has been what one analyst called a hyperviolence in post-1960s cinema. I was only 19 when Kennedy was shot in 1963. I have lived in a society filled with real violence and hyperviolence for more than 40 years. Gibson’s film in some ways is just one of 1000s that have a violent base. Of course, in Gibson's film, the person to whom the violence was done has a special, a unique, place in the history of western civilization.
The media is now both scapegoat and cause, explanatory framework and rational for the violent society. Of course, religion and politics have been intertwined with violence since the days of universal animism in 6000 to 8000 BP. One writer whom I read over twenty years ago, Guy Murchie, wrote that we’ve had 14,400 wars in recorded history. Violence is as human, it appears, as apple pie or should I say potatoes, pasta or pumpkins?
In The Passion we are exposed to Gibson’s serious effort to represent a particular conflict, a crucial event, in the history of Christianity and its accompanying emotional sensibilities. Can we arrive at a historical account faithful to the evidence when we move from prose, from books, from scriptural text, to film? Poets like Homer(750 BC ca) and historians like Thucydides(420 BC) exaggerated and invented what they wrote to please and engage the audience. It became a convention of historians to insert made-up, but appropriate, speeches into their stories for 2000 years, until at least the sixteenth century.1 Just as poetry can enhance the power of history to convey aspects of the past so, too, can film.
But poetry and film can also be creatures of invention with little connection with the experienced world or the historical past. Film has had only a century to find its way as a medium for history. It’s future, I think, suggests some exciting possibilities. But along the way there will be many false starts. For many, Gibson's film was down that road of false starts.
No single view holds "the truth." Our eyes and ears are different than those of 2000 years ago. Small fragments are inevitably incomplete and this film contained, at best, a small fragment. There is a final unknowability, as Spielberg said in discussing the efforts of film makers to capture the lives of great men. Freud(1.1) said the same of biography in print. A movie blends fiction with true events.2 Considerable artistry, ingenuity and money went into giving "an overall impression of what it really would be like to be transported back into that time"3 of the life of Jesus of Nazereth. For millions, if not for all, Gibson achieved this effect. For millions, too, he did not.
But there remains, it seem to me, too cavalier an attitude to the evidence about lives and attitudes in the past. This evidence is all we have to go on and the imagination must work from there. The danger is that the audience is left with the false impression of "a true story." Considerable dramatic license is taken by directors. The truth status of historical films often remains unclear, obscure. In this film, the story comes from the New Testament. And the evidence in the New Testament is far from clear. It may be clear to those with a more fundamentalist theology, but it has not been clear for at least two hundred years to literally millions of students of the New Testament, liberals, agnostics, atheists, non-Christians, ex-Christians, et cetera.
History is not a closed venture, fixed and still, but open to new discovery and reinterpretation. Spectators don’t just look in at the events of history becoming in the process all-knowing. They look at and engage with the ideology of the director and make their assessments partly in terms of their own ideology, often conscious and unconscious, that they themselves espouse. It is this, among other things, that gives rise to the varied reactions to a film like Gibson’s.
Then, too, cultural historians generally acknowledge that there is a time lag between the moment a new technology like film is invented(1895) and when a full understanding and utilization of the potential of that technology emerges. After one hundred years, I often think we have just begun to utilize the power of cinema. I wonder how long it took civilization to begin to use the wheel with dramatic effect after its invention in about 3500 BC?
The flow of images in our lives is increasingly torrential. Film images often cloud reality with pseudo-events. We are often adrift in an illusion that seems real. Peter Weir’s 1998 film "The Truman Show" illustrated what is often called ‘the cultivation effect.’ Put another way, cinema transforms the world into a spectacle. There is a mysterious energy in the swirl of shadows and light in film that is sometimes called mise en scene and it often produces a vain and empty show, a show that bears the mere semblance of reality. It is this mise en scene that captures our attention, or repels it, although often we are looking at a vapour in the desert which we dream to be water but, when we try to taste it, we find it is but illusion.
We often get moved and satisfied as much, though, by illusion as by reality. In the last decade there has seen the beginning of a demise of the cinephiliac. The love-affair with movies in western society is in decline, or so say some analysts.4 Millions of us have also developed a stimulus shield to protect ourselves from cinema’s neurological shocks. But the story has an up and a down-side. In cinema we also recover our own sensuous experience; history is disclosed to us in unique ways.
The upside of that vaporous illusion is a sense of the real. Proust referred to this as memoire involuntaire, being seized by memories, by mixtures of the past and present which flow into a strange no man’s land. What was once ignored by us in our daily lives often becomes registered with a striking, sensuous clarity because of film. Movies often grip us in a way that life does not. It is not so much the illusion of reality that movies create as the construction and organization of reality that goes on, an order and identity not found in daily life. Movies tend to be easily grasped, accessible in a way not present in daily life especially with complex aspects of history and psychology. Such cinematic experience must be countered by some voluntary memory in the service of the intellect.
The Passion was Gibson’s third movie as a director. All his movies involve a culminating spectacle where the doomed hero faces death agonies. His movies, as director, all employ the sufferings of the title character to critique the social structures imposed on them. They all present decadent societies that have lost contact with traditional patriarchal values. Gibson is a champion of conservative and vanishing social orders.5 He is also a champion of Christianity. You might not like what he does, but he has electrified and annoyed millions for both good and ill. Perhaps, in the long run, it will just be another movie from the movie mill.
1 N.Z. Davis, Film as Historical Vision, Harvard UP, Cambridge, Mass., 2000, p.4.
1.1 One reader of this my second review had such a vehement anti-Freud bias that half his comments were concerned with undermining my reference to Freud and anything that existed in Freud's 28 volumes of writings.
3 ibid, p.127.
4. Christian Keathley, "the Cinephiliac Moment," Framework: the Journal of Cinema and Media, 2000. Attendance at movie houses was highest in the USA in 1936(or was it 37?).
5William Luhr, "Mutilating Mel: Martyrdom and Masculinity in Braveheart," Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media, editor, Chistopher Sharrett, Wayne State UP, Detroit, 1999, p.229.
Ron Price is a retired teacher, aged 60. He taught for 30 years in primary, secondary and post-secondary schools. He lives with his wife, Chris, in Tasmania. They have 3 children. He has published three books on the internet.
PERSPECTIVES ON ESSAY AND POETRY WRITING
Cynthia L. Haven, “A poet's cry for strength of heart and soul,” San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, November 28, 2004. A review of A Defense of Ardor, Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh, FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX, 2004.
Polish poet Adam Zagajewski’s cri de coeur as a writer is as follows: "Ardor, metaphysical seriousness, the risky voicing of strong opinions are all suspicious nowadays." And elsewhere: "everyone who experiences powerful religious yearnings is almost automatically suspected of being a 'right-winger' ... is this contemporary affliction curable?"
What's triumphed instead, he laments, is a "skeptical landscape." In literature, "we're up against a kind of fainthearted appeasement, a policy of evasions and concessions." "One of the chief symptoms of this weakness is the overwhelming predominance of a low style, tepid, ironic, conversational ... ":
"Surely we don't go to poetry for sarcasm or irony, for critical distance, learned dialectics or clever jokes. These worthy qualities and forms perform splendidly in their proper place: in an essay, a scholar tract, a broadside in an opposition newspaper. In poetry, though, we seek the vision, the fire, the flame that accompanies spiritual revelation. In short, from poetry we expect poetry."
Zagajewski wants to change the symptom without healing the disease, to fix literature without curing the society from which it arises. It's a daunting task. Inevitably, he flounders: "But where do we find what's lasting? Where do the deathless things hide?" In an Agni interview last year, he admitted, "My defense of poetry would be much more savage and desperate now than it used to be." Rightly so.
Zagajewski makes us want to scour the Internet for the works of Norwid, Gombrowicz and Kolakowski. Poland has produced a slew of gifted writers who should be better known. Milosz paved the way with his landmark "Postwar Polish Poetry" 40 years ago. The trend is likely to continue with Zagajewski, who has taught at the University of Houston since 1988, dividing his time between Texas and Krakow.
The link with Milosz is curious in yet another way. Forty years in Berkeley made Milosz an American figure as well as an Eastern European one. In his poetry, California's landscapes and wildflowers melded into those of his native Vilnius; his long-standing collaboration with his translators, particularly Robert Hass, gave a user-friendly cadence to his English translations. Zagajewski, too, is becoming an American figure as well as a Polish one. Clearly, America has affected him -- but how will he affect us?
The marriage of Polish language with American sensibility and residence is a peculiar one, given the universality of English, the relative obscurity of Polish (sufficiently obscure for Zagajewski to defend writing in it in one of these essays). Zagajewski is divided between two worlds, two mind-sets and he knows it. His words are Polish, but he lives in "a world divorced from poetry and given over to the Internet and ads."
Zagajewski's literary double vision will likely extend the odd marriage of Polish literature and America. We will only be the better for it. -Cynthia L. Haven writes for the Washington Post Book World, the Los Angeles Times Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement.
'JOHN ESSLEMONT WOULD BE PLEASED': A REVIEW OF JOHN DAVIDSON'S PATHWAYS TO TRANSFORMATION
I have been using a new Baha’i book for over two years and given its practicality to Baha’is and interested seekers, I thought I’d say a few things about it. Hopefully others will benefit from its use as I have done. For years I had been looking for a replacement for Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era. Back in the 1950s and sixties Esslemont was the book you gave people who wanted to get a comprehensive picture of the Bahá'í Faith between two covers. By the 1970s and 1980s Esslemont was still useful, but getting a little tired. Newer editions were still somewhat dated. But there were also a host of other books appearing in the Bahá'í literary marketplace. By the 1990s there were so many books that the average Bahá'í was getting lost in a sea of new literature. This mass of literature was useful, though; indeed you could tailor a book for a seeker with a high degree of specificity after some good literary digging even if the process of digging was not easy.
With the arrival of the new millennium a new book appeared, as comprehensive as Esslemont but much more up-to-date; as easy to read as one of the many slim introductory works on the Cause that are just about flooding the market; as meaty and persuasive as, say, Huddleston's The Earth is But One Country; as full of quotations(well not quite) as the invaluable Lights of Guidance in its first or second editions; as much a practical guide as any of the many 'how-to' books which have appeared in Bahá'í book shops since the beginning of the great book burgeoning in the 1980s; as beautifully put together and presented, with a fresh, bright feel about it, as any of the glossier books you will find in our emerging and burgeoning Bahá'í library.
Am I overstating the case. Perhaps. But justifiably so because for me, at least, this book is about teaching, about information, about relevant quotations on a wide range of Baha’i subjects: useful for the novitiate and the veteran believer. I use it on my radio programs more than any other book. I use a wide range of books on my program, but if I want a quotation on some Baha’i subject on the spot without my computer compilations handy--then Davidson comes to the rescue. I use his new book every week.
You might not want to use it as your first book for a seeker or for someone who has just become a Baha’i. Every Baha’i has their literary preferences, their book preferences in their teaching work and their personal deepening. But for my money, I’d put this book in the running, in many of the races for relevance. It’s made to measure for a market, for an individual who just wants to read a few pages at a time, who needs a mini-encyclopedia for day-to-day reference with the writings of the Central Figures of the Cause and the institution which is Their trustee in our world laid out for readers in an up-to-date and handy compendium.
What sort of book do you give to people who want to know something about the Cause? One that’s not too heavy, not too light, not to simple, not too complex. We've got lots of books you could float by serious seekers for their initial investigation. You might like consider this one. There are many little booklets currently available which don’t say enough; others say too much and give the reader indigestion. Some oversimplify, although they often have their place. Here’s a book right down the middle, a kind of Baha’i encyclopedia without the weight, without the endless divisions of an encyclopedia; a book with quotations weaved together to make a quilt of the Baha’i teachings, a quilt you can put on when you want a theme, a quote, a thread to keep you warm for a time.
John Esslemont would be pleased. In a letter dated August 5th 1941 Esslemont wrote about the "most delicate matter" of teaching. In this delicate exercise John Davidson has put together for our use in the teaching process--and for our deepening--this invaluable resource manual for: personal and community development, history, social issues, the Bahá'í administrative order, the lesser peace, the list is long.
Davidson writes well, although there is little of his own words in this compilation. You find his outline of the text in his introduction. Here he summarizes the contents of this book in some six pages. He quotes Carl Jung with what is a very helpful perspective on the whole transformation process which this book is about in its explication of the Bahá'í journey. Jung wrote:
"the greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They must be so because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating mechanism. They can never be solved, but only outgrown."
This outgrowing, Jung continues, consists of a new level of consciousness, a wider horizon. Davidson presents to us some of the story of this wider horizon and the emergence of a Bahá'í consciousness in the global culture especially since 1969 when he put together an earlier work entitled Bahá'í Life. With the help of several Bahá'í institutions, friends and family. Davidson presents the Bahá'í Faith centre-stage on what for me is a solid, a comprehensive, foundation. That foundation is the writings of the Central Figures of the Cause and those who are the trustees of the global undertaking set in motion over one hundred years ago.
John Davidson has been putting many things together for the Bahá'í community since he became a Bahá'í in the 1960s. He served on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Australia over three decades and in the University of Tasmania Department of Psychology for an equal length of time. His book Pathways to Transformation has been out of the blocks for three years now, has been found to be user-friendly by many and I recommend it highly to Bahá'ís the world over for its practical usefulness as a resource in the teaching work and in their personal deepening.
November 22nd 2004
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
VOLUME 1: 1979-2002
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
TWO WEBSITES FOR YOUR DELECTATION
A THIRD GENERATION HAMILTON POET
There’s a website for just about everything and everyone these days. When in 1999 I retired from teaching after 30 years--to the outpost of Tasmania, a place which in its relation to Australia is not unlike Newfoundland in its relation to Canada---I was somewhat concerned that I would not be able to get enough print for my reading tastes. But by 2004 I could find a site for virtually any poet, novelist, sociologist, historian, inter alia, on my intellectual horizon. Writing a review of a website is a problematic because there are so many which spring to mind. At first I though I’d have a look at a site with lots of information: the ones I use for studying history and the social sciences. Then I thought that anyone who reads this piece can do that themselves at sites of their own choice. Such people don’t need me to enthuse about sites which are already providing fertile resources for them. Then I thought I’d go for the newspaper, magazine, the print and electronic media sites which now litter the web and make the whole idea of buying a magazine or newspaper a bit of an anachronism--at least for me. But, again, people who read these reviews at ‘My Writer Buddy’ can access these kinds of sites with little grey matter required.
I said to myself, people who do a lot of writing would find sites useful that I find useful, at least if they are into poetry, essays and the literature of the western intellectual tradition. “So,” continuing to talk to myself, “I’ll give them two.” The Wild Poetry Forum and jollyroger.com are two rich and rewarding sites. I’ll tell you a little about the wild side first and then go over to jollyroger. The first is a special poetry site with a very Greek flavour, not contemporary Greece, but classical. The poetry sections all have headings after the 9 muses. The second site of my choice has just about the entire literary tradition of the west encapsulated on its multitude of sub-sections.
What makes each of these sites attractive to me is that I can get my poetry slotted in to a multitude of places with a few clicks of the old key-board. After twenty years of trying to get my poetry into a hard cover, I now casually stew my creations all across creation thanks to the gradual invention and implementation of the internet system.
The Wild Poetry Forum is visually attractive and that helps I find in my dealings with these, for the most part, impersonal entities. The physical attractiveness of a site, is not unlike the cover of a book. It’s important from a marketing point of view. Like bees to a honey-pot the internet users come a clicking onto the nine-muse sub-sites. And you get feed back on your poems. In fact, for every posting you make you are obliged to give two feedbacks to the works of others. The feedback does not need to be a long essay. Just a few words, three words, six words, a sentence or two, will suffice: whatever seems appropriate.
Jollyroger.com has an incredible array of sub-sites. Why, I’ve opened an arch-lever file in my study to keep track of all the divisions and sub-divisions. There is a classical flavour here too. There’s poetry all the way back to the origins of the western intellectual tradition. You can post your work, your thoughts about any one of hundreds of writers, poets, novelists, dramatists, any one of dozens of social, psychological and sociological issues. If you are a serious writer and thinker you could probably immortalize yourself by your extensive postings at jollyroger.com And if you are not into serious reading but prefer instead the act of creative writing--well there is something here for you too. I could wax eloquent about jollyroger.com and the two hundred pages I’ve photocopied from this labyrinthine site which provide a fertile resource base for both reading and writing--but it’s best to leave it to you. Have a surf at jollyroger.com, but watch you don’t drown in the sea of sites and sub-sites. As they say somewhere at, what is it, Nantucket, Great Books,KillDevil.com, Forum Frigate,Hatteras, “this site is not for the faint-hearted.”
I think I’ve given you all a taste of two sites and it’s over to you to enjoy the meal.
FUNNIES AND WEE-WISDOMS
I wrote the following little bit of prose on "Wee-Wisdoms and Funnies: A Sub-Genre of the Email Industry" due to the many I've received--my guess is about 5% of all emails since 1991 when emails first began to enter my life. I hope you enjoy the read.
To: All senders of 'Wee-wisdoms and Funnies'
I hope you enjoy this little piece of gentle satire, analysis and comment. It will serve as a more detailed response to the many emails I have received over recent months and years, for some email correspondents, more than a decade. When you are not teaching sociology and the several social sciences, as I had been doing for so many years; when you are not having your mind kept busy by a hundred students a week, other things come into the gap: like responding to emails. Emails need to be given some sort of analysis-at least the genre I am concerned with here, given their increasing frequency as a form of communication. This piece is probably a little too long given the general orthodoxy of email communication. Perhaps you could see this as one of the long articles on the internet that you need to copy for future reading, rather than one of those 'quick-hit-emails' you receive as part of your daily quota. Then, with this framework in mind, perhaps, your emotional equipment will be able to make a positive adjustment to the lengthy(some might say verbose) piece of communication that this is.
Dr. Funwisdum, the editor mentioned in the following paragraph, in the end, rejected my contribution to his book, but encouraged me to try for his next collection so impressed was he with the quality of the short essay which follows. I trust you enjoy it, too, even if it is a little longer than my normal missives,and those you usually receive and even if it is a little too critical of the genre it is concerned with. If you don't enjoy it, I'm sure you will at least tolerate its presence. For we must all, in and out of the world of emails, increasingly learn to tolerate each other's eccentricities, thus making the world an easier place to live in.
WEE-WISDOMS AND FUNNIES: A SUB-GENRE OF THE EMAIL
Ron Price, "Wee-Wisdoms and Funnies: A Sub-Genre of the Email Industry," in Human Communication in the Twenty-First Century, editor, Harry Funwisdum, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 45-63.
The following is a digest of Price's twenty-one pages that did NOT make it into Dr. Funwisdum's new book. Price is a prolific writer and, although he is neither famous nor rich, he churns out some provocative stuff from his word-factory on the Tamar River, at Port Dalrymple, in northern Tasmania.
EXTENDED ABSTRACT OF ESSAY FOR INTERNET SITES AND READERS BELOW
Receiving so many 'funnies' and 'words-of-wisdom' as I do week after week, for over a decade now, from a small coterie of people, I thought I would try to respond more befittingly than I normally do with my perfunctory and usually brief set of phrases and sentences, if indeed I respond at all. What you find below is a more reflective piece that sets all these wisdoms and funnies I receive from you--and others--in some perspective, a perspective that derives in large measure from my years as a teacher/lecturer and from well-nigh half a century now of imbibing funnies and wisdoms from a multitude of sources. It is probably these years as a teacher that have resulted in my habit, engrained after all these years, of responding-if I can- to any and all incoming mail/email. I enjoyed teaching but, as the years approached thirty-in-the-game, I got tired of much of what was involved in the process. Some of the emails and letters I receive now are somewhat like pieces of work I used to have to mark. Like making comments on the work of students, I think it important to respond to such emails and letters with courtesy and with honesty. This is not always easy for courtesy and honesty do not sit easily together, especially if the content of the received material is neither funny nor edifying, as is the case with so much of the material I receive.
It has been ten years since the email became part of my daily life, after a several year warm up in the early 1990s while I was a Tafe teacher. This short think-piece is a reflection on an aspect of the email industry as well as a celebration of the many advantages of reading the products of this wonderful, although not always rewarding or intellectually engaging, mechanism of technology. I think I write this for me more than I do for you, since the thrust of so much of this sub-genre of email communication does not, for the most part, require any reflection, or at least a minimum of reflection. I really wanted to have a think about an aspect of this industry that has engaged my attention for some of these last ten years. Quick hits as so many emails are, like jokes themselves-"affections arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing," as the philosopher Emmanuel Kant once defined laughter, on occasion stir the mind. Perhaps, they are a sign of "a mind lively and at ease, as Emma once said in Jane Austin's book by the same name. These quick hits require quick responses, if any at all. Many of the emails--both the funnies and the wee-wisdoms--are funny or wise and sometimes both. But given their frequency over a decade now, I felt like making some 'statement' about them.
Is this humour and wisdom? Or is it the trivialization of the human battle, as the literary critic Susan Langer once defined so much of the output of the electronic media factories? I hope you don't find this little 'think-piece' too heavy, too much thinking, too long without the quick-natural-lift, message or laugh that is part of a particular sub-genre of emails these days. In the end you may see me as too critical but, as I used to say to my students, that is the risk you take when you open your mouth or write.
___________________GETTING TO THE POINT_______________________________
CARRY ON GANG
In a more general sense, I have been giving and receiving various forms of advice/wisdom for some 50 years now, 2002 back to 1952 when my mother began to read passages each morning to me from The Daily Word, a publication of the Unity School of Christian Thought with its world centre in Madison Wisconson, if I recall correctly after all these years; and Bahá'í prayers from a religion that had been in Canada then for a little more than fifty years. Life began to assume a more serious aspect in the years of my late childhood and, then, in my teens: school, sport, girls and entertainment found some competition in life's round of activities from the more earnest side of life. First as a student imbibing wisdom from the several founts of knowledge I was then exposed to or that I investigated as a youth(which I have always defined as those in their teens and twenties); and then as a teacher/lecturer in the social sciences(including human relations, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, working in teams, a list of subjects as long as your proverbial arm)I received and dispensed advice and wisdoms in a multitude of forms. I was clearly into the advice and wisdom business right from the dawn of my life. It was part of the very air I breathed.
I'm sure even in those years of unconsciousness, in utero and in early childhood, I had my very earliest experiences of wee wisdoms, although funnies were in short supply during the war and shortly thereafter, at least in my consanguinial family. My mother was one of those seekers, always willing to try on a new idea if it came into town. And now, twenty-five years after her passing, I have a small books of the wee wisdoms she collected in those embryonic years. I should by now be a fount of unusually perspicacious aphorisms from the wisdom literature of history, or at the very least run 'wisdom workshops' for the lean and hungry.
The funnies department was never as extensive or successful as the wee-wisdom section. Right from my first exposure to jokes about: Newfees, Polocks and the Irish or the genitals of males and females, I generally found much of the humour distasteful back in my late chilhood and adolesence. Although I must confess that thirty years of living in Australia has taught me a rich appreciation of the funny side of life probably due to the humour that lurks below the surface of so much of Australian culture or inevitably bubbles to the surface in this essentially pleasure-loving people. Here humour is compulsory. By now,I should have an accummulation of jokes-and-funnies to keep everyone laughing in perpetuity.
But instead I feel a little like the marriage guidance counsellor who has been married six times. He has never been able to pull-it-off, marriage that is, but he has had a lot of experience trying. For some fifteen years, during that part of my educative process as a teacher--and educative it was--I used to give out "a summary of the wisdom of the ages" on several sheets of A-4 paper to the approximately one hundred students I had every term or semester. Thousands of intending 'students of leisure and life' and I went through the material to see if we could come up with the 'wisest of the wise' stuff, practical goodies for the market-place and the inner man/woman. For the most part I enjoyed the process. Giving and receiving advice was a buzz, particularly when it was sugar-coated with humour. Advice-giving can be a tedious activity and the advice can act as a weight even if it is good advice, unless the context is right. Humour often makes it so.
Now that I approach the evening of my life, the wee-wisdoms and the funnies continue to float in, unavoidably, inevitably. From emails and the internet,among other sources, material is obtained from by my interlocators from:
(i) the wisdom literature of the great historical religions;
(ii) the wisdom of the philosophical traditions(outside religion); and
(iii)the wisdom of popular psychology and the social sciences(usually from the fields of (a) human relations, (b) interpersonal skills, (c) pop-psychology, (d) management and organizational behaviour and (e) endless funnies and wee-wisdoms from known and unknown word factories.
The social sciences, the disciplines in which so much of the wisdom literarture I receive is now located--the social sciences are either old like history, philosophy and religion, or young like economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, human relations, etc.. Unlike some of the other academic fields, say the biological and physical sciences, all these social sciences are inexact, highly subjective and infinitely more complex than the physical and biological sciences. Everybody and their dog can play at dispensing their wisdoms, with the dogs sometimes providing the best advice in the form of close friendships, at least for some people with canine proclivities. Unlike the physical and biological sciences,too,knowledge and experience is not required. Anyone can play the game. Often the untutored and apparently ignorant and those who have read nothing at all in the field, can offer humble wisdoms and funnies which excel the most learned, with or without their PhDs. So be warned: it's a mine field, this advice and wisdom business.
The result for many practitioners who would really like to be both wise and entertaining is the experience of a field that resembles a mud-pie, poorly constructed and not of much use to humanity, although lots of laughs are had and wisdom gets distributed liberally. The industry, the word factories, pour out their wisdoms and their humour with greater frequency with every passing day.
I felt like having a little think about this sub-genre of emails at this ten year mark and this half-way point(if I live to be 108!) in what you might call my wisdom/advice-lifeline, as I, and you, continue to imbibe the endless supply of resources available from the endless supply of word factories. I hope the satire here is gentle and does not bite too hard or at all. Canadians are on the whole nice people who try to perform their operations on their patients in such a way that they leave the hospital without the suspicion they have even been operated on at all, but with the new glands, new body parts, fully installed for daily use. Like the pick-pocket and the burglar, I want to get in there and out without alerting anyone to my work. The New Testament calls it--or so one could argue--the act of: 'The Thief in the Night.' But, again, this is a prophecy capable of many interpretations, as all prophecies are.
I send this your way in response to the many emails I've received in this sub-genre in recent months/years. There are, perhaps, a dozen people now who are 'into this sub-genre' and who send me this special type of material in the course of a year, some with a zeal bordering on the religious. This dozen sends me many delightful pieces, more it seems as the years go by, including photos, images, attachments of various kinds and colours, to embellish the content of the wisdom and humour.
I feel, after so many years of giving it out as a teacher, it is only fair that I now receive it all as graciously as mine was accepted by my students over those many years. Like my in-class jokes, some of the material I receive is funny, some not-so-funny; some is wise, some not-so-wise. But, then, you can't win them all. Both wisdom and humour are irrepressible. So, carry on gang.
George Bernard Shaw used to say that "I can no more write what people want than I can play the fiddle." So he wrote what he thought his readers needed. What people need and what they want are usually not the same. Many found George presumptuous. I hope what you find here is not in the same category as Shaw's, presumptuous that is. I hope, too, that this somewhat lengthy read has been worth your while. If not, well, you now have:
.....ten choices regarding what to do next:
(i) delete it;
(ii) print and save for pondering because it's wise, clever and something quite personal from the sender;
(iii) read it again now, then delete it;
(iv) save the very good bits and delete the rest;
(v) none of these;
(vi) all of these, if that is possible;
(vii) write your own think-piece on this sub-genre of emails;
(viii) send me a copy of your 'writing on this sub-genre of emails' for(a) my evaluation(1)or (b) my pleasure;
(ix) don't send your evaluation to me; and
(x) don't think about what I've written; just dismiss it as the meanderings of a man moving speedily toward his last years of middle adulthood(the 40 to 60 block).
And, if time permits from your busy life, and
(1) using(a) the scale: A+(91-100), A(81-90) and A-(75-80); B+(71-74),B(68-70) and B-(65-67); C+(60-64, C(55-59) and C-(50-54); D(25-49 hold and try again) and E(0-24 attend a workshop on 'wisdoms and funnies'); or the feedback form often called (b) anecdotal--give my think-piece a rating and forward it to Dr. Funwisdom.
I remain yours
That's All Folks!
At 04:47 23/12/04, you wrote:
It would be a pity if the only people who read this poem were the author’s occasional friend and relative. In some ways this poem goes to the heart of the Australian outback, at least part of that outback: that part of the outback that has been part of the great hope for Australia since, when was it, the late 1960s when the mining boom put a new vigor in the Aussi economic psyche.
Mike Brown is not particularly interested in the economic psyche of Australia; though he is enjoying the largess that comes from driving a truck at $2200 clear a fortnight up in the Pilbara for one of the mining giants. A high school science teacher with the gift of the gab, Brown has put together the seasons of the year at the Newman mine site. The seasons form the backbone of his ten page poem that will tell you more about the place, about a large hunk of Australia, and about Brown himself. Poetry has a strong autobiographical flavour even when the author is not conscious of it. Although I think in the case of this teacher-in-search-of-adventure (or some money to pursue his adventure) he is more than a little aware of just what this poem says about himself, as well as the land and the place he is writing about.
Perhaps this poem could be serialized in the Mt. Newman Times, or whatever that local rag is called. The serious poetry journals would never touch it, although if Brown is an ambitious poet he might consider the Southerley, among the other four or five Western Australian and Australian major poetry magazines. Perhaps it’s not-so-much ambition Brown needs-for he may have ample supplies of that quality-as belief in the quality of his writing.
No poet should be concerned these days about rhyming couplets. Ezra Pound once said “...there comes a time in the career of a great poet when he ceases to take pleasure in rhyming “mountain” with “fountain” and the corresponding banalities.(Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance, New Directions, NY, 1910, p.50) Brown could not care less about rhyme and he need not. His love of words, his play with words, is evident on all the ten pages and in his odd nod to some of the writers in the great poetic tradition of the west. There are too many examples of his sensititivity to words to quote here; I’ve underlined many for my own use. Anyone who has lived north of Capricorn will recognize the taste and the texture that Brown gives his readers.
This was no poem thrown off the back of one of those big bruizers, those enormous trucks with the wheels as big as houses which Brown drives every day. He nursed this little piece over several months until it was as dry as the dust, or the sun which “runs its dirty salmon fingers out into the greenness.” He seems to have a bit of a problem with the use of the possessive case, although a good editor will fix that up. Perhaps it’s one of those Freudian slips, or it may just be a part of that metaphorical nature of spiritual reality, or to put it yet another way: Brown may just be spiritual, a material man reaching up out of the boredom and the chouder for something more.
He tells us a little of that “more” on the final page. He plans, with his wife Pam, to go off in the future to:
......... “distant lands.
Teaching and learning and enriching our lives
through the wisdom of foreign eyes.
......”(OB 25, p.10)
Not if that aint a spiritual aspiration I’ll bite my ass.
Since very few are likely to read this creation of a humble-whatever that means—truck driver, I’ll close this short statement in the name of some posthumous fame Brown might acquire, unbeknownst to himself. W.H. Auden, a great American poet, always said the only really worthwhile ambition a poet should shoot for was to be of value to generations yet to come. Very few have painted in poetry what Brown has done here in capturing the Australian experience out past the black stump where men are men, where bags of money are to be made and the mining boom has come and runs its inevitable course.
This mining boom was once the great hope for Australia. Brown has shown us in a graphic way, which only poetry can,that some individuals may make a ‘pack of dough’, but “there is a sadness here...bitter men and empty ones...This is life but it isn’t living. And:
Why is too hard a question and the answer is too easy
because life isn’t that simple for most of us.
Like much poetry the reader has to fill in the meaning. Brown does not tell it all. But he tells enough for those who already like reading poetry. And for those who don’t, but who have had any experience at all up in that God-forsaken land of beauty that covers so much of Australia (and where the resolute verbena unarrestably insinuates itself through the socket of despair’s bleached skull), Brown can give them a good read. Perhaps Brown will be seriously read in a hundred years!
26 June 1997
AN INVITATION TO MY POETRY
Often when people, students and actors, are asked to give a summary of a play or a novel their words are banal, boring, dull, like some history textbook. Nothing is expressed in words which ignites the imagination, that makes the mind soar. This is how I felt when I read my own autobiography, the story of my own life. Over the next six years I added several appendices to this autobiography: essays, quotations, periodic analyses of portions of my life, nearly as many pages as the original autobiography. Some life was engendered; there was some inner vision, some stimulant to my creativeness but, somehow, my imagination had only been partially turned on, had only set me in motion in a limited way. I had had a rich and varied life but the approach I took to telling the story certainly did not awaken my interest and, I thought, it would be unlikely to awaken the interest of anyone else. I loaned it to several people and my intuition told me that, although their responses were courteous with a degree of interest expressed, they did not find the account ‘grabbed them,’ to put it in the vernacular.
Slowly, somewhat insensibly, it seemed that, to go deeper into my spiritual, my psychological, life, to get to what actors call the subtext, below the superficial actions of my life, I became compelled to write poetry. My narrative autobiography had established the facts of my life with some degree of appraisal but poetry allowed this appraisal to attain the required, the necessary, depth. Some of this depth involves an appraisal of the facts by means of my own feelings, my personal, living relationship to them. It involves discussing my own inner life, gifts and shortcomings, desires and needs. It involves getting a sense of my life. It involved a clarification of both the ex ternal and internal conditions of my life, the crystallisation and recrystallization of the images of my life, the attaining of a certain angle of vision with which to view of life or some portion of it.
Some parts, some incidents, in my life are warmed by my feelings; others remain fixed in my intellectual memory. With the former there is often tenderness, excitement, buoyancy; with the latter the feelings are cold and lacking in expression. The one is congenial; the other alien. After a ten year warm-up in writing poetry and, now, eight years of extensive writing there is a certain coalescence of poetic fragments; the points of light are growing and spreading, filling out an entire life. It is as if the venetian blinds of my life are slowly being opened, filling, flooding the room of my days with light and throwing into relief, the contrasting areas of darkness in the other rooms of my house.
Poetry allows the reader to come to my life bit by bit; if its spiritual essence is deeply embedded then the reader can dig it out gradually, poem by poem. In some ways a life is a puzzle and a poetic autobiography allows the reader to unfold its structure, however confused and intangible, anatomically, piecemeal. Frequent readings allow such a reader to solve the puzzle.
Sincerity of feelings, feelings that are true in a given circumstance, are essential in poetry. For the most part I think I acheive this, although at certain points rhyming patterns induce a feeling of artificiality; at other points I think I try to say what I would like to feel but don’t really feel; at still other times I simply fail to go to the centre of the issue, the feeling, the idea. Honesty and directness is sometimes very difficult even after living for over a quarter-of-a-century in a country which prides itself on these traits.
Artistic ardour, enthusiasm, provoke creativity. This in turn provokes understanding which evokes and reinforces the initial enthusiasm. Since 1992 such an ardour has characterized my writing, a writing that had lost its first fires in the narrative begun in the 1980s. But the emotions are themselves silent. They have provided the fuel for the mind which acts as a scout, a pioneer, cutting new paths for my creative forces, intuitions and feelings. My pioneering mind goes out in many directions, searches everywhere for stimuli and leaves it to my feeling systems and their intuitive paths to choose whatever is most appropriate for each poem. My mind plumbs the depths of my life, past and present, even future, goes over its several layers, tries to get down to its essence, tries to dismember it, subjects each portion to study and then allows the creative ardour of life, my feelings, to provide the stimuli that will result in the writing of a poem.
Poetry is a moulding of the dry facts of a life into spiritual form and content. This is done through artistic imagination. It involves the creation of inner circumstances by means of analysis and infusing life into material already collected, the facts of life. Some call this the “I am” state, where the poet feels himself in the thick of things, where my life coalesces into one organic whole. This state is achieved gradually, periodically, episodically. I am a participant observer as the ethnologists call it. One must avoid the falsities, the accidental imaginations and emotions, the forced and mechanical expressions.
The more a poet has experienced, the more he has observed and known, the greater his accumulation of live impressions and memories, the more subtly will he think and feel, and the broader, more varied, and substantial will be the life of his imagination, the deeper his comprehension of facts and events, the clearer his perception of both inner and outer circumstances. I came to poetry in a serious way at the age of nearly fifty. This is later than most poets but my many years have certainly provided the opportunity for the accumulation of the experience and comprehension suggested above.
17 April 1999
SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. These are the substance of sociology, although even the student of sociology can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she writes autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment and passionate engagement.
Beginning with Herbert Spencer’s two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of those patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said there can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.”
The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, roll-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation.1 I feel as if I have just made a start in the first decade of my attempt at autobiography. After three decades of dipping in and out of sociology I don’t think I was at all conscious of sociology’s hermeneutic influence as I wrote my autobiography. If sociology appeared it was accidentally, serendipitously.
1 Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988.
16 March 1997
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL VOLUME 3: INTRODUCTION
It has been over two years since I wrote the introduction to Volume Two of this autobiographical journal. At the time of writing this introduction to Volume Three, two months after its inception, I have made only two entries; indeed in the last twelve months I have made only eleven entries in my journal. Unless some inspiration renews the process this may be the final introduction to a process I began in Katherine in 1984, continued in South Hedland and then in Perth. Unfortunately, I do not possess any journal material written before arriving in Perth in December of 1987. I do, though, have an account of my life up to the end of university(1944 to 1967) written while in Katherine and South Hedland; and an attempt to construct a diary for the years up to 1987. This attempt has thusfar proved unsuccessful, although I have produced Volume One with many photographs and some diary construction for those years.
The reader, then, will find a decade of diary in two volumes and a partial reconstruction in one. This is not a great deal compared to some of the great diarists who produced material over many decades, but it is a start and its historical value not measureable by me or by many others, if anyone at all. Who knows what university shelves may take this material in fifty or one hundred years? Who knows what Baha’i archive, of a local or national assembly, or of a national Baha’i community here in Australia or Canada may not one day house this material on its shelves in air-conditioned splendour. Perhaps I should decorate it with artwork or embellish it appropriately with plastic covering.
This diary, as it survives, is complete. I loaned a few pages to a friend and they have never been returned; they covered the years from 1984 to 1987. I do not feel any great loss insofar as this missing material is concerned. I trust future readers, should there be any, will feel no loss either. This diary-journal, beginning as it does in late 1987, coincides with the beginning of a new paradigm of hope and opportunity, as the House of Justice called it in their Ridvan message of 1988. That was as true of me, in retrospect, as it was of the Baha’i community and the world, looking back on those late 1980s.
By the time I began this journal the emotional crises associated with my bi-polar tendency were virtually over. As I write this introduction to the third volume of this journal, my pattern is to see a psychiatrist every two years or so to discuss lithium carbonate and any associated problems. I am looking forward to two or three more years of employment before retiring at the age of 55, taking my superannuation and heading for Tasmania with my wife Chris. Perhaps then, toward the end of my ‘middle age’(55 to 60), I can take up this journal with some vigour. At the moment I am skeptical about its future, its longevity.
For the most part I have enjoyed keeping this diary and part of the motivation for keeping it up over these years has been with a eye to publication after my passing. If this does not eventuate, I do not mind. I shall not press it, insist on it in my will, or press any friend or family member to do so. As I write these words, I yield my spirit and my will to those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. I shall follow the trail of this material with interest and detachment, as if examining something in a curiosity shop and revisiting the shop occasionally just to look around, before abandoning the exercise eventually, if there seems no point in following what may become dust and ashes. Who knows, when one goes on to the Undiscovered Country, whether one will become totally occupied with another agenda.
There may be some references in this journal, as there is in my autobiographical narrative or even in my poetry, that would be better left out. If left in they may cause offense, or distress to someone. They may implicitly or explicitly disparage some person in some way, or cause embarrassment, irritation or even anger. I should think that expunging such material would not alter the text, the corpus, unduly. The sensibilities of others and the overall balance of the text can be maintained easily by any editor aiming at fairness, kindness and a judicious exercise of the kind of language which the Universal House of Justice exhorts us all to use in their 28 December 1988 letter. Persons’ names can easily be dealt with by a number of conventional editorial devices.
The question of the reader’s boredom and a general sensitivity to the reader’s sensibilities, of course, should always be kept in mind by a wise editor. A cautious abbreviation may be necessary; a judicious removal of some sections may be essential for reasons of unintelligibility, triviality or repitition. So much of the material in diaries I have myself examined has proved boring and irrelevant in the extreme. I do not want to add yet another volume of material of distressing, or not-so-distressing, insignificance to the shelves or files of history.
As I have pointed out in other places, in both this journal and in other sub-genres of my autobiography, poetry has come to occupy the centre stage for expressing the more intimate aspects of my life. I do not tend to turn to this journal, this diary, for reflection, for relief, for pleasure. I turn to poetry and, unless some new rhythm, new dimension, comes into my writing for which the journal is the best form, ten years will be all my readers ultimately get here. The diary has served my purpose over this past decade. There is a niche market, as advertisers call it, for the journal. I hope those in this niche find some glow from the immediacy of my writing, some pleasure from a medium that has been useful to me over the period December 1987 to May 1997.
23 May 1997
AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ANALYSIS YET AGAIN
I have provided a succinct narrative account of my life. It is chronological; the factual material is 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, that 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 reservoire 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 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 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 portait of complexity, refinement, mystery, a slumbering world, my own idle fancies and vain imaginings and the streaming utterance of a new Revelation.
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 autobiograhers. 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 have taught in schools for nearly thirty years and feel a certain fatigue. 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 want to suck the sweetness out of everything and tell the story.
I sigh a deep-dark melancholy but keep it in as far as I am able. I am lonely and attentive in this sadness. 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. Reality, I record in my poetry, comes to me 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, 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.
25 September 1998
1Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984, p.60.
3 ibid., p.122.
1 March 1997
It has been nearly five months since I have placed an entry here in this diary and seven months since I felt a strong disinclination to continue making any entries at all. Indeed, in the last year I have written very little at all in this diary. Perhaps the desire has returned. I certainly want to record this sadness which has invaded my being in the last 24 hours after finishing three weeks at College-quite successfully. The sadness tastes of that same flavour I came to know in my late teens, although in a milder form.
I have developed a strong distaste for going to any kind of Baha’i meeting except the occasional feast, holy day or deepening. It seems to have been about two years that this has been the case in varying degrees. After thirty years of pioneering I seem to have become flattened out, burnt out, tired out, warn out. The only desire I have to serve is to teach in my work, to teach the Cause and to write. I trust the juices will return one day. It saddens me this desire not to participate. Today, for example, is a RTC Conference with LSAs. I would have, and did, jump at the opportunity to engage myself in such a discussion at least from 1965 to 1995, or thereabouts. There were, of course, off-years in there, in those thirty years, due to: sickness and broken marriage.
That life process of the Cause is a rhythm of life and is best summed up by the Guardian in the introduction to God Passes By. Our happiness as believers depends to a significant extent on our understanding of this process. This recent drying-up of my energies to serve in the administration is a crisis, the major crisis of my fifties, thusfar. Perhaps it is a “calamity” to use the Guardian’s terminology. The job losses in my early 40s were a calamity/crisis, as were the health breakdowns in my thirties, twenties and late teens. Using those 34 years of pioneering as the time frame it becomes easier to spell out the calamities: 1968, 1978-80, 1985-7 with the lesser events, the crises, being: 1962-64, 1973-4 and now 1995-97.
I can now present to the world the “mature, responsible, fundamentally assured and happy way of life” with whatever sadness, solitariness, aloneness I must experience in my private domain. It is easier now because He has given me so many talents to continue my day to day life. I have become tired with myself in the early morning and late at night and the desire to leave this earthly life has returned quietly to my spirit in the late evening. I continue my job very successfully and, except for the occasional argument with Chris, my marriage is a happy one, or perhaps tranquil is a better word.
I am now working on my twenty-fifth booklet of poetry and I think this obsession, as my wife calls it, has taken its toll on my mind and spirit. Three thousand poems have warn me out in some ways, flattened out my soul: a four-and-a-half-year job. Is this poetry “grace”, ‘victory”, “divine power” or “unfoldment”? It is difficult to define where you are until the perspective of time provides the context. The future will tell whether this unfoldment is just that unfoldment, or whether the grace I have felt is some compelling victory, to use the Guardian’s phraseology again. Certainly the calamity that began developing toward the end of this great output of energy and experience of pleasure would suggest that what I am dealing with is merely unfoldment; but a victory is followed by crisis, so it could be seen as a victory at this stage. This process needs periodic monitoring.
SOME WORDS ABOUT POETRY OVER THREE EPOCHS
A pioneering story which ostensibly covers the three epochs of the Formative Age beginning in 1944* and which is mostly written in poetry, covers a time period of major changes. The changes are in both the poetry and the Baha’i experience. By the time my particular contribution to pioneering began in 1962, the international teaching plan of the Baha’i community had been twenty-five in progress. The social sciences seem to define a generation in loose terms varying from twenty to thirty years; what makes a generation seems arbitrary and abstract: partly the product of a weighty past, of the transition from parents to children, of a sense of future shaping, of an over-simplification, frequently an elaboration of the obvious. Even the notion of a decade is a similarly arbitrary division imposed upon innocent and earlier time slots to fit a view of where we are going. I’m going to say I came in at the end of the first generation(1937-1962), that I was part of the second generation who took part in the international teaching campaign(1962-1987).
The two hundred thousand Baha’is** who entered the international teaching arena in 1937 had few heroes in poetry within the Baha’i community. By the end of the second generation there was one: Roger White. A future research exercise trying to map the sources of poetry from 1937 to 1962 in Baha’i community life is beyond my interest or ability at this stage. Poetry as a field likes to have stars. Outside the Baha’i community after WW1 were: Eliot, Pound and Yeats. Within the Baha’i community I simply do not know. But as the first epoch flowed insensibly into the second and the second into the third Roger White began writing. He was not really a popular poet until near the end of the third epoch, after 1979 when his first major book of poetry was published: Another Song Another Season.
The world of poetry after WWI was small. It was still small after WWII. In the 1950s and 1960s it started to explode. The Baha’i community went over the million mark by the end of the 1960s and poets began to abound. But that is not the story here. Coinciding with the ninth(1953-1963) and the tenth stages(1963- ) of history, this explosion had a host of manifestations. By the time White was on the scene and getting a following in the Baha’i community there were poets everywhere, in and out of the Baha’i community. It really became quite impossible to document them all, even the significant ones, assuming you could agree on who they were. Some tried. You read them on dust jackets of books of poetry. Some schools of poetry stressed form; others stressed involvement. Some poetry was complex, allusive, academic, learned. Charles Olsen was one of its elder statesmen when the Universal House of Justice assumed its legitimate trusteeship, legacy, inheritance, authority to lead the Baha’i world in 1963.
During the second epoch(1944-1963) of the Formative Age, America had five groups of poets: the Black Mountain group, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Bert Generation, the New York Poets and an eclectic catch-all category.*** The burgeoning had begun. So, too, had the Kingdom of God on Earth, or so the Guardian had said, in 1953. The dozens of other countries, many emerging from a colonialist past, also had their own developing twentieth century histories of poetry. I will not make any attempt to say anything about this vast arena of complexity. The result would lead to prolixity. We want to be brief here.
The third epoch(1963-1986) and then the fourth(1986- ) extended this burgeoning and it was here, in the late seventies, that the Baha’i community began to finally have its popular poets. By this time poetry had developed a rich vein of living speech, of the things of this world, of common memories and fears. Poets had begun to find an audience; they replenished themselves at the public fountain; they found things to say that mattered to an audience. That audience was growing. By the time White died in 1993 the Baha’i community had a taste for poetry: their poetry. Around the Baha’i world small collections of poetry appeared; contests for poets began appearing regularly. Others, like myself, started sending collections of their poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library.
With over one hundred and eighty National Spiritual Assemblies, and over one hundred and ninety political entities at the United Nations, any attempt to document, classify, analyse, summarize the world of poetry has become infinitely complex. It would require a separate book or books. My own poetry, coming as it has after the passing of Roger White in 1993, exists in a world that has so much of so many things. We are experiencing the burgeoning of the burgeoning and it may be some time before we recover, settle down, find ourselves amidst the great overflow, knowing what to do with it all. Our world is also a world of paradox and contradiction with millions having little to no interest in poetry and millions of others, if not billions, getting their poetry in musical forms.
My own desire to preserve what I have seen, thought or felt; my experience of therapy in writing poetry; the intensity of an inner life and the human spectacle; the mass of truths that are brought to birth and to my own consciousness in the process of composition: these are all part of a process of giving my life a continuity, a flow, a smoothing of the edges, a deepening of meaning. This is poetry, to me. It does not require music. It does not require readers. It is itself a mode of action in a time of great chaos. Some generations of poetry, like good wines, improve with age. I came of age in the 1960s. After a hiatus of twenty-five years, my own wine began to flow.
6 April 1996
* 1st epoch: 1921-1944; 2nd epoch: 1944-1963; 3rd epoch: 1963-1986; 4th epoch: 1986- ? ).
** There were four hundred thousand Baha’is at the end of the second epoch in 1963. My guesstimation of the number at the beginning of that epoch in 1944 is 250,000, and in 1937--200,000.
*** George Garrett, “Against the Grain: Poets Writing Today”, American Poetry: Stratford-Upon-Avon Studies 7, Irvin Ehrenpreis, editor, Edward Arnold Publishers, 1965, pp.221-239. There are many characterizations of this period, many classifications of poets. This is but one.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POETRY
Histories of autobiography give prominence of place to different authors. Most histories of autobiography thusfar begin with St. Augustine. Early in the fifth century autobiography as a narrative pattern, as an individual human story, emerged in Augustine’s Confessions. Some seven hundred years later autobiography was given a boost with the self-made man, with the rise of the bourgeoisie in and after the twelveth century, especially after Abelard. Abelard wrote his Story of Calamities in 1129 AD.(1) For the first time an individual subjectivity is presupposed; man can act and affect history. Truth was not the exclusive domain of the church, as it had been with Augustine. Five hundred years later Rene Descartes(1637) defined the parameters of selfhood even more specifically. The creation of meaning, he argued, was the task of the individual, exclusively. It could be done by noone else. Things did not happen gratuitously, miraculously, but due to a new rationality. This was a new age of science.
By the time we get to Rousseau in the eighteenth century, rationality and subjectivity were firmly in place at the centre of autobiography. Rousseau saw autobiography as an attempt to recapture lost innocence, an innocence obliterated by the haziness of temporal phenomena, life’s long journey. Meaning for Rousseau was essentially expressed in terms of feelings, the feeling self: I feel, therefore I am. The world of the social was corrupt, fictional, to Rousseau. Writing itself was an expression of exhibitionism; truth was elusive; it had to be dug out from behind memory. But what is dug out is a multiple self, a self that can only be expressed by a multitude of interpretations.
With Andre Malraux’s Antimemoires(1965) the treatment, the definition, the expression of the self was transformed from what it was in what we might call classical autobiography. No longer a given and knowable empirical entity, the self to Malraux was an expression of an individual’s sense of society and history, their socio-historical consciousness, a consciousness in its ongoing search for historically determined and fulfilling roles. Malraux’s autobiography was also an expression of a oneness with the world, a relationship with the world: dynamic, non-chronological, of the mind. Malraux saw the individual enmeshed in historical contingency, in complexity, multiplicity, in an endless historical process. Traditional autobiographical texts only cover an infinitessimal part of an individual's own past and an even smaller part of history itself. Autobiography also provides only an illusion of continuity and consistency, a myth of completion, of closure. Linearity, autobiographical sequence, for Malraux, is an artificial construct. Malraux shakes up classical autobiography.
Malraux sees classical autobiography as a form of literature which promotes competition and divisiveness and opposes integration. Definition of the self is to be found in the future as much as the past, in imagination as much as memory and this definition must be renewed ceaselessly. Malraux makes no attempt to grasp his life, the events of the past, to know himself in any of the traditional forms in which we know autobiography. Self, the inner man, is a creation. It is created by language and cannot be finished. It is always being created. Much of my poetry is autobiographical in the sense that Malraux defines it. Much of my autobiography Pioneering Over Three Epochs could be seen as written in a form that, in part at least, moves toward the dynamic form that Andre Malraux exemplifies. Getting the best of both worlds, I have also written a short eighty page narrative that is clearly in the classical autobiographical tradition.
My poetry is clearly a non-classical autobiographical form. It is in some ways inappropriate to define my autobiographical poetry as Malrauxian. None of his Antimemoires was written in poetic form. Seeing autobiography as an expression of oneness with all life, as an attempt to achieve some integration and overcome divisive tendencies in society is at the heart of Malraux’s perspective. This is not a new perspective. Wordworth shared this view and told of it in his poetry:
I saw one life and felt that it was joy.(2)
The notion, too, of the self as an expression of a socio-historical consciousness, a consciousness in its ongoing search for historically determined and fulfilling roles is one that is often explicit and always implicit in my poetry. To put it another way, man is deeply affected by his environment. That environment is impregnated by history and by the social. To change this social dimension, to see history in a certain way is to redefine the human dimension. Reality, from this perspective, is a social construction as much as, if not more than, a definition of will, of personal definition, an individual attitude, aspiration, dynamic. Much of my poetry achieves what Andre Malraux aims to accomplish in his auotbiographical form.
This poetry, a corpus now of some 2500 poems, is yet one more attempt to understand, to define, to articulate the organizational, the spiritual, the social phenomena that is the Baha’i Faith. For it is here, in this emerging world Faith, that my self finds that socio-historical consciousness, that historically determined and fulfilling role that Malraux says is the object of the search of my consciousness and which autobiography attempts to describe. That a revelation from God to man, a religion, should play a significant role in determining the nature and quality of a person's consciousness is not a new thing. What is new is that a religion should determine the way society should be organized. This is one of the revolutionary hypotheses that is being tested in this Faith. It is a hypothesis to be found at the centre of this poetry.
That this world will find peace and unity is also an assumption underpinning this poetry. Peace, the Universal House of Justice wrote in its 1986 peace message, is an inner state supported by a spiritual and moral attitude. This poetry attempts to evoke this attitude. It is part of a new force, sweeping the earth, a small, infinitessimal part. My poetry is also part of that peace, a peace that is being slowly built, part of a stupendous enterprise that is currently underway on this planet. I have attempted here to place my efforts in a brief historical perspective, a perspective of autobiography since this poetry is so quintessentially autobiographical.
(1) Robert Elbaz, The Changing Nature of the Self: A Critical Study of the Autobiographical Discourse, Croom Helm, Sydney, 1988.
(2) Stephen Gill, Wordsworth: A Life, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, p.171-2.
2 May 1996
INTRODUCTION TO THIS BOOKLET OF POETRY
IN LOVING MEMORY
This collection of poetry, part of a larger autobiographical work, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, a period which began for me in 1962, has as its backdrop a time frame now of nearly thirty-four years. The changes in this period have been momentous, impossible to grasp, too close for me, or us, to really understand them. The phrase ‘dark heart of an age of transition’, first used by the Universal House of Justice in October 1967, has been an appropriate one for we who have lived through these years. They have been years which have witnessed a paradigm shift, an endless series of disasters and drastic happenings, yet another part of a tumultuous transition, what the Guardian referred to as a critical stage in the long and checkered history of mankind. It has also been a period, bright with promise.
This poetry has as its backdrop, then, this tumultuous, auspicious, period. These years have been exciting, adventurous ones filled with opportunities, challenges and a sense of meaning and fulfillment that is immeasureable. They have also been years in which the soul has seen a dark heart several times on its long, sometimes thrilling and sometimes tortuous journey to its Maker.
I have now been in Perth for eight years and served on the LSAs of Belmont and Stirling nearly all of this time, after serving the Cause in every state and territory in Australia, except Queensland. During the last four years, since the beginning of that propitious Holy Year, I have written over twenty-six hundred poems as well as carried out my normal duties as a lecturer at a post-secondary college. The role of father and husband also continues and contributes its normal responsibilities. I often feel a little, and sometimes alot, like the burnt-out case that Elizabeth Rochester describes in her letter of January 1981 to overseas pioneers from Canada. For years, until 1980, I suffered from episodes of manic depression, or a bi-polar tendency as it is now called. But since that year I have been taking lithium carbonate and this condition has been fully treated, although I think there is still a residual element still present.
About the same time that this healing occurred I began praying for assistance from holy souls who had gone on to the world beyond. I also started writing poetry at about this time. Now, some fifteen years after initiating and fertilizing this process, I send this poetry in loving memory of the many Baha’is who have served during the several epochs of this Formative, this Iron, Age. I dedicate my poetry to these souls who have gone on to that Kingdom of Light and I pray for their assistance as well as the assistance of those departed Hands of the Cause listed on these pages.
I am currently serving on the Belmont LSA. I carry on my role of chairman dutifully, but often wearily. I frequently wonder how many servants of the Cause have continued serving year after year at endless meetings when they feel ‘dried out’. One of the kinds of contribution I have made over the years has involved periods of extensive attendance at meetings. These periods have usually been less than five years running. Eventually, I have been freed from endless attendance at meetings by a process known as pioneering which took me to remote areas where no Assemblies existed. Now that I am in a large urban centre I am often asked to attend meetings and it has taken me many years to work out an activity level in harmony with my predispositions. I do not seem to have the capacity of the long distance runner who Townshend refers to.(1)
While my enthusiasm for meetings and organized activity has declined in recent years, my desire to write poetry has waxed full on. It gives me great joy to write the poetry and given this remarkably dynamic period in the history of our Faith, these auspicious years on Mount Carmel. The poetry is is like a gift of God. Since Baha’i publishing houses are disinclined to try poetry, they rarely attempt to publish the work of a Baha’i. Kalimat Press tells me poetry does not move from shelves. I think some of my poetry is excellent, or at least of use to the Cause, and so I send it to the Baha’i World Centre Library. There it is kept and there is serves as the record of an overseas pioneer, a role I have come to identify with increasingly as the years have gone on.
I write the above in presenting this gift of my most recent poems. I wish everyone serving at the Baha’i World Centre well in their own labors of love. I’ve always liked George Townshend’s line: “The movement is like long-distance running: you may lose your first wind, but if you get your second it is permanent though you run all day long.”(David Hofman, p.323) For those of us who are not long-distance runners, the movement involves running out of breath frequently, getting it back after a rest and running again; or as that now proverbial blacksmith said to his assistant: ‘die and blow; die and blow.
Canadian Overseas Pioneer in Australia
2 July 1996
COMMENT ON THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NATURE OF THIS POETRY
To allay any incipient concern that the very autobiographical nature of this poetry and these essays is, in fact, a sign of self-adoration rather than the self-awareness and the critical scrutiny of self that it purports to be; to clarify my intentions in writing this great mass of material to some extent, is my purpose here.
I feel a strong sense of vocation in writing what I write. Vocation, as Dodd1 points out, is central to the entire tradition of autobiography beginning with St. Augustine. The sense of divine call, of higher purpose, to this whole enterprise dominates what I do. There is not a strong sense of the confessional here, although occasional indiscretions appear in other places, indiscretions that may shock some and leave others with a strong sense of me as egoistic, narcissistic, inappropriately confessional, a sinner who has gone too far. I do not think there is, as in some autobiographical work, too much of the light, the trivial, or the self-inflating. I have tried to confine that kind of material to my diary; and none of my diary is included here.
The western tradition of autobiography has been most pervasively articulated by Gusdorf2 writing in the 1950s and Olney3 in 1980 whose views confirmed those of Gusdorf. Gusdorf asserts that autobiography does not develop in cultures where the individual “does not feel himself to exist outside of others....but very much with others in an interdependent existence.”4 It develops most strongly in individualistic settings where the role of the collective is minimal. The overseas pioneer at this stage of the development of Baha’i community life, very much an embryonic one, must of necessity operate within what might be called an individualist paradigm. There is always present, too, a paradigm of the collectivity, of relational identities in the individuation process. This poetry describes the criss-cross from one paradigm to another; it does so largely unconsciously.
I am very conscious in what I write that some eight decades of work by the international Baha’i community in response to the Tablets of the Divine Plan have taken place and the great monument to these achievements can be seen on Mt. Carmel in the Arc. My poetry, begun in earnest in 1992, is simply one person’s response to this wonderful creation on Mt. Carmel. It is also a response to the creations, all around the world, that were raised in my lifetime, since 1944. There was so little in the earliest years, the first epoch(1921-1946), of the Formative Age in the way of any inspiring architecture for the handful of Baha’is, perhaps two hundred thousand believers back then. My lifetime has seen the visible emergence of a new world religion. It is a phenomenon that has been and is at the centre of my life, an underpinning and source of meaning and enthusiasm. It excites me beyond anything I have done. I want to express this enthusiasm in my poetry—and I do.
But the process of building Baha’i communities involves work. Sometimes it is like a weight around one’s neck. The joy is not without an attendant suffering. This dichotomy is found in the poetry. There are many identities and probings of personal and community experience here. There is what one might call a critique of what I am, of what we are, and a historical analysis of both our limits and our prospects, limits imposed on us by socio-history and prospects that unfold before our eyes as Mt. Carmel is transformed. I find as I reread my narrative that I keep wanting to revise it; for autobiography, like history, is constantly being rewritten. But this is not so true of the poetry. Each piece tends to occupy a moment in time, something like architecture. I don’t find myself wanting to go around altering the beautiful Baha’i buildings around the world. And my poems tend to stay as they were first created. Change the poem and you change the man, W.B. Yeats once put it.
These poems are the closest I can come to describing my uniqueness, my distinctiveness, my being me, my contribution to the world and my experience of it. In the end, the substance of the self is quite beyond words. It is irreducible and elusive. In spite of this reality it seems to me that people’s knowledge of themselves is of critical importance to help us understand them and, in the process, ourselves. To this end I hope I have made a small contribution, an archival note in the great symphony of overseas pioneering contributed in the earliest of what will inevitably be many generations.
1 February 1997
1 P. Dodd, “Criticism and the Autobiographical Tradition”, Modern Selves, Frank Cass and Co Ltd., London, 1986, p. 4.
2 G. Gusdorf, “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography”, Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, J. Olney, editor, 1956, 1980, trans., Princeton UP,
4 Gusdorf in Anthropology and Autobiography, J. Okely and H. Calaway, editors, Routledge, London, 1992, p.6.
ESSAYS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY: NUMBER 1
Nearly seven years ago I wrote my first essay on the nature of autobiography. It was some two years after completing my initial draft, the first edition of my own autobiography. I am now working on the 5th edition of that autobiography some twenty years after the inception of this project. I trust this 5th edition will be the final one. I am overwhelmed with a sense of complexity, with feelings of indifference and with a vision of the magnitude of the task at hand. I think I could find the motivation to pursue this 5th edition if I could get a clear sense that the work I am doing in the field of autobiography. I certainly hope that this work will be of quite practical use to my fellow-man in the decades and even centuries ahead. This very notion seems presumptuous and this presumptuousness militates against the pursuit of the goals I began with when I set out to write this autobiography twenty years ago.
Since I find the study of autobiography more interesting that the writing of my own I continue writing these essays. Today I read an article on autobiography and what follows is based on that article. My intention is simply to write a summary of the relevant parts of that article with the long range aim of drawing these ideas together into some meaningful whole.
Even as a retired person with far less on my plate than during my thirty years of employment, life still takes me into corners of activity that keep me away from the kind of academic pursuits that this brief essay involves. My wife's illness, my class in creative writing at the Seniors School, family duties and obligations of home and hearth however minimal, a necessary amount of physical activity to keep a sound mind in a sound body, fatigue after ten or eleven in the evening and an endless assortment of odds and ends have kept me from continuing this simple task. So it is, a day later I approach this essay with continuing enthusiasm.
Errors, omissions, even lies, are part of the fiction or imposture that is autobiography. The creative writer turns to autobiography out of some creative longing that can not be satisfied through fiction. Such a writer finds some peculiar closeness and intensity of effect. It is difficult, in writing autobiography, to keep history and fiction distinct. Nabokov says that the tracing of images into intricate harmonies is what autobiography does. Writers also try to repossess the realities of the past from what appears to be a sterile and fictive world to which he has sacrificed himself. The historiographical transaction that is autobiography does not contain the total freedom or imaginative response of, say, poetry or fiction. Unreliability is an inescapable condition of autobiography. The reader can watch the writer wrestle with truth.
It is important for the critic to understand the organizing principle or purpose behind the work. For the conscious shaping of a life, an informing purpose, exists behind the work. A voyage of genuine self-discovery is an essential component of such a work. This voyage takes place in a narrative past juxtaposed with a dramatic present. Confession, apology and memoir exist side by side as various contradictory and often unstable selves battle it out.
Andre Malraux once said that what interested him in any person was “the human condition.” Malraux was interested not so much in people’s personality but, rather, in their “particular relationship with the world.” He went on to say that he was interested in the “form and essence” of anyone with claims to greatness. If a person was saintly, what was the character of that saintliness. It was not only things, events in a person’s life, that mattered to the exposition and analysis of the character, of the person--in determining the overall result of the autobiographical exercise. Perhaps the reason Malraux found the wider world, society, crucial in any delineation of autobiography was that he actually found himself uninteresting. Perhaps, writes the editor of this book Ralph Cohen, this was because Malraux had not learned the art of self-recreation.
To H.G. Wells an autobiography was a description of a man’s effort to achieve his persona. This was no easy task because the persona changed frequently in life even in a day for some people. It was rarely a whole, a singular entity, he thought. So the autobiographical journey was an imperfect one or at least there existed various tensions between the inner and outer, the subjective and objective, the cross-cultural perspectives, that made the achievement of this persona, even in the long term into the evening of a person’s life, difficult, complex and sometimes impossible to do through the written word. The explorer Scott, for example, gave up his journal because he felt it was making him into a solitary egoist. Anais Nin was advised to give up her diary because it caused her to withdraw and to be preoccupied with her own completeness. T.E. Lawrence wrote that living in two cultures, English and Arab, resulted in his loneliness and a certain madness, certainly no sense of wholeness.
“The suspended and wandering tonalities of the past,” wrote Nabokov, are gathered by memory into its fold and memory makes innate and densely particularized harmonies from them. These harmonies are memory’s supreme achievement. Writing an autobiography could be described as a rapid invention of the universe; all space and time, or at least selective portions of space and time, participate in the emotion of the autobiographer. An utter degradation, ridicule and horror is experienced, according to Nabokov, as a part of the infinity of sensation and thought that is the writer’s experience--within the finite existence that is hisw or her life.
This infinity of sensation and thought is dealt with by autobiographers in different ways. A sense of place informs the memory of writers like Gide, Ruskin and Yeats. This sense of place usually has a human aspect or connection but, to writers like Sartre, the facts of place, of his life, make an imperceptible and shifting frontier. A sense of mission, a sense of that most familiar trio family-work-friends, a sense of obsession: there are various driving forces and activities that take that infinity of sensation and thought and skew it down some track. Memory, a frequently emphasized aspect of experience, provides the writer’s only reality no matter what fills the spaces. A panoramic visual impression, an intense and mysterious continuity of sensation comes to replace past reality by means of the mechanism of memory. Perhaps part of this mysterious continuity provided by memory is conveyed by Dahlberg when he writes that “precisely as my life ceases to be solitary, it ceases to be distinct.” For others, though, I think this distinctness is achieved as a result of the social not the solitary. Human interaction gives distinctness and specificity to life. For still others it is a mix of the two. Perhaps part of this mysterious continuity is the intermingled discontinuities which form autobiographical truth and these discontinuities can be born in many birth canals.
Some autobiographers are preoccupied, obsessed, with form. Memory imposes for each autobiographer spacial form. Gibbon found form so problematic that he left six “finely formed, differently focused, and overlapping fragments” or drafts or editions of his autobiography. Nothing was finalized. Henry Adams, who idolized Gibbon, wrote that “from cradle to grave this problem of running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has been…the task of education.” It is also the task of autobiography to achieve rich coherences, elegant if whimsical patterning and focusing and a working out of the laws of history, if any in fact exist.
Selectivity, of course, changes as memory’s focus moves from childhood to adolescence. “The self,” wrote Goethe, “is an irregularly moving expansion” an “ever-widening arc.” Goethe had a lifelong tendency to use his imagination to put his mind at rest. He used poetry to fix that which was confused or unstable in himself, to repossess the past world, to achieve stasis through form. Writing autobiography involves a continuous refocusing of expectation and intention as each autobiographer “discovers his own fluctuating mixture of confession, apology and memoir.”
In some ways an autobiography is a retrospective personal account of events that are unique and cataclysmic, significant and not-so-significant, experiences in a single life in the flow of history. Sometimes this autobiography is translated into the form of a memoir: Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Mailer’s Armies in the Night are examples of “personal accounts of events that are unique and significant parts of their lives.” Each of these books centres its chief attention on the life of the author as it was lived. Not all of the life of the author is involved but, then, not all of a life is necessarily involved in any autobiography.
An obvious part of the life that is lived is the perceptions, the changes and varying intensities that make up that life. In some ways the task is like searching for a missing person, a buried treasure, a corpus delecti. The life of the subject lies in waiting to be discovered. Inevitably there are questions that can not be answered, aspects of life that are conjectural, portions of life that can not be recalled, no matter how much we discover and recollect. There are also facts that are beyond doubt, although their meaning is often multiple. Autobiographers are caught between two poles: the interest of the reader and the facts of their life, a certain inevitable thrust that the autobiography takes and the vast array of unobtrusive and contingent facts which send a life in a thousand directions. As the autobiographer writes, the reasons for things sometimes protrude, like previously unobserved finger posts. Causes, where they were never seen before, swim like a swarm of possibilities, like shades which might eventually cease to count or which might become significant, often nebulous, part of an endless exercise, give rise to the old tennis game: ‘What would have happened if?’ It is unavoidable.
Although I have pointed this out before, the social nature of our being, the sociological nature of our reality, needs to be given more stress than it normally is by autobiographers. Much of what we are, as the sociologist Emile Durkheim put it, comes to us from the outside and is beyond our control. We are determined by what is within as well as what is without, by grand passions as well as large impersonal forces. “We are all prompted,” wrote Dr. Johnson, “by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, seduced by pleasure.” Of course, within this overall sameness and pattern, the degree, the extent, the variability is enormous. Autobiographers often underestimate the explanatory power of various factors in their lives: money, sex, ambition, history, etc. It would be difficult to overestimate these factors. Even when alone, for example, individuals are enclosed in a social group and “determined in their behaviour by the nature of their social being.” The nature of the individual is intimately connected with group affiliations. For people like Cezanne the social world is seen as a mirror reflecting the glory he saw in himself.
Coleridge noted that people often strain after an unlivable identity, strive for what cannot be attained. Many aspects of life can only be achieved or known vicariously through some form or medium of the arts. However much the person strives for progress, coherence, a unified self and closure, disorder, discontinuity and patterns of distortion face the individual along the road. Mindless detail, sudden vivid glimpses even epiphanies exist along the same road. And we have to watch we don’t overplay the epiphanies, as Bertrand Russell did in his autobiography. In some ways it is not what happens to us but what we make of what happens that is crucial. However important childhood is, autobiographers must watch they don’t marginalize their adult experience. It is difficult to balance the various aspects of one’s life; in many cases balance is not important.
It is not easy to alter habits and patterns of behaviour, what some might call one’s nature. It is also not easy to set up some pattern of behaviour that allows one to persist in the study and development of a chosen line of work or interest and thus achieve that fulfillment that comes from love and work, two of the crucial aspects of life. Much attention can be devoted to this theme in an autobiography since this feature of life often occupies so much of the individual’s attention. I trust in my third edition I can elaborate on this theme as well. Some are able to do it and not be distracted, Cezanne for one. He was able to withdraw from the group but yet remained dependent on it.
It is difficult to know what people really think of us; it is also difficult to know what we think of ourselves because this changes with the time of the day, the month and the years. William James says there is “a certain average tone of self-feeling” which we carry with us. As we chart our inner life often we pay little attention to the wider society. Jane Austen is a good example. In all her novels she hardly ever refers to what was going on in European history at the time. In her case it does not seem to matter.
The autobiographer can immerse himself in diaries and letters to give the account a strong sense of individual control. “Private documents are redolent with the feeling we almost all have of making choices and exercising our free will in ways that shape our lives,” writes David Ellis. And so, he continues, “the impression these create must be balanced by a consideration of all the determing factors of background….which suggest that the subject is not, and never has been, free at all.”
Finally, autobiography serves as a stimulant, not an inhibitor, to biography. And so, I trust, all that I have put together here about my life may be useful to a future biographer as he attempts to discover the relationship between an emerging world religion and an individual caught by circumstance and by some element of personal choice in its world-embracing fold.
31 August 2002
Writing an autobiography involves a matching up of a specific plot-structure with a set of historical events. The autobiographer wishes to endow these events with a particular meaning. Some writers see this process as “essentially a literary, that is to say, fiction-making operation.” The document, the autobiography, is still a historical narrative. It is one of the ways a culture has of making sense of both personal and public events. For it is not the events of a life that are reproduced through the writer’s description; rather, it is a direction to think about these events, a charging of the events with “different emotional valences,” that the writer produces. Of course, a writer does not like to see his work as a translation of “facts” into “fiction.” But the crisis in both historical thought and in the writing of autobiography may be illumined by the insights gained from this perspective.
The ordering of events in a temporal sequence does not provide any necessary explanation of why the events occurred; for a history, an autobiography, is not only about events, it is also about possible sets of relationships, only some of which are immanent in those events. For the most part they exist in the mind of the writer and the language he or she uses. Hayden White argues that “if there is an element of the historical in all poetry, there is an element of poetry in every historical account.” History is made sense of in the same way that the poet or novelist tries to make sense of it. The unfamiliar and mysterious is made familiar. Both the real and the imagined are subjected to a process aimed at making sense of reality. For this reason history often appears fictionalized and poetry often appears like reality, like history. Writers of poetry and fiction, says Hayden, impose formal coherence on the world in the same way writers of history do.
Such a view, if taken seriously, would go a long way to freeing historians from being captive of ideological preconceptions. Drawing historiography closer to its origins in literary sensibility, in the literary imagination, may help to increase understanding. For an increase in facts does not necessarily bring understanding. Chronicles of events, the sense of ‘what really happened,’ types of configurations of events, the emplottment of sequences of events, are determined as much by what facts are put in as what are left out and by the extent to which the writer can engage in constant currection and revision, in tireless seeking out of new information.
Aristotle saw poetry as unified, intelligible and based on the subordination of the part to the ends of the whole. History on the other hand was organized around continuity and succession, a congeries of events and is not intelligible in the same way as poetry is. He associated history with the unexpected, the uncontrollable, the unsystematic. Poetry he saw as part of an ordered and coherent schema. Poetry was, to Aristotle, a more serious, a more philosophical, business than history. It speaks of universals; history of particulars.
two of many essays written on the subject of autobiography:
I HAVE INCLUDED THESE TWO ESSAYS HERE SOMEWHAT AS A PREAMBLE FOR THE INCLUSION AT A LATER DATE OF SOME OF MY OWN AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
I often wonder why I seem to be compelled to drive into the subject of autobiography, but drive I must and on this lovely fresh and sunny Tasmanian afternoon in spring it is my desire to summarize the relevant material I came across in Joanne Finkelstein's book The Fashioned Self(Polity Press, Oxford, 1991). With the Five Year Plan having just passed the 18 month point out of 60(30%), with a "coherence of understanding," "a moment of consciousness," a "power of will generated," in "the immensely promising prospects" of this new epoch, perhaps this exercise in autobiography is part of my simple wish "to understand the tumultuous forces that influenced the life on this planet and the processes of the Cause itself" during the last half century in which I have been involved with this new and powerful global Force.
Finkelstein notes on the first page of her book that "our speculations about the nature of our own consciousness and that of others are incoherent and unsystematized narratives interwoven with contradictory ideas and assumptions." While the Bahá'í Faith provides a great deal of insight into the nature of my consciousness, I feel my task is to make that insight more coherent and understood and to make the narrative that is my autobiography more penetrating and systematic. That is, in part, the aim of this essay in autobiography.
Finkelstein goes on, in the last fifty pages, to argue persuasively that our pursuit of the surface, of fashion, of the body, as a source of personal identity is, "paradoxically, the primary ingredient in the degradation of identity." The demands of life passed in the cacophony that is modern civilization produces a desire for the prosaic, the habitual and the predictable in social relations. In the process the inner life is threatened with formulaic manners of acting and styles of appearing and our conception of character and the self seems to be an inchoate, incoherent, undeveloped, unsystematic and motley assemblage of contradictory ideas.
Norbert Elias sees a growing conception in our world of the individual as homo clausus. It is a little world within the individual which exists quite independently of the great world outside. All other human beings are also seen as homo clausus. The core of this individual, his true self, his being, appears as something divided within by an invisible wall from everything outside including everyone else. This private realm of interiority is often cherished and protected from external influences. Humans have come to believe that they are the authors of their own character and every event in their lives has a defining meaning.
Elias says this concept is misleading, this split has no basis in the structure of the self. In fact, it is the world which makes us who we are, however separate we may feel. We have a performative, a theatrical, a dramaturgical, self; we have many roles and character is "a striation of performances" from an internally rich and varied base of different personae. To understand the self is a difficult exercise. To see oneself as identified with various commodities oversimplifies and falsifies what is actually a complex process. To see oneself, one's identity, through immersion in various institutions like marriage, a profession, a religion, a society, is a problem when these institutions are disorderly or corrupt, impersonal or hostile. Institutions of this nature can provide a stable sense of identity, an anchorage, a sense of resonance. They can help us to articulate, to furnish, a developed discourse on the nature of our social experience. They can help us fashion ourselves in accordance with stable not shifting institutional interests, help us embody social ethics consistent with our better interests, so that our sense of community does not wither away and we do not feel like a concatenation of disparate elements, with everything flowing and nothing staying put.
Private ruminations not purchased elements, the experience of subjectivity and sense of moral obligation to comunally shared values, historical concerns or transcendental aspiraitons are critical to the sense of self and its integration. The ephemera of images which often dominates modern life is part of the purchase of the sense of identity, part of the self as a momentary social product and its singularity. There is insufficient sustenance for the self here. For the self, character, can not be identified with physical appearance, with images, with the fashioned self.
SOME ESSENTIAL THOUGHTS ON MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The autobiographies of others, as I have indicated in several previous essays, illuminate one’s own attempt to understand one’s life through writing it down. St. Augustine’s(354-430 AD) Confessions has a distinctly ‘before’ and ‘after’ flavour, before his conversion and after. Mine begins, essentially, with my conversion, although in my poetry the decade before my contact with the Baha’i cause receives some attention. Like Augustine I certainly possess a sense of participating in an eternal plan. This is also true of Dante’s(1265-1321) La vita nuova. For these writers and for me, the account is no final story, but a preparation for even more on the horizon.
Four hundred years later John Bunyan(1628-1688) wrote in his Grace Abounding(1666) about his life. Truth became known through his experience. For me, as well, it was truth becoming understood through my experience. I had had a massive influx of truth at fifteen and before. Indeed, my life was one of continual access to truth. Conversion was a beginning point for me and life provided one long, unending process of coming to understand its myriad ramifications. Dante accessed truth in dreams, some five in his autobiography; Bunyan had some ten mystical experiences, or visions. Not for me a series of ecstatic moments in my curve of learning, much more a process which the Guardian has described as a series of seven stages that we go through in our life, from crisis to victory. Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys provides another delineation of the process. It is complex, much more complex than anything autobiography had revealed by 1666.
For Bunyan all experiences partook equally in his ultimate deliverance. For me, certain events in my life stood out: getting to know two, perhaps, three personalities; my psychiatric illnesses; my moving to Australia; my two marriages; my parents; my career; my attempt to live a life consistent with the teachings of the Faith; my role as a pioneer. For all these men the presence of the divine was critical to their lives, albeit in different ways. By the time Bunyan wrote, the structure of belief upon which all previous historical autobiography was built, was beginning to fall into disrepair. With Benjamin Franklin(1706-1790) the edifice of autobiography came to be built entirely on human recollections alone.
Augustine had a contact outside of time through Christ; mine is and has been through Baha’u’llah. He is the ground of my being and the basis for any human consanguinity. My position is not unlike that of all autobiographers up to Franklin. Augustine addresses his narrative to God; what he writes is like a devotional colloquy. My entire corpus is addressed to my readers, in my minds eye, generations not yet born and holy souls who have passed on and who assist me in ways I do not know; as well as, and especially, to a body of men which represents an institutionalization of the charisma at the heart of my belief system. Unlike Franklin, I do not offer up my autobiography on the authority of personal conviction, I offer it as a contribution to understanding how one person lived his life within the framework of an emerging world religion, at an early stage in its development, its second century. I am not seeking, as Franklin apparently was, to get men to imitate me; far from it. But it is my hope that they would gain greater understanding of their religion and its history, its history as it was embodied in the life of one of its ordinary practitioners, one of its votaries during the second to the fourth epochs of its Formative Age.
Augustine, Dante and Bunyan used the form of autobiography to dramatize their belief that an eternal truth guided their lives. For Franklin it was reason which centred and dramatized his life; in writing his autobiography he was essentially reliving a successful life. It was his hope that the lessons of his own individual experience and self-reliance, would replace the role taken by revealed truth. The truths of the Bab and Baha’u’llah and their legitimate successors(1844-1995) are a critical anchorage for my own story; understanding and experience are the fruit of my life; they do not replace revelation but are important buttresses of everything that has come to constitute me, my identity, my self, indeed, my soul.
Rousseau(1712-1778) tries through his autobiography, his Confessions, to secure an honoured place in history. For him truth lies in his feelings and in the continuity of his soul. I have written about this theme of fame or renown in my poetry and in my journal. If I secure some place in history through the efforts contained in all that is represented by Pioneering Over Three Epochs it will be because there is something worthwhile in what I have written, there is some meaning and historical significance of some kind that illuminates a future age. I find this an inspiring goal: to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. This would make my contribution ongoing, beyond my life in a very concrete sense. If this does not occur, it will be because people do not find it of use, of interest. I will have gained, I trust, through my examination of my inner life and my outer life as I am asked to do in the Writings of my Faith.
Rousseau, like Franklin, secularizes historical autobiography. He describes how he came to be the way he was. I do the same. Rousseau tries to remake society in his image.. Franklin tries to get people to imitate him. I try to do neither. Experience for Rousseau, as it was for Augustine, is the enemy of truth and happiness. For me the relation of the two is far more complex than this; indeed, it would require a separate essay to begin to explore this relationship. I, like Rousseau, enjoy my visits into the past to write autobiography. There is a nostalgia, a warm richness that coats the past. Unlike Rousseau I do not see the past as a sad concatenation of events that has led to my wretchedness. Rather, I see a series of events coated with many colours from dark blacks and browns to warm reds and spiritual blues, if one can give colours physical and psychological equivalents. There is sadness and there is joy; it depends where I look.
Augustine found true being outside of time; I do too, but I also find it in time. Rousseau found the thread, the link, the life of his soul in the undercurrent of feeling that ran through his entire life. Here he found a coherent, continuous whole and it was here that he reexperienced in imagination his enthusiasms, his hopes, his ambitions and pleasures. To tap into these feelings the narrator must relive his life. I find this particular aspect of Rousseau’s approach to autobiography very helpful. He has put into words what I have tried to do. When I have been successful I have achieved a kind of root-tapping. Rousseau saw this retrospective activity more a form of self-realizaton. To him it was divine. It caused the world to vanish; it caused the writer to enter an ecstatic plane of self-possession, a necessary stage perhaps en route to self-forgetfulness. Rousseau came to see all his past wanderings as pointless and destructive. Viewed sub specie aeternitatis, I have found my pioneer wanderings as part of a meaningful whole, especially the suffering.
The action that is my past has been characterized by a certain degree of faithfulness and a certain degree of passion. Augustine emphasized the former and Rousseau the latter. Experience has been both my enemy and my friend; passion both the life of my soul and its death. This is true of just about everything one does. Everything changes with each movement. Remembered feeling becomes the criteria for the truest autobiographical statement. Autobiography, for Rousseau, becomes not so much the life he lived as the life he lived in the act of composing his life. I find this to be true of my own writing in whatever genre the autobiography is found. I find myself in autobiography, like some flickering light of an ineffable bliss.
It helps in making the road to the grave profitable, enlightened by the two most luminous lights of intellect and wisdom. To claim any wisdom makes me a little uncomfortable in Australia, a land of an unpretentiousness and cynicism that lives luxuriously slightly beneath the surface of everyday events.
I am more than a little conscious of the transition from a relatively unreflective young adult to what could be seen as an excessively reflective man of middle years. But, like Bunyan, I ‘fetch invigorating thoughts from former years’ and recreate an energy that has been lost or, better, transferred from brawn to brain. Like Wordsworth I ‘rescue from decay the old/ By timely interference’ and so ripen ‘dawn into steady morning’, or perhaps late afternoon.(for surely the last half of middle adulthood-50 to 60-can be equated with late afternoon). My purpose here is not so much to tell the story of my life, although I do achieve this in my narrative, but to look within, self-examine, gain self-knowledge, achieve some union between the knower(me) and the known. I find there is a certain stasis, quietness in my movement, reposeful condition, as a result of this writing process. The knowing and acting self has finally been brought together. The slow process of looking within and finding God, of acquiring virtues and contributing to the development of civilization, or of experiencing generativity and integration is all partially understood in the act of autobiography.
And so, like Wordsworth in his Prelude, I became a traveller in my own life. My primary vehicle has been poetry, although I have provided other genres largely for future readers should there be any. For poetry reveals, in Wordsworth’s words, ‘our being’s heart and home’; it allows discordant elements of our life to harmonize; it renovates the spirit in a priestly robe; it precedes from some creative and enduring source and becomes a source of knowledge, power and joy. Poetry is like a regulating device. It comes to see the parts of life in terms of the whole; indeed the recollected hours, again in the words of Wordsworth, ‘have the charm of visionary things.’ Again, in Wordsworth’s idiom, poetry diffuses:
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things,
Composure and ennobling Harmony.(VII, 769-71)
Wordsworth was not able to find his centre in an urban landscape. He always returned to nature for his centre. My centre has only been threatened in a deep and serious, a conscious and obvious way on rare occasions in the course of my life: during university for about a year in 1964-65; in 1968 during a stay in a mental hospital in Whitby Ontario; in 1974 in the losing of my voting rights and the events that led up to them and, arguably, in 1995 when my experience of Baha’i community life dried up. Much else could be said on this theme but now is not the time. One thing should be said; namely, that if my Centre did disappear from my life the very raison d’etre for my life-and hence my autobiography-would go with it. In contrast to Wordsworth, who turned to nature when his centre was lost, I turned to prayer, to a process of waiting and withdrawal, as well as a gradual reorientation to Baha’i community life. Slowly the pattern of Baha’i life, so eloquently and extensively described in the Baha’i literature, would begin to emerge again in a form that I was comfortable with, which gave me joy and meaning and which was clearly an expression of finding my centre, safe and secure.
Wordsworth stated that life was like a river of remembrances which we try to shape into some pattern. But for him the view was dark and the movement of the soul was hidden from the reach of words, like forgotten experience which is hidden from our search on this intricate and difficult path. There are though, he stated, spots of time that nourish and invisibly repair our minds. They have a special virtue. This concept has some place in a Baha’i perspective: our declaration of belief, our hearing of the Faith, the Fast, moments of prayer, etcetera. In some future and fuller autobiographical account I might pursue this theme further. In the end, Wordsworth was left with thought and faith and his own words, his life: this was his truth, the true being that he sought. At the end of my work, this autobiography, the reader will find something quite beyond a writer, a personality, in however much detail his life is displayed. He will find a human experience that is touched by the white radiance of eternity, by the spirit and teachings of several souls who are continuing to energize the whole world to a degree unapproached during their earthly lives.
Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions place opium at the centre of a life, not a man or a divinity. De Quincey, like Franklin, had to rely on his own experience and the shared convictions of his culture to find any truth there was to find. De Quincey said that time breaks the self into impermanent, unrecapturable feelings, but that suffering brings it all together. Sometimes. There is a type of permanence, a type of capturing that autobiography creates. The fierce condition of eternal hurry which concerned De Quincey I have been conscious of at least since the beginning of my pioneer life in 1962. I refer to it as the sense of urgency. I feel as if I have been running for three decades, although in the last several years the running has been more frequently in my head. In other ways, the road has been too slow and tortuous to suit me. One seems to have only some degree of influence on the process, a degree which can not be measured.
De Quincey said he never heard the eternal, celestial music of life, although he believed in it. If I examine the entire period of my life beginning in 1962, several years after I joined the Cause, I find an increasing intensification of the music of the spheres, punctuated by no sounds at all and such stygian gloom that the soul wondered if it would ever recover.
My poetry, though, allows my words to enter or become the reader’s reality in unique ways, if the reader possesses the necessary susceptibilities. He becomes infected with a mode of utterance; his mind whirls around in mine. It is not the historical events that make the life; that life is essentially ungraspable. I can not find my life in the narrative or, indeed, in some of the philosophically intertwined material there. I find only a handle of some kind which is graspable; I find a work about itself, about a ghost that is me. I find something that tries to tie me together, my past to my present. How does one express what it is that ties it all together. Poetry provides better linkages: fuller, deeper, more intimate; these linkages are linkages to my past, my society, my self and the future. The poetry seems to provide the oneness I seek. It connects me with the infinite through Baha’u’llah and provides a vehicle for expressing this connection. For how does one know what one thinks about a connection until one has put it in words, however briefly. The poetry brings together an outer man and an inner man, two men who are so very distinct. They each provide two distinct sets of feedback about who I am. My poetry throws a light which both unites and separates my selves in paradoxical and ironic juxtapositions.
The surface externalities: where I worked, what I did, those I knew, etcetera in some basic ways hide the man rather than displaying him; they veil the inner person. The inner person can be found much more clearly in my poetry: both the darknesses and the lights are there, the mystery and the simplicity, the ambiguity and those paradoxes. The inner passages of my being, all its chambers, its treasures and its rubbish heaps are found here. The emblematical gold, the priceless gem, that writers like Hawthorne looked for in vain, was handed to me on a platter at the age of fifteen. “Thou without the least effort did attain thy goal.” Yet, as Baha’u’llah says, I remained “wrapt in the veil of self.” To put it another way my life has been a testing of the gold with periodic fires. It is quite a different battle than it was for writers like Hawthorne fight. But my autobiography has many parallels with his. It is, as Spengemann puts it in describing the fictive autobiography of Hawthorne, a series of actions performed in the act of composition, a historical record and an interpretation of them. The process and the result tells me who I am, at least in part. I find some of my immortal self, a lifelong task. The search yields only some result; the definition of success, the measuring rod so to speak, is found in the framework of a body of ethical and moral insights of the Baha’i writings.
Hawthorne and most of his contemporaries never possessed this framework and their search did not yield “the beauty of His countenance.”(HW, Persian, 22) All they found was a self, one created in the autobiography. A great deal of the who that I am, the what that I am, the garment of words can never tell. I am God’s mystery. But every atom in existence is ordained for my training. And so, on and on the quotations from the Writings pile high providing the perspective, the framework, that the contemporary secular autobiographer lacks. Every Baha’i that follows the autobiographical road has this same framework, this same centre, within which he can sift the experience of his life.
It may just be that modern man in search of his soul requires a particular Centre; that the Augustinian assumptions regarding the soul and the self are not adequate for these days; that the reshaping of the self, the soul, can not be accomplished by autobiographical efforts in the context of experience itself without getting lost in an inherent subjectivity. As Keats put it for many: “I have no Nature.” As Eliot put it: the self is “everywhere present, and everywhere absent” in the act of writing. The autobiographical experience is so enigmatic in this kind of framework as to discourage, frustrate and, in the end, seem just about meaningless. For the Baha’i who has been exhorted to understand his inner life, his private character; to take account each day before the final reckoning; to see with his own eyes and know of his own knowledge; to find the inner light and get its radiance, be content with it and seek naught else; for such a Baha’i who has turned his sight unto himself he may, through autobiography, find his Lord standing within him “mighty, powerful and self-subsistent.”(HW, Arabic, 13)
One thing I am very conscious of finding as I tell and retell, examine and reexamine my life, is a series of progressive and regressive periods repeating over time. Repose and adventure seem to be unstable states. Much of what could be called the romance of my story can be found in the oscillation between the saint, the hero, the courageous adventurer and the little fat man who preserves his comfort, his security, the chrysalis of everyday life To put the contrast another way: it is the contrast between the ordinary self and the heroic self, between ourselves as anti-heroes and heroes, that makes the real adventure, the colouration, the heart of the journey. The struggle with the ordinary self always involves courage and it is here that the road to high adventure is found.
Roger Bannister describes the moments when he neared completion of the four-minute mile this way: “I had a moment of mixed joy and anguish, when my mind took over. It raced well ahead of my body and drew my body compellingly forward. I felt that the moment of a lifetime had come. There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim. The world...did not exist....I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well.”(J.A. Michener, Sports in America, Random House, NY, 1976,p.77.) My experience in the last three to four years has been much like this ‘moment’ of Bannister’s. The world did not exist for Bannister as he headed for victory. The world provides a fertile base of material for writing poetry as the world provided Bannister with the misc-en-scene for his achievement. In this sense I find the world is like a window into the future, richly laden with meaning. It drives the engine of my writing, endlessly it would seem. One day, inevitably, I will run out of gas. After what seems like an endless sequence of adventures and security blankets finally an integration has occurred. It is like winning the race, the game, the prize, the lottery. The drudgery, tedium and gracelessness of so much that is ordinary life is gone. This is the most apt thing I can say that brings this autobiography up-to-date. Time will tell what sort of longevity this experience possesses. Each writer, each poet, has his own story.
31 December 1995
The following pages are the beginning of my autobiography. The whole 850 pages are available at BARL-this site.
"Not beginning at the Beginning...."
My individual journey from the promised land, from my home in Canada, my home town in Burlington Ontario, from one promised land to another and then another I have written in the form of a 800 page autobiography. It took me twenty years to write this piece and in the pages which follow I have included some of chapter one, the introduction. I hope readers find some pleasure here and there:
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 For I have gone on writing for years, perhaps as much as two decades now, in relative obscurity doing what I think is right. -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.
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 their 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. Unlike the Roman historians of the republican days who wrote their histories annalistically, that is year by year in sequence, this work is much more varied and informal with a slight tendency to write by plans and epochs.
I frankly do not know how I am going to approach this story, though I have no trouble finding such historical moments and there is always in the background to my life ever-present plans, new beginnings, fresh initiatives, systematic advances, "leaps and thrusts," triumphs and losses, vistas of new horizons and dark clouds. Thinking seriously about autobiography or, indeed, any intellectual discipline, 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 trace 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.
a note on autobiography: A PIECE OF SOLID GROUND
The person who lived in those first few houses, indeed any of the houses I have lived in with the possible exception of my present residence, is not the person who has written this story, this autobiography. To look back on all that has been my life, the long and medium distances is to know too much and too little: too much trivia and detail, too little of what is important. To look back is to reinterpret, to tell the story differently every time. Will a third edition of this account add anything useful? Would six editions, like Edward Gibbon's efforts in the late eighteenth century, be a source of further enlightenment? My optimistic muse would like to think so, but I can't be sure even if, as Socrates once emphasized, 'the unexamined life is not worth living.'
The "I" is a shimmering multitude, a multiple, a memory-filled entity that expands in many directions. The facts, the events, of my life become more difficult to define, to describe, to play with like the coloured billiard balls they once seemed to be. They don't bounce around the sides of my life and into their pockets with quite the precision that they once seemed to do. If 'reality' is those events and those facts, those discrete billiard balls, they seem to have become something to hide behind, something to call my life, some historical facticity that superficially tidies up what I can not tidy. My private life leaves, as Australian writer Judith Wright put it, "less trace than the silver trail of a slug which dries and blows away."1
In the world of the spirit, though, as Bahá'u'lláh once wrote, "the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered" by my mouth and "shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb." There seems to be much more going on in that private world than the conscious mind is aware of. "Life is but a show, vain and empty," Bahá'u'lláh also states, "bearing the mere semblance of reality." It is not surprising, therefore, if my backward gaze leaves me with the feeling, somewhat, that my life is like "a vapour in the desert," something I hope is water but, on facing it squarely, it becomes "mere illusion."
With a succession of personas that I have had, with a string of achievements and failures, obsessions and relationships, preoccupations and rejections, choices and changes, I can and have described my life. I have looked back through the tunnel of identity at my childhood and, indeed, at all the other stages of my life and my experience in the Bahá'í community and what I look back at has vanished. What I have recorded is a succession of changes. What I was has changed. As Wright puts it in the last lines of the closing poem in her autobiography:
A ripple goes across the glass.
The faces break and blur and pass
as love and time are blurred together.2
"The key to selfhood," wrote Philip Weinstein in his analysis of American writer William Faulkner, "is the selective language we use to articulate our inner selves." And this, he goes on, is determined by our voluntary and involuntary affiliations with larger groups. Our very sense of self emerges from this charged field of utterance. There is a clear cultural encapsulation of personality and, for me, a significant part of this cultural guise, cultural determinant, is the religion I first came to associate myself with back in 1953.
What I am trying to do in this essay and in most of my writing is to give coherence and intelligibility to the great mass of experience and thought that is my life. I draw extensively on a concept of history at the centre of my Faith and this writing may provide, for some, one of a host of entry points for a study of several epochs of Bahá'í history, one of many ways of weaving the collective and the individual into one mobile and effusive process. It is often said that a biographer's chief task is to prevent the historian from commiting the error of oversimplification and omission. I think one way of defining the autobiographer's task is to give both the historian and the biographer a piece of solid ground to start from. Perhaps this website is just that: a piece of solid ground.
1 Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime, editor, Patricia Clarke, Text Pub., Melbourne, 1999, p.290.
2 ibid.,p.288; 3 1953-2003.
4 Mark Twain, 'Interview in 1889."
5 John Murphy, The Voice of Meaning: History, Autobiography and Oral History," Historical Studies, Vol.22, 1986, pp.157-175.
25 August 2003
Serving on local spiritual assemblies as I have done, off and on, since 1966 provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know people. I can not think of any other experience I have had with people that affords this particularly useful, invaluable lesson in understanding human character. At the same time, I must warn the student of human nature, as the essayist William Hazlitt also warns, that “the more I learn, the less I understand it.” One would hope that, with the insights of over one hundred years of social science behidn us, we would have come to understand humankind more. In some ways, perhaps.
There is nothing that helps a man more in his travel through life than a just understanding of his own characteristic weaknesses. In consulting, for that is the term one uses for attempting a dispassionate and cordial discussion of issues at local assembly meetings, an individual is made more than a little aware of his inadequacies, his inabilities, his utter ineptitudes. In my early years of assembly work, until I came to Australia, my main problem was focussing sufficiently on the topic at hand in ordert to make a useful contribution. I got lost in the multitude of views.
Once I had mastered the problem of dealing with complexity in the consultative process-at least enough to deal with some of the subjects-I went on to other skills. It had taken several hundred hours to get this far. I wasa slow learner. Keeping my ego out of the way. Not dominating; not reacting to punative rebuttals with my own heat were new problems for my by the 1970s. I’m still working on them. Just as soon as I think I’m winning I get plastered again. It is a road long travelled and it keeps the old ego quite manageable, or should I say nicely tested, on a weekly or fortnighly basis.
Perhaps it is just a sign of age, or that familiarity breeds fatigue, or that after three decades of serving with the aim of increasing the number of believers and getting a discouragingly meagre response year after year, but ennui creeps in, sometimes an engulfing weariness with it all. Except for a short period of statistical success in the late 1960s and early 1970s it has been slow slogging. A certain persistence. dedication, devotion to duty come into play or one would simply wither on the vine. Call it spiritual muscle if you like. The patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon are useful but in short supply. When one reads about(Priceless Pearl, p.451) the Guardian being “called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness” the heart responds with a “yes!” The Guardian comes closer. This is a revolution with all the attributes of ordinariness.
I think that is one reason why those buildings on Mount Carmel lift my heart so. It has partly to do with hundreds of meetings in lounge rooms being spiritually dried out. Surely faith does not ask us to endure these endless meetings. For some martydom in the west is associated more with meetings than with jails and bullets. Some may find I’m overstating it. For them I probably am. In Shoghi Effendi’s first letter to Australia and New Zealand he refers to “severe mental tests”. Such tests take many forms and I’m sure they are not over yet for us in this fourth epoch, seventy years after his letter.
SERVING ON LSAs IN THE FIRST QUARTER CENTURY OF THEIR EXISTENCE: 1965 TO 1997
One aspect of my Baha’i pioneering experience struck me with solid force last night after after arriving home from another LSA meeting. It is an aspect that deserves some special attention. I have dealt with this subject before but perhaps not with the focus
I will do here.
Within a year of the beginning of this pioneering venture back in September 1962 my mother left the Cause. One of the factors that tipped the scales was LSA meetings. I remember as if it was yesterday her bringing an LSA meeting to a close and saying “I’ve got to go to bed to go to work in the morning.” She resigned shortly thereafter. The Assembly was in Burlington and it had been in existence for perhaps a dozen years. By 1972 I was living in Gawler, South Australia, where there had been an LSA for about ten to fifteen years.1 My first wife had been 'ground down' by LSA meetings in Whyalla and a deteriorating marriage, among other things. By 1975 she had left the Faith. Each town that I’ve lived in, with the exception of Gawler in 1974 and Launceston in 1979/80, has been a testing ground insofar as service on LSAs is concerned. Here I am, now, in my early fifties with a wife of significant persistence but also getting worn down by LSA service. I, too, seem to have lost the fire, with LSA meetings having become a routine and little of the sense of adventure I once had in approaching them.
The years 1965 to 1997, the 44th to the 76th year of the first century of the Formative Age, in which the LSA experience I am discussing took place--were part of the tenth stage of history—the 2nd year to the 34th year of that stage. They are clearly early years of the Formative Age and they were difficult ones for LSA members at least those members I got to know during my years of service. In all cases my service was on LSAs in the first twenty to twenty-five years of their existence.2 Although our experience in these embryonic institutions was not as bad as it was for the Greeks in their Formative period down to about 800 BC, a period about which A. Andrewes wrote: “instability and incoherence of Greek political institutions...led to a political evolution which was denied to other cultures.(Greek Society, Andrewes, p.xxiii); although the guidance we have received from national and international levels to assist us in functioning has been quite massive, very detailed, the process of dealing with the information in a way that achieves our goals keeps us all very busy and often very frustrated. It was a process that brought out the best and the worst in men and women.
It is as if over these early years of both the Formative Age and the existence of LSAs our juices of life are being slowly sucked out of us, we who find ourselves serving, until we yield our lives in His path in quite a different form than the martyrs of the Heroic Age. But we are martyrs nevertheless and we will only know the quality of our ‘martyr station’ when we pass on to the next life. It is not my intention here to quote from the many books now available on LSAs, the administration, consultation; or the letters which we have access to from the Central Figures and institutions of the Cause. Rather, my purpose is to say a few words about my experience on LSAs for this collection of essays.
Combining overseas teaching, pioneering and administrative service has required all I have. I seem in these latter years to be running our of gas. My enthusiasms have run down to a very quietly burning flame. There are probably many reasons for this that have no direct relationship with serving on LSAs. . But as the Formative Age moves into the last twenty-five years of its first century, I sense that a great deal has been achieved, certainly by measuring our progress in terms of the size and quality of the LSA Handbook which is now quite impressive, the sheer number of LSAs on the planet and, of course, the marvellous developments in architecture around the Bahá'í world. But the labor required to achieve it is simply immense and the nature of the revolution is so unobtrusive as to not look like a revolution at all.
1 The length of the existence of these LSAs is largely educated guesses.
2 For a few months in 1969 I served on the LSA of Toronto. I was told this by a Canadian Bahá'í about 1990, although I can not remember attending any meetings. The LSA of Toronto was formed in 1938 and so I served in the 38th year of its existence. In 1985 I wrote to the LSA of the Bahá'ís of Toronto in response to their request for information for their history of sending out p ioneers.
15 October 1997
COMMENTARY AND CONTEXT ON
BAHA’I AND AMERICAN HISTORY
AND MY POETRY AS EPIC
These, and other similar incidents connected with the epic story of the Zanjan upheaval, characterized by Lord Curzon as a "terrific siege and slaughter," combine to invest it with a sombre glory unsurpassed by any episode of a like nature in the records of the Heroic Age of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. -Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 46.
Epic: narrative poem of heroic type or scale; poem of any form embodying the conception of the past history of a nation or group of people.
The number of long epic poems written the world over is increasing. World history and the history of its many nation states is characterized by epochal statements and epics of various kinds. The Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address were both epochal if not epic statements, to choose but two from American history. Then there are epic figures from cinema, like John Wayne. John Wayne himself directed a film on an epic event, the Alamo. He also wrote a book on the making of this film. He called it "The Making of the Epic Film." Epic, it seems, comes up everywhere when one thinks about America and increasingly in relation to all sorts of historical and contemporary events in today’s world. It also comes up in relation to my poetry and the Baha’i Faith and that is my reason for writing. I have brought it up.
This continent and this world has epic voyages, battles, wars, figures. Calling up all the titles of books from recent decades that contain the word "epic” in the catelogue of a good library will reveal scores of books. The same is true on the internet. The word is now applied indiscriminately to appropriate and inappropriate subjects. Does the story of United Methodist preaching or the study of the genitals of insects properly warrant the label "epic"? Yes and no. The question has become complex. We speak of "epic" not only in the strict sense of a long poem on certain topics, with certain characteristics more or less based on the founding epics of our Western epic tradition, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. We speak of epic in a broader sense, as a story recounting great deeds, typically in wars or battles or on dangerous voyages or as an application of the definition that begins this essay. The use of the term "epic" has spread out in a burgeoning fashion from these points.
One is thus not surprised that Robert Hughes' huge current book on American art, American Visions, is subtitled The Epic History of Art in America. Hughes tells us, in a TV interview, that the subtitle is the publisher's. Is then the association of "epic" with things American all just a matter of merchandising, American hype, the spirit of P.T. Barnum? Are we dealing only with the epic of American salesmanship, which almost all foreign visitors to America have commented on, or is there something about America that properly summons up the idea of "epic"? One would not expect a book on British art, for example, to be subtitled "the epic of British art," though there are of course wonderful buildings, paintings, and sculptures in Britain. Is that only a matter of characteristic British understatement? Perhaps. And yet, when one rolls the phrases around on one's tongue, the strong impression cannot be denied: Whatever the crass motives of the publisher of American Visions or of filmmakers who dub many a film "epic," epic seems to suit America and American topics better than it suits many other countries. Epic becomes America–in the sense in which Eugene O'Neill used the term, in his great play, Mourning Becomes Electra. Was his play an epic?
The artist Willem de Kooning who was born, raised, and educated in Holland has an interesting comment on what happens when one sees oneself as American, rather than, say, Dutch. It's a certain burden, this American-ness. If you come from a small nation, you don't have that burden. “When I went to the Academy and I was drawing from the nude,” says de Kooning, “I was making the drawing, not Holland. I feel sometimes an American artist must feel like a baseball player or something–a member of a team writing American history.” Certainly Hughes would agree. America's size, its newness, its wonders engaged many American artists in the nineteenth century. They took up the American landscape not only as a subject but as a duty. In the early twenty-first century, it is still some particular idea of America–today, however, generally evoked satirically, ironically, critically, indignantly–that seems to motivate much of the oversized work of contemporary American artists. And then there is the "great American novel,” an obsession with some novelists, and the fact that America's greatest poet writes in a grand, elevated style about America. Indeed, his work is labeled by some an epic, as in James Edwin Miller's Leaves of Grass: America's Lyric Epic of Self and Democracy."
America as "epic" raises the question, what is unique, what is central, about the American experience that deserves the epithet "epic"? It reminds us of another, soberer effort to get to what is unique about America, the discussion of "American exceptionalism," conducted principally by sociologists. Seymour Martin Lipset has recently collected and updated a considerable body of his writings on this subject, one that has engaged him for many years: American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. Daniel Bell has also pondered American exceptionalism in The End of Ideology and elsewhere. The issue, as they discuss it, arises because of the interesting question of why there has been no major socialist movement in the United States, which makes it unique among advanced industrial societies.
The question was perhaps first raised in 1906 by the German sociologist and economist Werner Sombart. There is little that we would consider distinctive about America that has not been raised to explain the failure of socialism to develop here. Thus Bell writes that Sombart "pointed to the open frontiers, the many opportunities for social ascent through individual effort and the rising standard of living," and goes on to give many other reasons why socialism didn't take in America. "In the end," Bell writes, "all such explanations have fallen back on the natural resources and material vastness of America." And Lipset writes, "Political exceptionalism, the failure of socialist parties in the United States, has been explained by numerous factors–so many that the outcome seems overdetermined. He then goes on to list no less than 12 significant features of the United States, societal and political, that could explain the absence of a major socialist movement.
The theme of American exceptionalism is related to the topic of America as epic, though it is not quite the same thing. American exceptionalism directs us to look at basic values, institutions and social forces. But these cannot be the subject of epic, though they may be divined within an epic. The epic proper recounts great and terrible deeds, founding ages. Lind describes this in his essay on epic in The Alamo. He does not believe we can have a Christian epic, or an international epic, or an epic of peace or brotherhood. One sometimes reads that with Milton or Wordsworth, or Whitman, the intellectual or spiritual development of the poet–Blake's "mental fight"–replaced the struggles of warriors as the proper subject of epic scope in narrative poetry. The sequence of Achilles, Rinaldo, Wordsworth or Whitman brings to mind Carlyle's unintentionally funny list of "heroes," which begins with the Norse God Odin and ends with Samuel "Dictionary" Johnson. Often moral courage and physical courage go hand in hand when one is examining the epic in history.
Deeds, inner explorations of feelings, discoveries to improve the lot of man, the world of the epic has broadened. The proper subject of epic can now be found just about anywhere. Some are troubled by this democratization of the epic. Some literary critics, who after all are often the first people to discuss what makes an epic, who set up its canons of legitimacy, assert that the purely personal is no subject for epic. Perhaps they are right. I am happy to include my poetry in the category ‘epic’ because it is inspired by and about the history of the Baha’i Faith. Although much of this poetry is personal, it is not only personal. It is also about what is unique, what is special, significant, original about Baha’i history and Baha’i experience. Both this experience and my poetry, I would argue, participate in the concept epic.
Walt Whitman, despite his insistence on the purely personal nature of his achievement, incorporated within his poetry the entire American experience of his time. He wrote: "Leaves of Grass ... has mainly been the outcropping of my own emotional and other personal nature–an attempt, from first to last, to put a Person, a human being (myself, in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, in America) freely, fully, and truly on record. But note the determined reference to time and place. And Whitman wrote elsewhere, "I contain multitudes within myself and these were the multitudes of America. As Samuel Beer has argued in an interesting essay, Whitman reaches out much further into a political community than the typical poet. In my poetry I do the same, but I reach out into the Baha’i community not the American people at Whitman did.
Wordsworth or any one of a host of poets in the last 200 years, contemporary Americans and others record their personal responses and personal development. They are not celebrating a nation, its democracy, its multifariousness, and, as American art does, its variety and newness. They are not celebrating or commemorating the events of the history of a nation or group as I am doing in my poetry in relation to Baha’i history. They are quintessentially individualists. I suppose one could argue that that is the other epic theme in recent centuries: the theme of the individual. Wordsworth’s Prelude is certainly an epic venture and it’s all about him.
This is not to say that no poets of the last 200 years have any political or religious affiliation, no group identity. Everyone belongs to a group in some way or another. The theme of "America as epic" directs us to think, initially, not about the multiplicity of America and Americans but of a single dominant story, carried by heroes. The epic of America, dominant until at least the 1930s and 1940s, has been in recent decades eclipsed by another and quite different "epic of America." It is a multicultural America with a host of epics. For Baha’is who are also poets the epic that arises in their poetry is the history and the culture of their Faith and in the 1930s and 1940s that epic started to take form as the American Bahai community expanded to include all of its states.
The first American epic, dominant until at least the first teaching Plan(1937-1944) emphasizes the newness, the vastness, the openness of America–the freedom thereby granted Americans. It is the old, or at least the older story, about America. Connected with it are such terms as the American idea, or the American creed, or the American dream, or Manifest Destiny. It is true that the frontier as a continuous line of settlement to the West no longer existed by 1890. It was in the first few years of the 1890s that the first Baha’i pioneers arrived on American shores, presursors of the pioneers who would later leave America’s shores. That first American epic and the epic in Baha’i history associated with the heroic age, one could argue, lasted into the 1930s when Baha’i administration advanced to assume a form which allowed it to focus on a national, an international teaching Plan. It was here, in this international teaching Plan, that the second stage of the Baha’i epic emerged.
There was still much of the West to be settled even after 1890; there was to come an overseas expansion expressing very much the same values; and then there was the brief "American Century," carrying forward similar and related values. The second epic, which I place in opposition to the first, is a somewhat more problematic epic. It emphasizes racial and ethnic diversity, whether in an optimistic or pessimistic mood. The first epic was connected with an ever available frontier denoting free land, free institutions, free men. The second epic is city-centered and finds its frontiers, if any, within a physically completed society. The first is the epic of the forests, the prairies, the plains. It is the epic of discoverers, explorers, pioneers, of Columbus, Daniel Boone, and Lewis and Clark, of the Oregon trail, the Mormon trek, the transcontinental railway. The second celebrates quite different voyages: the middle passage, the Trail of Tears, the immigrant ship, the underground railway, the tenement trail from slum to suburb. The first is the epic of the Anglo-Saxon, the Scotch-Irish, in lesser degree the German and the Scandinavian. The second is the epic of the Native Americans, the Africans, the "new immigrants" from southern and eastern Europe, the new new immigrants of the last three decades, cast generally as the victims of the protagonists of the first epic.
The first epic has not fully lost its power to evoke response in American consciousness, and the second is not entirely new but has been with us from the beginning, even if hardly noted. From a Baha’i perspective that first epic is, as I said above, synonymous with the Heroic Age(1844-1932). Whitman is a bridging figure from the first to the second and maintains an optimistic stance embracing both. ‘Abdu’l-Baha or the Guardian or even the Greatest Holy Leaf serves as the bridging figure from this first to the second stage of epic in Baha’i history.
One sees, in the last few decades, a transition in which the first epic, once dominant, becomes recessive, while the second asserts its problematic claims as the epic of America ever more sharply. Here, too, in these same decades the Baha’is, just one group in a host of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith groups, find expression for the epic in which my own life has been involved. It is here that my poetry finds its place as part of that faith-epic. The second Baha’i epic also asserts its problematic claims in the epochs of the Formative Age, thusfar.
One can select many symbolic events to mark the change both in American and in Baha’i experience. Consider the contrast between two writing and active presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Roosevelt wrote of the frontier, the "winning of the West." He celebrated the expansion of American power and settlement westwards, and the projection of America's power beyond our continental boundaries, much of which he engineered as president. During his presidency, the greatest stream of immigrants in American history was entering the country. He saw immigrants as adding to the strength of America, filling its factories and mines and armies. But he did not celebrate diversity. He insisted on a full Americanization. "We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good fellowship to every man and woman, no matter their creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent on becoming a good citizen, but we have the right and it is our duty to demand they shall indeed become so." David Brooks, quoting this passage in an article in the Weekly Standard, comments: “That meant, in Roosevelt's eyes, the immigrant had to leave Old World quarrels behind. It meant he had to learn English–We believe that English and no other language is that in which all school exercises should be conducted.... We have no room in a healthy American community for a German-American vote or an Irish-American vote and it is contemptible demagoguery to put into any party platform [rhetoric] with the purpose of catching such a vote."
The tone changes with John F. Kennedy, another friend of American power and of immigration. He wrote A Nation of Immigrants, lauding the immigrant contribution to the United States, and he and his brother sought to open the doors of America wider to immigrants. The first Roosevelt, when he thought of immigrants, thought of a growing and ever stronger America that needed manpower. His successor president thought rather of appealing to a new electorate or of displaying compassion for the victims of a troubled world. One will detect a marked change as one moves from the first to the second. Kennedy did not use the term "Americanization": It would not have rung right even in 1958, and, today, it is quite banned from politics. Every president since Kennedy, Democrat or Republican, has lauded immigrants and immigration. President Reagan presided over the rededication of the Statue of Liberty, a great national festival. Long before, the meaning of the Statue had been quite transformed from that originally intended. It was no longer "Liberty Enlightening the World," but "Liberty welcoming the immigrant."
The Baha’i epic associated with its heroic age is not the same as the epic associated with its Formative Age. The potentialities that the creative force of that first 77 years-that heroic age-had planted in human consciousness would gradually unfold. My life and the life of my parents would see the first century of that unfolding. The poetry I have written, while inspired by that heroic age, is written in the main about the epochs, the four epochs, of my life in the Formative Age.
In a recent book by Nathan Glazer We Are All Multiculturalists Now he tries to understand and to analyze the change in how we envisage America in our schools and what it teaches about our past. In explaining the book to various audiences he has sought to find an emblematic expression of the very different time when there was no great argument as to what we meant by "the epic of America"–when no hint of the great change of the last few decades was yet evident–and the title of Theodore Roosevelt's first great success as a writer and historian, The Winning of the West, has sprung to mind to characterize this earlier period. It is a title that without restraint or second thoughts or apology celebrates the American epic of expansion. Today, the title The Winning of the West would lead us to think immediately of whom we won it from–the Indians, the Mexicans, the environment. Its celebratory note would grate on us. But it does tell us what the epic of America once was.
Perhaps its equivalent in Baha’i literature is The Dawnbreakers, with its thrilling passages and the splendour of its central theme which gives the chronicle its great historic value and its its high moral power. Beginning with nine years marking the “most spectacular, most tragic, most eventful period of the first Baha’i century,” this heroic, this apostolic, age ended with the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in 1921. In the 1920s and 1930s Baha’i administration and Baha’i teaching Plans come to take on a central focus in this second epic.
To place The Winning of the West in its time: The first volumes were published in 1889 when Roosevelt was only 31. He had already served as a New York state legislator, had written a well-received book on the War of 1812 and a biography of the frontier statesman Thomas Hart Benton, had turned himself into a ceaseless advocate of the strenuous life, had ridden with cowboys on cattle ranches in the Dakota Territory on the western frontier when Indian wars were still a reality, and had written a book of his experiences there. That experience led him back to earlier frontiers in American history. As Harvey Wish tells us: The task of writing four volumes of The Winning of the West ... had to share his time and energy while he served as an active member of the United States Civil Service Commission and then as President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners. He investigated slums, sweatshops, and graft.... In 1895-6, he managed to issue his final two volumes while campaigning for McKinley ... for which he was rewarded by receiving the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
He went on to become governor of New York, vice-president, and, upon the assassination of McKinley, president in 1901. Despite his auspicious beginnings as a historian, he was never to complete The Winning of the West as he had originally intended. The completed volumes end with the acquisition of Louisiana and Lewis and Clark's exploration of the vast new territories that had been added to the United States. The Winning of the West was republished again and again, in many editions, even before Roosevelt became president, but I note that the last full printing was in 1927. Harvey Wish's little volume of selections from the four volumes, from which I have quoted, was published in 1962, and the book was, surprisingly, reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1995, perhaps another signal of a modest Theodore Roosevelt revival. We should be aware that the book was greatly respected in its time and for decades after, and not only by popular and literary critics but by the leading academics of the day.
Roosevelt did do a remarkable amount of research in archives and wrote the book from primary sources, not secondary materials. Albert Bushnell Hart of Harvard admired it. Frederick Jackson Turner, the propounder of the enormously influential thesis on the role of the frontier in the shaping of American society, also praised it. He wrote three reviews of it as successive volumes appeared. Turner's own seminal paper, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," was presented in Chicago in 1893 (after Roosevelt's first few volumes had been published) during the great Chicago fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, as it was once described. Indeed, the contrast between the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage and our embarrassed effort to deal with the 500th anniversary is symbolic of the change I am trying to characterize. It was clear then that the opening of the West was the great theme of American history to almost everyone who thought seriously about it at the time and that its closing, as noted by the Superintendent of the Census on the basis of the findings of the census of 1890, had to portend some significant changes.
Of course, the opening of the towns, localities, states and all the countries of the world to the Baha’i Faith by its pioneers was also a great theme of Baha’i history. And that theme can be found expressed again and again in my poetic-epic, an age of pioneering from the 1920s and 1930s onward. My poetry is a work of unabashed religious enthusiasm. The Winning of the West is a work of unabashed nationalism. It is a nationalism that exalts the role of one element of the American population and takes bare notice of the others. There is no political correctness in The Winning of the West, of course. The first volume is labeled, "The Spread of the English-Speaking Peoples," and will remind us of one of the books by a later great nationalist leader, Winston Churchill, who wrote a multi-volumed history of the "English-speaking peoples." Roosevelt begins: "During the past three centuries, the spread of the English-speaking peoples across the world's waste spaces has been not only the most striking feature in the world's history, but also the event of all others most far-reaching in its effects and its importance."
Today, we would sit up and notice that the lands over which the English-speaking peoples spread are called "waste spaces." We would think of all the people who already lived there when the English-speaking peoples arrived. The Indians to Roosevelt are "savages." They are cruel and treacherous, by our standards of course, but Roosevelt does not take much account of the standards of "the other": "Not only were they very terrible in battle, but they were cruel beyond all belief in victory.... The hideous, unnameable, unthinkable tortures practised by the red men on their captured foes, and on their foes" tender women and helpless children, were such as we read of in no other struggle, hardly even the revolting pages that tell the deeds of the Holy Inquisition." (In these latter days, Roosevelt might also be condemned for male chauvinism because of the way he refers to women.) Roosevelt respects the Indians for their warrior prowess, but has no regret over the outcome.
The history of the border wars ... makes a long tale of injuries inflicted, suffered, and mercilessly revenged. It could not be otherwise when brutal, reckless, lawless borderers, despising all men not of their own color, were thrown into contact with savages who esteemed cruelty and treachery as the highest virtue, and rapine and murder as the worthiest of pursuits. Looking back, it is easy to say that much of the wrong-doing could have been prevented; but if we examine the facts to find out the truth, not to establish a theory, we are bound to admit that the struggle could not possibly have been avoided. Unless we were willing that the whole continent west of the Alleghenies should remain an unpeopled waste, the hunting ground of savages, war was inevitable. And after examining briefly Indian claims that they were the first present and the possessors of the soil, Roosevelt writes:
“The truth is the Indian never had any real title to the soil; they had not half so good a claim to it, for instance, as the cattlemen now have to all eastern Montana, yet no one would assert that the cattlemen have a right to keep immigrants off their vast unfenced ranges. The settler and the pioneer have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages.”
I hope it is not necessary to emphasize that my point is not to expose the prejudices or blind spots of an earlier time, but to present as clearly as possible how a representative great American, an historian as well as a national leader (Roosevelt was, in time, to serve as president of the American Historical Association), thought of what was noteworthy, great, and of epic character in American history. And here we must say something more of Roosevelt's view of the protagonists of this epic, the pioneers.
The pioneers are, of course, representative of the English-speaking peoples, but they are also a new people shaped by the experience of colonization and settlement in a new and dangerous place. "At the day when we began our career as a nation we already differed from our kinsmen of Britain in blood as well as in name." The original English stock, which Roosevelt points out was already the result of a mixture of peoples, mingled with and absorbed into itself immigrants from many European lands, and this process has gone on since. It is to be noted that, of the new blood thus acquired, the greatest proportion has come from Dutch and German sources, and the next greatest from Irish, while the Scandinavian element comes third, and the only other of much importance is the French Huguenot.
But then he adds, remarkably for 1889, when the sources of American immigration had recently undergone a great change, from northern and western Europe, to eastern and southern: "Additions have been made to the elemental race-strains in much the same proportion as those originally combined." He defines the guiding, leading, pioneering element more sharply:
“The backwoodsmen were American by birth and parentage; but the dominant strain in their blood was that of the Presbyterian Irish–the Scotch-Irish as they were often called.... It is doubtful if we have wholly realized the importance of the part played by that stern and virile people.... They form the kernel of the distinctively and intensely American stock who were the pioneers of our people in their march westward, the vanguard of the army of fighting settlers, who with axe and rifle won their way from the Alleghenies to the Rio Grande and the Pacific.”
They are the heroes of the epic. They were not to be displaced for another 50 years. But, of course, new elements were being added to the American population, in great number, and they were not pioneers, except metaphorically. Willa Cather titled her novel, O Pioneers!, but they were not pioneers in the same sense as the Scotch-Irish who crossed the Alleghenies, fought Indian wars in the Old Northwest and Southwest, conquered Texas from Mexico, made the way clear for German and Scandinavian farmers who followed after. Perhaps Cather's Norwegian settlers in Nebraska could, to some extent, be incorporated into this American epic. But then, what of the newcomers crowding the cities in the 1890s and 1900s and 1910s?
Turner had propounded the most influential thesis in American history in 1893. By 1914, he had to take notice of a great change in America: “If we look about the periphery of the nation, everywhere we see the indications that our world is changing. On the streets of ...New York and Boston, the faces we meet are to a surprising extent those of Southeastern Europe.... It is the little Jewish boy, the Greek or Sicilian, who takes the traveler through historic streets, now the home of these newer people ... and tells you in his strange patois the story of revolution against oppression.”
In this same address, a commencement speech at the University of Washington, Turner creates a striking image of these two worlds in contact. It seems Turner had to pass through the Harvard museum of social ethics–an early expression of sociology at Harvard which no longer exists–in order to get to the room in which he lectured on the history of the westward movement: The hall is covered with an exhibit of the work of the Pittsburgh steel mills, and of the congested tenements. Its charts and diagrams tell of the long hours, the death rate, the relation of typhoid to the slums, the gathering of all Southeastern Europe to make a civilization at that center of American industrial energy and vast capital that is a social tragedy. As I enter my lecture room through that hall, I speak of the young Washington leading his Virginia frontiersmen to the magnificent forest at the forks of the Ohio. Where Braddock and his men ... were struck by the painted savages in the primeval woods, huge furnaces belch forth perpetual fires and Huns and Bulgars, Poles and Sicilians, struggle for a chance to earn their daily bread, and live a brutal and degraded life. He writes "Huns" but presumably means Hungarians.
We will note little reference to African Americans or slavery in Theodore Roosevelt or Frederick Jackson Turner: The epic of the westward movement had little to say of them. Roosevelt did write that the early settlers, "to their own lasting harm, committed a crime whose short-sighted folly was worse than its guilt, for they brought hordes of African slaves, whose descendants now form immense populations in certain portions of the land." But slavery plays no great role in his story: He makes little distinction between the frontiersmen pushing out from Pennsylvania, or from Virginia and the Carolinas, and indeed asserts that they made little distinction. They were all mountain men, and the issue of whether slave or free was of no great moment then. It was before the great conflicts over whether the new western states were to be slave or free. Turner depreciates the significance of slavery as against the significance of the frontier in American history: "Even the slavery struggle ... occupies its important place in American history because of its relation to Westward expansion."
This perspective astonishes us today: It is as if once the conflict over whether new states were to be slave or free was settled by the Civil War, race was no longer of great consequence in American history. Indeed, during the first half of the 20th century, the question of race, urgent as it was for black Americans, was little noted by others. If there was an alternative epic to the epic of westward movement, it was then (as in measure it still is) the Civil War and the destruction of southern plantation society, seen entirely from the point of view of the slaveholder. And so, the first great American movie epic is The Birth of a Nation, and the greatest is Gone With the Wind.
In 1931, a popular historian of the day, James Truslow Adams, published a one-volume history of America and boldly titled it, The Epic of America. Published by a leading Boston publisher, it was a Book-of-the-Month club selection; it still makes interesting reading today. The attitudes of more significant figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and Frederick Jackson Turner are still dominant, if somewhat cruder, in the year before the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is still the epic of westward expansion and manifest destiny, now generalized into the American dream, that is "the epic of America." When Adams writes of "three racial frontiers in the West" around 1800, he does not have in mind white interaction with Indians and Africans. He has in mind the French and the Spanish and the English. His three racial frontiers remind me of the "historical convergence of European, African, and Native American people" which stands at the beginning of American history, according to the recently proposed National Standards for History. The historically important "races" have undergone a radical change.
Adams, a New England writer and the author of such previous books as The Founding of New England, Revolutionary New England, New England in the Republic, and The Adams Family, finds no problem in celebrating the culture of the antebellum South. "The type of life which now evolved in the South was in many ways the most delightful America has known, and that section has become in retrospect the land of romance."
William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist weekly, The Liberator, is to Adams "fanatical," as is John Brown. The Civil War was not merely a question of slavery. It was a question of interpretation of the fundamental compact between the states ... whether property guaranteed by the Constitution was safe or not...; whether an agrarian civilization could preserve its character...; whether a section of the country should be allowed to maintain its own peculiar set of cultural values or be coerced to conform to those of an alien and disliked section...; a question of what would become of liberty if union were to mean an enforced conformity.
Yet the epigraph at the beginning of the book is from Whitman: "Sail–sail thy best, ship of democracy." One does detect a muddle here, but no more of a muddle than characterized American democracy as a whole at the time. We will also have to tut-tut over Adams's treatment of the new immigrants, as they still were in 1931: "These Slavs, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Lithuanians, Jews ... were of a very different type from the Irish, British, Germans and Scandinavians." More were illiterate. They were also "much more 'foreign' in their background and outlook than those who had come previously, and less assimilable to our social life and institutions." Though they were peasants, "they did not seek to become farmers and to establish homes in this country, but congregated in huge racial groups in the larger cities, or became operatives in factories and mines." They preferred to accept day wages, maintain their old low standard of living, and even go below that, to save as much money as possible.... The earlier immigrants had come to make homes, raise their standard of living, and become citizens; these new ones came as birds of passage.... This also kept them from the desire to assimilate themselves to American social life, to learn English, and to adapt themselves to American ways.
And yet, there is the quotation from Whitman, and he writes of the prophets of American democracy, that only Emerson "glimpsed the real essence of Americanism and its dream of democracy.... Whittier was too concerned with the problem of the slave, and, like Lowell, who would have sacrificed the union because of his dislike of the South, saw America too much in terms of sectional evil. And the muddle only increases. After his criticism, typical of the time, of the new immigrants–and progressives as well as conservatives indulged in it–Adams ends his book with a vision of the American dream and one of these new immigrants dreaming it on the steps of the Boston Public Library:
“That dream has evolved from the hearts and burdened souls of many millions, who have come to us from all nations. If some of them have too great faith, we know not yet to what faith may attain, and may hearken to the voice of one of them, Mary Antin, a young immigrant girl who comes to us from Russia.... Sitting on the steps of the Boston Public Library, where the treasures of the whole of human thought had been opened to her, she wrote: "This is my latest home, and it invited me to a glad new life.... The past ... cannot hold me, because I have grown too big; just as the little house in Polotzk, once my home, has now become a toy of memory, as I move about at will in the wide spaces of this splendid palace.... America is the youngest of nations, and inherits all that went before it in history. And I am the youngest of America's children, and into my hands is given all her priceless heritage.... Mine is the whole majestic past, and mine is the shining future."
So we see new epics being born even while the old one is being celebrated. And by the time the Baha’is began to use the term pioneer, just as their first teaching Plan(1937-1944) was about to be set in motion, “the whole majestic past and the shining future” awaited them. In 1951, Oscar Handlin, who was to become the major historian of American immigration, and the leading figure in a generation of historians studying the old and the new immigration, summed up his vision of immigration in a book titled The Uprooted. (The second edition of 1973 bears on its cover the subtitle, The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that made the American People. The first sentence of the book reads: "Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were America."
The eclipse of the first "epic of America" seemed complete. Theodore Roosevelt would not have used the term "immigrant" to refer to his Dutch ancestors or to the frontiersmen he celebrated. They were colonists, settlers, pioneers–immigrants were something else. The notion that we were all immigrants was still somewhat surprising in 1951, though Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution, who had refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing in their hall in 1939, did say, “We are all immigrants, and the descendants of revolutionists.” However, this was then still a surprising and provocative thought. Twenty years after Handlin published The Uprooted, it was only common wisdom, or commonplace. A half-dozen presidents and a hundred judges inducting new immigrants pronounced we were all a nation of immigrants. And desperate efforts were being made to induct the non-immigrants–Native Americans, as the Indians had become, and the African-American descendants of slaves–into American epics that had ignored or disdained them.
It was not long before Handlin was alarmed at the terms of inclusion. Supplementing The Uprooted, 20 years after its original publication, in the Spring of 1971, Handlin wrote: “a committee of the United States Senate held hearings on an amendment to the higher education act. In the parade of witnesses, there were no dissenters. From many different parts of the country, representing many different organizations, they reiterated an identical woeful refrain: ‘We have been made victims!’”
The tone was varied, from undiluted bitterness to a plaintive awareness of offsetting gains. But unfailingly the complaints expressed a tone of deprivation which was also a sense of emptiness, the ache of which required stilling. America had created the void by the theft of their ancestors; now the victims needed the healing pride of ethnicity.
Handlin was speaking of the hearings on legislation that would assist ethnic groups in developing curricula on their culture and history which could be used in schools. No Mary Antins appeared to celebrate the openness of America, the pleasures and rewards of integration–which inevitably does mean the loss of the past. No Theodore Roosevelt was present to insist that that is what America expected of immigrants. The single story was becoming many stories. Black studies at the time were spreading rapidly and were soon to become a fixture in the academy, along with Latino, Asian-American, and Native-American studies. The women's movement had exploded in the universities. No one in 1971 realized what a sturdy trunk of academia it would shortly become, nor that it would be joined by gay and lesbian studies. Perhaps other forms of diversity that we are not yet conscious of will become equally sturdy growths. The one grand epic has been succeeded by many fragmentary little epics. One great theme of epic is the founding of a nation, as in The Aeneid. The new fragments of nations create epics that celebrate the destruction of a domineering and false oneness by a manyness; and we wonder whether that means also the fragmenting of a nation.
This brings us up to date in considering America as epic. The epic of the frontier closed a long time ago. Many have worried about what succeeds it. Let us project America overseas, some said, in imperialist conquest, or in fighting tyranny, or in improving the lives of other peoples. We have now withdrawn from the empire, though a few pieces remain. We face no great tyranny, and our will in facing even small tyrannies is not strong. We are now doubtful about our capacity to improve the lives of other peoples. The new frontier, we are told, must be education, or space, or good group relations. How often have we heard it said: How come we can reach the moon and not improve our cities or race relations? Clearly, it must be easier to reach the moon, and that does require heroes and is a subject of epic stature. I doubt whether the improving of group relations can replace the conquest of a continent as the subject of epic. Of course, we can live without an American epic. But that does diminish us, and it is easy to understand why some of our poets, artists, writers, and historians keep on trying.
ORIGIN AND PURPOSE OF THIS EPIC POEM
In the three year period September 1997 to September 2000 the concept, the initial framework, the organizing principle, for what became my Pioneering Over Four Epochs, as epic, found its first shaping. Both the entire corpus of my poetry and one extended poem, the one here, I came to see, to define, as epic. This epithet is intended in rather loose tribute to what has become a poem of quite extensive dimensions, at last count some two million words. The first dozen pages of this specific, this extended, poem were completed in October 1997 and the introductory essay written and ‘finalized’ in September 2000, while I was between the ages of 53 to 56. I had been a Baha’i for about forty years at the time. How long I would continue writing this poem only time would tell. If I lived to be 98, this process, this journey, within the realms of belief, was now about half over. If I did live that long, much time remained to continue the work. Time would tell, of course, just where the writing and life, would carry me.
Stephen Sicari describes how Ezra Pound “committed himself to something that he did not yet know how to achieve; moreover, he did not know what he would find along the way, what the implications of his search would be, and what material might become important to his quest.....he wanted to be able to include any possible set of events in his poem, and laboured to find a device that would allow him to change, revise, expand, and continue the journey of his life as a work of art. Whatever seemed interesting or important along his journey would have to be included and made part of the poem, not merely included but integrated into the artifice he was creating: such was his unique ambition as he began his ‘modern’ epic.” In the earliest stages of my own epic I think these words of Sicari aptly describe my own position, my view of my own epic. The nature, even the existence, of affinities between my own epic and the artistic forms called epics some three millennia ago did concern me, though it may concern students of this work should they one day arise.-Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, 1991, p. 198.
28 March 2002
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon acquired the initial inspiration and conceptualisation for the magnum opus of their lives: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Three years ago I began to think of writing my own epic poem and fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. The poetic work of my own life, my epic, I have come to see in terms of all the poetry I have written, the poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library and what I have entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
I have begun to see all of this poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print, or the Confucian Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and written over more than fifty years(1916 to 1968), are a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of my poetry. The conceptualization of my work as epic has come long after its beginnings. My poetry slowly defined itself as an epic after half a dozen years of intense and extensive writing and many more years, perhaps as many as thirty, of occasional writing. I began to see my poetic opus as one immense poem. I like to think this poetry gives voice to the Baha’i culture I’ve inhabited all these years.
Pound was twenty-nine when he began to write his epic. I was fifty three when I began to see all my poetry, poetry I began writing at the age of thirty-six or, perhaps, as far back as eighteen, as part of one immense epic. Pound was acutely conscious that the cultural, the historical tradition had broken down and he was searching for a new basis, “new laws of divine justice.”1 His task was to reassemble this tradition or,at least,search in history where not only the fall from innocence was located but also the locus for the process of redemption could be found. I, too, was aware of this breakdown. I, too, felt the need to reassemble history, not as Pound did, but rather to find truths which were perennial but not archaic within the broad framework of a new Revelation from God, a Revelation which defined and described the continuities and was Itself the basis for redemption.
Written now, for the most part, over a little more than eight years(1992-2000), the epic I am writing covers a pioneering life of 39 years. It also covers much more. I have now sent 39 booklets to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of this pioneering venture. But the epic journey that is at the base of this poetic opus is not only a personal one of over forty years back to the time I became a Baha’i, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah, which has its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history have their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences. Generally, the way my narrative imagination conceives of this epic is itself an attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life, as far as possible, to that of the religion to which I belong. I have sought and found, in recent years, a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference and of a certainty mixed with and defining itself by the presence of its polar opposite, doubt.
Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds of battle in their contemporary and historical manifestations. It involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause as it has expanded across the planet. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, are found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information-giving lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in my inner life more than in its external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view.
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. The Muses were the inspiration of artists. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing poetic and artistic tradition of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leaven that leavens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.”(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 1956, p.161.) In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings “the Supreme Concourse to the door of life” and “opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Source Unknown) Much could be said about inspiration but I shall leave the topic with the above brief analysis and comment.
Mary Gibson says in Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians(Cornell U, 1995, p.96) that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahá'í Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its embryonic form in the last years of the second decade of this century, a form that would in time manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy.
At the heart of my own epic is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from a belief in an embryonic World Order, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. Wallace Stevens’ sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice”(Jay Parini, editor, the Columbia History of American Poetry, Columbia UP, NY, 1993, p.543) is also at the centre of my conceptual approach. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a didactic intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape is in no way predetermined. In many respects, this long poem is purely speculative philosophy, attempting to affirm a romantic wholeness on a fragmented world, something Walter Crane tried to do in the 1920s. This long poem, or seemingly endless series of poems, is an immense accumulation of fragments, like the world itself, but they are held together by a unifying vision. So,too, was Pound’s epic.
Pound was intent on developing an “ideal polity of the mind”. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbedded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly; the groups I have worked in and with have been small. My style, my poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” Also, for Pound, was a new world order based on the poet’s own visionary experience. It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain old ground from the novelists. But, unlike Pound, I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future. The visionary experience that will guide world order is not mine, but that derived from the Central Figures of my Faith.
Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman often merges himself with the reader. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. He can be looked at in two ways: there is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even to attempt, to represent an entire epoch, this private/public dichotomy is an important underlying feature of this epic poem (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, Harcourt, Brace and Co., NY, 1994, pp.447-78). I also like to think that, while this poetry has a focus on my own experience, this experience is part and parcel of the experience of my coreligionists around the world.
In my poetic opus, my poetic epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the reader should sense a merging of reader and writer, a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in those halcyon and terrifying years of the French Revolution.
There is much more than verse-making here, though. Here is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. It seemed to wrap and fill my being during my pioneering life, the process beginning as far back as 1953 when my mother first heard of the Faith. Indeed, I came to see myself as part of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called that “heavenly illumination” which flowed to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and would “adorn the pages of history” (Citadel of Faith, p.121). My story inevitably became part of that larger story of the Baha’i Faith and, again, that larger story which is history itself. Stephen Sicari suggests that the structural principle in Pound is “the search for unity.”3 If I had to define the structural principle behind my own sharply fragmented, multifarious material with its vivid multiplicity and diversity, it would be my attempt to express the unity I found and that I believe lies behind and in the world of creation.
For it is the narrative imagination that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make it honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, knowledgeable. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words. I leave behind me traces, things in the present which stand for absent things in the past. The phenomenon of the trace, Paul Racour writes, is similar to the relationship between lived time and astronomical time, a relationship at the basis of calendar time. For history is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it (Paul Ricoeur, “Narrative Time”, Philosophy Today, Winter 1985). And so, I bequeath my traces.
The traces I bequeath are also, to continue an important theme of the epic tradition, those of the wandering hero. It is a hero, a wanderer, with many dimensions described in many contexts. It is a journey of redemption to union with God, as it was for Dante. It is a journey of adventure and finding my home, as it was for Odysseus. It is a journey that attempts to embody my vision of the Baha’i world order, as the poet Virgil tried to articulate his vision of Augustus’ order during the crucial years of the establishment of the Roman Empire(29-19 BC). It is a personal epic, a personal journey, an inner journey, within the tradition of William Wordsworth and his Prelude. There are elements of the Miltonian epic here with the foregrounding of the author, his weaknesses and his strengths, in what is par excellence, a theological-religious journey. And there is the monumental journey of Baha’u’llah over forty years which acts as a metaphorical base for my own journey. The wanderer I draw on is, in other words, a flexible, elastic, figure who allows me to include in my epic poem virtually anything that I want to include in the text.
And so the wanderer that I describe in my epic is a composite. But this wanderer is not in search of the Path; rather, he has found the Path and the wandering takes place on the Path. The wandering through the sea of historical, sociological, literary and other texts, books and articles, etc. is all part of the experience, the context, the definition, of the Path, for this particular journeyman. For the reader will come across many references, many texts, many quotations here. They are laid on a Baha’i-paradigm-map; I am not alone, as Pound was, relying on his own wit and courage with no framework of guidance and meaning within which to sift history’s and experience’s immense chaos into some order. I find that the actual writing of the poem assumes characteristics of the epic journey itself. This was true for Pound, for Dante and, in all likelihood, the mythical Homer.
It may be that my journey on this Path is only half over and that this epic found its initial conceptualization at the mid-point of my Baha’i life. If I live to be ninety-five, my journey within this framework of belief has just passed the half way mark (age 15 to 95, a period of eighty years, with age 55 the half-way point). So I like to think that what I have now, after only eight years of intense writing of poetry, is what Pound had: “a dazzling array of finely wrought fragments straining in their own unique way to achieve order and unity”4 through the deployment and development of this image of the wanderer in its many forms. That is what I like to think. Time will tell, though, if I can sustain and define in precise and dazzling terms the structural, the organizational, principle enunciated above. This structural principle is based on a view of my poetry as: the expression of my experience, my sense, my understanding, in the context of my wandering, my journey and of the concept of the Oneness of Mankind. Can I continue to develop this epic, beyond the start I have given it, to a satisfying conclusion in the years ahead?
1 Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, 1991, p.10.
2 Robert Nisbet, Social Change and Social History, 1969. In this book the sociologist Nisbet describes the metaphor of change and its pervasiveness since the age of the Greeks(1200-400 BC).
3 Stephen Sicari, Pound’s Epic Ambition: Dante and the Modern World, State University of New York Press, 1991, p.x.
4 ibid., p. xiii.
28 March 2002
At the centre of this wondrous epochal shift
is a cultural story of saints, martyrs and
messengers and endless connective tissue
with past and present. Heroic exemplars,
deep in history back to the enlightenment,
say, in Bahrain, the core of the vision
with the force to slowly actualise a reality,
new political and social harmonies
and disharmonies. My own ordering of history
here in its legitimate and beauteous form
with law and design, touchstones of order,
writ large across chaotic and energised
multiplicity, the endless disasters of time,
extinctions and near-extinctions,
the human slaughters and the pain
as I connect, in situ, my subjectivity
and history with meaning—yes, yes,
a place of refuge, partly in desire,
in mind or imagination and in the Beauty
of the Unseen shining forth above the horizon
of creation1 and in creating myself through
commitment to a complex personal synthesis,
through a relationship with myself
in a fascinating and difficult elaboration2,
inventing, producing myself with this poetic art.
And all these endless particulars cohere,
far beyond a personal order,
an autobiographical imposition
from this finite brain
in a dramaturgical translation,
a richly allusive, highly imagistic in-gathering,
not simply for some love of nature,
but to unlock a beauty and a truth,
to taste a choice Wine
with the fingers of might and power
and slowly establish a spiritual kingdom
in a physical form-order and beauty linked,
power and love united yonder, world's away,
around history's bend. Hesitation and doubt
I have heard and seen by gallon measure,
things that throw consternation into the hearts of all men—
and so the showers of tests come to pass
to free us from the prison-cage of self and desire,
to help us attain the meads of heavenly delight,
with gifts from the Unknowable Friend,
those shudders of awe that are mostly a quiet shimmer
and shake, a tightness, dynamic tension;
all my days surrounded by this growth,
this organism, two generations now, incipient,
beginnings of a System, potentialities
and interrelationships of component parts
only partially understood, often like sinking
in a miasmal ooze, but a good terror, this one,
as we have inched our consequential and necessary way
toward a humbling summit only seen,
with the secret of conquering a greater world than ourselves
only little known, and so we prayed. I seem to have prayed
for years, over three epochs, and then ran into the door
of meditation and it opened into another world.
I have seen devotion, beyond human strength,
exhausting, making heroes of many men.
I watched my moods like a cat as I pursued this path,
convinced of the significance of my days sub specie aeternitatis
at the core of my art, my poetic, the oneness of my experience.
I trust its connection with the Royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty.
I have thrown my life away in this great cause
but, as my arm has arched and flung, there was
down in my heart something sung, some voice
that met my joy and tears in great fatigue with all the years.
Truth here was what one long endured with persistence,
feet and passion sure, some burning vitality of mind
and heart, an intensity that once threatened to tear me apart.
I had my time with sexual heat, a blazing contact,
direct and real. It nearly sucked my life away with lust
the core of search. It tried to kill my loneliness and isolation.
Beyond, beyond the horrors and fears, to make some meanings
of our years we turn to sex, to self, to God
so as not to wither on this sod. And me no less.
And if, by some mysterious dispensation of Providence,
we feel we can play a part in changing the world,
not just get a grip on it and so endure it with a taste of joy,
with a taste of destiny minimising that everlasting self-concern,
the fierce inner pressure of problems with no solution
or with just transient existence, we can live with our guilt,
with sin, with our evil doings having our heart
melting all our life. This is the feeling of redemption.
And so there is a grimness here, and redeeming belief,
supernatural sanction. There has been a speed, a power,
a talent, a fertility-one matchless time-after forty years of
wandering between two holy years-a single human self
struggling to become what he is capable of becoming,
to know who he is, a lot of pennies dropping without
an endless recitation of the quotidian, unremarkable fact.
Some rich burgeoning, some rich hermeneutic tradition
opening up for all to see, read and understand,
like some elaborate systems theory which defines social reality
in terms of relations: right back to his birth, the birth of the universe
and endless other births and deaths and relationships
among relationships, networks of information that only I can bring
into some integration, dynamic analytic distinctions
of complexity, instability, quantity and quality...for this
universal human community, the end and object
of the highest moral endeavour, has at its root needs
and interests universally similar. We must free ourselves
from history’s conceptual jails in this remade world
and keep remaking it.
And so an intensified global interconnectedness,
a post-international, post-industrial transformation
is taking place under our eyes and, what, three
hundred million will have starved from 1969 to 1999,
since Paul Ehrlich wrote his Population Bomb?
Global historical civilization, being born amidst
chaos and middle class complacency, is reconstituting
the world as one place. Do we not need, therefore,
some universal truths, perennial but not archaic?
Do we not need some philosophical stance with
which to view modernity and post-modernity?
Some sense of the ultimate becoming, some teleological
evolutionary scheme? Some utopian vision
within which to frame the struggle? Yes, yes, yes:
some magnetising value core, firey furnace,
magnetising our convergent efforts,
as Durkheim might have said.3
And while I have answered “yes’ to all of this
since at least the days when we sent the first
men into space and since the Zeal of the Lord
passed on, I have enjoyed and feared a constant
swing between ecstacy and exhaustion, the heavy-
weight and lightning speed, galactic, radiance in the
smallest of patches and dull emptiness: overwhelmed,
dazzled and awed, a rush of images, a flow of phrases,
needing this epic form to express the burgeoning,
the out-pouring, the excess, the prison of the longue duree,
the patterned, the inchoate, the world beyond
the commonplace and the self-evidentnesses of view;
needing synthesis, mediation, unification of ideas
among the children of men.
But my sense of the beauty everywhere has been
so long clouded by so many things, emotions,
intensities, the pulse of a greater dynamism beats
with a heavier heart. The Bridge, the basis of that
new dynamism, is that new unity, innocence and
freedom which we first saw in Shaykh Ahmad
when he left his home in northeast Arabia in 1794;
when Robespierre was in power and Pitt was the
Prime Minister of England. Trying to create a tradition
where none existed, the Committee of Public Safety,
guillotined 10,000 seen as some kind of moral revolution
in the making, after Rousseau. But the moral revolution
that would last for centuries was proceeding to Najaf and
Karbila to begin its long road, becoming the leading mujtahid:
the Bridge was an idea, a terror struck in the hearts of the Sufis,
while that other terror issued dechristianization decrees and
relentlessly uprooted public order. And so this poem begins
in the early dawn of this modern age, over two hundred years,
with appropriate quantities of analysis and introspection,
bewildered and bedazzled as I am by it all, pushing through
all the ramifications of thought, burning myself up, candle-like,
drop-by-drop the wick will come in time to only a pool of wax
on this table and I shall be gone, across the Bridge, home.
History’s weakness and my own is found here
amidst the blaze of visionary sense
and an infinitude of correspondences:
a mystic on the loose, synthesizing, mediating,
watching the slow realization of vision in action,
seeing this Bridge and these White Buildings4
across a span from ancient Greece and Rome
to our own age, this one on a hill. This bridge
takes you up and down to ideals as remote
as Arctic winds but as close as your life’s vein.
But I do not try to speak to a whole culture, here,
Hart, and its infinite fragmentation, only to a coterie
on its way to the fulfilment of His vision
set in a world of diamond words, sweet-scented streams
of His eternity, an orderly matrix of values.
This is no diversionary flight, scheme, temporary assuaging
of a longing, magical society of dreams, life’s flickering grace,
but some battle for the conquest of men’s souls
but oh so gently, as the teacher distils eternity
from the transitory with a spark of heroism amidst decadence,
a filtering of the harsh refuse of modernity,
conscious of a new savagery in the midst of civilization,
the endlessly arbitrary and fortuitous, the hasty grasp
and exploitation of ephemera, of the momentary.
And so the teacher learns not to take the fleeting moment
too seriously, to be detached, while at the same time pouring
forth all his concentration into the thing in front of his nose.
If the pioneer can do this he has the world by the tail—
and boredom, distraction and an over-excited worldliness
are problems far beyond him. For he has new nourishing food—
the food of knowledge—duration with a purpose
as deep as the ocean and as wide as the sea,
realising the ideal lines will be completed
beyond this momentary reality. And so I capture it all
in this written portraiture, capture the fleeting,
the transient and the eternal, the inevitably fragmentary
phenomenal world in a metaphysical unity,
gradually letting it ripen-or it captures me,
and I warm it over, gestate it for some future public.
In this forest of symbols, voluptuous labyrinth,
sometimes ghostly landscape of damnable
and not-so-damnable pleasures and professions
we must close our eyes to luxury and attachments
to the material world and long, as I have long longed,
for eternal life. The real department store,
the primal landscape of consumption,
the secret labyrinth of dreams
is the jewelled wisdom of this lucid Faith.5
End of Part One
When I first came to Perth in 1987-8 I began a series of biographical sketches. By 1992 I had ceased making these sketches. On May 17th 1991 I sent three volumes of notes to the Darwin LSA and ceased any work on the “History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT and Northwest Australia”. That effort had contained a good deal of biographical material I had written from 1982 to 1987. About one decade, then, of biographical work came to an end in that Holy year.
There were several reasons for this: (I) the response to what I had written seemed so far from enthusiastic as to be possibly determental to the Cause, in spite of the best of British intentions; (ii) my new interest in autobiography, essays and poetry, emerging clearly by 1992 and (iii) the difficulty of getting material from the people I did get to know in Perth. There seemed to be a positive disinclination on the part of most people I met to have anything about them written at all. Over the first five years in Perth I wrote approximately ten pages of material on several people I had got to know.
I began collecting notes and photocopies of information about biographies and, by early 1996, I had collected some sixty pages of interesting resource material. Biographies began appearing, about the time I began writing extensively in the early 1980s: in the Baha’i community. I was not interested in taking on any serious book-length exercise, but I was interested in writing short character sketches. Most of what I was reading about biography applied to major studies.
Like Andre Maurois, perhaps the world’s greatest biographer thusfar, I was searching for the formula for the short character sketch. Perhaps I should read collections of essays. I have and I will. In the meantime some of the literature on biography is useful to me in defining my perspectives. J.A. Symonds, for example, says there is an “undefinable flavour of personality...which repels or attracts, and is at the very root of love or dislike.(Virginia Woolf, Collected Essays, Vol.2, The Hogarth Press, London, 1967, p.273) Virginia Woolf says we get glimpses of that personality, but never really find it. The vast majority of lives remain nameless and traceless to history, she goes on.(p.221)
She traces a brief history of biography, but it is not my intention to review that history here. I think I have, to some extent, acheived in some of the sketches I have written, the intensity of poetry and something of the excitement of drama in the context of fact. Perhaps I will rediscover this process in future efforts. I am only at the beginning of my efforts, as biography itself, as Woolf points out, is only at the beginning of its journey. I shall strive, in the years ahead, to make some good mini-biography, if that is an appropriate term for my end products, my outlines, sketches, my fertile facts, my creative facts. Perhaps something can live on in the depths of the mind, some bright scene, some startling recognition. Perhaps something useful, significant, can be found; perhaps, like Boswell, I can invest the ordinary facts with “a kind of hyperactuality and heightened import.” (Wimsatt, Images of Samuel Johnson, p.359)
Perhaps a man should not live longer than what he can meaningfully record; like a farmer, he should plant only what he can gather in. Writing biographies can give me another feather in my bow, so to speak. Thusfar, the initial enthusiasm has become a laborious drudgery and so I have discontinued the exercise of writing biography. I am so disinclined to participate much social intercourse that it is not surprising that writing biographies does not take place. I felt a strong affinity to Nathaniel Hawthorne and particularly the description of his life in The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Vol.xvp.61) Here George B. Loring discusses Hawthorne’s anti-social proclivities which may be a useful basis for novel writing but not necessarily for biography writing.
The above will serve as a general introduction to my efforts to write biography and one day, when the need arises, I will revise the above.
10 January 1996
MORE MATERIAL FOR FRANCES GREGORY
Even though the household experienced much anxiety, as a result of the ill-health of his parents, Daniel went about his life quietly, without complaining, without being demanding as children often are and trying to be helpful. His style of helpfulness was not obtrusive, nor emotionally gushy but, rather, quiet and unassuming.
For the most part, this meant that he integrated well into his new school and community environments.
On graduating Daniel went on to work with the Water Corporation of Western Australia, with Australia's Maritime College and in 2003 with S.G.S. Environmental Services. In each of these organizations, employing as they do many people, Daniel continued, like so many Bahá'ís in western countries in the last several epochs of the Formative Age, to be the only Bahá'í on the payrole. After two decades of this 'organizational pioneering' Daniel was used to being both different--because of his religion--and being a valued member of staff. This is not always easy, of course. But Daniel has passed many tests and, inevitably, there wil be many more as he finishes his youth and his adulthood travelling on as we all do on life's long journey.
Daniel has been the only Bahá'í child or youth at school or in the community in: Launceston, Zeehan, Smithton, Katherine, South Hedland, Belmont and George Town. For a dozen years, in his teens and early twenties, Daniel lived in Perth Western Australia. Here he was part of a wider metropolitan community of over 1000 Bahá'ís spread over two dozen communities. Perth in the 1990s had some impressive Bahá'í communities. Here Daniel was just one of dozens of youth. This feeling of community was central to his joining the Bahá'í Faith in 1992.
Being in such a large Bahá'í community also presented new problems, new tests, to someone who had spent his life as the lone Bahá'í in many towns and cities. They were the kinds of tests many of us experience. Often the keenest tests we experience arise out of our relationship with the Bahá'í community itself. This was true for Daniel. To be happy and confident is perhaps the keenest spiritual test any of us can meet. Being fundamentally assured and happy people does not mean that we live without anxiety. Daniel faced many anxious moments and days in Perth, tested as he was with the frustrations of community life: people who do things you don't like, who behave in ways that cause you inner tensions and frustrations.
When I told Daniel I was preparing this information for one of the editors of the Mona Foundation magazine, he was at first disinclined for me to write anything at all. This is the normal reaction of someone who does not want to attract attention to himself. Such people are found again and again in the Bahá'í community. But he said "don't show me; just send it in." And so I have.
More than twenty years ago now, in 1983 or 1984, I wrote my first short biography associated as it was with The History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. These short biographies are, for the most part, in the archives of the Bahá'í Council of the NT. Some of these short sketches of human personality are here in this file, sketches I wrote in the mid 1990s. They are now part of my larger work Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section IV.
In addition the notes in this file on the subject of biography, which I began to collect twelve years ago in 1993, have begun to assume a far greater extent due to the resources on the Internet. Perhaps, in time, I may write more biographical material, hopefully material in greater depth of expression than I have already and hopefully from a more fertile base than I have been able to discover in my two attempts, first in the 1980s and then in the 1990s.
Whatever biographies I write, they will be part of Section IV of my larger work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. This biography file has developed into a more substantial resource in recent years. It provides some balance to all the autobiographical material I have collected in other files. The material here I hope will prove useful in my efforts to write biographies in the years ahead, as part of Section IV of my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs and as biographies in their own right.
June 9th 2005
HAVE YOU SEEN THE BAHA'I IN MDA?
I remember back in 1962, when I was eighteen, I went to hear Vic Damone sing at a theatre in Toronto Canada. Vic was a Bahá'í and a popular singer. I was a Bahá'í youth. Canada had about a thousand Bahá'ís at the time, perhaps a few hundred more. Two or three years later I heard Seals and Crofts on one of their first albums of popular music. Dizzy Gillespie followed in the seventies and eighties with his trumpet and his jazz. By the nineties several dozen Bahá'í artists from all around the world had produced CDs that I enjoyed. As the millennium turned its corner Bahá'ís were entering the world of popular culture through the window of sport and the creative and performing arts: choreography, composing, play writing, comedy, writing, dancing, concertizing, acting. Some were heard to say: The Bahá'í Faith is entering the cultural mainstream at last!
I'm sure a study of the presence of the Bahá'í Faith in popular, mass, culture would
reveal more than this brief sketch of my own experience. But the recent presence of Layla Young, a Bahá'í character in the Australian drama MDA, made me reflect on the many manifestations of the Cause in what you might call the culture industry in the half century I have been associated with the Faith:1953-2002. I can not deal with all of the major and minor art forms in which the Bahá'í Faith has been expressed in one way or another. For that would make this short article too lengthy. But I can focus on this recent characterization of a Bahá'í in MDA and attempt to evaluate its existence to the Bahá'í community in Australia.
Thusfar, with three episodes completed, the part played by this energetic and carefree receptionist in MDA has been so minimal that whatever Bahá'í content there is one could only define as subliminal, although the character is clearly likeable, intelligent, articulate and altogether charming. Of course, there may be more to come, more that will have something to say about the Bahá'í Faith. Perhaps it does not matter, Layla is good advertising all on her own.
The portrayal of the actions of fictional characters in dramatic situations has been a mainstay of entertainment worldwide for thousands of years. It remains today a major part of most people's lives in our industrialized world supporting an immense industry in the print and electronic media. There was one drama in the top ten TV programs in the USA in 1952, three in 1972 and seven in 1992.1 Courses in media and popular culture provide interesting analyses of why this art form of popular culture has endured and how it influences our attitudes, dispositions and behaviours. It is not my purpose to delve into what has become a 'literature on popular culture'2 of seemingly unlimited proportions. But I may make several observations on the character and role of Layla that draws on some of the analysis of drama and popular culture.
Australian popular culture is the culture of the masses. Unlike what some call "the high arts" which only a relative few take part in, popular culture comprises the amusements that occupy the nation's leisure time. They are widely diffused and approved of by the majority. They include: movies, the stage, televison, the radio, journalism, fictional writings and many other forms of expression that appeal to the majority. Recent studies, in the 1990s in Australia, indicate more people take part in 'arts activities' than 'sport.' It seems hard to believe.
Television broadcasts a number of fundamentally different programme types, styles and genres. Media programs and cultural studies are awash with explanations and commentary on human nature, political systems, social experience and on western and global society. I do not want to enter into the endless material on these pathways, but rather to focus on drama.
Drama programmes, excluding movies, took up 27 per cent of all televison time in 1987 and 40 per cent of the peak period 6 to 10 pm and throughout the 1990s these percentages increased. In the mid-1980s, for example, the Seven Network held the lead in most ratings thanks to Sons and Daughters at 7 pm four days a week and Country Practice at 7:30 twice a week. The Sullivans had once done the same for the Nine Network, as did Number 96 for Channel Ten and its affiliates in the mid-1970s.3 Some see drama in a position of primacy in television.
Drama has been around since the 1930s in radio first, aimed at housewives and sponsored by soap manufacturers. Hence the term soap-operas. Drama deals with issues that confront audiences in real life. It functions, so one writer says, to provide moral support and confirmation of community values. It trys to show us, among other things, that the problems we face are faced by others. If producers are remote from or irrelevant to the genuine affairs of their audience they lose them.
The case that the best Australian drama has been an agent for reinforcing important social values and for fostering social change in civilized directions is overwhelming.4 Of course there are glaring omissions and silences within the tradition of drama: Australian Aborigines, for example, until the 1990s, hardly got a look in.
Obviously Australian sport, comedy and drama offer diversion, distraction, escape and entertainment, vicarious experience in peoples' lives, fictionalized and otherwise. Large numbers of Australians prefer to watch Australian made top rating drama, among other shows, than to do anything else in the evenings. Commercial stations still pull in bigger audiences than the generally up-market ABC offerings. There's a big audience out there watching some sterotypical Bahá'í behaving in a way Bahá'ís are supposed to behave or not supposed to behave as the case may be. What little there is of Layla is, from my point of view, good advertising. Even if one were critical, I'd say she's better there than not there.
Tad Friend calls drama "the most pervasive, powerful and cherished form of media output."5 Amusement, distraction and the satisfaction of curiosity are legitimate functions of culture. Various features of our lives lead us to seek out vicarious experience in the lives of glamorized fictional characters. Watching drama has both functional and dysfunctional qualities which we won't go into here. The products of media, of popular culture, are often inconsistent, contradictory and shifting. So if drama gives form to an aspect of culture, like the Bahá'í Faith, by means of some role in a series of TV productions, it is just about inevitable that many aspects of the full meaning of that item of culture will not be represented.6 In fact, so much of TV programming, rather than informing people about something, drains out, foreshortens, neglects or hides the real. The essential meaning is not there and the total meaning often becomes impossible. So…don't be too disappointed if the Bahá'í Faith doesn't quite get the coverage you were hoping for.
The goal of entertainment and amusement often makes the task of deciphering information very difficult. After watching the events in the 'real' world in the evening news we identify more with the fictional stories which follow. Although we all can separate the two forms they blend in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways.7 Drama becomes news and news drama; dramatic items are integrated with news commentary in TV news; news reporters become detectives and moral guardians. Fictionalized characters like Layla become commentators on our real world from a Bahá'í perspective. Layla becomes a national Bahá'í icon whether we want her or not. In this case, if her role continues to be minimal, this icon will be one of lesser intensity. This MDA icon becomes a lesser luminary in the heavens of media personalities.
The news never solves the crimes of society and so it never quite makes it as drama. Drama often 'solves problems,' but never quite makes it as news. So the icon becomes part fantasy, part reality, part fact and part fiction. To have arrived in the popular media is better than not to have arrived at all. But you pay a price. The Bahá'í Faith becomes not only a legitimate part of Australian society; it becomes legitimate. For the media's role is, in some ways, to grand legitimacy, to determine the agenda.
If we feel a distance from the news reporters and readers, as people often do with a set of complex news items, evening drama brings us closer. We can solve problems vicariously and then we can sleep in peace. So goes one of the theories of the role of the evening drama. I'm not sure how accurate that view is any more, but it has been a common one in media literature in the last several decades.
If the role of commercial TV is to serve as our society's god or should I say Mammon, its principal virtue is to maintain and foster material prosperity. So another common argument goes. This entertainment we all enjoy is paid for by business and industry and, in the case of the ABC, the government. Ian Mills argues that altars, pulpits, pews and halls have been the four principal physical features of Western churches for more than a 1000 years.8 These features have now been transferred largely to the home. The TV box takes up all of these functions with drama having a special place as part of what might be called 'the expressive arts.' Many theorists argue that these expressive arts deal with some of the functions that religion used to deal with for millions in our secular society today.
It is not the content or substance, some emphasize, but the form that is the essence of TV drama. Just as there is an apparent neutrality and detachment in the evening news, or in drama, in reality there is an advocacy of a dominant ethos and social structure, an ideologically predetermined mode of presentation. The evening drama reinforces and validates the TV news and makes its problems seem more solveable. Both news and drama are essentially extended advertisements for the very society we all live in, or vehicles for questioning that society. So goes yet another common argument from the literature on popular culture or media studies.
About 1970 I was in a movie theatre with my first wife and suddenly, out of the blue, some character in the movie turns to another and says: have you ever heard of the Bahá'í Faith? There was no answer. The scene cut to another set. The effect, I thought at the time, was almost subliminal. Thirty years later the presence of the Cause in the electronic media has become significantly more than this blip. The exposure, the presence, of the Cause in the wider society is more extensive now due to its continuing rise from obscurity.
With the exhaustion of what some call modernity, with the demise of Soviet Communism, with the tedium of the unrestrained self, with the meaninglessness of much of the political chant, there are strong indications that we are at the end of an era. The world is groping for a new vocabulary. The Bahá'í Faith can be found at the edge of the clearing with its new vision, with its sense of the sacred, with its immense capacity to deal with the existential questions of our time and respond to the deepest feelings of people everywhere, with its new institutions. In the centre of this clearing is Layla, holding up a flag, or is it a Bahá'í book, or is it the role of receptionist in MDA?
If, in watching TV, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death, as Neil Postman at New York University argued in 1985; if our cultural life has become a perpetual round of entertainment, enough to bring us close to 'culture-death;' if we have become addicted to our technologies; if the future belongs to the new round of drama in the 1990s and at the turn of the millennium like: The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Roseanne, Something In the Air, Sex and the City and Friends, etc., these are other issues not to be examined here. For the media confronts us with many issues not the least of which is what is the value of Layla in this second year of the fifth epoch?
1 Tad Friend, "Sitcoms Seriously," Esquire, March 1993, pp.112-24.
2 Popular Culture became a subject for the first time at Bowling Green State University in 1977 David Jacobson informs us in "Pop Culture Studies Turns 25," Internet, 3 July 2002.
3 Keith Windshuttle, The Media, Penguin Australia Ltd., 1989.
5 Friend, op.cit.,p.114.
6 Roland Barthes, Mythologies,Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1957.
7 Ian Mills, "Pulpit Drama: The Mythic Forms of TV News Programmes,"
The News in Focus, Patricia Edgar, editor, MacMillan, 1980, p.56.
You might like to consider the words of Horace Holley from his book Religion For Mankind(1966:1956) on the subject of conscience. I will simply quote his words here and leave them with you for Talisman’s archive of historical documents, reflecting as they do an historical perspective not found in many other places and providing its current readership an enlightening and not-so-enlightening body of information and insight, as most sites do:--Horace Holley
I will begin quoting from his chapter “Religious Education For A Peaceful Society,”(p.117). Holley writes: “Many persons feel that in man there is a power of consceicne that will unfailingly, like a compass needle, point to the right goal. If in any individual case, this conception believes, the power of conscience fails to operate, it is because the human being himself has betrayed his own divine endowment. He has heard the voice but refused to heed. he has seen the right course of action, but preferred to take the evil path.
If we examine this contention as applied to ourselves and others familiar to us over a considerable period of time, we find that conscience, as a faculty, cannot be understood by reference to any such naive and conventional view. The individsula has no private wire to God. the dictates or impulses we call conscience indicate different courses of action at different times. The truth, the law, the appropriate [rinciple or the perfect expression of love is not, when wanted, conveyed to our minds like a photograph printed form a negative developed in the subconscious self. No individual can afford to rely for guidance in all vital affairs on the testimony offered from within.
“Individual conscience,” Holley continues for several more pages, “appears to be compounded of many ingredients.” I will not type out here all the lines from these several pages. “Conscience,” Holley emphasizes, “is not a form of wisdom or knowledge.” He says it is like “a mirror hung in a dark room.” I leave the rest of Holley’s words for readers to look up. there have been several printings of his book.
The literature on the subject of conscience has, in recent years, like the literature on so many topics, become burgeoning. Talisman readers would be advised to place Douglas Martin’s words on the subject of individual conscience in a wider perspective, a perspective of a psychological and historical literature that throws a great deal of light on Martin’s words and those of Holley’s, before they watch Martin get intellectually hung on several quotations from his recent talks.
"The Extremes of Our Commitment: A Review of Jamshid Fanaian's Twilight," Sunrise Book Promotions, 1999, Ron Price.
Reading Jamshid Fanaian's book Twilight reminded me again and again of Roger White's poem Lines from Last Letters. So, I will open this short commentary on Fanaian's work with this poem.
LINES FROM LAST LETTERS
On reading letters written in 1981 by Bahá'í prisoners in Iran, to their families, within the hour of their execution for refusing to recant their faith.
How simply the fictive hero becomes the real;
How gladly with proper words the soldier dies
If he must......
I leave a wristwatch and a blanket; please collect them.....
Brought to the extremes of our commitment
let us not speak of torture but say
death simplifies our gestures
pries us from abstractions.
The cloak and flourish put aside we seek
a humble order, a final dignity,
our testament the cordial instruction
of vacationing householder to milkman.
If I have offended anyone I ask forgiveness......
Finality too has its protocol.
If we die well and decorously
it is our sanctioned custom.
We are reconciled to our convention
though noone sees
and the world's cameras and microphones
distractedly avert their glance.
We have heroic models in these matters,
know our end has meaning if only light and shade
come clear again in a blurred age.
Reasonable men desire to leave memories
and we are reasonable men,
moderate even in our regret and gladness.
Death might blush to call us from our innocent concerns
but nothing checks that wastrel's rasher whims.
Kiss the children for me and beg them not to mourn.......
How simple it all is, the human pang
domesticated in a penstroke.
Even the callous might not deplore
our final modest question,
the one we cannot put to God:
My dearest wife, are you well pleased with me?
Lord, Lord! Accept these as the proper words.
Apologies for using such a long poem to introduce this commentary on what is essentially quite a simple story. Fanaian's story is simple but it has many complexities. In many ways it is the story of the experience of the Bahá'í community in Iran after the revolution in 1979. It is a story with its tragedy, its romance, its interplay of relationships. It is the story of people brought to the extreme of their commitments.
Fanaian, an Iranian himself, seeks, it seems to me, as White puts it in this poem, "a humble order, a final dignity." He seeks this order and dignity, I think to myself as I read, through the architecture of his book, his design, his narrative line. I don't feel any strutting and stridence, any fretting and fulminating in the author's psyche, although I'm sure that from time to time he has had his battles, his intense struggles with life and with himself. I feel that for Fanaian, and for the Bahá'ís, the "end has meaning." Light and shade do, in fact, come clear in a blurred age. At least for some; at least for the beleaguered community of Bahá'ís in Iran, beleaguered for more than a century and a half.
I'm intentionally not going to tell you the story here. It is a familiar enough one to Bahá'ís. But it is a story worth telling for it is rarely, if ever, told in a fictionalized, novelistic form. Mostly, the story comes at the Bahá'ís and the world in the form of news reports. The first one came into my life in 1955. Why I was only a little chap and the Bahá'í community in Canada where I lived was just as little back then. The news was a report of persecutions in Iran in the mid-fifties not unlike those of 1979 and after.
Sometimes the Bahá'í story is told as a slice of history like in Iran's Secret Pogrom by Geoffrey Nash(Suffolk, 1982). Sometimes Bahá'ís memorialise the tragedies as in A Cry From the Heart by William Sears(Oxford, 1982). Sometimes we find a historical/sociological analysis emphasising the resistance of Bahá'ís such as the one by Fereshteh Bethel(A dissertation in United States International Union, 1980). Sometimes specific policies and mechanisms of oppression are examined such as that by Douglas Martin in Middle East Focus, 1982.
Generally, though, Fanaian's book is the story of the Bahá'í community in Iran responding dynamically and with spiritual elan, despite the methodical plan by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to uproot it entirely. In the process the Bahá'í community has been transformed into a more cohesive one. This cohesiveness could be the subject of a follow-up book if Fanaian continues his interest in the subject. He is getting on in years. I've only met him twice in four years and for only a few minutes each time. I don't really know him well. But I liked his book and generally I don't read fictionalized accounts of anything.
This book was but another response of the Bahá'ís in Iran, in the world, to the cruel tests they have experienced in recent years: economic pressures, burnings of shops, farms, homes, arrests, efforts to force recantations, death and the threat of death. These are a resourceful people and, perhaps, resurrected from what the Bahá'ís call the Heroic Age. There is no doubt Fanaian feels a sense of history. You might like to try his book on for size to get a sense of this history and, more importantly, a sense of recent events in Iran in the last quarter-century.
6 June 2003
THE TWO HATCHERS: ON LOVE
The Law of Love Enshrined: Selected Essays, George Ronald, Oxford, 1996 is a collection of essays by John and William Hatcher. The title gives some idea of the content of this book: the subject is love especially as expressed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. In fact, though, if there is a common theme to these essays it is the question how do we know something, how do we know it spiritually speaking? Nearly all of these articles have been published elsewhere, and in the case of some of William Hatcher's essays they have appeared in slightly revised forms numerous times. The difference that these two brothers offer us in their approach provides an interesting contrast. While William Hatcher utilizes the rational tools of a logician to establish some of the central doctrines of faith, John Hatcher uses the more holistic approach of one trained in the humanities. Given these two very different approaches, the result is a varied mix of material that gives readers a range of useful insights into the subject of love. -Ron Price.
The Passionate Artist
Paper delivered at a Bahá'í Studies Conference on 'Creative Inspiration' in Melbourne in 1999.
In some ways I see this paper as a continuation of the paper I delivered in 1990 at the ABS Conference that year in Perth on “The Inner Life and the Environment”. It is a continuation of that paper in the sense that what I want to stress here in this paper is the same thing I stressed in that 1990 paper: the inner lifer and private character. For it is here that ‘the creative inspiration’ finds its origins. I can’t begin in a better place than quoting that passage of the Guardian, a passage that has gained in strength and meaning as the decades have passed since his passing in 1957:
Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching - no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character - not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abhá Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh.
The creative inspiration is clearly associated in manifold ways with this “inner life and private character.” Before we begin to examine the inner life and creative inspiration, though, I’d like to say a few things about ‘where I am coming from.’ What are the origins of my own creative inspiration, what are some of the perspectives and themes that inform it in relation to poetry which is but one of the many outward forms, manifestations, of this creative imagination, inspiration, the inner spiritual powers? There are several sources and perspectives which illustrate something of what I want to say about my own creative inspiration. It would require a book to properly outline them. I will focus on a few here today.
Firstly, there are the influences of socialization. Both my mother in the 1950s and my grandfather in the 1920s, began to write extensively in their late forties and fifties. My father had an immense energy and drive. The two sides of my life, as represented by my parents and grandparents, I think, have played a role, partly undefinable, in whatever inspiration has come into my life in poetry.
Secondly, there is the influence of my religion which I have been a member of now for forty years and attending its various functions for forty six. A poetic literature, a long line of artistic and intellectually endowed associations, listening to people talk and talking with people from an infinitely wide range of paths in life, an exposure to books, to reading, to hearing people read, to reading myself in public, visible commitments, etc. These and other aspects of my connection with the Bahá'í Faith have all contributed to definable and indefinable influences on my creative inspirations.
In this connection I'd like to mention the invocation Alláh-u-Abhá or Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá which has special significance to Bahá'ís around the world. I have been using these invocations for over forty years. They are part of the core of "spiritual enrichment" for Bahá'ís. There is a spiritual growth growth that is generated by the use of these simple words in worshipful devotion. Prayer in general has been an important part of my Bahá'í experience as far back as the 1950s. When one has many prayers memorized one can pray in an unfettered sense walking in the bush, along the beach, indeed, wherever one has privacy. I'm confident this contributes to the devotional attitude and has effects on your life in mysterious ways. In purely quantitative terms I'm sure I have spent more time in my life 'talking to God' through the revealed prayers than I have talking to any human being I have known, except perhaps my wife. It is, of course, difficult to measure the results of this process over many decades: an increase in the sense of intimacy with the Source of one's light and life, a feeling that words, phrases, specific prayers, passages, indeed, many pages of the Writings have become old friends. If I speed up saying them they feel like a mantra; if I slow them down they feel like a deep meditation.
Thirdly, ill-health and personal difficulties: manic-depression in the 1960s and 1970s, divorce, employment difficulties which turned me toward seeking special inspiration. By 1980 I frequently read the following passage from Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and sought the intercession of the departed Hands of the Cause on my behalf:
The soul that hath remained faithful to the Cause of God and stood unwaveringly firm in His Path shall, after his ascension, be possessed of such power that all the worlds which the Almighty hath created can benefit through him. Such a soul provideth, at the bidding of the Ideal King and Divine Educator, the pure leaven that levanter the world of being, and furnisheth the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.
I began writing poetry about a year or so after I began reading this passage frequently about 1980. Although I saw no association between this passage and my first poems, by the 1990s I began to wonder at the possible connection with my poetic output and these leavening influences. By the year 2000 I had written over two million words of poetry and five thousand poems and wondered where it all came from.
Fourth, the influence of other poets: Roger White in the 1980s and the western intellectual tradition since Wordsworth, more generally. For a dozen years, 1981 to 1992, I had ‘company defined by letters’, company with the most delightful letter writer I’ve ever known and a poet whose influences has had primacy. In the years 1993 to 1999 my poetic friends were in books. I read dozens and dozens of books about poetry since Wordsworth started writing in the 1780s. I read publicly in cafes, restaurants, in colleges and at Bahá'í functions but did not find it inspirational, although people enjoyed my reading due to my ability to entertain. But I had tired of the public domain after nearly thirty years of teaching and endless firesides, Local Spiritual Assembly meetings and what seemed like an endless variety of meetings. I had dried up. Poetry functioned like a new lease on life, a new leaven that levened my world of being.
Fifth, the possible influence of the Holy Year, 1992-1993. My Bahá'í life had occupied the span between the two Holy Years, the other being 1952-1953. I think this influence is most mysterious. My life as a Bahá'í had spanned these two special years and a flood of poetry was unleashed after this forty-year hiatus. Was this something of those ‘mysterious dispensations of Providence?’
Sixth, the particular view of time, space and history in the Bahá’í teachings. Time: 13.6 billion years; space: infinite, a general scientific view; and history, a ten stage process (Shoghi Effendi, 1953, Chicago) with plans, eras, cycles, epochs, stages, phases, the Bahá’í calendar, all of this helped to give my life, my age and all of history a new, a quite specific, time focus and this plays a role in my poetry. Time frames seem to have taken on an especial meaning in poem after poem.
You will see from the above influences something of that inner life which I speak of and something of the creative inspiration which is at the centre of this topic, this discussion today. My poetry tells a great deal about my inner life; indeed, I often feel quite naked in giving my poems to people. I don’t really mind not having them published. Writing them is the real buzz. I have provided for those in attendance today at this workshop on poetry some essays and some interviews, as well as some twenty poems, which attempt 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 in closing and then we can conclude with a discussion on this paper and related matters. I’ll read several quotations from two of these essays and several of the questions and answers from the interviews I have included and let the poems speak for themselves. Two poems will be included for future publication in the formal ABS paper as will the two essays.
Poetry as a Source of Social Good
If these booklets of poetry, some twenty-seven now, 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 thirty-two hundred 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” 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.”
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, the Cause, behind these poems. They deal with community. And the quest for community, it would seem, has always involved some conflict, some anxiety.
I strive, of course, for moderation, refinement, tact and wisdom in any of my poetic expressions of human utterance. For everything there is a season. Thus far, 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 capacity of those who hear it.” 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, the writer, 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” 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. 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” 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.” 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.” I can not make such a claim of my poetry, yet. In this complex age with so much competition from the intense sounds of media and other art forms, I may never attain to such an influence.
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 autobiographical poetic serves the whole. It resonates in the immediate and the concrete, in the inner and the outer values of my life, or in the socio-historical frameworks in which it is couched.
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 provided by the teachings and a generally scientific view of humankind. For mine is the poetry of a meta-narrative. Hopefully different readers will be cheered or saddened in different ways as my poems drift through the diverse human situations they describe.
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”, 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.
28 November 1997
AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ANALYSIS YET AGAIN
I have provided a succinct narrative account of my life (in a 40,000 word autobiographical narrative in another place). It is chronological; the factual material is 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 4 000 poems spread over at least 2 000 pages, that 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." 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.
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 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 Mount Carmel received its richest, its definitive, elaboration and definition, in the half century 1951 to 2001 and especially the recent decade or so. 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 and some of its poetry. 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.
Freud commented that biographers choose their subjects 'for personal reasons of their own emotional life.' 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 thirty times (two hundred thousand in 1953, to six million in 2000). I have taught in schools for nearly thirty years and feel, now, a certain fatigue. 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 life and history is itself a beginning: for me, for my religion and for the world. I want to suck the sweetness out of everything and tell the story.
I sigh a deep-dark melancholy, but keep it in as far as I am able. I am lonely and attentive in this sadness. 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 seeming inevitability of it all, although the question of freedom and determinism is really quite a complex one. Reality, I record in my poetry, comes to me 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, 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. And there is joy.
25 September 1998
Some Ways to Look at Pioneering Journey
To see for ourselves the meaning of a story, we need, first of all, to look carefully at what happens in the story and while we are doing this we need to see if what is happening is relevant in any way to us. This relevance, of course, is increased significantly, if we see the empirical data of our own lives in the same broad theoretical framework as the author of the story sees his. -Ron Price with thanks to Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, Vintage, NY, 1957, p.27.
The self-consciously psychological poetry that I write, whether in the form of explicit prose-poetry or in the form of narrative could be said to be but another word for what today is now called cognitive neuroscience. As I pursue this neuroscience, I write about my life and I search for evidence of external forces that have diminished the expression of my potential, my capacities. I also search for, try to define, recover and describe the sources of my own wealth: spiritual, psychological and monetary.
This search of the past, this learning and understanding of my life could be seen in terms of many different models. Mary Belenky and her colleagues identified five developmental stages, or perspectives on knowledge, regarding what it is to come to know oneself and one's life. I'd like to describe Belenky's model briefly here. It is but one of many I could draw on, but one will serve my purposes here.
Belenky found that many begin in silence, without awareness that they possess knowledge or the confidence to articulate any perspective on that knowledge. This is how she described the first stage, the starting point in our search to understand our lives. This understanding of our life is, for the most part, inarticulate, confused and bewildering and, at worst, a jumble of events without any particular meaning. In the second stage, often coextensive with and part of the first, but also often separate and distinct from that first stage, people are seen as viewing their knowledge as something 'out there,' as something that is to be received from others. Here the individual is the recipient and the tabula rasa on which life imprints its messages. Thirdly, as we progress in our understanding of our existence, we begin to recognize our own intuited truths as something of value, and thus, begin to recognize and put forward our own subjective views.
Then, in stage four, comes acknowledgment of procedural structures and strictures, and the need to strive for a balance between an 'outer' and 'inner' knowing. Finally, in the fifth stage, people can combine all of these perspectives into a more integrated view of knowledge. They come to see knowledge as something which is constructed through interaction between the knower and the known. We are all at different staging points from others in the development of ourselves as constructed knowers. Even so, through autobiographical writing, we can make, as Grumet (1988) suggests, the link between our experience in life and our life as learners.
By connecting our personal knowledge to theoretical perspectives gained in life, we can more fully integrate our own lived experience into our knowledge base. We can relate our life to the five developmental stages mentioned above and, in the process, come to understand better what it is to know. Without going through all the stages and unless one is engaged in a specific analytical exercise one is unlikely to go through these stages one by one, I identify stages one and two with the period of my life up to about eighteen, up to the year my pioneering life began, 1962. While there is no precision with this conception, this model, there is some degree of logic to its process. It fits in, too, with Erikson's eight stage process and specifically, for me, his stage four: identity and role confusion, the major conflict-tension of adolesence. The years before I was eighteen seem to be associated with inarticulateness, a desire to work out my identity and a slowly maturing process in these teen age years. The years before I was a Bahá'í at fifteen, or before I first came in contact with this Faith at the age of nine, could be applied to stages one and two with an even finer degree of application.
Models of human development are many and they can be helpful in different ways, in helping us understand our own lives, our autobiographies. Applying the various stages that developmental psychologists have defined to our own lives can be a helpful exercise, helpful in giving a framework to the often bewildering chaos of events that come our way over the four score years that have become our average lot in developed societies. Piaget, for example, examines our lives in terms of progressive stages of cognitive development; Freud in terms of stages of psychsexual development; Spence examines the lifeline in terms of narrativisation and a process he calls narrative smoothing. And there are other ‘narrative therapies’ such as self-authoring where the goal is to get individuals to take control of their stories, their identities; and constructionism which sees selfhood and identity as “the product of public discourse rather than internal psychic processes.” Constructionists see our stories as shaping who we are. In sum: there is much material here in developmental psychology that can be useful to autobiographers.
The normal mind, wrote William James during psychology's earliest and formative years, operates in a field of consciousness in which one's awareness shifts among different hot spots of ideas, memories and feelings. This shifting, this juggling, goes on all of one's days in manifestly different ways in each of us. The philosopher, Henri Bergson, saw the normal mind in quite a different way to James. To Bergson, experience of the world and of oneself was seen as a flowing continuum of insepar- able moments. These moments could not be divided into a sequence of individual parts, however articulate and deep those moments were. Reality, to Bergson, was experienced as duree, duration, and it could be grasped best by intuition not by the rational intellect. Cezanne's paintings and cubist art illustrate Bergson's understanding of experience, at least partly, as do some of the modern video clips and films.
Martin Heidegger's concept of dasein is also useful in an attempt to understand autobiography. Heidegger said there were three modes of possible existence: factuality, existentiality and fallenness. We all live and take part in mode one and understand that mode to varying extents. People who find a sense of purpose in life, find authenticity and are therefore successful in their drive toward existentiality. Those who do not find their purpose, these are the fallen, or so he calls them. They never understand why they are here or they make up their own framework of understanding completely, or so it would seem, divorced from any traditional religious system of meaning. Often, too, some in this category do not seem to care about ultimate questions. They learn to live with an ultimately existential meaninglessness. The world, for them, is essentially incomprehensible and indifferent, although they often take pleasure and meaning in the day to day, the physical realities of life itself.
The reality of life is not some essence, Heidegger wrote, but existence which can only be partly understood. Ultimate justifications for our choices, an ultimate meaning in life, can never be found. The various philosophies of life are legion and this autobiographical package tends to synthesize as many approaches as is possible, useful, helpful to my understanding. Even existential approaches like Heidegger's offer ideas that are helpful in this journey.
In an article in a new journal called Janus Head Bernard Jager writes about life's journey. He says that, cut off from the sphere of dwelling, life becomes aimless wandering. It deteriorates into mere distraction or even chaos or fugue. Perhaps this was part of the human experience forty thousand years ago in band societies, hunting and gathering communities. In some ways we in our world have, in our time, become faced with "forced migration" which, as Douglas Martin suggests is "the paradigm for the whole human race. The process is unstoppable, Martin continues, and will radically alter humanity's sense of place and identity. My migration was, on the other hand, "unforced." I made a conscious decision to move, to migrate. This was not always the case. There were occasions among my many moves where relocation was forced by circumstances.
But whether one's movement is forced or unforced, the journey requires a place of origin as the very background against which the figures of our world can emerge. My place of origin geographically was, of course, in southern Ontario, Canada. In terms of ethnicity, social class, sub-culture, institutional influences, et cetera, 'origin' becomes more complex to define. Jager writes that to be without origin is to be homeless and--blind. On the other hand, the sphere of dwelling, or origin, cannot maintain its vitality without the renewal made possible by the path, the journey. A community without outlook, without vision, he goes on, atrophies. It becomes decadent and incestuous. Psychological incest results primarily from the refusal to move on the path. It is a refusal to accept the future, to accept change and a suicidal attempt to live entirely in the past. The sphere of dwelling, if it is not to be a moribund location, is interpenetrated by journeying. The pioneer, and certainly this one, a person who has lived now in two dozen towns and three dozen or more houses, has had a life interpenetrated with journeying.
In Greek mythology the god Janus is a theorist in the original Greek sense of theoria which, as Jager shows, includes the idea of a journey. The Theognis, written in the sixth century BC, depicts the theoretician as the official representative of the polis who visits the Delphian oracle. Here, the theorist is described “as a recipient of the divine message and as a faithful transmitter of that message back to the people." The poet, then, is a theoretician in the truest, most original sense of the word. The poet is the dwelling-venturer who discovers the Divine not by rising above materiality, but rather by a deepening of experience.
The poet-critic Allen Tate, in his discussion of the role of imagination, says that poets try to show traces of the Divine in the concrete description of the mundane. The poet, who imagines symbolically, cultivates the dwelling-place of the human and in the process discovers the gods in the round dance of the fourfold — Earth, Sky, Gods, Mortals —as this movement is expressed by things. With the imaginative description of the thing, poets both witness and participate in the dance. Poets find themselves within a deeper, richer, more human place, a place that implies an endless seeking, draws connections, creates metaphors and engages readers to think. The experience of the pioneer could be said to participate in this dance.
I could spend much time on more of the philosophical bases of autobiography, but I am disinclined to do so since philosophy provides such an immense labyrinth of ideas that will take me away from my purpose here which is to bring together into a series of essays much of the material I have already read and absorbed on the subject. Inevitably, I will draw on some philosophy in the context of the material I have already read in the last several years. It would appear that I am engaged in a long autobiograpical project, one which began in the mid-1980s. Like Wordsworth's project which began in late 1798 and early 1799 and continued all his life to his death in 1850, mine may continue until my final years as well. So, readers who come back to this site in the years and decades ahead will find much more to chew over in the field of autobiography.
Baha’is all over the world draw on the same resources of their history for the subject matter of their narratives and poems and in the formulation of the moral and intellectual frameworks of their writings. These resources, of course, mean different things to each writer and poet as they each concentrate on different aspects and interpretations of their history and quite separate ideas on what exactly is significant in that experience. Each writer’s sensibility and individual experience acts as an overlay on this historical data and the fine qualities of their personal particulars lead them along many cunning passages and contrived corridors into a varied preoccupation and involvement with the past. Other Baha’i writers draw less on history and more on many of the other aspects of their Faith: philosophy, morals and ethics, spiritual development, social and economic development, the list is long. Each Baha’i comes to love different aspects of the dream that is this Faith. What holds this dream together for me is the principle of the oneness of humankind and how it takes form in this Faith and becomes the basis for the practical reality that it is. And the life that exists and is informed by this principle is, on the one hand, like a revolving crystal, multifaceted, various and constantly changing and, on the other hand, is a fixed quality, filled with distinctions and patterns that are limited by our experience, our stock of words and our mental and psychological capacities. In some ways this autobiography is the autobiography of an idea as much as it is a life.
Had I not examined this idea and many of the ideas that come with it I think my feelings about this narrative would be much like those of Ayn Rand about hers. Telling the story of her life, she wrote, "would bore me to death." Indeed, after finishing the first draft of this story back in 1993, I felt much of that same feeling of tedium vitae. Had I not been able to place an idea, ideas, at the centre of this account, it would have languished in my study, incomplete and I would have felt deeply unsatisfied.
It is difficult, though, to know what late adulthood and old age will bring in the years ahead. The process of dieing, as T.S. Eliot once noted, is somewhat like being born. It is a slow process, a slow decline into old age, into senescence. The world begins to break up around us, he goes on. We find ourselves often, he notes, surrounded by strangers and it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate. Physical features undergoe alarming change and often the aged feel like dismal aliens to each other. Such is some of the dismal picture presented by Eliot but, as anyone who knows anything about aged care studies today, this is not all there is. For many millions late adulthood and old age offer a much more fulfilling and happy picture than the one Eliot describes. I like to think that, as the evening hours close in toward night that the "invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts" which Bellow spoke of in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1976 and "which binds together all humanity-the dead to the living and the living to the unborn" will increasingly find its apotheosis in the Faith that has been at the centre of my life or on life's perifery for half a century. For most of the twentieth century these noble-sounding words of Joseph Conrad were measured against the millions of dead and, if uttered, it was with a grain of skeptical salt. In the Bahá'í community and in my own life, this salt has certainly not lost its savour even if on occasion some of us seem "called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness." Sometimes, though, there is an "inevitable isolation and disillusionment" that "a really strong mind" experiences, like that of Shoghi Effendi. Perhaps it is, as Henry Adams once observed, something that happens to a mind "that combines force with elevation." Perhaps it is, as he concluded, some of "the romance and tragedy of statesmanship." Certainly for me, Shoghi Effendi combined both romance and tragedy; so, too did my own dear life. And the ideas which have captured centre-stage in this narrative will go on to fill the stage and to fill the stage long after I am gone for the future of humanity is deeply linked with these ideas. And they have occupied me for only several epochs.
About a year ago I read an article by George McLean called "The Call of Abraham." Shortly after reading the article I wrote the following essay about my pioneering venture and autobiography. McLean's article seemed to provide an entry point into the big picture of my life. What I am trying to do, among other things, in this article is to combine notions of the past with the exigencies of the present and produce, in the process, a design for living. Not that the Baha’i Faith needs any more designs, but we each have to work out our own design, our pattern within the great one, the great Plan, within which we live and work. History, for me then, is a continuum out of which I emerge and to which I belong. A series of intricate and unbreakable strings which bind me to that history and to all others, especially those people whom I influence and who influence me. Writing this autobiography is somewhat like playing those strings in as coherent and harmonious a fashion as possible and creating, while I write, a series of symphonies. It is like creating, too, one great variegated portrait, not so much by invention as many novelists do, but by analysis and synthesis, by giving substance and congruence to perception and experience, a substance and congruence my life would not otherwise possess. I try to see my life, my religion and my society steadily and whole; I try to fulfill the demand made on me by the historical context within which I find myself. It is a demand made largely by some inner tension, some inner need. I do this by examining the landscapes running through my life, my times and my religion and giving them a unity and a sense of relevant connection though various strategies of imaginative reference and revision. There are still, after all this analysis and synthesis, ends left hanging loose and stories only partly told. There is in this large exercise a sense of vocation that William Faulkner called a “quest for failure” because, no matter how much I find the right sentence which crystallizes an experience there is, in the end, a futility to this self-imposed task. Through the agency of one’s prose and poetry one’s own particular sense of life can be externalized. But there is so much in life that "can not satisfy nor appease the hunger,” as Baha’u’llah once wrote. Now.....to that essay.........
A PRIMORDIAL PERSPECTIVE ON PIONEERING
The call of Abraham and of his subsequent pilgrimage has become part of the primordial journey of the Jewish people. "It is part, too, of that theophany, that appearance of God to man, that has been sedimented in narrative" writes George McLean and has become part of that biblical "primordium around which a people" has been shaped. This primordium, Peachey says, needs interpretation and application in the changing circumstances of time and place, our time and place. And that is what I am doing here.
Having embraced a new theophany and become a part of a new Faith community which claims descent from this original Abrahamic experience, I am in possession of a new tradition, now only a century and a half old, which possesses a richness of detail that was scarcely perceptible in that original primordium, but which has been enacted again in the life of Bahá'u'lláh. This new narrative, not unlike Abraham's, is of immense value to the international pioneer in the Bahá'í community.
Contemporary religious practitioners usually have little direct engagement with that seminal Abrahamic-primordium of about 2000 BC. Tradition and its institutional configurations overshadow this ancient narrative. They are rarely animated by it. But, for me, in the Bahá'í community, Abraham's story has found eschatological and apocalyptic significance in what you might call a contemporary rerun. In this globalizing, individualizing, pluralising world, a prophet, a manifestation of God, has been forced, not called, out of his country, taking his kindred with him on the journey. I find in my life and in 'pioneering over four epochs,' that the narrative of Bahá'u'lláh's exile, his journey-narrative, is one I can shape as I become more familiar with it and as it shapes me.
"Learning the existing story, its language and its logic," says Peachey, "enables individuals to experience on their own in the terms of that story or to use it as a foundation for new and expanded experience.” Learning the story is like learning a language. Learning and becoming a part of a religious tradition is also like learning a language. Learning this language is essential if one is to function within that religion's parameters. The story of Abraham is the beginning, the first chapter, of the Israelite narrative; the story of Bahá'u'lláh is the end, the last chapter, of this same narrative extended into our time, our age.
From the father, the first patriarch, the birth, of the Hebrew people about 4000 years ago right up to today in the person of Bahá'u'lláh, this pattern of leaving one's country and going to another land is, in some ways, the basic myth, model, metaphor, for the international pioneer. The Bahá'í pioneer goes and makes his home "to develop the society God calls" Bahá'u'lláh's followers to build. "I will make of you a great nation,” God says to His people in The Bible. The pioneer is also in the same position, only he is at the beginning of a global, a planetary, system, a world Order, that he is helping to establish. This is the core of the pioneer's service to humanity. God will train both the pioneer and the Bahá'ís, it would appear, following the metaphor right back to Abraham, in a series of sacred-historical events different from, but similar in other ways to, the great literary-metaphorical history that is the Bible. Abraham's leap of faith is ours, too, as we walk into history.
Bahá'u'lláh's exile over forty years took place only once, as did Abraham's journey, but each inaugurated the history of a divine-human relationship which will go on unfolding for centuries, millennia to come. Just as Abraham had little comprehension of the nature of his call or of his destiny at the beginning, so,too, are we in a similar position, although we do have some glimmering of the future given to us in the Bahá'í writings. At the very start of the building of this World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, it is difficult to fathom the process, the reality, the meaning. The narrative takes unexpected turns; uncertainty enters in from time to time. Faith is at our core as it was for Abraham.
But history, for the Jewish people, and for the Bahá'ís, is seen as an extended course of instruction filled with lessons and tests by which God seeks to educate us for our redemptive work. In this narrative is found the meaning and purpose of our lives. To help establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Just as Abraham went from his country, kindred and father's house so does the international pioneer, launched on a mission to other people, to all people, wherever he goes. The journey has gone on in our own time in the life of Bahá'u'lláh. That great journey of the Abrahamic peoples is the paradigmatic, the metaphorical, vehicle, that the pioneer takes on board as he becomes a part of a wondrous tradition that weaves its way through the holy scriptures of four of the world's religions. For the pioneer's story is the story he will find there in that holy writ. Therein will he find his life's meaning and purpose.
Back in 1974, while teaching at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, I came across the writings of a specialist in the history of childhood, Lloyd deMause. I always found deMause provocative. I include here a short essay I wrote on deMause and his ideas because of the relevance of deMause's ideas to the life of the pioneer and to this autobiography.
SOME 'PSYCHOHISTORY PERSPECTIVES' ON THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
In trying to understand my life and especially my pioneering life over these four epochs a book like Lloyd deMause's The Emotional Life of Nations, particularly his chapter four, is a helpful one. It places the importance of understanding emotions, individual motivation, interpersonal relationships within the family and child-rearing practices at the very centre of any attempt to understand self and society. Indeed, deMause's philosophy of history places these factors right at the centre of any genuine understanding we might achieve of history. Not economics as Marx would have it, not religion or bureaucracy as Weber would have emphasized, not sex as was Freud’s focus, but an intimate and personal domain within the family is where we must go if we want to understand history and ourselves.
Cultural determinism, deMause argues, can account for only some of our behaviour and our life. "The environment," "the culture," being the pervasive, all-embracing, entities that they are, I can keep pretty busy analysing this complex explanatory matrix and how my life is a bi-product of it. But this matrix does not cover the whole story. Indeed, inner meanings and motivations, relationships and parenting, must be seen as a crucial, if not 'the' crucial, focus of causation in your life and mine, particularly insofar as autobiography is concerned. This is the certain and central core of any attempt to secure a real and illuminating autobiography, as far as the DeMause thesis is concerned. It is not my intention here to go into detail on these aspects of my early life. Hopefully, I will do so at a future time. I will examine, too, in more detail my relationship with my father, my mother, my grandfather, my extended family, specific friends and the Bahá'í community which gradually became an important part of my psycho-social life from the age of nine onwards. In the process it may be that my autobiography and those of others, other minor figures like myself, will tell future historians more about our times than the lives of major historical figures. For it can serve as a helpful entry-point for any study of the fine structure of Bahá'í experience, as a source of primary materials for any attempt to integrate the intellectual and the institutional narrative, the personal and the community aspects of this emerging world religion.
The field of developmental psychology suggests strongly that there is more to an explanation of human behaviour than simply self-interest or idealism. There are many powerful human feelings other than greed and devotion to a Cause that shape our lives and we must explore these feelings if we are to explain our lives to any significant extent. I feel that my autobiography has only partially dealt with these factors, thusfar. Perhaps society is the flawed product of both an evolving and flawed psyche and the evolving and flawed units of social organization in which we are all enmeshed. Certainly an examination of my early days will, must, deal with these flaws.
I have just reread my notes on motivation and attitudes from a psychology course I taught in Perth in the early 1990s. I could very well examine, say, each of the dozen major theories of motivation summarized there and see how they apply to my own life. It seems to me, following deMause, that it would be useful to understand the psychological origins of my behaviour and specifically the content and psychodynamics of my negative memories. It is difficult to unwind the attitudes, beliefs, values, motivations, negative memories and see my life in a developmental perspective, one that is psychosexual and/or psychosocial. The exercise is, to say the least, complex. I have examined this theme to some extent elsewhere, both on my website and in this autobiographical account focusing as I have on Erik Erikson and his model of human development.
DeMause argues that the sense of 'self and other' is one of the most creative achievements of humankind over the last several thousand or hundreds of thousands of years. It has taken humankind millennia to accomplish this sense of self, this sense of identity. From a Bahá'í perspective this internal, this ego, this 'self-sense' must also include a sense of the physical environment, the human environment and the environment of unknowns dealt with by religion and philosophy among a range of humanities and social sciences. This sense of self is acquired through the actualizing of potentials, an actualizing that occurs through the acquisition of competencies in several areas: psycho-motor, perceptual, cognitive, affective and volitional.
I should go on to say that, underpinning this sense of self, is a philosophy that Jordan and Streets call "a philosophy of organism." Creativity guided by purpose and expressed by two fundamental capacities "to know and to love" is the basis of this philosophy. This is part of the rationalization of the vision that is at the core of the Bahá'í teachings. The integration of knowledge and belief and the transformation of experience into attitude is also taking place here within the framework of this philosophy. These are all part of the underpinnings of my philosophy, a philosophy which tries to give "logic and coherence to what"1 I see and do and helps provide the rationale and standards of explanation for what I see that counts in my world. It is my world view.
One of the obligations of the storyteller, the bard, the poet, is to tell his own story, tell who he is and tell it intelligibly. He has to share his own story, his interests, his perspectives, his needs, his loyalties, his beliefs, his loves, his frustrations. For all he has is his story. Some writers tell their story through novels or short stories; some through poetry. In addition to this narrative, I write what is openly autobiographical poetry. This is how I tell my story. I would not bother to write if all I was doing was providing sophisticated entertainment, but what I am doing is many-fold: clarifying a commitment, capturing an inward, private world for public consumption, probing the mystery of artistic creation, explaining me to myself, expressing human life at a deeper, more intense, clearer-sighted way than I ever could in my daily life, recounting a lifelong spiritual pilgrimage, inducing change, explaining the turning points in my life and in life and trying to arrive at a just characterization. People can find out much more deeply in my works what, for the most part, they could never find out from me in real life.
The titles of each of my booklets of poetry, over fifty now, are drawn from recent experience in the Baha’i community often in connection with the Mt. Carmel Project. What is happening on Mt. Carmel, I often feel, is very much something that is happening to me. For community, shared community, is largely and most intimately experienced alone, no matter how much of the experience is shared in group interaction. In this poetry the reader will see how I people my solitude, how I am alone in a crowd and how I achieve that degree of virtue proportional to what I am worthy—always an unknown quantity--but one can try to take account, guesstimate where one is at. The writing of autobiography is one way of doing that guessing, taking that account. The art of writing autobiography is partly the art of knowing what to leave out and it is the excitement of finding a form for the material. The form, the perspective, the style, that is this third edition evolved so slowly I had just about given up hope. It was a lesson for me in the great truth that in "one's art of craft one can't afford to be impatient."
Studies of introspection and self-perception "fail to appreciate the complexity of establishing the accuracy of a self-judgment." It is undoubtedly a complex business. One advantage that narrative has is that one's identity is carved out of a mass of interacting entities and out of a social construction of reality. My identity has so many sources, a bewildering variety. And what this autobiography does, among other things, is to show the man, the evolution of the man within the poet that I am, that I have become.
Reading about Flavius Josephus recently, for example, I could not help but contrast this man's life, impressed as he was with the excellence of Roman culture in the first century after Christ, with my own life in the first century after Bahá'u'lláh impressed as I am with the culture of the Bahá'í religion. Or examining the autobiography of Australian poet Judith Wright I cannot help but feel an identity with her as she describes herself as "a shimmering multitude." She says her "early memories could have been written in a dozen different ways" and now "that multitude has expanded in all directions." Wright says she does "not know what 'fact' is" any more. Perhaps more important than which of the many ways one can write one's autobiography is the importance of being "thoroughly penetrated by what James called the wonder of consciousness in everything" as one goes about one's task.
Our private life, Wright goes on, "leaves less trace than the silver trail of a slug which dries and blows away" although, as I have pointed out in relation to some diarists and autobiographers, there is a strong penchant to immerse themselves and their readers in the trivia of everyday life on the assumption that it will either be of interest to someone or it will illuminate the everyday life of the times. One's public life is, in the end, a multiplicity. Even if one constructs an autobiography, one knows that ultimately one selects from the great mass a succession of personas and in reflection constructs a procession of 'I's; even if one dwells on the external events of one’s life, the measureable quantities, the exercise is fragile, subtle and enigmatic.
History consists of the stories we tell each other, stories that attempt to explain who we are and where we have been. For me, many of these stories can be found in Bahá'í history which has a metaphorical base. The metaphorical meanings suggest paths that I might tread toward the uncertain and the certain that is the future. These Bahá'í stories tell of my most sacred beliefs and suggest patterns of moral and social behaviour that I should follow. And it seems to me I must be on my guard not to focus primarily on the things which vanish or I and what I write will vanish too. For this reason there is little in this autobiography about what I have bought, eaten, shopped for, what brand names have been a part of my life. The symbolic world which we all inhabit is for the most part a depthless realm of masks, of images and brand names whose cache and status inevitably change, revealing no stable core at best or no substance at all.
I see this autobiography as the story of a life that suggests, exemplifies, a psychological reality that opposes and withstands as much of the plague of popular fantasies that bombard consciousness as I have been able in these epochs. My identity is not associated with an image, an image that is ultimately empty, of an-other's demand in an image-conscious society. I accept that image has become a central aspect of life today; indeed to some extent I revel in it. I play the game, but realize it's a game. I know that much of what I desire I have been taught to desire through my only partly avoidable immersion in society's realities. I have been hooked, as we all have been to varying extents, by the "aesthetics of consumerism." "Coolness," "glamorousness," a host of images I am aware of, but I know my reality and the reality of others is not this. Still I must admit that all this surface piffle, surface reality, has influenced me in much of my life. Of course, I am not the only one to realize this; so, too, do millions of others who sit and take in what some have called 'secondary reality.' In the first eleven decades that these electronic media products have bathed society and now billions of its citizens I, too, have enjoyed their many pleasures for they have not been without their value. Given the quantity of time in my life in which I have absorbed products from film, TV, radio, musak, advertising, hi-fi sound-music systems, video, CDs, I would guesstimate a minimum of one-eighth of all the hours of my life and, perhaps, as much as a quarter, they really deserve a separate study of their own.
The movies I have seen are entertaining but not real. They are surreal, hyperreal, colourful, stimulating, but not life as I live it. Consequently, I am plunged into and forged by a sea of signifiers which, while stimulating my sensory emporium, ultimately signify something approaching nothing. I am conscious of body image but I get little sense of identity, little that I am aware of anyway, from my body. My psyche, to the extent that it is filled with electronic media products, is a void because that environment of media seems, as I gaze back on its consumption, like an abyss, and the inner world, if one can call it that, which it creates in this narration is thin and, although entertaining, depleted of significance and depth. I do not measure my life in terms of movies consumed, documentaries viewed, clothes and food purchased, although they are all part of my life. They bring pleasure and learning, but they do not represent landmarks, turning points, significations. In a strange, somewhat sad, way, they represent points, episodes in time, which occupy time, and which rest my spirit and body, provide a recoup, a retank, so that I can get on with living. In the half century that this autobiography is concerned with, this electronic media has enriched my life but I have quite ambivalent feelings about its value.
Our knowledge of any past event is always incomplete, to some degree inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and our own biases. This is not only true of the great events of history and in our Faith but in our own personal lives. There are times when history and our lives make no sense. We feel we have learned nothing and our life is a weary rehearsal of mistakes. At times like this a multitude of doubts assail us. And this electronic media seems mainly to help us occupy time as we try to deal with these tests that belabour and beleaguer our lives. Of course, there is more, much more to the whole question of the electronic media in my life and society's. But I shall leave this question for now.
The Durants write that "Most history is guessing and the rest is prejudice." Writing autobiography is partly guessing and partly prejudice and there is a strong element of facticity born of several elements which history in general lacks; namely, closeness to the source, being yourself at the centre of the text; relative ease of retrievability of information however fallible and probabilistic the process. Both historians and writers of autobiography tend to oversimplify and select only a manageable minority of facts from a multitudinous complexity which can never really be embraced and comprehended. There is an elusiveness in the search and frustrations inherent in never really knowing so many things with certainty, but the attempt to decipher the past, one's life, has the potential to inform the human endeavour.
The physical landscape where the events of our story, our narrative, our life, occurs is unavoidably a focus for our activities, our meanings. There is also a spiritual, a historical, a psychological landscape which is equally, if not more, a focus for much that has significance in our lives. Much has been written about these two types of landscape; indeed, a separate book could be devoted to their associated themes and the vast literature now available which explores them. Here is a poem I wrote which explores some of this theme in my own life:
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 back, 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. 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, had 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.
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.
Over the centuries we've come
to live with nature, adjust to it,
sometimes dominate it.
Slowly, too, we're learning
to control it in our inner lives.
14 February 1998
1 I am referring here to the Baha’i community.
This physical and psychological landscape has an influence on us which is really quite immeasurable. The developmental psychologist and specialist in the history of childhood, Lloyd deMause, argues that at the centre of any understanding of history and of our own lives we must see our primary relationships with parents, siblings and close friends. DeMause goes so far as to construct a philosophy of history based on our experiences in childhood.
Here are two poems that express some of the ways my son might see me now that he has grown into early adulthood at 25, is still at home and in the second year of his working life as an engineer. They were written when he was in his late teens and very early twenties, but the sentiments are still relevant.
MORE PLENTEOUS NOW
My first memories are of my father typing. In fact, throughout my childhood and adolescence about all he did around the house was write and read. We played a little sport together, once a day if we could make it. He washed the dishes alot, entertained the occasional visitor and watched a little TV. But mostly he read and wrote. -Ron Price with thanks to my son, Daniel Price, “A Son’s View of His Father,” Pioneering Over Four Epochs, Saturday, 29 March 1996, 9:30 pm.
It’s difficult to see yourself as others see you.
Now, take my son, for example:
I think I’d have a pretty good idea
of how he sees his old man,
after all I’ve watched him grow
to a youth of eighteen
and we have a lot of laughs, you know.
Occasionally, we have something
you could call a conversation,
certainly more than those grunting
relationships I’ve heard of from time to time.
He’s a smart lad, smarter than me,
gentler, kinder, wiser, more controlled.
He’s got that sadness I had, back then,
when young, but not as much;
he’s more balanced.
He wonders where I get all my flatulence.
I wonder too. There’s a mutual respect there,
a quiet grace, a love I gave my father
as best I could, as best he could.
I think the quantity of love
rains more plenteously now
upon me and he than once it did
when I was the son.
29 March 1996
FATHER AND SON
In about two weeks time my wife and I are moving from Perth to Tasmania. Last night my only son, Daniel, moved out of the family home to go into his own flat, since he would be staying in Perth. It was a sad night for each of us. My wife and I shed many tears after he left around 9 pm. About midnight, just before I was going to retire for the night, I thought of my own father who died some thirty-four years before. This poem was the result of the poignancy of that memory and, perhaps, the juxtaposition of the loss of my own son. I write the poem as if I am speaking to my father, just after he died about one in the morning in May 1965. There is also, inevitably, some sense of the poem being written on the night of my own son’s departure. Somehow, as I wrote the poem, time and son and father, over three generations blended into one complex and mysterious whole. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 21 June 1999, 1:00 am.
I wish you happy sailing
through the mists of time.
The pain is over now,
all the knocks and crosses
that flesh is air to.
I trust He will forgive your sins,
pardon your shortcomings.
May you enter the garden of happiness,
be cleansed with the most pure water.
One day, when my sailing is done,
I trust we will join hands
and I will kiss your cheeks and eyes,
if you will love me then
as you loved me then, when I was young
and you were so old and so soon, perhaps,
to enter His paradise and retreats of nearness.
21 June 1999
1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Baha’i Prayers, USA, 1985, pp. 45-6.
One of the chief qualities of my son, Daniel, is his sense of humour. Humour is endemic to, pervasive in, Australia. It is a rich and important part of the culture. While not wanting to go into a history of humour in America and Australia, I would like to mention three humorists who were important in western society, Lenny Bruce back in the sixties before I left North America and as the third decade of this pioneering story turned the corner in the early nineties: Robyn Williams and Billy Connelly. There have been others since the fifties and the sixties, indeed there seemed to be a great spauning of comedy through both the print and electronic media.
"Laughter," wrote the historian Thomas Carlyle, "is a token of virtue. No man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be altogether bad." Perhaps, if I have one disappointment in this book, it is that it is not funnier. For many people religion holds no attraction whatsoever in any form and, with Thomas Mann, I am inclined to the view that comedy is, at least on this earth, part of the soul's salvation." To the average, the typical(if there is such a thing) secular enthusiast, this book offers little in the way of salvation by laughter. "Humour is one of the elements," wrote the famous Bahá'í George Townshend, "that make up a balanced and complete mentality." In this sense this book lacks that balance.
If I could convey that sense of self, of history and of the religious community that my life has been enmeshed in as, say, William Wordsworth conveyed his life in his four volumes of The Prelude it would be quite unsatisfactory to the modern temperament, the modern sensibility. Even though The Prelude promises much for the future people get a sense of tedium from what it says of the past. It is rare now to meet anyone who has even read this very long autobiographical poem.
This, too, may be the fate of this work. But the road from "me" to "me" is through "the other" and that is the road I have taken here even if few travel on it with me and even if few laugh. Perhaps it would have been more useful if, like F. Scott Fitzgerald who dramatized the years between the wars, I could have dramatized these epochs in a memorable novel, a stimulating television series or some in-depth radio documentaries. Instead I tell a story at the dark heart of an age, an age of transition, the story as it was experienced by one man. I have written, too, to give some idea of how in my individual case life became converted into art and how art was born of life and of experience.
Research in audience studies shows that readers of fiction or viewers of films are voraciously interested in the "real" story of fictionalized persons and events. Fictional forms often succeed in representing life: underlining its fullness, complicatedness, inexplicability, fragmentation, and its subtextual richness. Often it is difficult to represent these aspects of life by a linear narrative of historical "facts." Thus, an interpretation of the interrelation between the historical subtext and its fictional rendition may be more useful for readers and viewers than a more analytical narrative like the one I have written. Since it is unlikely that anyone will be making a film of my life while I am alive, I will leave this promising interrelationship to history’s future.
Writing in the mid-1990s, Smith and Watson address the prevalence of personal narratives in everyday life. They are communicated, they outline, via diverse means: on the body, on the air, in music, in print and electronic media, at meetings. While emphasizing that occasions for confessional storytelling are multiple, Smith and Watson argue that narrators create historically specific personal histories by assembling fragments of the identities and narrative forms that the culture makes available. Smith and Watson concentrate on how consumers from all strata of American culture are eager both to construct their own narratives and to learn about the life stories that other people tell. Smith and Watson argue that postmodern America is culturally obsessed with getting a life, with sharing it and advertising it to others, with consuming the lives of others. The lives we consume, they say, are translated into our own lives, into story, into some personal narrative.
Smith and Watson also discuss the contrast between ‘official’ autobiographies and ‘personal’ versions that subvert or contradict the authorized versions. This enables consumers, say Smith and Watson, "to align the privatized consciousness” of autobiographers, conveyed in those narratives with the identities of those same autobiographers created and experienced in the public sphere. These disparate personal histories with their contradictions and misalignments are part of the storyteller's attempt to "get a life,” part of autobiographical narrators positioning themselves as the agents of the stories they tell.
There is an element of personal control that often appeals to speakers who have stories to share, but would be impossible to convey, would be considered culturally unspeakable, for a host of reasons. In the telling of unrecited and unrecitable narratives such as histories of child abuse, spouse battering, interracial marriage, homosexuality, alcoholism, mental illness, and disability, inter alia, the narrators, as witnesses, reframe what is regarded as unspeakable or simply too difficult to speak about and open up new ways to speak about their personal battles. Autobiographical narrators, whatever their stories, often connect with others in new ways as well, especially when their stories resonate with the stories of people in a comparable and compatible group or what might be called a “community of secret knowers.” In these ways, Smith and Watson contend, narratives provide a way to intervene in postmodern life, and the narrators "can facilitate changes in the mapping of knowledge and ignorance, of what is speakable or unspeakable, of what is disclosed or masked, alienating or communally bonding.”
Autobiographical home videos that ordinary people produce are generically analogous to videos produced about and by the various celebrities in society. Such videos promote new forms of intersubjectivity between artists and their audiences, between autobiographers and their readers. Smith and Watson also distinguish between the "backyard ethnography" which focuses on "the everyday practices of autobiographical narrating in America" and autobiographical texts that are aligned with the 'high culture' of published, 'artful' autobiography.” Such distinctions do appear tenuous, though, in a postmodern culture that encourages people to draw on a common multimedia repertoire for identities and narrative forms. Consumer video modes also connect the formerly elite practice of video art with more pedestrian uses of the home video user and his autobiogrpahical exercise. Variously positioned autobiographical discourses prompt interventions in everyday life that bring like-minded people together either actually or virtually. Autobiographies are found in both high art and in popular culture. They are not limited to either side of this dichotomous cultural divide and its social hierarchies.
Autobiographical texts can, as I’ve said above, promote new forms of social interaction in everyday life. Literary approaches to personal narratives and popular culture approaches; low-end confessional videos by independent artists and more sophisticated analytical treatments, are all part of the varied mix that is found in today’s world. The tension that the confessor experiences between a focus on subjectivity and an attempt to construct an identity that is communal rather than individualistic is a common one and it helps to provide a welcomed opportunity for introspection and often a brilliant piece of analytical and subjective writing. Autobiographical videos have been making their appearance in the last two decades more and more. While video will not be part of this third edition, I may be more adventurous in a fourth or fifth edition. Somehow, I think it unlikely.
Alexis de Toqueville quoted in: David Raney, Plague of the Century: Thoughts on Crowd, Conformity, and Contagion, Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2002, Volume 1, Issue 2.
Gianfranco Poggi, Images of Society: The Sociological Theories of Tocqueville, Marx and Durkheim, Stanford UP, 1972, pp.43-4.
Bakhtin, Mikhail, "Discourse in the Novel," The Dialogic Imagination, editor, Michael Holquist. Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 1981, pp. 293-4.
Kenneth Clark, op.cit., p.210.
George Townshend, The Mission of Bahá'u'lláh, Oxford, 197391952), p.94.
Kenneth Clark, op.cit., p.222.
Max Weber, "The Social Causes of the Decay of Ancient Civilization," 1896 in J. Eldridge, editor, Max Weber: The Interpretation of Social Reality, Scribner, NY, 1971, p.256.
Matthew Arnold, "Sonnet," quoted in Patrick Brantlinger, Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay, Cornell UP, Ithaca, p.68.
Stanley Kubrick in The Film Director as Superstar, Joseph Gelmis, Penguin, 1974(1970), p.381.
Roman Polanski in Gelmis, op. cit., p.13.
This theory holds that the meaning of a film is controlled in the main by the director not the script or the story.
Letter written on behalf of Shohi Effendi, quoted in Lights of Guidance, no.264, p.76.
Letters of Ayn Rand, M.S. Berliner, editor, Dulton, NY, 1995, p.1.
"The World at Noon," ABC Radio National, Report from Australian Reporter in Toronto, 6 March 2003. This Australian quality was found by this radio journalist to be present in Canada but not in United States.
A. Nelson, op.cit.
F.C.S. Schiller, "Must Philosophers Disagree?" Must Philosophers Disagree? London, 1934, pp.10-11.
William James, Pragmatism, World Publishing co., 1970(1907), p.19.
Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J.E.C. Flitch, Dover Pub., 1954(1921), p.2.
C.G. Jung, Letters, Vol.1: 1906-1950, Princeton UP, 1973, p.331-2.
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, editor, L.A. Selby-Bigge, Oxford UP, 1888(1739), p.219.
Brian Finney, The Inner I: British Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century, p.206.
Roger White, "Lines from a Battlefield," Another song, Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.
The Universal House of Justice,Messages: 1969-1973, Wilmette, 1976, pp.123-129.
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.244.
Ray B. Browne, "An Interview," Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900 to present), 2002. This article outlines the progress in the study of popular culture since the 1960s when it became a part of the academic curriculum.
J. Lacan, The Berkeley Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture in 1985. Lacan says he is sustained as much by what he knows as what he does not know.
Paul Ricoeur, "Toward A Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation," Essays in Biblical Interpretation, editor, L.S. Mudge, London, SPCK, 2980, p.102.
Ian Hamilton, Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography, Hutchinson, London, 1992, p.198.
Some human development models call the period form 20 to 40, early adulthood. Others call middle age 30 to 70 with the core 40 to 60. See Rebecca Clay, “Researchers Replace Midlife Myths with Facts,” American Psychological Association, Vol.34, No 4, April 2003.
idem. Research evidence suggests this is generally true for others.
Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity, 1972.
Much of my analysis in this paragraph comes from a book by Charles Fair, The New Nonsense: The End of the Rational Consensus, Harper and Rowe, 1974.
Walter J. Burghardt, "On Turning Eighty: Autobiography in Search of Meaning," Woodstock Report, March 1995, pp.2-11.
The Universal House of Justice, Messages: 1968-1973, p.119.
Will van den Hoonaard, The Origins of the Bahá'í Community of Canada: 1898-1948, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996, p.101.
The Universal House of Justice, op.cit., p.113.
Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Poems of the Passing, George Ronald, Oxford, 1996, p.13.
Since the House of Justice, back in 1979, encouraged the Bahá'í community to develop the intellectual aspects of its life, there has been a burgeoning of the Bahá'í book market. There is now a pot pourri of material for just about every conceivable niche of reader taste. This burgeoning has come at a time when the Bahá'í consumer is also inundated with print from a wealth of other sources not the least of which is the Internet. And then there is the visual and auditory inundation from the electronic media. Getting "a handle," as they say, on all of this information will keep the best of us busy for the rest of our lives, in these early decades of this new millennium.
Where would one begin to review the plethora of resources now available to Bahá'ís at their bookshops or through the many Bahá'í publishers now dotting the planet? Usually what one finds is a commentary on one book, a book that a committee, an Assembly, a reviewer, or a magazine editor, thinks the Bahá'í community needs some exposure to, some analysis of, for their current enlightenment. But given the wealth of literature available now-not to mention the costs-there are many books that slip through the net of current relevance.
Another problem we have as readers and consumers of print is that often, after buying and reading a Bahá'í book, it can sit on our shelves gathering dust for many a moon. Needing a second read it often never gets it. Drowned as we all are in enough print to sink a ship we all need some sifting mechanisms. One such mechanism is the traditional book review. Regional Newsletters seem to be one appropriate venue for such an exercise.
With the above factors in mind I'd like to take a look at John Hatcher's books-some of them at least. For me this will be a second look after buying them years ago, reading them and drawing on them from time to time. We'll do this in the next issue of The Beacon.
JOHN HATCHER: A REVIEW
Hatcher has been around the Bahá'í book and journal traps for nearly thirty years. He has written seven books in this time. It is not possible to review all of these books in this small space. But I would like to focus, however briefly, on what for me are his three central works: The Purpose of Physical Reality(1987), The Arc of Ascent(1994) and The Ocean of His Words(1997). What makes his works central is their analysis of the art and meaning of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. Taherzadeh gave us his four volumes between 1974 and 1987. Taherzadeh was, for the Bahá'ís of the last three epochs, the first person to give us an overview, systematic and sequential, of the entire Revelation.
Hatcher came along at just the right time and continued this systematic treatment. But he did it in such a different way. Hatcher's is a more poetic, a more literary, analysis, one befitting a Professor of Literature at the University of South Florida. Taken together, with Taherzadeh's four volumes, Hatcher's works provide a reader, both novitiate and seasoned veteran, with a comprehensive overview of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.
The first volume(1987) focuses on the question of God's justice; the second on the sense of self(1994). They are written in the context of the great literature of the West. They provide a foundation for Hatcher's final volume(1997) which is aimed at enhancing our abilities, acquiring the skills, to study what is a vast and complex art, the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. It is a book to help us immerse ourselves in His Ocean.
BEEN FISHING FOR YEARS
Having been a fisherman for years(Bulletin, May), I’d like to comment on what drives a man to go fishing. First, fishermen are all different. I don’t really care if I catch a fish any more. But I do want to enjoy the experience. I fish for pleasure; if the fish are biting, well and good; if not, that’s okay too.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d be the first to admit that I’m not that successful. If you define successful fishing in terms of how many fish caught, I’d be a failure, at least for the last twenty-five years. I could tell you some whoppers about the old days when we caught lots of fish. I haven’t caught a fish in years. But I still go fishing every day. I find it a little hard to get going in the morning after all these years, but onc I’m out and about I still get excited about the process of fishing.
My friends can’t really understand why I’m so excited about fishing. But I wear my enthusiasm softly; I carry my candle lightly; the flame, I trust, warms those with whom it comes in contact. I enjoy the bright sun much more than I used to; the cool breeze and the clouds in the sky I experience with much more intensity than when I was young and keen to catch fish. Fishing has become, over the years, the dominant passion of my life. I could no more imagine not fishing than not breathing. But then, as I said, I see it as a process. It’s a very big thing this fishing.
Some days are sunny. Why I’ve even found some years have been the most pleasant imaginable: dozens of nibbles, many big bites, some I’ve had to throw back; others I even caught, but they were stolen on the way home, or got eaten by the cat. Other days, months, even years it was harder yakka. I’ve been out on the ocean for years now doing some big fishing. The crew is often untrained; the nights dark.
It is often like a deluge. It is no lark. A ship and the faint-hearted are soon parted under these difficult conditions. This vulgar truth may seem uncouth! Fishing requires an ardent spirit. Sometimes the boat itself goes down. Many fishermen have died out on the open sea. Others have got bored to death on the land waiting for some action. Still others seem to fish and fish but not learn. They do not attract any fish. In the end they give up the sport. They throw away their rod and give away their tackle.
Courage, saith the Poet, is a bi-product of fishing: the source of courage is the promotion of the Word of God.(Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Wisdom) And you need it because the sea is often fearsome. The long, dark nights do not seem to go away even after the most ardent of prayers. You often feel as if you’ve paid too high a price for all this fishing. Not enough of a pay-off. But, I’ve always said, fishing is not about catching fish. If it was I’d have given up long ago. I would have stopped fishing, let me think, some time in the late 1970s, when even They said the results were “discouragingly meagre.”(Ridvan, 1979). By then they’d been meagre in my life for 7 years.
I find thinking of fishing as a process is very valuable: it involves life and death(when taken seriously) pleasure and pain and the long wait for the salient Dove to bring the living twig.
6 Reece Street
1 December 2002
The Bahá'í Council for the
C/-Mrs. Deborah Bisa
PO Box 2055
Humpty Doo NT 0836
This is The Outback Project file. I did have hope, once upon a time, of writing a history of the Cause in the Outback. When the National spiritual Assembly initiated 'The Outback Project' in February of 2002, I thought I might contribute something. After nearly a year, I do not have the enthusiasm for the exercise, an exercise that would take far too long and require far much more energy than I could find.
If any material does come in during 2003/4 and that NSA Project begins to take more shape than it has thusfar, I will keep the information and send it to you to add to this file in case someone with the interest and desire is found. Thusfar, the NTC has not indicated any further developments beyond the correspondence in this file.
There is material here of relevance to The History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997, but this file is intended as an 'opener' to the bigger picture from Derby to Albany to Port Lincohn and up some sinuous line to Mt. Isa and Mornington Island. Someone, someday, will pursue this history in more detail. I have made a start.
Leave it to you and whoever wants to run with this additional History in the years ahead. I wish you and the Council much energy and enthusiasm for your work in the remaining months and years of this Five Year Plan.
Yours in His service
RESPONSE TO PETER TRUEMAN
It was with great pleasure that I read Peter Trueman’s challenging article in the November Bulletin. What I write below is a response to that article. My response should be seen more as a companion piece to the emphasis Peter gives, for I agree with the thrust of his argument. Who could disagree with what he says, with the clarity and straightforward way he presented his case?
To summarize his case as briefly as I can, I would say that Peter’s focus is on what one might call “the inner life and private character,” the moral ground. “Only one thing will ensure the undoubted triumph of the Cause,” the Guardian emphasized, in highlighting the essentially moral base for the triumph of the Faith. How can one disagree with this? My favorite quotation of the Guardian’s on teaching has been the one Peter closes his article with. I first came across it some time in the mid-1960s when my own pioneering life began in earnest. The House of Justice has also included that same quotation in several of its letters. This quotation should be part of the air we breath now after all these years. Thank you, Peter, for saying your piece in a refreshing way.
Now to my companion piece. My quotations will be different. They won’t have much to do with morality or the inner life. My perspective is in another domain. In a word ‘the historical.’ My first quotation is also from the Guardian, from God Passes By(p.111). The Guardian is describing the first phase of the newborn Revelation in Iraq. He writes: “The process whereby its(the Cause) unsuspected benefits were to be manifested to the eyes of men was slow, painfully slow, and was characterized, as indeed the history of His Faith from its inception to the present day demonstrates, by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered.” Now that sentence needs some study to unpack it a little. This quotation is very helpful to those of us who have been teaching in the field for decades and seen the “painfully slow,” “discouragingly meagre”(UHJ, Ridvan, 1979) response go on year after year.
Perhaps I should have started further back in our history with a quotation from The Dawnbreakers. “Every step He took, “writes Shoghi Effendi of the Bab, “every endeavour He made, had but served to intensify the sorrows and disappointments that weighed upon His soul.”(p.652) There follows a series of 13 statements summing up those sorrows and disappointments. In their midst he even helps us to recognize the one which is the hardest of all for us to face, to swallow: our own failure to observe the guidance given us. I won’t elaborate here on the failings of the Babis. But it is critical for us to recognize that what Peter is saying in his article has been a problem since the 1840s and probably will go on being one for, who knows, centuries to come. Entry by troops and mass conversion one day will unleash a set of moral problems the like of which we have hardly tasted yet.
One final example from the distant past, again from the Epilogue of The Dawnbreakers. The Guardian draws our attention to the fact that, in 1852, even “the stoutest supporters” got discouraged. “The entire conception that had evolved in the mind of its Author seemed to have been foredoomed to failure. The work of the Bab...would seem....to be one of the saddest and most fruitless that had ever been the lot of mortal men.”(p.651) So, too, is this feeling of discouragement also our own from time to time.
I could go on and on citing examples from what John Hatcher calls “the metaphorical nature of Baha’i history”(The Purpose of Physical Reality, 1987). If we ignore our history, the history of the Cause, we ignore it at our peril. For it can illumine the present. Problems we face, whether it is the type of behaviour and the sort of attitudes of our fellow believers, or a dozen other concerns, have been problems that have existed since the inception of the Cause in the 1840s. An appreciation of our Baha’i history can help us become conscious of the fact that generations, as many as five or six now, have all faced what we face, albeit in a different form. Indeed, the Central Figures have also faced “the discouragingly meagre” response and “the moral inadequacies” of the believers. And it wore Them out, each in Their different ways, as it is wearing out many a soul even as I write.
The Tablets of the Divine Plan, the foundation document for the teaching work, utilize what might be called ‘the military metaphor.’ For we are all involved in a war. Victory faces us in the years, the decades, the centuries, ahead. It’s a victory in an inner war as much as an external war. It’s been going on for 156 years. Ours is a mental war perhaps more than ever before. (See Letters of Shoghi Effendi to Australia and New Zealand, p.1) As the Guardian wrote, analysing the experience of Baha’u’llah in Iraq in the 1850s, the threat of having our hopes ‘blasted’ rears its head occasionally in our lives, especially when our enthusiasms are flying high.
I just showed this article to my wife. She thought it was ‘negative’ and ‘discouraging.’ I say, far from it. These words are a note struck for realism, a sense of the slowness and the immense difficulty of the process. The nature of history’s story back to 1844 has been one of momentous achievements but also of tragedy. Momen states that the great tagedy of Baha’u’llah’s life is that the majority of people who came in contact with Him never became Baha’is. Will this be our experience too? I am emphasizing here a never-give-up attitude, but I am making a plea for the possession of a set of expectations that are realistic. We need to be sensitive to the symbolic meaning of our history, of loss, of suffering, of defeat in the history of the Cause and religion. The symbolism of the Cross in Christianity, of the Bab’s martyrdom. The forty years of the Blessed Beauty’s exile and imprisonment is, if it is nothing else, the presence of victory in apparent defeat. The struggle of this generation of believers, with or without their moral inadequacies, is yet another set of images, another slice of time, another take, on this great theme of victory in the presence of loss. Indeed, this is so true in our own dear lives, our families, our despair. For this is the foundation, the basis, for our consecrated joy(SDC, p.116). The truth in the statement that “the reality of sacrifice is that there is no sacrifice” comes from this apparent contradiction. The sense of loss and sorrow is mercy and peace.(‘Abdul-Baha, Selections, p.245)
“I’ll close with a final quotation from that Epilogue of The Dawnbreakers. “The moderation He had exhorted them to observe was forgotten in the first flush of enthusiasm that seized the early missionaries of His Faith, which behaviour was in no small measure responsible for the failure of the hopes He had so fondly cherished.”(p.652) So we have this cautionary note, from our own history, in the presence of our day-to-day enthusiasms. We have another example of the moral factor that Peter Trueman exhorted us to reexamine in our lives.
“We stand too near the colossal edifice,” the Guardian concluded in 1932, for us to comprehend the process. That is still the case. “Remember My days during thy days,” Baha’u’llah exhorts us. And these are ‘our days.’ A “glimmer” of His sufferings may help us be patient in ours. A glimmer of “the power of understanding” may aid us(WOB, p.17) to cope with the complexities of the issues that face us in these ‘darkest hours before the break of day’(UHJ, Ridvan, 150), engaged as we are in ‘an immense historical process.’ (UHJ, Ridvan, 153) which, strive as we may, we will only partly understand.
Thank you Peter for reminding us of some of this process, this battle, this war, so cogently. Perhaps it may move us a little along the road of understanding.
A PRIMORDIAL PERSPECTIVE ON PIONEERING
The call of Abraham and of his subsequent pilgrimage has become part of the primordial journey of the Jewish people.. "It is part, too, of that theophany, that appearance of God to man, that has been sedimented in narrative" writes George McLean and has become part of that biblical "primordium around which a people" has been shaped.1 This primordium, Peachey says, needs interpretation and application in the changing circumstances of time and place, our time and place. And that is what I am doing here.
Having embraced a new theophany and become a part of a new Faith community which claims descent from this original Abrahamic experience, I am in possession of a new tradition, now only a century and a half old, which possesses a richness of detail that was scarcely perceptible in that primordium, but which has been enacted again in the life of Bahá'u'lláh. This new narrative, not unlike Abraham's, is of immense value to the international pioneer in the Bahá'í community.
Contemporary religious practitioners usually have little direct engagement with that seminal Abrahamic-primordium of about 2000 BC. Tradition and its institutional configurations overshadow this ancient narrative rather than be animated by it. But, for me, in the Bahá'í community, Abraham's story has found eshatological and apocalyptic significance in what you might call a contemporary rerun. In this globalizing, individualizing, pluralising world, a prophet, a manifestation of God, has been forced, not called, out of his country, taking his kindred with him on the journey. I find in my life and in 'pioneering over four epochs,' that the narrative of Bahá'u'lláh's exile, his journey-narrative, is one I can shape as I become more familiar with it and it shapes me.
"Learning the existing story, its language and its logic," says Peachey, "enables individuals to experience on their own in the terms of that story or to use it as a foundation for new and expanded experience."2 Learning the story is like learning a language. Learning and becoming a part of a religious tradition is also like learning a language. Learning this language is essential if one is to function within that religion's parameters. The story of Abraham is the beginning, the first chapter, of the Israelite narrative; the story of Bahá'u'lláh is the end, the last chapter, of this same narrative extended into our time, our age.
From the father, the first patriarch, the birth, of the Hebrew people about 4000 years ago right up to today in the person of Bahá'u'lláh, this pattern of leaving one's country and going to another land is, in some ways, the basic myth, model, metaphor, for the international pioneer. The Bahá'í pioneer goes and makes his home "to develop the society God calls"3 Bahá'u'lláh's followers to build. "I will make of you a great nation,"4 God says to His people in The Bible. The pioneer is also in the same position, only he is at the beginning of a global, a planetary, system, a world Order, that he is helping to establish. This is the core of the pioneer's service to humanity. God will train both the pioneer and the Bahá'ís, it would appear, following the metaphor right back to Abraham, in a series of sacred-historical events different from, but similar in other ways to, the great literary-metaphorical history that is the Bible. Abraham's leap of faith is ours, too, as we walk into history.
Bahá'u'lláh's exile over forty years took place only once, as did Abraham's journey, but each inaugurated the history of a divine-human relationship which will go on unfolding for centuries, millennia to come. Just as Abraham had little comprehension of the nature of his call or of his destiny at the beginning, so,too, are we in a similar position, although we do have some glimmering of the future given to us in the Bahá'í writings. At the very start of the building of this World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, it is difficult to fathom the process, the reality, the meaning. The narrative takes unexpected turns; uncertainty enters in from time to time. Faith is at our core as it was for Abraham.
1 Paul Peachey, "The Call of Abraham," in Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change, Series 1, Vol.7., George McLean, editor.
4 Numbers 23:9.
25 July 2001
Twenty-one years and several months after her passing, all of Lillian Price’s poetry, art, letters, selected quotations and verses from some of her favorite authors and other memorabilia has finally found a place between two covers; all of her work with the exception of two small booklets of her photos and a small volume of her poetry which I have kept in my own library with my collection of photos and my books of poetry. I received all of this on my mother’s passing.
Requiring further organization and ordering, the material in this file has now found a suitable home that hopefully will endure for some time to come in the hands of the family I leave behind me on my passing one day. One day I hope to write a more comprehensive introduction and perhaps even annotate some of the resources here in this two-ring binder. For now, though, these few words will at least introduce some of my Mother’s artistic endeavours and this binder will give them a more deserving place than the loose files and folders where most of her work has been since it was sent to me by my Mother's older sister, my Aunt Florence, in October 1978, a month or so after my Mother’s death on September 1st 1978.
For the most part, these artistic ‘remains’, these works, these ‘leftovers’ from my mother’s life, were from the last twenty-five years of her days: 1953-1978. It was during this time that she came in contact with the Baha’i Faith. I have tended to use 1953 as the first year of contact. She remained a Bahá'í until 1963.
Some of her poetry and some of the inspirational material from other writers which she gathered over the years goes back to about 1930, when she was in her mid-twenties. Most of my poetry, like my mother’s, comes from a period beginning in my late forties. I find it more than coincidental that the initial flowering of my writing and that of my mother’s came about the same time in our lives. Even Alfred Cornfield’s writing, my mother’s father’s work, came when he was about fifty. Thus, three generations, began to seriously write at about the same time in their respective lives: Alfred Cornfield in the 1920s; Lillian Price in the 1950s and myself in the 1980s.
I have a dozen drawings of my mother’s work, nine of them are in this file: six complete and three partially complete. Three are on the walls of my study here in George Town. Art was a new medium for my mother and occupied her in the 1960s and 1970s in the years after she left the Baha’i Faith, after my father died and I left home--and before her death in 1978, perhaps a fifteen year period.
I trust that, as I pray for her, for my grandfather and other family members and friends, as well as Hands of the Cause, among others, that these, the major literary progenitors in my family, will guide me, from what I hope to be their 'retreats of nearness' and help provide the leaven that leavens the world of being and “furnishes the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.”1 (1 Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, USA, 1956, p.161.) -Ron Price 26 January 2000.
BI-POLAR DISORDER: A 40 YEAR STORY: 1963-2003.
My experience both long-term with manic-depression and in recent years with this illness and other maladies as well as my personal circumstances at home in relation to my wife’s illness should provide you with an adequate information base to evaluate my situation. This wider experience will place by bi-polar disorder in context and should provide others with what I hope is a helpful perspective on their own condition and situation.
1. Manic-Depression: Preamble
After half a dozen episodes, varying in length from several days to several months, of manic-depressive illness between 1963 and 1980, I was treated with lithium carbonate in Launceston by a psychiatrist, Dr. Glinka. I have been on lithium now for twenty five years. My mood swings, now in 2004, take place, for the most part, at night with the death wish still part of the experience. The symptoms that affect my daily working capacity are fatigue and psychological weariness after a night of light sleeping, tossing and turning and a feeling that I have not slept at all. Dryness of the mouth and short term memory loss also seem to affect my daily life as a result, perhaps, of the eight ECT treatments I had as far back as the late 1960s. Feel free to contact my psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, at 155 George Street in Launceston(63312122), for more details and his professional assessment should you wish it. I have discussed my case with Dr. Ratcliffe for several years and he would both be happy to elaborate on my condition should you want any clarification and elaboration of the issues and medical assessments involved. His special field of expertise is the bi-polar disorder.
It seemed appropriate to provide some detailed statement since the issue of this bi-polar illness is a complex one, varies from person to person and has come up many times over the more than forty years that I have had to deal with its symptoms in my personal and working life. It is difficult to characterize my condition and it is for this reason that I have sent to you this somewhat long statement. I hope the account below, in both long and short term contexts, will explain adequately my reasons for not wanting to serve on Tasmania’s Baha’i Council or do a full-time job.
2. Manic-Depression: Long-term 1962-2002
There seems to be a process, one that I experience on a daily basis now in which I cross from normal behaviour to an abnormal extreme, a tedium vitae attitude and behaviour as I have come to call it. Due to this "process" over the last forty years in a much more accentuated form, it has been difficult to define just where I was at any one time along that 'normal-abnormal' continuum. This was true at both the depressive end and the hypomanic end of the spectrum. It is difficult, therefore, to actually name the number of times when I have had major manic-depressive episodes, perhaps as many as eight, certainly as few as four, in my whole life, until the last brief episode in 1990 when I went off my lithium for between one and three months. Since the 1990s it has no longer been difficult to know where I am in this process.
At the hypomanic end there were experiences like the following: "violent emotional instability and oscillation", "abrupt changes" and "a sudden change in a large number of intellectual assumptions."1 Mental balance, a psychological coherence between intellect and emotion and a rational reaction to the outside world all seemed to blow away, over a few hours to a few days, as I was plunged in a sea of what could be variously described as: emotional heat, intense awareness, sensitivity, sleeplessness, voluble talking, racing mental activity, fear, excessive and clearly irrational parano0ia--and in 1968 virtually total incoherence at times--at one end of the spectrum; or intense depression, melancholia, an inner sense of despair and a desire to commit suicide at the other end. The latter I experienced from 1963 to 1965, off and on; the former from 1964 to 1990, on several occasions.
The longest depression was in 1963 and 1964 with perhaps two six month periods from June to November and July to December, respectively. The longest episode of hypomania was from June to November 1968. The hypomania in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1990 were treated quickly with medication, although the 1978 episode, beginning in January, seemed to last for at least three or four months and had a mostly depressive component. I had no experience of this variously characterized illness in childhood. It was not until I was 19 that any characteristics of this illness became apparent in my day-to-day life. My episodes seemed to be quite separate tendencies; hypomania often lead to depression and vice versa. In the 1978 episode, elation and depression followed each other within a two to three month period. Clearly, in the episodes in the late '70s, fear, paranoia and the extremes of depression seemed to be much less than those of the 1960s.
The account above has none of the fine detail that I could include like: mental hallucinations, specific fears and paranoias, electroconvulsive therapy, psychiatric analysis and diagnosis, the many years of dealing with a death wish, experiences in and out of several hospitals with a great number of people, situations and, looking back, often humorous and absurd events.
There are a variety of manic-depressive profiles, different typicalities. It is bipolar because both ends of the spectrum, the mood swings, were experienced over the period 1963 to 1990, twenty-seven years. Thanks to lithium the extremes were treated by the time I was 36 years of age. It took another ten years for me to fully accept the lithium treatment. From time to time I tried to live without the lithium. Such, in as brief a way as possible, is the summary of my experience over the years. I would like, now, to focus on my more recent experience of the last several years.
3. Manic-Depression: Short-term 2002-2004
In 2002 Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, my supervising psychiatrist in Launceston, suggested I go onto fluvoxamine in addition to the lithium treatment. Fluvoxamine is an anti-depressant. The fluvoxamine removed the blacknesses I experienced at night, from late in the evening to early morning. The death-wish has always been associated with these blacknesses. With the fluvoxamine, gradually the blacknesses, the depressions, disappeared. The death wish remained as did sleeping problems. Frequent urination, periodic nausea and memory problems related, in part, to the shock treatments I had back in the 1960s were new problems. But the dark and debilitating feelings, I had experienced for so many years, were at last removed. After forty years of bi-polar disorder with periodic debilitating episodes, most of the worst symptoms seemed at last to have been treated.
4. Other Physical Difficulties:
Three years ago I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema which gives me a shortage of breath. I also suffered from RSI which I treated with exercise, thus lessening the effects. These two conditions exacerbated the remaining bi-polar symptoms by making it difficult to engage in an activity for more than short periods of time. The memory problem also contributes, as you can appreciate, to many practical problems in day-to-day life. I mention these things because, although my bi-polar disorder is largely treated, there is a constellation of physical and psychological difficulties remaining. For the most part in community life I rarely talk about these things and most people who know me have no idea of my medical history or the difficulties I live under physically. I have for many years regarded these difficulties as part of my own spiritual battles that I must face.
In the last decade or so there has developed in psychiatry what has been called a Recovery Model for treatment and care. This model puts the onus on the person with the disorder to work out what is his or her best way to cope, to survive, in society given the conditions of their illness. Such an individual must work out the techniques and strategies for day-to-day living. With each individual the disorder is idiosyncratic; individual consumers of mental health services must work out what is best for them in terms of these services and in terms of what activities are appropriate for them within their coping capacity in life’s day-to-day spectrum.
5. My Wife’s Illness:
My wife, Christine, has also not been well for many years since we moved north of Capricorn in 1982. The doctors do not know what the cause of her physical problems is, but they are problems that make life difficult for her and our life together. Her symptoms include: dizziness, nausea, back-ear-and-eye ache, headache, among some two dozen or more maladies. Sometimes, with the aid of steroids, she seems to recover for a time, but when she goes off the steroids her symptoms get worse.
Perhaps the one advantage my wife’s ill-health has is that it allows me to focus on her problems, to talk about her problems, when the subject comes up in community life and thus take the focus off of my own disability. Consequently, people have little idea of the physical problems I face and much more of an idea of hers. I don’t mind this for I am not particularly interested in talking about my disability, but it has the disadvantage of people having little idea of the battles I face in my personal life.
6. Concluding Statement:
This brief and general account summarizes both the long history of this illness and where I am at present in what has been a life-long battle. I think it is important to state, in conclusion, that I possess a clinical disorder, a bio-chemical, an electro-chemical, imbalance having to do with brain chemistry. The transmission of messages in my brain is simply overactive. One to two percent of the population suffer from this illness. The extremes of this illness are now largely treated by lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine but a residue of symptoms remains which I have described briefly above. The other factors that describe my personal situation I have also outlined and need to be taken into consideration as well.
I have gone into the detail I have above because I wanted to give you some idea of the extent of this illness and its subtle and not-so-subtle affects. I really feel quite exhausted from the battle with this illness and would prefer to continue to serve in everyday life in ways that my health allows.
I have had a radio program for more than three years in Launceston and have been involved in small writing and community tasks here in George Town. All these tasks involve only short bursts of energy and activity. I am also involved in various domestic activities here in George Town again involving short periods of time. These activities are all within my capacity for short time periods, periods also necessitated by my chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but that is a separate issue which I do not want to overemphasise.
In four years I will be 65 and will go on the Australian Pension. I have not worked in full time employment for six years for reasons associated with this illness. I have been on a Disability Services Pension(DSP) for three years. Although I have been treated for the worst side-affects of manic-depressive illness, I have little energy, enthusiasm or capacity for full-time employment and it is for this reason I have been granted the DSP. My short-term memory loss often feels like the beginning of a dementia condition, although I had a memory test administered in 2001 at the Medical Services clinic in George Town and it did not indicate the beginnings of dementia. My wife, though, who knows me well and experiences the affects of this memory loss, has been very concerned and often frustrated by behaviour associated with my memory loss for several years now. All of this adds to my present incapacity.
I trust the above outline provides an adequate information base for you to evaluate my situation. I apologize for going on at such length, but I felt it was essential to put you in the picture, so to speak. I look forward to hearing from anyone in the weeks ahead should my experience be relevant to your own.
That's all for now-folks!