This autobiography of a Bahai over six decades of teaching and consolidation, travel-teaching and social activism is one of the few extensive personal accounts of the experience of a Western Bahai beginning in the 2nd epoch of the Formative Age(1944-1963)
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, a projected lifespan, 1944 to 2044, a 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.
This work draws on many studies of autobiography, 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 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 2600 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. All of these Parts are kept updated in the author's computer file since the space available here at BLO makes additions to the content difficult. If he can find some means of publishing that 8th edition online he will do so.
This section, this post at BLO, is Part 1.1 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 then. 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 completed in its final form in the author's computer directory and, hopefully, in cyberspace, in 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 second century of the Formative Age, 1844 to 2044.
In some ways this autobiography is simply a form of self-reflection and writing known as auto-ethnography. Auto-ethnography explores the author's personal experience and 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 1743 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, 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: Eight Prefaces:
Subtitle of document: A Study of Autobiography
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS: An autobiographical study and a study in autobiography
By Ron Price of George Town Tasmania Australia
8TH EDITION(not final)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PREFACES: 8 PREFACES TO 8 EDITIONS
SUMMARY AND OVERVIEW
Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Chapter 2: Introduction 2
Chapter 3: Letters
Chapter 4: Diary/Journal/Notebooks
Chapter 5: Interviews
Chapter 6: A Life in Photographs
Generations in Family : 1744 to 1844
Generations in Family : 1844 to 1953
Chapter 1: Ten Year Crusade Years: 1953-1963
Chapter 2: Childhood Days : 1953-1956
Chapter 3: Junior-Youth Days : 1956-1959
Chapter 4: Pre-Pioneering Days : 1959-1962
Chapter 1: Pioneering: Homefront 1: 1962-1964
Chapter 2: Pioneering: Homefront 2: 1965-1967
Chapter 3: Pioneering: Homefront 3: 1967-1968
Chapter 4: Pioneering: Homefront 4: 1968-1971
Chapter 1: International Pioneering 1: 1971-1973
Chapter 2: International Pioneering 2: 1973-1974
Chapter 3: International Pioneering 3: 1974-1978
Chapter 4: International Pioneering 4: 1978-1982
Chapter 5: International Pioneering 5: 1982-1988
Chapter 6: International Pioneering 6: 1988-1996
Chapter 7: International Pioneering 7: 1996-2003
Chapter 8: International Pioneering 8: 2003-2015
Chapter 9: International Pioneering 9: 2016-2021
Chapter 10: International Pioneering 10:2021-2033
Chapter 11: International Pioneering 11:2033-2044
Chapter 12: Epilogue
COMMENTARIES, ESSAYS AND POEMS
Chapter 1: Credo, Poems and Resumes
Chapter 2: Pioneering: An Overview
Chapter 3: Anecdotes and Autobiography
Chapter 4: Autobiography as Symbolic Representation
Chapter 5: Essays on Autobiography
Chapter 6: A Study of Community and of Biography
Chapter 7: About Poetry
Chapter 8: Social Topics of Relevance
Chapter 9: Praise and Gratitude
Chapter 10: Addendum or Epilogue
Chapter 11: Appendices
Chapter 12: Guidelines to Executors
Chapter 13: Epilogue to My Epilogue
SECTION I: Pre-Pioneering
SECTION II: Homefront Pioneering
SECTION III: International Pioneering
SECTIONS NOT FOUND IN THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
SECTION IV: Biographies : 24 short sketches
SECTION V: Published Work : Essays-Volumes 1 to 4—300 essays: 1982-2015
SECTION VI: Unpublished Work: (a) Essays-Volumes 1 & 2--170 essays:1979-2015
(b) Novels-Volumes 1 to 3--12 attempts:1983-2003
SECTION VII: Letters :(i) Vols 1-25 : 5000 letters-1960-2015
:(ii) Vols 26-50: 5,000 emails & internet posts-1995-2015
SECTION VIII: Poetry :Booklets 1-75: 7000+ poems....1980-2015
SECTION IX: Notebooks :300.............1962-2015
SECTION X.1: Files :(a)hard-copy....1962-2015
SECTION X.2: Journals :Volumes 1 to 6..1984-2015
SECTION XI: Memorabilia & Photographs.......1908-2015
This book is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary, in April 2013, of its first election in April 1963. It is also dedicated to Alfred J. Cornfield, my grandfather, whose autobiography was an inspiration to the one found here.
1. The document below is a necessary abridgment of a narrative work of 2600 pages, a work found in six parts here at BLO. Below readers will find only the several prefaces which comfortably fit into the small space for this document at Bahai Library Online(BLO). This document, this introduction, provides an outline of what has become an epic-opus. Only an abbreviated, a compressed, a boiled down, a potted, a shorn, a mown, a compact version of this larger epic-work is found below. This abridgment of the 7th edition of my autobiography will include changes in the months ahead.
The changes, though, will not be made on this document or on any of the six-Parts. This is because all the documents are full to overflowing and, to make any alterations, is far too slow a process. I have, therefore, done all the updating for the 8th edition and all future editions on the documents I keep in my computer. When a significant number of changes are made, and at some time in and after April 2021, an 8th edition will be brought out. It is my hope, although I cannot guarantee, that this brief exposure here will give readers a taste, a desire, for more.
2. The inclusion of quotation marks, apostrophes and accents has often proved difficult as have the addition of footnotes. Hopefully this will be remedied at a later date.
PREFACE TO THE FUTURE 8TH EDITION:
Readers who want to read all 8 prefaces need to read on here in this document at Bahá'í Library Online(BLO). This document contains only the 8 prefaces. Readers staying on this document, though, can read: (i) the preface to the 7th edition below, and (ii) the preface to the 8th edition which is a work in progress.
The 8th edition will not be published on the internet, as I say above, until some time in or after April 2021. That year marks the end of the first century of the Formative Age of the Bahai Faith. In 2021 I will be seventy-seven if, indeed, I last that long. I now have a terminal illness and may not see the year 2021. One model of human development used by psychologists places the years from 60 to 80 in the late adulthood category with old age beginning at 80. When this 8th edition goes onto the internet in 2021, I will be just three years short of my 80th birthday and the old age stage of the lifespan which goes with it. In the meantime I will continue to add to, to subtract, to edit and alter this autobiography which I began to write in diary form in 1984 at the age of 40. I now place all changes after August 2015 in my computer version of this autobiography, but not here at BLO due to lack of space.
I have chosen the name, the term, the word, "palimpsest" to evoke the multi-layered imaginative and conceptual, historical & sociological landscapes of my everyday life. They are a highly varied arrangements of settings that I have sought in this text to try to bring to life. My technique of palimpsest involves, as I define it, "erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text.(1) By choice and luck, my life has been spent reading other people's books and making sentences for my own. More to the point, I am somewhat inclined to the view that "if you have known one person you have known them all. Of course, I am not so sure that I have known even one person well, but, as the Greeks sensibly believed, should you get to know yourself, you will have penetrated as much of the human mystery as anyone need ever know."(1)-Ron Price with thanks to Gore Vidal, Palimpest: A Memoir, Random House, 1995.
My palimpsest is a reflection on a variety of histories: political & philosophical, literary & personal, sociological & psychological, & the intersections of all of these. I like to think there is a fondness, a warmth, and a gentleness, an analytical, an introspective, and an honest sensibility here. In this my palimpsest I draw heavily, and whenever possible, upon the books and the essays, the letters and the diaries of the people I introduce, as if to reassure my readers, and myself, that I am not concocting a single word of the things that I have these various writers say. I arrange my palimpsest in loose chronological order. Each volume, each part, each chapter, each section revolves around a period of time, a place or a period in my life; I often skip back and forth in time, from before my birth in 1944 up to my present, my 71st year, and even hypothesizing my future to the age of 109!
My life thus far has been marked by a succession of failures and successes, victories and losses, pleasures and pains---a common enough set of dichotomies in the lifespan of billions of human beings. I am sure these contrasts to which I refer will continue for the remaining six years(2015-2021) in which I will be working on this 8th edition. These contrasting experiences of gain and loss will also continue into the years after that, after 2021, when I head into and experience the last three years of late adulthood and old age. A 9th edition may finally come online depending, of course, on how long I live. That 9th edition I anticipate to come out at some time in my early(80-90), middle(90-100) or late(100-death) old age. These are the three stages of old age into which that period of life is now divided by some human development psychologists.
Whatever psychological wounds I experienced before the age of 18, they have long ago healed, at least as far as I know. I don't experience any angst, or at least very little, only a trace, regarding my early life experience and socialization. If there were any wounds in that part of my life, I do not see them as unresolved tensions of much significance. The wounds that have been part of my bipolar disorder(BPD) and which began to impose themselves on my psyche at the age of 18, if not before, are an ongoing problem as I continue to write this preface to the eighth edition with my 71st birthday less than 2 months away. BPD has been the major disease or disability of my life. Readers can find a separate story, what I call my chaos narrative, which outlines my experience of that illness in another place, another document, here at BLO.
Psychotherapy is therapy in which a person with mental or emotional problems talks with another person. Sometimes this is called a talking therapy. This other person may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, clinical social worker, member of the clergy, alternative practitioner or, to use the concept in its broadest sense, any helpful person. With successful psychotherapy, a client experiences positive change, resolves or mitigates troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions. Ideally, these are replaced with more pleasant and functional alternatives. The Primal Scream. Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis is a 1970 book by Arthur Janov, the inventor of Primal therapy. The book was published just before I left Canada as an international pioneer-traveller for the Canadian Bahá'í community. Janov describes the experiences he had with 63 patients during his first 18 months, starting in 1967, discovering and practicing Primal therapy. He claims a 100% cure rate. The Primal Scream has been called "incredibly popular". It was read by tens of thousands of people and brought Janov fame and popular success. This inspired many therapists who had not met Janov to start offering imitation primal therapy, and led to the proliferation of programs offering happiness through radical personal transformation. In my 71 years I have never taken part in any form of psychotherapy.
"If real life were a book, it would never find a publisher," wrote the British novelist Jasper Fforde. The real life, then, to which this autobiography refers is necessarily one that has only been captured to the extent of a trace of that quotidian and existential reality. Anyone who has examined seriously the literature on autobiography and memoirs in recent decades, in the very years that this travelling-pioneering story has been taking place(1962-2015); anyone who has attempted to fathom the nature and meaning of both his Baha’i community experience and his own inner & outer life; any pioneer, and especially any international pioneer, who has attempted to regulate his or her lives to the rhythms of sorrow and joy, of crisis and victory, of calamity and the unfoldment of divine power, of personal tragedy and the liberal effusion of celestial grace which the Guardian says follows in the wake of such tragedy, may find my account somewhat long and tedious. The expectations of the Facebook-Twitter generations: the X, Y, Z and, now alpha generations, the baby-boomers, the silent generation, the war-babies, indeed, the many names now given to the generations who come into this parallel universe of cyberspace: those expectations are often ones surrounded by preferences for the short and the sweet, the pithy and the pointed, the succinct and the summary. What is found here in this five volume work will soon lead such readers to a quick abandonment of this text.
Those Bahá'ís who, in their lives and the life of their Faith, have tried to become the fundamentally assured and happy people they are asked to try to become, will immediately recognise complexity at all levels: global, national, regional, and local community as well as their own inner lives. If that recognition of complexity is ever expressed in literary form, it is usually only a relative few who take up the pen, so to speak, to translate that recognition into words. I am one. In our burgeoning world of billions, though, there are more and more who try in one way or another to tell there story, their experience, of that complexity or, as the case may be, that simplicity. Henry David Thoreau, one of the several founders of the environmental movement, spent his life searching for that simplicity, as millions of others do and have done. some have been successful and some have not.
Of course the above, and what follows, is partly my own take on life. Everyone has their own story, their own take. Some people, of whom I am one, recognise the contradictions and paradoxes in their behaviour & the divergent identifications which barely ever fuse to make one coherent & continuous self. The ever-elusive & evanescent quality of experience makes so much that is life difficult to grasp, apprehend, define & formulate. At least that is how I have come to see human existence as I reflect on more than seven decades of living. Not everything can be understood or put into words, as Bahá'u'lláh has written. This is certainly true insofar as the evolution of our days, our personal history, resolves itself into patterns and meanings, confusions and forms of anomie, as well as forms of joy and whatever happiness comes our way. Our efforts to regulate our lives according to the patterns to which I have referred above and, of course, many other patterns and processes which are part of our lives, is not a simple exercise. When simple it is often not easy, as Carl von Clauswitz expressed his views in his collection of essays entitled On War written in the first decade of the life of Bahá'u'lláh. Clauswitz was a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war.He was, of course, writing about military engagements; the war I write about, in the main, is a metaphorical, a psychological, one.
Much of what I have written hardly needs to be said. The world in many ways is not in need of yet another autobiography. But write it I must. I want to make the point early in this work that life has a complexity that staggers the imagination. It also possesses a simplicity that millions search for and, mostly it seems to me, in vain. It must be said, though, that the patterns and forms of life are infinitely varied and each person has their own highly individualized story on the simplicity-complexity spectrum, and the dozens of other spectrums on which our lives can be placed, described and analysed. It is this infinite variation that allows biographies and autobiographies, histories & social analyses, to continue to be written for the pleasure and purposes of that part of the human community who take an interest in such matters.
William C. Spengemann, the Hale Professor in Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College---and a writer on the subject of autobiography---asserts that in autobiography: "self-revelation is in fact self-creation". Autobiography is not just a manifestation of the self, but it is its very embodiment. As the self becomes identified with the autobiography, the autobiography becomes the subject of its own allegory; the autobiography, to put the idea a little differently, becomes a work about itself. That author often laments in his extensive discussion of the subject of autobiography. Spengemann laments, in his comment on the literature about autobiography, that "the more the genre gets written about, the less agreement there seems to be on what it should properly include.” For quite some time, he says on the same page, scholars have quarreled "over the admissibility of letters, journals, memoirs, and verse-narratives.” I utilize all these genres in my autobiography. I see the entire corpus of my writing as part of my autobiography and, should some biographer arise in the future to tell my story, he or she can use all this writing. What has become literally millions of words across many genres will certainly keep someone busy writing my biography if, indeed, such a man or woman ever takes such an interest.
I am going to die, in all probability, by the end of the second century of the Bahá’í Era. That second century ends in 2044. I might last longer given the advances in medical science and, due to the fact that I aim to write this autobiography to cover the entire first century of what Bahá'ís call "the kingdom of God on Earth", this narrative is written to cover the years to 2053. Given the advances in modern medicine, then, this autobiography is based on the possibility that I may live to be 109 in 2053. My life is the repository of so much that I can tell, and I will do my darnedest to tell it as best I can. Much, of course, will never be told because I can't find a way of communicating it yet, or I haven't the time to communicate it, or I don’t know what it is that I can or should communicate. One of the greatest 20th century English writers, Evelyn Waugh, once wrote that: "Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography." That aphorism may be partly true, but it is not true for me. Curiosity now motivates me more than ever and across a wider field, a wider spectrum, of learning, now that I do not have to devote so much of my time to activities outside the cultural attainments of the mind. Until I retired from FT, PT and most volunteer work in the years 1999 to 2005, my student & employment life, as well as the various family and community responsibilities that came my way, from 1949 to 1999, filled my days and years.
In the years after 2005(2006 to 2015) I was able to devote my hours to reading and writing, editorial and research work, poetizing and publishing, online blogging and journalism, as well as scholarship. This preface to the 8th edition of my autobiography benefits from these several activities which now occupy the centre of my life. I will return to this short opening-note, this first draft of the 8th edition of my autobiography, from time to time in the next six years before the final draft of this 8th edition sees the light of day, hopefully, in 2021. For now, though, this autobiography at BLO goes up to and including August 2015 at which time I had had 40 years of activity in Bahá'í administration.
I'll cut-and-paste below the relevant part of a recent letter to a close friend in Canada, and add some details, to provide readers with a helpful picture of my current health due to its serious state, its debilitating aspects, the details of what has become a terminal illness according to several GPs and specialists in the last month.
Part 1: Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms-August through September 2015
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while in hospital for one week at the end of August and early September 2015. I had supporting statements of its inevitable terminal nature by two GPs in George Town, and a community nurse in Tasmania's palliative-care system. The following are the symptoms with which I have had to deal in the last two months, July through September 2015 and, to some extent for the previous four months depending, of course, on what particular symptom I am summarizing below.
There are usually no symptoms in the disease's early stages, and symptoms that are specific enough to suspect pancreatic cancer typically do not develop until the disease has reached an advanced stage. By the time of diagnosis, in my case in late August and early September, pancreatic cancer has often spread to other parts of the body. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include: (i) tobacco smoking; but I smoked from 1964 to 1994 and, this risk factor is, therefore, not significant in my case after 20 years of not smoking; (ii) obesity(I was obese from 2010 to 2015), but my weight is now 'normal.' I was diagnosed in August 2015 with diabetes2; this is a risk factor.
Pancreatic cancer can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, palliative care, or a combination of these. Treatment options are partly based on the cancer stage. I will report on these options as they unfold in the months ahead, and as the stage on my cancer is defined in more detail than it now is. In 2012, pancreatic cancers of all types were the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths, resulting in 330,000 deaths globally. Survival beyond 5 years depends on the type of cancer. The survival range is from 5% to 65%, and I will know which one of the 14 types of cancer I have in the next three weeks. Wikipedia has a comprehensive outline of pancreatic cancer and I encourage readers to go to that site, if they have the interest.
Part 1.3: Symptoms
1. Yellowing of the skin and eyes are part of jaundice, a painless condition which commonly occurs in people with pancreatic cancer. It occurs when an increased level of bilirubin is in the blood. This can occur when a tumor completely or partially blocks a bile duct of the liver, slowing the flow of bile. I have had jaundice for some 7 weeks. A stent was inserted in my pancreatic system while in hospital in late August 2015. Those who want to know more about jaundice can easily locate the information in cyberspace. Since coming home from the hospital nearly two weeks ago, this yellowing has lessened.
2. Unintended weight loss is also a symptom of pancreatic cancer. While losing weight without trying may be welcomed by many, it can indicate something is wrong. It is one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer a person usually notices. I have slowly lost some 50 pounds in the last two years, and at an increasing rate as the year 2015 has advanced. One advantage of this process, if there is any, is that I no longer have problems with being overweight.
3. Nausea and/or vomiting is yet another symptom that is common in pancreatic cancer. These symptoms often result in a delay in a diagnosis as the patient tries to find out what is causing this nausea and or vomiting. These symptoms have been particularly present in my case in the last two months. I still have a mild nausea for which I am taking a medication. For the most part my diet consists of fluids like barley drink and water, chicken-noodle and beef soups, and sustagen. In the last few days I have begun to eat solids like: vanilla-custard, a chicken sandwich, watermelon and some of my wife's meals. My vomiting has stopped; it only took-place in and after being in the hospital when I drank too much.
4. Loss of appetite is a symptom of hundreds of diseases & conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or even be related to something as small as a stomach virus. Medical procedures and scans, ultra-sound and tests of various kinds are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis of the various illnesses I now have. They have each and all confirmed my present disabling medical condition. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a terminal illness and, in my case, within 5 years I shall leave this mortal coil. This is the situation: a 90% chance of death within 5 years for those who contract this disease. This pancreatic-cancer disease has manifested these several symptoms enumerated here. My appetite is slowly returning after beginning a new medication in the last several days.
The several weeks of loss of appetite and these other symptoms have been a difficult period. Although, on the positive side and as I say above, I am no longer overweight. Even if all operations in the weeks and months ahead are successful, my life expectancy beyond five years is only 5 to 10 per cent.
5. Itchy skin is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable of all these symptoms. It is a less common symptom experienced by people with pancreatic cancer. When coupled with another symptom like jaundice, it can be significant in making a more accurate and timely diagnosis. Unfortunately, when someone with undiagnosed pancreatic cancer is experiencing itchy skin, it is often misdiagnosed as a dermatological condition. I have had a case of itchy skin for two months now increasing from week to week. The palliative care system in Tasmania, which I have become a part of in recent days, and my wife, are slowly sorting out this symptom of itchiness. Thankfully, though, I am the 1 in 10 who have this illness and experience no pain along with it. That is, indeed, a blessing!
6. Unexpected onset of diabetes 2 is, yet, another symptom. In some cases, pancreatic cancer may impede the pancreas's ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes 2. It is important to remember that most people develop diabetes 2 because of reasons unrelated to pancreatic cancer but, in my case, my diabetes 2 is part-and-parcel of my pancreatic problem. This is according to: (i) my gastroenterologist and (ii) my pancreatic surgeon who will remove the present blockage in an operation while I am in the hospital in October for two weeks if, indeed, I decide to go ahead with this operation. I am not sure, at this point in time, if I want to go ahead with the operation. I am waiting to have a PET scan on 17/9, and on 1/10 to attend a special clinic at the LGH for people with my particular level and type of medical malady.
7. Changes in stool and urine color are two final symptoms. Urine may become much darker, while stools lose their brown color, becoming a pale, clay/light color. This is often due to the bile duct being blocked. Stools can also have a odd, strong smell. While in hospital for a week in August-September 2015, I had an operation on my pancreas in which a stent was inserted; my stools are now back to a normal dark brown, although my urine is far more dark than it was my entire life.
Some General Comments on My Health: 2014-2015
I have posted the above details due to the complexity of my present medical condition. Readers with an interest in its permutaions and combinations can Google to their hearts' content. The paragraphs above in relation to pancreatic cancer, and those below provide the information required to outline the details of my general health.
I see my GP several times a year and, more frequently, in the last two months. I have two GPs here in George Town, one for a second opinion. I see a psychiatrist once every three years now, usually to help me deal with medication changes for my bipolar I disorder. I also see a renal physician, or nephrologist, once a year for my moderate chronic kidney disease phase 3, a mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the fine-tuning of my blood pressure. I also see a urological surgeon once a year for my enlarged prostate; I see a gastroenterologist for several reasons: diverticulitis, blood loss in the gastrointestinal tract, a gastroscopy, and a periodic colonoscopy. In the last two months I also see a second gastroenterologist for diabetes2(D2), jaundice(J) and pancreatic cancer(PC) and, finally, a pancreatic surgeon for my ongoing pancreatic problems.
With a podiatrist for my foot fungus and various other foot problems, an optometrist/opthamologist for my cataracts, the side-effects of D2, and an annual update for my prescription glasses; with my dental work in the hands of 2 dentists and 2 dental technicians to help me take care of my two partial plates and my last 6 teeth; and, perhaps most importantly, with daily chats with my wife and with occasional chats with my son Daniel and my step-daughter Vivienne, who has been a nurse for 25 years, I am more than happy to pay tribute to the wonders of modern medicine in all its labyrinthine forms and sub-disciplines.
Whatever troubles the world is experiencing because of its ties with many outworn shibboleths in the fields of religion and politics, ethnic and nationalistic prejudices, failures to take science more seriously, problems associated with technology----the science of medicine among other sciences and technologies has transformed and continues to transform our world, at least for those like myself who have the advantage of being able to access medicine's several specializations and fields, and those of science and technology, especially the IT industry.
For those who are into the vast tracts of alternative medicine, I am happy that you NOT write to me with your concerns and your advice for my several medical problems. I am in VERY good medical hands, and am enjoying the pleasures of retirement as I go through my 70s. I have many local people who provide me with curative advice in the areas of alternative medicine, and several who provide me with: (i) supplements and aromas, (ii) medicines, and particular vitamins and minerals, and (iii) an assortment of meditation, yoga and mental hygiene techniques.
It must be said, though, that I now use the many forms of alternative medicine very rarely.
I also have access to: (a) homeopathy, (b) naturopathy, (c) chiropractic, (d) osteopathy, (e) energy medicine, (f) various forms of acupuncture, (g) traditional Chinese medicine, (h) Ayurvedic medicine, (i) Bowen therapy, and (j) a wide range of faith healing prescriptions. The internet, too, is full to overflowing with advice that I can access 24/7. I have benefited for decades, indeed, since my childhood, from advice in the many healing arts thanks to a mother for whom the subjects of healing and health were at the center of her religious proclivities, and a wife who takes more than a little interest in both science and medicine.
I now benefit on a daily basis, as I say, from having a wife who knows more about anatomy, physiology and general medicine(due to her interests in science and her own health problems) than I will ever know. She has proved a useful helpmate in our four decades of marriage(1975-2015).
PREFACE TO THIS SEVENTH EDITION:
A 2600 page, five volume narrative and a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai poet of the two decades, 1979 to 1999; 7000+ prose-poems totalling several million words, 120 pages of personal interviews, and 400 essays; 10,000 letters, emails and interent posts; 300 notebooks, 6 volumes of diaries/journals, 12 volumes of photographs and a massive collection of memorabilia; a dozen attempts at a novel, indeed, an epic-opus of material has been integrated into an analysis of my religion, my times & my life. Utilizing this variety of genres has helped me to embellish & deepen the meaning of my own experience, helped me with introspection, retrospection and prospection. If readers find their excursion into my life and my views of my times and my religion of some value to them that will be a bonus for me. Only a very small portion of this epic work is found here, a portion that readers can dip into anywhere. They do not need to start at the beginning of these several prefaces.
This is the autobiography of an ordinary Bahai, perhaps the most extensive autobiography to date. I do not know of a more extensive autobiography or memoir in the international Bahai community in the first two centuries of the existence of this religion which claims to be the emerging religion on this planet in the third millennium. This epic-opus illustrates what hardly needs illustrating these days, namely, that you dont have to be a celebrity or a person of some fame or renown to have a biography or autobiography. This literary genre is now so popular that men and women of little interest & significance feel impelled to record their life-stories. In the wide-wide world my life is clearly in this category: an ordinarily ordinary, a humanly human existence with little significant claim to fame other than an association with a great Cause, a Cause with what seems to me, and to several million others, to have a significant role to play in the future of humankind. Such is my belief. Without this belief I think it highly unlikely that I would ever have contemplated writing this autobiographical work.
The Bahá'í Faith provides, at least in my experience, a nice balance between the importance of community and the importance of the individual, indeed, the necessity for that community not to stifle the voice of its members. This is not an easy balance to strike but in the decades ahead the world will find that this Faith is one of the organizations, perhaps one of the critical planetary frameworks, which provides the mix of freedom and authority, unity & diversity, without which planetary survival will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Each of us in life has a unique path to follow and, in some ways, this uniqueness is preserved not only by the distance each of us keeps from our fellow travelers, but by the integration of our individual lives into the context of community, the lives of others. The Bahai Faith provides a base for the maintenance of this uniqueness in the context of community, a communitatis communitatum, a community of communities. As I see it and as I have experienced it, the Bahai community provides a context for unique individuals who preserve their inner freedom in a context of interdependence in order to make the vital and often not-so-vital contribution to the whole.
The resulting pattern in the life of each Bahai, in my life, depends on many things. It depends, as the House of Justice pointed out more than 25 years ago(29/12/88),"on the mutuality of benefits, and on the spirit of cooperation which is maintained by the willingness, the courage, the sense of responsibility, & the initiative of individuals." This autobiographical work is the result of personal initiative, and the assistance of many other people: some dead, some living and some not yet born. The "not yet born" are included because, as a former and long-time secretary of one National Spiritual Assembly put it: vision creates reality. The unborn are part of that vision and part of that not-yet-created reality.
The autobiographies and the biographies in the Bahai community that have come into Bahai bookshops since the Kingdom of God had its inception in 1953 with the completion of the Bahai temple in Chicago are, for the most part, about individuals of some significance in the Bahai system of social status or stratification like Hands of the Cause Furutan, George Townshend, Dorothy Baker and Martha Root. Extant autobiographies and biographies have been written about or by individuals with some special, publicly recognized, talent or experience like: Andre Brugiroux who hitch-hiked around the planet; Dizzy Gillespie or Marvin Holladay both of whom had a special musical talent and fame; Louis Bourgeois or Roger White, men of great artistic or literary talent; Angus Cowan or Marion Jack two of the 20th century's great teachers of this Cause in the public domain.
There are in addition now hundreds of short and often moving biographical and autobiographical pieces by or about quite ordinary people with simple stories of their lives and their often significant contributions to the work of this new Faith which has spread around the world especially in the last century since the Plan for its spread was first written during the Great War. Such accounts can be found in the many volumes of a series of encyclopedic works entitled The Bahai World. Other autobiographical and biographical works have begun to emerge in the last three decades since the more intellectual, the more literary, side of this Faith has developed coextensive with the years after the revolution in Iran in 1979. Claire Vreelands And the Trees Clapped Their Hands and a list of some two dozen biographies which I will not list here could be added to this brief survey.
If, as Shakespeare suggests in his play Hamlet, “bevity is the soul of wit,” there is a potential for much wit in much Baha’i biography since much of it is brief. But much of it is also somewhat voluminous. Sadly there may be little wit here in this work if one follows this same reasoning. For this work is anything but brief. At several million words it may act as a good sedative for readers in search of a short and spicey narrative. But if, as the great literary critic Walter Pater emphasized in his essay on style, the greatness of a work lies in its content, perhaps there is hope for this work---or so I like to think.
Like the poet-writer Jorge Luis Borges, I think that every reader should have his own autonomy, an autonomy and independence from the text that Borges expressed as follows: "I think the reader should enrich what he's reading. He should be free to misunderstand the text: he should feel free to change it into something else." The work belongs to readers for their own lives to use as they so desire. Somebody else's original gift--this work--is what readers come across in what they read here. I like to think that whatever quality of writing is found here is a gift; it can't be duplicated, but the study of it can potentially help to make others a more careful guardian and actualizer of their own gifts. The Australian writer Clive James makes this point at his new website. Even if a reader has no plans to be a writer himself, and this is usually the case, there is always an extra fascination in watching a literary craftsman at work especially if the reader is at all sensitive to the quality of the written word. Writing in any form is never just the style, but it isn't just the subject matter either. Style and content are a potential bridge to intellectual delight and personal meaning. Hopefully readers will find that bridge here in this memoiristic work.
Here is one of the first extensive autobiographies about one of these quite ordinary Bahais, without fame, rank, celebrity status or an especially acknowledged talent, who undertook work he often felt unqualified or incompetent to achieve, with his sins of omission and commission, but with achievements which, he emphasizes, were all gifts from God in mysterious & only partly understandable ways, ways alluded to again and again in the Bahai writings. They were achievements that arose, such is his view, due to his association with this new Revelation and its light and were not about name, fame or renown, although some of these now tarnished terms play subtly and not-so-subtly on the edges of many a life in our media age. These achievements and their significance are sometimes termed: success, victory, service, enterprize, sacrifice, transformation, all words with many implications for both the individual and society.
This story, this narrative, is unquestionably one of transformation: of a community, a Cause and a life that has taken place in a time of auspicious beginnings for both humankind and the Bahai community, at one of histories great climacterics. The concept of this oeuvre, this prose and poetry, as epic, took shape from 1997 to 2007 after more than 50 years of association with what may well prove to be the greatest epic in human history, the gradual realization of the wondrous vision, the brightest emanations of the mind of the prophet-founder of the Bahai Faith and what Bahais believe will become, over time, the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen. During these last ten years, my final years of full-time teaching in a technical college in Australia and the first years of early retirement, this concept of my work as epic has evolved.
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.
By 2011 I had been writing seriously for more than 50 years and writing poetry for a similar length of time. The concept of this written opus as epic gradually crystallized after more than 40 years of my association with and involvement in the Bahai Cause between the two Holy Years 1952/3 and 1992/3 of the Formative Age and at a time when the projects on Mt. Carmel and the garden terraces on that Hill of God were being completed. With the increasing elaboration, definition & development of the structure and concept, the notion and framework, of this entire collected work as epic has come a conceptual home of reflection, memory, imagination, action and vision which readers will find described, albeit briefly, in this abridged, this truncated, edition and document at Bahai Library Online.
No intelligent writer knows if he is any good, wrote T.S. Eliot; he must live with the possibility, the theoretical uncertainty, that his entire work has all been a waste of time. This provocative idea of Eliot’s, I believe, has some truth. But whether for good or ill--write I must. One of the results of this epic work is another provocative idea which I like to think also has some truth; namely, that my work was a part of the new patterns of thought, action, integration and the gathering momentum of Bahai scholarly activity indeed, the change in culture evidenced in the Four Year Plan(1996-2000), that befitting crescendo to the achievements of the 20th century; that my epic work was a part, too, of that very beginning of the process of community building, a new culture of learning and growth, and, finally, a part of those traces which Abdul-Baha said shall last forever.
To approach this epic or even the truncated edition of my 2600 page narrative in three Parts at Bahai Library Online & read it certainly requires an effort on the part of a hopeful internet user. I like to think that such an effort will be rewarded, that such an exercise on the part of the reader will be worthwhile. Of course, as a writer, I know that I can make no such guarantee.
Some writers are read most widely for their fiction; there is often a closeness for them of the two worlds, reality & invention. Fiction for these same writers often represents a mere short step from their essays or their poetry, from their life to their novels. A similar sensibility pervades all their work in whatever genre. I do not write of reality and invention, at least not consciously. Fiction does not inhabit my several genres, although I like to think there is a common sensibility across all my writing—but I’m not so sure. I leave such an analysis, such a statement, to readers. They will make of my work what they will and I'm sure what they make of it will be many things if, of course, they make anything of it at all.
The American poet William Carlos William’s used the term locality or ground and expressed his agreement with Edgar Allen Poe that this locality or ground was to be acquired by the “whole insistence in the act of writing upon its method in opposition to some nameless rapture over nature......with a gross rural sap; he wanted a lean style, rapid as a hunter and with an aim as sure — Find the ground, on your feet or on your belly........He counsels writers to borrow nothing from the scene but to put all the weight of the effort into the WRITING.” For me, for my written expression, this locality or ground in either my verse or my prose was not easily attained. The evolution of my oeuvre since the 1960s or perhaps as far back as the late 1940s, and its present style here in this memoir entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs reveals, at least for me if not for readers, my long struggle to capture the complex interrelationships between self, society and the sacred.
The time is ripe in history, in our time, in the stage to which our society has developed, to articulate questions about the complex interdependence of internationalism, nationalism and locality and the critical need for a basis for communitas communitatum. There is a critical need to infuse literature and social analysis with a relevant vocabulary. After several thousand years in which the world has been the private preserve of a small leisured class, something that can truly be called humanity is being born and a world society fit for human beings to live in. The process is both slow and fast.
Like many writers and thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs, in these epochs of my life, I have found that there is a world towards which I can direct my loyalty and whatever skills, by some unmerited grace, with which I have been endowed. Many never find that world, never find some commitment into which they can throw their heart and soul. They have to settle for: self, family, some local set of isssues, perhaps a political party or a cause like the environment, whales, seals, a career, sex, indeed, the list is virtually endless. These commitments around which millions and billions sketch the meaning of their lives over the terra incognita of existence, around which the creative imagination with which each of these human beings is endowed, attempts to produce a reality that is consistent with that commitment, with the facts which that person sees around him or her. And I do the same. This autobiography is a sketch of that commitment, that reality, that imagination and its set of facts. For each of these sketches that each human being calls their life, there are different colours, shapes, textures, tones and patterns.
I am not concerned by the degree of exposure that is necessitated by autobiographical writing; I do not feel the need to provide a thin shield of anonymity over my life by using pseudonyms rather than real names, by using fictionalized autobiography or some form of story to hide behind. There is a shield here, but it is not the shield of anonymity; rather it is the shield that results from only a moderate confessionalism in my writing of these memoirs. I do not tell it all. It should be said, though, that even though this series of five volumes evolved over more than 25 years, it is still only a preliminary work.
In some ways I have been detectably sparing with the main drama of my life which has had to do with how I reacted to this new Faith with my whole soul and how my soul became richer because of it. There is more than enough opinionated reflection, generous portions of regret and remorse as well as joy and even ecstasy to make the narrative useful in its scope to the generations who are and will be new to this Faith as well as those who have imbibed its teachings for many a year. Still, I have only just sketched the story in 2600 pages and the associated genre accretions. I’m gradually putting in more of the story of my developing response to this Faith in these closing years of the first century of its Formative Age: 2011 to 2021. But, however this work is written when all is said and done and I’m gathering rose-buds as I might in the hereafter, it will not be a stand-alone masterpiece. It benefits from the ideas and words of many others. This work is far too long for those who come upon it. Frankly, I don’t think many will even get past these several prefaces. But perhaps I am too modest, too critical of what I have written.
The Bahá'í community has been colonizing the earth, arguably, since 1894, arguably again since 1919 and without doubt since 1937. Many of the 200 odd countries and territories have long been sufficiently in flower to spread their spiritual pollen in the fields of teaching and consolidation and, in the process, send out members of the community on the pioneering-wind. There have always been the loyal and dutiful, the sacrificial and the escapists, the theatrical types and the artistic, indeed, an immense variety of human types in the Bahai community. After World War II came a succession of Plans in 1946, 1953 and 1963, that spiritually conquered the planet, little did anyone know. Quite apart from the incredible letters of Shoghi Effendi, now ensconced in a series of books on a shelf that it would take a long paragraph to enumerate in even the most cursory manner, and quite apart from the architectural splendour that was popping-up in especially selected sites all over the planet, the Bahá'í Faith had, by the time my pioneering life began in late 1962, discovered “a most wonderful and thrilling motion,” that in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was “permeating all parts of the world.” This autobiography is but the story of one very small part of that grand motion, one part of that immense permeation.
PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION
On 19 January 1984 in the middle of the oppressive heat of an Australian Northern Territory summer, I received a copy of my maternal grandfather’s autobiography from a cousin in Canada. This autobiography was not the record of his entire life, just the part from his birth in England in 1872 to his marriage in 1901 in Hamilton Canada. I browsed through but did not read this one-hundred thousand word 400 page double-spaced narrative written “about 1921-1923,” by an autodidact, a self-educated man, when he was fifty years of age. I read my grandfather's autobiography slowly over the next few years as my interest in his life grew. As my grandfather indicated in 1953 when he wrote a brief preface to that work while living in Burlington Ontario five years before his death, it was his hope that his story would “arouse interest.” As I revise this preface to the sixth edition of my autobiography or, more properly, this epic literary work, on 1 August 2008, my hope is that this work will also arouse interest. I began writing this preface on the vernal equinox here in Australia, 21 September 2007, and, hopefully, that date was an auspicious beginning to this work for future readers.
I had no idea when I made that first diary entry in January 1984 that this literary beginning would become by insensible and sensible degrees an epic work containing: a many-volumed journal, a body of thousands of poems and millions of words; a collection of many more thousands of letters, emails and posts on the internet; a collection of over 300 notebooks; a dozen unsuccessful attempts at a novel and; finally, in this narrative of 2600 pages, a total oeuvre that seems appropriate to refer to as an epic.
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favourite historians, acquired their initial conceptualization for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Ten years ago in 1997 I began to think of writing an epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. My total poetic output by September 2000 I began to envisage in terms of an epic. The sheer size of my epic work makes a comparison and contrast with the poetic opus of Ezra Pound a useful one. Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 I had come to define as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual poetic pieces as part of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion as the years went by of all future prose-poetic efforts.
Such was the way I came increasingly to see my epic opus, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000. This concept of my work as epic began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years(1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production. At that point, in 1997, this epic covered a pioneering life of 35 years, a Baha’i life of 38 years and an additional 5 years when my association with the Baha’i Faith began while it was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion. In December 1999 I forwarded my 38th booklet of poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library until 30 December 2000. Part of some desire for a connective tissue pervaded the poetry and prose of this international pioneer transforming, in the process, the animate and inanimate features of my distant and changing pioneer posts into a kindred space whose affective kernel or centre was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which had just been completed.
This lengthening work evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. Part of my confidence and hope for the future derives from this past. There is a practical use to the local association I give expression to in this work. It as a means of putting the youth and the adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens and noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with a direct personal interest in their heritage. Along the way, I hope I am helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos, with a resolution that is indispensable in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future. I trust this work serves, too, as a dedication, a natural piety, by which the present becomes spiritually linked with the past.
This last point is, of course, an extension into the sphere of nationhood of Wordsworth’s near proverbial expression of desire for continuity in his own life— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety" (1: 226). If this new Cause is to grow and mature in an integrated, organic, and humanistic manner, it must affirm the continuity between the present, the past, and the future. Countries that eschew militarism and imperialism need to venerate their cultural and national achievements if they are to maintain and foster the identity and independence of their citizens and with this an international spirit must inevitably sink deep into the recesses of the human heart and mind—for it is a question of survival.
But it is the future that I love like a mistress, as W.B. Yeats says was the feeling that the poet William Blake had for times that had not yet come, which mixed their breath with his breath and shook their hair about him. The Baha’i Faith inspires a vision of the future that enkindles the imagination. This imagination German mystic and theologian Jacob Boehme said was the first emanation of the divinity. Blake cried out for a mythology and created his own. I do not have to do this since I have been provided with one within the metaphorical nature of Baha’i history, although I must interpret this mythology, this history, and give it a personal context.
As I say I had begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print or Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written from 1922 to 1962, is a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, though, came long after its beginnings, beginnings as far back as 1980 or possibly 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I say above, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one. The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus is not only a personal one of forty-five years in the realms of belief, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah which had its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.
Generally, the goal or aim of this work and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society.
This work contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance & manifestation. My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of Baha’i history. But I do not want to convey to readers any sense of triumphalism. These are still very early days, it seems to me, for this Cause and the road ahead is long, stony and tortuous both for the Bahai community and its institutions and the individuals who become its members and take its claims seriously.
The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, is found here. Such is my belief and I must often reiterate: this entire autobiographical package finds its raison d'etre in belief. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life as much, if not more, than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of forty-six years of pioneering:1962-2008. But more importantly, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the warp and weft that is the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power. Indeed, the World Order lying enshrined in the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is “slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization,” is becoming an increasingly familiar participant in the life of society and this epic is but one of the multitude of manifestations of that participation. My own life, my own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding “that blissful consummation” when “the Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West.”
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. Calliope and her sister Muses, not a part of popular culture and slipping into some degree of obscurity among many of the multitude of cultural elites in our global world, were seen traditionally, at least in the west and among its cultural literati, as a source of artistic and creative inspiration. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing artistic tradition and its many sources of creative expression among adherents of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leaven that leavens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.” In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings “the Supreme Concourse to the door of life” and “opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life.” Much more could be said about inspiration from a Baha’i perspective, but this is sufficient for now in this brief description of the origins and purpose of this my poetic oeuvre.
Mary Gibson emphasizes in her study of Ezra Pound’s epic entitled Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahai Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its earliest form in the last years of the second decade of the 20th century and the early years of the third, a form that was slowly coming to manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy. The wider world did not yet see these qualities in the as yet early phases of the development of this new System. But in my mind and heart, and certainly in my poetry, I found these qualities and gave them expression. I do not address an unusually cultivated class as Pound did leaving most readers feeling they were faced with a terminus of incoherent arrogance; nor is my work a game as Pound’s Cantos appeared to be to many readers with its absence of direction, but like Pound my work was that of a voyageur who was not sure where his work would end up. My work has been, like Pound’s, thrown up on a shore that I certainly had not planned to visit. Unlike Pound I do not yet have many enthusiasts or detractors of my work. And I may never have. Unlike Pound, my work, my epic, does not possess a disordered, indeed, chaotic structure and is not filled with unfathomable historical allusions; nor do I see my work as dull and verbose, although others may. If Pound’s was a “plotless epic with flux” mine has both plot and flux, but the accretion of detail and the piling up of memory on memory may, in the end, lose most readers. For now, I must live with this possibility.
There is no Christian myth to guide the reader through Pound’s epic, as there was through Dante’s Commedia six centuries before. Pound’s Cantos tell the story of the education of Ezra Pound as my epic tells the story of my education. In my case there is a guide, the Baha’i metaphorical interpretation of physical reality or, to put it simply, the Baha’i myth. At the heart, the centre, of my own epic, then, is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from my belief in this embryonic World Order of Baha’u’llah, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. My work is serious but not solemn and, like Eliot, I am not sure of the permanent value of what I have written. As Eliot put it: “I may have wasted my time and messed up my life for nothing.” No man knoweth what his own end shall be, nor what the end of his writing shall be either, I hasten to add.
The poet Wallace Stevens’ expressed his sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice. ” What Stevens says here certainly gives expression to what is involved in this process, this sense of epic, for me. I am involved in the act of creating a prose-poem of the mind and trying to find out as I go along “what will suffice” to express what is in my mind and my heart, what is part and parcel of my beliefs and what occupies the knowledge base of the Baha’i Faith. This process is, without doubt, at the centre of this conceptual, this epistemological, this ontological, experiment of mine. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a sometimes softly, indirectly didactic, sometimes not-so-softly and quite directly didactic, intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape of this work was in no way predetermined. In many respects, both my long poem, the thousands of shorter poems and, indeed, all my writing is purely amateur and speculative philosophy, literary playfulness and autobiographical description that I try to integrate into Baha’i and secular history in a great many ways.
I feel I can make the claim that this work belongs to Australian history, at least part of it and I hope that the words of Mark Twain can apply to my work. “Australian history,” Twain wrote, “is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is also so curious and strange, that it is itself the chief novelty the country has to offer and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.” I don’t like to see this work of mine associated with lies, but if there are any lies here perhaps if they are beautiful ones I suppose that’s an improvement over all the ugly ones I’ve heard in my life.
I attempt as I go along to affirm a wholeness within this epic design, a design which I like to see and refer to as a noetic integrator: a conceptual construction which serves to interpret large fields of reality and to transform experience and knowledge into attitude and belief. I have slowly developed this construction, this design, this tool and it is a product of decades of extensive and intensive effort to articulate a conceptual construction to deal with the long, complex and fragmented world in which I have lived my life and where a tempest seems to have been blowing across its several continents and its billions of inhabitants with an incredible force for decades, for over a century. I would hope that this construction, this epic design, will be of use to others. I would like to think that it will help others translate their potentiality into actuality--a process that Alfred North Whitehead called concrescence. But I have no idea. (See: D. Jordan and D. Streets, "The Anisa Model," Young Children, vol.28, No.5, June 1973.)
I trust, too, that this epic work is not only a sanctimonious, openly pious, exploration of literary, practical and life-narrative themes but simultaneously a self-questioning of these themes and forms, actions and motivations. What I write should not be seen as fixed and final, but a lifelong attempt to polish and not pontificate, to guard against blind and idle imitation as well as against narrowness, rigidity and intolerance--tendencies toward fundamentalist habits of mind--in my own spiritual path.
Pound was intent on developing an “ideal polity of the mind”. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbeded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly and the groups I have worked in and with have been small. At the same time I have become more and more impressed, as my experience of the Bahai polity has become more seasoned, more mature, with what is for me "an ideal polity." It has come to "flood my consciousness" over the years and I could expatiate on its System and how it deals with the essential weaknesses of politics pointed out so long ago by Plato and Aristotle and which continue to this day. But that is not the purpose of this memoir.
This vision and this Movement, my role and my contribution, though, has not been so much to give people answers but, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes, to help pose, to stimulate the asking of, the right questions. People seem so very skeptical of answers and so playing the devil's advocate, so to speak, has seemed to me to have more mileage in the process of dialogue.(The Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate was a position established in the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 to argue against the canonization of a candidate) I have dealt with my most rooted assumptions and questioned my most secret and instinctive self and many of the assumptions of my secular society. In the process, I hope this exercise has led to an openness of mind, a humility of response that finds resolutions as much or more than solutions and that it carries the seeds of other questions. There is an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than some total vision here. There is, too, what Nakhjavani calls, "a Bahai aesthetic" which is a form of seeing that enables us to use our creative endeavours to reflect the motions in the heart, motions of search, striving, desire, devotion and love.
My style, my prose-poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists; my reclaiming job is to tell of the history of the epochs I have lived through from a personal perspective, from the perspective of the multitude of traces both I and my coreligionists have left behind. In some ways these events don’t need reclaiming for the major and minor events of our time both within and without the Baha’i community are massively documented in more detail than ever before in history. Perhaps, though, in the same way that Pound’s work was, as Alan Ginsberg once put it, “the first articulate record and graph of the mind and emotions over a continuous fifty year period,” my epic may provide a similar record and graph. But unlike Pound I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future with a distant vision of the oneness of humanity growing in the womb of this travailing age. I see humankind on a spiritual journey, the stages of which are marked by the advent of the Manifestations of God.
Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman’s poetic work often merges both himself and his poetry with the reader. In the same way that Pound’s work provides a useful comparison and contrast point for me in describing and analysing my epic, so is this true of Walt Whitman’s poem. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. This protagonist can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While I feel it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even attempt, to represent an entire epoch or age, this concept of a private/public dichotomy is a useful one, a handy underlying feature or idea at the base of this epic poem. I also like to think that, as I have indicated above, this experience, this poetry, this epic work, is part and parcel of the experience of many of my coreligionists around the world even though my work has an obvious focus on my own experience. Paradoxically, it is the personal which makes the common insofar as it recognizes the existence of the many in the one. In my own joy or despair, I am brought to that which others have also experienced.
In my poetic opus, my epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, I like to think, that with Whitman, the reader can sense a merging of reader and writer. But I like to think, too, that readers can also sense in my epic a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in the decade before those halcyon, if bloody, years of the French Revolution.
But there is much more than verse-making here. I have no hesitation in making what Donald Kuspit calls identitarian claims for my poetry. My writing, my poetry, contains within in, page after page, an expression of, an identity with, what has been and is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. They seem to have wrapped and filled my being over my pioneering life over these last 45 years. Indeed, I have seen myself with an increasing consciousness, as a part, one of the multitude of lights in what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called a “heavenly illumination” which would flow to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and which would, as Shoghi Effendi expressed it “adorn the pages of history.” My story is part of that larger story, the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution, which at the local level has often, has usually, indeed, just about always, seemed unobtrusive and uneventful, at least where I have lived and pioneered.
There is a narrative imagination, too, that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make this narrative honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, intelligible, knowledgeable, part of a new collective story, a new shared reality, part of the axis of the oneness of humanity that is part of the central ethos of the Baha’i community. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative and poetry, of letters and essays, of notebooks and photographs, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words, but with the help of many others. I leave behind me traces, things in your present, dear reader, which stand for now absent things, things from the past, from a turning point in history, one of history’s great climacterics. The phenomenon of the trace is clearly akin to the inscription of lived time, my time and that of my generation, upon astronomical time from which calendar time comes. History is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it. And so, I bequeath traces: mine, those of many others I have known, those of a particular time in history.
In the years since this sense of my total oeuvre as epic was first formulated, that is since the period 1997 to 2000, I have been working on the 2nd to 6th editions of my prose narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In these last eight years, September 2000 to August 2008, this narrative has come to assume its own epic proportions. It is now 2600 pages in length and occupies five volumes. It is one of the many extensions, one of the many facets, parts and parcels, of the epic that I have described above and which had its initial formulation form from September 1997 to September 2000. After a dozen years, then, from 1997 to 2009, my epic has extended my world of prose memoir, of narrative autobiography, of meditation. I also completed in that same period a 400 page study of the poetry of Roger White which was placed on the Juxta Publications website in October 2003. It was entitled: The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. The first edition of my website in 1997, also entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, became a second edition on May 21st 2001 two days before the official opening of The Terraces on Mt.Carmel on 23 May 2001. My website, then, is now ten years old. This website contains some 3000 pages and is, for me, an integral part of this epic.
There are so many passions, thoughts, indeed so much of one’s inner life that cannot find expression in normal everyday existence. Much of my poetry and prose, perhaps my entire epic-opus is a result of this reality, at least in part; my literary output is also a search for words to describe the experience, my experience, of our age, my age. This is part of what might be called the psycho-biological basis of my work. My poetry and prose allows me to release surplus, excess, energy and an abundance of thought and desire which I am unable to assimilate and give expression to in my everydayness and its quotidian features. This entire work is an expression of thoughts, desires, passions, beliefs and attitudes which I am unable to find a place for amidst the ordinary. This literary epic adorns the ordinary; it enriches my everyday experience, as if from a distance. I have come to see and feel my literary efforts as if they were a breeze en passant over my multifaceted religious faith, over my daily life. I do not write to convince or proselytise, but as a form of affirmation of all that has meaning and significance in life, my life and, by implication and since all humans share so much in common, Everyman's. I write of that foul rag and bone shop, as the poet W.B. Yeats called the heart, and of that golden seam of joy in life, of frailty and strength and of the abyss of mental anguish and a heart exulting unaggrieved. These aspects of my writing are all part of that trace I alluded to above.
An additional part of this epic is an epistolary narrative written over fifty years, 1957/8 to 2007/8. This epistolary work is driven by this same belief system acquired, refined and thought about over a lifetime, a belief system which finds a core of facticity and a periphery of interpretation, imagination, intuition, sensory activity and an everyday analysis of its history and teachings in the context of these letters. The inclusion of this collection of letters and more recently emails and internet posts in its many sub-categories is part of my effort to compensate for the tendency of my fellow Baha’is throughout the history of this Faith not to leave an account of their lives, their times, their experiences, as Moojan Momen has made so clear in his The Babi-Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944.
I did not start out with this motivation, nor did I think of my epistolary work as I went along as a sort of compensation for the strong tendency of my fellow believers not to record their experiences in letters but, after half a century of this form of collected communications, I realized that they offered an expression of my times and of the Bahai community during these epochs that may be of use to future historians, biographers and a variety of other social analysts. This view I have come to gradually in a retrospective sense. This epistolary narrative is yet one more attempt, along with the other several genres by this writer, to provide a prose-poetry mix of sensory and intellectual impressions to try to capture the texture of a life, however ineffably rich and temporarily fleeting, in one massive opus, one epic form, with branches leading down such prolix avenues that its total form is most probably only of use as an archive and not as something to be read by this generation.
At the present time there are some 50 volumes of letters, emails and internet posts under ten major divisions of my epistolary collection. The third division of the ten contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards and blogs with their postings and replies, inter alia. This collection of posts on the internet, posts largely made since 2001 and the official opening of the Arc Project in May 2001, is now a part of this massive, this burgeoning epic. I have written an introduction to this collection of letters, inter alia--and that introduction is found at Baha’i Library Online> Secondary Source Material> Personal Letters. The other genres of my writing: the character sketches, the notebooks and the five volume journal, the dozen attempts at a novel as well as the photographic embellishments and memorabilia within this epic framework I leave for now without comment--although readers will find ample comment at later points in this epic-opus.
After more than a decade since the initial concept of this epic was first initiated, I feel I have made a start to what may become an even longer epic account as my life heads into late adulthood and old age and the Faith I have been and am a part of soon heads into the second century of its Formative Age. This aspect of epic, this perception of my oeuvre as epic, the incorporation of all my writing into a collected unity in multiplicity, a memoir in many genres, necessitates the initiation of this sixth edition. After finalizing the fifth edition a year ago, an edition which went through more drafts than I care to count, I bring out this third draft of the sixth edition of this work.
16 August 2008
PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION
Life writing is now one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing fields of international scholarship. Life writing is a catch-all term developed to encompass several genres: autobiography, biography, memoir, journal, diary, letter and other forms of self-construction. During my pioneering life(1962-2007) and especially since I have been writing this memoir(1984-2007) or what I sometimes refer to as my autobiography, this dynamism and intensive development has been particularly prominent. The field also includes these several genres of life-narrative I mentioned above within various disciplines of the social sciences and humanities: history, anthropology, sociology, politics, leadership and leisure studies, narrative and literary studies, among others. I make use of all these genres in my memoir, but only a small portion of any one of them are found in what has become quite an extensive work.
Life writing addresses and gives voice to many social constituencies including: women, men, indigenous groups, postcolonial societies, ethnic groups and a wide variety of society’s sub-groups like new religious movements. The sub-group I am concerned with in my work is the Baha’i community. This community is part of my focus. Life writing, among its many purposes, gives voice to those who suffer illness, oppression, misfortune and tragedy. It is also an enabling structure, tool or mechanism for those who wish to speak in a spirit of affirmation, inquiry, amazement or celebration among other emotional and intellectual raison d’etres or modi vivendi. My voice, my spirit, finds its enabling structure, its raison d’etre, in this lengthy work.
In addition to its high, its increasing, academic profile, life writing generates great interest among the general public. Works of biography and autobiography sell in vast numbers; millions now work in or are part of large organisations; millions follow the endless political and economic analyses that are generated by the media daily. People in these groups are interested in the literature by or about the leaders and the special people associated with their group and organizational affiliations.
Many aficionados of entertainment and sport read books by or about the celebrity figures in these fields. There is also a wide readership for books that deal with life in various cultures and cultural groups; an increasing number of people are interested in writing family histories or their own autobiographies. And on and on goes the litany of enthusiasm and human interests. Studies in biography and autobiography are burgeoning and blossoming at universities all over the world. Each institution in their own way aims to reflect and to facilitate their special component of the interests referred to above and to make their schools nationally and internationally recognised centres of excellence for integrated activities in the field. And so, in writings my memoirs, I feel I have lots of company.
For those with a philosophical bent, studies in biography and autobiography tap into some of the most profound and interesting intellectual issues of our time and previous times; for example, are we the products of nature, nurture or a combination of both? When we come to write the story of a life, be it our own or someone else's, what kinds of plot structures does our culture provide for telling the truest story we can? When do we need to invent our own plot structures, and to what extent is this possible? How true can stories about people be, and how do we know whether they are true or not? Is it possible to be objective about one's own self, or about another human being? What are the limits of confidentiality when putting a life on public record? How, and in what ways, does the experience of having a self, of being a person, differ from one culture to another? Is there any value in leaving behind a voluminous anatomy of self, Such questions, and others like them, reach into central issues of recent literary and cultural theory. Issues pertaining to subjectivity, the social construction of the self, agency, identity, the structures of the psyche, and so on, are all part of this vast territory. The four books, in volumes one to five, that make up this memoir or autobiography are part of this burgeoning, this dynamic, field.
The first hard copy of the fifth edition of this work was made in April 2004. This hard copy, the first in the public domain, as far as I know, was made by Bonnie J. Ellis, the Acquisitions Librarian, for the Baha’i World Centre Library. The work then had 803 pages. The first paperback edition available from a publisher was at the internet site of lulu.com in June 2006, although it was not yet available to the public requiring, as it did, the review by the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia Inc. Anyone wanting to obtain a paperback copy will, I trust, soon be able to order it from lulu.com. This fifth edition is the base from which additions, deletions and corrections are still being made in the flexible world that publishing has become. The latest changes to that edition were made on September 1st 2007 in my 64th year, a little more than a quarter of the way into the Baha’i community’s new Five Year Plan, 2006-2011.
This fifth edition now comes to some 2600 pages at the lulu.com site where I have organized the material into four paperback volumes. An 1800 page, abridged version of this fifth edition is available at eBookMall for $2.98. It is my present intention to make, through my literary executors and after my passing an additional chapter, a chapter that I prefer to keep ‘under wraps’ during my life on this mortal coil. Such a number of pages with over 2000 references is enough to turn off any but the most zealous readers. Readers of editions on the internet or in one of several libraries may come across one or part of previous editions. I frequently make changes to the content and I have been placing editions or parts thereof on the internet and in libraries on the internet for the last four years. The ease and flexibility of internet access makes publishing on the world wide web a delight for a person like me whose writing is not associated with remuneration, gaining the support and backing of a publisher or paying someone to promote my work, a common internet practice.
When I first completed this fifth edition in May 2004 I assumed it would be the last edition; even with additions, deletions and alterations I thought I had an edition which would see me out to the end of my days. This has proved not to be the case; this edition will not be the final one of this autobiographical work, a work which, as I indicate from time to time, may more aptly be called a memoir in keeping with recent trends in terms and nomenclature. A memoir is slightly different from an autobiography. Traditionally, a memoir focuses on the "life and times" of the writer and often a special part of a life, a special occasion or theme in a life; it is less structured and less chronologically precise than an autobiography. An autobiography has a narrower, more intimate focus on the memories, feelings and emotions of the writer and, as the historical novelist Gore Vidal suggests, is essentially history, with research and facts to back up the statements. It tends to deal with the whole of life. Perhaps my work is essentially a hybrid: both autobiography and memoir.
The Baha’i Academic Resources Library, the State Library of Tasmania and the National Library of Canada among other internet sites, all have variations of this edition. At this stage in the evolution of these volumes I could benefit from the assistance of one, Rob Cowley, affectionately known in publishing circles back in the seventies and early eighties --as “the Boston slasher.” Guy Murchie regarded his work as “constructive and deeply sensitive editing.” If he could amputate several hundred pages of my work or even a thousand or more with minimal agony to my emotional equipment I’m sure readers would be the beneficiaries. But alas, I think Bob is dead and I have found an editor, a copy and proofreader who does not slash and burn but leaves one's soul quite intact as he wades through my labyrinthine chapters and pages, smooths it all out and excises undesirable elements.
John Kenneth Galbraith also had some helpful comments for writers like myself. Galbraith’s first editor Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, was an ace at helping a writer avoid excess. Galbraith saw this capacity to be succinct as a basic part of good writing. Galbraith also emphasized the music of the words and the need to go through many drafts. I've always admired Galbraith, a man who has only recently passed away. I’ve followed his advice on the need to go through endless drafts. I’ve lost count, but I’m not sure if, in the process, I have avoided excess. I can hear readers say: “are you kidding?” In some ways I have found that the more drafts I do, the more I had to say. And excess, is one of the qualities of my life, if I may begin the confessional aspect of this work in a minor key.
And so I have Galbraith watching over my shoulder and his mentor, Henry Luce, as well. Galbraith spent his last years in a nursing home before he passed away in 2006 at the age of 98. Perhaps his spirit will live on in my writing as an expression of my appreciation for his work, if nothing else. Spontaneity did begin to come into my work at perhaps my sixth or seventh draft of this fifth edition. Galbraith says that artificiality enters the text because of this. I think he is right; part of this artificiality is the same as that which one senses in life itself. Galbraith also observed with considerable accuracy, in discussing the role of a columnist, that such a man or woman is obliged by the nature of their trade to find significance three times a week in events of absolutely no consequence. I trust that the nature of my work here, my memoir, will not result in my being obliged to find significance where there is none. I’m not optimistic. Perhaps I should simply say “no comment” and avoid the inevitable gassy emissions that are part of the world of memoirs.
The capacity to entertain and be clever may not occupy such an important place in the literary landscape in the centuries ahead. But this is hard to say. There is something wrong it seems to me if millions have what the famous American critic Gore Vidal says is part of the nightly experience of western man: the pumping of laughing gas into lounge rooms. While this pumping takes place millions, nay billions, now and over the recent four epochs about which this account is written, starve, are malnourished and are traumatized in a multitude of ways. The backdrop to this memoir is bewilderingly complex. Still, I like to think readers will find here a song of intellectual gladness and, if not a song, then at least a few brief melodies. I would also like it if this work possessed an unwearying tribute to the muse of comedy that instils the life and work of writers like, say, Clive James and many another writer with the flare for humour. Alas, that talent is not mine to place before readers, at least I am not conscious of its presence. Readers will be lucky to get a modicum of laughs, as I’ve said, in the 2600 pages that are here. I avoid humour, although not consciously, except for the occasional piece of irony, play with words or gentle sarcasm that some call the lowest form of wit.
Not making use of the lighter side of life, not laughing at oneself and others in a country like Australia is perhaps an unwise policy. I do this a great deal in my daily life but readers won’t find much to laugh at here. They will find irony in mild amounts and even enough of that Benthamite psychology of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain to satisfy the value-systems of readers, at least in Australia. I came to write this edition of my autobiography, or memoirs as I say above, after living for more than three decades in Australia. Part of this book unavoidably analyses the things, the culture, around me.
In some ways I don’t mind the relative dearth of humour in this work because, if Gore Vidal was right in a recent interview when he said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek where he often places it to the pleasure and amusement, the annoyance and frustration of many a listener--and laughing gas is, indeed, pumped into most homes every night as society amuses itself to death, then, to avoid this paradox, this ambiguity, this complexity at the heart of our world, my world, could be said to deny the pain that is at the very heart of our existence in this age. To gainsay such pain is, for some, a central crime of the bourgeois part of our society. For me, the issues and offences, the challenges and struggles in relation to this polarity-paradox, this conundrum, are exceedingly complex and I only deal with them indirectly in this somewhat personal statement, however long it may be.
If readers miss the lighter, the more humorous, touch here, they may also miss the succinctness that they find in their local paper, a doco on TV or the pervasive advertising medium that drenches us all in its brevity and sometimes clever play on words and images. One thing this book is not is succinct and I apologize to readers before they get going if, indeed, dear readers, you get going at all with this work. I like to think, though, that readers will find here two sorts of good narrative, the kind that moves by its macroscopic energy and the kind that moves by its microscopic clarity. I won’t promise this to readers here at the outset in this preface, but such is my hope—springing eternally as hope does in the font of life.
I have grown fonder of life in late middle age and the early years of late adulthood after years of having to suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ As far as laughs are concerned, I have made much ‘ha ha,’ as Voltaire called it, in the public domain in these last six decades, especially since coming to Australia in 1971, 36 years ago. A goodly portion of my life has been light and cheery and I’m confident, with Gore Vidal, that it will stay this way, barring calamity or trauma, until my last breath. I hope some readers will enjoy this narrative in all its excess, its voluminosity and its serious note and tone. In one of John Steinbeck’s letters he wrote: “Anyone who says he doesn’t like a pat on the back is either untruthful or a fool.” Perhaps Steinbeck never met many of the Aussies I’ve known who don’t like pats on their back or anywhere else, are suspicious of those who give them and are certainly not fools. But I am, alas, not a full-blood Aussie; I am at best a hybrid and I look forward to many pats on the back. Australians have taught me not to be too optimistic, too dependent, too attached to such pats; perhaps, though, it is simply life, my experience and my own particular brand of skepticism that has taught me this. Scratching backs—now that is a different question!
Gertrude Stein’s autobiography was published when she was 54 and it led to the beginning of her popularity after more than 20 years of trying to publish her writing, unsuccessfully. The reason for her autobiography’s success, she once said, was that she made it so simple anyone could understand it. Perhaps I should have done the same and removed anything obscure or complex. Sadly, for those who like to ‘keep it simple stupid,’ as one of the more popular lines in business English courses emphasizes, they may find this work a bit of drudgery, far more that they want to be bothered to bite off. Stein marketed her book in several important ways, ways to which I do not resort. I have done my marketing of this book, just about entirely on the Internet. I’ve marketed it as autobiography, as memoir and on the internet in more ways than it is useful to recount here. Memoir has recently become a fashionable term, just in the last decade, but I still tend more often to use the term autobiography. I have used this term increasingly since I started this writing in 1984.
I have left much out of this autobiography. That energetic President of the USA, Theodore Roosvelt, said in the opening line of his autobiography, “there are chapters of my autobiography which cannot now be written.” I, too, have left much out. I would like to think that this book requires more exposition than criticism, more reflection than editing. To put it more precisely, I would like to think that as readers go through these pages in five volumes they may apply their critical faculty as a connoisseur might do. Readers would be advised to employ that critical faculty to discern what is distinctive and enduring here. That is what I would like to think but I am confident that, should this lengthy work attain any degree of popularity, it will also receive its share of criticism. For many this work will not have what is an essential of popular writing: that it be written entertainingly, breezily, and full of snappy phrases. I trust this work does possess, though, that happy mix of copiousness and restraint, depth and lightness. When this narrative breathes out, the world is many; when it breathes in again, the world is one. When this narrative looks back in time it might be called retrospective or narratology and when it looks forward futurology. Time itself is only significant in terms of some relation; severed from relation it becomes merely a semantic term or construct.
Whatever this work lacks in the way of potential popularity it does aim “to unite the greatest possible number of people.” The oneness of humankind is, for me, more than a theoretical notion. Albert Camus in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1957 said that uniting people was or should be the aim of the writer. The Baha’i community has been engaged in this task for more than a century and a half and as one of its members I have been similarly engaged for a little more than half a century. I often use books toward this goal. I see books as stories about human beings and, although books are not life, it is life they are about. I got a surge of warmth and delight putting this life together and, if I knew a monk, I would get him to illuminate it. As George Bernard Shaw used to say, “my first aim is to please myself and I can not always please my readers.” How true, how true.
I am confident that the standard of public discussion and literary criticism will, as the decades and centuries go by, significantly, profoundly improve. I confidently leave this work in the hands of posterity and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. Perchance editors and readers will be found down the roads of the future. The determining factors of fate and freedom leave much to be decided on those roads. I like to think that this autobiographical work may incline readers to re-examine their received ideas on the autobiographical genre. The inflated reputations that are a constant part of literary discourse in this field of literature need to be placed in a more balanced perspective. I hope the approach I have taken to this work is a step in the direction of that balance. May this work be used as a sort of scaffolding--a burgeoning product in the public place--for readers to work on the buildings that are their own lives. For I aspire, as the literary critic Rebecca West once put it, to artistry not just a simple amiability. I’d also like to intellectually challenge the reader not just provide a story to satisfy human curiosity. Our world in the West is drowning in stories and so I try to provide something beyond a simple tale with its exciting twists and turns, with its moral-to-the-story, its romance and surprises. I am a tireless interpreter of themes, resources, books and people and I move from the micro to the macro world faster than a speeding bullet. This shifting about is not everybody’s cup-of-tea. Any pleasure this work provides, any influence it achieves, I like to think derives from my peculiar artistry and my blend of truth, studies of the humanities and social sciences and the combination of the colloquial and the academic. There is nothing wrong with having such lofty aims even if I do not achieve them. At the same time, I do not want to make extravagant promises that, in the end, disappoint.
Readers will find here a conceptual density that can give both pleasure and instruction. Those who enjoy philosophical argument may enjoy this book more than those looking for a good yarn. In fact, I would advise those looking for a captivating story to look elsewhere. This work may well repel those who have a low tolerance for compact, complex ideas piled on one after another, but whether the reader enjoys or dislikes this work, as a study of the past and the present from a particular perspective, an autobiographical one, it is my way of understanding my world. I like to see my work partly the way Mark Twain did his. As he wrote in the introductory lines of his autobiography: “my work has a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along, like contact of flint with steel.” His method, Twain went on, was a ‘systemless system’ that depended solely on what interested him at the time of writing. Such, too, is my aim and method, at least in part. It is easy I find to please myself when I write; the challenge and the greatest pleasure lies in writing for the pleasure of others.
There is also a similarity in my writing to the works of various artists in the last century: Picasso's revolutionary paintings, T.S. Eliot's verse with its strange juxtapositions and odd perspectives, Igor Stravinsky’s music and its clashing sounds. Even if one accepts these similarities, readers may find that their natural reaction to this work is to want to throw it into the dustbin of autobiographical history. I would anticipate this response given the conventional, the natural, reaction to literary works of this type on the part of many a student I have taught and got to know over the years. The desire for an orderly impulse, a simple, an exciting, narrative sequence may produce in such readers an initial discomfort due to their perception of what they see as my disorder and complexity and the sheer length of this work. In this autobiography, as Henry James once put it, “nothing is my last word on anything.” This disorder, this complexity, therefore, could continue for such readers almost indefinitely, at least theoretically. " These were, as Charles Dickens once said, "the best of times and the worst of times." In my more than thirty years of teaching I came across hundreds of students whom I know would take little to no delight in an analysis of these times in a form like the one found here.
The most recent additions and alterations to this fifth edition were made on September 1st 2007, the first day of spring in Australia. This was more than four years and four months after the third edition of this work was sent to Haifa and since that edition was first made public in eBook form at eBookMall. It had been more than six years since the second edition of my website was first made public with extensive autobiographical material on it. A third edition of my website with a more user-friendly style and content is planned. The designers refer to it as a new-look, twenty-first century edition, but it has yet to see the light of day. I have had a website for ten years and what readers will find in my new site is a piece of writing, an autobiography, in a much more readable format: such is my aim.
As I was making a recent addition to this autobiographical work, I came across the words of Paul Johnson. "Balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure people,” he wrote, “do not, on the whole, make good writers or good journalists. To illustrate the point, you have only to think of a few of those who have been both good writers and good journalists: Swift, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dickens, Marx, Hemingway, Camus, Waugh and Mark Twain--just to begin with." All these men had great personal struggles, instabilities and battles that, arguably, helped to give their writing the quality it possessed.
I’m not sure if I deserve to be ranked with this group of famous men, however much I might like the idea. But neither am I sure if I could describe myself as balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure. I leave both of these evaluations to my readers, most of whom will never know me personally. Future biographers, too, should there ever be any, may well find their path in writing a more detached view of my life one of perplexity. But whatever their answers to the biographical enigmas that arise in their work, it is my hope that they enjoy the process of trying to resolve the questions. All they will have from me are words on paper, all that any writer leaves behind. And, as I get older, there is coming to be so much of it, words, paper and cyberspace that is.
This work is partly an account of my stabilities and instabilities, balances and imbalances. As poet, writer and autobiographer, I have gone into myself. The tale here is significantly an inner one. It is not a lonely region, but a place where I often find fresh vigour and nourish my disposition to repose. I also have a certain preoccupation with personal relationships, intensity, bi-polar illness and movement from place to place, living as I have in over two dozen towns from Baffin Island to Tasmania. It’s all part of my particular expression of a process which Baha’is call pioneering and which readers will get much exposure to in this narrative.
If the feedback I have received since the last edition to this work was completed over three years ago is anything to go on, feedback for the most part I received in relation to the first few pages of this work that I posted at a number of internet writing sites, the average reader, as I say above, is looking for a good story and is not prepared to wade through my analysis, commentary and social scientific and literary-philosophical perspectives gleaned from a variety of disciplines in the humanities. The feedback I have received has praised my work to a high degree and it has also been critical of everything from my style and content to my choice of vocabulary and my very attitude. C’est la vie. “Such is life,” as Ned Kelly is reported to have said on his way to the gallows in 1880 after a life of notoriety—and now posthumous fame in Australia. I may, one day, write a more narrative, story-oriented, book to entice readers with excitements, romance and adventure. But, for now, I leave readers with this my life as I want to write it. This book may be more epitaph than autobiography. If so, I will need a whole cemetery of tombstones.
1 September 2007
PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION
After completing the third edition of this work on July 9th 2003, in commemoration of the 153rd anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab, I continued to polish and to alter its basic structure and format. By the celebration of the anniversary of the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh on November 12th 2003 it seemed timely to bring out this fourth edition, due to the many changes I had made. The second edition had been essentially the same as the first which I had completed ten years before in 1993, although I added a series of appendices and notebooks which contained a substantial body of resources that I could draw on that had become available on the autobiographical process and on life-writing as well as the social sciences and humanities on the various themes I wanted to pursue in my work. And I did just that in writing the third edition.
In 2003 I wrote what was essentially a new autobiography of over 700 pages with over 1300 footnotes. In this fourth edition of some 350,000 words I have divided the text into five volumes that are now found online at several journal/diary sites and some Baha’i sites. The Bahá'í Academics Resource Library located on the Internet at bahai-library.com has the fullest version. It has taken me nearly twenty years to satisfy my autobiographical and literary self after years of finding my autobiographical writing somewhat dreary. I’d like to think I offer some enlightenment in these pages after 20 years of practice. But to attempt to enlighten anyone these days rings of a certain pretentiousness and so I make this last comment with some caution. I know that the artist Andy Warhol expressed the feelings of many people in these days of electronic media when he said that ‘words are for nerds.’ I am not anticipating a great rush to this text.
Words are a poor resource for capturing complexity, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, but they are our chief tools for such a capture. Beneath a meticulous drawing of a dissected heart, on one of the many pages of his dazzlingly precise anatomical drawings now in the royal collection at Windsor, Leonardo wrote: "O writer! What words can you find to describe the whole arrangement of the heart as perfectly as is done in this drawing? My advice is not to trouble yourself with words unless you are speaking to the blind." Of course a life is at least as complex as a heart and, in many ways, the artist can not make a drawing of a life. Hence the value of words.
When a substantial, a sufficient, number of changes, additions and deletions have been made to this edition I'll bring out a fifth edition. This exercise will depend, of course, on being granted sufficient years before "the fixed hour" is upon me and it becomes my "turn to soar away into the invisible realm." Readers will find here augmentations of the third edition rather than revisions or corrections, in a very similar way to those that, Michel Montaigne, the first essayist in the western intellectual tradition, said he did with the editions of his Essays. Readers will also find in this work an application of what I call the Reverse Iceberg Principle: 10% cold hard facts on the surface and 90% analysis, interpretation, imagination.
This edition represents a reconciliation of a certain zestful readiness of my imaginative life with the challenging demands of the world of teaching, parenting, marriage, Bahá'í community activity and various social responsibilities. It is a reconciliation that could not have occurred, though, had the demands of job, community and family not been significantly cut back to a minimum. The swings in my bi-polar cycle and the practical demands of life enervated and depleted whatever energies I could have poured into writing this autobiography for a long time. But after my retirement from the teaching profession nearly five years ago and after the final stage of the treatment of my bi-polar disorder during these same years, a whole new energy system unfolded, productive tensions between self-creation and communal participation, enabling me to put together these seven hundred pages in the course of one year. I feel a little like that towering literary giant of my time Doris Lessing who, in a recent interview, said: “all kinds of circumstances have kept me pretty tightly circumscribed. What I've done is write. I used to have a very great deal of energy, which, alas, seems to have leaked away out of my toes somewhere.” I certainly don’t have the energy I used to have when employed full-time, but God has granted a good deal to emerge from between my toes.
Lessing also wrote in her 1994 work Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography--To 1949: “Telling the truth or not telling it, and how much, is a lesser problem than the one of shifting perspectives, for you see your life differently at different stages, like climbing a mountain while the landscape changes with every turn in the path. Had I written this when I was thirty, it would have been a pretty combative document. In my forties, a wail of despair and guilt: oh my God, how could I have done this or that? Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman, with a much more detached curiosity. Besides the landscape itself is a tricky thing. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don't?”
I hope I have not just built an autobiographical skyscraper to adorn the literary skyline. I hope that at least a few readers will take an elevator up to my many floors and check out some of the multitude of offices hidden away. After travelling up and up at the press of a button, readers will find some useful resources for their everyday lives, at least for the life of their minds. As one of the 'writingest pioneers,' I hope I provide some pleasurable moments to anyone brave enough to take on the 850 pages here. The kind of pleasure I am talking about is the fine delight that follows the fluid matrix of thought, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it.
I was able at last to satisfy the autobiographical impulse. And the impulse led me on many paths but only one direction--deeper. This book became, in a way, the crystallization of a way I wanted to write. Out of the privacy of my thought and writing I was able to make more and more and more of my life; it was a 'more' that was on the social dimension of life as my life had been hitherto for virtually all of my pioneering experience. My writing became a 'coaxing of a context' out of my experience and the history of my times and of my religion. An historical sense as a member of civilized society is what memory is to individual identity and there are so many catalysts to memory: places, people, ideas and the media among other catalysts. But even as the quantity of memories accumulates with the years I still have some of that feeling expressed by that eminent 20th century anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, namely, that “I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place where something is going on, but there is no “I,” no “me.” Though I use these terms frequently in this autobiography there is certainly an enigmatic aspect to the sense of self.
The result of the simple, the complex and the enigmatic is the edition you read here completed several months before my sixtieth. I offer this edition of my work in celebration of the birth of that Holy Tree near day-break 186 years ago this morning. I do not try to fix this autobiography into a single frame; I do not try to write my own story with a sense of closure and definitiveness. Nor do I write with a great emphasis on disclosure and confession; I do not try to 'jazz-it-up', make it more than it is. I'm not tempted to give it a glamour it does not possess but I do strive to find its meaning, the meaning in what is already there. My story is based on remembrance, memory and unavoidably, first-person reportage. There is so much that, with the years, calls forth a flood of valuable reminiscences. I have converted some of that which I have seen, thought, held, tasted and felt into thought, language, memory. These memories of times past are not pursued as a nostalgic end in themselves, although they are usually enjoyed, but as an illumination of the present and a guide to the future. There is a seductive power in autobiographical writing that enables writers of this genre to manipulate, manage and revise their experience and, at the public level, synthesize and analyse public opinion. This power has always attracted writers. I’m not sure I like this idea but, in some ways, everything written has a certain spin. “A book is a thing among things, a volume lost among the volumes that populate the indifferent universe,” writes the Argentinian poet, Borges, “until it meets its reader, the person destined for its symbols. What then occurs is that singular emotion called beauty, that lovely mystery which neither psychology nor criticism can describe.'' I would hope that at least some readers experience that thing called beauty here in this autobiography.
There are an unlimited number of possible narratives that could be constructed as reporter on my life. What readers have here could be called an interpretation, adaptation, abridgement, a retelling, a basic story among many possible basic stories. It is neither true nor false, but constructed. It has meaning because, as the poet Czeslaw Milosz writes, “it changes into memory.” The universal currency and assumed naturalness of narrative, though, may well suppress its problematic dimensions such as: parsimony, inclusion and suppression as shaping factors in the composition of narratives.
There is some ordering of the incidences and intimacies of this specific, individual life into a narrative coherence giving readers some idea of what it was like to be me, some idea of what my inner, private, mental life was like. This private life is for the most part illegible; we live it and fight it alone. I have tried to make this inner life, as much as possible, as legible as possible. The sense of self which has emerged in the process of writing this work is two-fold. One is this private, mysterious, difficult to define self about whom it seems impossible to boast about. This self is an enigma, a mysterious who that I am, a transient entity, ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts. Along with this transient entity, though, there is what seems like a second self, what one writer called an autobiographical self. It is this self which gives this autobiography some narrative flow; it is the self of everyday life, the surface existence. It is not trivial but is really quite important in a different way than that more enigmatic self.
The everyday self, the one which wrote this fourth edition, possesses a memory which is the basis of thought, feeling, tradition, identity, and spirit. This act, this struggle, to remember and not to forget is also the basis for the achievement of a sense of continuity. Here in this continuity lies my individual and cultural identity. George Orwell’s warning that an erasure of the past is one of the conditions that allows a totalitarian régime to manipulate the future is a warning that I take quite seriously. I possess the freedom and the ability to remember; this freedom is intact and as a custodian of my own, my society’s and my religion’s memory, I have the ability and the responsibility to exercise one of the most formidable defenses against the many forces that encourage amnesia and threaten the basis of my personal and cultural awareness and identity.
If, in opening both my narrative self and my inner self to others, readers may see ways to describe and give expression to their lives and in so doing be open further to the immense richness of life's experience, that would give me pleasure. For, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote in the opening pages of The Secret of Divine Civilization, "there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight" than "an individual, looking within himself, should find that....he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men." Time will tell, of course, how successful I have been in this regard.
I make no claim, though, to my life being some apotheosis of the Bahá'í character as, say, Benjamin Franklin's autobiographical persona was of the prevailing conception of the American character back in the eighteenth century. Bahá'í character and personality, it is my view, is simply too varied to be said to receive an apotheosis or typification in someone's life. Franklin, and many autobiographers since, have been interested in self-promotion and in being an exemplar for the edification and moral improvement of their community, exempla as they are known in the western religious traditions. I have taken little interest in the former or the latter as I proceeded to write this work. The Bahá'í community has acquired many exempla in the last two hundred years and only one true Exemplar. If this work plays some role, however limited, in developing an "aristocracy of distinction," as Franklin's did, and in contributing to "the power of understanding," as this great Cause goes on from strength to strength in the years ahead, I would welcome such a development. To think that this work could play a part, however small, in the advancement of civilization, may be yet another somewhat pretentious thought, but it is a hope, an aspiration, consistent with the system of Bahá'í ideals and aims which has been part of my ethos, my philosophy of life, for nearly half a century now.
And finally, like Franklin, I leave a great deal out of this autobiography, a great deal about my times, my religion and myself. I make no apologies for this any more than I make any apologies to particular individuals I have known along the way. Conscious of the problem in autobiographical literature of the "aggrandisement of the self," I stress the very ordinariness of my life, my part of a larger, collective, community memory and the coherence of my life around a host of themes which can never be considered in isolation from the communities that shape and inform their values. It is an ordinariness, though, that has taken place over so many locations in towns and cities that the destruction of familiar and historied edifices, a destruction that amounts to the creation of a memory hole for local people, a memory hole into which psychic energies and entities are irretrievably drawn, to the considerable impoverishment of what remains behind, has not been a critical part of my experience. My life has been in so many ways one that has had to deal with the shock of the new and the making of this newness into a familiarity and home.
Literary memories are many in my life: from many of the passages in the Baha’i writings like Baha’u’llah’s “from the sweet-scented streams” to Shoghi Effendi’s “a tempest unprecedented in its magnitude” help this work to chart its course among a host of visionary uses of memory. The Baha’i vision of the future has been an important inspiration in my day to day life; indeed, I would go so far as to say that this vision is much more than inspiration. "Vision creates reality," as the once and long-time secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, Horace Holley, once wrote. To put it in the words of that paleontologist, philosopher and theologican, Teillard de Chardin, in the end it is the utopians who are the realists. That idea may grate on the pessimists, cynics and skeptics among us, a mass of humanity that fills every corner of our world. And who knows, everyone makes assumptions about life, about history and the future. Assumptions are like axioms in geometry, they are given, not really proveable in any ultimate sense. We take these assumptions, wrap our emotions around them and walk the walk. That has always been, at least since my thirties, a definition of faith that I have drawn on in my work and in my teaching. For everyone makes assumptions; everyone has faith in something, some idea, concept, definition of history and meaning of life.
Most of life's experience has been left out, as Mark Twain informed us is an inevitability, part of the nature of any autobiography. Perceptual gaps, cognitive omissions, lacuna of many kinds, prevent an accurate or complete account of reality. But, because we are seldom aware of the lacuna, because the neural processes, the neurophysiological data underpinning autobiographical memory, the cerebral representation of one’s past is difficult to elucidate and difficult to tap, we tend to believe the cognations, the cognations and the cogitations.
Clocking in at a burgeoning 850 pages, as I place these additional words, is too much. If that is the case, some future editor can cut it back to a manageable portion or publish it in several volumes. Readers may be advised to read part rather than all of this text, if they read it at all.
November 12th 2003
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION
Forty years ago this week the Bahai community elected its first international body, the Universal House of Justice. The timing for the completion of this third edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs has been fortuitous since I have dedicated this book to these Men of Aha, as the Bahá'ís sometimes call this body at the apex of their administrative Order. The completion of the third edition of this work, this autobiography, in the last few days, coinciding as this completion does with the election of that international governing body for the ninth time, has been encouraging. Over these last two decades I have often been inclined to discontinue this whole exercise. With the writing of this third edition a renewed hope has entered the picture.
After nearly twenty years of working on this autobiography, or narrative non-fiction, as it might be called, I feel, at last, that it has a form worthy of publication and so I have entered it on my website at http://www.users.on.net/~ronprice/. Since the 1980s there has been a great interest in autobiography among the many minoritarian constituencies, as they are often called. The Baha’i community is but one of these many constituencies. My work it seems is part of this new wave of personalised, embodied narrative that foregrounds the particularity, as Anne Browser puts it, of the everyday. Readers will also find elements of a grandnarrative here. For I link the epic and monumentalising narratives of history and science to the quotidian. There is no hierarchical opposition between the everyday and the official discourses of public life. I try, as far as I am able, to integrate the micro and the macro into one whole.
But readers who enjoy human interest stories and history and theoretically seek to learn about distant and unknown regions in a non-fictional account of an important period in history with geographical and historical highlights--when they pick up this narrative what they will get is not history, but myself telling my story. The everyday, it seems to me, is not reducible to simply pure or raw data from which the larger discourses of life are produced. I would argue that this here and now world and all its mundanities, underlines, shapes and informs the modes of rationality, the philosophies and ideologies, which are said to transcend it. Formal and official discourses and institutions, in turn, inform and shape this everyday life. My work seeks to deconstruct and integrate the conventional playing out of the relationship between these two domains which, historically, have been hierarchised, gendered and always in conflict, always contestatory. Rather than being mutually exclusive, these heterogeneous zones inform each other. Rather than being seen as redundant, trivial and empty, everyday life is thought of here as a field in which 'macrostructural categories', such as those of official and pedagogic discourses, 'are ongoingly translated into manageable structures of sense at human scale.’
I first read my grandfather's autobiography in 1983. It is a book written in the first two years of the Formative Age, 1921-1923, by a man who had just turned fifty years of age. The book was the account of the first twenty-nine years of his life. This work of more than 100,000 words, by a formally uneducated man, was an inspiration to me and my writing. And so I have also dedicated this book to my grandfather, Alfred J. Cornfield.
I have now written perhaps more than 200,000 words about the first fifty-eight years of my life, twice as many years as those in my grandfather's autobiography. I see this edition as a working base, a mental precinct, for an ongoing exercise in autobiography and autobiographical analysis and an exercise, too, in integrating the multitude of insights from a lifetime of experience of which reading in the social sciences and humanities has been an important part. When enough changes to this third edition have been made, a fourth edition will take its place some time in the years, or perhaps just months, ahead. Perhaps, too, like Edward Gibbon I'll complete six editions before this earthly life is out. Gibbon's autobiography, of course, became significant because of its association with his famous work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The significance of this work, if indeed it comes to possess any significance at all, will be due to my association with a Movement that claims to be the emerging world religion on this planet. The world-wide development of the Baha’i Order and the first stirrings of the coming World Order have seen and will see a tremendous development in my lifetime. Although I see my life in the context of these wider themes, I do not focus on these themes which are dealt with in other places, other books, in much more detail. Another central context for my life has been as a prelude to a prelude, to an eventual mass-conversion of the peoples of the world to the Baha’i Faith. The process of entry-by-troops is the prelude to that mass conversion and thus far, in most of the places I have lived, entry-by-troops has been more like, as one clever-editor once put it, entry-by-roos. And so my life pioneering over four epochs is a part of that prelude to the prelude that is entry-by-troops.
William Blake once said, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” That, to me--eternity that is--is a love worth pursuing. I completed a first edition of this work ten years ago in May 1993. I dedicated it to the Universal House of Justice on that occasion, as I do here in this edition. A second edition contained additional sentences and paragraphs, alterations and a wealth of quotations and essays on the subject of autobiography as well as a dozen or so updates to take the story into this my fifty-ninth year of life and my forty-first as a pioneer. I was trying in this second edition, although I don’t feel I was in any way successful, to write the kind of sentences Henry David Thoreau advocated: “Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as Roman aqueducts; to frame these, that is the art of writing . . . .a style kinked and knotted up into something hard and significant, which you could swallow like a diamond, without digesting.” Well, it’s good to have a lofty aim. In the third edition I began, or so it is my impression, to take the first steps toward achieving this goal-so often impressions are all we have.
“The formation of a style,” though, as the Canadian poet Archibald Lampman once wrote, “is a most unconscious process. He who should set about premeditatedly to form a style would end most certainly in forming nothing but an affectation. But he who finds himself haunted persistently by certain peculiar ideas, certain peculiar images, certain tones of sound, colour and feeling and sets about expressing these simply in the manner most outright and clear and satisfactory to himself, and continues to do so until his hand attains ease and certainty will discover, or rather his readers will discover that he has invented a style.” This style is also the result, or so it seems to me, over several decades indeed my whole life of a certain peculiarity of thought and of imagination which has been uppermost in my mind and emotions as adolescence has been succeeded by the stages of adulthood. This thought and this imagination has given birth to and formed images that have at times insensibly absorbed my attention and at other times obsessed me. An intensity of vision, a sustaining power of thought and understanding and a capacity to feed my emotions, all aspects of this obsession, on this long road, this long labour that is life, has developed quite unobtrusively and periodically quite surprised me with the years. This complex mix of mysterious entities has given a tone to my literary creations and worked itself out through the implements of my art. All of this has resulted, too, in the formation of a style.
Finally, drawing on Lampman again, "The perfect poet, it may be said, would have no set style. He would have a different one for everything he should write, a manner exactly suited to the subject.2 Style is the result not only of a distinctive selection of words and phrases to express thought or feeling, but even of the manner in which the writer chooses to emphasize his thoughts through punctuation.
As I worked on the second edition I was often inclined to leave the account there and break-off the writing. But something kept pulling me toward a more extended, a deeper, treatment of my life and times in the context of my religion. This third edition was written in the first four months of 2003. Drawing on much of the resource material I had gathered on the subject of autobiography in the previous ten years, I was finally able to tell my story in a way that was satisfying, if far from perfect. I look forward to further developments to this autobiographical work in the months, the years and perhaps even the decades ahead. If I live to be one hundred and I am in possession of my faculties I could be working on further editions for another four decades. Should I be granted such a long life in which to recount the 'tokens that tell of His glorious handiwork,' it will be interesting to see what changes there will be, what will be added and what will be taken away, in future editions. The significance of my efforts, what they ultimately will reveal and have revealed, what those mysterious and unmerited graces will uncover from behind the veil of silence, a veil that seems to ultimately cover the lives of most people on this mortal coil, is an unknown quantity. Providence has ordained for my training every atom in existence. Some of the evidences of that training experience are here in this book.
In writing this third edition, I seem to have at last found a successful strategy for writing something longer than a few pages, longer than an essay or a poem, literary forms that somehow got fixed by my many years as a student and lecturer in academic institutions and by my own inclination and need to write short pieces for personal pleasure and/or practical necessity. If this work possesses a slightly complex and involved style, perhaps it is because I have found life to be complex and involved. I have learned, at last, that revising can be a pleasure and that even the clumsiest initial draft can take on a life of its own in subsequent drafts. A revision, for me, seems to function in a multitude of ways. It yields simplification; it achieves greater depth and complexity; it results in a penetration, a digging beneath appearances to something I see as a greater reality or truth. Something quite new is produced as well as a refining of the old. One test of whether I have found that successful strategy, whether I have written a memorable autobiography, lies in the writer's ability to deal with painful experience, and to balance such moments of pain in intense living with the mundane, unexceptional progress of daily events. Only readers will be able to assess if I have, indeed, achieved this balance.
I have discovered too that spinning out ideas and experiences is not only idiosyncratic but also something usefully connected with what others have said. Each spinning seems to require its own web and the search for fixed points of reference is part of the struggle for coherence, completeness and the autobiographer’s attempt to penetrate, to dig, beneath those appearances to something closer to reality. As a result, I like to think that each sentence of Pioneering Over Four Epochs is a "flower in a crannied wall," as a poet once wrote. The crannied wall of autobiography has been a popular one in the last several centuries, since the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but especially in the last four decades, in the years of this pioneering venture. Many thousands of people in my lifetime have turned to this genre as a means of self-expression and cultural and social reflection. I would not be the first person to see in my own life a mirror of the times. Part of my aim is, not so much to convince by force of argument, by means of discussion, by presenting a variety of ideas for the sake of argument, but rather to introduce a personality, a character, the person, the character, who would have such thoughts-namely myself. I do this by turning ideas in the social sciences and humanities to the service of my life. I aim to be, to become, the “poet of my life.” This could be seen as the animating thought behind this book.
It is said of the famous artist Andy Warhol that he had one idea in his life and he just recycled it again and again. I’m not sure how true that idea is because I am not a serious student of this particular artist. But I often feel I have had one idea all my life, an idea that I must admit to be an obsession and that idea is the Baha’i Faith. I cycle and recycle it, twist it around in my mind, it seems, endlessly. I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this fact of my life in a culture, an age, a society(at least in the parts where I have lived), that for the most part does not take religion seriously and when it does it is in some form of disparagement. But an autobiography must contain some frankness and I think it important to put some of my cards on the table early in the piece.
The famous work The Education of Henry Adams, a text that appears and reappears periodically in the literature of our age, is an autobiographical work noted for its frankness, its elegance and its view of a man who saw his own life as the microcosm of his age. My work is far less frank, far less splenetic, far less elegant and hardly representative of my age. Like Shakespeare, though, I feel I am holding up a faithful mirror of the manners and life of my society thus reflecting reality through my writing. I’m informed that a meaning of the word reflect, obsolete by 1677, was to ‘turn back.’ I do a good deal of that here, however obsolete that meaning may be. Holding up a mirror to oneself also has another meaning in our visual iconography—vanity or pride, Narcissus admiring his own beauty by means of reflection. The demon of vanity, Nobel prize winner Roger Martin du Gard pointed out, is never completely silenced. It whispers its flattering presumptions to us all. I am warned.
Adams often used exaggeration to make his case as do many a literary figure and as most of us do in one way oranother in everyday life. Leo Tolstoi wrote that Shakespeare’s characters are exaggerated and not realistic. Real people would not have spoken the way they do in Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets,Tolstoi emphasizes. And this is true of the language in my narrative. As far as mirrors are concerned, in Shakespeare’s day they did not faithfully replicate reality. The skill in making mirrors had some distance to go in 1600. The words of St. Paul are also relevant here: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” Human knowledge is always partial and obscured. That is certainly true insofar as much of this autobiography is concerned. Like the mirrors in Shakespeare’s time, the mirror I hold up to life, society’s and mine, is far from free of distortion, however honest and clear I strive to be. In addition, literary histories and autobiographies have mirrors with a specific pattern of reception and usage determined by the ideological bias, the epistemological limitations and the specific concerns of their authors.
Autobiography is a genre of literature that is arguably the most popular of all genres in the Western tradition, at least since the Enlightenment. But books, like civilizations and life itself, are fragile things and, however splendid, they often come to mean little in the hearts and minds of a people. Like that flower in a crannied wall, however beautiful and however strongly it may cling to the crevice in the wall, in time it comes to flower no more with no evidence at all of its existence. It is possible that the abyss of history, so deep as it is, may bury this whole exercise, as it buries us. Writers must face this possible reality, no matter how much hope they may entertain for their works.
I came to see, as I wrote, that a dialectical use of experiential, historical, religious and philosophical themes and positions is the most reliable way of anchoring one's experience, one's thoughts and arguments and making them more stable and complete. Of great benefit, too, in this the longest of my pieces of writing, has been the many disciplines of the social sciences and humanities and a continued dialogue and even controversial exchange with contemporaries, a controversy that must be characterized by an etiquette of expression and a judicious exercise of the written and spoken word. On paper, as in life, the phenomenon of freedom of thought "calls for an acute exercise of judgement." One must not say too much nor too little. One must find one's own checks and balances, one's own insights into the dynamics of expression. This edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs is part of that search for these dynamics, these checks and balances and as acute an exercise in judgement as is possible given the blooming and buzzing confusion that so much of life represents to us as we travel this often stony, tortuous and narrow road to what we believe or hope is, ultimately, a glorious destiny. It is understandable how writers like Conrad and Naipaul can see human destiny in terms of darkness, weeping and the gnashing of teeth. If it were not for the political-religious ideas at the centre of the Bahá'í Faith with which I have sketched a framework of meaning over the terra incognita of life for virtually all the years of this story, my life, I would not be able to create in comfort. I might very well see life, as so many writers do, as little more than a grotesque farce, as a petty pace that creeps on from day to day.
The shape within which these dynamics operate, the genre of autobiography, is like water. It is a fluid form, with varied, blurred, multiple and contested boundaries, with characteristics some analysts say that are more like drama than fiction, containing constructed more than objective truth. So it is that other analysts of autobiography see it as "the creation of a fiction." This is an understandable conclusion if a writer tends to stress the perspective Bahá'u'lláh alludes to when He writes that life bears "the mere semblance of reality," that it is like "a vapour in the desert." Whatever universality exists in this text it comes from my association with the writings of this prophet-founder of a new religion rather than any of my specific pretensions to findings and conclusions that I like to think bear relevance to everyone. What I offer here is an interpretation, a voice, seemingly, hopefully, multivocal, that struggles to obtain the attention of others. In some ways what readers will find here is a series of interpretations, identifications, differentiations, in tandem, in tension, in overlap, to one another, each registering their own significances. There is some of Thoreau’s famous statement in my work: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
I hope readers will find they do not have to penetrate elaborate sentences, wade through arcane terminology and deal with excessive jargon. I hope they will not find here a heaving mass of autobiographical lava as so often is at the centre of autobiographies. But with nearly 800 pages this document may prove more useful as a piece of archival history rather than something for contemporaries to actually read. I certainly aim to please and, as in life, I'm sure I will do that only some of the time. I try to please through this piece of analytical and poetic narrative which I have created not so much on paper as in my innards, out of the living tissue of my life. But, as George Bernard Shaw, once said with his characteristic humour: “I can do more write what people want than I can play the fiddle to a happy company of folk dancers.”
It is the autobiographical theorist James Olney who defines the process of literary creation best for me: "Autobiography is a metaphor through which we stamp our own image on the face of nature. It allows us to connect the known of ourselves to the unknown of the world. Making available new relational patterns it simultaneously organizes the self into a new and richer entity so that the old known self is joined to and transformed into the new and heretofore unknown self." Nature, in turn, provides all the means of material life and a common, human currency for representing ideas about that life as society and culture.
The new and richer entity that is this autobiography is the result of a carefully edited version of personal experience and my particular version of reality. I place this before my readers and in so doing I indicate as clearly as I can the perspective from which this narrative is being written. This narrative depends on the deferred action of my memory and is based on the view that my writing is worth the risk however complex the task. I like to think of this work as part of a public space, a contributing factor, a small part in defining and unifying Baha’i culture and its heterogeneous population. This is a role all Baha’is have and which they play out in their lives, each in their own way. For we all try to be unifiers of the children of men.
This work of autobiography is no historical revision which purposely erases and omits facts, airbrushing my life of what existed but was unpleasant, what existed but was embarrassing. I don’t reveal all my warts and sins of every degree. Memory endures and is at the root of this work. It is an invisible, underground, a secret religious observance in my mind, a type of black market; it is stories I might and did tell my son. I make the invisible visible here. This memory I coat with the visibility of language; language is my repository of cultural and personal memory. Language is memory’s tool, a repository of history. I feel as if I am part of a culture that is being built not one that is being destroyed or is on the way out.
I have taken part for over forty years in the development of an institution that is growing and changing, that is slowly and unobtrusively becoming part of the landscape of this earth at the local, regional, national and international levels. I have been part of a community with multiple narratives and literally millions of voices and experiences. Inevitably, some voices are more prevalent than others and there exists in this community a common metanarrative. Inevitably, too, there is a multiplicity of perspectives and forging unity in this diversity, a harmony in contrariety, is not always easy. All talkers need listeners and all writers need readers who want to come along for the ride. At this stage of the book my role is partly to persuade and partly to seduce the few to stay with me for a time between the covers of this book. And so I do some wooing, propagandizing, subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation and mild proselytizing everything short of aggression and virtual terrorizing, in order to pave the way for the eventual entry of one mind into another, for some serendipitous dialogue. If there is a need for what I write here, if readers find some pleasure here, it will get read. If not, well, it will fall by the wayside.
May 1st 2003
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
It has been nearly ten years since I finished the first edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Since that time I have added a large body of my poetry among other additions, deletions and alterations. The poetry of history is rooted in the geography, the landscape, of each poet and the facts of the period of history in which the poets wrote. This is also true of my work. The addition of my poetry to this work seemed a natural process. It also helped to give a new lease on life to the writing of my autobiography which by 1993 was wilting, its vitality and the energy and enthusiasm I began with dissipated. As the American poet John Ashbery once said: “the poem is you.” Much of me, as Ashbery might have said, is added to this 2nd edition.
In some ways this poetry and this entire autobiography is a tableaux vivant, a living picture, carefully posed for in the context of much thought and theatrically lit in the theatre of ideas. During the reading, no one moves or speaks out loud. It is a type of mise en scene, many mise en scenes, a form of entertainment in sequential narrative. The tableau vivant was originally an approach to picture-making in photography that began in the 1840s. The tableau vivant was also a motionless performance in theatre. Archeologists use the term to describe the site of their dig. I think these concepts have some application to what I am doing in this literary work: the site of my intellectual dig, a motionless literary performance, a many and varied mise en scene in the context of a tableaux vivant.
I have always found the words of Goethe apt insofar as poetry is concerned and I refer to them here in this introduction to the fourth edition of my autobiography. In his famous conversation with Eckermann on 31 January 1827 Goethe introduced his proclamation of the epoch of world literature with the following observation: "I see increasingly that poetry is a common property of mankind and that it emerges in all places and at all times from many hundreds of people. Some are a little better at it than others and stay on top a little longer, that is all there is to it….everyone must realize that the gift of poetry is not so rare a thing, and that nobody has reason to let it go to his head if he produces a good poem.” Readers will find this not so rare thing--poetry—included in short episodes throughout this work.
Lest I get carried away by a vision of populist poetry, let me add the words of Joseph Brodsky from his banquet speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 1987: “I should like to add that through recorded history, the audience for poetry seldom amounted to more than 1 % of the entire population. That's why poets of antiquity or of the Renaissance gravitated to courts, the seats of power; that's why nowadays they flock to universities, the seats of knowledge.” “Even a quarter of that 1 %,” Brodsky went on, “will make a lot of readers, even today.” My own poetic life was just beginning in December 1987, after another series of exhausting years, this time in the north of Australia. I did not know of Joseph Brodsky, but I was certainly aware of poetry’s percentages. For I had been, by 1987, a teacher for 20 years and had no illusions about the interest in poetry by the mass public, at least poetry in the form I wrote it.
The size of my original autobiographical work has been increased many fold since its first edition. Time has moved on and my life is being lived in another epoch, the fifth, necessitating a new name for this work: Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Here is the story, then, of more than forty years of pioneering experience: 1962-2002 and fifty years of association, 1953-2003, with a Movement which claims to be--and I believe it is--the emerging world religion on the planet. I like to think, with the historian Leopold von Ranke, that “self-imposed discipline alone brings excellence to all art.” If that is the case, then there is some excellence here. There is here, too, some of what Proust called "true impressions:" hints from life's realities, persistent intuitions which require some art form, some autobiography, so that we are not left with only the practical ends of life which, although necessary, are never really sufficient to living.
The choice of subject is a deeply emotional affair. Poetry and history are, in this work, allies, inseparable twins. But there are other brothers and sisters that anchor and define this autobiography: philosophy, sociology, the everyday, religion, inter alia. Style, too, is, as the historian Peter Gay emphasizes, the bridge to substance, to all these family members. I hope readers enjoy the walk across this bridge as I have enjoyed this organized, disciplined and certainly emotional encounter with some of the substance of my life and times and the many family members, friends, students and myriad associations I have had in life.
It is the belief of some writers, some thinkers, some human beings, that there is nothing new under the sun or perhaps, to put their view more accurately, there is nothing new to say about the human condition. The greats of history, the Shakespeares and the Sophocleses have already said it inimitably, brilliantly. At best, it seems to me, this is only a partial truth. The historian, the critic, the autobiographer, among others, interprets and reinterprets the human condition and, although, the human condition has elements that stay the same(plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose)much changes. For, as it is said, you can not step into the same river twice. There is, then, much more to say, much more that is new. At least that, in summary, is my view.
I think that some may find this book peculiar. Such was the view of the autobiography of the nineteenth century novelist, Anthony Trollope. Late Victorians found his book cantankerous and they had trouble absorbing its contents. For many reasons, not associated with cantankerousness in my case, I don't think many will find this book of mine absorbing. Although, like Trollope, I chronicle some of life's daily lacerations upon the spirit. I also move in channels filled with much that comes from flirtations with the social sciences: history, psychology, sociology, anthropology and several literary studies. My book has come to assume what many, I'm sure, will experience as unmanageable proportions. Five hundred pages and more is a big read for just about everyone these days. Readers need to be especially keen to wade through that much print. Perhaps at a future time I will divide the text into parts, into a series of volumes. But even then, in the short term, this world is a busy place and lives are confronted with so much to read, to watch, to do and to try to understand. This work will, I think, slip into a quiet niche and remain, for the most part, unread. I hope I am proved wrong.
I like to think, though, that should readers take on this work they may find here the reassurance that their battles are my battles, that we are not alone and that the Cause is never lost. Most readers coming to this book, I'm inclined to think, already believe these things. But what I offer here could be seen as a handrail, if that is desired, a handrail of the interpretive imagination. Here, too, is a handrail informed by my experience, my life's basic business of shunting about and being shunted about, carelessly and not-so-carelessly, for more than half a century in the great portal that is this Cause. Finally, I like to think this handrail is coated with an essential compassion and what Anthony Trollope’s wife Joanna says is the monument of a writer, a hefty dose of humility. That's what I'd like to think and, with Plato, I’d like to think that I am "a good writer(who) is a good man writing.” But of course one never knows this sort of thing for sure. And, if one aims to acquire any genuine humility in life, it is probably better not to know but, rather, just to keep on aspiring.
During the writing of this second edition it was enlightening to read of the autobiographical propensities of Thomas Woolfe. His passion for recreating, reliving the past, was like a tonic of inspiration to help me recreate mine. For years it seemed an impossible task. The epiphanies which he enjoyed as he reviewed his life, or as memories spontaneously crowded his mind, I had yet to enjoy, at least not to the same extent, not with the same intensity. I often thought the lithium I had begun taking in 1980 pulled me back to the middle and did not let me run with such intense emotions. A biography on Robert Lowell discussed this same phenomenon, this same effect on artists, that lithium had after it was introduced in 1967 in North America. However intensely life was lived, I found that when I went back to dredge it up it did not possess the same colour, the penetration, the feeling. There was a distance, a dullness, an absence of sensory detail. I experience little of the ‘torrential recollectiveness’ that Woolfe experienced.
If I was to apply the insights gained from this invaluable reading of Woolfe’s experience all I could do was simply do as I have been doing: wait for the moment of inspiration, epiphany, emotional recollection and put down a few words. Knowing that Woolfe did it with the enthusiasm he did, that he eventually became disillusioned with the process and that he pointed writers to the future, to hope, to potentials, is a pertinent reminder to me of the ultimate limitations of retrospectivity and the need to possess a range of qualities in attempting to write such a work.
My problem for many years was that I did not find the autobiographical process fertile at all, or hardly at all, except insofar as it helped me write poetry. Writing a ‘retrospective journal’ and an autobiography for most of the first 16 years I have been trying has been a dry and uninspiring process. Perhaps I should stay with poetry and just forget the journal and the autobiography. With the completion of this second edition I feel the beginnings of a new lease on autobiographical life.
22 January 2003
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
What began in 1984 as an episodic diary, and in 1986 as a narrative of pioneering experience covering twenty-five years(1962 to 1986) has become an account covering thirty-two: 1962-1993. Coincidentally, I have finished this third and what I hope is the final draft of this first edition in time to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the first election of the Universal House of Justice. This short account of some seventy-five pages has been dedicated to this institution which I have tried to serve, successfully and unsuccessfully since 1963. In the words of a Baha’i writer whose style and tone I have always found delightful, Mr. Douglas Martin, I have aimed, aspired, to be “a precisioned instrument” of the Supreme Body. Often the instrument has been dulled by life, by incapacities, by the tests that are part of our existence. Sometimes, one is conscious that the instrument one has developed is a mysterious gift of God, an unmerited grace. Sometimes one is not too impressed with the instrument at all.
Readers will find here what could be called a descriptive and analytical narrative, a narrative that intensifies my life in the process of putting it on paper. This writing has had what you might call a restorative function on my life. By the time I came to finish this work I felt a strong need for an even greater restoration of my psyche. This was in 1992-93. There is no doubt that my writing, my art, has shaped my experience, lending it style and direction. Life in turn informs this art giving it variety, giving it a granite base. I have also used other genres to tell my story: diary, letters, essays, poems, fiction, photographs, notebooks and memorabilia. They can be found in other places, none of which are yet available in published, in some available, form. Together, all the genres, all the writing, several million words in all, paint the story of a life, a life that is far from over, far-light years-from perfection, but in many ways typical of the thousands of lives, of people who have pioneered in the three epochs that are the backdrop for this account. “It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to exhibit a life,” writes Plutarch one of the founding fathers of biography, “which is blameless and pure.” Shortcomings and faults run through all our lives. This is equally true of autobiography. Biographers, writes George Landow, when on the trail of others “must put up with finding himself at every turn: any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it. He begins with somebody else's papers, and ends with his own."
And the act of writing is, as one writer put it, "a high, this writing thing, a kind of drug, and once you experience it nothing else is ever the same." "Ordinary life," that writer went on, "seems like a prison sentence in comparison to the freedom of writing" That puts it a little strongly but I agree with the general sentiment. But however one characterizes writing it is difficult to grasp the mystery of its origins. As Freud once wrote, "Before the problem of the artist, analysis must alas lay down its arms." I might add that there are many other mysteries beside the artist, to list them here would lead to prolixity.
My story is unique. The story of the experience of each pioneer is unique. Under the guidance of the trustee of that global undertaking set in motion nearly a century and a half ago, men, women, children and adolescents have scattered across the planet to its most remote corners. Few write their accounts, their experiences, their journey and try to tell of its pulse, its rhythm, its crises and victories. Whether from humility and a feeling that writing autobiography is somehow an inappropriate exercise, perhaps too self-centred; whether from a lack of interest in writing or the simple inability to convey experience in a written form; whether from the tedium, the repetition, of the everyday and its routines and responsibilities which come to occupy so much of their time; whether from the responsibilities and demands of life or simply the battles which pioneers inevitably face in their path of service: most of the stories never get told. This is one that I hope will make it. One of the things that attracted me to writing autobiography and that keeps me interested in it is the diversity of perspectives that exists within it as a field, as a discipline. Once I realized that the exercise of writing an autobiography was not just about writing your life from go to woe, but that the discipline of autobiography had a rich theoretical and intellectual base, a base that I found increasingly fascinating, I was airborne. As I complete this first edition, I have just started to fly or, to put it even more accurately in a metaphorical sense, I feel I have started taking flying lessons for a future in the sky. I may never get my pilot’s license, but the experience will be pleasurable.
For many years I thought it would be better to keep this story under wraps, keep it from seeing the light of day. Perhaps, I thought, it would be better published posthumously, if it was to be published at all. Alternatively, it could be kept in some local spiritual assembly or national spiritual assembly archive and retrieved by some scholar or archivist as a curiosity, a sample of a work written in the darkest heart of an age of transition. This may be, in fact, what eventuates. As I completed the first edition, it was difficult to know what would become of this document. But I liked to think, as the French scholar Jacques Derrida reminded us, that archives are as much about the future as the past. If what I wrote here was to be about the future, as Derrida suggested, if it was to be useful to some group of human beings at a future time, then that future Baha’i archive or internet site would have to be an active corpus linked to original documents, organically connected with original stories like mine.
I would like to think that the value of this autobiography in the years ahead will be to those who want to address, whether overtly or covertly, the issues of social cohesion, the role of religion and especially the role of the Baha’i Faith in the emerging global society. It seems to me that this work lends itself well to such purposes. One day, it is my firm conviction, the Baha’i Faith will be centre-stage in the global political-social landscape-marketplace and this work may be one useful brick in the construction of humankind’s future home for the mind. There was a short period as an adolescence when I wanted to be a bricklayer. This may be as close as I get, if indeed I get close at all. The resonance of my work in some larger context remains, of course, to be seen.
After I completed the first edition of my autobiography in early 1993 I was not concerned about publishing this piece of writing. This writing provided some helpful perspectives on the pioneering process and on teaching & consolidation in the first decades of what Shoghi Effendi called the tenth stage of history. Whoever had the opportunity to read this account would find themselves, or so I hoped, entertained and stimulated by a man who paused, as Henry David Thoreau did at the dawn of this new era, to give as full an account, a report if you like, of his experience. I thought my book was a good read. It was certainly a pleasure to write, at least some of the time. It was a start, at least, to a story which I hoped to continue in the years ahead in future editions. As I say, I found writing this edition pleasurable only part of the time and reading it, I must admit, turned me off. I did not find it stimulating. The rich reservoir of literature on autobiography I had only begun to discover as I finished working on the third draft of this edition in 1992 and 1993.
Memories are things, nouns if you like, which we all have. Remembering is an activity, a verb if you like or more accurately a gerund. It is more like a book in the process of being written, something that seems, in part at least, made up. Remembering is not analogous to a book that I read or create from a printed script. Remembering is a problem-solving activity, where the problem is to give a coherent account of past events. Memory itself is both the problem and the solution to the problem, if indeed the problem can be solved at all. Memories are also, as John Kihlstrom suggests, "a special class of beliefs about the past." Belief, Kihlstrom argues, is the phenomenal basis of remembering. I have always taken some comfort in the words of Charles Darwin about his memory, taken from the last page of his autobiography: “So poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry.”
This work is no retrospective, backward-looking, desire for stasis, desire to remain the same and resist the changes coming at us all seemingly at the speed of light. There are things in my memory set in some iron mist, things I can never forget that I dwell on especially. But as the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock writes: “Leave your memory as it is. No reality will ever equal it.” Sometimes a confrontation with the past modifies or replaces darling illusions with reality and confirms or establishes the many merits of new perspectives. As the narrator of C. Dino Minni’s short story Roots(1985) puts it after returning from Canada to visit his childhood home in Italy, "Not bad at all, but it is not me." I could say the same about this work of mine and, realizing this, I find this whole exercise of writing these memoirs is one of describing and defining my new perspectives.
The future of Canada whether from a material or spiritual standpoint, its national character combining as it so fortuitous does the progressiveness and initiative of the Americans and the stability and tenacity of the British and the illuminating promises of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his Tablets on the one hand; and the visions of Canada’s mysterious but enormous power and potential as expressed by some of her writers and poets, augured well, or so I liked to think, for the expression in my life of those unmerited treasures of a grace that was infinite and unseen. Perhaps this work was or might become a manifestation of such treasures. One can but dream.
Authentic religious faith is notoriously difficult to depict accurately on screen: big screens, little screens, any screens. A literary autobiography has a much better chance at depicting a life of religious faith without having to resort to caricature and distortion, negative stereotyping and trivializing. The standard film conventions for portraying religious faith in our antediluvian world are a mixture of fanaticism and irrationality, excessive emotion and piety--understandable I suppose. Of course, we all know that a person can be religious without being morally reprobate, inflexibly ruthless and intellectually helpless. If the writer throws in a touch of sincerity for believability and good measure, the negative stereotype is often enhanced. I invite you to see if I have been successful in my depiction with just the right amounts of several virtues sprinkled in to season the mix. Of course, I suppose you will never know for sure how accurate the mix, the recipe, is. You have to take it all on trust. Knowing this is not possible, I bequeath to you the following story, the following mise en scene which my words can not tell nor my tongue describe, except in part.
April 12th 1993
SUMMARY AND OVERVIEW
OF VOLUMES ONE TO FIVE OF THIS WORK
Anyone wanting to get a bird's-eye view of the 2600 pages in this book need only go to volume 1, which is essentially a life-overview; volume 2 is a discussion of my pre-pioneering days during the Ten Year Crusade: 1953-1963 and a lengthy prefatory section going as far back as the emergence of the precursors to the babi-Bahá'í religions; volume 3 examines homefront pioneering: 1962-1971 and volume 4: international pioneering: 1971 to 2021; finally, volume 5 can be summarized by simply reading the chapter titles found at the outset of volume 1. Some 40 headings at the outset of the chapters give anyone with little time a quick picture of the contents of this autobiographical work. Volume 1 contains essays on pioneering, some special poetry, an introduction to my letters, diary, journal and notebooks as well as interviews and photographs. A detailed resume and bio-data is found at the beginning of volume 5. Several million words is a big-read. Those who come to this book can dip in at any place. There is no need to begin at the beginning. The author wishes those who do come upon this lengthy piece of writing much pleasure, much insight and a feeling that time spent reading this is time well-spent. This work can not be adequately understood as merely the story of my life. Were this just my story, I'm not sure I ever would have written it in the first place, however personally meaningful the exercise has been to me. A play in four acts, innumerable scenes and more lines than I care to count is found here, from as far back as seven generations on my family tree, from my childhood to old age.
This work is, like William Wordsworth's great poem “The Prelude,” the account of the growth of a poetic personality and an imagination. It is also an account of another prelude, a prelude within the context of the Baha’i Faith. And finally, after several thousand years of the recording of memory in the western intellectual tradition, a balance between personal memory on the one hand, and collective memory on the other, is being achieved in modern history. These two major nodes of memorialization have taken place since the Homeric Period in the middle of another Formative Age. This is yet one more effort in the contribution to the achievement of such a balance.
LIST OF PLATES
At this stage, the completion of the seventh edition and its partial editing by Bill Washington in 2007, no plates, no photographs, are planned as inclusions.
PROVENANCE OF THE TEXT
Life expectancy has increased markedly in recent years and it may be that many more years are granted to me. One never knows when one's own end shall be, of course, but changes, additions, deletions, and alterations of various kinds will inevitably take place in the years to come. The publishing life of this book on the internet and in hard cover is difficult to predict. If my literary executors, whoever they may be, wish to embellish this work in some form, alter its format to include material not in this 7th edition, I will have no objection. There is certainly plenty to draw on: letters, journals, notebooks, essays, books, interviews, poetry, inter alia.
Page breaks, italicization, diacritical marks, spelling and grammar, indeed, a host of editing routines and formalities, I leave to those same executors and whoever these future editors may be.
Readers are advised to go to Parts 1.1, 1.2, 2.1 and 2.2 as well as 3.1 and 3.2 of this book entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Taken together they comprise a book found here at BLO. The rest of this autobiography is either not accessible here at BLO, or it is found all over cyberspace. Readers are welcome to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send them detailed information & advice should they request it electronically.