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My Autobiography: Part 1


This document is a necessary abridgement of a narrative work of 2600 pages; it has been truncated here to fit into the small space for this document. This document is both an outline and a curtailment …

This document is a necessary abridgement of a narrative work of 2600 pages; it has been truncated here to fit into the small space for this document. This document is both an outline and a curtailment of an epic-opus, an abbreviated, a compressed, a boiled down, a potted, a shorn, a mown, a more compact version of my larger epic-work.

This abridgement of the 7th edition of my autobiography will include changes in the months ahead. When a significant number of changes are made an 8th edition will be brought out. It is my hope, although I cannot guarantee, that this brief exposure here will give readers a taste, a desire, for more.

This post is Part 1 of my autobiography.

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  • 1. PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS: autobiographical study and a study in autobiography 7TH EDITION By Ron Price TABLE OF CONTENTS VOLUME 1: PREFACES Six Prefaces to Six Editions Chapter 1 Introduction 1 Chapter 2 Introduction 2 Chapter 3 Letters Chapter 4 Diary/Journal/Notebooks Chapter 5 Interviews Chapter 6 A Life in Photographs VOLUME 2: 1
  • 2. PRE-PIONEERING Chapter 1 Ten Year Crusade Years: 1953-1963 Chapter 2 Pre-Youth Days: 1956-1959 Chapter 3 Pre-Pioneering Days: 1959-1962 VOLUME 3: HOMEFRONT PIONEERING Chapter 1 Pioneering: Homefront 1: 1962-1964 Chapter 2 Pioneering: Homefront 2: 1965-1967 Chapter 3 Pioneering Homefront 3: 1967-1968 Chapter 4 Pioneering Homefront 4: 1968-1971 VOLUME 4: 2
  • 3. INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING Chapter 1 International Pioneering 1: 1971-1973 Chapter 2 International Pioneering 2: 1973-1974 Chapter 3 International Pioneering 3: 1974-1978 Chapter 4 International Pioneering 4: 1978-1982 Chapter 5 International Pioneering 5: 1982-1988 Chapter 6 International Pioneering 6: 1988-1996 Chapter 7 International Pioneering 7: 1996-2010 Chapter 8 Epilogue VOLUME 5: COMMENTARIES, ESSAYS AND POEMS 3
  • 4. Chapter 1 Credo, Poems and Resumes Chapter 2 Pioneering An Overview Chapter 3 Anecdote and Autobiography Chapter 4 Autobiography as Symbolic Representation Chapter 5 Essays on Autobiography Chapter 6 A Study of Community and Biography Chapter 7 About Poetry Chapter 8 Social Topics of Relevance Chapter 9 Praise and Gratitude __________________________________________________________ 4
  • 5. SECTION I : Pre-Pioneering SECTION II : Homefront Pioneering SECTION III : International Pioneering The material below is found in other locations and, although not included in this autobiography, it could be useful for future autobiographical, biographical and historical work. ------------------------------------------- SECTION IV Characters/Biographies: 24 short sketches SECTION V Published Work:Essays-300-Volumes 1 to 4—1982-2010 SECTION VI Unpublished Work: Essays-Volumes 1 & 2---170 essays .......................1979-2010 Novels-Volumes 1 to 3---12 attempts ......................1983-2003 SECTION VII Letters : Volumes 1 to 25 :3000 letters.1960-2010 Volumes 26 to 50:2000 postings..2001-10 SECTION VIII Poetry : Booklets 1-61: 6500 poems....1980-2010 SECTION IX Notebooks: .........300.............1962-2010 SECTION X.1 Photographs : 12 files/booklets/folios....1908-2010 SECTION X.2 Journals : Volumes 1 to 5.....…........1844-2010 5
  • 6. SECTION XI Memorabilia : 1908-2010 DEDICATION This book is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary in April 2013 of its first election in April 1963 and to Alfred J. Cornfield, my grandfather, whose autobiography was an inspiration to the one found here. Caveats: 1. The document below is a necessary abridgement of a narrative work of 2600 pages; it has been truncated here to fit into the small space for this document at Bahai Library Online. This document is both an outline and a curtailment of an epic-opus, an abbreviated, a compressed, a boiled down, a potted, a shorn, a mown, a more compact version of my larger epic-work. This abridgement of the 7th edition of my autobiography will include changes in the months ahead. When a significant number of changes are made an 8th edition will be brought out. It is my hope, although I cannot guarantee, that this brief exposure here will give readers a taste, a desire, for more. 2. The inclusion of quotation marks, apostrophes and accents has often proved difficult as have the addition of footnotes. Hopefully this will be remedied at a later date. 6
  • 7. _____________________________________________________________ PREFACE TO THIS SEVENTH EDITION: A 2600 page, five volume narrative, a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai; poet of that half-century; 6600 prose-poems, 120 pages of personal interviews, 400 essays; 5000 letters, emails and interent posts; 300 notebooks, six volumes of diaries/journals, 12 volumes of photographs and memorabilia, a dozen attempts at a novel, indeed, an epic- opus of material has been integrated into an analysis of my religion, my times and my life. This variety of genres aims at embellishing and deepening my own experience and that of readers. Only a very small portion of this epic work is found here, a portion that readers can dip into anywhere. This is the autobiography of an ordinary Bahai, perhaps the most extensive one to date. This epic-opus illustrates what hardly needs illustrating these days, namely, that you dont have to be a celebrity or a person of some fame or renoun to have a biography or autobiography. This literary genre is now so popular that men and women of little interest and significance feel impelled to record their life-stories. In the wide-wide world my life is clearly is this category. The Bahá'í Faith provides, it seems to me, a nice balance between the importance of community and the necessity for that 7
  • 8. community not to stifle the voice of its members. This is not an easy balance to strike but in the decades ahead the world will find that this Faith is one of the organizations, perhaps the critical one, which provides the mix of freedom and authority, unity and diversity, without which planetary survival will be difficult if not impossible. The autobiographies and the biographies in the Bahai community that have come into Bahai bookshops since the Kingdom of God had its inception in 1953 with the completion of the Bahai temple in Chicago are, for the most part, about individuals of some significance in the Bahai system of social status or stratification like Hands of the Cause Furutan, George Townshend and Martha Root. Extant autobiographies and biographies have been written about or by individuals with some special, publicly recognized, talent or experience like: Andre Brugiroux who hitch-hiked around the planet; Dizzy Gillespie or Marvin Holladay both of whom had a special musical talent and fame; Louis Bourgeois or Roger White, men of great artistic or literary talent; Angus Cowan or Marion Jack two of the 20th century's great teachers. There are now hundreds of short & often moving biographical & 8
  • 9. autobiographical pieces by or about quite ordinary people with simple stories of their lives and their often significant contributions to the work of this Cause. Such accounts can be found in the many volumes of Bahai World and other books like Claire Vreelands And the Trees Clapped Their Hands. If, as Shakespeare suggests in his play Hamlet, “bevity is the soul of wit,”1 there is a potential for much wit in much Baha’i biography. Sadly there may be little here in this work if one follows the same reasoning. But if, as Walter Pater emphasizes in his essay on style, the greatness of a work lies in its content, perhaps there is hope for this work.2 Like the poet-writer Jorge Luis Borges, I like to think of myself as unusually liberal in my insistence that every reader must have his own autonomy: "I think the reader should enrich what he's reading. He should misunderstand the text: he should change it into something else."3 Somebody else's original gift and I like to think that whatever quality of writing is found here is a gift, can't be duplicated, but the study of it can always help to make us a more careful guardian of our own. Clive James makes this point at his new website. And 1 Shakespeare, Hamle t, Act II, Scene II. 2 Walter Pater in W.B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions, MacMillan, London, 1971(1961), p.viii. 3 Adam Feinstein, “Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson,” The Guardian, 1 January 2005 9
  • 10. even if a reader has no plans to be a writer himself, there is always an extra fascination in watching a craftsman at work. Writing in any form is never just the style, but it isn't just the subject matter either. Here is one of the first extensive autobiographies about one of these quite ordinary Bahais, without fame, rank, celebrity status or an especially acknowledged talent, who undertook work he often felt unqualified or incompetent to achieve, with his sins of omission and commission, but with achievements which, he emphasizes, were all gifts from God in mysterious & only partly understandable ways, ways alluded to again and again in the Bahai writings. They were achievements that arose, such is his view, due to his association with this new Revelation and its light and were not about name, fame or renoun, although some of these now tarnished terms play subtely and not-so-subtely on the edges of many a life in our media age. These achievements and their significance are sometimes termed: success, victory, service, enterprize, sacrifice, transformation, all words with many implications for both the individual and society. This story, this narrative, is unquestionably one of transformation: of a community, a Cause and a life that has taken place in a time of auspicious 10
  • 11. beginnings for both humankind and the Bahai community, at one of historys great climacterics. The concept of this oeuvre, this prose and poetry, as epic, took shape from 1997 to 2007 after more than 50 years of association with what may well prove to be the greatest epic in human history, the gradual realization of the wondrous vision, the brightest emanations of the mind of the prophet-founder of the Bahai Faith and what Bahais believe will become, over time, the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen. During these last ten years, my final years of full-time teaching in a technical college in Australia and the first years of early retirement, this concept of his work as epic has evolved. By 2010 I had been writing seriously for at least 50 years and writing poetry for 45. The concept of this written opus as epic gradually crystallized after more than 40 years of my association with and involvement in the Bahai Cause between the two Holy Years 1952/3 and 1992/3 of the Formative Age and at a time when the projects on Mt. Carmel and the garden terraces on that Hill of God were being completed. With the increasing elaboration, definition and development of the structure and concept, the notion and framework, of this entire collected work as epic has come a conceptual home of reflection, memory, imagination, action and vision which readers will 11
  • 12. find described, albeit briefly, in this abridged, this truncated, edition and document at Bahai Library Online. No intelligent writer knows if he is any good, wrote T.S. Eliot; he must live with the possibility, the theoretical uncertainty, that his entire work has all been a waste of time. This provocative idea of Eliot’s, I believe, has some truth. But whether for good or ill--write I must. One of the results of this epic work is another provocative idea which I like to think also has some truth; namely, that my work was a part of the new patterns of thought, action, integration and the gathering momentum of Bahai scholarly activity indeed, the change in culture evidenced in the Four Year Plan(1996-2000), that befitting crescendo to the achievements of the 20th century; that my epic work was a part, too, of that very beginning of the process of community building, a new culture of learning and growth,4 and, finally, a part of those traces which Abdul-Baha said shall last forever. To approach this epic or even the truncated edition of my 2600 page narrative in two Parts at Bahai Library Online and read it certainly requires an effort on the part of a hopeful internet user. I like to think that such an 4 See my 275 page, 130,000 word book entitled: The New Culture of Learning and Growth in the Bahá'í Community at Bahá'í Library Online. 12
  • 13. effort will be rewarded, that such an exercise on the part of the reader will be worthwhile. Of course, as a writer, I know that I can make no such guarantee. Some writers are read most widely for their fiction; there is often a closeness for them of the two worlds, reality and invention. Fiction for these same writers often represents a mere short step from their essays or their poetry. A similar sensibility pervades all their work in whatever genre. I do not write of reality and invention, at least not consciously. Fiction does not inhabit my several genres, although I like to think there is a common sensibility across all my writing—but I’m not so sure. I leave such an analysis, such a statement, to readers. The American poet William Carlos William’s used the term locality or ground and expressed his agreement with Edgar Allen Poe that this locality or ground was to be acquired by the “whole insistence in the act of writing upon its method in opposition to some nameless rapture over nature. . . with a gross rural sap; he wanted a lean style, rapid as a hunter and with an aim as sure — Find the ground, on your feet or on your belly. . . . He counsels writers to borrow nothing from the scene but to put all the weight of the 13
  • 14. effort into the WRITING.”5 For me, for my written expression, this locality or ground in either my verse or my prose was not easily attained. The evolution of my oeuvre since the 1960s and its present style here in Pioneering Over Four Epochs reveals my long struggle to capture the complex interrelationships between self, society and the sacred. The time is ripe to articulate questions about the complex interdependence of internationalism, nationalism and locality and the critical need for a basis for communitas communitatum and to infuse literature and social analysis with a relevant vocabulary. After several thousand years in which the world has been the private preserve of a small leisured class, something that can truly be called humanity is being born and a world society fit for human beings to live in. The process is both slow and fast. Like many writers and thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs, in these epochs of my life, I have found that there is a world towards which I can direct my loyalty and whatever skills, by some unmerited grace, with which I have been endowed. Many never find that world, never find some commitment into which they can throw their heart and soul. They have to settle for: self, 5 William Carlos Williams, “Edgar Allan Poe,” In the American Grain, New York,1925, p.227. 14
  • 15. family, some local set of issues, perhaps a political party or a cause like the environment, whales, seals, a career, sex, indeed, the list is virtually endless. These commitments around which millions and billions sketch the meaning of their lives over the terra incognita of existence, around which the creative imagination with which each of these human beings is endowed, attempts to produce a reality that is consistent with that commitment, with the facts that it sees around it. And I do the same. This autobiography is a sketch of that commitment, that reality, that imagination and its set of facts. I am not concerned by the degree of exposure that is necessitated by autobiographical writing; I do not feel the need to provide a thin shield of anonymity over my life by using pseudonyms rather than real names, by using fictionalized autobiogrpahy or some form of story to hide behind. There is a shield here, but it is not the shield of anonymity; rather it is the shield that results from only a moderate confessionalism in my writing of these memoirs. I do not tell it all. It should be said, though, that even though this series of five volumes evolved over 25 years, it is still only a preliminary work. 15
  • 16. It is, I like to think, detectably sparing with the main drama of my life which has had to do with how I reacted to this new Faith with my whole soul and how my soul became richer because of it. There is more than enough opinionated reflection and generous regret to make the narrative useful in its scope to the generations who are and will be new to this Faith as well as those who have imbibed its teachings for many a year. Still, I have only just sketched the story in 2600 words and the associated genre accretions. I’m gradually putting in the full story of my developing response to this Faith in these closing years of the first century of its Formative Age. But, however this work is written when all is said and done and I’m gathering rose-buds as I might in the hereafter, it will not be a stand-alone masterpiece. it’s far too long for those who come upon it. Frankly, I don’t think many will even get past these several prefaces. But perhaps I am too modest. The Bahá'í community has been colonizing the earth, arguably, since 1894, arguably again since 1919 and without doubt since 1937. Many of the 200 odd countries and territories have long been sufficiently in flower to spread their spiritual pollen on the pioneering-wind. There were always the loyal and dutiful, the sacrificial and the escapists, the theatrical types and the artistic, and then, after World War II in 1946, 1953 and 1963, came a 16
  • 17. succession of Plans that spiritually conquered the planet, little did anyone know. Quite apart from the incredible letters of Shoghi Effendi, now ensconsed in a series, indeed a shelf, of books that it would take a long paragraph simply to enumerate and quite apart from the architectural splendour that was popping up in rare sites all over the planet, the Bahá'í Faith had, by the time my pioneering life began in 1962, discovered “a most wonderful and thrilling motion,” that in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was “permeating all parts of the world.”6 This autobiography is but one part of that grand motion, one part of that immense permeation. PREFACE TO THE SIXTH EDITION On 19 January 1984 in the middle of the oppressive heat of that region’s summer. I had just received a copy of my maternal grandfather’s autobiography from a cousin in Canada. This autobiography was not the record of his entire life, just the part from his birth in England in 1872 to his marriage in 1901 in Hamilton Canada. I had browsed through but not read this one-hundred thousand word 400 page double-spaced narrative written “about 1921-1923,” by an autodidact, a self-educated man, when he was fifty years of age. As my grandfather indicated in 1953 when he wrote a 6 In God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351. 17
  • 18. brief preface to that work while living in Burlington Ontario five years before his death, it was his hope that his story would “arouse interest.” As I revise this preface to the sixth edition of my autobiography or, more properly, this epic literary work, on 1 August 2008, my hope is that this work will also arouse interest. I began writing this preface on the vernal equinox here in Australia, 21 September 2007, and, hopefully, that date was an auspicious beginning to this work for future readers. I had no idea when I made that first diary entry in January 1984 that this literary beginning would become by insensible and sensible degrees an epic work containing: a five volume journal, a body of 6500 prose-poems; a collection of 5000 letters, emails and posts on the internet; a second collection of over 300 notebooks; a dozen unsuccessful attempts at a novel and; finally, in this narrative of 2600 pages, a total oeuvre that seems appropriate to refer to as an epic. I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favourite historians, acquired their initial conceptualization for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of 18
  • 19. Gibbon. Ten years ago in 1997 I began to think of writing an epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. My total poetic output by September 2000 I began to envisage in terms of an epic. The sheer size of my epic work makes a comparison and contrast with the poetic opus of Ezra Pound a useful one. Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 I had come to define as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual poetic pieces as part of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion as the years went by of all future prose-poetic efforts. Such was the way I came increasingly to see my epic opus, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000. This concept of my work as epic began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years(1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production. At that point, in 1997, this epic covered a pioneering life of 35 years, a Baha’i life of 38 years and an additional 5 years when my association with the Baha’i Faith began while it was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion. In December 1999 I forwarded my 38th booklet of 19
  • 20. poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library until 30 December 2000. Part of some desire for a connective tissue pervaded the poetry and prose of this international pioneer transforming, in the process, the animate and inanimate features of my distant and changing pioneer posts into a kindred space whose affective kernel or centre was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which had just been completed. This lengthening work evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. Part of my confidence and hope for the future derives from this past. There is a practical use to the local association I give expression to in this work. It as a means of putting the youth and the adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens and noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with a direct personal interest in their heritage. Along the way, I hope I am helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos, with a resolution that is indispensable in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future. I trust this work serves, too, as a dedication, a natural piety, by which the present becomes spiritually linked with the past. This last point is, of course, an 20
  • 21. extension into the sphere of nationhood of Wordsworth’s near proverbial expression of desire for continuity in his own life— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety" (1: 226). If this new Cause is to grow and mature in an integrated, organic, and humanistic manner, it must affirm the continuity between the present, the past, and the future. Countries that eschew militarism and imperialism need to venerate their cultural and national achievements if they are to maintain and foster the identity and independence of their citizens and with this an international spirit must inevitably sink deep into the recesses of the human heart and mind—for it is a question of survival. But it is the future that I love like a mistress, as W.B. Yeats says was the feeling that the poet William Blake had for times that had not yet come, which mixed their breath with his breath and shook their hair about him. The Baha’i Faith inspires a vision of the future that enkindles the imagination. This imagination German mystic and theologian Jacob Boehme said was the first emanation of the divinity. Blake cried out for a mythology and created his own.7 I do not have to do this since I have been 7 W.B. Yeats, op.cit., p.114. 21
  • 22. provided with one within the metaphorical nature of Baha’i history, although I must interpret this mythology, this history, and give it a personal context. As I say I had begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print or Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written from 1922 to 1962, is a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, though, came long after its beginnings, beginnings as far back as 1980 or possibly 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I say above, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one. The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus is not only a personal one of forty-five years in the realms of belief, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah which had its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French 22
  • 23. revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences. Generally, the goal or aim of this work and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story. I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance & manifestation. My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my 23
  • 24. own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of Baha’i history. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, is found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life as much, if not more, than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of forty-six years of pioneering:1962-2008. But more importantly, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the warp and weft that is the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power. Indeed, the World Order lying enshrined in the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is “slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization,” is becoming an increasingly familiar participant in the life of society and this epic is but one of the multitude of manifestations of that participation. My own life, my 24
  • 25. own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding “that blissful consummation” when “the Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West.” In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. Calliope and her sister Muses, not a part of popular culture and slipping into some degree of obscurity among many of the multitude of cultural elites in our global world, were seen traditionally, at least in the west and among its cultural literati, as a source of artistic and creative inspiration. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing artistic tradition and its many sources of creative expression among adherents of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leaven that leavens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and 25
  • 26. wonders of the world are made manifest.” In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings “the Supreme Concourse to the door of life” and “opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life.” Much more could be said about inspiration from a Baha’i perspective, but this is sufficient for now in this brief description of the origins and purpose of this my poetic oeuvre. Mary Gibson emphasizes in her study of Ezra Pound’s epic entitled Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians that one question was at the centre of The Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahai Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its earliest form in the last years of the second decade of the 20th century and the early years of the third, a form that was slowly coming to manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy. The wider world did not yet see these qualities in the as yet early phases of the development of this new System. But in my mind and heart, and certainly in my poetry, I found these qualities and gave them expression. I do not address an unusually cultivated class as Pound did leaving most readers feeling they were faced with a terminus of incoherent 26
  • 27. arrogance; nor is my work a game as Pound’s Cantos appeared to be to many readers with its absence of direction, but like Pound my work was that of a voyageur who was not sure where his work would end up. My work has been, like Pound’s, thrown up on a shore that I certainly had not planned to visit. Unlike Pound I do not yet have many enthusiasts or detractors of my work. And I may never have. Unlike Pound, my work, my epic, does not possess a disordered, indeed, chaotic structure and is not filled with unfathomable historical allusions; nor do I see my work as dull and verbose, although others may. If Pound’s was a “plotless epic with flux” mine has both plot and flux, but the accretion of detail and the piling up of memory on memory may, in the end, lose most readers. For now, I must live with this possibility. There is no Christian myth to guide the reader through Pound’s epic, as there was through Dante’s Commedia six centuries before. Pound’s Cantos tell the story of the education of Ezra Pound as my epic tells the story of my education. In my case there is a guide, the Baha’i metaphorical interpretation of physical reality or, to put it simply, the Baha’i myth. At the heart, the centre, of my own epic, then, is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from my belief in this embryonic World Order of Baha’u’llah, that a cultural and 27
  • 28. political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. My work is serious but not solemn and, like Eliot, I am not sure of the permanent value of what I have written. As Eliot put it: “I may have wasted my time and messed up my life for nothing.” No man knoweth what his own end shall be, nor what the end of his writing shall be either, I hasten to add. The poet Wallace Stevens’ expressed his sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice. ” What Stevens says here certainly gives expression to what is involved in this process, this sense of epic, for me. I am involved in the act of creating a prose-poem of the mind and trying to find out as I go along “what will suffice” to express what is in my mind and my heart, what is part and parcel of my beliefs and what occupies the knowledge base of the Baha’i Faith. This process is, without doubt, at the centre of this conceptual, this epistemological, this ontological, experiment of mine. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open- ended autobiographical sequences. It is a sometimes softly, indirectly didactic, sometimes not-so-softly and quite directly didactic, intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape of this work was in no way 28
  • 29. predetermined. In many respects, both my long poem, the thousands of shorter poems and, indeed, all my writing is purely amateur and speculative philosophy, literary playfulness and autobiographical description that I try to integrate into Baha’i and secular history in a great many ways. I feel I can make the claim that this work belongs to Australian history, at least part of it and I hope that the words of Mark Twain can apply to my work. “Australian history,” Twain wrote, “is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is also so curious and strange, that it is itself the chief novelty the country has to offer and so it pushes the other novelties into second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises and adventures, the incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened.”8 I don’t like to see this work of mine associated with lies, but if there are any lies here perhaps if they are beautiful ones I suppose that’s an improvement over all the ugly ones I’ve heard in my life. I attempt as I go along to affirm a wholeness within this epic design, a 8 Mark Twain, More Tramps Abroad, London, 1897. 29
  • 30. design which I like to see and refer to as a noetic integrator: a conceptual construction which serves to interpret large fields of reality and to transform experience and knowledge into attitude and belief. I have slowly developed this construction, this design, this tool and it is a product of decades of extensive and intensive effort to articulate a conceptual construction to deal with the long, complex and fragmented world in which I have lived my life and where a tempest seems to have been blowing across its several continents and its billions of inhabitants with an incredible force for decades, for over a century. I would hope that this construction, this epic design, will be of use to others. I would like to think that it will help others translate their potentiality into actuality--a process that Alfred North Whitehead called concrescence. But I have no idea. (See: D. Jordan and D. Streets, "The Anisa Model," Young Children, vol.28, No.5, June 1973.) I trust, too, that this epic work is not only a sanctimonious, openly pious, exploration of literary, practical and life-narrative themes but simultaneously a self-questioning of these themes and forms, actions and motivations. What I write should not be seen as fixed and final, but a lifelong attempt to polish and not pontificate, to guard against blind and idle imitation as well as against narrowness, rigidity and intolerance--tendencies toward fundamentalist habits of mind--in my own spiritual path. 30
  • 31. Pound was intent on developing an “ideal polity of the mind”. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbeded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly and the groups I have worked in and with have been small. At the same time I have become more and more impressed, as my experience of the Bahai polity has become more seasoned, more mature, with what is for me "an ideal polity." It has come to "flood my consciousness" over the years and I could expatiate on its System and how it deals with the essential weaknesses of politics pointed out so long ago by Plato and Aristotle and which continue to this day. But that is not the purpose of this memoir. This vision and this Movement, my role and my contribution, though, has not been so much to give people answers but, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes, to help pose, to stimulate the asking of, the right questions. People seem so very skeptical of answers and so playing the devil's advocate, so to speak, has seemed to me to have more mileage in the process of dialogue. (The Promoter of the Faith or Devil's Advocate was a position established in 31
  • 32. the Roman Catholic Church in 1587 to argue against the canonization of a candidate) I have dealt with my most rooted assumptions and questioned my most secret and instinctive self and many of the assumptions of my secular society. In the process, I hope this exercise has led to an openness of mind, a humility of response that finds resolutions as much or more than solutions and that it carries the seeds of other questions. There is an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than some total vision here. There is, too, what Nakhjavani calls, "a Bahai aesthetic" which is a form of seeing that enables us to use our creative endeavours to reflect the motions in the heart, motions of search, striving, desire, devotion and love. My style, my prose-poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists; my reclaiming job is to tell of the history of the epochs I have lived through from a personal perspective, from the perspective of the multitude of traces both I and my coreligionists have left behind. In some ways these events don’t need reclaiming for the major and minor events of our time both 32
  • 33. within and without the Baha’i community are massively documented in more detail than ever before in history. Perhaps, though, in the same way that Pound’s work was, as Alan Ginsberg once put it, “the first articulate record and graph of the mind and emotions over a continuous fifty year period,” my epic may provide a similar record and graph. But unlike Pound I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future with a distant vision of the oneness of humanity growing in the womb of this travailing age. I see humankind on a spiritual journey, the stages of which are marked by the advent of the Manifestations of God. Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman’s poetic work often merges both himself and his poetry with the reader. In the same way that Pound’s work provides a useful comparison and contrast point for me in describing and analysing my epic, so is this true of Walt Whitman’s poem. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. This protagonist can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While I feel it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even attempt, to represent an 33
  • 34. entire epoch or age, this concept of a private/public dichotomy is a useful one, a handy underlying feature or idea at the base of this epic poem. I also like to think that, as I have indicated above, this experience, this poetry, this epic work, is part and parcel of the experience of many of my coreligionists around the world even though my work has an obvious focus on my own experience. Paradoxically, it is the personal which makes the common insofar as it recognizes the existence of the many in the one. In my own joy or despair, I am brought to that which others have also experienced. In my poetic opus, my epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, I like to think, that with Whitman, the reader can sense a merging of reader and writer. But I like to think, too, that readers can also sense in my epic a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in the decade before those halcyon, if bloody, years of the French Revolution. But there is much more than verse-making here. I have no hesitation in 34
  • 35. making what Donald Kuspit calls identitarian claims for my poetry. My writing, my poetry, contains within in, page after page, an expression of, an identity with, what has been and is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. They seem to have wrapped and filled my being over my pioneering life over these last 45 years. Indeed, I have seen myself with an increasing consciousness, as a part, one of the multitude of lights in what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called a “heavenly illumination” which would flow to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and which would, as Shoghi Effendi expressed it “adorn the pages of history.” My story is part of that larger story, the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution, which at the local level has often, has usually, indeed, just about always, seemed unobtrusive and uneventful, at least where I have lived and pioneered. There is a narrative imagination, too, that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make this narrative honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, intelligible, knowledgeable, part of a new collective story, a new shared reality, part of the axis of the oneness of humanity that is part of the central ethos of the Baha’i community. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative and poetry, of letters and essays, of notebooks 35
  • 36. and photographs, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words, but with the help of many others. I leave behind me traces, things in your present, dear reader, which stand for now absent things, things from the past, from a turning point in history, one of history’s great climacterics. The phenomenon of the trace is clearly akin to the inscription of lived time, my time and that of my generation, upon astronomical time from which calendar time comes. History is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it. And so, I bequeath traces: mine, those of many others I have known, those of a particular time in history. In the years since this sense of my total oeuvre as epic was first formulated, that is since the period 1997 to 2000, I have been working on the 2nd to 6th editions of my prose narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In these last eight years, September 2000 to August 2008, this narrative has come to assume its own epic proportions. It is now 2600 pages in length and occupies five volumes. It is one of the many extensions, one of the many facets, parts and parcels, of the epic that I have described above and which had its initial formulation form from September 1997 to September 2000. After a dozen years, then, from 1997 to 2009, my epic has extended my 36
  • 37. world of prose memoir, of narrative autobiography, of meditation. I also completed in that same period a 400 page study of the poetry of Roger White which was placed on the Juxta Publications website in October 2003. It was entitled: The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. The first edition of my website in 1997, also entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, became a second edition on May 21st 2001 two days before the official opening of The Terraces on Mt.Carmel on 23 May 2001. My website, then, is now ten years old. This website contains some 3000 pages and is, for me, an integral part of this epic. There are so many passions, thoughts, indeed so much of one’s inner life that cannot find expression in normal everyday existence. Much of my poetry and prose, perhaps my entire epic-opus is a result of this reality, at least in part; my literary output is also a search for words to describe the experience, my experience, of our age, my age. This is part of what might be called the psycho-biological basis of my work. My poetry and prose allows me to release surplus, excess, energy and an abundance of thought and desire which I am unable to assimilate and give expression to in my everydayness and its quotidian features. This entire work is an expression of 37
  • 38. thoughts, desires, passions, beliefs and attitudes which I am unable to find a place for amidst the ordinary. This literary epic adorns the ordinary; it enriches my everyday experience, as if from a distance. I have come to see and feel my literary efforts as if they were a breeze en passant over my multifaceted religious faith, over my daily life. I do not write to convince or proselytise, but as a form of affirmation of all that has meaning and significance in life, my life and, by implication and since all humans share so much in common, Everyman's. I write of that foul rag and bone shop, as the poet W.B. Yeats called the heart, and of that golden seam of joy in life, of frailty and strength and of the abyss of mental anguish and a heart exulting unaggrieved. These aspects of my writing are all part of that trace I alluded to above. An additional part of this epic is an epistolary narrative written over fifty years, 1957/8 to 2007/8. This epistolary work is driven by this same belief system acquired, refined and thought about over a lifetime, a belief system which finds a core of facticity and a periphery of interpretation, imagination, intuition, sensory activity and an everyday analysis of its history and teachings in the context of these letters. The inclusion of this collection of letters and more recently emails and internet posts in its many sub-categories 38
  • 39. is part of my effort to compensate for the tendency of my fellow Baha’is throughout the history of this Faith not to leave an account of their lives, their times, their experiences, as Moojan Momen has made so clear in his The Babi-Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944. I did not start out with this motivation, nor did I think of my epistolary work as I went along as a sort of compensation for the strong tendency of my fellow believers not to record their experiences in letters but, after half a century of this form of collected communications, I realized that they offered an expression of my times and of the Bahai community during these epochs that may be of use to future historians, biographers and a variety of other social analysts. This view I have come to gradually in a retrospective sense. This epistolary narrative is yet one more attempt, along with the other several genres by this writer, to provide a prose-poetry mix of sensory and intellectual impressions to try to capture the texture of a life, however ineffably rich and temporarily fleeting, in one massive opus, one epic form, with branches leading down such prolix avenues that its total form is most probably only of use as an archive and not as something to be read by this generation. 39
  • 40. At the present time there are some 50 volumes of letters, emails and internet posts under ten major divisions of my epistolary collection. The third division of the ten contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards and blogs with their postings and replies, inter alia. This collection of posts on the internet, posts largely made since 2001 and the official opening of the Arc Project in May 2001, is now a part of this massive, this burgeoning epic. I have written an introduction to this collection of letters, inter alia--and that introduction is found at Baha’i Library Online> Secondary Source Material> Personal Letters. The other genres of my writing: the character sketches, the notebooks and the five volume journal, the dozen attempts at a novel as well as the photographic embellishments and memorabilia within this epic framework I leave for now without comment--although readers will find ample comment at later points in this epic-opus. After more than a decade since the initial concept of this epic was first initiated, I feel I have made a start to what may become an even longer epic account as my life heads into late adulthood and old age and the Faith I have 40
  • 41. been and am a part of soon heads into the second century of its Formative Age. This aspect of epic, this perception of my oeuvre as epic, the incorporation of all my writing into a collected unity in multiplicity, a memoir in many genres, necessitates the initiation of this sixth edition. After finalizing the fifth edition a year ago, an edition which went through more drafts than I care to count, I bring out this third draft of the sixth edition of this work. 16 August 2008 PREFACE TO THE FIFTH EDITION Life writing is now one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing fields of international scholarship. Life writing is a catch-all term developed to encompass several genres: autobiography, biography, memoir, journal, diary, letter and other forms of self-construction. During my pioneering life(1962-2007) and especially since I have been writing this memoir(1984- 2007) or what I sometimes refer to as my autobiography, this dynamism and intensive development has been particularly prominent. The field also includes these several genres of life-narrative I mentioned above within 41
  • 42. various disciplines of the social sciences and humanities: history, anthropology, sociology, politics, leadership and leisure studies, narrative and literary studies, among others. I make use of all these genres in my memoir, but only a small portion of any one of them are found in what has become quite an extensive work. Life writing addresses and gives voice to many social constituencies including: women, men, indigenous groups, postcolonial societies, ethnic groups and a wide variety of society’s sub-groups like new religious movements. The sub-group I am concerned with in my work is the Baha’i community. This community is part of my focus. Life writing, among its many purposes, gives voice to those who suffer illness, oppression, misfortune and tragedy. It is also an enabling structure, tool or mechanism for those who wish to speak in a spirit of affirmation, inquiry, amazement or celebration among other emotional and intellectual raison d’etres or modi vivendi. My voice, my spirit, finds its enabling structure, its raison d’etre, in this lengthy work. In addition to its high, its increasing, academic profile, life writing generates great interest among the general public. Works of biography and 42
  • 43. autobiography sell in vast numbers; millions now work in or are part of large organisations; millions follow the endless political and economic analyses that are generated by the media daily. People in these groups are interested in the literature by or about the leaders and the special people associated with their group and organizational affiliations. Many aficionados of entertainment and sport read books by or about the celebrity figures in these fields. There is also a wide readership for books that deal with life in various cultures and cultural groups; an increasing number of people are interested in writing family histories or their own autobiographies. And on and on goes the litany of enthusiasm and human interests. Studies in biography and autobiography are burgeoning and blossoming at universities all over the world. Each institution in their own way aims to reflect and to facilitate their special component of the interests referred to above and to make their schools nationally and internationally recognised centres of excellence for integrated activities in the field. And so, in writings my memoirs, I feel I have lots of company. For those with a philosophical bent, studies in biography and autobiography tap into some of the most profound and interesting intellectual issues of our 43
  • 44. time and previous times; for example, are we the products of nature, nurture or a combination of both? When we come to write the story of a life, be it our own or someone else's, what kinds of plot structures does our culture provide for telling the truest story we can? When do we need to invent our own plot structures, and to what extent is this possible? How true can stories about people be, and how do we know whether they are true or not? Is it possible to be objective about one's own self, or about another human being? What are the limits of confidentiality when putting a life on public record? How, and in what ways, does the experience of having a self, of being a person, differ from one culture to another? Is there any value in leaving behind a voluminous anatomy of self, Such questions, and others like them, reach into central issues of recent literary and cultural theory. Issues pertaining to subjectivity, the social construction of the self, agency, identity, the structures of the psyche, and so on, are all part of this vast territory. The four books, in volumes one to five, that make up this memoir or autobiography are part of this burgeoning, this dynamic, field. The first hard copy of the fifth edition of this work was made in April 2004. This hard copy, the first in the public domain, as far as I know, was made by 44
  • 45. Bonnie J. Ellis, the Acquisitions Librarian, for the Baha’i World Centre Library. The work then had 803 pages. The first paperback edition available from a publisher was at the internet site of in June 2006, although it was not yet available to the public requiring, as it did, the review by the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia Inc. Anyone wanting to obtain a paperback copy will, I trust, soon be able to order it from This fifth edition is the base from which additions, deletions and corrections are still being made in the flexible world that publishing has become. The latest changes to that edition were made on September 1st 2007 in my 64th year, a little more than a quarter of the way into the Baha’i community’s new Five Year Plan, 2006-2011. This fifth edition now comes to some 2600 pages at the site where I have organized the material into four paperback volumes. An 1800 page, abridged version of this fifth edition is available at eBookMall for $2.98. It is my present intention to make, through my literary executors and after my passing an additional chapter, a chapter that I prefer to keep ‘under wraps’ during my life on this mortal coil. Such a number of pages with over 2000 references is enough to turn off any but the most zealous readers. Readers of editions on the internet or in one of several libraries may come across one or 45
  • 46. part of previous editions. I frequently make changes to the content and I have been placing editions or parts thereof on the internet and in libraries on the internet for the last four years. The ease and flexibility of internet access makes publishing on the world wide web a delight for a person like me whose writing is not associated with remuneration, gaining the support and backing of a publisher or paying someone to promote my work, a common internet practice. When I first completed this fifth edition in May 2004 I assumed it would be the last edition; even with additions, deletions and alterations I thought I had an edition which would see me out to the end of my days. This has proved not to be the case; this edition will not be the final one of this autobiographical work, a work which, as I indicate from time to time, may more aptly be called a memoir in keeping with recent trends in terms and nomenclature. A memoir is slightly different from an autobiography. Traditionally, a memoir focuses on the "life and times" of the writer and often a special part of a life, a special occasion or theme in a life; it is less structured and less chronologically precise than an autobiography. An autobiography has a narrower, more intimate focus on the memories, feelings and emotions of the writer and, as the historical novelist Gore Vidal 46
  • 47. suggests, is essentially history, with research and facts to back up the statements. It tends to deal with the whole of life. Perhaps my work is essentially a hybrid: both autobiography and memoir. The Baha’i Academic Resources Library, the State Library of Tasmania and the National Library of Canada among other internet sites, all have variations of this edition. At this stage in the evolution of these volumes I could benefit from the assistance of one, Rob Cowley, affectionately known in publishing circles back in the seventies and early eighties --as “the Boston slasher.” Guy Murchie regarded his work as “constructive and deeply sensitive editing.”9 If he could amputate several hundred pages of my work or even a thousand or more with minimal agony to my emotional equipment I’m sure readers would be the beneficiaries. But alas, I think Bob is dead and I have found an editor, a copy and proofreader who does not slash and burn but leaves one's soul quite intact as he wades through my labyrinthine chapters and pages, smooths it all out and excises undesirable elements.10 9 Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life, Houghton Mifflin Co., Bonston, 1978, p.viii. 10 In 2003 Bill Washington and in 2005, a ‘selene yue’ each did some editing work on parts of the 3rd and 5th editions, respectively. Others, too, sent me comments and feedback on parts of my manuscript. In November 2006 Bill began again his work on this memoir which had grown in the meantime from eight hundred to twenty-five hundred pages and his work was part of the formal system of review under the auspices of the National 47
  • 48. John Kenneth Galbraith also had some helpful comments for writers like myself. Galbraith’s first editor Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, was an ace at helping a writer avoid excess. Galbraith saw this capacity to be succinct as a basic part of good writing. Galbraith also emphasized the music of the words and the need to go through many drafts. I've always admired Galbraith, a man who has only recently passed away. I’ve followed his advice on the need to go through endless drafts. I’ve lost count, but I’m not sure if, in the process, I have avoided excess. I can hear readers say: “are you kidding?” In some ways I have found that the more drafts I do, the more I had to say. And excess, is one of the qualities of my life, if I may begin the confessional aspect of this work in a minor key. And so I have Galbraith watching over my shoulder and his mentor, Henry Luce, as well. Galbraith spent his last years in a nursing home before he passed away in 2006 at the age of 98. Perhaps his spirit will live on in my writing as an expression of my appreciation for his work, if nothing else. Spontaneity did begin to come into my work at perhaps my sixth or seventh draft of this fifth edition. Galbraith says that artificiality enters the text Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Inc. 48
  • 49. because of this. I think he is right; part of this artificiality is the same as that which one senses in life itself. Galbraith also observed with considerable accuracy, in discussing the role of a columnist, that such a man or woman is obliged by the nature of their trade to find significance three times a week in events of absolutely no consequence. I trust that the nature of my work here, my memoir, will not result in my being obliged to find significance where there is none. I’m not optimistic. Perhaps I should simply say “no comment” and avoid the inevitable gassy emissions that are part of the world of memoirs. The capacity to entertain and be clever may not occupy such an important place in the literary landscape in the centuries ahead. But this is hard to say. There is something wrong it seems to me if millions have what the famous American critic Gore Vidal says is part of the nightly experience of western man: the pumping of laughing gas into lounge rooms. While this pumping takes place millions, nay billions, now and over the recent four epochs about which this account is written, starve, are malnourished and are traumatized in a multitude of ways. The backdrop to this memoir is bewilderingly complex. Still, I like to think readers will find here a song of intellectual gladness and, if not a song, then at least a few brief melodies. I would also 49
  • 50. like it if this work possessed an unwearying tribute to the muse of comedy that instils the life and work of writers like, say, Clive James and many another writer with the flare for humour. Alas, that talent is not mine to place before readers, at least I am not conscious of its presence. Readers will be lucky to get a modicum of laughs, as I’ve said, in the 2600 pages that are here. I avoid humour, although not consciously, except for the occasional piece of irony, play with words or gentle sarcasm that some call the lowest form of wit. Not making use of the lighter side of life, not laughing at oneself and others in a country like Australia is perhaps an unwise policy. I do this a great deal in my daily life but readers won’t find much to laugh at here.11 They will find irony in mild amounts and even enough of that Benthamite psychology of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain to satisfy the value-systems of readers, at least in Australia.12 I came to write this edition of my autobiography, or memoirs as I say above, after living for more than 11 J.K. Galbraith in Harry Kreisler, Conversations With History: Intellectual Journey--Challenging the Conventional Wisdom, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996, 12 Ronald Conway in The Great Australian Stupor, Sun Books, 1971, p.17 points to this as “the highest value” and “the most vital of stratagems.” This was how Conway saw it and expressed it in his book in 1971, the year I arrived in Australia. 50
  • 51. three decades in Australia. Part of this book unavoidably analyses the things, the culture, around me. In some ways I don’t mind the relative dearth of humour in this work because, if Gore Vidal was right in a recent interview when he said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek where he often places it to the pleasure and amusement, the annoyance and frustration of many a listener--and laughing gas is, indeed, pumped into most homes every night as society amuses itself to death,13 then, to avoid this paradox, this ambiguity, this complexity at the heart of our world, my world, could be said to deny the pain that is at the very heart of our existence in this age. To gainsay such pain is, for some, a central crime of the bourgeois part of our society. For me, the issues and offences, the challenges and struggles in relation to this polarity-paradox, this conundrum, are exceedingly complex and I only deal with them indirectly in this somewhat personal statement, however long it may be. 13 Gore Vidal, “Interview with Bob Carr: Foreign Correspondent,” ABC TV, 9:45-10:05 p.m., February 21st , 2006 and Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Penguin, 1986. 51
  • 52. If readers miss the lighter, the more humorous, touch here, they may also miss the succinctness that they find in their local paper, a doco on TV or the pervasive advertising medium that drenches us all in its brevity and sometimes clever play on words and images. One thing this book is not is succinct and I apologize to readers before they get going if, indeed, dear readers, you get going at all with this work. I like to think, though, that readers will find here two sorts of good narrative, the kind that moves by its macroscopic energy and the kind that moves by its microscopic clarity. I won’t promise this to readers here at the outset in this preface, but such is my hope—springing eternally as hope does in the font of life. I have grown fonder of life in late middle age and the early years of late adulthood after years of having to suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ As far as laughs are concerned, I have made much ‘ha ha,’ as Voltaire called it, in the public domain in these last six decades, especially since coming to Australia in 1971, 36 years ago. A goodly portion of my life has been light and cheery and I’m confident, with Gore Vidal, that it will stay this way, barring calamity or trauma, until my last breath. I hope some readers will enjoy this narrative in all its excess, its voluminosity and its serious note and tone. In one of John Steinbeck’s 52
  • 53. letters he wrote: “Anyone who says he doesn’t like a pat on the back is either untruthful or a fool.”14 Perhaps Steinbeck never met many of the Aussies I’ve known who don’t like pats on their back or anywhere else, are suspicious of those who give them and are certainly not fools. But I am, alas, not a full-blood Aussie; I am at best a hybrid and I look forward to many pats on the back. Australians have taught me not to be too optimistic, too dependent, too attached to such pats; perhaps, though, it is simply life, my experience and my own particular brand of skepticism that has taught me this. Scratching backs—now that is a different question! Gertrude Stein’s autobiography was published when she was 54 and it led to the beginning of her popularity after more than 20 years of trying to publish her writing, unsuccessfully. The reason for her autobiography’s success, she once said, was that she made it so simple anyone could understand it. Perhaps I should have done the same and removed anything obscure or complex. Sadly, for those who like to ‘keep it simple stupid,’ as one of the more popular lines in business English courses emphasizes, they may find this work a bit of drudgery, far more that they want to be bothered to bite off. Stein marketed her book in several important ways, ways to which I do 14 John Steinbeck, “Letter March 14th 1963,” in Steinbeck Studies , Volume 15, Number 1, Spring 2004. 53
  • 54. not resort. I have done my marketing of this book, just about entirely on the Internet. I’ve marketed it as autobiography, as memoir and on the internet in more ways than it is useful to recount here. Memoir has recently become a fashionable term, just in the last decade, but I still tend more often to use the term autobiography. I have used this term increasingly since I started this writing in 1984. I have left much out of this autobiography. That energetic President of the USA, Theodore Roosvelt, said in the opening line of his autobiography, “there are chapters of my autobiography which cannot now be written.”15 I, too, have left much out. I would like to think that this book requires more exposition than criticism, more reflection than editing. To put it more precisely, I would like to think that as readers go through these pages in five volumes they may apply their critical faculty as a connoisseur might do. Readers would be advised to employ that critical faculty to discern what is distinctive and enduring here. That is what I would like to think but I am confident that, should this lengthy work attain any degree of popularity, it will also receive its share of criticism. For many this work will not have what is an essential of popular writing: that it be written entertainingly, 15 Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, 1913. 54
  • 55. breezily, and full of snappy phrases. I trust this work does possess, though, that happy mix of copiousness and restraint, depth and lightness. When this narrative breathes out, the world is many; when it breathes in again, the world is one. When this narrative looks back in time it might be called retrospective or narratology and when it looks forward futurology. Time itself is only significant in terms of some relation; severed from relation it becomes merely a semantic term or construct. Whatever this work lacks in the way of potential popularity it does aim “to unite the greatest possible number of people.”16 The oneness of humankind is, for me, more than a theoretical notion. Albert Camus in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1957 said that uniting people was or should be the aim of the writer. The Baha’i community has been engaged in this task for more than a century and a half and as one of its members I have been similarly engaged for a little more than half a century. I often use books toward this goal. I see books as stories about human beings and, although books are not life, it is life they are about. I got a surge of warmth and delight putting this life together and, if I knew a monk, I would get him to 16 Albert Camus, Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957. 55
  • 56. illuminate it.17 As George Bernard Shaw used to say, “my first aim is to please myself and I can not always please my readers.” How true, how true. I am confident that the standard of public discussion and literary criticism will, as the decades and centuries go by, significantly, profoundly improve. I confidently leave this work in the hands of posterity and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence. Perchance editors and readers will be found down the roads of the future. The determining factors of fate and freedom leave much to be decided on those roads. I like to think that this autobiographical work may incline readers to re-examine their received ideas on the autobiographical genre. The inflated reputations that are a constant part of literary discourse in this field of literature need to be placed in a more balanced perspective. I hope the approach I have taken to this work is a step in the direction of that balance. May this work be used as a sort of scaffolding--a burgeoning product in the public place--for readers to work on the buildings that are their own lives. For I aspire, as the literary critic Rebecca West once put it, to artistry not just a simple amiability. I’d also like to intellectually challenge the reader not just provide a story to 17 Randall Jarrell makes this comment in “Hunger for Excellence, Awakening Hunger In His Readers,” Helen Vendler, The New York Times, January 4th 1970. 56
  • 57. satisfy human curiosity. Our world in the West is drowning in stories and so I try to provide something beyond a simple tale with its exciting twists and turns, with its moral-to-the-story, its romance and surprises. I am a tireless interpreter of themes, resources, books and people and I move from the micro to the macro world faster than a speeding bullet. This shifting about is not everybody’s cup-of-tea. Any pleasure this work provides, any influence it achieves, I like to think derives from my peculiar artistry and my blend of truth, studies of the humanities and social sciences and the combination of the colloquial and the academic. There is nothing wrong with having such lofty aims even if I do not achieve them. At the same time, I do not want to make extravagant promises that, in the end, disappoint. Readers will find here a conceptual density that can give both pleasure and instruction. Those who enjoy philosophical argument may enjoy this book more than those looking for a good yarn. In fact, I would advise those looking for a captivating story to look elsewhere. This work may well repel those who have a low tolerance for compact, complex ideas piled on one after another, but whether the reader enjoys or dislikes this work, as a study of the past and the present from a particular perspective, an autobiographical one, it is my way of understanding my world. I like to see my work partly 57
  • 58. the way Mark Twain did his. As he wrote in the introductory lines of his autobiography: “my work has a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along, like contact of flint with steel.” His method, Twain went on, was a ‘systemless system’ that depended solely on what interested him at the time of writing. Such, too, is my aim and method, at least in part.18 It is easy I find to please myself when I write; the challenge and the greatest pleasure lies in writing for the pleasure of others. There is also a similarity in my writing to the works of various artists in the last century: Picasso's revolutionary paintings, T.S. Eliot's verse with its strange juxtapositions and odd perspectives, Igor Stravinsky’s music and its clashing sounds. Even if one accepts these similarities, readers may find that their natural reaction to this work is to want to throw it into the dustbin of autobiographical history. I would anticipate this response given the conventional, the natural, reaction to literary works of this type on the part of many a student I have taught and got to know over the years. The desire for an orderly impulse, a simple, an exciting, narrative sequence may produce in such readers an initial discomfort due to their perception of what 18 Methodology, defined in its widest sense, is the means by which knowledge is produced, accumulated and classified. 58
  • 59. they see as my disorder and complexity and the sheer length of this work. In this autobiography, as Henry James once put it, “nothing is my last word on anything.”19 This disorder, this complexity, therefore, could continue for such readers almost indefinitely, at least theoretically. " These were, as Charles Dickens once said, "the best of times and the worst of times."20 In my more than thirty years of teaching I came across hundreds of students whom I know would take little to no delight in an analysis of these times in a form like the one found here. The most recent additions and alterations to this fifth edition were made on September 1st 2007, the first day of spring in Australia. This was more than four years and four months after the third edition of this work was sent to Haifa and since that edition was first made public in eBook form at eBookMall. It had been more than six years since the second edition of my website was first made public with extensive autobiographical material on it. A third edition of my website with a more user-friendly style and content is planned. The designers refer to it as a new-look, twenty-first century edition, but it has yet to see the light of day. I have had a website for ten years and 19 Henry James quoted by Susan Sontag, “Exhibit A With Julie Copeland,” ABC Radio, 8:30-9:00 p.m., January 9th 2006. 20 Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. 59
  • 60. what readers will find in my new site is a piece of writing, an autobiography, in a much more readable format: such is my aim. As I was making a recent addition to this autobiographical work, I came across the words of Paul Johnson. "Balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure people,” he wrote, “do not, on the whole, make good writers or good journalists. To illustrate the point, you have only to think of a few of those who have been both good writers and good journalists: Swift, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dickens, Marx, Hemingway, Camus, Waugh and Mark Twain--just to begin with."21 All these men had great personal struggles, instabilities and battles that, arguably, helped to give their writing the quality it possessed. I’m not sure if I deserve to be ranked with this group of famous men, however much I might like the idea. But neither am I sure if I could describe myself as balanced, well-adjusted, stable and secure. I leave both of these evaluations to my readers, most of whom will never know me personally. Future biographers, too, should there ever be any, may well find their path in writing a more detached view of my life one of perplexity. But 21 Paul Johnson, The Spectator, vol.24, No.3, 1990. 60
  • 61. whatever their answers to the biographical enigmas that arise in their work, it is my hope that they enjoy the process of trying to resolve the questions. All they will have from me are words on paper, all that any writer leaves behind. And, as I get older, there is coming to be so much of it, words, paper and cyberspace that is. This work is partly an account of my stabilities and instabilities, balances and imbalances. As poet, writer and autobiographer, I have gone into myself. The tale here is significantly an inner one. It is not a lonely region, but a place where I often find fresh vigour and nourish my disposition to repose. I also have a certain preoccupation with personal relationships, intensity, bi-polar illness and movement from place to place, living as I have in over two dozen towns from Baffin Island to Tasmania. It’s all part of my particular expression of a process which Baha’is call pioneering and which readers will get much exposure to in this narrative. If the feedback I have received since the last edition to this work was completed over three years ago is anything to go on, feedback for the most part I received in relation to the first few pages of this work that I posted at a number of internet writing sites, the average reader, as I say above, is 61
  • 62. looking for a good story and is not prepared to wade through my analysis, commentary and social scientific and literary-philosophical perspectives gleaned from a variety of disciplines in the humanities. The feedback I have received has praised my work to a high degree and it has also been critical of everything from my style and content to my choice of vocabulary and my very attitude. C’est la vie. “Such is life,” as Ned Kelly is reported to have said on his way to the gallows in 1880 after a life of notoriety—and now posthumous fame in Australia. I may, one day, write a more narrative, story-oriented, book to entice readers with excitements, romance and adventure. But, for now, I leave readers with this my life as I want to write it. This book may be more epitaph than autobiography. If so, I will need a whole cemetery of tombstones. Ron Price 1 September 2007 PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION After completing the third edition of this work on July 9th 2003, in commemoration of the 153rd anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab, I 62
  • 63. continued to polish and to alter its basic structure and format. By the celebration of the anniversary of the Birth of Baha'u'llah on November 12th 2003 it seemed timely to bring out this fourth edition, due to the many changes I had made. The second edition had been essentially the same as the first which I had completed ten years before in 1993, although I added a series of appendices and notebooks which contained a substantial body of resources that I could draw on that had become available on the autobiographical process and on life-writing as well as the social sciences and humanities on the various themes I wanted to pursue in my work. And I did just that in writing the third edition. In 2003 I wrote what was essentially a new autobiography of over 700 pages with over 1300 footnotes. In this fourth edition of some 350,000 words I have divided the text into five volumes that are now found online at several journal/diary sites and some Baha’i sites.22 The Baha'i Academics Resource Library located on the Internet at has the fullest version. It has taken me nearly twenty years to satisfy my autobiographical and literary self after years of finding my autobiographical writing somewhat dreary. I’d like to think I offer some enlightenment in these pages after 20 22 This autobiography is now located at highlighted this autobiography at its news site on November 4th 2003-among other sites. 63
  • 64. years of practice. But to attempt to enlighten anyone these days rings of a certain pretentiousness and so I make this last comment with some caution. I know that the artist Andy Warhol expressed the feelings of many people in these days of electronic media when he said that ‘words are for nerds.’23 I am not anticipating a great rush to this text. Words are a poor resource for capturing complexity, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, but they are our chief tools for such a capture. Beneath a meticulous drawing of a dissected heart, on one of the many pages of his dazzlingly precise anatomical drawings now in the royal collection at Windsor, Leonardo wrote: "O writer! What words can you find to describe the whole arrangement of the heart as perfectly as is done in this drawing? My advice is not to trouble yourself with words unless you are speaking to the blind."24 Of course a life is at least as complex as a heart and, in many ways, the artist can not make a drawing of a life. Hence the value of words. When a substantial, a sufficient, number of changes, additions and deletions have been made to this edition I'll bring out a fifth edition. This exercise 23 Andy Warhol in a review of Andy Warhol, Wayne Koestenbaum, Viking/Penguin Lives, NY, 2003. 24 Charles Nicholl, “ Breaking the Da Vinci Code,” The Guardian Unlimited, November 27, 2004. 64
  • 65. will depend, of course, on being granted sufficient years before "the fixed hour" is upon me and it becomes my "turn to soar away into the invisible realm."25 Readers will find here augmentations of the third edition rather than revisions or corrections, in a very similar way to those that, Michel Montaigne, the first essayist in the western intellectual tradition, said he did with the editions of his Essays.26 Readers will also find in this work an application of what I call the Reverse Iceberg Principle: 10% cold hard facts on the surface and 90% analysis, interpretation, imagination.27 This edition represents a reconciliation of a certain zestful readiness of my imaginative life with the challenging demands of the world of teaching, parenting, marriage, Baha'i community activity and various social responsibilities. It is a reconciliation that could not have occurred, though, had the demands of job, community and family not been significantly cut back to a minimum. The swings in my bi-polar cycle and the practical 25 'Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials November 27, 2004.of the Faithful, NSA of the Baha'is of the United States, Wilmette, 1971, p.166. 26 Colin Burrow, "A Review of Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher by Anne Hartle," Guardian Unlimited Books, Nov. 2003. Montaigne wrote his essays between 1571 and 1592. 27 See Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August,” in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 5th 2004, for an explanation of the Iceberg Principle in which readers have to do the analysing and the author only presents the facts. 65
  • 66. demands of life enervated and depleted whatever energies I could have poured into writing this autobiography for a long time. But after my retirement from the teaching profession nearly five years ago and after the final stage of the treatment of my bi-polar disorder during these same years, a whole new energy system unfolded, productive tensions between self- creation and communal participation, enabling me to put together these seven hundred pages in the course of one year. I feel a little like that towering literary giant of my time Doris Lessing who, in a recent interview, said: “all kinds of circumstances have kept me pretty tightly circumscribed. What I've done is write. I used to have a very great deal of energy, which, alas, seems to have leaked away out of my toes somewhere.”28 I certainly don’t have the energy I used to have when employed full-time, but God has granted a good deal to emerge from between my toes. Lessing also wrote in her 1994 work Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography--To 1949: “Telling the truth or not telling it, and how much, is a lesser problem than the one of shifting perspectives, for you see your life differently at different stages, like climbing a mountain while the landscape changes with every turn in the path. Had I written this when I was thirty, it 28 Doris Lessing in “An Interview With Doris Lessing,” Bookforum, Spring 2002. 66
  • 67. would have been a pretty combative document. In my forties, a wail of despair and guilt: oh my God, how could I have done this or that? Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman, with a much more detached curiosity. Besides the landscape itself is a tricky thing. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don't?”29 I hope I have not just built an autobiographical skyscraper to adorn the literary skyline. I hope that at least a few readers will take an elevator up to my many floors and check out some of the multitude of offices hidden away. After travelling up and up at the press of a button, readers will find some useful resources for their everyday lives, at least for the life of their minds. As one of the 'writingest pioneers,' I hope I provide some pleasurable moments to anyone brave enough to take on the 850 pages here. The kind of pleasure I am talking about is the fine delight that follows the fluid matrix of thought, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it. 29 Doris Lessing, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography: To 1949, Flamingon, London, 1994, p.12. 67
  • 68. I was able at last to satisfy the autobiographical impulse. And the impulse led me on many paths but only one direction--deeper.30 This book became, in a way, the crystallization of a way I wanted to write.31 Out of the privacy of my thought and writing I was able to make more and more and more of my life;32 it was a 'more' that was on the social dimension of life as my life had been hitherto for virtually all of my pioneering experience. My writing became a 'coaxing of a context'33 out of my experience and the history of my times and of my religion. An historical sense as a member of civilized society is what memory is to individual identity and there are so many catalysts to memory: places, people, ideas and the media among other catalysts. But even as the quantity of memories accumulates with the years I still have some of that feeling expressed by that eminent 20th century anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, namely, that “I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself 30 Bonnie Goldberg, Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life, Putnam Books, 2004. 31 Alister Cooke expressed his radio braodcasts, beginning as they did early in the first Seven Year Plan, this same way. See: ABC Radio National, April 4th, 2004, 8:00-8:30 am. 32 Cleanth Brooks, "W.B. Yates as a Literary Critic," The Discipline of Criticism: Essays in Literary Theory, Interpretation and History, editor, P. Demetz, et al., pp.17-41. 33 A description by a journalist of the accomplishment of Alister Cooke over nearly 60 years. See: idem 68
  • 69. as the place where something is going on, but there is no “I,” no “me.”34 Though I use these terms frequently in this autobiography there is certainly an enigmatic aspect to the sense of self. The result of the simple, the complex and the enigmatic is the edition you read here completed several months before my sixtieth. I offer this edition of my work in celebration of the birth of that Holy Tree35 near day-break 186 years ago this morning. I do not try to fix this autobiography into a single frame; I do not try to write my own story with a sense of closure and definitiveness. Nor do I write with a great emphasis on disclosure and confession; I do not try to 'jazz-it-up', make it more than it is. I'm not tempted to give it a glamour it does not possess but I do strive to find its meaning, the meaning in what is already there. My story is based on remembrance, memory and unavoidably, first-person reportage. There is so much that, with the years, calls forth a flood of valuable reminiscences. I have converted some of that which I have seen, thought, held, tasted and felt into thought, language, memory. These memories of times past are not pursued as a nostalgic end in themselves, although they are usually enjoyed, 34 Seth Huebner, “Virginia Woolf: O Thy Splendid Identity!” Janus Head, Winter 2005. 35 Baha'u'llah refers to His birth using the words "this Holy Tree." See David S. Ruhe, Robe of Light, George Ronald, Oxford, 1994, p.21. 69
  • 70. but as an illumination of the present and a guide to the future.36 There is a seductive power in autobiographical writing that enables writers of this genre to manipulate, manage and revise their experience and, at the public level, synthesize and analyse public opinion.37 This power has always attracted writers. I’m not sure I like this idea but, in some ways, everything written has a certain spin. “A book is a thing among things, a volume lost among the volumes that populate the indifferent universe,” writes the Argentinian poet, Borges, “until it meets its reader, the person destined for its symbols. What then occurs is that singular emotion called beauty, that lovely mystery which neither psychology nor criticism can describe.''38 I would hope that at least some readers experience that thing called beauty here in this autobiography. There are an unlimited number of possible narratives that could be constructed as reporter on my life. What readers have here could be called 36 See William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey (1798) and Matthew Arnold’s The Terrace at Berne (1852), for similar experiences of other autobiographical poets. 37 Helga Lénárt-Cheng, “Autobiography As Advertisement: Why Do Gertrude Stein’s Sentences Get Under Our Skin?” New Literary History, Vol.34, No.1, Winter 2003. 38 Andrew Roe, “Borges' Epiphanies on Everything From Kafka to Citizen Kane,” A review of Jorge Luis Borges’, Selected Non-Fictions, editor Eliot Weinberger in The San Francisco Chronicle, 5 September 1999. 70
  • 71. an interpretation, adaptation, abridgement, a retelling, a basic story among many possible basic stories.39 It is neither true nor false, but constructed.40 It has meaning because, as the poet Czeslaw Milosz writes, “it changes into memory.”41 The universal currency and assumed naturalness of narrative, though, may well suppress its problematic dimensions such as: parsimony, inclusion and suppression as shaping factors in the composition of narratives. There is some ordering of the incidences and intimacies of this specific, individual life into a narrative coherence giving readers some idea of what it was like to be me, some idea of what my inner, private, mental life was like. This private life is for the most part illegible; we live it and fight it alone. I have tried to make this inner life, as much as possible, as legible as possible. The sense of self which has emerged in the process of writing this work is two-fold. One is this private, mysterious, difficult to define self about whom it seems impossible to boast about. This self is an enigma, a mysterious who that I am, a transient entity, ceaselessly re-created for each and every 39 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories," Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1980. 40 Steven V. Hunsaker, Autobiography and National Identity in the Americas, Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1999, p. xvi. 41 Czeslaw Milosz in “The Memory of Czeslaw Milosz: 1911-2004,” Hilton Kramer, The New Criterion, October 2004. 71
  • 72. object with which the brain interacts. Along with this transient entity, though, there is what seems like a second self, what one writer called an autobiographical self.42 It is this self which gives this autobiography some narrative flow; it is the self of everyday life, the surface existence. It is not trivial but is really quite important in a different way than that more enigmatic self. The everyday self, the one which wrote this fourth edition, possesses a memory which is the basis of thought, feeling, tradition, identity, and spirit. This act, this struggle, to remember and not to forget is also the basis for the achievement of a sense of continuity. Here in this continuity lies my individual and cultural identity. George Orwell’s warning that an erasure of the past is one of the conditions that allows a totalitarian régime to manipulate the future is a warning that I take quite seriously. I possess the freedom and the ability to remember; this freedom is intact and as a custodian of my own, my society’s and my religion’s memory, I have the ability and the responsibility to exercise one of the most formidable defenses against the many forces that encourage amnesia and threaten the basis of my personal and cultural awareness and identity. 42 Antonio Damasio quoted in: "The Autobiography of Consciousness and the New Cognitive Existentialism," Janus Head, Vol. ? No.?. 72
  • 73. If, in opening both my narrative self and my inner self to others, readers may see ways to describe and give expression to their lives and in so doing be open further to the immense richness of life's experience, that would give me pleasure. For, as 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote in the opening pages of The Secret of Divine Civilization, "there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight"43 than "an individual, looking within himself, should find that....he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men."44 Time will tell, of course, how successful I have been in this regard. I make no claim, though, to my life being some apotheosis of the Baha'i character as, say, Benjamin Franklin's autobiographical persona was of the prevailing conception of the American character back in the eighteenth century. Baha'i character and personality, it is my view, is simply too varied to be said to receive an apotheosis or typification in someone's life. Franklin, and many autobiographers since, have been interested in self-promotion and in being an exemplar for the edification and moral improvement of their 43 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970(1928), p.3. 44 idem 73
  • 74. community, exempla as they are known in the western religious traditions. I have taken little interest in the former or the latter as I proceeded to write this work. The Baha'i community has acquired many exempla in the last two hundred years45 and only one true Exemplar. If this work plays some role, however limited, in developing an "aristocracy of distinction," as Franklin's did, and in contributing to "the power of understanding,"46 as this great Cause goes on from strength to strength in the years ahead, I would welcome such a development. To think that this work could play a part, however small, in the advancement of civilization, may be yet another somewhat pretentious thought, but it is a hope, an aspiration, consistent with the system of Baha'i ideals and aims which has been part of my ethos, my philosophy of life, for nearly half a century now. And finally, like Franklin, I leave a great deal out of this autobiography, a great deal about my times, my religion and myself. I make no apologies for this any more than I make any apologies to particular individuals I have 45 If one defines Shaykh Ahmad's leaving his home in eastern Arabia in 1793 as a starting point for the story of this new religion and the completion of the first edition of this autobiography as 1993, then there are two centuries of religious experience to draw on for various kinds of exemplars, heroes, saints and wondrous personages. I'm not so sure I deserve to be included in this list of exemplars. 46 Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, Wilmette, 1974, p.17. 74
  • 75. known along the way. Conscious of the problem in autobiographical literature of the "aggrandisement of the self," I stress the very ordinariness of my life, my part of a larger, collective, community memory and the coherence of my life around a host of themes which can never be considered in isolation from the communities that shape and inform their values. It is an ordinariness, though, that has taken place over so many locations in towns and cities that the destruction of familiar and historied edifices, a destruction that amounts to the creation of a memory hole for local people, a memory hole into which psychic energies and entities are irretrievably drawn, to the considerable impoverishment of what remains behind, has not been a critical part of my experience. My life has been in so many ways one that has had to deal with the shock of the new and the making of this newness into a familiarity and home. Literary memories are many in my life: from many of the passages in the Baha’i writings like Baha’u’llah’s “from the sweet-scented streams” to Shoghi Effendi’s “a tempest unprecedented in its magnitude” help this work to chart its course among a host of visionary uses of memory. The Baha’i vision of the future has been an important inspiration in my day to day life; indeed, I would go so far as to say that this vision is much more than 75
  • 76. inspiration. "Vision creates reality," as the once and long-time secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, Horace Holley, once wrote. To put it in the words of that paleontologist, philosopher and theologican, Teillard de Chardin, in the end it is the utopians who are the realists. That idea may grate on the pessimists, cynics and skeptics among us, a mass of humanity that fills every corner of our world. And who knows, everyone makes assumptions about life, about history and the future. Assumptions are like axioms in geometry, they are given, not really proveable in any ultimate sense. We take these assumptions, wrap our emotions around them and walk the walk. That has always been, at least since my thirties, a definition of faith that I have drawn on in my work and in my teaching. For everyone makes assumptions; everyone has faith in something, some idea, concept, definition of history and meaning of life. Most of life's experience has been left out, as Mark Twain informed us is an inevitability, part of the nature of any autobiography. Perceptual gaps, cognitive omissions, lacuna of many kinds, prevent an accurate or complete account of reality. But, because we are seldom aware of the lacuna, because the neural processes, the neurophysiological data underpinning autobiographical memory, the cerebral representation of one’s past is 76
  • 77. difficult to elucidate and difficult to tap, we tend to believe the cognations, the cognations and the cogitations. Clocking in at a burgeoning 850 pages, as I place these additional words, is too much. If that is the case, some future editor can cut it back to a manageable portion or publish it in several volumes. Readers may be advised to read part rather than all of this text, if they read it at all. Ron Price November 12th 2003 PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION Forty years ago this week the Baha'i community elected its first international body, the Universal House of Justice. The timing for the completion of this third edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs47 has been fortuitous since I have dedicated this book to these Men of Aha, as the Baha'is sometimes call 47 The four epochs are the years 1944 to 2021 of the Formative Age, not to be confused with the two epochs of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan: 1937-1963 and 1963 to an as yet unspecified year. 77
  • 78. this body at the apex of their administrative Order. The completion of the third edition of this work, this autobiography, in the last few days, coinciding as this completion does with the election of that international governing body for the ninth time, has been encouraging. Over these last two decades I have often been inclined to discontinue this whole exercise. With the writing of this third edition a renewed hope has entered the picture. After nearly twenty years of working on this autobiography, or narrative non-fiction, as it might be called, I feel, at last, that it has a form worthy of publication and so I have entered it on my website at Since the 1980s there has been a great interest in autobiography among the many minoritarian constituencies, as they are often called. The Baha’i community is but one of these many constituencies. My work it seems is part of this new wave of personalised, embodied narrative that foregrounds the particularity, as Anne Browser puts it, of the everyday.48 Readers will also find elements of a grandnarrative here. For I link the epic and monumentalising narratives of history and science to the quotidian. There is no hierarchical opposition between the 48 Anne Brewster, “Writing Whiteness: The Personal Turn,” Australian Humanities Review, Issue 35, June 2005. 78
  • 79. everyday and the official discourses of public life. I try, as far as I am able, to integrate the micro and the macro into one whole. But readers who enjoy human interest stories and history and theoretically seek to learn about distant and unknown regions in a non-fictional account of an important period in history with geographical and historical highlights--when they pick up this narrative what they will get is not history, but myself telling my story. The everyday, it seems to me, is not reducible to simply pure or raw data from which the larger discourses of life are produced. I would argue that this here and now world and all its mundanities, underlines, shapes and informs the modes of rationality, the philosophies and ideologies, which are said to transcend it. Formal and official discourses and institutions, in turn, inform and shape this everyday life. My work seeks to deconstruct and integrate the conventional playing out of the relationship between these two domains which, historically, have been hierarchised, gendered and always in conflict, always contestatory. Rather than being mutually exclusive, these heterogeneous zones inform each other. Rather than being seen as redundant, trivial and empty, everyday life is thought of here as a field in which 'macrostructural categories', such as 79
  • 80. those of official and pedagogic discourses, 'are ongoingly translated into manageable structures of sense at human scale.’49 I first read my grandfather's autobiography in 1983. It is a book written in the first two years of the Formative Age, 1921-1923, by a man who had just turned fifty years of age. The book was the account of the first twenty-nine years of his life. This work of more than 100,000 words, by a formally uneducated man, was an inspiration to me and my writing. And so I have also dedicated this book to my grandfather, Alfred J. Cornfield. I have now written perhaps more than 200,000 words about the first fifty- eight years of my life, twice as many years as those in my grandfather's autobiography. I see this edition as a working base, a mental precinct, for an ongoing exercise in autobiography and autobiographical analysis and an exercise, too, in integrating the multitude of insights from a lifetime of experience of which reading in the social sciences and humanities has been an important part. When enough changes to this third edition have been made, a fourth edition will take its place some time in the years, or perhaps 49 I have drawn here on the ideas of John Frow, '”Never Draw to an Inside Straight: On Everyday Knowledge”, in New Literary History, Vol. 33: pp. 623-37. 80
  • 81. just months, ahead. Perhaps, too, like Edward Gibbon I'll complete six editions before this earthly life is out. Gibbon's autobiography, of course, became significant because of its association with his famous work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The significance of this work, if indeed it comes to possess any significance at all, will be due to my association with a Movement that claims to be the emerging world religion on this planet. The world-wide development of the Baha’i Order and the first stirrings of the coming World Order have seen and will see a tremendous development in my lifetime. Although I see my life in the context of these wider themes, I do not focus on these themes which are dealt with in other places, other books, in much more detail. Another central context for my life has been as a prelude to a prelude, to an eventual mass- conversion of the peoples of the world to the Baha’i Faith. The process of entry-by-troops is the prelude to that mass conversion and thus far, in most of the places I have lived, entry-by-troops has been more like, as one clever- editor once put it, entry-by-roos.50 And so my life pioneering over four epochs is a part of that prelude to the prelude that is entry-by-troops. 50 The cover of the Australian Baha’i Bulletin in 1996(circa) had two kangaroos at the edge of a group of trees with the caption ‘entry-by-roos.’ 81
  • 82. William Blake once said, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” That, to me--eternity that is--is a love worth pursuing. I completed a first edition of this work ten years ago in May 1993. I dedicated it to the Universal House of Justice on that occasion, as I do here in this edition. A second edition contained additional sentences and paragraphs, alterations and a wealth of quotations and essays on the subject of autobiography as well as a dozen or so updates to take the story into this my fifty-ninth year of life and my forty-first as a pioneer. I was trying in this second edition, although I don’t feel I was in any way successful, to write the kind of sentences Henry David Thoreau advocated: “Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as Roman aqueducts; to frame these, that is the art of writing . . . .a style kinked and knotted up into something hard and significant, which you could swallow like a diamond, without digesting.”51 Well, it’s good to have a lofty aim. In the third edition I began, or so it is my impression, to take the first steps toward achieving this goal-so often impressions are all we have. 51 Henry David Thoreau in Annette M. Woodlief, “The Influence of Theories of Rhetoric on Thoreau,” Thoreau Journal Quarterly, Vol. VII, January 1975, pp.13-22. 82
  • 83. “The formation of a style,” though, as the Canadian poet Archibald Lampman once wrote, “is a most unconscious process. He who should set about premeditatedly to form a style would end most certainly in forming nothing but an affectation. But he who finds himself haunted persistently by certain peculiar ideas, certain peculiar images, certain tones of sound, colour and feeling and sets about expressing these simply in the manner most outright and clear and satisfactory to himself, and continues to do so until his hand attains ease and certainty will discover, or rather his readers will discover that he has invented a style.”52 This style is also the result, or so it seems to me, over several decades indeed my whole life of a certain peculiarity of thought and of imagination which has been uppermost in my mind and emotions as adolescence has been succeeded by the stages of adulthood. This thought and this imagination has given birth to and formed images that have at times insensibly absorbed my attention and at other times obsessed me. An intensity of vision, a sustaining power of thought and understanding and a capacity to feed my emotions, all aspects of this obsession, on this long road, this long labour that is life, has developed quite 52 Archibald Lampman, "Poetic Interpretation," in Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose, ed. Barrie Davies, The Tecumseh Press, Ottawa, 1975, p. 88. 83
  • 84. unobtrusively and periodically quite surprised me with the years. This complex mix of mysterious entities has given a tone to my literary creations and worked itself out through the implements of my art. All of this has resulted, too, in the formation of a style. Finally, drawing on Lampman again, "The perfect poet, it may be said, would have no set style. He would have a different one for everything he should write, a manner exactly suited to the subject.2 Style is the result not only of a distinctive selection of words and phrases to express thought or feeling, but even of the manner in which the writer chooses to emphasize his thoughts through punctuation.53 As I worked on the second edition I was often inclined to leave the account there and break-off the writing. But something kept pulling me toward a more extended, a deeper, treatment of my life and times in the context of my religion. This third edition was written in the first four months of 2003. Drawing on much of the resource material I had gathered on the subject of autobiography in the previous ten years, I was finally able to tell my story in a way that was satisfying, if far from perfect. I look forward to further 53 idem 84
  • 85. developments to this autobiographical work in the months, the years and perhaps even the decades ahead. If I live to be one hundred and I am in possession of my faculties I could be working on further editions for another four decades. Should I be granted such a long life in which to recount the 'tokens that tell of His glorious handiwork,' it will be interesting to see what changes there will be, what will be added and what will be taken away, in future editions. The significance of my efforts, what they ultimately will reveal and have revealed, what those mysterious and unmerited graces will uncover from behind the veil of silence, a veil that seems to ultimately cover the lives of most people on this mortal coil, is an unknown quantity. Providence has ordained for my training every atom in existence. Some of the evidences of that training experience are here in this book. In writing this third edition, I seem to have at last found a successful strategy for writing something longer than a few pages, longer than an essay or a poem, literary forms that somehow got fixed by my many years as a student and lecturer in academic institutions and by my own inclination and need to write short pieces for personal pleasure and/or practical necessity. If this work possesses a slightly complex and involved style, perhaps it is because I have found life to be complex and involved. I have learned, at last, that 85
  • 86. revising can be a pleasure and that even the clumsiest initial draft can take on a life of its own in subsequent drafts. A revision, for me, seems to function in a multitude of ways. It yields simplification; it achieves greater depth and complexity; it results in a penetration, a digging beneath appearances to something I see as a greater reality or truth. Something quite new is produced as well as a refining of the old. One test of whether I have found that successful strategy, whether I have written a memorable autobiography, lies in the writer's ability to deal with painful experience, and to balance such moments of pain in intense living with the mundane, unexceptional progress of daily events. Only readers will be able to assess if I have, indeed, achieved this balance. I have discovered too that spinning out ideas and experiences is not only idiosyncratic but also something usefully connected with what others have said. Each spinning seems to require its own web and the search for fixed points of reference is part of the struggle for coherence, completeness and the autobiographer’s attempt to penetrate, to dig, beneath those appearances to something closer to reality. As a result, I like to think that each sentence of Pioneering Over Four Epochs is a "flower in a crannied wall," as a poet 86
  • 87. once wrote.54 The crannied wall of autobiography has been a popular one in the last several centuries, since the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but especially in the last four decades, in the years of this pioneering venture. Many thousands of people in my lifetime have turned to this genre as a means of self-expression and cultural and social reflection.55 I would not be the first person to see in my own life a mirror of the times. Part of my aim is, not so much to convince by force of argument, by means of discussion, by presenting a variety of ideas for the sake of argument, but rather to introduce a personality, a character, the person, the character, who would have such thoughts-namely myself. I do this by turning ideas in the social sciences and humanities to the service of my life. I aim to be, to become, the “poet of my life.” This could be seen as the animating thought behind this book. It is said of the famous artist Andy Warhol that he had one idea in his life and he just recycled it again and again. I’m not sure how true that idea is because I am not a serious student of this particular artist. But I often feel I have had one idea all my life, an idea that I must admit to be an obsession 54 Published in Action, Knowledge, and Reality: Critical Studies in Honour of Wilfrid Sellars, ed. Hector-Neri Castañeda, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., Indianapolis, 1975. 55 Gillian Whitlock, "A Review of 'Shameful Autobiographies: Shame in Contemporary Australian Autobiographies and Culture,'" Rosamund Dalziell, Australian Humanities Review, 1998. 87
  • 88. and that idea is the Baha’i Faith. I cycle and recycle it, twist it around in my mind, it seems, endlessly. I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this fact of my life in a culture, an age, a society(at least in the parts where I have lived), that for the most part does not take religion seriously and when it does it is in some form of disparagement. But an autobiography must contain some frankness and I think it important to put some of my cards on the table early in the piece. The famous work The Education of Henry Adams, a text that appears and reappears periodically in the literature of our age, is an autobiographical work noted for its frankness, its elegance and its view of a man who saw his own life as the microcosm of his age. My work is far less frank, far less splenetic, far less elegant and hardly representative of my age. Like Shakespeare, though, I feel I am holding up a faithful mirror of the manners and life of my society thus reflecting reality through my writing. I’m informed that a meaning of the word reflect, obsolete by 1677, was to ‘turn back.’ I do a good deal of that here, however obsolete that meaning may be. Holding up a mirror to oneself also has another meaning in our visual iconography—vanity or pride, Narcissus admiring his own beauty by means of reflection. The demon of vanity, Nobel prize winner Roger Martin du 88
  • 89. Gard pointed out, is never completely silenced. It whispers its flattering presumptions to us all. I am warned. Adams often used exaggeration to make his case as do many a literary figure and as most of us do in one way oranother in everyday life. Leo Tolstoi wrote that Shakespeare’s characters are exaggerated and not realistic.56 Real people would not have spoken the way they do in Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets,Tolstoi emphasizes. And this is true of the language in my narrative. As far as mirrors are concerned, in Shakespeare’s day they did not faithfully replicate reality. The skill in making mirrors had some distance to go in 1600. The words of St. Paul are also relevant here: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” Human knowledge is always partial and obscured. That is certainly true insofar as much of this autobiography is concerned. Like the mirrors in Shakespeare’s time, the mirror I hold up to life, society’s and mine, is far from free of distortion, however honest and clear I strive to be. In addition, literary histories and autobiographies have mirrors with a specific pattern of reception and usage determined by the ideological bias, the epistemological limitations and the specific concerns of their authors. 56 Carol Banks, “The Purpose of Playing: Further Reflections on the Mirror Metaphor in Shakespeare’s Plays,” Signatures, Vol.2, Winter 2000. 89
  • 90. Autobiography is a genre of literature that is arguably the most popular of all genres in the Western tradition, at least since the Enlightenment. But books, like civilizations and life itself, are fragile things and, however splendid, they often come to mean little in the hearts and minds of a people. Like that flower in a crannied wall, however beautiful and however strongly it may cling to the crevice in the wall, in time it comes to flower no more with no evidence at all of its existence. It is possible that the abyss of history, so deep as it is, may bury this whole exercise, as it buries us. Writers must face this possible reality, no matter how much hope they may entertain for their works. I came to see, as I wrote, that a dialectical use of experiential, historical, religious and philosophical themes and positions is the most reliable way of anchoring one's experience, one's thoughts and arguments and making them more stable and complete. Of great benefit, too, in this the longest of my pieces of writing, has been the many disciplines of the social sciences and humanities and a continued dialogue and even controversial exchange with contemporaries, a controversy that must be characterized by an etiquette of expression and a judicious exercise of the written and spoken word. On 90
  • 91. paper, as in life, the phenomenon of freedom of thought "calls for an acute exercise of judgement."57 One must not say too much nor too little. One must find one's own checks and balances, one's own insights into the dynamics of expression. This edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs is part of that search for these dynamics, these checks and balances and as acute an exercise in judgement as is possible given the blooming and buzzing confusion that so much of life represents to us as we travel this often stony, tortuous and narrow road to what we believe or hope is, ultimately, a glorious destiny. It is understandable how writers like Conrad and Naipaul can see human destiny in terms of darkness, weeping and the gnashing of teeth. If it were not for the political-religious ideas at the centre of the Baha'i Faith with which I have sketched a framework of meaning over the terra incognita of life for virtually all the years of this story, my life, I would not be able to create in comfort. I might very well see life, as so many writers do, as little more than a grotesque farce,58 as a petty pace that creeps on from day to day. 57 The Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Baha'is of the United States of American, December 29th, 1988. 58 For these views of Naipaul and Conrad see "Guardian Unlimited Books," Internet, March 22, 2004. See also Colin Wilson, The Strength to Dream, Abacus Books, London, 1976, p.xxiv. 91
  • 92. The shape within which these dynamics operate, the genre of autobiography, is like water. It is a fluid form, with varied, blurred, multiple and contested boundaries, with characteristics some analysts say that are more like drama than fiction, containing constructed more than objective truth. So it is that other analysts of autobiography see it as "the creation of a fiction."59 This is an understandable conclusion if a writer tends to stress the perspective Baha'u'llah alludes to when He writes that life bears "the mere semblance of reality," that it is like "a vapour in the desert." Whatever universality exists in this text it comes from my association with the writings of this prophet- founder of a new religion rather than any of my specific pretensions to findings and conclusions that I like to think bear relevance to everyone. What I offer here is an interpretation, a voice, seemingly, hopefully, multivocal, that struggles to obtain the attention of others. In some ways what readers will find here is a series of interpretations, identifications, differentiations, in tandem, in tension, in overlap, to one another, each registering their own significances. There is some of Thoreau’s famous statement in my work: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, 59 Shari Benstock, "Authoring the Autobiographical," in The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1988, pp. 10-33, p.11. 92
  • 93. perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”60 I hope readers will find they do not have to penetrate elaborate sentences, wade through arcane terminology and deal with excessive jargon. I hope they will not find here a heaving mass of autobiographical lava as so often is at the centre of autobiographies. But with nearly 800 pages this document may prove more useful as a piece of archival history rather than something for contemporaries to actually read. I certainly aim to please and, as in life, I'm sure I will do that only some of the time. I try to please through this piece of analytical and poetic narrative which I have created not so much on paper as in my innards, out of the living tissue of my life.61 But, as George Bernard Shaw, once said with his characteristic humour: “I can do more write what people want than I can play the fiddle to a happy company of folk dancers.” 60 Henry David Thoreau, Walden. This book contains the lessons Thoreau learned living beside this pond from July 1845 to September 1847. 61 Gloria Anzaldua, "Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers," This Bridge Called My Back: Writing By Radical Women of Colour, 2nd edition, Kitchen Table Women of Colour, NY, 1983, p.172. 93
  • 94. It is the autobiographical theorist James Olney who defines the process of literary creation best for me: "Autobiography is a metaphor through which we stamp our own image on the face of nature. It allows us to connect the known of ourselves to the unknown of the world. Making available new relational patterns it simultaneously organizes the self into a new and richer entity so that the old known self is joined to and transformed into the new and heretofore unknown self."62 Nature, in turn, provides all the means of material life and a common, human currency for representing ideas about that life as society and culture. The new and richer entity that is this autobiography is the result of a carefully edited version of personal experience and my particular version of reality. I place this before my readers and in so doing I indicate as clearly as I can the perspective from which this narrative is being written. This narrative depends on the deferred action of my memory and is based on the view that my writing is worth the risk however complex the task. I like to think of this work as part of a public space, a contributing factor, a small 62 James Olney, Metaphors of the Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1972, pp.31-32. 94
  • 95. part in defining and unifying Baha’i culture and its heterogeneous population. This is a role all Baha’is have and which they play out in their lives, each in their own way. For we all try to be unifiers of the children of men. This work of autobiography is no historical revision which purposely erases and omits facts, airbrushing my life of what existed but was unpleasant, what existed but was embarrassing. I don’t reveal all my warts and sins of every degree. Memory endures and is at the root of this work. It is an invisible, underground, a secret religious observance in my mind, a type of black market; it is stories I might and did tell my son. I make the invisible visible here. This memory I coat with the visibility of language; language is my repository of cultural and personal memory. Language is memory’s tool, a repository of history. I feel as if I am part of a culture that is being built not one that is being destroyed or is on the way out. I have taken part for over forty years in the development of an institution that is growing and changing, that is slowly and unobtrusively becoming part of the landscape of this earth at the local, regional, national and international levels. I have been part of a community with multiple 95
  • 96. narratives and literally millions of voices and experiences. Inevitably, some voices are more prevalent than others and there exists in this community a common metanarrative. Inevitably, too, there is a multiplicity of perspectives and forging unity in this diversity, a harmony in contrariety, is not always easy. All talkers need listeners and all writers need readers who want to come along for the ride. At this stage of the book my role is partly to persuade and partly to seduce the few to stay with me for a time between the covers of this book. And so I do some wooing, propagandizing, subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation and mild proselytizing everything short of aggression and virtual terrorizing, in order to pave the way for the eventual entry of one mind into another, for some serendipitous dialogue. If there is a need for what I write here, if readers find some pleasure here, it will get read. If not, well, it will fall by the wayside. May 1st 2003 PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION It has been nearly ten years since I finished the first edition of Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Since that time I have added a large body of my poetry 96
  • 97. among other additions, deletions and alterations. The poetry of history is rooted in the geography, the landscape, of each poet and the facts of the period of history in which the poets wrote. This is also true of my work. The addition of my poetry to this work seemed a natural process. It also helped to give a new lease on life to the writing of my autobiography which by 1993 was wilting, its vitality and the energy and enthusiasm I began with dissipated. As the American poet John Ashbery once said: “the poem is you.”63 Much of me, as Ashbery might have said, is added to this 2nd edition. In some ways this poetry and this entire autobiography is a tableaux vivant, a living picture, carefully posed for in the context of much thought and theatrically lit in the theatre of ideas. During the reading, no one moves or speaks out loud. It is a type of mise en scene, many mise en scenes, a form of entertainment in sequential narrative. The tableau vivant was originally an approach to picture-making in photography that began in the 1840s. The tableau vivant was also a motionless performance in theatre. Archeologists use the term to describe the site of their dig. I think these concepts have some application to what I am doing in this literary work: the site of my 63 Jody Norton, 'Whispers Out of Time': The syntax of being in the poetry of John Ashbery, Twentieth Century Literature, Fall 1995. 97
  • 98. intellectual dig, a motionless literary performance, a many and varied mise en scene in the context of a tableaux vivant. I have always found the words of Goethe apt insofar as poetry is concerned and I refer to them here in this introduction to the fourth edition of my autobiography. In his famous conversation with Eckermann on 31 January 1827 Goethe introduced his proclamation of the epoch of world literature with the following observation: "I see increasingly that poetry is a common property of mankind and that it emerges in all places and at all times from many hundreds of people. Some are a little better at it than others and stay on top a little longer, that is all there is to it….everyone must realize that the gift of poetry is not so rare a thing, and that nobody has reason to let it go to his head if he produces a good poem.”64 Readers will find this not so rare thing--poetry—included in short episodes throughout this work. Lest I get carried away by a vision of populist poetry, let me add the words of Joseph Brodsky from his banquet speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in December 1987: “I should like to add that through recorded history, the 64 Hendrik Birus, “The Goethean Concept of World Literature and Comparative Literature,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature, December 2000. 98
  • 99. audience for poetry seldom amounted to more than 1 % of the entire population. That's why poets of antiquity or of the Renaissance gravitated to courts, the seats of power; that's why nowadays they flock to universities, the seats of knowledge.” “Even a quarter of that 1 %,” Brodsky went on, “will make a lot of readers, even today.” My own poetic life was just beginning in December 1987, after another series of exhausting years, this time in the north of Australia. I did not know of Joseph Brodsky, but I was certainly aware of poetry’s percentages. For I had been, by 1987, a teacher for 20 years and had no illusions about the interest in poetry by the mass public, at least poetry in the form I wrote it. The size of my original autobiographical work has been increased many fold since its first edition. Time has moved on and my life is being lived in another epoch, the fifth, necessitating a new name for this work: Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Here is the story, then, of more than forty years of pioneering experience: 1962-2002 and fifty years of association, 1953-2003, with a Movement which claims to be--and I believe it is--the emerging world religion on the planet. I like to think, with the historian Leopold von Ranke, that “self-imposed discipline alone brings excellence to all art.” If that is the case, then there is some excellence here. There is here, too, some 99
  • 100. of what Proust called "true impressions:"65 hints from life's realities, persistent intuitions which require some art form, some autobiography, so that we are not left with only the practical ends of life which, although necessary, are never really sufficient to living. The choice of subject is a deeply emotional affair. Poetry and history are, in this work, allies, inseparable twins. But there are other brothers and sisters that anchor and define this autobiography: philosophy, sociology, the everyday, religion, inter alia. Style, too, is, as the historian Peter Gay emphasizes, the bridge to substance, to all these family members. I hope readers enjoy the walk across this bridge as I have enjoyed this organized, disciplined and certainly emotional encounter with some of the substance of my life and times and the many family members, friends, students and myriad associations I have had in life. It is the belief of some writers, some thinkers, some human beings, that there is nothing new under the sun or perhaps, to put their view more accurately, there is nothing new to say about the human condition. The greats of history, the Shakespeares and the Sophocleses have already said it inimitably, 65 Proust quoted in 1976 Nobel Prize for Literature Acceptance Speech, Saul Bellow, Internet. 100
  • 101. brilliantly. At best, it seems to me, this is only a partial truth. The historian, the critic, the autobiographer, among others, interprets and reinterprets the human condition and, although, the human condition has elements that stay the same(plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose)much changes. For, as it is said, you can not step into the same river twice. There is, then, much more to say, much more that is new. At least that, in summary, is my view. I think that some may find this book peculiar. Such was the view of the autobiography of the nineteenth century novelist, Anthony Trollope. Late Victorians found his book cantankerous and they had trouble absorbing its contents. For many reasons, not associated with cantankerousness in my case, I don't think many will find this book of mine absorbing. Although, like Trollope, I chronicle some of life's daily lacerations upon the spirit. I also move in channels filled with much that comes from flirtations with the social sciences: history, psychology, sociology, anthropology and several literary studies. My book has come to assume what many, I'm sure, will experience as unmanageable proportions. Five hundred pages and more is a big read for just about everyone these days. Readers need to be especially keen to wade through that much print. Perhaps at a future time I will divide the text into parts, into a series of volumes. But even then, in the short term, 101
  • 102. this world is a busy place and lives are confronted with so much to read, to watch, to do and to try to understand. This work will, I think, slip into a quiet niche and remain, for the most part, unread. I hope I am proved wrong. I like to think, though, that should readers take on this work they may find here the reassurance that their battles are my battles, that we are not alone and that the Cause is never lost. Most readers coming to this book, I'm inclined to think, already believe these things. But what I offer here could be seen as a handrail, if that is desired, a handrail of the interpretive imagination. Here, too, is a handrail informed by my experience, my life's basic business of shunting about and being shunted about, carelessly and not-so-carelessly, for more than half a century in the great portal that is this Cause. Finally, I like to think this handrail is coated with an essential compassion and what Anthony Trollope’s wife Joanna says is the monument of a writer, a hefty dose of humility. That's what I'd like to think and, with Plato, I’d like to think that I am "a good writer(who) is a good man writing.” But of course one never knows this sort of thing for sure. And, if one aims to acquire any genuine humility in life, it is probably better not to know but, rather, just to keep on aspiring. 102
  • 103. During the writing of this second edition it was enlightening to read of the autobiographical propensities of Thomas Woolfe. His passion for recreating, reliving the past, was like a tonic of inspiration to help me recreate mine. For years it seemed an impossible task. The epiphanies which he enjoyed as he reviewed his life, or as memories spontaneously crowded his mind, I had yet to enjoy, at least not to the same extent, not with the same intensity. I often thought the lithium I had begun taking in 1980 pulled me back to the middle and did not let me run with such intense emotions. A biography on Robert Lowell discussed this same phenomenon, this same effect on artists, that lithium had after it was introduced in 1967 in North America. However intensely life was lived, I found that when I went back to dredge it up it did not possess the same colour, the penetration, the feeling. There was a distance, a dullness, an absence of sensory detail. I experience little of the ‘torrential recollectiveness’ that Woolfe experienced. If I was to apply the insights gained from this invaluable reading of Woolfe’s experience all I could do was simply do as I have been doing: wait for the moment of inspiration, epiphany, emotional recollection and put down a few words. Knowing that Woolfe did it with the enthusiasm he did, that he eventually became disillusioned with the process and that he pointed 103
  • 104. writers to the future, to hope, to potentials, is a pertinent reminder to me of the ultimate limitations of retrospectivity and the need to possess a range of qualities in attempting to write such a work. My problem for many years was that I did not find the autobiographical process fertile at all, or hardly at all, except insofar as it helped me write poetry. Writing a ‘retrospective journal’ and an autobiography for most of the first 16 years I have been trying has been a dry and uninspiring process. Perhaps I should stay with poetry and just forget the journal and the autobiography. With the completion of this second edition I feel the beginnings of a new lease on autobiographical life. Ron Price 22 January 2003 104
  • 105. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION What began in 1984 as an episodic diary and in 1986 as a narrative of pioneering experience covering twenty-five years has become an account covering thirty-one: 1962-1993. Coincidentally, I have finished this third and what I hope is the final draft of this first edition in time to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the first election of the Universal House of Justice. This short account of some seventy-five pages has been dedicated to this institution which I have tried to serve, successfully and unsuccessfully since 1963. In the words of a Baha’i writer whose style and tone I have always found delightful, Mr. Douglas Martin, I have aimed, aspired, to be “a precisioned instrument.” Often the instrument has been dulled by life, by incapacities, by the tests that are part of our existence. Sometimes, one is conscious that the instrument one has developed is a mysterious gift of God, an unmerited grace. Sometimes one is not too impressed with the instrument at all. Readers will find here what could be called a descriptive and analytical narrative, a narrative that intensifies my life in the process of putting it on paper. This writing has had what you might call a restorative function on 105
  • 106. my life. By the time I came to finish this work I felt a strong need for an even greater restoration of my psyche. This was in 1992-93. There is no doubt that my writing, my art, has shaped my experience, lending it style and direction. Life in turn informs this art giving it variety, giving it a granite base.66 I have also used other genres to tell my story: diary, letters, essays, poems, fiction, photographs, notebooks and memorabilia. They can be found in other places, none of which are yet available in published, in some available, form. Together, all the genres, all the writing, several million words in all, paint the story of a life, a life that is far from over, far- light years-from perfection, but in many ways typical of the thousands of lives, of people who have pioneered in the three epochs that are the backdrop for this account. “It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to exhibit a life,” writes Plutarch one of the founding fathers of biography, “which is blameless and pure.”67 Shortcomings and faults run through all our lives. This is equally true of autobiography. Biographers, writes George Landow, when on the trail of others “must put up with finding himself at every turn: 66 Emily Dickinson refers to "conviction's granite base" in her poem number 789. 67 Plutarch quoted in Roger Kimball, Lives of the Mind, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2002, p.35. 106
  • 107. any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it. He begins with somebody else's papers, and ends with his own."68 And the act of writing is, as one writer put it, "a high, this writing thing, a kind of drug, and once you experience it nothing else is ever the same." "Ordinary life," that writer went on, "seems like a prison sentence in comparison to the freedom of writing"69 That puts it a little strongly but I agree with the general sentiment. But however one characterizes writing it is difficult to grasp the mystery of its origins. As Freud once wrote, "Before the problem of the artist, analysis must alas lay down its arms."70 I might add that there are many other mysteries beside the artist, to list them here would lead to prolixity. My story is unique. The story of the experience of each pioneer is unique. Under the guidance of the trustee of that global undertaking set in motion nearly a century and a half ago, men, women, children and adolescents have scattered across the planet to its most remote corners. Few write their accounts, their experiences, their journey and try to tell of its pulse, its 68 George Landow, “Autobiography, Autobiographicality & Self- Representation,” Victorian Web Internet Site, 1988. 69 See: 70 Joseph Epstein, "Writing on the Brain," Commentary, 2003. 107
  • 108. rhythm, its crises and victories. Whether from humility and a feeling that writing autobiography is somehow an inappropriate exercise, perhaps too self-centred; whether from a lack of interest in writing or the simple inability to convey experience in a written form; whether from the tedium, the repetition, of the everyday and its routines and responsibilities which come to occupy so much of their time; whether from the responsibilities and demands of life or simply the battles which pioneers inevitably face in their path of service: most of the stories never get told. This is one that I hope will make it. One of the things that attracted me to writing autobiography and that keeps me interested in it is the diversity of perspectives that exists within it as a field, as a discipline. Once I realized that the exercise of writing an autobiography was not just about writing your life from go to woe, but that the discipline of autobiography had a rich theoretical and intellectual base, a base that I found increasingly fascinating, I was airborne. As I complete this first edition, I have just started to fly or, to put it even more accurately in a metaphorical sense, I feel I have started taking flying lessons for a future in the sky. I may never get my pilot’s license, but the experience will be pleasurable. 108
  • 109. For many years I thought it would be better to keep this story under wraps, keep it from seeing the light of day. Perhaps, I thought, it would be better published posthumously, if it was to be published at all. Alternatively, it could be kept in some local spiritual assembly or national spiritual assembly archive and retrieved by some scholar or archivist as a curiosity, a sample of a work written in the darkest heart of an age of transition. This may be, in fact, what eventuates. As I completed the first edition, it was difficult to know what would become of this document. But I liked to think, as the French scholar Jacques Derrida reminded us, that archives are as much about the future as the past. If what I wrote here was to be about the future, as Derrida suggested, if it was to be useful to some group of human beings at a future time, then that future Baha’i archive or internet site would have to be an active corpus linked to original documents, organically connected with original stories like mine. I would like to think that the value of this autobiography in the years ahead will be to those who want to address, whether overtly or covertly, the issues of social cohesion, the role of religion and especially the role of the Baha’i Faith in the emerging global society. It seems to me that this work lends itself well to such purposes. One day, it is my firm conviction, the Baha’i 109
  • 110. Faith will be centre-stage in the global political-social landscape- marketplace and this work may be one useful brick in the construction of humankind’s future home for the mind. There was a short period as an adolescence when I wanted to be a bricklayer. This may be as close as I get, if indeed I get close at all. The resonance of my work in some larger context remains, of course, to be seen. After I completed the first edition of my autobiography in early 1993 I was not concerned about publishing this piece of writing. This writing provided some helpful perspectives on the pioneering process and on teaching and consolidation in the first decades of what Shoghi Effendi called the tenth stage of history. Whoever had the opportunity to read this account would find themselves, or so I hoped, entertained and stimulated by a man who paused, as Henry David Thoreau71 did at the dawn of this new era, to give as full an account, a report if you like, of his experience. I thought my book was a good read. It was certainly a pleasure to write, at least some of the time. It was a start, at least, to a story which I hoped to continue in the years ahead in future editions. As I say, I found writing this edition pleasurable only part of the time and reading it, I must admit, turned me off. I did not 71 Lewis Mumford, “Thoreau, Nature and Society,” A Century of Ecocriticism, The University of Georgia press, Athens, 2001, p.250. 110
  • 111. find it stimulating. The rich reservoir of literature on autobiography I had only begun to discover as I finished working on the third draft of this edition in 1992 and 1993. Memories are things, nouns if you like, which we all have. Remembering is an activity, a verb if you like or more accurately a gerund. It is more like a book in the process of being written, something that seems, in part at least, made up. Remembering is not analogous to a book that I read or create from a printed script. Remembering is a problem-solving activity, where the problem is to give a coherent account of past events. Memory itself is both the problem and the solution to the problem, if indeed the problem can be solved at all. Memories are also, as John Kihlstrom suggests, "a special class of beliefs about the past." Belief, Kihlstrom argues, is the phenomenal basis of remembering.72 I have always taken some comfort in the words of Charles Darwin about his memory, taken from the last page of his autobiography: “So poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry.” 72 John F. Kihlstrom, "Memory, Autobiography, History," Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, Vol.19, No.2, Fall 2002. 111
  • 112. This work is no retrospective, backward-looking, desire for stasis, desire to remain the same and resist the changes coming at us all seemingly at the speed of light. There are things in my memory set in some iron mist, things I can never forget that I dwell on especially. But as the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock writes: “Leave your memory as it is. No reality will ever equal it.”73 Sometimes a confrontation with the past modifies or replaces darling illusions with reality and confirms or establishes the many merits of new perspectives. As the narrator of C. Dino Minni’s short story Roots(1985) puts it after returning from Canada to visit his childhood home in Italy, "Not bad at all, but it is not me."74 I could say the same about this work of mine and, realizing this, I find this whole exercise of writing these memoirs is one of describing and defining my new perspectives. The future of Canada whether from a material or spiritual standpoint, its national character combining as it so fortuitous does the progressiveness and initiative of the Americans and the stability and tenacity of the British and the illuminating promises of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his Tablets on the one hand; and the visions of Canada’s mysterious but enormous power and potential as 73 Stephen Leacock, The Boy I Left Behind Me, pp. 31-32. 74 Quoted in: “Emigrant Remembering and Forgetting,” Mnemographia Canadensis, Volume 1, Muse and Recall, D.M.R. Bentley. 112
  • 113. expressed by some of her writers and poets, augured well, or so I liked to think, for the expression in my life of those unmerited treasures of a grace that was infinite and unseen.75 Perhaps this work was or might become a manifestation of such treasures. One can but dream. Authentic religious faith is notoriously difficult to depict accurately on screen: big screens, little screens, any screens. A literary autobiography has a much better chance at depicting a life of religious faith without having to resort to caricature and distortion, negative stereotyping and trivializing. The standard film conventions for portraying religious faith in our antediluvian world are a mixture of fanaticism and irrationality, excessive emotion and piety--understandable I suppose. Of course, we all know that a person can be religious without being morally reprobate, inflexibly ruthless and intellectually helpless. If the writer throws in a touch of sincerity for believability and good measure, the negative stereotype is often enhanced. I invite you to see if I have been successful in my depiction with just the right amounts of several virtues sprinkled in to season the mix. Of course, I suppose you will never know for sure how accurate the mix, the recipe, is. You have to take it all on trust. Knowing this is not possible, I bequeath to 75 Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, Wilmette, 1969, p.89. 113
  • 114. you the following story, the following mise en scene which my words can not tell nor my tongue describe, except in part. April 12th 1993 SUMMARY AND OVERVIEW OF VOLUMES ONE TO FIVE OF THIS WORK Anyone wanting to get a bird's-eye view of the 2600 pages in this book need only go to volume 1, which is essentially a life-overview; volume 2 is a discussion of my pre-pioneering days during the Ten Year Crusade: 1953- 1963; volume 3 examines homefront pioneering: 1962-1971 and volume 4: international pioneering: 1971 to 2005; finally, volume 5 can be summarized by simply reading the chapter titles. The 30 headings at the outset of the chapters give anyone with little time a quick picture of the contents of this autobiographical work. Volume 1 contains essays on pioneering, some special poetry and a detailed resume and bio-data. Three hundred and fifty thousand words is a big-read. Those who come to this book can dip in at any place. There is no need to begin at the beginning. The author wishes those who do come upon this lengthy piece of writing much pleasure, much insight and a feeling that time spent reading this is time well-spent. This 114
  • 115. work can not be adequately understood as merely the story of my life. Were this just my story, I'm not sure I ever would have written it in the first place, however personally meaningful the exercise has been to me. A play in four acts, innumerable scenes and more lines than I care to count is found here, from childhood to old age. This work is, like William Wordsworth's great poem “The Prelude,” the account of the growth of a poetic personality and an imagination. It is also an account of another prelude, a prelude within the context of the Baha’i Faith.76 And finally, after several thousand years of the recording of memory in the western intellectual tradition, a balance between personal memory and collective memory on the other is being achieved in modern history. These two major nodes of memorialization have taken place since the Homeric Period in the middle of another Formative Age77 This is yet one more effort in the contribution to the achievement of such a balance. 76 Entry-by-troops is seen as a prelude to mass conversion.(Citadel of Faith, p.117). My pioneering life began with the first evidences of entry-by-troops in the early 1960s in Canada. Wordsworth's The Prelude has three editions: 1798/9, 1805 and 1850. This autobiography, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, has now gone through four editions. 77 One model of Greek history has the Formative Age at 1100-500 BC and the Homeric period at 750-600 BC. There are several time models and labels for this period used by specialists in Greek history. 115
  • 116. LIST OF PLATES At this stage, the completion of the sixth edition and its partial editing by Bill Washington in 2007, no plates, no photographs, are planned as inclusions. _____________________________________________________________ PROVENANCE OF THE TEXT Life expectancy has increased markedly in recent years and it may be that many more years are granted to me. One never knows when one's own end shall be, of course, but changes, additions, deletions, alterations of various kinds will inevitably take place in the years to come. The publishing life of this book on the internet and in hard cover is difficult to predict. If my literary executors, whoever they may be, wish to embellish this work in some form, alter its format to include material not in this fifth edition, I will have no objection. There is certainly plenty to draw on: letters, journals, notebooks, essays, books, interviews, inter alia. 116
  • 117. Page breaks, italicization, diacritical marks, spelling and grammar, indeed, a host of editing routines and formalities, I leave to those same executors and whoever these future editors may be. ___________________________________________ VOLUME 1: CHAPTER ONE Some Introductions and Genres "Not beginning at the Beginning...." Dispositions are plausible responses78 to the circumstances individual Baha'is found themselves in and these dispositions led to the gradual emergence from obscurity of their religion in the last half century. The story here is partly of this emergence and partly it is my telling of own life-story. For I have gone on writing for years, perhaps as much as two decades now, in relative obscurity doing what I think is right. I am intentionally not going to begin at the beginning. Autobiographies which I’ve had a look at, skimmed and scanned, occasionally reading one from cover to cover, seem to be exercises that begin in as many different places as there are authors. Sometimes first memories are found on page one and the account proceeds chronologically if not logically until the last 78 1 Joseph Kling, "Narratives of Possibility: Social Movements, Collective Stories and Dilemmas of Practice," 1995, Internet. 117
  • 118. syllable of their recorded time, their allotment on earth,79 at least up to the time of the writing of their said autobiography. This is not my intention here. Anyway, when does one really begin a journey, a friendship, a love affair? Beginnings are fascinating, misunderstood, enigmatic. I’ve written much about beginnings and the more I write the more elusive they become. There comes a moment, a point, though, when we realize that the journey has started and we had not realized it.80 As we travel along we mark historical moments which we weave into our narrative. They often change, our view of them that is, as we grow older: these rites de passage, these coming of age moments. Unlike the Roman historians of the republican days who wrote their histories annalistically, that is year by year in sequence, this work is much more varied and informal with a slight tendency to write by plans and epochs. It is important, too, that life, my life, not be seen as simply journey and not life. The two are not mutually exclusive. 79 Of course there are also autobiographies that do not begin at the beginning and some that tell little about their authors at all. Kafka's and Dostoevski's are examples of the latter. 80 Gillian Boddy in Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria, 1988, p.161. 118
  • 119. My ideal doctor for this journey, wrote the late Anatole Broyard, would be “my Virgil, leading me through my purgatory or inferno, pointing out the sights as we go. He would enter into the world of sin or sickness and accompany this pilgrim, this patient through it.”81 Virgil was Dante's imagined guide in the Divine Comedy. My Virgil, my ideal doctor, in this autobiography is, without doubt, Baha’u’llah; my Divine Comedy is this autobiography. The parallel is, of course, not exact, but it has its relevant points of comparison. In this context I should add that the three great shapers of my nature were the twin-prophets: the Bab and Baha’u’llah, as well as ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. There were others who unquestionably did much shaping, namely my parents and the two women I married, but from an intellectual and spiritual standpoint I would have to give the first three places to these Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith and Their legitimate successors. I strive for my account to possess narrative lines that move forward, like lines in music, lines that keep their listeners waiting for and wanting 81 Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, "Oliver Sack's Awakenings: Reshaping Clinical Discourse," Configurations,Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 1993, pp. 229- 245. 119
  • 120. resolutions. At the same time I think it's vital for many lines to develop at once, as in a fugue, so that when one narrative line resolves itself, another is already developing.82 I frankly do not know how I am going to approach this story, though I have no trouble finding historical moments and various lines of development. There are always in the background to my life ever- present plans, new beginnings, fresh initiatives, systematic advances, "leaps and thrusts,"83 triumphs and losses, vistas of new horizons and dark clouds. There is also, as I have moved around two continents over the second half of the twentieth century, and early 21st , the tracing of an end of Empire, an end of an age, an order, a politico-social system and the arrival of a new kind of order. This new order is rootless, without a centre and constantly shifting on the one hand; and rooted, centred and global on the other. They allow one to explore, to write of a place, to explore foreign societies and new ideas at a crucial time in history--a time of beginnings. The Baha’i order and the people in it which I had identified with and participated in personally as far back as 1953 were caught between an old order they had sloughed off, had ceased to pin their hopes on, and a new one they had yet to mature. 82 Naslund expresses her writing in these terms in: Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife or The Star Gazer, William Morrow, 1999. 83 Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1992, p.1. An excellent overview of the sequence, the pattern, of plans, phases, epochs, etc. 120
  • 121. At the outset I want to emphasize the inadequacy of language to match and give sequence to life’s experience. This poem of Emily Dickinson’s expresses this idea well: I felt a Cleaving in my Mind – As if my Brain had split – I tried to match it -- Seam by Seam – But could not make them fit. The thought behind, I strove to join Unto the thought before – But Sequence ravelled out of Sound Like Balls -- upon a Floor. Thinking seriously about autobiography or, indeed, any intellectual discipline, requires us to acknowledge our ignorance of the subject. This is a prerequisite. Our past, any past, is another country, a place that exists in our imaginations and in those uncertain and often unreliable echoes of our lives that we trace in words, in places and in things. There is, then, an inscrutability which paradoxically lies at the heart of this work. I say 121
  • 122. paradoxical because the more one describes one’s life the more mysterious it gets. I return again and again, taking the reader with me, to absences, spaces in my knowledge, my memory, my construction. I recognize that the act of making this my life, into a whole, from the pieces I have left from my past is necessarily a creative one, an act of imagination, what one writer calls "the dialectic between discovery and invention." In the process I transform my history and the history of my times, from something static into something lived. I am not imprisoned in some imagined objectivity; rather, I reenter the moment, the hour, the days and the years and imagine it as something experienced from multiple perspectives, simultaneously acknowledging its erasures and silences.84 This book compels me to think again about my life and, I like to think, readers to ponder theirs. I know I cannot capture in words all the minute particulars of my place and time. I know that however I chronicle the linear time of my life or however I philosophize about its deep time, la duree as Henri Bergson called it, when viewed sub specie aeternitatus, the whole scheme is evanescent, like a vapour in the desert. Still, I make more than a little effort here to explore my views about contemporary life and values and in the 84 I have drawn here on James Bradley, "Dancing With Strangers: A Review of Inga Clendinnin's Book," in smh:f2network, October 11, 2003. 122
  • 123. process of exploration I define my thinking about the transient and the eternal, the contingent and the absolute. I would like to make a few remarks here about growing up and the places of my childhood. I wrote the following paragraphs in October 2011 and have cut-and-pasted them here since they seem to be relevant at this juncture in this chapter 1. WHEN I WAS GROWING UP CHILDHOOD THEN When I was growing up our house backed onto woods, a several-acre remnant of a once-mighty wilderness. This was in a southern Ontario town, a town that is now a city and has gone from a little place of 5000 people in 1950, when I was five, to over 100,000 more than half a century later in 2010. If I went back to that house(which is not likely since I now live on a pension in Australia) I’m sure that woods would be gone. I could check it out on google-maps, but my eyes get tired quickly when I try to figure-out places where I lived long ago on that marvellous internet tool. The existence of what are now called green-belts was not due to enlightened planners. The first citizens of those little towns in southern Ontario came to 123
  • 124. enjoy such belts of green for many reasons: part forest, part farm, part undeveloped land. That farm and that green belt is now gone. I did go back to another place where I had lived much later in my childhood, in my early adolescence, that third stage of childhood in the lifespan according to some human development psychologists. Some new planners had done a great job of tidying-up some of the old places where I once played cowboys and Indians or field hockey; young families could now walk and take their kids to play on the swings and wooden-apparatus. Those woods, to which I referred above, were tame as can be when I walked through them on the way to school. Yet at night they still filled with unfathomable shadows. In the winter they lay deep in snow and seemed to absorb, to swallow whole, all the ordinary noises of your body and your world. Scary things could still be imagined to take place in those woods. It was the place into which the bad boys fled after they egged your windows on Halloween and left your pumpkins pulped in the driveway. There were no Indians in those woods where once they had been. We learned about those Indians in school and, at least for me, at summer camps. They had many names. Swift, straight-shooting, silent as deer those Indians peopled the periphery of my life. They were long gone except for their lovely names: Seneca, 124
  • 125. Iroquois, Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Oneida, Delaware, Nanticoke, Creek and Cherokee. As I got older I found out dozens of other Indian names for tribes which lived all over North America. As an adult I experienced whole new peripheries to my life. A minor but undeniable aura of romance was attached to the history of Ontario, my home province. It was a very big place, but no one I knew went into its far north, into its biggest parts. As far as I was concerned, and everyone else I knew, Ontario was southern Ontario with Barrie, Owen Sound and, on the rarest occasions, Tobermory at the end of the Bruce Peninsula, 300 kms north of Toronto. For me Ontario was all about Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and the towns and cities along their edge—over to Windsor in the west where I went to teachers’ college, and to Kingston in the east where the St. Lawrence River began and where I visited a psychiatrist once in 1969; or over to Ottawa where I went for my honeymoon in 1967. The St. Lawrence River was another great landmark and world on the periphery of my childhood life-narrative. This large river flowed through the middle latitudes of North America and connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. Its drainage area included the Great Lakes, the world's largest system of fresh water lakes. I knew none of this while growing-up. 125
  • 126. The lakes of which Ontario and Erie were but two, the biggest lakes in my world and Ontario’s world of smaller lakes, were just great places to swim on hot summer days. But the Wilderness of Childhood, as any kid could attest who grew up and survived to tell their story in later adulthood, had nothing to do with trees or nature. It was the same for my father who grew up on the streets of Merthyr Tydfil a city of 30,000 in Wales with its coal mines and pubs, one of which was owned by his father, more than half a century before. I could lose myself on vacant lots and playgrounds, when I was five, or in the alleyway behind the shops in town, in the neighbours’ yards, on the sidewalks. Anywhere, in short, I could reach on my tricycle and then my bicycle or simply by walking. By these three means I covered my neighbourhood, my world, in a regular route first(with my tricycle) for half a mile and then several miles(with my bike and walking) in every direction. I knew the locations of all my classmates’ houses, the number of pets and siblings they had, the state of their bedrooms in particular and houses in general, the brand of popsicle or type of food they served, if any; the potential dangerousness of their fathers, how pretty their mothers were. These locations, in addition to the places of the shops, the ice-skating ring, the curling club, the homes of the girls I liked, the frozen ponds in winter 126
  • 127. where I played hockey---provided perfectly the mental map of my world. It is a world I have endlessly revised and refined since I left it back in the summer of 1962 never to return---except for a 24 hour period when I dropped in during a visit to Canada some 40 years later on my way to Europe. Childhood is, or has become, for me a rich and important branch of cartography. Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That’s because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story, whether that story is imaginatively or factually true. We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life. This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure—and write them—because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, 127
  • 128. or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with a fragmentary map. That map is marked: here there be tigers and there mean kid with air rifle. That child constructs out of a patchwork of personal fortune and misfortune, bedtime reading and an accumulated local lore, a grey chaos and dream of stuff, his world. It is this world, as I say above, which is his base for any historical revisionism. A striking feature of literature for children is the number of stories, many of them classics of the genre, that feature the adventures of a child, more often a group of children, acting in a world where adults, particularly parents, are completely or effectively out of the picture. Think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children, or Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Then there is the very rich vein of children’s literature featuring ordinary contemporary children navigating and adventuring through a contemporary, non-fantastical world that is nonetheless beyond the direct influence of adults, at least some of the time. As a kid, I was not really into reading, too busy with doing things: playing until I had not a trace of energy left except to eat my mother’s lunch or evening meal, playing to avoid some responsibility that might come my way 128
  • 129. if I was too available; finding ways to make money without which I would have none to buy soda-pop or candy, dinky-toys or go to the movies; exploring all the places where adventure beckoned in those places on that above map. CHILDHOOD NOW The thing that strikes me when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood in this third millennium is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure in its world. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighbour-ring- kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co- opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by neighbours and others, adults and an endless print and electronic media. TOURISM The traveller, arguably a particular kind of seasoned tourist, eventually learns that the only way for him or her to come to know a city, to form a mental map of it, however provisional, and begin to find their own way around it is to visit it alone or with a friend, preferably on foot, and then become as lost as one possibly can. I have been to many cities and towns in 129
  • 130. the world over 100, and many of them maybe a half-dozen times in my life, on visits of different kinds, and yet I don’t really know them because every time I’ve visited, I have been picked up and driven around, and taken to see the sights by someone far more versed than I in the city’s wonders and hazards—to me it’s all just a vast jumbled lot of stage sets and backdrops passing by the window of a car, or homes and places visited by my friends or by me as I stopped for a hamburger or a pie on my way through. CHILDREN IN OUR WORLD What we as adults provide for our children is a kind of door-to-door, all- encompassing escort service, contrived to enrich the lives of our children. We schedule their encounters for them, driving them to and from one another’s houses so they never get a chance to discover the unexplored lands between. If they are lucky, we send them out to play in the backyard, where they can be safely fenced in and even, in extreme cases, monitored with security cameras. The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been abandoned in favour of a system of reservations—MacDonald’s play-area, the commercial Jungle, the Discovery Zone: jolly internment and or play centres mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked staff only. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armoured as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby. 130
  • 131. There are reasons for all of this. The helmeting and monitoring, the corralling of children into certified zones of safety, is in part the product of the Consumer Reports mentality, the generally increased consciousness, in America and increasingly in the affluent parts of our global society, of safety and danger. To this one might add the growing demands of the insurance actuarial and the national pastime of torts. But the primary reason for this curtailing of adventure, this closing off of Wilderness, is the increased anxiety we all feel over the abduction of children by strangers; we fear the wolves in the Wilderness. This is not a rational fear; in 1999, for example, according to the Justice Department, the number of abductions by strangers in the United States was 115. Such crimes have always occurred at about the same rate; being a child is exactly no more and no less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed is that the horror is so much better known. At times it seems as if parents are being deliberately encouraged to fear for their children’s lives, though only a cynic would suggest there was money to be made in doing so. The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and 131
  • 132. radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it. What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. After the usual struggle and exhilaration of learning to ride a bicycle, and the joy of achievement there now rapidly follows a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment. It quickly becomes clear that there is nowhere to ride it—nowhere that I am willing to let this child go. Should I send my children out to play? There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let my children ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying themselves an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with their thoughts? Soon after they learn to ride, they might go out on a lovely summer evening. If I wander 132
  • 133. with my child on the streets of our lovely residential neighbourhood at, say, after-dinner in what might be seen as a peak moment of togetherness, like the magic hour of my own childhood, it is quite possible that we will not encounter a single other child. Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with? Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself? Such, then were some of my general thoughts about my childhood and changes in the experience of childhood in the last half century. I don’t see my life or make any claim to my life being necessarily representative of that of an ideal Baha’i or a Baha’i pioneer. This is not an exemplum. Claims to representativeness, it seems to me, are at best partial. I find there is something basically unstable or slippery about experience or, to put it in even stronger terms, in the words of Baha’u’llah, there is something about experience that bears only “the mere semblance of reality.” There is something about it that is elusive, even vain and empty, like “a vapor in the desert.” There are so many exegetical and interpretive problems that accompany efforts to tie down the meaning of a life, of an experience, 133
  • 134. of a relationship. There is something divided, duplicitous, something that has happened but has yet to be defined and described or, as is usually the case, never described, at least not in writing, depending of course on the experience of the person and their literary skills. There are innumerable and indispensable points of reference in a life and yet so many of them take on the feeling of a mirage, as if they are not really there, like a dream, particularly as the years lengthen into later adulthood and old age. In many ways this narrative belongs in the company of the thousands of individual and communal narratives of the Baha’i community. But there are several narrative frames that exist and operate in tandem in this autobiographical work. My family and friends, most of whom are not Baha’is, my students over the years and the literally thousands of people I have come to know will find the narrative frames in this autobiography exist in tandem. In life and in autobiography the same story must often be adapted for different audiences that value different things and will judge one’s story by different criteria. Narratives must necessarily be censored for specific audiences or for ourselves. The censoring that must be done here, must be done by readers. This narrative that I am endorsing by placing it in the public domain contains a multitude of stories, perspectives and narrative 134
  • 135. lines suited for some but not for others. The individual, therefore, in accordance with the demands of each situation, each portion of this autobiography, must do the validating of opposing narratives about myself. Two opposing narratives, sets of actions, apparently contradictory behaviours, demonstrate the dynamic nature of identity. It is not static and we all do all sorts of things that to the people we meet are upsetting, wrong, confusing, etcetera. What I am trying to conceptualize here is the pastiche, the fluid, nature of my multiple self-identities that have emerged in my lifetime. Some are suppressed at different times, depending on the cultural demands or constraints of a particular context or audience; some are given expression at other times. These identities are context driven. Behavioural repertoires are not always easy to adjust as one moves from social setting to social setting. Culture shock or acculturative stress often arise and this narrative which follows is, in part at least, the story of some of these shocks and stresses. Meaning is not something one can wrap up and walk away with. Often the mind's sensitivity to meaning is actually impaired by fixed notions or perspectives. It seems that often we must see things for ourselves, again and 135
  • 136. again, sometimes in community with its endless heterogeneity, sometimes in our solitude. For community is not always pastoral dream of innocence and togetherness and solitude is not always enriching. Here, as in music, there is an alternation between fast and slow and joyful and sorrowful; there's an ebb and flow to the emotional structure, although it often seemed, as Shakespeare once wrote, that “when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions".85 At the same time, I agree with what is called the essentialist view of group identity in community; namely, that there is a common identity for the members of a social group. This view emphasizes commonness of identity and the possession of a certain stability that is more or less unchanging since it is based on the experiences the members share. But I can only go so far in this essentialist tradition. I am also inclined to see group identities as fabricated, constructed, misleading, ignoring internal differences and tending not to recognize the unreliability of experience.86 Of course individuals can fabricate much of their own history. Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne, for 85 Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene V. 86 For a helpful contrast between the postmodernist and the essentialist views of group identity see: Satya Mohanty, "The Epistemic Status of Cultural Identity: On Beloved and the Postcolonial Condition," Cultural Logic, Volume 3, Number 2, Spring, 2000. 136
  • 137. example, were notorious fabricators of their story.87 And to chose one final example, the man who was Mark Twain, Samuel Leghorne Clemens, lived behind a "layering of invented selves," and performing, of course, was simply another way of inventing or disguising himself. Or so it is that Andrew Hoffman describes Twain.88 I take the view too that, however much I work out my life in solitude, my experience is what some sociologists call ‘socially constructed.’ This social and emotional self is mediated by the environment in which it lives and works. In this context the self is not exalted to the centre of the universe. The nature of one's inner thoughts and feelings are not purely personal or individual.89 The community in which we interact, the system of thoughts that serve as our beliefs, is a crucial determinant of who we are. Our fundamental forms of experience are created by our own mental activity. 87 Edward Morris, "A Review of Charlie Chaplin and His Times," Kenneth S. Lynn, Simon & Schuster in Book Page, 1997. Lynn interprets Chaplin's life in terms of reactions to his mother. For me, the psychological field of interpretation is much wider. See also Edward Morris, "A Review of John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity," Garry Wills, Simon and Schuster, 2004, Book Page, 1997. 88 Roger Miller, "A Review of Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Leghorne Clemens," Andrew Hoffman, 2004, Book Page, 1997. 89 There are too many feminists and sociologists to mention here in a field of sociological or feminist theory that could be titled “the social construction of reality.” 137
  • 138. This mental activity usually begins in the outside world and is imposed, at least to some extent, on the mind. Canadians, for example, approach the survival of ordeals, not as the theoretical American would by finding and revealing a reservoir of inner strength and wisdom in some heroic fashion, but by banding together, by becoming a “company”--literally, as Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman suggests by using the rituals of everyday life as a mediating device, to create community. Literary critic Northrop Frye suggests that Canadians possess a garrison mentality with an image of a fort in the wilderness as a symbol of their psychic centre or domain. Margaret Atwood, Canada's major writer as the millennium turned, sees the Canadian character as one with a gloomy- through-catastrophic strain. This interpretation of the character is reflected in Canada's literature and especially in the writing of Margaret Atwood. Atwood also sees the Canadian character as one that is incurably paranoid. There are various strategies suggested by artists, writers and critics to cope with this paranoia. Art, religion, relationships, a strong sense of fate or destiny, an avoidance of the heroic and a taking refuge in the ordinary, in a reticence, in trepidation, in the soft escape and boxing experience into 138
  • 139. frames, into limits. These are some of the coping mechanisms seen by these analysts. If one understands Canadian history, one can understand the sense of the overwhelming, the impenetrable, the claustrophobic, the sense of a world which denies entry to the human. It is these attitudes to self and life that are evinced by Canadians and Australian artists towards their existential condition. But perhaps the central attitude is a radical, deep-seated ambivalence. Both Canadians and Australians are ambivalent about the heroic, the posture taken by the American.90 I mention the Canadian and the Australian because it is in these two countries where I have spent all my life. I have realized, though, that the range of effects I could achieve writing as if I was an Australian or a Canadian were too narrow. It would be like playing one instrument, say, the drums or a cello. So I turned to writing in as broad a perspective as I could. I may have bit off more than I can chew. But even if I have, I find that there's a certain synchronicity in writing autobiography and also living my day to day life which makes the big-chew relevant to the daily nibbles that constitute the routine, the trivial, the predictable and the wonder that fills the interstices of life. I like to see this autobiography somewhat like the poet George Herbert’s: as the "story of the self reflected 90 Not all Americans take a heroic posture. Harold Bloom in his Words To Live By, 2004 emphasizes the acceptance of limits as a key to wisdom. 139
  • 140. and improved in the mirror of Scripture," a self who "makes no claims to uniqueness" but is in fact content "that the truths he finds there are not his alone.”91 I might add just to get the context right that the Scripture is a new one and, although I make a claim to uniqueness, it is a uniqueness each of us possesses. I might add, too, that a myriad details, a multitude of meaning- neutral objects, arise in the course of this text. They are details which appear and guarantee a certain plausibility of context, generate a certain sense of reality, of real life, construct a persona, fashion a self, smooth over life’s accidents, make it more understandable and coherent. I am aware, though, that whatever force and persuasiveness I might achieve today may well become mute due to fashion’s baffling cruelty. None of us ever quite lives up to their idealized personae, but the more successful a person’s writing is and the more integral it is to the achievement of their life, the more closely they can be identified with their author-ideal, that is, with the self they fashion and present to the world as the voice behind her texts. There is, for me, in this text, a strong sense of identification, a close match between text and reality. 91 Chana Bloch, Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible, U of California Press, Berkeley, 1985, p.98. 140
  • 141. There are certainly few writers and theorists of autobiography who believe that it is possible to remove one's commitments and values from the exercise of writing one’s story. I do not believe that I can separate the facts of my life from the theories, assumptions and frameworks that underpin them. I do not see myself as an objective gatherer of facts. I believe that values, commitments, goals, inter alia, all play their part in the scholarly analysis and interpretation of a life. They are part of all investigation, all intellectual activity, and spelling them out is essential if one is to attempt to understand the great kaleidoscope that is one’s life. My commitment to the Baha’i Faith supersedes any other identification of genre, nationality, race, culture, age, inter alia and I approach this commitment, this identity, from a wide range of perspectives which will unfold in a quite unsystematic way in the next 2500 pages. The practice of autobiography, of course, means different things to different people. I would not want to limit the discussion of autobiography to one approach, one theory, one model, even if that model is my own. There are so many ways to skin a cat, as they say colloquially in some places. In the opening lines of the spiritual autobiography of one of the most social of beings and arguably the greatest boxer of all-time, Muhammad Ali, 141
  • 142. writes: "During my boxing career, you did not see the real Muhammad Ali. You just saw a little boxing. You saw only a part of me. After I retired from boxing my true work began. I have embarked on a journey of love.”92 I feel very strongly that the same is true of me; namely, that those who knew me, saw a little of some social being, some part of me. I think this is largely true of most of us. we have a social self. this book tries to get at some of the other dimensions of the who that I am. Pioneers in Canada for several hundred years before the word was first used by the Baha’i community in the 1930s, were swallowed up by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the great Canadian wilderness, the frozen Arctic tracts and the USA. In Australia there was a similar swallowing up process by means of: the hot desert centre, the vast interior spaces, the surrounding oceans and seas. The most ‘significant other’ in both these countries where my life has been swallowed up, in a different sense, is the landscape. Visual representations not language seems to be the most common window of understanding in the consciousness of these two national groups. 92 Muhammad Ali, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey Summary, Hana Yasmeen, Bantam Books, 2004(1975). 142
  • 143. All of this is, of course, pure speculation. There are so many parallels I can make in relation to both countries. The white populations in both countries tend to congregate in a very few, relatively sizeable centres. Boundaries and frontiers in the USA serve as limitations to be transcended or denied. In Canada and Australia they are seen as dangerous places to be negotiated.93 The relationship between these general psycho-geographical characteristics and my pioneering life will be elaborated on, unfolded, in the nearly 1000 pages which follow. What will also unfold, at least it is my hope, is what American novelist Normal Mailer said is the purpose of art, an intensification, an exacerbation, of "the moral consciousness of people."94 Some writers go so far as to say they are their country. The Irish writer Seán O'Faoláin made this declaration in commenting on his autobiography. Ireland was the central metaphor of his self. This may be even more true for those living on islands; the concept 'island' implies a particular and intense relationship of land and water. Allegorical and structural associations of island characters become used for the reconstruction of people’s personal 93 Gaile McGregor, "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life," 2003: 94 Norman Mailer in "A Review of 'The Time of Our Time', Roger Bishop, Book Page, 1998. 143
  • 144. history and identity. The Irish professor in Aidan Higgins's novel Lions of the Grunewald suggests, “the smaller the island the bigger the neurosis.”95 If this has some truth, I may be protected from such a fate since I have lived on only two islands, Baffin Island and Tasmania. Others emphasize the highly ambivalent relationships between people and their island homes. My island homes are large ones and my stay, thusfar, has been for short periods of my life, ten years in total, unless of course one counts Australia itself as an island. Structurally and thematically speaking, the motifs of 'leaving the island' and/or 'returning to the island' seem to make for key scenes in a wide range of autobiographies by islanders. There are the emotionally charged events. This was not true for me given the short periods of residence thusfar on the island of Tasmania. The emotional charge did take place for me when I returned to Canada and to Western Australia. But more of that another time. I intend to take a line, an approach, from the Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje, who said, in an interview with Gary Kamiya, that when he writes he has no sense of what is going to happen next. Plot, story and theme unfold. Ondaatje says that writing is a discovery of a story when he writes 95 Adrian Higgins, Lions of the Grunewald, Secker & Warburg, London, 1993, p.191. 144
  • 145. a book, a case of inching ahead on each page and discovering what's beyond in the darkness, beyond where you're writing. This is the way it is for me even when I have some broad outlines, outlines that are my life. For Ondaatje writing novels doubles his perception, he says, because he is so often writing from the point of view of someone else. To write about oneself, he says, would be very limiting. To each his own, I suppose. If the unexamined life was not worth living, if teaching one’s own self was not so significant, if ultimately all the battles in life were not within, if it were not important to understand our imperfections and be patient with our own dear selves, if the source of most of our troubles are to be found in feelings of egotism and selfishness, if the God within was not “mighty, powerful and self-subsistent,” then this autobiographical pursuit might be in vain. I also want to do what that popular English writer Kingsley Amis said he wanted to do when he wrote: give shape to the randomness of life, to make sense of things, to create and resolve some of life's enigmas, to give meaning to the endless repetition in life, to the things we experience again and again, a thousand and a thousand thousand times or in merely unusual combinations of what is around us. Personal habit is an expression of this repetition, laws of nature predict it, genes direct it, the edicts of organization 145
  • 146. and state encourage it and universals, as William Gass puts it so nicely, "sum it up."96 The exercise is somewhat like the work of Michelangelo with marble. Always there is an unfinished struggle to emerge 'whole' from life's block of matter.97 This autobiography is based, then, on what is often called the narrative construction of reality. There is in life, in adulthood, a rich domain for development and learning, a domain which recognizes the utility of narrative. This work, this story of a life, is an experiment with autobiographical form. It seems to me that in this work I forge a unique non-fiction work which is many things at once: memoir, prose-poetry, perhaps even song or rhapsody. I don't know, but I hope it both sings and informs. One of my aims in writing this extended piece of narrative and analysis is to find the most effective way to give this narrative theoretical and practical interest for readers. Autobiographies are not, it seems to me, inherently problematic, but they become so when tension results, as Graham Hassall notes, "from differences between a writer's intentions and readers' 96 William H. Gass, The World Within the Word: Essays by William H. Gass, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1976, p.112. 97 Malachi Martin quoted in Saul Bellow, op.cit. 146
  • 147. expectations."98 Over a twenty year period now I have written five editions of this work. Each edition explores the field of human development and the uses of narrative. I would like this work to be as private, intimate and casual as my poetry, not structured, not having an agenda. That's why I have not planned this work. I hope that my endless analysing of my life, my society and my religion is not too off-putting. I must admit, though, that analysis and interpretation, the rehearsing of views and ideas, is part and parcel of my very way of life and it is impossible for me to separate this tendency from this autobiography. Like so many pleasures and talents we enjoy in life, it is not an unalloyed blessing. The famous American novelist William Faulkner once said in an interview that when he found his poetry wasn’t very good, he changed his medium. “At 21 I thought my poetry very good and so I continued to write it when 22, but at 23 I quit it,” Faulkner continued, “and found my best medium to be fiction. My prose is really poetry.” Readers have been puzzled because Faulkner makes the seemingly anachronistic comment of "My prose is really poetry." He made the comment after World War II when all the society was 98 Graham Hassall, "Self and Society: Biography and Autobiography in Baha'i Literature," Baha'i Library Online, 2004, p.4. 147
  • 148. totally prosaic.99 Like Faulkner, I regard my prose and poetry somewhat interchangeably. The work I do is for me really all a form of poetry. It seems to me to be critically unclassifiable and resistant to being placed under the care of any specific Muse, any genre. But if there were to be only one Muse left of all the weary Nine for these four epochs and the four before my time going back to 1844, I would have to choose the Muse of Tragedy. This is the Muse who deals with the most monstrous and appalling that life can offer, when it turns upon us its Medusa-like countenance of frenzy and despair. This frenzy and despair is that terror, that tragedy, which Nietzsche said allows us to gaze into its heart without our being turned to stone by the gaze, the vision, the dark catastrophes of our century that undermine creativity at its very roots. In an age when the spirit of affirmation has almost been burned out of us, more than ever we need what Nietzsche also called tragedy; namely, that ability which is the highest art and that is the inner strength to say “yes” to life. 99 Watanabe Shinji, “A Poet Saved in The Sound and the Fury: Faulkner Soaring Against Modernism,” The Faulkner Journal of Japan, Number Two June 2000. 148
  • 149. The mother of the Muses, or of the one daughter still surviving, is Memory. We can not celebrate our existence simply by forgetting the terrors of the recent past, ignoring those of the present or by turning our eyes away from the possibilities of a frightening future. We must confront these terrors and yet celebrate the joys of life in these epochal times. We must search out causes, found our assumptions on the results of our serious search, energize our emotions behind these assumptions and act. This memoir is part of that acting—for me. For it is in these words, this language, that I have tried, during several of these epochs now, these many years of my life, to write poems. I do this in order to speak, to orient myself, to find out where I am, where I was and where I was going, to chart my reality.100 Poetry helped rejuvenate my prose and now I see both as part of an integrated whole. The comment I have quoted from Faulkner I could very well apply to this narrative. Faulkner saw himself as a failed poet and kept on writing poetry. I never experienced any popular success with my poetry, but I found it useful as a form of literary expression and still do. Readers, then, will find a good deal of it in this autobiography. Before I leave these 100 And so it was for Paul Celan, "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen,” (1958), Collected Prose, 1986, p.34. 149
  • 150. references to Faulkner, though, let me add some of his words about publishers because the experience I had was very similar—and different. "One day," Faulkner said, "it suddenly seemed as if a door had clapped shut silently and forever between me and all publishers' addresses and booklists and I said to myself, ‘Now I can write.’"101 In the 1990s I had this same experience and literally thousands of poems poured forth. Early in the new millennium the internet opened its doors and I sent forth more ‘published work’ than I could ever have imagined in the fifty years I had by then been writing.102 I sew readers into the seam between two lives: on two continents, in two marriages, in two cosmological worlds, in two stages of development. They are lives which are tangled and in tension rather than in some form of tightrope-walking or some razor-thin-sharp dichotomy. Some of my life is untidy; some of my life results in dead ends; some follows paths to unimaginable or imaginable new worlds. Some of what I write captures, conveys, a clearly discernible script, some of which may have been predestined, the script of fate. The narrative is, inevitably, incomplete, a 101 idem 102 The term ‘publishing’ refers to systematic posting of essays and, indeed, a variety of other material on the internet, material like: emails/letters, parts/chapters of books, et cetera. 150
  • 151. half-life. There is much that has yet to be written, like a half-finished portrait. It holds a promise and a potential which is always a mystery, at best only partly known. Indeed, it is impossible to say it all and revision is endless. Hopefully this exercise will prompt readers to study autobiography and see how it contributes toward the realization of a multi-disciplinary form of learning in their own lives. It may be, though, that readers will see, as Adriana Cavarero writes, that "to tell one's story is to distance oneself from oneself, to make of oneself someone other."103 Some readers may also find the process of writing autobiography pretentious or a somewhat artificial, a little unreal, an externalization of inner and intimate, essentially private, reflection. They may see biography as the appropriate, natural, act but not autobiography.104 Seeing that denial, avoidance and selectivity are inevitable in autobiography, readers often approach autobiography with a skeptical eye and mind. Anticipating hagiography, the disembodiment of the authentic person, readers feel deceit at every turn or only the partial uncovering of truth. I write as I read, as deeply as I am capable, not to believe, not to 103 Adriana Cavarero, op.cit., p.84. 104 ibid., p.92. 151
  • 152. accept, not to contradict, but to share in that one nature that is human, universal and, like me, writes and reads. While I must confess to harbouring elevated notions that I am conveying, at least for the most part, the truth of my life, it seems to me that I am bringing me into the world, calling it to my attention, as much as I am bringing the world to me. Impressed by the depth and complexity of the writing of some authors and the superficiality of others, I increasingly took pleasure in exploring the richness of life and the mysteries of human character. Perhaps I have an overactive hypothalmus or limbic system. I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps it was pure desire, an intensity, that led to this work. In the end, the activity is its own reward. An autobiography is not the story of a life. More accurately, it is the recreation, the discovery, of a life, in this case the life of a pioneer, a pioneer who believed he brought a better order of society and an inner life, something private, something that moved him confidently “in the direction of his dreams.”105 I felt I was a type of pioneer that had a noble lineage in both Baha’i society and in the secular society he was a part of. In Baha’i 105 Lewis Mumford, op.cit., p.256. 152
  • 153. society the lineage of the pioneer extends back more than 70 years(1935- 2007) with a 90 year historical foundation before that(1844-1934). The secular history of pioneering goes back at least to the renaissance and reformation, if not long before that.106 What I do here in this work is arrange and rearrange things from this blooming and buzzing confusion called life to give point and meaning, direction, flow, ambience, simplicity and a certain coherence to complexity. What I do is what culture critic and educator Edward Said(1935-2003) said he was doing in his The World, The Text, and the Critic. "Texts have ways of existing,” wrote Said, “that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society; in short, they are in the world, and hence worldly.”107 This idea is variously articulated as a motif in my work--and Said’s. "The writer's life, his career, and his text," Said remarks in his book Beginnings, "form a system of relationships whose configuration in real human time becomes progressively stronger.” These relationships become more distinct, more individualized and exacerbated with time. In fact, one could go so far as to say “these relationships 106 The term ‘pioneer’ and its role in history could be extended back into the first and second millennium BC. 107 Edward W. Said, The World, The Text and The Critic, p.35, 1983. 153
  • 154. gradually become the writer's all-encompassing subject.”108 Said's work as a critic emerges from his life as a dislocated Palestinian. Mine emerges from my life as an international pioneer whose convictions are centred on a new movement109 that claims to be the emerging world religion on this planet. Some writers, some people, see pattern and meaning in history and some don’t. But whether one sees some plan, some system, in the great gallery of history or whether one doesn’t the death of 10 million people in some social tragedy, people you've never met, does not have the impact of the death of your sister? The newsworthiness of a handful of deaths in your hometown rates more highly than millions in the next continent. Personal tragedy beats impersonal holocaust every time. Propinquity is one of life’s core principles if one is measuring significance and is a principle determining what to include in an autobiography. This is the theme in Martin Amis’ Koba the Dread.110 For this and for a host of other reasons this autobiography will deal more with the personal than the social, more with the immediate confines of my circle of activity and to a far lesser extent with the larger 108 Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method, p.227, 1975. 109 The literature on New Religious Movements(NRMs) and New Social Movements(NSMs) is now massive and in the years of my pioneer life they have increased in number and variety. 110 Martin Amis, Koba the Dread: Stalin and the Death of a Sister, 2002. 154
  • 155. picture of world events. Amis’ book gives snatches of autobiography; my book gives snatches of social and historical analysis. This analysis exists in a world of what I might call poetic knowing. The distinction between knowledge and poetic knowing resembles the distinction between history and memory. Knowledge and history is essentially amoral: events occurred and are behind us. Poetic Knowing and memory is inextricably linked with morality. History’s source is event, but memory’s source is meaning. Often what we consciously remember is what our conscience remembers. Memory, like love, gains strength through restatement, reaffirmation; in a culture, through ritual, tradition, stories and art. Memory courts our better selves; it helps us recognize the importance of deed; we learn from pleasure just as we learn from pain. And when memory evokes consideration of what might have been or been prevented, memory becomes redemptive. As Israeli poet Yehudi Amichai wrote: "to remember is a kind of hope."111 I don't have to create my story ex nihilo and I don't create for the pure pleasure I get in creating, in telling the story, although the pleasure I get in 111 Yehudi Amichai, quoted in D.M.R. Bentley, op.cit. 155
  • 156. writing takes me, with the poet Paul Valery,112 a long way. Reading this autobiographical work is somewhat like the experience many people have when listening to a jazz performance. Whatever the musicians are playing, you hear the melody and then it goes away or seems to. The musicians play the overall work against the background of the melody or around the melody or they take the melody off into another zone.113 Then the melody comes back; listeners recognize it yet again amidst a world of other sounds. This, it seems to me, is one way to see this long--and for me at least--stimulating work. A central narrative thrust is reflected and recreated with ideas and emotional content that take readers away again and again. Like the aural idiosyncrasies of jazz and its spaces and places, my narrative has its own idiosyncratic dimension and I provide the spaces and places for readers to participate. There is a type of intimacy created, but not everyone appreciates that intimacy; not everyone likes jazz and not everyone will like my work. Melody is crucial to most music and it is crucial here if the reader is to find pleasure in reading this work. 112 William Gass reports Valery as taking pleasure from his work in writing more than in the product. 113 Nicholas F. Pici, "Trading Meanings: The Breath of Music in Toni Morrison's Jazz,"Connotations, 1997/8, pp.372-398. 156
  • 157. Most jazz music is created in bands: trios, quartets, quintets, etc. This narrative work establishes some of this sense of a band or group by the frequent references to the ideas and works of others that readers will find in this text. As I write these words I see that there are about two references per page, over sixteen hundred in an 1110 page text. The vehicle for this work is thus enhanced, enriched, by the solo work of others, rhythm sections that draw on several writers and thinkers and philosophers, etc. as accompaniment. They add complexity, tension, different pulses, staggered patterns, superimpositions, repetitions on a theme, similar statements with an ever changing expression. To continue this jazz metaphor briefly, I’d like to draw on the words of Mark Isaac, a composer of jazz music.114 Isaac says that his extensive improvising seems, to some listeners, like a hotch-potch. I’m sure some readers here will find my work somewhat of a hotch-potch. Isaac says he plays the music differently each and every time he goes about writing his work. It keeps coming out differently. Some of the harmonies in jazz and in my autobiography are obtuse; some are sharp. The melody line leaves openings for just about anything to come in. There is great discipline and 114 Mark Isaac, “Interview on the Music Show,” ABC Radio National, July 31st, 2004. 157
  • 158. much ease in the process of writing here and in the process of creating jazz music, as well, says Isaac. It often takes weeks to get the music right he argues; this work took twenty years to get it right, to get it into a form I was pleased with. I do not write from the margins of empire, from within a national culture or even from an individualist perspective. I depict the family, the individual and the state, the media and a host of leisure activities all as nexus points or places of transfer in the formation of an international polity that is rushing at us faster than we can comprehend. Pleasure, I find, tends to help me take the ride of life and the ride of writing. But, of course, there is more, for pleasure itself is never enough, never the whole story. It occupies only part of life's experience. "Experiences," writes that articulate psychohistorian Peter Gay, "testify to the uninterrupted traffic between what the world imposes and the mind demands, receives and reshapes." We construct our experience, says Gay, and that construction is "an uneasy collaboration between misperceptions generated by anxiety and corrections provided by reasoning and experimentation." There is more to our ideas and actions than meets the eye. Our life, our experience, is at one 158
  • 159. level simply what it seems to be. It is rooted in external reality. And it is also, paradoxically, not what it seems to be. Much of our life is silent; it seems to take place underground or in some inner ground. "We live in the mind," as the poet Wallace Stevens put the human experience.115 This autobiography tries to deal with both the obvious and the paradoxical. In some ways, the word 'narrative' could be replaced or added to other words like: view, claim, position, interpretation, world-view or even life. I’d like to quote briefly from a poem by Wallace Stevens, one of the finest poets of these four epochs and from one of his more famous poems. These words from Stevens will illustrate something about what I am trying to achieve in this memoir. Stevens writes: . . . And when she sang, the sea, Whatever self it had, became the self That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, As we beheld her striding there alone, Knew that there never was a world for her 115 Wallace Stevens in "They Have the Numbers; We the Heights," Harold Bloom, Boston Review, 1993-1998. 159
  • 160. Except the one she sang and, singing, made.116 Without going into an extensive analysis here, I would like to see my memoir as one long song. It is the world for me; it is the one I sang through words and I leave it to readers to make a tune of their own that they can enjoy. To give the word 'narrative' some kind of pristine prominence at the centre of my claim to autobiographical authenticity, is too strong a position, a direction, to suit my tastes. To do so may be impoverishing, pernicious, even damaging psychotherapeutically. Even if, or as, I do centre this autobiography on narrative I am conscious of changes I make to my past, alterations, smoothings, enhancements, shiftings from the raw propositional facts and contexts, all processes that may be neurophysiological inevitabilities. Some analysts of autobiography would advise writers "that the less you do the better."117 There is too in all this writing a strange assortment of the satisfied and unsatisfied, the appeased and unappeased, the reconciled and unreconciled. There is also intransigence, difficulty and 116 From “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens. 117 Galen Strawson, "Tales of the Unexpected," Guardian Unlimited Books, January 10, 2004. 160
  • 161. contradiction. From time to time I try to tell what I’m on about, but it is difficult to write a life. Most pioneers, in both the secular world and the Baha’i community, have exhausted themselves in external activity or filled their lives with events and comings and goings that seem to leave, so often, just about always, no record for future generations. This is not necessarily a bad thing; for we can not all be good gardeners, cooks, car mechanics or, in this case, writers. Over the years I have known many talented pioneers. But as a writer, my task is different. I want to place my readers on a stage, swarming with detail, dense with meaning; I want to give readers some of that constant sense of things and ideas that exist outside themselves and outside myself in my time, in these epochs, as Walt Whitman did when the Baha’i revelation was first bursting on the world a century and a half ago.118 But these words are not the reality of my experience. The text is not the true and only protagonist of this my finite existence. In the end, at the end of this story, silence speaks; narration is suspended. My role as poet, historian and storyteller comes to an end. In the book of history, a book of single and 118 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855. He worked on this book until he died in 1892. 161
  • 162. unique stories interwoven on the landscape of earth, I have made myself into a narrator of a story. I am a protagonist, a pioneer, who has narrated his own story and, in the process, rescued himself from oblivion. I have configured my story in community. I do not swallow or erase the scene I tell of, rather, I describe it, paint it, represent it. I make no claims to being an omniscient narrator who is also inside the minds of my characters, although I am certainly in the mind of one. I try to see the world as I see some of the main players in this story and, as I do, I reproduce their separate streams of consciousness. My story does not take place on an imaginary landscape like Thomas Hardy's Wessex, but it does reflect a fifty year experience as Hardy's did in a different time and with a different pessimism and sense of tragedy than Hardy's. It is an experience moderated by a phenomenon that has captured my imagination for nearly fifty years and generated the spiritual nerves and sinews to work as I have all my life for the unification of the peoples of the world.119 Hardy and I share, too, a sense of human destiny or fate which can not be deflected once a human being has taken the step which decides it. To 119 I have drawn here on a publication by the Baha'i International Community Office of Public Information in New York entitled Baha'u'llah, 1991, p.1. 162
  • 163. put it another way, if you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere. Those were the words of Thomas Mann. You could even smell that idea he said.120 In the westward expansion of Americans Richard Slotkin describes “the power of nature to destroy a people's capacity for civilized sentiment and social forms, in essence the power of the wilderness to kill man's better nature."121 It was Slotkin’s belief that the frontier contained perils that could entrap the would-be-hero and lay waste to the regenerative human qualities that led to frontier advancement. I think a similar pattern exists in the experience of Baha’i pioneers. I do not try to draw together all the significant strands of thought and belief about the pioneer in the history of Baha’i experience. Such an exercise is too large a task for this writer. The history of the Baha’i pioneer that has developed thusfar in the first 162 years of the history of this new Faith tends to concentrate those experiences in what might be called a syndrome, a paradigm, a model, a typification of a tale of a single hero. Such a syndrome presents that hero's life experience in such a way that his audience could believe in and identify with him. The 120 Thomas Mann at: 121 Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut, 1973, p.269. 163
  • 164. paradigm, though, has been expressed in a wide variety of narratives during this time. This narrative is but another example within the paradigmatic story of Baha’i origins, origins rooted in pioneering. Those who were the recipients of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the North Americans, have, throughout their history, exemplified a continuing urge to chart new paths and explore the unknown. Of course, they are not unique in this characteristic, but by the nineteenth century they represented one of the most diverse cross-sections of humanity in the world. As I pointed out above, I think Canadians have a different orientation to the charting, the exploration, process than the Americans. The instinct that drove Lewis and Clark to press across an uncharted continent and sustained twelve Americans as they walked on the moon is reflected in the spirit that has moved Baha’i pioneers since the Plans were initiated nearly seven decades ago. To put the idea slightly differently: from the voyages of Columbus to the journeys on the Oregon Trail and to the journey to the Moon itself, history proves that humanity has never lost by pressing the limits of its frontiers. In 1958, the then Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson boldly positioned space as the primary concern of the Senate agenda. At the time I was just positioning myself to put the Baha’i Faith on my agenda, perhaps not the primary item 164
  • 165. at the time. My journey, my voyage, my path into this uncharted sea of belief--uncharted by me--was just a view from the coastline at this stage and a distant view at that. The international Baha’i pioneer lives in a frontier society, rather than a society in which the script has been written and the parts are assigned. His is an improvisational theatre where people write their own parts within a framework of values and beliefs. Anyone who can play a useful part, whether conceived by someone else or by himself or anyone else, can play. And it is important for pioneers to work out just what kind of useful part they are to play. It can be a very liberating thing. Robert Zubin, astronautical engineer and author of two books promoting the Mars program, said that this liberating culture is “what we'll create on Mars.”122 The Baha’i is involved in a very progressive, innovative, branch of human culture. It will produce conventions that will be useful on this planet just as the inventions of Yankee ingenuity in a previous age were useful in Europe. It is an example of a society that places a higher value on each and every 122 Robert Zubrin, Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: New York, 1999; The Case For Mars, 1996. 165
  • 166. person because each and every person is precious.123 Such is my view of the Baha’i program and Robert Zubin’s view of the Mars space program has some interesting parallels to my view. But Mars is not, in fact, like the American frontier in any way. It's 150 million miles away and it has an atmosphere that is 7 millibars of CO2 so that once you arrive on the surface there you would die instantly. It doesn't have any of the qualities that the American frontier had, of individuals deciding, say, in the Old World. It’s not the Mars program that is like the American frontier-exploration paradigm. It’s the Baha’i program. Frontier- exploration in space is seen by people like Robert Zubin as the foundation of American exceptionalism in the 21st century. From a Baha’i perspective this exceptionalism could be seen as being founded on America’s being the cradle of the administrative order and the recipient of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the very foundation of the teaching plans. Those who have worked, pioneering in the teaching field, in these last several decades, and remained in-the-field for any length of time are certainly pushed to their limits in their efforts to spread the Baha’i teachings 123 idem 166
  • 167. among their contemporaries. The process is more psychological, though, than physical, more subtle and mental than overtly dangerous and threatening. A deep-space mission to Mars is a focus in this new century. Like westward expansion in the USA this effort and journey in space will spark creativity and imagination. This is also true of the pioneering paradigm. Creativity and imagination are born in the process. Someday this great international pioneering story, this diaspore of many decades, will be told and it will illuminate what I am saying here in more detail. I sometimes think Captain James Kirk’s familiar and now famous words on Star Trek "Space: The Final Frontier” should read “The Baha’i Faith: The Final Frontier.” My experience over the last half century often gives me the feeling that pioneering this revolutionary Faith is like humanity’s venture into space. It is going to take a long time and, even as we make a dint on space’s horizon, there will always be so much more to explore. The world the Baha’i is concerned with is to a significant extent, an inner one, an infinite one. Not wanting to be too narrowly focused on the religion of my choice, though, let me say that it is obvious that there are a host of frontiers humankind entered just recently and they are going to keep the human race occupied for some time to come. 167
  • 168. This diaspora does not carve itself out on some pioneer trek like the Oregon, the Santa Fe or the Cherokee Trail. It is not a clean-cut westward expansion or an "over-the-mountain-pass" journey. Mine, like so many others, is a heterogeneous mix of places from one end of the earth to another. Traces here and traces there, unobtrusive, obscure, mostly unknown. The corrupting influence of civilization as it was going through the dark heart of an age of transition did not overcome the civility of culture in the same way it did on the frontier in American and Australian society in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the wild West the slide into the depths of inhumanity was one of its dominant patterns with violence, alcoholism and different forms of depravity. Some people were strengthened by a process that was slowly creating a new race of man diametrically opposed to and different from the people in the European civilization that gave it birth. That has also been the case in the Baha’i story. It is as difficult to describe that process in the wild West as it is in Baha’i history and that is not my intention here. I just wanted to intimate interesting parallels here; a detailed analysis of this theme is beyond my purpose. 168
  • 169. Autobiographers bring specific words to their narratives, words with great explanatory power and emancipatory potential due to the traditions they live and write within. "The tradition of all the dead generations," wrote Marx, "weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living."124 I'm not sure how accurate this view is but, should this be the case, then the emancipatory potential I speak of in relation to this autobiography may derive from this reality. The Christian, the Moslem, the Marxist, the Baha’i, the secular humanist, among a great many other traditions, reify special words that take on very important meaning for them. Christ, Muhammed, class, freedom, justice, Baha’u’llah, oneness: these are words which can not be divorced from the narrative voice of their respective autobiographers. And so it is that I have my special words, my special vocabulary which will unfold in the pages ahead. The ideas and writings have been whispered in my ear so many times that they have come to serve as maxims for my conduct and, indeed, my imaginative life. Poets who take their readers on spiritual journeys each have their own special languages. Unlike the great medieval poet Dante Alighieri I do not paint the hell I have experienced in colourful and lively imagery but, like 124 Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 169
  • 170. him, I do have my metaphorical dark wood with its sinful aspects. Dante has his virtuous non-Christians placed in Limbo. I have my virtuous non-Baha’is whom I am not confident of placing in any particular theological abode. Perhaps I should be confined to Dante’s second circle where “the lustful were punished by having their spirits blown about by an unceasing wind.” For I too have had my lust’s to battle with, lusts that one can find expressed as far back as in Genesis and in the Epic of Gilgamesh in the first and second millenniums BC.125 I always thought Dante was a little hard on flatterers who were “mired in a stew of human excrement.”126 Dante is so often ridiculed now and so might this work of mine be in the years ahead even if my vocabulary is so very different than Dante’s. I have written several editions of this work in the midst of a "series of soul- stirring events" that celebrated the construction and completion of the Terraces on Mount Carmel and in the first two decades of the "auspicious beginning" of the occupation by the International Teaching Centre of its "permanent seat on the Mountain of the Lord." I see my work, too, as a spin-off, part of that generation of spiritual nerves and sinews that is the 125 "Pre-Classical Epic," HyperEpos: Epic on the Internet, February 28, 2004. 126 “Short Summary of Classic Notes,” Gradesaver, On-line Internet Site, January 20, 2004. 170
  • 171. result of "the revolutionary vision, the creative drive and systematic effort" that has come to characterize more and more the work of all the senior institutions of the Cause." This lengthy narrative is also my own humble attempt to "comprehend the magnitude of what has been so amazingly accomplished" in my lifetime and in this century just past. What I write is part of "a change of time," "a new state of mind," a "coherence of understanding," a "divinely driven enterprise."127 The story and the meaning I give it are crucial to my life for, without them--story and meaning--the days of my life would remain, would be, an intolerable sequence of events that make no sense. They would be, at best, a dabbling into things, a sort of entertainment, a search for fun in the midst of love and work with their inevitable pleasures and frustrations. They would express a kind of absurdity which many can and do live with; or like the writer Herman Hess the dominant taste of life would be of "nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams" which he said is the content of "the lives of all men 127 The references here are to Universal House of Justice Letters: 16 January 2001, 14 January 2001, Ridvan 2001. It is not my intention to review the major strands of the many letters of this elected body of the Baha'i community; rather I intend a periodic reference to what is now a mass of messages, letters and documents of various kinds. 171
  • 172. who stop deceiving themselves."128 I would find this a sad and inadequate philosophy, one I could scarcely bear and one I would find difficult to journey through to the end.129 Telling a story of my life is like a natural echo, an automatic repetition, a rhetorical sequence in the effort to define and link my identity to who I am, to unfold the meaning of it all. In some ways it is both more and less than telling a story. It is a conversation with a diverse public: family, friends, the past and the future--and inevitably the present. It is a conversation, an identity, shaped by the events of my time among other forces. Even with an overarching meaning that is a source of joy, of enchantment, there is still sadness, chaos and absurdity in this conversation, this story. Self-interrogation joins the self and produces the story of its life by capturing what is basic about the whole thing, what is indispensable, what is marginal and even superficial. The story of Jon Krakauer's climb to the summit of Mt. Everest illustrates some of the irrationality, the absurdity, the puritanical aspects of anything that is the passion of a life. He writes about 128 Hesse, Herman. Siddartha, Demian, and other Writings, editor: Egon Schwarz, Continuum, NY, 1992, p.105. 129 Many modern thinkers, especially of the existentialist school, see the world as essentially absurd, a shipwreck, impossible to comprehend, a confrontation with nothingness and with ultimate meaning at best elusive. 172
  • 173. his "belief in the nobility of suffering and work.....It defies logic."130 I find this particular theme of profound significance which I may return to at another time. Krakauer also writes, "I can't think of a single good thing that came out of this climb." Even in my lowest moments, gazing retrospectively at my life, I don't feel I can make this tragic claim for the climb that is my life. In the process of writing this autobiography I have come to see myself somewhat like a jazz musician, as I have intimated above. Toni Morrison, a modern novelist, said she saw herself like a jazz musician, as “someone who practices and practices and practices in order to be able to invent and make her art look effortless and graceful.”131 Another musical analogy to this autobiographical process which I like is the music critic who has an autobiographical orientation to his critical writing about music. Music, like my life, is something I play again and again in my head on my mental CD or LP in decades gone by. Music is particularly conducive to inspiring passion. The reason for this is simple. Music lends itself to repetitive consumption. It 130 Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, Villard Books, 1997. 131 Larry Schwartz, “Toni Morrison and William Faulkner: The Necessity of a Great American Novelist,” Cultural Logic, 2002. 173
  • 174. is unlikely that most people will read the same book, or watch the same episode of a TV show, or see the same film more than five times. But one's life especially different sections of it, is played virtually continuously, repetitively, just like music, only more so. Each time one plays one's life, like music, one finds similar points of attraction and differences. I like this analogy of music to life; it is capable of endless permutations and combinations of comparison and contrast. Only readers will tell of whatever effortlessness and grace I have achieved in producing my music, whether it charms and pleases them.132 Before leaving this musical analogy, though, I would like to draw on the work of culture theorist Judith Butler who places a great emphasis on the role that repetition plays in the stabilizing of identity. The basic premise, Butler states amidst her complex language, is that identities are prone to disintegrate unless they are reinforced regularly. The autobiographical experience, like music, in its repetitive nature has this reinforcing nature, reinforcing one’s sense of self through language, through sound. Repetition is at the very centre of identity formation, at the centre of an endless construction project. Just as songs "call" listeners to a particular identity, to 132 Charlie Bertsche, "Autobiography in Music Criticism," Bad Subjects: Political Education in Everyday Life, June 1999. 174
  • 175. explorations of the singers’ identity and its surrounding themes, this autobiography "calls" me--or perhaps I call it! The therapeutic dimension of autobiography arises for the writer in the act of writing and for the reader when he or she feels the same or even a different "call." I do not possess that encyclopedic interest that some seem to have in absolutely everything. This encyclopedic interest was described by Mark Van Doren in 1937 when the first Baha’i teaching Plan was being launched in North America.133 Given the pervasiveness, the multiplicity, the vast complexity, the multitude of academic and non-academic disciplines, the great ocean of humanity and its immensity, it is only too obvious that I must confine my wandering mind, and I do, in this autobiography. My interests are wide but don't extend to everything in the encyclopedia. I find I must focus my thinking on single points if I want my thought to “become an effective force,” as ‘Abdu’l-Baha emphasized.134 I mention this theme, this concept of focus, of limitation, several times throughout this work. The material I write about is broad enough. 133 Mark Van Doren, “On Donald Colross Peattie,” in David Mazel, Op.cit., p.276. 134 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections, Haifa, 1978, p.111. 175
  • 176. I mention, too, the private disorder and the public bewilderment of our times, a subject which the generations I have lived and worked with tire of as this bewilderment knocks them around and around, bit by bit over the decades of their lives. I approach these concerns in a variety of ways and try not to dwell on them. For this narrative is not a piece of sociology, politics or economics. There is more of the personal, the literary, the humanly human, here. Readers, though, especially those with a peculiarly forensic mind, may still find this work far too rambling, with an under-belly that is just too complex and detailed for their liking, too much work and not enough payoff, not enough of the right kind of focused stimulation, the kind they get on TV for example, to suit their tastes. The forensic mind is useful in the who-dun-it detective stories and it is useful here, but it must persist in this long work if it is to come up with useful clues for its existential angst, if it is to derive the pleasure I know is there, the pleasure I find. For there is none of the five steps to success, the simple aphorisms, the humorous quips that attempt to plumb the realities of life by indirection, thus assuaging the angst of the multitude and satisfying and appeasing the existential hunger. Narrative or story construction is an increasingly influential and integrating paradigm in psychology and the social sciences generally. The conceptual 176
  • 177. foundations of a narrative perspective can be traced thematically and contrasted with more traditional models of human psychological functioning. Autobiographical memory, self-narrative and identity development as well as narrative interpretations of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are all part of a relatively new field, arguably, since the 1950s when I was first associated with the Baha’i Faith. Contributions from the cultural and social constructionist traditions to narrative psychology are relevant to my writing and the full weight of their implications are dealt with in this narrative construction of the person that I am.135 Readers who find the academic jargon a bit much from time to time are advised to simply skip such parts and go on to areas more intellectually palatable. I often feel my life is much more than the sum of its parts and should readers miss some parts, I’m not so sure it will matter. Recent advances in narrative research methodologies, particularly those qualitative approaches which focus upon interview and other autobiographical sources of data can be helpful. This autobiography does not deal with all of these aspects of narrative or autobiographical psychology. It draws to some extent on the academic, hopefully not too 135 The social, the cultural, construction of human beings is increasingly emphasized in the literature of the social and behavioural sciences. 177
  • 178. much, not too esoterically. I am only too conscious of the jargon of academic discourse and of how unfamiliar terminology switches readers off swifter than the twinkling of an eye. For I was a teacher for thirty years and, by the time I retired from full-time teaching in 1999 and casual teaching in 2004, I could feel the switch-off process in its first few seconds of mental down-turning with a class of students. The language of the last two paragraphs here, I am only too aware, is pretty 'heavy.' I shall endeavour to lighten up and keep the style and tone much less freighted with this specialized language from the social sciences. Much that is part and parcel of academic discourse is seen by the great mass of humanity as unreality, just a lot of words. And I am sure that no matter how I write this book many readers will find what I write as unreal, over their head, too many words, too long, too heavy. To each his own. As T.S. Eliot once wrote, the world can not bear either too much reality or too little. But the pursuit of truth need not have the additional burden of the use of complex language. I avoid it as much as I can. I am aware, too, that the world finds much academic language quite incomprehensible. Millions of people have become weary of a certain stock-in-trade of ideas, myths, scenarios and problem/issue topics that have been discussed ad nauseam in 178
  • 179. academic and non-academic literature, in the media and in private conversation. The process by which I work here, it seems, is much like what Gore Vidal did in his 1995 memoir called Palimpsest: A Memoir. Vidal said he started with his life, made a text, then wrote a revision--literally, a second seeing, an afterthought--erasing some but not all of the original while writing something new over the first layer of text. Vidal added that he found discrete archeological layers of his life as he continued to excavate. The process of excavation was like the archaeologist’s finding the different levels of old Troy. At some point beneath those cities upon cities, it was his hope to find “Achilles and his beloved Patroclus and all that wrath with which the world began.”136 Such has been my hope and I have found a great deal in the cities, the rag-and-bone-shop of my life. A finely tempered sword was found in the darkness of its sheath; some foul dregs of impurity, too; some rust on the heart and some fruits containing a divine and consummate wisdom. 136 Gore Vidal, Palimpsest: A Memoir, Random House, NY, 1995. 179
  • 180. I assume that readers are more versatile, more limber, more educated and want something fresh, some fresh language, something simple but meaningful. But that is difficult to deliver. I think it can only be delivered to a point. For much of life in the end, no matter how much we want to simplify, is complex. "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make simple-simpler and simpler," as Charles Fair once wrote.137 The world abounds in Terrible Simplifiers. Fair called such simplicities “the new nonsense.” So much of our understanding of periods of history is limited "by the body of texts which accidently survive."138 In the half century that this autobiography is concerned with, 1953 to 2005, these limitations have been largely lifted and humanity is now drowning in texts that are representative of the times. Throughout history the voice of only a select group, usually white adult males, can be found telling the story, the story of humankind. Social and editorial conventions within which most public speaking and published writing have taken place tended to mute everyone but this adult 137 Charles Fair, the New Nonsense: The End of the Rational Consensus, Simon and Schuster, NY,1974, p.259. 138 A. M. Keith, "Review of John Winkler's Constraints of Desire: the Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece," in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, January 18, 2002. 180
  • 181. male. These conventions have been crumbling during the epochs that are the temporal frameworks of this work and this autobiography is, partly, a testimony to this crumbling process. For Baha’is, like women, the autobiographical voice is rarely singular, but instead exists in chorus within a cluster of voices of other Baha’is.139 The whole idea of proper, responsible, academic autobiographies, operating within acceptable limits and armed with all the usual gate-keeping paraphernalia: academic standards, publication controls, peer reviews, benchmarks, responsible and efficient methods in the wings and some latent ostracizing power-what some call hidden mechanisms of ideological power and control--seems to have disappeared in this field of autobiographical writing if, indeed, it ever existed at all. In the massive quantities of autobiography, at least in the last two centuries, the sustaining power of some status quo has been fed through an umbilical cord that has intravenously fed the past, present and future in such a variety of ways that this status quo has a rich vein of expression. So it was that, by the time I come along as the millennium was shifting, I felt free to present my 139 See ‘Introduction” to: Voices Made Flesh: Performing Women's Autobiography, Editors: Lynn C. Miller, Jacqueline Taylor, and M. Heather Carver, Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography, William L. Andrews, Series Editor, 2003. 181
  • 182. eccentric angles of vision, angles that have never been quite settled, never fully accepted by me or others, never resting entirely comfortably in my psyche, never quite at home and, as Rilke put it, angles that made me feel like “a perpetual beginner”140 in my own circumstances. The so-called rites of passage which come into all our lives in very different ways are distinguished by formal, and usually very severe ordeals, exercises of severance, whereby the mind is radically cut away from the attitudes, attachments, and life patterns of the stage being left behind. This process occurred in my life on several occasions each of which was followed by an interval of more or less extended retirement, during which were enacted rituals designed to introduce me to the forms and proper feelings of my new estate with its unalterable marks indicative of my new role, my new status, new patterns of socialization, folkways and mores. When, at last, the time was ripe for me to return to my normal world, my original home and landscape, I would have been as good as reborn. But I never returned.141 This autobiography will deal with these rites de passage as I unfold the stages in 140 R.M. Rilke in “No Perfect Crime: Review of K. Jenkins, Refiguring History: New Thoughts on an Old Discipline,”(NY,2003), Digressus, Vol.2, 2003, pp.5-10. 141 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series 17, Princeton, NJ, 1973, p. 10. 182
  • 183. turn. I do not provide detailed pictures of all the shifts for there are too many to outline in detail without leading to prolixity. Given the plethora of books, journals, magazines and programs in the electronic media, everyone turns to, turns on, finds and enjoys what they prefer. Although I do not see myself as an elitist, I am inclined to think that what I write here will probably appeal to no more than ten per cent of the population and, it is my considered view, that during my lifetime, it will be read by a coterie so small as to be statistically irrelevant. This would have been true a hundred years ago, in 1905, as well. This is not a book for mass consumption. I wish it were. I know of few people who read the Bible, Shakespeare or any of the great poets for that matter. So if few people read me, I know I am in good company. Everything written these days is for a coterie except the literary products of celebrities and print and non-print resources that have caught the eye of the electronic media. I am not complaining. That is simply a reality of life. It seems to me that, as W.H. Auden once wrote, the pleasure of readers and any ensuing literary success gives but small satisfaction, a momentary pleasure or a series of moments, to an author and his vanity or his idealism. 183
  • 184. What is worth winning, Auden went on, was to be of use to future generations in the inner sanctum of their thoughts, to be a hallowed mentor.142 Although the society I describe here and my role in it will, in time, be gone forever, something may indeed be left from accounts like the one I provide. I like the emphasis Auden puts on the issues but, of course, it is unlikely that I will ever know if I have been successful in the sense he describes, certainly while I am alive. And not having tasted literary success significantly, publicly, in this life thusfar, I do not know what the level of satisfaction is that might accrue to my ego, my vanity and my idealism should public success come my way. I like to think, indeed I believe, that it is possible to reach the whirling mind of the modern reader, to cut through the noise and reach that quiet zone. The fact that the great majority of humankind will never read this book does not concern me. If I can find a few in that quiet zone that will be a bonus. For my real reward has been the pleasure I have found in writing this book in the first place. I don't find any pleasure in gardening, in cooking, in fishing, indeed, in a long list of things. Each person must find their own pleasures in life. Sometimes pleasures can be shared and sometimes they can't. We all 142 W.H. Auden in W.H. Auden: Forewords and Afterwords, 1979, p. 366. 184
  • 185. contribute, it must also be added, each in their own small way, to the big picture that is history. This book is part of my contribution.143 For my part, I fully admit to the vice of many a writer and autobiographer to pick the things I find most interesting and challenging and write about them. I think, like the biographer of ancient history, Plutarch, I am engaged in writing lives--or a life--more than I am history. Sadly, too, like Plutarch, I am only too conscious that “the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men.”144 Often a matter of much less significance, an expression or a jest will tell more of a person’s character and inclinations than one’s great achievements, the major events or the principle failures in life. And so it is that in this autobiographical work I give my particular attention to the friction of anecdote, the arresting detail, the turn of phrase, the inner life and private character, to elicit a certain moral bearing, to bring a life and a time into a moral theatre and recapitulate some of the events for the edification of others. Like Plutarch, I do not eagerly or gratuitously display my defects or whatever misdeeds of wickedness I displayed in my life. In this regard I show restraint in both the 143 Phillip Webb, "What are You Studying History?" Access: History, Vol.3.1. 144 Plutarch quoted in Lives of the Mind, Roger Kimball, Chicago, 2002, p.22. 185
  • 186. display of virtuous character, which others may not want to emulate or imitate, and the display of what is not so virtuous. For many the threat of death multiplies stories of life; for others it is the simple opportunity to tell an interesting story and tell it well, with or without a moral. For still others it is love for some other: friend, loved one, community. This is a difficult question for me to answer: why do I write this story? There are probably many answers I could give but the one that comes most readily to mind is: to play my part in contributing to an ever- advancing civilization. This sounds somewhat pretentious but, however over-the-top it sounds, it honestly expresses the big-picture, the motivational matrix of my narrative, my metanarrative. I've liked this somewhat elusive phrase since I first came upon it in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I sense in what I write a destiny that proceeds through the events and occurrences of my days. It is a unique destiny; it is partly unmasterable; it is unrepeatable; it is the course my life traces. Some have called this their destiny, their daemon. There is clearly in all our lives something we cannot refuse. Perhaps it is the price we pay for our life. Of course, my story, like 186
  • 187. that of all authors is “conjugated within a geography of social relationships”145 and it possesses a fragile reality. This fragility is implicit in the words of historian Henri Lefebvre’s characterization of "The Home as nothing more than a historico-poetical reality.”146 Space, landscape, where we live our lives, Lefebvre emphasizes, is a product of “the perceived, the conceived, and the experienced.” That it is best expressed in historico-poetic terms is, in fact, one of the underpinnings of this work. The myriad spaces and places where I have lived and had my being, heterogeneous relational spaces, have played an important role in producing the self that I am inasmuch as I have experienced them so differently.147 For the places and their spaces I have lived and worked in have been both haven and cage, source of solace and anxiety, peace and psychological warfare, my bedrock, my identity, ambiguity and anguish. I try in this book not to get too caught up in the many microcosms of my life, their interstices and accompanying relationships. Such analyses are a dime-a-dozen and can be read in many other places. I try to follow the advice of ‘Abdu’-Baha here: 145 Philippe Lejuene, in Autobiography and Geography: A Self-Arranging Question,Frédéric Regard. 146 Henri Lefebvre, “Produire L'espace,” Anthropos,1974, p.143. 147 Edward Soja,Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, Verso, London and New York,1989, p.23. 187
  • 188. “laugh at our coursings through east and west...Let us not keep on forever.....with our analysing and interpreting and circulating of complex dubieties.....let us not make known of our sufferings nor complain of our wrongs.”148 In each location there is a more porous, floating exchange between the self that I was and am and the self that I became. The two bodies overlap and merge in some ways and they separate in others. I can interpret my life and try to explain it; I can search out its unity in the events of my life or the hidden substance, the soul, that dwells with this body in some mysterious, indefineable way. I can look inside it and excavate its appearances, discover its interiority and, in the process, hopefully bring my readers closer so that they see me as more like them, more of a friend. But no matter how I examine it in all its complexity and simplicity, I only partly control it, plan it, decide it and make it. There is much that is simply uncontrollable, that has no author, that is solely in the hands of God or what might be called those mysterious dispensations of Providence. As Producer and Director Who defines the mise-en-scene, Who sets the stage and the choreography, He provides the context in which many lives intersect and mine is but one. 148 ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa, 1978, p.236. 188
  • 189. My life does not result from a story, although some students in this field believe that it does. This story results from my life. Unscripted, flawed and plausible, this life can not be lived like a novel or a movie. There is no "choiceless invulnerability"149 in our lives as there is in the edited and celluloid safety of lives on film in what Roger White calls that choiceless tedium of their impeccable heroes. But still there is, for the Baha'i, some plan, some form, some idea, some centre, to focus the dazzling and frenetic blooming and buzzing confusion of existence. There is a panorama, a megavision, which for the Baha'i adds an incomparable power of intellection. It provides a bird’s-eye view which Baha'is can assume in an instant, in a lifetime, for their own. It gives them the world to read and not just to perceive. As Emerson once observed, even for the hero, for those animated by a passion and a plan, life has its boredom, its tedium, its banalities.150 Even with all the plans and programs, there are barricades in the way of the Baha’i 149 Roger White, "A Toast to the Hero," A Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.106. 150 Ralph Waldo Emerson in Howard Mumford Jones, Atlantic Brief Lives: A Biographical Companion to the Arts, ed. Louis Kronenberger, Boston: Little, Brown, 1971. 189
  • 190. who is also an autobiographer, barricades that prevent his understanding. His passionate convictions and the historical experience that forms these convictions, are, as Eric Hobsbawm puts it, part of these very barricades.151 The road to understanding is not always smooth and untroubled. In my copy of God Passes By, the 1957 edition which I purchased in the first year of my pioneering experience, 1962, I have written many quotations from Gibbon and commentaries on Gibbon. I wrote the quotations on the blank pages at the beginning and the end of the hard-cover volume I own. There is one quotation, I think it is from J.W. Swain, which goes: "history is an endless succession of engagements with a past in which the dramatis personae were never able to fathom, control and command events."152 This could equally be said of autobiography. Roy Porter also writes that "diligence and accuracy are the only merits of an historian of importance."153 While these qualities are certainly of benefit to the autobiographer, the ability to write well and in an interesting way is paramount or no one will ever read his work. Gibbon became important to me because of his 151 Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914- 1991, London, Michael Joseph, 1995, p.5. 152 J.W. Swain, Edward Gibbon the Historian, 1966, p.70. 153 Roy Porter, Edward Gibbon: Making History, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1988, p.12. 190
  • 191. importance to the Guardian and his importance to an appreciation of the great beauty and complexity, subtlety and power, of English. There are other quotations which I have written on the blank pages of this great book by Shoghi Effendi, quotations which apply as much to this narrative as to Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Gibbon's work, writes Keith Windshuttle, is a demonstration that much of history is driven by the influence of unintended consequences, chance and a human passion which "usually presides over human reason."154 My own work, while finding no conflict with Gibbon's words, demonstrates in addition, I like to think, a Baha'i philosophy of history "which has as its cornerstone a belief in progress through providential control of the historical process."155 But neither is man "a thrall to an impersonal historical process."156 He must deal with the forces of fate, perhaps battle with his fate, as Nietzsche once put it, with his socialization and the free will with which he has been endowed. Perhaps, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, he will come to have a great influence 154 Keith Windshuttle, "Edward Gibbon and the Enlightenment," The New Criterion, Vol.15, No.10, 1997. 155 Geoffrey Nash, Phoenix and the Ashes, George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, p.89. 156 Nash, op.cit. p.94. 191
  • 192. on his age.157 Perhaps, like Solzhenitsyn or, perhaps, like Xavier Herbert, he could write for sixteen hours a day to tell his story. He must battle, too, with a prophetic view of the modern age which can only be "proved" in part and which can be so variously interpreted that agreement is difficult and often impossible to forge among the children of men. The story of personal development, like that of artistic change, is not one of progress, like the development of tools, alphabets, or air conditioners; rather, this development embodies the unique expressions of individual souls situated in their own ages, responding to and emerging from the mesh of experiences and cultural habits unique to them.158 That unique emotional expression, which constitutes the expressive genius of the individual, speaking out from his own place in the world and in history, is what constitutes art--not a checklist of mimetic requirements--and is at the heart of the story of my personal experience. It is not so much my desire to change the world, an elusive exercise at best, it is rather my desire to make sense of it that is the aim of my expressive force and purpose. 157 D.M. Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life, Alfred A. Knopf. 158 Susannah Rutherglen, "The Philosopher in the Storm: Cultural Historian E.H. Gombrich's Troubled Achievement," The Yale Review of Books, 2003. 192
  • 193. With David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, and with Edward Gibbon, I have come to regard my life and, indeed, all of history, "as a drama of human passion." For human passion is many things, some associated with sexual love and others with strong emotion and belief. The former perpetuates the species, is a source of immense pleasure and, for me, for most of us, many problematics; the latter is the motivational matrix behind so much of action. Passions are timeless and the circumstances in which they occur are never the same. Beliefs, on the other hand, especially a belief, a commitment, to a new religion, are seen by most, most of those who were part of my life in some way, as a strange exoticism, at best a movement that impressed them and at worst one that was simply not for them. I have often been an outsider, but one learns as far as possible to make both yourself and others feel at home.159 My task became to win friends and influence people, to get on some inside, so to speak. There have been two ruling passions in my life: the Baha'i Faith and learning and the cultural achievements of the mind. I find Abraham Maslow's theory of the hierarchy of needs, which he elaborated during the Ten Year Crusade, 159 Udo Schaefer makes this point in the opening sentence of his Imperishable Dominion, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, p.1 193
  • 194. goes a long way, at least for me, toward integrating into a helpful perspective my various human needs and passions, desires and wants, which we all have in varying degrees. I won't outline this theory here because any reader can learn about Maslow's theory with a little effort. The erotic, for example, which has been a strong need/passion in my life and requires a separate story all its own to go into the detail this need warrants, fits nicely into Maslow's first level of needs: what he calls physiological needs. I have a health problem, relating to the physiological needs of my neurological system. The several manifestations of manic-depression relate to the failure to satisfy this need. Maslow's theory is, I find, explanatory, and I leave it to readers to relate Maslow, his theory and his ideas to their own lives: their needs and passions, wants and desires. I could go into an elaborate explanation of my own experience drawing on Maslow. But that is not my purpose here. There are, in addition, other theorists of personality and of human development who are helpful for autobiographers and I mention them from time to time in the course of this text. With more than eight hundred pages left to read, only readers who persist with this narrative will be exposed to the various theorists I draw upon to give text and texture to this my life. 194
  • 195. As self-representation, autobiography is perhaps uniquely suited to validate, to explain and analyse, the experience I have had with my bi-polar disability and to counter stereotypical representations which I find arise, in some ways quite naturally, in the course of my life.160 But this work is not so much an attempt to justify myself before the court of life, so to speak. If this work is ever read to any significant extent, I will be gone to the land of those who speak no more and self-defence will hardly matter then, at least not to me. This work is, rather, a representing of myself to myself and in doing this, others may find that the content and process I go through is useful for them as they go through the process of self-understanding. Power, inner strength, identity, is in some ways re-achieved in this narrative of myself after it had been sucked out of me by the demands of life by the time I came to write it in my late fifties. Self-narrative, say some students of autobiography, is a tool used to gain self-determinacy. In this "illness narrative" which Pioneering Over Four Epochs is to some extent, there is an act, a story, of becoming and re-becoming. Through self-narration I re-make myself, re-fashion and re-invent a new understanding of myself. With my story, I try to resist the disabling definition of mental illness or manic- 160 G. Thomas Couser, "Disability and Autobiography: Enabling Discourse," Disability Studies Quarterly, 17.4 (1997), p.292. 195
  • 196. depression. I try to write, reexpress, these pejorative terms into a rhetorical normalcy which I hope will play a small part in society achieving a real understanding and acceptance of this illness in everyday social life. Narrative is used as a tool, a technology, that is intended to be a vehicle to freedom, self-definition, and self-expression. My character has been reshaped by the integration of modern medical technology(medications) with my body.161 Without these medications, this narrative would assume quite a different trajectory. Living my daily life, again and again, I establish, I create, through the simple act of repetition the medium of my becoming. The story is long--and some of it is here. I build a narrative out of individual agency, the agency of my own actions, the surprises, the events, "the shadows on the high road of an inevitable destiny,"162 and my own sometimes peaceful and secure world, but like Edward Gibbon, "the sheer accumulation and repetition of events"163 and the unprecedented tempest of my times, in the end, leaves the reader, I am 161 Arthur W. Frank, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics, Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1995, p.159; Mark Mossman, “Acts of Becoming: Autobiography, Frankenstein, and the Postmodern Body,” Journal of Postmodern Culture. 162 George Townshend, "Introduction," God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p. iii. 163 J.A.S. Evans, "The Legacy of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall: Lecture," American School of Classical Studies, Athens, 1998/9 196
  • 197. inclined to believe, with patterns and processes, ideas and ideals, philosophy and analysis and a much bigger picture than an isolated, an individual life. And I, along the way, experience an element of surprise. I don't look for it or even anticipate it. It seems to come along like a bonus, the way flowers grow in a garden and one enthuses over them with friends.164 But the book, this book, as Proust argued, is "the product of a very different self" than the one I manifest in my daily habits, in my social life, in my vices and virtues.165 The self that writes is a mysterious entity that no amount of documentation can take the reader into. In the end this autobiography must remain incomplete, not because it does not tell all the facts--which is impossible anyway-- but because it deals with a mystery, a human being. Those things we call interviews, conversations recorded for the public and found in the print and electronic media by the multitude, while not entirely superficial and valuable in their own right for information and entertainment, for the quirks and friendships laid out for us, do not deal with the innermost self which can only be recovered or uncovered by putting aside the world and the social self that inhabits that world. "The secretions of one's 164 The great Indian writer and lifetime devotee to English prose, V.S. Naipaul, talked about this element of surprise in his Novel Lecture in 2001. 165 Proust quoted in Naipaul's 2001 Nobel Lecture. 197
  • 198. innermost self," says Naipaul quoting Proust, "written in solitude and for oneself alone" are the result of trusting to intuition and a process of waiting.166 In time, with the advance of years, I will come to understand what I have written, although even then not fully. If the autobiographer is sensitive to the processes of minute causality, he will slowly and inevitably come to see that behind each fact there is a "swarming mass of causes on which he could turn the historical microscope."167 The fragmentary, ambiguous and opaque material of our days makes it difficult to wield the pen with any kind of authority over our lives. What started off with a sense of my authorial imperium, as was the case at the start of writing this autobiography in the early 1980s, is often the case with writers and was also the case with Edward Gibbon. Such a feeling of literary authority often results, though, over the long stretch of writing in an increasing vulnerability.168 Egotism, energy and a will to power are all required to sustain a long piece of writing like this. Such qualities are not all a writer needs to create a literary presence, but they are essential. I would use the word power but not authority. As Richard Sennett wrote in his 166 idem 167 David Womersley, The Transformation of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1988, p.184. 168 ibid., p.181. 198
  • 199. brilliant analysis of authority: "authority is an act of the imagination, it is a search for solidity and security in the strength of others.”169 Although this work is certainly an example of the former, it does not possess any of the capacity to bind, to bond, people together. Power is quite an ambiguous word as used in the social science literature. It’s use is so ambiguous I am happy to coopt it, to use it in association with my writing, as I proselytise for my vision using my life as a vehicle. There is some degree of frustration in trying to put words behind the elusive complexities of life and the multitude of unfocussed and divergent aspects of one's days. Giving life a unity of form, a unity of literary expression, can beat the best of them. One toils with a performance that struggles endlessly with ideal. I may generate a powerful impression of sequence and it certainly does exist behind the pages of this narrative. But readers may also find that there is just too much to be contained by their intellect in a narrative that contains such frequently competing claims of evidence and experience and such a variety of standpoints. My imagination is always active to enlarge the narrow circle in which nature and circumstance confine 169 Richard Sennett, Authority, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1980, p.199. The qualities one brings to writing, to this writing, is a subject unto itself and it is not my desire to go into the subject too deeply at this point. 199
  • 200. it. And enlarge it I do, perhaps by "the revelation of the inner mysteries of God,"170 mixed with that “obscuring dust”171 of acquired knowledge. It is often difficult to know what is revelation and what is dust, although intuition’s unreliable guide often gives us a feeling of certainty. And there is much, too, that eludes the net of language no matter how active the imagination. Millions of human beings in the years at the background of this autobiography came to find in cinema insights into their personal life-stories by observing directors' insights into themselves or their society. Perhaps this is partly because in the last century the fusion of the arts, the sciences and technology has been so seamlessly institutionalised by the cinema. Competing world views are fused and inscribed on human consciousness by skilled film directors. Some film directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, to choose one of many, offered film goers a cinematic persona that reflected their own personality. Fassbinder’s films are autobiographical in the sense that they attempt to confer shape and meaning on a chaotic life and a scandalous society, on a catastrophic social and political environment. As Fassbinder said in an interview his films "always place himself at the 170 Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, 1956(1939), p. 264. 171 idem 200
  • 201. centre."172 This literary work Pioneering Over Four Epochs, like Fassbinder's work in cinema, tells of my experience. Other people, other Baha'is, inevitably have a different setting for their lives but, ultimately, there is a sameness, a strong similarity. Like Fassbinder, I tell my story very personally but I give it, as best I can, a universal context. Film directors all have their signature; no matter how they like the work of other directors, they try to tell their own story in their own way. The generation of important American directors who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola, among others,173 just after I came of age in the mid-sixties, have told their story citing the influences on their work. So, too, have I told mine in a work that has burgeoned to over 850 pages. The autobiographical documentary film, in TV and on radio, with its themes of self and identity, like autobiography in print, has been a fascination to western film-makers, to journalists, 172 Rainer Fassbinder in The Anarchy of the Imagination: Interviews, Essays, Notes, editors, Michael Toteberg and Leo Lensing, The Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1992, p.41. Fassbinder was a director of films in Germany after WW2. 173 Robert C. Sickels, "A Politically Correct Ethan Edwards: Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales, (Retrospectives)," Journal of Popular Film and Television, Winter, 2003. 201
  • 202. producers and directors since those late sixties.174 Like Jim Lane's book, which shows the significant role of autobiography in the history and culture of our time, at least in the last three decades,175 I like to think that my book will play a useful role in understanding how autobiography can assist in illuminating the collective experience of a generation within the Baha'i community, the history and culture of that community and the experience of one individual within it over the last four epochs. The generation that came of age in the sixties was the most affluent, well-fed, well clothed in history but they had, as writer Doris Lessing has frequently pointed out, their own particular and quite severe anxieties and maladjustments resulting from the two greatest wars in history.176 There is one particular theory of film making called radical constructivism which I mention here because it, too, has some interesting similarities to the way I am going about writing my memoir. To the radical constructivist knowledge is actively built up by the knowing subject. It serves to organize experience, to construct knowledge. Such is the way I have constructed my 174 Jim Lane, “The Autobiographical Documentary in America,” Wisconson Studies in Autobiography, 2004. 175 Susanna Egan, Mirror Talk:Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography. 176 Doris Lessing, “An Interview With Doris Lessing,” Bookforum, Spring 2002. 202
  • 203. autobiography building layer on layer, assimilating, accommodating, adapting. What I construct is less than the past and possesses an “epistemological fragility.”177 It is an explanation of the present in terms of the past. Facts about the past are elements of the observer’s experience. This autobiography has my signature and no matter how much I borrow and blend, copy and plagiarize,178 I draw the lives and experiences, the ideas and concepts of others making them into my own unique recipe. In the details I can not and do not imitate even if I use some of the same ingredients and even if I sometimes borrow with appreciation. I adapt to fit my particular constellation, my interpretation, of reality. No matter how much I draw on the views of others and I do extensively, in the end, as Yale professor Harold Bloom argues, "there is no method except yourself."179 I react differently, from time to time, from year to year, sometimes with more spontaneity or 177 Nick Redfern, “Realism, Radical Constructivism and Film History,” Essays in Philosophy, Vol.7, No.2, June 2006. 178 I've always appreciated the words of T.S. Eliot on plagiarism, namely, that "great poets plagiarize" and call what they borrow their own out of a sense of gratitude. Great poets Eliot said "make men see or hear more" and, finally, "the claim to be a man of letters is a modest pretension." There is certainly in this work what I would call "a modest plagiarism." See T.S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1965, p.134. Perhaps, though, with more than 1600 references my plagiarizing is not so modest. I try to strike a fair and moderate 'middle ground.' 179 Harold Bloom in "Colossus Among Critics," Adam Begley, New York Times On the Web, 25 September 1994. 203
  • 204. more reserve, more adventurousness or more caution. I create my own personal world, tell of my own emotional and intellectual cells and their depths. I hope they resonate with readers; I hope they sensitize readers--at least a few. For what is involved here, in addition to the articulation of some of the core parameters of community, is that "introspective consciousness, free to contemplate itself"180 or a seeing things with one's own eyes and hearing things with one's own ears which Baha'u'llah links with justice and which I refer to several times throughout this text. Just a final note from one of the interviews with Fassbinder. I include it because I think film, philosophy and autobiography have, or at least can have, one thing in common and that is the world.181 Their mutual interrelations are complex and, as Andrew Murphie puts it, hectic and in need of mutual nurturing. He was asked if film making was "a sort of love substitute." His response was that his first take "was more fantastic that the most fantastic orgasm....a feeling indescribable."182 The finished product, the film we see, is indeed a collage. Sometimes, if not frequently, the visual immediacy of film prevents reflection. All the takes are the materials that 180 idem 181 Andrew Murphie, “Is Philosophy Ever Enough?” Film-Philoosphy, Vol. 5 No. 38, November 2001. Murphie makes this same point. 182 Rainer Fassbinder, op.cit., p.71. 204
  • 205. have to be reduced and assembled to form the coherent whole of the film. It is this that eventually comes to be the final art-product ready to come to life in the perceptions of viewers.183 The other finished product, this autobiography, also involves reduction and an assembling of material to form a coherent whole, but there are no problems of visual immediacy. There are no problems either of the collaborative nature of film making. For the most part, autobiography is a solo event.184 Although, like film, the credits could go on for many minutes--even hours in the case of autobiography. Of course, who would stick around to read such a list of credits, a list, for the most part, totally meaningless to most readers. The deciphering, the study, of history, a gratingly slow process of negotiation and disagreement, a process in which the content often becomes more complex the more one knows, is replaced in our time for most people by a media blitz on certain events. All we want to know about massive cultural memory haemorrhages like the Holocaust, D-Day, various assassinations, etc. can be squeezed into three-hour media bursts, convincing 183 Alexander Sesonske, “The World Viewed,” The Georgia Review, 1974, p. 564. 184 Although, when an autobiographer has nearly 1400 references and fills his narrative with many a person, it is difficult to call the exercise “a solo event.” 205
  • 206. because of their technical brilliance, their ability to elicit emotions and to create in the viewer the conviction that the truth has been determined and can now be shelved—we are at last done with those crises. With so much now to reflect upon and so little time to reflect and reconsider, we leap instead from event to event, frantically memorializing--if not remembering-- what the past means: a world war, the death of a celebrity, the death of a president or the child of a revered president all carry the same valence.185 Around us is a texture of memories, real and prosthetic, produced for us and by us. We have turned the potentially enriching memory devices in our the industrialized world: television, radio, film, video, the internet--into answering machines that, on demand, spool out rote solutions, examinations of complex issues, a plethora of information for the ontological, epistemological and existential issues that produce both life’s dread and life's pleasure, that are anodynes of cultural forgetfulness and stimulus to investigation and understanding. Again and again we have sketched before our eyes and ears, in 185 Tim Blackmore, "High on Technology; Low on Memory: Cultural Crisis in Dark City and The Matrix," Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 34, Number 1, 2004. 206
  • 207. luminous outlines and close detail, the pressures that act to produce some element of history or contemporary society, some set of agreed-on perspectives. And all of this exists as part of a pattern of private withdrawal which is "as obscure in its psychology as it is apparently transparent in its external shape"186 and is more reported on than experienced. One analyst put writing in the same context as making love. Orgasms are shortly lived experiences and peak experiences are common in writing, at least for some writers; love relationships are complex in different ways to writing, even if one forgets about orgasms and focuses on touching and hugging, gentleness and kindness. Writing and love, it seems to me, have many similarities. Writing goes on for years, for a lifetime like a permanent, long-term loving relationship in marriage. Writing often has a short duration, is episodic, like most of the relationships we have in life. The passion of writing obviously lasts far longer than any single erotic act or collection of them, at least for those writers who keep at it over their lifetime. Both writing and love-making chart the intersection of multiple and often contradictory points of view, different concepts of community and interpersonal understandings and levels of social integration. At one level it 186 Martin Pawley, The Private Future, Thomas and Hudson, London, 1973, p.13. 207
  • 208. all seems so easy, so natural, so organic, love-making and writing that is. At another level both processes are complex, a source of both angst and pleasure and both can, in the end, come to nothing. I should add, too, in this connection, that memory is filled with images of the nonself, with all sorts of things from the physical, human and religious worlds and a multitude of disciplines that attempt to assimilate this information and these images and these memories enrich and frustrate, deepen and accompany both love and writing. To put some of this another way: in The Ethics of Ambiguity Simone de Beauvoir argues that we are born in the midst of others without whom the world would never begin to take on meaning.187 For me, writing helps me make of the world much more. For writing helps me to fertilze the solitude that, as Beauvoir adds, is as essential as interrelationship. Poets, writers and many others, often turn away from the world of objects in their jouissance and they rediscover the non-self within the self; or to put this idea more concretely, self and world are rediscovered in a richer 187 Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1975), p. 18. This book was first published as _Pour une morale de l'ambiguote, Paris: Gallimard, 1947. 208
  • 209. symbiosis. "It is in themselves," as Leo Bersani writes, "that their insatiable appetite for otherness is satisfied."188 This idea is a complex one; perhaps it is just another way of saying the cultural attainments of the mind, that first attribute of perfection as 'Abdu'l-Baha calls it,189 have more lasting power than anything associated with the physical. Of all the great fictional heroines in literature Emma Bovary, in the famous novel of Flaubert Madame Bovary, is probably the one about whose appearance readers are most likely to disagree. We cannot, as with Dickens, refer to some foxed engraving in an early edition, since Flaubert hated and forbade illustrations of his works. In my case I say little about my physical appearance: in my childhood, my adolescence and in my early, middle and late adutlhood. Keen biographers, if any should arise, can examine the many photograph albums I have left behind should my literary executors find it within their power, interest and talent to preserve them from the memorabilia that is extant on my eventual demise. 188 Leo Bersani, The Culture of Redemption, Harvard UP, London, 1990, p.74. 189 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p. 35. 209
  • 210. I should say at the outset that this book will contain an autobiography, several essays about autobiography and generous helpings of poetry. I have come to see my individual poems as part of one long epic poem and it is my hope that this epic will come to have something more than just a localised and purely antiquarian appeal. Great poetry has been and will continue to be written about private life: such was the view of John Crowe Ransom, arguably the greatest twentieth century poetry critic.190 But I would add that poetry is at its grandest when that private domain is linked to some lofty purpose. For me there are several lofty purposes here. The general principles of the subject of autobiography are, as yet, hardly agreed on by either practitioners or theorists of this embryonic discipline. Perhaps these principles never will be. I'm not sure it matters. I find the following definition of epic one which I have come to appreciate and one which applies to some of my work. An epic is "a poetic narrative of length and complexity that centres around deeds of significance to the community."191 I do not see epic as Aristotle did in absolute terms of fixity 190 See: Michael Lind, “Comment: Our Country and Our Culture,” The Hudson Review, Vol. LIV, No. 4, Winter 2002. 191 James V. Morrison, "A Review of margaret Bessinger, Jane Tylus and Susanne Wolfford's, Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World: the Poetics of Community, U. of California Press, Berkeley, 1999. 210
  • 211. and rigidity; rather I see it in flexible inclusive terms, as multiform, an all- embracing container of a vast variety of other genres. Significant deeds, insofar as this work is concerned, involve the struggles of ordinary, sleeping, selves in their efforts to achieve security, to respond to the dull pain at the heart of our existence, to transcend the weight of the ordinary self and its protective chrysalis of the everyday, to deal with loneliness and isolation. Often, usually, the saints and the heroes are anonymous. My story makes no claims to either sainthood or heroism, but I wish to tell my story, some of my struggle, some of the ingredients in which I partake of the heroic. For there is an endless dialectic between the ordinary self and the heroic soul; some of that sweep, some of its significance and the tension involved in spiritual growth is found here. Like other kinds of history, autobiography has its own styles and themes as they involve in their diverse ways, both settled life and movement, living and teaching, learning and consolidation, development and stasis, a broad range of dichotomies. Then there is the relation of these themes and topics to the social imagination. Imagination is involved with all these dichotomies. Imagination has its own rhythms of growth as well as its own modes of expression. I feel strongly that autobiography, whatever its inherent merits 211
  • 212. and demerits, is, for some people anyway, an indispensable aid to their knowledge of the history of Baha'i experience.192 The hundreds, indeed thousands, of life's anecdotes have varying degrees of dramatic immediacy. This autobiography absorbs these anecdotes, all these deeds of commission and omission, into a ceremony of recitation, recreation and renewal. They are seen both as life and as material for art, as part of a material transformed into self-expressive speech, as the utterance of an individual voice and as an aesthetic performance, as the deployment of a perspective and as a form that reverberates with the interpretations of my own consciousness.193 Perhaps, too, what I write is also a "relational move" by which I try to complete myself "by connecting to the eternal"194 or some ideal within myself. And if, as James Thurber once wrote, you can fool too many of the people too much of the time, only the few who are very difficult to fool will even bother to read this work. Perhaps there is hope for my work. Identity is unquestionably central to any autobiography. The theme of identity will appear again and again in this narrative. There are lived 192 Northrop Frye, A Literary History of Canada, Spring/Summer, 1982. 193 Leo Bersani, op.cit., p.86. 194 idem 212
  • 213. identities and identities that one talks about.195 I like to think there is a balance between these two types of identity in this autobiography. This subjective experience of identity could be said to be a type of unity, a unity produced by the realization of that identity. This unity is a constantly evolving product of my personal decisions and activities or what Nucci calls "the labile self."196 There is also in this work of my mind a relief of tensions created by my own needs. My mind is given its grammar by the world; my wishes give it a vocabulary and my anxieties its object or so one writer put it. The experience of each of us is different from that of others, sometimes just slightly, sometimes significantly, some might say--totally. To hazard generalizations on a whole group is a risky business, although these generalizations are often a highly instructive witness to one's several worlds. My experience is only a part, a small part, of the vast intricate mosaic of Baha'i community life, of Canadian life, of Australian life, of the life of teachers, parents, husbands, men of the middle class in the closing decades of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first. But it is experience which I have, at least in part, recovered, reconstructed and 195 Vernon E. Cronin and William Barnett Pearce, Research on Language and Social Interaction, Vol. 23, pp.1-40. 196 L.P. Nucci, "Morality and the Personal Sphere of Actions," Values and Knowledge, E.S. Reed, et al., editors, 1996, p.55. 213
  • 214. recounted. This experience is also written in the early evening of my life and does not convey that quality of excitement it might have conveyed had I written it forty years ago when my youthful enthusiasms influenced my thinking more significantly. I like to think, though, that my learning is lighter and my humour easier, that I am more the observer and the analyst and my seriousness less heady and intense than it would have been had I written this in early adulthood or the early years of middle adulthood. My historical sensibility has been sharpened by years in-the-field, a pioneering field going back to 1962. But whatever intensity, fierce inner tension and concentrated fighting with the problems of existence there had been in my early and middle adulthood, they moderated with the years, at least in their social expression. In my private world they continued on in residual form, some pithy core which possessed an intensity that was part of my motivational matrix and kept me going at my intellectual tasks for six to eight hours a day.197 After more than thirty years living in Australia whatever seriousness I brought to the Antipodes in 1971 has been moderated by good old Aussie skepticism, humour, indifference and cynicism all of which have down sides but all of which also have the function of taking 197 It is interesting here to contrast the intensity of Wittgenstein which was much more fierce and uncompromising in his style of working. See: N. Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. London: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp.26-7. 214
  • 215. some of the heat out of intensities of all kinds, moderating convictions and any incipient fanaticisms. Paul Ricoeur's Spiral of Mimesis accounts for how people complete texts by asking, "Does this narrated world share a horizon with my world?" Only when the answer is "yes" does the text seem authentic. Even then, in a wide variety of ways, we have become uncomfortable with testimonies of the genuine, the integral, the interior, the original, the real, the self-sufficient, the transparent and the transcendent that are all coiled in different ways for different people inside the word "authentic." Perhaps it is the imbalance of our daily experience and the images and sensations we get exposed to that spawns some of our sense of inauthenticity. "The opaque depths of living, acting and suffering," which is how Ricoeur describes our quotidian world, can be configured narratively to make our world livable, but only when the text is authentic. Authenticity results, says Ricoeur, when the world of the text shares a horizon with the world of readers. Time will tell just to what extent readers find this work of mine 'authentic.'198 I find this work helps me make sense of the big stew of life, 198 Kathryn Smoot Egan, "Applying Paul Ricoeur's Spiral of Mimesis for Authenticity as a Moral Standard," Journal of Popular Film and 215
  • 216. the deck of cards and the hand I have been dealt with which changes every time I play. Jerry Seinfeld was able to put the everyday events of life centre-stage with delightful humour: "life's minutiae, people's foibles, and mankind's quotidian moments of angst,"199 but this autobiography needs more than the minutiae and I am not the comedian that Seinfeld was. My range of material must go far beyond foibles, angst and the acute observations of small moments in life in this very Jewish of sit-coms. The qualities of the main actors in Seinfeld: their shared immaturity, amorality, narcissism, unrelatedness, and general ill-will toward others, I trust are not found here, beyond the modicum of these negative qualities most of us share. In order to climb into the depths," Wittgenstein once said, "one does not need to travel very far; no, for that you do not need to abandon your immediate and accustomed environment."200 During the years of writing the recent editions of this work and in the years ahead my intention is not to travel. I have done enough of that in the first six Television,Winter, 2004. 199 Joanne Morreale, "Sitcoms Say Goodbye: THE CULTURAL SPECTACLE OF SEINFELD'S LAST EPISODE," Journal of Popular Film and Television, Fall, 2000. The Seinfeld series went from January 1990 to May 1998 and on the last program advertisers paid 2 million dollars for a 30 second ad. Were the self-reflexivity in this book as clever as Seinfeld's! 200 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. 216
  • 217. decades of my life. I can climb into the depths of life here on the head of my pin, so to speak. Ricoeur describes what I write, it seems to me, as follows: "a concordant discordance of ambiguities and perplexities" which I try to resolve hypothetically, narratively. The "followability" of the story is the test of its authenticity, says Egan.201 I go along with this, but not all the way. Many can't follow Shakespeare or the writers of the Old Testament or the Koran or a host of other authors and books, but that does not make what they write inauthentic. Authenticity has other features as well. J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once wrote that “God gave us memory so we could have roses in winter.”202 Here, then, are some of my roses and, inevitably, some weeds from what is sometimes called episodic memory.203 I hope that, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, I do not rob this story of its reality by making "it too true." Also, if Wilde is correct when he says that "the interesting thing about people in good the mask that each one of 201 idem 202 J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, quoted in: “Memory, Autobiography, History,” Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, Vol.19, No.2, Fall 2002. 203 Psychology has been studying episodic memory for most of its history beginning with H. Ebbinghaus, Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology, NY, Dover, 1964(1885). 217
  • 218. them wears," then I hope that I at least describe accurately that mask and, however partially, reveal the world that is underneath. For, as Wilde says again, "we are all of us made of the same stuff"204 and differ only in accidentals. But oh, what accidentals! The wilderness of western society in which I have lived and had my being over more than forty years as a pioneer was much more demanding and wild, requiring a persistence and understanding that I had not anticipated at the dawn of my manhood in the early 1960s. This wilderness has been intricate and complex, subtle and, for the most part, seemingly impenetrable in any direct sense to the teachings of the Cause I espoused. This is not to say that many, a multitude, of seeds were not sown, “like the infinitude of immensity with the stars of the most great guidance,” as ‘Abdu’l-Baha puts it so beautifully in the opening paragraph of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. I did indeed find, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha went on to write in His opening tablet, that “heavenly outpourings” descended and “radiant effulgences”205 did appear in my life and in my society. This autobiography is, in many ways, a tribute to those effulgences and those outpourings. The evidences are all 204 Oscar Wilde in The Decay of Lying, quoted in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 2nd edition, David Richter, ed., Bedford Books, Boston, 1998, p.455. 205 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, Wilmette, 1977, p.6. 218
  • 219. around the world in beautiful Baha'i edifices and in thousands of communities that simply did not exist in 1953 when this story begins. But there was also a dark heart to the age and to my life; there were millions of “gray, silent rocks,”206 a dreary and desolate scene, a vast, titanic, catastrophic tempest that “remorselessly gained in range and momentum”207 throughout all the years that this narrative is concerned with. During these years "the queen of consumer durables," the term Martin Pawley gives to the television, became the principle assassin of public life and community politics. Between catastrophe and the consumer, Pawley puts it in colourful language, stands the goalkeeper, the person who brings you the news. "He will tell you when a shot is coming your way."208 While that may have been true in the broad arena of global conflict or even community crime, this goalkeeper did not protect me from the shots in a battle that was essentially spiritual and only partly within my control. 206 H.D. Thoreau in “Thoreau, The Maine Woods and the Problem of Ktaadn,” in David Mazel, op.cit., p.333. Thoreau’s enthusiasms for nature were tempered during his three main trips from 1846 to 1857 as mine were tempered during forty years of travelling and teaching in the northernmost reaches of Canada and of Australia. 207 Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, Baha’i Publishing Trust, New Delhi, 1976, p.1 208 Martin Pawley, The Private Future, Thomas and Hudson, London, 1973. 219
  • 220. The difficulty is that this public realm became less and less experienced and more and more reported on. The public realm became more and more complex in this half century. Or so it seemed. Affluence concealed the atomization and fragmentation of society. People's choices favoured privacy and anonymity over the very idea of community. Private goals triumphed over public ones. I liked Pawley's analysis when I came across it in 1975 while I lived in Melbourne and taught librarian technician trainees. His analysis still has relevance and so I refer to it here. The origin of the vast upheaval which I have only briefly alluded to here has been the subject of unending academic and public discussion. It is a phenomenon that goes beyond demands for reform. Indeed, new vocabularies have been formulated to depict the crisis. The revolution is said to be "cultural." The challenge is said to be to the "quality" of life. The search is often said to be for "relevancy" or "authenticity." The picture is "postmodern" and requires "deconstruction." And on and on goes an endless analysis drowning the subject in a sea that few can swim in and even fewer want to swim in. However suggestive such terminology, such distinctions, may be they remain "tragically inadequate to grasp the reality of 220
  • 221. experience209 in these several epochs. The crises and tragedies I faced as a youth, in my marriages, in my jobs and my health were all part of the only real war in my life, the war within the individual and the news was like some kind of secondary reality with its tertiary battles and sound bites. These battles also had the effect, I am inclined to think, of limiting my accomplishments in life. The characteristics of Thomas Edison, to chose one man to contrast my own life with in this regard, characteristics mentioned on the last page of his autobiography and ones which enabled him to accomplish more than most men were “a strong body, a clear and active mind, a developed imagination, a capacity of great mental and physical concentration, an iron-clad nervous system that knew no ennui, intense optimism, and courageous self-confidence.”210 I had all of these things but they were not consistent and they were not always intense as they appeared to be with Edison, at least not from 9 to 60 and I do not anticipate that consistency will be an acquisition in my latter years. But, as Baha’u’llah states: some are endowed with a thimble-full and others with a gallon measure. Edison was without doubt a prodigy of work or industry; compared 209 Doug Martin, "The Spiritual Revolution," World Order, Winter 1973-4, p.14. 210 Thomas Edison, Autobiography, Internet Site, 2005. 221
  • 222. to him in the hard-work world I am a far lesser mortal, but so are most of us. I have lots of company. How shall we excuse the supine inattention of the vast majority of humankind to those evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence in the personages of two prophets or God-men for the modern age? Is it due to humanity's lack of reason or the simple failure of its several senses? During the century of the Bab, Baha'u'llah and His eldest Son, and the many incredible personalities who could be designated as apostles or as Their first disciples, the doctrines which They preached were confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame did indeed walk, the blind did see, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were often suspended for the benefit of this embryonic community. But the sages and indeed the ordinary masses of West and East, North and South have, for the most part, turned aside from this awful spectacle, and, pursuing their ordinary occupations of life, of work and of study, have, for over a century and a half, appeared unconscious of the wondrous miracles associated with the lives and works of the Central 222
  • 223. Figures of this new Faith. There were and are innumerable reasons and this narrative deals with some of them in a serendipitous fashion.211 The form and style of this work are not incidental features. A view of life is told. The telling itself, the selection of genre, formal structures, sentences, vocabulary, of the whole manner of addressing the reader's sense of life--all of this expresses a sense of life and of value, a sense of what matters and what does not, of what learning and communicating are, of life's relations and connections. "Life is never simply presented by a text," writes Martha C. Nussbaum, "it is always represented as something."212 In the case of this autobiography, the Baha'i Faith is presented en passant in the context of my life and the society I experienced in more than half a century, 1953-2007. The Baha'i Faith gives to my mind and imagination as they body forth, or so Theseus tells us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: "The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.” The mystery of existence, its paradoxical and complex form, is given "a local habitation and a name." 211 The subject of the discouragingly meagre response to this Faith in the West during these epochs has been analysed elsewhere and in some detail and it is not my purpose to expatiate on this theme here. 212 Todd F. David and Kenneth Womack, "PERSPECTIVES: Criticisms of the Motion Picture 'The Titanic,'" Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring, 2001. 223
  • 224. This modern age has seen a host of miracles partly due to the inventions of technology, partly due to the explosion in knowledge, partly due to the sheer expansion in population from less than one billion when these two manifestations of God were born to the present six billion. Whatever the case, whatever the reasons, however slow may appear the growth of this Movement during the half-century I have been associated with its expansion and consolidation, this Cause seemed to me to develop to a degree that, in many ways, far exceeded my expectations. This seems like a contradiction, a strange irony, but it is true, at least for me. From time to time in this five volume work I refer to The Prelude by William Wordsworth, the first and the major long autobiographical poem in the history of modern English literature. I refer to it because it contains a number of useful comparisons and contrasts with this work. The theme of Wordsworth's long poem is "the loss of the paradise of childhood" and the regaining of that paradise through the power of the developing imagination.213 I certainly deal with the loss of my childhood; I deal with the power, the experience, of a developing intellect and imagination. I also deal 213 Geoffrey Durant, William Wordsworth, Cambridge UP, 1969, p.115. 224
  • 225. with the regaining of that paradise in the years of a different prelude, the years in which there was an entry-by-troops into the Bahai Cause. The fifty year period from 1953 to 2003 witnessed a growth of the Baha'i community from two-hundred thousand to nearly six million. And it appeared as I wrote these several editions of this narrative work that this period of prelude before a mass conversion would continue in the years ahead, as far as I could prognosticate anyway, until at least the end of the first century of the Formative Age in 2021 and probably well beyond. To Wordsworth the transformation of the world was through the mind of the writer, the poet. This is unquestionably true and this autobiography is, in some ways, a testimony to the "new and wonderful configurations" that derive from the luminous lights of the mind.214 There is much in this work that is testimony, but it is a work that has a home in today’s world. If the Greeks and Hebrews invented tragedy, the Romans the epistle and Renaissance the sonnet, our generation invented a new literature, that of testimony.”215 Witnessing begins “with someone who testifies to an absence, to an event that has not yet come into existence in spite of the overwhelming and 214 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.1. 215 Lars Iyer, “Write, Write: Testimony, Judaism and the Infinite in Blanchot, Kofman and Levinas,” Journal For Culture and Religious Theory, Vol.5, No.1, 2003. 225
  • 226. compelling nature of the reality of its occurrence.” Readers enable the testimony to take place by listening empathetically, unobtrusively and nondirectively, taking the lead in order to begin to affirm the reality of the event in question. The story emerges and a true witness is born, who is no longer condemned to act without understanding or to destructively re-enact. This witness, in turn, is able to address others. Memory, in this case my memory, is conjured here essentially in order to address another, to impress upon a listener, to appeal to a community.216 Witnessing is, on this account, always a witnessing with others, an appeal that would permit an experience to be translated into terms that are more general, more a part of community. And, finally, I like to think that this story, this memory shows that the senseless breaking of the human race in two: believer and non-believer, Christian and Jew, etcetera, the many dichotomies, is on the way out. I find that the attempt to write my story of pioneering is like or it has become an endless detour, a series of futile attempts to reach into the experience, to broach it in its uniqueness and its singularity. My aim is to write a writing like that of a textual celebration and memorial. This narrative is a way of letting an instant, a decade, half a century, resound not 216 idem 226
  • 227. in order to restore it to life for future generations, but rather to bring its singularity to the attention of others now and in the future. I feel a certain imperative to “write, write” as a response to the demand to situate myself with respect to the enormity of the task at hand, the weight of its responsibility. I feel as if a new practice of writing is required, a practice I am hardly faithful to its demands. Unlike Winston Churchill's record of his youth and young manhood in the autobiography of his early life, an autobiography which a literary critic in The Times Literary Supplement regarded as Churchill’s “finest literary achievement,”217 this book pays little attention to my youth. Churchill’s style or styles, its variation and development, are the greatest of its charms continued this same critic. I’d like to be able to say this is true of my attempt at autobiography, but I hesitate to make such a claim. One fancies in Churchill’s book that one hears the small boy, the youth at Sandhurst, the young soldier, the slightly older politician each telling his story in his own way. Of course no gentleman cadet, still less a small boy, could write like that; that Mr. Churchill should contrive to bewitch his readers into the momentary impression that they can is proof that he has at his command the 217 Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life, First English Edition: Thornton Butterworth, London, 20 October 1930. 227
  • 228. art of the autobiographer. Such was the view of this TLS critic. I’m confident that such a critic would not find such a range of voices here, as much as I might like to have them appear. Indeed, I do not attempt to sing in the umpteen voices that I once sang in or that I had to cultivate over the last sixty years. I have owned many voices, many roles, many emotions, many moods which, it seems to me, get smoothed out in this rather analytical piece of writing, for this is not a novel, not a bit of entertainment. Rather, it is one man writing for ordinary men and women everywhere, at least that’s the way I see it. There is little description of the pastoral, of place, of setting, of locale, in my poetry or my prose.218 I do not record in minute detail the landscapes, what I saw and heard, on Baffin Island in northern Canada, along the Tamar River in Tasmania or in any of the several dozen cities, towns and hamlets where I have lived, visited, moved and had my being. I do not measure these earthly days, as Wordsworth and the nature poets often have done, by the mountains, the stars and the river valleys I have gazed upon, however inspiring, lofty and pleasant the verdure and grandeur. The minutiae of 218 The obsolesence of the pastoral dream, the pastoral vision, for many has become a dream cultivated in more personal and domestic terms of local space. This, I think, underpins my autobiographical narrative, although the emphasis is slight. 228
  • 229. nature, the myriad sense impressions, the sunshine and shadow where gaiety and pensiveness so often met, the solitude and silence, the noise and the tumult that occupied my hours and days, the industrial, the technological, the machine: there is so much that I have not described, that I have not even attempted to enter a word about. Natural history in its many spectacular forms, wildlife, geological and archeological history were presented in didactic, anthropomorphic and, more recently, computer-generated forms and, although I did not take a serious study of natural history and the relevant sciences involved, I certainly enjoyed decade after decade of inspiring, truly beautiful and informative productions on television219 and analytical material in print and on the radio. Landscape, or place, always includes the human presence, of course, and, in fact, is centred around it. Place is where our embodied selves experience the world, receive its nurturance and energy. Place is where, as David Abram wrote, "the sensing body is....continually improvising its relation to things and to the world."220 Place is also an agent, a locus of action and 219 For a summary of these forms see: Karen D. Scott, "Poputarizing Science and Nature Programming: The Role of "Spectacle" in Contemporary Wildlife Documentary," Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring, 2003. 220 David Abram in "The Locus of Compossibility: Virginia Woolf, Modernism and Place," in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and 229
  • 230. significance. The purpose of nature, of landscape, of scenery, at least for me, is not visual so much as mental. It evokes memory, fuses present emotions to remembered occasions and is a simple rest for the eyes. But so, too, is television, for me. I like to think the significance of this poetic narrative lies in its art rather than its historical knowledge. If there is any long-range significance to what I write here I’m confident it will not be the history, the facts, the main happenings of my age. For these are written in far more detail and with far more insight than I will demonstrate here. By the 1940s and 1950s both Australians and Canadians "accepted as conventional wisdom that the local territory in which they lived was a defining force in their lives and their nationality."221 In my lifetime such a view was expressed over and over again ad nauseam. But in the last forty years, during my pioneering journey, uncertainty has crept into any simplistic identity associated with land, with region. Other bases of identity have come to occupy the attention: the arts, the media, ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality, wealth, social and political issues, inter alia. Region was not as important as it had been two, four or six generations before, in the Environment, Summer 1998. 221 Gerald Friesen, "The Evolving Character of Canadian Regions," 19th International Congress of Historical Sciences, Oslo, Norway, 2000, 230
  • 231. first centuries of the history of these enormous countries. But place could not be ignored even if the bases of identity were more diverse, more complex, more confused. "Identity is a conceptual structure," writes Berzonsky, "composed of postulates, assumptions, and constructs relevant to the self interacting in the world."222 Identity functions as an attempt to explain oneself, to enhance self-understanding, to provide an account of one’s core beliefs and purposes. My schooling is yet another of the many aspects of life I hardly mention. The curriculum in both Canadian and Australian schools was inherited from Great Britain, and consequently it was utterly untouched by progressive notions in education at least until the early 1960s when I graduated from high school. We, that is Canadians, took English grammar, complete with parsing and analysis; we were drilled in spelling and punctuation; we read English poetry and were tested in scansion; we read English fiction, novels, and short stories and analyzed the style. Each year we studied a Shakespearean play committing several passages to memory. If I had been a student in Australia, the story would have been the same. 222 M.D. Berzonsky, "A Constructivist View of Identity Development," Discussions of Ego Identity, 1993, p.169. 231
  • 232. I might have been living in Sussex or Wessex or Essex or Norwich for all the attention we paid to Canadian poetry and prose. It did not count. We, for our part, dutifully learned Shakespeare's imagery drawn from the English landscape and from English horticulture. We memorized Keats's "Ode to Autumn" or Shelley on the skylark without ever having seen the progression of seasons and the natural world they referred to. This gave us the impression that great poetry and fiction were written by and about people and places far distant from Canada. We got a tincture of Canadian prose and poetry, of course. We knew we had some place. We were so big; we had to have some psychological existence. The educational process gave us some appreciation for the Canadian landscape and its culture. It was not as tidy or green as England's. It deviated totally from the landscape of the Cotswolds and the Lake Country or the romantic hills and valleys of Constable. If I had been given an Australian education I would have had even less of an appreciation of my native land back in those years before and just after WW2. In Canada in the 1950s textbooks were often written by Canadians. This was not true in Australia. In mathematics, for example, Australian kids studied arithmetic and simple geometry, five times a week. The textbooks were 232
  • 233. English and the problems to be solved assumed another natural environment. It was possible to do them all as a form of drill without realizing that the mathematical imagination helped one explore and analyze the continuities and discontinuities of the order which lay within and beneath natural phenomena.223 I could say so much more about those eighteen years of institutionalized education in Canada, as I could about so many other aspects of life, but I must of necessity limit the details, the story, to a confined space and quantity. And, whatever inadequacies these years in school may have had, I look back at them fondly, as a broad expanse of time that preceded and initiated my life as a Baha'i pioneer. Before I close this all-too-brief summary of some 18,000 hours of in-class, in-house learning, I’ll just summarize the three central threads of that learning. Various social sciences and humanities were kept from start to finish, from early primary through university; the sciences and maths were dropped when I entered university. The third major strand consisted of an assortment of studies: manual arts, physical education, music, foreign languages, art, inter alia. All of these subjects in this third strand never made it passed high school. As I said above, I could describe a much more 223 Jill Ker Conway, The Road from Coorain, Vintage Books, NY, 1989. 233
  • 234. detailed picture of those years in school, in six schools and, perhaps, on another day I will. In 1967, like Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film The Graduate,224 I graduated from university, suffered through the party given for me by my mother, dealt with my fears of the plastic society I was entering and continued my search for an identity outside the bland, material, suburban existence of my parents and friends. Unlike Dustin Hoffman, Benjamin Braddock in the film, I was able to define myself outside that suburban environment. My Baha'i pioneering identity was reinforced a hundred-fold by a move, three months after graduating, in August 1967, to Frobisher Bay in Canada's Northwest Territories, about as far removed from plastic North American suburbia as possible, without leaving the continent and its island tributaries. The fluid and impermanent nature of relationships with the minimum of formality that Tocqueville225 said characterized democracies were certainly part of these years in both school and in all the other aspects of life. 224 Robert Beuka, "Just One World...'PLASTICS'": Suburban Malaise and Oedipal Drive in The Graduate," Journal of Popular Film and Television, Spring 2000. 225 Gianfranco Poggi, Images of Society: The Sociological Thought of Tocqueville, Marx, and Durkheim, Stanford U.P., 1972, p.41. Tocqueville wrote this in 1831. 234
  • 235. Tocqueville's analysis said much about my time. The individual, he wrote, shuts himself tightly within a narrow circle of domestic interests and excitements and from there "claims the right to judge the world."226 As social, community, ties loosened, they became more impersonal, Tocqueville said, and "domesticity was reinforced."227 I could expatiate at length on the insights this French scholar made in the decade before the Bab's declaration in 1844, but it is not my intention to offer a long, detailed, sociological analysis of my time. The search for the secret, the basis, for a just social order for human beings was part of Tocquville's search as it has been for political philosophers and theorists as far back as the pre-Socratics and the prophets of the Old Testament. The search for a just social order in the years of this prelude would continue though, it seemed, on some predestined path, a path in which a tempest was blowing with great force and a path in which a new social order was given an articulate expression in the writings of a new world Faith. My task was to help give this Order physical expression in the communities where I lived. And this I did in embryonic form in town after town across two continents for more than fifty years. 226 ibid., p.43. 227 Marvin Zetterbaum, Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy, Stanford UP, Stanford, 1967, p. 69. 235
  • 236. The tempest that was blowing through the global society that this narrative takes place in was so severe that the very origins of this tempest, its significance and its outcome were, for the most part, impenetrable. Most of the people I came to know, to have any association with, outside the Baha'i community, in Canada and Australia, in these years of the prelude, were caught up, in a host of ways, by this great onrushing wind. Whatever was available at the banquet table of the Lord of Hosts would simply have to wait as the great masses of humanity continued to be swept along by this tempest, this onrushing gale-force-wind which was altering the very basis of society, its content and structure. The tempest was simply so immense; the upheavals so extreme, that the average person or the greatly endowed, the intelligent and the ignorant were swept along by its devastating and complex forces. Job, family and their general interests kept them fully occupied. The issues, the questions, here require an extensive analysis and it is an analysis I approach again and again in this lengthy narrative. The historian Peter Gay commented that “historical narration without analysis is trivial, historical analysis without narration is incomplete.”228 This equation is equally true of 228 Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative, Discourse and Historical Representation, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1987, p.5. 236
  • 237. that sub-genre of history—autobiography. And I try to supply both in some balanced fashion. I muse, with American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne who wrote 65 days after the Bab declared His message to Mulla Husayn: “When we see how little we can express, it is a wonder that any man even takes up a pen a second time.”229 But I have tried as many have tried. And I have tired. I do not dwell on the various tensions in relationships: in classrooms where I taught, in homes where I lived and in offices, mines, mills and factories where I was employed. I mention the tensions and pass on. The element of dramatic tension, then, which is essential to any drama and which could be defined as "the gap between a character and the fulfilment of his purpose,"230 is present but it is highly diffuse, diverse. It has been present in the constraints I have faced in life and in the pursuit of the resolution of my several purposes. As one analyst of drama put it: "drama is the art of constraint."231 But the drama here does not transport the reader into a fictional world, either metaphorically or literally. 229 Nathaniel Hawthorne in Leo Marx, “The Pastoral in American Literature,” in A Century of Early Ecocriticism, The University of Georgia Press, Athens, 2001, p.344. 230 John O'Toole, The Process of Drama: Negotiating Art and Meaning, Routledge, NY, 1992, p.27. 231 idem 237
  • 238. The drama here is mostly the common, everyday stuff. I can not claim that my drama is particularly unique or is capable of holding the interest of the reader due to its unusual qualities or fascinations. This is no pretend world of fictional characters in which readers have to suspend disbelief, as Coleridge once put it.232 The reader's relationship with me and what I have written is infinitely negotiable and the meanings that emerge are dynamic and shifting. Perhaps I can contribute here, a little to some future prudence, a prudence which Plutarch once described as: "the memory of the past, the understanding of the present and the anticipation of the future."233 There is a bewilderingly luxuriant and immensely complex aspect to the human condition. It offers many illegible, contradictory and paradoxical clues. There is often only a superficial unanimity in the attitudes and values, the behaviour and thoughts of the members of any of the groups I have been associated with in life. If what I write earns "the judgement of gratitude and sympathy," as Matthew Arnold described the reaction of readers to writers who help them and give them what they want, I will also have won the day. 232 S.T. Coleridge, Bibliographia Literaria, Chapter 13. 233 Plutarch, Rerum Memorandarium Libri, ed. G. Billanovich, Florence, 1943, p.43: quoted in "The Plot of History from Antiquity to the Renaissance," Eric MacPhail, Journal of the History of Ideas, 2001. 238
  • 239. But I'm not sure if I will achieve this. There is a gentle and, perhaps, not-so- gentle advocacy here as I attempt to transform circumstances into consciousness. There is much digression, some disproportionate, which is one of the prime luxuries and blemishes of this work.234 It is difficult, if not impossible, to consider every particle and fragment of this work in relation to some overall design. There is metanarrative here, there is micronarrative, but not everything can be connected to its design. Vicarious experience, the stock-in-trade of television narrative, can be found here but its presentation is not as effective as the visual medium. The cultural fantasies that mediate reality for TV viewers in dramas, sit-coms, comedies, inter alia are not found here with the same effect. The cultural landscape upon which viewers map their desires and aspirations day after day in front of the lighted chirping box may be added to here in this Rocky Mountain of print. In movies such as Oliver Stone's JFK, Edward Zwick's Glory and Spike Lee's Malcolm X the director has an audience far greater than any documentary or autobiographical work. An autobiographical work, this work, can, if desired, clearly present all of the facts from both sides of the spectrum. The content of films such as those mentioned above usually 234 De Quincey did not see his many digressions this way. See De Quincey As Critic, John E. Jordan, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1973, p.2. 239
  • 240. presents one version of the story, the only one that many will see, read or know about. The directors of such films, knowing that they have a captive audience, can therefore choose which facts that they place in their film to create the myth or message that they wish to create and leave out the facts and events that, although important and relevant, go against their beliefs and destroy the myth they wish to create. Those directors who somehow manage to entertain the masses and make an argument are very special. They can stimulate the study of history but, more often, they simply entertain. Oliver Stone, Edward Zwick and Spike Lee are three directors who possess the talent to entertain and present an argument successfully, making it difficult for others, concerned with the truth but with less money and no talent for directing or writing a film, to argue against their views. Such "historical" film directors cleverly create myths to promote their own beliefs or sometimes mischievous speculation and the average movie goer, faced with no other opinion than the one on the screen, generally believe that myth as reality.235 As film director of my own life in this autobiography I try to avoid clever myth creation, mischievous speculation and manipulation of a captured audience. Given that readers will have no other opinions on my 235 Matthew Dixon, "Historical Films: Myth and Reality, The Journal of American Popular Culture, 2000. 240
  • 241. life than the ones presented here, although they will certainly have other opinions on the Baha'i Faith and society, I am certainly aware how much I am in control of the story and of the truth, of my own history.236 I like the idea that the eighty year old Sabina Wolanski expressed in summarizing her autobiography when she said that “I have decided to be absolutely truthful.”237 But, as I point out in several other contexts in this work, truth is not the simple entity that it appears. I do try, though, to temper my obsessions, which this eighty year old survivor of the Jewish holocaust, suggested was a wise move for autobiographers. I, like Wolanski in the late evening of her life, share her concern, her fear, for being self-indulgent in making one’s memoir so centrally concerned about oneself. Angels may fear to tread in this personal and essentially, ostensibly, ego-centred domain, but I am certainly no angel so, perhaps, that is why my fear, my concern, in this respect is of a low order of intensity. I am aware that, although history and my life can be studied scientifically, the field is immensely complex--both history and my life--and immensely subtle. It is supremely unlikely that this work will be studied either 236 This will remain the situation unless and until my life becomes the object of study by others. 237 All In The Mind, “An Interview with Sabina Wolanski,” ABC Radio National, 7 June 2008. 241
  • 242. scientifically or serendipitously by anyone. I have also included in the text of this autobiography many opinions, opinions which I trust come together into some kind of coherent whole, but about which the Roman poet Terence might have added the phrase quot homines, tot sententiae, literally ‘so many people, so many opinions.’ Some readers may find themselves slightly overwhelmed with the more than 2000 references in this work. However vast, self-evident and urgent the field is, and surely one's life is all of these things, generating a certain anxiety as one proceeds in its examination; however esoteric and divisive it also seems, thus precluding any unified approach to its examination and perhaps even any general and organized, any systematic and intense, interest: if there is to be any concerted action towards the goal, a map for the journey must be found and applied. Vague sentiments of good will, however genuine, will not suffice. Some basic understanding of principles and processes, of ethics, philosophy, ontology and history, indeed a host of fields of knowledge are required if the seeker, the writer, is to even approach the first "attribute of perfection" and its "qualification of comprehensive knowledge" that 'Abdu'l-Baha exhorts us to attain.238 If any coordinated progress is to be achieved there is much to be 238 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, pp.35-6. 242
  • 243. done.239 I make a start as we all must this side of the grave. This opening chapter is just that: a start. The literary architecture here requires some foresight; if it is to be rich and expressive it must subsume the irregularities and afterthoughts of day to day life into some kind of harmonious whole. It must acknowledge the uncertainties and the ambiguities which I and others have lived with, at least since the appearance of the two-God men of our age. This task is as difficult to do in real life as it is in writing about real life. If my work is to be at all useful to people of our time it must define and describe the nature of our "frantic need for guides through the jungle of modernity."240 The experience of modern times is swathed in paradox, ambivalence, anxiety, shifting perspectives, and nostalgia. People everywhere are getting run over. Can this work offer a stimulating analysis, a framework of understanding? Can it be useful, paradoxically, to people who seem to have no need for guides at all. Sadly, in our time, there is so much said about everything that there is little assurance about anything, except perhaps the great material and technological apparatus of society which brings to those who can afford it 239 I have borrowed here from Douglas Martin, "Baha'u'llah's Model for World Fellowship," World Order, Fall 1976, p.13. 240 Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud: Vol. 1 Education of the Senses, Oxford UP, NY, 1984, p.59. 243
  • 244. comforts never known in all of history. And so I hold no high hope for the results, the affects, of what I write here for it is not part of that immense scientific apparatus. Composing an autobiography is somewhat like constructing the interior architecture of the houses I’ve lived in, the landscapes of the towns and providing small character sketches of the people I’ve got to know well. Various people, my readers in this case, will pass through the houses, landscapes and sketches I construct and say, 'Oh, that’s a nice house, a pleasant room, but what a hideous window over the kitchen table, what a dull suburb.' Only writers really live in their autobiographies. So much of what works best about them are things that people who come to dinner, who pass through, never know about or see." The comments of readers have, at best, only a partial relevance. I think this is a fitting, an apt, analogy. At the same time I do not give to these interior architectures the same degree of meaning and intensity, anything like the same amount of dialogue that is often present in autobiographies involving a mother and daughter. The space within the house that `housed' a daughter's childhood often possesses poetic images and maternal features that never seem to come into the interior 244
  • 245. spaces of the houses of my life and the important relationships that took place there.241 The distinctions of personal merit and influence are tempered but still conspicuous in any Baha'i community. The oneness of humankind does not imply that the distinctions between people are feeble or obscure. Neither does the concept of oneness imply that the abilities and talents of everyone who cross our paths be ignored. The severe subordination of rank and office, which often pertains in societies that raise egalitarianism to unrealistic heights of value, which do not see equality as the chimera it is, was and is not characteristic of the Baha’i community. The Baha'i community recognizes a wide range of statuses and roles; rank does not confer authority no matter how much it results from talent or appointment, election or pure ability, and it sees oneness as more of an integrated multiplicity than any conception of sameness.242 241 Jo Malin, The Voice of the Mother: Embedded Maternal Narratives in Twentieth-Century Women's Autobiographies, Carbondale, Southern Illinois UP, 2000. p. xiv. 242 It is not my intention here to provide a sociological, an anthropological and a psychological analysis of the Baha’i community. Like many subjects I do not deal with in detail here, this one can be found elsewhere. 245
  • 246. I hope there is here little of that 'twotwaddle' that William Gass said Freud wrote and little of those strange illusions which seem to cloud the clear skies of literary relevance. Marx thought religion encouraged the illusions and the self-delusion of the working class. With Naipaul, I believe this role of providing illusions and stagnation has been passed to politics.243 Hopefully, then, this work will be free of this contamination. Relevance is essential in works like this to the creative and productive lives that read it. Inspite of the fact that I have the feeling that we all have from time to time; namely, that life possesses a hopelessly insignificant aspect, an impossible to comprehend reality, in the grand scheme of things, I want to venture on the sea of autobiography avoiding as far as I can the many familiar formulae used by autobiographers. Readers will respond to this work the way audiences do to film: in patterns of meaning and symbols, not as simple stimuli or messages.244 I trust, too, that in stepping back and reading this, readers will see themselves by distancing themselves from their own lives and by being implicated in what they read.245 For I think there is more here than “the 243 Timothy Bradley, " At Home Abroad: Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul's essays describe a world of invisible tragedies," The Yale Review of Books, 2003. 244 Janet Staiger and Martin Barker, "Traces of Interpretation," Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Culture, 2001. 245 Jean Douchet, "Constructing the Gaze," Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 2001. Douchet writes that viewers of film became 'implicated in the story' beginning in 1953 with Ingmar Bergman's 246
  • 247. clothes and buttons” of a man, as Mark Twain described biography. There is something of the biographer Lytton Strachey’s(1880-1932) approach. Strachey inaugurated a new era of intimacy and candour in biography writing in contrast to the reticence and hagiography of the nineteenth century. Strachey died in the year that saw the end, the last remnant, of the heroic age. It was timely that writers about people’s lives in this new age, this Formative Age should say something a little more personal and below the surface. At the same time I like to think there is in much of the writing of this new age some of that “grand shine” that some see on the surface of life, a shine which Walter Bagehot delighted in and which Shakespeare seemed to bring to his writing and his life.246 I would like to think readers will find some of these qualities in my work and that it is not “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” or any other pale casts. I try, as far as I can, to bridge the gap between the practical and the intellectual. Sommarin med Monika. So is this true of good autobiography. 246 Walter Bagehot quoted in Roger Kimball, Lives of the Mind, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2002, p.57. 247
  • 248. I like to think that there is much more than some grey transit “between domestic spasm and oblivion.”247 I present the picture of a grand scheme, what the sociologists call a grand narrative, but I do not suggest in the process any easy answers, simplistic formulae for sorting out the problems of the world in all their staggering complexity. I found that after twenty years of an autobiographical warm-up the process of writing autobiography was one that mark Twain once described as an emptying of myself and then a waiting for a while until I was filled up again. I feel a little like a tourist guide taking a bus-load of people through the historic places, the interest sights and the beautiful spots in some part of the country in order to fill a package-tour of several days. The aim is to both entertain and inform the travellers and send them on their way with their time having been pleasantly occupied. Like the guide and the tour, I do not take my readers everywhere. In fact most of the places in the urban-rural complex that this bus travels through and around are never seen by the tourists for fear of boring them to death with repetition and the tedium of endless streets in the city and field-after-field in the country. But in the midst of these repetitious scenes and the dullest of exteriors which are about as 247 These quotations come from a website, 248
  • 249. interesting as the eye of a dead ant, there is drama, comedy and tragedy. It’s just a matter of digging it out, ferreting it out, going down and in, behind the windows and doors of a dozing world which often is just watching TV, doing some house-cleaning, some gardening or, perhaps, having a meal at the time. But I’ve spent my life packaging stuff for students, for those who have been curious about the Baha’i Faith and, indeed, as we all do for those we love and with whom we interact. And we all try to make the best of it, put our best foot forward and occasionally tell more than the little which we know. Sometimes we say too much and even more we say too little because it does not seem possible to say any more without tension, without conflict, of some sort. I also feel somewhat like a combination of tourist and traveller, a distinction Paul Theroux makes in his new book Fresh Air Fiend. Tourism--- sightseeing---is expected to be fun. You do it in large groups or with friends; it's very companionable; it's comfortable and it's very pleasant or so it should be. Travel throughout history had to do with discovery, difficulty, and inconvenience. It didn’t always pay off. There was a strong element of risk in travel. This distinction is a useful one even into our own time, into this 21st century, but I won’t expand on it here; I will, rather, leave it to the 249
  • 250. reader to make his or her individual interpretation of the differences between my comments here and their experience. I have also discovered that in writing this autobiography, although I deal very much with the past, I am also describing the future. There's something prophetic about the process of dealing honestly with life. When you see your life, your society and your religious philosophy and you describe it as far as possible without stereotypes and preconceptions, but with subtlety, what you write can seem like prophecy.248 One day in the not-too-distant future I hope I will be content to lie beneath a quiet mound of grass and a small monument of stone. But in the meantime, I am not content just to go into the hereafter, however joyful or regretful I may be on that journey into eternity; I do not seem content with the role of a thoroughly commonplace, nameless and traceless existence which, to some extent, is the lot of all of us or nearly all. I seem to be drawn to autobiography as a bee to a honey-pot. Perhaps I should regret, as some readers may be in the end, that I did not apply my abilities to more useful fields. 248 Paul Theroux describes his experience of writing travel books this way in Fresh Air Fiend, Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 250
  • 251. Why should anyone care what the merits of an obscure Baha'i are, one who left North America to live at the ends of the earth, the last stop before Antarctica? Can it really matter that he lived in 25 towns and 40 houses, is now on a disability pension and all of this over a period of several epochs during the growth of a new world religion which has been emerging from obscurity during his lifetime? Does it contribute any benefit to humankind to have a printed version of his particular form and intensity of navel gazing? We all walk through our lives partly blindfolded. This is partly due, as Oscar Wilde once noted, to a certain "extraordinary monotony,"249 itself a product of an underactive imagination and inner life. There is simply too much to take in. You could call it a cultivated blindness, as Wilde does, or a cultivated inattention, as some media analysts refer to the way we watch television. The principle of selectivity was crucial, universal and inevitable. The news, extensively canvassed in the popular press, in specialist journals and at the turn of this century and millennium on the internet; meticulously documented in the electronic media, however unsatisfactorily to the proclivities and prejudices of many, was just one of the multitude of things that occupied people's minds in various degrees. Endless happenings, trivial 249 Oscar Wilde in David Richter(ed.), op.cit. p.459. 251
  • 252. and not-so-trivial events, a great sea of minutiae occupied people's minds in various degrees, with various degrees of meaning and significance. The events of family life, of jobs and the multitude of human interests, quite understandably, filled the space available, both for me and those who were in my company. The relationships were often intense and nurturing opportunities to grow and often, on reflection, fragile and tenuous. As I pondered this reality of life, I mused about the impossibility of the thoughts and events of one life, in one autobiography, in my autobiography, ever finding a place in the minds of just about everyone or indeed anyone on the planet. These thoughts might reach a coterie, a small coterie as I have already said above, and that’s about all. Half the art of storytelling, of course, no matter who the story reaches, is to keep the story free from too much of that deluge of information and too great a quantity of the plethora of explanation one acquires as one walks down life’s path. If this art is practiced well, readers will be left free to interpret things the way they understand them. I'm not sure how well I do this. I try to please readers. Writing is somewhat like talking; hopefully someone is listening and wants to listen. But writing is not entirely like talking. As Thomas Mann said in his Nobel Prize speech in 1929, “the convinced writer is instinctively 252
  • 253. repelled, from a literary standpoint, by the improvised and noncomittal character of all talk, as well as by that principle of economy which leaves many and indeed decisive gaps which must be filled by the effects of the speaker's personality.” I leave the reader free to interpret the way he or she wants but, along the way, I provide great dollops of explanation and plentiful helpings of information and analysis which fill in the gaps in a different way than speech and a speaker’s personality. I try to make this provision of information with the same art that good cinema possesses: "the art of the little detail that does not call attention to itself."250 In this I am only partially successful. I provide an episodic structure, careful selectivity and analysis. The reader can enter, can gain access to the text by any one of many entrances, none of which is the main one. Readers could begin at the beginning or in the last chapter. there is no pre-ordained sequence to follow. I like readers to feel they have gained something on their own and to feel that all I have done is help them along the way. But, like George Bernard Shaw, I can no more 250 Francois Truffaut in a letter to Eric Rohmer in 1954, quoted in Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 2000. 253
  • 254. write what people want than I can play the fiddle to a happy company of folk dancers."251 The balance between pleasing people and pleasing myself, between honesty and tact is as difficult in writing as it is in life. While I portray some of my own secrets and desires, understandings and analyses in this text, readers, it is my hope, will find themselves. I can but hope. I like to think that there is an honesty in my descriptions that is the backbone of judgment and that arises from a simple, frank determination to get to the bottom of places, people and experience and to understand them truly. As a stenographer of reality, as a mirror of the world I lived in, this autobiography does less distorting than a novel, which often manipulates, modifies and exaggerates truths about the past in deference to cultural , literary and highly personal pressures. There is more caution required, at least it can be so argued, of a reader vis-a-vis a novel than an autobiography, at least this one, if the reader is trying to get a picture of the past. Often great novels are not realistic; they distort and, as Peter Gay argues, they have done history a disservice.252 I do not claim that my experience, my view, my vision, is necessarily shared with other Baha’is, except in the broadest of outlines and except insofar as all Baha’is share the Book and its Interpreter 251 G.B. Shaw in "Price's Piece," Barkly Regional, March 6th, 1985. 252 Peter Gay, Savage Reprisals, W.W. Norton and Co., NY, 2002. 254
  • 255. and the Universal House of Justice in a pattern of centres and relationships in their lives.253 But certainly my desire to share my experience is, in principle, part of what it means to be human. For human life, even in its most individualistic elements, is a common life. "Human behaviour always carries in its inherent structure," as John Macmurray wrote, a reference to the personal Other.254 And you, dear reader, are that 'Other.' I trust the reader will not find here any gnashing of teeth, any strutting and stridence, any fretting and fulminating as, like Marzieh Gail,255 I summon up remembrance of things past, my early life, the Baha'i communities and the general society I have lived in over the last half a century. In the process I hope to sketch something of what T.S. Eliot said was the great need of modern man: a larger polity. But my sketch is not an in-depth socio- historical study, a politico-economic treatise; it is autobiography by traces, history by traces, as F. Simiand defines history.256 I give the reader vestiges left behind by the passage of a human being through four epochs in a Baha'i 253 This pattern of centres and their relationships is discussed briefly in Messages of the Universal House of Justice: 1968-1973, pp. 37-44. 254 John Macmurray,, Persons in Relation Being: The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Glasgow in 1954, London: Faber, 1961, pp. 60-61. 255 Marzieh Gail, Summon Up Remembrance, George Ronald, Oxford, 1987. 256 F. Simiand in "Narrative Time," Philosophy Today, Winter 1985. 255
  • 256. timetable, a Baha'i framework of the passage of history. Details crystallize, images are isolated, moments are seen that fascinate, as I gaze back in time. There is a certain fetishizing of otherwise ordinary, fleeting, evanescent, subjective, variable moments. What is seen and discussed here is in some ways "in excess of what was lived." It is a little like what film critic Paul Willemen claims of the cinephiliac moment: "what is seen is in excess of what is being shown." It is not choreographed for you to see; it is a kind of addition, a synergetic-add-on that is the result of thought, the "new and wonderful configurations"257 of these epochs. The starting point here is something like Carlyle’s analogy between the history of the world and the life of the individual. In my case a history of modern civilization and of my religion, a religion which has grown up in the light of modern history occupies the central place alongside my own life. The Victorians saw their age as an age of transition258 and so, too, is our time one of transition, we who have inherited the interpretations of our time by the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith and Their trustees, the international governing body of the Baha'i community. I impose a pattern on this age of 257 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.1. 258 Marion Thain, "An Awful Moment of Transition: Victorian Ideas of History and the Individual Life Narrative of Michael Field," Source Unknown, Internet, May 2003. 256
  • 257. transition, a pattern which is partly unidirectional and partly cyclical. It possesses the halo of inevitability but not the patina of triumphalism. It has grown out of the Baha'i conception of history and it gives direction and meaning to the immense dislocation of these times, at least for me. It possesses, too, a sense that history is coherent, rational and progressive. I am conscious that this view can be disputed but I am confident that my views flow logically from the texts and their authoritative interpreters who inspire what I write. I don't think my contribution to the study of history is important in any way but I think the mix of the humanities and the social sciences that I bring to the study of the individual in society is, if not unique, at least possessed of a certain originality, an original mix of Baha'i ideology and large dollops of historical and social theory found among the wide range of theories and theorists.259 While not possessing the cognitive originality of any of the great writers and poets, I believe there is something here that is intrinsically useful in sensibility, perception and conception. I hope, too, that some Baha'is will find inspiration here as they seek to understand the 259 The parallels between my own particular take on a Baha'i view of history and the liberal worldview of, say, a 'father of liberalism' like John Stuart Mill which you might call a non-theistic religion are many. Indeed, in my study of sociological and psychological theory over the last forty years I have come to see many parallels between the many theories of the individual and society. And I draw on much of this material in this autobiography. 257
  • 258. Baha'i model of social and political engagement rooted as it is in a distinctly Baha'i socio-theological framework. The rise of the DJ in the first half century of this Formative Age and my experience of him as early as the mid-1950s for half a century now(1955- 2005) could be seen as a cultural symptom of, a cultural model for, the centrality of the art of selection that is at the core of this work. "The essence of the DJ's art is the ability to mix selected elements in rich and sophisticated ways.....The practice of live electronic music demonstrates that true art lies in the 'mix.'260 Autobiography is quintessentially an example of the art of the mix, what to mix. And just as we all proceed through life by selecting from numerous menus and catalogues of items, the autobiographer selects from the menus and catalogues that fill his life with a cornucopia of stuff from the sublime to the ridiculous. The autobiographer, like everyone else, can not resist--indeed it is a constitutive part of his life--the rhetoric and reality of endless choice through selection. The unavoidable obligation to choose is a vehicle which expresses our identity whether we describe that process in autobiography or whether we give it no thought at all. 260 Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2000, p.135. 258
  • 259. For the New Historicist school of history, this work will be seen as an agent of ideology, conforming as it does to a particular vision of history. For this school sees ideology as prior to history, sees this autobiography as a representation of the culture, the Baha'i culture, from which it emerged.261 The lives of the obscure, the ordinary and the unknown members of society at any given historical period some have argued can never be satisfactorily recovered. I possess a different take on this theme. It is my view that their inner world can be penetrated, can be recaptured. Michelle Johansen takes a similar view in her analysis of an obscure London librarian.262 This autobiography, like Johansen's, examines the life of an essentially obscure person, in my case someone who has held many jobs in and out of teaching, lived in many places and been involved for more than half a century with a religious group that claims to be the nucleus and pattern of an emerging world religion, a religion in the first century of its Formative Age. The use of the first-person voice is always a conscious narrative choice. In the writing of history its official use is restricted. The "I" of the historian is 261 D.G. Myers, "The New Historicism in Literary Studies," Academic Questions, Vol. 2, 1988-1989, pp.27-36. 262 Michelle Johansen, "Prioritising the Nebulous: The Imagined Imaginary World of Charles Goss(1864-1946): London Librarian," Source Unknown, Internet, May 2003. 259
  • 260. usually absent. It is simply not invoked. Subjectivity is the great unmentionable in historical narratives. Historians are not encouraged to relate their personal reactions, motivations, emotions, dreams or other imaginative connections between their reading, research, and writing or envisioning. But this work is only partially a history.263 The use of the first- person seems natural here. I don’t go so far as to see subjectivity-as-truth. Indeed, individual initiative and creativity require the support and enrichment of collective experiences and the wisdom of the group to achieve the tremendous goals that are the aims of my individual striving. Traces are left, a trace remains. Thus we can speak of remnants of the past in the same way or a different way, from the way we speak of relics or monuments. And so I hand over to the contingencies of preservation or of destruction this autobiography. Like all traces, it now stands for a past, mine and society's, mine and my religion's, an absent past. The past may be absent but this trace, this writing, is and will be(I hope) present, thus, in a certain way, preserving the past even though that past is gone, even though it 263 Jennifer M. Lloyd, "Collective Memory, Commemoration, Memory and History, or William O'Bryan, The Bible Christians and Me," Biography, Honolulu, Winter 2002; Jennifer M Lloyd. 260
  • 261. no longer exists. I feel drawn to the mystery of both the past and the future. Somehow, the very mystery of being, of the present, is tied up there. We all see different aspects of life as expressions of an ultimate journey, especially for those of us who see life in terms of eternity. But the whole question of ultimate journey has so many meanings to people. In some definable and indefinable way these expressions are symptomatic of what life is all about to each person. Some see the quintessence of life’s journey best through the medium, the mediating role, of film; some hear it in music or in one of the other creative and performing arts; some see in nature the supreme moving impulse in creation; some find it in love and relationships; some in learning and the cultural achievements of the mind. The list, were I to try and make a comprehensive one, could be continued on and on. For we are creatures of heterogeneity and, more than knowing ourselves directly, we seem to know about ourselves by knowing about other things. At the same time knowing who one is at a basic level is not a cause of trouble, unless one has psychological or neurophysiological illnesses.264 264 Ingar Brinck, "Self-Identification and Self-Reference," EJAP, 1998. 261
  • 262. I was one of those, like many others, for whom the ultimate journey was observed, defined, expressed through many forms. My experience of some of these forms is described in the following narrative now more than fifteen hundred and pages. This narrative has become larger than I had originally anticipated. However long it has become, it seems suited to my particular literary and psychological needs. Whether readers find this length suitable to their tastes is another matter. In the history of western literature there have been two dominant motifs or themes: the quest or journey and the stranger.265 This autobiography fits comfortably into this long tradition. I sometimes think this autobiography is a little like the poetry of the metaphysical poets. T.S. Eliot says that in that poetry "a degree of heterogeneity of material is compelled into a unity by the operation of the poet's mind."266 Such poets are constantly amalgamating disparate experience, literally devouring that experience and in doing so they modify their sensibility and form new wholes. In the process an originality and a clarity results which you might call my autobiographical point of view or, in the case of the metaphysical poets, the poet's point of view. Eliot writes that 265 Many writers have expressed western literature in these terms. Just today, while listening to ABC Radio National I heard the author of Possum Magic, a famous children's book, I heard this concept reiterated. 266 T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays, Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1932, p.283. 262
  • 263. "our standards vary with every poet" and this is also the case with every autobiographer. Refering to the poet John Dryden, Eliot writes that his "unique merit consists in his ability to make the small into the great, the prosaic into the poetic, the trivial into the magnificent."267 While I would like to be able to do this in this autobiography and, while I feel I do achieve it on occasion, I do not think I achieve this transformation on a regular basis. I create the objects I am contemplating, namely myself, my society and my religion, through the employment of memory, reason and will, thrusting each of them into whatever nourishes me and finding, as best I can, the aptest expression for my feelings and thoughts. Perhaps I could say I am 'rendering' the past as a painter renders. I have rendered my life, given it a certain transparency, refigured my world, re- described it, appropriated it, re-enacted it, reeffectuated the past in the present.268 I have brought things out into the open, the way we all do when we tell stories about ourselves. I have transformed my life in the sense that an examined life is a changed life, a different life. So many Baha'is have achieved great things for their Faith. Many have achieved little. The portion of some and the portion of others varies as do their respective receptacles. 267 ibid., p.310. 268 R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1946. 263
  • 264. Comparisons may be partly odious, but they are inevitable.269 I would like to compare my work with any one of the great epic poets. I would like to think my work and the spirit that inspires it is, in the words of Paris to Hector in the Iliad, “like a tireless axe plied in the hands of a skilled carpenter.”270 But my axe is often tired; my spirit is often worn and I often question just how skilled the craftsman is who wields the axe. In the kingdom of fiction, novels, stories and science fiction, the constraints of historical knowledge have been suspended or considerably loosened and played with. There is a great freedom to explore imaginative variations of history, of the past in these literary forms. In autobiography I do not enjoy this luxury but, still, reconstructing the past needs the help of imagination. Just as fiction has a quasi-historical component, so too does autobiography have a quasi-fictional component. History and fiction intersect in autobiography in the refiguration of time, in that fragile mix where the facts of the past and human imagination join in an effort to produce the deepest observations and the liveliest images, to enlarge the narrow circle of 269 While I write I am thinking of an email I got recently from a Baha'i named Dempsey Morgan who chaired nine LSAs, 5 NTCs and was on four NSAs in Africa among a host of accomplishments too many to list here and a Baha'i who lived in Gravenhurst Ontario for fifty years as an isolated believer from about 1915. (See Baha'i Canada, 2001(ca). 270 Homer, The Iliad, Book 3, lines 60-62. 264
  • 265. experience and to penetrate the complexities of life. As Canadian writer Margaret Atwood once wrote "the mind is a place where a great deal happens."271 I hope readers find a lot happens for them as they read this reconstruction of a life. The British sociologist Anthony Giddens wrote that a person's identity is "not to be found in behaviour, nor in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going."272 That person must continually integrate events and sort them into an ongoing story about the self. He must, and in this case the self is a 'he', "have a notion of how he has become who he is and where he is going." There is a process of selecting and of discarding memories, a partly robust and partly fragile set of feelings and self-identity.273 As I keep my story going, as I posit some degree of unity and continuity over time, some degree of autonomy and responsibility, I describe the somebody I have become, the doer-deciding, not being decided for, the person who thinks, wills and acts.274 271 D.G. Jones, "A Review of Sherill Grace's, Violent Duality: a Study of Margaret Atwood," in Canadian Poetry, No.9, Fall/Winter 1981. 272 Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 1991, pp.54-5. 273 idem 274 Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1969, p.131. 265
  • 266. Perhaps Sir Francis Drake put it more strikingly and eloquently in his prayer: O Lord God! When Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, Grant us to know that it is not the beginning But the continuing of the same to the end, Until it be thoroughly finished, Which yieldeth the true glory….. Autobiography is interpretive self-history and an interpretive self-history that goes on until one’s last breaths. It is a dialogue with time and I have spent various periods of more than twenty-one years(1984-2005) trying to give my experience a cast, a shape, and make a coherent intervention into my past not just write a chronicle of elapsed events. As I do this I find I nourish the past, anticipate the future and face unavoidable existential realities like death, my own limitations and failures. While my account is 266
  • 267. ostensibly about myself, I like to think that it becomes, in the end, about the reader. For there is a complex symbiosis here between me and you and the many readers not yet born. "I'll live in this poor rime," as Shakespeare writes in Sonnet 107. Every writer worth his salt likes to think, hopes, as the Bard wrote in the last couplet of this sonnet, that ………thou in this shalt find thy monument When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.275 It is difficult to present an orderly account of one's story, one's "monument." Frankly, though, I don’t think orderliness is crucial. As the American novelist Henry James once wrote, back in 1888, the crucial thing is to be saturated with life and in the case of this autobiography: my life, my times and my religion. Time has a corrosive quality and produces a certain vacancy of memory. Space and time are, as de Quincey once wrote, a mystery. They grow on man as man grows and they are “a function of the godlike which is in man.”276 What I tell here is some of this mystery. Conjoined to this vacancy of memory, paradoxically, is its function as a 275 William Shakespeare, The Sonnets, Penguin, 1970, p.127. 276 Thomas de Quincey, The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey, editor, David Masson, p.27. 267
  • 268. medium through which time passes, as part of the very basis of my creative energy and part of a "perpetual benediction."277 So much of my life, the life of my society and the Baha’i community in particular, is about pioneering, exploration, wandering from place to place and failure amidst success, stasis and staying in one place. This autobiography is, in some ways, a celebration of this reality, this apparent contradiction, this inconsistency, the cracks and crevasses of our community and individual lives where a lot of interesting stuff is found. I am conscious of what the writer and philosopher H.L. Mencken wrote about autobiography, namely, that no man can “bring himself to reveal his true character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen and as a believer, his true meannesses, his true imbecilities, to his friends or even to his wife.”278 She, like servants of old, though, are most likely to see the true colours of a man or a woman. Honest autobiography, Mencken wrote, is a contradiction in terms. All writers try to guild and fresco themselves. There may be some guilding here, but I think I make an improvement on most 277 Christopher Solvesen, The Landscape of Memory: A Study of Wordsworth's Poetry, Edward Arnold, 1965. 278 H. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1974(1916), pp.325-6. 268
  • 269. biographies which A.J. P. Taylor said were mostly guesswork. There is a tone of tentative enquiry in this work; there is inevitably some guesswork; there is a recognition that truth is often elusive and subtle. I have chosen the title and the theme 'pioneering over four epochs' advisedly. There is some fundamental connection with my life's journey, my soul, that is contained in these words which now roll off my tongue with deceptive but now familiar ease. "By words the mind is winged.”279 I have taken, too, Taylor's advice on politics. Taylor wrote that "the only sane course is never, never, to have any opinions about the Middle East." If anything, I point toward a way; I urge and encourage, but I do not offer answers to complex political questions by taking sides, criticizing governments or taking positions on various crises and issues. If anything, my book is a timely, timely for me if not for many others, anecdotal and impressionistic examination of the historical origins of the Baha'i alternative in my time, an alternative embedded in my life and my four epochs. Life's sense and nonsense have pierced me with a feeling, a view, that much of existence is strange and absurd; that there is much which is vain and empty in those impressions which pass through our sensory emporiums; and that 279 Aristophanes, The Birds, line 1447. Some translations use ‘talk’ not ‘words.’ 269
  • 270. there is much that is wonderfully awesome and staggeringly mysterious. History for millions is more nightmare and panorama of futility and anarchy. For millions of others, fundamentalist, liberal, inter alia, history takes on all sorts of colourations and meanings. So many millions of human beings seem ill-equipped to deal with the forces of modernity whatever their views of history. The resulting social commotion, the resulting disarray is evident all around us. As my own days pass swifter than the twinkling of an eye, I offer here in this autobiography something of my experience with the relentless acceleration of forces280 in the dynamic span of epochs that have been the background of my life. I offer, too, layers of memories that have coalesced, that have condensed, into a single substance, a single rock, the rock of my life. But this rock of my life possesses streaks of colour which point to differences in origin, in age and in the formation of this rock. It helps to be a geologist to interpret their meaning and I, like most people, have no advanced training or study in geology. So it is that my memories have fused together and they are not fully understood. Perhaps by my latter, my later, years; perhaps in an afterlife, in that Undiscovered Country when I enter the 280 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 157. 270
  • 271. land of lights, then, I will understand. In the interim, though, I give the reader my rendition of the creative, revolutionary, unprecedented character of a new spiritual and social vision, a complex one that transcends eastern, western, traditional and modern categories of social analysis, one that has inspired my life. I could have begun this autobiography with my first memory back in 1948. I remember making a mud-pie in the spring; perhaps the snow was still on the ground or the April rains had come after a Canadian winter. Perhaps it was March or perhaps it was April of 1948 as the Canadian Baha'i community was just completing the first fifty years of its history. Perhaps it was on that weekend of the 24th and 25th of April 1948 when the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada was elected by 112 Baha'is in Montreal. That's when I'd like to think my first memory occurred in real time. But, alas, I do not have a unified, factually accurate, version of that first event in my mind's eye. I am saddled, as we all are, with a host of variations of what happens to us, what is around us and what it all means. 271
  • 272. We can only connect with a portion of our own lives and of the great mass of facts and details that makes up the history of our time.281 Even if one assumes that we can explain human personality totally in terms of culture, there is only so much culture one can analyse and synthesize, find personally meaningful, interesting enough to consider at all. The writer, the historian, the autobiographer, all analysts of the modern condition and of the human beings in it, must face limitation. They must face minutiae and avalanches of information. I could take refuge in a more distant past as many do these days and tell of my mother's and father's life going back to the turn of the century, or of my grandparents on my mother's side in England or on my father's side in Wales. If I go back to my great-grandparents on my mother’s side whose first years would have been in the 1840s to 1860s I pick up a branch, a piece of my family tree in France. Such was a story told to me by my mother more than forty years ago, but I have never followed it up for more detail. In many ways, the main reason my autobiography hardly deals with the people on my family tree is that I know so little about them. It is a complete blank before 1844 and a virtual blank up to 1872, the year my grandfather was born, the year the first English Baha’i was born-Thomas Breakwell-and the year the great travel teacher Martha Root was born. 281 Raymond Tallis, In Defence of Realism, Edward Arnold, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1985. 272
  • 273. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Wales remained significantly rural with its people continuing to cling to old-fashioned ways of life, methods of agriculture, and legends and superstitions, much like the peasants in Hardy’s Wessex.282 The Welsh, especially those in rural areas, were a people deeply in touch with their past and this was true even among the lower classes and the formally uneducated. Visions of the past were often strongly imprinted both on the land and the consciousnesses of the people. It was often said that time stood still in Wales and the people tried to keep the embers of the past burning. My father, though, was born in 1895 in the largest town in Wales, Merthyr Tydfil,283 and in his teens and twenties the town went through a boom-and-bust cycle. Sometime, I know not when, my father left Wales for North America. Some of his socialist spirit, his militancy, his desire to be financially successful, his energy came from this early Welsh experience. I could also write an account of my great-grandparents' lives taking readers back to the beginning of this New Era in the 1840s. Few people exhaust the 282 Shannon L. Rogers, “From Wasteland to Wonderland: Wales in the Imagination of the English Traveler, 1720-1895,” The North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol.2, No.2, 2002. 283 Merthyr Tidfil in Wales had a population of 50,000 by 1860. 273
  • 274. surface, much less the contemplation, of their own experience, how much less that of their forefathers. The years before my birth I shall mention from time to time if and when I feel they illuminate the theme I am pursuing, but the stories of those on my family tree, whether living or dead are not the focus of this work. The dead in my family line going back to my great- great-grandparents and their history, for the most part, hardly get a look in. Those before the 1840s might as well have not existed. As I have already indicated, the principle of selectivity is at the core of this work as it must be in any autobiography. Within three generations of my death there will be noone on earth who even remembers me—or you dear reader, for that matter. Unless some autobiographical or biographical manuscript remains, unless you invent something for future generations or, indeed, contribute something memorable to the human community. Of course, with the insights of history, other social sciences, literature and its critical analysis I could very well recreate the thoughts and lives of my nineteenth-century grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, taking my family tree back to the 1840s and 1830s, as I have pointed out elsewhere. But that is not my intention in this memoir. I am occupied with other matters. 274
  • 275. The days of my life are gone, at least as far as the early years of late adulthood; middle age or middle adulthood and early adulthood as some human development theorists call the years from 40 to 60 and 20 to 40 respectively has slipped irretrievably from my grasp. Some of these days return as if from the dawn of my life and, as Wordsworth expressed it so beautifully, "the hiding places of man's power/Open: I would approach them, but they close."284 I scarcely see them at all, Wordsworth continues, but he says he tries to "give substance and life to what he feels," thus "enshrining…the spirit of the past/For future restoration."285 And so, writing this autobiography is, in some ways, a job of restoration, restoration over four epochs. Like the forward-looking nature of Homer’s work this autobiography is imbued with the forward-looking spirit of the Baha’i community. Like Shakespeare, I see myself as a Renaissance man. But I don’t see myself as either a Homer or a Shakespeare. The conditions of my craft as a writer and a bard demand, or so I feel anyway, that I preserve and transmit something 284 William Wordsworth in T.S. Eliot: The Longer Poems, Derek Traversi, Harcourt, NY, p.196. 285 idem 275
  • 276. of the fame of a now vanished heroic age. I provide linking pins. For the most part, though, I leave the previous epochs of the Formative and Heroic Ages to the pens of others, the thousands of others whose lives were lived in the years after the beginning of this New Era in 1844. These earlier years will get only the occasional mention when they function to illuminate the present or the future. For this autobiography focuses on a history that has been part of my bones: the first several decades of the second Baha'i century. In a wider sense my work is just part of the culminating phase in a long accumulation of sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated literature of the first century of the Formative Age. There is no attempt, as Milton put it in his lordly way, to assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to man. With the writings of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith and Their successors providing ample words, I do not attempt to deal with such lofty aims. Theology does not play an oppressive part in this account, although it is impossible to avoid it from time to time. Human beings hold centre stage here as they do in Homer, I think more closely, more intimately. Dante and Milton put God and associated abstractions at the centre of their epics and, although God is not left out of this narrative, I prefer to deal with the human figures of Baha’i history occasionally. 276
  • 277. In a recent edition of the journal Cultural Logic I came across the following quotation which expresses, in some ways, what I am attempting to accomplish here. The author wrote: “I am speaking my small piece of truth, as best as I can. We each have only a piece of the truth. So here it is: I'm putting it down for you to see if our fragments match anywhere, if our pieces, together, make another larger piece of the truth that can be part of the map we are making together to show us the way to get to the longed-for world.286 So many changes have taken place both in public space and private thought that the world I stepped out into in 1962 as my pioneering life began has been transformed. One mundane and in some ways trivial example in public space is described by R. Shields: “Hyper-realities are found in malls, restaurants, hotels, theme parks; in self-contained fictional cities such as Disneyland, in California, Tokyo and Paris, and Disney World, in Florida; and in real cities such as Los Angeles and Miami. All are facades woven out of collective fantasy. The original for these, of course, is Disneyland, built in the mid-1960s. It is tempting to laugh-off all of this as an amusing curiosity, but shopping malls are the most frequented urban social spaces in North 286 Minnie Bruce Pratt, "Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart" in Cultural Logic, Volume 3, Number 2, Spring, 2000. 277
  • 278. America now.” They play a pivotal position in the lives of billions of consumers and are a new focus of communities.”287 And as one writer put it: shopping is the most creative act western man performs.288 In my more than forty years of putting up posters, 1964-2007, I could always rely on the shopping mall to say no to my request to put up a poster. It was an out-of- bounds zone to any kind of political or religious activity. I have no intention or interest in describing my shopping activities in malls or, indeed, in any other commerical establishments over the years, although I must have put up several thousand posters in smaller shops: newsagents, florists, hardare stores, delis, restaurants, inter alia, and had light-hearted and easy-going relationships with many a shop-keeper. I’m sure I could write a small book on my experiences putting up all these posters. And in a society which is nothing if not a consumer society, much could be said about my shopping experiences, even if they were minimal and occupied an essentially peripheral part of my life. 287 Richard Marsden and Barbara Townley, “Power and Postmodernity: Reflections on the Pleasure Dome,” Electronic Journal of Radical Organization Theory, 2003. 288 See also: R. Shields, “Social Spatialization and the Built Environment: The West Edmonton Mall,” Society and Space, Vol. 7, pp. 147-164. 278
  • 279. In the macro-political domain there were a core of events which took place in the more than four decades of pioneering experience that affected the climate of western thought. One of the more recent was in 1989, two centuries after the French Revolution, which did more than merely terminate the bipolar balance of terror that had kept the peace for nearly half a century; the fall of the Berlin Wall brought to an end the older ideological equilibrium and the habit-encrusted formulation of issues which went with it. The concepts my generation used to describe the world after WW2 urgently needed to be reformulated after 1989.289 And they have been reformulated in the last fifteen years, 1990-2005, in a much more complex global community. This is not to say, of course, that everything changed in 1989. Many aspects of the world in the years 1945 to 1989 have remained the same, but the tendencies were exacerbated. “The wealthiest and poorest people,” according to a U.N. Human Development Report of 1996, “are living in increasingly separate worlds.”290 The three billion in 1945 has become six billion and the hostile camps of WW2 have changed their complexions, their names, their features. But it is not my aim to discuss the socio-political world in great detail in this work. The reasons for war now 289 Ernest Gellner, cited in G. Burrell, M. Reed, M. Calás and L. Smirchich, “Why Organization? Why Now?” Organization, 1994, pp.5-17. 290 See Deb Kelsh, “Desire and Class,” Cultural Logic, Vol.1, No.2, Spring 1998. 279
  • 280. are different from those seventy or ninety years ago in the last two major world wars and I am confident they will change their spots yet again in this new millennia. The generation born in and after WW2 have watched that war on television and at the cinema for half a century. It is not my aim here to document the kaleidoscope of opinions and attitudes to the great wars of the last half century, suffice it to say that there seem to be as many changes, shifts in view, as there have been decades since 1945. One notable cultural theme that emerged in American society as it entered the twenty-first century, for example, was the glorification of the generation that had endured the Great Depression and heroically sacrificed to win World War II. A virtual sanctification occurred in best-selling books, in TV programs and at the movies.291 As I have watched this latest vintage of 'war-movies,' I wondered at just how my generation would be analysed and discussed half a century from now both inside and outside the Baha'i community. The generation that came of age and fought in WW2 has been called, by one recent author, “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”292 For me and my 291 Albert Auster, "Saving Private Ryan and American Triumphalism," Summer, 2002. 292 Tom Brokaw, An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from The Greatest Generation, Random House, 2001. 280
  • 281. generation that came of age in the 1960s, the story remains to be written. Perhaps this autobiography is part of that writing. The social science literature, the novels, the media analysis on this period is burgeoning and I do not want to add appreciably to the mountain of material that already exists and so my focus is not on the history of my time. Some reference to that material is, though, essential to my story. “Without a revolutionary theory, “wrote Lenin, “there can be no revolutionary movement.”293 I have been convinced the Baha’i teachings provides both; but the revolution is spiritual, evolutionary and, like Christianity 2000 years before, slow to work itself out in the context of society. There is a repetitive aspect to both life and history that gives rise to the cyclical aspect of religion and life. Comments like the following of British novelist E.M. Forster(1879-1970) reveal the repetitive aspect of life: “Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it, one is obliged to exaggerate in the hope of justifying one’s own existence.” While I find this statement a little over the top, to say the least, there is undoubtedly some truth to it, a truth based on the repetitious nature of life, the routine, the weariness, some of what the 293 Lenin, What Was Is To Be Done? quoted in Kelsh, op.cit. 281
  • 282. Romans called life's tedium vitae. It is one reason, among many, that most people would never think of writing an account of their lives and, if they did, they would find it difficult to get any readers or, more importantly, publishers to put their book on the marketplace. Of course, this may be equally true of my book. I'm sure some would have no trouble seeing my book among the more tedious reads. If there is a tendency to exaggeration in writing, as in life, this is part of what for me is a complex and intense reaction to the Baha'i community, to my experience of it and to my life in society over this last half century. At the same time I feel George Orwell’s words on the subject of exaggeration are pertinent to what I write. Orwell, arguably the twentieth century’s most influential prose writer, once wrote: “I think I can say that I have exaggerated nothing except in so far as all writers exaggerate by selecting.” What Orwell also wrote regarding order and sequence in a book also applies to this work. “I did not feel,” he wrote, “that I had to describe events in the exact order in which they happened, but everything I have described did take place at one time or another.”294 294 George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933, Introduction, French Translation. 282
  • 283. Part of my instinct over the years has been to run from life, physically and imaginatively. This tendency to run simply reflects the difficulty of the experience of one Baha'i in the years 1953-2005, the difficulty of his relation to people, to institutions and to events which taken together are so much greater than himself. The whole of life often seemed like some brontisaurismus, some shapeless, structureless colossus with its flood of detailed information and candy-floss entertainment which seemed to simultaneously instruct and stultify. There is something about the very pervasiveness of life’s array, wrote a sociologist whose name I have now forgotten, that is essentially alienating. He could have added, too, that life is also something essentially beautiful, fascinating, et cetera, in a long list of adjectives. Life insurance men talk about the whole of life in discussing a particular type of life insurance policy. During these four epochs it has become possible, for the first time in history, to describe one’s whole of life with the possible exception of the first eight months for which psychologists tell us virtually all of us have no memories. My life as a moral being has its roots in a complex and very abstract world of seen and unseen connections, categories and ideas which, as I say, are greater than myself. The same imagination that perceives these categories 283
  • 284. and generalizations which describe my life also fashions ideas of local, regional, national, international and humanitarian obligation. My sympathies and moral obligations, my antipathies and withdrawals are born in this mix. They make up, along with other factors, my conscience, albeit intangible, my reality. "Ultimately, we always tell our own story, not the story of our life, our so called biography, but the other one, which we find difficult to tell using our own names," so writes Jose Saramago, "not because it brings us excessive shame or excessive pride, but because what is great in human beings is too great to be told with words, even if there are thousands of them, as is the case of this work. What usually makes us petty and mediocre is so ordinary and commonplace that we would not be able to find anything new that would touch a chord in that noble or petty human being that the reader is."295 And, if indeed it did strike a chord, to string it out into a musical symphony to bring pleasure to others--now that would be a trick! 295 Jose Sarmago, CLCWeb:Comparative Literature and Culture: AWWWeb Journal, CLCWeb Library of Research and Information, CLCWeb Contents 2.3, September 2000. 284
  • 285. However one cuts the cake, so to speak, telling one’s story is not easy. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put his finger on part of the problem when he wrote that: “it is perfectly true that life must be understood backwards. But philosophers tend to forget that it must be lived forward, and if one thinks over that proposition it becomes clear that at no particular moment can one find the necessary resting place from which to understand it backwards.”296 Belief to Kierkegaard was based on the view that it was absurd. He was, of course, referring to the then typical view of Christianity: credo quia absurdum. It is perhaps for these and other subtle, complex and difficult to define reasons that in their stories certain authors, among whom I believe I could include myself, favour a complex mix in the narrative they live and have lived, the story of their memory with its exactnesses, its weaknesses, its truths, its half-truths, even its fictions some of which they are blinded to and some they are quite conscious of, although they would not want to call them lies. Neuro-imaging is revealing much about how we remember and why we forget. One recent author ranks suggestibility as the sin with the greatest 296 Phil Cohen, Autobiography and the Hidden Curriculum Vitae, Internet, 2003. 285
  • 286. potential to wreak havoc on the accuracy of memory.297 Then, too, there are many ways I could tell this story and still tell it honestly; the one that has made it to the surface of the paper here is just one from among the many options, some of which I am conscious of and others beyond both my memory and my imagination. I try to touch a chord in what I write, the one in my own heart and mind and the many chords in those of readers in the best way I know how. In some cases, I’m sure, that chord is actually touched. Mark Twain says to describe everything that happens each day would require a mountain of print. However much a life is enjoyed, to write about it in an engaging way is another question, another topic, another world. Although many enjoy their lives, few could write an account that would give any pleasure to readers. There are many skills in living and another set in writing about them. I'm not sure this book falls into the category of entertaining reading. It is written to satisfy my own sense and sensibility, my proclivity for analysis and my personal desire to give shape to my life, a shape that at least will exist on paper when I am finished. My tale is neither a bitter-sweet tale of a charmed and lamplit past; nor is it a narrative of loss 297 Daniel Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 286
  • 287. and its lumps, its fragmentation and loneliness. It is closer to a poem, a hypothesis, a construct.298 I like to think of this work as part of my being and the being of readers which is a gift and part that is life’s acquisition, as something which appeals to the often latent feeling of fellowship with all of life and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together our separate solitudes, all of humanity, past, present and future. A narrative, like the one I present here, provides a “unifying action to temporal sequences,” 299 and it is “fundamental to the emergence and reality” of the subject, namely myself,300 however variable my behaviour across a myriad social contexts. Self-understanding and self-identity are dependent on this narrative. The process is not a simple mirroring but, rather, an updating, a refiguring, a process of being perched, as Proust says, on the pyramid of my past life as I launch into the future to create, to refine, to define, the self yet again. And while this exercise takes place one must be on one’s watch for self-aggrandizement, self-indulgence and self- 298 Luc Sante, The Factory of Facts, Granta Books, 1997. 299 Anthony Paul Kerby, Narrative and the Self, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1991, p.4. 300 idem 287
  • 288. dramatization.301 For self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man, as 'Abdu'l-Baha, once wrote back in 1875.302 It is as natural as air. While religious or political commitment, as expressed in terms of some religious or political affiliation, is not a rare or unique phenomenon among writers, most writers today do not incline to commitments in these areas. They incline to opinions, plenty of them, but not organizational affiliation, not an affiliation beyond the local writers’ association, the local drama group or perhaps a keen interest in tennis or lawn bowling. Most of the people I have known in my life outside the Baha'i community are similarly inclined. They possess broad commitments to family, to job, to their gardening or any one of a range of personal interests, activities and artistic pursuits. Hobbies of different kinds, sports and the many pleasures and enjoyments of their leisure time seem to lead the way. In my lifetime there has been a great swing in popular culture toward sport and away from the elite intellectual like Toynbee, Spengler, Marx, Weber, inter alter, and, of course, toward television and away from radio. These issues are complex and I don’t want to pursue them in any detail here. There are many reasons this book is not 301 Peter Kemp, editor, the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations, Oxford UP, 1997. 302 'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.96. 288
  • 289. likely to be popular even within the Baha’i community, some of these reasons have to do with the pull of popular culture in its many forms. Much that is popular, of course, is transient, so in the long term this five volume work may find a big niche market. There is, it seems to me anyway, in the decades of my life's experience, an adversarial relationship between writers and thinkers of various ilks, with aspects of government policy, indeed, with all institutions of political and religious orthodoxy, be it old movements or new. This adversarial relationship gets expressed throughout their writings and their life. The lack of any affiliation, any commitment, to some organizational form with its attendant authority, has been virtually anathema to the generations I have been associated with in this ha