This autobiography/memoir of a Bahai over seven decades of teaching and international travel is one of the few extensive personal accounts of the experience of a Western Bahai beginning in the second epoch (1944-1963) of the Formative Age.
This autobiographical study begins at the start of the first three North American and global teaching Plans of: 1937, 1946, & 1953, respectively. This study integrates a lifespan, his projected lifespan, 1944 to 2044, his life-narrative, into the context of the history of the Bahai community back to 1743, the year of the birth of that Babi Faith's chief precursor Shaykh Ahmad. The author includes over 2000 references from the humanities and social sciences within the western intellectual tradition. His account goes through to the year 2044, and the end of the 2nd century of the Baha'i Era.
This work draws on many studies of autobiography and biography, life-narratives, memoirs and diaries, as well as a broad range of experience, to analyse this author's society, his Faith, his community and himself in those critical first eight decades of organized and systematic teaching plans, 1936 to 2016. It is his hope that he will be able to extend this study of his personal experience and the teaching plans until at least 2036, when he will be in his 90s, and possibly until 2044 when he will have reached the age of 100. Time, of course, will tell.
Readers will find here at Baha'i Library Online(BLO) the introductory sections, Parts 1, 2 and 3, of the author's epic 2500 page five volume 7th edition. These three Parts, now sub-divided into 6 separate sections, are an abridged, truncated and necessarily provisional edition for BLO.
This section, this post at BLO, is Part 1.2 and, as the title suggests, the entire work is a study of autobiography as a genre, an analysis of its process and its content, as much as if not more than, a study of the author's life, his society and his religion. The Office of Review of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States has given him permission to post this work in its current form on the Internet.
The 3rd edition of this document was originally posted at BLO in 2003. A hard copy was placed in the Baha'i World Centre library also in 2003; that 3rd edition has now been edited and revised many times in the dozen years since 2003. The current edition, the 7th, was posted here at BLO in celebration of the 50th anniversary, in April 2013, of the first election of the Universal House of Justice in April 1963. This document is now in the early stages of an 8th edition. This 8th edition is envisaged to be published in its final form somewhere in cyberspace in or after April 2021 at the end of the first century of the Formative Age if, as the author points out, he lasts that long. In 2021 he will be 77, and in 2044 he will be 100, the end of the 2nd century of the Baha'i Era.
In some ways this autobiography is simply a form of self-reflection and writing known as auto-ethnography since this work explores the author's personal experience and also connects his autobiographical story to wider cultural & political, sociological & psychological meanings & understandings. This account differs from ethnography which is a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group's culture. Auto-ethnography focuses on: (i) the writer's subjective experience in interaction with the beliefs and practices of others, (ii) research and writing, (iii) story and method. The author's aim, among many, is to connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political. This is the core of auto-ethnography.
Analytical auto-ethnographers focus on developing theoretical explanations of broader social phenomena; auto-ethnographers like this author also focus on narrative presentations that aim to open-up conversations & evoke responses from others. As part of the author's prefatory work, he takes his family history and his historical commentary on society, as well as on this latest of the Abrahamic religions, back to the century 1753 to 1844, the precursor period of the Babi Revelation. He then continues into the century 1844 to 1944, the year he was born in Canada. He then takes his readers through the 2nd century of the Baha'i Era, from 1944 to 2044.
In putting this account together the author deals with some 15 generations of history, of his family, of the Babi-Baha'i religions and the Babi Faith's precursor period. That's a total of 300 years, from 1743 to 2044. This series of volumes attempts to integrate the experience of these generations into a coherent whole. After more than 30 years of working on this vast expanse of history and personal experience, he feels he has just begun. This is one of the many works which this author and editor, online blogger and journalist is now working on as he goes through his last years on Earth.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Part 1.2:
An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography
The following part of my autobiography is Part 1.2
VOLUME 1: CHAPTER 2: INTRODUCTION 2: PART 3
There are a number of problems involved in investigating genre popularity, growth, and decline in publishing. This applies a fortiori to autobiography and biography. Firstly, it is not easy to gain access to detailed statistics, which are usually only available within the publishing industry. Secondly, it is difficult to ascertain how publishing statistics are gathered and what they report. There is the question of whether bestselling booklists reflect actual book sales or are manipulated marketing tools, although the move from surveys of booksellers to electronic reporting at point of sale in new publishing lists such as BookScan will hopefully obviate this problem. Thirdly, some publishing lists categorise by subject and form, some by subject only, and some do not categorise at all. This means that in any analysis of these statistics, a decision has to be made whether to use the publishing list’s system or impose a different mode. If the publishing list is taken at face value, the question arises of whether to use categorisation by form or by subject. There is a great deal written on this subject now for readers with the interest. I say all this because it has become difficult for me to place my work in the borad context of publishing autobiography.
Added to the above, there is the bedeviling issue of terminology. Traditionally, there reigned a simple dualism in the terminology applied to forms of telling the true story of an actual life: biography and autobiography. Publishing lists that categorise their books, such as BookScan, have retained it. But with postmodern recognition of the presence of the biographer in a biography and of the presence of other subjects in an autobiography, the dichotomy has proven to be false. There is the further problem of how to categorise memoirs, diaries, and letters. In the academic arena, the term “life writing” has emerged to describe the field as a whole. Within the genre of life writing, there are, however, still recognised sub-genres. Academic definitions vary, but generally a biography is understood to be a scholarly study of a subject who is not the writer; an autobiography is the story of a entire life written by its subject; while a memoir is a segment or particular focus of that life told, again, by its own subject. These terms are, however, often used interchangeably even by significant institutions such the USA Library of Congress, which utilises the term “biography” for all.
Different commentators also use differing definitions. Hamilton uses the term “biography” to include all forms of life writing. Donaldson discusses how the term has been co-opted to include biographies of place such as Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography (2000) and of things such as Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Biography (2005). This reflects, of course, a writing/publishing world in which non-fiction stories of places, creatures, and even foodstuffs are called biographies, presumably in the belief that this will make them more saleable. The situation is further complicated by the emergence of hybrid publishing forms such as, for instance, the “memoir-with-recipes” or “food memoir” (Brien, Rutherford and Williamson). Are such books to be classified as autobiography or put in the “cookery/ food & drink” category? There is a further confusion caused by novels with a subtitle of The Biography such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
The fifth methodological problem that needs to be mentioned is the increasing globalisation of the publishing industry. This raises questions about the validity of the majority of studies available which are nationally based. Whether book sales reflect what is actually read (and by whom), raises of course another set of questions altogether. In our exploration, we were fundamentally concerned with two questions. Is life writing as popular as claimed? And, if it is, is this a new phenomenon? The non-fiction bestseller lists in Publishers Weekly (a respected American trade magazine aimed at publishers, librarians, booksellers, and literary agents that claims to be international in scope) from their inception in 1912 to the present time provides a longitudinal perspective. The term bestseller was coined by Publishers Weekly when it began publishing its lists in 1912; although the first list of popular American books actually appeared in The Bookman (New York) in 1895, based itself on lists appearing in London’s The Bookman since 1891 (Bassett and Walter 206). The Publishers Weekly lists are the best source of longitudinal information as the currently widely cited New York Times listings did not appear till 1942, with the Wall Street Journal a late entry into the field in 1994.
l use “life writing” as a genre term. When it comes to analysis of the lists, I have broken down the genre of life writing into biography and autobiography, incorporating memoir, letters, and diaries under autobiography. This is consistent with the use of the terminology in BookScan. It is the overall picture with regard to life writing that is my concern. It is beyond the scope of what I want to write here to offer a detailed analysis of whether, within life writing, further distinctions should be drawn. Readers with the interest can access this burgeoning field in cyberspace.
VOLUME 1: CHAPTER 3: LETTERS
THE DEFINITIVE INTRODUCTION TO THIS COLLECTION OF LETTERS
Several years after I retired from FT, PT and casual paid employment by 2006, I wrote several introductions to my several collections of letters. Tonight, now that I am on an old-age pension(2009), I have decided to write what I hope will become the definitive introduction. Now that this collection has passed the fifty year mark, 1960-2010, it may be timely to write what follows about this increasing mass of material. I would like to think that these letters might serve to partly satisfy the public taste for realism and provide documentation for moral dilemmas for future readers, just as some of the epistolary fiction served these purposes back in the late seventeenth & early eighteenth centuries. That is what I would like to think. But my more realistic muse tells me that, at best, these many letters may serve as a seedbed for something quite beyond my wildest dreams; and at worst they will be consigned to oblivion, to fertilize the soil in an obscure and unknown way.
The letter has taken on a new lease of life in the last 25 years, 1990 to 2015, in the form of the e-mail. A veritable industry has grown up and will, in the years to come, continue to grow and flourish. I have kept some of my e-mails but most of them have been erased from history's eye. Nine-tenths of life, said Mark Twain, is simple trivia and not worth any comment and this includes the great bulk of any email I have received in the eight years when email was first introduced at my place of work. A residue of deeply felt experience is now being transmitted electronically,though emotional & intellectual outpourings will continue in the form found here.A coterie will continue to take the letter seriously, even if a great mass of the public pursues other mediums of pleasure, entertainment and information.
For centuries, at least since the seventeenth century, the letter has promised to reveal the true life of the writer. "The development of a unified sensibility or point of view behind each collection" says Ruth Perry in Women, Letters and the Novel(Ams Press Inc., NY, 1981, p.90) was "an important step in the development of the novel." I would like to think that any proselytizing tendency, any serious moral intention which suffuses this collection, any particular sensibility, is but one single consciousness among an infinite variety. For variety, diversity, is at the centre, the heart of this new revelation, a revelation without which this collection of letters would not have taken any form at all.
I would like to think, too, that I have had one eye on satire, on humour, to entertain the reading troops.That is what I'd like to think, but I do not think I pull this goal off very well.Letter writing has been, among other things, about reactions to separation & isolation. It is one of the means writers have to cope with the frustration of their desires, with distance, with difficulties. Sometimes the letter is a hapless response, a way of bewailing a plight, luxuriating in self-pity and enjoying the heightened awareness that comes from suffering. Sometimes the letter is a potent medium for fantasy. Sometimes the letter is the relationship. This has been true in some of my letters. I will leave it to the reader to assess how much of these various purposes can be found in these letters.
Dwelling on the negative, on loneliness and suffering of various kinds, tends to accentuate them. I have, therefore, tried to avoid extensive commisserations, although emotional self-description is often present. I have developed, a little like Soren Kierkegaard, a certain attitude to the letter, seeing it as an artistic persona from which to write. I do not often care if I get an answer or not, although this is certainly not always the case. There is, though, a strong imaginative function in letter writing that serves to keep it moving along on its own quite independently of any specific respondent. Perhaps this is partly because "isolation is so central to the epistolary paradigm."(1) Various forms of social integration find their place in the letter. They find their place here in this collection. In this new age isolation and integration become parts of one unified whole, one enduring sensibility.
After writing what I hoped would be "my definitive introduction", it is clear that such is not the case. Readers who would like more of my commentary on letters can go to a separate document here at BLO. I have also written on the subject of letter writing in many other places and I leave this to readers who show some interest in the subject to search the web and my now massive collection of material in cyberspace.
(1) Ruth Perry, Women, Letters and the Novel, Ams Press Inc., NY, 1981, p.116.
19/6/'98 to 17/4/'15.
SOME COMMENTS ON MY LETTERS
As the final months and days of Volume 11 of Division 1 of my personal correspondence(26/11/'06-26/11/'07) came to an end on 26 November 2007, I began to keep the bulk of my correspondence in electronic form and not in hard copy in files. Inevitably, some incoming items did not lend themselves to electronic form, but did lend themselves to keeping. In addition, some items like introductions to various files, some emails and letters and a wide range of archival resources that: (a) did not fit in anywhere else in my system of files and (b) did not lend themselves to being kept in electronic form, but which I wanted to keep in some type of archive, I began keeping in Volume 11. I continued that practice in this volume 12 of varied resources and collected items.
It has become obvious, though, with this new development of an electronic letter archive, that much material that I used to keep is no longer kept. This has been true of the very short pieces especially short emails, various items of memorabilia and other odds-and-ends whose content seemed irrelevant to keep for any future use by me or others.
This file, Personal Correspondence: Volume 12, did seem to be a relevant place to keep: (a) first and further editions of introductions, (b) first and further editions of other short pieces of writing and (c) some early editions of tables of content, inter alia. The result of these additions to the "letters/emails" files, was a sort of hotch-potch of stuff. At a future time, I may evaluate where to go with this new development of non-epistolary material which, strictly speaking, does not belong in such a "letter" file.
After one year in this volume 12(26/11/'07-26/11/'08), there appears to be room in this arch-lever file for at least another year of letters, emails and more of this pot-pourri of resources that seem to possess some archival relevance.
I find my experience of writing letters has a number of similarities to the experience of Petrarch. He describes this experience in his Preface to his First Collection of Letters:
"…..amid the tempests of life I have never for long cast anchor in any one port, I have naturally made innumerable acquaintances. How many true friends I know not, for friends are not only exceedingly few, but difficult to distinguish. It has fallen to my lot, in consequence, to write to a great many who differed so widely from one another in mind and condition that on re-reading my letters it sometimes seemed to me as if I had said in one precisely the opposite from what I had in another. Yet anyone who has been in a similar position will readily admit that I was almost forced into such contradictions. The first care indeed in writing is to consider to whom the letter is to be sent; then we may judge what to say and how to say it.
We address a strong man in one way and a weak one in another. The inexperienced youth and the old man who has fulfilled the duties of life, he who is puffed up with prosperity and he who is stricken with adversity, the scholar distinguished in literature and the man incapable of grasping anything beyond commonplace, ---each must be treated according to his character or position. There are infinite varieties among men; minds are no more alike than faces. And as the same stomach does not always relish the same kind of food, the same mind is not always to be fed upon the same kind of writing. So the task becomes a double one, for not only have we to consider the person to whom we propose to write, but how those things we are planning to say are likely to affect him when he reads them. Owing to these difficulties I have often been forced into apparent contradictions. And in order that unfavourable critics may not turn this against me, I have relied in a measure upon the kind aid of the flames for safety, and for the rest, upon your keeping the letters secret and suppressing my name."
Petrarch continues in that same preface: "Now that letters sent off years ago to the most distant regions are brought together at once in a single place, it is easy to perceive deformities in the whole body which were not apparent in the separate parts. Phrases which pleased when they occurred but once in a letter, begin to annoy one when frequently repeated in the same collection; accordingly they must be retained in one and expunged from the others. Many things, too, which related to every-day cares and which deserved mention when I wrote, would now weary even the most eager reader, and were therefore omitted." Such are some of Petrarch's explanations of the changes to the text in his collection of letters. Generally, it seems to me that the same could be said of my letters and I have quoted Petrarch for this reason.
Petrarch analyses the letters of Cicero whose oeuvre comes to nearly 1000. He says that Cicero treats philosophical subjects in his books, but fills his letters with miscellaneous news and the gossip of the day. For this reason, Petrarch goes on, he finds Cicero's letters very agreeable reading. They relax the tension produced by the weighty matters in Cicero's books which if read for long strain the mind. If occasionally interrupted the weighty subjects become a source of pleasure. Certainly my own letters follow the example of Cicero as opposed to that of Seneca who kept the tone and content of his letters serious to the end.
Petrarch entitles one of his volumes Letters of Familiar Intercourse, letters he writes "which there is little anxious regard to style, but where homely matters are treated in a homely manner." I am sure some quite natural division or categorization of letters could be made in relation to the several volumes of my letters. I leave this, of course, to future editors.
In the end it may be best to simply keep these letters of mine secret, unpublished or in the fire. In these ways these crude productions that I have carelessly thrown off--called letters--will be shielded from impudence, criticism and the lack of etiquette of expression. I think I may be making too much about various small matters in relation to these letters of mine. But I may be justified because I am more than a little conscious of my fear of censorious critics who, instead of producing work of their own to be judged, set themselves up as the judges of others' talents.
"I am ashamed of a life which has lapsed into weakness," Petrarch says in a surprising statement. He says that an examination of the order of his letters reveals a language in his earlier years that was sober and strong, betokening a valiant heart. He "not only stood firm," he says, "but often consoled others." The succeeding letters of his later years become day by day weaker and more dispirited and filled with lamentations of many kinds. Certainly as the years have gone on, and especially after the age of fifty, bodily weakness, a lack of fire in the will, an increased consciousness of my failings and of my sins of omission and commission became more and more part of my experience. I often felt more like a child than someone who had reached maturity. The aging process and its attendant correspondence is slow and mysterious and something I have just begun.
July 29th 2005
VOLUME 1: CHAPTER 4: DIARY, JOURNAL AND NOTEBOOKS
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUMES 1 AND 2 OF MY JOURNALS/DIARIES
Volume 6 of my diaries was begun on 26 July 2009. Writing a personal diary can be fraught with danger, laying one’s soul out for view as it were, but nevertheless, such documents provide one of the best, if not the best, way of understanding the day to day activities, the thoughts and aspirations of the diarist, whether those entries seem important, mundane or of no interest at all to a later reader. This is true whether the diarist writes on a day-to-day basis or, as I do, just periodically. I would like to think that readers will find here in my diary or journal a fascinating first-hand account of the life of a Bahá'í in the last years of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st century, a life at a veritable fulcrum-time, a hub of crucial Bahá'í experience, the opening years of a new Baha’i paradigm, a new culture of learning and growth. This diary is of an ordinary Baha’i, an international pioneer from the Canadian Baha’i community, and his life at a critical stage in the wider experience of society at a climacteric of history. It is a life in the form of a detailed, readable and absorbing account of the emergence of a person whom some regard as a fine writer and poet, whom others denigrate and criticize and whom most people know little to nothing of at all.
These two volumes, about which this is the introduction, provide resources of other diarists, people who kept journals of various kinds. They were initiated in 2005 but they contain items gathered over many years before that date, some as far back as the 1980s when I began to keep a diary. In July 2010 it became necessary to open a second volume and this introduction is written on the opening of that second volume.
15 July 2010
What follows is a summary of my journals or diaries, for I use the terms interchangeably even though I am aware that fine distinctions are made by specialists in the field of diary and journal-making. The diary and journal are sub-sections of life-writing, life-narrative, autobiography and memoir writing. My journals are not those of an artist with paint, a sculptor with clay, but one of a person who likes to see himself as an artist in the medium of words. I leave this to others to judge how accurate is this self-assessment. All talents, such is my view, are a combination of effort, 99% perspiration, and 1% inspiration. The religious person might call that 1% unmerited favour or grace. I leave this to people with such inclinations, such religious sensibilities.
This summary is made after more than 25 years of diary or journal keeping, January 1984 to July 2009. Those who work in the more familiar mediums of painting and sculpture, pottery or one of the various forms of design, may find my post useful as a form of comparison and contrast with their own literary outputs, their own records of their work. Such is my hope. As I have said before in other contexts than this, keeping a journal/diary I have found difficult. I know many others do as well, artists and people in all sorts of walks of life. The Australian artist Donald Friend's work with his art journal has been helpful to me in this vein, in the vein of keeping and maintaining a diary. Also of value to me have been the diaries of Juliet Thompson, Agnes Parsons and a range of other diaries and quasi-memoiristic resources that have appeared online in recent years.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 5 OF MY DIARY
After twenty-six years of haphazard diary keeping(1984-2009), and an equally haphazard twenty-four years of dream recording(1986-2009), there looms ahead of me the shadow of a type of diary that my work may attain to: part of the shadow is prospective and the other retrospective. What, indeed, will I make of this loose, drifting material of my life, as Virginia Woolf calls the material in her diary and which very accurately describes mine, however incomplete, however irregular are my entries, however superficial the content often is. Do I want this diary to be so elastic as to embrace anything solemn, slight, beautiful or ugly that comes to mind, sort of a capacious hold-all? Will this diary, this journal, this particular way of conveying my memoir, when all is said and done and the roll is called up yonder, assuming there is a roll and there is an up-yonder where diaries I cannot imagine play any part at all—will this diaristic memoir resemble a place where I have flung a mass of odds and ends, some with reflective ardour and great meaning, some with fatigue and sadness, some with guilt and shame, some with a sense of their utter triviality, their tedium and life's? My diary thusfar is highly diffuse, apparently shapeless and, in places, unremittingly concrete.
The purpose of this overview of my diary, updated more than twenty-five years after beginning my episodic entries and introducing, as it does, the 5th volume of this diary, is to analyse, give definition and pattern to the autobiographical memory that I have put on paper across my lifespan in the form of diary. I use other genres of writing to record memory, but I deal here with the genre of journal or diary. Autobiographical memory, in so far as it relates to my journal, can be broadly defined as a type of episodic memory for information related to the self, both in the form of retrospective and prospective memories, as well as aims, goals and expectations. If this retrospective, episodic account relates to the retrieval in the present of memories, experiences or past events, then prospective autobiographical memory is concerned with the retrieval of expectations, anticipations or future events which likewise are connected in some way with the present.
On the basis of what I have written here in these 25 years, it would appear that a collection of flotsam and jetsam, as Woolf says, has been put on record. This material has been born from a vaster collection of life's flotsam and jetsam, some of which is meaningful to me in the moment or at least hopefully so but, ultimately and possibly, about as useful and valuable to others as the eye of a dead ant. I hope this is not the case but, as that famous 20th century poet Mr T.S. Eliot once wrote, one has to be prepared that all which one has written may become in time a dead letter. I get a sense of order in putting what I write on paper---at least some of the time. Such a feeling is its own intrinsic reward. I am sure this is the case for many, artists and others. But such a feeling is not always the case. In writing, as in so many other activities in life, the feelings and associations are not always bright and beautiful, enriching and meaningful; fatigue and a sense of the ordinary, a sense of what is the point of writing this often emerges, goes along with the act of writing. Not everything can have the hype and glamour, excitement and colour of the television.
Suzette Henke describes how many diarists come to their diaries out of shattered lives, out of a need to relive their lives in terms of some dream, some myth, some endless story which they compose. This is not the case with me but, as my fifties wore on and turned into my sixties, I seemed to wear on if not out. I did not burn-out but my wings had been clipped and my edges were frayed. I seemed to lose some of life’s heat and there was some shattering---associated with my bipolar disorder which I have written about elsewhere. It was a shattering of the social nature I had manifested for several decades, indeed as far back as I could remember, perhaps as far back as my first memories more than 60 years ago. It is difficult to define just what it is that lies under this diary, what is its raison d’etre or what are its raisons d’etres. One of the leitmotifs which binds the diary together into a coherent whole, if indeed it has coherence and wholeness, is my peripatetic life in search of so many different things as I look back to the beginning of my movement from place to place.
There are many things that motivate me to want to add an extra level to my already present story, my autobiography or memoir. One was conveyed by Shakespeare in sonnet 94: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds.” My diary or journal is much more confessional than my autobiography or memoir. The story of my travels from place to place needed to be written, or such was my own felt need in those same 25 years. It has now been written; it is now complete as far as the 6th edition and a truncated version of it can be found at Baha’i Library Online.
Baha’is are advised, though, not be confess their sins unless, of course, they spontaneously desire to do so and in this regard they are quite free. My journal is much more confessional. By the age of fifty I had certainly collected lots of deeds whose memories were not endearing. Perhaps by means of memoir, autobiography, poetry and diary I was trying to work some magic to reflect the self I wanted to be. Such was the case with that famous diarist Anais Nin. I don’t think it was the case with me, though there was some of Anais Nin’s aim in my own. My diary or journal tended to be the place of my most confessional writing and, for that reason alone, if for no other, it deserved to exist on its own. It was and is a genre of particular use to me as a writer for its several purposes which this brief essay attempts to outline.
As this diary has developed over more than a quarter of a century, it has served simply to help me to describe my life, not especially to deal with accounts of personal complexities like the desire to fight or flight, nor to battle on, nor adopt some defensive escape, nor as a strategy to cope with traumatic personal history, although I have often experienced all of these inner wantings to escape, to battle on or deal with trauma of different kinds. To want to cut and run and great inner fear or anxiety of some kind were common enough occurrences in my more than seven decades of living thusfar. For I was, in part at least, the traumatized soul that Phyllis K. Peterson describes in her book Assisting the Traumatized Soul. It was Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith though, not Shakespeare, who I think put his finger on the reason for the shift in my life activity as my fifties wore on and became incrementally my sixties. Excess of speech is a deadly poison and its affects last a lifetime, He wrote in the 19th century. I had had an excess of life’s verbal art and its twistings and turnings in the 60 years of my memoried life from the late 1940s to the first years of this third millennium.
Of course, there is much more in the motivational matrix that led to the writing of this diary and I deal with this complex matrix as far as I am able and as much as I desire in this introduction to Volume 5 of this diary as well as at other places in my writings for those who are interested in following-up on this theme, the raison d’etre for this diary. My desire to take part in that conversational, that verbal, part of life as my late adulthood(60-80), grew insensibly and incrementally, annalistically as the Romans would have written it, into their middle years, 65 to 75, markedly decreased. How much of this was due to a new medication for my bipolar disorder and how much was due to simple social disinclination I do not know. I can only hypothesize.
As the year 1984-1985 opened and I began this diary at the age of forty, I found myself in possession of a talent, a gift, perhaps as I say above, an unmerited grace. I had been conscious of its developing nature since, perhaps 1972, my first year as a high school teacher in the dry dog-biscuit land of northern South Australia where the winds from Australia’s center blow through the classrooms, classrooms which never saw air-conditioning and sear one’s very soul with 30 kids in their neat rows.
In 1984 I was writing a column in the Katherine’s local newspaper of 800 words every week. Katherine was another dry place of intense heat, although I did enjoy some air-conditioning in that tourist town. I won’t deal with the origins of this writing activity in the local paper nor the development by sensible and insensible degrees in the dozen years before 1984 going back to 1971 when I arrived, when I travelled form my home in southern Ontario in Canada to Whyalla in South Australia. I had always liked the base, the origin, of art, in unmerited grace, as the unofficial poet laureate of the Baha’i Faith back in the 1980s, sometimes emphasized. Annie Dollar(1945-), the American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction, used this uplifting phrase or idea, although the question it deals with is far from simple. Writing had been for me a talent which had grown slowly with the years, first as a student, then as a teacher, then as a writer in publications of various kinds. It was in the sheer exercise of this gift and harnessing it to life's service and the causes that concerned me that was part of the motivating base for producing a diary, although much more could be said here and interested readers can find more of my comments on this theme in my other writings.
My diary became, in part, a textual testimony, a form of scriptotherapy, a testimonial, an episodic narrative, a form of defence and assertion, albeit partial and temporary. It became, along with the other genres of my writing, a form of living, a way of spending my time, my life, the way I wanted to. I could make some comparisons and contrasts of my work with the work of others. I found the diaries of others provided helpful perspectives on my own writing, but I will not deal with this subject here for the literature on diaries and journals is now burgeoning. And all of this dairy writing was not therapy, nor is it for other diary-keepers.
These five volumes of my journal are found in eight two-ring binders and two arch-lever files. Three of these binders contain photographs with some commentary and one of the files contains comments on some of my dreams. I have made a periodic attempt to write a retrospective diary for the years 1844 to 1984, taking my family, my genealogical record back to the lives of my great-grandparents, but thusfar the attempt has had limited success. I don’t want to leave the impression that diary writing is a fertile field. Far from it—for me. Much of my efforts at a diary are now and have been for many years dry, uninspiring, far from encouraging.
Henry David Thoreau's fine Journal, kept from 1839 to 1861, gave expression to Thoreau’s view, his vision of the destiny of America in terms of life in death. That became a dominant feature of my writing as far back as the 1980s, the feature of life in death. I am confident that has and will be a strong part of the experience of many generations of the North Americans. There are times in this account when I focus on the inner self, my experiences, my community; there are other times when I focus on my society, the land, a more open perspective. I seem to be a more tolerant person than Thoreau, although I confess that by the time I retired at 55 I had begun to tire of people and conversations about the ordinarily ordinary. Like Thoreau, I rarely have the public in mind when I write, although I do have a future public in mind as the Australian artist Donald Friend did in his diary.
In the last century, 1909-2009, over one billion deaths, that’s 1000 million!!, have occurred from trauma of different kinds or so some historians claim, and so it is not surprising that an individual diary should be seen in terms of life in death. But readers will have to wait for my demise to read more on this theme. I only want to allude to it here. Henry Miller arguably the first writer to use the “F” word long before it broke out in the media in the 1960s, was one of the few post-WW2 American writers of note who wrote praiseworthy things about many of the things I hold dear, especially the Baha’i Faith. He also wrote, somewhat prophetically:
"When the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete," wrote Miller, "another set of destruction will set in. And it will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble." Not a happy note to include in the introduction to a volume of my journal, but certainly interesting and written back in the early 1940s! Decades ago people would have trouble comprehending Miller's idea here, but not any more.
In the case of some of my retrospective diary work making entries is difficult. For, when I write about events taking place forty years ago, I cannot rely on closeness to the event. I must rely on what the journalist and playwright Peter Braunstein(1964-) calls possessive memory. “Possessive memory,” writes Braustein in his history of the counter-culture, “leaves the person and his memories in a lover’s embrace. The person is in possession of his memories, and no one else can touch them; at the same time, his memories are in possession of him.” Braunstein applies this idea to those activists in the sixties who experienced “a sense of self-generation so powerful that it became a constitutive part of their later identity.” Without going into the many contradictory views that have emerged in sixties studies, there is little doubt that I experienced several early stages of my own variety of activism in the sixties. I was 15 when the sixties started and 25 when they finished. My adult life began during those years and that “sense of self-generation” is still a part of my identity even now. If it wasn't I don't think I could keep writing. Like many of the sixties generation, I felt as if I was an agent of history and I still do. But as the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset notes in his analysis of the 60s generation only some 7 per cent of those adolescents and young adults of the sixties were ever active in any committed sense. For most people the experience of society was like sport, an exercise in spectatorship. What went on in the wider public sphere was an adjunct to family life, jobs and a general hedonistic materialism.
In writing my life story in the last years of my fifties and now early sixties, I came to realize more than I ever had before, perhaps for the first time in any full sense, that the success I had achieved in life grew not only from my own hard work and certain favourable circumstances of my environment, but from the foundation provided by my parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side. The journey of understanding, like the journey of life itself, is an emotional one that I have tried to write about with honesty and with a fresh eye for those primary relationships in my life: father-son, mother-son and grandfather-grandson, wife-husband, among several others I could possibly include. Of course, not all is emotion, again thank goodness. There is intellect, reason, the cultural attainments of the mind and a host of other qualities that psychologists enumerate in their studies of personality and that historians describe in their study of the past.
I still do not feel I have found the flow, the filling up of the springs, the raising to higher levels of the streams of thought that could make of this journal a document worth preserving for future generations. Perhaps I will find that flow in the second 25 years of my journal writing. The accumulating grist of my life has really yet to be ground and made into a fertile soil for literary productivity in the first 25 years of writing this journal. This life’s grist may, in fact, never get be ground properly. Thusfar, poetry and narrative, essays and notes have stolen most of the material. They have taken the literary stage of my life and left this diary-prose always waiting in the wings. But, as I said above, the confessional element here may attract a future reader whose interest is, not so much prurient, as passionate and in possession of some solemn consciousness, for some few perhaps a wellspring of celebratory joy. There is some material here to satisfy to some extent those prurient interests, but the wellspring of my celebratory joy, rooted as it has become in my solemn consciousness, offers to future readers a type of confessionalism that is moderate and intoxicated by the wine of another cup. These intoxications I leave to readers of this diary should it ever be published. Most diaries are for most people, if one is honest, dead wood and dry detritus, stuff that would never get read on a good day with gardening and shopping, movies & entertainment, food and fashion to fill the interstices of life and leave the stuff of diaries far, far behind---uninteresting and unread.
This Journal does have less concern for form than my poetry and for that reason there is potentially an easier flow, once the flow begins, at least a flow in a different direction to other genres I use for my writing. I have mentioned before that Henry David Thoreau has been invaluable in helping my diary writing, but I still await that flow in this diary, a flow that has come to my 6500 poems upstream somewhere, but not here downstream in this diary. This diary seems to meander downstream in one of those u-shaped bows one reads about in geography books. The flow so often stops as if one of the Australian droughts finally took away all its water, all the water of life. In Thoreau's last years, from the late 1850s to his death in 1862, he wrote with energy and control, but with little interest in getting into print. I hope this becomes true for my Journal, a repository of lots of energy and creativity with no eye on posterity, in my own latter years, ones that I can not yet anticipate caught up as I am in getting through today and the early evening or perhaps the late evening---for one never knows---of my life.
There is a type of unity in death, thought Thoreau. We need to learn how to die in order to learn how to live was his view. Part of this process, as far as my Journal is concerned, is the pleasure of serendipity. The only thing we leave behind, Thoreau thought, was ourselves. This Journal is just that: myself. It is as if one wants one’s leaves to survive, one’s autumnal hints and the reds, browns and golds of autumn before winter comes and takes it all away. In my case I often feel as if winter has come to my Journal and no leaves can be found on its branches. Life is sometimes cold and dry. This is certainly the case if I measure my life by my Journal---thusfar. Although there is some intoxication of joy in these journals, an intoxication that is the wellspring of my writing, there is also the dry wretch, despair, disappointment and a personal sense of disgust. But there are other indices of measurement that readers may use for these journals, if they ever see the light of day after my passing—and thank goodness for these more moderate measurements of journalistic value. Not all of my emotional life, my experience, has been lived at the ends of bipolarism. Most of my day to day living has been in the moderate middle and thank god for that.
Thoreau said that Emerson was more familiar with his work than he was. I’m sure that, should this material ever be published, there will be those who become more familiar with it--and perhaps with me--than I. I lose touch with this Journal as one often does with aspects of one’s life: with those one loves, with one's feelings which also seem to dry up especially in areas which were once rich, wet and alive. Perhaps this is a way to develop friends in the next life and be ready to meet them when they, or rather I, arrive---assuming of course that there is a next life.
Belief in such a place, such an eternal condition, is not the same as knowledge. It is an assumption around which we put our emotions. It is not much different than the position of the atheist or sceptic; he just travels with different assumptions but with no more evidence for his disbelief than the believer has for his belief. In the end, it deems to me anyway, we are all agnostics. I think, although I do not know, that this was the overt position of my grandfather. I follow this theme too in my journals. Thoreau said that the best growth in trees is in their old age, with harmony and regularity. He also said good deeds act as an encouragement to yourself, to your artistic pursuits, your writing. May I build up a niche of good deeds and may my tree grow best in the years ahead.
Diaries can track the contemporaneous flow of public and private events. They are not given all of a piece, all at once as in a book, such as a life history might be. But rather, they are written discontinuously, either daily or over longer intervals of time and as such provide a record of an ever-changing present. Other types of autobiographical texts or life documents such as letters, rather than documenting the present, tend towards making retrospective sense of a whole life or towards retelling significant moments, epiphanies or crystallizations of experience. This proximity to the present, the closeness between the experience and the record of experience means that there is the perception at least that diaries are less subject to the vagaries of memory, to retrospective censorship or reframing than are other autobiographical accounts. Still, there are in my several thousand letters much that others might place in a diary and so it is that my letters and diary might be seen as all of one piece.
I certainly think there is a variety of potential historical value in these folders that contain my Journals or Diaries and the unfolding aspects of my life. It is a potential I have hardly begun to realize as yet in these first five diary-volumes. There is, I like to think, something unique, some unique contribution to my overall autobiographical opus: Pioneering Over Four Epochs, that has begun to reveal itself after twenty-five years of making entries.
A description of "a life without secrets and without privacy" wrote the great Russian poet Boris Pasternak, describing as he did the life that was his and on display in society in its different forms like some "show window" is simply "inconceivable," he concluded. For me, this privacy is essentially the life of the mind and the many things I have not revealed in the other forms of autobiography. But the revelation, this inner life, comes in my journal. This inner life includes aspects of personal life that one might term revelations: those elements of human experience that seem most private, most hidden, most personal, most shameful, most embarrassing, a source of most guilt and those things that do not tend to be divulged in the normal course of interpersonal life. They are revealed episodically in these journals when time and the inclination have combined to allow me to record them in written form. They are often that sort of entry that has concerned many a writer and artist and which these artists and writers have wanted to burn either before or after their demise from this mortal coil. But, as I said above, there is in my journal what might be called an affective spectrum of experience with emotions and activity at the other end of the continuum: joy, ecstasy, fervid love, rapture, intense desire, inter alia.
I have tried to eliminate the trivial from what I write, but this is difficult for so much of life necessarily deals with trivialities, with life’s many particularities and their ephemerality. When one tries to put one's experience on paper the trivial seems to abound in detail and this is the reason why many, indeed, most people never keep a journal. The mere contemplation of the exercise of writing down what one does is more than the average person can bear; indeed, the activity amounts to an inner revulsion, for many reasons. It is just too tedious for words, both the process and the content. And this is not just due to the average person’s distaste for writing. But enough on this sad but complex theme in this introductory statement.
I have no intention of writing in public places like this about all the boredom and the chowder, as Paul Simon calls some of the aspects of life; nor do I intend to write about all of my sins of omission and commission, all the points of shame and guilt that rise up from my life like a forest of trees. But many of them I do write about in my Diary. Whether I deserve to have had these experiences, whether they came to me as a result of destiny, circumstance, capricious passion, whether I can even grasp the causative factors that gave rise to them at all or whether I can’t, I am not a believer in the virtues of public confession, beyond a certain point. There are times for public confession, public to some degree, for the spontaneous acknowledgment of wrongs I have committed or faults in my character. There are times when I would like someone, usually a close companion of some sort, to forgive me or accept me even with my faults. That point or points tends to be, for me at least, when I admit to personal struggle and battle in the hope that my admission may help others with their battle and struggle. Those who are keen to read the more confessional intimacies of my life and in more detail than they will find in my published accounts, in these introductions and in other places, can read about them in the posthumous collection of my Journals, should my executors decide they are relevant and helpful to a public audience.
Readers who have followed the series of introductions to my several volumes of journals will by now realise that much of what is written here in this introduction is virtually the same as the introduction to volume 4 of my journal. I have also written many of these words both before and after officially opening this volume 5 of my journal on January 20th 2006. It seemed useful to begin the contemplation of the 5th volume of this diary before that opening date of January 20th 2006. Volume 4 was becoming too full to continue using that 2-ring binder. The size of my volumes, the extent of the entries, is based on the room in each arch-lever file or two-ring binder for the entries I place.
It is now 38 years ago that I arrived in Australia in search of experience, life’s informal education and a good job. The Canadian Baha’i community listed me on their records as an international pioneer(12/7/71-12/7/09). After 42 months(20/1/06 to 1/7/09) now of making entries in this volume five, I conclude this introduction and leave the processes of making entries and writing introductions to those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. If Providence is not that watchful in my personal direction and if that Providence has other things to do than to be concerned with the intimacies of my life on a daily basis, in some ways an absurd notion it has always seemed to me----I can at least recount the tokens that tell of the glorious handiwork of the universe in which I am an infinitesimal part. The universe, I have come to the view the more I know of it, it awesome in its immensity: fiery and painful, frightening and wondrous all at once----and beyond words, although astrophysics and astronomy do their best to investigate its mysteries.
Finally, I leave to reason and virtue their steady and not so uniform course while the extravagant wanderings of my vice and folly continue their path down destiny’s corridors with my free will giving me opportunities of wonder and delight all the while closing other doors as I travel. As this awful, awkward and tangled scene in what is perhaps history's greatest climacteric plays itself out before my eyes, I conclude this introduction to my Diary Volume 5.—Ron Price, 1 July 2009(5300 words).
VOLUME 1: CHAPTER 4: NOTEBOOKS
INTRODUCTION TO MY NOTEBOOKS: VOLUMES 1 TO 5
After completing the first edition of my autobiography in May 1993, an autobiography I began in early 1984, I began collecting resources on the subjects of autobiography and memoir, journals and diaries, letters and notebooks. I subsumed all of this material, this academic and literary study of these genres, under the heading Notebooks. By September 2013 I had collected four arch-lever files and nine two-ring binders on these subjects. I felt that the first edition(1993) of my autobiography, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, was entirely unsatisfactory. I thought that there must be more to the process of writing such a work, indeed, more to the final product which was my life and the commentary on my religion and society. What I had then achieved back in 1993 was, for me, tedious to read and of no interest to me on which to expand.
The resources in these twelve files entitled Notebooks represent, then, the efforts of the first 20 years(1993-2013) after the completion of the first edition of my autobiography to draw together a useful body of resources to enrich, to deepen and extend the original edition of that work. The original concept of autobiography, as I had envisaged it back in the years 1984-6 when I took off on that literary journey was, by 2013, transformed. The resources in these dozen volumes, as well as a host of other resources, have proved invaluable in my efforts to write the second to the seventh editions of my autobiography, a five volume work, which became Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
This autobiography is now 2500 pages; 1500 pages are found in this 6-part document, and another 1000 pages are scattered in many places in cyberspace. It has been accepted by the Review Office of the NSA of the Baha’is of the USA for publication on the internet, but not as a book for publication in a hard or soft cover. That book will require further review—so I was informed by that Office in 2009. These Notebooks provide an overview, as I say above, of a particular sub-set of the more than 300 volumes/files/resource booklets that I have put together mostly since my retirement in 1999 and, to some extent, in the years since moving to Perth Western Australia in 1987. There is also a little material here in these 300 volumes going back to the decade 1953 to 1962, the years before I began my pioneering life for the Canadian Bahá'í community when I was first associated with this new Faith as a child and adolescent and, then, when I joined this new Faith at the age of 15.
I heard of the Bahá'í Faith from my mother and my initial contact with that Faith was in small groups of Bahá'í friends in Burlington Ontario beginning in 1953. I use the collective term Notebooks for all this printed matter. As a kid, in my childhood and adolescence, indeed at least until my mid-forties, I had no passion or particular interest in amassing notebooks, except in connection with my studies both before and after university in the 1960s. I had an obsession with passing and getting good grades and so, in primary school, 1949 to 1958, and in my high school years, 1958 to 1962, I had an organized system of notebooks for each subject at school.
As an adult, say, by 1972, when I started my life as a high-school teacher and post-secondary college lecturer, I began to gather an impressive collection of notebooks and journals: spiral-bound, hardback, lined, unlined – all shapes, sizes, and colours---many varieties---but for the most part large arch-lever files to contain the immense quantities of paper I felt I needed. Now, more than forty years later, this introduction to these notebooks is my attempt to provide an overview of more than 60 years of a life with notebooks: 1949 to 2013.
15/7/’10 to 17/9/’13.
THE CONCEPT OF NOTEBOOKS
Anselm Hollo in his book The Poet's Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of 26 American Poets(WW Norton and Co., NY, editor, Stephen Kuudisto, et al., 1995) wrote that: "I love reading poets' notebooks. Poets are curious critters, and it is a pleasure to relax with the jottings and musings of such literary practitioners." Many writers and poets, though not all, keep notebooks. This section of my autobiography, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, this section IX, contains information relevant to my notebooks. What readers find here provides a general framework for the many notebooks I have kept over the years.
There are generally two types of notebooks which I use. One is the type wherein I keep notes on a particular subject. I have kept notebooks on a great many subjects which I do not list here, but I list them elsewhere for my own interest and record. Another notebook is the type where I keep quotations on the specialized subject of writing, the literary process: poetry, reading, autobiography, diary/journal keeping and letter writing, inter alia. In this latter category I have a dozen major files and in the former category I have some 300 files.
There is material in these notebooks going back to the 1960s, the beginning of my travelling-pioneering experience for the Canadian Baha’i community, since leaving the town I was born in, and the town in which I grew up. For the most part, though, my notebooks assumed the form they now possess by degree in and after 1992, as I could see the end of the tunnel of my FT employment and especially after I retired from full-time employment in 1999, part-time work in 2003 and casual-volunteer work in 2005.
I now have some 300+ notebooks covering millions of words and many subjects and topics. These notebooks now serve and will serve as an important part of the base for my many writing projects in these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++). I rarely read a book or even part of a book which does not involve some exercise in note-taking, although I must say that many people over the years loan me books that are of little value to me personally, and no note-taking has been involved. I should add, too, that since I gave up teaching English Literature in 1994 I rarely read fiction.
I have been gathering resources now for approximately forty years, 1973-2013, since I began my teaching career in post-secondary education. My serious collecting has taken place in only the last 20 years, 1993-2013. I have been fine-tuning my collection of notebooks since retiring from FT employment, 1999-2013.
15/1/’10 to 28/8/’13.
VOLUME ONE: CHAPTER 5: INTERVIEWS
I think the interview is the new art form. I think the self-interview is the essence of creativity.-Jim Morrison, “Prologue: Self-Interview,” Wilderness, Volume I - The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison.(1)
(1) James Douglas "Jim" Morrison (December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971) was the lead singer and lyricist of rock band The Doors, as well as a poet. Following The Doors' explosive rise to fame in 1967-8 when I was teaching among the Inuit on Baffin Island and pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community, Morrison developed a severe alcohol and drug dependency which culminated in his untimely death in Paris in 1971 at age 27 due to a suspected heroin overdose. I was just about to begin my international pioneering life in Australia when he was buried. The events surrounding his death continue to be the subject of controversy, as no autopsy was performed on the body after his death, and the exact cause of his death is disputed by many to this day.
I have over 100,000 words in the form of interviews IN MY COMPUTER. SOME OF THEM CAN BE ACCESSED in cyberspace. I leave it to readers to search them out in cyberspace.
The creative and non-fictional output devoted to recording and interpreting real lives has enjoyed an extraordinary renaissance in recent years. Nigel Hamilton makes this point in his Biography: A Brief History. Ian Donaldson agrees that biography is back in fashion: “Once neglected within the academy and relegated to the dustier recesses of public bookstores, biography has made a notable return over recent years, emerging, somewhat surprisingly, as a new cultural phenomenon, and a new academic adventure”. For over a decade now, in the years since I retired from FT paid employment in 1999, commentators have been making similar observations about our obsession with the intimacies of individual people’s lives. In a lecture in 1994, as I was just beginning to eye my retirement from 60 to 80 hours a week of employment and community responsibilities, Justin Kaplan asserted the West was “a culture of biography”, and more recent research findings by John Feather and Hazel Woodbridge affirm that “the undiminished human curiosity about other peoples lives is clearly reflected in the popularity of autobiographies and biographies”.
At least in relation to television, this assertion seems valid. In Australia, as in the USA and the UK, reality and other biographically based television shows have taken over from drama in both the numbers of shows produced and the viewers these shows attract, and these forms are also popular in Canada. In 2007, the program Biography celebrated its twentieth anniversary season to become one of the longest running documentary series on American television; so successful it was that in 1999 it was spun off into its own eponymous channel. Premiered in May 1996, the ABC's Australian Story—which aims to utilise a “personal approach” to biographical storytelling—has won a significant viewership, critical acclaim and professional recognition. It can also be posited that the real home movies viewers submit to such programs as Australia’s Favourite Home Videos, and “chat” or “confessional” television are further reflections of a general mania for biographical detail, no matter how fragmented, sensationalized, or even inane and cruel. A recent example of the latter, the USA-produced The Moment of Truth, has contestants answering personal questions under polygraph examination and then again in front of an audience including close relatives and friends—the more “truthful” their answers (and often, the more humiliated and/or distressed contestants are willing to be), the more money they can win.
Away from television, but offering further evidence of this interest are the growing readerships for personally oriented weblogs and networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, individual profiles and interviews in periodical publications, and the recently widely revived newspaper obituary column. Adult and community education organisations run short courses on researching and writing autobiographical and biographical forms and, across Western countries, the family history/genealogy sections of many local, state, and national libraries have been upgraded to meet the increasing demand for these services. Academically, journals and e-mail discussion lists have been established on the topics of biography and autobiography, and North American, British, and Australian universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in life writing. The commonly aired wisdom is that published life writing in its many text-based forms (biography, autobiography, memoir, diaries, and collections of personal letters) is enjoying unprecedented popularity. It is our purpose to examine this proposition.
The above paragraphs place the following interview in a wider autobiographical context.
INTERVIEW NUMBER ELEVEN
In the ongoing exercise of defining what I am doing in the literary world, and of finding and developing my poetic, my literary, voice; of describing the ‘thou’ of my poetry so that it can reach the ears of others and of locating my work in the midst of flux and fixity; of outlining my themes with a combination of obsession and detachment and of dealing with a biography which is my autobiography; of translating an activity that is both amusement and frivolity as well as seriousness and occupation, this interview continues the process: (i) of cognition and of describing poetry’s process and (ii) of working out poetry’s raison d’etre in my life and this poet's quest for self-redefinition in today's world in his years of retirement from FT, PT and casual paid employment, after a 50 year student and employment life, 1949 to 1999.
The impetus of inspired creativity ineluctably takes over and shapes me as individual and as artist. The immense force of creativity projects the indivisibility of my poetic story, my life-story and the story of my religion and society. -Ron Price with appreciation to several authors who have tried to describe poetry’s purpose and on whom I draw in this simulated interview.
Tim Winton, a popular Australian writer, says that our society tends to arm us against the transcendent by developing in its citizenry a rationalist view of life, of reality. Do you agree?
I personally see the rationalist-transcendentalist dichotomy as false. The greatest gift of God to man is his mind. Intellect and wisdom are the two most luminous lights in the world of existence. To approach the transcendent without the rational is to miss the whole reality. As I have said on previous occasions the entire nature of physical reality, indeed all the atoms of existence, are here for our training. Existence is a school for our soul. We learn about the transendent though the physical. The relationship is metaphorical. We learn about the abstract through the concrete.
The process also involves pain, discomfort. The mind must be brought into play. It is not about magic, miracle and mystery, except in the most awesome sense of wonder, in the sense that, in some ways, the essence of religion is mystic. The role of the prophetic figure, the Manifestation as Baha’is call Him, is to provide a metaphorical vehicle, a tool to understand the world of the transcendent.
I think the point Tim is getting at is that reason has kept people from religion. I think it has kept people from believing in a type of religion that has no place in society any more among educated people. If you have to give up your reason to accept religion it is better to give up religion. The two must be made compatible in today’s world, perennial truths but not archaic ones.
I: You mentioned recently that up until the Holy Year of 1992 to 1993, you wrote a little more than 200 poems, say, from 1980 to 1992. This was your juvenilia, as you call it, the precursor to the great flowering of your poetry beginning in that Holy Year. You now have over 7000 in the last 23 years, 1992 to 2015. Is that an accurate statement quantitatively?
P: Yes, I’m not sure why the flowering came when it did; I think I have discussed this question in previous interviews at least to some extent, an extent that can always be elaborated upon in a multifactorial hypothesis and analysis. Like the last great symbolist poet, Paul Valery(1871-1945), who filled his notebooks with observations on the creative process, I could expatiate on the ways and means of my methods of inquiry. There has certainly been a massive flow of material in my life in the last two decades, many millions of words as a guesstimation: an artistic birthing of life-experience as one poet called the process. But, to quote Valery, it would be a mistake, folly, to see this torrent of verbiage as a spring of truth or myself as some oracle. I would acknowledge that there is much truth in what I write but, whatever truths I write, they are relative to my own experience and ways of seeing things.
"Poetry,” Valery wrote, “is simply literature reduced to the essence of its active principle. It is purged of idols of every kind, of realistic illusions, of any conceivable equivocation between the language of "truth" and the language of "creation." A poem is never finished, Valery emphasized, only abandoned. While my poetry, any one of my poems, is never finished, inspite of appearances and or my claims on occasion to the contrary, I’m sure my work is not totally purged of idols, illusions or equivocations. I’ll conclude my answer to your question by quoting Joseph Campbell: "Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal this radiance through the created object." The one radiance that is my work saw one of its critical first lights back in 1992-1993.
I: People write best about what they know best, don’t you think? What do you think you know best? What are your core themes in your poetry?
P: I have often said my poetry is autobiographical, so I am writing about myself. I am writing about my experience, my experience with: my religion, my family, my world as a teacher, the places I’ve lived, my thoughts which I live with day after day all my life and especially since about 1962 when I started reading a great deal and pioneering from place to place. That will do as a summary of what has become a great mass of poetry which is difficult to summarize.
I would like to say something about my Baha’i experience. It is now a little more than sixty years since my mother first contacted the local Baha’i community in Burlington Ontario. I was nine years old then. It is impossible to summarize in a few pithy sentences these six decades of activity and thought. But I try in my poetry to tell the story of this experience. I try to be real, to use everyday language, to be true to life, authentic, to run the gamut between the luminous ideals and vision and the often tragic and melancholy day-to-day stuff which would test the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon, as I often say. There is a story in my poetry that I don’t think is often, if ever, told. I want it to be accessible, readable, enjoyable, entertaining, thought provoking, stimulating. I trust one day it will. I live in hope.
I like to think my poetry and prose is all me, as Clive James says about his writing, even as I quote others voluminously. I quote people right and left, but the basic thing is me. There might be a congruence of attitude, of thought, of belief, of values. Some writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and James himself are very, very good at regret. They do a lot of regretting. I do some, but I would not say that regret is a strong tone in my work. There are aspects of my life that I wish were different, Some of this gets into my prose and poetry; that's inevitable. My writing is characterized by my interior drama, and that drama is my thought. The reality of man is, indeed, his thought. I think I probably learned some of that attitude from my mother, and from the Bahá'í writings. I borrow, though, from many others.. I have my own tone by reading everybody’s tone, not just one person's.
I: Tell us something about your voice as a poet, about its beginnings and development.
P: I see myself, as I’ve said before, writing in the tradition begun by Roger White. But alot of his poetry is not accessible to ‘average readers’. I’ve met many who can’t read him. They just don’t understand what he is saying. I don’t have a problem myself with White in this way. He started me on my poetic road. But by the spring of 1992 I was beginning to find my literary voice or should I say my poetic voice. I had published some 150 essays in the 1980s and, in the 1970s, I had begun to have some success, some confidence in my writing and in my academic career, a career with a strong literary component.
My voice became by the mid-1990s much more the voice of everyman, of simplicity, of the vernacular, the authentic down to earth telling it like it is, like it was and like it might be. This voice was spiced with some heavy intellectual baggage for the heavy-weights who might one day read my poetry. But the heavy stuff was spice around a core of quite simple verbiage that the average fellow could understand if he was at least interested in reading and interested in the subject matter of my prose and poetry.
I: Many writers talk about being connected to the landscape. What role does place have in your poetry?
P: I am not conscious of the importance of landscape in my poetry, but I am conscious of the importance of place, of location, of home and hearth. I think I have a rich interplay between place and ideas in my poetry. Experience takes place inside, in an inner world for which place and ideas, people and things are like a mise en scene. The landscape that is real, rich, all important to me is an inner one. That’s a quick, off the cuff, response.
I: Tell us a little more about how you see the process of writing poetry and your relationship with readers.
P: As a poet I transpose observation into language through a heightened awareness that challenges the reader also to observe. The poet cannot exist isolated from the experience of the reader. Experience, meaning, the form of the poem itself and the reader are never separated from the poet; the poet depends on each of these components of movement. The author lays claim to a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, only some of them original, blend and dash. There exists in my words a tissue of ideas drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.
There is what might be called a poetic objective which is the liberation of the mind and the spirit from the prison of life. It is a prison which bars aperson from accessing his or her source of inspiration. The poet’s imagination must be broadened by an ability to dream while the conscious mind remains open for the heart to follow suit. When the world of imagination, inspired by visionary observation, begins to seep into the writer, he/she must watch, wait, and listen for the cue: the poet
wears extra eyes around his neck,
his mind pokes out his ears the way an Irish Setter's nose
pokes out a station-wagon window.
I can’t help but feel the concerns and sentiments of the Canadian poet, journalist, novelist, short story writer and lawyer, A.M. Klein(1909-1972). Klein saw himself—and poets in general--as throwback, relict and freak who have been cheated by modernity out of their historic role and position as poets. Klein saw the position and deposition of the poet as one of self-fragmentation. Other social figures, he argued, had replaced the poet as guides and teachers of people in the many human communities: the successful businessman, the celebrity, the politician, the rich popular artist and the scientist with his inventions ans well as his deadly inventions. The world continued to both inspire and preoccupy Klein. The purpose of the poet’s interest has been transformed. Now the poet explores a world, as Klein sees it, which has banished poetry.
Although I understand Klein’s concerns, expressed in the wake of the great depression and the holocaust, from the 1930s to the 1950s, I don’t share his deep pessimism. The role and function, indeed, the very nature and forms of expression of poetry have been transformed in my lifetime. There are more poetry writing and reading poetry now than ever before in history. While I can’t help but agreeing with much that Klein writes about the poet, my views are more nuanced and more complex. I approach the questions and issues Klein dealt with vis-à-vis the poet in a very different way to him. But I mention him here because he is a useful reference point and his sensibility is a strongly contrasting one to my own.
I: Sir Laurens van der Post, the modern mystic and philosopher, said we need to seek an inner voice. is this another way of defining what you are trying to do?
P: Unquestionably! One of the reasons I write is that sometimes I find the voice, spot on. It is exhilarating. It’s like connecting with your soul. Much of it is connected, I like to think, with a rich vein of Baha’i experience which other Baha’is can tap into and experience that sense of delight, surprise, pleasure, the ‘aha experience’, that feeling of ‘this fellow has said it the way I felt it.’ The last several decades have not been easy ones building the Baha’i Order, its administrative system around the planet. A lot of people got worn out, exhausted, in a battle which in some ways is uniquely Baha’i experience. I have tried to tell this story as best I can. It’s my story but it belongs to everyone who has worked in and for this World Order of Baha’u’llah.
I: Writers of fiction it is said are myth makers. Historians construct history; while writers of poetry, says Aristotle, are more philosophical and studiously serious than historians because they deal with the universal. Do you think there is any thruth in this general view?
P: I’m not so sure about these distinctions. I think one can make many refined definitions of genre which can be useful. I think the central question is “what is the writer trying to do?” Wilde, Joyce and Shaw were trying, among other things, to define what it meant to be Irish at the turn of the century; Twain wrote about what it was like to live on the Mississippi River in the American south at a certain time in the nineteenth century. I write about what it was like to be a Baha’i in the last half of the twentieth century in Canada and Australia and, more especially, an international pioneer.
I think the poet Jimmy Santiago Baco defines a certain central honesty that I like to think is at the heart of my own poetry. He says he follows what his poem is describing, what it is doing at the moment of its setting. He follows it, as he puts it, ‘in his blood.’ His poetry, he says, lives not only on the page but, when he reads it, he becomes the poem as it makes and remakes his body and soul. I like this perspective, for it is mine, too.
I: Tell us something about what you do and how much writing occupies your life.
P: I'm driven and have been for years, although my medications soften the edges of this drive, this activity, this focus on writing. I don't do much else these days and haven’t since I retired from FT, PT and casual work in the years 1999 to 2005. I don't have much of a social life and don’t want one. I've been very circumscribed by other circumstances in my life which keep me writing. I am a naturally social person but after half a century(1949-1999) of a social focus, I wanted a more solitary style of life in which I could give myself to writing, to reading, to independent scholarship. I think I would have continued my life of endless social pursuits if I had not tired of it by the late 1990s.
I: Don't you think that the interview provides a type of, an approach to, autobiography and/or biography?
P: Stephen Burt in his review of the 500 page book Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney by Dennis O’Driscoll, published in 2008, a review which appeared in the London Review of Books(Vol. 31 No. 11 • 11 June 2009), wrote as follows: "Biographers can get lives badly wrong; and even when they get things right, giving attentive accounts with the salient facts in order, they may leave out friendships and discoveries that contributed greatly to a writer’s inner life. How does a writer supplement – or correct, or displace – a future biography without taking years to concentrate on a memoir?" Burt continued:
"Seamus Heaney and Dennis O’Driscoll have found a good way. Stepping Stones is not quite Heaney’s autobiography: it is, instead, a long collection of interviews, revised collaboratively, in which Heaney describes each phase of his life. Only a poet of Heaney’s repute could enable a trade publisher to support such an enterprise; only a poet of Heaney’s temperament, at once gregarious and thoughtful, and an interlocutor such as O’Driscoll, wry, informed and deliberately informal, could agree to collaborate on it, and make it worth reading. Together, the two Irish writers connect Heaney’s poems with the people, places, books and songs that he has known." Since Burt's review provides for me a useful context for answering your question, I'll continue to quote from him:
"Songs matter more than you might think; so do some places, especially California, and so, by the end, do the mixed blessings of fame. The most important place, though, is the first: Mossbawn, County Derry, the farmland where Heaney – the son of a cattle dealer and a housewife, with eight younger siblings – spent his childhood." I'm not so sure the first place I lived is "the most important in my life", although I would not want to ignore a certain primacy of place to, say, the Golden Horseshoe in southern Ontario where I lived until my early 20s.
In these interviews O’Driscoll and Heaney promise to move chronologicallybook by book, from Death of a Naturalist (1966) to District and Circle (2006), with a postscript about Heaney’s recovery from a stroke. The early chapters "move, necessarily, place by place, from Mossbawn to St Columb’s College in Derry, where Heaney discovered Wordsworth and Hopkins, and then to Queen’s University in Belfast" My interviews could be arranged chronologically in the lifespan but, it seems to me, that after nearly 20 years of interviews and a guesstimated 100,000 words, that would keep some publisher busy trying to do so.
"When I wrote my first poems as an undergraduate," Heaney says, "I wrote in Hopkins-speak" Burt writes: "That early affinity sprang not only from Hopkins’s gorgeous metrics, not only from the familiarity of Hopkins’s Catholic doctrine, but from the austerity of Jesuit life, ‘the cold-water shaves and the single iron beds’ that Heaney knew at St Columb’s. Hopkins’s ‘whole theology of suffering’, his determined enunciations of self-denial, also echoed Heaney’s ‘mother’s situation … doomed to biology, a regime without birth control, nothing but parturition and potato-peeling’, ‘toiling on in the faith that a reward was … in heaven’". My first poems, say, from 1980 to the early '90s, my juvenilia as I now call it, were written contra-White; that is, I wrote, to draw on Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence, in a way that was influenced by Roger White, but in a way that was much simpler and certainly not anywhere near the wordsmith that White was.
Burt continues: "The religious sensibility that led Hopkins, Margaret Heaney and the teenaged Seamus Heaney to Catholic piety emerged in the adult poet as attachment to land, to numinous sites: an attachment analogous to, but never identical with, religious faith. Critics distinguish genres of poems about rural places – ‘pastoral, anti-pastoral, bucolic, eclogue, Doric’, as Bernard O’Donoghue writes in the Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney – and Heaney uses them all, though pastoral and georgic, visionary meadow and labour-intensive hay-baling to him seem complementary, even continuous. Mossbawn ‘sounds very idyllic, but it was a small, ordinary, nose-to-the-grindstoney place’. Nonetheless, ‘there was a terrific rightness and lightness about the forks and rakes,’ and ‘the smell of hay still opens a path to the farthest and fondest places in me.’" The religious sensibility that led me to a piety with a Bahá'í orientation emerged in a host of ways. I leave this to readers to answer this question in more detail. For now, I think that is enough on this subject, on Seamus Heaney and biography.
I: We’ll let you get back to your work, Ron.
P: thanks very much. I've enjoyed the contemplation and verbalization.
11/7/ '09 to 6/1/'15.
CHAPTER 6: PHOTOGRAPHS
I always think photographs abominable and I don't like to have them around, particularly not those of persons I know and love.-Vincent van Gogh, "Letter of September 19th, 1889," The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. "Due to the physical action of light and the chemical action of development," writes Susan Sontag, "there is a tangible link between what was photographed, through the developing process to the gaze of the viewer. It is a process involving something that has been, due to the photograph as an object, due to the action of light, due to radiations that ultimately touch me and due to the photograph being something for the gaze, the visual memory, of the viewer. The photograph of a missing being touches me like the delayed rays of a star." -Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977.
At the age of 70 I now possess a dozen albums of photographs of various sizes and shapes. They could represent a significant aspect of any autobiography, any memoir, I might want to write. This essay, this part of a chapter of what is now a 2500 page memoir, tries to put all these photographs in perspective, tries to provide readers with my personal hermeneutics of the visual, at least that part of the visual that got packaged into these twelve albums in a culture which gives hegemony to the visual. More generally, too, I provide here in this part of my memoir a fragmented, an episodic, examination of the phenomenon of seeing. What the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini said about film could also apply to my photographs. "My films are not for understanding," said Fellini, "They are for seeing." This essay, though, is about understanding. For the artist at the AAForum I hope I provide some useful, some interesting, comments here.
The French sociologist and philosopher, often abused, often amused, often confused(or so it seems to many a student who has had to study his writings in the last 30 years)--one, Jean Baudrillard, said that "no matter which photographic technique is used, there is always one thing, and one thing only, that remains: the light. Photography is the writing of light and this light is the very imagination of the image. Baudrillard sees his photographs as making the world a little more enigmatic and unintelligible, as exposing the very unreality of the world of appearances. Any photograph is never of any "real" world, but rather, it is a record of the momentary appearances behind which the real hides. To him, the world is essentially illusion.
I certainly sense this as I look back over nearly 100 years of photographs in my dozen albums, photographs of family and friends going back to 1908. Our contemporary culture of digitization and image-glut actually shrivels the ethical force of photographs of whatever type intended to elicit compassion, sensitivity or the milk of human kindness. Many, I now, would not agree with this statement, but I think the statement offers some truth even to those who are inclined to disagree with it on an initial inspection. In an age in which spectacle has usurped the place of reality in many situations, photographic images of course still have the power to evoke shock and sentiment.
Photographs, so this argument runs, are the fragmentary emanations of reality, the punctual and discrete renderings of truth, rather than the uniform grammar of a consistently unfolding tale. I would hesitate, then, to draw on my collection of photographs, however numerous, however bright and shiny, colourful and clear, as evidence of the unfolding tale of my life and its tangential connections with the lady down the street, my mother or girl friend, or even that wondrous scene over there in those paintings. All of those portrayals of reality--relay and transmit diffuse assemblages of affect, without necessarily appealing to the coherent, narrative understanding of an interpretive, rational consciousness. Now that is an interesting point of view, but what does it actually mean?
The photographic frame is not just a visual image awaiting its interpretation; it is itself actively interpreting, even forcibly making a statement. Sontag wrote that where "narratives make us understand, photographs do something else. They haunt us." Our age, she goes on, is one in which "to remember is more and more not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture." Given the sheer sweep of the visual image in contemporary culture and politics, I struggle to come to terms with the nature of memorialisation in all its forms effected by photographs. I ponder as to what is the kind of affect relayed by photographic images as discrete and punctual fragments of reality. What, I ask myself, is the semiological universe that is being called into play by such dissociated transmissions of affectivity in all these photos.
The culture of 'image-glut' gives us a harried and in fact beleaguered document of reality. I am on my guard that these words of mine do not turn into something that is little more than a frustrated rant against the inhuman multiplication not just of images, but of the sacrilegious settings in which we see them. The place of the image in an era of information-overload, and the capacity of the image in such a landscape to infinitely, and perhaps "irrationally," multiply its significations in relation to continuously mobile variations gives me cause to ponder. To photograph is to frame and to frame is to exclude. My dozen volumes of photos have indeed excluded most of my life.
This would be true a fortiori of the effigy. Of all the religious and artistic treasures which a visitor may see at Westminster Abbey, the collection of eighteen funeral effigies in the Museum which I saw in London recently is perhaps the most intriguing. Carved in wood or in wax, these full-sized representations of kings, queens and distinguished public figures, many of them in their own clothes and with their own accoutrements, constitute a gallery of astonishingly life-like portraits stretching over more than four centuries of British history. Can only the dead astonish us by seeming "life-like"? Is there something lifelike in this memoir of mine? Perhaps even the living can induce the uncanny effect of an effigy from time to time—but in print. Modern celebrities, of course, do this all the time and a whole industry has been created to cater to these ‘life-like’ forms and antics. We see them day in and day out if we look at TV, magazines, indeed, any of the print and electronic media. It is hard to escape them if we wanted to, of course, we could limit our contact with them.
The subject is interesting but I will leave it here for this my first posting under "photography."-Ron Price, Tasmania....I will add this section later.
"The revolution of our time," as historian Douglas Martin put it in a simple but pointed turn of phrase, “is in essence spiritual. It is also universal and out of our control." He went on in what I always found a style of writing that has had a significant impact on my thought. Martin was one of the many influences on my life that led, by the 1990s, to produce the following poems, poems that played with concepts of civilization, society and the future.
Our capacity to tell stories is a skill that can be considered both natural and learned. Storytelling and oral history are parts of all human societies, and we seek to understand ourselves and each other through our stories. Our individual and collective memories collide in our stories, and reconcile to construct what Kansteiner calls our "collectively shared representations of the past". It is our personal narratives that are the building blocks to public understanding, and as Harter, Japp and Beck maintain in Narratives, Health and Healing, "narrative is a fundamental human way of giving meaning to experience". Adding to this idea of narrative as a way of illuminating meaning, Goodall posits narrative as also being a way of knowing and as a research methodology, stating "narrative provides us with a range of forms and styles for discovering meaning and communicating it to readers through stories. It is an epistemology". This re-imaging and re-purposing of narrative and storytelling has the capacity to significantly influence and shift the ways in which cultural and social research is carried out. This emerging approach can also influence the ways we understand the experiences of marginalised groups, and consequently how we respond to issues around social inclusion through policy and community based solutions. For researchers personal stories and narratives have the capacity to illuminate the nuances of broad issues; this potential also means that seemingly intractable social problems are given a human face with which to engage. It is in this way that personal narratives energize public narratives and shape our ways of thinking and collective understandings.
The paper from which I am quoting here in the M/C Journal of Media and Culture(V.14, N.6, 2011) emphasizes that as a dynamic practice storytelling, in all its forms, must be nurtured and developed if it is to contribute to the lives of individuals and communities. The number of storytelling, and in particular digital storytelling, initiatives and projects in the world has increased rapidly since the early 2000s, and are utilised by various public and community organisations for a variety of reasons. Digital technology has had a profound impact on the ability for "ordinary" people to tell their stories, and research has identified the potential of digital storytelling in these contexts to assist in the representation of multiple voices and viewpoints in society through inclusive processes of co-creation.
Much has been, and continues to be written, about digital storytelling as a site of participatory culture and as a means of improving digital literacy in pockets of the community traditionally absent in the realm of digital citizenship. As Hartley points out digital storytelling has become such a compelling medium in which to record stories in communities because it "fills a gap between everyday cultural practice and professional media". As a means of creating narratives digital storytelling has proven to be a significant mode, due in part to its ability to reach a large number of people relatively easily.
The rise of digital storytelling partially mirrors the broad shift towards more participatory online culture that privileges user generated content and ordinary voices over official content. The origins of digital storytelling lie in a response to the absence of "ordinary" voices in mainstream media and policy making and grew with the increasing affordability of digital technology. The potential for social inclusion and participation along with the promise of self-representation is implicit in the discourse surrounding digital storytelling. "The ability to express oneself in digital media and in the case of digital storytelling using digital video editing, has become a central literary for full participation in society". Social Inclusion in an Australian context is defined by the Australian Government as all Australians feeling valued and having "the opportunity to participate fully in the life of our society. Achieving this vision means that all Australians will have the resources, opportunities and capability to" learn, work, engage in the community and have a voice (Social Inclusion Unit). The aims articulated by Lambert in the previous paragraph and the philosophy of social inclusion and the belief that individual stories have the capacity to impact on national agendas and policy lay at the heart of the digital storytelling project outlined later in this paper.
A. THE GENERATIONS OF MY FAMILY AND SOCIETY:1753 TO 1844
This preface to volume 2 has two parts. Both parts are concerned with the generations of my family and of society. Part A is concerned with the generations from 1753 to 1844, and Part B with the generations from 1844 to 1953. Given the fact that this preface is concerned with a period of two hundred years, and given the fact that the aim of this preface is to provide a general context for my life, especially my life as a Bahá'í, I will try and be as brief and to the point as possible. it has been a difficult task to be succinct and pithy, relevant and timely.
A familial generation is a group of humans constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor. In developed nations the average familial generation length in this second decade of the 21st century is in the high 20s and has even reached 30 years in some nations. In 1753, at the beginning of the 100 year precursor century, precursor that is to the Babi religion which had its inception in 1844, a generation would not have been much more than 20 years, on average. Factors such as greater industrialisation and demand for cheap female labour, urbanisation, delayed first pregnancy and a greater uncertainty in relationship stability have all contributed to the increase of the generation length from the middle of the 18th century to the present. These changes can be attributed to both societal factors, such as GDP & state policy, & related individual variables, particularly a woman's educational attainment. Conversely, generation length has changed little and remains in the low 20s in less developed nations.
Social generations are cohorts of people who were born in the same date range and share similar cultural experiences. Social generation is defined as the process of identifying and belonging to a particular generation. It is conditioned through the way in which social change results in the emergence of new experience which, in turn, encourages the new generation to challenge the values of the older generation. The idea of a social generation, in the sense that it is used today, gained currency in the 19th century. Prior to that the concept "generation" had generally referred to family relationships, not broader social groupings. In 1863, French lexicographer Emile Littré had defined a generation as, "all men living more or less at the same time".
However, as the 19th century wore on, several trends promoted a new idea of generations, of a society divided into different categories of people based on age. These trends were all related to the processes of modernisation, industrialisation, or westernisation, which had been changing the face of Europe since the mid-18th century. One was a change in mentality about time and social change. The increasing prevalence of enlightenment ideas encouraged the idea that society and life were changeable, and that civilization could progress. This encouraged the equation of youth with social renewal and change. Political rhetoric in the 19th century often focused on the renewing power of youth influenced by movements such as Young Italy, Young Germany, Sturm und Drang, the German Youth Movement, and other romantic movements. By the end of the 19th century, European intellectuals were disposed toward thinking of the world in generational terms—in terms of youth rebellion and emancipation.
A 2010 Pew Research Center report noted the challenge of studying generations: "Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and we cast our lot with those scholars who believe it is not only possible, but often highly illuminating, to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of any given age group of people in a country. We also know, though, that this is not an exact science. We are mindful that there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviors, and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations. But we believe this reality does not diminish the value of generational analysis; it merely adds to its richness and complexity."
Here are some generalizations on the period: 1753 to 1844 in the USA. The subject can be Googled for extensive detail, and I leave this to readers with the interest.
Republican Generation>Hero(Civic)>1742–1766>Unraveling: French and Indian War
Compromise Generation>Artist(Adaptive)>1767–1791>Crisis: American Revolution
Civil War Saeculum>Transcendental Generation>Prophet(Idealist)>1792–1821>High: Era of Good Feeling
Gilded Generation>Nomad(Reactive)>1822–1842>Awakening: Transcendental Awakening
Hero (Civic)>Progressive Generation>Artist(Adaptive)>1843–1865>Crisis: American Civil War
People like myself are looking for a new way to connect themselves to the larger story of history. For me that also includes the Babi-Bahá'í religion story going back to its earliest roots with Shaykh Ahmad. That search for a connection motivates my writing about this 100 year period. Often individuals feel adrift, and they think that the way history has been presented to them in their lifetimes has been, for the most part, mostly in terms of little pieces. Millions of people are not as interested in the little pieces now. I know this partly because I taught history for more than 30 years as a teacher and tutor, lecturer & adult educator. They're looking for a unifying vision. We haven't had unifying visions of the story of history for some time. Meta-narratives have become somewhat passe. I aim to provide one in this book, at least that is one of my many aims. Of course my story is relevant, in the main, to the international Bahá'í community and its 5 to 8 million members.
The kinds of historians who read my book will, I'm sure, be critical. Sociologists, the kinds who are drawn to my history in this book, are the ones who themselves have focused on the human life cycle rather than just the sequential series of events that make up any period in history. Many people have noticed the power in not just generations, but the shifts that have happened over time in the way people have treated children and older people. They have tried to link that to the broader currents of history. In 2006, though, Frank Giancola wrote an article in Human Resource Planning (an academic journal) that stated "the emphasis on generational differences is not generally borne out by empirical research, despite its popularity".
One of the things to understand is that most historians never look at history in terms of generations. They prefer to tell history as a seamless row of 55-year-old leaders who always tend to think and behave the same way -- but they don't and they never have. This 100 year period has yet to be written into my autobiography. I hope to work on it as I go through my 70s from 2014 to 2024. In that century, 1753 to 1844, there were 4 to 5 generations of 20. They are the first generations in this autobiography. By 1844 another generation was appearing: the fifth or the sixth. By 1944 when I was born another 5 generations would come onto the panorama of history.
In order to provide some sort of sketch of the generations in my family history and society in general from 1753 to 1844, some work needs to be done in relation to my family genealogy. This is also known as family history. It involves the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history and origins tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling. Perhaps at a future time one or more of these several motivations will conspire to move my literary pen and, in the process, preserve some of the details of that first century involved in what might be called the precursor period to the Babi Faith.
James Boswell(1740-1795) was a Scottish lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh. He is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson, which the modern Johnsonian critic Harold Bloom has claimed is the greatest biography written in the English language. Boswell also suffered from lifelong depression—an affliction shared by Johnson—and wrote dozens of essays on the subject. Without deep, confusing discussion of philosophical issues, Robert Zaretsky introduces the Enlightenment greats who taught and molded Boswell. The vast store of knowledge Boswell absorbed in so few years makes for truly enlightening reading. “Boswell matters not because his mind was as original or creative as the men and women he pursued,” writes the author, “but because his struggle to make sense of his life…appeals to our own needs and sensibilities.” Such, too, is my struggle.
The mid-1700s was an unusually interesting period. It was just prior to enormous changes that would reshape the world. Most of Europe was still suffering a slowly falling standard of living for ordinary people, a trend that had been continuous for 300 years. Britain was an exception to this. From about 1700, prices had been falling, albeit slowly, and wages were increasing. The 1750s were also an age of elegance. Men's fashions reached a peak of extravagance that has never been equaled. Architecture was changing as the neoclassical style, which remained popular for 150 years, gained popularity. The English colonies in North America were prospering and their combined population exceeded 1.5 million during this decade.The North American colonies were now an important market for English goods (25 percent of all exports in 1752) but the colonists, especially in New England, were beginning their own industries to supply their own markets. In Europe there would also be great changes. The general prosperity in Britain meant that the century ended with the Industrial Revolution: in continental Europe it ended with the French Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power, and the development of machine tools. It also included the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal. Textiles were the dominant industry of the Industrial Revolution in terms of employment, value of output and capital invested; the textile industry was also the first to use modern production methods. I leave it to readers with the interest to examine the industrial revolution in detail.
The British Agricultural Revolution was the unprecedented increase in agricultural production in England due to increases in labour and land productivity that took place between 1750 and 1880, although it had its beginnings in the 17th century. The Agricultural Revolution in Scotland was a series of changes in agricultural practice that began in the seventeenth century and continued in the 19th century. They began with the improvement of Scottish Lowlands farmland and the beginning of a transformation of Scottish agriculture from one of the least modernised systems to what was to become the most modern and productive system in Europe. Again, readers with the interest need to examine the details of this aspect of the century under review.
Advances in science have been termed "revolutions" since the 18th century. In 1747, Clairaut wrote that "Newton was said in his own lifetime to have created a revolution". The word was also used in the preface to Lavoisier's 1789 work announcing the discovery of oxygen."Few revolutions in science have immediately excited so much general notice as the introduction of the theory of oxygen. Lavoisier saw his theory accepted by all the most eminent men of his time, and established over a great part of Europe within a few years from its first promulgation." In the 19th century, William Whewell established the notion of a revolution in science itself (or the scientific method) that had taken place in the 15th–16th century. "Among the most conspicuous of the revolutions which opinions on this subject have undergone, is the transition from an implicit trust in the internal powers of man's mind to a professed dependence upon external observation; and from an unbounded reverence for the wisdom of the past, to a fervid expectation of change and improvement." This gave rise to the common view of the scientific revolution today: "A new view of nature emerged, replacing the Greek view that had dominated science for almost 2,000 years. Science became an autonomous discipline, distinct from both philosophy and technology and came to be regarded as having utilitarian goals."
BABI-BAHA'I PRECURSORS: 1753 TO 1844
Shaykh Ahmad(ibn Zayn al-Dín ibn Ibráhím)al-Ahsá'í was the founder of a 19th-century Shi`i school in the Persian and Ottoman empires, whose followers are known as Shaykhís. He was a native of the Al-Ahsa region (Eastern Arabian Peninsula), educated in Bahrain and the theological centers of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. Spending the last twenty years of his life in Iran, he received the protection and patronage of princes of the Qajar dynasty. Little is documented about the early life of Shaykh Ahmad, except that he was born in Ahsa, in the northeast of the Arabian peninsula, to a Shi'i family of Sunni origin in either the year 1166 A.H. (1753 C.E.), or 1157 A.H. (1744 C.E.). Nabíl-i-A`zam, a Bahá'í historian, documents his spiritual awakening in his book The Dawn-Breakers as follows:
He observed how those who professed the Faith of Islam had shattered its unity, sapped its force, perverted its purpose, and degraded its holy name. His soul was filled with anguish at the sight of the corruption and strife which characterised the Shí'ah sect of Islam.... Forsaking his home and kindred, on one of the islands of Bahrayn, to the south of the Persian Gulf, he set out,... to unravel the mysteries of those verses of Islamic Scriptures which foreshadowed the advent of a new Manifestation[revelation].... There burned in his soul the conviction that no reform, however drastic, within the Faith of Islam, could achieve the regeneration of this perverse people. He knew,... that nothing short of a new and independent Revelation, as attested and foreshadowed by the sacred Scriptures of Islam, could revive the fortunes and restore the purity of that decadent Faith." While it is unclear how much of Nabil's interpretation is consistent with Shaykh Ahmad's true feelings, the underlying motivations for reform, and ultimately for messianic expectation, become somewhat clearer.
Shaykh Ahmad, at about age forty (1784 or 1794 - circa), began to study in earnest in the Shi'i centres of religious scholarship such as Karbala and Najaf. He attained sufficient recognition in such circles to be declared a mujtahid, an interpreter of Islamic Law. He contended with Sufi and Neo-Platonist scholars, and attained a positive reputation among their detractors. Most interestingly, he declared that all knowledge and sciences were contained (in essential form) within the Qur'an, and that to excel in the sciences, all knowledge must be gleaned from the Qur'an. To this end he developed systems of interpretation of the Qur'an and sought to inform himself of all the sciences current in the Muslim world.
Juan Cole summarizes the situation at the advent of the Shaykhi School, and the questions that were unfolding as his views crystallized and he acquired an early following: "When Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i wrote, there was no Shaykhi school, which only crystallized after his death. He saw himself as a mainstream Shi'ite, not as a sectarian leader. Yet he clearly innovated in Shi'i thought in ways that, toward the end of his life, sparked great controversy. Among the contentious arenas he entered was that of the nature of religious authority. He lived at a time when his branch of Islam was deeply divided on the role of the Muslim learned man. Was he an exemplar to be emulated by the laity without fail, or merely the first among equals, bound by a literal interpretation of the sacred text just as was everyone else? Or was he, as the Sufis maintained, a pole channeling the grace of God to those less enlightened than himself? How may we situate Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i with regard to these contending visions of Shi'i Islam?"
Shaykh Ahmad appointed Sayyid Kazim Rashti as his successor, who led the Shaykhí movement until his death. He taught his students how to recognize the Mahdi and the "Masih" (the return of Christ). After his death in December 1843, many of his students spread out around Iraq and Iran to search for a new leader. "Sayyid Kazim bin Qasim al-Husayni ar-Rashti (1793–1843) mostly known as Siyyid Kázim Rashtí was the son of Sayyid Qasim of Rasht, a town in northern Iran. He was appointed as the successor of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, and led the Shaykhí movement until his death." Siyyid Kazim of Shaykhi Islam pointed to the year 1260 AH in the Islamic Calandar as the date for the return of the hidden Imam. The early part of the 1800's had been a time of great expectations in both the Christian and Muslim world views, and in particular of Shaykhi Islam. Before Siyyid Kazim passed away he urged his followers to disperse across the land in search of the promised Mahdi and Qiaim, that he believed would soon arise.
In the land of Persia, then, two famous Muslim theologians had taught the allegorical reading of the Qur'an, and Siyyid Kazim was the second of these men. Both he and Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsai made some pretty radical changes in what could be considered orthodox Shia belief. Most importantly they anticipated the return of the 12th Imam not literally, but rather the return of the qualities and station of the 12th Imam in a physical human being born into their own time. This belief was adopted by the Bab and Bahai systems. Both Bab and Bahai religions use the Siyyid in their histories. It is most clear in the influence of the Babi religion. Many early Babis had been followers of Siyyid Kazim. Bahais also list the Shia Siyyid as a direct herald of the religion. And this is true in so far as many early Bahais had been Babis and followers of the Shia Shaykhi Kazim. I leave it to readers with the interest to fill-in some of the gaps in this century-long precursor period.
B. THE GENERATIONS OF MY FAMILY AND SOCIETY: 1844 TO 1953
There are now generational markers and descriptors going back to the reformation and the renaissance and I leave it to readers to find out what interests them in this period of time. For the moment the generational markers which concern me only go back to the middle years of the 18th century. When time and circumstances permit, I will provide as detailed a family, and a general social history, as I can going back to the 1753.
The focus of this autobiography is obviously on my generation, but I will include the generation of my son and his children as well since they will be alive when I pass away sometime in the next 40 years. Going back in time I will go back four generations to the mid-19th century, and an additional four back to the 1753. I will also add an additional four generations from 1953 to 2053 making a total of a dozen generations. As I have already indicated generational markers have become more complex and refined in recent studies. I don't want to be too fussy about these generational markers as I deal with the 12 generations from 1753 to 2053.
The Silent Generation
According to one generational model I belong to The Greatest Generation(1901-1945), and its sub-division, The Silent Generation(1923 to 1944)(or 1925 and 1945). I just fit in at the age of 71. The oldest person in that 'Silent-Generation as I write these words in 2015 is 92 this year. Other markers make me a war baby or a baby-boomer. Silent Generation is a term applied to people born from the mid 1920s to the early 1940s. The name was originally applied to people in North America but has also been applied to those in Western Europe, Australia and South America. It includes most of those who fought during the Korean War. In the United States, the generation was comparatively small because the financial insecurity of the 1930s and war in the early 1940s caused people to have fewer children.
While there were many civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy and writers and artists like Gloria Steinem, Andy Warhol, Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and the Beat Generation, the "Silents" are called that because many focused on their careers rather than on activism, and people in it were largely encouraged to conform with social norms. Time Magazine coined the name in a 1951 article entitled The Younger Generation, and the name has stuck ever since. They have also been named the "Lucky Few" in the 2008 book "The Lucky Few: Between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom," by Elwood D. Carlson PhD, the Charles B. Nam Professor in Sociology of Population at Florida State University.
The Silent Generation(born 1923 to 1944) today comprises roughly 20 million adults in their 70s and 80s in the USA. Their age location in history sandwiches them awkwardly between two better-known generations. They were born just too late to be World War II heroes and just too early to be New Age firebrands. In their personal lives, this age location has been a source of tension. By the time the Silent were entering midlife, they spearheaded the divorce revolution and popularized (thanks to Gail Sheehy) the term “midlife crisis.” But in their economic lives, this age location has been very good to them—and given them a lifetime ride on the up-escalator coming off the American High. Of course, this has not been true of everyone in that generation. The detailed story of each generation is both complex and highly various.
The Silent Generation didn’t have to wait for a depression or war to end. A new “booming” economy was ready to join right out of school. Demographer Richard Easterlin, in his 1980 book Birth and Fortune, called them the “Lucky” or “Fortunate” generation for their great timing. Easterlin noted that a remarkable feature of the Sputnik era was how the typical young man could earn more by age 30 than the average wage for men of all ages in his profession—and could certainly live better than most “retired” elders. He also noted that since the mid-1970s, the economic conditions facing young late-wave Boomers were becoming much tougher.
This is the only living generation that could half-believe, along with Woody Allen, that “80 percent of life is just showing up,” a joke that makes most Xers simply shake their heads. According to the late management guru Warren Bennis, they redefined leadership as more “maestro” than “macho.” They are the only generation in American history never to occupy the White House. In Presidents, we jumped from George Bush Sr., the World War II veteran, to Baby Boomer Bill Clinton. Yet they are without doubt the healthiest and most educated generation of elders that ever lived—and, of course, the wealthiest. Coming of age fifty years ago in the early '60s, they quickly amassed more wealth than the seniors of that era. Back in the early 1960s, my parents who were the elderly(Mother-56, father-70-in 1960) were poorer than young adults by most measures. In 2015 the median net worth of households age 70+ ($228,400) is higher than that of any younger age bracket. Astoundingly, it’s over five times higher than the median net worth of households age 35 to 44 ($44,600).
Yet behind the scenes, these Lucky few became the first American generation smaller than the one before them, and the luckiest generation of Americans ever. As children they experienced the most stable intact parental families in the nation’s history. The lucky few women married earlier than any other generation of the century and helped give birth to the Baby Boom, yet also gained in education compared to earlier generations. The lucky few men made the greatest gains of the century in schooling, earned veterans benefits like the Greatest Generation but served mostly in peacetime with only a fraction of the casualties, came closest to full employment, and spearheaded the trend toward earlier retirement. More than any other generation, the lucky few men advanced into professional and white-collar jobs while the lucky few women concentrated in the clerical "pink-collar ghetto." Even in retirement and old age these lucky few remain in the right place at the right time. This is only part of their story, and the story of how they have affected other recent generations of Americans before and since. the story of the Canadians and Australians has some parallels.
The Lost Generation and the Silent Generation
My father belonged to The Lost Generation(1890-1915), & my mother to The Interbellum Generation(1901-1913). I will describe them briefly below. The "Lost Generation" was the generation that came of age during World War I. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway, who used it as one of two contrasting epigraphs for his novel, The Sun Also Rises. In that volume Hemingway credits the phrase to Gertrude Stein, who was then his mentor and patron. This generation included distinguished artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot, John Dos Passos, Waldo Peirce, Isadora Duncan, Abraham Walkowitz, Alan Seeger, and Erich Maria Remarque. 'Lost means not vanished but disoriented, wandering, directionless — a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war's survivors in the early post-war years.' The 1926 publication of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises popularized the term, as Hemingway used it as an epigraph. The novel serves to epitomize the post-war expatriate generation.
However, Hemingway himself later wrote to his editor Max Perkins that the "point of the book" was not so much about a generation being lost, but that "the earth abideth forever"; he believed the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been "battered" but were not lost. In his memoir A Moveable Feast, published after his death, he writes "I tried to balance Miss Stein's quotation about the Lost Generation with one from Ecclesiastes." A few lines later, recalling the risks and losses of the war, he adds: "I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought 'who is calling who a lost generation?'"
Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, well known for their generational theory, define the Lost Generation as the cohorts born from 1883 to 1900, who came of age during World War I and the Roaring Twenties. In Europe, they are mostly known as the "Generation of 1914," for the year World War I began. In France, the country in which many expatriates settled, they were sometimes called the Génération au Feu, the "Generation in Flames." My father was not too young to serve in WWI. He always said he was 19 when the war broke-out, but I don't know how he avoided going to war.
Interbellum Generation is a term (derived from the Latin inter- between and bellum- war) that is sometimes used to denote persons born in the United States during the first decade of the 20th century, often expressed specifically as the years 1901 to 1913. The name comes from the fact that those born during this time were too young to have served in the military during World War I, and were generally too old to serve as enlisted personnel in World War II, although many of them could indeed be found in the armed forces in some capacity during the latter conflict.
Members of this generation came of age either during the Roaring Twenties or the initial phase of the Great Depression, prior to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the promulgation of the New Deal. This fact contributed to the core of this generation holding lifelong left-liberal views in politics, especially on economic issues (many of them joined Communist fronts during the 1930s), although a few prominent dissenters (such as Barry Goldwater) do stand out. Most of their children belong to the Silent Generation.
In the 1840s Australia was in the following position. As colonisation expanded throughout the 1840s, and the British took ownership and control of the land without discussion or debate, Indigenous peoples continued to fight back to save their land and to survive. During the decade, many massacres took place across the country, the majority of which were unrecorded. The actual numbers of Indigenous people killed will never be known. In Van Diemen's Land, Port Phillip District, South Australia, New South Wales and Moreton Bay (later known as Queensland) conflict and violence peaked and, not having the use of guns, the Indigenous population suffered severely. This conflict is known as the 'Frontier Wars', during which some Aboriginal groups united to fight against a common enemy to save their land. I'll say a little more about Australia and leave it to readers with the interest to examine the situation in other countries in the 1840s, as well as the situation in science and technology among other aspects of society.
Prior to European colonisation Australia's Indigenous peoples had lived for thousands of years as a hunter-gatherer economy based on the varying environments across the country, which are also recognised as spiritual landscapes. There were territory boundaries that, although they were not written down, were clearly understood by all groups and passed on from one generation to the next. The rivers, mountain ranges and other landforms provided borders that were respected.
During the 1840s, transportation of convicts to the east coast of Australia ended. This signified a change in status from a penal colony to a free society. The colonists wanted greater control over the political decision making in local affairs, and as an example of this new-found authority, Australia's first political election was conducted to vote in the mayor of Adelaide. The city had become Australia's first municipality, having acquired a population of more than 2,000 people. South Australia also became a Crown colony during the 1840s, thus losing its semi-independent status. The Port Phillip District (Victoria) grew rapidly and by the end of the 1840s it had many times more sheep (6 million) than population (about 70,000 people). During the decade its inhabitants increasingly wanted independence from New South Wales and sent petitions to the British Government seeking permission to separate.
The exploration and renaming of the continent and its natural features continued during the 1840s, gradually pushing out the boundaries of the known area of each colony. Most explorers were officially sponsored by the government and some were funded by private investors. During an expedition a map was drawn on which the leader of the expedition noted rivers, mountains, grass plains, deserts and Aboriginal communities encountered. Finding the locations of water systems and arable lands for future settlement and farming was the primary motivation behind these explorations. But the government also wanted to control the leasing of land and to open up communication routes between colonies for trade. Exploration proved to be dangerous, and some explorers such as Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–1848) and Edmund Kennedy (1818–1848) perished.
THINGS GOT AWFULLY COMPLEX
This poem tries to take an overview of my mother's life. She was part of the Interbellum Generation born in 1904. She was 12 in 1914 and living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada when the war to end all wars broke-out. The Bahá'í Faith had just begun its story in Ontario in Toronto, 40 miles away, in 1913. Gertrude Stein said my father was part of that Lost Generation. Stein also felt and wrote about the ethic of the pioneer.(1) My mother and father, it has always seemed to me in retrospect, were two of those pioneers whom Stein wrote about. Fitzgerald said that the Interbellu Generation was bright and with infinite belief. Sometimes my mother lost the patina of brightness during life's inevitable struggle, as did many of that generation. Ernest Hemmingway dramatized the disappearance of that brightness and that belief in his novel The Sun Also Rises in 1926. -Ron Price with thanks to Henry Idema III, Freud, Religion and the Roaring Twenties, Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1990, p.135; and 1William H. Gass, William H. Gass: Essays By William H. Gass, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1976, p.122.
You were part of what they called
the interbellum generation:
too young for WWI and too old for WW2.
The spiritual dynamic seemed
to fall out of the bottom,
some spiritual debacle
where the roots of faith
were finally severed
and some kind of secular tree
grew out of depression and more war
and the necessity for something to fill
the all-pervasive spaces and holes of existence.
Things got awfully complex too, for you,
as the years went on and a hundred options
on a hundred trees tried to interpret
what was really happening
and the tempest blew and blew
across the face of the earth
through your towns and days.
But not many figured it out,
not many back in the fifties
even tried; it was too complex.
Maybe the war,
and the one before
had shattered their world,
but they didn't really know it
while they watched 'I Love Lucy,'
Westerns and Dragnet
and ate hot dogs.
You had some of that
'what's it all about?' sense,
that search, that endless search,
that pioneer mentality,
otherwise you would not have
been there when the Kingdom of God
got its kick-start back in '53.
I wrote the following piece as an introductory statement to my maternal grandfather’s autobiography. His autobiography, written in the early 1920s, covered the first twenty-nine years of his life, up to 1901. I place this statement here because it puts my grandfather’s life in a context that I think is useful and covers the years 1901 to 1958. It provides, too, a helpful backdrop, background, mise-en-scene, for my own life and, given the fact that it was my grandfather's autobiography, an autobiography of his years from 1872 to 1901, that inspired mine, some general statement on his life is pertinent at the outset of this life-story of mine.
Consider how much the world changed for someone born in the 1870s. If they lived into their 80s (1950s), as my grandfather did, they would have seen the development of the automobile, the beginnings of radio, the first films, the first telephones appearing in their youth, the development of human flight, the advent of television, two devastating world wars, the detonation of atomic weaponry, and a radical deviation from centuries of tradition in areas of race, gender and sexuality, the start of the space race, along with tons of scientific and medicinal advances that revolutionized life. In almost every area, for a person born in the 1870s, the world they knew at 21 in the 1890s would've been pretty much an alien world to them at 80...You can't really say the same, at least to the same extent, for very many other generations.
As my generation has gone through life, we of course have seen many changes in the way the world is. But for most of the old people of today, life is mostly structurally the same as it was in their youth. Yes, technology has advanced, but daily living is rather similar. For a person of say, 90, life isn't all that different now than it was then, functionally. By the middle age of someone born in 1925, they had cars, telephones, photography, movies, televisions, etc etc. There have been medicinal, social and technological advances of course. But life hasn't changed all THAT drastically since 1925. And those born in 1925 would've already seen at the very least the beginnings of the social changes in society and the advances in medication and technology by the time they were in their 30s(1955), and by the time they were 50(1975), what they know as society's social norms and the like today would've been reasonably developed. Not so much of a shock to them. Of course, the details of this generational shift is highly complex when viewed in a global perspective. the above is only a cursory statement of some of the experiences of generations born since my grandfather was born.
A. ALFRED CORNFIELD: THE EARLY MIDDLE AND LATE YEARS
THE EARLY YEARS: 1872-1901
It has been some 35 years since my grandfather's autobiographical work The Adventures of Arthur Collins was finally typed and distributed to each living member of the family. Arthur Collins was, of course, Alfred J. Cornfield, and the adventures were his own from 1872 to 1901, from his birth to his marriage in early 1901. He writes his story in some four hundred pages, an impressive work for a man who had but two or three years of formal education in the newly established Board Schools in London in the first decade after primary education had become compulsory in England by the Education Act of 1870. It is my intention in this brief biographical piece to complete the account which my grandfather began, which he wrote in the years 1921-1923 during his forty-ninth to his fifty-first year when his daughter, my mother, was in her late teens. It is my intention to take his story from his early adulthood, his marriage at the age of twenty-nine, to his death in 1958 at the age of eighty-six when I was thirteen.
A common pattern with autobiographies and biographies is to divide a life into early, middle and late. Often, too, when an autobiography ends without completing a life, or leaving a large part of a life-story untold, some other literary genre is used to provide for those years unaccounted for in the original story. Applying this early, middle and late division to Alfred Cornfield's life it could look something like this:
1872 to 1901-early
1901 to 1931-middle
1931 to 1958-late
The early part of his life is covered by the account he himself wrote up to his marriage in 1901. The second and middle part covers the period up to the birth of his first grandchild and the third and final part covers the period from that child’s birth in 1931 to Alfred Cornfield's death in 1958. My intention here is to convey something of the life-story of my grandfather, a man whom I know so little about after he reached the age of 29 in 1901. Like so many of us, we come to know someone in our family or an acquaintance, but we never really know them in any meaningful, any detailed, sense. What follows here is a short statement, a brief description, of my grandfather’s life from 1901 to 1958, a man I hardly knew.
B. THE MIDDLE YEARS: 1901-1931
During these three decades, 1901 to 1931, western civilization went through the worst war, the most traumatic and horrific experience since, arguably, the Black Death in 1348 when one in every three people from Iceland to India perished. History books have documented this period and its Great War of 1914 to 1918 in great detail. It is not the purpose of this biography or my autobiography to dwell on the events of history,except in the briefest of ways, except insofar as they impinge on the life of Alfred Cornfield and then my own life. It is my purpose, though, to outline in as much detail as possible my grandfather's life from the age of twenty-nine to fifty nine, the middle years of his life until the birth of his first grandchild, Murray, the first son of his eldest daughter, Florence, who was then thirty.
Six months after Alfred's marriage, in late August of 1901, a severe storm lashed the city of Hamilton. The green leaves of late summer's trees were blown from their branches and the Works Department were kept busy cleaning up the streets. It had been a hot August and now, after this storm, people sat outside in the evenings looking at the trees "gaunt and leafless as midwinter" as Alfred describes it in the closing pages of the autobiography of his early years, the first three decades of his life. Perhaps this storm was a sign of things to come. For the next fifty-seven years a tempest blew through the institutions and society of western civilization and it has continued blowing into the lives of Alfred's grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the closing decades of the century into the opening years of the new millennium.
In late 1901 Alfred and Sara had their first child, Florence. Florence was followed in 1904 by Lillian and in 1908 by Harold. Alfred was thirty-six when he had his last child and his first son. He was forty-two when the first WW began and fifty-seven when the depression hit in 1929. I know very little about his activities during these years except that he worked as a shirt-cutter while he was writing his autobiography and that he and Sara and their children moved frequently during the first three decades of the twentieth century living as they did in Hamilton. Searching for a cheaper and better accommodation, searching for a better job, another job, a more secure job seemed to be the general story of these years.
I remember my mother, Lillian, telling me about how her father used to stop off at a butcher on the way home and pick up a steak for the evening meal. But I do not remember any other anecdotes from these middle years of Alfred's life: 1901-1931. These brief notes will, for now, have to suffice until more information comes my way or some inspiration arrives to provide a base for more details for these Middle Years. The Great War and its aftermath, 1914 to 1931 decimated the value system of western man. Whatever beliefs my grandfather had in 1914 at age 42 got completely catapulted into oblivion by the age of 59 when this stage of his story ends. His wife’s story was one of belief which seemed to dominate over skepticism and the belief was in a Christian paradigm of some kind, the details of which I do not now know and have never known.
I was able to write more on my grandfather's 'later years’ before handing the story to my cousins Joan Cornfield and David Hunter in 2002 to add what they could.
C.1 THE LATER YEARS: 1931-1958
The years from 1931 to 1945 saw the end of the Depression and a second great war from 1939 to 1945. If belief were annihilated in WW1, optimism in the future had trouble surviving WW2. Alfred Cornfield was a struggling young immigrant from England at the turn of the century and by the early 1920s, when he wrote the autobiography of the first twenty-nine years of his life, his life's struggle had continued for another twenty years. It was becoming difficult for him to maintain a sense of a bright future, but he did acquire, insensibly over the decades a philosophical attitude that resulted in an apparently calm demeanour by the time he was in his seventies. The storm clouds of war and poverty that kept blowing through western society from 1929 to 1945 would temper any philosophy of progress and belief in God even more; at least that was the case for millions. Anything associated with theistic belief that might have stirred in Alfred's soul had difficulty breaking in by the late forties when I have my first memories of grandfather.
"There exists in human nature," wrote Gibbon with his long view of the times, "a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times." Alfred's skepticism was rooted in the historical experience of the first half of the twentieth century whose evils were justifiably magnified. Whatever optimism had existed in the West in the closing years of the nineteenth century, and it would appear from the writings of many analysts in these years that a good deal of optimism did prevail, it was bashed out of western man in the first half of the twentieth century. Still, it rises from the ashes and it was appearent in many forms by the time I came to write my autobiography. I saw it in many of the forms of popular psychology, the pleasures associated with materialism, leisure activities like sport, sex and TV and in a generation for the most part ill-equipped to interpret the social comotion at play throughout the planet. I and they listened to the pundits of error while society sank deeper into a slough of despond; troubled by forecasts of doom, it was unable to do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination.
These cruel events of history did not seem to affect the beliefs of Alfred's wife Sara, as I indicated above and as my mother was to inform me in the late 1950s, some fifteen to twenty years after Sara's death in 1939. Even Alfred's two daughters, Florence and Lillian, at least as I remember them and as I now recall their philosophico-religious views in the 1950s, continued to enjoy the seeds of belief perhaps taking more after their mother than their father who remained until his death an agnostic. The last years of my grandfather's life, then, after 1945, from the age of seventy-two to eighty-six were years of his retirement. He had retired from the world of employment by the age of sixty-five in 1937, if not before. His employment history was a chequered one and the thirty-six years from the age of twenty-nine to sixty-five involved many positions, living in many houses, always trying to make ends meet, as it were. But my memory yields little of this period of Alfred's life and my sources of information have, as yet, provided little supplementary detail.
C.2 THE LATER YEARS: 1931-1958
Alfred lived to see the beginning of the space age, the first man to encircle the earth in a space vehicle, Yuri Gagarin in the Sputnick in 1957. Alfred Cornfield died at age eighty-six in 1958. This period is easier to document since all of Alfred's grandchildren lived during this period and came into their teens and twenties. His oldest grandchild, Murray Hunter, was twenty-seven when Alfred died.
My first memories of Alfred Cornfield were in about 1948 when I was four. My memories are from the years 1948 to 1958, a brief time, when Alfred lived with my mother's sister's family, by then, in Burlington. The memories are few, but quite graphic: babysitting me on cold Canadian evenings when my parents went out to choir practice; sitting in his chair in his bedroom/study on Hurd Avenue in Burlington reading a book; walking over to our home on Seneca Street from his home on Hurd Avenue; speaking quietly and gently to my mother or father in our home on Seneca Street in Burlington. I was thirteen when Alfred died and had just entered secondary school.
My mother used to tell me things about her father whom she loved deeply and respected highly. She saw him as one of the best read people she knew in her life. She saw him as highly virtuous: kind, patient, self-controlled, thoughtful, wise, courteous, considerate. My memories, again, are sadly, few and far between. I shall leave this very brief account, having made an initial effort to put something down on paper. Perhaps when time and circumstance permit more can be added to this life of Alfred Cornfield.
I place these few words, this brief summary of parts of my grandfather's life, at this point because I have a strong appreciation for his own autobiography. Immediately after reading it in 1984 and 1985 I began to write my own. My mother's poetry, too, seemed to finally bear fruit in my own poetry within two years of her death, hence my inclusion here of this brief account of my mother's poetry and art. These lines from Shakespeare's sonnets seem particularly apt here in relation to any understanding I have of the significant people in my childhood:
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shall see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
C.3 THE LATER YEARS: 1931-1958
My view of these my earliest years, my "youth's proud livery, so gazed on now," as Shakespeare writes in his second sonnet, is nowhere near as bleak as he goes on to write in that same sonnet. I do not see those years as "a tottered weed of small worth held" but, rather, as part of a "pure and goodly issue on the shore of life." Often, though, I feel the truth of Shakespeare's words about life's stage that it "presenteth nought but shows." And, to conclude these quotations from Shakespeare's sonnets, I like to think that:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
This, of course, is my poetry and my prose. I am not in the position so many old and not-so-old people often are who become obsessed with the episodic details of their childhood, adolescence or, indeed, of the various stages of their lives as they review their experiences in retrospect. It is as if, by recalling many discrete scenes, they will explain who they are to themselves. While I am conscious of enjoying some understanding by this episodic review, I am also conscious that understanding lies in so many other of life’s gardens.
From my first conscious moments, moments I can still remember in 1947/8 I was absorbed in the indulgences of childhood and then of youth. Insensibly, in the last years of my teens and early twenties, from 1960 to 1967, I became absorbed in a variety of life’s activities: getting a degree, sorting out my erotic-romantic life, the Baha’i Faith, choosing a career and dealing with the first stages of my bi-polar disorder. I was by temperament moulded in these critical years to the idea of a spiritual revolution, in the sense of making the world over and creating a new society. By the age of 23 when I got married, though, I still had illusions that this process would be easier and faster than it would be. The next fifty years gave me lots of practice at deepening my understanding of these processes, these realities. The progressive loss of hope, so characteristic of so many, was not a disease I suffered form.
It is timely to include this brief digression into the life of my grandfather because his own autobiographical work was read during my third and forth years in Katherine, 1985-6, and it served as a crucial inspiration to the beginnings of my own work. Alfred Cornfield’s work was prototypical, provided a principle of coherence and generativity, a kind of helpful simplicity of aim and purpose to my own work. His work has served as an anchor point for what Todd Schultz, an instructor in methods of autobiography, calls “personalogical inquiry.” Having seen how my grandfather creatively crafted some clarifying coherence in his own uneven and complex life, I was encouraged to try to anchor my life in a similar fashion. Of course, there were other anchoring events and this autobiography describes a number of them. These anchoring events, some in one's micro, one's interpersonal world; some in the macro world of socio-politics, give one a focus from which to deal with life's labyrinth, its puzzle and from there to find the golden thread, however elusive it often seems to be.
At this stage of my life I have written little about my grandfather’s days after 1901 and little about my parents. I will close this opening chapter with an introduction I wrote to a collection of my mother’s art and poetry that I put together after her passing. This piece will also help to provide some autobiographical background, a setting, a context, for what follows in the chapters ahead. The notes here on my mother's life are few, entirely out of proportion to the significance of her role in my life.
The generation of my great-grandparents is, for the purposes of this study, 1844 to 1872. The year 1872 saw the birth of my maternal grand-father. I will write about that period within my family and the broader society at a later date. There are now many internet sites where individuals can search out their family history's. Perhaps at a later date I will do this and enable me to fill in some of the details here.
The century from 1844 to 1944 was yet another revolutionary period. In demographics and general statistics, the term world population refers to the total number of living humans on Earth. The United States Census Bureau estimates that the world population exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012. According to a separate estimate by the United Nations Population Fund, it reached this milestone on October 31, 2011. In June 2013, the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimated the world population at approximately 7.2 billion. But it was the population development in the previous 2 centuries on which the above was built.
During the European Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, the life expectancy of children increased dramatically. The percentage of the children born in London who died before the age of five decreased from 74.5% in 1730–1749 to 31.8% in 1810–1829. Between 1700 and 1900, Europe’s population increased from about 100 million to over 400 million. Altogether, the areas populated by people of European descent comprised 36% of the world's population in 1900. Population growth in the West became more rapid after the introduction of vaccination and other improvements in medicine and sanitation. Improved material conditions led to the population of Britain increasing from 10 million to 40 million in the 19th century. The United States saw its population grow from around 5.3 million in 1800 to 106 million in 1920, exceeding 307 million in 2010.
Many countries in the developing world have experienced extremely rapid population growth since the early 20th century, due to economic development and improvements in public health. China's population rose from approximately 430 million in 1850 to 580 million in 1953, and now stands at over 1.3 billion. The population of the Indian subcontinent, which was about 125 million in 1750, increased to 389 million in 1941; today, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are collectively home to about 1.5 billion people.Java had about 5 million inhabitants in 1815; its present-day successor, Indonesia, now has a population of over 140 million. Mexico's population grew from 13.6 million in 1900 to about 112 million in 2010. Between the 1920s and 2000s, Kenya's population grew from 2.9 million to 37 million.
It is estimated that the world population reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. The developments that took place from 1844 to 1944 are immense and I will try and summarize them briefly in the following paragraphs.
THE STAGE IS SET: 1944-1953
This autobiography has an underlying intellectual project that subsumes psychological and sociological domains of reasoning within a distinctive experience of community, place, and memory. Memory is an intrinsic part of the human condition of nostalgia and delight, of shock and loss. It gives form to a theory of how individuals and communities experience both the pleasures of daily life and disaster. Memory allows me to tell my readers how I lived and how I re-built my life after crisis. While individuals and communities are believed to be formed partly by memories of a place, “memory” is neither a collective faculty nor is it geographically bounded. My memories are included, but some are not? Are my memories of one place or do they also draw on other real or imagined places?
Memory is one of the main players on this autobiographical stage: hypothesizing, working with the imagination, working with the rational faculty. When I describe the stage, say, the first three houses I lived in before I was six and the nearby properties and landscape, I must describe what I have not seen, in the case of the first two houses for over 65 years, and in the case of the third house for more than 50 years. Google Earth, though, has enabled me to see 2 of the 3 houses. Google Earth is a virtual globe, map and geographical information program. It maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography & geographic information system (GIS) 3D globe. Google Earth has a free version with limited function, and Google Earth Pro is now free. As of October 2011, Google Earth has been downloaded more than a billion times.
Morden Avenue, Bellvenia Avenue and Seneca Street I walked on, on their sidewalks, in nearby fields and in sets of rooms. I can scarcely remember the rooms in the houses on Morden Avenue and Bellvenia Avenue. A little of the lounge room, something of a bedroom on Bellvenia Avenue and that is all. On Morden Avenue I recall, but so vaguely as to be more of a dream than an actual substance recalled, the poplar trees and the field across the main road at the end of the street, the field that led to the beach where my parents took me to swim on hot summer days.
All of these houses were within a kilometre of Lake Ontario. The lake dominated the landscape but quietly, subtlely. You could not see the lake from any of these houses where I lived. You had to get yourself down to the lake's edge or at least near to this great body of water that was carved out during the last ice age. I only remember seeing the lake from Seneca Street but I saw it and swam in it before I was two. I saw little snatches of it as my parents and I drove along the lake on Lakeshore Road or Beach Boulevard in those first eighteen years of my life. You can see its small sliver from outer space, on a view of planet earth, at least the part looking down over the Americas. I've been looking at it nostalgically for the last thirty years since I moved so far away that the only way I can look at it is on a map or in a photograph. Of course, since Yuri Gagarin orbited the globe in 1957, we have been able to see our home in microcosm from a distance.
Bellvenia Avenue is not on any map that I own now. Maybe they changed the name. In 1947 when I moved there with my mother and father we lived in a house next to the corner block on the Oakville side, the east side, of the street. We lived across from the Jackamecks who owned a small farm on the other side of the street. The Jackamecks had two young kids about my age, Wendy and Tommy. Occasionally they used to put manure in our mailbox and swear at us on our telephone. Behind their house was a forest where 'the boogie-man' lurked. There was, too, an orchard that I walked through on my way to school. I remember picking apples off the orchard of apple trees on the way to or from school. I must have been five and in kindergarten. They've since closed the school I attended: Strathcona-1948/9.
The house on Bellvenia Road had a backyard with fruit trees. I remember picking the apples that fell off the trees. In fact the last thing I did before we moved to Seneca Street was pick these apples up and put them in a box of some kind. The houses were dotted along the street with fields of grass, wild flowers and weeds separating them. Bellvenia Avenue pointed north from Lakeshore Road and went insensibly to the Queen Elizabeth Highway, but I don't remember ever going that far up the road. For a child, a boy of from three to five, the QEW as it was called was simply beyond his known world. It could have been the route to the northwest passage or China for all that. Lakeshore Road was also beyond the point of no return, the great wilderness that I never sought out, at least that part of the Road about two bends in the highway to the east and another two bends on the highway to the west. These respective bends, some indefineable spot on Bellvenia Avenue and the home of Eileen and Kenny Bartle on the other side of the intersection of Bellvenia Avenue and Lakeshore Road marked the limits of my known world in 1947/8.
By the time I started grade one in September 1950 I had been living in Seneca Street for perhaps two months. I can't really remember exactly, now, after the insensible operation for more than fifty years. But I do remember that I was in kindergarten when I lived on Bellvenia Avenue and in grade one on Seneca Street and so the transition must have taken place some time toward the end of kindergarten, in May or June of 1950, just before I turned six in July. On Seneca Street my world was larger and grew larger with the years from 1950 to 1962 when my mother, father and I moved to a nearby town of Dundas. Just what the parameters of my landscape, my psychological and spiritual domain, in 1950 on Seneca Street it simply impossible to tell with any accuracy. But I think it is safe to say that the Guelph Line on the east, Brant Street on the west, Lakeshore Road and Lake Ontario on the south and the QEW on the north occupied the outer limits of my known world. I did not fill this entire region out with my travels, not in those first months before I turned six anyway.
As I've said earlier in this narrative, people often talk about the land, about place, when they try to describe themselves, to define their nationness, their nationality. And I feel compelled to say something about place in this work, although it would appear I do not say much about place in the total picture that I paint. There is a sense of space which began in these early years and continued throughout my twenty-seven years in Canada and the next twenty-seven years in Australia. It is a sense that is partly inner and partly outer. Even when I lived in large apartment buildings, as I did in Hamilton in 1964 and in Windsor in 1966/7 or smaller ones like those in Picton in 1970/1, King City in 1968/9 or in large urban jungles like Toronto, Melbourne or Perth, this sense of space was important to me. Perhaps, as David Malouf put it, I could more comfortably love people if they were, for the most part, kept at a distance. Canadians and Australians, it seems, need their space. Is it because they are such big empty countries? I lived inevitably in a microcosm, though, even in big cities. The situation comedies on television, and there have been dozens of them now going back to the 1950s, have so frequently taken place in cities as have generations of movies and audiences are presented with microcosms in which to be entertained. Although only a small part of my life has been lived in cities and I have watched little of the situation comedies of the last fifty years, it is difficult not to feel the impact of the city on one's mental set in the last half century.
The Seneca Street house, first number 81 and then 426 after it was changed for some reason in later years, is the house I think of when I think of 'home.' Perhaps I will describe it in detail later. But this chapter, this opening scenaro, is concerned with the years up to my sixth birthday in July of 1950. They were years when I came to live in the northwest corner of Lake Ontario. Until the age of twenty-seven I lived somewhere along the northern shore of Lake Ontario, except for one year on the northern shore of Lake Erie in Windsor and a southern inlet on Baffin Island called Frobisher Bay.
Edward Said, the noted orientalist and social critic, wrote that geography is "a socially constructed and maintained sense of place." Space in human affairs plays an extraordinary role; it possesses an immense power and resonance in our lives. I have only conveyed some of that resonance here. And what has resonance for me may have little to none to the reader. Even after time's curious motion for half a century, this space provides the choreography, the mise-en-scene, the setting, for the first years of my life. I'm sure I could provide much more detail with some persistence, some effort at recollection. I could also do what David Malouf does in his book 12 Edmondstone Street. I could discuss the possible connections between this landscape that I first occupied in my life on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and my notions of space and dimension. Perhaps, as he says, these notions that I now possess, over fifty years later, came from this early experience. Perhaps, too, the particular relationships between houses, fields, streets, rooms, backyards, et cetera, the local topography, a spirit which resided in the ordinary objects, are places of intangible but dense affinities, inseparable from what we are and what we become.
I could go on in this vein examining in detail these objects and landscapes which haunt me or occupy my brain when I call, through effort or some curious happenstance, these early days back to my mind. Perhaps in naming them and giving them description I can gain a certain power over them, a certain understanding. But I do not feel the need. I admire the work of David Malouf but my spirit, my mind, does not feel the need or the desire to go back over this terrain with the sweet nostalgia, the gift of words, the wisdom and simple taste of beauty that he gives to his descriptions, his journey into his own past. Yes, they are part of my identity but, by my mid-to-late teens, I was moving on to other landscapes. I could describe in detail another twenty towns and their topography and they all, in different ways, play a part in that sense of identity I have referred to, but I think the landscape that has played the most important part in my life is one I have spent only nine days inhabiting. I shall leave this subject for aother time.
Terry Gifford suggests that "the historical form of the pastoral is dead." It has been dead, he says, for a century. The rural-urban divide has, he argues, little meaning for most people. At best the term 'pastoral' is highly contested. I like William Epsom's defintion: the process of putting the complex into the simple. I like, too, the pastoral impulse of withdrawal and return that Toynbee describes in his A Study of History. For so much of life follows this impulse. It follows, too, and explores Wordsworth's discovery that "the mind is our tool exquisitely fitted to understand our interactive life in nature." There are inner cycles and veerings of moods in my life on a: hourly, daily, monthly, yearly and decade by decade cycle. Sometimes predictable, sometimes beyond my understanding. No simple meaning is offered; rather an expanding riddle of a multiplicity of resonating images and meanings. In some ways I feel a little like that "post-pastoral poet who has dissolved the distinctions between the outer and the inner nature" to produce my own delights and meanings. "God has lent us the earth," wrote John Ruskin. It is a great metaphorical vehicle for our understanding of everything in it, including the nature of ourselves and the nature of God. If the pastoral did go away some time late in the nineteenth century, as Gifford suggests, perhaps it returned some time in the third epoch, at the start of the last stage of history, in the term environment or complex-pastoral. For it has been at the background of my life these last several decades, perhaps since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring right at the start of my pioneering life. It has been present in what Gifford calls, in the last paragraph of his book, "the cycle of postmodern mobility...the necessary impulse towards retreat, renewal and return."
Before turning to what was happening in the Bahá'í community in the 1940s I would like to make a few remarks on: (i) diary keeping gleaned from studies of the diary of Virginia Woolf, and (ii) romantic love. Both these topics throw some light on my own work and what I am aiming to accomplish. The whole mass of Woolf's autobiographical writings is a deliberately fragmented ongoing project that she worked on until her suicide at the age of 58. I was just beginning to find a direction in my own autobiographical work at that age in my late 50s. Her work is a rich archive of self-exploration and self-disclosure and often of bafflement that she collected and preserved even though she had no intention of publishing it at all, either during her lifetime or in the future. I had the same attitude to publishing when I began this work but, as it progressed, it seemed to warrant some form of publication. Woolf's unpublished, in some cases at the time unpublishable, writings are often as interesting as the work whose appearance she supervised, her novels. A great many of her unpublished writings, especially her diary, some of her notebooks and her various formal experiments in memoir writing, are integral parts of the unintegrateable autobiography she was always writing. It was an autobiography that her social and familial training inhibited her from shaping into a final form. The integration of all the genres of my writing into one coherent autobiographical whole is and will be a challenge to anyone taking-up the task. Sometimes I feel I am making headway and sometimes I feel the task is too great.
Woolf's unpublished papers are the raw stuff of a posthumous career which was beyond her powers of construction. Certainly the vast quantity of my own papers are equally beyond my own powers of any posthumous synthesis and for this reason I have written several general guidelines for anyone interested in making the attempt. Woolf would have had mixed feelings, at best, about preserving her papers. I have no mixed feelings, if they can be of any benefit to the Bahá'í community in the years ahead. Woolf lived throughout her life with the contradiction between her desire for the fullest disclosure of both her own and women's lives in general and her personal revulsion from publicity. She was always an intensely private person who made a point of guarding her anonymity. But it is also essential to understand how eager she was during her lifetime to collect and store all her papers, all her material, all her writing, Whatever her intentions were toward her private papers at the end of her life, she clearly had an eagerness at earlier stages in her life to keep them all for some indefineable, some unknown posterity. My main concern is whether all my papers, writings, essays, poetry, autobiography, etcetera have any relevance to posterity. I simply cannot answer that question.
The literary quality of her fragmented and far from complete final draft of her memoir entitled Sketch of the Past is striking. This memoir has the depth and experience of her whole writing life behind it. It is a major, a striking, advance over her earlier attempts at memoir, at autobiography. Yet to see Woolf's final endeavor to write her life story as a triumphant solution to the problems she faced in recounting that story is to play down the experimental quality of her work and its deliberate sketchiness. Woolf's memoir project involved a variety of bedrock problems that surfaced again and again in all her autobiographical writings. I find the problems I have faced in the more than 21 years of writing this narrative have not so much surfaced again and again; rather they have completely changed their spots: 1984, 1994, 2004-each of those points in time presented entirely different autobiographical conundrums. Even now with 1000 plus pages, I face not some triumphant solution but a new set of problems.
The shape-changing persistence of these problems, Woolf's or mine, suggests that we are both tackling issues intrinsic to the memoir as a genre. They were brought to prominence by our determination to master the autobiographical genre through many tries at articulation. Both Woolf and I want our autobiographies to serve our determination to revise the record-keeping tradition of the family to which we each belong.
I would like to turn briefly to the subject of romantic love.There are many definitions of romantic love, but all share similar elements including an intense emotional and physical attraction, an idealisation of each other, and a desire for an enduring and unending commitment that can overcome all obstacles. I was aware of the problems assoicated with romantic love by my late teens and early twenties. Still, it is very difficult to live through the post WW2 period in developed countries and not be influenced by the concept of romantic love. Romantic love has historically been associated with heightened passions and intense almost irrational or adolescent feelings, and that historical legacy still lives on with all its force. Charles Lindholm’s list of clichés that accompany the idea of romantic love include: “love is blind, love overwhelms, a life without love is not worth living, marriage should be for love alone and anything less is worthless and a sham”. These elements, which invoke love as sacred, unending, and unique, perpetuate past cultural associations of the term. They also fill the print and electronic media with endless narratives on the subject.
Romantic love was first documented in Ancient Rome where intense feelings were seen as highly suspect and a threat to the stability of the family, which was the primary economic, social and political unit. Roman historian Plutarch viewed romantic love based upon strong personal attraction as disruptive to the family, and he expressed a fear that romantic love would become the norm for Romans. I first came across these ideas when I taught ancient history in the early 1990s. During the Middle Ages romantic love emerged as courtly love and, once again, the conventions that shaped its expression grew out of an effort to control excessive emotions and sublimate sexual desire, which were seen as threats to social stability. Courtly love, according to Marilyn Yalom, was seen as an “irresistible and inexhaustible passion; a fatal love that overcomes suffering and even death”. Feudal social structures had grounded marriage in property, while the Catholic Church had declared marriage a sacrament and a ceremony through which God’s grace could be obtained. In this context courtly love emerged as a way of dealing with the conflict between the individual and family choices over the martial partner. Courtly love is about a pure ideal of love in which the knight serves his unattainable lady, and, by carrying out feats in her honour, reaches spiritual perfection. The focus on the aesthetic ideal was a way to fulfill male and female emotional needs outside of marriage, while avoiding adultery. My first contact with medieval history was in the first year of my B.A. program in the history course, and I have read about medieval history off and on since those 1960s.
Romantic love re-appeared again in the mid-eighteenth century, but this time it was associated with marriage. Intellectuals and writers led the trend normalising romantic love in marriage as a reaction to the Enlightenment’s valorisation of reason, science and materialism over emotion. Romantics objected to the pragmatism and functionality induced by industrialisation, which they felt destroyed the idea of the mysterious and transcendental nature of love, which could operate as a form of secular salvation. Love could not be bought or sold, argued the Romantics, “it is mysterious, true and deep, spontaneous and compelling”. Romantic love also emerged as an expression of the personal autonomy and individualisation that accompanied the rise of industrial society. As Lanz suggests, romantic love was part of the critical reflexivity of the Enlightenment and a growing belief that individuals could find self actualisation through the expression and expansion of their “emotional and intellectual capacities in union with another”. Thus it was romantic love, which privileges the feelings and wishes of an individual in mate selection, that came to be seen as a bid for freedom by the offspring of the growing middle classes coerced into marriage for financial or property reasons.
Throughout the 19th century romantic love was seen as a solution to the dehumanising forces of industrialisation and urbanisation. The growth of the competitive workplace—which required men to operate in a restrained and rational manner—saw an increase in the search for emotional support and intimacy within the domestic domain. It has been argued that “love was the central preoccupation of middle class men from the 1830s until the end of the 19th century”. However, the idealisation of the aesthetic and purity of love impacted marriage relations by casting the wife as pure and marital sex as a duty. As a result, husbands pursued sexual and romantic relationships outside marriage. It should be noted that even though love became cemented as the basis for marriage in the 19th century, romantic love was still viewed suspiciously by religious groups who saw strong affection between couples as an erosion of the fundamental role of the husband in disciplining his wife.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries romantic love was further impacted by urbanisation and migration, which undermined the emotional support provided by extended families. According to Stephanie Coontz, it was the growing independence and mobility of couples that saw romantic love in marriage consolidated as the place in which an individual’s emotional and social needs could be fully satisfied. Coontz says that the idea that women could only be fulfilled through marriage, and that men needed women to organise their social life, reached its heights in the 1950s. Changes occurred to the structure of marriage in the 1960s when control over fertility meant that sex was available outside of marriage. Education, equality and feminism also saw women reject marriage as their only option for fulfillment. Changes to Family Law Acts in western jurisdictions in the 1970s provided for no-fault divorce, and as divorce lost its stigma it became acceptable for women to leave failing marriages. These social shifts removed institutional controls on marriage and uncoupled the original sexual, emotional and financial benefits packaged into marriage. The resulting individualisation of personal lifestyle choices for men and women disrupted romantic conventions, and according to James Dowd romantic love came to be seen as an “investment” in the “future” that must be “approached carefully and rationally”. It therefore became increasingly difficult to sustain the idea of love as a powerful, mysterious and divine force beyond reason.
I would now like to turn to what was happening in the Bahá'í community at this time, in these early years, these first six years of the second Bahá'í century. For this was what was to become my home, by degrees, from 1953 onwards. My spiritual home interests me more than the physical place that occupied my body in the earlies years of my life. In 1944 the Bahá'í world had, arguably, one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand believers around the world. The Bahá'í community of the USA was in its fiftieth year. Canada's history of Bahá'í experience went back to 1898. There were 1300 localities in North America where Bahá'ís resided. The first epoch of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Plan would be over in 1946 as would the first quarter century since the end of the Heroic Age; the first plan, a Seven Year Plan, ended in April 1944. I was born three months later.
Neither I, nor anyone in my family, had the least awareness that this Divine Plan of 'Abdu'l-Bahá had only been in operation for seven years when I was born in mid-1944. In August 1944, the Guardian was anticipating "the cessation of hostilities" in WW2 which would open before the Bahá'í community "fields of service of tremendous fertility." The climax of the "raging storm" had passed, a climax synchronizing with the termination of the first Bahá'í century. Society itself was "disillusioned," "disrupted," a "wreckage." As my second birthday approached in July 1946, while we still lived on Morden Avenue, my mother, father, grandfather and I, the two year "respite" from teachings Plans ended. The aim in 1946, as the Bahá'í community commemorated the 25th anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, was to have 175 LSAs by April 1948. "The shadow of war's tragic aftermath" wrote Shoghi Effendi in January 1947, about the time my family moved to Burlington, was "deepening."
A thirty-four page letter from the Guardian in June 1947, during my first summer in RR#1 Burlington, just before I turned three, entitled The Challenging Requirements of the Present Hour presented an accurate picture of the present state of the Bahá'í community, in both North America and in the world. While I played in the autumn leaves, built snow forts in the winter of 1947/8 and 1948/9, worried about 'the boogie-man,' got my first wack with my mother's hair-brush by my father, played a little red pipe organ, waited in vain with my folks for the Pantings to come to dinner one Sunday evening and watched my dad work in the garden evening after evening, the Guardian was encouraging the Bahá'ís to take their Faith around the globe. These were 'modest beginnings,' as the Guardian described the first ten years of the Plans: 1937-1947. "The initial clash between the forces of darkness and the army of light," was "being registered by the denizens of the Abha Kingdom." While I went from the ages of three to five in my second house, the second residence, of my life, on Bellvenia Avenue, "the first sittings" of a "spiritual revolution" were being experienced due to "the hands of the little as yet unnoticed band of pioneers." Within fifteen years I, too, would join that band. The road ahead, wrote the Guardian, was "long, thorny and tortuous." And so it was.
The "lowest ebb in mankind's fast-declining fortunes," had yet to eventuate. The "testing period" ahead for society may well become the entire period of my life. Looking back to the outset of WW2, from a distance in time of three-quarters of a century, it certainly appears to have been the case. This testing period is clearly far from over.
All of the above is on my mother's side of the family. I have little on my father's side and whatever I find I will add it here at a future date. My father came out from Wales just after the war. The acute depression in Wales in the 1920s sent him to America where he hoped to make a quid. He and I never talked about this time of his life. So I would never know what year he went to the States or even where he went. Since he is dead now and has been for fifty years I have had to piece the picture together, work out where he was and what he was doing with more than a little guesswork. This man I did not know, this man, my father. I have had to recreate just about from scratch, built around the picture I have of him in my mind's eye from about eighteen years of memory from when i was about three in 1947 until when I was 21 just after my father died in 1965.
Who was this man who had planted the seed in my mother in October 1943. In about the first or second week of October the seed from my father that became me thanks to my mother's egg was what produced that "pure and goodly issue." Early October was, I always thought, the most beautiful time of year in Canada. The autumn season, rich in yellow, red and the most colourful combination of leaves from maple, oak, birch and the multitude of Canada's trees was magic. Pensiveness found its best home in October before it got frozen in another Canadian winter.
To think I had come into existence at the best time of year, even if it had been due to a man whom I had never really known at all inspite of living under the same roof for the best part of two decades, was hardly an earth-shattering revelation. But the thought had to do with my origins which, as I got older, as I approached my late middle age and was trying to get a handle on life, my last chance if I was to get a handle at all, seemed somehow significant.
I learned from the Department of Immigration in Canada that one, Frederick James Price, had arrived in Canada on 28 November 1921. He was 26 when he left Wales, left his home in the southern borough of Merthyr Tydfil where great iron works had made an income for his father and grandfather before him, where his father and mother owned a pub and where the Welsh Liberal(on his father's side), David Lloyd George had become Prime Minister five years before. The year 1921 was also the beginning of the multi-party system in Canada. Not that it mattered much to this man from Wales; he had lost interest in politics by the time he had arrived in Canada, at least from some points of view.
But he was interested in religion, having had non-conformist roots back in Wales. He arrived in Toronto on the same day as the passing of Abdul-Baha. From 1922 to 1942 Fred worked for the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA). The Freedom of Information Act enabled me to piece together his life during these years. What follows is Fred's story during that time. It's Fred's story both in the C.I.A. and in the Bahá'í community where he spent much of his free time by 1953. I never met any of Fred's three children from his first marriage. the two boys were killed in WW2 just before I was born. His daughter, Dorothy, if she is still alive, would be in her 80s or 90s.
THE FAMILY TREE OF MY FATHER: FREDERICK JAMES PRICE
Beginning on 8 July 2012 I obtained some information at the website, Ancestry.co.uk, about my father. I had already found out that my father was born circa 1890 and not 1895 as I had previously thought. The information obtained on 8 July 2012 is found below and will, I hope, be updated in the years to come. My great-grandparents: born circa-1830-1840. My grand-parents on my father's side were born (circa)-1860-1870. My Father(and his brothers and sisters were born(1880-1890)
THE BAHA'I FAITH: 1844 TO 1953
The 1844-1963 period is covered in the "Information Statistical and Comparative" document which is available in cyberspace. It includes the achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963. It was compiled by Hands of the Cause residing in the Holy Land. My intention below is to provide a simple sketch of the relevant Babi-Bahá'í history to 1953. Readers wanting more detail can find it in many places now in cyberspace.
Bahá'í history is often traced through a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Báb's declaration in Shiraz on the evening of May 22, 1844, and ultimately resting on an administrative order established by the central figures of the religion. The religion had its background in two earlier movements in the nineteenth century, Shaykhism and Babism. Shaykhism centred on theosophical doctrines and many Shaykhis expected the return of the hidden Twelfth Imam. Many Shaykhis joined the messianic Babi movement in the 1840s where the Báb proclaimed himself to be the return of the hidden Imam. As the Babi movement spread in Iran, violence broke out between the ruling Shi'a Muslim government and the Babis, and ended when government troops massacred the Babis, and executed the Bab in 1850.
The Bab had spoken of another messianic figure, He whom God shall make manifest. One of the followers of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh, was imprisoned by the Iranian government after the Bab's execution and then exiled to Iraq, and then to Constantinople and Adrianople in the Ottoman Empire. In 1863 in Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be the messianic figure expected by the Bab's writings. Bahá'ís consider the Bahá'í religion to start from Bahá'u'lláh's statements in 1863.
At the time of Bahá'u'lláh's death the tradition was mostly confined to the Persian and Ottoman empires, at which time he had followers in thirteen countries of Asia and Africa. Leadership of the religion then passed on to `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son, who was appointed by Bahá'u'lláh, and was accepted by almost all Bahá'ís. Under the leadership of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffers intense persecution.
After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community was passed on to his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who was appointed in `Abdu'l-Bahá's will. The document appointed Shoghi Effendi as the first Guardian, and called for the election of the Universal House of Justice once the Bahá'í Faith had spread sufficiently for such elections to be meaningful. During Shoghi Effendi's time as leader of the religion there was a great increase in the number of Bahá'ís, and he presided over the election of many National Spiritual Assemblies.
In Islam, the Mahdi is a messianic figure who is believed to be a descendant of Muhammad who will return near the end of time to restore the world and the religion of God. While both Sunni and Shi'a groups believe in the Mahdi, the largest Shi'a group, the Twelvers, believe that the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed to have gone into occultation since 874 CE. In the Twelver view the Twelfth Imam first went into a "Minor Occultation" between 874 and 941 CE where the Hidden Imam still communicated with the community through four official intermediaries. The "Greater Occultation" is then defined from the time when the Hidden Imam ceased to communicate regularly until the time when he returns to restore the world.
The Shaykhi movement was a school of theology within Twelver Shi'a Islam that was started through the teaching of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í. Shaykh Ahmad's teachings included that the Imams were spiritual beings and thus, in contrast to the widespread Shi'a belief, that the Imams existed within spiritual bodies, and not material bodies. He also taught that there must always exist the "Perfect Shi'a" who serves as an intermediary between the Imams and the believers, and is the one who can visualize the consciousness of the Hidden Imam. In 1822 he left Iran and went to Iraq due to the controversy that his teachings had brought. There he also found himself at the centre of debate, thus deciding to move to Mecca, he died in 1826 on his way there.
Before the death of Shaykh Ahmad, he appointed Siyyid Kázim of Rasht to lead the Shaykhí movement, which he did until his death in 1843. Siyyid Kázim formulated many of the thoughts that were ambiguously expressed by Shaykh Ahmad including the doctrine of salvation history and the cycles of revelation. His teaching brought a sense of millenarian hope among the Shaykhis that the Hidden Imam may return. Siyyid Kazim did not leave a successor, but before his death in December, 1843, he had counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Mahdi, who according to his prophecies would soon appear.
Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad, who later took on the title the Báb, was born on October 20, 1819, in Shiraz to a merchant of the city; his father died while he was quite young and the boy was raised by his maternal uncle Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant. In May 1844 the Báb proclaimed to Mulla Husayn, one of the Shaykhis, to be the one whose coming was prophesized by Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim and the bearer of divine knowledge. Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Siyyid Káẓim had recognized the Báb as a Manifestation of God. These eighteen disciples were later to be known as the Letters of the Living and were given the task of spreading the new faith across Iran and Iraq. The Báb initially attracted most of the followers of the Shaykhí movement, but soon his teachings went far beyond those roots and attracted prominent followers across Iran. His followers were known as Bábís.
After some time, preaching by the Letters of the Living led to opposition by the Islamic clergy, prompting the Governor of Shiraz to order the Báb's arrest. After being house arrest in Shiraz from June 1845 to September 1846, the Báb spent several months in Isfahan debating clergy, many who became sympathetic. He was then ordered by the Shah to Tehran in January 1847; after spending several months in a camp outside Tehran, the Prime Minister sent the Báb to Tabriz in the northwestern corner of the country, where he was confined.
He was then transferred to the fortress of Máh-Kú in the province of Azarbaijan close to the Turkish border. During his incarceration there, the Báb began his most important work, the Persian Bayán, which he never finished. He was then transferred to the fortress of Chihríq in April 1848. In that place as well, the Báb's popularity grew and his jailors relaxed restrictions on him. Hence the Prime Minister ordered the Báb back to Tabriz where the government called on religious authorities to put the Báb on trial for blasphemy and apostasy. Bábism was also spreading across the country, and the Islamic government saw it as a threat to state religion and several military confrontations took place between government and Bábí forces. Communities of Bábís established themselves in Iran and Iráq, and in 1850 reached several cities of Azarbaijan.
In mid-1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because various Bábí insurrections had been defeated and the movement's popularity appeared to be waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabríz from Chihríq, so that he could be shot by a firing squad. On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch. The Báb and a companion were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad prepared to shoot. After the order was given to shoot and the smoke cleared, the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed; the bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall. The soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed. He was tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. Their remains were dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.
While the Báb claimed a station of revelation, he also claimed no finality for his revelation. A constant theme in his works, especially the Persian Bayan was that of the great Promised One, the next embodiment of the Primal Will, whom the Báb termed He whom God shall make manifest, promised in the sacred writings of previous religions would soon establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth. In the books written by the Báb he constantly entreats his believers to follow He whom God shall make manifest when he arrives. Before his death, the Báb had been in correspondence with two brothers, Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal who, after the death of many prominent disciples, emerged as the mostly likely leaders. In a letter sent to Subh-i-Azal, then aged around nineteen, the Báb appears to have indicated a high station or leadership position. The letter also orders Subh-i-Azal to obey the Promised One when he appears; in practise, Subh-i-Azal, however, seems to have had little widespread legitimacy and authority. Bahá'u'lláh in the meantime, while in private hinted at his own high station, in public kept his messianic secret from most and supported Subh-i-Azal in the interest of unity. In 1863 in Baghdad, he made his first public declaration and eventually was recognized by the vast majority of Bábís as "He whom God shall make manifest" and his followers began calling themselves Bahá'ís.
Bahá'u'lláh was born on November 12, 1817, in Tehran. Bahá'u'lláh's father was entitled Mírzá Buzurg while he served as vizier to Imám-Virdi Mírzá, the twelfth son of Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar. Mírzá Buzurg was later appointed governor of Burujird and Lorestan, a position that he was stripped of during a government purge when Muhammad Shah came to power. After his father died, Bahá'u'lláh was asked to take a government post by the new vizier Haji Mirza Aqasi, but he declined the position. At the age of 28, Bahá'u'lláh received a messenger, Mullá Husayn, telling him of the Báb, whose message he accepted, becoming a Bábí. Bahá'u'lláh began to spread the new cause, especially in his native province of Núr, becoming recognized as one of its most influential believers. The accompanying government suppression of the Báb's religion resulted in Bahá'u'lláh's being imprisoned twice and enduring bastinado torture once Bahá'u'lláh also attended the Conference of Badasht, where 81 prominent Babis met for 22 days; at that conference where there was a discussion between those Babis who wanted to maintain Islamic law and those who believed that the Báb's message began a new dispenation, Bahá'u'lláh took the pro-change side, which eventually won out.
In 1852, two years after the execution of the Báb, the Bábís was polarized with one group speaking of violent retribution against the Shah, Nasser-al-Din Shah while the other, under the leadership of Baha’u’llah, looked to rebuild relationships with the government and advance the Babí cause by persuasion and the example of virtuous living. The militant group of Babis was between thirty and seventy persons, only a small number of the total Babi population of perhaps 100,000. Their meetings appear to have come under the control of a "Husayn Jan", an emotive and magnetic figure who obtained a high degree of personal devotion to himself from the group. Bahá'u'lláh met briefly with a couple of the radical Babi leaders and learned of an assassination plan. He condemned the plan, but was soon asked to leave Tehran by the authorities. In the vacuum of leadership on August 15, 1852 about 3 Babis attempted the assassination of the Shah and failed. Notwithstanding the assassins' claim that they were working alone, the entire Bábí community was blamed, and a slaughter of several thousand Bábís followed. Amidst the general violence some Bábís were imprisoned in the Síyáh-Chál (Black Pit), an underground dungeon of Tehran. According to Bahá'u'lláh, perhaps the lone survivor, it was during his imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál that he had several mystical experiences, and that he received a vision of a Maiden from God, through whom he received his mission as a Messenger of God and as the One whose coming the Báb had prophesied.
The government later found Bahá'u'lláh innocent of complicity in the assassination plot, and he was released from the Síyáh-Chál, but the government exiled him from Iran. Bahá'u'lláh chose to go to Iraq in the Ottoman Empire and arrived in Baghdad in early 1853. A small number of Babis, including his half-brother Subh-i-Azal, followed Bahá'u'lláh to Baghdad. An increasing number of Bábís considered Baghdad the new centre for leadership of the Bábí religion, and a flow of pilgrims started coming there from Persia. In Baghdad people began to look to Subh-i-Azal for leadership less and less due to his policy of remaining hidden, and instead saw Bahá'u'lláh as their leader.Subh-i-Azal started to try to discredit Bahá'u'lláh and further divided the community. The actions of Subh-i-Azal drove many people away from the religion and allowed its enemies to continue their persecution.
On April 10, 1854 Bahá'u'lláh left Baghdad in order to distance himself from Subh-i-Azal and as to avoid becoming the source of disagreement within the Babi community; he left with one companion to the mountains of Kurdistan, north-east of Baghdad, near the city Sulaymaniyah. For two years Bahá'u'lláh lived alone in the mountains of Kurdistan living the life of a Sufi dervish. At one point someone noticed his remarkable penmanship, which brought the curiosity of the instructors of the local Sufi orders. During his time in Kurdistan he wrote many notable books including the Four Valleys. In Baghdad, given the lack of firm and public leadership by Subh-i-Azal, the Babi community had fallen into disarray. Some Babis, including Bahá'u'lláh's family, thus searched for Bahá'u'lláh, and pleaded with him to come back to Baghdad, which he did in 1856.
Bahá'u'lláh remained in Baghdád for seven more years. During this time, while keeping his perceived station as the Manifestation of God hidden, he taught the Báb's teachings. He published many books & verses including the Book of Certitude & the Hidden Words. Bahá'u'lláh's gatherings attracted many notables, both locals and Iranian pilgrims, giving him greater influence in Baghdad and in Iran. His rising influence in the city, and the revival of the Persian Bábí community gained the attention of his enemies in Islamic clergy and the Persian government. They were eventually successful in having the Ottoman government call Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad to Constantinople.
Before he left Baghdad on the way to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh camped for twelve days in the Garden of Ridván near Baghdad starting on April 22, 1863. During his stay in the garden a large number of friends came to see him before he left. It was during his time in the Garden of Ridván that Bahá'u'lláh declared to his companions his perceived mission and station as a Messenger of God. Today Bahá'ís celebrate the twelve days that Bahá'u'lláh was in the Garden of Ridván as the festival of Ridván.
After travelling for four-month over land, Bahá'u'lláh arrived in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul). Although not a formal prisoner yet, the forced exile from Baghdad was the beginning of a long process which would gradually move him into further exiles and eventually the penal colony of Akká, Palestine (now Acre, Israel). Bahá'u'lláh and his family, along with a small group of Bábís, stayed in Constantinople for only four months. Due to his refusal to build alliances with the Ottoman politicians, Bahá'u'lláh had no means of resisting pressure from the Iranian ambassador to exile him further away, and Sultan Abdülâziz banished Bahá'u'lláh to Adrianople (current-day Edirne), which was a site for the exile of political prisoners.
`Abdu'l-Bahá in Adrianople with his brothers and companions of Bahá'u'lláh.During the month of December 1863, Bahá'u'lláh and his family embarked on a twelve-day journey to Adrianople. Bahá'u'lláh stayed in Adrianople for four and a half years. In Adrianople Bahá'u'lláh made his claim to be Him whom God shall make manifest more public through letters and tablets. Bahá'u'lláh's assertion as an independent Manifestation of God made Subh-i-Azal's leadership position irrelevant; Subh-i-Azal, upon hearing Bahá'u'lláh's words in a tablet read to him, challenging him to accept Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, refused and challenged Bahá'u'lláh to a test of divine will at a local mosque, but he lost face when he did not appear. This caused a break within the Bábí community, and the followers of Bahá'u'lláh became known as Bahá'ís, while the followers of Subh-i-Azal became known as Azalis.
Starting in 1866, while in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh started writing a series of letters to world rulers, proclaiming his station as the promised one of all religions. His letters also asked them to renounce their material possessions, work together to settle disputes, and endeavour towards the betterment of the world and its peoples. Some of these leaders written to in the coming years include Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III of France, Czar Alexander II of Russia, Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland, Násiri’d-Dín Sháh of the Persian Empire and the rulers of America. The disagreements between the Bahá'ís and the Azalís allowed the Ottoman and Persian authorities to exile Bahá'u'lláh once again. Bahá'u'lláh and his family left Adrianople on August 12, 1868 and after a journey by land and sea arrived in Acre on August 31. The first years in Acre imposed very harsh conditions on, and held very trying times for, Bahá'u'lláh. Mirzá Mihdí, Bahá'u'lláh's son, was suddenly killed at the age of twenty-two when he fell through a skylight while pacing back and forth in prayer and meditation. After some time, the people and officials began to trust and respect Bahá'u'lláh, and thus the conditions of the imprisonment were eased and eventually, after Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz's death, he was allowed to leave the city and visit nearby places.
The final years of Bahá'u'lláh's life were spent in the Mansion of Bahjí, just outside Acre, even though he was still formally a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. During his years in Acre and Bahjí, Bahá'u'lláh produced many volumes of work including the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. On May 9, 1892 Bahá'u'lláh contracted a slight fever which grew steadily over the following days, abated, and then finally took his life on May 29, 1892. He was buried in a Shrine located next to the Mansion of Bahjí. During his lifetime, communities of Bahá'ís were established in Armenia, Burma, Egypt, Georgia, India, Lebanon, (what is now) Pakistan, (what was then) Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.
Bahá'u'lláh was succeeded by his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá. Designated as the "Center of the Covenant" and Head of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh designated him in his will as the sole authoritative interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings.`Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment. This imprisonment continued until `Abdu'l-Bahá's own release as a result of the "Young Turk" revolution in 1908. The remains of the Báb were buried on March 21, 1909 in a six-room mausoleum made of local stone.
Following his release he led a life of travelling and speaking especially 1910–1913, and maintaining correspondence with communities of believers and individuals, expounding the principles of the Bahá'í Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá died in Haifa on November 28, 1921 and is now buried in one of the front rooms in the Shrine of the Báb. During his lifetime communities of Bahá'ís formed in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United States of America.
The history of the Bahá’í Faith 1921–53 depicts the establishment of local and national Bahá’í communities in accordance with the underlying laws of Bahá’u’lláh, the legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the direction of Shoghi Effendi. It will narrate the emergence of a new religious culture and the foundations of the Bahá’í administrative order. In essence, Shoghi Effendi fostered the establishment of National Spiritual Assemblies and the prosecution of teaching plans in the period leading up to 1953, in preparation for the orchestrated global campaign subsequently known as the “Ten Year World Crusade.” In the oldest Bahá’í communities (which were in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa and which, apart from the Persian community, remained numerically small), three National Spiritual Assemblies were formed by the mid-1930s and by the 1950s had already undertaken a series of coordinated teaching plans. In Western countries, National Spiritual Assemblies had been formed in North America, Australasia, and Europe. The states of central, east, and west Africa remained mostly under colonial rule when the Bahá’ís of the British Isles coordinated an African teaching plan in the years preceding the Crusade, 1950–53, and no national bodies had been established on that continent before 1953. In the vast nations of the Soviet Union and China, only the smallest remnants of Bahá’í communities survived the anti-religious purges of Communist authorities (Hassall, “Notes on the Bábí and Bahá’í Religions”). In the Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist societies of South and South-East Asia, where
several Bahá’í communities also traced their origins to the nineteenth century, only one National Spiritual Assembly (covering India, Pakistan, and Burma) had been established by 1953.
Not much research has been conducted on teaching methods used by American Bahá’ís to tell people about the Bahá’í Faith. The following article which I will quote from briefly, explains three different teaching methods used to accomplish the homefront local spiritual
assembly goals during the first Seven-Year Plan (1937–1944) in North America. The first two methods, firesides and teaching campaigns, had been evolving during the early 1930s. The third, pioneer settlements, was not used systematically until the Seven-Year Plan. Because many of the spiritual assembly goals were in the South, the difficulties caused by the race question influenced but did not radically change the teaching methods.
When Shoghi Effendi launched North America’s first Seven-Year Plan in 1937, most of the Bahá’í population in the United States and Canada was still concentrated around large communities such as Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco, where the Bahá’í Faith had first been established. There were thirty-four states and Canadian provinces that had no local spiritual assemblies, including ten with no Bahá’ís at all. Shoghi Effendi called upon the Bahá’ís to fill these open areas with local spiritual assemblies before 1944, the end of the first Bahá’í century. Thereby, the homefront teaching goal was to establish an assembly in each of the thirty-four virgin states and provinces (Bahá’í World 9: 200–202). This article will briefly explore three of the teaching and consolidation methods used: firesides, teaching campaigns, and homefront settlement or pioneering. Readers wanting more details on this activity in the years 1937 to 1944, as well as in the 1920s and 1930s in North America, go to an article in the Journal of Bahá'í Studies in 1993 by Roger Dahl.
It was during that Plan that the first Bahá'ís came into the Hamilton area, although a detailed history of the Cause in eastern Canada is to be found in van den Hoonaard's The Bahá'í History of Canada: 1898 to 1948.
Secular history of the century, 1844 to 1953, can be found in cyberspace by the truckload. I may, at a future time, write a summary here that has some personal relevance to my family. Time will tell.
Before beginning Volume 2 of this autobiography, opening as that Volume 2 does with the Ten Year Crusade in 1953, I'd like to make a few more remarks about the concept of persona. I have already alluded to this concept in Volume 1 but, given the importance of this concept to the writing of this autobiography, a few more comments are appropriate.
Even in our most private moments, at home alone, we are under the pressure of a private persona, a self-image we want to maintain even when nobody else is looking. We also want to impress ourselves, so to speak, to feel, to think about and to interact with people in a manner that reflects the way we think we are, or should be, in our social world. On occasion, we explicitly endorse certain values or character traits that we see as guiding our social interactions as well as our private thoughts and emotions. Naturally, most of us probably think that who we are, as reflected from our actions and reactions, thoughts and emotions, matches quite well our private persona. But when we consider those around us, especially those we know well enough to know what they think about themselves, we often notice patterns of behaviour that are in tension with their private persona. We could say that they have a false, or at least a partially blind, self-image.
The philosopher and psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear provides a good example to think about these tensions in one’s private persona. In A Case for Irony, he describes a woman who displays prototypical femininity in some of her mannerisms, gestures and her style of clothing, and self-consciously comports herself according to traditional gender roles. Yet, Lear notices that she also exhibits “boyish” behaviour without realising it, a behaviour that further demonstrates that she cares about being “boyish”.
One could consider many other examples such as: a proud anti-authoritarian whose gestures and reactions reveal that he evaluates people according to their social hierarchy; or a person who fiercely defends her independence in close relationships and yet remains financially dependent; or the delicate flower that cannot hurt a fly with a killer instinct. Around us, many people hold onto a self-image that captures only a part of their social ways of being. That self-image often ignores other parts that are apparently in tension with it. We ascribe to one another the ability to turn a blind eye to what is there to see. Married as I have now been for nearly fifty years, I have come to appreciate this tension between self-image and the image others, especially my second wife and son, have of me. these two individuals have been part of my life for well-nigh 40 years.
Our roles in our relationships and group-belongings comprise what philosophers call our practical identities, such as being a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child, a teacher or a member of the neighbourhood cat-rescue organisation. These practical identities do not just impose on us duties and obligations and appropriate ways of interaction dictated by our social niche. They are also, as the philosopher Christine Korsgaard says in The Sources of Normativity, “descriptions under which we value ourselves, descriptions under which we find our lives to be worth living and our actions worth undertaking.”
Our social roles present us sometimes with dilemmas, challenges and moments of choice. When we face an important decision in our lives, such as leaving a boyfriend or getting married, telling or not telling a friend that her husband is cheating on her, we may explicitly ask ourselves: do I want to be the kind of person that pursues this course of action? Am I this kind of partner, this kind of friend? It is not just about what others would think of me, it is about what I will think of me: will I be able to live with myself if I make this choice? These are typical moments in which we encounter our endorsed private persona, and reflect upon certain values that we attempt to cultivate through our choices.
We also describe ourselves and identify with certain social styles, character traits, or virtues that guide some of our social gestures and actions. We care about being confident or modest, polite or direct communicators, courageous or risk averse, feminine or masculine, light travelers or collectors of objects. These labels do not just comprise the way people see us or how we want them to see us. They describe how we see and want to see ourselves and thus form a part of our endorsed private persona. We often self-consciously attempt to sustain and cultivate behaviours that would fit our endorsed personal style and qualify us as cool or elegant or nerdy, daring or cautious.
In such cases, it appears that some patterns of social interaction fit well with what we may call one’s endorsed private persona whereas other identifiable patterns do not. Those, in turn, seem to fit a hidden private persona, certain values or character traits that the person does not acknowledge having. In other words, one’s private persona may include an endorsed aspect that is in tension with its hidden aspect. How can I understand and deal with such tensions? In particular, how does my private persona get caught up in such tensions in the first place? I will return to these onging questions and the concept of persona again in this autobiography.
Preamble to Part 2.1:
What follows is Part 2.1 of my autobiography in six parts here at BLO. The overall title is Pioneering Over Four Epochs(7th edition) found here at Bahai Library Online (BLO). Parts 1.1, 1.2, 2.2, 3.1 and 3.2 can also be found here at BLO. In time readers hopefully, some time on or after 21 April 2021, will also find here an 8th edition. The preface to that 8th edition can be found in a separate document dealing entirely with prefaces to this autobiography here at BLO. This document, Part 2.1, tries to provide, with the other parts, an overview of my 2500 page(font 14--400 words/page) autobiography or memoir. Only 1500 pages are found in the context of this 6-part document. Those wanting to read more can go to many other websites and find parts of earlier and even later editions of this same work with the title Pioneering Over Three, Four, or Five Epochs. Readers can also find my writing in ebook form and in the form of 1000s of internet posts in cyberspace. Recently when I tried to locate one of my books at Lulu.com---I had no success. So, I leave it to readers with the interest to excavate my autobiography across the internet.
These memoirs are also spread, as I say, over literally thousands of internet sites of special interest, topics, subjects and themes, all related in one way or another to this epic work 'Pioneering Over Several Epochs.' I should reiterate at the outset that readers will, in all likelihood, be interested in this document especially if they are interested in the interplay, the interconnectedness, the interlock, between one Bahai life, the wider Bahai community and the general society in which this Bahai has lived in the last four epochs of Bahai history, that is the years 1943 to 2015.
This work also provides a retrospective taking in, as it does, the years that were the meeting of my parents, the Bahai teaching Plan beginning in 1937 and more generally the years back to the very start of Bahai history with the birth of Shaykh Ahmad in 1753/1743. I have been enmeshed all my life, as we all are, in history and society's complexity, its irreducible multiplicity, the endlessness of its overt and subtle processes. This work only covers an infinitessimal part of that entire multidimensional world; it only covers a small part of my life's ceaseless and not-so-ceaseless process of attempts at self-renewal, some successful and some not. I was engaged in this process of self-renewal, as we all are in different ways, by means of literary work. It is a process that occurs in the act of writing as I scrutinize and recapture my inner and outer life. Each of the autobiographies that come into print are the product of a person's interests and experiences, literary abilities and knowledge. This hardly goes without saying.
By the time I came to work on the 8th edition of this work in the southern autumn of 2011, the seventh edition had taken its final form; this was more than two years after the sixth edition took its final form, more than three years after the fifth edition was complete and more than seven years after the fourth edition had its final touches. The seventh edition was complete by 21 April 2011.
As I pointed out when introducing Part 1 of this work at the Bahai Academics Resource Library(BARL), only some references are included in the body of this work at BLO and there are, as yet, no footnotes. I have tried to make up for this deficiency in a number of ways--by using, for example, a wide-angled lens to see each passage or section that I am writing at any moment in its relation to the plan of the whole book and by going off on tangents, tangents discussed in many of the books I draw on in this work. Still, some readers may find my remarks from time to time far too tangential and the lens far too wide-angled, thus detracting from any unity and coherence to the overall text that some particular readers would prefer. I can only add, not really in defense but just as a matter of fact, that the intelligible field of study in this work is as much autobiography as a genre and as it is my life. This wide-angled lens takes in a very wide ambit, virtually all of Time and Space. In an earlier era, this autobiographical work might have been seen as a commonplace book. Commonplace books were what blogs and Facebook pages are today at least in the first two decades of this 21st century: 2001-2021. Commonplace books were collections of quotations, observations, clippings, proverbs, poems, personal asides and anything else that someone found worthy of saving for future reference or sharing with friends. They served, W. H. Auden wrote in the introduction to his own wonderful commonplace book, “A Certain World,” as “a sort of autobiography,” a map of the collector’s personal planet.
These volumes, five at last count, are massive; in essence they are very fat commonplace books, though its author has somewhat more grandiose ambitions in mind. As this autobiography developed I wanted to write about philosophy, history, politics and the arts all at once, and about what had happened to those things during the course of the multiple catastrophes into whose second principal outburst (World War I was the first) I had been born in 1944, and which continued to shake the world as I grew to, and continued in, adulthood.
I see this project as both a privilege to write and an impossibility, in some ways, due to the many uncertainties, indecisions, gestures toward publicity before an impersonal public & finally, gestures before the many windows of death. The self-conscious scholar, historian, anthropologist and autobiographer use life-writing to voice complaints, make observations, write analysis and theorize about what makes them the person they are, & what makes their society the way it is. Writing for these academically inclined people is grasped as a social practice which creates meaning as well as communicating it. The writing transforms the person, the writer, from silent witness and participant into engaged survivor. The writing really does many things. For this autobiographer, autobiography is not so much generic category as it is a literary strategy for, as the famous philosopher Jean Paul Sartre once wrote "to write is to act." When I write an essay, a poem or, indeed, this memoir, I don't set out to teach directly. I don't set out in my writing to do what I have done at least as far back as the 1960s: engage in teaching and consolidation, service and social activism. These things happen somewhat incidentally, en passant; they are the product, the result, of the writing by sensible and insensible degrees.
Readers will hopefully by now have come to understand the meaning of the broad play of my mind, the reminiscent fieldwork on myself, the way of pointing to who I am, to this self-creation, the more they read the material in this cornucopia. My memory browses and grazes at will stringing apparently dispersed and disordered parts into a fine thread of many colours. As I contemplate my past and write I lose myself under the whole pressure of the spring of my memory proceeding from my most recent revisitings and their associated recognitions. If all goes well I make of the revisiting a veritable hymn of the wonder of it all as the past floods in with its particles of history, with its scrapings of gold dust, of lead and base metals, with its wayward fragments and their meditative extrapolations.
The relationship between narrative and time is a central concern in narrative autobiography and its study. Some researchers argue that narrative is the vehicle for bringing together the present, past, and future into a coherent whole (McAdams, 1996). Readers who are serious students of the genre of autobiography can easily access the references I have included in the following paragraphs. Freeman (2010) argues that one of the proper functions of narrative is reflecting on and making sense of the past. For Freeman, understanding is always from the perspective of the present, looking backward, what he calls hindsight. Reflection provides the space for creating new and meaningful understandings of the past. Hindsight is a kind of “recuperative disclosure” (p. 44). He writes that hindsight and poetry can be “agents of insight and rescue, recollection and recovery, serving to counteract the forces of oblivion” (p. 44). He continues, a little later, or to put the matter more philosophically, it is a making-present of the world in its absence; it is thus seen to provide a kind of ‘supplement’ to ordinary experience, serving to draw out features of the world that would otherwise go unnoticed” (p. 54; emphasis added). Telling the past, putting it into words, is a way of recovering aspects of our past from forgetfulness. What we recall from the past, and when we recall it, reconfigures the meaning of the past. The past is reflected upon in new ways, through subsequent life experiences and the present. The past is rewritten by how things have turned out since, how our life is now, who we are now.
Time is never just clock time but it is also human time. The now of the clock corresponds to a point in my lifetime and the lifetimes of others who are co-present with me. Making that past present in this now, we tell a developmental story in which we look over once again those past experiences and give them new laminations of sense and significance. But we always do this from the present. Time moves forwards and backwards; clock time keeps on moving forward, but retrospective time moves backward (Mishler, 2006). Ricoeur (1980) compares the act of re-collection to the act of reading a book that we have already read before. Drawing upon Kermode, Ricoeur argues that we can only know the meaning of a story or novel when we know the ending. But in life, we already know the ending, or at least, our current understanding of how events have turned out until the present now. In such a way, interpreting our life from the present becomes an act of “reading the past backward” (Schiff & Cohler, 2001). The past is always colored by our knowledge of the present and becomes something new in the act. As our lives develop, so too do we develop new reworkings of the meaning of the past. The past is never just the past but, as Cohler (1982) argues, it is always “a presently understood past.”
The past that we make present and the timing of when we make it present rewrites the meaning of our lives, our identities. However, we are just looking at one part of the chronotope. In literary theory and philosophy of language, the chronotope is how configurations of time and space are represented in language and discourse. The term was coined by Russian literary scholar M.M. Bakhtin who used it as a central element in his theory of meaning in language and literature. The term itself can be literally translated as "time-space."
As I have argued earlier in this increasingly long work, narrating makes the past present in time and space. We need to consider both in order to form a complete context. In every “now,” there is a “here.” In order to understand the “here,” it is critical to highlight that space is highly socialized. Other people are the most salient aspect of where we make present our life experience. We are “here” with others, both real and imagined. This is one of the profound implications of Bakhtin’s dialogical theory. All speech is part of an ongoing dialogue and addressed to others (Bakhtin, 1981; Noy, 2002), from whom we expect a response. Our words seek out an answer and are only really comprehensible in light of the response from others (Gergen, 2009). Narrating is a social activity that is grounded in the actual context in which it occurs, and it has very clear and concrete social meanings. Making present in space implies locating ourselves in a given conversation. The imagery is one of being physically present in an ongoing “scene of talk” (Herman, 2009), a social performance (Bauman, 1986) in which we enter into and exit from conversational turns (Sacks, Schlegoff, & Jefferson, 1974). We gain our “footing” in the conversation at hand (Goffman, 1981). We “position” ourselves in relation to what is being said, to the others present, and to larger identity discourses (Bamberg, 2004; Davies & Harré, 1990; Georgakopoulou, 2007; Wortham, 2000). As readers can see from the above, there is a vast literature that studies autobiography; this literature serves to help the autobiographer find a larger context for an intellectual understanding of his or her work.
There is strong evidence that the ability to tell stories is first acquired through the child’s participation in storytelling activities with others who are more expert (Fivush & Nelson, 2006). Miller (Miller, Fung, & Mintz, 1996; Wiley, Rose, Burger, & Miller, 1998) observed that children as young as two years old participate in telling stories of their personal past, but always with the help of a more experienced teller. This is what she terms co-narratives. Indeed, these are narratives that could not be told except with the mother’s, the carer's, or some other interested party's, help. No scaffolding, no narrative. Of course, the conversations I draw on are not only mine. They are not invented from whole cloth in the present. The words and stories that we possess are social, inherited from our predecessors by virtue of our participation in a world rich with sense and meaning. From the very beginning, we find ourselves immersed in this world. We are born, in medias res, in the midst of ongoing conversations that precede our own personal existence.
Through participation in this world and in concert with others, we discover the language and stories of life. These conversations are concrete and face-to-face. Through repeated interaction with others, we come to know the stories of our community, what a story is, and how to tell such stories. The stories are enacted, made alive, for us in a certain time and space. Through the enactment of stories, we learn about the basic facts of our existence: what a self is, the roles and desires of others, how the world works, the meaning and goals of life. They are the very substance of this autobiography.
These stories are resources for understanding who we are and the meaning of our existence. As MacIntyre (1981) put the matter, “deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions and their words” (p. 216). Although such co-narrations are, theoretically, a stage in the child’s ability to independently tell stories about his or her past, conarrations are much more prominent than is recognized. There are some sound theoretical and empirical reasons to argue that all narrations, even in adulthood, are co-narrations. Georgakopoulou (2007) argues that narrative psychology privileges narratives in which there is a single speaker who tells a significant life experience to an interested and attentive listener. According to Georgakopoulou, the problem with this model is that everyday narrative practices are strikingly different, involving multiple competing speakers who negotiate basic issues of story ownership and evaluation. Meaning emerges from the interaction in which multiple persons make present life experience, together, regardless of whose experience it was/is/will be. Speakers take up roles or positions in storytelling to produce a negotiated account. Narrating is a co-narrating, a kind of “co-action” (Gergen, 2009), even in the research interview (Mishler, 1986). It involves balance, mutuality, and negotiation between participants.
I thank Indiogine Henri-Paul and his "A Discourse on Paradigms" for the following. It was found in cyberspace and dated September 14, 2009. "Many of my musings have been borrowed or pilfered," writes Henri-Paul, "from various sources, ancient and contemporary, western and eastern, including many internet sites. Even though this is a reﬂexive paper, that is, I am looking at myself, questioning myself and engaging in a dialog with myself". Much of this book is also borrowed and involves an engagement with my community, and with the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith, and their legitimate successors. I see the following quotation as, in some senses, describing my world, the world I have lived in since 1943:
"The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it....the world is like a vapor in the desert, which the thirsty dreams to be water and strives after it with all his might, until when he comes unto it, he ﬁnds it to be mere illusion." Such a view obviously colours how I see my experience. The theoretical framework present in this book is, in part at least, “Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development” (Cited by Momen, 1999, p. 146). I also draw on many theoretical frameworks. But, for now, I will focus on James Fowler's analysis of individual faith development. It is based on Piaget’s work on cognitive development, Erik Erikson’s psycho-social development, and Kohlberg’s study on moral development.
Fowler ’s Stages of Faith Development
1. Intuitive-projective faith, age 3 to 7.
2. Mythic-literal faith, age 7 to 11, corresponding to Piaget’s concrete operations.
3. Synthetic-conventional faith, around adolescence, establish a life narrative and construct a personal ideology.
4. Individuative-reﬂective faith, young adulthood, assumes responsibility for own commitments, lifestyles, beliefs, attitudes. There begins the realization that own view is only one of many possible worldviews, rejection of literal interpretations of narratives and myths learned in childhood.
5. Conjunctive faith, mid-life, sensitivity to patterns of inter-relatedness. Development of an appreciation as source of non-logical insight.
6. Universalizing faith, awareness of an ultimate environment that is inclusive of all being. Universal, affirming, and a transcendent viewpoint. Often considered subversive by established authorities.
Stage 5 is uncommon & 6 is rare. Stage 3 corresponds to an orthodox adherence to traditional religious beliefs. Stage 4 entails critical analysis & self-reliance for interpretation. Stage 5 is characterized by a symbolic and paradoxical interpretation of religious concepts. According to Fowler ’s theory, continues Henri-Paul, during stage 3, the synthetic-conventional stage in our lives, we “establish a life narrative and construct a personal ideology.” The universe even as experienced in daily life is far too complicated to be comprehended. Thus, we create simplified models of our experienced reality to reduce it to a manageable size by passing it through a mental ﬁlter. The ﬁlter we put in place is culturally conditioned. Its validity is reinforced every day by interacting with people who are using similar (mostly overlapping) ﬁlters and by using selection bias. The latter entails the disregard of all dissonant ideas and the acceptance of those conforming to the personal reality ﬁlter. The good news is that these ﬁlters can be discarded and replaced with new ones. What we can not do is to not have one. The action of interpretation is integral to our understanding of reality. We can not have knowledge without interpretation. Even in the positivist paradigm, data by themselves are nothing. We need to frame data inside a theory to make sense out of them.
The ﬁnal stage of Fowler ’s classification is the “Universalizing” stage. This ﬁfth stage has been described in a mystical work as the realization that "...all the variations which the wayfarer in the stages of this journey beholds in the realms of being proceed from his own vision. Thus, for that they move on these three differing planes, the understanding and the words of the wayfarers have differed; and hence the sign of conﬂict does continually appear on earth. For some there are who dwell upon the plane of oneness and speak of that world, and some inhabit the realm of limitation, and some the grades of self, while others are completely veiled."(Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, The Valley of Unity)
Fowler's model has inspired a considerable body of empirical research into faith development, although little of such research has been conducted by Fowler himself. A useful tool here has been Gary Leak's Faith Development Scale, or FDS, which has been subject to factor analysis by Leak (Leak, 2008). For criticism see Developmental approaches to religion. I leave this to readers to investigate in more detail.
It will take a certain intellectual posture on the part of readers to wade through my memoir, to read its excessive pile of "I"s and "Me"s. The French writer Stendhal made this same comment about his writing but he also went on to say that he found his writing "stinking." The Russian novelist Dostoevsky once wrote that a person had to be "disgustingly in love with themselves to write about themselves without shame." In the end, it was his view, that it was impossible to write about oneself without lying. Thankfully, I do not find that my work possesses a four odour, although a sense of shame is not entirely absent from this work or from my life. I actually enjoy reading this work, a work in which I develop, as the sociologist Michel Foucault put it, my legitimate strangeness, my idiosyncratic self. I have read in several places that one of the central tasks of a writer is to wrestle with “the stench of ego." I have had lots of practice with that wrestling for decades, long before I began to write seriously after the age of 40. I cannot say if I have won or lost. Time will tell, perhaps as I head into that undiscovered country from which no man returns, I will finally know how successful I have been, and/or how unsuccessful.
“The trick,” according to one writer “is to realize that one is not important, except insofar as one’s example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish.” The trick, as T.S. Eliot once put it, is to accept the possibility that all of one's writing has been a complete waste of time. Throughout this five volume epic, readers will come across a person of many selves: an underachieving misfit whose experiences make him seem, if anything, slightly less equipped than most to handle the trouble in which he found himself in; an overachiever, someone who fitted himself in like hand-to-glove, and aimed to do so time and time again; a sane and sensible person who knew what to say and when to say it; a not so sane, indeed, mentally unstable person who became familiar with psychiatric hospitals & psychiatric clinics of general hospitals; a person of many other dichotomies or polarities. Such a myriad-faceted person may, in the end, only confuse readers. I have taken that chance. Writing is a risky business with no guarantees, at least none for those who have, as yet, no name, no fame, no popularity.
As far as lies are concerned, and everyone lies sometimes as they travel the road from cradle to grave, I trust I have kept them to an absolute minimum and, when they are present in this work, I am not conscious of them. The English writer, famous during my life, George Orwell, once wrote about autobiography that: "it is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” There is no doubt as I survey my more than 70 years of living that my life has been, among other things, a series, a long series, of defeats. In fact, as I look back over the several dozens towns I've lived in, the 100+ towns and cities I have visited, and the more than 3 dozen houses I've lived in, that defeat can be seen in each place. But so can much more.
"Those who feel compelled at some time in their life to embark on autobiographical writing, wrote Susan Suleiman in her book 'Risking Who One Is', "do so because they have no choice; they must do it whatever the consequences." Autobiography is not a form that one would at first suppose comes naturally to the Australian temperament. This is due to the covert suspicion, says comedian and icon Barry Humphries, that life in Australia may be too boring to merit a literary record. But I am not an Australian; at best I am a hybrid having migrated here at the age of 27 in 1971. I am also not a self-absorbed self-promoter who is happy to talk endlessly about my favorite subject, myself; nor am I a natty narcissist who is preoccupied with the friendly fellow who confronts himself every morning in the shaving mirror. Hopefully a reading of this work should establish these truths beyond the shadow of a doubt. Like that Australian-comedian Barry Humphries I write this to amuse and edify myself and hopefully others.
Before continuing, I'd like to add a few words about myth. The word “myth” does not mean “common but untrue belief,” rather it means “a sacred story involving symbols that are usually capable of multiple meanings.” The term itself has no reference to truth or falsehood. Indeed, to its source culture, a myth by definition is “true,” in that it embodies beliefs, concepts, and ways of questioning and making sense of the world. I would state that the truth of a myth has nothing to do with history or science but, rather, with a culture that tries to explain reality in its most basic core, which is spiritual. In a sense it is about us and not about us at the same time. It could be argued that, in this perspective, a myth is tautologically true. It is true because it is deﬁned to be true by the people who share the myth.
Similarly in mathematics we know that definitions are true and thus do not have to be proven. Likewise, mathematical axioms or postulates are true from a foundational point of view. Their truth is necessary for the building of an intelligible theory. Where in common speech the term myth is used, I would use the term “delusion.” Common language also confuses the terms “fact” and “theory” by placing them in opposition to each other. Facts are events and objects that we can measure and describe, while theories are explanations of these events and facts. We shall see that the fundamentalist mindset has a strong dislike to theories because any rational explanation of reality has the potentiality of contradicting their own explanations and thus is a thread to eliminate if possible and avoid otherwise.The common use of the word “theory” should be replaced with the terms “hypothesis” or, more appropriately, “conjecture” since a hypothesis has to be testable and falsifiable, while a conjecture does not have this requirement behind its use.
I am not as hooked on applause as that Australian I refer to above, Barry Humphries, apparently was and is, indeed, as many are. I had lots of applause for years, first in sport as a child and adolescent, as a student in both primary and secondary school, and as a teacher for decades, and as a Bahá'í in many communities large and small. Now retired and on an old-age pension, I do not have that felt need--at least it is not as strong as it once was. Whatever felt need for popularity that does still exist, it is satisfied on the internet in little ways, here and there, in nanoseconds and spread over the interstices of 1000s of sites. I have always had a certain felt need, though, for a heroic dimension to life which Roger Solomon says was the basis for the madness of Don Quixote in Cervantes' famous novel (1605), and which my mother always said was one of the reasons I had found the Bahai Faith attractive back in the 1950s and 1960s.(See Desperate Storytelling, Roger Solomon, U of Georgia Press, London, 1981, p.16).
Solomon also says that the adventures and the education of Quixote were shaped by the imagination, passionate commitment and the moral vision of its author: Cervantes. I like to think that these memoirs are also shaped by similar inner forces; this work is no leisurely stroll through my youth and adulthood. I like to think, too, that, as that once popular memoirist Anais Nin once wrote, that "the personal life, deeply lived, takes a person beyond the personal." So it is that much of this memoir takes both myself and readers far away from the personal, from my own story. This work is far from being a series of stories about my life, that quotidian self that ate and drank, walked and talked, lived with much pleasure and died psychologically more times that I care to count, through decades occupying many roles, roles shared with millions, indeed, billions, of others. The first edition of this work, written in the years 1984 to 1993, took an essentially narrative form dealing with a seemingly endless list of personal anecdotes and it bored me to death. I had to take another approach if I was to inject a sufficient amount of life into the work and to give it, in the process, a sufficient vitality to keep me writing.
I found as I continued into later editions that the images of the past came to possess subtle secrets, insidious and complex arts for keeping me exploring their meaning when meaning could be found. They bribed me with their complexity, their beauty and the authority of their intensity. Like Henry James whose work was written in the shadow of the threat of being engulfed by memories in over his head, I had to surrender succumbing to the tangle of memories as incidents pulled at the sleeve of my past. There are & were so many imponderable extracts: loitering summers in my youth when occasions seem to stay and be tasted for their faint sweetness; shocking or bewildering events which melt into some succulence for my mind, or like some resolute verbena insinuating themselves through the socket of despair's bleached skull; my memory moves as through an apartment or large house hung with garlands and lights, so many pieces of furniture and memorabilia. I only have to breath for an instant to see them again flush with colour and texture, to tenderly snuff the candles and see them twinkle afresh. And yet, I withhold myself from immersion in those memories and become occupied with the bonfires of thoughts kindled in my mind by their image and meaning, their flush and flare, their gleam and glow. I also become preoccupied with apparitions, their ghostly faces and their silent stares. Coherence comes by increasing degrees through my assiduous editing and the language I use to shape the experiential reality and reconstitute it.
Although I could accept some of Paul Hernandi's view(See his: "On the How, What, and Why of Narrative" in Critical Inquiry, Volume 7, Number, Autumn 1980) that stories, histories and narrative or descriptive accounts help us to escape boredom and indifference(ours as well as that of other people), still I felt there had to be more to my own raison d'etre for writing this work and more to the rationale of readers who might take the plunge and have a go at what had become a massive work by the 6th edition in the early years of this third millennium. If autobiography is, as the poet Wallace Stevens put it, "the supreme fiction," perhaps it would not matter. But, for me, this work is far from some supreme fiction. Did this work emerge from a felt need, an urge, to inscribe my signature, to name and perpetuate my life, in a future age? I can not say for sure. But one thing this work does do and that is: it imposes a certain logical coherence and rationalization on events and a time which, when lived, had no such clarity of definition, no such coherence or stability. This work also is somewhat like a pregnancy which gives birth in the process of writing to a self, myself. But unlike the Russian Nikolai Gubsky who had no inhibitions about undressing himself in his public autobiography work, I am more inhibited. Mine is at best, or at worst, a moderate confessionalism; I do not bare it all. As another Russian writer of fame and note when I was young in the 1950s and 1960s, Boris Pasternak, once wrote: "A life without secrets is simply unimaginable." I have many such secrets that will never see the light of literary day.
For years, in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, I tried to convey my ideas and life in novelistic form, but I was unsuccessful. Had I the skills of a novelist I might have been able to put my narrative into an autobiographical form like that of, say, the account of Papillon based on the story of Alfred Dreyfus. This Jewish French army officer convicted on false charges of treason in 1894 spent nearly five years of a life term before eventually being pardoned on Devil's Island, the most notorious prison island in the world. The book captivated millions as did the film. The novel Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is partly autobiographical. Here the character Oleg Kostoglotov is admitted to hospital from a gulag, similar to the gulag Solzhenitsyn experienced. This character is later subjected to internal exile in the same region of the USSR.
I could list many other examples of narrative, novelistic or memoiristic, to illustrate my point; for example, The Sexual Life of Catherine M is exactly what it claims to be: a full account of the author's memories of her sexual life, from childhood masturbation--refreshing reflections for those whose sexuality emerged before it was culturally welcome--to an adulthood as a self-diagnosed ‘libertine.' For those seeking titillation, there is no need to skip pages in this book. There are a few pages in the book that include words of explicit sexuality, blunt reference and the lexicon of four-letter words. Given the new technology available to readers and writers, such references can be easily located and savoured, if such are the proclivities of some readers. Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, I do not possess the novelist's skills and my sex life comes nowhere near providing the kind of material for the glut of explicit details which, in Catherine M's erotic, perhaps pornographic, autobiography, have a desensitizing effect.
Our contemporary world is overflowing with autobiographies, memoirs, life-narratives, history on DVD, video, on TV, stories of every conceivable type and on every conceivable topic. I wondered to myself between the first and second edition of this work, in the years 1993 to 2003: does the world need yet another story of someone's life? My answer was, back in the 1990s before I retired from my employment life, and took a sea-change at the age of 55, a decided "no." Did the world need a hierarchy of stories, of episodes, for a showy account of a life and its commonalities? No again. And so I took what you might call a slanted approach, a study of the genre, of my times, my religion and myself. I was not going to leave readers in the position many are left in at the end: what made this writer tick? Readers will learn something about what makes me tick. "There are two kinds of writers," wrote Joseph Epstein the American essayist, "One is a writer who's always telling you things you never thought of or you didn't know before. The other is a writer who's telling you things that you do know but that you've never quite formulated for yourself." I think I'm a bit of both kinds of writer, but one who leans toward the latter style and type. Yes, I am in that latter category, although some of me is in the former. As Epstein writes: People are often saying to me, "You know, I've always felt that, but I never really thought to put it that way." It's pleasing when that happens. Simply to give pleasure to readers in this way makes my day. As Clint Eastwood challenges the bad guys to "make his day," I figure that some readers are challenging me to "make their day" and I hope I do, at least sometimes.
From at least the time of Thomas Sprat's often-cited History of the Royal Society (1667), modern science has expressed ambivalence about language and specifically “eloquence,” favoring what Sprat called the “close, naked” style. Sprat asserts that, in seeking truth, Royal Society members commit to “a constant resolution, to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men delivered so many things, almost in equal number of words." Baconian science aimed to “read the book of nature” not interpret it and, consequently, practitioners of the new science sought a discourse which eliminated the layered flourishes of euphistic argument. Many a modern television and cinema experience is an extension of what you might call this Enlightenment manner: a fictional illustration of a longed-for world where deceit is no longer possible and where language finds a close, unbreachable connection to the events it seeks to describe. If we know how to look for it, the truth becomes self-evident, I suppose goes this reasoning. The story, the events, life, will---in effect---narrate itself. To put this another way, there is in many places a contemporary preference for the rhetoric of clean, hard science in places that have traditionally been sites of humanist, interpretive dialogue and debate.
As Hayden White, an historian of literature, suggests, “narrative is not merely a neutral discursive form but, rather, it entails ontological and epistemic choices with distinct ideological and even specifically political implications." Narrative is, from this perspective, a poor or faulty mechanism for delivering information about an event. And, because narrative knowledge requires interpretation, it can only be “read” in terms of analogies and correspondences with other narratives from other times and places. A true narrative account is less a product of the historian's or the autobiographer's poetic talents, as the narrative account of imaginary events is conceived to be, than it is a necessary result of proper application of historical "method." Referring to Paul Ricoeur, by whom he was strongly influenced, White writes, "plot is not a structural component of fictional or mythical stories alone; it is crucial to the historical representations of events as well."
Each of us not only 'has', but lives a biography reflexively organised in terms of flows of social and psychological information about possible ways of living a life. Modernity is a post-traditional order, in which the question, 'How shall I live?' has to be answered in day-to-day decisions about how to behave, what to wear and what to eat - and many other things - as well as interpreted within the temporal unfolding of self-identity. So wrote that prolific and erudite sociologist Anthony Giddens in his 'Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age', published in Cambridge by Polity Press in 1991 on page 14.
To raise the question of the nature of narrative is to invite reflection on the very nature of culture and, possibly, even on the nature of humanity itself. So natural is the impulse to narrate, so inevitable is the form of narrative for any report of the way things really happened, that narrativity could appear problematical only in a culture in which it was absent-absent or, as in some domains of contemporary Western intellectual and artistic culture, programmatically refused. As a pan-global fact of culture, narrative and narration are less problems than simply data. As the late Roland Barthes remarked, narrative "is simply there like life itself international, transhistorical, transcultural." Far from being a problem,then, narrative might well be considered a solution to a problem of general human concern, namely, the problem of how to translate knowing into telling. The problem of fashioning human experience into a form assimilable to structures of meaning that are generally human rather than culture-specific is thus solved. We may not be able fully to comprehend specific thought patterns of another culture, but we have relatively less difficulty understanding a story coming from another culture, however exotic that culture may appear to us. As Barthes says, "narrative ... is translatable without fundamental damage" in a way that a lyric poem or a philosophical discourse is not.
This suggests that far from being one code among many that a culture may utilize for endowing experience with meaning, narrative is a metacode, a human universal on the basis of which transcultural messages about the nature of a shared reality can be transmitted. Arising, as Barthes says, between our experience of the world and our efforts to describe that experience in language, narrative "ceaselessly substitutes meaning for the straightforward copy of the events recounted." And it would follow, on this view, that the absence of narrative capacity or a refusal of narrative indicates an absence or refusal of meaning itself.
The fortunes of narrative in the history of historical writing give us some insight into this question. Historians do not have to report their truths about the real world in narrative form; they may choose other, non-narrative, even anti-narrative, modes of representation, such as the meditation, the anatomy, or the epitome. Tocqueville, Burckhardt, Huizinga, and Braudel, to mention only the most notable masters of modern historiography, refused narrative in certain of their historiographical works, presumably on the assumption that the meaning of the events with which they wished to deal did not lend itself to representation in the narrative mode. They refused to tell a story about the past, or, rather, they did not tell a story with well-marked beginning, middle, and end phases; they did not impose upon the processes that interested them the form that we normally associate with storytelling. While they certainly narrated their accounts of the reality that they perceived, or thought they perceived, to exist within or behind the evidence they had examined, they did not narrativize that reality, did not impose upon it the form of a story. The example of these, and other, historians permits us to distinguish between a historical discourse that narrates, on the one side, and a discourse that narrativizes, on the other. One is a discourse that openly adopts a perspective that looks out on the world, reports and analyses it; and the other is a discourse that feigns to make the world speak itself and speak itself as a story.
There is currently a global audience of two billion viewers in over 200 countries for a program called CSI: Miami. The show's ideology, the fictional portrayals, the pretense of realism in CSI: Miami must be seen by even the most devoted fan as stylized fantasy, as exaggerated wish fulfillment. Surely, for some, the show's popularity derives from the acute ironic pleasure of witnessing a supremely efficient institutional effort and the team's clean mastery of complex human situations. And one reason that the program de-emphasizes language and interpretation is, of course, the banal explanation that much of the audience for the show is not English speaking. There is less to dub when there is less said. Sadly or fortunately, such a clean and simple story, such stylized fantasy cannot be found here.
In antiquity, in the middle ages and in the early modern period as well autobiographical works were typically entitled apologia, implying as much self-justification as self-documentation. John Henry Newman's autobiography, first published in 1864, is entitled Apologia Pro Vita Sua in reference to this tradition. My work here has aspects of this approach, this tradition. One of the first great autobiographies of the Renaissance is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), written between 1556 and 1558 and entitled by him simply Vita, Italian for Life. He declares at the start: 'No matter what sort of person one is, everyone has to their credit what are or should be seen to be great achievements. If that person cares for truth and goodness, they ought to write the story of their own life in their own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before they are over forty'. I could list so many more works that fill the pages of the historical record back to the Greeks and the Hebrews in western civiization, although as I point out elsewhere, autobiography as a genre did not emerge until the romantic period in English literature.
Had I the skills of a historian, a sociologist, a psychologist or indeed any one of the many specialists in the many fields of the social sciences and humanities that connect in some way or another with memoirs, I might have written quite a different book; if I had the skills of a movie-maker I may have been able to make a bio-pic, had my worldviews and life orchestrated in a visual medium and gained a popular audience in the millions--if of course I had been successful in such an enterprise. This autobiography or memoir, for I use these terms interchangeably, is in many ways a pot-pourri, an interdisciplinary mix for a coterie. This explanatory and opening note here is intended to provide readers at this beginning to Part 2 with both a description of this lengthy literary product and a warning as to what they are getting themselves in for, if they have not yet read Part 1 and are coming to this part of my memoir somewhat cold as it were.
With the rise of public and mass education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing since, say, 1750, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop as well. In the last two and a half centuries the beneficiaries of this development were not slow to cash in on this development by producing autobiographies and biographies. It became the expectation, rather than the exception, that those in the public eye should write about themselves. This was true not only of writers such as Charles Dickens, who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels, and other English writers like Anthony Trollope, but politicians like Henry Brooks Adams, philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers like P. T. Barnum. If readers here have never heard of these men, it matters not. The world has become, in our time especially if not long before in previous times, full of people whose names are known by just about everybody. I just wanted to point to the ubiquity of this genre since the birth of Shaykh Ahmad in 1753, since the earliest years of the history of this new religion and its critical precursors. Perhaps this ubiquity is, in part, due to the emergence of individualism, of mass education and literacy, an emphasis on self and identity and what the American novelist Henry James said was "the ordeal of consciousness."
Increasingly, in accordance with romantic and popular taste, these accounts, these autobiographies, written during these epochs, also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing. This was far removed from the principles of Cellinianian autobiography with its emphasis on a detailed account of career, one's loves, hatreds, passions and delights written in an energetic and direct style. As far as my work is concerned, my account is more an exception than an expectation in the Bahai community, but these volumes are equally in the traditions of Cellini and romanticism as far as autobiography in general is concerned. At least that is how I see my now lengthy work. This memoir provides readers with a periodic analysis of autobiography, its history, its types of discourse, its philosophy, inter alia and its role in and out of the Bahai community. And all of this is done within the wider context of my life, my society and my religion. This task, this aim, is probably a bit too much to try to chew and readers may find themselves wondering: (a) what this has to do with that, (b) what certain long pieces of analysis have to do with this autobiography or memoir or, indeed, (c) if they are even in the right ball-park at all or on the right page.
This work is not some narrative, not some story with a plot, a character and a climax followed by a quiet denouemont. Nor is it a simple piece of philosophy, a 'how to' book. This work is many things and, if the reader enjoys the first part of the trip in Part 1(Part 1.1 and 1.2) he or she may stay awhile and read this Part 2. Alternatively, may I suggest to would-be readers that they just dive-in at any point and try their luck. Anyway, it's over to you dear reader to make of all this what you will. In the end that is what we all have to do with whatever comes our way in life and on the internet, in books and in relationships.
One principal motivation behind the writing of William Gass has been to be other than the person he is. William Howard Gass(1924-) is an American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. In the act of writing he has aimed to cancel the consequences of the past. He emphasizes that he is not the person who grew up in some particular place, though people try to label him as a local Midwestern writer. But, he makes clear, he never had roots: all his sources (as a writer) were chosen. Gass says that he chose to be influenced by this or that book or chose to be defined as the author of this or that. He adds that for a long time he was simply emotionally unable to handle his parents’ illnesses, and so he ran away, he fled, the parental nest. What is psychologically best for a writer, says Gass, is what produces his best work. In order for him to produce his best work he says that he has to be angry. He finds that easy because he is angry all the time. Unlike Gass, the motivation in my writing is to be the person I am. I make no attempt, as Gass does, to cancel the consequences of the past; rather, I try to flesh out the meaning of the present in terms of the past. On the other hand, like Gass, I chose to be influenced by this or that book or chose to be defined as the author of this or that. Being angry has little to nothing to do with my writing. In order for me to produce my best work it required the passage of time and the existence of a set of circumstances. It was not anger that fertilized my work but, rather, tranquility and the freedom from work, family and community responsibilities. I could not really get into writing until I took an early retirement at the age of 55. I mention Gass because each writer has their own story of why they write and how.
Experience generates different things in different people, a truism if there ever was one. This is true of writers, of gardeners and garbage collectors. For me multiple desires and motivations converge on the actions I take and have taken--and will take. These desires and motivations often impede the execution of my action and they have resulted in contributions toward this tumultuous literary creation. Here, then, is Part 2 of this single and tumultuous piece of literary action, this autobiography, this memoiristic palimpest at BLO. To remind readers just what a palimpest is let me explain briefly that a palimpest is a term used by some social scientists, especially historians, autobiographers and memoirists as a description of the way people experience their times, their lives--that is--as a layering of present experiences over faded pasts, a layering of values, beliefs and attitudes over social and cultural constructs, a layering of one's life over events, among people, over landscapes, among a pot-pourri of stuff that the writer tries his or her best to synthesize into some meaningful whole.
"Few men who come to islands leave them," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson; "they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the tradewinds fan them 'til they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of returning home.... No part of the world exerts the same attractive power." That was partly true of me. The first islands I alighted on were in northern Ontario on summer holidays in my childhood and adolescence. But I consider Baffin Island as the first major island on which Stevenson's words could have applied. My intention was to stay on that island, but certain circumstances prevailed, and I was forced to leave that island after 10 months. The 2nd island I came to, I have grown grey on. That island is Australia or, perhaps, Tasmania. Those sentences, this paragraph covers more than 45 years of my life in one little literary go. I might add more about my experience of Stevenson's line of thought in relation to islands at a later date.
Much of early life: neonatal, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence and early adulthood(20-40)--seems in retrospect to be a preparing for the middle adulthood stage(40-60) and the last stage(60++) is recovering from the middle part. Perhaps that is partly because as an older adult I can look back on my life with some degree of happiness and contentment, with a feeling of fulfillment, with a deep sense that life has meaning and I've made a contribution to it, to my community and my society in general. One psychologist calls this feeling integrity. Whatever psychological strength I possess, continues this same psychologist, comes from a wisdom that the world is very large and I now have a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of life. The poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote that "what I do is me. For that I came" and that is, perhaps, a succinct backdrop, literary mise en scene, to this memoir.(Poems. London: Oxford University Press, 1948, p. 95)
Some adults reach the age of 70, as I have, and feel despair or disappointment at their experiences and perceived failures and lack of self-fulfillment. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering to themselves: "was the trip worth it?" Alternatively, they may feel they have all the answers, not unlike going back to adolescence, and end with a strong dogmatism that only their view has been correct. I occasionally feel despair due to a personal failing or perhaps due to my bipolar disorder or both. I am concerned that I am still failing and dogmatism occasionally haunts my path. In this latter case, though, I am strongly aware of its presence and regret follows quickly in its train. Whatever despair I feel is an emotion more akin to a certain psychological weariness, a tedium vitae as the Romans called it, and this I experience, for the most part, only when my head hits the pillow about two hours after taking my 50 mgs of seroquel.
As I go about writing this memoir I try to fix my attention on the many objects and experiences in my life and society; in many cases I see immediately that no-one has ever examined what I am giving my attention to and that the most elementary things about what I am examining still remain to be said. I propose, then, the opening of trap-doors in my inner self; I propose an invasion of the qualities of these things. Thus the best path for me to take is to consider all things as unknown, or at least, as yet to be put into words, and begin again from the beginning. T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets have many lines of relevance here and so I will quote a few from the section of that poem known as 'Little Gidding.'
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.
And from another part of that poem, No.3 of 'Four Quartets,' entitled 'Dry Salvages,' we find:
It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern,
and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter is a
Partial fallacy encouraged by superficial
Notions of evolution which become, in the
Popular mind, a means of disowning the past.
The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations—not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable:
The backward look behind the assurance
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.
Now, we come to discover that the moments of agony
(Whether, or not, due to misunderstanding,
Having hoped for the wrong things or dreaded the wrong things,
Is not in question) are likewise permanent
With such permanence as time has.
Only one kind of thing can be narrated. That thing is an event in time. And strictly speaking, we require more than one event before we recognize that we are in the presence of a narrative. And what is an event? A narrated event is the symbolization of a real event: a temporal icon expressed in words. For any given narrative there are always multiple basic stories that can be constructed. The form and feature of any "version" of a narrative will be a function of, among other things, the particular motives that elicited it and the particular interests and functions it was designed to serve. These motives, interests and functions will be as clear as a blue sky by the time readers have finished Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this memoir here at BLO. Readers should be aware, though, as I too am aware, that much of an autobiography is often never written down but it lingers uninscribed in the background.
I have taken the writing of this memoir seriously enough to treat each section as a new obligation, not just as a new opportunity for dispensing more information about a life, a society and a religion. My obligation, as I have seen it, is to reflect the tumultuous variety of experience that has spent that period in my life sometimes fighting, sometimes scrambling and sometimes playing around on the edges of my memory to get out of my head. During the near-seven full decades of my life under review here the total amount of material could occupy several Mt. Everests. It is more than enough for this internal critic of my life to deal with. Anybody who complains about the monotony, the lack of significance to their story, the unimportance of what he or she is looking at in their personal existence is really complaining about: the condition of their own soul, the fact that they don't like writing, the possibility that their examined life is not worth writing about or, indeed, one or more of many reasons that their story is not worth putting on paper. Looked at more positively, though, those who don't write their story may, in fact, be genuinely self-effacing, other-focused, just too busy getting on with living and again one or more of many reasons.
I am not a serious student in relation to many aspects of existence, but I am a serious person who, thanks to several factors, some of which I write about in this book, sees much of the funny side of life. There are many more serious students of life than I, many who have written about it, about specific facets of it with impressive results. They write books about trends, attend symposia at festivals and conferences, compose long profiles about key personalities in the Land of the Media or about the developments in the now increasingly interdisciplinary studies in the academic worlds. Much of this literary work is honest and useful labour. In some ways it as a step up from this memoiristic meangering. In the literary world it is difficult to arrange the products in some hierarchy of social utility. I have always tried to behave as if what I was doing mattered. Sometimes I have been successful in this aim and effort. Sometimes I have failed and thought to myself "what a waste of effort and time. I should shuffle off this mortal coil and trouble not myself or others any more." But I have recently acquired the confidence to write about what I have practiced: not so much as a model or mentor for others but in some ways to demonstrate the power of negative example. I preach the issue, the labour, the activity of autobiographical writing less on my own behalf than for the benefit of anyone else coming along who might feel like turning his hand to this kind of work but doubts its signicance, its utility and even its legitimacy.
Those who do find, with Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living and that their examination wants to extend into some written form will not have to deal with a steady landslide of thoughtful letters from readers, all of whom, it turns out, are critics of their own lives too. Practically everyone who lives has a critical attitude to what they have done and not done to some extent. All the socio-political theories about how individuals, people, society and the masses should live all have some things worth emultating and some worth rejecting. The fields of political philosophy, religion, sociology and psychology among other disciplines and sub-disciplines now fill libraries and cyberspace to overflowing. We are not short on theory. Those millions of people out there who read some of this stuff and those who don't are individual and alive. Anyone into autobiography as I am who treats his reading audience like dummies will not get far. A critical memoirist who patronizes the medium can rack up some mileage, especially if he adopts a solemn tone. But he will inevitably also patronize his readers, and will thus forfeit the immense pleasure and continuous education of being in contact with their views and enthusiasms. Such was the view of Clive James regarding his readers and his columns about television. I would like to be able to say, with Clive James, that "there is not a piece in this book which has not lead to discussion, and sometimes heated argument, with friends, acquaintances or even complete strangers." But, like Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame, I have embarked on this labour of many years almost inspite of myself, driven by a restless urge to use my faculties, to stretch my mind, to let nothing of significance escape and to create something.(Margaret Lane, The Tale of Beatrix Potter, London, 1970, p.50) This work is an important affirmation of my identity. This work is also a statement. It is an effort to express my own joy and to create my own happiness. This writing is also an expression of the view, the fact, that whatever troubles I have had they were endured. I survived. It helps if the sufferer has resources of his own to sustain him. But often whatever ones resources one has, sadness and despondency can still visit the soul.
As a performer, for life has been for me one long performance: first as a child, then as a student in primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, then as a teacher among a multitude of other roles and forms of employment. After the age of 55 in 1999, I slowly reinvented myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, scholar and reader. Now as I head for the age of 71 in less than 3 months, I prefer to write and to only occasionally flirt with the social rather than appearing in that world as excessively, as extensively, as I did for decades, since my childhood. The reasons for this shift, this personal paradigm shift, are explored in this autobiography. Almost nothing can now tempt me away from writing.
Inspite of the occasional episodes of despondency that have been part of my life as far back as I can remember, beginning about the age of three or four, mostly due to a combination of chance and circumstance on the one hand, and my bipolar disorder & the havoc it created in my life on the other, there has also been the thrill, the excitement, the highs and even a certain degree of ecstacy. If some of that thrill and that sense of rich pleasure, is not in this book then I have failed as a writer. Of course, a writer can not transfer that sense of meaning and excitment to every reader who comes his way, nor can he to the millions and billions who will never read what he has written.
There can be no real and useful criticism without seriousness, and it is equally true that real seriousness is, at least for me, a form of controlled excitement and a certain degree of earnestness. That man of remarkable erudition, Clive James, said this(although he did not mention the earnestness) and like many things other writers have said, some of these things will be found by readers in this book as I frequently draw on the wisdom and the quality of literary excellence I have found especially in the western intellectual tradition in its Greek and Hebraic roots and the long history of the trees than have grown from these sacred and secular root systems. With this long, probably too long, preamble completed, readers are now invited to begin Book Two, Volume 3, Chapter 1. What follows is the introduction to that second book of my autobiographical memoir: Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
Before beginning Volume 3 of this autobiography and its narrative sequence which starts in the last two weeks of August 1962, I'd like to make some more comments about the concept of persona, comments which continue earlier remarks in Volumes 1 and 2 on that same concept. An autobiographer encounters his endorsed private persona when he or she assesses their spontaneous behaviours, in particular their emotional reactions. Those are moments when a person faces criticism or self-criticism about their emotions. Emotions may be criticised on the ground that they do not fit the circumstances (e.g. fear of a tiny spider), or that they are exaggerated in intensity (e.g. rage about a minor offence), or that they are ungraceful and reflect badly on us, or that they show we are immoral (e.g. envy of a friend or anger at a child), or excessively touchy (e.g. taking offence by a joke), and so forth.
Our practices of criticism demonstrate that, although we often forgive or accept emotions as episodes we cannot help but undergo, they nevertheless show something about us, about what kind of a person we are. We take such criticisms to heart when they reveal, on reflection, that our emotion is incompatible with our private persona, with our being someone rational, or moral, or with a hippy’s temperament. At times, we embrace the criticism, make it our own, and use it to control our emotion, with varied degrees of success.
Our endorsed private persona includes values, virtues, character traits, and styles of social interactions that cut across practical identities. They are ways of inhabiting our various roles and relationships. Many of our spontaneous behaviours, our gestures and emotional reactions, fit with the way we want to be in the social world. Other people may characterise us similarly to how we characterise ourselves and use the same labels to do so, such as “courageous” or “cautious.” It is the fact that we self-consciously care about fitting those labels that makes them a part of our endorsed private persona.
Our spontaneous reactions, our passing thoughts and emotions, and our non-reflective actions or gestures, often fit well with the way we see and want to see ourselves. Those are the spontaneous behaviours we notice, endorse, or just accept as forgivable or understandable. They reflect who we think we are and what we self-consciously care about. And yet, many such spontaneous behaviours do not fit so well with the endorsed aspect of our private persona.
We do not normally pay much attention to those behaviours. We are quite skilled in ignoring them so they typically do not manage to shake our self-image. They are more like background “noise” for our general self-aware comportment in our social interactions. Even in the privacy of our own mind, of the spontaneous emotions and thoughts that strike us without anyone else knowing, we tend to comply with our own endorsed private persona and ignore those passing thoughts that are incompatible with it. And when such behaviours cannot be easily ignored, such as certain emotional reactions, we may be able to control them, to some extent, in reference to our endorsed cares and concerns.
But are the spontaneous emotions and gestures that we ignore or reject nothing more than background noise? Do they follow no other positive rhyme or reason? Do they affirm nothing about us in their own right? Often the background noise is not just an aggregate of unacknowledged or un-reflected upon emotions and actions. The ignored portion of our social lives is often well unified under another social label or “pretence” that the person does not acknowledge or explicitly identify with, even if certain aspects of that person’s behaviour suggest that he actually cares about fitting that hidden “label”. I will return to this concept of persona later in this book.
For a continuation to this autobiography, readers can now go to Part 2.1. This is another document here at BLO.