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AN EPILOGUE TO MY EPILOGUE

The process by which a memoir or a poem emerges is partly the way Robert Frost p
uts it succinctly and which I quote approvingly here: “Sight, excite, insight.”
Like all good aphorisms this is only partly true. There is so much more to the
process. I write about this process here, indeed, at many places in this book.
“By the time you start to compose, more than half the work has been done," wrot
e Irish Poet Seamus Heaney. "The crucial part of the business is what happens
before you face the empty page," he continued, "before the moment of first conn
ection, when an image or a memory comes suddenly to mind and you feel the lure o
f the poem-life in it.” Most of the writing in this memoir took place in my l
ate fifties and early sixties to mid-sixties. Much of the work, the living, had
indeed been done: half, three-quarters, nine-tenths? Time would tell how long
I would remain on this mortal coil.
The living, the thinking, two to five decades of preliminary writing, imagining,
sometimes dry, sometimes fertile, literary experience--all of this set the stag
e. As Bakhtin argues, "In the world of memory, a phenomenon exists in its own pe
culiar context, with its own special rules, subject to conditions quite differen
t from those we meet in the world we see with our own eyes.” This perceptual f
iltering of memory results in a tendency to focus in on pleasant events and/or e
motions while repressing painful or disturbing ones. The result is invariably a
rose-tinted personal or social history, a heavily edited reconstruction of our
past that often leads us down Housman’s "happy highways" to those cosy halcyon d
ays of childhood as depicted in the TV program The Waltons. Like Derrida’s noti
on of language as a process of constant deferral, memory can only ever make dist
ant reference to a past experience. I am aware of this universal tendency and
I trust I have countered it in this multi-volumed work, at least to some extent
.
Steven Rose points out that, "A thirty-year-old man does not remember his ten-ye
ar-old self in the same way as a fifty-year-old remembers his thirty-year-old se
lf although the time-lapse is the same in each case. Only a few individuals see
m to retain in adulthood the eidetic memory, the extraordinarily detailed and vi
vid recall of visual images, of their childhood." I am aware of these variatio
ns in memory quality but I find it difficult to comment on just how this phenome
non operates in my life and particularly in this memoir. I am aware of an ongo
ing process of reinterpreting a memory of an experience over time and this proce
ss has a continuing impact on my current life. This process and this concept is
called "retrospective causality" by David Pillemer.
A personal event memory is much more than a passive record; it is an active agen
t of direction, guidance, and deepened understanding. The psychological reality
of the event for the rememberer, including the constructed meaning it holds with
in the context of an autobiography, takes on a life of its own apart from the ob
jective, historical truth, however that elusive quality of objectivity is define
d, writes Pillemer. Some memories, for example, contain themes of "redemption" i
n which a negative event or experience eventually comes to represent a positive
outcome or life change. On the other hand, in "contamination" stories, positive
events or experiences eventually yield negative life impacts.
Opportunities for positive life change may exist whenever memories of momentous
events are open to reconsideration and reinterpretation. If the negative memory
can be integrated into an overarching narrative theme of purpose and self-worth
, then its damaging impact may be neutralized. If the memory can be reinterprete
d in terms that are motivating rather than demoralizing, it will be transformed
from a limiting force into an enabling one. In writing one’s memoirs there is
a search for psychological drives the interpretive process of selectively rememb
ering and reconstructing one s experiences through narration.
I was impressed with how Clive James approached his autobiography in his Unrelia
ble Memoirs published at about the time I began to collect my own writings for a
possible posterity. “Most first novels are disguised autobiographies,” he wrot
e. “This autobiography is a disguised novel. On the periphery, names and attrib
utes of real people have been changed and shuffled so as to render identificatio
n impossible. Nearer the centre, important characters have been run through the
scrambler or else left out completely. So really the whole affair is a figment g
ot up to sound like truth. All you can be sure of is one thing: careful as I ha
ve been to spare other people s feelings, I have been even more careful not to s
pare my own. Up, that is, of course, to a point.”
James says that he felt he had for too long been a prisoner of his childhood and
wanted to put it behind him and that was the reason he wanted to “dredge it all
up again without sounding too pompous.” He did not want to “wait until reminis
cence was justified by achievement.” All attempts, James wrote with a strong vei
n of Australian humour and cynicism that runs through his entire work—indeed all
his writing—“all attempts to put oneself in a bad light are doomed to be frustr
ated.”
Proust argued that, while nostalgic memories may not be accurate, the experience
of reworking memory traces can sometimes be even more powerful than the origina
l experience. Memory can give the past a definition and shape by creating a p
ersonally meaningful narrative out of disparate and often irrationally recalled
fragments. But one must be careful or the comment that the philosopher Santayan
a made about the Confessions of the famous Jean-Jacques Rousseau may apply to on
e’s own efforts; namely, that candour and ignorance of self were obvious in read
ing them—and in equal measure.
Some writers, Margaret Atwood among others, alert us to the criminal potential f
ound in reminiscence. The act of softening the past through nostalgia is not fr
ee from consequences, and these consequences have the potential to corrupt prese
nt and future society. This potential for corruption is linked to the postmoder
n notion of the past as a “hybridised discourse of varying modes” rather than a
“static fact.” While I don’t think my memoirs are significant enough to act as
a corrupting influence, I find this postmodern notion of the past as no ‘static
fact’ most apt.
Perhaps the historian Jane Welsh Carlyle was right when she said about autobiogr
aphies that: “Looking back was not intended by nature….from the fact that our ey
es are in our faces and not behind our heads.” One critic calls the personal m
emoir which many people write “a strange hybridization of the autobiographical g
enre" which is "seeking an intimacy with history that will give public meaning t
o personal identity." Looking backwards or forewards, I have certainly sought
intimacy in my writing, intimacy whereever I could get it: with people, with his
tory, with my own dear self. Perhaps understanding is a better word for me to u
se here, a more accurate word than intimacy. After decades of intimacy, of what
are often called deep-and-meaningful discussions and relationships, I settle for
and prefer understanding now. The understanding that I desire does not require
face-to-face contact, at least only a modicum of it as I head into these middle
years(65-75) of late adulthood.
I see this piece of literature, this autobiography, as released from "literatur
e" with its capital "L." I give it the broadest possible construction and set
of genres and media/mediums in which to find expression. I utilize texts fashi
oned from letters and essays, diaries and journals, memoirs and stories, oral na
rratives and songs, photographs and assorted memorabilia. Texts, for me, are ev
erywhere and the limits to the sources for study are only the limits of my imagi
nation. This now multi-volumed autobiography will be left one day in the hands
of my executors. While I am alive I leave this work in the hands of the new exe
cutors in cyberspace, site administrators and moderators, to decide what to do w
ith parts of my many-millioned word ediface of verbiage. I post sections of thi
s ediface all over the space in that wide-wide-world and at a few sites I post t
he whole editions.
Some autobiographers have little interest in the world outside themselves. One
autobiographer, Frederick Grove, once said to the French writer Andre Gide: "I f
eel the same need for lying and the same satisfaction in lying that others feel
in telling the truth." I am less disturbed by this egotistical propensity for
lying that Grove admits to because recent theories of autobiography ask us to l
ook at such writing from the same viewpoints as fiction. Grove had an obsession
with failure. This may have been due to his effort to write his autobiography.
He experienced the difficulty which all autobiographers face in trying to shap
e their experience. His sense of failure is, in part at least, due to the limit
ations of the genre he had chosen to write within. In the end, though, Grove p
asses the test for a memorable autobiography.
The test, writes Collins in her discussion of Grove’s autobiography, lies in a w
riter s ability to deal with life’s painful experience and to balance moments of
intense and unhappy living, the joyful times and the mundane, unexceptional pro
gress of daily events. Another test, although not one Collins refers to, but on
e I am consciously aware of as I write, is that the longer I have been away from
places like the ones where I grew up and the many towns I lived in as well as m
any of the people I once knew—the more I bring them with me into the present whe
n memory or circumstance presses the right button. What I bring into the presen
t is some mysterious amalgam of tranquillity and tension, honesty and imaginatio
n, fact and fancy, show and vapour, illusion and reality.
As a result of this amalgam, this enlargement, this diminution, this very wide-a
ngled-lens, this macro-photograph of a life what is considered worthy as social
history or of literary examination for the examination of this life, my life, ma
terials once thought valuable for only some narrow or not-so-narrow purpose can
now be examined by scholars from a multitude of perspectives if, of course, they
so desire. I have created a multilayered documentary to serve the expectations
of multiple-user-audiences. I do not seek personal popularity but future utili
ty by future readers by institutions and individuals associated with an emerging
world order, an order which may very well be the last refuge of the tottering c
ivilization I was born into and in which I lived my life over several epochs.
In the epigraph to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels we read: “I could perhaps
like others have astonished you with strange improbable tales; but I rather cho
se to relate plain matter of fact in the simplest manner and style; because my p
rincipal design was to inform you, and not to amuse you.”16 Of course, Gulliver
’s Travels was an improbable tale and the book was no plain matter of fact piece
of writing. My work, I like to think, both informs and amuses. I write this w
ork in good spirits having refused to be put down by the annoyances, misfortunes
and the perversities of the human race. But I write in solitude having become s
eemingly incapable of more than two or three hours of social life in these middl
e years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) in the lifespan. I also write winking
at my own littleness as people do at their own faults. But, while winking with
one eye I have fully opened the other to my sins of omission and commission whic
h I have perceived to be egregious on the one hand and on the other hand simple
imperfections and events that will neither alter the sun’s climb nor “embarrass
the seraphim ruefully yawning at their mention.”
By reifying my own sense of vocation and avocation and my impressions of pioneer
ing over four epochs, I can participate in both the short term and the long term
, in the twentieth-and-twenty-first century efforts by the international Bahá í
community to spred this new Faith to every corner of the planet and contribute,
in the process, to the planteization, the globalization, of humankind and the es
tablishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. This participation has been taking
place on the internet for well-nigh a decade, 2001-2010, and by the time this wo
rk is published in hard-cover, if it ever is, I shall be long gone from these sy
llables of recorded time.
If experience is the name so many people give to their mistakes, I d had plenty
of that. My hope is that not too many readers will find these volumes of memoir
s unapproachable due to their length, their vocabulary, their overly analytical
nature, the absence of a simple and interesting storyline, the relative absence
of the traumatic conveyed in narrative form--society s violence and sex and mine
--the short supply of romance and the kind of adventure that readers have come t
o expect in a good novel or TV program. If I possessed the humour and masterly
narrative style of, say, a Garrison Keilor or a Clive James this work could be m
ore enchanting, hypnotic and funny. Sad to say, I do not. Readers will get wh
at they see here.
“What they see is what they get,” to use a phrase come into common parlance in r
ecent years Downunder. I am what I am and my style is what it is. My ruminatio
ns are rarely profound, never unique and at best, an original hotch-potch of stu
ff to satisfy me as I go along. Hopes and wishes are never quite enough to dete
rmine a polished and complete outcome, although they have helped me travel along
the road of life and of writing with a multitude of tasks completed, many a con
versation engaged in and sat through and a host of other experiences on a list t
oo long to outline in even the briefest of fashions here.
If one is to stay creative and remain tuned-in to the richness of being, of livi
ng, of reflecting and anticipating, as one must if one is writing one s autobiog
raphical story in the seventh decade of their life; and if one is not to yield t
o depressing tones of déjà vu, one has to admit it is often the fragment that of
fers an opening onto potential meaning. The fragment is imagination s stimulus
to the opening of windows. For things in their meaningfulness, address us in a
certain way. This is part of what we could call the realm of responsiveness, a
realm that is an encounter, an encounter that is essentially a linguistic relati
onship.
To put this business of the importance of the fragment another way: the anecdote
is a way of saying things that keeps the process fresh for the writer. But, in
the end, this writer needs vision, needs a big picture what is now called by som
e a metanarrative. But all is not words; poetry and thinking belong together i
n speech and in their devotion to the relation which is silent in all our speech
. Wallace Stevens expressed the wonder of the world and its shining by means of
the poetic word in the following lines of his poem "The Idea of Order at Key W
est:"
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the sole artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang,
The sea, Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.
Stevens knew that there is no world other than the one we create, the one of whi
ch we are the makers. And I have made a world here in this memoir. It is I who
did inhabit it and must inhabit it as I write and, as in the daily routine of l
ife, it seems to me that if there is no joy, no happiness, it is hardly worth th
e exercise. The fragment, in this case the sea in Stevens poem, does not deal
with wholeness, although it may contribute to the completed account. Only throu
gh the fragment can one have access to a way of being that is dynamic, pluralist
ic and self-regenerating.
To say this a little differently: lived experience is a critical shaping force i
n our lives. In some ways, this is only saying the obvious. Nobel Laureate Nadi
ne Gordimer writes in her introduction to the autobiography of Naguib Mahfouz th
at for him “life was a search in which one must find one s own sign-posts." Th
is we all must do; the statement hardly needs saying; it is so obvious. Here I
have put the stress on the fragment but vision creates reality and without visio
n the people perish. This writer would never have written without vision even if
that vision was one he acquired in his youth and has come to understand and fil
l in more fully with the years. Near the conclusion of “The Uncanny”, Freud rema
rks on the relationship between the uncanny and fiction:
“In the first place a great deal that is not uncanny in fiction would be so if i
t happened in real life; and in the second place…there are many more means of cr
eating uncanny effects in fiction than there are in real life.” There is littl
e of the uncanny in this work, although a future age may come to see some of wha
t is written here as mysterious and strange in a certain way, words which are pa
rt synonyms for uncanny.
We must, as well, find some mythogenic zone, some interior metanarrative through
which we can sift our own experience, learn what we are and achieve some degree
of unity with others. This unity is found in the context of a constant convers
ation between unity and disunity, a conversation in which juxtaposition plays wi
th omission and collision. At least that is the way I see and experience writin
g and its conversation with life. For literary artists both the struggle and th
e fulfillment of creative work consist in the transfiguration of matter and thou
ght into art. As James Joyce put it, the sluggish matter of earth must somehow
be transformed within the "virgin womb of the imagination." The flesh, to corru
pt the biblical phrase slightly, must be made word.
For writers, this transfiguration has always been especially difficult to effect
. Each tries in their own way with very different results. Words, after all,
are symbols divorced in a very direct way from the sources of their meaning and
power. While music has an undeniable emotive force, and painting a potency conti
ngent on mimetic qualities or the tangible interplay of visual rhythms and tones
, words seem somehow distant and vague, mute, flat, comparatively colourless, es
pecially to the minds and hearts of millions. After 50 years spent in classroom
s where, for success, students must engage with the written word I am only too w
ell aware of the difficulties masses of people have with printed matter. While
the dramatic arts, including dance, appeal to both the aural and visual faculti
es and have, besides, an emphatic, public immediacy because they are performed i
n the flesh, words speak softly, sometimes inaudibly, and are notoriously bad da
ncers.
In his autobiography entitled Words Jean-Paul Sartre describes how as a child h
e discovered that words gave him a sense of power and a control of a world from
which he felt divorced. The English poet Philip Larkin says much the same and
he credits his immersion in books to his short-sightedness. In my case I found
books and their contents a slowly maturing entity in my life. I read what I had
to read to pass exams and get through to the next grade. But life’s realities
were not to be found in books except by sensible and insensible degrees into my
teens and twenties. By my late twenties I had struck the gold-mine that was the
world of books. The last 35 years has seen print take off like a jet-aircraft t
hrough my private and public life. I was too busy teaching and dealing with peo
ple until I was 55 to really get into writing in any significant way. But I hav
e made up for this in the last decade(55-65), 1999 to 2009.
Writing became a psychological necessity for a complex set of reasons that I exp
lain elsewhere in this memoir. I did not sacrifice other things; other things
lost their previous charm or demand, their role and responsibility. I was able
to express my emotions and at the same time give them form and control as a poet
like Larkin did; I was able to find relief from fears and anxieties as Sartre d
id in his literary work. Unlike Larkin, though, I do not have a fear of death
nor his melancholy gloom; unlike Sartre I do not have his philosophy of atheism,
his massive literary output nor his tendency to construct a series of personae
to hide my real self and deal with a variety of correspondents. Still, I would
not like to experience my final years in the way Jonathan Swift put it in accura
tely predicting his mental decay. When Swift was about 50 he remarked to the poe
t Edward Young when they were gazing at the withered crown of a tree: "I shall b
e like that tree, I shall die from the top."
One of autobiography’s principal tasks is to evade the absence par excellence: t
o omit the death of the autobiographer. One must be alive to write. So while dea
th might impend over an autobiography, insomuch as that autobiography is a factu
al work grounded in the events of its author’s life, written, of course, by its
living author, it is obliged to omit the account of its author’s death. There is
always something in the author’s life which exists beyond the autobiography; th
e moment beyond the moment the author stops writing; the author’s eventual death
. To defer that post-autobiographical moment, and so to defer the moment of deat
h, all that is required is that one keep writing.
My autobiographical deferral, for more than one thousand pages, seems
positively death defying. But if the writing of the autobiography is an act of
death-defiance, so is my publication strategy. My autobiography was published i
n part beginning in 2004 on the internet. This publication sees the text end wit
h an author still writing in the first person and still in the present tense abo
ut my life. Anyone can read my autobiography from the age of 60 onwards. For eve
ry one of the autobiography’s readers, the death of RonPrice has not yet occurre
d; my death has no presence in the text. It is necessarily and, for the first re
aders commemorating my life, no doubt glaringly, absent, at the same time as my
death will render me absent from the world outside my autobiography. My autobio
graphy is not just a flight from my own death, I do my best to avoid the deaths
of others. My autobiography proclaims my pleasure for the event that celebrates
this most ubiquitous of absences. I also record the death of others from time
to time.
No matter how much we understand the dynamics of our situation, we still get hur
t and feel exasperated. No matter how strong our beliefs they must face the tri
bunal of our experience as a whole and this process is a daily one. In that tri
bunal analysis gives us the grammar for our concepts. But analysis is faced wit
h the conundrum that at each moment of life s becoming that moment escapes our a
ttempts to comprehend it. Life swiftly passes us by and thinking about these mo
ments often:
sicklies ‘o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
This autobiography is an attempt to deal with my life’s enterprizes of ‘great pi
tch and moment’ as well as much of my ‘pale cast of thought’, my hurts, my exasp
erations, and before this tribunal gain some deeper comprehension of life’s expe
rience. In this last century of all the ones thusfar in the great human journey
we are allowed to grow up and grow old in more peace than in previous ages. If
we can learn to deal with those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and our
own weaknesses and failings; if we can find medical cures for some of the more
egregious ills—in my case the severities of mental illness; if we can grow old
with our solitude and with enough companionship to take whatever negatives arise
in this solitude, the final years can be rich ones.
And so:
Quietly I close the door of my study
and tap away on these keys making
the world, its past and mine, one in
many parts. Perhaps the rain ushers
in the evening or the news and I fall
asleep before my hours of solitude
return and I can cautiously unfold,
emerge with every atom in existence
and the essence of all created things,
with a thousand deep and meaningful
conversations behind me, ten thousand
books and more jobs and towns than I
want to count or try to remember as the
dish washer and this pentium-4 hum in
unison around me and deep-down things.
Ours is a culture of the fragment, like life itself, and the Bahá’í Faith is a c
ulture of the unity of fragments. Like the baroque, the postmodern--our world--
shares above all a taste for mixing, palimpsesting, hybridization and discontinu
ity. Some of the distinct features of both the baroque and the postmodern are:
self-irony, self- parody, saying one thing and meaning another, a rejection of s
tatic definition, ambiguities of definition, a constant or at least a periodic,
crisis of identity which people seem to have to go through, a sense of incomplet
eness in which the culture and the individual are never fully capable of explain
ing themselves. But many try and the intellectual air is full of voices.
As much as I make an effort to frame this memoir in the context of a grandnarrat
ive, a metanarrative, I feel that I am far from achieving such an accomplishment
; indeed, the claim is in itself somewhat pretentious. I do not achieve any whol
eness even though occasionally I am moved to make such a statement. I do not gr
asp the ultimate nature of things even though I might have such an ambition; one
needs a certain degree of shamelessness to be able to claim, seriously, that on
e can capture the whole truth about the world in one’s oeuvre. In a letter to B
enjamin Bailey musing on the mechanics of memory, the poet John Keats asserts th
at: “the simple imaginative mind may have its rewards in the repetition of its o
wn silent working coming continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness.” Thi
s may be the sort of wholeness I achieve as well.
Some of the distinct features of the Bahá’í Faith are its spiritual history, eve
rywhere unfolded in the manner of a new and a single symphony, in a grand fortis
simo now, in our time, with new harmonies and dissonances, irresistibly advancin
g to some kind of mighty climax out of which another great movement will, in tim
e, emerge. I have always enjoyed a quality that I think it is useful for write
rs to have, namely, a sense of history. This sense of history emerged insensibl
y and sensibly in my late teens in reading Bahá í history, especially God Passes
By by Shoghi Effendi, and studying history at high school and university: at le
ast this was part of the start, part of the emergence and now, at the age of 65,
this sense of history has a half a century, say 15 to 65, of development in my
life.
Some writers have this sense of history and some don t. The American writer F.
Scott Fitzgerald who wrote between the two wars had it. Some writers, like Cli
ve James, are perhaps most brilliant on the subject they know best: themselves.
I came across that clever turn of phrase in a review of Clive James’ three volu
me memoirs published between 1980 and 1990. I’ve enjoyed James on many other su
bjects beside himself for he is a man of remarkable erudition in the arts: at le
ast some of the social sciences and humanities. He is certainly more well-read
than I am, more humorous and witty. He is a useful mentor, among the many I hav
e borrowed and stolen from, for this memoiristic exercise.
I lived my life in the shadow of the shattering legacy of Nazism and Communism,
the two totalitarian movements that had a profound affect on and overshadowed th
e 20th century. Both these movements illustrate the dangers posed by ideologies
that try to reduce the world’s dazzling complexity to simplistic formulas. I s
ometimes come across superficial analyses of the Baha’i Faith that impute this f
ailing to this new world religion. My experience of more than half a century in
this new world religion would suggest that, while there is a simplicity to this
new Cause, part of the difficulty of working within it is, in fact, its dazzlin
g, and often frustrating, complexity. Getting a handle on the Bahá í Faith is no
mean achievement. The preciousness and fragility of humanism, indeed, of life
itself, as a cultural, an existential reality is, it seems to me, mirrored in t
his Faith.
By my late fifties and early sixties I had become what Robert Scanlan in his rev
iew of Susan Sontag s play Alice in Bed called a graphimaniacal phenomena. I t
urned all of my minutest experiences into words-about-experience. My experience
had become much like that of Marcel Proust who transmuted his life, during the
years he spent in his cork-lined bedroom, into an all-but-endless narrative disc
ourse that could and would be cut off only by his death. Some consider Proust
s death a mercy. Perhaps mine will be as well. I would not want to last too l
ong.
In quite another sense the now fashionable metaphor "the death of the author" ha
s come to characterize the modern condition of fiction. The French literary crit
ic Roland Barthes argues that a person’s writing and the person are unrelated.
The method of reading a text that tries to connect the two may, although appare
ntly tidy and convenient, is actually sloppy, flawed and results in a tyranny of
interoperation. A text s unity lies not in its origins, its creator, but in i
ts destination, its audience. Without the meditative background that is the cri
ticism of certain members of that audience, works become isolated gestures, ahis
torical accidents and soon forgotten. My work, my memoir, has received some cri
ticism, some feedback at many internet sites, but it remains largely a work of i
solated gestures in the big marketplace of our brontisaurissmus society.
The historical Alice James, Henry James sister, on whom the play Alice James i
s based, left no doubt that she welcomed the literal death that would bring her
acute physical and emotional torments to a close. I, too, will welcome my lite
ral death for different reasons than Alice James and I leave to readers whatever
meaning they derive from this now far too long memoir.
This work I like to think, although I may be somewhat presumptuous in thinking s
o, has some similarities to Virgil s Aeneid, Rome s national epic written in the
years 29 to 19 BC. Just as Virgil s work envisaged a golden age so does this w
ork; just as his work was permeated with the lack of reconciliation in the new R
oman Empire just formed, so is this work permeated with the tragedy of the slown
ess of response of humanity to the Revelation of Baha u llah, the slough of desp
ond and the social commotion at play on the planet, the troubled forecasts of do
om, the phantoms of wrongly informed imaginations at this crucial turning point
in history, a turning point represented by these four epochs. As Virgil s Ecolo
gue opened up new perspectives, I like to think this work will do the same. Some
read the Aeneid with an optimistic view and others have gloomy readings. Inspi
te of my own forecasts of gloom and doom, I see my work as essentially positive,
optimistic and with a view that sees a bright future for humanity. When Virgil
wrote Rome was at the start of an empire, a system, a new order, and Virgil was
preoccupied with the notion of unity as were the Romans after a century of wars
and violence.
I see myself as writing in the context of "the first stirrings of that World Ord
er of which the present Administrative System is at once the precursor, the nucl
eus and pattern." As the Romans needed insight into their predicament not clev
erness, so is this our need. As I live and write in Australia I sometimes thin
k that the essentially comic spirit of the Romans has been passed on by history
s circuitous forces to the Australians. As I watch decade after decade of enter
tainment dispensed by the print and electronic media, I can t help but agree wit
h that delightful American critic Gore Vidal when he says that laughing gas is p
umped into the lounge room of Australians, indeed all western countries, on a ni
ghtly basis. I suppose if you are going to go down, you might as well do so lau
ghing. In the end, I must say that I am no Virgil and this is no Aeneid even if
I make some comparisons and contrasts.
In my early adulthood I was critical of the endless private pleasure, of the mat
erialism and hedonism of my society but with the years, and certainly with the o
nset of late adulthood, I came to appreciate what Thomas Hardy called the "inst
inct toward self-delight." Some have this quality with an exuberance that bubbl
es up. I have more delight now that I only have to deal with some of the pains
and pangs associated with bi-polar disorder, with the idiosyncrasies of people i
n groups and some of my incapacities for dealing with a wife and children. I do
not have to concern myself with any associated with full-time work.
As you, dear reader, move through the words, the fragments, the volumes of this
work, you will think, dream and analyse with me. You will contour yourself to t
he disjunctures, inconsistencies, ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the
language of my therapeutic and non-therapeutic forum. Know that here in these
words-of-suffering, words-of-compassion, words of simple and complex thought, my
psyche is attempting to draw you through a labyrinth such that you begin to ref
lect on your own frustrations, doubts, duplicities and suspicions in regard to t
he inexhaustibility of interpretation on the many fronts of your own lives.
It is my hope that you will begin to recapitulate with a more finely tuned exact
itude, the play of subtleties and pluralities found in the texts of your own liv
es--texts and lives which have all too often been dismissed as societally and th
erapeutically irrelevant or simply not thought about by you and by others. I w
ould like to think that, as a result of reading some of the things here, the mea
ningfulness of readers lives and their phenomenal existence will take on a heig
htened significance. One can but hope.
Perhaps these same readers will relate and behave in a different way than they h
ave in the past after they have read this work. If understanding does not incre
ase, perhaps my words, as Wordsworth says, will "uphold, and feed, and leave in
quiet, like the power of gravitation or the air we breathe." So many of the wo
rld s words serve, he says, as "a counter-spirit, unremittingly and noiselessly
at work to derange, to subvert, to lay waste, to vitiate, and to dissolve." Ma
ny of the world s words are simply lost in history s vast abyss due to disintere
st, the burgeoning of print and the tempest that is the time we live in. I m c
onfident that this will be the case for this work among the great multitudes of
humanity. A coterie of influence is the best I can home for.
Perhaps, to put it another way, this work will serve as a catalyst of and for in
tellectual complexity. My work is essentially what the famous architect Frank L
loyd Wright s was: "a creative and cathartic exercise in selective memory that r
eveals as it conceals." Unlike Wright s work, mine is not a composite of truth
and lies. Both my memoirs and Wright s were published in our mid-sixties; the
y are not psychobiographies although they provide tantalizing clues to our psych
ological development for anyone who is interested. Some of the complexity I re
fer to derives from this developmental process and some derives from my tendency
to explore and define myself in the context of my society and my religion. To
put this another way, these memoirs are but a version of my society s narrative
and the narrative that is my religion--the Bahá’í Faith. These memoirs fashion,
discover, recreate both my society and my religion through the collyrium of my o
wn life. This collyrium allows me to steep a wide variety of subject matter in
the hues of my own individuality without using that individuality as a means of
self-display. At least that is the way I see it, although I’m sure there will
be others with different views.
Throughout my entire work I try to avoid recording my unfavourable opinions of m
any of my contemporaries both within the Cause and without. If I do voice a cri
tical view of someone, readers will have no idea of who that person is or if my
view is held by someone else they knew personally. This, it seems to me, is one
of the many aspects of dispassionate discussion. I would like to think and, in
deed, I have tried, to ground my criticisms of others and their views in facts t
hat they would be unable to deny. Some readers I’m sure will find find that th
is orientation of mine to the faults of others, to what I see as the facts of pe
ople’s lives have an exasperating facticity even if I make no specific allusions
to individuals. Given the complexity of what constitutes a fact and given the
immense quantity of the availability of facts in the marketplace of ideas and v
alues, beliefs and opinions the whole process often results in readers having no
idea of whom I might be talking about at any one point in my memoirs. My comm
entary on specific individuals simply gets lost in the grey wash of life and tha
t is the way I want it.
In literary criticism the crucial New Critical precept of the intentional falla
cy declares that a poem or, indeed, any piece of writing, does not belong to its
author. Rather the work is detached from its author at birth and goes out into
the world beyond the author’s power to interpret or control it. The prose or p
oem belongs to the public. The oldest profession, some say, is the poet or sto
ryteller and the second oldest is the critic or interpreter.
Both my society and my religion are but a soft wax and I must shape them as if I
am installing a window into my own life. Perhaps it is the other way around an
d I am the soft wax which must be shaped or; again, perhaps the entire phenomena
l reality is necessarily and unavoidably soft wax. These memoirs, whether wax o
r not, are a focalizing literature which takes a distinctive culture, a set of b
eliefs and ideas and writes them in individual characters, providing a privilege
d access to my own life, a moment in both my society s lifeline and the four epo
chs in the life of my religion. Over a lifetime my identity has certainly been l
ike soft wax and this memoir is unquestionably concerned with identity. Complex
ity is but another name for identity and it is both problem and solution.
I do not want to indulge in overenthusiastic gestures and promises to readers in
these pages. I recognise a certain untidy preference on my part for proliferati
on over prudence in my setting out of argument and concept here. The territory
is difficult even if it is only my elaboration of a life, a society and a religi
on which has been part of the air I have breathed for over 50 years. There has
come to exist in recent decades a bewildering range of disciplines in which mode
ls of memory are constructed and criticized and I do not want to discuss in too
much detail this massive milieux of literature and ideas, although I do my share
of dabbling. I do not cavalierly sweep exceptions and qualifications under the
rug as I go about recalling all that I have experienced and analysed.
The Baha’i community and the secular society I describe both cover millions of i
ndividuals with the most diverse sensibilities. Their experience is a protean o
ne and what individuals choose to marginalize or centre from their direct and vi
carious experience, from their beliefs and values, attitudes and meanings is inc
redibly diverse. My intent here is to present what I like to think is a balanc
e between the memory of my society and the Baha’i community on the one hand and
to draw on my own idiosyncratic view of history, mine and others. This whole exe
rcise interests me only insofar as it serves living. There is a degree of doin
g history and a valuing of it through which life atrophies and degenerates, as N
ietzsche said in the opening paragraph of his On the Use and Abuse of History Fo
r Life. It is my hope that there is little atrophication and degeneration as I
go about bringing one life to life.
Writers inevitably have hopes for their work. And my hope is that my words will
serve as a conduit. Once readers get into my book and find some interest in th
e world I describe and detail, with its troubled times, its themes and personali
ties, I trust their tastes will be whetted sufficiently to read -- or at the ver
y least skim -- on and on through the labyrinth of its 2600 pages. This epilogue
to my epilogue is one final reflection on my life, my work and my religion. I h
ope this reflection is not too complex for readers. As diverse and as apparentl
y fractured as it all is, it is umbilically connected in one body and from it, i
n time, I trust a living and breathing entity will emerge for the reading public
. The sifting and winnowing of my life s experience, swimming as it has in man
y and different amniotic fluids, has taken place over many years.
One aspect of what seems to me to be a major shift that millions could outline b
ut which I as a Baha’i place in the context of my Baha’i experience begins with
the historian Jacob Burckhardt. He writes that in the Middle Ages “man was cons
cious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family—only through
some general category.” He goes onto say that this consciousness melted in the
Renaissance which for convenience I will say occupy the two centuries from 1300
to 1700. It seems to me this consciousness has been for many, and certainly for
many Baha’is, recreated. Added to it is the consciousness of the individual eg
o that is not subsumed by the group. Sometimes this consciousness is called indi
vidualism.
The poet Byron expressed the view that his writing derived from a painful intens
ification of self and the desire for relief from it. To withdraw himself from h
imself, to be relieved from what he saw as his "cursed selfishness," this was hi
s sole, his entire, his "sincere motive in scribbling." While I find there is
some truth in this explanation for the origins of my writing, there is so much
more to it; indeed, the raison d etre for my writing is quite complex. It is
a subject I have gone into from time to time throughout this memoir and I feel t
he need to expatiate on it to touch the motivational matrix, the explanatory fra
mework, for why and what I am doing.
Writing as I do here may be an escape from self, but it is also a royal road to
selfhood. This work also negotiates the relationship between self and community
in both the Bahá’í Faith, the nations I have lived in, Australia and Canada and
the international community, the planetary civilization of which I am but one p
art. This exercise in negotiation is also a source of the complexity I refer to
above. There seem to have been many different impulses at work in these volumes
.
I often think that the seeds that germinated into this memoir fell in my youth,
if not before and I take consolation in the slowness of its production. Perhaps,
as Rodin once wrote, "slowness is beauty." In the dance of life, in the growth
and development of my personal life and the Bahá’í Faith, slowness is one of th
e essential roots of any achievement that I have observed. Civilization s devel
opment seems inversely connected with rapidity, with the speed of the process.
And still, however extensive this book has become, it is still incomplete, still
unfinished, still unrounded and unpolished. It will soon be published as it st
ands without regret or remorse in whole and in part on the internet. I have lef
t my regrets and feelings of remorse to my life and I have had plenty of them in
the sixty-six years since my conception in October 1943.
Readers will carry on this work as it stands before me and as it stands before t
hem as they read the text. They will find a veil which covers both my worked an
d unworked material. They will find, too, that my work is like an opal that nev
er appears the same twice or, as Heraclitus might have put it, the reader will n
ever step into the same book twice and my book changes with every word I add and
would be different, so different if I wrote it again. This book remained laten
t, unconscious, concealed within my own soul until the age of 60. I m sure for
some, if not many, this memoir will be a shock since it is such a manifest reve
lation of self. I anticipate that it will knock again and again at the closed d
oors of people s hearts and like some importunate stranger I will be asked to go
away. I like to think that eventually I will be let in because what I write is
not only about me, but about my readers. As Bertrand Russell once put it "eve
r so many people are just like" me. If there are any abnormalities I exhibit, I
also share them with millions.
My essays, my books and my poetry are all prompted and sustained by a sense of p
ower to which writing itself gives access. These literary forms dramatize my ef
forts to contact the sources of that power and to gain the knowledge it permits.
It is a contact that can easily be discouraged by the cynical frame of mind of
modern man and so I must cut through this cynicism by means of a literary, a po
etic, effort, a knowledge that is not inhibited by society s phantoms of a wrong
ly informed imagination and by the beliefs and attitudes of the masses who are i
ll-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet.
The more positive frame of mind found in modern society is often one which is de
sperate to believe that through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances soc
iety will find it possible to bend the conditions of human life into conformity
with its desires. The masses for the most part have missed the nature and the
meaning of the great turning point of our time, a turning point I go to great l
engths to throw light upon in this work. The words of John Stuart Mill echo thr
ough the lives of millions of my contemporaries: “I am thus one of the very few
examples in this country of one who has not thrown off religious belief. I never
had it. I grew up in a negative state with regard to it. I looked upon modern
religion exactly as I did upon the ancient religion, namely, as something which
in no way concerned me.
This sense of power which writing gives access to is a fundamental energy of bei
ng. To put this abstract process a little more concretely words are incidents i
n the mind. But however significant or meaningful these incidents are, however
much they extend experience, I do not elevate or arrogate to them or to myself a
ny sense of authority. These words possess for me a vitality, the same displaye
d by the natural world which my writing examines and celebrates; it is the energ
y of human apprehension and understanding, granted by the combined forces of rea
son and imagination or rational imagination; and it is, for me, the transforming
energy of the Baha i Faith. The creative word, which at different points in my
spiritual and intellectual journey, I would have expressed as the Greek logos,
a magical spell or invocation, a prayer and, more recently, theothanology in con
trast to Christology as The Word — generates a power, a leaven and conveys a wis
dom, a noetic integrator, some central mechanism which allows me to separate tru
ths which are perennial from those which are archaic and to possess a poetic vis
ion which enjoys some fixed point and a wisdom that is eminently practical. I h
ave come to see my life as one long transition or bith of a self into a moreexpa
nsive, more comprehensive and more advanced learning experience. At death, I bel
ieve, that this experience will continue unembumbered by the veiling effects of
physicality.” Herbert Spencer, an agnostic philosopher, concludes his autobiogr
aphy with a non-biblical olive branch held out to the metaphysicians: “Thus reli
gious creeds, which in one way or other occupy the sphere that rational interpre
tation seeks to occupy and fails, and fails the more, the more it seeks, I have
come to regard with a sympathy based on community of need: feeling that dissent
from them results from inability to accept the solutions offered, joined with th
e wish that solutions could be found.”
In the process of writing this memoir I became more conscious of something that
had struck me from time to time over the years but the business of life prevente
d me from plumbing its reality and significance; namely, the fact that every hum
an creature is so constituted as to be a profound secret and mystery to every ot
her. Albert Schweitzer put it a little differently in the epilogue of his autobi
ography: "the world is inexplicably mysterious." Martin Buber s words that "Onl
y men who are capable of truly saying Thou to one another can truly say We with
one another also contain the gem of a hidden wisdom. Buber says there is an es
sential distance for all of us, barriers we overpass not, in all our relationshi
ps. But this is a topic too extensive to pursue here.
It is a solemn consideration that when I walk along the street in the small town
where I live at night, or when I enter a great city at night when the traffic h
as died down and the lights brighten and soften the landscape, that every one of
those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every beating heart
in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a
secret to the heart nearest to it! In any of the burial places of this city th
rough which I pass or in my own small town there lies a sleeper, a body, more in
scrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me,
or than I am to them. The brain, my brain, is really participating in a metaph
ysical activity, an activity which creates ideas and theories, and I must conclu
de that a metaphysical reality must exist. This reality is not an illusion as ma
terialists like Mill assert. This metaphysical relaity, this spirit, this elan v
ital, this life-giving sustence emanatges from God through the Holy Spirit. Th
e refinement of my character and taking part in meaningful social action is part
of my inherent desire to know reality and expressing my acquired knowledge in c
reative action. this process, I believe, fosters my soul’s advancement.
In Shakespeare s play Hamlet the performance of thought, thinking, takes places
in the form of inaction, of delay. The play is about a man who thinks. Hamlet
s disposition to think and his indisposition to act, his intellectual activity a
nd his aversion to action is at the centre of the play. We have here a man pro
ne to thinking who seems incapable of acting and proportionally the more he thin
ks, the less he acts. Psychological readings of the last two centuries have bl
own plot and genre out of the play’s critical waters. Readers have internalized
the focus on character so that delay is not a plot device but a symptom of psyc
hic conflict and the conjunction of the tragic and the comic heightens not socia
l division but psychic conflict.
This memoir is, in some ways, about a man thinking. This introspectivity to me,
though, is but another form of action. As I see it, "we can no longer separate
the active and the contemplative facets of our lives. Practicality and mysticis
m possess a oneness of vision and form." So too is this true of smooth surfaces
and the ruffled edges in life. They both can be pressed into cultural and auto
biographical service and they are inherent parts of the warp and weft of one s l
ife. I am currently, in these years of late adulthood, deeply involved in actio
n. And those who have ascended, it is my belief, “labour to assist me in this wo
rld.” I have been praying for their intercession for some thirty years and th
ey have been praying for me. Such is my belief, my assumption . Will emanates fr
om soul. This memoir is an example of the knowledge of self and it is, in the ma
in, an inherent gift. This power of will shapes my destiny for good and ill. In
the process, although I seem to have little to no control over the path my life
takes or what tests and calamities befall me, I do have control over how I will
respond to my circumstances. I can find out how well I am doing, to some exte
nt at least, by means of the guidance and standards set forth in the authoritati
ve Bahá í texts as I aim to awaken myself to the truths governing the total inte
gration of the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.
Poets and writers often interpret criticism of their poems, their works, as crit
icism of themselves. It is for this reason among others that I prefer a more ge
ntle form of critique that the one taken up by Charles Dickens. He observed tha
t criticism “means saying about an author the very things that would have made h
im jump out of his boots." Too heavy for me, Charles. The approach I take to c
riticism of others, and the one I would enjoy being taken to my work, is the one
based on Matthew Arnold s precept of letting the mind play freely around a subj
ect in which there has been much effort to understand. I have certainly taken
much thought in creating and outlining a perspective on my life and I have enjo
yed the free play of other minds and their perspectives in my effort to understa
nd.
The relative dearth of autobiographical writing in the Bahá’í community and the
virtual absence of any formal criticism of it has not been a serious problem. I
t is emerging slowly but surely in these four epochs. If Virginia Woolf is righ
t in saying that autobiography is the only literature, I have finally achieved m
y writing of a novel. I am conversant with the events of my life and my motiva
tions more than anyone else, with longer-term and immediate causes of those even
ts, with the psychological motivations for my actions, with the most tortuous me
anderings of my spirit and I often feel the need to suspend my story to go into
the equally tortuous meanderings of analysis. I do this not so much to remind m
y readers of some ubiquitous wisdom that I may possess, but to give some socio-h
istorical context to those events. Like Freud I tend to the view that noon can
really know or explain another man s life and especially “the riddle of the mira
culous gift that makes an artist” and “the value and the effect of his works.”
But this memoir has a chance of describing and explaining the riddle of my own
gift.
I hope my technique, my approach, my process of extended analysis, enlivens my s
tory and adds new levels of interpretation. The greatest ambition of any novel,
it is sometimes argued, is to give the illusion of life itself. In my memoir I
create no illusion but try to deal with life in the raw, as it were, with thick
coatings of what I aim to provide: invigoratingly brisk analysis and phrase-rel
ishing. One can but hope. Writing a memoir resembles Samuel Johnson’s understan
ding of the futility of any attempt to chisel the English language into stone.
It is like chasing the sun: one never quite reaches the destination.
Inside Ian Fleming’s famous and adventurous, fictional but successful, James Bon
d 007 there is something that is very much dead. The world is not enough; lif
e has not been enough. Bond lives for the adrenaline, the rush and the lust, but
he has found no true meaning. He is a disturbed soul whose loss would be natio
nal and global, but will leave no one devastated beyond words. Somewhere along
the line of my life I found that adrenaline, that rush and lust but I also foun
d true meaning. Although others may have seen me as a disturbed soul, and indee
d I was when my bipolar disorder was untreated, I felt far from disturbed and as
I write these words at age 65 I feel tranquil and at ease. Still the world wou
ld experience no loss on my demise. James Bond created a market that was nation
al and global even if no one was devastated beyond words on his demise, it did e
xperience a sense of loss.
I am probably more guilty than most autobiographers of making what might be call
ed autobiographical intrusions about my life, intrusions which fit poorly into d
iscussions of the many issues and societal problems that I survey with my wide-a
ngled lens. I hope my series of memoiristic volumes have the flavour of more th
an just some simple exercise of dabbling on the edges of the unimaginable horror
s of my world, my society, on the one hand and the unbelievable advances of that
same society on the other, during these four epochs. And of course the whole n
otion of "truth" in writing is vexed. Some argue that it is actually far easier
to be truthful in fiction than in anything that claims to be autobiography, wit
h its inevitable evasions and omissions. That may be the case—but this is autob
iography with those inevitable evasions and omissions—an artistic form, a techn
ique that I can not explain.
Autobiography, like the novel, is poised between the direct speaker, singer of a
lyric or performance reader on the one hand and the direct presentation of acti
on in drama on the stage, on TV or in the movies. It is poised as well between a
n allegiance to reality and to some moral or ethical ideal. It is capable of g
reat extremes, great imperfections and it is difficult for any single work to de
al with it. This is as true of the life it describes as the descriptive process
, the writing, itself. Perhaps the greatest autobiography attempts to do the mo
st, but this is an arguable point for there are outstanding autobiographies that
are brief. Autobiographies provide opportunities for cautious success and glor
ious failure. I am told it is the most popular form of literature. I would ver
y much like this work to be popular but, as I have expressed on several occasion
s in this book, I think it quite unlikely. Perhaps I will be surprised.
The autobiographer is somewhat like the biographer whom Diana Solway describes i
n her recent biography of the famous dancer Nureyev. Not only do I have to go a
head of the rest of the population, as Solway says the biographer does, but it a
lso may be that my feet may tread on literary paths which no one else in the end
may walk. Popularity or even a minority interest is not guaranteed. Like the m
iner’s canary which tests the atmosphere, the biographer and the autobiographer
both try to detect falsity, unreality and the presence of obsolete literary conv
entions. I indulge in the pleasure of language and the imagination, in the act
ivity of creating narrative and of reminiscence and, it is obvious to me, of ego
tism.
The kind of criticism of my work that would benefit both me and others, is one t
hat deals with the whole work of scholarship and taste that is concerned with li
terature and is a part of what is variously called liberal education, culture, o
r the study of the humanities. Criticism is itself a structure of thought and kn
owledge existing in its own right, with some measure of independence from the ar
t it deals with.
There is no real correlation between the merits of art and its public reception.
Criticism can talk but all the arts are dumb. In painting, sculpture, or music
it is easy enough to see that the art shows forth its wares, but it cannot say
anything. However surprising it sounds to call writers and poets inarticulate o
r speechless, there is a most important sense in which their essays and poems ar
e as silent as statues. I would apply the words "mute," "dumb," and "wordless"
to what I write. The artist, as John Stuart Mill saw in a wonderful flash of cr
itical insight, is not heard but overhead. If my writings come alive it is in
the reactions of readers. If they do not, they remain dumb and mute.
However loudly some poets, for example Rabindranath Tagore, proclaim the poem to
be separate from the poet, people respond to poems as if they are real people s
peaking. Perhaps this is why the general response to poetry is minimal for the
response to real people is also, to a great extent, minimal. I became conscious
of this at the start of my massive production of poetry in 1992-3. For more th
an a decade I had written a good deal of awfully complex stuff and some readers
told me so. In those ten years, too, I had written a first edition of this memo
ir, but it was so tedious, so boring, I could hardly bear reading it. I was mor
e than a little conscious of Tolstoi s remarks that: “an artist teaches far more
by his mere background and properties, his landscapes, his costume, his idiom a
nd technique—all the part of the work, in short, of which he is probably entirel
y unconscious, than by the elaborate and pompous moral dicta he fondly imagines
to be his opinions." This background and its properties had to be changed.
The poetical, the memoir, is personal. There is no getting away from it. When
a reader has an aversion to a poet s style that aversion, it seems to me, is par
tly an aversion to the personality that style presents. Style, it is often said
, is the man and, even if style is different for each poem or each edition of a
memoir, as I like to think is the case with mine, a man s style like the man him
self is not always liked by all. "The most perfect development of style," wrote
the Canadian poet Archibald Lampman, " must be sought in those whose experience
of the world has been full and at the same time in the main joyous and exhilara
ting." "Full" is a relative term and "in the main" is difficult to define prec
isely: 51%, 75%. It would take some time to discuss the full implications of som
e of these elusive terms.
When Nijinsky wrote his autobiography in 1918-19 he was writing about what had b
een a very full life, indeed one that was both joyous and exhilarating. It was
not published until 1936. Perhaps the greatest ballet dancer the world had ever
seen had his memoir published right at the start of the Baha’i year of planning
before the implementation of the first teaching Plan. The greatest drama, the
first formal teaching Plan in the world’s religious history was about to be laun
ched. It was a dance of a different order. Nijinsky wrote his diary while he w
as “experiencing extreme mental agony.” For six weeks in early 1919, as his tie
to reality was giving way, Nijinsky kept a diary--the only sustained daily reco
rd we have, by a major artist, of the experience of entering psychosis. In some
entries he is filled with hope. My diary, my memoir, my autobiography was writte
n after my mental illness and whatever agony was associated with it was finally
and fully treated by stages from 1968 to 2002.
Some writers, biographers, produce as part of the studies that arise after the p
assing of some individual, an account of the key actions, people, places, events
and actors in the lives of those individuals. Such literary texts often draw o
n other copious or not-so-copious biographical works as well as published letter
s, manuscripts and the many genres of writing from the lives of said individuals
. The study of the specialized and often impressive range of topics in the life
and works of some individuals--and in the case of poets for each of the major/m
inor poems and each of their prose works--are unquestionably useful but only to
those who are interested in the subject matter. I leave to posterity the creati
on of such a text or texts on my life. And, if such a text is ever desired, I ha
ve left my creations, of whatever quality they possess, in at least a reasonable
order. As I have indicated before and as Mark Twain noted in his autobiographic
al writing, most of the details of day-to-day life are left out. As I chronicle
my pioneering moves, my family s comings and goings, my jobs, my relationships,
inter alia, I do not, for example, itemize the hotels I stayed in, the parks I
played and walked in, my lodgings and their decor, the endless lists of costs, e
xpenditures and excursions, my favourite haunts and on-and on--one could list so
many of life s trivial and not-so-trivial details, all with quite profuse descr
iptions if one so desired. But to what purpose?
Perhaps I should use the term, the word, praeterita, for my memoirs. This was t
he title the art and social critic John Ruskin(1819-1900) gave to his autobiogra
phy (1881-86). There is an inevitable degree of defeatism when one writes autob
iography, defeatism before the enormity that is one s life. Ruskin knew this an
d hence he gave his memoirs the title Praeterita. Emblematically, this title re
presents not only ‘things past’, but also ‘things passed by’ and things left out
. Ruskin s work was largely an intellectual portrait and he was more than a lit
tle conscious that much of his everyday life, like the life that John Stuart Mil
l recorded in his autobiography, was omitted. It was, he wrote, "a dutiful off
ering at the grave," but very much a partial account. Mine, too, is a very par
tial account. I would have liked to leave readers with deeply affecting and aff
ectionate portraits of my relationships to: my mother, my father, my grandfather
, each of my two wives, my one son, my two step-daughters and even my two step-g
randchildren. Perhaps the reason I have not is that these relationships were no
t sufficiently affectionate. Some of these dear souls who have been so important
in my life in different ways deserve some memorializing and they do receive ‘so
me’, but nowhere near in the proportion they deserve and in proportion to the im
portant parts they all played in my life, little do they know and, perhaps, litt
le do I know.
Ruskin s intellectual portrait was quite unlike Mills for Ruskin saw all the fa
cets of one s life as part of a complex unity in multiplicity, a multiplicity of
visual experiences. Mill s, published in 1873, was more the thoughts of a think
ing man, a philosopher. For me, I leave a text, an oeuvre, a corpus, with soci
ally and politically edifying aims and I leave to posterity whatever speculation
on my tastes and predilections it may want to entertain and whatever meticulous
research it may want to undertake in order to create, what for them, for some f
uture generation, is a more intelligible narrative.
A certain innovative ability is required to collect and organize the random deta
ils of reality over a lifetime into a comprehensive vision. I have tried, but I
honestly do not know how successful I have been. I am far too close to my work
to provide such an assessment. If I have given readers both conceptual stabili
ty and narrative coherence it is due as much to serendipity as to any planned pr
ogram. It is also due to a view of poetry and writing similar to Ruskin s. "Poe
try is the overflow," Ruskin writes, "utterance, or projection of the thought an
d feelings of the poet; it is defined in terms of the imaginative process which
modifies and synthesizes the images, thoughts and feelings of the poet…it is the
internal made external."
It is a book which contains as in a teaspoon or several teaspoons the essence of
those waters from which the many-coloured fountains of whatever eloquence, exho
rtation, wisdom and understanding I have learned spring. So often these qualit
ies go out the door in times of crisis and the wisdom literature that has been p
art of my life for over half a century seems, so often, of little comfort. So of
ten, too, in this culture of irony, contradiction and paradox people say one thi
ng and mean another. The picture of life and living has an inordinate complexit
y beneath a superficial simplicity and pragmatism. This poet, I sometimes think,
far from conquering his fear, has become prey to an unsparing and savage awaren
ess of life’s brutality and his terror of his own temper. This serves as his pr
otection.
I do not enslave this narrative work in minutiae and any excavation desired by f
uture historians I leave entirely to them to fill the gaping holes in a life and
its unnumbered hours. I could if I so desired, for example, present an inadvert
ant hodgepodge of primary sources, prolonged excerpts from letters, from journal
s, from an undifferentiated and differentiated mass of the chattering voices of
these epochs, voices I enjoyed or had to endure, voices I learned from and voice
s which filled the air with sound and little else. I feel I have given enough o
f these things to readers, enough to suit my tastes, if not those of my possible
future readers.
I like to think I have accepted the limits of the possible in drawing on the sev
eral genres in which I have written during the last several decades. I have onl
y touched on lightly the massive wisdom literature available in the Bahá’í writi
ngs and the writings of other faiths, sacred and secular. Since childhood I hav
e been comforted by the wisdom of the Bahá’í teachings, but I have not quoted fo
rm them here to anywhere near the extent they have assisted my passage through l
ife.
What I have done is not dissimilar to the autobiography of Henry Adams. Entitled
The Education of Henry Adams it is much more a record of Adams s introspection
than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, po
litical, and intellectual changes that occurred over Adams s lifetime. Adams co
ncluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with the
rapid changes of his lifetime: hence his need for self-education. The organizi
ng thread of the book is how the "proper" schooling and other aspects of his you
th, was time wasted. His autobiography is a description of his search for self
-education through experiences, friendships, and reading.
The Education of Henry Adams purports to be the autobiography of Henry Adams(183
8-1918). It in fact records the author s struggle, in early old age, to come to
terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth.
It is also a sharp critique of 19th century educational theory and practice. In
1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition of his work
printed at his own expense. Commercial publication had to await its author s 191
8 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize. I won t go into the comparis
ons and contrasts between my work and Adams. I leave that to interested readers.
But I will say, before moving on, that in the same way that Henry Adams s lif
e story is rooted in the 19th century American political aristocracy that emerge
d from the American Revolution, my story is rooted in the international Bahá’í c
ommunity over a period of four epochs(1944-2021), a community emerging from a sp
iritual, a global, revolution that had been initiated by two-prophetic figures,
two-God-men in the nineteenth century.
The essence of this revolution was the search for the unifying agent, the unifyi
ng catalyst, that would help the planet survive the tempest of our times. The c
ontext for this search was an attachment to national, racial, cultural, class an
d political loyalties and an almost deafening withdrawal and apathy. The revolu
tion of my time was out of human control; the process was giving birth to humani
ty, to a world community, a global society. My role was to help in the extensio
n of the model of world fellowship that had emerged out of that spiritual revolu
tion of the century preceding my birth, a model that had been born in Iran and i
n North America.
Adams book became an important and influential one in literary non-fiction in t
he next hundred years. It ranked first on the Modern Library s 1998 list of 100
best non-fiction books. It spread throughout America and the world in the year
s after the unveiling of the Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1919 and it is a usef
ul comparison piece for this autobiographical work.
My poetry and prose is founded, as it was in the case of Walt Whitman, on the pr
inciple of language as ‘‘a source of renewable creative energy.’’ My works are
best read in light of late-20th century and early 21st theories from the social
sciences and humanities, theories I have alluded to in the text but will not att
empt to summarize here. My broad aim has been, not merely to describe the objec
ts of nature in the spectatorial fashion of a travel writer or scientific essayi
st, not merely to analyse my society as a sociologist or social scientist, but
rather to encourage engagement with this new and emerging world religion which c
ame into the life of my family right at the beginning of the Kingdom of God on E
arth in 1953.
My writing has been, for me, a form of therapy to help me recover from the devas
tating series of physical and emotional difficulties I faced as far back as my l
ate teens, right at the start of the 10th and final stage of history and continu
ing periodically throughout my life. I could include the 9th and the latter par
t of the 8th stage of history, but I will leave that for a later date, time perm
itting. I had to overcome the philosophical and formal problems of writing abou
t a process, a time, a movement, a religion, that I considered, not so much beyo
nd the limits of language, as so complex to deal with that I could only solve th
e problem with a special technique. The technique I employed involved, not rheto
ric, but an appeal to spontaneity, intimacy and immediacy. I also structured th
e text of my memoir around a series of discontinuous fragments and slices of ana
lysis that emphasized an ongoing, organic process. I have also helped future b
iographers with whatever intrusions and manipulations they may need to make to d
eal with those months and years in which there has been an unavoidable absent pr
esence.
This book, this series of many essays, avoids a frequent problem that the memoir
faces. This exercise is not, for the most part, a pathography, a study fixated
on pathology. I do not seek to locate buried trauma and to establish a clinica
l diagnosis of a personality disorder. I do deal with a disorder, my bi-polar d
isorder, but it does not dominate the text; indeed, it is a peripheral although
important part of the overall narrative. What readers find here is an examinati
on of the strategies that I as an individual with a complex-simple personal hist
ory adopted for dealing with the frequently simultaneous combination of loss and
loneliness, illness and sadness, failure and success and with the unprecedented
personal freedom and opportunity that my generation enjoyed as the epochs of ‘A
bdul-Baha’s Plan, the Formative Age and the last stage of history unfolded and s
ucceeded one another. My work is part of a long tradition of writing of pionee
rs, immigrants and people who have left their home and homeland. This vein of w
riting is waiting for readers who are interested in this field of human experie
nce. There is now an extensive and popular literature to read for anyone who des
ires it.
I have no intention in this work to impose a narrative clarity. I do not want to
keep my story neat, tidy, sequential, like some drama or documentary on televis
ion. That is why whatever narrative is found here should be embellished with my
letters, diary and poetry. Literature--my essays and poetry--is literary, but m
y letters are domestic, straightforward, hermeneutically unproblematic sources o
f evidence about the world I inhabit beyond the page and too extensive to includ
e in this work except in a very abbreviated form.
Were a dossier of my sins of omission and commission put together, many pages of
my faults, weaknesses, errors of judgement, crimes and follies could be itemize
d. Like the dossier compiled on Jeffrey Wigand, the whistle blower on the toba
cco industry in the film The Insiders(1999), a document could be gathered togeth
er and used as the basis of a smear campaign so orchestrated as to make my word
seem suspect, my memoir scandalized in the eyes of the moral majority and my nam
e tarnished for posterity. Thankfully such a dossier will never be put together
. My name will never be in the running for the confessions of these epochs, thi
s age; I will never be able to rank my confessions beside those of Cassanova, St
. Augustine or Rousseau.
I have limited my confessions to a moderate level and, for the most part, only i
n my journal which I do not intend to have published(or put on the internet) unt
il after my passing. There is plenty of candour; the account is large and spaci
ous, but this memoir is not a centre for the kind of detailed confessionalism th
at would result in a comprehensive statement of the negative side of my life. L
ike that "dossier" to expose the faults of my "full life" it will remain uncompo
sed. Hopefully, though, some may find here a powerful voice. Although readers
will never know me personally, they may find here a voice compelling and unique
. One can dream. One can hope. My mission, though, is not to clean the proverbi
al Augean stables; I leave that job to the many, indeed, the myriad, reformers
and reformists, that fill the ranks of movements and religions who see their job
essentially in terms of getting rid of sin. It would be dishonest, though, for
me not to admit to a certain degree of reformist zeal but such zeal is somethin
g that has become increasingly moderated, if not nearly eliminated, as my early
adulthood became the middle years(65-75) of my late adulthood(60-80). The comple
xity of the human situation in our globalized world is simply put: staggering.
Gray hair and decades of practice notwithstanding, the poet who lacks a unique a
nd compelling voice remains in the backwater of poetic flows and sounds. Every
person has a unique, potentially compelling history and genetic makeup, but powe
rful, unique and delightful voices are rare. This is partly due to a lack of wh
at we could simply call talent, and partly due to the restrictions caused by the
socialization process. The overly socialized voice may sound sophisticated, ki
nd, efficient, even charming, but it is rarely compelling, never refreshing, uni
que and always hollow in some way. Am I overstating the case?
As a teacher of English for over three decades at all levels of the educational
process, I came to know of the reading tastes of a good cross-section of the pub
lic. The Bible, Shakespeare, most of the major philosophers, sociologists and so
cial scientists were simply not read by the great mass of the public. They never
came anywhere near the writings of the greats of history or of their contempora
ry society. One could go so far as to say that my chances of winning any popula
rity contest was just about nil. Indeed, it would probably be a bad sign if I d
id.
Some schools of thought take as one of their basic assumptions that we cannot tr
anscend our experiences. One of the founders of such a school, Ernst von Glaser
sfeld, put that assumption this way: "knowledge, no matter how it is defined, is
in the heads of persons, and the thinking subject has no alternative but to con
struct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience." What w
e make of experience constitutes the only world we consciously live in. It can b
e sorted into many parts: things, self, others, and so on. It can and it does c
hange from day to day. But all kinds of experience are essentially subjective
and, though I may find reasons to believe that my experience may be like yours,
I have no way of knowing how much it is like yours and, if I never meet you, as
is the case with most of my readers(assuming I ever have any) I must leave the d
rawing of parallels to others. The experience and interpretation of language is
the place where these parallels are drawn.
This memoir/autobiography could safely be placed within this school of thought.
Walt Whitman states in his journal, "There is no trick or cunning, no art or re
cipe, which you can have in your writing but which you do not possess in yoursel
f." If this is true, as I believe it is, the only way to write with a unique and
compelling voice is to have—or develop—a unique, compelling personality. Whet
her I have such a voice or such a personality I must leave to others to decide.
I m not even that sure I would want to be that compelling. Like a snowflake, th
ough, I would be happy to be that unique.
There has been a remarkable rise to prominence of public intellectuals and talk
about public intellectuals over the last decade or so(1990-2006) in Australia, y
ears I have been working on this autobiography. New ways of thinking about hist
ory and the nation, issues and the individual and new kinds of public ethical di
scourse have been put into circulation. The radical constructivism that I menti
oned above has been part of this new way of thinking. History and the social sc
iences, psychology and the humanities as battleground for the telling of one s s
tory is certainly preferable to the great Australian silence. The process has b
een building up for decades and I don t want to monitor here the details of this
rise to prominence in the last few years. This has been done elsewhere.
The issue, too, is not altogether clear. There are many perspectives on the subj
ect. Robert Dessaix s collection, Speaking their Minds (1998), a series of discu
ssions with public intellectuals based on an earlier ABC radio series from 1996-
97 suggests an abundance in public intellectual life. Close to forty individuals
get to speak in the book. But the occasion of the series and Dessaix s framing
comments are stated throughout, almost obsessively, in the language of crisis.
Many would say this has not changed ten years later. Some writers argue that m
emoir has become the preferred mode of Australian public intellectuals, as a for
m of reflection and self-reflection driven by a sense of crisis or moral anxiety
about the past.
The memoir is a performative genre. It evokes the process of ethical reflection.
However provisional and open-ended, however much it denies some role as exempla
r, it offers itself implicitly as exemplary. As has become obvious, in the proli
feration of print in cultures where new books are readily available, there is a
receptive audience of self-fashioning readers which is disposed towards the kind
of ethical work that essays and memoirs typically perform. There has been an i
ncreasing value given to the spaces and styles opened up in the public culture b
y such writing and reading. If memoirists are illiterate in various areas of k
nowledge this illiteracy will affect their understanding of the past and hence t
heir understanding of their own lives. Spatially illiterate and geographically
ignorant memoirists will come to the writing of their memoirs with an intellectu
al disability. The writing and discussion of memoirs in recent decades has inc
reased significantly and very few enjoy the position of comprehensive knowledge
or an intellectual familiarity with a wide range of disciplines.
With a few exceptions what enables certain figures rather than others to rise to
prominence as successful writers in this domain of the memoir is not so much th
e value of the research these writers do as their performance of writerly qualit
ies. I m not so sure I rate well here. One type of intellectual and writer tra
nscends professional or disciplinary boundaries. I m sure this is true of my wo
rk. But my performance has yet to be given much public scrutiny. In some ways,
it matters not. The sense of urgency, of crisis, of international concern which
hardly existed when I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer in 1971
has grown by leaps and bounds through the performance of many an articulate and
concerned thinker and by the sense of social crisis that has filled the air-wave
s in the last few decades from all sorts of local, national and international pr
oblems that fall into people s laps from the electronic media on a daily basis.

I m sympathetic to the suggestion that we d be better off abandoning the term pu


blic intellectual altogether and simply referring to different functions within
the knowledge class: academic, journalist, teacher, talk-show host, historian, a
rchivist, producer and so on. Knowing and seeing are universal activities and n
ot confined to any set of roles. What happens when what you see seems to touch
you with a grasping contact, even though it may be from a distance; when the ma
tter of seeing is a sort of touch, when seeing is a contact at a distance? What
happens when what is seen imposes itself on your gaze, as though the gaze had b
een seized, touched, put in contact with appearance? Maurice Blanchot asks the
se questions and some memoir writers answer them in a very moving way. I think
our time involves more seizing and touching. But the issues are complex. I have
done my seizing here in these 2500 pages and time will tell if I have done much
touching. There are anecdotes galore throughout, as there will inevitably be in
this many pages. I recount adventures and episodes from my life, leaping back an
d forth. My memoir is also heavily footnoted, although much of its content on th
e internet is missing the footnotes. I have many asides, some of which I must c
onfess, as it will be by now obvious to readers, astoundingly off-point, indeed,
off almost any point, I can hear some of them say.
Recent writing in Australia and elsewhere has been characterised by a turn to a
personalized or autobiographical narrative mode. This personal turn can be seen
as part of a trajectory, from the 1980s onwards, of an interest by the humaniti
es and social sciences in everyday experience and memory, especially that of min
oritarian constituencies—such as working class subcultures, women, youth, racial
and ethnic minorities and new religious movements--in my case the Bahá’í Faith
. During the 1980s and 1990s there was also an increased interest in ethnograph
y and autoethnography—the study, representation, or knowledge of a culture by on
e or more of its members. This memoir, dealing as it does with the culture of t
he Baha’i Faith and its communities, makes no attempt to be an autoethnography.
There has been a colossal prestige granted by critical humanities and social-sci
ence
scholars over the past several decades to the clusters of studies of voice and p
lace, of cultures and sub-cultures, small groups and movements of all kinds. “L
etting the Silenced Speak,” “Telling The Story,” or “Speaking for Themselves,” o
n the one hand, and on the other of “Situated Knowledges,” “the Politics of Loca
tion,” or “Standpoint Epistemologies,” has become, if not all the rage, certainl
y a popular academic sport. But this memoir is not of this ilk. There is nothi
ng here that is systematic, comprehensive, worthy of the appellation, ethnograph
ic or autoethnographic tomb. This is not an exercise, an opportunity, for a here
tofore
silenced group to enunciate, from its own location and according to its own agen
da, its vision of itself and the world. This is not an authoritative view of th
e Baha’i community and its world... This is simply the writing of a man, a Canad
ian living in Australia, a retired teacher and a Baha’i. The writing is essenti
ally anecdotal, impressionistic, personal, autobiographical.
Some of the work in the broad field of anthropology has been drawing on personal
narratives in an effort to examine the polarities between public and private me
mory, objective and subjective modes of discourse and specialized knowledge and
everyday life. In the end this memoir, however diverse the sources, is one long
story. Like the work of film director Robert Altman who saw his many films as on
e long film, my memoir and its hundreds of anecdotes, snippets of analysis and i
tems of description are just part of one long life. And everyday in which I add
to this work is the end-day of history, just as it’s the first day of the rest
of my life. All that I know from my past is being fulfilled in some shape or fo
rm; all that the past can tell me is also being revealed--until tomorrow’s new r
evelations and new fulfilments. And I write about some of this fulfilment, som
e of this revelation. Much, too, is simply beyond my awareness in this booming
and buzzing reality called life.
I do not want to dismiss the everyday as trivial. It is something, as Maurice B
lanchot emphasizes, "most difficult to discover." Some put the study of the qu
otidian at the centre and others at the periphery of their analysis in the fragi
le art of writing history; some want to diminish the weight given to actors, the
major players and the significant events that one finds within traditional auto
biographical narrative and give that weight to the great accumulation of details
, data, statistics and insights from many of the social scientific disciplines.
The everyday can not be analysed from the point of view of a single discipline
in the social sciences. Such details of everyday life and such insights from th
ese social sciences should not be seen as fleeting realities, non-essential aspe
cts of life, but rather as part of a shadowy, rich, undocumented zone that exist
s everywhere and whose quantity is immense, staggering. It is a zone characteri
zed mainly by routine; it is hardly noticed and is filled with the minute fluctu
ations of life, some noticed and some not noticed.
This world of the everyday also possesses a long range durability. This durabili
ty is the location for much of the stuff of history, stuff of our daily lives, w
hich seems to unfold, as if in slow motion, even at the limits of any movement a
t all. This perceived immobility, it seems to me, is the source and origin of mu
ch of the pessimism, the flatness, the tedium vitae that exists for people as th
ey travel through life. The realignment of thought, if and when it takes place i
n this micro world, is usually quite invisible. Sociohistorical reality must de
al with and overcome the invisible residue in this world of the immobile and fac
e the facts of this world of minutiae. It is here that life is devalued, that t
he inner life and private character lives and has its being and is so very hard
for others to touch, to affect, even if they swim in its waters frequently.
For me, though, writing about everyday reality does not result in painstakingly
detailed, repellently trivial descriptions of my comings and goings in my time i
n history, in these epochs. I am not writing about some normative everyday exis
tence associated with middle-class living. My interpretation of history and of
my life does not result in some whimsical focus on the minutiae of my interests,
hobbies, eating habits and general personality predispositions. Even if I was
able to place that focus and the many minutiae in some colourful belle-lettrist
ic style, this has not been my purpose as a memoirist. I am not writing a TV s
cript. Television is about immediacy and spontaneity of narrative content. Rea
lity TV is the exemplary form of television. The only thing this work shares wi
th reality TV is a degree of narrative content.
My intent is not to transfer dry bones from one graveyard to another, to outlin
e in however interesting a fashion the repetitive facets of my existence in the
world of people, places and things in such a way that everyday life becomes for
readers everyday death. If readers find death and boredom here it will not be b
ecause of my dealing with minutiae and trivia.
So often with that other death, the one in which we relinquish this mortal coil,
a person becomes hidden behind his autobiography or, if there is one, a biograp
hy; they undergo a hardening, a smoothing over, a disappearance behind the offic
ial study of their life. All the fits, starts and wrong turns are folded out of
sight like one of life s many exercises in impression management. Their story b
ecomes the centrepoint and their ragged edges, tedium and the massive quantities
of groping confusion and turmoil get turned into a statue. A life which was al
l over the place often becomes an icon, an image, some invented form hoisted as
an identity, expressed as a preoccupation, arranged as a mask. I have tried, thr
ough an extended analysis of my life and society, to counter this human and natu
ral tendency to simplify life, mine or anyone else s. Different autobiographers
have different preoccupations; Kingsley Amis, I remember, had dental preoccupat
ions. They were partly understandable: his teeth were terrible and the solution
to his problems was a highly unpleasant procedure. I suppose if there is any pr
eoccupation in this work in addition to the centrality of the Bahá í Faith, it i
s my bipolar disorder, although i leave it to readers to decide what my preoccup
ations are and were.
There is what you might call an anarchy of the chiaroscuro of the everyday, a se
cret, interstitial activity to daily life that is beyond the reach of the state
and indeed, any institutional form, an ensemble of scripted, entrenched, human a
ctivities in which individuals seek out departures from banalized norms far from
the spectre of the eternal recurrences of life and their rhythms, forms and pra
ctices. My interpretation does not focus on the most alienating aspects of life
of which there have been many and which I do dwell on occasionally but not ad na
useam; nor do I dwell on what you might call the utopian features and ideas of w
hich there have also been many in my life. The familiar, the everyday, the quot
idian, is not as well known to each of us as we might think; nor is the signific
ance of the utopian and the idealistic which ebb and flow within the daily mesh
of stuff called life. A milieux rich in depth and meaning is created by all t
his mixing. I feel as if I have just touched its surface in my 63 years of livi
ng. I feel the way W.B. Yeats did about his life, namely, that "it is a prepara
tion for something that never happens." I might add with some force: "not here,
William, not here."
The philosopher Hegel noted our unfamiliarity with the familiar. He made his co
mment at the time Shaykh Ahmad was exercising his rhetorical skills in Iran and
Iraq in the 1790s and instilling fear into the hearts of his coreligionists as h
e prepared the way for the Báb. It is this everydayness, Hegel emphasized, whic
h we must recreate everyday or at least find a way to transform our own lives in
our own particular idiosyncratic way in this locus of the quotidian, in the tot
ality of the day s interactions to counter the various rhythms that engender mon
otony and boredom and all the feelings which the word alienation implies.
The desire for things as things, sometimes called the cancer of materialism, is
paramount in our society. That most modern of our current passions, the fierce
appetite for the upholsterer’s and joiner’s and brazier’s work, the chairs and t
ables, the cabinets and presses and the material odds and ends keep so much of o
ur culture going round. This desire has not been so characteristic, so paramoun
t in my personal world. Inanimate objects have not held for me their compelling
expressive power, although there have been some cultural elements of more than
a little importance in my life: the baseball gloves, hockey sticks, books, my co
mputer, my radio, TV, etc. Material goods and one s attitudes to them are diffic
ult to quantify, to measure, as part of one s life, one s attitudes and values.
Of course, this work hasplenty of odds and ends. Indeed, readers will find a ju
mble of odds and ends throughout these five volumes. I won’t make any attempt t
o list them here but will leave that to any reviewers of this work should such p
eople everarise from the ashes or come out of the proverbial woodwork. There are
also odd star-struck asides and there are fun little facts and opinions, or so
I like to think. Some autobiographers who are famous have difficulty telling p
eople anything new. Not being famous, I do not have this problem. I weave and st
itch the body of this work together and leave it to readers to hopefully enjoy t
he garment or leave it on the racks of the shop, as the case may be.
The frequent resistance to expression, the great interpersonal silences, which h
ave also characterized so many of those who have become part of my world in vari
ous degrees have also come to resemble furniture in their mute stolidity. There
were times in my life when those silences were crucial to my peace of mind and
times when I yearned for the verbal. The great drama of life has so many facet
s and this drama can not be reduced to any single duality: silence and solitude
on the one hand and conversation and the verbal on the other. This is but one o
f the many polarities. This whole question of possessions, like the many interp
ersonal questions, has a complexity that really requires more discussion, but I
shall leave it for now in an effort to avoid prolixity.
In Proust "remembrance progresses from small to smallest details, from the small
est to the infinitesimal, while that which it encounters in these microcosms gro
ws ever mightier." In my work, in this memoir, memory progresses from large to
largest detail, from the largest to the infinite, while that which it encounter
s in this macrocosm grows even mightier. And there is some of Proust s style as
well. There is also some of that intellectual liberty which Orwell says compr
ises "the right to report contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is
consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observe
r necessarily suffers."
Many books have drawn on a series of life-story interviews in order to describe
what the authors called a "social construction of reality." This term came fro
m sociology and is used to argue that the personal/private zone is impacted upon
and formed by social relations. To theorise from experience, as I have done in
this memoir, it is difficult to insist on a separation between the public spher
e and life in the more private realm where one thinks and acts, believes and fee
ls. My own approach, my own way of integrating public and private spheres of li
fe in my autobiography, has been to draw on interviews, letters, essays and poem
s, inter alia. In this way I have been able to investigate the material daily r
elations of religion and belief and the dailiness of religious experience, mine
and others in my community.
I have been interested in demonstrating, in particular, not only how my religiou
s experience was lived, but also how it was seen and, more often, in my immediat
e social and political networks, how it was not seen. I have always liked Hanna
h Arendt s view of modern political thought; namely, that it was "the endless ef
fort of human beings to make sense of what they experience, to get their minds r
ound the things that confronted them, the activities they engaged in, and above
all the events that happened among them." Her work is pre-eminently political
thought, not in the sense of being the application of some partisan position to
political material, but in the sense of representing the free play of an individ
ual mind round politics, making sense of political events and placing them withi
n an unfolding understanding of all that comes within the mind’s range.
Personalised embodied narratives, like my memoir, foreground the particularity o
f the everyday and the struggle, as Arendt describes it here, to make sense of
experience and to engage in the particularities of life. More Baha’is began wri
ting their histories, writing of this engagement, in recent decades. One of the
main reasons was that there were more Baha is. At the beginning of the first ep
och in 1944, the first in the series of four that concern me here there were, ar
guably, one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand members. As I write these
words in 2007 there are some six million. There were still not many in the last
twenty or thirty years who did write their stories. There have always been a f
ew throughout Bahá’í history who did.
I have identified a lack of what might be called a literary, an autobiographical
particularism, in Bahá’í literature, a lack I saw my project as addressing to s
ome extent. I am not the first to identify this lack, a lack that was also pres
ent in the heroic age(1844-1921) and then in the first epoch of the Formative Ag
e(1921-1944). Although there has not been a significant increase in memoir and
autobiographical writing by Baha is in the epochs beginning in 1944 when I was b
orn, there has been a greater articulation of the life and community processes b
y which Baha’is came to understand the social forces that made them who they wer
e. There was much more to be done and more that would be done in memoir writin
g in the epochs ahead. Another epoch looms on the horizon in 2021. I will be 77
then and my guess is that another epoch will follow in 2044. If I live that long
this story will be called Pioneering Over Six Epochs.
But whatever was done, whatever memoir and autobiographical writing became part
of the public sphere, I could not help but be reminded of a comment on the impos
sibility of capturing and classifying reality, of containing the inherent myster
y of life: “Everybody’s running around with a butterfly net in their hand trying
to capture smaller or larger aspects of it, but the butterfly keeps getting out
of the net”. Chesterton put this another way: Everyman has forgotten who he
is. We may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant t
han any star. Whatever I write, the result is always "a work in progress."
Sometimes the social sciences call the process of catching oneself--self reflexi
vity. It is a type of analysis and specification of one s religiousness, produ
ced in response or reaction to individual interpretations and personalised writi
ng by Baha’is among other sources. This personalized turn in the writing of the
last quarter-century: life stories and personalized essays, poetry and letters,
etc has become a dominant part of recent literary production, as I say, since t
he 1980s. Some critics see the whole exercise as one of self-absorption. No mat
ter how dull, unimaginative, decent or indecent a person may appear on the surfa
ce, so goes the litany, on the couch "every human life is a poem--or, more exact
ly, every human life not so racked by pain as to be unable to learn a language n
or so immersed in toil as to have no leisure in which to generate a self-descrip
tion." This approach to identity, to self-definition, no matter how private,
fantastic, or idiosyncratic, has a special privilege or status. All methods of
self-creation are equally expressive of human nature, and all are part of the in
nate human desire to poeticize life anew and thus represent the "final victory o
f poetry in its ancient quarrel with philosophy--the final victory of metaphors
of self-creation over metaphors of discovery." . "Poetry and religion," as W.B.
Yeats put this idea in a similar context, "are the same thing." For me this i
s especially true.
In my case, my particular poem, my self-description, I m sure some will say "sel
f-absorption," my apparently innate desire to poeticize my life and, in the proc
ess, renew it, does not feel like a victory of poetry over philosophy or philoso
phy over religion but, rather, I see the exercise as one integrative schema with
in the context of several noetic integrators, that is, several "symbolic or conc
eptual constructions which serve to interpret large fields of reality, to transf
orm experience into attitude and unify factual knowledge and belief."
The proper function of philosophy and religion in this context is, among other f
unctions, to assist in the creation of private self-definitions. Philosophy and
religion can edify us in relation to our state of knowledge of external reality
or our moral responsibilities; they can also assist our various therapeutic fant
asies. Philosophy and religion are both important in our pursuit of private perf
ections, private virtues, private renditions, perceptions, needs and strengths,
as well as social tasks. They provide important techniques for reweaving our v
ocabulary of moral deliberation in order to accommodate new beliefs as they inev
itably change over time.
Historians who study their own nation--especially when it is as large and self-a
bsorbed as America and Australia--tend to be parochial. Such solipsism is unfort
unate since the ability to compare one s country to other societies facilitates
efforts to zero-in on questions of underlying causation in the history of that c
ountry. This same problem arises for the memoirist and autobiographer with thei
r inevitably narrow compass and their unwillingness or inability to maintain cri
tical distance. One of the new schools of history, the new historicists, tries
to disrupt the typical notion of history as usual and its practice. They focus
on undisciplined anecdotes because they want to interrupt the Big Stories, the
meganarratives. These historians sought the very thing that made anecdotes ins
ignificant ciphers to many historians. They sought a vehement and cryptic parti
cularity that would make one pause or even stumble on the threshold of history.
And that is what I seek again and again here in this work: the anecdote, the ci
pher, the event of the microcosm, the particular. Of course, I don t end there.
I move to the macro-world again and again. Some readers will enjoy this and oth
ers, I m sure, you tear their hair out and give up reading in desperation, indif
ference and lack of interest. To each their own.
An important part of this process of memoir creation is dialogue, what you might
call the reply of others. This reply may never come in my time, but I think it
will come more and more as the decades pass. The significance of the personal
process of self-naming, self-definition, self-articulation, is not new. But, it
seems to me that for Baha is what I am involved with here in this memoir, this
coming to consciousness, this identity construction, is not the same as transfor
ming it. Perhaps it is a precursor to, or an activity that is coextensive with,
transformation. Whatever transformation has taken place in my life it has been
slow and unobtrusive and it is my guess that a reply of any significance to my
work will be in the same vein. To place this question of transformation in the
widest context I ll quote what is perhaps political philosopher Michael Oakeshot
t’s most brilliant insight namely that “the practical world can never be wholly
transformed” – that human existence is transitory, fleeting, a moment in eternit
y where man is imprisoned within the practical and its on-going demands." But
we have come a long way since Neanderthal. Transformation is a relative term. T
his is not an issue I want to pursue here, perhaps at a later date.
Since the 1980s there has been an anxiety and sense of indignity for Baha’is spe
aking on behalf of their co-religionists in Iran. But there has been little pub
lic anxiety about Bahá’í community life in any other areas of our wider society.
The characterisation of my Bahá’í identity draws on the notion of a performing
and multiple subject. "I plunge back into the I ", one could say, "in order t
o examine the condition of its making." But the process has little public signi
ficance--in the macroworld. The carving out of an identity is something I have
enacted both in my poetry, in the many essays I have published over the past thi
rty years, in my letters, my notebooks and this memoir. The exercise has been l
argely a private one; the macroworld in which it took place is not one to accord
me any celebrity status and understandably so. There are elements of fragility
and fixity in this carving of identity which make the carving process a lifelon
g one and an intricate and complex one--always incomplete. However incomplete on
e can never desist in the carving. If the wider world takes little interest in
the Baha is of Iran it is not surprising that this same public takes little inte
rest in this obscure memoir which at this date exists only in part on the intern
et.
The basis for morality lies not so much in self-identity as it does in the expos
ure to others; not self-recursion, but constitutive incompleteness; not a final
subjective narrative, but the continual desire and attempt to not close down the
task of narrative itself. This is a complex idea for morality is complex and
I don t want to expatiate on the subject too much. The very emergence of ethics
is in the “willingness to acknowledge the limits of acknowledgment itself.” Hum
ility is in this perspective the very cornerstone of a new sense of ethics and c
onstant critique of self constitutes the walls that are built upon it. We consta
ntly have to renegotiate and repeat. We define and then we see; we make our assu
mptions and they determine so much of our story. Recognition in daily life itse
lf presupposes structures in our heads that cover over the singularity of the ot
her we are trying to “see.”
The ‘I’ cannot give a final or adequate account of itself because it cannot retu
rn to the scene of address by which it was and is inaugurated. I experience a c
ertain foreignness to myself and this foreignness is, paradoxically, an importan
t source of my ethical connection with others. My investigation, my memoir, tak
es up many important questions which I address to myself and others in this work
: how did I become a Baha’i? and how was my life experience affected by my be
liefs and commitments? These are but two of the questions. This project of e
xamining the conditions of the making of myself, my identity, takes the form of
a conversation with itself. Due to the complexity of the issue, I shall drop it
here and leave it to readers to follow up in the burgeoning literature now avai
lable on the subject.
Human reason considers all sorts of questions in the course of its journey throu
gh life; indeed, these questions impose themselves on our minds with a restless
inevitability which the mind is unable to resist unless fatigue, the passions an
d everyday needs and demands interfere. These questions present themselves to o
ur nature and they seek an answer. For many of the questions, though, there are
no words, no answers, at best only subtle intimations. The heart does not unde
rstand and they transcend every faculty of the mind.
My memoir deploys an intimate, personal tone; it is alternately dispassionate an
d passionate, peaceful and troubled, certain and doubtful. It shores up fragme
nts of pleasure and joy, fulfilment and enlightenment, victory and success again
st the often intolerable frustrations, failures and the only too familiar and fu
tile findings that are the inevitabilities for us all as we travel along the roa
d. I use the first-person narrative which has a directness and immediacy that t
ransports my readers(or such is my hope) into the private realm of the immediate
social relations of what some writers call the urban quotidian. Its main pro
ject takes as its subject the psycho-emotional work of being a Bahá’í. I stage,
I describe, the initial coming-to-consciousness of my life, my difference, that
is my being a Baha’i, in a scene of private and public space—in the Bahá’í comm
unity of Burlington Ontario in the 1950s and I take the story into my old age.
And space is more than incidental in this memoir. Dewey puts it well in his expl
oration of space and how it connects with our future interactions helping to mak
e them meaningful.
For the purposes of anaesthetic analysis, perhaps the fundamental element of his
account of space is place, or particular charged spaces. Dewey explains how “pl
aces, despite physical limitation and narrow localization, are charged with accu
mulations of long-gathering energy.” Lived space is not encountered as a homoge
neous “container” in which to move about as if it were nothing but a life-size m
ap, but as a living cite with locales of personality. Places are experienced as
qualitative—as fearful, depressing, nostalgic, alienating, and lonely—since they
are invested with accumulated meanings. Dewey argues that places are experience
d through what we might call, from a distance, emotional transference or project
ion. Places are often encountered as having a temperament of their own, sometime
s one so terrible that all one can do is flee. Activity done as if from a check
list threatens to anaesthetise experience. So Dewey would say and this is partly
true and the same time there is much of life that is repetitive, check-list act
ivity, habit based that quietens down the enriched world of the intellectually a
esthetic. It provides a balance, an anaesthetic. My footsteps follow what is out
side my eyes alternating with what is within, buried, partially erased.
Bertrand Russell s three volume autobiography, published in the years 1967 to 19
70, years that were at the start of the letter writing section of this memoir, h
as in its prologue words that lend credence to its characterization as an epic.
These words are: "Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have govern
ed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity
for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hi
ther and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to
the very verge of despair." So much of the despair and the pity was for my ow
n dear self and my health, my relationships and an assortment of life s problems
. Much of it was in the context of my Bahá’í experience. The older I got, and
certainly by the time I was writing the later editions of this work in my mid-si
xties, the more I realised how deeply everything that I am, everything I believe
d myself to be, was bound up with whom and what I loved.
In writing this work I faced the great problem of autobiography in general and w
hich Stephen Spender said is the necessity to create that true tension between t
he inner and the outer, subjective and objective worlds. Some autobiographers
employ strategies of evasion or, conversely, they sensationalize or titillate th
eir readers. I must admit to some degree of the former, not wanting to confess
all my sins of omission and commission, but I deny any pretensions to the latter
. I have locked away in my journal the description of some of my sins and leave
to a future age the exploration of them should it be the desire of that age. T
he first gay autobiography was composed between 1889 and 1893, but was not publi
shed until 1984. There was not the reticence to describe the details of the in
timate relationships that this memoirist experienced because he knew publication
would be long after his death.
In the case of other autobiographers, like Edward Carpenter, who published his s
tory in his own lifetime, that reticence is writ large. A necessary circumspec
tion about his sexual proclivities resulted in his work bordering on the imperso
nal, in a certain absent presence to the sexual realities of his life. In my c
ase I do not need to write a coming-out, but I do need to write an assessment of
my life. Like Wilde s De Profundis my memoir is an attempt to discover and exh
ibit an authentic self. I present many facts about me, different facts than oth
er writers. My facts should not be seen as apologia or even as a plea for under
standing. Whatever facts I have revealed about my life, it seems to me, in retro
spect, that I have revealed them as part of my life s essentials not as sensatio
nal facets of the daily round. They are all, in one way or another, realistic de
pictions of my experience and aspects of my life and personality that I would li
ke to think predispose readers in favour of a particular interpretation of my li
fe and its values. I suppose you could call this exercise a gentle apologia for
I do not desire to exaggerate my sufferings or my talents. I would like to be s
een as a spokesman for sober discretion in an age of excess. This account is no
t simply a bald factual statement nor is it one freighted with excessive moral o
vertones. The complex springs of my action underneath which lie a swarming mas
s of causes and which make me sensitive to their minute, their subtle and elusiv
e causality and which impel my capricious passions often result in my frustratio
n at grasping the whys and wherefores of my experience.
I look back at the road I have travelled and am confronted again and again with
the context of toil in which performance struggles after ideal, and only occasio
nally attains, although it must be said—as I gaze back over nearly seven decades
of living—I often feel I have achieved far more than I initially anticipated in
my adolescent and early adult life.
There is an immensity and wonder in our age and I am simply unable to capture it
in words. I am able to chart the consequences of my action but am far from bei
ng able to plumb the depths of my motivation, always hidden beneath the veiling
of utterance. I feel I am unable to explain, although I can chart, my own life
, how much more is this true of the lives of others. I have found that reason a
nd virtue have pursued a steady and even a uniform course in my life, but the ex
travagant wanderings of vice and folly seem to grow with the years in ways which
only those closest to me can ever see. Since there are few who ever get close
there are few who are ever aware of either my vice or my folly.
There was an epic quality to my work, a quality I have discussed above. There we
re governing passions in my life as well. I could characterize them as: knowing,
loving and doing. This autobiography is, in a way, a testimony to this trilogy.
There was sufficient passion, deriving from these three forces, to drive a lif
etime of engagement in relationships, in issues and in the mundane. There was
also sufficient detachment to allow me to modify my views and change my position
s; without an element of intellectual flexibility I would have been in trouble i
n these changing times.
Russell describes the stages "in the slow abandonment of many of the beliefs tha
t had come to him in his moment of conversion in 1901" before he was thirty. Th
e process, he says, was as much the result of private experience as of world eve
nts; but the important point is that the change was a result of conscious reflec
tion on experience–an experimental process that involved both principled engagem
ent in the world and the possibility of modifying principles on the basis of exp
erience. The beliefs I had acquired in my teens and twenties were, for the mos
t part, never abandoned, but they certainly experienced an icy chastening, a dee
per understanding, a finer tuning, so much so that in many ways they seemed like
different beliefs. We all experience life differently and someone s autobiogr
aphy offers opportunities to readers to help define their own experience. I hop
e this is the case here. The autobiographies of some artistic and not-so-artis
tic people, like John Ruskin for example, are almost useless as a record of thei
r public and professional career. Their memoirs are stories of their intellect
ual journey not their external and personal narrative in the world of the everyd
ay.
I d like to make a few remarks about how we experience memoirs, autobiographies
and biographies in recent decades, at least the decades since I became a Bahá’í
in the late 1950s. Until the late 1950s, as I say about the time I became a Bahá
’í, films were based on a model of history which insisted that change occurred n
ot because inequalities or unresolved social or economic unrest created tensions
, but rather because uniquely gifted individuals, distributed through our histor
y and certain strata of our population, were able to see into the future and giv
e us innovative and improved ways to live. This view had and has some truth. T
he end of the 1950s marked the end of Hollywood’s time as the unchallenged purve
yor of public history and this view of history in particular.
One of the big screen’s most powerful functions in its first decades was its cul
tivation of people’s notions of history. Soon after the excitement of early cont
act and diffusion in the fifties and sixties, television inspired nothing so muc
h as a kind of docile—and dull—familiarity. This was true in Canada by the same
late fifties and, in Australia, by the late sixties and increasingly as the deca
des advanced. All, of course was not docile, like so many things, the story, th
e role, has many sides, too many to analyse here.
Rather than seeing history from afar and with a certain awe as we did on the big
screen until, say, the early 1950s, TV shows offered us a world of lessons by s
eeming to talk at the viewer, by making the viewer feel personally connected to
history in an intimate and startlingly casual way. “You are there,” was the tone
and texture of the new wave. Unlike much of Hollywood’s escapist fare, TV also
had shows which seemed designed to let spectators revel in the lowest or most d
eviant forms of human behaviour and the quantity of that lowest denominator incr
eased as the new millennium approached and was passed.
Real-life mini-dramas did not simply lay the groundwork for tabloid shows of lat
er years; in their own time they cultivated a different set of values in the aud
ience, and shaped an alternative template for depicting historical figures. They
prepared us for a world of what might be called pathography and this pathograph
y would characterize all biographical musings in a post-Watergate world, that is
the world after the mid-seventies. In an era when watching did not mean going
out to a theatre as it had meant to my mother and father before I was born, a wo
rld of entertainment which was designed more like a temple or shrine, this world
was transformed into a casual place for slouching on the couch like a common ve
getable, potato I believe has become the parlance, watching a small box plunked
down in a home where you “received” your history amidst the dull fare and pressi
ng cares of real life which went on around the living room screen. The grandiosi
ty and magnitude of cinematic fame and biography came to seem somewhat intimidat
ing, even grating or foolish? The aesthetic of TV was the casual not the grandio
se, the easy-going not the formal.
Until the time of my late teens, the world of biography in cinema, biopics as th
ey were and are called, presented history’s causes as clearly explainable and ju
st as clearly shown. Those in power, and those who possessed authority, accepted
change, in the good part of the world at least, because clearly shown decisions
to stay put or innovate were arrived at through democratic consensus, fuelled b
y the common good. Ultimately, Hollywood’s version of history showed that no ch
oice was made without the support of the ultimate arbiter: the great common sens
e of “the people.” Brokered through open and democratic debate, these leaders a
nd their innovations and achievements were thus “shown” to have evolved towards
the natural shapes and values for their times. Most importantly, these films sug
gested that change occurred through the agency of individual intervention, throu
gh strong leaders. The rest of us, who were not on the same level with these exa
lted beings but who knew them as wives, brothers, and neighbours, could only adm
ire or oppose them, follow their commands, be their audience and community. I do
n t want to go into too much detail and analysis here for there are many books t
hat serve that purpose, but I will say one or two more things.
If debates about history’s truth status are never resolved; if contemporary writ
ers are mired in a diversity of views and a sea of relativism, Hollywood’s strat
egic claim—that their biopics “possess” the truth—and its deployment in a variet
y of discourses about both film and biography, is difficult to accept at the lea
st. Surveys of people s experience of studying history in school and in life te
ll us that they find it “dull and irrelevant.” Hollywood is guilty of contribut
ing its own share of dullness and irrelevancy to our national pool; there are ar
eas where historians fail, but intrepid Hollywood excels. Hollywood knows how t
o make people “feel connected and stay connected.” It is all part of the vast ca
rnival which makes up American commercial amusement. The “true” story of a fig
ure we have chosen to celebrate and condemn, has played and continues to play a
significant part in determining how our culture constructs its notions of fame,
and what it takes to be a celebrated figure. Thus the whole environment in which
entertainment is made and experienced has changed since the time I became a Bah
á’í in 1959. In the same way, the world in which fame was figured has changed a
s much as the capacities we have to store and retrieve our thoughts about this c
hange. Literary and artistic reputations change like the wind and exist within s
uch a myriad mosaic of coteries that it seems just about pointless to be concern
ed about how influential one s work is, the extent of one s popularity, the degr
ee of one s literary merits, the stridency or enthusiasm of one s critics, one s
genius or stupidity, one s intelligence and wisdom or the sterility and tedium
of one s writing.
Cinema attendance began to decline in the 1940s and with the arrival of TV the d
ecline became serious. Cinema had deliberate connections to codes of royalty an
d rites of religious pageantry and worship; the movie palaces or cathedrals gave
way in the 1950s and 1960s to a much less grand, though equally ambitious struc
ture, the suburban home, that domus which sheltered the frame of television. And
that medium’s take on what constituted “a great life” more closely reflected TV
’s conditions than the idea of greatness constructed by the classical cinema.
It is in this media milieux of biography and autobiography that I came to write
my own work and this milieux has many important implications for what I am doin
g and trying to do. I have alluded to these implications many times throughout t
his work and it is not my purpose here to review them, outline them or expatiate
on them at great length. Suffice it to say that in this burgeoning world of pr
int and electronic media my own several volumes will be but a dot on the literar
y landscape and my remarks on the media but an atom in the myriad molecules of l
ife.
Russell says, in discussing his relationship with his first wife, Alys Smith: "I
went out bicycling one afternoon, and suddenly, as I was riding along a country
road, I realised that I no longer loved Alys." As Schroeder points out in his
review of Russell s work, Russell often had abrupt insights, theoretical and pra
ctical, and they were often "followed by a long period of struggle, often punctu
ated by additional abrupt insights." He had married at 22 and the marriage beg
an to fall apart before he was thirty. I m not sure if I ever fell out of love
with my first wife, but I tired as did she, of arguing, of differences, of many
things. And my marriage, too, fell apart before I was thirty. There was that exp
erience of abruptness, that Russell had, and a long struggle. I think with my s
econd wife there was more of a gradual deepening of the relationship with the ye
ars, after an initial, an intense, sexual enthusiasm. Perhaps some future biogr
apher can give some liberating attention to sexual-emotional themes, attention t
hat I do not give them in this work. My sexual life, my libidinal urges and cons
equent experience, my erotic desires and concupiscible appetites and passions ha
ve not yet had the sort of intelligent analysis I often feel I should give them—
and that our age seems to demand. There is no reason to exempt myself from inq
uiry of this kind, but exempt it I have.
I’d like to say a few more things about my second wife, Chris Price, before pass
ing on to other topics. Compared with her personality I could safely say that I
was less consistent, less reliable, less trustworthy, although in my latter year
s, my years after retirement at 55, my habits were quite uniform and predictable
and Chris came to know those areas in which she could trust me and those where
she could not. If I had been more difficult to pin down, if I had been more spo
ntaneous and impulsive in the first 25 years of my marriage(1975-2000) this tend
ency was significantly less so as I approached the age of sixty-five in the ear
ly years of the new millennium. The comments of my wife’s friends as well as my
own over the years show that we both elicited startlingly varied opinions about
our respective personalities. After Chris and I moved back to Tasmania in 1999,
Chris had ten years of a new and complex set of relationships with her family:
her brother and sister, Steven Sheldrick and Barbara Best; her children, Vivienn
e and Anglea and her grandchildren Tobias and Kelsey. I don’t want to expatiate
on all of these relationships. Angela had always been difficult for Chris as Ch
ris had been difficult for Angela. Vivienne provided closeness as did Daniel. P
erhaps a future edition will see a greated analysis of a family milieux which fr
om 1999 to 2009, as I write this edition, provided the major topic of conversati
on as Chris wrestled with her thoughts, her feelings, her past and her present r
elationships with family.
I was not, at least I tried not to be, oblivious to my wife’s mood and health, h
er disabling headaches, her several kinds of aches and pains and her low spirits
and irritability; I made every effort not to upset her in any way and, in the p
rocess, I often appeared overly solicitous and overly concerned to her. I did n
ot conceal my own indispositions from her, for it seemed to me they had a bondin
g role. On the other hand I always tried to be cheerful and agreeable in the f
ew hours of the day that I spent in her company for I felt cheerful and agreeabl
e. This was not so much of an effort as a natural disposition especially thanks
to my medications after 2001.
Different people have different preoccupations. The historian Carlyle and his wi
fe Jane were endlessly concerned with digestion and bowel action. My wife had en
dless concerns for her health for she was ill off-and-on from the time we first
met in 1974 until the day I am writing these words. We both had features, degre
es, of the obsessional personality: tidiness, conscientiousness, carefulness wit
h money, all features of this type of personality.
My wife was outgoing, sociable, able to charm both sexes with her conversation a
nd wit, her genuineness, sincerity and kindness. Some thought she was too clever
by half, and self-consciously brilliant, for she was indeed an intelligent woma
n. Others were deterred by the persistence of her views. There were no more wh
o seemed to complain about her style, her modus vivendi, than there were who com
plained about mine. Over the first 30 years of our marriage we each seemed to c
op our share of criticism from others. The vast majority of those in our life w
ere instantly or not-so-instantly won over by her or my positve personalities, a
lthough after 1999 Chris had personal problems with people, especially with her
family.
She could be seen as flirtatious with men if the husband was super-sensitive—as
her first husband was before she divorced in 1975. I never found her to be so a
nd this quality was of no concern to me as it seemed to have been to her first h
usband. It always seemed to me that she had many admirers, before and after mar
riage, although this fact never made her vain. Her paintings, her pottery, her g
arden, her interior design, indeed, her many artistic and personal interests, ta
lents and faculties show her as quite a capable person even if she had trouble s
eeing her own talents. I always found her to be beautiful, indeed it was a majo
r reason I married her. As she approached the age of sixty she felt her beauty d
ecline and it was of concern to her, although not to me.
She wrote quickly and she wrote well, but not often. She had, as they say, too m
any irons in the fire to write often and she preferred the telephone as a means
of communication to writing. She always had more of a respect for punctuation
and spelling than I had. Indeed, she had more of a respect for many things in l
ife than I, for I was always a “this will do” person. Almost always, even in di
fficult times, she was able to rise to the occasion, to find the energy and enth
usiasm to converse and get on with life. This was a quality of stoicism I did n
ot possess. It was one I admired for I did not possess it. I was much more of
a fair-weather creature and difficult times wore me down quickly.
She was adept at taking the smallest domestic incident and situation and making
it into something that required the fullest attention to detail. In this way th
e house was always an ordered environment which, with the years, I came to appre
ciate as an extension of my own ordered place in my study. In these many aspect
s of domestic life we often clashed due to our differing and respective attitude
s to detail, quality, comprehensiveness and thoroughness. But the clashes decre
ased in quantity and intensity with the years particularly as we moved into the
middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) and, in time, it was my expectation
, old age(80++), if we lasted that long. There was a spark that came from our
differing opinions and this spark helped maintain a degree of vitality and spont
aneity in our interaction.
My dear wife, for she was dear and more dear with the years, spoke about me ofte
n in a kindly but humorous, some might say, mocking, tone. For the most part it
fitted into my own style of self-mockery. Her attitude to me was that I was a g
ood, a kind, man, perhaps someone who must be indulged, but unquestionably someo
ne who was somewhat foolish in the practical minutiae of life. In this as in oth
er comments about people her wit was not malicious but, I would say, it was simp
ly honest. As the years passed through middle adulthood(40-60) sometimes each
of us went too far and arguments flew. By the age of 60 the flying was about on
ce a year. In company in later life I think I became a little, if not tediously
, long-winded in recounting my stories. Her role, an important one, was to let
me know my human deficiencies and weakness.
Of her high intelligence there is no doubt, and she was well-educated, but her e
ducation was that of an autodidact and her-reading to an infinitely higher stand
ard than most women of her time. In certain areas her knowledge and reading, ad
ded to by documentary television programs, was particularly high. This was the
case in the medical sciences and the several physical and biological disciplines
. Her letters lay bare a great literary talent, yet despite my occasional urgin
g she wrote little. We each urged the other in many directions from day to day a
nd year to year and exerted a beneficial influence on each other. Not all urgin
gs, of course, were successful for we were each our own person, with our own per
sistent and personal directions, our unique proclivities and, it seemed, unchang
ing propensities.
As I moved into my fifties I had a heightened awareness, and it also existed in
the Bahá’í community, regarding the unresolved issues of household tasks and cho
res that prevented women from participating more in the life of the community.
What I should do to promote the equality of men and women on the homefront was d
iscussed many times beginning in the 1990s. Focusing on understanding my wife s
burden of household chores came to the fore more times than I like to admit in d
iscussions with my wife, especially after I retired in 1999 at the age of 55.
It was obvious to me that there was not a uniform orientation towards the equali
ty of women and men in the wider Bahá’í community. The orientations seemed mainl
y to support the status quo both elsewhere and in my own home. Such orientation
s emphasized the unity in the family and suggested that the implementation of eq
uality might threaten that unity. The current division of tasks between men and
women and between my wife and I was generally defended because it was assumed t
hat either sex found the tasks “enjoyable” or “interesting" or, in the case of m
y wife and I, I assumed that status quo was causing no problem. How wrong I was
. These orientations mentioned above involved no fundamental change from the b
roader values in society.
There was, though, a second group of orientations which saw a necessary shift in
the way women and men carried out their tasks and responsibilities. In this s
econd group equality was seen as something that could be achieved merely by a se
ries of “cross-over” tasks, that is, men doing what women had traditionally done
and women doing what men had been accustomed to doing.
Implementing the equality of women and men in the intimate areas of sexuality, “
dating,” and getting to know someone from the opposite sex for the purpose of ma
rriage was, for me, as rarely discussed in the 1960s as it was at the turn of th
e millennium when only sexuality was the issue. I needed more guidance when I wa
s a youth and as an adult I had to figure these issues out myself with the guida
nce of the Writings and the input from the dialogue in society. In my late teen
s and early twenties the integration of my personal or religious values and pers
onal action was a particularly acute problem. There were acute periods, too, i
n my married life, but as an international pioneer I was generally on my own wit
h my wife. The story of our seemingly endless discussions of sex in our relatio
nship would lead to prolixity if I outlined them and described them in detail he
re. By the 1990s and into the new millennium cooking and cleaning had replaced s
ex as my source of anxiety and took top billing on the interpersonal agenda. Lo
oking back to the start of my pioneering life in 1962 at the age of 18, I think
I learned to cook one different meal every 15 years: spagetti(1962-1977), chilli
-con carni(1977-1992) and meat balls in tomato soup(1992-2007). If one adds the
can goods, the little salads, the hot dogs and hamburgs, the packet-meals and t
he take-aways, the repertoire becomes more impressive. As I head into the last m
onths of the third year of late adulthood it is clear that my cooking competenci
es would get a bare pass at best, in spite of the plethora of cooking programs i
n the media and the general emphasis given to cooking and eating in our society.

There is and was in my life what one might call a terra incognita, an unknown te
rritory, marked by ambivalence, caution and downright discomfort among many othe
r emotions, thoughts and actions. This territory of one of discomfort among oth
er emotions; it was difficult to dig out. But, on the other hand I did not bury
it in aesthetic textures, in fear and shame, in guilt and outright dishonesty.
Novelists and journalists are generally seen as professional contorters, consort
ers, anything for a good story---so goes some of the critique. I am neither jou
rnalist nor novelist; perhaps readers can legitimately hope for an honest record
of a life here.
Had I been writing in and about my darker moments I could have buried the discom
fort elements of my terra incognita. I was deprived in some ways, as my genera
tion was, of the familiar landmarks that defined the status of women and men. T
he issue exercised a great deal of my thought and much of my time in discussion—
in classrooms and in lounge-rooms over these four epochs. Many related things a
lso became paramount in my heart and mind: equality, the family, Bahá’í consulta
tion and my own virtue, among others. Virtually no other topics received as muc
h attention as these four, although in the process of discussion one comes to ta
lk about many topics and one can not ignore teaching, work, health and money--al
l of which are hard to separate from that top four. In the intimate world of fa
milial relations, I often felt and often expressed the need, the desire, to crea
te shifts in terms of what I did around the house and what interest I took in my
children, step-children and step-grandchildren.
This was largely in response to what my wife expected me to do and the realizati
on that the load of chores performed by my wife could be significantly reduced b
y a further involvement on my part in the life of the family, either by my parti
cipating more fully in carrying out household chores or by becoming more involve
d with the lives of my children. Shifts in traditional patterns of doing things
, the way they had been done for years, of course, produced unease. Many things
produced unease but medications in the years of the new millennium eased the pai
n and anxiety of life.
The equality of men and women can often be seen as a numerical or statistical me
asure, such as the proportion of men and women on a spiritual assembly. This at
tempt eventually gives way to the realization that equality is more than numeric
al representation. What that “deeper” level of equality means tends to generate
some confusion. Discovering habits that impeded the progress of women was a tro
ublesome topic. I eventually had no trouble discussing what those habits actual
ly were, although I did have trouble making the changes.
Contrary to what we know about other groups, the equality of men and women in th
e Bahá’í community is near to the heart. It does not involve remote policy chang
es, issues of language or politics. Therefore, such near-to-the-heart issues as
the equality of men and women might be more challenging to the Bahá’ís than any
cursory attempts in the wider society to change social directions through legisl
ation or politics.
In the wider society, right back to the start of my pioneering life in 1962, the
re had been major concerns about the family. David Cooper, for example, had ins
isted in his book The Death of the Family that human and especially women s oppr
ession was grounded in the family. It is the family which "obscurely filters ou
t most of our experience and then deprives our acts of any genuine and generous
spontaneity." (1962, p.8). Cooper s central argument was that the family was cru
cial to the hegemony of any system. The family acts as an ideological condition
ing device and provides "a highly controllable paradigmatic form for every socia
l institution."(1962, pp.5-6). The year I left Canada and moved to Australia Coo
per s book was published in the U.K., the same year that Kate Millett published
Sexual Politics and identified the family as "a force frustrating revolutionary
change."(1971, p.158) In 1963 Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique whic
h discussed the malaise of women in the home a "problem that has no name."(1963,
p.27) It should also be mentioned in this connection that Marx in the 19th cen
tury and Plato 2500 years ago proposed a society that did away with the family.
The institution of the family has proved a conundrum to social philosophers for
some time.

Reading Russell s work made me realize how little I have commented on significan
t relationships outside my family. Santayana, T.S. Eliot, A.N. Whitehead and D.
H. Lawrence, among other famous people, come in for some critical scrutiny in h
is three volume work. Perhaps, at a later date, I may return to my work and fil
l in the gaps of the significant others who influenced my life. "In old age," wr
ote Russell "one becomes more aware of what has, and what has not, been achieved
. What one can further do becomes a smaller proportion of what has already been
done, and this makes personal life less feverish." Perhaps in some of these less
feverish moments I may have cause to reflect on many things that I have left ou
t of this work. Perhaps, too, I can translate many of my quite ordinary everyd
ay experiences over these four epochs, see them in the light of understanding an
d transform them into moments of startling beauty, insight and wisdom. Now woul
dn t that be grand!
The affective realm of everyday life informs my understanding, my experience, o
f being a Baha’i. The everyday is incorporated into the project of my autobiogr
aphy by my drawing on numerous theorists and my exploration of the narrative sty
les of various autobiographical modes and the personalised essays that go with t
hem. The investigations of experience that took place in the social sciences th
roughout the last quarter-century, since the 1980s, are part of a wider interest
in the everyday which developed in sociology, history, anthropology and philoso
phy from the 1950s onwards--from virtually the time that the story behind my own
autobiography began, associated as it has been with my Bahá’í experience. Thi
s wider interest of the social sciences, focusing as it did on ordinary people a
s distinct from and in relation to the grand narratives of the nation and civili
zation, industrialism and modernity, religion and psychology has also been calle
d the politics of the everyday . I call it the politics of my everyday.
This latter phrase refers to the power relations of everyday transactions—in the
home, the workplace and other locations. The interaffective and intercorporeal
detail of these micropolitical transactions remains largely unremarked and inv
isible in official discourses. It is remarked upon in this work as it is remar
ked upon in society increasingly and I shall say just a little more on this cruc
ial subject here.
The quotidian is the sphere of embodied practices of habituation and interperson
al relations; it is also the mode in which is enacted the primary social relatio
nship with the stranger. Most of those we meet in life are, in fact, strangers.
They get little direct coverage here except in a philosophical sense. The eve
ryday has historically been defined in negative terms, that is, according to wha
t it is not. It has been distinguished, for example, from the epic and monument
alising narratives of history and science, from the rational and cognitive proce
sses of philosophy; from the putative rigours of scholarship; from the formality
and officialdom of institutions; from the aura of the sacred, the exotic and th
e uncanny. Historically there has always been a hierarchical opposition between
the everyday and the official discourses of public life. However, rather than b
eing oppositional to these categories, the everyday has a determinate and supple
mentary relation to them, at least in this work.
The everyday is not essentially different from these categories I have referred
to above. Rather, it embodies the familiarisation and routinisation--as well as
the effect--of these categories. In other words, rather than being an exclusi
ve realm the everyday paradoxically both includes and excludes each of the many
macro-categories. It is from the everyday that the ideas, ratiocination and ab
stract concepts constitutive, for example, of philosophy and science emerge; con
versely, we can only define the everyday through the specialised discourses of s
cience, philosophy etc. The everyday, moreover, is not reducible to simply pure
or raw data from which these discourses are produced.
The everyday underlines, shapes and informs the modes of rationality which are s
aid to transcend it. Formal and official discourses and institutions, in turn,
inform and shape everyday life. In my case these words and organizations, these
frameworks and institutions were: the family, a host of work places, the wider i
nstitutions of my society and, of course, the Bahá’í Faith.
The conventional playing out of the relationship between these two levels which,
historically, have been hierarchised, gendered and contestatory contains, in m
y memoir, a new understanding of everyday life as a transformational zone in whi
ch heterogeneous forms of knowing and doing intersect. Rather than being mutual
ly exclusive, these heterogeneous zones inform each other. Rather than being se
en as redundant and trivial, insignificant and empty or rich and meaningful, as
the case may be, everyday life can be thought of as a field in which the macrow
orld, such as that found in official, national and international domains, becom
es a world, tangential and translated in an ongoing sense into the human and the
everyday.
Studies of the everyday across several disciplines, especially the several socia
l sciences, have drawn on life stories. Scholarly writing on the Bahá’í communit
y, writing which variously deploys life story, autobiography, personalised narra
tives and interviews, can be seen as part of this continuum. If everyday life c
an be seen as the realm of the reproduction of the person, personalised experien
ce in the Bahá’í community related through writing does the work of scrutinizing
the reproduction of this experience at the microsocial level.
If everyday life can be understood as a transformational realm characterised by
the intersection of heterogeneous knowledge, then the personalised, critical exp
erience of a Bahá’í conveyed in writing can be seen as a point of intersection b
etween everyday practices of the self, on one hand, and the discursive reproduct
ion of specialised knowledge, on the other.
Memory is a key issue in self-creation. Memory is in some ways just the name we
give to one s relation to oneself, or the affect on self by self. If the every
day is the sphere of the habitual, then memory has a definitive role in the cycl
ical practices of quotidian realities. The everyday could be defined as the expe
rience of modernity in the private sphere and, as such, a new mode of duration.
The everyday is the locus of primary social relationships with its occasional h
eightened drama, its occasional taking things to histrionic extremes and a squee
zing out of tears. If everyday life seems melodramatically inclined, it is perha
ps due to the myth of nations like Australia and Canada being nations in adolesc
ence, a period characterized by melodrama.
My concern in this add-on epilogue is to situate the personal turn in recent mem
oir writing and its related theory within its discursive, cultural and literary
contexts and to speculate about the ethical work it aims to effect. My interest
lies in the dialogue and exchange between the traditions of literary and schola
rly production and in the rhetorical transformations of the scholarly narrative
modes of writing by Baha is about many topics. I try to resist, as far as I can
, the claim that this personal or self-reflexive turn in critical writing detrac
ts from the overall literature in either the social sciences in general or the B
ahá’í Faith in particular. I have explored the idea that the discursive shift i
n the textualities of Bahá’í writing reorients both the subject and object in th
e wider, the scholarly enterprise. I apologize to readers for what I know to be
my abstract and complex way of discussing these topics. Perhaps at a future tim
e I may simplify the content.
My purpose in discussing the critical, autobiographical, writing of Baha is is,
therefore, to identify and situate this writing within a specific historical mom
ent. Identities are learned at a certain historical moment and Bahá’í identitie
s, like those of everyone else, emerge within specific contexts. Mine is found h
ere and I like to think I provide some of the intellectual and literary tools to
help others locate their identity as well. "Nothing contributes so much to tra
nquilizing the mind, as the poet Mary Shelley once said, "as a steady purpose, a
point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." This entire exercise ha
s been highly purposive and I must admit to a tranquillizing spirit through most
of my writing of this work. Perhaps, as Shelley suggests, this is due to the fi
xing of my intellectual eye.
Autobiographical and personalized modes of Baha i writing often investigate what
, after Blanchot, one could call the several insufficiencies of our lives. These
modes of writing tend to be critical of the humanist notion of a self-identical
subject which exists independent of others. They scrutinise instead the depend
ency of the self on others. We have to be on our guard lest we live on a high-oc
tane view of ourselves, of yesterday and of history.
We ve been led to believe, for example, that the Wild West was dominated by guns
lingers who left a trail of bodies in their wake. In truth, Billy the Kid and Je
sse James were anomalies. Cowboys were peaceful chaps and few pioneers had guns.
Americans want to believe otherwise because they want the past to be exciting.
The gun-toting cowboy also fits in well with America s image of itself and thus
reinforces that image: he s an independent, self-willed type who took fate by th
e scruff of the neck and carved out a life for himself on the rough frontier. It
is unsettling to believe that the West was settled by bankers, accountants, lan
d speculators and lawyers who spent more time behind a desk than astride a horse
. The diffident, those who lacked confidence and others who had serious psycholo
gical illnesses are not part of our image of the settlers of the West. In a mor
e practical sense, the belief that the frontier was rough leads naturally to an
assumption that life remains rough today and that, in order to survive, cowboy q
ualities remain essential. America s obsession with guns and the belief that the
y are essential to survival is a direct manifestation of this cowboy myth or so
runs one line of argument.
The same process is also at work in so many walks of life. The popular taste in
historical documentaries for the unusual, the exciting or the bizarre results i
n a perception of history as one characterised by catastrophe, or, at the very l
east, by constant dramatic change; the perception and definition of politics bas
ed on the continued view of question time; the emphasis on the heroic few who ga
ve their lives in religion, in war and in other ways and a deemphasis on the man
y who lived in slow and uneventful lives by producers who place greater emphasis
upon the dramatic quality of a program than on its historical accuracy--all of
these distortions result in our failure to appreciate the importance of mundane
events and the tremendous influence that stability and tradition have in the sha
ping of our lives. Autobiographers have to watch out for this same tendency. So
me students of literature call it the synecdotal tendency which comes to view th
e whole by some or one of its parts. Other students are conscious of the tendenc
y to see life through rose-coloured glasses, a view of the whole based on the ex
citing episodes.
The opposite tendency was one offered to us by Thomas Hardy whose pessimism was
expressed by a view of life as one long tragedy punctuated by occasional episode
s of happiness. The rose-coloured, the pessimistic, any one of a range of type
s of realism, they all lay a basis for perceptions of facts, for views of life a
nd society, and this is what is conveyed to readers. I do not anticipate achie
ving much of this perception-altering experience, at best perhaps I will open th
e occasional window of insight and, with R.D. Laing, adjust the rare door of pe
rception.
The difference between history and the past is that the latter is what actually
happened–-including the way people lived their often mundane lives; whereas, the
former, history, focuses on the extraordinary--the often bizarre events which d
isturb normality. Great events are like fireworks displays on the 4th of July--l
oud, colourful, and exciting, but very brief disturbances to the quiet calm that
surrounds us. Visions of the past are distorted because bizarre events are give
n disproportionate attention. Since history is one of the building blocks of per
sonal and national identity, we end up with a warped image of the past and of ou
rselves. This is an interesting theme about which I will say one or two more thi
ngs before passing on.
Canadian and Australian cultural identity has long evaded definition. So too has
its representation in literary works. Attempts to determine a true Canadiana or
Australiana peaked in literary criticism circles in the 1970s, not coincidental
ly alongside an upsurge in Canadian and Australian political nationalism. Common
themes were identified, such as isolation, wilderness, and the Great White Nort
h in Canada and isolation, silence and relationships in Australia. These motifs
, it was decided, were true reflections of a uniquely "Canadian" or "Australian"
experience. Not all texts, however, fell so easily into these analytical slots
. Unlikely associations were forged between dissimilar texts linked only by the
citizenship of their authors. Many Canadian and Australian texts resisted such s
imple classification, exposing the failure of imposed homogeneity on a body of d
iverse work. "Canadian" and "Australian" may be convenient identifiers, but they
are unreliable and, for me, outdated. The undefined or even defined Canadian or
Australian identity are for me untrustworthy qualifiers. My ability to overcom
e them makes them both unimportant and important in another way.
Assigning the "Canadian" or "Australian" or, indeed, "Bahá’í" qualifier to not j
ust the author, but to the text he or she creates, streams the reader’s thoughts
down specific interpretive channels toward a common gulf of analysis. The exper
ience of reading and mulling over and arriving at personal conclusions is de-emp
hasized. By imprinting citizenship, nationality or religion into the minds of re
aders before they read a text, their opinions, even subconsciously, are fitted t
o the expectation of what that literature is and should be. Literature requires
its readers to be creative. Identifying literature according to the citizenship
or religion of its creator ruins the experience by providing a formula and a ha
ndy answer booklet. This memoir is no simple answer book and this is consistent
with the position taken by most criticism since the 1960s. Criticism for nearly
half a century now has “denied, on theoretical grounds, the relevance of the si
ngle historically definable author.”
Much of the drama and melodrama on television is, for me, but an arrested form o
f unswerving regularity and consistency, like some electronic ritual, theatre of
nostalgia, a genre that is emblematic of some of those thrilling, yet comforti
ng, days, episodes, experiences, of yesteryear. Nostalgia is a repetition, a re
turn of the past to the present and it has many forms in life in the media of wh
ich the who-dun-it and much of the amusement and distraction of TV are but its v
arieties. The analysis of print and electronic media reveals
a whole world of understanding and critique to the daily consumers of its produc
ts. I leave readers to follow-up on my comments here should they be keen; the
literature on media analysis is now massive.
This business of habituation and habit is a critical one in my life. “By a seemi
ng paradox," writes philosopher John Dewey, "increased power of forming habits m
eans increased susceptibility, sensitiveness, responsiveness. Thus even if we th
ink of habits as so many grooves, the power to acquire many and varied grooves d
enotes high sensitivity, explosiveness. Thereby an old habit, a fixed groove if
one wishes to exaggerate, gets in the way of the process of forming a new habit
while the tendency to form a new one cuts across some old habit.” In these earl
y years of my late adulthood I have habituated many of my life s activities; I h
ave acquired many fixed grooves with the aim of developing of writing activities
to their fullest. This theme of habituation could be applied to many areas of m
y life down the years with many permutations and combinations.
The actor John Gielgug’s words about is life could well be mine if I change the
context and subtract his fame. Gielgud wrote in his autobiography that: “I am q
uite useless at almost everything except where the theatre is concerned.” He wen
t on to say that in his life he had been almost completely occupied with theatre
work, that he did not enjoy doing most of the things that people do in their sp
are time, that his inclinations were solitary and that he needed to be busy all
the time. All of these things certainly applied to me after the age of 55 for
the previous forty years, say 15 to 55, my story in these respects was a mixed b
ag and I’m not sure I could summarize it as succinctly.
Reading the autobiography of that other great Shakespearian actor Lawrence Olivi
er provided for me another useful comparison and contrast. Olivier writes about
the unglamorous, solitary, lonely, difficult nature of the writing activity. H
e found it a weight around his neck. While I find the experience of writing some
what like the way Olivier describes it, for the most part, it is pleasurable and
since the years of my late middle age(1999: age 55) has fitted into a lifestyle
of solitude that is suited to my taste, my needs and wants. The pleasure Olivi
er found in the acting world I get from the writing world. Although fame, wealt
h and worldly success to the degree Olivier found them have certainly not been m
ine, writing has enriched my life increasingly over the last 50 years. Since I
wrote my first essay in grade seven in 1957 it has helped me get my education, m
y jobs and, since my retirement in 1999, it has filled my life more than I could
ever have imagined.
Memory and its supplement, forgetting, are key issues in contemporary writing ab
out autobiography. The act of remembering many conditions and situations is lik
e trying to recall an experience that you slept through. Art-making, in which r
ealm we can include writing, is a mode of attention. Autobiographical writing is
immersed in memory, the body, and divided and dislocated forms of subjectivity.
It investigates forgetting and remembering. To remember is to remember roles,
statuses, beliefs and values. My own writing on memory and affect draws on proc
esses of repetition, interruption and a range of forms and strategies that, toge
ther, make up this total enterprise.
There are numerous theorists who emphasize the use of a range of interruptive na
rrative effects including the layering and interweaving of narrative modes. Me
mory is a complex process of stories without end. Memory is entwined with subje
ctivity and it is difficult to envisage our lives in the total sense. So much t
hat we live is not legible or readable. Our personal museum sees each artefact e
mbedded with memory; each artefact speaks of these memories, but each artefact i
s rendered only partially readable. At one end of the continuum of our relation
to life s artefacts is mystery and meaning and at the other end our world is fl
attened to an exterior double of some flat interior archive, to forgetfulness, v
acuity and, indeed, elements of complete non-entity. It is the aim of some writ
ers to force their readers to abjure the general and concentrate on the particul
ar. My aim deals with both, the macro, meta-narrative and the micro, the partic
ular.
So much of the cultural record of a society is the sum of the things that societ
y puts away and drops on the floor as we, the whole society, go through life. T
his culture is the detritus of our ways of life and our ways of thinking, of our
knowledge and beliefs, and of our superstitions and nightmares. None of these
descriptive words outline the shape of something we can grasp, because the cultu
ral record, which contains our cultural heritage, seems to incorporate the whole
, unabbreviated body of evidence of everything we produce. The cultural record
incorporates everything that has survived and that will survive by conscious and
unconscious decision or by accident. For historians the cultural record appear
s always to have an accidental character. In our everyday lives, in our ordinar
y activities, we want to know that our understanding of ourselves as individuals
and as a society is not produced by accident or by statistics. A good deal of
the motivational complex and the system of assumptions behind the writing of thi
s memoir is that my life has not been an accident and what I leave behind is a d
irected, purposive statement.
The cultural record of my society will be just what got saved because someone pu
t it in a safe place or in a place that turned out to be safe because that place
did not burn up or rot or get eaten by moths or get destroyed in floods. Yet as
ordinary people we cannot accept that our understanding of our culture rests on
such accidental processes. Scientists take reassurance from randomness because
they can apply statistical techniques to random events that have great predictiv
e authority. But in our everyday lives, in our ordinary activities, we want to k
now that our understanding of ourselves as individuals and as a society is not p
roduced by accident or by statistics. None of us believes that what we and our c
ompatriots think is an accident. When we turn our attention to ourselves and our
culture in order to analyze ourselves, in order to find out how we deal with un
usual events, or to confirm our good ideas or to change our bad ones, we want to
be sure that the records we study are true in themselves and to ourselves. They
must represent us truly. Our need for the cultural record does not arise only f
rom our need to understand who we are. Often, we call on the record to solve pr
actical problems. Our cultural heritage often survives only in a handful of bro
ken jewellery and scraps of poetry. It is the work of historians, principally,
to put these fragments in some order and to make sense of them. How do the piece
s fit together? What meaning should we read. This memoir of mine is my pieces o
f jewellery and my scraps of pottery.
And so it is that in our effort to understand our culture and our lives we make
the assumption that this understanding does not rest on accidental processes.
In these days, too, in the twenty-first century it could be argued that in our a
ttempt to understand a life the memoirist must utilise the mediums of movies, ra
dio programs and TV programs. He or she must, the argument could continue, pres
erve their life with the aid of these new mediums. To ensure access to their li
ves—a legal as well as technical matter—memoirists must use more than print, mor
e than text, if future generations are to know anything about what any particula
r memoirist believes, thinks and views things. The information contained in thes
e media is now and will increasingly be the basis for future understanding of ou
r culture and our time and lives like mine.
This personal museum that is my memoir has some interesting comparisons and cont
rasts with the museums of the Western industrialised world, museums I have been
visiting since 1957/8. These larger constructs of bricks and mortar, cement, i
ron and objets d’art consist wholly of displaced, decontextualised objects that
have been recontextualised as commodities. My work, this memoir, is contextual
ised in 2500 pages of text. The museums I walked around from time to time over
fifty years(1957-2007) serve to “generate didactic illusions.” These illusions
or spectacles raise questions about “the appearance of reality and the reality o
f appearance.” Through their illusions and appearances, museums represent certa
in socio-cultural values and become a part of what one writer refers to as “mode
rn aesthetic structure,” with its “vision-centred concepts, its passive, spectat
orial orientation.” During “walk-and-gawk tours,” museum visitors are spectator
s and consumers who gaze upon spectacular works of art with a disembodied eye an
d are confronted by the cultural authority, discourse, and spectacle of the muse
um which is quite literally a “modern aesthetic structure.” Of course, there i
s much more to the museum and art gallery experience, but this is sufficient to
make some comparisons and contrasts with my memoirs.
My work is a modern aesthetic structure, but it is difficult to walk-and-gawk th
rough it. Usually my work will simply be avoided. Like the person who never ent
ers a museum—and there are millions—many millions will never enter this work, wi
ll never read a word of it. Those who do must do more than walk-and-gawk. My wo
rk is not a vision-centred concept or activity. There are no pictures on the wal
l, no objects to engage the eye. If the mind of the reader does not engage wit
h my text, the reader might as well close the book or leave the screen and go on
with something else for his eye and mind.
The local, national and increasingly international collecting practices of the l
ast two centuries in museums, art galleries, city squares and store windows, int
er alia, have spurred an increase in what one might call the prestige of discipl
ined curiosity. It also reflects a growing fascination among people in the west
ern tradition, and people in other regions of the world with the past, with the
idea of development and memory. Europeans began to ponder questions about the a
ge of the earth, the human life-span, and antecedents to observable forms in nat
ure. Among European philosophers, the phenomenon of memory seems to have gained
in importance. To remember, they said, was to escape the purely momentary sensa
tions, thereby avoiding “the nothingness that lay in wait…between moments of exi
stence.” The museum and the art gallery, as a sacred grove, provided such an es
cape. This memoir has some of that function, it seems to me.
Generally, when a people feels in control of its destiny, it establishes museums
to preserve materials that mark the stages of “confident growth and point to th
e future,” so argues Jeffers. I’m not sure how accurate this view is and I wonde
r to what extent I could apply it to this memoir. When, on the other hand, a peo
ple feels
that change is occurring too rapidly, spinning out of control, it establishes mu
seums that celebrate an idyllic and nostalgic past. I think there is a little bi
t of both here in this autobiography.
A museum or a memoir based on or derived from community discourse is one in whic
h ideas are assigned a key role as carriers of discursive and non-discursive mea
ning. Although this work was not a collaborative effort, it was certainly the r
esult of decades of community discourse. The troublesome dualities that separat
e subjective-objective thought, mind-world relations, reader-writer and visitor-
museum processes come together, as the philosopher John Dewey writes, “in a func
tional unity,” connected by a process of “mutual adjustment.” Ideas allow for t
ransformative and informative relationships, and are “amenable to social constru
ction.” They can connect with art objects and events, illuminate facts and als
o, be illuminated by them; they allow for dialogue between people and for transa
ctions between people and art objects and events.” Socially authored and indivi
dually checked, ideas travel and are illuminated in the interactive space betwee
n the members of the dialectical community and the art that is the focus of the
discourse. Dewey’s words here describe eloquently my experience over these last
decades, decades that preceded the writing of this memoir.
There is a functional relationship, an interdependence, among knowledge, discour
se, and community and it has been apparent to me as I have come to write this me
moir over the last two decades or more. Putting this idea as succinctly as I ca
n, I might say that knowing and learning are not possible without discourse and
discourse is not possible without community. Community, in this sense, emerges
as a pedagogical virtue and is a precondition for learning. For learning to occ
ur within this community, however, listening must take on an importance equal to
, if not greater than, that of seeing. To construct meanings about art, about m
emoirs or, indeed, a whole host of things, it is essential for the community to
engage in critical and empathic listening. The listening community also must be
a diverse one in which a spectrum of voices can speak and be heard. Different
perspectives, interpretations and criticisms must be shared and creative conflic
ts must be engendered. These conflicts lead to new discourse and new knowledge.
Through these activities a diverse community comes to succeed, both in facilita
ting learning and in protecting against group orthodoxy and dogmatism. When I
talk about listening I don’t want to be perceived casually. I found, as I came
to write the substantive part of this memoir after 2002, that listening had beco
me hard work. After forty years of pioneering I felt worn out and part of this f
eeling was a fatigue with listening. As important as it is, it is no simple tas
k. I could expatiate on this theme at some length but will leave it for now.
I was doomed, it seems, to undergo the experience of tedium vitae over and over
in the hot summer days of the mid-to-late fifties. I turned and turned and turn
ed over in what Blake calls the “same dull round.” In the long summers of my
late childhood and early teens I was afflicted not by depression but by the worl
d s flatness. Dancing around in the interstices of my life, then, was some grey
dullness, precursor to a future depression and melancholy. It was my first ta
ste of boredom and one of my last. Melancholy came later in life with its simul
taneous links with creative energy and intellectual pursuits. Melancholy was a
recurring feature of my life, an extension of extensive academic work and/or hum
an interaction. Tedium, too, was part and parcel of my daily life with its own c
haracterisation from year to year.
By my sixties, though, with my bi-polar disorder fully treated I could say with
the essayist William Hazlitt that I had become a wise traveller who never despis
ed his own country, well, just about never.

The intellectual drive to understand the world through print resulted in a sort
of ethos of melancholy. It was not the philosopher’s, the thinker s or the acad
emic s disease as some have called it, but in part an ethos. Mental exertion wi
thout a corresponding physical exertion in the world of real objects led, many a
rgued, to delusory beliefs about the world, tired spirits and lax fibers as well
as to a view of the intellectual as a scholastic armchair theorizer. The exem
plary, the traditional, contrast between the sedentary body and an over-active m
ind led in my time to a very different account of what had once been seen as the
philosopher’s disease. Melancholy during these epochs was no longer seen as a
means to knowledge of the world but rather it was seen as a barrier to it.
Melancholy became less the sign of the thinking man than the sign of the feeling
woman. Melancholy feminized the “man of feeling" in the public eye. It became
part of the expected constellation of traits of the deranged schoolman or poet
subject to the rule of fancy rather than, say, the truth-seeking natural philoso
pher. Thankfully, my melancholy faded into a mild depression or perhaps it was
a mild depression after eight to twelve hours of mental work. But the work itse
lf was done in an emotional constellation of forces at the other end of the feel
ing continuum: energy, joy, pleasure, drive, enthusiasm mixed inevitably with fr
ustrations and anxieties. The public persona of the studious man of melancholy d
id not really apply to me, except for the periodic bi-polar episodes.
After one has immediately perceived the image of something and immediately appre
hended it as a consonance of whole and parts, one is not always struck by its sh
immering claritas, its radiance as this thing and nothing else, its unique whatn
ess, quidditas. All is not Blake s luminous silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure,
a spiritual state, an enchantment of the heart. Life has many shades of delig
ht and tedium. With the years there comes a landslide of memories that a place
or thing or idea brings and, for this and other reasons, boredom, at least for m
e, is not a part of my life. In fact it hasn t been since those earlier years I
referred to above.
Philosophy, said Walter Benjamin, is the representation of ideas, and so is auto
biography. By poetics I mean that we necessarily understand or try to understa
nd identity and belonging, or not belonging, through cultural forms: through re
presentation as in genre, myth, novel, poem, allegory, parable, anecdote, story,
sayings, metaphors, riddles. The autobiographical I is never itself in a pure
sense because it always represents itself through culture; the autobiographical
eye can never perceive directly much less remember directly; further, there are
continuous inner journeys that beckon deep within oneself to the scattered islan
ds and mirages. I think of myself as a pathological hermit, yet one can make lon
g voyages in the mind, prompted and pursued by desires entwinedly utopian and dy
stopian. No matter how social or how hermitic one is we all come from the “not
yet” and head for “no more.” I always liked the way Hannah Arendt put this idea
.
There is in my work, like my life, elements of derangement and a cultivation of
both the art and the pathology of madness. My quest is inevitably accompanied
by farce, delusion, self-parody, self-mocking, comic stories of my own incompete
nce, humiliation and banality. Banality, of course, is part of the very clay o
f life and writing consists of an effort to transform banal thoughts and activit
ies into forms of meaning, beauty and life.
Faulkner once said that "every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he ca
n t and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetr
y. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing." For me the wr
iting process has worked itself out differently in spite of or perhaps because o
f my madness or mental illness as it is now called. If mens sana in fabula sana,
mental health is a coherent life story and neurosis is faulty narrative. The w
riting of this work took place mostly after my bi-polar disorder was fully treat
ed, as fully as was possible at this point in history.
I have written essays for 50 years(1957-2007); I occasionally listened to, read
and wrote poetry for 25 years(1957-1982) before writing poetry much more extensi
vely for the next 25 years(1982-2007); I tried writing novels for 14 years(1983-
1991 and 1999-2005) with little success; I kept a diary for 23 years(1984-2007).
My notebooks, now numbering some 300, contain an accumulation of 45 years(1962
-2007). I should add, in concluding this literary list, that I have also accumu
lated some 500 books over 50 years(1957-2007). With the novelist Henry James a
nd the poet Gustave Flaubert, though, I take the view that "be it in verse, be i
t in prose, it is only so far as they ‘write’ that authors live.” Flaubert, tha
t is, has no time for “authors,” only for “writers." I find that even the disti
nction poetry and prose is a complex one that makes for as many problems in the
distinction as it clarifies. But I have discussed this dichotomy before.
Although I have edited this memoir so many times that I can no longer endure the
process and must pass it on to a professional before the book sees the light of
day, I do not possess the sense of precision, timing and obsessiveness that cha
racterized the famous Irish writer James Joyce. "A day s work on two sentences?
Yes, Joyce responded, "I had the words. What I was working at was the order o
f the fifteen words in the sentences. There is an order in every way exact. I th
ink I have found it." In the 20th century as Joyce was counting words, the Bugs
Bunny animator, Chuck Jones, was sending the Coyote repeatedly over the cliff
with one more scheme for trapping the Roadrunner. Again the scheme went awry. B
efore the Coyote hits the bottom, Jones determined, eighteen frames of film shou
ld elapse. More or fewer would be less effective, and Jones claimed that an erro
r of two frames more or less was quite detectable. We re talking about a margin
for error of a twelfth of a second. In Star-Trek technology a second at warp-4
will take the star-ship Enterprize one hundred times the speed of light, a dista
nce of a little less than two billion miles. Word-count, frame-count and time pr
ecision is a mode of consciousness and measurement peculiar to our time. Hugh Ke
nner calls this new community: "The Elsewhere Community." Although I often fe
el part of this community Kenner refers to, the precision of my writing, the obs
ession with quality does not go anywhere as near as Joyce, Jones or Star-Trek te
chnology. I must admit often to a "this is good enough" philosophy.
Although I did not have that obsessiveness and overdone sense of precision that
some writers possessed, I am conscious of some verbosity, some might call it stu
ffiness in my phrasing. I introduce too much indeeding and moreovering, use too
many complex words, refer to too many books and need the editor s red pencil mu
ch more than is my desire. But, as I have said before, all of this is part of m
y style.
I feel that I belong to histories, as much or more than to a place or a land. I
know that histories are always torn, always bitter, always replete with contrad
ictions and inconsistencies, rich and flexible with many twistings and turnings.
As my pioneering life progressed, it dawned on me insensibly, that I was part
of a Promised Land, a Promised Land that was slowly evolving in the womb of a
travailing age. The European experience of extracting wealth from alien landsc
apes accumulated over several centuries and the Baha’i experience was one of ext
racting a different wealth. One day that story will be told as the process of w
estern pioneering and migration has been told with a more sophisticated understa
nding in recent years.
I was also part of a journey, a journey by a community that offered riches of kn
owledge and experience that I scarcely appreciated. It was a journey with topol
ogical features of so many kinds: landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes, cityscapes,
beachscapes, snowscapes, tundrascapes, among others. I have journeyed, or so it
seems, towards a state of belonging, of closeness and intimacy or one of not-be
longing, distance and estrangement depending on what part of the landscape, what
part of the elsewhere community was in the focus. But just as closeness was d
ifficult to measure so, too, was what I once saw as a grand system of the evolut
ion of culture that was valid for all humanity. In the place of this simple met
anarrative from clans and chiefdoms to states and federated planet, in place of
a simple line of evolution there appeared to me to be a multiplicity of convergi
ng and diverging lines which were difficult to bring under one system. Instead
of uniformity, the striking feature seemed to me to be diversity.
I have sometimes felt haunted and tormented and sometimes felt enriched and full
. My mind has to live with its fragments, ruins, shadows, ambiguity and contrad
ictoriness and so much that is good. I grew up in Ontario with the USA just do
wn the road a few miles, on the edge of a province and a country. It was also w
here my parents and grandparents lived. I saw my grandfather every week through
out my years of primary school. I recall much else, much I have already related.
Then I lived on the edge of Canada in the far north and the edge of Australia
in its far north and finally on its edge in Tasmania.
Many Australian writers, critics and academics have turned, as I said above, to
autobiographical writing as a means of self-expression and cultural and social r
eflection in the last decades. Germaine Greer, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Robert Dess
aix, Ruby Langford and Bernard Smith are each located very differently as Austra
lian thinkers and yet each is part of the landscape of autobiographical writing.
It is a landscape I, too, have joined in these same years, years I could call
a zone of contemporary autobiography.
I very rarely felt the experience of hatred either on the giving or the receivin
g end, as some writers, some scribblers, of autobiography do. I have had a wide
constellation of emotions but hatred has rarely crossed the path of my heart.
I think, for the most part, those I knew both inside and outside my family, wer
e largely indifferent to my writing. They never would have said so directly. I
n some ways I felt I existed on the end of that easy tolerance which one finds i
n Australia and which, as Phillip Adams says, is largely due to indifference. T
his indifference one comes to accept with relative equanimity because it is so v
ery pervasive. Adams is partly right, but I think this attitude of indifferenc
e is a quite complex phenomenon that is born of many more roots and social proce
sses, too many to go into here.
Over the years I have turned my social world into a theoretical, hypothetical, s
ort of critical paparazzo. For years I had hoped for that special, authentic sh
ot at the title, as the boxing world called it, as I stumbled through the social
world, through the shrubbery of my life. But, insensibly throughout my forties
and fifties, I lost my enthusiasm for making it big, for becoming a hero. Gradu
ally, I acquired an interest in keeping my social profile low. On the internet I
acquired, somewhat unbeknownst and unobtrusively, a profile I had never anticip
ated. By the time I came to write these words I felt I was making it big in the
world of writing, but this bigness had nothing to do with fame and glory, celeb
rity status or even social significance. The bigness was an inner satisfaction,
an inner pleasure, associated with the act of writing, all experienced in nanos
econds and little bytes. Even where there was satisfaction and pleasure I alway
s experienced some of that one stern law which Lawrence Olivier stated plainly,
“no true artist may expect satisfaction from his work.” I suppose by this defi
nition I was not that true an artist for satisfaction did not entirely elude me.
Rarely has anyone attempted in my day-to-day experience to find first-hand infor
mation about my writing and my life. But on the internet this happens to an ext
ent that always surprises me. I do not vigorously and efficiently rebuff any en
thusiasm. It all takes place in quiet corners of cyberspace. In daily life I
often move closer and closer to people and have for years, but they generally as
k nothing about my writing. I feel as if there is a taboo around my work, a bac
kground of reticence, as if I am protected from enquiry and discussion. It may
remain that way as long as I live. It was not as if I had, like some writers, a
profound distaste for public disclosure of facts about my life. I have publishe
d all sorts of details all over the internet about my life and about a host of i
ssues. By the age of 60 as the world wide web was developing its many opportun
ities for publishing I took the view that I should not be one of those who kept
the private sphere only for family and friends. There was little that was the b
usiness only of this writer and of this writer s family, friends and perhaps med
ical advisers. I have not developed that deeply ingrained habit of non-disclosu
re of information about me that I have frequently come across among writers and
among people in many other walks of life. Many writers begin, as Rousseau did, w
ith the words: "Commençons donc par écarter tous les faits;" namely, "Let us beg
in by putting all facts aside." I began by putting a multitude of facts to the
forefront of this memoir.
Some autobiographers and memoirists spawned an academic industry devoted to anal
ysis of these genres. Questions such as to what extent they were true or misle
ading and whether or not they were designed to conceal more than they revealed w
ere common in this literature. Some critics went so far as to suggest that aut
obiographical work was devised to cover some undisclosed skeleton in the oedipal
closet. I certainly have my skeletons but, as Pasternack once said, a life with
out secrets would be unbearable. The French sociologist/philosopher
 Jean Baudril
lard argues that analysis has become as real as the real, an identical copy, t
hereby effacing realness. He would call my life story a simulation, a copy wit
hout a determinable original because it is impossible to convey the original for
many reasons. Certainly, the original is only recoverable by me through some
kind of simulation, to choose Baudrillard s words. The sign is reality, in Baudr
illard s analysis. The reality is the sign. This memoir, to Baudrillard, is in
fact reality. I would say there is a big difference between what I write and my
life. In the main this is true because of the impossibility of describing the r
eality of one s life. The best one gets is an approximation. Baudrillard s per
spective is a fitting one to describe my memoir, its nature and its reality.
Spiritual reality has a metaphorical base and my life is part of the base, a bas
e I have only begun to explore here. If that Scottish philosopher David Hume is
right when he writes in the first line of his autobiography that: "It is diffic
ult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity," then there is much van
ity here, metaphorical and otherwise. But as he concludes that same first paragr
aph: "The first success of most of my writings was not such as to be an object o
f vanity." Such was the case with my writings; indeed, most of the reaction unti
l I was in my sixties has been either ignorance of my work or indifference to it
, objection to its style and content on a multitude of grounds and in only a sma
ll handful of cases can be found anyone who take any delight at all in this work
.
The young Whitman reminded his readers in 1855 when his now famous poem Leaves o
f Grass was published that “Who touches this book touches a man.” And so is thi
s true of my own work. Whitman went on to revise, alter, add and subtract from
that first edition for the rest of his life until he died in 1892 and it looks l
ike I will be doing the same thing in this prose-poetic work until my demise.
What Whitman did most strikingly with his great poem, his epic, Leaves of Grass,
one could argue, is that he eliminated the relationship of author to reader in
which readers, waited, running through the contents of the new magazines in the
library or scanning the bookstore shelves, for the next thing that would come fr
om his pen to hold and transform them. Whitman no longer lived along with his r
eaders in the years 1855 to 1892, nor did he live a little ahead of them. After
a “deathbed edition” the work remained vital but in a dramatically altered rela
tion to his readers than in that first edition nearly forty years before. In my
case there are some comparisons and contrasts with Whitman, but I leave that an
alysis unwritten here.
This perambulating, divergent and I think, for many people, curiously unreadable
work, is much more than the accumulation of my literal life, much more than the
substance of my body and its history in a particular time and place, much more
than a literary manifest for locating this “thing” called me in the myriad ways
in which I have engaged with and been engaged by the world surrounding me. The
acme of mature contemplation results in and reveals much more than this curious
story.
As I head toward my last years on this mortal coil, what could be as much as sev
eral decades more of late adulthood and old age, I both descend and ascend. I u
se this form, this epic and argue, with poet Robert Creeley, that the form of th
is long memoir is but an extension, a tool, of its content. This form has a par
ticular scope and dimension and it exists in a specific, essential relation to s
omething else called content. Form and content live together in this memoir of
self-representation, just as life and death live together on earth. I often cho
ose to express relations—I and you, here and there, now and then—as part of iden
tities achieved both within and through community and solitude. These words are
somewhat abstract and I m sure readers find them slightly elusive. So let me sa
y a little more here about solitude to bring these elusive terms into more concr
ete focus.
In this the early evening of my life solitude weds me to an interiority, an inne
r perspective and orientation which makes of me, in the eyes of some I m sure, a
n eccentric recluse. My love of solitude, my retreat, my sequestering myself in
the recesses of this house where I do my journalistic, my amateur and professio
nal writing and most of my living could very well be pathologized and romanticiz
ed, overdramatized and idealized. Critics might pathologize my way of life now
in these early years of late adulthood, might interpret my withdrawal as a neuro
tic response to a range of real and supposed personal traumas: years of stress f
rom the rigours of bi-polar disorder and the various forms of social life in wha
t very well may be the darkest hours of history, a psychological fatigue from th
e excesses of human interaction over perhaps as many as five decades in this dar
k heart of an historical age of transition, guilt over my many sins of omission
and commission, simple human weakness and sense of inadequacy, shyness, the wear
iness of age, boredom from the repetition inherent in human existence and its in
terminable conversations, the necessity to be patient with the eccentricities of
others and my own which rub and test the sensibilities when socializing, among
other lines of analysis which I could site here. And there would be some truth
to all these lines of thought.
The major source of my withdrawal, though, has little to do with all of the abov
e and much to do with my desire to write. Writing is quintessentially a solitar
y sport. Paradoxically, this solitary withdrawal is the basis for a public stan
ce, a greater public stance than I have ever had, a stance in cyberspace. I now
seek asylum--and I have for perhaps a decade(1997-2007)-- from the demands of e
mployment and various family and community responsibilities that made writing fo
r decades all but impossible. This withdrawal is not something I want to overd
ramatize or idealize, romanticize or pathologize. My need for privacy is, I thi
nk, chiefly pragmatic, an enabling condition for artistic production. I must
admit, though, to a certain obsessional even phobic element in my need, my desir
e, my aim and my task.
This domestic interior, this place of self-incarceration, self-entombment, to ch
oose burial and prison metaphors, this place where I immure myself, as if within
a magic land that paradoxically liberates my art, this place of interiority, mo
delled if you will on the architectural space of a tomb or prison, is the neces
sary prerequisite for my literary efforts in the world of poetry and prose. Alt
hough some of my collection of writings was done outside my home, my study, this
place of withdrawal, the vast expanse of my oeuvre was done in the five homes w
here I have lived in the years 1981 to 2006, homes first constructed at various
times after 1953. The roots of my desire to write, in contrast to the architec
ture of the domain in which it has taken place, are many and I have written abou
t them more than enough in this memoir.
In his book How Brains Make Up Their Minds Walter Freeman often makes the point
that we, our meaning structures, are essentially alone. Walter is seventy six,
and towards the end of his book he wrote, ‘The nature of our learning processes
makes us more and more isolated as we grow older, as our cumulative episodic mea
ning structures become more and more complex with time and experience. We grow a
part because of our unique personal histories. The more we learn, the more speci
alized we become, and the less competent we are to understand one another.
As I grow older I don t really mind being ignored but I find that the experience
that others have of the same time, the same decades and years, is so different;
they see it in such different terms. It’s not that they wilfully or ignorantly
misconstrue what actually happened, but their experience and understanding is o
ften so different. I find sometimes that it requires great patience on my part t
o deal with them.
That pragmatist philosopher John Dewey also has some useful perspectives on expe
rience. Every vital experience is characterized by doings and sufferings as Dewe
y puts it: “every experience is the result of interaction between a live creatur
e and some aspect of the world in which he lives.” Experience is not a spectator
event. If it is vital it requires an active engagement and responsiveness to th
e outcomes of and obstacles to one’s activity. For Dewey, “an experience has pat
tern and structure, because it is not just doing and undergoing in alteration, b
ut consists of them in relationship.” The measure of an experience’s quality and
meaningfulness is in the “scope and content of the relations.” The ways in whi
ch the realization of the relations of one’s activity and its consequences can b
e thwarted offers a critical perspective for analyzing one’s relations with the
lived environment. Excessive doing and excessive reception hinder one’s abili
ty to see the meaningful connections. Hurried busy work and the sheer rush of ph
ysical sensations make one’s experiences flat and shallow.
Those born in the teens and twenties of the last century wrestled with the centu
ry’s greatest catastrophe, in one way or another, from the very start of their l
ives. Those born in the thirties and forties had a different set of wrestles to
contend with. This book has described some of these wrestles.