This poetry and prose was written over several years, years in which I have placed poetry at Baha'i Library Online. Readers will find each of my poems introduced with a prose preamble an idea I found in the poetry of my poetic mentor, Roger White.
The poetry here, toward the end of this lengthy thread, was written from the 9th to the 21st months of the Five Year Plan (2006-2011), that is from December 21st 2006 to December 31st 2007. the opening lengthy essay was written in the years 2008 to 2016. None of the poetry I wrote in my first 18 years of pioneering (1962-1980) has been kept. The intensity of my poetic experience seemed to come after more than thirty years of pioneering(1962-1992) and a dozen years of asking for the assistance of holy souls (1980-1992)(See: Gleanings, p.161)
Some commentary on my poetic philosophy and the autobiographical evolution of this poetry is also found here. Much editing needs to be done on what is this second draft.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs:
Section VIII: Poetry
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and A Study in Autobiography
Note:The following essay, essay collection, or prose-poetic piece below, which opens this post needs much editing. I began the editing on 22/12/15 and the integration of some of the content of an essay on Shakespere’s Sonnets by the end of December. Originally at the Baha’i website BARL, this now lengthy piece of writing did not fit into the document at BARL, and had to be placed elsewhere in order to keep that original document at that site. I now keep this second edition of this 66,000 word exploration in the essay section of my computer directory.
Philosophy gives logic and coherence to what we do, helps provide purpose and rationale, value and significance to our actions, our life. That's the way Henry1 put it in his article "Psychohistory Today and Tomorrow." That's a succinct way to see the value of philosophy in providing a foundation of autobiography. Philosophy helps to provide standards of explanation, how we know something and what counts as belonging to our world. Philosophy is the world view, the cosmology, the intellectual raison d'etre for what I do, what I write. It gives a patina for the scholarly and the not-so-scholarly sense of self. It gives underlying concepts and assumptions to the reality of the exercise of autobiography. How and why I do what I do in this exercise of writing my story could be called my autobiographical philosophy.
Part of what and why I write is for my own edification and understanding and part is written for the reading pleasure of others. Autobiography is somewhat of a hybrid discipline: part history, part psychology, part sociology, part anthropology, part literature, part a lot of things. I use methodology and content from a number of different fields, fields that each have their ways of going about the process of understanding life and the great metaphysical questions in relation of the spirit to the senses. Inevitably the person writing the autobiography is at the centre of the narrative. I am the active agent creating my own life, my own history, under the influence of a myriad factors, too many to even begin to outline here. Perhaps part of what I develop is my own "legitimate strangeness," as Michel Foucault put it, or a natural friendliness as I might describe myself in more honorific terms. Michel Foucault(1926-1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. There has been what you might call an autobiographical contagion in recent decades and my writing on this subject may be significantly due to this contagion.
Part of what I contribute, autobiographically and otherwise, is a small part of an ever-advancing civilization. Such is my hope and aspiration. Civilization requires, as Kenneth Clark notes, "confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws and confidence in one's own mental powers." The society and the philosophy in which I repose this confidence is a Bahá'í society. Civilization, he goes on to say, never ceases to develop and change; it is never static, nor is it based on a stationary perfection. Certainly my own life is as much a testimony to this as is the Bahá'í society I have been a part of since the 1950s. Kenneth Clark(1903-1983) was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians and aesthetes of his generation, writing a series of books that appealed to a wide public while remaining a serious scholar. In 1969, he achieved international fame as the writer, producer and presenter of the BBC Television series Civilisation, which pioneered television documentary series. It combined expert personalized narration with lavish photography on location.
The whole cultural tradition that I have been a part of as a Bahá'í, in the Bahá'í community, tells me that I am universalist in outlook and proudly particularist, with a strong local base, as well. There is a tension here of expectations, the kind of tension one finds on a set of violin or guitar strings. There is a tension between this small cultural milieux, this tiny population base, and the great mass of humanity, of community, of urban or rural life. One is not hemmed in by enemy guns, by religious or ethnic prejudice as many groups of people are but, rather, by a wall of non-recognition and indifference. At least that has been the case for most of my 60+ years of association with this new world religion.
The connections with this wider world are often tenuous, non-existent, vague and non-descript, although there is an ever-present desire for dialogue and connection. Consequently, the Bahá'í experiences flashes of connection, of claustrophobia, of cultural relevance and entrapment. Bahá'ís enjoy many antidotes to the negative and the quotidian: a cross-cultural messianism, a religious pluralism and relativism in which they are continually looking for commonalities between themselves and others, a strong sense of historical continuity and a view of the future in which they see humankind and their religion locked into an ebb and flow of destiny and larger significances, among other antidotes. Religion, for me, was too much an enveloping and pervasive fact of life for me to leave it out or even play it down and with this the battle between my lower and higher nature. But the effect of my writing about this religious consciousness in my life on others is, as Shakespeare says in one of his sonnets, “no stronger than a flower.”1-Ron Price with thanks to Douglas Bush in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Penguin, London, 1961, p. 14.
My intention in this macro-essay is not so much to outline a sophisticated and complex or, indeed, a simple philosophy underpinning this autobiography. Rather what I want to do is to include a series of poems and essays which in their collective way will say a great deal about my life and its philosophy, the philosophy behind this autobiography and about the society, the world, in which I lived, moved and had my being over the four epochs which provide the name of this book. The many-sided the conflicting elements present in human affairs are to be found in this lengthy piece of writing. Although history is the dominant structuring metaphor or interpretive frame in this autobiography, although I am involved with an intense engagement with history and construct my sense of self vis-a-vis this structuring framework, it seems to me there is so much more that is the basis of my engagement with physical and social reality. I have attempted to find what this so much more is and in some ways the so much less through a prose-poetry mix which allows me a modus operandi, a modus vivendi, a way of articulating an internal dialogue with myself, my religion and my society.
For it should be said that what I write is not history, it is a marginal story, an inner experience, however embedded in history and narrative it is. I'm not so sure I can really say that ‘this is how it was,' although I can try and I can play with history: the world's, my religion's and my own life's. What do the documents say? What do the events say? What were the events? There is certainly a massive authority in my appeal to events. But still there is not closure, there is temporariness and impermanence, at best a momentary completeness, a completeness that lies in my own lap. Like the historian I manipulate history; I present variations on many themes. The boundaries of autobiography have swelled in the last several decades. Scholarly neglect has been replaced by a burgeoning and critical literature, an "unbounded sprawl," and much disagreement on just what the content should be. A separate book could be written about the new and scholarly interest and in particular the split between the historically oriented verses and prose, and the fictionally oriented writers. Anyone who has read much of this narrative will know by now that this work is written with the former emphasis. Some of the insights into the most secret recesses of my thoughts and feelings are found here and at many other places in the vast landscape that is cyberspace.
There is an emphasis, too, in my own life and in society on the full use of human faculties. This turn to what you might call self-realization has become more important in many ways and for many people than making money, perhaps to a significant extent in the years since the beginning of the fourth epoch in 1986. This was a characteristic too, writes the art critic Kenneth Clark, of Renaissance men. There was, Clark went on, that "air of contained vitality and confidence that one often sees in the founding fathers of a civilization." I did not see this everywhere I went and I did not see it during all these years in all those communities whose texture I experienced in the several epochs I am writing about.
But I certainly saw it from time to time in the years before the election of the House of Justice in that ninth stage of history(1953-1963) and in those years of the tenth stage of history which have occupied my adult life in the many Bahá'í communities I was a part of. For these were the years of the beginning of the process of community building, a point underlined by the House of Justice in May of 1996. Sometimes the confidence and vitality was so intense I was partly overwhelmed, even a little frightened; sometimes I was surprised by its power and strength. Thankfully, not everyone possessed this energy and confidence. Often it was softened by humour or humility or a simple gentleness that was always attractive. Often, too, it simply did not exist in the personalities I lived and dwelt among, belaboured as they often were by their personal battles and the minutiae of their lives.
Perhaps, most importantly, lengthy essays like this one attempt to depict the breakdown in the long-standing dichotomy between the Baha’i community on the one hand and the multitude of interest groups outside this Cause, on the other. This has been especially true since the mid-1990s when a new Baha’i culture of learning and growth began to develop. Often, too, the unconquerable need to write, to compose, to paint, to do many things, has inspired various Bahá'ís. In my case, like the artist Van Gogh, I seemed to possess an "unconquerable need" to create. I have no idea where it is leading beyond the sun and clouds on a very broad and misty horizon. But in the meantime this writing helps me create a sense of unity which inspires much of my efforts. It also provides for readers, I hope anyway, with "suggestive openings for interest in unobtrusive patterns of juxtaposition, recurrence & contrast, out of which fresh & unpredictable understandings may emerge," as was the hope of a recent editor of a collection of the letters of Henry James.2 I hope these patterns, these speculations, and my extensive analysis does not obscure the autobiography itself. If some readers find my speculative material, my day-to-day reflections, do obscure the story, the narrative that is my life, they can simply dismiss them as immaterial and irrelevant. There is only one person in the dramatic plot that is my life; I have placed all the major and main players who surrounded me in my more than 70 years of living in a very minor role.
Here is a poem that gave me great pleasure to write, probably because I had enjoyed the essays of J.B. Priestley which I had purchased many years ago in a second hand bookshop. I had also enjoyed some five pages of notes I had made, back in the 1970s sometime, which I had read and reread over the last quarter century. But I think what gave me the greatest pleasure in writing this poem was the perspective I gained on understanding myself by the comparisons and contrasts of Priestly's life with my own. This poem, then, provides some sense of perspective on myself.
In describing his public image J. B. Priestley3 saw himself as "a mannerless, blundering idiot." But he also saw himself as: amiable, indulgent, affectionate, shy and rather timid. Had Price been as splenetic and "bloody rude," he never would have survived in a classroom teaching the wide range of men and women that he did for over a quarter of a century. Priestley tended to dump icy water on what could have been "comfortable personal relationships." Perhaps, if Price had been more of a cold fish with a harsh edge, he would have protected himself from the endless conversations that filled his life for so many years and which, in the end and also due to other factors, wore him down. Priestley was touchy, a victim of his own acerbic eruptions, had a capacity for brooding withdrawals and an ability to slay pompous parasites. He also saw himself as a kind, easy-going chap. Privately, as a family man, he endured long-drawn-out tragedy and illness with what he called a ‘life-enhancing pessimism.' Behind the various personae which sustained him, behind this rubble of eventually discarded selves, was a loving and compassionate man.
Price, too, had his many selves, his many personae which sustained him through the labyrinthine walks of life he had taken; he had his tragedy, his illness and a ‘life-enhancing humour.' His brooding withdrawals, his illnesses, had virtually disappeared, at least in the early years of the evening of his life. He, too, was easy going; some battles remained. Some he would lose and some he would win in the road left to travel. -Ron Price with thanks to Vincent Brome, J.B. Priestly, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1988, pp.5-6. Behind the loving and compassionate personae, for he4 had many endearing, loving, selves, at the drop of a hat, on the wave length, Mr. Chameleon, he often called himself. Behind those "selves", for surely they were real, was a quiet man, a quiet boy, at home with his family, staying by himself, being in solitude's silence, writing, reading, struggling with his inner demons, the tragic element which strikes us all, but content, at rest, well-pleased with his Lord, often joyful, working at his craft, away from friend and stranger alike, sheltered by the All-Merciful, confident, dignified and blushing to lift up his face to his great Redeemer.-Ron Price, 18 May 1999.4
The ‘he' here is, in fact, ‘myself' as I sit in the quiet of my chamber after retiring from the teaching profession after thirty years of teaching. Priestley said that the writer and, in my case the autobiographer, "projects on to his page a personality not identical with his own, though founded on it." It is a figure made up of elements selected from his life and then rearranged and displayed for his and their aesthetic purpose. The result is an intensely vivid impression of a living individual. I like to think I achieve this but, of course, in the end, each reader makes of the book his own; in effect he recreates the book in his or her own eyes. For the vast majority of people this book has no existence at all for they will never read it or even see it on a screne or between covers.
Passing the time pleasantly, Priestley thought, was one of life's major achievements. To this I must concur. Indeed there is a great deal in the Bahá'í Writings on this theme, although Bahá'u'lláh does not put His comments under the heading "how to pass the time pleasantly." In the end we must all apply the Writings to our lives in our individual ways. I have had no intention in writing this book to provide some 'how to' recipe for readers. "Ultimate all the battle in life is within the individual," wrote some individual on behalf of Shoghi Effendi back in 1943. I remember first coming across this line in a little brown book. At the time my life was filled with battles and I was losing. I was disobeying Bahá'í law and as close to leaving the Cause as I've ever got in the last forty-three years. The Watergate crisis was reaching its zenith; the Viet Nam war was finally coming to an end after what had seemed all my life. Paul Ehrlich and the authors of Limits to Growth had just finished warnng us all of the extremities we faced if we did not pull up our socks and began to treat the environment more sanely. We were being told many things, too many to take them all in. And it was in this context that these words fell upon my ears and my mind like a solid gold nugget of truth.
Here are two poems that tell something of my religious and philosophical views of life.
ONE ENDLESS SONG
Emily Dickinson5 speaks, in her poem number 395, of a "fine Prosperity/ Whose Sources are interior". She says that "Misfortune hath no implement/Could mar it-if it found." It is the equivalent, it seems to me, of those who join the Cause, who tend its garden, for life. I would argue, though, that its "sources" can be "marred"; one can never be sure that life's misfortunes will not "mar" belief. There is, though, in this autobiography and in the poetry of Dickinson what Shawn Alfrey calls, in his analysis of Dickinson's work, an ontological intensity.1 The "fine prosperity" "whose sources are interior" is clearly at the root of this autobiographical work.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999; and 1Shawn Alfrey, "The Sublime of Intense Sociability," The Emily Dickinson Journal, Vol.10, 2001, pp.117-119.
There is one kind of feeling
that sometimes is brought down.
It's sources are interior
like diamonds in the ground.
I came across it early.
It doubled later on.
It looks like going the distance.
In one long endless song.
Life's misfortunes may mar it.
One can never be too sure.
For belief is in some ways a gift.
Depending, in part, on how pure.
Ron Price 26 July 1999
I do not draw lightly on the poetry of Emily Dickinson for, like American poet Robert Haas6, I have found Dickinson's poetry among the finest poems ever written. They tell much about me, about life, about the reality of what is true and good and beautiful--and profoundly meaningful.
One day death will make
the final adjustment,
after years and years of changes
along the way.
Dynasties and systems,
defined and redefined,
lives sown and resown
with different colours.
Death, at last, will yield
one colour, unheralded,
mixed with joy
and this old body
will make its final move
into that hole for those
who speak no more.*
And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.7
-Ron Price 16 & 27 July 1999
*expression used by the Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab.The following tells something of my general approach to poetry and what I am trying to write in this autobiography.
1 Henry Lawson
2 Henry James
3 J.B. Priestley
4 R.F. Price
5. Emily Dickinson
6. Robert Haus
7. Shakespeare, Sonnet #146
A CERTAIN SORT OF PERSON
Some poets are difficult to narratize. Their biography is elusive; their poetry a formal mask of a personality not a living face vibrant with expression. Such poets make no authorial statements, no poetic analysis or comment, no expressions of principle, no efforts to give their poetry coherence, beyond their poetry which must speak for itself. In the main they subscribe to the "poetry not the man" school. No interviews explain or expand on their work. They contribute nothing beyond their poems to the accumulation of what might be called their ‘industry', their canonical infrastructure, again, except through their poetry, their literature. Their literary correspondence is either non-existent or only about the mundane and superficial, the everyday. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get a clear image of such a poet; no unary central subject emerges, unless their writing can be seen as the direct personal embodiment of the poet. Often such a poet seems to lack body. Such poetry is simply seen, often, as a separate entity, disembodied from the poet. Biographical and personal speculation on the part of writers, examining such poetry, becomes impossible, if not unwise.
Unfortunately, great art of any kind: intelligible, sane, perceptive, of use to humanity, requires some sensibility, unified or otherwise, to be demonstrated by the artist. To create, to recreate their life, is a beautiful and difficult task. In the end it remains, for all of us, partly mystery, with or without biographical detail. Without the biographical detail one only has the writing, the poetry. That is all some writers want. -Ron Price with thanks to Timothy Morris, Becoming Canonical in American Poetry, University of Illinois Press, Chicago,1995.
My goal is to compress
into these poems
something of the
of my time, age and life;
and I do it in a certain way
because I am a certain sort
of person with a certain sort
of life1 and I see autobiography
in terms of culture, meanings,
narrative and arbitrary
arrangements of reality,
endurance and the filter
and glaze of language:
with a nostalgia for unity.2
Ron Price 28 December 1999
1 A.A. Milne, It's Too late Now, 1939. 2 That nostalgia for unity...the essential impulse for the human being.-Albert Camus in Albert Camus: Philosopher and Litterateur, Joseph McBride, NY, 1992, p.6.
The process of self-portraiture is, for the most part, a rare phenomenon in the Bahá'í community. The self-portraits and biographical portraits of Bahá'ís are so very unlike many of those of the Renaissance men who left their self-portaits and the Dutch masters who explored the inner life and personalities of various Renaissance men, sensitive to atmosphere and possessing an honest realism in their art. With uninhibited statements, without false modesty, expressing a certain pride and alertness, having a wilfulness and the confidence and intelligence of a race-horse, telling of how they conquered weakness and possessed a will power that overcame the forces of the environment, these portraits are a contrast with those I came across during these four epochs. The few self-portaits and portraits of Bahais that have emerged in the first two centuries of Bahá'í history were due to photography and biography for the most part more than other arts. This subject deserves a study of its own and it is not my purpose to survey this field in my autobiography. I would only conclude that my own work, it seems to me, provides a strong contrast with Renaissance self-portaits. I like to think that pride, wilfulness and the emphasis on will power does not hold pride of place in my own narrative. I leave it to readers, of course, to make their own judgements. But the contrasting images produced in self-portaits provide helpful perspectives on those produced in my own time by myself and others. According to film theorist Gilles Deleuze we are not in front or above images; we are, rather, surrounded by images. We live in images and images live in us. Images can affect us and make us think. This immanent conception of the image seems to be very important in respect to the photographs being discussed here in my text from time to time.
Just as narratives are "permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities and by singularities," so are photographs. Narratives and photographs obtain the status of an event. No longer is the narrative and the photograph only a geometrical analyzable space. It is also, and maybe even more, an ungraspable event in time that involves all senses. They both constitute, in some ways, a table of information, an opaque surface on which are inscribed 'data'. They are each and both the object of a perpetual reorganization, in which a new image can arise from any point whatever of the preceding image. The organization of space and time loses its simple privileged uni-directionality in favour of an omni-directional space and time. Perhaps that is why some writers who take to autobiography do so in a fictional form with characters who have some basis in fact and others who are entirely imaginary.
The advent of Abstractionism in the early 1900's led to an even further shift away from the realistic face than of Gustave Courbet's fantasy self-portraits of earlier decades.
Artists like Picasso and later Chagall unlocked their imaginations and let shapes, colours and patterns represent their inner selves with little to no emphasis on capturing a literal likeness of themselves. In the twentieth century, too, autobiography became concerned with different interpretations of the human personality, the inner man, the self. These interpretations were not portrayed in paint, pencil and ink but in print, words and sentences. "Interpretation is a process," writes Ricoeur, "by which disclosure gives to a person a new capacity for knowing himself." This autobiography has certainly provided that new capacity. It seems to provide that capacity by recognizing the past on the one hand and transforming the present on the other. But what applies to the study of Hellenistic Greece and indeed interpretations of history generally, applies to the study and writing of autobiography. We are "looking at the same things we looked at fifty years ago," writes historian Peter Green, but now "we are coming up with completely different conclusions."
By the late nineteen eighties social scientists of many different stripes had adopted narrative (storytelling) methods and narrative concepts to study human lives in social and cultural context. At least three new narrative theories of personality were being proposed by the time I came to write the fourth edition of this work: Tomkins' script theory, McAdams' life-story model of personality, and Hermans' conception of the dialogical self. The many similarities among these theories point to basic principles and common themes for a contemporary narrative psychology, while the differences among them reveal important controversies concerning unity versus multiplicity of selfhood and the nature of human subjectivity. This burgeoning narrative deals with these principles, themes, and controversies through the example of narrative studies that I pursue as I deal with the meaning of commitment, redemption, indeed, a host of themes in the life story of this late midlife Canadian pioneer.
Then, too, there are a multitude of personality theories which I draw on in this marathon exercise. Alan Elms' 1976 book Personality in Politics(page v) provides a useful definition of personality as "including any individual psychological variations that influence behavior." Personality theories tend to grow out of the experience of those creating them and obviously the ones I draw on grow out of my experience. I've got a couple of dozen theories in my files of psychology notes and I have really only begun to explore their implications for my life, indeed, any life. If one takes the self-portraits of Picasso from 1900 through to the 1960s one gets a series of remarkably different views by Picasso of himself. Picasso's self-portraits from 1900 and 1901 are very much in the same vain as Rembrandts' and van Goghs'. Picasso stares out from the canvas at the viewer, allowing his expression to reveal himself. In 1907 he took a Cubist approach and with areas of colour and exaggerated features made himself into a wide-eyed character. By 1938, he abstracted his figure to such a degree that both eyes rested on one side of his face allowing the essence of his likeness as he then saw it to replace the realism of his features. Picasso utilized the narrative self-portrait even further in a series of prints in the 1960's. In No.319 of the series Picasso portrays himself as a wizened voyeur wearing a jester's hat, who peers morosely at the enthusiastic love-making of a handsome young artist and his model. The staging of this design with Picasso's apparent anguish due to old age yields a revealing portrayal of himself. This design is a far cry from the careful display of characters in Courbet's Interior of My Studio.
Another notable narrative self-portrait from the same era was Marc Chagall's ‘I and the Village’ created in 1911. In this self-portrait Chagall created a memoir of his childhood in Russia. The painting is a deeply symbolic fairy-tale of characters and colour. In the center are a man and woman, perhaps Chagall and his wife, abstracted figurines walking on a hillside. The character does not really resemble Chagall, in fact, he did not even need to consult the mirror for inspiration. The story he wanted to tell was deep inside him. So, too, is this true of my autobiographical story. Hence, my use of poetry. I could reduce all autobiography to two approaches: a literary and conventional one, and another as intimately confessional and full of self-revelation. Mine is an uneven mix and, it seems to me, for from beging a great piece of writing.
All of this self-portraiture is one way of keeping beauty’s rose from ever dying—to draw on Shakespeare’s sonnet#1 which he mentions in quite a different sense. By this literary exercise I make myself anew in these years while I am old and recreate all that has been my life. Here are eight poems about aspects of the teaching-and-learning process, a process that was so much a part of my life over some seven decades. A great change came over human civilization in the decades that this autobiography is concerned with. It is my view, and in many ways this view is echoed in the Bahá'í view of history, that the spread of the Bahá'í teachings, especially in the nearly 80 years after 1936, was significantly responsible for these changes, not in any overt sense, but as a result of the simple spread of a message, a teaching, that was fundamental to the progress of humanity, a teaching that had its roots in two manifestations of God in the nineteenth century. If the civilization Bahá'ís were building "was not to wither or petrify," wrote Kenneth Clark in commenting on the many civilizations that had been thrown up for history to examine since, say, the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago, "it had to draw life from deeper roots than those which had nourished the intellectual and artistic talents of the Renaissance." From a Bahá'í perspective, certainly from the perspective that had been at the root of my own life, the roots of Faith, the Bahá'í Faith, without which no society could long endure in this new millennium, were growing deeper and deeper. In the decades of these four epochs, these epochs of my life, roots, virtually invisible to the mass society I was a part of, were growing slowly all over the planet.
"All the steps upward in civilization," Kenneth Clark went on to say, "have been made in periods of internationalism." And internationalism, beginning arguably in the 1840s and advancing especially in the 1960s, in my own pioneering life, was increasingly a part of the history of my times, of this autobiography. Here are those poems on this teaching and learning process. The first poem takes you, the reader, back to the start of the formal teaching process in plans, the first Seven Year Plan in 1937, the decade when Bahá'í administration had finally grown to a point when an international teaching crusade could begin its long haul.
GUERNICA: A WINDOW OF HOPE AND A WORLD OF CHAOS
Guernica(i) may just be the most important single painting in the twentieth century. It was painted by Picasso in a period from the end of April 1937 to June, the first two months of the first North American teaching campaign: 1937-1944. Guernica, a town in Spain, was bombed in April 1937, the very month that first Seven Year Plan. After more than forty years trying to take this message to my contemporaries I find this apocalyptic painting curiously relevant in its symbolism. The painting graphically portrays the world I have been trying to teach all these years. -Ron Price with thanks to Encarta(R) Encyclopedia, Microsoft Corporation, 27 June 1997; and ABC, TV, "Picasso-Magic, Sex and Death: Sex," 11:05-11:55 pm, 9 February 2003.
(i) Guernica contains much complex symbolism, possesses no definitive interpretation, and shows a world falling apart back then int ehe entre deux guerres years. And now we see: a dying horse, a dying age, system, time; a fallen warrior, traditional systems of political and religious orthodoxy falling from their heights of power; a mother and dead child, our century's science and technology whose child is anarchy; a woman trapped in a burning building, civilization in a firey tempest; a woman rushing into the scene, a new revelation just begun spreading its healing message. A figure leaning from a window and holding out a lamp, truth and understanding held out that all those who look might see. And so, here is one view of Picasso's work, as a Teaching Plan makes its appearance in those same 1930s, after a hiatus of twenty years, after a new administration had been created to canalize the forces unleashed by those immortal Tablets.1 Guernica, a picture of a world in chaos as the lamp of unity hangs out its shingle in the obscurest corner, the only sign of power and life as the old is destroyed.2 1Tablets of the Divine Plan, ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, 1916-17; 2 There are many interpretations of this painting. This last line comes from Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, p.211.-Ron Price, 27 June 1997-9 to February 2003.
Perhaps this painting was more a sign of things to come than Picasso was aware. World War 2 was on the horizon but, as Virilio and Lotringer write in their recently published book Pure War, "All of us are already civilian soldiers, without knowing it...War happens everywhere, but we no longer have the means of recognizing." There is an increasing literature describing this state of continuous warfare in which society is now embroiled. The subject is relevant to this autobiography but too extensive to go into here.
WHO SANG THE SONG?
On July 23 1999 I was 55. That day my wife and I passed through Whyalla where, twenty-seven years before, entry by troops took place transforming that community and the people in it. It was, though, a transformation that is difficult to describe in terms of its affect on the participants. Perhaps this is something better left to an essay.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999. By the second half of the first century of the Formative Age six souls had come to live and then to form this LSA* as part of a much elongated process, or so it has seemed to many of us, of entry by troops.
When I returned 27 years later I was not able to tell just who was left, except perhaps dear Kathy.** As I walked around the town I had not seen since half my life ago, a sadness came from I know not where. Perhaps it was the sense of life "bearing the mere semblance of reality."*** Then a wisdom sank in deep, perhaps from God: bring life up to a boil, but keep your temper cool amidst the toil. For this life is but mirage, from birth to death one long birage. All the work that once went on in this place would seem, on balance, not to have left a trace. Is there any point to all of this? I'd say "By God! This is something I'd not want to miss! It can not be measured, yet, by numbers."-Ron Price, 23 July 1999* These six were joined by three others in 1972.** Kathy Karavas who had been there before the entry by troops.*** Bahá'u'lláh
A PERSON ON THE MOVE
The lives of learned men have at many times in history been perforce nomadic. From Greek philosophers escaping from the Persians to Germans in modern times, the intellectual has often been a person-on-the-move or on-the-run. Many Bahá'í pioneers, striving to exemplify that first attribute of perfection, that ‘Abdu'l-Bahá describes in His book ‘Secret of Divine Civilization,' namely, "learning and the cultural attainments of the mind," have also been possessed of this nomadic quality. I write this poem from Hong Kong on what may just be the only day in my life spent on the continent of Asia, nearly thirty-eight years from the beginning of what seems a long nomadic road. I endeavour, in the course of this poetic narrative, to fuse the minute and seemingly random particulars of quotidian reality within the context of a vision which faithfully represents the transparent and not-so-transparent totality of phenomenal existence. -Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy,1945, p.402.
Beginning with all that homework
and all those Bahá'í books
just ten miles from where I grew up,
a peripatetic existence began
which continued until today:
you could call it travel teaching,
what with all those towns and houses
and thousands of books as well as
deep and meaningful conversation
trying to spread a seed in many
discouragingly meagre soils,
still a refugee from the Persians
and still the books pouring in
and a striving for the cultural
attainments of the mind
within the context of the micro
and the macro--for my entire life.
-Ron Price, 17 June 2000.
There is so much 'out there' in life to deal with. Here is one of my approaches as described in the following two poems. It is an approach that attempts to collect and organize the random details of reality within a comprehensive vision, a vision which provides both conceptual stability and narrative coherence to this autobiography.
SOME OF BERGSON
Part of this creative advance into novelty, this utilization of ideas, philosophies and concepts from the past and bringing them to bear on the present in order to structure the future, a process that is at the base of my poetry, has involved the incorporation of some of the work of the philosopher Henri Bergson into my own poetic opus and direction. Bergson emphasizes the positive power of time, the fluid continuum of intensity, the flow of reason across the brain and world as a source of creative invention, as a matrix for an affirmation of the rich, multi-levelled experience that characterizes our existence as human beings.
There is a continuum of creative genetic energy in life. It is like a current passing from germ to germ through the medium of a developed organism. I see my poetry as a monitor of my continuous progress indefinitely pursued and my inevitable regress, for life is either progress or regress. There is no standing still, although it often appears that way. -Ron Price with thanks to M. Hansen, "Becoming as Creative Involution? Contextualizing Deleuze and Guallari's Biphilosophy" Internet Article, 3 January 2001.
This is a dance of the most disperate,
spontaneity paired with receptivity,
autonomy for myself and openness
toward the world: an elan vital1
separateness and communication,
segregation from the whole and
integration with it in a complex
functional system providing my
inner autonomy in a great variety
of inner states, an active sensitivity
exposed within heterogeneity and
individuality: the more isolated,
the more related, continually in
the process of constructing itself.
1 a concept from Henri Bergson
Ron Price, 3 January 2001
I'VE SUNG THE SONG I HEARD
"The poet, to lay legitimate claim to the title of poet," writes Paul Kane in his book Australian Poetry, discussing the history of poetry in Australia, "was constrained to create not only poems, but himself or herself as poet as well-what we have been calling the process of autogenesis...the process of establishing oneself as a poet was inseparable from establishing poetry in Australia." There were some parallels, I found, to my own work in the late twentieth century. I did not find it the "double burden" of originating both oneself and a tradition, that Kane describes. But I did find the dual process of writing poetry and articulating the process within the context of my society, my religion and my own life fell into place quite naturally. Indeed, I often felt I was caught up in understanding and elaborating the process to a far greater extent than I was in writing poetry. At other times I felt as if all that I wrote was part of one meta-process, meta-narrative. I was striving to establish an identity for myself and my religion in cultural, historical, spiritual terms. I felt the process "to be at once trivial and apocalyptic, vain yet of the greatest consciousness-altering potential," as Blanchot once described it. -Ron Price with thanks to Paul Kane, Australian Poetry, Cambridge UP, NY, 1996, pp.35-41.
He1 had a prodigious poetic output,
felt neglected and embittered,
thwarted by the world's indifference,
lonely and in despair,
saw society as the enemy,
constructed an account of his
poetic beginnings and his posthumous aims,
in a melancholy mood and view
and it told of what was, what is:
but the song he dreamed about
His spirit fancied it could hear
the song it could not sing.2
But their's is not my story:
I have written of my dream
and sung the song I heard.
I've seen the river in the hills.
In the night the rain fills
and the troubled torrent spills.
1 Charles Harpur(1875-1954), the first major poet of Australia, writing in the early years of the Babi and Bahá'í Faiths.2 Henry Kendall(1839-1882) wrote this in the last poem of his final volume of poetry.-Ron Price,12 January 2001.
Much of our sense of who we are comes by comparisons and contrasts with others whom we are not. Here is one example.
THE GENTLE EDGE
A poet gets a sense of who he is by coming across another poet whom he is not, with whom he shares some things in common and some things not-so-common. John Forbes, an Australian poet who died in the 1990s, remained single all his life and felt his calling to be a poet at the age of only fourteen. He identified with Maoist ideology and even dressed like a working-class Chinese. He would often rewrite a poem ten times. He saw himself as a laid back larrikin. He never found love, requited or unrequited. He felt he did not fit in to the public scene, into the establishment, or even the middle class rung of society with its married people raising their families. He did not think much about everyday things.
Forbes was an eccentric. But, like my own style and approach to poetry, he tried to write for the future, tried to mix high and low culture, did an immense amount of reading and was also trying to be a poet for his time. When given the opportunity he could talk the backside off a barn door and showed great enthusiasm for an idea, a piece of prose or a poem. Like many a larrikin Australian his conversation was humorous with a sharp edge, what some might call harsh. My aim, among other aims, on the other hand, was to be humorous but gentle.-Ron Price, "Poetica," ABC Radio National, 2:05-2:45 pm, 7 July 2001.
You, too, packed in the print
'til it was coming out of your ears
and tucked it in to an eccentricity,
a laid-back larrikinism, a sense of
aloneness and a sense of a calling.
You felt you had something to say;
you were a real talker, thinker, an
intellectual, Aussie-style, if there is
one, a comic with a sharp bite. My
sense of a calling came later, with my
own particular brand of laid-backness,
eccentricity, far from the everyday,
preferred the gentle edge, the cultural
attainment of the mind, softening, an
etiquette of expression, always with a
moderate freedom, an engendering of
perspectives, encouraging, where I could,
that profound change in the quality, the
standard, of the public word which would,
must, indeed, had come to our humanity.
-Ron Price, 7 July 2001
There is a complex interlocking between self and other, self and society, self, religion and society, nature and nurture. I have found the poetry of the Canadian poet Al Purdy very close to the ambience of my own. As the decades of the twentieth century advanced, the pastoral dream came to seem as irrelevant, as obsolete, as the pioneer-axeman or the sheep farmer to the experience of the average urban Canadian or Australian, respectively. Yet many Canadian and Australian poets right up to the present have resisted the growth of a primarily urban, commercial, and technological society or what some have come to call the modern liberal, technological, materialistic and capitalist culture. In one way or another, they have tried to hold onto that pastoral vision and to cultivate a more personal and domestic relationship to local space.
Some poets and writers, haunted by a vision of peace and a desire for solutions to the world's enormities, with their hands and their heads under the skirts of the world, passionately seeking answers, can be read in this context. Often they are overcome by pessimism, skepticism and cynicism. Mark Twain was such a cynical and disappointed man. In his latter years he suggested that attempts at moral self-improvement were futile. It appears that his disappointment in humanity and society lead nowhere philosophically but to despair. I certainly have had my share of these isms, too. It seems difficult to live in these dark hours and impossible to live with manic-depression without these isms playing some part. If one is to avoid total despair one needs some basis of hope, of dream, of optimism, some anodyne, and some kindness to self and others.1
1 Sonnet #10
The following poem illustrates my way of trying to understand the complexity of it all over more than 50 years ago. It conveys, too, some of that basis for optimism and hope which I and the sixties generation enjoyed.
THE SONGS I WAS SINGING
Poetry, song and autobiography have been interlinked for millennia. In my pioneering life, beginning in 1962, the music and words of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the culture of the sixties and my own autobiography come together in an interesting cross-fertilization. Bob Mason's unpublished PhD Thesis on 'The Dialogue Between The Beatles and Bob Dylan'1 illumined, for me, this triangle of relationships. To take but one of many possible examples, the very month I decided to pioneer among the Eskimo, October 1965, The Beatles' hit "Nowhere Man" was released, as Mason informs us. Most of The Beatles' songs were about their coming to terms with autobiographical issues, about changing society, about drugs and after 1965, about a dialogue between these megastars. Paul McArtney said, in a song he wrote in the 1990s, that the members of his group, The Beatles, always came back to the songs they had been singing because these songs told them, and everyone else who was interested, where they were at. This is quintessentially true of my own poetry.-Ron Price with thanks to 1"Arts Today," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 16 January 2002.
I was finally knowing
where I was going to
and feeling as if I could
finally see some light
at the end of the tunnel,
thinking for myself:
none of this bourgeoisie
normality for me, going
where noone had gone before,
at least from my corner, doing
what noone expected, nothing to do
with drugs, helping to change the
world in a way none else could
see,1 on my own, breaking the
umbilical chord, no more of the
family Christmas and Easter and
endless birthday scenes for me,
no more of the 'daddy,' 'mommy'
and all the old friends for me:
this was my own response to existence.
This was a starting new and working out
my way of being my take on the world
and its load. I was not a 'Nowhere Man.'
I was 'doing what I wanted to do,’
thinking what I wanted to think,2
or so I thought.1
1 Going to live among the Eskimo, away from family and friends, had an absurdity to it in 1965 in the conservative climate I grew up in in southern Ontario.
2 Outside the small circle of Bahá'ís I knew then.
3 See the George Harrison song: Do What You Want To Do.
-Ron Price....16 Jan. 2002
I write little in this autobiography about the music of my generation and my relation to it, inspite of the masses of written material, of videos, sound tracks of films, LPs, CDs, a cornucopia of sounds and sights generated since the 1950s. I did have an intense interest in the world of rock, folk and classical music from about 1957 to 1977 but, with the arrival of my son, a dwindling bank balance, with three kids to raise, with a burgeoning of groups, of sounds, of styles and tastes, it seemed that by my early thirties many other things in life came to occupy the stage that music once had once played more prominently. I could write a separate essay on this musical experience and its development, but I am disinclined because, in retrospect, music seems to have occupied a more peripheral role in my life when viewed in its totality. When one goes about writing the story of one's life all of history becomes available when one tries to get a handle on one's experience. In writing about yourself, the autobiographer comes to write about so much more. Here is an example:
Mozart's description of what happens to him as he composes has some similarities to the process of writing poetry as I experience it. "Once I have my theme another melody comes,"1 Mozart begins. And so it is, for me, with writing poetry. I get the germ of an idea, some starting point, a strong note or theme. Then, another idea comes along linking itself to the first one in a similar way to the linkage of that melody Mozart mentions to his theme. By now there is emerging "the needs of the composition as a whole" both for me and for Mozart. For both of us, too, the whole work is produced by "melodic fragments," by "expanding it," by "conceiving it more and more clearly." Mozart finishes his work in his head. The composition comes to him in its entirety in his head. I finish my work on paper and I have no idea of the ending until the end. The poem below is an example, drawing heavily on the contents of a book.2 -Ron Price with thanks to the 1ABC Radio National, The Science Show, 10.1.98; and 2Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1999.
Even the most uninteresting,
trivial and repetitive,
when seen at a distance
with a lively fancy
and a determination,
with purpose and system
to make the most of life,
can find a mysterious charm,
an entertaining commentary
in the hands of a good writer.
But this is not the work
of a tourist and its trivial,
relief from responsibility,
and identity: escape.
I have never been a tourist.2
Always there was the work,
the object worthy of life,
always the profusion
of the incomparable,
so much intensification,
excess, the delights,
the dangers, the restlessness,
a reaching out beyond
the mundane, the observable.
The danger of hyperboles,
accepting, as I know I must,
than can't be kept at bay,
when calm benevolence
can't be maintained
and the necessary distraction,
the frenetic passivity.
1 Except, perhaps, on my two 'honeymoons' for several days in August 1967 and December 1975; and travelling to and settling in to some new places of residence and employment. 2 Tourism in the modern sense began, according to Chard about 1880, although other historians of tis modern phenomenon take it back to 1845. See: Paolo Prato & Gianluca Trivero, trans Iain Chambers, "The Spectacle of Travel," Australian Journal of Culture and Society, Vol.3 No.2, 1985.-Ron Price,27 June 2002
And so, with these poems an underlying philosophy becomes more evident. This narrative and this poetry has provided what Doris Lessing called a discourse by which I have constructed my "versions of reality." The other major discourse Lessing describes is fiction. That foundation of civilization I spoke of earlier, and which Kenneth Clark said required "intellectual energy, freedom of mind, a sense of beauty and a craving for immortality," became increasingly manifest in the Bahá'í community as well as my own life, by stages, beginning as far back as the 1950s when that Kingdom of God on earth made its start in 1953. By 1983, thirty years later my personal craving for immortality, for the afterlife, had reached such a proportion that I felt embarrassed to even talk about it. By 1983 I had come to memorize the names of all the departed Hands of the Cause, names I recited daily. I prayed for them and anticipated that they would pray for me in a process known as intercession which takes place here and in the hereafter. By 2003 I carried a list of some 200 names with me from time to time when I went for walks in the bush. These were the names of pioneers during the several epochs of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Plan, friends who had passed away and others who, for various reasons, seemed appropriate to include on my prayer list.
Virginia Woolf, the English writer entre des guerres learned to be attentive to the movements of her own mind to cope with the bi-polar tendencies in her life. Perhaps, too, her writing was a way to defeat death, although she never puts it that way. Through self-reflection she found a language for the ebb and flow of thought, fantasy, feeling, and memory, for the shifts of light and dark. In her writing she preserved, recreated, and altered her perceptions, attitudes and significances of the dead, altering in the process her internal relationship with their invisible presences. "I will go backwards and forwards," so she remarked in her diary, a comment on both her imaginative and writerly practice. I found this description in Katherine Dalsimer's book Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer somewhat similar to my own.
I began to experience, for the most part insensibly over the first twenty years(1980-2000) of writing poetry. a certain relief, not from dejection as Tennyson and Coleridge found, but from depression and exhaustion, what I have called a tedium vitae. Like Tennyson and Coleridge I found my relief in people outside of myself, in the person of dead friends who never truly died but continued on in my memory and spirit. Tennyson would read letters from a dead friend and I would say prayers of intercession to a range of people from Hands of the Cause to, as I say, dozens of souls whose names I would recite, mantra-like. Coleridge was dejected because he had lost his health, youthful joy, and creativity.
I did not feel the loss of these things, in fact, my creativity was perhaps greater than ever. But I felt tired of the social domain, tired of much of life. It was not really depression, for I had known depression only too well. It was a fatigue of the spirit, a distaste for life in varying degrees, a peaceful, restful withdrawal into quietness. It was not unlike the experience of Henry Adams and his sense of isolation and a certain disillusionment. My mind and heart combined, as Adams did during the years of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Faith, force with elevation and this combination gave my life, paradoxically, a new sense of both romance and tragedy. Love brought a closer intimacy, but it was not sexual. This initimacy was closer to me than it was for my wife especially in the years after I retired.
The endowments conferred by birth and socialization cannot be, should not be, underestimated. I have written elsewhere about my parents, my grandfather, my education in Ontario and the Baha’i Faith in this socialization process. I will not add to these subjects here although, as Shakespeare writes in his sonnet #11 the greater the endowment the greater the obligation. My sense of beauty seemed to be enhanced as the Arc progressed. It was enhanced in my personal appreciation of beauty around me, by having a wife who possessed a far greater sense than I the beauty of her surroundings and in the wonder of the Arc on Mt. Carmel which was itself the apotheosis of beauty to many in the Bahá'í community around the world.
Some autobiographical writers like Alfred Corn are clearly uncomfortable with personal disclosure, but still they write autobiography. Corn writes: "Even now I dread these unmasked statements, their therapeutic slant and trust in fact, failure to scan or use productive rhyme or metaphor. Yet can't deny the will to set out in search of what it is that shaped one witness's imagining of time." Corn needs some degree of secrecy and so do I, although I sense he needs more than I do. His uneasiness is his charm; I don't think that is true of me and my work. I'm not sure where the charm is in my book. Charm is a certain delight, light-handedly executed, sometimes with humour, sometimes with a degree of astonishment and freshness. It is a quality I felt I possessed as a teacher on occasion, but I will have to wait for the reaction of readers to assess whether it is present in my writing.
One of the aims in my writing is a certain fertility of invention by the use of the power of argument and the very complexity of words perhaps, even, some degree of immortality. Like Shakespeare, though, I am more inclined to think that immortality comes more from having children than writing.1(Sonnet #16) The discomfort with self-disclosure, though, is a pervasive and important part of the autobiographers repertoire. It plays on the edges of everything he writes and contributes to whatever depth he achieves. So is this true of self-disclosure in everyday life. It represents a tension we live with and which enriches our life by its very presence. Some, of course, tell all and others tell little to none. I think my work represents a happy middle ground and I give it the unifying stamp of my life and my religion and everything else is distilled through this alembic.
The capacity of narrative to inflame, inform, or excite depends on its ability to take readers and listeners away from the peak of the distribution in a normal curve where the majority, the average, the normal, the typical, are found to see some extraordinary novel and different circumstance. That is exactly why we call these narratives ‘novel.' They take us away from the core, the centre, the typical, the ordinary. If readers are trying to understand the way in which social reality works then the important thing to remember is that the prosaic and the boring is often far more important in the way in which the world organizes itself than is the exotic and profane. What literature and the narrative of the novel do is to place readers way out there on the fringes of reality. But this is not so with autobiography, at least not with this autobiography. I do not so much place readers out on the fringes of reality rather, it seems to me, I attempt to bring them closer to the centre. I harmonize, civilize and humanize the deepest of human impulses in an ordinary life, my life, through an extended appeal to my religion, a religion which regulates and helps to draw out all that is in me, that is my potential, a potential I try to actualize in the process of living.
Narratives which emerge in the public sphere do not surface by accident. They are often packaged and presented by policy entrepreneurs, who use them to further their legislative agenda. Advocacy groups expend considerable effort in finding good narratives. What they are looking for is the perfect example to help advocate some polity, someone who is genuine, articulate and sympathetic. If the "spin" sometimes overtakes the facts, most advocacy groups can doubtless convince themselves that they have committed no great sin since they know they are on the side of the angels.This autobiography is not about packaging a story for policy entrepreneurs, not about the spin of an advocacy group, not about a legislative agenda, nor the spin of an advocacy group, although I suppose to be honest, fair, up-front, as they say these days, I have been spinning with the Bahá'í community for half a century and so there is inevitably an element of spin, of guilt by association if you want to call it that. Much of the spin of contemporary entrepreneurs, though, is ephemeral; often it is frivolous, vulgar. My spin, if you will, derives its ethos, its core values, from an ideal, an eternal philosophical melody. My work may not be awe-inspiring; it may not be influential; it may not be dazzling, but I think it shows a use of words which I hope that readers come to enjoy. With that skill I build my world. Like Bernini in the age of the baroque, I give to my work, I carry through its chapters over a long period of time, a unity of design, of impression, that is uncommon during these epochs, uncommon at least in autobiography.
I am not using a careful mix of statistics, hard-luck stories, and staged life-events to play an important behind-the-scenes role in shaping public perceptions of this religion which has been emerging in recent decades on the international front. Is it the case that those who live by the anecdotal sword will die by that sword? In my case: yes. My autobiography is based on anecdote and, if that is insufficient, I must die by my insufficiency. That may be an inadequate response to the underlying problem with casual reliance on narrative. There are hazards in such a narrative approach. Narrative can capture the subtleties and nuances of human existence. It does so better than most other forms of discourse. However there are no guarantees that it will not be used for less-elevated purposes, particularly if it enters the policy or decision-making domain. Narrativists discount these problems, as they almost invariably do when they are busy praising the "right" kind of narrative, at their peril.
Narrative only presents the idiosyncratic perspective of one individual. Narrative is not necessarily reliable. But even reliable narrative cannot provide answers to the critical questions of philosophy and purpose, typicality and frequency. An effective narrative can transform a legal landscape. Narratives raise serious questions about the substantial potential for abuse inherent in the form of discourse they deal with in their account of a life. Narrative turns out to be exceedingly effective at transmitting untruthful, incomplete, and unrepresentative anecdotes, particularly those that trigger a "flash of recognition" because they confirm preexisting suspicions or stereotypes, or are themselves simply stereotypes. The hazards of narrative can not be discounted. So be warned. This autobiography is not a final word, a guide to the perplexed or a great transmitter of truth. It is, though, I like to think, a document that can help to advance the human spirit. It was written down in a small room in Tasmania at the end of the Tamar River in the opening years of the new millennium.
Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli the insight that there are three kinds of lies: "lies, damned lies, and statistics." Unfortunately, as I try to make clear, both anecdotes and statistics can lie but do so in different ways. Significant adverse consequences can follow when laws are based on falsehoods, half-truths, and truths that are not generalizable whether the source of such information is anecdotal or statistical. I feel safe in many ways, that whatever I write here is not likely to have any influence on the law-making processes of Bahá'í institutions.
I have also seen another version of three types of lies: "lies, damned lies and auto/biography." Jon Kudelka drew a cartoon to illustrate the insubstantial nature of biography, the failure of biographers to snare their subjects, the superfluity of life-writing in general. I like to think, though, that I have caught something of my life inspite of the snares and pitfalls of the process and perhaps even partly in the majesterial way that the two great American writers, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, did more than a century ago. Some critics have likened Twain's sprawling Autobiography to Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Hamlin Hill suggested that both writers had as their aim, "to put a man, himself, in the nineteenth century, in America, on record." One need have neither a coherent worldview nor even a particular end in mind to write an autobiography. All that the form demands, writers like Twain and Whitman had in abundance: curiosity, a reactive intelligence, and stamina. That my work possesses both a worldview and an end in mind may, for some readers, detract from the overall affect.
Both Twain and Whitman wrote a fresh, vivacious, journalistic speech that has kept its freshness even today. They shared a huge optimism about America, at least at first, but both also had a very clear sense of the "dark side" of the American enterprise.
Price liked to think his writing was both fresh and vivacious and he certainly hoped it would keep that way, as sealed vegetables keep fresh in the fridge until their use, but here in this text for a hundred or more years. Price also had much of that huge optimism. It was an optimism based on the Bahá'í enterprise, the Bahá'í philosophy. But Price was also conscious of the dark side of the great enterprise associated with the history and future of his Faith. It was a side which involved crises and the periodic blasting of all the hopes of its votaries. But whatever the mix of bright optimism and dark realism, certainly one of the aims in Price's autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs was "to put a man, himself, into the period of four epochs of the Formative Age, 1944-2021, a North American pioneer, and put his experience on record." It was experience that was sufficiently compelling for him to want to record it. Hopefully readers would want to read it.
I have no illusions about the weaknesses, the trouble, with guidance by anecdote and there is certainly plenty of anecdote here. It is not just that some of the guidance is false or misleading. But even if true and accurate, anecdotes contribute such a little portion to the overall analysis, to developing a meaningful picture of the situation about which we are concerned. Reforms and policy shifts often require tens of thousands of anecdotes." Narrativists gloss over the difficulties associated with complexity and diversity and often assume, I think quite falsely, that a collection of aphorisms, humorous stories, what I have often called the wee-wisdoms and funnies industry, will make for victory in the end or, in contrast, underpin some basic pessimism or sense of the absurdity of life and history. The strategy these purveyors of simplicities employ is likely to be ineffective and costly when taken seriously as a philoosphy of life. Because narrative does not aspire, for the most part, to neutrality or typicality, its use in the public sphere is fraught with peril. "Good" narrative appeals directly to our passions and prejudices and the better it is at doing so the more likely it is to be credited as truthful and representative, whether it is or not. When statistics disagree, there are ways of sorting out matters and experts to provide assistance in doing so. When narratives disagree, there is no appeal, except to innate persuasiveness and the degree to which the narrative coincides with our passions and prejudice. Narratives demonstrate that predictable consequence exists in a tremendous gap between "narrative appeal" and the empirical reality of life.
Barring the unlikely development of a generalized sense of "statistical compassion," anecdotal evidence will continue to play a major role in the formulation of public policy and individual opinion. It certainly plays an important part in the understandings of Bahá'ís in their personal and community life. As such, we need to develop strategies for dealing with the infirmities of both statistics and narrative. Although it is beyond the scope of this autobiography to suggest an optimal response, some tentative guidelines may be helpful. For anecdotes, the short version is "be exceedingly skeptical," "consider the source," and "don't generalize without additional and nonanecdotal evidence." For empirical scholarship, "be skeptical," "consult the experts," and "consider the source" are probably sufficient safeguards. These simple rules should help minimize the tendency toward distorted decisionmaking which would otherwise result. Of course, the full effect of these checks and balances will only be felt if the academic community developes a more skeptical stance toward anecdotal advocacy, instead of engaging in it themselves, and calling it "narrative."
The Bahá'ís enjoy a framework for anecdotes that gives them a basis for evaluation and judgement. It is a framework which will allow them, one day, to take the world by storm. For they have been building slowly, building a critical mass and a great movement in the arts, which Kenneth Clark states never lasts for more than about fifteen years, it is on the horizon after a slow build-up of, arguably, more than two centuries. This autobiography is only one small piece in an immense artistic puzzle which will keep humanity and the Bahá'í community busy putting it all together in the years, the decades ahead. As the Bahá'í world begins to alter the historical direction, the revolution of the last several centuries, in which Divine Authority has been replaced by experience, experiment and observation; as it continues to combine in a balanced perspective both science and religion the long and, as the Bahá'ís see it, inevitable result will be a force of enormous power.
Before beginning chapter four of the fifth volume I’d like to make a few remarks about sex and love, marriage and pornography, romance and cyberspace. They are remarks first made in the autobiography section of the 4th edition of my website.
People in cybperspace ask me to assist them in some way or other with their romantic or marital, their sexual or relationship, life. Since I taught human relations & interpersonal skills for more than 3 decades; since I have learned a few things about maintaining relationships having been married for 5 decades; and since I now have the leisure to reflect on more than 70 years of living, this kind of request is reasonable. I usually suggest, though, that those who write to me go to professional people for help & advice both on and off the internet. My photo and profile are now found on dozens of internet sites and, because of this, I get requests from many dating sites, requests with photos of women wanting a relationship, a partner, a date or a soul-mate. For the most part, I ignore these requests but, from time to time, I encourage these women to go to my website. I tell them that, if they want to write to me after reading some of my website, they are free to do so. Usually, I do not hear from them again; (i) when they find out that I am not interested in any kind of romantic or sexual, marital or partnered, companionate or soul-mate relationship, and, finally, (ii) when they find out that I am already in a permanent relationship, and have been since 1975. Before 1975, I was in my first marriage from 1967 to 1974.
Online dating scams were the number one scam for financial losses in Australia in 2013, with almost $28 million reported in lost revenue by participants. And that’s despite making up only three per cent of all scam reports. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has released its latest snapshot of scams. Online chat rooms and dating sites have become, say some analysts of the internet, the singles' pubs of the nineties & previous decades. They are a place where young people, indeed people of any age, can go to meet new people, build friendships, find romance, and have safe sex in a variety of relationships over time. They may find safe sex now, & if not right now, then later as the relationship develops. Cybersex, also called computer sex, Internet sex, netsex, mudsex, TinySex and, colloquially, cybering or conversex is a virtual sex encounter in which two or more persons connected remotely via a computer network send each other sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. In one form, this fantasy sex is the result of the participants describing their actions in writing, and responding to their chat partners in a mostly written form designed to stimulate their own sexual feelings and fantasies. For all you need to know about internet dating go to:http://www.startsatsixty.com.au/living/relationships/the-truth-of-online-dating
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
This type of activity is not for me, although I have often been invited to form all sorts of relationships at dating-sites, and to engage in some form of cybersex. I tell those who send me invitations in their many forms to go to my website and read my writing. I rarely hear from such women, and sometimes even men, after sending them this advice. For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybersex Sometimes, due to in extremis situations in which those who write to me find themselves, the exchange continues. Some women, and men, are in such bad personal situations that their sense of need is extreme; they are reaching-out with some urgency for a helping hand, any helping hand. Some just want to show me how good they look in the context of asking me for my help. Often, the initial overture comes in the form of a friend request. I now have literally 1000s of 'friends-in-cyberspace', all part of my participation at over 8000 websites, and all part of the promotion of my writing. I deal with all these 'friendships' in as cursory, & as detached, a way as possible or I would drown in interchange with people I do not know & do not particularly want to know and interact with. I have enough interaction to keep me busy into perpetuity. In 2014 I stopped: (i) taking-on new friends, (ii) following others, and (iii) accepting requests from others who wanted to "follow me" or "be my friend."
Sometimes, as I say, I write a personal reply to such invitations and requests when, for some reason or other, it seems appropriate. Eventually, though, after two or three emails in which the person continues to tell me about their problems and their needs---the exchange ends. But I have to be insistent. Most people who receive such requests from the needy and the destitute, it seems to me, simply delete such incoming posts. The internet is awash with these sorts of requests. This simple deletion process is often, if not always, the simplest, most honest, & most realistic way of dealing with such requests for assistance. This particular domain of romance and dating, & in extremis posting for all sorts of reasons, is also a world of scams. Readers of this part of my website need to be warned about such deceit, such stratagems or swindles by means of online tricks.
The following two posts are good examples of recent incoming posts of this type: (a) "I read your email and I understood your explanation of why you can be of no help to me. It's shameful that the bad people in cyberspace do not allow people like yourself to help those who are really in need of help. Please do not take me to be like those whom you explained to me when you sent your initial reply. I desperately need your help to start a normal life as a human being. You are & will be like a father to me; you deserve to be my Daddy, I would like you to treat me like your daughter even if it means to adopt me. Please bring me out from this situation I am in here in this refugee camp; there is little food & good water here in this place; life here is just like a prison; my life is rotting in this place"; and (b) "I just bought a gorgeous new 2-piece bikini for this summer, & just had to show it off. I hope it doesn't make me look fat. Maybe you could take a quick peek, and tell me if I look good in it or not?"
People send me photos of themselves online, as I mentioned above, after seeing my photo at one of a multitude of the 8000+ sites at which I post my writing. They live in the hope that we might have a date or a dalliance, a sexual relationship or just a discrete friendship. They say things like: "no questions asked....." or "I saw your photo and your profile at......" I get invitations to join menage a trois and group sex, as well as from individuals at online sex and dating-sites, same-sex sites and even the occasional nudist colony. They say things like: "you might like to try this", or "if you are free and easy..."; "I'm back from Bali.....", or "I just broke-up from my boyfriend"; "I'm in town and I thought we..."....inter alia.
These requests and statements come in from more dating services than I ever knew existed like: Anastasia International Dating Services, Speed Date, City Sex.com, and LookForSingles.com. Seeking Discreet Married Dating Affairs? MarriedButLonely.com is a secret married dating site that caters to married women seeking men. I am sent statements like: "Sex starved wives are home chatting online right now. Begin your discreet adventure here and get in contact with 1,000’s of real wives looking to flirt & hookup.The following email arrived in my inbox in February 2013: "members of this group can get access to exclusive features like instant messaging, private email, live chat rooms, video profiles, personality matching and a fantastic feature you won’t find anywhere else: astrological compatibility analysis......", and on and on goes yet another litany of services that could line me up with a date or a dalliance, a sexual relationship or all sorts of other arrangements in the mating-and-dating game, the romance and soul-mate search worlds.
I try to respond to as few of these requests as possible. When I do respond to some incoming email, that email usually expresses some high degree of anxiety or special pleading. I reply with honesty and courtesy, tact and kindness. Honesty and courtesy are difficult qualities to combine, but I do my best to let people down, usually women but more recently even men---and even the occasional person with transgender proclivites---as easily as I can. Usually, I do not reply at all. I clearly state my marital status, that I have been married for 48 years, and that I am not interested in another relationship of romance or sex. I sometimes indicate my general life-style involving as it does writing & publishing, editing & research. I encourage these people to go to my website, if they want to know more about me. For the most part, all these people are looking for some kind of mating-or-dating relationship, and I can be of no help to them.
I am sent advertisements for products like viagra as well as ads for sex toys; these ads are less frequent than they once were about a decade ago. There are objects or devices, sites and information sources that are primarily used to help people facilitate their sexual pleasure in a host of ways. Companies concerned with my libido and penis enlargment contact me by email. There is an increasing range of popular sex toys, designed to resemble human genitals; they may be vibrating or non-vibrating toys. I could add here an extensive description of the resources now available.
Cybersex, also called computer sex, Internet sex, netsex, mudsex, TinySex and, colloquially, cybering or conversex is a virtual sex encounter in which two or more persons connected remotely via some computer network send each other sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. In one form, this fantasy-sex is accomplished by the participants describing their actions and responding to their chat partners in a mostly written form designed to stimulate their own sexual feelings and fantasies. Here is a sample of an item that came in during February 2013: "Male Libido Secrets Revealed! Test-X Free 14-Day Trial." I have quite naturally been interested in sex, and the functioning of my libido all my adult life, but I have never been interested in the enlargement of my penis, nor in the range of products connected with sexual stimulation, but ads and messages come my way anyway.
By the time I came to finish writing this extensive statement as a general feedback to those who send me emails and internet posts, I had turned 70. I had been in two marriages for a total of nearly 50 years. By my 70s there were plenty of hugs & kisses on a daily basis, lots of touching, kindness, gentleness and humour. I have been married for several reasons: legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes. For a comprehensive overview of marriage go to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage Sexual intercourse, coitus or copulation, is the insertion and thrusting of a male's penis, usually when erect, into a female's vagina for the purposes of sexual pleasure or reproduction. This is also known as vaginal intercourse or vaginal sex. This libidinal aspect of my marital relationship has decreased in importance in recent years. For a quite detailed anatomical description of the several varieties of sexual intercourse go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_intercourse
Sex is not the only thing that makes marriages last, at least that is the view of most. Sex is not what has made this, my second marriage, last. This is not to say that sex has not been important in my nearly 50 years across two marriages. As the English actress Helen Mirren says, echoing my views and my experience: "Communication is so important and we do talk a lot." Like Miss Mirren, my wife & I do a great deal of talking. Often, too, my wife does not want me to talk, or to ask, yet again, "how are you today?" After forty years of being together, 1975 to 2015, there are many things I enjoy about my wife, and she me. Our bodies, their shape, & their sexual delights, once crucial to our experience of each other back in the mid-1970s when we were both in our late 20s and early 30s, no longer occupy centre-stage. Our relationship in its initial stages, its first years, back in the mid-1970s, involved sexual intercourse in a/the central place of experience in our lives together. Now, in our late 60s and early 70s, this is no longer the case.
Desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned; it is a devouring fire that even the vast sea of the accumulated knowledge of the learned could never quench.-Abdul-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Bahá'í Pub. Trust, Wilmette, 1970(1928), p.59.
The historian Edward Gibbon wrote the following regarding the sexual element of passion in a man's life: "I understand by this passion the union of desire, friendship, and tenderness, which is inflamed by a single female, which prefers her to the rest of her sex, and which seeks her possession as the supreme or the sole happiness of our being." I write below of "this passion" as it has been expressed in part of my life, the part "inflamed by a single female." I also write about "this passion" as it has found expressed in other contexts in my life and in society in general.
In Australia's winter months three years ago, June through September 2012, I wrote at this sub-section of my website what I tried to make, and what I thought at the time was, a useful and quite detailed expose of the above passion in my life. I did this a dozen years or so after the internet had got going in the late 20th century and in the first years of this 21st century. I last updated this piece of writing on 23/10/'15, six years after I had fully retired from 60 years of my student-paid-employment-and-disability-pension life, 1949 to 2009. In 2009 I went on two old-age pensions, one of which I got from the Canadian government since I had worked at FT and PT jobs in Canada from 1950 to 1971, & one of which I got in Australia where I was employed at another range of FT and PT jobs until I went on a disability pension in the early years of the 21st century.
Much more overt & explicit accounts of people's passions, in several areas of the emotions, began to be found in print once the internet began to be the immense resource it had become as the years of this third millennium advanced incrementally. What are your passions? What sparks you and makes you feel alive? A list of the passions has been drawn-up by Saint Peter of Damaskos of the Russian Orthodox Church. The list is a very long one, & I leave it to readers with the interest to access that list at this link: http://www.orthodox.net/confess/a-list-of-the-passions.html This list adds a whole new dimension to the concept and discussion of the passions.
The word "passion" comes from the Latin verb 'patere' meaning 'to suffer'. It is a term applied to a very strong feeling about a person or thing. Passion is an intense emotion, compelling enthusiasm or desire for anything. The term is also often applied to a friendly or eager interest in, or admiration for, a proposal, cause, or activity or love. It is applied, as well, to a feeling of unusual excitement, enthusiasm or compelling emotion, a positive affinity or love, towards a subject. It is particularly used in the context of romance or sexual desire though it generally implies a deeper or more encompassing emotion than that implied by the term lust. Go to this link for more:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passion_%28emotion%29
In the last 16 years, after I took an early retirement at the age of 55, a sea-change as it is often called these days, the internet has come to be gushing & oozing, flowing & flooded, teaming & streaming, with print accounts & visual depictions of one particular passion in all its forms. Those forms are found in what some call virtual reality(VR). Typical discussions of VR fixate on technology as a provider of sensory stimulation of a certain kind. The most common conception is a shallow one according to which VR is a matter of simulating appearances. Yet there is, even in popular depictions, a second more subtle conception. According to this more subtle conception VR is seen as a means of facilitating new kinds of interaction. In fiction, we can find two conceptions of VR: one according to which VR merely simulates interactive experience & another according to which VR fosters new kinds of interaction. For a useful and extended analysis of the complexities of VR go to: http://www.fecundity.com/job/vr.html
My story below is very tame &, since I am not a celebrity nor do I have any fame or special status, what I say or reveal, is not likely to raise any eye-brows, or catch the special interest of readers. Still, I post this account as part of my online autobiography. Readers with the interest are invited to browse through my 5 volume, 2600 page, online autobiography. To access that autobiography such readers need to type the word 'Price'(my last name without the single quotation marks) at this link:http://bahai-library.com/author, and then click on the word 'Search.' This will enable readers to gain access to 62 documents, 6 of which belong to Tom Price, one of the international Bahá'í community's more popular speakers. The other 56 documents are autobiographical statements of many sorts which I have written over the last quarter-century, 1991 to 2015.
I try in the following paragraphs to provide a context for passion as it is, was, & probably will be found in my life experience. I hope at some future time to deal with many of the passions listed on that link above. There is much more to the subject of "the passions" than the sexual, but what is found below has, for the most part, this more narrow focus. The original focus was on the sexual when I first discussed the subject of the passions three years ago on this thread at this sub-section of my website.
Among the many causes of personal problems, at least in the more than 60 years that I was aware of, & interested in, the opposite sex, is the huge emphasis put on the sexual-physical aspect of a relationship; that was certainly true for me as I entered my teens in the summer of 1957 &, then, my first significant sexual relationship more than 50 years ago in the northern hemisphere's late winter months of 1965. High expectations can have a positive effect; people need, or at least usually have, a high bar to stretch towards in the sexual domain. But the intensity and pleasure or, for that matter, the disgust and repulsion, of the sexual experience can colour people's initial relationship, to say nothing of the colouration that sex has for a person's entire life. People are often precipitated into a relationship that often needs to be more tempered, at least initially. I think many millions have placed the bar far too high insofar as the emphasis on sex is concerned. What the stimulation does is that it often colours the relationship in ways that require other colouring. I, like millions of others, know about this only too well.
Why is sexual desire a problem, why has it become for us a problem like no other, fraught with particular anxiety & special perplexity? Is the main aspect of the problem one of establishing and maintaining principles according to which this desire can be regulated, guided, temporised? The change in relations between the sexes and the concomitant change in relations between members of the same sex, this double alteration that has come over us in the last two or three generations, the generations that have been my life, makes a certain kind of intellectual investigation possible for the first time. The impure hush that was part of the experience of previous generations, certainly when I was growing-up from the 1940s to the early 1960s, has ended; the tongues of desire have been freed. Texts that were formerly read selectively, through a haze of anxiety, or feverishly perused for the legitimation of proscribed longings have at length entered ordinary scholarly discourse, & everyday life, at least for many million.
Sexual pleasures are sought after in a great variety of ways in our global society. Polyamatory relationships are those involving the practice, desire, or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not based on an exclusive one-to-one partnership. The individuals concerned have more than one sexual or intimate relationship, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Often abbreviated as poly, such relationships have been described as consensual, ethical, & responsible non-monogamy. It may or may not include polysexuality, that is, attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes. The term 'polyamorous' can refer to the nature of a relationship at some point in time, to a philosophy or relationship orientation much like gender or sexual orientation. The word is sometimes used in a broader sense, as an umbrella term that covers various forms of multiple relationships, or forms of sexual or romantic relationships that are not sexually exclusive.
Polyamorous arrangements are varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals involved, though there is disagreement on how broadly the concept of polyamory/ous applies. An emphasis on ethics, honesty, & transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic. As of July 2009, it was estimated that more than 500,000 polyamorous relationships existed in the United States. People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual, relational exclusivity is necessary for deep, committed, long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for, the polyamory may embark on a polyamorous relationship when single or already in monogamous or open relationships.
The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage. There are also, and typically, marriages that employ a combination of both. Religious marriages must often be licensed and recognized by the state, & conversely civil marriages, while not sanctioned under religious law, are nevertheless respected. Marriages between people of differing religions are called interfaith marriages, while marital conversion, a more controversial concept than interfaith marriage, refers to the religious conversion of one partner to the other's religion for the sake of satisfying a religious requirement.
Polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands, occurs very rarely in a few isolated tribal societies. These societies include some bands of the Canadian Inuit, although the practice has declined sharply in the 20th century due to their conversion from tribal religion to Christianity by Moravian missionaries. Societies which permit group marriage are extremely rare, but they have existed in utopian societies such as the Oneida Community. For more on types of marriage go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types There are now many who are happily married, but they live in separate but connected houses. Sociologists call this arrangement LAT, for Living Apart Together. Is this paradise or a paradox?
The primitive pleasure of sexual release has, for humans, evolved into the possibility of sexual ecstacy. We can assume, with some degree of assurance, that no other known creature experiences ecstacy in this way or, indeed, any other way. The exploration of the possibilites of this ecstacy has become, for millions now, a touchstone and measure, a standard and yardstick, for the realization of at least one of life's major goals &, indeed, for the experience of part and parcel of what human happiness is all about.
I am a 'War-Baby', born between 1939 and 1945. Since I was born in the middle of 1944, I am sometimes included in the 'Baby-Boomer' generation that was born following World War II. Sometimes that generation of these so-called baby-boomers is considered, is defined, as going as far back as 1943, & up to the early 1960s. This was a time marked by an increase in birth rates. Baby-boomer is a term sometimes used in a cultural context. It is difficult if not impossible, therefore, to achieve a broad consensus on a defined start and end date for this generation. The previous generations up-to-1943 were not as inclined to go as public about their private life as the generations which followed: the baby-boomers, & generations X,Y, Z, and alpha. Yes, now we're onto the Greek alphabet. The alpha generation begins with those born in and after 2010. It has been predicted that they will be the most formally educated generation in history, beginning school earlier and studying longer. The children of older, wealthier parents with fewer siblings, they are already being labelled materialistic.
Of course these patterns to which I have referred above were not true of everyone. Readers with the interest can delve into the literary works that were available in the years before 1943, if they so wish. One good example is an alternative view of the Victorian era by Peter Gay. It is a view with which the French sociologist, philosopher, & social theorist Michel Foucault would have concurred. Gay has written about this subject in The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - 5 vols, 1984-1998. These volumes included: The Education of the Senses and The Cultivation of Hatred.
I have enjoyed the writing of some novelists of previous generations who wrote about sex. The 'Silent Generation' born, as that generation was, between 1925 and 1942, or the 'entre deux guerres'(1919-1939) generation as it is sometimes called, had several examples of extended discussion of sex for the reading pleasure of the public: Edmund Wilson, Henry Miller, Gore Vidal and Anais Nin. I have no desire to try and emulate or imitate either the style or the content of this diverse range of writers. I have also enjoyed some of the detailed, informed, discussion to the topic by a range of social scientists: psychologists & historians, sociologists & psychiatrists. I leave it to readers to extend their reading & study, their exploration, of the topic by writers whose knowledge of the history of sex and sexuality far exceeds my own, and whose ability to write on related topics is also far greater than mine. I lack not only the experience of such writers, but I also lack their literary and analytical skills. Peter Gay, as I say above, is a good example of such a writer. Gay(1923-) has been the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University for the last 30 years, & he is also the former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers (1997–2003). Readers might like to learn more about him, and his analysis of the sexual experience of several previous generations to my own at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gay.
The vast increase in the knowledge base does not seem to have benefited the discourse on sexual ethics. The freedom to discuss sex without circumlocution has enabled millions of people to elaborate on this appetite & assist in helping them with their self-definition. This freedom has not been that useful in helping them, though, in the regulation of the sexual urges. The general recognition, and institutionalisation, of the variety of sexual experience has had a relativising effect on traditional morality. That morality was a morality that privileged & circumscribed a single idea of sexual relations. Cross-cultural & trans-historical comparisons, comparisons which made it possible to characterise the still obscure features of our possibly changing sexuality, have tended to compound this relativism. For a brief period in the 20th century the struggle for liberation from the constraints of morality, traditional and other, appeared to provide an ethic for sexual behaviour. But the utopian vision of sexual liberation has degenerated in practice into a set of hedonistic precepts that hardly constitute a moral system at all.
There are now lists of organizations and institutions of professional sexologists and sex researchers, sexual behavior scientists and philosophers, to say nothing of the myriad of non-professionals from a vast range of religious and secular perspectives, for people to draw-on, at least those with access to the vast landscape that is cyberspace. There are now self-help groups, social groups, indeed, all sorts of groups of enthusiasts who deal in the muddy, although sometimes clear, waters of sexology. There are now many websites on the subject with their various reading agenda to keep people occupied with this subject in perpetuity.
I have entered both my marriages with a commitment to faithfulness, to a relationship which I hoped would endure. It seems to me, in retrospect, this is the first condition for a healthy & truly satisfying sexual relationship, at least when viewed over the long-term of decades. I am more than a little aware, though, of the complexity of this last statement, and its need for unpacking, for an extended and extensive nuance. It is a complexity which many books now unpack in their discussions of contemporary marriage and of serial monogamy, of bigamy and of polygamy, of polygny and polyandry, of companionate marriage and group marriage, as well as what are sometimes called polyfidelitous families formed by two heterosexual couples who become a four-some and live together as a family. The type, functions, & characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture. They can and do change over time, as anyone with only a little familiarity with history is only too well aware. One example is marriage and the family during the Roman republic and empire. Over the more than 1000 years of this civilization there were many changes. Back in the 1990s I taught Roman history and I became aware of these changes. For a general overview of types of marriage now and in history, and just to repeat, go to:
The brain's sexual circuitry results from the sex drive which is a purely physical and animalistic entity. This circuitry played a strong role in my life for decades. Helen Fisher, in her book Why We Love, argues that there is also an attachment circuitry which comes into play in relationships which are long-term commitments of the couples involved. It is this pair-bonding, this other circuity, says Fisher, which brings the greatest amount of sexual satisfaction. After nearly five decades in a total of two long-term relationships, I have become more than a little conscious of this 2nd type of circuitry. This attachment circuitry seems, for me at least, to be quite independent of the sex drive & its essentially animalistic circuitry. For more on Helen Fisher and her ideas go to:
There are many vague terrains, though, in our sexual life; one of those terrains is the habitat of eros. Eros in Greek mythology was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid. Some myths make him a primordial god, while in other myths, he is the son of Aphrodite. For more on Eros go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eros Science has failed to frame and tame Eros, this subtle carnivore. Reading about the mythological origins of Eros in the West provides a complex context for the struggle implicit in the concept. Now it is philosophers and other members of the cognoscenti who take the field of dealing with what was long ago the domain of mythology. I leave it to readers with the interest to take a fresh look at Greek & Roman mythology for the potential insights into love and lust, sex & sin, passion & pederasty as we now experience these terms in the West in our globalizing and planetizing civilization.
In Sexual Desire, Roger Scruton is bent on recapturing eros in the name of the old morality and restoring eros to his proper place in the ethical zoo. No relativist Scruton; for him the sexual project, descriptive and prescriptive, the correct analysis of the nature of sexual desire, needs to give rise to appropriate rules of behaviour. Without some framework of rules, philosophy really cannot help. Philosophy itself should be concerned, argues Scruton, not to explain the world so much as to be at home in it; it should recognise the occasions for action, the objects of sympathy & the places of rest. I write about Scruton and his views below, before leaving his ideas to readers with the interest. He is just one of an increasing pantheon of writers & analysts on the subject. Readers can, of course, find writers on the subject to reflect their own views & biases, preferences & proclivities. Across the spectrum from an extreme liberalism in relation to matters sexual, to an entrenched and traditional conservatism, there are now writers and experts to chose from who reflect whatever a reader wants a writer to reflect.
MORE FROM ROGER SCRUTON
Roger Vernon Scruton(b. 27/2/'44) was born five months before me. He is an English philosopher who specialises in aesthetics. He has written over thirty books, including Art & Imagination (1974), The Meaning of Conservatism (1980), Sexual Desire(1986), The Philosopher on Dover Beach (1990), The Aesthetics of Music (1997), Beauty (2009), How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism (2012), Our Church(2012), and How to be a Conservative (2014). Scruton has also written two novels & a number of general textbooks on philosophy & culture, and he has composed two operas. For more on Scruton go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Scruton Scruton bases a conservative sexual ethic on the Hegelian proposition that "the final end of every rational being is the building of the self—of a recognisable personal entity, which flourishes according to its own autonomnous nature." This process involves recognizing the other as an end in itself.
Scruton argues that the major feature of perversion is "sexual release that avoids or abolishes the other," which he sees as narcissistic and often solipsistic. His list of perversions includes: masturbation, bestiality, necrophilia, pedophilia, sado-masochism, homosexuality, incest, and fetishism. Scruton considers homosexuality a perversion because it does not involve sexual difference: desire directed towards the other gender elicits its complement, but desire directed toward the same gender elicits its simulacrum. In his view, normal sexuality involves not only giving recognition to the other's person in and through desire for him or her, but also according them accountability & care in the process. Scruton argues that sex is morally permissible only if it involves love and intimacy. Scruton criticizes psychoanalytic theories about sexuality.
Sexual Desire is described by Alan Soble as "certainly by a long way the most interesting and insightful philosophical account of sexual desire produced by analytic philosophy", while Christopher Janaway notes that Scruton's work challenges the conventional boundaries of that branch of philosophy. Norman O. Brown writes that Scruton correctly sees Baruch Spinoza as his philosophical antagonist. Sociologist Jonathan Dollimore sees Scruton's philosophy of sex as open to many possible objections. He finds Scruton's writing to be jargon-ridden, believing that its Hegelian language & talk of otherness bestows "a spurious profundity on a normative sexual politics which is at heart timid, conservative, deeply ignorant, and out of step with much contemporary thinking. He also believes that, notwithstanding Scruton's attack on psychoanalysis, his defense of sexual difference is to some degree indebted to psychoanalytic theory, commenting that, "Although Scruton's frame of reference is a philosophical one, & despite the fact that he roundly attacks the psychoanalytic perspective on sexuality, his own defence of sexual difference owes more to that perspective than he admits.
Philosopher A. J. Ayer dismissed the book Sexual Desire as "silly." This dismissal led Scruton to reply that he honestly believed his work cogent. Mark Dooley, a philosopher, praises Sexual Desire as "magisterial". He writes that Scruton's objective is to show that sexual desire trades in "the currency of the sacred." For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Desire_%28book%29 In our modern world we can all find writers and thinkers, philosophers and analysts, who support and reflect our own views, no matter what they may be. One just has to do some Googling and focus on the subject that is our concern for as long as it takes to find the intelllectual support structures we require.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
For the late Michel Foucault the problem was just the opposite: to separate the several components of eros and psyche, desire and love, sex & the passions. Among his aims was to locate the historical moment, the time in history, when sexual desire became a particular focus of moral attention. ‘What is philosophy,’ he writes, ‘if not the endeavour to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known?’ Foucault, sadly, is not easy reading. Go to the following link to get some background on this French thinker, this social theorist, intellectual, philosopher, historian of ideas, philologist and literary critic who passed away more than 30 years ago, in 1984:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
The first volume of his history of sexuality was entitled The Will To Knowledge. It was published in 1976 just as I was settling-in to the first full year of my second marriage, after a warm-up of some 8 years in my first marriage, 1967 to 1975. His book was not published in English until 1978 by which time I was getting ready to move to Tasmania for a second time. I was dealing at the time with yet another episode of bipolar I disorder. I knew nothing of this French thinker although back in the mid-1970s, I was teaching several of the social sciences to students working on their B.A., B.Ed., and B. Sc. among other tertiary credentials. I was teaching and lecturing at what is now the University of Ballarat in Victoria Australia.
Foucault’s analysis, which I first came across in the 1990s when I was teaching a course on sociological theory, appeared to conform to the vision of his earlier work on the origin of the modern world. In that earlier work he had traced the emergence of what he called ‘desiring man’ to a point between the late 17th & 18th centuries. That 'desiring man' had antecedents in the specialised confessional disciplines of Christian monastic life. Foucault also discerned in the age of reason a new, a sinister, shift of interest to the sexuality of children and the relationships between sexual behaviour, normality & health. Sadly, for most students Foucault is not easy reading.
The second volume of his history of sexuality was entitled The Use of Pleasue. It was followed by The Care of the Self both published in 1984. By then I had began to work on my own autobiography and my bipolar disorder was stabilized by lithium which seemed to have a positive effect on my literary and creative life. I was 40 years old in 1984. It would be another decade before this French thinker came onto my intellectual radar screen. Foucault explained that the form of his investigation by the 1980s had changed. That investigation was now taking him further into the European past than he had expected in pursuit of the practices by which individuals were led to ‘decipher, recognise and acknowledge themselves as objects of desire'. This change of direction for Foucault brought into play a certain relationship that allowed people to discover, in desire, the truth of their being, be it natural or fallen’. Foucault was interested in the creation of the sexual subject and how the individual was constituted. In The History of Sexuality, he argued that in the western world during the 18th and 19th centuries, people's identities became increasingly tied to their sexuality. The problem for readers of Foucault was and is that, not only is he a difficult author to understand, but readers usually have little knowledge of the 2 & 1/2 millennia which had come to interest Foucault, in round figures: 600 BC to 1900 AD. As I said, Foucault is not, and was not, an easy read.
This second volume, The Use of Pleasure, the first of what came to comprise his trilogy, is a study of Greek medical and philosophical texts on the proper conduct of sexual activity; the last two, Care of the Self and Confessions of the Flesh, not yet translated, continue the same inquiry through Roman and Patristic literature to the Christian era, concluding, rather than opening, on the threshold of modernity. The brilliant obscurities and grandiloquent gestures that make much of Foucault’s writing so exhausting, exhausting in the main due to the language he uses, are subordinated here to detailed exegesis and explications de textes. In a striking departure from previous practice, Foucault makes full use of current scholarship in the areas in question and gives generous acknowledgment to the work of others. Readers, at least most who come to Foucault, get lost in the verbiage. For a simple overview, though, readers can go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_Sexuality
I recommend to readers with the interest, and the persistence in investigating this subject, reviews of the following books: (i) Sexual Desire by Roger Scruton(Weidenfeld, 450 pages, 1986); (ii)The History of Sexuality. Vol. II: The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault(Pantheon, 300 pages, 1985); (iii) Western Sexuality: Practice and Precept in Past & Present Times by Philippe Ariès & André Béjin(Blackwell, 200 pages, 1985); (iv) No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States since 1880 by Allan Brandt(Oxford, 250 pages,1985); and (v) Jealousy, Nancy Friday (Collins, 600 pages, 1986).
Erotic literature has always had the power to arouse the reader sexually. Indeed, that is often its primary intent. This literature is found in the form of: novels, short stories, poetry, true-life memoirs, and sex manuals. A common feature of the genre of erotic literature is sexual fantasies on such themes as prostitution, orgies, homosexuality, sadomasochism, as well as many other taboo & fetishistic subjects all of which may, or may not, be expressed in explicit language. The availability of literary themes involving sex in non-fiction and fiction, as well as in imagery in audio-visual and electronic forms in the last 15 years, since I retired from a 50 year student-&-paid-employment life(1949-1999) now dwarfs what was available in the 20th century and before. It dwarfs the following three sources of the depiction of sexual activity in its many forms that had existed before the invasion so to speak, of the internet:
(i) the graphic depictions across vast slathers of the print & electronic media in all their forms in the previous half-century, 1949 to 1999, especially since the 1950s with Playboy and other men's lifestyle magazines that featured photographs of nude women. The sexual revolution of the 1960s & the pill really kick-started that half century;
(ii) the immense quantities of sexually explicit fiction & non-fiction written in the previous 200 years,1748 to 1948, from Cleland's Fanny Hill:Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, an erotic novel by English novelist John Cleland first published in London in 1748, to the slow evolution of permissiveness from the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age to the making of birth control legal by the end of WW2; and
(iii) the erotic literature found during the centuries in the long history of humankind before the modern era, a history which readers can accesss at the following link. For more details on this history of erotic literature go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotic_literature
As I look back from my 70s at the deficiencies & problems I've had in my nearly 60 years of marital & pre-marital sexual activity, I see my own lack of knowledge as a crucial factor underlying my tests and difficulties. Despite early inroads of school-based sex education, most of the information on sexual matters in the mid-20th century when I was moving through childhood, adolescence & young adulthood was obtained informally from friends and the media. Much of that information was deficient or of doubtful value. This was especially true during the period following puberty when my curiosity about sexual matters was the most acute. For me this period was from the mid-to-late 1950s to the early 1960s &, in retrospect as I gaze back at those years, my knowledge was very limited & my anxiety significant. The deficiency of my knowledge had all sorts of implications. So was this true in the wider society. This deficiency became increasingly evident by the increasing incidence of teenage pregnancies, especially in Western countries after the 1960s. Of course, readers here need to keep in mind that the sexual experience of the two billion who existed in my world in 1944, and the sexual experience of the more than 7 billion now on the planet, is immensely, staggeringly, varied.
As part of each country's efforts to reduce such pregnancies, programs of sex education were instituted, initially over strong opposition from parent and religious groups. My sex education both within the family and in-school hardly existed, at least as I now recall after the passing of half a century. Knowledge & practical information, compassion & understanding are each crucial ingredients in relation to knowing what sex is all about, what are its true dimensions and its relationship with other aspects of especially long-term marital/partner relationships. From my own experience & reading it seems to me that, for advice to be useful at all, it needs to be preceded by and contextualized with compassion and understanding, and practicality and knowledge. Since the 1930s & 1940s, as my parents were first meeting, and as I came into their world, there has been an increased knowledge of the physiology & the psychology of sex. Alfred Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, Shere Hite and, in the last two decades, many others can be added to the significant scholarship. This scholarship has begun to provide those who want to know with an increased knowledge and understanding of sex in all its dimensions: physiological and psychological, sociological and cultural, economic and legal, historical and scientific.
Clive James has written an informative & entertaining review of Belle de Jour, author of a blog called Diary of a London Call Girl. That diary and that blog had been a mystery for some time. Journalists, always excited by mysteries, strove to find out who she really was. Was she really a woman at all? Surely no mere female could concoct a diary so exactly fulfilling male fantasies. The book was turned into a television series. For more of James' clever commentary of that diary go to: http://www.clivejames.com/point-of-view/series6/belle
I mention the above essay by Clive James because, if it is the explicit that readers want in the domain of the sexual, they should go elsewhere in cyberspace. Readers will not find here an account of my sex life as a great-hearted Don Juan with women waiting in every city. I create no story which will result in a whiff of leering admiration, particular delight, or special reading-erotic-pleasure for that matter. My account is clearly not a tale that inspires skepticism about the nature of my sexploits due to some braggadocious, some boastful, tendency on my part. Readers, who are interested in the sex lives of others, now have access to a rich tableaux of detailed narrative across the landscape of cyberspace, to say nothing of what is available in other forms, especially the graphic-and-visual forms, of electronic space. Readers might like to start, for example, with Jackie Kennedy's sexual ins-and-outs set in a delightful literary context by Colm Tóibín(1955-). Toibin is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic & poet. As far as the graphic and the visual aspects of the sexual are concerned, readers here are in need of no advice on how to access such aspects, such depictions.
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Tóibín is currently the Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. He succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. Go to the following link for Toibin's essay in the London Review of Books back in 2002 on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n11/colm-toibin/how-to-be-a-wife Readers can also go to a myriad other locations in cyberspace, as I say above, to satisfy their voyeuristic and inquisitive, their amorous and prurient, tastes and interests.
Sadly or, perhaps, not-so-sadly the whole page, the several paragraphs that I had placed here back in this southern hemisphere's winter in 2012, were lost. I reported the loss to my website design and development people at Define Studio in Mosman NSW. This company tried to correct the fault, the dropping-out of the material, but they were not able to correct the fault, to retrieve what was lost. My design company and I decided in consultation early in December 2012, three years ago as I write this, that they---the web design company---Define Studio, would do a back-up of all the material at my site every two weeks. And so it would be that, if what I wrote dropped-out again, it would not matter because the entire site would be backed-up every fortnight.
I rewrote the material that was lost, and readers who had been waiting, and who were keen to read my story will, I trust, be rewarded in these paragraphs below at my website. Readers should not get their hopes up too high, though, for like many writers I discuss my sex-life largely by indirection. Readers will find in these paragraphs a great deal written about my sex-life, if they are willing to read on to the end, before the subject changes to deal with other aspects of my autobiography at the many paragraphs below. I also write about the sex-lives of others, as I make some general comments about sex and sexuality, the libidinous & the lewd, the erogenous and the erotic, the hot & the horny. The voyeuristic, those interested in pornography, and those who like to read about the sexually explicit, will be disappointed, though. If readers expect any personal gratifications in the above areas to which I have referred, areas to satisfy their needs for the sexually explicit and the graphic, they will not find them here. Wikipedia has an excellent overview of the subject of pornography which I discuss further below. Meanwhile readers can examine that useful overview of the subject, if they wish, at this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography
I don't try to hide aspects of my sexlife. But whatever reticence I do exhibit is partly a result of my respect for the only two women with whom I have had lengthy relationships and who became my wives for 8 and 40 years, respectively. My general attitude to confession in general, & the exposure of the more intimate aspects of my personal life in particular, an attitude which derives from the Bahá'í teachings, a religion I have been associated with now for over 60 years, is also a reason for my reticence in discussing the fine details of my marital intimacies from 1967 to 2015. I have no extra-marital escapades to report on of any substance, and these paragraphs do not deal with my pre-marital sex life in the 1950s and 1960s except in very general terms. As the famous poet and novelist Robert Graves(1895-1985) once said in an interview: "I'm on simple hugs-and-kisses terms with several friends. That's all right. But promiscuity seems forbidden to poets." He went on to say "I do not begrudge, I do not feel any sense of judgmentalism, toward any nonpoet for what might be seen by others as their promiscuity." I gradually came to see myself as a poet, by sensible & insensible degrees beginning in the 1980s. As far as this poet is concerned, sexual promiscuity is something I have tried to keep under control, for the most part successfully, since the sequence of events in my pubertal development occurred by sensible and insensible degrees from, say, 11 to 17, 1955 to 1962.
I have to frankly admit that I have felt a strong susceptibility to the beauty of women, both before and after marriage. In spite of this susceptibility, I exercised a self-control during my 48 years in the marital scene which perhaps luck, circumstances, & those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence, enabled me to pass the tests of trial and temptation. I am and was able to claim the mantle of faithfulness, loyalty & trustworthiness. In the two years between marriage number 1, and marriage number 2, between the time I left the home in which my first wife and I lived, and the time I had a ceremony with a marriage celebrant celebrating my second marriage, between October 1973 and December 1975, I also have to frankly admit to a very complex 26 months for my several erogenous zones. Those 26 months are a separate story which I do not deal with here. Perhaps I will at a future time. My fantasies and dreams, my wishes and wants, my desires & passions outside my formal and official, my direct and explicit one-to-one marriage bond are not the subject of this now lengthy essay. My sexual experiences before marriage number 1 in August 1967, and in the interval of separation from my first wife, and before marriage number two are dealt with in my now lengthy autobiography and in my journal or diary. This journal may or may not be published by my literary executors. I will make some general comments below, though, in relation to these pre-marital periods. These were periods in my life before the age of 32 in 1976.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets#18 to 24, altered below provides some useful perspectives on my experience and attitudes, feelings and thoughts about women in my life.
I could compare so many to the beauty of the rose;
they were more lovely and more varied in their pose.
I saw them early on in life when but a young child
until illness struck and my tired eyes had come to file
all I saw in a fatigue-laden haze that brought no bliss,
and brought no desire to touch or warm to their kiss.
But for all those decades of my life my eyes were hot
and kept my heart on heat and mind in fight to not
go too far, too far in touching and in sexual passion
with eyes finding much beauty in each their fashion.
Each one was rare with heaven’s air, for me, so fair.
I could never say these things: this poetry will dare
to uncover my true feelings over so many years and
in the process draw what I have seen across the land.
Readers will learn little to nothing about how many orgasms I now have per week or month now in my 70s, or how many I had in my sixties, or in any decade back in the earlier stages of my lifespan. Readers who would like to watch an interesting talk about orgasms and, in the process, learn much more than I could tell them about my orgasms, can do so at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jx0dTYUO5E&index=19&list=PL7 Readers will also learn little about how old I was when I began to masturbate or, indeed, any of the details regarding my personal history of this seemingly and increasingly popular activity. Masturbation is the self-sexual stimulation of the genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation may involve hands, fingers, everyday objects, sex toys or combinations of these. Masturbation that is mutual & manual involves stimulation of the genitals between partners. It can be a substitute for, or coextensive with, sexual penetration. Readers who feel they are missing-out by my reticence to outline this aspect of my sexual history, might enjoy an excellent overview of the subject. This overview will provide readers with much more information than I could possibly provide about my life in this particular sexual domain. Readers can enrich their learning at this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masturbation
I do not discuss the actual sexual activity I had with wife numbers one or two. Nor will readers learn about my sex-life, as I say above, before my first marriage in August of 1967. Neither of the wonderful women to whom I have been married would appreciate having such details aired-in-public, and I have no intention of discussing such details before my reading public. I am no scholar of sex and sexuality, anyway. Nor do I write about or utilize sex in a humorous way as many now do with much success. Readers will find that those writers who do have such literary skills may be able to entertain them with pleasure and delight, if their literary interests of readers lie in this now vast and it would appear, expanding domain. With a little Googling, a visit to a good library, or to an online book-shop like Amazon, such readers can read on in perpetuity. Here are two good links to the sex lives of all sorts of people. The internet is awash with such links: https://www.google.com.au/?gws_rd=ssl#safe=active&q=sex+of+famous+people+wikipedia andhttp://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n24/wayne-koestenbaum/call-it-hollywood
Sex is often the brunt of jokes. In relation to the world of cyberspace, sex is often discussed by analysts & academics, sexologists & sex gurus. It is viewed by voyeurs and perverts, sexual sleuths and the scopophiliac, and millions of ordinary men & women. There are millions of ordinary people looking for stimulation of many types from many sources in cyberspace. Sex is, not only a source of immense pleasure-bonding, but also of great frustration and conflict. This has been true in my life, and in the lives of many whom I have known: fellow students & teachers, friends & relations; the lives of millions both now and throughout history have experienced troubles and problems in this intimate part of their lives.
The lives of people I do not know, will never know, and don't particularly want to know, all have their own stories of their sexual highs-and-lows, ecstacies and tragedies. The primary sex organ of the human being, as testified by many psychologists & sexologists, is the brain. Our rich mental associations, imaginations, fantasies, and conceptualizations, have transformed human sexuality tremendously at least for the affluent and leisured millions on the planet. That is one of the many points raised by the French critic & writer Michel Foucault as well as other analysts of human sexual experience.
One of the most explicit diaries exposing the sexual adventures & misadventures of an individual was that of Samuel Pepys. It was first published in a very readable form in 1971 by R.C. Latham & W. Matthews. I had just arrived in Australia at the time, and was far too busy to concern myself with Pepys or, indeed, any of the romantic & erotic literature then available. I was working more than 60 hours a week as, first, a primary school teacher & then a high school teacher. I was also the secretary of the local Bahá'í community. I was living, at the time, in a dry-dog-biscuit of a city, in the semi-desert region of northern South Australia, in the seaport of Whyalla.
I became familiar with Pepys when I retired from a 50 year student and paid-employment life of half a century, 1949 to 1999. He was a prominent civil servant & kept a diary for a decade in the 1660s. It was a diary of over a million words. He wrote in detail about his unfaithfulness & his sexual peccadilloes; perhaps he thought that a lively carnality was a necessary dynamic of greatness. What seems extraordinary, at this remove of more than three centuries, is that Pepys was never exposed during his lifetime. His diary could easily have been seized and, as Robert Latham says, ‘his enemies would have been only too delighted to open to the world this Pandora’s box.’ As the 1960s advanced incrementally 300 years after Pepys kept his famous diaries, & as yet another stage in the unfoldment of the so-called permissive society made its entrance, Pepys was joined by many others. As the year 2015 heads through its 10th month, the literary room which deals with sex & sexuality in the great & luxurious hotel of prose and poetry is filled with men & women whose writings provide a detailed historical, & a contemporary, perspective on the subject of people's sex lives.
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It is important for anyone reading this part of my website to know that it is almost impossible to isolate the physical, sexual relationship of a couple from the dynamics of other aspects of their life together. Through misuse, abuse and manipulation our sexuality can lead to distancing and troubles in a relationship. My nearly five decades of marriage have not been characterized by deep and satisfactory sexual intimacy for all of those months and years. As the philosophically inclined Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius once wrote: "the sexual embrace can only be compared with music & with prayer." When my sex-life was good I found Aurelius's words, or the words of a number of other writers, and their equally felicitous phrases to be true. The sexual revolution in my lifetime, though, opened a Pandora's box, & our society has not been able to put the lid back on that box. Social attitudes towards the discussion & presentation of sexuality have become more tolerant in many, if not all, countries; legal definitions of obscenity have become more limited, leading to an industry, an increasingly vast industry, for the production & consumption of pornography in the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st--a subject I discuss below.
The wild experiment, the fascination with sex, & the overly liberal philosophy on matters sexual, society's permissiveness as well as its puritanical aspects, have juggled themselves in the complex backdrop of my life. The mixture has not always brought me sexual peace. The revolution in social, as well as print and electronic, technologies has further fed into my human sexual appetites, interests & possibilities. This has been true in my life beginning, say, (i) with men's magazines in the 1950s & 1960s, like Playboy and Penthouse, which always existed far-out on the perphery of my somewhat conventional and conservative, sport loving and academically ambitious, childhood and adolescence, and (ii) with the 1960s & "the pill" coming into use in 1960. In 1960 I was 15; I had once thought that I completed puberty at the age of 13 in 1957. A study of human development, though, informs me that boys usually complete puberty by ages 16–17. For a useful and detailed overview of puberty go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puberty
Puberty which starts earlier than usual is known as precocious puberty, and puberty which starts later than usual is known as delayed puberty. I am not sure whether my puberty was early or late, although I recall: (i) having norturnal emissions, ejaculations, or what are colloquilally called wet dreams in my adolescent life, & (ii) strong sexual urges as early as 12/13. I came to know, especially in my study of human development in the '90s, that the 1st ejaculation for a boy is, on average, 13. My 1st ejaculation is not part of my memory-bank. In all likelihood it passed unnoticed by me, if not by my mother who washed the sheets. I do have a memory, though, of 'wet sheets' in 1964/5 at the age of 20 when I was a student in my 2nd year of an honours history and philosophy BA program at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario. In all likelihood I had wet dreams much earlier than the age of 20, but I don't remember. I certainly recall with sharp and graphic memories the push and pull of sexual or carnal desires, libidinous or concupiscent urges, erotic or prurient attractions, as well as lust or licentious inclinations in the day, and what is called nocturnal penile tumescence at night, all as part and parcel of my adolescence.
The following paragraphs draw on the expertise of several writers. The first is the sex therapist Dr David Schnarch & his book Passionate Marriage. Schnarch asserts that the greatest sexual pleasure in life is possible in one's middle & later years, when a mature sense of self has been achieved and genuine intimacy is possible with another person. Dr Schnarch shows how the details of one's sexual style, from kissing to daring erotic behaviors, are a window into your life, your partner's, and your relationship. Passionate Marriage is the sexual "road less traveled," an erotic "Care of the Soul" that integrates sexuality and spirituality in deeply positive ways. It is about real passion and wet sex. It's about how relationships are spiritual journeys. It's pragmatic, explicit, practical, and erotic, but it's not simplistic and doesn't focus on technique. It takes a down to earth, "in the trenches," unglamorized, honest view of relationships. I like the thrust of this book, and I will report on the success of its philosophy and modus operandi in this section of my website at a later date as I go through my 70s from 2014 to 2024, and my 80s beyond 2024, if I last that long.
A good marriage is not smooth, and marriage is not reducible to a set of skills, at least that is one way I would express the overall context & texture of the marriage bond, the experience of marriage. People have difficulty with intimacy, such has come to be my view, because they're supposed to, at least when viewed over an entire lifespan. It's not something to be "solved" and avoided. Problems with sex and intimacy are important to go through because this process changes us. These are the drive wheels and the grind stones of intimate relationships. The solution is not a simple 'going back to the passion of early relationships' because what that is, and was, is sex between strangers; it's about going forward to new passion and intimacy as mature adults or, at least, adults striving to be mature. If we use relationships properly they make us grow into adults, capable of intense intimacy, eroticism, and passion. This is about having sex with our hearts and minds, & not just with our genitals. For more on Schnarch's views, and an interview with him go to:http://www.sheknows.com/love-and-sex/articles/1423/an-interview-with-dr-david-schnarch-the-sex-therapist
No discussion of sex and sexuality, mine or anyone else's should leave out Lloyd deMause(1931-). He is an American social thinker known for his work in the field of psychohistory. He did graduate work in political science at Columbia University and he later trained as a lay psychoanalyst. A lay psychoanalyst is defined as a psychoanalyst who does not have a medical degree. DeMause is the founder of The Journal of Psychohistory. I first came across deMause in 1974 when I was a senior tutor in human relations at what is now the University of Tasmania. This highly focussed writer has made major contributions to the study of psychohistory. This field involves the study of the psychological motivations of historical events. It seeks to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups & nations, past and present. Its subject matter is childhood & the family, especially child abuse, & psychological studies of anthropology & ethnology. For more on this provocative thinker go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_deMause and on Psychohistory go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory
No discussion of sex and sexuality, mine of anyone else's, should leave out Anthony Giddens' The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies(Polity Press, 1992, 200 pages), & Erotic Welfare: Sexual Theory & Politics in the Age of Epidemic, Linda Singer (1993, Routledge). Anthony Giddens has written a book full of insight and hope for the present and future development of relationships between women and men in contemporary society. He writes of the possibilities offered by what he describes as "plastic sexuality", that is sexual expression freed from the needs of reproduction. This, he argues, is an essentially modern embodiment of a search for personal fulfilment and intimacy over & above the physical relationship of sex. He contends that this could and should lead to a "democracy in personal life" and, moreover, contribute to what he describes as a "reflexive view of self".
He talks of the emergence of a pure relationship, which is part of a "generic restructuring of intimacy"(p.58). He examines the various social and ideological factors that have contributed and do contribute to these changes. Among these factors, he cites the emergence of toleration of homosexuality. He examines what he calls "intimacy as democracy" in which he lists the characteristics of democracy which could/should be salient in pure relationships. These are essentially to do with the idea of personal autonomy. Such autonomy is the capacity of individuals to be self-reflective and self-determining (p.l85). He outlines the limitations & obstacles, both ideological & structural, that hinder the achievement of these ideals. He says that the characteristic trend of development of modern societies is towards their realisation. (p.188). Giddens asserts that intimate social relationships have become 'democratised', so that the bond between partners, even within a marriage, has little to do with external laws, regulations or social expectations, but is based on the internal understanding between two people. It is, he says, a trusting bond based on emotional communication. Where such a bond ceases to exist, modern society is generally happy for the relationship to be dissolved. Thus we have, he continues, a democracy of the emotions in everyday life.'(See: Anthony Giddens,Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. London, 1999, p.8) For more go to: http://www.reading.ac.uk/RevSoc/archive/volume10/number2/10-2g.htm
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: AND SEX
We find the following remarks about George Bernard Shaw(GBS) in the London Review of Books(Vol. 11 No. 19, 12/10/'89) by Frank Kermode. This is a review of: Bernard Shaw. Vol. II: The Pursuit of Power by Michael Holroyd(Chatto, 400 pages, 1989). Kermode begins: "It is an important part of Michael Holroyd’s argument, in the 2nd volume of his biography of GBS, that Shaw sacrificed one notable avocation, or kindly satisfaction, namely, sex. At the beginning of this volume we find GBS, the hero, newly married but sick. A suspiciously long series of accidents and illnesses postponed the consummation of his marriage for so long that abstinence became the very basis of the union, and so it remained. Holroyd has a good deal to say about the relation between Shaw’s negative marital practice, and his abundantly positive theory, which had of course to allow for occasional sex. In fact, he was in his way extremely interested in sex, not only, as it were, philosophically, as in Man and Superman and other plays, but in the ludic side of it in real life.
He thought society, rather than he, was in an absurd muddle about sex. And it seems that he himself found more enjoyment in writing self-sending-up love-letters, supplemented by occasional moments of teasing dalliance with actresses & other devotees, than in doing what others would regard as the real thing. It is touching, therefore, that Love, outlawed by his metabiological programmes, had its revenge, striking him down, with Murdochian violence, when he contemplated the attractions of Mrs Patrick Campbell. He had flirted with other actresses, but did not carry the pursuit to its end; with Stella, his first Liza, he committed himself, but this pursuit also failed and she slipped from his grasp. Despite his theoretical contempt for ‘romantic’ love, he seems to have been quite badly hurt. In a way it is a comfort to know that once, at any rate, love had been a deeply melancholy experience.
I say 'comfort' in that last sentence, though, because hurt and melancholy, GBS's experience, are also part of what happens to people like you and me, and millions of our fellow humans. Joy and tragedy lurk below the surface of millions of relationships, both within the marital bond and without. The total picture, though, is far from simple; indeed, the complexity across the planet, both now and in history, has a staggering diversity. This diversity is so extensive, that I'm not sure one can enunciate a set of principles that apply across the board to ensure the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Of course, this has not prevented many writers and thinkers, philosophers and religious enthusiasts from trying to textualize and contextualize such principles and guidelines.
I post the above paragraphs because in my nearly 50 years of married life, and in another dozen years when I was not married, sexual fulfillment was a rare, or at least a periodic, experience. Fulfillment in my life has come in many forms, although not 24/7 year in and year out: in marriage and in career, in home & hearth, in religion and philosophy, in the literary and in leisure, in sport and study, in friendship and in fun, in community and in culture. In the area of the sexual-instinctual & the carnal-erotic I have experienced many a test. Fulfillment & attainment, realization & achievement has not been the case in my libidinal & erogenous zones, except: (i) for periods of time in the early months and years of both my marriages; (ii) for short periods of time later in those two marriages, and (iii) periods of time measured in months in two pre-marital relationships, and measured in weeks in two other relationships.
Sexual intercourse began, if the poet English Philip Larkin is your man, in 1963. It was a year before Top of the Pops in the U.K. and it was off the back of the Lady Chatterley trial & the Beatles’ first LP. I discuss Lady Chatterley below for those readers who are enjoying this part of my website. Larkin, of course, was writing about the greater public discussion of sex, and its easier availability for the mass public in the West. There was a strange dance of the permissive with the banned in many areas: child abuse, sexual expression's openness, paedophilia, inter alia.
That dance is far from over. For an article on sex in the corridors of the BBC go to this link:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n21/andrew-ohagan/light-entertainment The questions surrounding that dance, sex in the corridors of the BBC, and the public accounts of people's private sexual experiences all the way back to Samuel Pepys are legion. Child abuse, has also come onto the public and popular culture agenda in the last decade or so. Such abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child or children. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, as well as the Department for Children and Families, both define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Child abuse can occur in a child's home, in the schools and organizations, groups & communities in which the child interacts. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological or emotional abuse. Go to this link for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_abuse
MORE ON PEPYS
Why Pepys risked being exposed by keeping such a self-incriminating archive of confessionalism is hard to fatho. It inevitably raises the question of why he needed to keep a diary in the first place. Was it an exercise in sheer vanity? Was it the compulsion of a born record-keeper? Was it a bid for posthumous fame? Was it the basis for an autobiography? Was it a deliberate confessional? Did he have a secret desire to be found out? Was it done out of sheer devilry, or fun? I could ask these same questions about what and why I write here about my sex life.
Was there even an element, for Pepys, of that ineffable bombast which drove the French philosopher Jaques Rousseau in his Confessions to write: ‘Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand & loudly proclaim “Thus have I acted, these were my thoughts, such was I ’? I could say these same words about my thoughts. I have asked many questions about why I write, why I write what I do, why I only reveal a moderate confessionalism, and why I am obsessed if, in fact, I am--as my wife informs me and as I often think I am. The world of obsessiveness and compulsiveness is a topic unto itself, and I shall make only one or two remarks about it here. As I go through my 70s, & as I view my eight decades of living, I find the whole question of my obsessions and compulsions quite a complex subject, too complex to deal with here. I also feel fortunate, partly due to luck and/or good management, to have escaped not only many of the intensities of OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also much of the potential tragedy that lies at the heart of the permissive society, a tragedy with many facets: interpersonal and intrapersonal, sexual and social, psychological and sociological.
In an attempt to promote sexual health and a dialogue among all interested parties, the U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher, in 2001 issued a call to sexual health and responsible sexual behavior. This Call to Action provided an evidence-based foundation for developing a public health approach to sexual health and responsible sexual behavior. It identified the problems and then discussed the risks and the protective factors. Numerous intervention models that had been evaluated and shown to be effective, as well as some that were promising but not yet adequately evaluated, were also presented. The last step, implementation of effective interventions, depended heavily on individual communities and their members.
This call to action, to sexual health & real dialogue in this complex personal and interpersonal domain, has been slow to be taken seriously in the last dozen or so years. Local and regional, state and national governments, as well as relevant international NGOs, all have to deal with problems in this domain of social & cultural life. Most of the 200 to 250 national and territory governments around our emerging planetary civilization deal with the vast complexity of problems in this area by fits and starts, policies here and there, plans and programs, usually responding to some crisis or emergency. A crisis is any event that is, or is expected to lead to, an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, community, or whole society. Crises are deemed to be negative changes in the security, economic, political, societal, or environmental affairs, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning. More loosely the word 'crisis' is a term meaning "a testing time" or an "emergency event". The story, the subject, of sexual health is becoming more and more exposed, described and discussed in the print and electronic media. Go to this link for more on this topic: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44216/
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
Serious discussions of sexual health over the decades have often been framed in terms of abstinence, not the most sophisticated approach. In the U.S., the prohibition of sex among children and teenagers, and its expression among the poor and the many categories of the disadvantaged, has become in recent decades a financially rewarding enterprise for politicians, religious groups, community organizations, and researchers. Perhaps the 20th and early 21st centuries will be remembered for, among many other things, a vast tableland of sexual expression in a society drowning in its myriad manifestations. I make no attempt to deal with and discuss this great matrix and milieux of sexual intimacies and issues in this part of my website. The internet is awash, though, with reading material for anyone wanting to update themselves on the morals and mores, the crises and catastrophes, have have been part of the human condition in relation to sex and sexuality in both recent decades and further-back in history.
THE CONCEPT OF WOMEN
The concept that a woman should be a brood-mare, an old concept, was certainly still prevalent back in the 1940s and 1950s when I was growing-up, but men who were smart at the level of teachers or advertising executives, lawyers or business-men, among other categories, had already begun to question this view, this image. When Marilyn Monroe swivelled her hips in Niagara, a 1953 thriller-film noir, released by Twentieth Century-Fox and starring Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters, there were already plenty of men who knew such blatant sexuality was a joke. By the early 1960s the ideal of blatant sexiness had already given way to something far more subtle in the mind of any man who could read and think, ponder and try to understand what goes on below the surface, below the visual, reality of life. Still, physical beauty & sexual attractiveness have continued to hold millions of people, men and women, in the tight grip of what you might call 'fascination.'
Millions of ordinary men and women have long been heard to say things like: "I am too tired to have sex; can we do it before 10 pm? Do I have to take my socks off? Can I just lay here while you do the work? Wait 'til the children are in bed." These types of lines have been part of my life and the lives of billions both now, and in the long history of the amorous and the amatory. Millions go through the motions. The novelty and the lust of the early years of a partnership are often, some would say usually, replaced by familiarity and routine and, hopefully--as it happened in my case---by a new intimacy, one resulting from decades of memories, of raising children, of being a grandparent and suffering the slings and arrows of life, as well as the inevitabilities of the aging-process. This is certainly part of my story.
I could be writing the story of Everyman, although I am only too aware that, on a planet of 7.3 billion, sexual expression, and relationships are immensely varied across the 200++ countries and territories of the planet, and across the entirety of the life-span. To tell the story:(i) of the history of sex and sexuality, (ii) of the contemporary expression of sex in our global society, and (iii) of the details, the permuations and combinations, of several decades of sex in my own life, would require several volumes. This brief survey will have to suffice for readers who have the interest in my views and my experiences in the sexual domain. There are now many writers who are providing readers with such detail, & readers here can Google this subject to their heart's content.
SEX IS NOT LOVE
Sex is not love--we often need to remind ourselves; the two are often confused. I am told by a Japanese friend that partners, husbands and wives, in Japan do not say: "I love you." They limit such emotional overtures to: "I like you and I like this." Of course, this is obviously not true of all the 125+ million of Japanese. There are many messages that the sexually eager adolescents and young adults need to hear; these messages are often equally applicable to older adults. We can love our sexual partners and enjoy the intimacy that comes from knowing someone for years, but not feel like having sex. We may not feel like having sex on a daily or weekly, monthly or even annual, basis. The variation here is immense.
That said, someone has found a scientific connection between love and sex among heterosexual adults. Data from a 1992 survey indicated that U.S. heterosexual women who usually, or always, achieve orgasm experience greater emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure in their relationships than do their partners (Waite and Joyner, 252). An increase in the frequency of sex has a similar effect. However, whether heterosexual men always or usually achieve orgasm has no effect on the level of emotional satisfaction or physical pleasure they or their female partners experience (Waite & Joyner, 258). For those who prefer to learn about sex from TV documentaries rather than books, the recent series examining the work of Masters & Johnson was educational. Go to this link for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_and_Johnson#Dramatic_production There are, of course, many programs in the media which provide both the young and old with a knowledge that was difficult to obtain until, I would say, at least the last half of the 20th century, and even more was this the case by the 21st century. Knowledge of this subject in all its forms is burgeoning.
Men's and women's orgasms are, from some people's point of view, overrated. But the sort of data that results in, or provides the raw information about, people's sex lives & their sexual proclivities is compounded by 100s of studies for those who take the interest in this popular subject, at least popular to some. Indeed, the literature, the formal-scientific and the unscientific, studies on the subject of human, men & women, sexual activity is enough to fill libraries. Readers with the interest can now Google in perpetuity.
Dennis Altman(1943-), an Australian academic & pioneering gay rights activist, argues that social, political, & economic forces shape the everyday experiences of sex. His global perspective and persuasive writing link such diverse issues as adolescent sex in Uganda and Thailand, Japanese pornography, Irish women seeking abortions abroad, the Fiji NGO Coalition on the Right to Sexual Orientation, and the "gay marriage" issue in the United States. I highly recommend readers obtain a copy of Altman's book Global Sex. It's a good book to read from cover to cover for a global context on the subject. In our world of print and image glut, though, I do not expect all those who come to this part of my website to take up my suggestion with enthusiasm. To each their own in the print and electronic media world, and in just about every other world.
The 2nd edition of what I wrote about my sex-life is found both above and below. It has been so extensively revised in the last 3 and 1/2 years, from 3/4/'12 to 3/10/'15, that what is found here amounts to a 3rd edition. As I say above, though, for the voyeuristic & for those desiring explicit details about the sexual erotic-exotic, the sex in my life from 1943 to 2015, disappointment will be experienced as they read. I must add, too, that disappointment was experienced by me, as well, from time to time over all those years. Anyway, after all the waiting, especially by those who now consider themselves my faithful readers, waiting for the paragraphs on the subject of my sex-life, I hope that at least some of the readers who peruse these paragraphs will find my sexual expose, my analysis and commentary, worth their wait and their effort.
My personal revelations are made largely by indirection, with some made by commentary on the generalities and ambiguities of these epochs in this age that are the years that constitute my life. These epochs of my sexual activity will certainly not cause the cherubim, the seraphim, indeed, the entire angelic hierarchy to be embarrassed. Those beings who occupy the 1st sphere of angels in the Christian angelic hierarchy, & who serve as heavenly counselors will, I would think, most likely yawn at whatever mention I make of my sexual peccadillos and improprieties, indiscretions & defects. Any sense of shame or inadequacy, deficiencies, flaws or failings that I have had in life will not topple the towers of cities or arrest the sun's climb. I do hope, though, in the months & years ahead, to discuss the place of sex in society and in my life in more detail here. I hope to update this description and analysis as the months and years go on through my 70s, and into my old-age, the years beyond 80 in 2024 again, as I say above, if I last that long.
MY LIFE AS A BAHA'I
During my life as a Bahá'í, in the periods before both my marriages, I have had to reconcile what are clearly the conflicting views and standards of this Faith, like "no sex before marriage," with the values and standards of a society that sees sex before marriage as in no way inappropriate, even the norm. It is important to understand that the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for individual and social justice, Bahá’ís try to distinguish between those dimensions of personal and public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá’í Teachings, and which they actively or not-so-actively support, and those that are not. Bahá'ís do not necessarily oppose personal and public issues that are not in keeping with the Bahá'í teachings, although they do not promote them.
The Bahá’í teachings maintain that a person must rise above certain material aspects of human nature. They must do this in order to develop and manifest inherent spiritual qualities that characterize their true selves. The Bahá'í Sacred Texts contain laws & exhortations that, in many instances, redirect or restrict behaviours that arise from impulses, tendencies, & desires. Whether inborn or acquired, these desires, like sex before or outside marriage, taking part in online porn or engaging in flirtatious behaviour, particularly when married, among several other social & psychological activities, are discouraged.
Some of these impulses and desires are physical, while others are emotional or psychological. Yet, whatever the origin of the resulting behaviours, it is through their regulation & control that one's higher, spiritual nature is able to predominate and flourish. Those who are not Bahá’ís may have no cause to take into account such considerations. A Bahá’í, however, cannot set aside the implications of the Bahá'í Sacred Texts & the teachings of their Faith. He or she must endeavour to respond, to the best of his or her ability, though it be little by little and day by day. In so doing, all believers face challenges, although the specific type or extent of a test may, indeed, usually does, differ. Bahá'ís try to act with faith in Bahá’u’lláh’s words as follows: “Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures." Bahá'ís try to respond to His call, “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.”
In the late 20th century and the early 21st century an explosion of pornography took place just as I was retiring after a 50 year student-and-paid-employment life, 1949-1999. There is much in society that I do not approve of, but I acknowledge its existence. I comment on the subject of pornography briefly below, after alluding to it occasionally in the above paragraphs. Life is what it is, warts & all. Sex is part of life, indeed an essential part. Without sex, none of us would be here. Biologists suggest that the pleasure of sex ensures that the younger generations will keep at it, in the process, replenishing the species. It is obviously a useful, and often essential, glue in any long term marital relationship. Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but it is principally an institution in which interpersonal relationships, sexual and other, are acknowledged. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. When defined broadly, marriage is considered a cultural universal. For more on marriage go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage
Pornography may be, indeed it unquestionably is, presented in a variety of media including: books and magazines, postcards and photographs, sculpture and drawing, painting and animation, sound recording and film, video and video games, inter alia. The term applies to the depiction of the act usually in some visual form. The term is generally not used to include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease. The primary subjects of pornographic depictions are: (i) pornographic models who pose for still photographs, and (ii) pornographic actors or porn stars who perform in pornographic films. If dramatic skills are not involved, a performer in a porn film may also be called a model. The scholarly study of pornography, notably in cultural studies, is limited, perhaps due to the controversy about the topic in feminism. The first peer-reviewed academic journal about the study of pornography, Porn Studies, was published in 2014. For a detailed, a comprehensive, but succinct overview of the topic go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography
Internet use grew rapidly in the developed world from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, and from the late 1990s to the present in the developing world. In 1994 only 3% of American classrooms had access to the Internet, while by 2002 that figure was 92%. I leave it to readers with the interest to examine the fine details of the history and development of the internet in both the developed and underdeveloped world. In the brief amount of time from, say, 1995 to 2015, the Internet has become a prevalent source of sexually explicit material for a significant portion of the population in developed nations. Cybersex is a rapidly increasing problem within society. Sexual activity on the Internet is growing at such an exponential rate that researchers are scrambling to maintain current data.
Due to the relative accessibility and the anonymity that the Internet provides, online sexual activity appears both alluring and safe. More homes are now equipped with Internet access and current safeguards do not always sufficiently protect against the ever-present plethora of sexually explicit material just a click away. People who would never consider walking into an adult bookstore or entering into an adulterous relationship can now act out sexually in the privacy of their own homes or offices. While the Internet presents itself as harmless, the effects of cybersex activity can be as detrimental to relationships with both man & God as the more classically defined forms of adultery, fornication, and lust.
The addiction and obsession/compulsion models of cybersexual behavior label what a person does & experiences. For millions now cybersex has achieved a measure of acceptance. A cybersexually active person often does not want to continue in his current pattern, but at the same time, his desires & motivations appear to be uncontrollable. This sense of powerlessness may aid in the belief that cybersexuality is not something we are responsible for; the fault lies outside ourselves; so goes one of the many arguments that analyse sex in cyberspace. The truth regarding this misconception is two-fold. First, a person is accountable for his thoughts & actions, even the ones that initially appear to be unmanageable. Human beings often attribute their failings, their sins of omission and commission, to outside sources. It is important to recognize that a person can change their thoughts and actions; they can alter their behaviour and each person has to work-out their own method of doing so. For millions, of course, people watching pornography is not an everyday experience, or at least it isn't an essential element of their lives. For millions, too, porn is not a moral issue at all. It is simply, as I indicate above, an accepted part of life.
Internet sex addiction, also known as cybersex addiction, has been proposed as a sexual addiction characterized by virtual Internet sexual activity that causes serious negative consequences to one's physical, mental, social, and/or financial well-being. It may also be considered a subset of the theorized Internet addiction disorder. Internet sex addiction manifests various behaviours: reading erotic stories;viewing, downloading or trading online pornography; online activity in adult fantasy chat rooms; cybersex relationships; masturbation while engaged in online activity that contributes to one's sexual arousal; the search for offline sexual partners and information about sexual activity. For more on this subject go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_sex_addiction
Theories regarding addiction and obsession/compulsion(OCD) do not reach peoples' souls. Some spiritual conviction can assist a person in dealing with his or her failings. Our sins of omission and commission run deeper than life situations, chemistry, patterns of behavior, and experiences. The answer that satisfies goes deeper than medication or counseling regarding traumatic childhood experiences, addiction or OCD. These methods only lead to surface change and, at best, generate more socially acceptable, self-absorbed behaviours. Outward change requires, as well, a change of heart, of inner emotion and attitude. Cybersexual activity itself is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is that the cybersexual addict turns away from what might be called his "higher self" and he then follows his "lower self," the idle fancies and vain imaginings that dwell in his own heart. Such a discussion becomes more & more complex in a pluralistic society with a myriad set of values, beliefs, attitudes, conventions, morals and mores. For the Bahá'í, though, what constitutes the higher self and the lower self have many clear parameters.
I would like to give readers a brief summary of how Norman Mailer dealt with his autobiography. This provides a clear indication of how I deal with mine. "The famous American writer Norman Mailer spent much of his life reporting facts as if he were writing fiction, and performing for an audience of gossip columnists and shockable reviewers. He often wrote a fictional version of his life as though it were fact." Mailer's latest biographer, J. Michael Lennon, has just published: Norman Mailer: A Double Life (Simon and Schuster, 2013, 950 pages) Mendelson also reviews: Mind of an Outlaw: Selected Essays(Random House, 2013, 600 pages). Norman Mailer was the most famous writer of his generation. People who never read a word that he wrote knew who he was, whether because of his fame as a novelist or journalist, or his notoriety because of his many marriages and affairs.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
I mention Mailer because, unlike Mailer, I do not write autobiography in fictional form as if it were fact; I write it as fact in several forms: poetic, narrative, essayistic, memoiristic, analytic. The whole question of facticity, of factual accuracy, is a topic unto itself which I will not deal with here. I do not engage in a blatant, a strong confessionalism; my confessionalism is modest or mild and, for the most part, it is found in my journals which I have left in the hands of my executors to deal with on my passing. I'm sure, though, that some of my more conservative and traditionally minded friends would regard even my modest confessionalism as "going too far." To each their own in cyberspace and real space.
I deal with the several battles I have had with sex and sexuality, among other inner battles, in my journal to be published as I indicate above, if my literary executors decide to do so, after my passing. Of course, given the increasing secularization and sexualization, pluralism & moral relativism, fracturing and splintering, indeed, some would say, collapsing and shattering of society, the increasing hype and the increasing desire for more and more stimulation, as well as the increasing materialism and sensory-sensate nature of daily life in developed countries, porn for millions is not an issue. It is just part of the air people breath & is not something to be avoided. "To each their own", goes a popular adage, and "if it turns you on, then go for it" goes an aphorism. The Bahá'í writings indicate that "if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge that we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character....we are quite free to do so."(Lights of Guidance, p.138). My spontaneity in relation to my sins of omission and commission is found from time to time in my now extensive and public autobiography. My confessionalism is, though, it seems to me anyway, a moderate one. Not all my friends, and not all who view what I write here, will regard my confessionalism a moderate one.
With the extension & proliferation of dating sites in the 21st century, individuals can get a date or a dalliance, have a one night stand or virtually any form of sexual relationship, discretely and in whatever setting is practically accessible, with just a little Googling, a little online searching. The more conventional and conservative, the more traditional and, perhaps, somewhat cautious members of either the Bahá'í community or members of many other communities in society I'm sure would never utilize these dating sites. But there are many who would and do. My story, however brief, may help others find the courage to deal with their battles. Most of my story is found at the mental health sub-sections of my website. As I say above, too, the more intimate aspects of my confessionalism is to be found in my unpublished journals.
The world of sex and the availability of sexual experience has been transformed in recent years, as the 20th century was coming to an end, and in this 21st century. Due to my extensive online publishing, a readership now in the millions, and my registration at over 8000 internet sites, I have had offers of sex from literally dozens of women over the months and years. Due to the fact, though, that I am married and regard sex outside of my marital relationship, as something to be avoided: (a) I invite these women to go to my website and read my writing; (b) I send them a detailed explanation of why they should go elsewhere to satisfy their sexual interests & desires; or (c) I simply delete their email or internet post. I provide a quite detailed explanation of how I deal with this subject on this page of my website. I outline, in the process, how I have acquired a readership in the millions.
Couples need not feel they have to have sex a certain number of times a week in order to have a good sex life. It’s really about compatibility, say many sex therapists. One therapist recalls a pair of married scientists who came to see her about the frequency of sex in their marriage because they were afraid they were freaks. They came in saying, ‘We have sex twice a year, once on Christmas and once on his birthday. Is there something wrong with us?’ The sex therapist and the couple discussed the couple's marital relationship in detail; the therapist found that the couple didn’t really want to change. They were coming in to see her out of cultural pressure. Their true joy lay in doing what they were doing together in the lab. They liked each other; they didn’t fight. Sex was not a high priority for either of them. They were real cerebral types. They met with the therapist twice and she then sent them home. The therapist said, "I’m not going to push you folks in directions you feel no need to go; I think you fit very well together.’'
The above scenario has parallels with my wife and I. After 40 years together, I am more than a little happy with the fit. Sex, coitus or copulation, has not been part of the life of my wife and I for many years. At first I found this very frustrating and I'm sure, in retrospect, it was part of my turn toward porn in my early 50s especially with its easy availability in cyberspace. I did not let it consume inordinate amounts of my time or my attention, any more than I had done so in relation to any other problems I have had with the sexual domain since it was initiated by the bucket-full into my life at puberty by: (i) the hormonal signals from the brain to the gonads or testes, (ii) the associated nocturnal penile tumescence as erections are sometimes called, and (iii) by my sensory energies, enthusiasms, ardors and activities.
As I look back over eight decades of living it is clear that sex & the sensual have been for me one of life's testing areas. But it has been only one testing area. Other testing areas have included: family & friendships, calling & career, health mental & health physical, money & meetings, as well as the several tests, challenges, and tensions that are associated with each stage in the lifespan according to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson's theory of psycho-social development. Readers can go to this link to get an overview of the various tests that must be embraced and understood in the several stages of the life-span of each human being according to Erikson:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Erikson#Erikson.27s_theory_of_personality
From the inception of Playboy magazine in 1953, when I was 9, an American men's lifestyle magazine that featured photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction, to the easy accessibility of porn in cyberspace by the mid-1990s, when I was in my 50s, pornography was not a world in which I took much of an interest. Countless studies of, and concern with, porn connect it with a new & negative attitude to intimate relationships, & neurological imaging confirms it. Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, used MRI scans in 2010 to analyze men watching porn. Afterward, brain activity revealed, they looked at women more as objects than as people.
The DSM-5, published in May 2013, added the diagnosis "Hypersexual Disorder," which included compulsive pornography use. Repetitive viewing of pornography resets neural pathways, creating the need for a type & a level of stimulation not satiable in real life. Users are thrilled, then they are doomed because the circumstances of their real life cannot provide the same level of sexual gratification. But the evolutionary plasticity of the human brain makes this damage reversible. In The Brain That Changes Itself psychiatrist Norman Doidge writes about patients who overused porn and were able to quit, cold turkey, and change their brains back. They just had to stop watching it. To use the language of brain plasticity, peoples' brain maps with their new, exciting sexual images weakened. To put this another way, as problematic neuronal networks weakened, peoples' appetite for porn withered away.
Such a 'no-shenanigans' approach to hypersexual disorder, and addiction to porn, has become protocol in recent years. Pornography needs to be seen as a brain disease, not a moral failure. To some, especially those with serious religious proclivities like myself, it was and is both. Among the young people who have been asked in surveys, only teetotalism worked. Otherwise, as one man put it, "the creep creeps back." Teetotalism is the best. Given the spectrum of online porn activity "from very heavy-to very mild-to none-at-all" there are now hundreds of millions caught in the jugular by online porn. Of course, as I say above, millions have no moral problems with porn; it is accepted as part of the air they breath. Porn simply does not test their values and beliefs. Although it once tested my religious scruples, that is no longer the case.
The rehabilitative mental process, though, to which I refer above, it turns out, is a lot like the one we use when we fall in love and fall out of love, & when we get over one person and meet someone new. First we have to "unlearn" old pathways, cutting and rewiring billions of connections in our brain. Then we make fresh ones; I did this 40 years ago between marriage # 1 and marriage # 2 in 1974/5. I did this yet again in 2013-14 in relation to porn. Love can actually conquer all, and any degree of of porn. addiction can be conquered. Please tell the nearest teen and young adult for whom "breaking-up is hard-to-do," as the song says. In addition, tell those who are addicted to porn, if they have any close friends who are that close that they can trust and confide in them, that porn too can be conquered if, of course, they see it as a problem.
I leave it to readers with the interest to examine some of the avalanche of porn-statistics, but I will site several general stats as follows: (a) 70% of 18-to-34-year-old look at porn regularly in the USA. This is according to a recent survey of cyber-pornography by that authorityCosmopolitan magazine; (b) fully 94% of therapists in one 2014 survey reported seeing an increase in people addicted to porn; (c) 70% of Internet pornography traffic occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m; (d) 72% of companies that have addressed Internet misuse reported that 69% of those cases of internet misuse were pornography-related; (e) leading software publishers estimate as much as $83 billion a year in lost productivity due to on-the-job porn useage; (f) researchers showed, drawing on large samples, that one in six employees was now having trouble with sexual behavior online. For millions now, porn has become a whole generation's sex education, and could be the same for the next; the young are fumbling around online, not in the back seat. One estimate now puts the average age of the first experience of cyberporn viewing at 11. The online dating sites are also providing sex education in all sorts of new ways for adolescents and young adults, to say nothing about middle-aged and old adults. For an excellent overview of the effects of pornography go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_pornography
According to the American Psychological Association, pornography is to be found in all sorts of places in our increasingly sexualized society. The premature sexualisation of girls, for example, places them in increased danger of becoming victims of prostitution, violence, and unwanted forms of pornography. This is deeply concerning; many a women’s forum now considers this situation warrants immediate action by government & various community organizations. For a more detailed discussion of this subject go to:http://www.womensforumaustralia.com/significant-issues/premature-sexualisation-of-children
There is, for some, an erotic preference for "ordinary" people having sex, rather than the glamorised bodies of commercial porn. There are now 100s of different kinds of "home-made" heterosexual porn sites for those who want to view it. Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet only a small fraction are into home-made porn. What attracts "real people" to star in their own sex videos? What explains the consumer interest in this product? I leave these questions to others with the interest; there is ample opportunity for readers here to discuss this and related topics in cyberspace ad nauseam.
I was hardly aware of the world of porn, as I say, until the Internet made it readily available in the late 1990s, & I was retiring from a 50 year student and paid employment life, 1949 to 1999. By then, by the last years of the 20th century, I was in my mid-50s. The Internet was, by then, awash with porn. Porn was accessible to me, and to billions, at a few clicks of my mouse for the first 15 years after I retired from FT paid-employment. I have never had, nor do I now have, an Interest in sit-coms, reality TV, or popular celebrity magazines. I take an interest in aspects of popular culture as a window into what are the more serious academic & intellectual, historical and sociological, psychological and philosophical questions. But for some time in my 50s & 60s, I got grabbed, so to speak, by internet porn. As I say above, though, I did not let it grab too much of my time & attention; it was only one of the many temptations and faults that I as a human being have had to deal with and had to strive to overcome in my lifetime. I did not over-emphasize the problem. I gradually worked on it as part of a whole spectrum of qualities that I had been aiming to develop in the 8 decades that have been my lifespan. Porn is now far out on the periphery of my interest inventory in another galaxy. It is a temptation conquered with a little help from time and circumstances and, arguably, those mysterious dispensations of Providence.
The conquering of my enthusiasm for porn was assisted by a medical condition I developed by degrees in my late 60s. The condition was called benign prostatic hyperplasia(BPH). This, in simple terms, is an enlarged prostate. In 2013 I began to take a medication called duodart. The effects of this drug are several: (i) impotence, (ii) inability to achieve an erection, (iii) a decrease in libido or sex drive & (iv) a difficulty with ejaculation. More than two years down the track since beginning this medication in February of 2013, I have absolutely no desire to get an erection, to ejaculate, and my interest in porn has withered away. I had already gone cold turkey, as they say, by 2013, but I now have no desire to return to the stimulation that online porn provided.
In our postmodern world many of the pictures and photos in cyberspace, or other spaces like newsagents and magazine-shelves, are filled with sexualised images of female and male beauty, of virile youth and various images of bodily perfection. These images have become part of the air we breathe. Like them or not, we cannot ignore them; we constantly respond to them in both conscious & unconscious ways. Sometimes we choose to emulate the images we see; at other times, we may reject them as ideals. Several decades of extremely intense pressure on ordinary people to emulate the increasingly fabricated images they see around them are beginning to produce a backlash. The taste for the ordinary can be seen as a reaction to the glut of glamour media images with which we are all constantly bombarded, and reality genres are, at least in part, bound up in this.
Serious discussion of pornography almost always takes place as a debate about the legitimacy of free expression as a defense of pornography. The debate is sometimes about the impact of pornography on social relations, particularly on the status of women. All too often in these debates clarity loses out to stridency. Even when claims about pornography are carefully weighed, and the complexities of pornography are discussed, these conversations often take for granted how pornography is experienced by its audiences. What constitutes pornography in the first place is also taken for granted. Pornographic experience is ambiguous; this very ambiguity opens pornography to a range of possible interpretations. For me, pornography has ranged from the stimulating to the boring; this has been true in the last 60 years since it first came into my life in the mid-1950s with the arrival of Playboy in the news stands.
For the most part, pornographic experience guided strictly by convention closes off many possible interpretations; it habituates viewers to see sexuality in terms of a consumer commodity. Pornographic experience is mundane in the sense of relying on presuppositions & a taken-for-granted stock of knowledge about social relations. For the articles “Pornographic Experience,” The Journal of Mundane Behavior, V. 3, No. 1, 2002, and "Pornographic Experience" The Journal of Mundane Behaviour, Vol.3, No.2, 2/2003, & a brief CV of the article's author, Chris Nagel, go to: http://www.csustan.edu/philosophy/nagel
With rape scenes and incest, with overt and graphic homosexual and lesbian sexual imagery, indeed, with just about any form of SM and porn now available in the cinema, on TV or on the internet---for those who want to consume such material---the account of my experience both above & below will offer little. Those who enjoy visual and graphic sex depicted for their viewing pleasure; those who get exposed by film-makers and artists to depictions of the sexual-life of humans by those wanting to push or extend the envelope of conventions & customs, mores & moralities, will find little here except the analytical and the explanatory, a type of dispassionate discussion. A society drenched in the sexually explicit, and individuals wanting to savor the explicit, will find nothing here to titillate or entice, arouse or stimulate their sensory emporiums except, perhaps, a moderate indeed from my point of view, a very moderate confessionalism.
There is and has been a schism developing in the last two or three decades involving autobiographical reportage. On the one-hand there exists the sexploits of the author and, on the other-hand, there exists the actual modernist concept of the writing of erotic fiction as a craft. Eroticism is inherently caught up with the visceral, the imaginary, with the fantasy-life of individuals in our wide-wide-world. So much of the appeal of eroticism is neither intellectual nor dispassionate. In the case of my writing about sex in the paragraphs both above and below---I'd say my writing about sex tends toward, as I say above, the intellectual and the dispassionate, the analytical and the psychological.
Many a modern----from the silent generation, through the baby-boomers to the generations X,Y, and Z---with Internet access and with TV, with video, DVD, and radio, as well as magazines and journals, newspapers and a wide genre of visual and auditory sources, will find little here in what I write both above and below, if they are looking for the sexually explicit. The sexually explicit is readily available to those who want it, who are looking for it, by the bucket-full and the gallon-measure; the list of writers of the sexually explicit alone numbers in the 100s onWikipedia. I provide only a thimble-full, not enough to provide any thrills and excitement for the lean & hungry. I leave it to readers to find out what has been said, & what can be said about how to write, about love, specifically how to write a good sex scene. Elizabeth Benedict has written an excellent guide, The Joy of Writing Sex.
LADY CHATTERLEY and ME
Section 1 on Lady Chatterley:
The French film Lady Chatterley was released in the UK in August 2007.(1) I saw a small part of this film on 4/12/'11, more than four years later on SBSTV in Australia. There have been several film versions(2) of this novel by English writer D. H. Lawrence(1885-1930) Lady Chatterley’s Lover, none of which I had seen. The original novel was published in 1928, when my parents were in their 20s and 30s, and more than 15 years before I was born. It was published in Italy, and was not available in the UK until 1960 due to censorship restrictions. In 1960 my life was completely occupied with: sport and school, having fun and earning money. I recall, even after all these years, of hearing about 'Lady Chatterly', but it was somethikng quite vague and on the far periphery of my life-experience at the time.
In 1960, I had just joined the Bahá'í Faith. I had been attending Bahá'í sponsored activities for six or seven years with my mother. I was enjoying my first summer-jobs of paid employment: doing gardening jobs, having a paper-round for the Hamilton Spectator and, for a few weeks, working for the A & W Root Beer Company in one of its local take-aways. Reading novels, erotic or otherwise, was not on my agenda, unless they were part of the school curriculum, and Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare was about as risque and erotic as it got in the secondary school curriculum of Ontario schools in the early 1960s.
I remember hearing about the notoriety of Lady Chatterley while I was finishing high school in those early 1960s, during my years at university in the early-to-mid-1960s, and at the beginning of my marriage and my teaching career, during the late 1960s. I was not into reading novels at the time, as I say, for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had my hands full getting through: (a) the academic demands of Ontario’s secondary school curriculum, (b) summer jobs to pay for my education, (c) an intense engagement with sport, (d) the first decade of my life with a new religion (3), (e) four years of a B.A., B.Ed. combination, (f) the complexities of my adolescent and early adulthood love-life and, then, the first year of marriage and the beginning of a career in teaching, (g) as well as the psycho-social, psycho-sexual demands of the first episodes in my life-narrative and of what came to be called, in 1968, a schizo-affective disorder.
Section 2 on Lady Chatterley:
When I chanced upon this film on television I had been retired from FT, PT and all volunteer-teaching, for half-a-dozen years & was enjoying life on a pension. I had just finished my late night snack, after a busy day of writing, of dealing with an assortment of reading and email tasks, & after taking-care of various domestic duties. My wife of nearly four decades, was away babysitting her 15-month-old grandchild, & my step-grandchild, George, a little chap about ten weeks old. After some 20 minutes of watching this 146 minute award winning film with its cinematography, highly verdant in texture and enough to turn-on the visually sensitive, I had to go to bed because I could not keep my eyes open. The medication I took for bipolar disorder made me sleepy under many conditions, one of which was watching TV.
I am pleased to say that, by 2012, I had worked-out what to do with the immense barage of incoming emails and messages, all wanting me to do something. By 2013, I had also freed-up my time from what could have been a never-ending consumption of in-coming messages, all possessing an urgency for each of their senders. By 4/12/'11, nearly 4 years ago now as I write this update, I had also been on a new, a soporific cocktail for my BPD. By two hours after I had taken the entire cocktail, that is, by 11:30 in the evening, I had become so sleepy and quasi-euphoric, that about all I was good for were the sedating effects of TV-land, or the land of bed. By midnight I was usually in bed and asleep.
One critic called this film of the old D.H. Lawrence novel: a liberating, fresh, vital & a modern interpretation of Lawrence’s famous literary work. The segment I watched contained one of the six highly sensual sex scenes with its admixture of wildflowers, sunshine and fresh air, making sex look like the sublime, nearly mystical, event it is cracked-up, desired, to be but, for most people most of the time, is far from either. Reading about the physical intricacies of Naomi Wolf's technicolor orgasms, in extreme detail, in her new book, Vagina: A New Biography, may help, though. It may not help me, but it may be of interest to readers with a high sex-drive and an enthusiasm for explicit sex in their literary diet.
Section 2.1: Naomi Wolf and Lady Chatterley
D.H. Lawrence had an obsession with gendered bodies, & this obsession had & has its downsides. These downsides were perhaps best articulated by second-wave feminist Kate Millet who, in her 1970 book of literary criticism Sexual Politics, famously and brutally took a cleaver to Lawrence's critical reputation. The castration metaphor there is a propos. Millet's central contention was that Lawrence worshipped the phallus as an embodied totem of power and authenticity. For Lawrence, Millet observes acidly, "the possession of a penis is an accomplishment of such high order" that the main character in his 1928 novel Lady Chatterly's Lover has his "divine nature revealed & established through this organ alone." Thus, insistence on the centrality of gender runs easily & inevitably into an insistence on the truth of gendered hierarchy. For Lawrence, Millet shows, men dominate and women are dominated; men are individuals, women are selfless absences.
Naomi R. Wolf(1962- ), an American author and former political consultant, published the 1991 bestselling book The Beauty Myth. This helped to make her become a leading spokesperson of what was later described as the third wave of the feminist movement. Wolf was born in 1962 in those early months of my pioneering and travelling for the Canadian Bahá'í community. I knew nothing of Wolf until the last years of my teaching career & the last years of my travelling, as the 21st century opened. By 2001 & the opening of the 21st century I had retired, taken a sea-change, settled into a life of writing and editing, and begun my online blogging and journalism. I had reinvented myself as a researcher and reader, scholar and editor, after half a century in classrooms as a teacher and student.
Wolf wrote about the orgasm as follows: "when it's going right, there's a post-coital rush with a sense of vitality infusing my world, of delight with myself and with all the world around me." I've had some of this delight in life since my first orgasm while I was studying history and philosophy in February 1965 at the age of 21, just four months before my father died. Studying history and philosophy with their heavy-reading lists, lectures and tutorials, as well as experiencing clinical depression, and a degree of loneliness, sent me into the arms of my first real girl-friend in life. It was here that I tasted my first orgasm; it was not enough of an experience for me to worship my phallus, or the phallus in general as was the case with D.H. Lawrence, but it certainly was a big buzz. My girl-friend, at the time, was a sociology student several years older than I, divorced with one child. In retrospect, nearly half a century later, I think I got my orgasms all tied-up with the sociology studies of my girl-friend. In the end I got my degree in sociology, but the girl-friend was gone by the time my father died in May, just four months after that first orgasm. I have never seen that first girl-friend in all the years since those first sensory delights. Orgasms can certainly cement a relationship but, as millions of men and women have found out through history, they provide no guarantee to the longevity or to the type of intimacy of those relationships.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
Section 2.2---More On Lady Chatterley and More On Naomi Wolf:
Following surgery to correct vertebrae problems in her lower back, Wolf wrote that: "sexual discovery for me was like that transition in The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy goes from black-and-white Kansas to colourful, magical Oz." As I reflect on these words of Naomi Wolf, I can already hear and, indeed, feel the earth moving. What I hear is the stampede of women rushing to the nearest osteopath to get their spinal cords checked. -Ron Price with thanks to: (1)SBSTWOTV, 11:25-1:45 a.m., 3rd and 4th of December 2011; (2) 1995, 1992, 1981, & 1946; and (3) the Baha’i Faith.
Some said you were just a pornographer;
others had the view you were the greatest
imaginative novelist of that generation; &(1)
still others said you told a story of how sex
and its chemistry became love, how some of
us have to endure the savage pilgrimage of
life travelling from place to place in search
of a home for the mind, heart and spirit as
you did in the pre-war and inter-war years
before your death. But you seem, strangely,
still alive in your letters, memoirs and novels,(2)
at least to me now that I have stopped my own
travelling from place to place and job to job.
(1) E.M. Forster said this of D.H. Lawrence
(2) I have taken an interest, as well, in Lawrence’s poetry, his free verse. His verse possessed no rhyme or metre and was, therefore, little different than prose. Such has been the type of poetry I have written by the bucket-full in the last quarter-century: 1990 to 2015.
6/11/'11 to 6/3/'15
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND SEX
There is a great deal written in autobiographies and memoirs, diaries and journals about the sex-life of their writers, their authors. In a 1992 anthology, Women Talk Sex, there is a series of autobiographical writings, personal sexual histories, and feature essays that discuss lesbian identity, bisexuality, sexual repression, arranged marriages, masturbation, celibacy, and other topics. The book is by Pearlie McNeill, Bea Freeman, and Jenny Newman. There is, of course, much more that readers can Google in our sex-drenched global society, at least many parts of what has become an immense brontisaurismus: planetary civilization.
To start you off you might like to try: My Secret Sex Diary. This is the anonymous but, I am informed, completely true sexual adventure of a 24 year old girl in New York City. Her diary entries are diary-style reports of recent events in her sex-life. The memories are extensive, graphic and detailed. It's a sexual autobiography. Readers who find my sex-life-by-indirection insufficiently explicit, can go to this link "All Blog Posts Tagged" at:http://nymag.com/tags/sex-diaries/ And for more on ‘sex diaries’ readers here can go to the following link, or one of many other internet sites, if you have voyeuristic and pornographic tastes: http://cretsexdiary.blogspot.com.au
VOYEURS: TO BE DISAPPOINTED
Readers who are essentially voyeurs will find the writing on my sex-life, as I say several times in these paragraphs, not to their taste, not sufficiently graphic and explicit, revealing and descriptive. In the marketing of personality and one's literary oeuvre, the sexual adventures of the author often cloud the writing. Writing about one's sexual adventures is a skill and requires craft, emotional dedication and choreography just like any decent love-making in the real world. I do not possess that skill &, in 1965, when I had my first orgasm thanks to my girlfriend at the time, I had little expertise, little of the sexual craft that would make the sex-act the bliss that it clearly was for Naomi Wolf. That orgasm, I was informed not long after by Masters and Johnson, was the third stage in the human sexual response cycle.
Most of my generation lacked both this knowledge as well as the skills for intimate sexual relationships, at least in my section of western society where I had been born and raised: small town Ontario Canada from the 1940s to the early 1960s. Such is my understanding, such is my view now as I gaze back at those years from the vantage-point of late adulthood, the vantage point of a man in his 70s, some 50 years after that first orgasm.
In 1966/7 I left the Lake Ontario region, the Golden Horseshoe as it was, and is, called. I moved, firstly, to Windsor near Lake Erie, and then to Baffin Island and finally to Australia. I am really unable to speak about the sex-life of that portion of western society who grew-up in that small town. It has been nearly 50 years since I talked to anyone from that neck-of-the woods in any kind of depth about anything at all, and certainly not about their sexual experience growing-up in Ontario back then.
My sexual feeling and desire, perhaps lust is one of the best operative words, during those 50+ years has been kept, for the most part, well under control, but it has been a struggle. The institution of marriage has been, in the main, the place for the use of my sex instinct, the place where I have learned to control and direct my animal impulses. It has been a succession of tests as well as achievements, of falling short & making advances. It has been one of my life's main challenges. Were someone to accuse me of paedophilia or adultery, discuss my masturbation or any one of a great variety of human sexual activities & propensities that some human animals have to deal with--I might be inclined to express my experience as follows: "I have had many more or less explicit & intense, more or less vague & peripheral, sexual feelings about all sorts of visual stimuli in real space and in the several electronic media where people are depicted." I might continue this brief delineation of my sexual and erotic, libidinous and lascivious, experience by saying: "I have often been aroused, in many sensible & insensible degrees of depth and delight, excitement & emotion from a myriad of sources: my fellow teachers and students, girls and women seen on a train or a bus, in a car or in a restaurant, on a street or in a magazine, or in any one of dozens of places in real space or cyberspace. Sex, & its various & several accompanying desires, seems to be mixed with all sorts of sensory experiences in the vast sensory emporium that is, and has been, my life over more than 7 decades."
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
I have set my sex-life both within & without my two marriages in this literary account in cyberspace for my readers, distracting them from any disapproval by a subtle, & not-so-subtle, display of my own eccentricities. I also write & act by right of husbandly feeling to suppress an occasional awkward fact which I sometimes reveal in conversation with a close friend. Readers of my autobiography in all its five volumes and 2600 pages may enjoy a few of these occasional facts, but there are only a few who would even want to persist through all that literary verbiage in those 5 volumes. I efface myself in the presence of my subject, allowing my material to present itself as if neutrally and, if not neutrally, at least analytically and with some degree of detachment.
My purpose is at least partly defensive, but it also is partly intended to be of assistance to others who struggle along life's road. It is my hope that what I write here will help some of my readers find the courage to deal with their own struggles, by realizing that others have faced the same battles in life. I could, of course, write all of this in the third person, but the first person brings it closer &, for me at least, what I write here possesses a degree of confessionalism with which I am comfortable. We all have our own boundaries and borders, fences and fortifications, bars and barriers with which & through which we negotiate life's fields and streams, meadows and pastures. Readers who persist through these many paragraphs will become aware of at least some of my boundaries and fences.
Recognising the potential in some of what I write here for scandal and, if not scandal, at least criticism from conservative friends who regard discussion of such intimacies as inappropriate, I want to ensure, by managing the task myself, that this first full-length presentation is both fair and sympathetic, if not explicit and detailed. I'd like to think that my good deeds would fill a book; I give readers here not a book but part of a lengthy autobiography, many essays & poems. Readers will have to settle for my indirections, for my subtlety, perhaps my awkwardness, my commentary, and my style. Writers, of course, write for their readers, but they also write for themselves.
Readers may find the following prose-poetic commentary on one of the poems of T.S. Eliot(1888-1965) helpful in providing for them a description of my sex life from the 1950s to the 2010s. Eliot was a publisher, playwright, literary and social critic & "arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century." Readers here will find my commentary on Eliot's famous poems, & the one below in particular, an obscure way to make some remarks about my sex-life. But such is life, and such is the use I like to make of some of the literature in the history of poetry in the western intellectual tradition in the 20th century, 1900 to 2000. Eliot died the month before I had my first orgasm, an orgasm that was not just a wet dream, less than six months before I turned 21.
SEX AND PORN
In the 25 years, 1990 to 2015, since I began to use the internet: to send and to receive emails, to have a website & to read virtually everything that I do read online, cybersex, also called computer sex, Internet sex, netsex, mudsex, TinySex and, colloquially, cybering or conversex has become pervasive. This is, of course, only true for the portion of humanity that has access to computers. A virtual sex encounter occurs when 2 or more people are connected remotely via a computer network. These two people send each other sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. In one form, this fantasy sex is accomplished by the participants describing their actions and responding to their chat partners in a written and a visual form designed to stimulate their own sexual feelings and fantasies.
Although I have never had a conversation with a female to stimulate either myself or the female in cyberspace, I have been on the receiving end of dozens of posts from dating sites. A photo of myself is found at many Internet sites, and this results in the sort of exchanges I have described in one or two of those 50 categories of posts I rarely if ever read. Should I wish, I could easily make private and discrete arrangements to have a one night stand, a sexual relationship of a few days or weeks, with a man or a woman. Such is the potential use of modern cyberspace technology, I could have a woman in every port, if I wanted to make an extended and extensive use of the dozens of cyberspace dating sites now available and, of course, if I had the money and the phyical agility required of such an exercise. But, alas and alack, I am happily married and regard faithfulness to my wife as a virtue of some importance.
I have provided above what I hope is a useful summary of the immense variety of exchanges in relation to the immense variety of posts which I have received in this 21st century. I have done this for many reasons: some literary, and some explanatory, some to do with my online literary business, and some to do with explaining some things to my vast online readership. It is a readership which I now spend little to no time dealing with because of the 100s, and now 1000s, of requests and questions, comments and posts that are sent my way from week to week, month to month and year to year......For more on the topic of Internet sex and the activities of millions now in cyberspace, go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_sexual_addiction , and to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybersex
In the more than 60 years since the first issue of Playboy hit the news-stands when I was 9 years old: sexual imagery, simulated sex, sex toys, and sex sites have multiplied beyond the imagination of previous generations. Porn is ubiquitous. The sexual commodification of women's and girls' bodies is so commonplace as to pass scarcely noticed. TV or Internet porn are accessible at the push of a button, at the click of a mouse, as they were to me increasingly as the 1990s turned into the 2000s, and the 2000s into the 2010s. We don't yet have the "feelies", Huxley's cinemas in Brave New World(1932). In that book the cinema spectator was titillated by the images and by what sounded, from the description, like a vibrating seat.
My life, beginning as it did in October 1943, has been lived against this backdrop of what one might call the increasing sexualization of society, of the young, of the human quotient. Although I've never bought a copy of any of the many men's or women's magazines, celebrity or pop-culture magazines, with their colourful and stimulating images, with their explicitly and sexually stimulating people of either sex, it is just about impossible for some of these images not to be part of one's visual field from time to time: in newsagents & on TV, on the internet & in real space. Wikipedia has 42 pages of such magazines. For more on this subject of titillating print sources, like magazines and tabloid newspapers, that are available in and for popular culture---go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Celebrity_magazines
Many, indeed, millions, now worry that society is becoming an increasingly pornified, hyper-sexualised, culture in which women are objectified, in which they objectify one another, and in which they are encouraged to objectify themselves. Even children are sexualized. Parents, professionals and governments have become increasingly concerned about a media industry that exploits children & adolescents to sell products. The commercialization and sexualisation of children & adolescents can occur even from an early age. If a child is exposed to sexually provocative media, whether it’s a music video on TV or a computer game, they can learn distorted concepts about themselves, affecting self-esteem and the development of a healthy body image. This negative impact on children’s self-image may affect their life expectations. I leave it to readers to Google this subject, and its related pedophila and pornography. But I will give these readers a head-start below:
Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger. As a medical diagnosis, specific criteria for the disorder extend the cut-off point for prepubesence to age 13. A person who is diagnosed with pedophilia must be at least 16 years of age, but adolescents must be at least five years older than the prepubescent child for the attraction to be diagnosed as pedophilia. The International Classification of Diseases defines pedophilia as a sexual preference for children of prepubertal or early pubertal age. It is termed pedophilic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-May 2014) and the manual defines it as a paraphilia in which adults or adolescents 16 years of age or older have intense and recurrent sexual urges towards andfantasies about prepubescent children that they have either acted on or which cause them distress or interpersonal difficulty. For more go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedophilia
Porn Studies is an interdisciplinary journal informed by critical sexuality studies & work exploring the intersection of sexuality, gender, race, class, age & ability. It focuses on developing knowledge of pornographies past & present, in all their variations & around the world. Pornography studies are still in their infancy. They involve discussions that focus on theoretical approaches, methodology and research ethics. In addition to articles, the journal includes a forum devoted to shorter observations, developments, debates or issues in porn studies, designed to encourage exchange and debate.
An academic and a student of the work of George Orwell, Richard Rorty, wrote about what he called "the most hideous thing about George Orwell's vision of 1984." Orwell's world, his vision, was a world in which human solidarity was made impossible. When we objectify someone sexually – that is, when we treat someone as less than human – then human solidarity is surely impossible wrote Rorty. Perhaps, if Orwell were alive today, he might be writing about that. I don't think he would say: "I told you so." I think he'd say: "This is far worse than I imagined." Any survey of my sexlife in the seven decades since the early 1940s would inevitably include my attitudes toward, my experience of, my values and beliefs in relation to, the opposite sex, and my own sexuality. Some of this survey is found here for those readers who take an interest.
Ron Price, "Autobiography as Symbolic Presentation," Unpublished Essays, February 8th, 2003.
"The crowning achievement of the human species, our self-consciousness, the awareness of oneself as a private person with a past history and future goals, has taken so long to evolve and has been so uneven that humanity is a species with extremely fragile selves."-Lloyd deMause, "The Psychogenic Theory of History," The Emotional Life of Nations, Internet.
A narrated event, an autobiography, is the symbolization of the event. It is what Robert Scholes, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Brown University, calls "a temporal icon." It is my life. It is a series of events. It is the symbolic presentation of a sequence of events connected by subject matter and related by time. Temporal relation is critical, whether in narrative or poetic form. Without it all we have is a list like the parts of a car or the names in a telephone directory. Autobiography also assumes, however subjective and elusive, the existence of a given and knowable empirical entity and an author who is in a position of authority with respect to that entity. There are, though, limits to narrative conventions in their attempt to represent the breadth of human experience. There is, it seems to me, an individuality outside the autobiographical narrative; it is an identity that exists in tension with the construction I have created in this text.
There is also an individuality within the autobiographical narrative at a purely physiological level. Over the course of the last several decades physiologists, psychologists and medical science have come to know a great deal about the human anatomy and its expression in each individual. To choose but one example which is crucial to autobiography I'll say one of two things about the process by which strong emotions make for strong memories. This process has been traced in some detail in the years since I went pioneering. At the onset of an emotionally charged event, adrenaline is released from the adrenal medulla and this activates beta-receptors in the brain. These receptors are protein receptors on neurons that receive adrenaline and its first cousin noradrenaline. Their activation enables strong emotions to make strong memories. The basolateral amygdala is also involved in this process of making stronger memories. On the other hand there are several memory blockers, drugs with anteretrograde amnesia effects used to counter the effects of post-traumatic stress-disorder.
Obviously in a work like this no memory enhancers or memory blockers have played any role in my account. During the four epochs that this autobiography documents, some sixty years now, in its very personal way a series of drugs occupied the attention of society in the West. In the post-war period up to the 1960s alcohol and cigarettes dominated the social landscape. In the sixties and seventies marijuana came to the fore, then heroin and cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s. In Australia in the 1990s and in the first decade of the new millennium ecstacy and other mood-altering substances came to occupy the attention of the media and the populace. I don't want to give this subject much attention here. With the exception of tobacco which I smoked from 1964 to 1994 and, of course, the drugs I took for my bi-polar disorder from 1968 to the present, all of these chemical enhancements played no direct part in my life.
Although there are many basic accounts, basic stories, varying emphases to various topics, in my life that I could recount, there are what Barbara Herrnstein Smith calls "hierarchies of relevance and centrality" that enable me to distinguish certain elements and relations in a life that are central or periferal, more important or less important, more basic or less basic, insufficiently present, not presentable or in my face as it is said these days colloquially, hidden or manifest, able to be clothed in words or ineffable. As one analyst puts it, there is a domain of life which is brought into being by the very act of telling the story. There is, inevitably, a conflict between what is deemed narratable, eligible for telling and what is not or, to put it another way, what is private and what is public. No matter how much this autobiography reflects and explores Bahá'í identities in an emerging global culture; no matter how much or how little this long narrative and extended analysis becomes part of one of those grand theatres of public life, our print culture, the writing of this work is, for me, a finding, an expressing, of life's many-coloured mansions, a performance of my identity, a description of my intimacies and my distances and a part of a sentimental commerce which I exhibit and which I own.
In autobiography, at least in the sentimental-romantic tradition since Rousseau, there is the impulse to bare all. This is now epitomized in the expose journalist search for the in-depth documentary and in a great mass of autobiography and biography which has come on the literary scene during these several epochs. For the most part, though, I temper this impulse with the cautious words of the fourth Imam, Ali, who advised that "not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed." Sometimes, though, I feel I have not been cautious. This is true both in life and in this autobiography.
I would like to include here parts of a document I first wrote to the Department of Social Security in Tasmania in 2001 summarizing my reasons for wanting to go on a disability pension. These parts were later revised in 2004 for an item I used on several internet sites dealing as they did with bi-polar disorder. I have alluded to some of the information in this letter/internet posting earlier in this narrative, but a summary here in the form of this brief essay/letter/internet posting will be useful in the ‘baring it all tradition' of autobiography. Even with the intent of baring it all there is much left out. Were this not the case, this narrative would never end.
Some of that document then:
More recently I have come to see this bi-polar experience as my personal ‘horror story' or a gift from the gods depending on one's perspective. From time to time I submit it at various sites on the internet, sites that have an interest in the subject of mental illness and its particular disorders. The following may be a little too clinical for some readers, lacking in pizzaz-adventure-and-excitement, but it contains its own degree of very real horror--the only horror that I have tasted in life and a horror that had been virtually alleviated since 1980. What I write here is no fantasy creation but as accurate and as succinct a summary as I am able to put on paper. The following paragraphs could, or should, be updated with “my chaos narrative” at BARL. I leave this to future editors.
After half a dozen episodes, varying in length from several days to several months, of manic-depressive illness between 1963 and 1980, I was treated with lithium carbonate in Launceston by a psychiatrist, Dr. Glinka. I have been on lithium now for twenty five years. My mood swings, now, in 2016, take place, for the most part, at night with the death wish still part of the experience. The symptoms that affect my daily working capacity are fatigue and psychological weariness after a night of light sleeping, tossing and turning and a feeling that I have not slept at all. Dryness of the mouth and short term memory loss also seem to affect my daily life as a result, perhaps, of the eight ECT treatments I had as far back as the late 1960s. Feel free to contact my psychiatrist, Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, at 155 George Street in Launceston(63312122) or my G.P., Dr. Jane Zimmerman, at the Anne Street Medical Services in George Town(63824333) for more details and a professional assessment. I have discussed my case with Drs. Ratcliffe and Zimmerman for several years and they would both be happy to discuss my case should you want any clarification and elaboration of the issues and medical assessments involved.(new doctors after 2007)
It seemed appropriate to provide some detailed statement, a statement that expands on the information provided on the official government form, since the issue of this bi-polar illness is a complex one, varies from person to person and has come up many times over the more than forty years that I have had to deal with its symptoms in my working life. It is difficult to characterize my condition. I hope the account below may be of use to anyone assessing my application for a Disability Services Pension or simply wanting a more detailed description and understanding of the bi-polar disorder.
There seems to be a process, one that I have experienced on a daily basis for years in which I cross from normal behaviour to an abnormal extreme. I would call it a tedium vitae attitude and behaviour. Due to this "process" over the last fifty+ years in a much more accentuated form before 1990, it has been difficult to define just where I was at any one time along that 'normal-abnormal' continuum of life. This was true at both the depressive end and the hypomanic end of the spectrum. It is difficult, therefore, to actually name the number of times when I have had major manic-depressive episodes, perhaps as many as eight, certainly as few as four, in my whole life, until the last brief episode in 1990 when I went off my lithium for between one and three months.
At the hypomanic end there were experiences like the following: "violent emotional instability and oscillation", "abrupt changes" and "a sudden change in a large number of intellectual assumptions."1 Mental balance, a psychological coherence between intellect and emotion and a rational reaction to the outside world all seemed to blow away, over a few hours or a few days, as I was plunged in a sea of what could be variously described as: emotional heat, intense awareness, sensitivity, sleeplessness, voluble talking, racing mental activity, fear, excessive and clearly irrational paranoia--and in 1968 virtually total incoherence at times--at one end of the spectrum; or intense depression, melancholia, an inner sense of despair and a desire to commit suicide at the other end. The latter I experienced from 1963 to 1965, off and on; the former from 1964 to 1990, on several occasions.
The longest depression was in 1963 and 1964 with perhaps two six month periods from June to November and July to December, respectively. The longest episode of hypomania was from June to November 1968. The hypomania in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1990 were treated quickly with medication, although the 1978 episode, beginning in January, seemed to last for at least three or four months and had a mostly depressive component. I had no experience of this variously characterized illness in childhood. It was not until I was 19 that any characteristics of this illness became apparent in my day-to-day life. My episodes seemed to be quite separate tendencies; hypomania often lead to depression and vice versa. In the 1978 episode, elation and depression followed each other within a two to three month period. Clearly, in the episodes in the late '70s, fear, paranoia and the extremes of depression seemed to be much less than those of the 1960s.
The account above has none of the fine detail that I could include like: mental hallucinations, specific fears and paranoias, electroconvulsive therapy, psychiatric analysis and diagnosis, the many years of dealing with a death wish, experiences in and out of several hospitals with many psychiatrists, very complex situations and, looking back, often humorous and absurd events. There are a variety of manic-depressive profiles, different typicalities. The condition is called bipolar because both ends of the emotional spectrum, the mood swings, were experienced over the period 1963 to 1990, twenty-seven years. Thanks to lithium most of the extremes of mood were treated by the time I was 36 years of age. It took another ten years for me to fully accept the lithium treatment. From time to time I tried to live without the lithium. Such, in as brief a way as possible, is the summary of my experience over the years. I would like, now, to focus on my more recent experience of the last several years, experience which has a more immediate bearing on my present life at the age of 71.
3. Manic-Depression: Short-term 2002-2016
In 2002 Dr. Eric Ratcliffe, my supervising psychiatrist in Launceston, suggested I go onto fluvoxamine in addition to the lithium treatment. Fluvoxamine is an anti-depressant. The fluvoxamine removed the blacknesses I had continued to experience at night, from late in the evening to early morning. The death-wish has always been associated with these blacknesses. With the fluvoxamine, gradually the blacknesses, the depressions, disappeared. The death wish remained as did sleeping problems and varying kinds of emotional discomfort after 9 or 10 p.m. Readers need to see the update on this statement up to 2016.
Frequent urination, periodic nausea and increased memory problems related, in part, to the shock treatments I had back in the 1960s, were new problems. But the dark and debilitating feelings, I had experienced for so many years, were for the most part removed. After forty years of bi-polar disorder with periodic debilitating episodes, most of the worst symptoms seemed at last to have been treated. Only the short list of symptoms I have just outlined above were now part of my daily battle.
4. Other Physical Difficulties:
I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema in the early 2000s. This gives me a shortage of breath. This condition exacerbates the remaining bi-polar symptoms by making it difficult to engage in an activity for more than short periods of time. The memory problem also contributes, as you can appreciate, to many practical problems in day-to-day life. I mention these things because, although my bi-polar disorder is largely treated, there is a constellation of physical and psychological difficulties remaining which I discuss below.
For the most part in community life I rarely talk about these things and most people who know me have little to no idea of my medical history or the difficulties I have lived under and still live under physically and psychologically. I can generally get through three or four hours of social interaction, but anything in excess of that seems to be more than I can cope with. After even three or four hours of social activity of any kind, I usually feel fractured, slightly nauseated and decidedly uncomfortable, physically and emotionally. This was one of the main reasons I retired from professional teaching at the age of 55.
I have for many years regarded these difficulties as part of my own spiritual battles that I must face and, given the relative shortness of most social interactions, I have little to no reason to talk about these complex and somewhat mysterious abnormalities.
In the last decade or so there has developed in psychiatry what has been called a Recovery Model for treatment and care. This model puts the onus on the person with the disorder to work out what is his or her best way to cope, to survive and what to take on in terms of responsibilities, duties and degrees of employment in society given the conditions of their illness. Such an individual must work out the techniques and strategies for day-to-day living. With each individual the disorder is idiosyncratic, with symptoms quite unique to that individual.
Individual consumers of mental health services must work out what is best for them in terms of those services and in terms of what activities are appropriate for them within their coping capacity in life's day-to-day spectrum. It seems to me there are some activities which are simply not appropriate for me to engage in given the constellation of mental health and other symptoms and the personal circumstances I face.
5. My Wife's Illness:
My wife, Christine, has also not been well for many years since we pioneered north of Capricorn in 1982. The doctors do not know what the cause(s) of her physical problems is/are, but they are problems that make life difficult for her and our life together. Her symptoms include: dizziness, nausea, back-ear-and-eye ache, headache, among some two to three dozen or more physical difficulties. Sometimes she seems to recover for a time and have a good day or two, but then her symptoms come back. Some activities, involving as they would extended periods away from home would put a burden on my life and my health as well as my responsibilities to and care of my wife that would be difficult to deal with-to say the least.
Perhaps the one advantage my wife's ill-health has is that it allows me to focus on her problems, to talk about her health, when the subject of ‘how are you?' comes up in community life. This keeps the focus off of my own disability. Consequently, people have little idea of the physical problems I face and much more of an idea of hers. I don't mind this for I am not particularly interested in talking about my disability, partly due to its subtlety and complexity. This has the disadvantage of people having little idea of the battles I face in my personal life. Not really knowing about my problems they often assume a capacity to engage in some activity which I simply do not have any more.
6. Concluding Statement:
This brief and general account summarizes both the long history of this illness and where I am at present in what has been a life-long battle. I think it is important to state, in conclusion, that I possess a clinical disorder, a bio-chemical, an electro-chemical, imbalance having to do with brain chemistry. The transmission of messages in my brain is simply overactive, erratic, inconsistent and causes me a range of mood disorders. One to two percent of the population suffer from this illness. The extremes of this illness are now largely treated by lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine, but a residue of symptoms remains which I have described briefly above.
The other factors that describe my personal situation I have also outlined and they need to be taken into consideration as well. Taken together I feel it is inappropriate for me to be involved in full-time employment or engage in demanding social activity. I have gone into the detail I have above because I wanted to give you some idea of the extent of this illness and its subtle and not-so-subtle affects. I really feel quite exhausted from the battle with this illness. I am still able to be involved in life's many engagements, but in a limited way.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
My letter goes on to list some of my recent volunteer activities since retiring and the letter then concludes:
In less than 7 months I will be 72. I have been on an Australian Old-Age Pension for more than 7 years. I have not worked in full time employment for more than sixteen years for reasons associated with this illness. I was on a Disability Services Pension(DSP) for four years before the pension. Although I have been treated for the worst side-affects of this manic-depressive illness, I have little energy, enthusiasm or capacity for full-time employment and/or tasks involving many hours of continuous and intense mental work and it is for this reason I was granted the DSP.
My short-term memory loss often feels like the beginning of a dementia condition, although I had a memory test administered in 2001 at the Medical Services clinic in George Town and it did not indicate that I should concern myself with this illness. My wife, though, who knows me well and experiences the effects of this memory loss, has been very concerned and often frustrated by behaviour associated with my memory loss for several years now. All of this adds to my present incapacity and I feel you would be advised to have someone else….With pancreatic cancer invading my life in mid-2016 another dimension of my ill-health needs to be taken into consideration.
I trust the above outline provides an adequate information base for you to evaluate my situation. I apologize for going on at such length, but I felt it was essential to put you in the picture, so to speak. It is simply unrealistic for me to take on the task of……It would be too much, would be ill-advised and quite inappropriate given my present physical and psychological circumstances.
To continue now with the general autobiographical narrative: Victor Turner, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia, says we all have 'star actors' and 'star groups' to which we owe our deepest loyalty and which is the source of our greatest personal concern. These are the people and groups we identify with most deeply, where we find fulfillment of our social and personal desires. Inevitably, worth here is an entirely subjective thing. There is no doubt that the group to which such a loyalty has been a manifest reality in my life is the Bahá'í Faith, although that loyalty did not acquire any strength, any force, any depth, until 1962. My consanguineal family, family of birth, while important to me until the age of 23, had a peripheral function in the ensuing years in physical terms, although their psychological presence will endure until the end of my life. The affinal family, the family I acquired on my second marriage in 1975, is now in its 40th year. These are clearly two of the 'star groups' in my life.
Even the most sophisticated scholars and critics tend to assume that consciousness enters history and takes up a definitive relationship with the world by means of the family. If I do not write about this family in detail it is because as an autobiographer I must be selective. Given this importance of the family, I do not write about it with the prominence that it deserves. I mention it casually from time to time; I mention individuals within it, but I do not go into the kind of detail and analysis that I easily could. Each family member has their own biography with its long history of relationships, ups and downs, job and health history, interests and activities. If I had the inclination I could devote its own chapter to the major and minor players in the experience that is my life.
The impulse to narrative, to tell the story of one's life, is natural. Everyone does it, although everyone might not want to write down the story for others to read. Narrative is there, like life itself. It's in our head; it seems part of our very feeling-structure, indeed of everything we are. Although talking about one's life is a pervasive presence in all societies, there is a powerful tendency to keep the painful, the difficult aspects of life, under-wraps. As Dame Mary Gilmore has written:
Never admit the pain
Bury it deep. Only the
weak complain. Complaint
is cheap. Cover the wound,
fold down its curtained place.
Silence is still a crown, and
Courage is grace.
The autobiographer must also keep in mind that narrative is not everything. There is much in life that does not reduce to narrative. When narrative is seen as everything; it is nothing; or as it is said in Latin: sic nulla omnia. However much one partitions, frames, contextualizes the background, the environment of life so that one can pick up the pieces and render one's actions readable and understandable, life can not be held still. The complexity, the very pervasiveness, of it all, in the end, simply can't be taken in. Writing is not adquate to convey experience and its elusive threads. It is for this reason that much that is in this text is analysis and commentary, not just narrative, not just constructed self-portrait. "The noblest goal of an autobiography," writes Graham Hassall, "is to examine one's life and to share the results of this examination with others." I was pleased to see the word "noble" in Hassall's phrasing. But 'noble' and 'ego' can occupy the same turf and probably do, inevitably, in autobiography as in life.
The famous economist and academic, John Kenneth Galbraith suggests that "the best place to write is by yourself because writing then becomes an escape from the terrible burden of your own personality." A certain tendency to playfulness in your attitude to your writing also helps to lighten this burden. Indeed, the process of writing autobiography helps to create a sense of calm out of the whirlpool of emotions, tensions and the blooming and buzzing confusion of life as I order and reorder it.
There are certain cerebral structures involved in autobiographical memory but they are elusive and seem to depend on the retention interval between encoding and decoding. The medial temporal lobe seems to be more involved in one's early years of life; whereas the posterior cortical structures are implicated in retrieving the most remote memories. In the last quarter century there has been extensive study of the human grey matter, the cerebellum, the neocortical structures; indeed, the human brain has been mapped and pulled and proded more than ever in all of history. The episodic retrieval of memory and semantic processing must take place, must be renewed constantly, ceaselessly but, even then writes Andre Malraux, you can not know yourself, grasp your life or tailor it to the world. The inner man, he argues, must be created but not around linearity which he says is an "artificial construct." There have been studies on recovered memories, on types of memories and false memory; the literature on memory is indeed burgeoning. My interest has not been so much in the anatomical and physiological processes in the brain, on types of memory and the processes of retrieval and so this autobiography has virtually ignored this subject, except for what I have said here.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
It is generally an uncommon thing to go public with one's self-analysis. Such an exercise requires a rare exhibitionist drive. I have certainly done some of this exhibitionism in this autobiography and some 'other-analysis.' But, on the whole, I think I have kept it to a reasonable, a moderate, limit given the nature of the exercise which demands a certain amount just to get in the game, so to speak. Freud always said that "genuine self-analysis is impossible." I'm not so sure. But I think Freud was at least partly right. Given the complexity and difficulty of the task and given, too, that everyone engages in the process all their life, it seems to be inevitable that some self-analysis should be found here.
There is a sense of estrangement, of angst, of vertigo, of bewitchment, out-of-placeness which the therapy known as psychoanalysis, philosophy and/or religion seeks to overcome, revealing to us in the process of that therapy some of the organic, medical, psychological, sociological, philosophical and/or metaphysical dimensions of our difficulty. Given the fact that this earth is not man's home but his tomb and that problems seem to be built-in to the human condition, a certain level of existential angst seems to be the sine qua non of our life on this planet. To put this another way, there is a density and irregularity to things with their distinctive, untotalizable tones and textures. To combine spiritual intensity with a certain laid-backness and casualness, a certain easy-going indifference which, in Australia at least, is at the core of the culture is not an easy combination of qualities to achieve. Perhaps, for me at least as well as many other artists, this contradictory polarity is best achieved in their art, their writing where their art engages with the world and provides others with an archive of the standards and criteria they need in order to narrate their own way in it.
It is the capacity of language to break down the visual, to break into the screen of images that makes television the pleasure that it is and that is the world we all see everyday. This same capacity determines how much of the historical period in the first seven decades of the second century of Bahá'í history(1944-2014) can be personalized in the life of one ordinary Bahá'í who was granted the pleasure, the sensation, the talent, of writing, the same gift as that of any other unmerited grace.
Those who read autobiography often want to know, indeed their prime motivation for reading it is, what was the writer's "lived world" like. This 'lived world' in German is called our Lebenswelt. Our social world is our Mitwelt; our personal world is our Eigenwelt. The great events of history are part and parcel of each of these worlds. And our lives are lived through these events. A future history text book will condense these events into a paragraph or a chapter or even a book depending on the history book. Such a history text may end with 1844 and have nothing of the events of these epochs. The author may leave the years beyond that auspicious year of 1844 to yet another text.
Thomas Mann left behind him in his diaries "the most trivial events of his daily life." Even in his literary works he "skillfully concealed the autobiographical elements on which he drew so heavily." On the other hand I write little about the trivial events of everyday: what I eat, my sleeping patterns, where I went for holidays, if indeed I went on them at all, how I found the sexual act and who was 'best.' What I enjoyed in the cities I travelled through and details about whom I met and what they all said....and on and on through the interstices of daily ritual and routine that occupy most people most of the time. For the most part the random assaults of daily life are absent here but my narrative brings meaning to these assaults. The narrative, the poetry and the interviews, letters and diary each provide a conceptual entry point into the practices through which I made my choices, shaped my actions and helped me play my part in creating and fostering the new social movement that was the Bahá'í Faith. Inevitably, there will be a tensional relationship between this book and the time, person and place it is read at some future time. And I like to think that this tension will be endowed with more meaning the way I play the strings of my life, leaving out as I do--for the most part--the daily trivia.
Some would have preferred to call the Bahá'í Faith a new social or religious movement and not a world religion. Perhaps 'emerging world religion' was a happy middle ground. By the turn of the century the literature on new religious movements(NRMs), on collective action, activism and utopianism was burgeoning and it is not my purpose here to dwell on the academic complexities and nuances of terminology and the related issues. Suffice it to say that in the fifty years 1953 to 2003 that were my years of involvement with the Bahá'í Faith it was transformed from an insignificant global group of some 200,000 to a small force of some five to six million. There were many ways of describing this process of growth but, again, that is not my purpose here. Each decade seemed to possess its own set of discourses for theorizing about these NSMs and the Bahá'í Faith within them. In the 1960s the first wave of new social movements also saw a significant growth in the Bahá'í community. This was followed by a relative decline in both NSMs and the Bahá'í community no less.
Each decade also brought transformations in my own personal life. My days, by early March 1972, began to bring their own special promise. I was not yet 28. What I had done to bring this about, what alchemy I practiced, sometimes effortlessly but often in anguish in the years, say, since my adolescence in 1962 when my pioneering life began, I still find difficult to fathom and impossible to describe.
It has not been my purpose, either, to describe the originating conditions, the internal dynamics, the boundary structures, the external relationships and the everyday events that were, in their different ways, part of the history of the Bahá'í Faith. This book is an autobiography not a sociological analysis of the Bahá'í Faith. It has been to a narrative of my life that I have turned to make the incoherences of my life coherent, to illuminate the mechanisms at work and rationalize the aberrations, deviances and anomolies of my days. The collective action of the global Bahá'í community was connected with my life and this autobiography has attempted to describe this connection. To the various institutional theories of mobilization my story might provide some useful data. But I will leave that to other writers. Readers who engage in this work in the future will possess their own predispositions, their own emotional attitudes and their own horizon of expectations and they will appropriate my work if they have any desire to imitate it, outdo it or refute it. "The coherence of literature as an event," as the philosopher Hans Jauss emphasized, "is primarily mediated in the horizon of expectations...of later readers." And so I leave this work in the paradigm of expectations of the future reader.
Identities emerge out of complex psycho-social processes through which the intimate sense of self is grafted onto group structures that are part of our environments. The construction of collective action is inseparable from the construction of personal biography, from the ways, that is, we experience our individual and social selves. This relationship is not a one-to-one relation that exists amidst the turmoil of our times. "All movement politics," writes Joseph Kling, "are identity politics in one form or another.....movements.....remain rooted in the biographies people make for themselves in given times and given places."
The educationalist, Jerome Bruner, says that narratives must answer the question "why is this worth telling?" Bruner says that one of the major features of western autobiography has been the highlighting of turning points. Turning points he writes "represent a way in which people free themselves in their self-consciousness from their history, their banal destiny, their conventionality." It is these turning points that are "steps toward narratorial consciousness." Unquestionably this is the case with me. Turning points in my life have been critical in the story I have just completed. "History is nothing but the re-enactment of past thought in the historian's mind," wrote R.G. Collingwood and the turning points in my life I turn again and again in my mind, re-enacting them, so critical they are in my story. For they are crucial to my history, my story.
I could have , for example, dwelt in much more detail on the days of my life before the Bahá'í Faith began to seriously occupy my attention in or around 1962. For there were eighteen years between 1944 and 1962 with much that happened. But unlike the seventeenth century poet Henry Vaughan, I do not attempt to go back to those happy days; I do not regret their passing with any poignancy; I do not idealize them unhistorically.
These sentiments of Vaughan are not mine:
O how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train;
From whence the enlighten'd spirit sees
That shady City of Palm-trees……
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.
I, like Vaughan, possess a nostalgia for childhood. It is a natural human proclivity to be nostalgic about one's past. This nostalgia, in some ways, colours this entire work. As I indicated in the early sections of this autobiography, my childhood days were in some ways the happiest of my life. So it is that I often recapture those days in my mind's eye and relive them as my mind takes me back through familiar landscapes that I once travelled. I am only too conscious of the human tendency to recast one's experience, revise, reorder, reinvent, revitalize the text of one's life.
But unlike the archaist who wants to return, to swim, against the stream of life and go back to a society that has disappeared, I am not trying to reconcile the past and the present and the incompatibility of their competing themes and claims.
The impetus of life is moving on and, if I were to hold on to that past and its brittle construction it(or perhaps I) would shatter into fragments. Resuscitating the past in order to make the present workable is not my aim nor is it the task of the Bahá'í community--although this resuscitation process is partly unavoidable. My task, our task, is not to perpetuate an anachronism and to see the traditional structures of power and influence continue in their tracks, rather my task and the task of my coreligionists is to plant the banner of this new Faith as far and wide as possible and raise up a new institutional Form on this planet. This is not as escapism from a disagreeable present, nor is it a barren quest for a goal which is intrinsically unattainable, though it often seems that way to critics who might accuse me and my fellow Bahá'ís of futurism. This activity of mine over these many years is no infantile desire to escape from reality, one of those besetting temptations of the human psyche; nor is it an attempt to shift from my shoulders the intolerable burden of being saddled with an impossible task.
This mundane scene, which I have observed and which we on earth are increasingly observing all over the planet, came during my years to be seen as a field for the progressive realization of the Kingdom of God on earth. It was and is a realization that was taking place during a social disintegration of vast proportions." A sense of unity," writes Toynbee, "is one of the psychological products of the process of social disintegration." A vision of unity grows, he goes on, as the reality of that unity continues to elude the storm-tossed wayfarers. And when, at last, the long-pursued goal is unexpectedly attained, the psychological effect is overwhelming."
Narrative, some argue, is the most powerful mode of persuasion. I hope so for this narrative of my life has not been written simply to move this keyboard of letters and keep me happily occupied in these early years of my retirement. The future of this literary work is simply unthinkable without the active participation of readers. Perhaps, as Auden once put it, "some great master generation" will later find an essential clue for solving some problem by reading this autobiography. So I like to think. After twenty years of working on it, though, I feel as if I have just begun to get a handle on the story, on the meaning. I do not feel the way Dostoevski did after writing his: "I shall never start writing my autobiography again, even if I live to be one hundred. You have to be too disgustingly in love with yourself to write about yourself without shame." For me, the experience is more like becoming pregnant with, and giving birth to, the self in writing.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
I like to think that this type of material, retrievable in the future, will be highly suggestive. In piercing the perceptions of my own life I hope I have simultaneously given considerable and unexpected insights into such wider socio-cultural themes as Bahá'í community life among the western middle class, its professionals, its idealism, its pioneers, inter alia, over several epochs of an importnat part of the evolution of a special commuity with a special part to play in the history of humanity.
Perhaps it would be timely to close this narrative and this analysis with more narrative and more analysis, narrative and analysis with a poetic edge that tells more in a few prose-poems than I could tell in pages of straight prose.
EARLY DAYS EARLY DAYS
The Golden Age of classical Greece and the Peloponnesian War in the last half of the fifth century BC offer some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the growth and development of the Bahá'í community in the first half of the twenty-first century.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 5 January 1996, 1:35 pm.
They built some buildings while
they fought a war and the golden
age was gone. We also built some
buildings while we fought a war
and the golden age had yet to come.
The Athenians felt assured of triumph,
but it was a triumph that never came
as the Peloponnesian War ate away
their resources and their very soul.
We feel assured of victory, a victory
that will slowly come in the greatest
spiritual drama the world has yet seen.
Our Peloponnesian War is at some
distant hour. Our Peloponnesus the
surface of the Earth. What will be our
Epidamnus? Our Potidaea? Our Athenian
power? Our own prelude to the great war?
Will democracy be acknowledged folly*
in a battle for survival as the world continues
its transformative change? These are yet early
days. These are yet early days of much folly.
-Ron Price, 5 January 1996
*Alcibiades described democracy as ‘generally acknowledged folly'.-John Boardman, et al, editor, Greece and the Hellenistic World, The Oxford History of the Classical World, 1986, p.135. Many feel this way about democracy as we enter the twenty-first century.
In February 1959, about eight months before I joined the Bahá'í Faith, a plane crashed in northern Iowa with three of rock and roll's biggest names aboard: Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. At the time this event decimated the then flegling rock industry. At the time I was in the middle of grade nine, played ice-hockey in the midget league and was probably still in love with Susan Gregory. This event was, then, on the perifery of my life in my mid-teens in southern Ontario. These rock heroes were some of the early pioneers in the rock and roll industry. Three years later I was about to become a pioneer, too, but not for rock and roll. This poem, a vahid, tells my story, at least some of it. -Ron Price with thanks to "Some Early Pioneers," ABC TV, 4:00-4:55 pm, 2 September 2001.
They were pioneers, these guys,
I remember their music well,
hits me now with a throb of nostalgia.
I was beginning to listen to another
music back then, a music which won my
heart and soul, but more slowly, insensibly,
until I woke up in 1962 not to The Beatles
who were taking the world by storm
and giving rock a fresh injection of life,
but to a new wind blowing over sweet-scented
streams and I had become an early pioneer, too,
for the Canadian Bahá'í community
at the close of the second third of the
first century of its history in that favoured
country whose future was infinitely glorious.
-Ron Price, 2 September 2001
In 1962, on the eve of my pioneering venture I now see myself, looking back, very much like the way the great, perhaps the greatest English essayist, William Hazlitt described himself at the age of 19: "I was at that time dumb, inarticulate, helpless, like a worm, by the wayside, crushed, bleeding, lifeless." I'm not too enthusiastic about the label 'worm' but, relative to the transformation in my adult life, I can live with such a term to characterize me at the age of 18 or 19.
THE TURNING OF EARLY MIDDLE AGE
During the years when the Guardian served his stewardship of the Cause and the years of my mother's young and middle adulthood an insurance man gradually rose to prominence in American poetry. He did not really become central to American poetry, though, until after 1965. He was Wallace Stevens. He has been described as the successor to Whitman and Dickinson. His published works appeared in the years 1923 to 1954, the year before he died. Late this week, I think it was on the last day of autumn, I began reading a collection of reviews of Stevens' poetry. For the most part they were uninspiring, tedious summaries of some aspect of Stevens' work, but the review by poetry critic Randall Jarrell, a review of Stevens' Collected Poems(1954), was truly a mind-opener. In the course of a few minutes the poetry of Wallace Stevens unfolded to my mind and heart. This book of reviews was published the year I began pioneering, 1962. Forty years later this American poet, sometimes called 'the intellectual's poet,' 'the poet of ideas,' a poet 'above economic and political squabbles,' had become part of my consciousness. He was a man, like myself, who turned to poetry in his early middle age.
To Stevens the poet who mattered was the person who could "synthesize the sum total of his experience, even if only momentarily." Such a poet's "mastery" may have "Left only the fragments found/in the grass/From his project, as finally magnified." These words come from Stevens' poem "Two Illustrations That the World Is What You Make Of It."1 Taking the world apart is an essential preliminary to seeing the world whole. Such is a very apt summary of my own poetic opus over the last decade. I try to see every fragment of experience as part of a whole. -Ron Price with thanks to Percy Hutchison, "Pure Poetry and Mr. Wallace Stevens," The New York Times on the Web, 9 August 1931.
So many of your poems, like mine,
are about poetry.
But I do not have quite the obsession
you have. I reveal much more about self.
I, too, seek the poem of the mind
in the act of finding what will suffice.
This was not always the case,
But has been since at least
That Holy Year1
Yes, the past became something
of a souvenir as the theatres
kept changing like some revolving door.
I had to construct a new stage
as I headed to the close of that
radiant twentieth century
with its darkest hours,
the great turning point
at this climacteric of history.
Yet another insatiable actor,
this one speaking words
in the delicatest ear of his mind
not always what it wanted to hear
but, yes, as an invisible audience listened
to him seeking some new satisfaction,
some rendezvous of his soul
with its Source amidst impurity
and a daily despair and, yes,
a celebratory joy: it too in the act
of the mind, the emotions and life.2
1 The year I began to write poetry in earnest was 1992 after a slow warm up of thirty years, with the heat getting turned up about 1980 and getting turned up a little higher in 1987 at the age of 43.
2 This poem needs to be seen in the context of Stevens' poem "Of Modern Poetry."-Ron Price, 2 June 2002.
Perhaps the poem which follows should have appeared at the start since this is a poem about my first memory. So many of "memory's soft figures melt away" and "the beams of warm imagination play." But, wherever one begins one's story and however the story travels, Sir Walter Scott expressed in overview the nature of the exercise when he wrote that: "there is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but it is a heroic poem of a sort, rhymed or unrhymed."
AN EARLY LANDSCAPE
The earliest moments, events, in the landscape of my memory seem to have an unusual clarity, as if they are scenes engraved on stone. It is not so much that these memories are soothing or particularly interesting, although I do find them so; rather, it is the place in memory where things start, the place of origins, or indelibly etched beginnings, domestic ritual's mysterious and precious beginnings. One describes and defines oneself in memory, in ritual's labyrinth of time. Identity is born, in part at least, in places like this: impressible, impressionable, fixed for life but changing with time's journey, changing right from the word go and yet curiously fixed. These memories become a part of life's grand ritual, repeated, gone over in the mind, a thousand times, and then some. In the years since these earliest memories, my moods have changed like the wind, like scenes a traveller sees from a train. This vast range of moods, attitudes and opinions make the backdrop of my life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript of Poetry, 1999.
Perhaps it is obsession
that gives these earliest memories
their haunting elaboration
and effortless detail,
that gives that mud pie
its tidy, straight sides
on the edge of spring
with the snow melting*
beside the house on
Bellvenia Road in RR#1
Burlington Canada where
I lived as a four year old.
Memory is nostalgia;
it is ritual aesthetic,
intense and accurate
and my life's start
inseparable from fancy,
the landscape of my imagination.
-Ron Price,10 September 1999
* This was my first memory.
But whether one begins at the beginning or ends with the beginning, readers will find in these five hundred pages of autobiography and analysis few if any references to politics, or should I be more specific, to partisan politics. "Everyday I am more and more persuaded not to meddle in politics," concluded H.E. Fox; "they separate the best of friends; they destroy all social intercourse." So, opinions on the Middle East, on Viet Nam or the Iraqi War, on a world of issues that have beset the human community during these four decades, will not be found here. Rather I seek to present a deeper world where the whole of our selves, myself, or at least a significant part of myself, comes into play, where there is some triumph of the spirit in the face of private doubts and public rejections, far below the frustrations and the innumerable crises and adjustments which make up daily living.
In the end, too, this autobiography is not so much the narrative which I present, which unfolds from chapter to chapter, as it is a voyage, an aesthetic object and its origins are not so much in myself as they are in a community that has been at the centre of my life in one way or another for half a century. And, no matter how much one's life is a part of, is submerged in, a community, one can not escape from the harsh and not so harsh realities of oneself, from the struggle between one's inner and outer selves and from the aspects of one's life that linger uninscribed in the background. For, no matter how much of this writing is a craft, an art, it must come from some deep impulse, deep inspiration, from some autobiographical imperative.
But to round things out as neatly, as nicely, as possible, I'd like to put this autobiography and this poetry in the most general of contexts. So I will conclude with some thoughts on poetry and on a future world culture stimulated by Goethe and his thoughts back in 1827. In a famous conversation between Goethe and Eckermann on 31 January 1827 the philosopher Goethe spoke of a future epoch of world literature. He also spoke of poetry in the most general of terms. His words, spoken in the first year that Siyyid Kazim led the Shayki School of Shi'ite Islam, nearly two decades before the Bab's declaration to Mulla Husayn, help to place the poems here and this autobiography in the widest of contexts. And so I quote them.
"I see increasingly that poetry is a common property of mankind," said Goethe, "and that it emerges in all places and at all times from many hundreds of people." "Some are a little better at the process of writing it than others," he went on; "they stay on top a little longer. That is all there is to it," said Goethe. "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."
What I write here is, then, part of a general pool of a future world culture or so I like to think, of absolutely massive, but fascinating, proportions. This is especially true if, as Birney once wrote, "a poem is an interior itch you have to scratch." In a uniformly organized world, only one single literary culture -- indeed, in a relatively short time, only a few literary languages, soon perhaps only one -- will remain alive. And with this, the idea of world literature would be at once realized and destroyed. In a similar vein T.S. Eliot proposed "that a world culture which was simply a uniform culture would be no culture at all. We should have a humanity de-humanised. It would be a nightmare."
In contrast, in one of Goethe's last essays entitled "Epochs of Social Education," we are led to the conclusion that Goethe directed all of his hopes towards exactly a progression away from the seclusion and intimacy of what he called our "idyllic epoch" of national and local cultures to a gradual convergence and fusion and, finally, to some point where literature and education would be wholly united in one "universal epoch." Goethe outlined four stages of this evolving literary education, as he saw it, this progression. In the first people "prefer to head toward their mother tongue." In the second and third they do not resist the influence of foreign languages. In the fourth they are "convinced of the necessity of informing themselves about the present course of world events, in their real as well as ideal sense.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
All foreign literatures, together with the national and indigenous literatures, become "part of the same phenomenon." This latter state can indeed be called "world literature." Erich Auerbach has the same idea in mind when he writes: "World literature refers not simply to what is common and human as such, but rather to the fertilisation of the manifold. It presupposes the felix culpa of mankind's division into a whole host of cultures." Goethe's famous dictum: "National literature does not mean much at present; it is time for the era of world literature and everybody must endeavour to accelerate this epoch." While not wanting to presume to hypothesize the nature of the evolution of that global, that world culture, of the arts that Ludwig Tuman has been writing about for several decades, I think it important to place this autobiography in a global, a context of world culture and the arts and to suggest where all this writing in this autobiography, in my poetry, may be going.
Exploring my experience in the Bahá'í community has become in this autobiography a way of exploring the arbitrary and not-so-arbitrary aspects of my life. It has not been so much a search for roots, as is so often the case in both autobiography and life, as it has been a way to define, to describe, my understanding of the roots I already had, a way to take account of the big picture of my life and hundreds of the little pictures that have been part of my daily photography and, finally, a way to express how I actually stacked up against my ideals. In some ways I already knew how I was doing but, as it is often said, how does one know what one thinks until one sees what one's said.
Taken as a whole, this rhapsodic sampling of seemingly miscellaneous and often disconnected pieces of life, to use Teleky's definition of rhapsody, surveys my uses of nostalgia and imagination. Displacement also plays a part in my studied reconciliation or transformation of polarities. For many of the tensions, the battles, of life come from these polarities. Guy Murchie calls these polarities "the most paradoxical and provocative of The Seven Mysteries of Life." Teleky suggests that, in our post-modern moment of simultaneity and excess, these interconnected relationships are the context for our incongruous efforts to streamline a complex series of fissures. Our days, my days, have so many of these fissures and writing this autobiography has been, in part anyway, an effort to streamline these many fissures, iron them out, see how they have made the landscape of my life.
Nostalgia and the search for roots belong to our post-fin-de-siecle mood, the mood of this new millennium. They can often result--and certainly do in my case--in an oversimplification of many of the historical moments of my life. There have been so many times I would never want to relive, maybe the whole thing. Unquestionably I have no desire to relive the whole thing. reincarnation in its many earthly forms is definitely not for me. Once is enough, thank you. Often, too, our nostalgia is coupled with irony. Teleky, a third generation Hungarian American, describes his text as "a combination of essay, lament, celebration, and scholarship." It takes its shape, he says, from his own "exploration of a range of subjects." He also invites the reader on a journey advising that it is his "own personal journey, much of it taking place inside" his head. "Let me be your guide," he goes on, "and try to follow along as I lay out for you here why I feel the way I do......mainly about myself and where it is I now know I belong." These could just as easily be my words and I thank Patricia Fox for her resourcefulness and ideas.
Mark Twain put one version of this nostalgia for the past as follows in the second chapter of his autobiography. He was referring at the time to a conversaton with an old friend: "We steeped our thirsty souls in the reviving wine of the past, the beautiful past, the dear and lamented past; we uttered the names that had been silent upon our lips for fifty years, and it was as if they were made of music; with reverent hands we unburied our dead, the mates of our youth, and caressed them with our speech; we searched the dusty chambers of our memories and dragged forth incident after incident, episode after episode, folly after folly, and laughed such good laughs over them, with the tears running down." There is no one alive with whom I can have this experience and so, with the reviving wine of autobiography I caress the past and search the dusty chambers of memory. I do this apparently alone, but only apparently, for as Rosalind Murray writes:
Whatever I feel I cannot feel alone
When I am happiest or most forlorn
Uncounter friends, whom I have never known
Rejoicing stand or grieving at my side,
those nameless, faceless friends of mine who died
A thousand years or more e're I was born. In his celebrated note to 'The Thorn' (1800), Wordsworth makes an important claim for the substance of poetic language, commenting on 'the interest which the mind attaches to words, not only as symbols of the passion, but as things, active and efficient, which are often themselves part of the passion.' He does so as part of a larger argument about the function of repetition in the language of poetry, asserting that 'repetition and apparent tautology' can be understood as a response to the mind's sense of the deficiencies of language, and for this reason are often crucial to the poet's work - they can be seen as 'beauties of the highest kind'. I mention this because in a work of this size, something now approaching seven hundred pages, there is an inevitable degree of repetition. I hope they will be experienced, these repetitions that is, as some of those 'beauties of the highest kind.' Now wouldn't that be an honour!
In writing there are necessarily rhythms of repetition and return that are not just acts of the abstract imagination. They are a matter of materiality, of things, things which never go away. In this work, the uncompromisingly material world, in all the complexity and detail of its stony and its awesome distinction, is the necessary ground of all the idealism of my moral and aesthetic, psychological and sociological, thought. The specificity is crucial to what I see as a multiple, a critical, enterprise. Over and over again, readers will see this example of what might be described as an inclusive and innovatory range of fin de siecle and turn of the millennium writing return to the matter of the printed text, what I am trying to say and how I say it. They will see me return to the material world, my community and my life which this text presents and represents.
If places brand people and for many in recent decades as well as throughout history, places seem quintessential for defining people, one cannot reduce a person to his place. Teleky echoes this sentiment, asserting that "the only way to lose a sense of place is to lock into the sadness or desperation of not finding it in the externals." A place rarely corresponds to externals anyway. Certainly for me a place has become, if it was not already, an inner world, a place for the habitation of this inner world. Some places of habitation, of course, have been more beautiful externally than others. But this is a long and large question which I will leave for the moment.
Imagination, like memory, can transform lies to truth and even twist the truth into a lie. I find I must watch this tendency to play, to create, to recreate, and thus to remake in not-quite the same way things were. This, of course, is partly unavoidable; but partly, too, in realizing this tendency one can strive for honesty and accuracy in the process, knowing that self-deception lurks at the edges and can easily come to the centre of one's exposition.
For many the extended family is their community, their emotional, financial, and cultural safety net, for others that net is the welfare state, for still others a host of other involvements and interests. For many millions in the world in the last half of the twentieth century and into this new millennium the extended family is still their most powerful resource. Then there is the single parent family. In my case the immediate, the nuclear, family, has been part of my safety net, while the extended family has always slipped to the periphery.
My sense of nostalgia, much the same as everyone else, follows patterns which involve an obsessive and not-so-obsessive engagement with the past. The sense of not belonging to the moment, often called 'temporal displacement', represents a recurrent thematic. Whether a fixing or a freezing of my being, a being-that-has-been, or the oversimplification of various historical moments I would probably never have desired to belong to, if I'd had a choice, paradoxically, timelessness ties the post-modern narrator to the workings of nostalgia.
Such a juxtaposition sets up a series of oppositions, a slippery trail of signifiers couched behind postmodernity and nostalgia: bombardment vs reduction; displacement vs belonging; fragmentation vs self-awareness; and, metonymy vs metaphor. For some writers, displacement represents a call to home: a cathartic return to a world only glimpsed, vaguely remembered from childish imaginings or filtered through the misty unconnected anecdotes of family members. For others, the call to place reveals a conflicted reassessment, a truncated longing or a half-hearted resignation. In my case the call to home exists, paradoxically, with that timelessness mentioned above. The memories are far from vague, although even here vagueness has its place. These juxtapositions are immensely heuristic but I will resist my inclination to comment even more on this process. And so I will end this essay here.
The objective of this essay is to attempt to describe some of the major features of the autobiographer's and poet's social environment during recent epochs and into the foreseeable future and to define, as accurately as possible, the basis for a durable relationship between society and the artist—and in particular this literary artist. At the same time I wish to propose the means whereby such a relationship may be put into practice.
For me, one of the central ways that this relationship was expressed was through the essay. I explore both my essays and the form of the essay, as an extension of my autobiography. -Ron Price with thanks to Ludwig Tuman," Toward a Critical Foundation for a World Culture of the Arts," World Order, Summer 1975, pp.8-9.
I believe that a work of art, like this autobiography, attempts to capture the universe in a microcosm or a specific literary model. What this work of art conveys, then, is its own structure and its own design. It is an attempt to capture the design or rhythm of the universe as it unfolds in my human consciousness. This is one of the many meanings that artistic form has always had. As the poet William Wordsworth once put it in relation to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, I “seek to unlock” my heart, as I express my passionate devotion to a Cause which has illumined my life since as far back as my childhood. In the process I confront my readers with a mystery rather than some fait accompli.1-Ron Price with thanks to: 1W.H. Auden in Robert Giroux, The Book Known, A.Q. Atheneum, NY, 1982, p.25; and Tom Marshall in Harsh and Lovely Land, quoted in Alice Van Wart, " The Evolution of Form in Machael Ondaatje's 'The Collected Works of Billy the Kid' and 'Coming Through Slaughter,'" Canadian Poetry, Winter 1982.
The dominant force in creating a common culture is religion and T.S. Eliot emphasized that "the tradition of Christianity ... has made Europe what it is." If I was writing a story of my life in the context of the history of the last two thousand years I would write drawing heavily on that Christian paradigm. But I write in the context of both an emerging global culture and the context of a religion I have been a part of for over half a century. Balancing the unity and diversity of different cultures is a key to an understanding of each poet's, and certainly this autobiographer's, conceptionalization of region, nation and world.
In order for solitude to bear fruit, Eliot and the famous American poet Robert Frost, as well as many others like Toynbee and myself, are convinced of the necessity to both retreat from the world and to return into that world, a world in which the cultural differences and similarities as well as the ensuing conflicts and sympathies are "favourable to creativeness and progress." At present, I am in my life's major retreat or withdrawal and within the context of that retreat I do minor exercises of 'return', short involvements of usually a few hours and, occasionally in the first years of my early retirement(1999 to 2009), one to several days. I have come to know the limits of my patience especially as I am medicated on an assortment of drugs. If “patience in love is the beginning of wisdom”, as Philip Martin states in his discussion of Shakespeare’s sonnets1 perhaps I have acquired some by the back way, by the application of pharmacology. If “a delicate, unobtrusive richness of texture is created in my efforts to study autobiography” I can’t ask for more. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Philip Martin, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Self, Love and Art,” Camb. U.P., London, 1972.
Now, dealing with a terminal illness, there is no demand for a return as I continue to transform myself into another self after 50 years as a student and teacher: 1949 to 1999.1-Ron Price with thanks to 1C.S. Lewis in Giroux, op.cit., p.29 .
Life history is defined by Knowles as "a critical epistemological construct illuminating the intersection of human experience and social context." Many of my essays illuminate this intersection. The scientific method, which for me simply means "the systematic use of the rational faculty" as applied to any phenomena, has led social scientists to produce studies that are often rigid, linear, and formulaic. By contrast, life historians, and I am one, use what might be called an arts-informed approach to convey a representation of human experience. Historians and biographers have been debating objectivity and subjectivity since the days of Herodotus and Thucydides as the Greeks moved into and through their Golden Age.
More recent studies of the "objectivity question," such as That Noble Dream by Peter Novick and Telling the Truth about History by Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob are neglected, as are classic works about oral history methodology, like Jan Vansina's Oral Tradition as History. This autobiography does not dwell on philosophical and epistomological issues like objectivity and subjectivity, although from time to time I comment on them when it seems relevant. My autobiographical opus works at a distillation of universal values and emotions in what, to me at least, are self-sufficient units and notes in a complex symphony of the time which devoured my life in the context of a global tempest that was harrowing-up the souls of men. My life was devoured by the many-sided and conflicting elements in human affairs all at once. This devouring happened many times requiring rebirth, renewal and new symphonies to be written and an aesthetic investment in life’s profusion of activities.
As this autobiography proceeded it has developed a complex pattern of remembrances, scenes of reflection and encounters with myself and my environment in what has often been a self-consciously literary way. I think my bac kward glance at times past has not been too generous nor too critical. The values I now possess have only gradually been distilled from what has been a long-term allegiance to values initially acquired in my childhood and teens. Coming to Australia for me has been much like going to Europe for both Frost and Eliot. These poets experienced cultural difference first-hand and had their eyes opened to the peculiarities of their respective cultural identities. Coming to Australia, for this Bahá'í, has opened my eyes in complex and subtle ways over more than forty years. Frost grew aware of his American identity and claimed that he "never saw New England as clearly as when he was in Old England."
Unity of culture, as I have come to view it, does not require us all to have the same loyalty or the same degree of loyalty. Inevitably, at least during the epochs I have been writing about here, and as far into this new millennium as I can see, unity of culture means that there will be a variety of loyalties, a variety of perspectives on meaning and, at best, a unity in diversity. This is a subject of some importance and complexity, too difficult and complex to deal with at all properly in this context. Unity of culture is, like love, a complex and paradoxical, transitory and often impermanent entity with an organized struggle at the centre of its story.1-Ron Price with thanks to Giroux, op.cit., p.34.
"First an instinct and then an ideology told me long ago that I had to be national before I was international. I must be personal before I could hope to be interestingly interpersonal. There must first be definite nations for the world, an international, sentiment to flourish," such was the view of famous American poet Robert Frost. I would put this complex of sentiments slightly differently now that the internationalization, globalization, process has advanced as far as it has, especially in the last fifty years, my pioneering years.
We need to be citizens of the world and act locally in expressing that international relationship. We need an interconnected, interrelated system that brings together the local, national and international. And this system is slowly and not-too-slowly being established. But I am playing a part and, if this autobiography does nothing else, it establishes that my past matters and my history has meaning. In fact, this is what "distinguishes autobiography as a mode of truth." For autobiography as a mode creates as much as it reflects reality.
Each area should have its characteristic culture, which should also harmonise with, and enrich, the cultures of the neighbouring areas." The culture of small communities on Baffin Island where I lived in 1967 is very different, in some important ways, to that of Zeehan on the west coast of Tasmania where I lived fifteen years later. As the whole world gravitates increasingly into a neighbourhood, these "neighbouring areas" will be anywhere and sometimes everywhere. There will be a strong local flavour combined with an unconscious and a conscious universality. Balancing unity and diversity has always been one of the basic traits of north American society and one day this balancing must be global in its outreach. I'd like to make a few remarks about this notion of neighbour because after sixty years of living in over three dozen residences I have experienced umpteen neighbourhood situations and they became a basic, a given, part of my life. Neighbour relations are charged due to sheer proximity. Unlike other social relations, including friendship, enmity, love, and even familial relation, space is inherent to neighbourship. Unlike the neighbour at the office or the one seated beside me on a bus or at a concert, or the one anywhere around this rapidly globalizing, westernizing, world--residential neighbours live their daily lives near one another over extended periods of time. This remains true even in an era of increasing household mobility as was the case in my life where 16 years was the longest I stayed in one house and the average was slightly less than three years.
Residential neighbours are in a significant, causal relation where propinquity is often the central principle. Their actions impinge upon one another, and at some levels, are mutually dependent: neighbors affect each other's property values and make their street a safer or more dangerous place, a convivial or an unfriendly place. We may like, dislike, or hate our neighbors, but we are locked in relation with them to some degree. I could write a separate chapter on the neighbours in my life from one end of Canada and Australia to the other, especially the one set we did not get on with in Katherine and the other ten sets we experienced in that country town. I don't think such an account would be edifying. It would, rather, simply add some more information about an experience all readers of this work would have. And this autobiography is nearing its end, an end I would like to speed to with haste.
Both Frost and Eliot single out language and literature as two of the most important features of a unified culture. They see them as indispensable for a nation to produce its own poetry. Frost values the arts as "the permanent record of a nation." Poetry, according to Eliot, "actually makes a difference to the society as a whole." I would add now in this new millennium that the arts, poetry and literature, of which this autobiography is but a part, have become part of the permanent record of humanity. I certainly feel that what I write makes a difference, however humble, however infinitessimal, in the very big picture of humanity. Often the difference is impossible to quantify. The quantification of a life is difficult no matter what particular archtype or pattern one draws on to underpin one's narrative. Many, like one of the first autobiographers St. Augustine, define that pattern as "from sex to salvation." Others quantify by means of photos as documentary evidence to verify or corroborate assertions made in the text. I don't think I am capable of quantifying my life, although as I look back over forty years of pioneering, one thing stands out and I could express it as: 'from localism to internationalism.'
Since poetry depends upon language and its specific ways of expressing thoughts, feelings, and emotions and can therefore never be adequately translated, Eliot claims that "no art is more stubbornly national." Frost, too, considers poetry the "most national of the arts." The most national of the arts is not painting, not music not sculpture, they argue. These art forms can go over into the international arena with ease. But not poetry. The only reason for keeping England alive and the English language alive is to keep Shakespeare from being translated into Volapük or Esperanto. " While I can understand this national sentiment and while I think there is some truth in it, it goes too far for my liking. I am happy for my poetry and autobiography to be associated with an international sentiment or a national one or, indeed, a local one. For me, Frost and Eliot overstate the issue, at least for my generation, if I can be permitted to speak, perhaps presumptuously, for those born after WW2.
In Dean Acheson's 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his years in the State Department (1941-1953), Present at the Creation, he wrote, "In a sense, the postwar years were a period of creation, for the ordering of which I shared with others some responsibility." Historian James Chace demonstrates in his outstanding new biography that Acheson was the prime mover behind major U.S. foreign policy initiatives in this period when a "new world" was being created by "the most important figure in American foreign policy since John Quincy Adams." I am not qualified to confirm or disagree with this statement, but the second Seven Year Plan, the Plan that coincided with my first memories, was certainly immersed in the reconstruction of the world from a Bahá'í perspective.
To Eliot the music of poetry must be a music latent in the common speech of its time. And that means also that it must be latent in the common speech of the poet's language and everyday idiom, by which he means colloquial everyday speech. I am not so sure that the colloquial is the root of every good poem, nor am I sure that the national is the root of all thought and art. Such were the feelings of Frost and Eliot. I echo these sentiments to some extent, at least before the world collapsed into a neighbourhood almost overnight in the 20th century.
I find my poetry fits very comfortably into this autobiography because of its colloquail root. I may shoot up as high as you please and flourish as widely abroad in the air of aesthetic and intellectual thought, but my roots are firmly entrenched in my life, my society and my religion. This is what and where they should be, as I see it. My work also identifies with the metaphysical poets, a term coined by the poet and critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of English lyric poets of the early 17th century, whose work was characterized by the inventive use of conceits, and by speculation about topics such as love or religion. These poets were not formally affiliated; most of them did not even know one another or read one another's work. They had a fondness for the dense and the difficult, and as I do, for “indulging in nice speculations of philosophy”, as Helen Gardner notes, “in unusual contexts.”1-Helen Gardner, The Metaphysical Poets, Penguin, London, 1985(1957, p.15.
Their work, though, like mine, is and has been difficult to define. They and I yoke all sorts of heterogeneous ideas together; ideas are compelled into a unity, patterns of growth and decline, conflict and harmony. Thought itself was to the poet John Donne—and I—an experience which modifies my very sensibility. It is a mechanism for devouring experience. Sadly, or not-so-sadly, our paradoxes and intellectual complexities make our poetry difficult for many readers.
"One half of individuality is locality: and the other half is colloquiality," such were the views of Frost. New England, he argued, brought "a stubborn clinging to meaning; to purify words until they meant again what they should mean. Puritanism had that meaning entirely: a purifying of words and a renewal of words and a renewal of meaning." Seeing himself as the successor to those whom he considered the nation's forefathers allowed Frost to call the speech of New England an American speech and its literature American literature. I, on the other hand, see myself as a world citizen and what I write as part of an emerging global culture which allows me to experience a range of perspectives. Part of me is international; part of me is national; part of me is local; indeed, part of me is many things, a list too long to enumerate here.
As Frost was deeply committed to the experience of America as an immigrant nation, I am deeply committed to the experience of the Bahá'í community as an emerging global force for world unity. I am also, like Rousseau, "motivated by the anthropological desire to reveal truthfully...a human being form within." As a regionalist, Frost pleaded the cause of distinct regions united by an American creed, pointing out that diversity is an inherent quality of the American nation and should be considered an asset. As a regionalist, I plead the cause of distinct regions united by a Bahá'í creed. As an American, Frost himself was the personification of this principle of unity in diversity. At the same time, however, Frost emphasized that his sense of personal identity was deeply rooted in his sense of belonging to a particular region and nation, a sense Eliot obviously lacked but which I possess in a different measure, as we all experience in different measures. Frost suggested that "without such roots there can be no sense of personal identity and self-respect, and without self-respect there can be no sense of respect for, and commitment to, others." Roots, it seems to me, grow differently in different soils with climate, vegetation, landscape and other factors all playing their parts.
One of the aspects of this autobiography and of my life has been my use of the essay beginning, seriously, as far back as 1962 in my senior years at high school. Then, of course, essays were about passing high school subjects and exams. I will include at this point an introduction I wrote five years ago to a collection of essays for it will serve to put 'the essay' in my life in what I hope is a helpful context. Essays, for me, are expressive embodiments of my experience as much as they are, as Emerson once said, "entertaining soliloquies on every random topic," ambulatory reflections which, as J.B. Priestley once wrote, allow me to talk about myself or to express the relation between some subject and myself.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
PREFACE TO THIS ESSAY COLLECTION
As I was attempting to put my autobiography together I made a study of the genre in order to provide me with a perspective that I seemed unable to find on my own. The following essays are a result of that study. They were written in the decade 1995 to 2005. All of these essays are useful to readers in their effort to understand the various theories and practices involved in autobiographical writing. What I'd like to do here is make some introductory comments about essay writing in general and these essays on the subject of autobiography in particular.
In 1580 Montaigne published a selection of his essays. My first published essay was in 1983 in Katherine, four hundred and three years later. Essays, I soon came to realize are all autobiographical in some sense, particularly in the sense that they tend to prescribe a certain philosophy of life. The essayist's truths are "for me" and "for now", personal and provisional as Graham Good said in his The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay(1988). There is an unsorted wholeness of experience which can only be held together by the concept of the self, Good argues. The essayist communicates as himself. Montaigne did this four hundred years ago and I do this in my essays. The study of one man is one way to study humankind. Essayists and their essays are typical of how we experience ourselves as untypical. He is typical insofar as he focuses on experience. The intellect is part of that experience. For some, like Montaigne, the cultivation and pleasure of the intellect stands out in the essay. So, too, does a humility and an unassuming quality. Whoever the essayist, the human being behind the words stands revealed.
William Hazlitt, one of the great essayists in the modern era, possesses an extreme skepticism in all things. The more evidence we accumulate about others, Hazlitt would argue, the more complex and difficult the assessment of others. His preference is for the solitary. Company inhibits spontaneity. Bacon is a practical man whose essays serve as counsel to harmonize self-interest and public interest. Dr. Johnson is an acute observer and offers up essays like TV programs or newspapers. Henry James is guide, interpreter and provider of vicarious experience. The detailed describer of settings, James did what I do very little of, except on rare occasions. Virginia Woolf sees the self in socio-historical terms as part of one large piece of art and moments of being are the crucial centre pieces. Each essayist has their own particular perspective, philosophy and style. And I have mine. In some of my essays I allude to my aims and philosophies.
The essayist goes out into the foray anticipating anything, seeing virtually everything and anything as fodder for his pen, his essay. The basis of his involvement is disinterested curiosity, contemplation, spontaneity, eagerness. The essayist accepts a basic fluidity to his self, his experience, his understanding: what he records is provisional and any truth he sees is part of his relationship with his reader. This relationship is characterized by friendship. Essay writing began for Montaigne as a substitute for conversation. It was a friendly dialogue. It shows the process and flow of thought, open, receptive and often untidy. This is true of me, of my essays, which function in part as a substitute for conversation which I have grown tired of for various reasons. This contemplation is, as Wordsworth saw it over two hundred years ago, of supreme importance to the conduct of life.
I could write a special essay here on friendship, but I will resist this desire partly because the concept of friendship is too complex to expatiate on here. As I reflect on sixty years of living I feel, at one level, I have had dozens of friends, maybe hundreds or even thousand depending, of course, on one's defintion of the term. At another level, depth and longevity of relationship with males has not been extensive. Perhaps it is the testosterone in the male that makes it difficult for him to bond with other males except in team sports or when working together in a job. Most of my pleasureable and intimate relationships where the inner life is talked about has been with females. Perhaps the basic issue is biological also involving status hierarchies and competitiveness. There are just too many examples from my life to deal with this issue in any depth drawing on my experience.
There is an intuitive intensity in the essay that is directed toward the mystical moment of union between outer and inner, between soul and form. It is this which makes for refreshing autobiography. In the essay it is the process of judgement that counts not the judgement. The essayist is a combiner, a producer of configurations who declares a direction after a play of ideas and images, after presenting a constellation of material. The essayist is a coordinator, a crystalliser, an interweaver, an interpenetrator. At the heart of the essay is a moment where the self, the writer, finds a pattern in the world and the world finds a pattern in the self. Essays are unquestionably a useful extension of the autobiographical focus in my book Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
The first essay in this collection is an ‘introduction' to the published essays I wrote in Katherine between 1983 and 1986. These essays appeared in Katherine papers and may be the first, certainly one of the first, extended series of serious essays in the popular press by a Bahá'í in Australian Bahá'í history. I do not know for sure. I sent them to the BWCL several years ago, in the early 1990s. Now the essays have a fitting introduction, one I am happy with anyway.
The essays on autobiography, in the pages that follow, might one day appear in a collection of published pieces. But I will not hold my breath. For several reasons they are not the kind of writing that Bahá'í publishers are interested in putting on the market. Other publishing priorities are paramount at the moment. But they contribute to my story in ways that my poems do not and so I include them here in a separate chapter of this autobiography. My unpublished and the published essays now total over 300 or about two to three hundred thousand words. Only several explicitly on the subject of autobiography will be found below. Quite unknowingly, the writing of my autobiography began with some of these 300 essays and the poetry and diary which also started at the same time--in the early to mid-1980s. By the time the first international symposium on autobiography and autobiographical studies was held at Louisiana State University in 1985 my own autobiography was very tentatively, obscurely, indirectly, for the most part, unknowingly, launched. Reading through my essays, my poetry or my diary at the start of this autobiographical project is very much like coming to know a person in the real world. The moments of acquaintance are usually brief and, in a sense, ephemeral, all slightly different and all essentially the same. The effect is cumulative and internally most complex. It is impossible to perfectly summarize the experience of all this written work. Ron Price January 1998 To March 2006
The following essay I wrote during the years 1996 to 2006. It introduces my essays published in newspapers in Katherine from 1983 to 1986.
More than twenty years ago now, from May 1983 to March 1986, some 150 essays appeared in the newspapers of a small town in the Northern Territory. I had pioneered to this place in 1982 and remained there until 1986. Many of my essays were about popular culture. Looking back it would seem that whatever intellectual gifts I have been endowed with were first in evidence in written form in these published writings, these essays, in what was then and is still now a remote part of Australia. None of this material has been transferred to my website. I had, ten years before these essays first appeared, been a lecturer in a college of advanced education, but the gift of writing was not really substantiated until these essays started to appear in the Katherine Advertiser in 1983.
"Time, which puts an end to human pleasures and sorrows," said Samuel Johnson, "has likewise concluded the labours of this Rambler."(1) It would be three decades, in 1784, before Johnson's labours were concluded and my own, in the field of writing, it seems now, looking back, had just begun. A meticulous researcher can find articles in former college magazines in Ballarat and Launceston at their Colleges of Advanced Education, in newspapers in Tasmania and in Bahá'í magazines and archives in the period up to 1984. But, in the main, even up to this date in the first years of this new millennium, most of my published works are in this collection of essays I wrote in Katherine.
For those who find my poetry not to their liking, or who find my autobiography in its many forms not to their taste, they may find here manageable chunks of interest. Here is autobiography in another form. In the years before the Lesser Peace it was difficult to get direct Bahá'í ideas into the print media; few in Australia had been successful, although when I came to Perth I met two or three individuals who were more successful than I, or at least successful in different ways.(2) Indirection was often the only way in most situations in both the print and electronic media. In addition, several Bahá'í academics had published their work in academic journals, but I have not acquired any list of their efforts.
"The distinctions between living, writing and reading were beginning to become blurred" says Tony Tanner in his analysis of the life of Henry James and the Art of Fiction".(3) James saturated himself with, immersed himself in, his own writing. These essays represent the beginning of this process which ten years later was well advanced in my poetic efforts, but was kept from the extremes that James and other writers expressed in their lives. A job, a family and a community kept me from total immersion. There is none of the sacrificial vicariousness found in James' writing, the heroic proportions found in the erudite performances of some of the great writers of history, none of the immense energies applied to the effort to write as they were in the case of Xavier Herbert. Most of my writing in the decade after these essays appeared was in the form of poetry and this poetry was mostly a font of pleasure with a great weariness at the edges of my life, a weariness that was perhaps part of the essential springboard to that poetry. Fiction served for many writers as an embedded template for autobiography. Poetry served that function for me.
Some of these essays deal with why I write and I will not reiterate these reasons here, but I should refer to the articles about Harold Ross, Shiva Naipaul, Brian Matthews and Norman Podhoretz since they contain some useful perspectives which I have integrated unknowingly into my own writing. I have not sent these articles to the BWCL. They are in my home collection. I would also like to refer to James Olney, one of the great analysts of autobiography, who said autobiography can "advance our understanding of the question ‘how shall I live?'"(4) If these essays contribute in some small part to answering this question I shall be amply rewarded. And if this I cannot do, I hope at least that I can give the reader a little pleasure. This work narrates a critical phase in the extension and consolidation of the Bahá'í community and draws on my own particular experience and that of the Bahá'í community, the circuitry of what, with other autobiographies, I am confident will serve as pioneer representations of this emerging new religion. The tension between dream and nightmare, efforts and results, experience of community and anti-community, meaning and frustration is an on-going one that fills the interstices of this story.
As I conclude this essay, twenty years to the month since my last essay appeared in the Katherine Times, I have achieved a degree of immersion in writing and reading that I have never been able to achieve in the past. My 1000 page autobiography is now complete, a book on the poetry of Roger White and hundreds, if not thousands, of postings on the internet. In these early years of my late adulthood I feel I have begun to carve a niche made of traces of words. Whether they will last forever time will tell.
(1) Bertrand Bronson, editor, Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems, Selected Prose, third edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1952, pp.164-168. (2)Keith McDonald, Mike Day and Drewfus and Chelinay Gates, as well as the Bahá'í Office of Public Information for Western Australia, in the years I have lived in Perth: 1987 to 1996, have contributed in no small way to the proclamation of the Bahá'í Faith in the print and electronic media. They would merit a story unto themselves.(3) Tony Tanner, Henry James and the Art of Fiction, University of Georgia Press, London, 1995, p.29.(4) James Olney, Metaphor of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton UP, 1972, p.xi.-Ron Price 26/12/96—2/3/06.
To help provide some long range perspective on my essays is the following overview I wrote for perhaps the first collection of essays I put together in the ten years 1984 to 1994:
For the most part, if not entirely, the essays in these two volumes in my study were written between 1984 and 1994. For the most part, too, they were never published. They represent an archive of material from my second decade of significant writing, the first decade being 1974-1984 during which I kept none of my essays, but during which I worked at post-secondary schools and colleges and wrote a great deal.
They are part of what I now see as a long warm-up phase of writing, a warm-up phase that, arguably, could be seen as going back to the early 1960s and the beginning of my pioneering life when I did my matriculation studies, my university years and some of my earliest services to the Bahá'í community. Some of my writing in this second decade, 1984-1994, got published, about 150 essays in Katherine NT and various other pieces. I keep these pieces in three other files in my study.
After what can now be seen as a thirty-year long warm-up period, I began writing in a serious, committed way and have done so for nearly 15 years(1991/2-2006). These two files will serve as a useful base for evaluating what has been a long and critical 'developmental phase', of what became, I can now see in retrospect, more than thirty years of warmup writing: 1962-1992 before my writing really took off in 1992.
Essays and autobiography, it seems to me, are part of a literary force that is slowly helping to shape the Bahá'í community at local, regional, national and global levels. They are one way of providing a method of revaluing the multiple cultural and historical influences upon the religious identity. Language and its acquisition shapes the autobiographical and essayistic act. This is only saying the obvious. Late modern culture is, unquestionably and from many perspectives, "deeply conflicted, confused and even incurious" about many basic issues of life. It is my strong feeling that this autobiography and the essays which form a logical extension of it can be a reflective base for analysing the implications and meanings of life in a useful way to many readers.
I conclude this essay with some statistics that place the remaining years of my life, my late adulthood and old age, in perspective:
Demographics of Aging in the U.S. - 1900-2045
Date Life Expectancy (years) Population Over 65 (raw numbers) (of total demographic)
1900 3.1 million 4 percent
1930 6.7 million 5 percent
1960 70 16.7 million 9 percent
1995 78 31.1 million 12 percent
2025 (est) 85 62.5 million 20 percent
One statistical marker is upon us. According to President Clinton's Health and Human Services Cabinet Secretary, Donna Shalala, "In the year 2000, older people will outnumber children for the first time in [U.S.] history." Another significant trend is the shift within this demographic group. The population of those who are 85 years plus, the very old, is increasing more rapidly than the entire group. In 1990, about one in twelve, some 8 percent, was 85 years or older. By 2045, this group will comprise 20 percent of the elderly. I will be 100 in 2045.
According to the UN's Administration on Aging (AoA), the global scene mirrors many of these trends, with an increase of persons 60 and older from 200 million (in 1950), to 350 million (in 1975), to 590 million (at the millennium) to 1.1 billion by 2025. According to the AoA, this is "an increase of 224 percent since 1975...[while total global population will increase by 102 percent]. Thus, by 2025, older persons will constitute 13.7 percent of the world's population."
In 25 years, in 2030, I will be 85. Australia, like other western countries, will have a "collective population that is older than that of Florida today." It may be in "desperate trouble" because the expense of caring for all those old people will cause a fiscal crisis. The nation may be plagued by "political instability, unemployment, labor strikes, high and rising crime rates." That's the picture painted in The Coming Generational Storm by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns(MIT Press, 2005), a book that has helped to feed a rising tide of demographic alarm. There are, though, many views of the future and it is not my intention to engage in futurology.
I have alluded to these statistics, these comments, on the future because the work on this autobiography which I will do in the years to come will be in the context of my own aging and an aging population, a graying of the planet or, as one writer put it colourfully, a geriborg maintenance in which securitas is the main issue. But in all this greying and all this aging, the past, my own history and the history of this Cause and the wider society, stands in a durable, nostalgic and even vibrant relation to the present and the future as it unfolds. Not always, of course, for there is also and inevitably fatigue, sadness and a periodic sense of failure, frustration and loss.
Diasporic writing, and pioneering, especially international pioneering, is part of a global diaspora, is frequently marked by a sense of the 'sweetness of place.' The poet and essayist, Stephen Dobyns, says that "diaspora suggests one's inheritance of the condition of dispersion, of dispersal....has a potentially rich affect on the imagination." I have often felt this, especially as the fifth decade of my pioneering experience unfolded, 2002-2012. Shaped as it is by forms of longing, memory and identification, this autobiographical writing is part nostalgic celebration, part creation of pioneering spaces as sites of longing and ambivalence "held in utopic/dystopic tension" and part continuous negotiation, recycling and reconstruction of memory and cultural material out of the pioneering experience. And when all is said and done, I will have played a small part in the creation of social memory, that complex cultural and historical phenomenon which is the constant subject of revision amplification and forgetting.
Some writers, after their best work is done, never tire of summing up self and career, interpreting both in weary but friendly new perspectives. They never tire of self-portraits, especially when they discover readers who think they are as wondrous as they do themselves. The author of Song of Myself, Walt Whitman, in the 19th century and Alfred Kazin in the 20th were cut from this cloth. Time will tell just what cloth my work and my character is cut from. In the meantime while I and others are cutting this cloth the self-revelation that I have engaged in here will provide me with a much needed self-creation, re-creation. This autobiography is not just a manifestation of myself, my life; it is its very embodiment. As the self becomes identified with the autobiography, moreover, the autobiography becomes the subject of its own allegory; the autobiography becomes a work about itself.-26/3/02—2/3/06.
To conclude this chapter I will now include several essays on autobiography which I mentioned above at the outset of this chapter.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
ESSAY #1: SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY
There are endless ways of telling one's story. For this reason poets and writers like Roger White and Bernard Shaw may be wrong to think that the passive nature of their lives disqualifies them from even attempting to write their autobiography. Roger used to say that he did not think it was possible for a biographer to make anything at all interesting out of his life. I think time will prove him wrong. He, like Shaw, thought his life was in his writing, or as he once put it, quoting Rabindranath Tagore: "the poem not the poet."
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
If one does write autobiography, as I do, one can not tell one's whole story no matter how one tells it. While one tells one's story, as Montaigne said, one's story makes oneself and there is so much of tedium, chouder and trivia in life which one simply edits out, out of pure necessity. If you put it all in you'd have a mountain of garbage that even the most assiduous reader could not plough through. You take form as you write and it is fascinating to watch. It feels to me a little like sculpting or painting must feel like to the artists in these fields. It's part of the magic of writing autobiography. As William Spengemann emphasizes, autobiography is synonymous with symbolic action. Writing is symbolic action. The implications of this idea revolutionizes the experience of writing autobiography. One sees the whole exercise in metaphorical terms. While not possessing the freedom of the novel or the facticity of writing history, autobiography does contain enough freedom and enough truth to give it the best of both worlds. "Autobiographers", Brian Finney notes in his introductory words to The Inner I: British Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century(1985, p.21), "appear to have as many different conceptions of what constitutes the truth about themselves as readers have different expectations of them."
If parts of our nature are unknowable, if our degree of confessionalism is in our own hands, if others see us quite differently than we see ourselves, there is going to be only a certain aspect of the truth and only a certain degree of it that opens up for the autobiographer. Even if autobiographies are lies, as Shaw said; if they are not to be trusted unless they reveal something disgraceful, as Orwell hypothesized; if they reveal one's mendacity as Freud emphasized; if they focus on our personal myths as Jung would have put it--they at least pursue the human, the personal, story from within. Even if autobiography is a caricature of sorts, it cannot deny the tyrannical power of basic facts, however interpretive or subjective. There is an inevitable and, to some extent, naive trusting in memory.
There is both historical veracity and artistic creativity, then, in autobiography. The self-portraiture, the process of writing, transmutes one's life into a verbal artifact. It is difficult to reveal one's private self to the world; some aspects of that self are better left unrevealed and an ambivalence regarding the revelation of some of that inner life is, it would seem to me, unavoidable. Evasion, euphistic language and diversionary tactics are all part of a process of saying what one wants to say and not saying it all.
George Orwell talks about a certain amount of exaggeration in the process of selection and narration and a type of meaning that emerges by the way one retrospectively chooses to order events. In the process of his own analysis Orwell attempts to come to grips with his buried and not-so-buried motives for writing his autobiography. Subjective self-discovery and the capacity for objective reportage are related; factuality and self-awareness seem to walk hand-in-hand. The reader, too, can often correct the unperceived distortions of the writer when the autobiography embraces fully this subjective element. For the reader and writer become more intimate through this style, this tone, of writing.
Memory is notoriously unreliable; it is like a minefield; it is also the great artist, as Andre Marois once put it. Some see memory as a pandering to the ego; some point out that being told by others what happened is not the same as one's own account: so that all one really has is memory. "There have been episodes in my life" says A.E. Coppard "which not even the prospect of an eternity in hellfire would induce me to reveal."(ibid.,p.46) But even then it is very difficult for the writer to hide his true nature. I see all of my own effort as quite a transparent, honest exercise, an exercise which is conscious of a good degree of probing, conscious of style, language and form. I am conscious that my own life has nothing of the great adventures and incredible stories that are at the heart of many autobiographies. Hopefully it has an interesting yarn at its centre and material that will be useful to the Bahá'í community as it unfolds its contribution to the globe in the decades ahead. I hope, in aiming to achieve something useful, that I have not poured out a pile of dirty laundry, that I have at least kept the pile tactfully small. Vanity is as common as air and I trust this ubiquitous folly is at least kept to a minimum in the process of all my navel-gazing. The desire to give the reader pleasure and contribute something original and probing lies in the matrix of my motivations to write. Moliere said that what he tried to do was correct men by amusing them. I would like to be able to achieve this, but I am not conscious of much success. I hope I get better at this style of writing, at this comic autobiography. At this stage of my life writing, an autobiography seemed to be something I could do, something I would enjoy doing from among the options one has available in life, something for which there was a place in the burgeoning Bahá'í literature of the 1990s and would probably be a place in the decades to come-when and if it got published.
I trust, too, that my writing is not characterized by that romantic flavour that Frank Harris writes with in his My Life and Loves published in England in the 1920s in all its 1100 odd pages. There is romance in my life: a sexual aesthetic, a sensitivity to the beauty of the feminine, of nature and of the intellect; but I trust that it is not removed from the real world, that it is simply part of my experience and not over-emphasized in my narrative, just a part of the intentional and unintentional revelations that add complexity and fascination to the text. The theatrical, the dramaturgical, is present in my work, but hopefully not unduely so. The mock-heroic, the lofty sentiments, the literary and thematic exaggerations and postures I hope are not overly done, stretched too far with too much religiosity as George Moore tended to do in his Hail and Farewell(1911).
"The truth is", J.D. Bereford tells us, "that my single pleasure is in continual retelling of the story of my own intellectual and spiritual life"(ibid., p.68). Beresford's creative energy goes into interpretations of what is going on and that is the case with me as far as I am able. Frankly, I do not have that singleness of pleasure that Bereford seems to get. This autobiography has occupied a good deal of my time since the mid-1980s, but it is only one part of a multifaceted life. It is clearly not ‘my single pleasure.'
For some writers their creative effort goes into discussing others since others are part of their corporate identity. I do not do this well, at least not yet. Perhaps I got too discouraged by some of my earlier experiences with short biographies that I wrote about people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Alan Sillitoe says a writer makes art when he trys to make truth believeable. Given a certain shapelessness, plotlessness to life, the autobiographer strives to give form to an episodic enigma, to create the artistic illusion of conclusiveness, beginning and middle. Finney suggests this form is best defined in inner terms. For the main problem in autobiography is how to deal with yourself: not too high flying and smug on the one hand and not too humble and self-effacing on the other. Comedy is one way out of the dilemma. Understanding, wit and verbal skill, is another way to hit some solid ground that is winning, genuine and communicates effectively. There is little of the comedy in my work and I hope there is some of the latter.
Freud argues that the spheres of sexuality and obscenity offer the amplest occasions for obtaining comic pleasure. I don't think I achieved much comic pleasure in either writing or in living these domains of life. Perhaps when and if I produce a second edition of my autobiography I can find the necessary humor to obtain the pleasure that Freud alludes to. I have always found it difficult to find sex through love; over the years love blossomed and I stopped looking for sex. I became quite happy with a little, sex that is. I'm sure I could deal with this feature of my life with more artistry in this book. Perhaps one day I may find both the desire and the opportunity. For now, though, readers will have to wait until later in this book. I tell of my stuggles; I am honest about my failures in life but not all in one hit and not with the entire scheme of warts in the rag and bone shop of life. Little by little, here and there throughout this book shall be my motto on these and many other autobiographical subjects.
The great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, once said that "only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind: sex and the dead." I have not written on these two subjects to anything like the extent that they occupied me in my life, the former since my teens, if not before, and the latter since about the age of 35. The frustrations of unfulfilled sexual desire I recall throughout my teens(1957-1964) and these feelings stayed with me into my old age. The following words of Yeats' poem, while not being mine, contain some of my sentiments, some of my experience, in these the early years of the evening of my life:
You think it horrible that lust and rage
Should dance in attendance upon my old age;They were not such a plague when I was young:What else have I to spur me into song?
Rage is not a problem for me, although it was from time to time until my late middle age. Lust certainly has kept me busy, it seems, in just about all my ages. Other topics of seriousness I would have to add to Yeats's list: religion and the cultural attainments of the mind, although one could subsume religion in with the dead. There is much, still, that spurs me into song. As far as the dead are concerned a book by Brenda Maddox tells much of Yeats' interest in the domain of the hereafter; and as far as my own interest in those who have gone on is concerned I think it grew out of the last major episode of my bi-polar illness in 1979/80. I write of this in another place.
Finney states that the history of autobiography is "the history of self-awareness" (ibid.,p.117). The breakup in the Roman empire led to St. Augustine and a more changeable, less static conception of self-statement. The Renaissance led to a concentration in autobiography on the private self, even a creation of a self, especially through an examination of one's formative, one's earliest years. This has been especially true in the last two centuries where autobiographers drew their very breath from the past and the mysterious origins of their lives. Beside the insights gained, the imaginative experiences which come from memories and the process of private excavation help the writer make his story interesting, a difficulty inherent in the genre itself. If difficulty is a merit then I’m sure, for many, this literary work is meritorious and will not give up its secrets on first reading. I do not write this for a populist audience whose reasdinng level is still at the primary-school level.
In a world of sensory stimulation, continuous entertainment and panem et circenses writing an autobiography that will hold the reader, many readers, is a high challenge. I'm not so sure I have achieved this goal. I take refuge in my poetry for its inevitable coterie. I also like to think that my prose and poetry express, as the poet Dryden said of the poet Donne, deep thoughts in ordinary language, and extraordinary thoughts in ordinary situations1in our warlike, various and tragic age.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Helen Gardner, The Metaphysical Poets, Penguin, London, 1957, p. 24.
"Childhood is important" wrote Jung late in life "because this is the time when, terrifying or encouraging, those far-seeing dreams and images appear before the soul of the child, shaping his whole destiny" and he reaches back even into the life of his ancestors(ibid., p.127). We begin in the magic circle of our childhood, reaching out into the world in ever widening circles as man breathes his own life into things in the act of observing himself and his environment. This I have done in my poetry and in my Life Story but not in the narrative of Pioneering Over Three Epochs which does not really begin until that magic circles begins to enlarge. Sometimes, I am only too conscious, the light of nostalgia is falsifing, sometimes illuminating, but always it tells something of the observing self and my adult preoccupations. One lives the early years, everything, over again.
Infantile amnesia, or what one author called the sweet darkness of one's earliest years, is the time when the formative events and influences occur. I have no memories before the age of four. Freud argues that affectionate and hostile images of the father are born here and persist all one's life.(ibid.,p.140) This is an aspect of my life, these earliest memories, that I could develop one day in my own story. It is here that the dominating parent is born, the excessively pietistic influence, indeed much that is both positive and negative in life. And one can learn a great deal by examining the etiology of these influences. One can, as D.H. Lawrence suggests, shed some of one's sicknesses by such retrospection or, as Clive James once put it, one can get out of the prison of one's childhood. Both Frued and Jung argued, though, that we gain only a partial understanding of our early life and indeed of life itself. There is an inevitable incompleteness, blindness. There are countless subsidiary happenings that don't get in to our story due to the genre's pressure to create shape and meaning, and to be bony and bare at the periphery outside that shape and form. George Bernard Shaw admitted this when he wrote that his "story has no plot and the problem will never be solved"(ibid., p.164).
Autobiography, then, becomes like a monument to defeat or an expression of acceptance of defeat. Sometimes it is simply an oversimplification of the complexities of personality that defeat any therapeutic aim of the writer. The wholeness of personality, the realization of its totality and fullness, Jung argues, is impossible to attain. It is only an ideal.
Much of modern autobiography has grown out of religious introspection and the soul's struggle with despair. Protestantism made the individual responsible for his own spiritual development and this resulted in an inner conflict and search for wholeness amidst psychological aridity, neurosis, depression and endless analysis as well as the joys and pleasures of life. In the twentieth century ‘religious' became ‘psychological', at least for millions. Perhaps, as Jung states, "the spiritual adventure of our time is the exposure of human consciousness to the undefinable and indefinable"(ibid.,p.208). An autobiography like my own is the account of that exposure. I also expose by means of religious poetry so much of my experience that is not religious.
Finney notes Roy Pascal's view that the brief half-century from 1782, when Rousseau's autobiography was published, to 1831 when Goethe's was written, "there was a feeling of trust and confidence in the spiritual wholeness of the self and a meaningfulness that disappears from later autobiography"(ibid., p.209). Coincidentally, this was the same half-century when the two precursors to the Babi Revelation were preparing the way for the coming enlightenment with different manifestations of trust and confidence than Rousseau and Goethe in the mainstream of the western intellectual tradition. Modern autobiographers, those writing in our time, the epochs I am concerned with, seek to recapture this trust and confidence, but for the most part not successfully. Some, like Powys, achieve a measure of success by sheer verbal exhuberance and shapelessness in an attempt to capture the evanescent quality of life(Cowper Powys, Far Away and Long Ago, 1934) Here is how Powys puts it:
It is most important in writing the tale of one's days not to try to give them the unity they possess for one in later life. A human story, to bear any resemblance to the truth, must advance and retreat erratically, must flicker and flutter here and there, must debouch(i.e. come out of the woods) at a thousand tangents(ibid., p.221.)
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
Writing so much of what I do in poetic form I achieve this flicker and flutter here and there, the thousand tangents. But I would not want to use Powys as my only model of how to write an autobiography because he derives a satisfaction from parading his neuroses, phobias and darkest fantasies, his sacred malice in the form of caricature and excess, as if he is a magician and a near mad-man. What the reader gets is the idiosyncratic outpourings of an egocentric and demented eccentric. Of course, one gets much more. I enjoyed a good deal of his autobiography, especially his sense of honesty or confessionalism. Of the many tendencies since those peaceful years from Rousseau to Goethe this is but one of the many subjective approaches to understanding of the self.
There is some darkness, some of the mad-man in my poetry, my autobiography; but I think it is far from a parading of my neuroses, my eccentricies. Erik Erikson says the autobiographer is concerned with the present, the past and the historical context of the times in which the writer lives. This has been more at the centre of my concern. Some writers show a fear of narcissistic self-indulgence in writing their account and, like H.G. Wells and Arthur Koestler, spend a great deal of time on the context of their times. Still, I feel I have erred by spending too little on my times. This has not been out of fear, but the simple difficulty of balancing the three time frames and all that autobiography can contain. It can contain so much and, in the end, overwhelm the reader. I fear I may have done this anyway, at least for many of my possible readers. I like Koestler's emphasis on directing his writing to the unborn, future reader; directing the many levels of truth, the many subjectivities of his life to a future age. This seems to be Koestler's central drive. I think, too, that for some autobiographers, like Storm Jameson, writing is an escape into words, an escape from society, a society she did not feel at home in. This is partly true of me as I have got older. She says that noone can write the story of their life; there is an inevitable impersonality, a partial and unavoidable lack of control for the author. Perhaps that is why each autobiography is so idiosyncratic, a unique work of art unto itself. For we are each unique, each idiosyncratic, each a child of God. My story is just one child's account.-Ron Price 4 December 1995
Four weeks later I wrote the following essay on autobiography during the summer holiday in Perth in one of my last vacations before I retired from teaching in 1999.
ESSAY #2: SOME ESSENTIAL THOUGHTS ON
THE HISTORY OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The autobiographies of others, as I have indicated in several previous essays, illuminate one's own attempt to understand one's life through writing it down. St. Augustine's(354-430 AD) Confessions has a distinctly ‘before' and ‘after' flavour, before his conversion and after. Mine begins, essentially, with my conversion, although in my poetry the decade before my contact with the Bahá'í cause receives some attention. Like Augustine I certainly possess a sense of participating in an eternal plan. This is also true of Dante's(1265-1321) La vita nuova. For these writers and for me, the account is no final story, but a preparation for even more on the horizon.
Four hundred years later John Bunyan(1628-1688) wrote in his Grace Abounding(1666) about his life. Truth became known through his experience. For me, as well, it was truth becoming understood through my experience. I had had a massive influx of truth at the age of nine and into my teens. Indeed, my life was one of continual access to truth; at least that is how I would express it, after more than 50 years of living. Conversion was a beginning point for me and life provided one long, unending process of coming to understand its myriad ramifications. Dante accessed truth in dreams, some five in his autobiography; Bunyan had some ten mystical experiences, or visions. Not for me a series of ecstatic moments in my curve of learning, rather life was much more a process which the Guardian has described as a series of seven stages that we go through in our life, from crisis to victory. Bahá'u'lláh's Seven Valleys provides another delineation of the process, of the stages. It is complex, much more complex than anything autobiography had revealed by 1666. Of course, this complexity can often be expressed in simple terms but issues of this nature must be left to later philosophical and pscyhological essays.
For Bunyan all experiences partook equally in his ultimate deliverance. For me, certain events in my life stood out: getting to know two, perhaps, three personalities well; my psychiatric illnesses; my moving to Australia; my two marriages; my parents; my career; my attempt to live a life consistent with the teachings of the Faith; my role as a pioneer. For all these writer whom I mention above the presence of the divine was critical to their lives, albeit in different ways. By the time Bunyan wrote, the structure of belief upon which all previous historical autobiography was built, was beginning to fall into disrepair. With Benjamin Franklin(1706-1790) the edifice of autobiography came to be built entirely on human recollections alone.
Augustine had a contact outside of time through Christ; mine is and has been through Bahá'u'lláh. He is the ground of my being and the basis for any human consanguinity. My position is not unlike that of all autobiographers up to Franklin. Augustine addresses his narrative to God; what he writes is like a devotional colloquy. My entire corpus is addressed to my readers, in my minds eye, generations not yet born and holy souls who have passed on and who assist me in ways I do not know; as well as, and especially, to a body of men which represents an institutionalization of the charisma at the heart of my belief system. Unlike Franklin, I do not offer up my autobiography on the authority of personal conviction, I offer it as a contribution to understanding how one person lived his life within the framework of an emerging world religion, at an early stage in its development, its second century. I am not seeking, as Franklin apparently was, to get men to imitate me; far from it. But it is my hope that they would gain greater understanding of their religion and its history, its history as it was embodied in the life of one of its ordinary practitioners, one of its votaries during the second to the fourth epochs of its Formative Age.
Augustine, Dante and Bunyan used the form of autobiography to dramatize their belief that an eternal truth guided their lives. For Franklin it was reason which centred and dramatized his life; in writing his autobiography he was essentially reliving a successful life. It was his hope that the lessons of his own individual experience and self-reliance, would replace the role taken by revealed truth. The truths of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh and their legitimate successors(1844-1995) are a critical anchorage for my own story; understanding and experience are the fruit of my life; they do not replace revelation but are important buttresses of everything that has come to constitute me, my identity, my self, indeed, my soul.
Rousseau(1712-1778) tries through his autobiography, his Confessions, to secure an honoured place in history. For him truth lies in his feelings and in the continuity of his soul. I have written about this theme of fame or renown in my poetry and in my journal. If I secure some place in history through the efforts contained in all that is represented by Pioneering Over Three Epochs it will be because there is something worthwhile in what I have written, there is some meaning and historical significance of some kind that illuminates a future age. I find this an inspiring goal: to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. This would make my contribution ongoing, beyond my life in a very concrete sense. If this does not occur, it will be because people do not find it of use, of interest. I will have gained, I trust, through my examination of my inner life and my outer life as I am asked to do in the Writings of my Faith.
Rousseau, like Franklin, secularizes historical autobiography. He describes how he came to be the way he was. I do the same. Rousseau tries to remake society in his image. Franklin tries to get people to imitate him. I try to do neither. Experience for Rousseau, as it was for Augustine, is the enemy of truth and happiness. For me the relation of the two is far more complex than this; indeed, it would require a separate essay to begin to explore this relationship. I, like Rousseau, enjoy my visits into the past to write autobiography. There is a nostalgia, a warm richness that coats the past. Unlike Rousseau I do not see the past as a sad concatenation of events that has led to my wretchedness. Rather, I see a series of events coated with many colours from dark blacks and browns to warm reds and spiritual blues, if one can give colours physical and psychological equivalents. There is sadness and there is joy; it depends where I look.
Augustine found true being outside of time; I do too, but I also find it in time. Rousseau found the thread, the link, the life of his soul in the undercurrent of feeling that ran through his entire life. Here he found a coherent, continuous whole and it was here that he reexperienced in imagination his enthusiasms, his hopes, his ambitions and pleasures. To tap into these feelings the narrator must relive his life. I find this particular aspect of Rousseau's approach to autobiography very helpful. He has put into words what I have tried to do. When I have been successful I have achieved a kind of root-tapping. Rousseau saw this retrospective activity more a form of self-realizaton. To him it was divine. It caused the world to vanish; it caused the writer to enter an ecstatic plane of self-possession, a necessary stage perhaps en route to self-forgetfulness. Rousseau came to see all his past wanderings as pointless and destructive. Viewed sub specie aeternitatis, I have found my pioneer wanderings as part of a meaningful whole, especially the suffering.
The action that is my past has been characterized by a certain degree of faithfulness and a certain degree of passion. Augustine emphasized the former and Rousseau the latter. Experience has been both my enemy and my friend; passion both the life of my soul and its death. This is true of just about everything one does. Everything changes with each movement. Remembered feeling becomes the criteria for the truest autobiographical statement. Autobiography, for Rousseau, becomes not so much the life he lived as the life he lived in the act of composing his life. I find this to be true of my own writing in whatever genre the autobiography is found. I find myself in autobiography, like some flickering light of an ineffable bliss.
It helps in making the road to the grave profitable, enlightened by the two most luminous lights of intellect and wisdom. To claim any wisdom makes me a little uncomfortable in Australia, a land of an unpretentiousness and cynicism that lives luxuriously slightly beneath the surface of everyday events.
I am more than a little conscious of the transition from a relatively unreflective young adult to what could be seen as an excessively reflective man of middle years. But, like Bunyan, I ‘fetch invigorating thoughts from former years' and recreate an energy that has been lost or, better, transferred from brawn to brain. Like Wordsworth I ‘rescue from decay the old/ By timely interference' and so ripen ‘dawn into steady morning', or perhaps late afternoon.(for surely the last half of middle adulthood-50 to 60-can be equated with late afternoon). My purpose here is not so much to tell the story of my life, although I do achieve this in my narrative, but to look within, self-examine, gain self-knowledge, achieve some union between the knower(me) and the known. I find there is a certain stasis, quietness in my movement, reposeful condition, as a result of this writing process. The knowing and acting self has finally been brought together. The slow process of looking within and finding God, of acquiring virtues and contributing to the development of civilization, or of experiencing generativity and integration is all partially understood in the act of autobiography.
And so, like Wordsworth in his Prelude, I became a traveller in my own life. My primary vehicle has been poetry, although I have provided other genres largely for future readers should there be any. For poetry reveals, in Wordsworth's words, ‘our being's heart and home'; it allows discordant elements of our life to harmonize; it renovates the spirit in a priestly robe; it precedes from some creative and enduring source and becomes a source of knowledge, power and joy. Poetry and autobiography are like regulating devices. They come to see the parts of life in terms of the whole; indeed the recollected hours, again in the words of Wordsworth, ‘have the charm of visionary things.' Again, in Wordsworth's idiom, poetry diffuses
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things,
Composure and ennobling Harmony.(VII, 769-71)
Wordsworth was not able to find his centre in an urban landscape. He always returned to nature for his centre. My centre has only been threatened in a deep and serious, a conscious and obvious way on rare occasions in the course of my life: during university for about a year in 1964-65 as part of one of my first depressions; in 1968 during a stay in a mental hospital in Whitby Ontario; in 1974 before I lost my voting rights and, arguably, in 1995 when my experience of Bahá'í community life dried up. Much else could be said on this theme but now is not the time. One thing should be said; namely, that if my Centre did disappear from my life the very raison d'etre for my life-and hence my autobiography-would go with it. In contrast to Wordsworth, who turned to nature when his centre was lost, I turned to prayer, to a process of waiting and withdrawal, as well as a gradual reorientation to Bahá'í community life. Slowly the pattern of Bahá'í life, so eloquently and extensively described in the Bahá'í literature, would begin to emerge again in a form that I was comfortable with, which gave me joy and meaning and which was clearly an expression of finding my centre, safe and secure.
Wordsworth stated that life was like a river of remembrances which we try to shape into some pattern. But for him the view was dark and the movement of the soul was hidden from the reach of words, like forgotten experience which is hidden from our search on this intricate and difficult path. There are though, he stated, spots of time that nourish and invisibly repair our minds. They have a special virtue. This concept has some place in a Bahá'í perspective: our declaration of belief, our hearing of the Faith, the Fast, moments of prayer, etcetera. In some future and fuller autobiographical account I might pursue this theme further. In the end, Wordsworth was left with thought and faith and his own words, his life: this was his truth, the true being that he sought. At the end of my work, this autobiography, the reader will find something quite beyond a writer, a personality, in however much detail his life is displayed. He will find a human experience that is touched by the white radiance of eternity, by the spirit and teachings of several souls who are continuing to energize the whole world to a degree unapproached during their earthly lives.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
Thomas de Quincey's Confessions place opium at the centre of a life, not a man or a divinity. De Quincey, like Franklin, had to rely on his own experience and the shared convictions of his culture to find any truth there was to find. De Quincey said that time breaks the self into impermanent, unrecapturable feelings, but that suffering brings it all together. Sometimes. There is a type of permanence, a type of capturing that autobiography creates. The fierce condition of eternal hurry which concerned De Quincey I have been conscious of at least since the beginning of my pioneer life in 1962. I refer to it as the sense of urgency. I feel as if I have been running for more than three decades, although in the last several years the running has been more frequently in my head. In other ways, the road has been too slow and tortuous to suit me. One seems to have only some degree of influence on the process, a degree which can not be measured.
De Quincey said he never heard the eternal, celestial music of life, although he believed in it. If I examine the entire period of my life beginning in 1962, several years after I joined the Cause, I find an increasing intensification of the music of the spheres, punctuated by no sounds at all and such stygian gloom that the soul wondered if it would ever recover.
My poetry, though, allows my words to enter or become the reader's reality in unique ways, if the reader possesses the necessary susceptibilities. He becomes infected with a mode of utterance; his mind whirls around in mine. It is not the historical events that make the life; that life is essentially ungraspable. I can not find my life in the narrative or, indeed, in some of the philosophically intertwined material there. I find only a handle of some kind which is graspable; I find a work about itself, about a ghost that is me. I find something that tries to tie me together, my past to my present. How does one express what it is that ties it all together. Poetry provides better linkages: fuller, deeper, more intimate; these linkages are linkages to my past, my society, my self and the future. The poetry seems to provide the oneness, the intensification, the persepctives I seek. It connects me with the infinite through Bahá'u'lláh and provides a vehicle for expressing this connection. For how does one know what one thinks about a connection until one has put it in words, however briefly. The poetry brings together an outer man and an inner man, two men who are so very distinct. They each provide two distinct sets of feedback about who I am. My poetry throws a light which both unites and separates my selves in paradoxical and ironic juxtapositions.
The surface externalities: where I worked, what I did, those I knew, et cetera in some basic ways hide the man rather than displaying him; they veil the inner person. The inner person can be found much more clearly in my poetry: both the darknesses and the lights are there, the mystery and the simplicity, the ambiguity and those paradoxes. The inner passages of my being, all its chambers, its treasures and its rubbish heaps are found here. The emblematical gold, the priceless gem, that writers like Hawthorne looked for in vain, was handed to me on a platter at the age of fifteen. "Thou without the least effort did attain thy goal." Yet, as Bahá'u'lláh says, I remained "wrapt in the veil of self." To put it another way my life has been a testing of the gold with periodic fires. It is quite a different battle than it was for writers like Hawthorne fight. But my autobiography has many parallels with his. It is, as Spengemann puts it in describing the fictive autobiography of Hawthorne, a series of actions performed in the act of composition, a historical record and an interpretation of them. The process and the result tells me who I am, at least in part. I find some of my immortal self, a lifelong task. The search yields only some result; the definition of success, the measuring rod so to speak, is found in the framework of a body of ethical and moral insights of the Bahá'í writings.
Hawthorne and most of his contemporaries never possessed this framework and their search did not yield "the beauty of His countenance."(HW, Persian, 22) All they found was a self, one created in the autobiography. A great deal of the who that I am, the what that I am, the garment of words can never tell. I am God's mystery. But every atom in existence is ordained for my training. And so, on and on the quotations from the Writings pile high providing the perspective, the framework, that the contemporary secular autobiographer lacks. Every Bahá'í that follows the autobiographical road has this same framework, this same centre, within which he can sift the experience of his life. It may just be that modern man in search of his soul requires a particular Centre; that the Augustinian assumptions regarding the soul and the self are not adequate for these days; that the reshaping of the self, the soul, can not be accomplished by autobiographical efforts in the context of experience itself without getting lost in an inherent subjectivity. As Keats put it for many: "I have no Nature." As Eliot put it: the self is "everywhere present, and everywhere absent" in the act of writing. The autobiographical experience is so enigmatic in this kind of framework as to discourage, frustrate and, in the end, seem just about meaningless. For the Bahá'í who has been exhorted to understand his inner life, his private character; to take account each day before the final reckoning; to see with his own eyes and know of his own knowledge; to find the inner light and get its radiance, be content with it and seek naught else; for such a Bahá'í who has turned his sight unto himself he may, through autobiography, find his Lord standing within him "mighty, powerful and self-subsistent."(HW, Arabic, 13)
One thing I am very conscious of finding as I tell and retell, examine and reexamine my life, is a series of progressive and regressive periods repeating over time. Repose and adventure seem to be unstable states. Much of what could be called the romance of my story can be found in the oscillation between the saint, the hero, the courageous adventurer and the little fat man who preserves his comfort, his security, the chrysalis of everyday life To put the contrast another way: it is the contrast between the ordinary self and the heroic self, between ourselves as anti-heroes and heroes, that makes the real adventure, the colouration, the heart of the journey. The struggle with the ordinary self always involves courage and it is here that the road to high adventure is found.
Roger Bannister describes the moments when he neared completion of the four-minute mile this way: "I had a moment of mixed joy and anguish, when my mind took over. It raced well ahead of my body and drew my body compellingly forward. I felt that the moment of a lifetime had come. There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim. The world...did not exist....I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well."(J.A. Michener, Sports in America, Random House, NY, 1976,p.77.) My experience in the last three to four years has been much like this ‘moment' of Bannister's. The world did not exist for Bannister as he headed for victory. The world provides a fertile base of material for writing poetry as the world provided Bannister with the misc-en-scene for his achievement. In this sense I find the world is like a window into the future, richly laden with meaning. It drives the engine of my writing, endlessly it would seem. One day, inevitably, I will run out of gas. After what seems like an endless sequence of adventures and security blankets finally an integration has occurred. It is like winning the race, the game, the prize, the lottery. The drudgery, tedium and gracelessness of so much that is ordinary life is gone. This is the most apt thing I can say that brings this autobiography up-to-date. Time will tell what sort of longevity this experience possesses. Each writer, each poet, has his own story.-Ron Price, 31 December 1995
ESSAY #3: THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POETRY IN PERSPECTIVE
Anyone who has examined seriously the literature on autobiography in recent decades, in the very years that this pioneering story has been taking place(1962-1995); anyone who has attempted to fathom the nature and meaning of both his Bahá'í community experience and his inner life; any pioneers, and especially international pioneers, who have attempted to regulate their lives to the rhythms of crisis and victory and become the fundamentally assured and happy people they are asked to try to become; will immediately recognise complexity at all levels: global, community and the inner person. They will recognise the contradictions and paradoxes in their behaviour and the divergent identifications which barely ever fuse to make one coherent and continuous self. The ever-elusive and evanescent quality of experience makes it difficult to grasp, apprehend, define and formulate.
Slowly one comes to understand the meaning and the secret intent of one's personal myth, as Jung called the inner core of one's life. I say ‘secret' because of the difficulty of defining and then sharing what goes on in the deeper recesses of our heart and mind. One must be conscious of underlying and often unconscious tendencies to invent the story of one's life. Our world is so filled with celebrity, apparent excitement and adventure that there is a tendency to want to hype-up, market-up the reality of our experience. Seizing the authentic story of our lives may be more difficult than we think; our essential goal and aim may elude our words. That might be how the psychoanalytically oriented theorists might put part of the problems involved in the autobiographical process. Indeed, that is partly why psychotherapy takes so many hours.(1)
There is little doubt that what we experience we process, we elaborate, in unending sequences of images and acts. We call this thinking, contemplating, reflecting. New experience becomes ordered and integrated as part of this unending process. We try to fit it in without straining and disquieting the self. We also want to know who we are, how we should behave and how to achieve order, coherence and continuity in our lives. Autobiography deals with all of these processes, all of these fundamental questions. There is the ‘me' and the model I am trying to emulate in the person of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and the extensive elaborations in the writing of the other legitimate successors to Bahá'u'lláh. Unity, consistency, aims and goals, degree of self-mastery, resistance to the telling of certain stories whose confessional nature makes resistance a normal and necessary event: are all part of our search for the authentic and idiosyncratic self at the centre of our lives.
There is an inevitable selective reporting; the true and indigenous autobiography is only a narrative inchoate(2), as Frederick Wyatt calls the fragment of our lives we have conveyed. Anecdotes are chosen for their illustrative power, to further a line of thought, for their narrative smoothing effect. That is why I have chosen poetry as my main autobiographical genre; journal and narrative, letter and essay are all back up genres, a critical support staff. Narrative tends to evenly hover in its attention. Poetry tends to plunge and even to crash. It is difficult, even undesireable in some important ways, to make the story smooth.
Narratives, like those of biographies and autobiographies, which purport to tell the truth have had limited value in American psychology. Science has never been able to deal with their complexities, some writers argue. I would argue, as many do now, that hermeneutics and reconstruction both are useful tools in examining autobiography. They can bring out its meaning, delve into cultural-historical contexts or indeed a host of other contexts, examine inconsistencies, biases, textual distortions, dishonesties, basic assumptions, omissions, the power of perspective.
With some six thousand poems, several million words, thousands of letters, more than three hundred essays, hundreds of pages of journal and two hundred pages of narrative: there is at the very least a base for analysis and interpretation. More importantly, there is a solid foundation for future Bahá'í historians to gain some clarity of insight into these four epochs of the Formative Age and especially the experience of one pioneer.
(1) Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct, Theodore Sarbin, editor, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1986. (2) Frederick Wyatt, "The Narrative in Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalytic Notes on Storytelling, Listening and Interpreting" in Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct, T. Sarbin, editor, Praeger Pub., NY, 1986, p.202.24/12/95.
ESSAY #4 SOME MORE ESSENTIAL THOUGHTS
A man is a teller of tales;
All men are invisible to one another.
he lives surrounded by his stories an
Experience is man's invisibility to man.
the stories of others; he sees everything
Experience used to be called the Soul.
that happens to him through the experience,
and he tries to live as if he were recounting it.
-Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea and R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
This whole autobiographical exercise is like being an artist or poet-in-residence. The finest work you produce is yourself. The life you live and the life you tell are inseparable: in some respects they are twins, in other ways they are like friends, members of the same family or, indeed, hardly comparable. As we live, we organize and reorganize our story; we create ourselves as we go along. Charles Hartshorne, a process philosopher, says this is the ultimate reality: self-creation, making ourself, self-construction, self-fabrication. Your life story happens on several levels: the outside story, the story at the level of existing, the events; the inside story, is your interpretation of these events, your meaning, your creation; it is what you do with what happens to you. The third level is the level you project to the world. This level for me is my autobiography. The fourth and final level is the impression my story creates on others. It is their reading of my story, my life as I write or tell it and their reading has a thousand meanings from something profound to something quite meaningless.
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
Beyond these four levels, as Gregory Bateson argues, life for most of us is an improvisatory art; we make it up as we go along. Although it may be that the world is in-between stories, the Bahá'í feels he is part of the new story, part of mankind's one great story, the grand symphony that this world is, as Joseph Campbell calls it. My own story, told in many forms in this autobiography Pioneering Over Four Epochs, is an attempt to relate my small micro-world to the grand opus, as it is enviseaged in the Bahá'í literature. It is also a linking of past, present and future in some story-form, some alluring sequence. "All serious work must be at bottom autobiographical" says Thomas Wolfe: novel, poetry, autobiography, essay, etcetera. And we continually edit this story, we continually confer meaning and purpose, thus rescuing our story from randomness through some simple narrative lust. But, as I said above, for the Bahá'í there is still a master plot, a master theory, within which our life is but a sub-plot. However tedious, mundane, routine, repetitive, boring, uninspiring, smoothly ticking our life may appear there are tensions and conflicts which never go away and which, unresolved, are one of the major sources of our meaning and purpose. The reader of autobiography, of my story, gets a neat package, gets some equilibrium, with passions spent, even though life is not so neat. The equilibrium is dynamic and passions are far from spent. Life often appears in the end like a daydream, "bearing the mere semblance of reality."
There is a pattern of build-up, climax and relief, a sense of what's next. These are found in the world I create as much as the plot that is developed. This is especially true due to the multiple-genre format to my autobiography. No matter how meaningful, how accidental, how significant or insignificant my story I can not help but be concerned with the literary. In fact, my guess is that most people never write their story because they are beaten by the literary. The literary dimension is simply too much for them. They really prefer gardening, or reading, or sewing or one of a thousand things. They are beaten by the idiosyncratic, by the endless sense of life being in transition.. Life, too, as we get older, gets longer, bigger, deeper, thicker and, thus, harder to put down. It seems to elude logical meaning, directionality, obvious and unquestioned improvement. It's all too complex, too beyond definition and the simple story.
"This world is not conclusion", says Emily Dickinson, "a sequel stands beyond". Perhaps those who have no sense of sequence or a sequel beyond find the whole idea of writing their story depressing. For me, Emily's words are so appropriate to my own story and I weave that "sequel which stands beyond" as best I can into the texture of this life. It is not conclusion; it is continuity. The neat chapters in my life, even my view of the afterlife, are culture-bound and held together by a sub-culture, the sub-culture of my religious beliefs, attitudes and values.` Whatever the chapters, whatever the sequel, the origin and end of autobiography converges in the very act of writing. Everything collapses into the act of producing the text. That which does not collapse, does not find a place and is left in the home of the nameless and traceless, an oblivion which the world will never locate.
The various people mentioned in my text are infinitely more complex than those who appear in novels. Although they are known to me more intimately than the myriad strangers in my life, than my friends and associations, these ‘best known' remain enigmatic, elusive, shadowy, incoherent, contradictory. None of them occupy the central place in the story, though. It seems to me that the Bahá'í Faith occupies the pivotal position. As central person, my role, my circumstances, my character changes. I am especially conscious of this for I am storyteller, character, audience, narrator and reader all at once. My identity then is quintessentially biographical not biological. It is the answer to the question: what is your real, inmost story?
What took place in those 64,000 hours, 4000 days and eleven years of real autobiographical data? According to Lewis Thomas this is all we have after the trivia are eliminated. The past develops like a plot; it thickens. That is why I can write a poem about an early childhood experience and then write it differently next year. Raccontio ergo sum. I want things to come out right, I suppose; I'd like to be saved, especially from myself, my lower nature. Thus, I am religious in my persistence to tell my story, to create and define my world, to write a Grand Unified Story. I am also trying to get back time but, alas, it is unredeemable. The memories I draw on connect what happened once upon a time with what is happening now in a process of synthesis which is quite mysterious, quite delightful and often immensely frustrating. At the core of the frustration for me is what I feel is an inability to make my story live as much as it lived in the act of living it. I read the words and they often seem flat, beyond reification. I am also conscious of just how brief the entire narrative is: some eighty pages. The poetry is one simple, yet effective, way to overcome these frustrations. It conveys in quite apt, quite fitting, quite emotionally satisfying ways both my personal experiences in pioneering and the heady days in these earliest years of the Universal House of Justice's assumption at the apex of the Bahá'í administrative system.
"Without forgetting" says Nietzsche, "it is quite impossible to live at all." The autobiographer must forget a great deal and use it, perhaps, as Graham Greene says "as compost for the imagination." We define our world very much by what we forget, by the nature or type of personality we have: gloomy, poetic, sentimental, joyful, melancholy, etcetera. Mine I might call Priceland. I'm not conscious of the type of land it is, not yet; I'm too immersed in creating this land at the moment. We also define our world against what we might call a gestalt of pastness which is partly a prelinguistic darkness. Writing explodes this darkness and creates a new gestalt. What goes on the page flows mysteriously out of the incomprehensible moods of the present. Whatever anecdotal brilliance is created is derived from these moods, from simple literary skill and from a host of other factors. It is these moods, this multi-factorial writing situation, as much as anything, which creates whatever wholeness comes into existence in the text. This wholeness draws more on the present, then, than it does the past.
W.B. Yeats refers to the banquet of the writer's moods and these moods are, he writes, the "laborourers and messengers" of God. I'm not sure I'd go as far as Yeats in exalting these moods to the station of immortality. But these moods do have a base in my desires, in some mysterious instinct that makes me a poet and a writer, in undecayed hope and in sexual passion. In much of what Yeats writes about moods I find myself in agreement with and to ignore their importance at the base of my life would be impossible and dishonest. It would leave this account incomplete.
I do think my life has a certain direction, integration sub specie Bahá'í Faith. Obviously, too, there are contradictions between my personal goals, aims, purposes and what I actually do to acheive these. Until I die, though, I will try to make a comprehensible story of my life. I will try and tell if faithfully, fully and solely. For I am conscious that the extraordinary lingers just behind the ordinary and I want to bring it out in my life and in the lives of others when it can serve as some form of meaning therapy, what Victor Frankl calls logotherapy. My imagination has been feasting for years on a diet of rich and diverse experience and rich and diverse ideas. This richness is in a narrow range of activity involving: people, places and books. "Rich", "diverse", "narrow", I could add other adjectives, adjectives which suggest a certain epistemological ambivalence. The autobiographical act, like life itself, generates this ambivalence. It also generates lived facts, lived events, as artefacts. This poetry is part of, an expression of, these lived facts in these darkest hours before the dawn while the Arc on Mount Carmel is being completed.
I should say something about self-deception, since there is in narration an inherent straying away from what actually happens, however slightly or innocently, a quiet but discernable progression from fact to fiction. Self-deception, lieing, secrecy, forgetfulness, confusion, gaps: they are all part of the story and our processing of the story. Everything we communicate, some analysts argue, is an orientation towards what is secret without ever telling the secret. As Henry Miller puts it: "I am I and I have thought unspeakable thoughts and done unthinkable things."(1) We aim in our autobiography to monitor our hearts for self-deception. We aim for artistic coherence and ethical satisfaction as we attempt to integrate, analyse and identify the countless versions of our story and their inevitable secrets. This is unending work-poetic work-and it is central to self-creation. In other ways the self-deception is accidental, incidental. As Yeats put it: "I have changed nothing to my knowledge; and yet it must be that I have changed many things without my knowledge; for I am writing after many years and have consulted neither friend, nor letter, nor old newspaper."(2)
There were three men went down the road As down the road went he: The man he was,
The man folks saw,
The man he wished to be.
Our ultimate aloneness in the universe is a truth which some find frightening. This aloneness is a part of the core experience in writing autobiography, part of its very raison d'etre. It may just be that one of the best routes to self-forgetfulness, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá says is at the heart of self-realization, is through self-understanding on the road travelled by means of autobiography.
(1) Henry Miller in "Confessions and Autobiography" Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, editor, James Olney, Princeton, 1980, p.122. (2) James Olney, "Some Versions of Memory/Some Versions of Bios: The Ontology of Autobiography", Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, editor, James Olney, Princeton UP, 1980, p.262. (3) Quoted in The Stories We are: An Essay on Self-Creation, William Lowell Randall, University of Toronto, 1995, p.345.--17/1/96
ESSAY #5. SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. These are the substance of sociology, although even the student of sociology can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she writes autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment and passionate engagement.
Beginning with Herbert Spencer's two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of those patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said there can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll was in when he wrote that "not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory."
The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, roll-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation.1 I feel as if I have just made a start in the first decade of my attempt at autobiography. After three decades of dipping in and out of sociology I don't think I was at all conscious of sociology's hermeneutic influence as I wrote my autobiography. If sociology appeared it was accidentally, serendipitously.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988.
ESSAY #6 AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ANALYSIS YET AGAIN
I have provided a succinct narrative account of my life.1 It is chronological; the factual material is ordered, sequential. But, clearly, sharpness of detail, revealing anecdote, even suspense and analysis of motivation are given with insight and style much more effectively in my poetry. There is so much poetry now, some 4000 poems spread over at least 2000 pages. This collected and compendious mass of material, if it is ever to provide a basis for biography in the future, must be shaped, interpreted, given perspective, dimension, a point of view. The narrative first edition possesses much but has no life. It is like so many PhD theses which transfer dry bones from one graveyard to another but lack individuality and vitality.
Such a biographer, if he or she is ever to exist, must provide the creative, the fertile, the suggestive and engendering fact, an imaginative, a referential dimension. Such an analyst must enact a character, a place, a time in history. He will do this through language, through imposing a formal coherency on my material, although inevitably there will be present the incurable illogicalities of life, as Robert Louis Stevenson called the inconsistent, the unresolved paradoxes of life. He will give the reader a portrait not an inventory. This is what any biographer must do. I do this in my autobiographical poetry. I provide many pictures, many moods, many sides. Details balloon; they repeat; they illuminate. I discover things about my life, but I do not invent them. I have done little discovery in writing this autobiography thusfar.
As Plutarch and Boswell, two of history's most famous biographers, demonstrated: "anecdote rather than history teaches us more about the subject."2 I see my narrative as the home of history and my poetry as a source of rich anecdote. It was for this reason I turned to poetry as a reservoire of autobiography; it seemed to teach, to convey, much more than narrative. Claude Levi-Strauss helps us to understand why several poems about one object, or person, provide more significance or meaning than a narrative when he writes:To understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts. The resistance it offers us is overcome by dividing it...Being smaller, the object as a whole seems less formidable....it seems to us qualitatively simplified.3
MUCH EDITING NEEDED BELOW
One can not know everything about anyone, even oneself. The mountain of detail that one does know would sink a ship and would not enlighten anyone. The task of achieving comprehensiveness not only is impossible, it is irrelevant. But there are intelligible dimensions of one's life and it is these dimensions that my poetry deals with best. Imagination is critical in writing biography. Some writers see invention more important than knowledge. Inevitably, there is an element of invention, of moving beyond the factual, but my own preference is to use imagination in a framework of factual experience, as far as possible. To read my poetry should be to immerse oneself in the first several decades of Bahá'í experience in what the Bahá'ís see as 'the tenth stage of history' and, especially, that time when the spiritual and administrative centre on Mt. Carmel received its richest, its definitive, elaboration and definition. There are several unifying nodes of experience for my poetry, in addition to the above. I have drawn them to the reader's attention from time to time in the introductions to some of my poems.
From a Bahá'í perspective my poetry will undoubtedly possess a moral appeal associated with overcoming hardship, a quality that characterized most nineteenth century biography. But the moral framework, while retaining a certain simplicity, is expressed in a portait of complexity, refinement, mystery, a slumbering world, my own idle fancies and vain imaginings and the streaming utterance of a new Revelation.
Freud commented that biographers choose their subjects 'for personal reasons of their own emotional life.' 3 I'm sure this is equally, if not more, true of autobiograhers. After criss-crossing Australia as an international pioneer and teaching in the northernmost and southernmost places in Canada-all of this over thirty-six years, I have watched this emerging world religion grow perhaps fifteen times. I have taught in schools for nearly thirty years and feel a certain fatigue. I must write this poetry for the same reason a foetus must gestate for nine months. I feel, with Rilke, a great inner solitude and that my life and history is itself a beginning, for me, for my religion and for the world. I want to suck the sweetness out of everything and tell the story.
I sigh a deep-dark melancholy but keep it in as far as I am able. I am lonely and attentive in this sadness. My poetry gives expression to this process and to my destiny which comes from within. My poetry is the story of what happens to me. For the most part "life happens" and one must respond to the seemingly inevitability of it all, although the question of freedom and determinism is really quite complex. Reality, I record in my poetry, comes to me slowly, infinitely slowly. My poetry records this process. My poetry is an expression of a fruit that has been ripening within me: obscure, deep, mysterious. After years it now comes out in a continuous preoccupation as if I have, at last, found some hidden springs. It is as if I have been playing around the edges, with trivia, with surface. Finally something real, true, is around me. I stick to my work. I have a quiet confidence, a patience, a distance from a work that always occupies me. And so I can record a deep record of my time. I am preparing something both visible and invisible, something fundamental. This part of it is called autobiography.
1 When this essay was written, the 2nd edition of my autobiography was floundering in such a state that I was just about to give up writing it. An 80 page first edition was completed five years before this essay was written and it felt highly unsatisfactory. 2 Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984, p.60.3 idem 4 ibid., p.122. --16/3/97-28/9/98
This narrative is partly an experiment with a means, a way, of defining my experience of a religious and cultural heritage, a heritage which has been bound up with the Bahá'í Faith. I have been bound up with this Faith for over fifty years. Through this writing, this autobiography, this literary production, I attempt to turn my small part in one of the world's most significant but, as yet, quite obscure diasporas into an act of personal memory and part of an institution of cultural memory. This narrative records my confrontation with both a native and a host culture, a Bahá'í and a non-Bahá'í culture, a confrontation that has been part of a total experience since 1953.
What I try to do here is to understand this pioneer condition, accept its many dimensions and explain it to others. I resort in this work to the act of narration as an expression of the hybrid nature of this global phenomenon, a phenomenon of voluntary migration, migration both in one's homeland and overseas. It is also a phenomenon which in its individual details is often never written or it is simply forgotten by history and public memory.
This autobiography takes half a century of personal accounts of events in the realm of memory and locates connecting points between ancestral, family, societal and religious history along linking lines in an attempt to create a unified whole, a synthesis in time and space. And so it is, that in the context of reproducing my history and my family's history, this autobiography is critically rewriting a new version, a variant, of the old story of my community, my Bahá'í community. At the same time a dialogue is created both within and without the Bahá'í community, a dialogue about its memory, its contents and discontents.
This writing could be said to exist as a text, as "literature engagée," which contributes in its own way to new didactic readings of Bahá'í history, its politics and sociology, its psychology and the poetry of its community, indeed, what it means to be a Bahá'í in the last half of the first century of the Formative Age. There are many layers of circumstantial memories in the Bahá'í community, a multiplicity of narratives, multiple voices, multiple interpretations of the same story. The ones that are written down—and there are myriad—are for the most part short and sweet or not-so-sweet as the case may be; some are of medium length and they can be found in all sort of publications and a very few, like this one, are long-and hopefully sweet.
Partly, too, I aim at one expression and means of creating a construction of history and culture that is a shared process based on a collective effort, a shared process that excludes no one and involves anyone who has the interest and the desire.Ron Price with thanks to Imed Labidi, "A Review of Azade Seyhan's Writing Outside the Nation," Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature, Volume 4, Number 2, Spring 2004.
ESSAY #8: AUTOETHNOGRAPHY
The discourse, the impulse, of autobiography and that of ethnography is combined in autoethnography. Autoethnography is an alternative to a tendentiously-characterized and conventional autobiography, on the one hand, and to a exoticizing, native-silencing brand of anthropology, on the other. Autoethnography is simply a form of self-narrative that places the self within a social context. As an autobiographical revision of ethnography it may aim at giving a personal accounting of the location of the self by making the ethnographer the subject-object of observation. It involves the ethnographic presentation of oneself as the subject which is usually considered the ‘object' of the ethnographer's interview. The standard model of the personal memoir, the autobiography, supports an liberal-individualist ideology and tends to isolate the author-subject from community.
Works by women and/or members of historically marginal or oppressed groups often resist the hegemony of the individualist account and give more weight to the social formation or inscription of selfhood and to the ways in which the author-subject negotiates the terms of his or her insertion into the identity-categories their culture imposes on them. Where the representation of cultures is concerned, critics commend autoethnography's intricate interplay of the introspective personal engagement expected of an autobiography and the self-effacement expected of ethnography's cultural descriptions. The impulse for self-documentation and the reproduction of images of the self pervade our everyday practice. The common business of social existence is the occasion for endlessly resourceful and enlightened dramatizations of self. We are each in our own way articulate exegetes of the politics of selfhood.-Ron Price with thanks to James Buzard, "On Auto-Ethnographic Authority," The Yale Journal of Criticism, Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2003.
ESSAY NUMBER 9
In 1995 I wrote my first essay on the nature of autobiography. It was some two years after completing the first edition of my own autobiography. I am now working on the 5th edition of that autobiography more than twenty-one years after the inception of this project in 1984. I trust this 5th edition will be the final one. I was overwhelmed for many years by a sense of the complexity of the task, by feelings of indifference for the process of putting my life story on paper and by a vision of the magnitude of the task at hand if it was to be of any relevance. For ten years, from 1993 to 2003, I lost a sense of direction in writing my autobiography and was unable to move beyond that first edition which I had found very unsatisfactory. But after ten years of reading about autobiography, after reading studies of process and method, I was able to write a cohesive and, for me anyway, stimulating second edition. I certainly hope that this work will be of practical use to my fellow-man in the decades and even centuries ahead. This idea of the future relevance of my work seems presumptuous and this presumptuousness militates against the pursuit of the goals I began with when I set out to write this autobiography in 1984. But I pursue these goals anyway.
Since I found the study of autobiography more interesting than the writing of it in the years 1993 to 2003, I wrote a series of essays and this is the last, thusfar. What follows in this last essay are a few general comments on autobiography with the long range aim of drawing these ideas together into some meaningful whole for any future work.
Even as a retired person with far less on my plate than during my forty years of employment and student life(1961-2001), my day-to-day life still took me into corners of activity that kept me away from the kind of academic pursuits that this brief essay involved. My wife's illness, my class in creative writing at the Seniors School, a radio program I run, my singing work, family duties and obligations of home and hearth however minimal, a necessary amount of physical activity to keep a sound mind in a sound body, fatigue in the evening after more than eight hours of reading and writing and an endless assortment of odds and ends kept me from continuing this simple but demanding task. By 2005, though, I was finally able to free myself from virtually all of these encumbrances, except those necessary to maintain my physical existence in a home. The years 1999 to 2005 became, then, a second stage before an even fuller retirement at the age of 60 from the demands of social, employment and community life.
Errors, omissions, even lies, are part of the fiction or imposture that is autobiography, so went one of the main trains of thought in the literature on autobiography. The creative writer turns to autobiography out of some creative longing that can not be satisfied through fiction, but it is impossible to avoid such inaccuracies. The autobiographer finds some peculiar closeness and intensity of effect as he writes, but it is difficult in writing autobiography to keep history and fiction distinct. Nabokov says that the tracing of images into intricate harmonies is what autobiography does. In the process hard edges of facticity rub off. Writers try to repossess the realities of the past from what often appears to be a sterile and fictive world to which they have sacrificed themselves. The historiographical transaction that is autobiography does not contain the total freedom or imaginative response of, say, poetry or fiction. Unreliability is an inescapable condition of autobiography given the play of freedom and imagination that is involved. The reader can watch the writer wrestle with truth but only to a degree because, for the most part, the reader does not know what the truth is. Readers must rely on the autobiographers.
It is important for the critic to understand the organizing principle or purpose behind the work of the autobiographer. For the conscious shaping of a life, an informing purpose, principle, context, must exist behind the work. A voyage of genuine self-discovery is an essential component of such a work for the writer. This voyage takes place in a narrative past juxtaposed with a dramatic present. Confession, apology and memoir exist side by side as various contradictory and often unstable selves battle it out/
The above essays contain just some of the ideas that I came across in the literature on autobiography. I have drawn on just some of the array of writing which has appeared in autobiographical literature especially since the decade 1950 to 1960. This literature has transformed our understanding of autobiography. --5/5/05.
For Part 3 of this autobiography which is not yet posted here at BLO may I suggest the following:
A SUMMARY OF RON PRICE'S INTERNET PUBLISHING
"HIS CUP OF PUBLISHING TEA”
I have outlined below(in 1500 words and four A-4 font 14 pages) several categories of my writing and my writing projects of varying sizes, genres and subjects on the internet. Readers can gradually get into whatever categories of my work they desire, if at any time they do in fact desire to read my works over the next few days, weeks, months, years or decades. The following items went onto the internet in the period 2001-2009. The following outline is a presentation of what might be called my marketing strategy, my literary strategy or my internet strategy, a strategy given the limitations of my technical internet skills. One might refer to my current modus operandi, my MO as the who-dun-it enthusiasts call it, as my business plan, although such a term suggests a more professional and money-oriented approach than it really is. In some ways what I write below is an outline of this small business, how I operate, how I have built it up, its raison d'etre and where it seems to be going if, indeed, it is going anywhere at all—and I know it is, at least from my own perspective.
Most of my writing is free of any cost, although some of the self-publishing material costs anywhere from $3 to $20 at self-publishing sites like Lulu and eBook Mall. I mention this fact: (a) not to advertise and (b) not to try and sell my work. I have received 20 cents/annum in royalties since I began self-publishing in 2003. Fame and wealth will elude me as it eludes most writers. There are three general categories of printed matter, my own writing, that I have placed on the world wide web. These categories are:
1.1. The Emergence of a Bahá'í Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. This 300 page ebook is available at Bahá'í Library Online and parts of it can be accessed at many places on the internet.
1.2. A paperback edition of the above book is available at Lulu.com for $11.48 plus shipping costs from the USA. This self-publishing site also has a five volume, four book, work, a study in autobiography, entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs which is 2500 pages long(four 625 page books). Much of this is available as an ebook and in paperback for $10 to $20 per volume at Lulu.com in 2009. It has been reviewed/approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States for placing on the internet. The cost of these books is set by Lulu.com.
1.3 My internet site entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs has some 450,000 words and 30,000 pages and is a book unto itself. this is an equivalent of 6 books at 75,000 words per book.
2. Internet Site Postings:
Essays, poems, parts of my autobiography/memoir and a wide variety of postings/writings in smaller, more manageable, chunks of a paragraph to a few pages are all free and can be accessed by simply: (a) going to any one of approximately 4000 sites and (b) typing some specific words into the Google search engine as indicated in the following:
2.1 4000 Sites:I post at a wide range of poetry, literature, social science and humanities sites across a diverse mix of subjects, topics and intellectual disciplines in both popular and academic culture. The list of over 100 pages of these sites and a developmental outline of the process/the timeframe by/in which these sites were acquired is available to anyone interested by writing to me at: email@example.com. But a simpler method for readers to access many of my postings would be to:
2.2 Type Sets of Words At Google:
There are literally hundreds of sets of words now that will access my writing at various sites. If you type, for example, Ron Price, followed by any one of the following words or word sequences: (i) poetry, (ii) literature, (iii) religion, (iv) Bahá'í, (v) history, (vi) Shakespeare, (vii) ancient history, (viii) philosophy, (ix) Islam, (x) Australia Bahá'í and (xi) pioneering over four epochs, et cetera, et cetera, you will get anywhere from a few sites to over 150 sites arranged in blocks of ten internet locations. This last site, "pioneering over four epochs", is a particularly fertile set of words to type into the google search engine, although there are other sets of phrases that will yield a fertile list of my writings in prose and/or poetry.
The main problem with this latter way of accessing what I have written(section 2.2) is that my work is side by side with the items of other writers and posters who have the same name as mine and/or the same topic. I have counted over 2000 other Ron Prices and I'm sure there are more. You may find their work more interesting than mine! There are some wife bashers, a pornographer or two, car salesmen, evangelists, media celebrities, indeed, a fascinating array of chaps and chapesses who have different things to sell and advertise, different life-trajectories and claims-to-fame than my life and my offerings. If you type/google the words Ron Price followed by some topic/word of an academic, literary, poetic or subject of personal interest, you will: (a) eliminate some of the other Ron Price's and (b) have access many sites with my writing.3. Specific Sites With Much Material:
Some sites have hundreds of pages of my writing and these sites are a sort of middle ground, a different ground, between the two major categories I have outlined above. The Bahá'í Academics Resource Library(BARL) (or Bahá'í Library Online), for example, has more of my material than at any other site. My writings are listed there under: (a) books, (b) personal letters, (c) poetry, (d) biographies and (e) essays, among other categories/listings. The Roger White book is at BARL under "Secondary Resource Material>Books>Item #changes. I find this site useful personally, but some of the poetry is not arranged in as visually pleasing a form as is often found at many other internet sites. Readers should click on "By author" at the top of the access page, then type "Price" into the box and 50+ articles or documents will appear/be accessible.
There are some sites at which my writing is found in a very pleasing form with photos and pictures and general settings to catch the eye. Some site organizers have their location beautifully arranged. I leave it to readers to read what pleases them and leave out what doesn't. When one posts as much as I do on the internet, one often writes too much, says the wrong things or upsets an applecart or two. It's part of the process. In cyberspace, as in the real world, you can't win them all. The pioneering over four epochs word sequence is, as I've said, a useful word package to access some 150 sites with my writing and has no competition from other ‘Ron Prices.'
I had no idea when I retired from full-time employment in 1999, from PT employment in 2001 and from much volunteer work in 2005, to write full-time that the internet would be as useful a system, a resource, a base, for my offerings as it has become. There are literally millions of my words in many a genre now on this international web of words that I have written in the last eight years(2001-2009). From the early eighties to the early years of this new millennium I tried to get published in a hard or soft cover, but without any success.
My guess is that in the years ahead the world will be awash with books and various genres of printed matter from millions of people like me posting various quantities of their writing. In some ways the world is already awash with print as it is awash with audio-visual products. The print and electronic media have got something for everyone these days, probably more than most people can assimilate.
What I write will not be the cup-of-tea of all readers. This goes without saying. If that is the case readers are simply advised to drink someone else's tea from someone else's cup. There is something for everyone these days in both hard and soft cover and on the Internet. If readers don't like my work or someone else's go to sources of printed matter they like.
For those who already do or may in the future come to enjoy my writings, I hope the above is a useful outline/overview. For those who don't find what I write attractive to their taste, as I say, the above will give you a simple handle to avoid as you travel the net. I wish you all well in your own endeavours in the path of writing or whatever path your travel down.-Ron Price Updated: 23 November 2009
THE PIECES OF WRITING BELOW WERE THE FIRST EDITION OF THIS POST AT BARL
John Keats and Emily Dickinson among others used letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and epistolary so that they inflect, enrich, even become one another. The blending of genres in various ways and for a wide range of purposes resulting in an even wider range of effects has become a popular sport in recent decades. I have come to see some of my own letters in a collection now spanning 50 years as a blend of genres. Indeed poetry and prose have become somewhat indecipherable in my mind's eye.
My poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements, echoes of the literature of the social sciences and humanities & a steady stream of references to & influences from Baha’i writings, history and teachings. This evening I was reading about the English poet George Byron(1788-1824). I was particularly struck by the fact that Byron's poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements and echoes of the literature he had absorbed over the years. And so I felt a certain affinity to Byron for this reason.
His poem Don Juan is considered the most autobiographical of Byron’s works. Almost all of Don Juan is real life either Byron’s or the lives of those whom he knew. Byron started writing Don Juan on July 3rd 1818, eight months after the birth of Baha’u’llah. He continued working on the poem in Italy and on his death in 1824 the poem remained unfinished. Don Juan was a, perhaps the, poem that the working class took to heart in the mid-19th century, so Friedrich Engles informed us in 1844. This poem reached the urban and rural poor and, for many, it was all they read besides the Bible. It is very likely that most of these readers did not read any of Byron's other works. As early as 1819 the work was regarded by the bourgeoisie as filthy and impious, although it was not fully published until 1901. He was regarded by Eliot as having contributed nothing and by Goethe as the greatest genius of his century. -Ron Price with thanks to Galit Avitan, “Publication Histories: Byron’s Don Juan,” Ashes, Sparks and Hypertext, 2000.
I came across an online seminar organized by the National Library of Australia entitled ‘Private Lives Revealed: Letters, Diaries, History’1 and was particularly struck with an article by a Peter Read: Private Papers and a Sense of Place. The article was an analysis of the verse of the nineteenth century English poet John Clare. Read saw Clare’s verse as an interesting example of what he called ‘private papers.’ Clare's poetry was so eclectic, his language so personal, his personal involvement so touching, that Read thought Clare’s poetry was much more akin to a collection of private papers that we might find in a library than to the poetry of a poet. However akin to private papers Clare’s poetry was, Read still thought Clare could have become one of the best-known poets of the nineteenth century. In discussing why Clare did not become such a poet, Read quotes the cultural historian John Barrell’s views on Clare: “insofar as Clare was successful in expressing his own sense of place, he was writing himself out of the main stream of European literature."
Accomplished poets and novelists are fully aware of the need for their readers to be able to generalise from the emotions which they as writers present about a particular place, event or person. The world view and life experiences of writers needs to find resonance with readers, if their writing is to be successful. Private papers often reveal such private emotions, and private emotions often reveal intense, ungeneralised concerns for particularities which hardly ever surface amongst the published, fictionalized and/or poetic works of professional writers. -Ron Price with thanks to 1“Internet Site,” National Library of Australia, 2006.
Note: one day I may arrange the poetry here in the standard poetic form, but time and the inclination does not permit such an exercise at this time.
A CRITICAL ATTITUDE
I like to see my poetry in all its myriad expressions, among other things, as a form which substitutes a critical attitude for criticism. This critical attitude is both a part of my art and it exists as a tendency that grows out of my art. The primary facts, the conceptual framework, of what I write, are the poems, the essays, the journal, the books, indeed, virtually all that I write in all its genres. My writing, what constitutes my personal literature, is not some piled aggregate of words and works but, rather, it is and it creates an order. This order constitutes my conceptual framework, my organizing principle. This order, this skeleton, allows readers to respond imaginatively by seeing any one part of what I write in the larger perspective provided by the literary and social contexts of my work.
This critical attitude, then, is not an exercise of evaluation, not an exercise in rejecting or accepting some literary works and ideas, some concepts or thoughts but, rather, it is an exercise whose goal is knowledge, understanding and making things more intelligible. I'm on about making more sense out of both literature and life.--Ron Price with thanks to "Northrop Frye," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 5 January 2007.
Imagination and feeling, well,
it all starts there in the context
of my primary facts, of my art,
of my story, my narrative,
my experience, this Story,
transformed and expanded
with myths and metaphors
to live by, proceding from
this rest stop on pilgrimage.
…with a new Holy Book,
a cosmos, a body of stories,
a new mythological axis,
a metaphorical framework
that we all can live within.1
1 Northrop Frye's major work in literary criticism was published the year Shoghi Effendi passed away, 1957.
6 January 2007
A GREAT AND MIGHTY WIND
On November 12, 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in New York, the last city of His eight months tour of America.. That same day an Antarctic search party discovered the tent of Captain Robert Scott and his two companions. The body of Captain Scott was wedged between those of his fellow explorers, the flaps of his sleeping bag thrown back, his coat open. His companions, Lieut. Henry Bowers and Dr. Edward Wilson, lay covered in their sleeping bags as if dozing. They had been dead for eight months. They were the last members of a five-man team returning to their home base from the Pole.
The team had set out on its final push to the Pole the previous January. They knew they were in a race to be the first to reach their destination. Their competition was a Norwegian expedition lead by Roald Amundsen. The two expeditions employed entirely different strategies. Amundsen relied on dogs to haul his men and supplies over the frozen Antarctic wasteland. Scott's British team distrusted the use of dogs preferring horses; once these died from the extreme conditions the sleds were man-hauled to the Pole and back. In fact, Scott deprecated the Norwegian's reliance on dogs. Their use was somehow a less manly approach to the adventure and certainly not representative of the English tradition of "toughing it out" under extreme circumstances. Man could manage Nature. A similar spirit guided the building of the "unsinkable" Titanic and then supplied the ship with far too few lifeboats to hold its passengers if disaster did strike. Just as the passengers of the Titanic paid a price for this arrogance on April 14th 1912, so too did Captain Scott and his four companions. On April 14th, 'Abdu'l-Bahá was in the last two months of His European tour.-Ron Price with thanks to "Eye Witness To History.com" and H.M. Balyuzi, '‘Abdu’l-Bahá, George Ronald, Oxford, 1971, pp.329-393.
Yes, there's a message there.
They believed, then, as they
believe now, in some illusory
hope, some frail foundation of
confidence in the future, through
some fortuitous conjunction of
circumstances, it is possible to
bend the conditions of human life
into conformity with prevailing
human desires: alas the catalogue
of horror, the magnitude of ruin,
gripped as we are in the clutches
of a devastating power, in the end,
bewildered, agonized and helpless
we watch this great, mysterious and
mighty wind invading the remotest
and fairest regions of the Earth.
13 January 2007
A SWEET PERFUME
This is a poetry which memorializes a particular tradition as well as my society and my life. It is a poetry which grows out of the events of these three categories of my experience. I like to think that this poetry reaches into the truth of this experience and responds to the appeal of its presence in my memory and imagination. I know from more than twenty-five years of writing this prose-poetry that it holds itself open to the very stuff of my living, the dwelling of my inner and outer self and the happenings of my religion and society. I have come to see my prose and poetry as equally poetic; indeed, in some ways they are interchangeable. I like to think, too, that there is in my writing a purity, a thickness and a solidity that is itself a human activity like singing, thinking, cooking, painting or reading among so many other forms of doing. My writing, my poetry, is an expression of my own way of living, my modus operandi, modus vivendi, my style and content of thinking, how things occur to me, how I see things happen, how they move and have their being, their presentness, their being and existing. -Ron Price with thanks to Martin Heidegger, "Introduction," Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper and Rowe, NY, 1971, pp. ix-xxii.
When these ideas became accessible
in the introduction to that small book,
I was on my way from Canada to South
Australia. I had already been put off
what you had to say by the massive size
of your books and your association with
one of the great evils of our age 40 years
before my present horizon. There was a
sweet perfume of victory in the air back
then and I tasted it again in that dry dog-
biscuit of a town in the malee of South
Australia. A new horizon, bright with
intimations of thrilling developments,
charged with meaning, half-sensed,
half-seen through my young eyes,
laying bare special challenges as I
tried to seize opportunities unique
in human history to radiate the message
of my burgeoning brain to the many
seekers among my contemporaries.
I had little luck it seems now but,
with seeds one never knows for sure.
22 January 2007
CALMING LIFE'S WHIRLPOOL
I came across Doris Lessing in an interview on “Books and Writing,” an ABC Radio National program, on 16 January 2000, then again on SBS TV on 18 September 2000. On that latter date she referred to my generation as self-indulgent and unself-critical. With the years, Lessing went on to say, this self-indulgent generation of mine had many casualties as former personal certainties that it had held died and systems, empires and parties lost their credibility, their meaning and even their existence.
Lessing also informed her listeners that she thought most writers were mildly depressed. When asked what her most joyous moments were she said they were “at the beginning of each book.” I agree that a certain melancholia, a certain pensiveness, a certain level of emotion recollected in tranquillity, are present during the writing process. In November 2000 I came across a statement by Lessing in an article entitled: “Writing the Self: Selected Works of Doris Lessing,” Deep South, Vol.2, No.2, Winter 1996, p.12. She had just completed, but not yet published, the second volume of her autobiography Walking in the Shade. Of autobiography, she said: "it helps calm life’s whirlpool." In the next several years I found Lessing's words accurate. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 February 2007.
You were just finishing your story,
your two volumes in '94 and '97
while I was just starting to put my
story down. Of course, you'd done
those semi-autobiographical novels,
indeed, you've been writing since I
was a child and recording my first
memories back in '47 and '48 & '49.
Producing our lives we were, Doris,
by an infinite chain of signifiers and
constructs. Some therapeutic self-
discovery as we were spinning our
yarn, as it were, in the current of life.1
You ended your story in '62, just as
I was beginning mine, my pioneering
over four epochs. Finishing your story
at 43 you were and me--starting mine
at 43 and taking it back to the age of 18.
1 Lynda Scott, "Similarities Between Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing," Deep South, Vol.3 No.2, Winter 1997.
4 February 2007
COINING UNDER A MICROSCOPE
I've never been comfortable with coining, that is, referring to my writings, my poetry or prose, as: Pricesque, Pricean, Pricese or the unbelievable and barely pronounceable--Pricic. Is there some implication in using such terms that my writing does not stand on its own, that it must instead be buttressed with the objectionable or attractive presence, as judgement would want, of my personality. Pointing out these authorial adjectives, these literary options, as I do here, suggests a certain susceptibility of my work to stylistic parody or opprobrium. It seems to me that the use of such a term degrades my literary coinage. Only a reader who has expertise with the alleged term, a reader who has read my work or a significant part of it, can discern what characteristics, qualities, or mannerisms the use of such an adjective signifies in a given context. For others, of course, the use of such authorial adjectives as a thumb nail imprint, a succinct word sketch, lends to my work a status, an encomium, it would not otherwise enjoy.
The authorial adjective of an author’s name is a means of universalizing a continuous, ontological restatement of the author's style and function. The adjective--Pricesque--or --Pricese--the two coinages I like the best of the four options suggested above, promise to condense and digest my entire work in a way that can either pull me right out of history and invite the past to scrutinize the present or give me a place in history, perhaps a set of epochs, that identifies me and my work and invites the past to interpret the present in ways that I could never imagine or predict.
Although coining authorial adjectives is notoriously easy and applicable in theory to any author, only a limited number of instances have attracted such notice, such terminology in The Oxford English Dictionary. For me, of course, I will have to leave it to history, the judgement of the future and those mysterious dispensations of literary development to see if my work is ever to benefit or be buttressed, to be coined and scrutinized in this way by the application of such literary nomenclature. Authorial adjectives like these are nothing if not critically functional, whether employed for purposes of devaluation or praise, encomium or opprobrium. They work via implied comparisons, comparisons which, at least potentially, draw upon the entire oeuvre that exists under an author’s name. They yield an inventory of slippery, semi-distinct notions about author and text. Authorial adjectives tend to give authors a type of handle and they function as if they were critical balances and counterbalances overlooking an entire literary opus. -Ron Price with thanks to Aaron Jaffe, "Adjectives and the Work of Modernism in an Age of Celebrity," The Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 2003.
I came across this idea tonight,
to me quite fresh and new---
I thought I'd give it thought,
put it under the microscope
and see what I could see.
I've given the concept a tangle
here and massaged the terms
around. I'm not sure what the result
was and I think I'll let the future tell.
10 January 2007
HARDLY ANYONE KNOWS
Yesterday I attended the Bahá’í Unit Convention for northern Tasmania. I drove home with my Tasmanian wife and with the oldest Bahá’í who had attended the Unit Convention, a Mr. Simon van der Molen age 78. As we drove through the hills, valleys, flat stretches of road and the occasional little town: Westbury, Exeter, Birralee, I reflected on all those Unit Conventions I had attended since the early sixties. This Unit Convention system was devised by the Universal House of Justice and is described briefly in the book Principles of Bahá’í Administration(1976,1963).-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 11 February 2007.
Well, that makes 40 meetings of this
electoral unit system, as far back as
'64, yes, at the Brant Inn, getting a bit
vague now. I have to take off the year
we lived on Baffin Island and recently
when I was just too tired and did not
want to get elected so stayed home
and one of those years in Perth WA
when I had run out of gas-a happening
from time to time over those 40 years.
Two words--forty years--which are easy
to write down but deceptively complex
and require volumes to put in the details.
There's a blur of towns, places, rooms, food,
discussions, people, drink, entertainment, voting,
reports, decisions, ballots, documents, letters,
photos, worries, sadnesses and joys, heat, cold,
across two continents, just about dries-out the
psyche, fills the memory to overflowing, thinking
about it. You can't put it all down in a prose-poem;
it's just too much, too late, too long---the first forty
years of this new electoral system and me from 21
to these years of early late adulthood, about the same
time frame as Moses going to the Promised Land
so long ago just about every one has forgotten--Now
hardly anyone knows about these little events that
dot the landscape of the world, the first tier in a
global electoral system that is taking the world
by storm from Spitzbergen to the ends of Tasmania:
but so slowly no one would ever guess and with a
grace so contained as to pose no threat, not this,
not these few in their ragged semi-circle far from
the decisions distantly drawing them forward.
The resolutions, often fragile, as they inch their
consequential necessary way in a process that
has just begun in this final stage of history.
11 February 2007
ILLUMINATED AND CONCEALED
One of Canada's great intellectuals, thinkers and writers, Northrop Frye, was seven weeks old when 'Abdu'l-Bahá arrived in Montreal, the only city in Canada 'Abdu'l-Bahá visited in 1912. Frye was born in Sherbrooke Quebec, a 90 minute drive from Montreal. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Divine Plan began in 1937 Frye was at Oxford and had formed, in his own words, "his permanent form of character or identity." To put this another way: his childhood became "the father of the man." The streets, the people, the impressions, the landscape and the mythological framework of his hometown, Moncton New Brunswick, where he lived from the age of seven, function to recapture, to frame, to construct, his past and present reality. They are the content of his dreams and they condition his reactions in the present.
When Frye was nine in 1921 he devised a scheme for a writing project that repeated itself hundreds of times in different forms and patterns in his notebooks during his life. At eleven he said he had a passion for private study and he cultivated his orientation to introversion in later life in order to protect himself from intrusions. This was a critical factor in his becoming, arguably, the most important literary and cultural critic of the 20th century. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Denham, "Moncton Did You Know?" Antigonish Review, #138.
My Moncton was Burlington
and I wander its streets,
the house, the places, I lived
my life in my brain
reconstructing it often--
but dream-like, semi-fiction,
some liminal territory that
illuminates and conceals
is not constrained to site
sources or provide footnotes.
I argue and don't argue
all at once to make the past
live, to relive it, ponder it,
savour it, get hold of something
fresh, give a convincing portrait,
of a visual scene, an animation,
a drama, to me and anyone else
interested, objectivity, texture,
intimately caught, a metaphor
between past, present and future,
making the past familiar-strange
and the present strange-familiar.1
1 With thanks to Sue Peabody, "Reading and Writing Historical Fiction," The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 1989, pp.29-39.
7 January 2007
But in our lives we have often ignored those small creatures, who do not seem to hold out much scholarly promise as we have defined the ethnographic imagination. At a theoretical level babies constitute for most of us a non-subject, occupying negative space that is virtually impervious to the anthropological gaze. Moreover, those studies that do privilege infants have been sidelined from mainstream conversations in cultural anthropology. Infants still occupy a marginal place in academic literature and in autobiographies early childhood usually gets only a passing nod while middle and late childhood get a more deserving place. The ethnography, the study of infants is still in its infancy.
Discussion of the social matrix of children’s lives appears to be developing rapidly in several fields of the social and bheavioural sciences. From the early work of Philip Ari`es in 1962 history and sociology are especially fertile grounds and signal encouraging paths for emerging discussions of children as culturally situated.
Developmental psychologists routinely define ‘‘infancy’’ rather strictly as the period encompassing birth to the onset of ‘‘toddlerhood,’’ which in their definitions normatively begins at the age of two years. The transition from the end of the second year to the beginning of the third is taken by psychologists as a benchmark of the latest date at which the young child begins to understand and respond to linguistic communication and can walk effectively without constantly falling.
English poet and novelist, Rudyard Kipling died on January 18th 1936. A "new hour had struck in the history"1 of the Bahá’í Faith. A new stage was set synchronizing with the deepening gloom in the world. That stage was the devising, the inauguration, of a plan for the systematic spread of the Faith in the United States beginning in May 1936. The prosecution of that Plan began in April/May 1937. In March 1937 Kipling's autobiography Something Of Myself was published. The extent to which Kipling’s description of his life failed to match what actually happened is extraordinary.
In the first sentence of his autobiography Kipling said he had to play the cards in his life "as they came." I could very well have opened my own autobiography published sixty-six years later with that same line. In the last chapter of his book he said that writing to him had always been "a physical pleasure."2 Writing became that to me by degrees, sensibly and insensibly. A preamble stage existed in the years of my childhood and adolescence. From 1962/3 to 1972/3 I now see as stage 1; 1972/3-1982/3 as stage 2; 1982/3-1992/3 as stage 3 and 1992/3-2002/3 as stage 4 and 2002/3 to the present as stage 5. That sense of physical pleasure did not enter my sensory emporium until stage 2.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, "Cablegram October 26, 1935," Messages To America, Wilmeete, 1947, p.5. and 2Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, Macmillan, London, 1937.
I came to the ink,
by degrees and with
pleasure 36 years
after you had left
this mortal coil, but
it served to keep me
inside myself as it did
you those many years--
you with your daemon
and me the leaven of
that Divine Educator.
We both enjoyed our trade
friendly society found in
a convenient chamber in
a humble corner of our
habitation and taking delight
in retirement's tranquillity and me
by this river not far from this sea.
I was just getting going when
you were slowing the pace,1
but for both of us writing was
inseparable from our social,
political and religious views.
1 Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, to the age of 65/6
I came across Doris Lessing in an interview on “Books and Writing,” an ABC Radio National program, on 16 January 2000, then again on SBS TV on 18 September 2000. On that latter date she referred to my generation as indulgent and unself-critical. With the years, Lessing went on to say, this self-indulgent generation had many casualties as former personal certainties died and systems, empires and parties lost their credibility, their meaning and their existence. On another note Lessing informed her listeners that she thought most writers were mildly depressed.
When asked what her most joyous moments were she said they were “at the beginning of each book.” I agree that a certain melancholia, a certain pensiveness, a certain level of emotion recollected in tranquillity, are present during the writing process. In November 2000 I came across a statement by Lessing in an article entitled: “Writing the Self: Selected Works of Doris Lessing,” Deep South, Vol.2, No.2, Winter 1996, p.12. She had just completed, but not yet published, the second volume of her autobiography Walking in the Shade. Of autobiography, she said: "it helps calm life’s whirlpool." -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 February 2007.
You were just finishing your story,
your two volumes in '94 and '97
while I was just starting to put my
story down. Of course, you'd done
those semi-autobiographical novels,
indeed, you've been writing since I
was a child and recording my first
memories back in '47 and '48 & '49.
MISSED HIM BY A HAIR
In the 1850s the American writer John Steinbeck's grandfather, Johann Steinbeck, left Germany to live in Palestine. He married a woman of American descent Almira Dickson in 1854. In 1858 he and his wife returned to the United States. They had gone to Palestine as part of the Protestant millennial enthusiasms regarding the Second Coming. Johann Steinbeck and his wife, Almira, chose to live in Florida where their third son, John Ernst, the father of John Steinbeck was born. Johann enlisted in the Civil War and afterward the family moved to Massachusetts to be near Almira’s family. Ten years later they tried their luck in the West and settled in California. There John Ernst married and in 1902 a son was born to him. He was the now famous writer, John Steinbeck. -Ron Price with thanks to Yaron Perry, "John Steinbeck's Roots in Nineteenth Century Palestine," Steinbeck Studies, Vol.15, No.1, 2004.
They missed Him by a hair, John.
They really had no idea how to look
at the true meaning of prophecy.
Well, they had some idea, nearly
died trying amidst the violence,
the heat, the pain and suffering.
They believed He would come
like a thief in the night and so
He did at the same time they
were nestling in Palestine--
the first intimations of that
Revelation when He was like
a man asleep and He was taught
all that was and all that would be.
This was not from Him but from
Someone Who was Almighty and
All-knowing and He bid Him lift
up His voice--and He did while
they were hoping and believing--
He would come!
Ron Price 5 January 2007
The far side of the Moon is the lunar hemisphere that is permanently turned away from the Earth. The opposite side is known as the near side of the Moon. This hemisphere was first photographed by the Soviet Luna 3 probe in 1959. But it was not directly observed by human eyes until the Apollo 8 mission orbited the Moon in 1968. The rugged terrain on the moon's near side is distinguished by a multitude of crater impacts as well as a relative paucity of lunar mares. It includes the largest impact feature in the solar system: the South Pole-Aitken basin. On October 7, 1959 this Soviet probe Luna 3 took the first photographs of the lunar far side, seventeen of them being resolvable ones covering one-third of that surface which is invisible from the Earth. The images were analysed and the first atlas of the far side of the Moon was published by the USSR Academy of Sciences on November 6, 1960. It included a catalog of 500 distinguished features of the landscape.1
That same week of October 7, 1959, I joined the Bahá’í Faith. I had just started grade 10 at Burlington Central High School. I had just finished my first season in the midget baseball league and was about to start my first year of midget hockey. I dearly loved Susan Gregory who lived three doors down the street but, sadly, she did not love me. My father had just retired at the age of 65. My mother was in her last four years before retiring as a secretary from McMaster University in the Foreign Students Department.
-Ron Price with thanks to "The Other Side of the Moon," Wikipedia, 14 February 2007.
I had no idea, as I walked
along New Street--or did I
ride my bike--in the evening
of a fine autumn season nearly
fifty years ago--that they were
photographing the other side
of the moon, the side I'd never
seen, that no one had ever seen
until that very week. It was there
and then I uttered three tiny
syllables, two simple words
of obscure derivation, without
the slightest trace of alarm,
without private hesitations,
with unqualified conviction
and force, not imagining that
as I spoke the angels were all
ears and not knowing that when
I said "I believe" I would not be
Let alone and not be put to proof.
14 February 2007
THAT MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES
Charles Darwin refers, in the first paragraph of the preface to his book On The Origin Of Species(1859), to the origin of species being "that mystery of mysteries." It is a term, he says in that same first paragraph, which was used "by one of our greatest philosophers." Darwin goes on to say that after "patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on" the subject of specie origin, he allowed himself "to speculate on the subject and draw up some short notes." He enlarged these notes "in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed" probable to him. From 1844 to 1859 Darwin "steadily pursued the same object."
"My work is now nearly finished," he says in the second paragraph of that same preface, "but as it will take me two or three more years to complete it, and as my health is far from strong, I have been urged to publish this Abstract. I have more especially been induced to do this as Mr. Wallace…..has arrived at almost exactly the same general conclusions that I have on the origin of species. Last year he sent to me a memoir on this subject, with a request that I would forward it to Sir Charles Lyell, who sent it to the Linnean Society, and it is published in the third volume of the Journal of that Society. Sir C. Lyell and Dr. Hooker, who both knew of my work--the latter having read my sketch of 1844--honoured me by thinking it advisable to publish, with Mr. Wallace's excellent memoir, some brief extracts from my manuscripts." -Ron Price with appreciation to Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859.
It was a very big year back in 1844!
Marx's first writings that hot summer;
The first electric telegram with the words
"What hath God wrought?" The YMCA
began and Joseph Smith was martyred.
The Millerites experienced what came
To be called The Great Disappointment.
The first international cricket match and
between Canada and the USA, the first safe
was invented and so goes the litany on 1844…..
The time appointed for the judgement,
the judgement of those things which were
written in the books, each according to
their works1 at the time of the end,
the end times; the close of the 2300 days,
the work of investigation and blotting out
of sins--both of the living and of the dead.
The date 1844 marks the end of the longest
time prophecy in the Bible, a prophecy that
is at the very heart of the book of Daniel.
1844 marks the beginning of the first phase
of the judgement and the beginning of the
final work of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary
prior to His return to this Earth. While Daniel
focuses our attention on the heavenly scenes,
the book of Revelation focuses on a mighty
movement that arises on earth,2 a special
movement that comes at the end of those
2300 days of no-man's-land prophecy.
2 Rev. 10.
16 January 2006
SOMETHING OF MYSELF
English poet and novelist, Rudyard Kipling died on January 18th 1936. A "new hour had struck in the history"1 of the Bahá’í Faith. A new stage was set, a stage synchronizing with the deepening gloom in the world. That stage was the devising, the inauguration, of a plan for the systematic spread of the Faith in the United States beginning in May 1936. The prosecution of that Plan began in April/May 1937. In March 1937 Kipling's autobiography Something Of Myself was published. The extent to which Kipling’s description of his life failed to match what actually happened is extraordinary.
In the first sentence of his autobiography Kipling said he was dealt a set of cards and he had to play these cards during his life "as they came." I could very well have opened my own autobiography published sixty-six years later with that same line. In the last chapter of his book he said that writing to him had always been "a physical pleasure."2 Writing became that to me by degrees, sensibly and insensibly. A preamble stage existed in the years of my childhood and adolescence: 1944-1962. From 1962/3 to 1972/3 I now see as stage 1 of my literary life; 1972/3-1982/3 was stage 2; 1982/3-1992/3 was stage 3 and 1992/3-2002/3 was stage 4. I have just begun stage 5: 2002/3 to the present. That sense of physical pleasure Kipling described did not enter my sensory emporium until stage 2.
-Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, "Cablegram October 26, 1935," Messages To America, Wilmeete, 1947, p.5. and 2Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, Macmillan, London, 1937.
I came to the pleasure of ink,
by degrees 36 years after you
had left this mortal coil and
that Plan had made an epochal
shift. That pleasure served to
keep me inside myself as it did
you those many years--you with
your daemon and me the leaven
of that Ideal King and Educator.
We both enjoyed our trade tools--
books--Petrarch's friendly society
found in a convenient chamber in
a humble corner of our habitations
and me taking delight in retirement's
tranquillity by this river near the sea.
I was just getting going at last
when you were slowing the pace,1
but for both of us writing was
inseparable from our social,
political and religious views
reaching out to human beings.
1 Kipling(1865-1936) kept writing until the early 1930s, to the age of 65/6. In the previous ten years, from say 55 to 65, his pace began to slow. I was only starting to pick up my pace at the age of 55 after I retired from full-time work.
17 February 2007
To students of twentieth-century modernism, 1971 was the year when Valerie Eliot published a facsimile edition of The Waste Land’s pre-publication manuscripts. 1971 was a significant year in my own life for it was the year I left Canada and moved to Australia. Thirty-six years later it looked like I would lay my bones in that vast dry dog-biscuit of a continent. The publication of the pre-publication manuscripts of The Wasteland was an event which invited new accounts of the poem’s genetics and fresh assessments of how those might bear on our understanding of the poem. My move to Australia invited a different set of life studies and interpretations of my life-narrative and as the decades advanced fresh assessments of their meaning. -Ron Price with thanks to Valerie Eliot, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, Harcourt Brace, NY, 1971.
One year later, in 1972, I started teaching high school in South Australia. That same year Hugh Kenner and Grover Smith published two essays which, while differing sharply in premises and procedures, reached a consensus that Part III, “The Fire Sermon,” was the earliest portion of the poem to have been written, probably around midsummer 1921, followed first by Parts I and II, then by IV and V, the latter completed in December 1921. I was always impressed, at least since I first studied Eliot in 1963 and then taught his poetry in 1988, 25 years later, at the remarkable synchronicity between the writing of The Wasteland and a crucial stage in the institutionalization of charisma in the Bahá’í Faith associated with the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. -Ron Price with thanks to Hugh Kenner, “The Urban Apocalypse,” in Eliot in His Time: Essays on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the The Wasteland, ed. A. Walton Litz, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1973, pp. 23–49.
By 1988 when I studied this poem
to teach it at matriculation level,
a quarter century after studying it
in English Literature so I could get
into university in Ontario at age 18,
pre-publication dates for the poem's
writing were defined as far as possible.
This central poem, this determinant
of our modern consciousness, which
told us something of who we are was
finished in those same transition months
after 'Abdu'l-Bahá's death to the start of
the laying of the foundations for the
erection of the Administrative Order of
this Faith as set forth in His final Will.1
1 Lawrence Rainey, "Eliot Among the Typists: Writing The Waste Land," Modernism/modernity, Volume 12, Number 1, January 2005.
12 January 2007
SOLUTIONS TO THE RIDDLE
In the summer that my pioneering life began as a Baha’i, in 1962, C. S. Lewis wrote a preface to what became his last book, The Discarded Image. I had just turned 18 and was about to start my last year of high school. Lewis’ book was an introduction to medieval and renaissance literature. The book was published in 1967 by which time I was living among the Inuit on Baffin Island. Lewis died the year after he wrote that preface. He died on the same day as the assassination of President Kennedy, November 22nd 1963 and the same day I re-enrolled in first year university in Canada and took one of the only two courses I ever took in medieval and renaissance history.
C.S.Lewis is best known for his children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia(published 1950-56); he was a close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien another writer of children’s works and especially the famous series The Lord of the Rings(published 1954/5). More than 50 years later both Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works are still making it big and even bigger in adaptations to film and TV. This year I am 63 and I just read this evening that Lewis’ books have sold several hundred million copies and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has grossed US$750 million worldwide.–Ron Price,Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 29 March 2007.
I was playing baseball and not into
reading when your famous Chronicles
were published so long ago. It was too
late when your study of the middle ages
came out in ‘67: the Inuit were occupying
my attention, a first marriage and an
illness that kept me away from books.
Your Christian convictions puzzled me
for there were so few of academic ilk
who took that path to sorting the puzzle.
But then, there were even fewer who took
my path as the solution to the riddle of life.
Numbers are never a good guide to truth.
I kept running into your life over the years:
The Screwtape Letters at Teachers’ College,
the film about you in 1993---Shadowlands,
Surprised by Joy in ’74, part of the declining
Christian tradition—one of the few parts I
liked and I wish you well, now, in your
journey to the infinite and its sea of lights.
29 March 2007
There was an uncertainty and tentativeness in the early attempts at literary expression in Australia Leonie Kramer, noted Australian public figure and academic, informs us.1 That sense of historical moment and newness which one finds in many other countries was not found downunder. The first poet, Charles Harper(1817-1868), was what Kane calls a “solitary shaper,” but he did not have any central point of reference as he lay the foundation for an Australian poetry. His interests were broad and complex, his search was for philosophic and religious truth.–Ron Price with thanks to Paul Kane, Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity, Cambridge UP, 1996, p.17.
With Walter Brennan, who began to write poetry seriously in the months before Baha’u’llah passed away, we have a poet who should be evaluated as the architect of a single poem not a series of poems. He saw all poetry as “a history of mankind’s dream of the Absolute.”1 Poetry, to Brennan, was an expression of an aspiration for a pitch of experience denied in ordinary life. –Ron Price with thanks to G.A.Wilkes, “Christopher Brennan,” The Literature of Australia, G. Dutton, editor, Ringwood, p. 307.
Well, you could say these were
thoughts about Australian poetry
before the Baha’i Formative Age.
Much more could be said, but I
find here my spirit-home feeling.
It took me thirty years1 not so much
of tentativeness or uncertainty but
of the solitary shaping of myself,
the finding of a voice suited to
some inner prompting and urge
to match the historical moments
and pervasive newnesses around
me that dizzying whirl, booming
and buzzing in confusion of it all.
1 1962 to 1992: thirty years of some mysterious solitary shaping, of finding a voice that seemed mine. “Thus began that bent of mind from which I could not deviate….that of turning into an image, into a poem, everything that delighted or troubled me.” Ernst Cassirir, Symbol, Myth and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirir: 1935-1945, ed. D. P. Verene, Yale UP, 1979, pp. 209-210.
4 March 2007
Being able to decisively attach one’s prose to the created rhythm of one’s time and age, to the psycho-historical mood and affective state in its many dispositions and tempers; or being able to detach one’s prose from one’s age in a clean and straightforward way is difficult. In my case, the result is uneven, a little simplistic at times, some might say supercilious and pretentious and, even if it does bear the weight of my preoccupations, the weight is too heavy for many readers. Perhaps my oeuvre in all its genres is too ambitious in its range and depth; perhaps it tries to diagnose too much over too extensive a field of content. My diagnostic intelligence, if I can call it that, probes. For some people who read my work the affect, I’m sure, is deadening. For others there is a vitality and for still others there is no affect at all.
My writing is remorselessly and, I like to think, glitteringly intent on diagnosis. The glitter of invention is, for me, everywhere and it is linked with and provides a distinctive literary identity, a creative abundance. For some readers I’m sure this is the case, but not for most. For most who chance upon my writing, the affect on them is enervating as it is for me after a long day of writing or even periodically in the course of any single day. I like to think my literary venture is gallant and ambitious, even if it is not really successful in the marketplace. My unremitting concern for detail, for analysis and for comment is not everybody’s and my advice to many would-be readers is to take my writing in small doses.-Ron Price with thanks to Vincent Buckley, “The Novels of Patrick White,” The Literature of Australia, editor, G. Dutton, Penguin, 1972(1964).
I create a world, too, Patrick;
I want to show extraordinary
things behind the ordinary,
the mystery and the poetry,
to transcend the tensions and
explore my world by words.
No mere surface impressionism
but passages, words, vibrant with
significance growing out of profound
numbness and pervasive inarticulateness.
3 March 2007
SLOUGH OF DESPOND
As I was retiring from full-time teaching and settling into George Town Tasmania in 1999, Boris Yeltsin(1931-2007) sent Russian troops into Kosovo and the then breakaway region of Chechnya in Russia. Teltsin had been instrumental in engineering the final collapse of the Soviet Union and state communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In August 1991 he rallied his country against an attempt at a coup. This coup had been aimed at reestablishing state communism. His was one of the key political pushes in Russia to establish democracy in that country. He had made a stunning debut as the Russian President. He possessed a confessional edge no previous President had possessed. This was reflected in his memoir which appeared in 1994 and it was entitled The Struggle For Russia. I had just begun to work on the second edition of my own memoir in 1994 which was becoming increasingly confessional as the editions appeared in my computer.
In my last years as a teacher, 1991 to 1999, and in Yelstin’s years as President in those same years of 1991 to 1999, he presided over a chaotic Russia, over his own chaotic behaviour, his own depressions, his alcohol problem and the 75th anniversary of Lenin’s death(1924-1999). In 1991 Yeltsin declared the Soviet Union extinct; in 1993 he banned the Russian parliament and the Communist Party. During all of this time the Arc Project of the Baha’i community proceeded apace in Haifa Israel on Mt. Carmel. -Ron Price with thanks to “FoxNews.Com Home>World and Associated Press,” 23 April 2007.
That 4 year plan1 was ending when
you resigned back in ’99, Boris and
we were developing our resources
after 80 years of the unveiling of
those Tablets during the Great War.2
The unfolding magnificence of the
Terraces was capturing attention as
a galvanic coherence was beginning
at last in expansion, consolidation,
in vision and activity, unbeknownst.
It was a festive moment in those years
with their chronology of expectations
ending with the completion of that Arc.
I’m sorry you missed it all, dear Boris,
as tangled fears seized helpless millions
and your time was ending in that slough
of despond, phantoms of a wrongly
informed imagination and those troubled
forecasts of doom which seem to have
been around all my life and yours, Boris.
2 Tablets of the Divine Plan unveiled in New York in 1919.
28 April 2007
...in celebration of the 9th Day of Ridván BE 164.
The purpose of autobiography is: the recreation, the nostalgic or not-so-nostalgic closure, or the simple delineation, of a life. This is without doubt, at least for me. But it is also much else and many writers describe the purpose of autobiography and of its several country-cousins: memoirs, diary or journal writing and even essays and poetry. A search for some clearer understanding of the autobiographer’s identity is a commonly found aim in the now massive literature on the subject of why autobiographers write. For some autobiographers of a scientific bent their work is animated by the purpose of proving that their lives are ultimately purposeless. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead states, with his tongue in his cheek in his book The Function of Reason, that the examination of such autobiographies would constitute an interesting subject for study. My autobiography, in contrast, is animated by a significant sense of purpose and by a metanarrative in which I do not possess an incredulity. Mine would not therefore be among those that Whitehead might find interesting in that context.
My literary, my autobiographical, exercise involves a significant psychological dimension with its interface between my active, public self and my more contemplative private underside--side by side. Since autobiography constitutes a process of investigation rather than a finished product, it is inevitably open-ended. Until my early retirement at the age of 55 in 1999, my identity was tied-up with my career, my family and community life and far, far back in fourth place was my writing life fitting itself into corners that saw the light of day only when necessity or some selected sense of literary duty and, sometimes, pleasure called.
In the last ten years, 1999 to 2010, though, my life as a writer and poet, an editor and publisher has shaped my life and my identity. As the poet e.e. cummings once wrote, if the artist does not shape his or her identity to their work, their life will crack open. My life had already cracked open several times before my early retirement. With the medication package I acquired for my bipolar disorder during this last decade, this decade of writing--and as I entered my 60s--I think I have seen the end of my cracking open experiences. This new-found tranquillity is not in the main because I am free at last to write; it is due to the new medications.
My religious identity as a Baha’i acknowledges the place of history, language and culture in the construction of my particular subjectivity, my particular sense of who I am. I also acknowledge that all discourse, all writing, is placed, positioned and situated. All of my knowledge, all of my writing, to put this another way, is contextual. I find it helpful and fertile, useful and engaging, if the way of looking at my Baha’i identity is contested by others, subjected to a dialectic and praxis, dialogue and discussion, apologetics and rhetoric. The assertion of differences, a clash of opinions, is a helpful way of establishing identity. In this way my identity develops from, is clarified by and is based on a process of engaging and asserting difference rather than suppressing it.
This identity acknowledges the reality of and the need for decentralised and centralized, diffuse and specific, as well as systematized and fractured knowledge. This sense of identity acknowledges a sense of power which also has a diffuse set of sources. At the same time this inner and outer sense of identity accepts the useful concepts of periphery and centre, margins and depths, surfaces and heights in the expression of that power. Once I clarify the notion of identity, once it is redefined in a universal and non-derogatory way, once it engages difference without implying superiority and hierarchy, I hope that this expression, this set of views, will help those who read this, those who are both part of the Baha’i community and those in other interest groups, express their own group consciousness, help it to develop in a manner which is unfettered by the accrued and often inaccurate associations of history and culture, tradition and ignorance.
My identity and my autobiography is wrapped up in, is part and parcel of, my search for and experience in a collective solution to the problems of our age. This collective solution is presented to me as both a moral imperative and the logical consequence of reason applied to my intelligible, and I trust intelligent, rendering of history and the nature of my society. The measures needed to cure the ills of civilization are identical with those needed to cure the individual but these measures must be practiced in a social milieux. Indeed the social milieux, the social interaction within the social order revealed in the Bahá'í scriptures, is the workshop for both my individual fulfilment and for the collective solution that I see myself as part of a functioning unit by my free choice. Individual identity and a more inclusive identity as part of a social structure and as a world citizen are inextricably conjoined for me—and they are examined in this memoir.
There are so many ways of looking at identity. One popular view is expressed as follows: What really shapes and conditions and makes us is somebody only a few of us ever have the courage to face: and that is the child you once were, long before formal education ever got its claws into you--that impatient, all-demanding child who wants love and power and can't get enough of either. It is those pent-up, craving children who make all the wars and all the horrors and all the art and all the beauty and discovery in life, because they are trying to achieve what lay beyond their grasp before they were five years old."
My autobiography, which in many ways is a series of depictions of my identity, is presented as a pastiche of many types of writing: first, second and third-person point of view narration, the use of the past as well as the present tense, letters, newspaper articles, speeches, lists, historical accounts, scientific jargon, definitions, photographs, recipes, conversations, obituaries, wedding announcements, telephone conversations and assorted memorabilia. The inclusion of all these kinds of writing both loosens and strengthens the genre boundaries within which I work and points to blurring and cross-pollinating between genres as being more useful. This work is no mere imparting of information. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote: “no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century.” I would not go that far with Whitehead but the point he makes about information certainly applies to my autobiography. It is not essentially an information base, a data base, for my life.
The sociologist, Anthony Giddens, has much to say of relevance to the autobiographer and the literary expression of his identity. “Each of us not only 'has', but lives a biography,” writes Giddens, “it is reflexively organised in terms of flows of social and psychological information about possible ways of life. Modernity is a post-traditional order, in which the question, 'How shall I live?' has to be answered in day-to-day decisions about how to behave, what to wear and what to eat - and many other things - as well as interpreted within the temporal unfolding of self-identity.”
In writing my memoirs, my autobiography, I am defining myself because I am putting consciousness into text. In some ways I'm exploring personality, trying to understand myself better and at the same time I'm opening-up personality. I'm writing out of personality and it's my canvas in a sense. I could never have written my memoirs and or got a handle on my identity without postmodernism, without the licence to collapse generic conventions and see myself as many selves. I like the idea of calling my work a novel and then to define it further as creative non-fiction. But, again, I must emphasize, the overview of all of this life-narrative, the general context, the total orientation, the moulding and remoulding of my world, is in the form of a conscious participation, often on a very small scale, in the forming of a new society. The context is one of commitment, of solitude and solidarity.
The Bahá'í community which I have been a part of for nearly 60 years gives to me a happy mix of creative expression and group solidarity. “Originality,” writes the psychologist Anthony Storr, “implies being bold enough to go beyond accepted norms. Sometimes it involves being misunderstood or rejected by one's peers.” In these last six decades I have often been misunderstood by my fellow Baha’is. Such an experience is an inevitable part of virtually any intense group experience. “Those who are not too dependent upon, or too closely involved with, others,” continues Storr, “find it easier to ignore convention. Primitive societies find it difficult to allow for individual decisions or varieties of opinion. When the maintenance of group solidarity is a prime consideration, originality may be stifled.”
I have not found a stifling of my creativity to be the case in this new faith, this new international community. This is not to say that I have not experienced tension in the many Bahá'í groups of which I have been a part. As Alfred Adler writes: we make our own choices on how we are to belong. I have done this all my Bahá'í life. Decisions on how best to make my contribution to the whole, to the local and to the national and international Bahá'í community have not always been easy. I have done this by means of my efforts in my career, my intimate relationships, my friendships and, as I say, the larger Bahá'í community. But in these areas of my existence there has been frustration and tragedy. Fulfillment, the release of psychic energy, has been an emergence, at least as I look back over my life, from the tragedy among other sources. Perhaps this is, in part, due to my view of religion as world loyalty, of unity as the first and last word and of tolerance as the requisite of high civilization.
The ultimate ends of my lifelong education process are a living religion, a living aesthetic enjoyment and a living courage which has urged me toward a creative adventure. I play my part in the maintenance of the language, the history, the symbolic code, of my Bahá'í society and in the relevant application of its teachings to the society I live in. My identity is, therefore, bound up with an appreciation of the past, with history and with tradition. All of these things are necessary to a full life, a life which develops organically rather than one which is radically cut off from its roots. The roots of my society are Judaeo-Christian and Greco-Roman and the new Faith that has inspired my life and which is at the centre of my identity has a rich appreciation of these two roots. But, however I express my identity, I must acknowledge my appreciation to these words of Virginia Woolf: "I sometimes think only autobiography is literature--novels are what we peel off, and come at last to the core, which is only you or me."
Since moving to Australia in my late twenties, in 1971, humour has become an important part of my identity. The nearly total absence of humour from the Bible, the Bahá'í writings and, indeed, from most of religious and philosophical literature, a literature in which I have immersed myself for several decades, has made of me a highly serious person. Living in Australia has brought-out in me an appreciation of the funny side of life. I became conscious of this slow development when, in 1980, I got a job as a probation and parole officer in Tasmania and it was largely due to my sense of humour, or so I was told by the interviewing panel. Thirty years later, now in 2010, humour is part of my soul’s salvation, my modus operandi, Downunder, one of the main gainers from living in the Antipodes for nearly 40 years.
The American essayist Joan Didion has also contributed to my sense of identity, the identity which writes, and I conclude this brief essay with a paraphrase of her words, words which she acknowledged from George Orwell:
In many ways writing is the act of saying “I” and of imposing oneself upon other people. It’s a way of saying: “listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” It is also an aggressive, even a hostile, act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the readers most private space.
Didion says that she stole the title “Why I Write?” not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all that she has to tell us as readers. Like many writers, she says, she has only this one "subject," this one "area": the act of writing. She can bring readers no reports from any other front. She acknowledges other interests, as I do, but—like Didion—in these my latter years—writing is my game.
Like Didion, too, I needed a degree by the end of one summer, for me it was the summer of 1966, so that I could enter teachers’ college. Like Didion, my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch. But, unlike Didion, it was also on ideas, hundreds of them. Like Didion, though, I knew only too well what I couldn’t do. I knew what I wasn’t and it took me some years to discover what I was. By the age of 55 and even more by 60, and even more by 65, I knew I was a writer.
Didion goes on to say that when she said that she knew she was a writer--she meant not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer. To her this meant a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are/were spent arranging words on pieces of paper. In Didion’s case she emphasizes that had her credentials been in order she would never have become a writer. Had she been blessed with even limited access to her own mind there would have been no reason to write. She wrote entirely to find out what she was thinking, what she was looking at and what it meant as well as what she wanted and what she feared. I had a different set of reasons, a different raison d’etre. I explore this raison d’etre in these essays on autobiography, on identity, as well as many other subjects.
29 December 2009
SOME ESSENTIAL THOUGHTS ON MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The autobiographies of others, as I have indicated in several previous essays, illuminate one’s own attempt to understand one’s life through writing it down. St. Augustine’s(354-430 AD) Confessions has a distinctly ‘before’ and ‘after’ flavour, before his conversion and after. Mine begins, essentially, with my conversion, although in my poetry the decade before my contact with the Baha’i cause receives some attention. Like Augustine I certainly possess a sense of participating in an eternal plan. This is also true of Dante’s(1265-1321) La vita nuova. For these writers and for me, the account is no final story, but a preparation for even more on the horizon.
Four hundred years later John Bunyan(1628-1688) wrote in his Grace Abounding(1666) about his life. Truth became known through his experience. For me, as well, it was truth becoming understood through my experience. I had had a massive influx of truth at fifteen and before. Indeed, my life was one of continual access to truth. Conversion was a beginning point for me and life provided one long, unending process of coming to understand its myriad ramifications. Dante accessed truth in dreams, some five in his autobiography; Bunyan had some ten mystical experiences, or visions. Not for me a series of ecstatic moments in my curve of learning, much more a process which the Guardian has described as a series of seven stages that we go through in our life, from crisis to victory. Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys provides another delineation of the process. It is complex, much more complex than anything autobiography had revealed by 1666.
For Bunyan all experiences partook equally in his ultimate deliverance. For me, certain events in my life stood out: getting to know two, perhaps, three personalities; my psychiatric illnesses; my moving to Australia; my two marriages; my parents; my career; my attempt to live a life consistent with the teachings of the Faith; my role as a pioneer. For all these men the presence of the divine was critical to their lives, albeit in different ways. By the time Bunyan wrote, the structure of belief upon which all previous historical autobiography was built, was beginning to fall into disrepair. With Benjamin Franklin(1706-1790) the edifice of autobiography came to be built entirely on human recollections alone.
Augustine had a contact outside of time through Christ; mine is and has been through Baha’u’llah. He is the ground of my being and the basis for any human consanguinity. My position is not unlike that of all autobiographers up to Franklin. Augustine addresses his narrative to God; what he writes is like a devotional colloquy. My entire corpus is addressed to my readers, in my minds eye, generations not yet born and holy souls who have passed on and who assist me in ways I do not know; as well as, and especially, to a body of men which represents an institutionalization of the charisma at the heart of my belief system. Unlike Franklin, I do not offer up my autobiography on the authority of personal conviction, I offer it as a contribution to understanding how one person lived his life within the framework of an emerging world religion, at an early stage in its development, its second century. I am not seeking, as Franklin apparently was, to get men to imitate me; far from it. But it is my hope that they would gain greater understanding of their religion and its history, its history as it was embodied in the life of one of its ordinary practitioners, one of its votaries during the second to the fourth epochs of its Formative Age.
Augustine, Dante and Bunyan used the form of autobiography to dramatize their belief that an eternal truth guided their lives. For Franklin it was reason which centred and dramatized his life; in writing his autobiography he was essentially reliving a successful life. It was his hope that the lessons of his own individual experience and self-reliance, would replace the role taken by revealed truth. The truths of the Bab and Baha’u’llah and their legitimate successors(1844-1995) are a critical anchorage for my own story; understanding and experience are the fruit of my life; they do not replace revelation but are important buttresses of everything that has come to constitute me, my identity, my self, indeed, my soul.
Rousseau(1712-1778) tries through his autobiography, his Confessions, to secure an honoured place in history. For him truth lies in his feelings and in the continuity of his soul. I have written about this theme of fame or renown in my poetry and in my journal. If I secure some place in history through the efforts contained in all that is represented by Pioneering Over Three Epochs it will be because there is something worthwhile in what I have written, there is some meaning and historical significance of some kind that illuminates a future age. I find this an inspiring goal: to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. This would make my contribution ongoing, beyond my life in a very concrete sense. If this does not occur, it will be because people do not find it of use, of interest. I will have gained, I trust, through my examination of my inner life and my outer life as I am asked to do in the Writings of my Faith.
Rousseau, like Franklin, secularizes historical autobiography. He describes how he came to be the way he was. I do the same. Rousseau tries to remake society in his image.. Franklin tries to get people to imitate him. I try to do neither. Experience for Rousseau, as it was for Augustine, is the enemy of truth and happiness. For me the relation of the two is far more complex than this; indeed, it would require a separate essay to begin to explore this relationship. I, like Rousseau, enjoy my visits into the past to write autobiography. There is a nostalgia, a warm richness that coats the past. Unlike Rousseau I do not see the past as a sad concatenation of events that has led to my wretchedness. Rather, I see a series of events coated with many colours from dark blacks and browns to warm reds and spiritual blues, if one can give colours physical and psychological equivalents. There is sadness and there is joy; it depends where I look.
Augustine found true being outside of time; I do too, but I also find it in time. Rousseau found the thread, the link, the life of his soul in the undercurrent of feeling that ran through his entire life. Here he found a coherent, continuous whole and it was here that he re-experienced in imagination his enthusiasms, his hopes, his ambitions and pleasures. To tap into these feelings the narrator must relive his life. I find this particular aspect of Rousseau’s approach to autobiography very helpful. He has put into words what I have tried to do. When I have been successful I have achieved a kind of root-tapping. Rousseau saw this retrospective activity more a form of self-realizaton. To him it was divine. It caused the world to vanish; it caused the writer to enter an ecstatic plane of self-possession, a necessary stage perhaps en route to self-forgetfulness. Rousseau came to see all his past wanderings as pointless and destructive. Viewed sub specie aeternitatis, I have found my pioneer wanderings as part of a meaningful whole, especially the suffering.
The action that is my past has been characterized by a certain degree of faithfulness and a certain degree of passion. Augustine emphasized the former and Rousseau the latter. Experience has been both my enemy and my friend; passion both the life of my soul and its death. This is true of just about everything one does. Everything changes with each movement. Remembered feeling becomes the criteria for the truest autobiographical statement. Autobiography, for Rousseau, becomes not so much the life he lived as the life he lived in the act of composing his life. I find this to be true of my own writing in whatever genre the autobiography is found. I find myself in autobiography, like some flickering light of an ineffable bliss.
It helps in making the road to the grave profitable, enlightened by the two most luminous lights of intellect and wisdom. To claim any wisdom makes me a little uncomfortable in Australia, a land of an unpretentiousness and cynicism that lives luxuriously slightly beneath the surface of everyday events.
I am more than a little conscious of the transition from a relatively unreflective young adult to what could be seen as an excessively reflective man of middle years. But, like Bunyan, I ‘fetch invigorating thoughts from former years’ and recreate an energy that has been lost or, better, transferred from brawn to brain. Like Wordsworth I ‘rescue from decay the old/ By timely interference’ and so ripen ‘dawn into steady morning’, or perhaps late afternoon.(for surely the last half of middle adulthood-50 to 60-can be equated with late afternoon). My purpose here is not so much to tell the story of my life, although I do achieve this in my narrative, but to look within, self-examine, gain self-knowledge, achieve some union between the knower(me) and the known. I find there is a certain stasis, quietness in my movement, reposeful condition, as a result of this writing process. The knowing and acting self has finally been brought together. The slow process of looking within and finding God, of acquiring virtues and contributing to the development of civilization, or of experiencing generativity and integration is all partially understood in the act of autobiography.
And so, like Wordsworth in his Prelude, I became a traveller in my own life. My primary vehicle has been poetry, although I have provided other genres largely for future readers should there be any. For poetry reveals, in Wordsworth’s words, ‘our being’s heart and home’; it allows discordant elements of our life to harmonize; it renovates the spirit in a priestly robe; it precedes from some creative and enduring source and becomes a source of knowledge, power and joy. Poetry is like a regulating device. It comes to see the parts of life in terms of the whole; indeed the recollected hours, again in the words of Wordsworth, ‘have the charm of visionary things.’ Again, in Wordsworth’s idiom, poetry diffuses:
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things,
Composure and ennobling Harmony.(VII, 769-71)
Wordsworth was not able to find his centre in an urban landscape. He always returned to nature for his centre. My centre has only been threatened in a deep and serious, a conscious and obvious way on rare occasions in the course of my life: during university for about a year in 1964-65; in 1968 during a stay in a mental hospital in Whitby Ontario; in 1974 in the losing of my voting rights and the events that led up to them and, arguably, in 1995 when my experience of Baha’i community life dried up. Much else could be said on this theme but now is not the time. One thing should be said; namely, that if my Centre did disappear from my life the very raison d’etre for my life-and hence my autobiography-would go with it. In contrast to Wordsworth, who turned to nature when his centre was lost, I turned to prayer, to a process of waiting and withdrawal, as well as a gradual reorientation to Baha’i community life. Slowly the pattern of Baha’i life, so eloquently and extensively described in the Baha’i literature, would begin to emerge again in a form that I was comfortable with, which gave me joy and meaning and which was clearly an expression of finding my centre, safe and secure.
Wordsworth stated that life was like a river of remembrances which we try to shape into some pattern. But for him the view was dark and the movement of the soul was hidden from the reach of words, like forgotten experience which is hidden from our search on this intricate and difficult path. There are though, he stated, spots of time that nourish and invisibly repair our minds. They have a special virtue. This concept has some place in a Baha’i perspective: our declaration of belief, our hearing of the Faith, the Fast, moments of prayer, etcetera. In some future and fuller autobiographical account I might pursue this theme further. In the end, Wordsworth was left with thought and faith and his own words, his life: this was his truth, the true being that he sought. At the end of my work, this autobiography, the reader will find something quite beyond a writer, a personality, in however much detail his life is displayed. He will find a human experience that is touched by the white radiance of eternity, by the spirit and teachings of several souls who are continuing to energize the whole world to a degree unapproached during their earthly lives.
Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions place opium at the centre of a life, not a man or a divinity. De Quincey, like Franklin, had to rely on his own experience and the shared convictions of his culture to find any truth there was to find. De Quincey said that time breaks the self into impermanent, unrecapturable feelings, but that suffering brings it all together. Sometimes. There is a type of permanence, a type of capturing that autobiography creates. The fierce condition of eternal hurry which concerned De Quincey I have been conscious of at least since the beginning of my pioneer life in 1962. I refer to it as the sense of urgency. I feel as if I have been running for three decades, although in the last several years the running has been more frequently in my head. In other ways, the road has been too slow and tortuous to suit me. One seems to have only some degree of influence on the process, a degree which can not be measured.
De Quincey said he never heard the eternal, celestial music of life, although he believed in it. If I examine the entire period of my life beginning in 1962, several years after I joined the Cause, I find an increasing intensification of the music of the spheres, punctuated by no sounds at all and such stygian gloom that the soul wondered if it would ever recover.
My poetry, though, allows my words to enter or become the reader’s reality in unique ways, if the reader possesses the necessary susceptibilities. He becomes infected with a mode of utterance; his mind whirls around in mine. It is not the historical events that make the life; that life is essentially ungraspable. I can not find my life in the narrative or, indeed, in some of the philosophically intertwined material there. I find only a handle of some kind which is graspable; I find a work about itself, about a ghost that is me. I find something that tries to tie me together, my past to my present. How does one express what it is that ties it all together. Poetry provides better linkages: fuller, deeper, more intimate; these linkages are linkages to my past, my society, my self and the future. The poetry seems to provide the oneness I seek. It connects me with the infinite through Baha’u’llah and provides a vehicle for expressing this connection. For how does one know what one thinks about a connection until one has put it in words, however briefly. The poetry brings together an outer man and an inner man, two men who are so very distinct. They each provide two distinct sets of feedback about who I am. My poetry throws a light which both unites and separates my selves in paradoxical and ironic juxtapositions.
The surface externalities: where I worked, what I did, those I knew, etcetera in some basic ways hide the man rather than displaying him; they veil the inner person. The inner person can be found much more clearly in my poetry: both the darknesses and the lights are there, the mystery and the simplicity, the ambiguity and those paradoxes. The inner passages of my being, all its chambers, its treasures and its rubbish heaps are found here. The emblematical gold, the priceless gem, that writers like Hawthorne looked for in vain, was handed to me on a platter at the age of fifteen. “Thou without the least effort did attain thy goal.” Yet, as Baha’u’llah says, I remained “wrapt in the veil of self.” To put it another way my life has been a testing of the gold with periodic fires. It is quite a different battle than it was for writers like Hawthorne fight. But my autobiography has many parallels with his. It is, as Spengemann puts it in describing the fictive autobiography of Hawthorne, a series of actions performed in the act of composition, a historical record and an interpretation of them. The process and the result tells me who I am, at least in part. I find some of my immortal self, a lifelong task. The search yields only some result; the definition of success, the measuring rod so to speak, is found in the framework of a body of ethical and moral insights of the Baha’i writings.
Hawthorne and most of his contemporaries never possessed this framework and their search did not yield “the beauty of His countenance.”(HW, Persian, 22) All they found was a self, one created in the autobiography. A great deal of the who that I am, the what that I am, the garment of words can never tell. I am God’s mystery. But every atom in existence is ordained for my training. And so, on and on the quotations from the Writings pile high providing the perspective, the framework, that the contemporary secular autobiographer lacks. Every Baha’i that follows the autobiographical road has this same framework, this same centre, within which he can sift the experience of his life.
It may just be that modern man in search of his soul requires a particular Centre; that the Augustinian assumptions regarding the soul and the self are not adequate for these days; that the reshaping of the self, the soul, can not be accomplished by autobiographical efforts in the context of experience itself without getting lost in an inherent subjectivity. As Keats put it for many: “I have no Nature.” As Eliot put it: the self is “everywhere present, and everywhere absent” in the act of writing. The autobiographical experience is so enigmatic in this kind of framework as to discourage, frustrate and, in the end, seem just about meaningless. For the Baha’i who has been exhorted to understand his inner life, his private character; to take account each day before the final reckoning; to see with his own eyes and know of his own knowledge; to find the inner light and get its radiance, be content with it and seek naught else; for such a Baha’i who has turned his sight unto himself he may, through autobiography, find his Lord standing within him “mighty, powerful and self-subsistent.”(HW, Arabic, 13)
One thing I am very conscious of finding as I tell and retell, examine and reexamine my life, is a series of progressive and regressive periods repeating over time. Repose and adventure seem to be unstable states. Much of what could be called the romance of my story can be found in the oscillation between the saint, the hero, the courageous adventurer and the little fat man who preserves his comfort, his security, the chrysalis of everyday life To put the contrast another way: it is the contrast between the ordinary self and the heroic self, between ourselves as anti-heroes and heroes, that makes the real adventure, the colouration, the heart of the journey. The struggle with the ordinary self always involves courage and it is here that the road to high adventure is found.
Roger Bannister describes the moments when he neared completion of the four-minute mile this way: “I had a moment of mixed joy and anguish, when my mind took over. It raced well ahead of my body and drew my body compellingly forward. I felt that the moment of a lifetime had come. There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim. The world...did not exist....I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well.”(J.A. Michener, Sports in America, Random House, NY, 1976,p.77.) My experience in the last three to four years has been much like this ‘moment’ of Bannister’s. The world did not exist for Bannister as he headed for victory. The world provides a fertile base of material for writing poetry as the world provided Bannister with the misc-en-scene for his achievement. In this sense I find the world is like a window into the future, richly laden with meaning. It drives the engine of my writing, endlessly it would seem. One day, inevitably, I will run out of gas. After what seems like an endless sequence of adventures and security blankets finally an integration has occurred. It is like winning the race, the game, the prize, the lottery. The drudgery, tedium and gracelessness of so much that is ordinary life is gone. This is the most apt thing I can say that brings this autobiography up-to-date. Time will tell what sort of longevity this experience possesses. Each writer, each poet, has his own story.