Autobiography: Part 7


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The title of this autobiography is PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS. In this document readers will find the

Anyone who has actually read the first two volumes(1800 pages) deserves a prize for having come this far. If it is any comfort, you persistent few have got through more than half of the conceptual space where identity and meaning meet around three themes: my life, my society and my religion. If you have read this far, I’m confident that you have gained some pleasure in the read and I am happy for you. Indeed, my very raison d’etre for this autobiography can be found in the pleasure and the understandings you have found thusfar. De te fabula narratur -this is your story--at least in part and an important part, or so I like to think.

I like to think that those entering into the world of their memoirs or autobiography can see here some images of that literary future. The images I have offered, though, were not planned in a sequence, a tidy narrative line from cradle to grave, so to speak; but on the best of anarchist principles—that is with no planning, somewhat like the way Michael Ondaatje writes his novels-with no sense of what is going to happen next. It just growed!

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Autobiography: Part 7

  1. 1. VOLUME FIVE CHAPTER SIX (Part 1) As we approach the end of this somewhat rambling autobiography, the inclusion of this essay seemed perfectly appropriate. So much of my life has been a 'life-in-community' that I thought I would give some of the last words on the subject to that brilliant tactician of the personal and interpersonal, 'Abdu'l-Baha, who survived a most difficult community and advised us on how to live in community in our time. As our own communties have been, are and will be challenges for us to live in this analysis of some of 'Abdu'l-Baha's final words before He passed away several years later will be timely. This section of my autobiography, then, will deal with biography, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s treatment of the subject and, then, a few brief notes of mine. 1
  2. 2. "A Study in Community," Pioneering Over Four Epochs," 2003.1 "With penetrating detail, crisp style and emphasis on the compression of facts; with vivid images, usually not more than three or four pages, with a concision of explanation or commentary, with a specific point of view, a style of biography has continued from classical times into the twentieth century. This is biography in miniature. It has a certain bias toward the person over the event, toward art as smallness of scale, toward structuring the confusions of daily life into patterns of continuity and process. There is a broad intent to sustain an interpretation or characterisation with facts teased, coloured, given life by a certain presentation and appraisal. Facts about the past are no more history than butter, eggs, salt and pepper are an omelette. They must be whipped up and played with in a certain fashion." -Ron Price with appreciation to Ira Bruce Nadel, “Biography as Institution,” 1 This essay was originally written March 2000 and significantly edited in a second draft on May 2001 for the Baha'i newsletter ABS(English Speaking Europe) Issue 35. An important portion was added at the end of this second draft after reading Derek Pearsall's comments on The Canterbury Tales. 2
  3. 3. Biography, Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1984, pp.13-66. ______________________________________________________ _________ Nadel, whom I quote in the opening passage of this essay, goes on to say that the “recreation of a life in words is one of the most beautiful and difficult tasks a literary artist can perform."2 Freud said the recreation of a life, the getting at the truth of a life, can not be done; and if someone does do it, as inevitably biographers try, the result is not useful to us.3 People have been trying to write about the lives of others for millennia and, even if Freud is right, they will probably go on doing it anyway. ‘Abdu’l-Baha gives the exercise a parting shot, to put it colloquially, in the evening of his life, when He was in His early seventies. His work, Memorials of the Faithful, is squarely in the tradition Nadel describes above: commemorative, didactic, ethical, psychological. His is a work of 2 Ira Bruce Nadel, "Biography as Institution", Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984, pp.13-66. 3 Sigmund Freud in Freud: A Life for Our Time, Peter Gay, W.W. Norton and Co., NY, 1988, p.xv-xvi. 3
  4. 4. art as well as information, a work of pleasure as well as truth. His is a work of selection, as biography must be if the reader is not to be snowed in a mountain of useless detail. He unravels the complexities of seventy-seven lives and in doing so he answers Virginia Woolf’s questions: ‘My God, how does one write a biography?’ and ‘What is a life?’ If one can not answer these questions, Woolf wrote, then one can hardly write a biography.4 The act of reading Memorials of the Faithful is an opportunity to see how ‘Abdu’l-Baha answers Virginia Woolf’s seminal questions about life, how He answers them again and again in the more than six-dozen of His biographies in miniature. Biographers and autobiographers arguably have one freedom, a freedom that overrides the genetic and social forces that determine so much of human life.5 It is the freedom to tell the story, the narrative, the freedom to explain a life, any life, even one’s own life to themselves and others the way they desire. This freedom is part of 4 Virginia Woolf in Nadel, op. cit., p.141. 5 Arnold Ludwig, How Do We Know Who We Are? Oxford UP, Reviewed in New Scientist, 8 November 1997. 4
  5. 5. that active force of will that ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote, in his pithy summation of the historico-philosophical issue of ‘freewill and determinism,’6 is at the centre of all our lives. Of course, it is incontrovertible that what has happened in a life has happened. There is no going back to change any one of the events, decisions or results. Life bears the stigmata of finality in a certain sense. There has been a relentless succession of facts, at once inflexible and in some ways arbitrary. All story-tellers are slaves to these facts, if their story is to enjoy the imprimatur of truth. Charles Baudelair once wrote that a biography “must be written from an exclusive point of view, but from the point of view which opens up the greatest number of horizons."7 There are many ways in which one could define the point of view in this subtle and deceptively simple book. The point of view is that of a lover of 6 'Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 1978, p. 198. 7 Charles Baudelair in Baudelair, Claude Pichois, Hamesh Hamilton, 1987, London, p.xiv. 5
  6. 6. Baha’u’llah, one who wants to be near Baha’u’llah, one who wants to serve Baha’u’llah. The point of view is really quite exclusive. All the men and women in this biographical pot-pourri were lovers of the Manifestation of God, the most precious Being ever to walk on this earth, or so they believed, and they all had some relationship with Him during the forty year period of His ministry: 1852-1892. Restlessness is a dominant theme, a strong characteristic, in the lives of many people 'Abdu'l-Baha describes. They 'could not stay quiet', 'had no rest', were amazingly energetic', 'awakened to restless life', 'plagued by yearning love'. Nabil of Qa'in was 'restless, had no caution, patience or reserve'.8 Shah Muhammad- Amin "had no peace" because of the love that smouldered in his heart and because he "was continually in flight'.9 This restlessness 'Abdu'l-Baha sets down among a galaxy of other qualities and a 8 'Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, 1970, p. 9 ibid.,p.51 6
  7. 7. multitude of other people. Some of the most outstanding believers had this restlessness. Tahirih was 'restless and could not be still'. Quietness is also valued highly. One does not have to be a great talker to attract the attention of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Quietness also has its place in Baha'i community life. There are people who are 'inclined to solitude' and keep 'silent at all times'. They possess an 'inner calm'. They are souls 'at rest'. The gregarious types and the type who keeps to himself are part of this quintessential dichotomy, a dichotomy that was as much a part of 'Abdu'l-Baha's world as it is our own, although there seem to be a slight preponderence, a dominance, of the gregarious person. Ustad Baqir and Ustad Ahmad both kept to themselves and "away from friend and stranger alike".10 Mirza Muham- mad-Quli "mostly...kept silent". He kept company with no one and stayed by himself most of the time, alone in his small refuge".11 The more 10 ibid., p.46. 11 ibid., p.73. 7
  8. 8. sociable type, like Haji 'Abdu'llah Najaf-Abadi "spent his days in friendly association with the other believers."12 Ismu'llahu'l-Asdaq "taught cheer- fully and with gaiety".13 "How wonderful was the talk,"says 'Abdu'l-Baha of Nabil of Qa'in, "how attractive his society".14 There are all of the archtypes that the various personality theorists have given us in this century. In addition to Jung's introvert and extrovert, there is the artist, the suffering artist-soul within us all, Mishkin-Qalam. He survives in all his seriousness, as we might, with humour. There are the types who William James describes in his Varieties of Religious Experience: the personality constitutionally weighted on the side of cheer and its opposite, the somber, more reflective even melancholic type. The two carpenters, Ustad Baqir and Ustad Ahmad were examples of the former.15 The examples we find of the latter were often the result 12 ibid.,p.71. 13 ibid.,p.6. 14 ibid.,p. 53 15 ibid.,p.73 8
  9. 9. of the many difficulties these lovers of Baha'u'llah were subjected to and it wore them "to the bone."16 ‘Abdu’l-Baha addresses all of us, all of us on our journeys while He describes many of those He came to know in His life. For He is describing not only the lives of these men and women in the nineteenth century, He is describing us in our time. He is addressing us on our own travels. He addresses the restlessness in us all. He speaks to us in our victory and our loss. He speaks about what Michael Polanyi calls the tacit dimension, the silent root of human life, which is difficult to tap in biographies, the inner person. This private, this inner person, is the one whom He writes about for the most part. He sets this inner life in a rich contextualization, a socio-historical matrix. He describes many pilgrimages and you and I are left to construct our own. We all must shape and define our own life. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Intellectually provocative? Spiritually challenging? ‘Abdu’l-Baha 16 ibid.,p.96. 9
  10. 10. shapes and defines these lives given the raw-data of their everydayness added up, added up over their lives as He saw them. How would He shape my life? Yours? How would we look in a contemporary anthology of existences with ‘Abdu’l-Baha as the choreographer and the history of our days as the mise en scene? Some of the lives of the obscure, the ordinary and representative members of the Baha'i community are recovered for history and for much more. Their private aspirations and their world achivements, their public images and their private romances, their eventual successes and their thwarted attempts are lifted onto the pages of a type of Baha'i scripture. 'Abdu'l-Baha is setting the stage, the theatre, the home, in these pages, for all of humanity. The extrovert is here, the introvert, those that seem predisposed to cheerfulness and those who seem more melancholy by nature. All the human dichotomies are here, at least all that I have come across in my own journey. They are the characters which are part and parcel of life in all ages and centuries, all nations and states, past, 10
  11. 11. present and, more importantly, future. Here is, as one writer put it, the rag-and-bone-shop, the lineaments of universal human life, the text and texture of community as we all experience it in the crucible of interaction. It is somewhat ironic that the host of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s contemporaries that we find here were resurrected and for us, found, at a time when the lost generation between 1914 and 1918—were getting lost in the trenches of Europe. Memorials of the Faithful is what might well be this age’s Canterbury Tales, that compendium of personalities who exemplify, as William Blake once put it, “the eternal principles that exist in all ages.”17 We get a Writer Who delights in other people but Who has an active and incisive mind, a practicality that He brings to bear on what are often difficult personalities. He dwells only on the essentials; His purpose is inveterate; His feelings sincere and intense; they never relax or grow vapid during His cursory analyses. He is exquisitely tender, but clearly wily and 17 William Blake in Geoffrey Chaucer: Penguin Critical Anthologies, editor, J.A. Burrow, 1969, p.82. 11
  12. 12. tough to survive in the burly-burly life of exile, prison and the unbelievable difficulties He had to bear along life’s tortuous path. Interest in biographies of Baha’is in the 19th century Iranian Bahá'í community is not exactly a booming business these days. But that time will come sensibly and insensibly in the decades ahead as this new world Faith comes to play a critical part in the unification of the planet. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s work is more than a little prescient. The heroic age was coming to a close when ‘Abdu’l-Baha put His pen to paper; and it was over by the time the Haifa Spiritual Assembly published this His final book.18 A remanant remained, Baha’u’llah’s sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf who died in 1932. ‘Abdu’l-Baha had played a prominent role in the epic that was the heroic age. He played a dominant role in writing that epic’s story. Memorials of the Faithful is an important part of that epic. This epic tradition was not essentially oral but quintessentially written: a written tradition par excellence. Since The Growth of Literature by 18 If one considers the Tablets of the Divine Plan a book, then Memorials of the Faithful was 'Abdu'l-Baha's penultimate book. 12
  13. 13. the Chadwicks(1924-1926) the heroic epic has been seen in literature’s epic studies “as a cultural rather than a literary phenomenon.”19 The Baha’i epic has grown out of a complex and fascinating set of cultural conditions. Indeed ‘Abdu’l Baha’s work has contributed to the resolution of problems involving the relationship, the transition, between oral narrative and written text. But this relationship is a question to occupy epic enthusiasts and is not our principle concern here. Within three to four months of completing this last of His books, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had begun His Tablets of the Divine Plan20 , the action station within which the community He was addressing could put into practice all the good advice He had given it in His Memorials of the Faithful. Like The Will and Testament, though, 19 Heroic Epic and Saga: An Introduction to the World’s Great Folk Epics, editor, Felix J. Oinas, Indiana UP, London, 1978, p.1. 20 He began writing His Tablets of the Divine Plan on March 26th 1916; Balyuzi informs us in his biography of ‘Abdu’l-Baha that He worked on Memorials in the last half of 1915(p.417). 13
  14. 14. it may take a century or more to grasp the implications of this surprisingly subtle and, deceptively simple, book. In the next two decades we shall see the end of the first century of the Formative Age. Perhaps the time has come to begin to seriously grasp the implications of these shining pages from ‘Abdu-l-Baha and His interpretive genius. We do not know much about the circumstances of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writing, at least I don’t. Some writers we know, like Beethoven, are intensely physical people who seem to fight their thoughts onto the page, splattering the ink, breaking nibs, even ripping the paper in the process. Beethoven had none of the serene penmanship of a Bach or the hasty perfection of Mozart or the quasi-mathematical constructs of Webern. But we do know some things. We know, for example, that ‘Abdu’l-Baha often worked all night with a large part of the night devoted to prayer and meditation. It was then He did His writing; He was too busy to scribble down things in the 14
  15. 15. daytime as some writers do. He had a short sleep after lunch. After writing one of the biographies he would often read or tell the story at one of the meetings in the next few days. Now, we can read them in a book or access them on the internet, in very readable English, in authorized translations. Gone is the Persian and Arabic in which He wrote; gone is ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s innimitable script or that of one of His secretaries. Having flashed onto the screen with the speed of light or into the book in some electronic form with every character proportional, every paragraph in alignment, these words, written six years before His passing, are now free to penetrate our own lives as the lives He wrote about penetrated His. FOOTNOTES The material on Chaucer that follows was obtained from Derek Pearsall's The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, pp. chapter 6. The following is not a quotation.-Ron Price, Tasmania The whole organization of Chaucer's narrative is in the historical lattice-work of a world of ecclesiastical routines and needs. 15
  16. 16. 'Abdu'l-Baha's narrative, played as it is in the lives of seventy- seven souls, exists in the interstices of lives transformed by a manifestation of God. Instead of the ubiquity of the Christian Faith and its practices we have a new religion emerging in the soil of people's lives. Both books give us a narrative of faith. Women are dominant in Chaucer and men in Memorials of the Faithful. Both books provide us with a spiritual journey. There is a gusto and carnivalesque spirit, a contempt for marriage and sexual urges, in Chaucer while none of this is to be found in 'Abdu'l-Baha's work. There is no sense of social and moral commitment in Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's London is a turbulent and dangerous place; so too in 'Abdu'l-Baha'is world. He writes of the domestic world rather than the politics of power. Both men possess a remarkable acuteness of observation; there is little of the sense of outrage. Chaucer makes a magpie-like raid on scholarly texts, perhaps more from conversations. The pilgrims are infinitely various. The sense 16
  17. 17. of dramatic vitality is so strong the temptation to read the tales as principally an expression of the characters of their tellers is strong. Chaucer is a self-concealing and evasive character. This father of English poetry is a figure who eludes the biographer's grasp even more fully than Shakespeare. There are no private letters or journals, no anecdotal reminiscences of friends, and precious few autobiographical clues in the poems themselves. The tools for understanding Chaucer are literary history, philology and the history of patronage and court politics in the 14th century. These disciplines need to be part of a biographer’s strong suit if he or she is to excel in their recreation of Chaucer’s life. In dealing with the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá none of these problems exist for the biographer. Chaucer’s audience in the imagination is "a miscellaneous company, of lettered London men, to be appropriately scandalized and delighted by the Wife of Bath and the fabliaux, flattered by the 17
  18. 18. invitation to share in a gentleman scholar's easily carried burden of learning and intrigued by the novel expose of London low life in the Cook's Tale. The audience is, probably exclusively an audience of men. ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá has no audience until 1928 more than a decade after He has finished writing the book. A mission to Genoa and Florence on the king's service in the early 1370s was especially important for Chaucer’s poetic development because it gave him the opportunity to discover the riches of Italian literature. Fifteen years later he began writing The Canterbury Tales his maturer reflections upon the life of men and women in society and in the Christian faith. They were written in the last dozen years of his life, 1387-1400. He was almost entirely occupied with writing 'The Canterbury Tales' in these last years. For Chaucer poetry was an accomplishment and a vehicle for self- display, a means for his advancement at court rather than an activity of his profession. His poetry benefited his career and vice- 18
  19. 19. versa: his earlier works, coinciding with his French connections, were influenced by French poetry, notably the great allegorical love vision of the Roman de la Rose, while his middle period, inspired by the Italian journey, was dominated by his version of the Troilus and Cressida story, written in imitation of Boccaccio's treatment of the same subject.21 He refrained from direct allusion to public events and it is difficult, unsafe, to make any deductions about specific connections between his life, his works and the events of the time. Some scholars prefer to see his work as chaotic and inexplicable. The comparisons and contrasts with the work of 'Abdu'l-Baha make a fascinating study to those interested in both Chaucer and the Baha'i Faith. But even those who hold no particular interest in Chaucer can find the contrasts and comparisons valuable in helping them understand the work of this Central Figure of the Baha'i Faith 21 Jonathan Bate, “Slim Biography and Slim Pickings: A Review of Peter Ackroyd’s Chaucer,”, 29 March 2004. 19
  20. 20. writing as He was at the very beginning of the Lesser Peace and the new Age the world was entering in all its tragic swiftness, amazing perplexity and fascinating juxtapositions. In my nearly fifty years of pioneering and sixty involved as I have been in the Baha'i community, I find this seminal work of 'Abdu'l- Baha’s absolutely crucial in my attempt to understand and deal with the complexities and problems that arise in Baha'i community life. It is as if 'Abdu'l-Baha has given me the Baha'i community in microcosm. Although He wrote the book nearly a century ago, it speaks to me about my life and so I pass the dialogue I have had with this book to you, dear reader….and a final word on Chaucer…. NO STRUGGLE TO INVENT Chaucer had a simplicity and directness of style. He was able to step into a child’s mind and an adult’s; indeed, he could take on the life, the mood and the personality of anyone or anything he knew or could know. That is the basis of the vividness, the individuality 20
  21. 21. of his characters. He pleads authenticity, faithfulness to actual life and speech. -Ron Price with thanks to Collier’s Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. Oh Father of English poetry- the King’s English-when English was finding its East Midland dialect and first being used in Parliament, some six hundred years ago1 , whose poetry was in the language of the man- in-the-street, with simplicity, naturalness, freshness and vitality—which we have recently rediscovered in our time and which I strive for in my poems and in what I write of history and character in my pioneering tale, pilgrimage-like across the world, painting some realistic portraiture, with no struggle to invent, only to suit my purpose. 21
  22. 22. 1 George H. McKnight, The Evolution of the English Language: From Chaucer to the Twentieth Century Dover Publications Inc., NY, 1968(1928), p. 18.—25/5/97. __________________ VOLUME 5 CHAPTER 6 (Part 2) INTRODUCTION TO SECTION IV OF MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY “BIOGRAPHIES” It is fitting that the following short descriptions of my efforts at biography should be preceded by an analysis of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s biographies. Twenty-eight years ago now, in 1981, I took my first excursions into writing biography. I had, of course, written little pieces for my students since the beginning of my teaching career in 1967. Those excursions beginning in 1981, though, became part of, first, The History of the Baha’i Faith in Tasmania: 1924-80 and; 22
  23. 23. second, The History of the Baha'i Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997. The short biographies I wrote in the 1980s and 1990s are, for the most part, now in the archives of the Baha'i Councils for Tasmania and the NT. Some of these short sketches of human personality are in a file I keep in my study, a file which has increased in size since it was first created in the early 1990s, but this increase is due to the resource, the source, material I have added to the file not more biographies themselves. Some of the sketches I wrote in those two decades are on the internet at the site They have all become part of a larger work Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section IV. But they will not be included here in this edition of my autobiography which I am posting on the internet since the people I have written about are, for the most part, still living. In addition, the notes in this file on the subject of biography, which I began to collect sixteen years ago in 1993, have begun to assume a far greater extent, a wider ambit than was initially planned due to 23
  24. 24. the plentiful resources on the subject of biography available on the Internet. Perhaps, in time, I may write more biographical material, hopefully material in greater depth of expression than I have done thusfar and hopefully from a more fertile base than I have been able to discover in my first attempts in the 1980s and the 1990s. Whatever biographies I write, they will in time be part of Section IV of my larger work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. This biography file has, as I say, developed into a more substantial resource in recent years and a brief examination of its table of contents will show the range of relevant sub-topics. This biographical interest provides some balance, although I must confess very little so far, to all the autobiographical material I have collected in other files; perhaps, too, readers will also find in them some balance and help avoid any impression of my narcissistic tendencies which critics may be inclined to dwell upon. As I say, hopefully, this material may prove useful in my efforts to write 24
  25. 25. biographies in the years ahead as part of Section IV of my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. --3/3/06. ____________________________________ Beginning in 1993, after living in Perth for five years and after more than 30 years in the pioneering field, I began making notes on people I knew. For various reasons I found the experience unsatisfactory and, by 1997, I had discontinued the process. It was my second effort at writing biography, the first being a similar period of four years in Katherine. These latter notes are found in the several volumes of writing on 'The History of the Baha'i Faith in the N.T. and the Northwest of WA.:Vol.2 Part 1.' I also wrote a few short biographies in 2000 to 2002 when finalizing that same history. After some 20 years of occasional efforts at writing biography, I had the experience Anthony Trollope and Henry James had with their efforts.1 They became disenchanted with the process. Limited to historical narrative they became bored even dismayed by the exercise. My essential problem was that I hardly knew any 25
  26. 26. of the individuals well enough to chart their biographies. The exercise of delving into historical documents involving those who were dead or having extended conversations with individuals who were still living, I realized was beyond my interest, my enthusiasm and, perhaps, my ability. After the initial sketches I had drawn in the years 1981 to 2001 I simply ran out of details to extend my accounts. -Ron Price with thanks to Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1984, pp. 137-8, 8/7/03. BIOGRAPHY: A BRIEF ANALYSIS In writing biography and autobiography one is confronted with a number of questions: what is its place in history? Is it simply a sort of sophisticated entertainment, a bedside companion better handed over to novelists? Is it a scholarly pursuit in itself? Is it a generator of cases to help us explain, in this case, aspects of the psychology, sociology or philosophy of religion? Is it a window through which we can learn to tackle existential questions in life, through which we can identify ourselves with others, come to understand 26
  27. 27. ourselves emotionally and intellectually and help change and create ourselves? The approach I take to both autobiography and biography is that these genres can help us reorient ourselves, our familiar ways of looking at things in unfamiliar terms, by the power of a certain strangeness. The exercise may also help us to become the new human beings we would like to be. There is, as Michael Polanyi emphasizes, a private, tacit passion at the root of much in life. It is a passion that is difficult to explore in an individual’s life, is tinged with the personal, keeps the world at a distance and can often be seen chiefly only in the written works of the person. The ‘real individual’, the unique self, the argument goes, can only be seen in what he or she writes. James Wood writes in the Guardian22 about English writer Martin Amis’s book Experience: “it is an escape from memoir; indeed, an escape into privacy.” Although the book seems at first glance to be exhibitionistic in reality, Wood emphasizes, it is a retreat into the 22 James Wood, “Experience: Martin Amis,” The Guardian, 20 May, 2000. 27
  28. 28. provinces of himself." And so is this true of my work, or so it seems to me. My work does not vibrate with an atmosphere of wounded privacy as much autobiography does. Some analysts of the written word argue that it is of no help to the reader to understand the state of mind, the personal life, of the writer concerned. Still others see the individual only in a socio- historical context, as the product of their times, as part of a sociological discourse or matrix, a rich contextualization, a historical situatedness. The historian, Wilhelm Dilthey saw it the other way around: individuals construct their own society and, therefore, each person, each writer, lives in a different society even if, ostensibly, in reality, they occupy the same territorial space. The implications of the post-structuralist thinking and the deconstructionists is that the subject matter, the person, is a product of language, a language construct, a product of the text and its incarnated vocabularies. Any attempt at a unitary identity, at any definition of a self, is a simple error since the self is constantly 28
  29. 29. shaped by forces of ideology, changing its representation with each situation it faces. This view of the self makes the view of the coherence of the person---a myth. In reality the self is a discontinuity, beyond documentation, essentially unknowable in its many variations, unrecoverable. The best thing to do is to avoid trying to construct a narrative line, a central focus. Given the slipperiness of language, language's need to create non-referential figures to construct the self, no real, individual 'face' is possible.23 24 Of course, this was not the view of Virginia Woolf who argued in her Collected Essays, Vol.4 that the age of biography had just begun. Woolf wrote this at the start of the Formative Age in Baha’i history in the 1920s aware as she was of the writings of famous historians and biographers like Plutarch and Thucydides in previous ages. Woolf would have agreed with Nadel that “the recreation of a life in words is one of the most beautiful and 23 Helen M. Buss, Canadian Women's Autobiography in English: And Introductory Guide for Researchers and Teachers, CRIAW, Ottawa, 1991. 24 29
  30. 30. difficult tasks a literary artist can perform.”1 Part of this beauty and part of this difficulty is the fact that these qualities are rooted in individual difference and idiosyncrasy, as A.L. Rowse emphasizes in his study of Matthew Arnold.2 Such are some of my thoughts on biography in these first years of my retirement. I have for the most part lost my interest in writing biography after 3 periods, 3 attempts in the last 20 years. –Ron Price with thanks to 1 Ira Nadel, op.cit., p.152 and 2 A.L. Rowse, Matthew Arnold: Poet and Prophet, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976, p.160. –2002. BAHA’I BIOGRAPHY: AFTER 15 YEARS OF THINKING ABOUT IT 1981-1996 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Autobiography is the unrivalled vehicle for telling the truth about other people. -Oscar Wilde in The Oxford Book of Quotations, John Gross, OUP, 1983. 30
  31. 31. As he worked at the Decline and Fall, Gibbon became convinced that the true character of men was so complex and elusive that it could be only tentatively described....If even a contemporary could not unravel the complexities of character, what could a historian hope for?.....Gibbon became increasingly reticent about judging character and motivation. Gibbon presents history as preeminently a construction, a literary work with aesthetic rather than systematic order and coherence. -David P. Jordan, Gibbon and His Roman Empire, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1971, p.5. Whoever turns biographer commits himself to lies, to concealment, to hypocrisy, to embellishments…..for biographical truth is not to be had and, even if one had it, one could not use it.”-Sigmund Freud in Freud: A Life For Our Time, Peter Gay, WW Norton & Co., NY, 1988, pp. xv-xvi. This is an anthology of existences. Readers will find here lives of a few lines, of a few pages, more than a few pages on occasion. 31
  32. 32. Readers will find adventures gathered together in a handful or several handfuls of words. There is such a contraction of things in the process of writing about these lives that one does not know whether the intensity which traverses them is due more to the vividness of the words or to the violence of the facts which jostle about in them. There is a series of singular lives here, created through I know not what accidents of life what strange poems. This is what I wanted to gather together and this is what I got in a sort of literary herbarium. -Werner Sollors, editor, Book’s Name Is Unknown, Oxford University Press, 1989, p.155. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Some time in 1981, as accurately as I can estimate after the evolution of fifteen years, I began to write the history of the Tasmanian Baha’i community. It was the first such exercise in Tasmania and in my own life, as far I know. I also started to write poetry about that time. The first poem I have in my collection was written in August 1980. On 23 July 1982 I left Tasmania and arrived in Katherine. I immediately set about collecting materials 32
  33. 33. for a history of the Baha’i Faith in the Northern Territory. I also continued writing a few poems from year to year. I collected great quantities of information and made brief biographies as part of a narrative history. I have since sent all the material, all of my writing, to the Baha'i Council of the NT or the, then, RTC of Tasmania. As I point out in the introductory biographical sketches, pieces written over the last two years(1994-1996), I have not had much success in writing Baha’i biography. I did write many short pieces and had each person’s agreement to the piece I wrote about them. It is a sensitive exercise this biography business. I take some comfort in reading about Edward Gibbon’s reticence about judging character and motivation. To him, people, like history, were constructions, significantly his constructions. What he did was attempt to unravel the complexities of character, however elusive they might be. He did this en passant, as he composed his history 33
  34. 34. of the Decline and Fall. I do my writing about individuals en passant, as I compose my Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In a book whose name is now lost to me, Werner Sollors refers to pieces of biography as “an anthology of existences...a few lines or a few pages...gathered together in a handful of words...” That is certainly the simplest characterization of a process I have scarcely begun in these fifteen years. The annotation to my collection of twenty-five years of letters collected while in Australia(1971- 1996), has yielded little fertility, as far as biography is concerned. I hope in the coming years, the last half of the second decade of my effort to write biographical material, that I will have more success than the meagre twenty pages I have thusfar accumulated and whatever additional pages are currently housed in the archives of an LSA and a RTC. -1997 NOTE ON AUTO/BIOGRAPHY 34
  35. 35. Montaigne says, in discussing human changeability, "He that would judge of a man in detail and distinctly, bit by bit, would oftener be able to speak the truth."(Second Book of Essays, p.1) It is difficult, he goes on, to find men who have "formed their lives to one certain and constant course, which is the principle design of wisdom." Vice, he argues, is essentially irregularity, lack of constancy. My mood swings give to my life a lack of constancy that is with me even now from morning to night. Since the age of eighteen, I have been a teacher of the Baha'i cause to the best of my ability. This is one of the constants in my life, although aspects of my work for this Cause have been sporadic. Service on LSAs, for example, I have found to be an exercise that changes from year to year. One would need a profile over a whole life to get an accurate picture of this soul, or any soul. Unable to do this I have, for now, discontinued writing biography. Leslie Stephen says that “reading a biography often leaves one pretty much in the dark as to the person biographised.”1 I can understand why. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Leslie Stephen, Biography. –June 1996(ca) 35
  36. 36. YET ANOTHER INTRODUCTION When I first came to Perth in 1987-8 I began a series of biographical sketches. By 1992 I had ceased making these sketches. I took up the pen again in 1993 writing sketches of Baha’is in Perth, but I ceased this exercise in 1996/7. On May 17th 1991 I sent three volumes of notes to the Darwin LSA and ceased any work on the “History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT and Northwest Australia”. That effort had contained a good deal of biographical material I had written from 1982 to 1987. About one decade, then, of biographical work came to an end in that Holy year. There were several reasons for this: (i) the response to what I had written seemed so far from enthusiastic as to be possibly detrimental to the Cause, in spite of the best of British intentions; (ii) my new interest in autobiography, essays and poetry, emerging clearly by 1992 and (iii) the difficulty of getting material from the 36
  37. 37. people I did get to know in Perth. There seemed to be a positive disinclination on the part of most people I met to have anything about them written at all. Over the first five years in Perth I wrote approximately ten pages of material on several people I had got to know. I began collecting notes and photocopies of information about biographies and, by early 1996, I had collected some sixty pages of interesting resource material. Biographies began appearing, about the time I began writing extensively in the early 1980s: in the Baha’i community. I was not interested in taking on any serious book-length exercise, but I was interested in writing short character sketches. Most of what I was reading about biography applied to major studies. Like Andre Maurois, perhaps the world’s greatest biographer thusfar, I was searching for the formula for the short character sketch. Perhaps I should read collections of essays. I have and I 37
  38. 38. will. In the meantime some of the literature on biography is useful to me in defining my perspectives. J.A. Symonds, for example, says there is an “undefinable flavour of personality...which repels or attracts, and is at the very root of love or dislike.(Virginia Woolf, Collected Essays, Vol.2, The Hogarth Press, London, 1967, p.273) Virginia Woolf says we get glimpses of that personality, but never really find it. The vast majority of lives remain nameless and traceless to history, she goes on.(p.221) She traces a brief history of biography, but it is not my intention to review that history here. I think I have, to some extent, achieved in some of the sketches I have written, the intensity of poetry and something of the excitement of drama in the context of fact. Perhaps I will rediscover this process in future efforts. I am only at the beginning of my efforts, as biography itself, as Woolf points out, is only at the beginning of its journey. I shall strive, in the years ahead, to make some good mini-biography, if that is an appropriate term for my end products, my outlines, sketches, my 38
  39. 39. fertile facts, my creative facts. Perhaps something can live on in the depths of the mind, some bright scene, some startling recognition. Perhaps something useful, significant, can be found; perhaps, like Boswell, I can invest the ordinary facts with “a kind of hyperactuality and heightened import.” (Wimsatt, Images of Samuel Johnson, p.359) Perhaps a man should not live longer than what he can meaningfully record; like a farmer, he should plant only what he can gather in. Writing biographies can give me another feather in my bow, so to speak. Thusfar, the initial enthusiasm has become a laborious drudgery and so I have discontinued the exercise of writing biography. I am so disinclined to participate in much social intercourse that it is not surprising that writing biographies does not take place. I felt a strong affinity to Nathaniel Hawthorne and particularly the description of his life in The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Vol. XV(p.61). Here George B. Loring discusses Hawthorne’s anti-social proclivities which may 39
  40. 40. be a useful basis for novel writing but not necessarily for biography writing. A third period of biographical writing followed in the early years of the new millennium, 2000-2001, as I put the finishing touches on The History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT: 1947-1997. When this task was complete my interest in writing biography ceased again, although I still studied the subject and kept notes on the genre. Biography was a challenge to both my reason and imagination. It called for attack. I really had to pounce on it, fasten my teeth in its gristle, worry it and drag it around in circles if I wanted to come out on top. This I had no desire to do. The sense of attack never entered my being after some early wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s. I pounced on it for three short periods, grabbed it with my reason and imagination and dragged it around. Perhaps one day I’ll get it between my teeth again when the need or the desire arises. Perhaps next time I’ll really get on top of it; at the moment, though, I’m not holding my breath. Indeed, one of the many lessons that 40
  41. 41. writing biography, poetry and narrative has taught me over the last two decades is that no literary or poetic expression, be it epic, lyric, narrative or something that falls in between them, can exist in any meaningful way without a receptive community.--10/1/97—5/3/06. VOLUME 5 CHAPTER 6 (Part 3) One of the most famous of poets during these four epochs, and especially in the last two, beginning, say, in the 1980s, was John Ashbery. In 1995 he was referred to as an “essentially ruminative poet.”25 He turned a few subjects over and over in the wider perspective of a mythology of self. This could very easily describe my own work but I aim to have my work yield meanings; whereas, Ashbery's poetry seems to militate against the very possibility of articulating them. Although Ashbery turns a few subjects over and 25 Susan Schultz in The Tribe of John Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry, editor, Susan Schultz, 1995. 41
  42. 42. over readers have difficulty finding any unifying principles, any particular tactics, figures or concerns in his poetic output. As poetry critic Helen Vendler has remarked, "it is popularly believed, with some reason, that Ashbery’s style itself is impenetrable, that it is impossible to say what an Ashbery poem is about.” 26 As one critic argues: "What is at stake in the criticism of Ashbery is the meaning and status of what it is to be 'American.' One could very well frame the meaning and status of my work around my Bahá'í identity. The central concern of both mine and Ashbery's poetic career could very well be defined as the self-world relationship. With this in mind, I present to readers the following prose-poems. THE BIOGRAPHY OF A GENERATION 26 Helen Vendler in “Reports of looting and insane buggery behind altars: John Ashbery's queer politics - gay poet,” John Vincent, Twentieth Century Literature, Summer 1998. 42
  43. 43. Price's autobiographical poem can be read, in some ways, as the biography of a generation, the generation that came of age in the sixties, grew into middle age in the eighties, into what some human development theorists call late adulthood, the years 60 to 80, in the first decades of the twenty-first century and into old age in the years beyond 2525. William Wordsworth's poem The Prelude could be read as the biography of the romantics of the 1790s who grew into old age, if they lived that long, in the years after 1850-- although a man was old much sooner in 1850 than he is today. More importantly, though, as far as my autobiography is concerned, Wordsworth’s Prelude is the most sustained self- examination in English poetry and its real importance lies in not what it tells of the past but what is promises of the future. Such is the view of Stephen Gill in William Wordsworth: A Life(Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989,) and, as Gill goes on to say, Wordsworth’s “rewriting stems from a determination to treat his poems as living presences and to change or discard what no longer seemed adequate(ibid., p81). 43
  44. 44. The case is obviously an arguable one and, at best, only partly true as a comparison. In the case of Wordsworth or Price, the mind, the imagination, is a binding, sympathetic medium and the poems which come out of their poetic matrix speak with or against the historical grain. Their lives and those of their contemporaries or coreligionists are at the heart of their inner life which is given a primary place in the ideology of both men, in the creation of their personal identities and it is the place where the important changes of life take place, albeit slowly and unobtrusively. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 6 April 2009. Yes, perhaps, in some ways, to each man his own story. Mine is quite precise in places, but there's a matrix here for everyone to tell of their own. Mine, growing out of the first epochs 44
  45. 45. of this Formative Age has a certain: tone, mode, manner, content, style, relevance, timeliness and scope--- bound together in this sympathetic medium, this inner space for and about the seekers my contemporaries-- and me and what it all means for, if it means nothing to me, it is nothing. Ron Price 6 April 2009 (updated from 3/2001) WANDERING We each map a unique landscape of thought, frailty, drama, bewilderment and belief. The biographies of our life, if any are ever written, are other people’s stories and descriptions of our map. Norman Sherry, in the second volume of his biography of the famous novelist Graham Greene, writes that Greene "seemed 45
  46. 46. homeless just wandering the streets" in a state of "acute solitariness." This was a period in the 1950s when Greene was in a condition of "great unhappiness and great torment. Manic- depression reached its height in that period." Sherry continues: “Greene wheeled obsessively around the world." With alcohol and women he sought to kill the despair and the formidable desire for self-annihilation that rose up within him. He was "compelled to wander the earth until death; an unending traveller, an unending writer, he laboured like Sisyphus."1 It seemed in his nature to go beyond permitted limits.2 -Ron Price with thanks to Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene: Vol.2: 1939-1955, Jonathan Cape, London, 1994, 1 pp.507-508 and 2 p.258. I, too, have wandered my streets in a state of acute solitariness during many of these my pioneering days. I've had my torment and unhappiness, but have now, in the evening of my life, left behind me that very debilitating chaos, 46
  47. 47. darkness and fear;1 obsessively I have drunk the air and killed despair with His sweet-scented streams, tasted even in my hair with its fragrance in my prayer and with my medications oh so fair— without which God knows what I would have dared! I, too, will wander until death, an unending traveller, an unending writer and labour like Sisyphus at the door, but the stone, the weight, will one day be no more. Many, too, wander with their morbid predilection for the darker sides of life—not surprising in a time after two wars, millions of dead in the fields and millions more to come—trying to put it together, each finding the cosmic drama in their own way, creating their forms, their styles in this slough of despond with the phantoms, so very often, of their wrongly, so very wrongly, informed imaginations. 47
  48. 48. 1 my manic depression was successfully treated first in 1968, then in 1980, again in 2001 and, finally, I trust, in 2007: four medication regimes to remove most of the fear, the darkness and the despair.— 15/12/01 updated 18/6/’09. ------------------------------- A FRESH IMPULSE The five years which followed my drive to Yerrinbool from Ballarat in December 1977; and the five years which followed my first days at university in September 1963 were without doubt the years of my life in which I experienced the most intense and extensive depression, confusion and disorientation. These years of internal and external crises, of varying severity were devastating in their immediate effects. Each of these five year periods resulted in the complete breakdown in my capacity to earn a living and function in day-to-day society. But by December 1982 and September 1969, it could be argued, these crises were beginning to release a corresponding measure of divine power. My life could and did continue unfolding my potential, my capacity. A fresh 48
  49. 49. impulse had been lent to this process of unfoldment by these same crises, at least that is a dominant view I now take looking back from these years of my late adulthood. It took me some years to understand what could be called a 'life process;' some years to begin to regulate my life to its rhythm. It became my view, my understanding, slowly with the years, that my very happiness as a Baha'i depended, in part at least, on the extent to which I understood this life process. -Ron Price with thanks to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada, "Letter to All Pioneers," Pulse of the Pioneer, January 1979, p.2. I was stimulated to write the above paragraph by reading a paragraph in a biography of the English novelist Thackeray(1811- 1863), the first novelist to "hold a mirror up to real life," or so one literary critic put it. It was a paragraph written by this same critic which began "......The five years which followed his night flight to Paris were bitter and restless ones for Thackeray." (Ann Monsarrat, 49
  50. 50. The Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man, Cassell, London, 1980, p.121) For some reason my own mind immediately switched, on reading this line about Thackeray, from his bitter five years to some of my own. I believe my journey, intellectual and otherwise, becomes more complete through the study of biography. Our personal troubles are, partly, public problems. Such was the view of sociologist C.Wright Mills in his Sociological Imagination(1959) written the year I became a Baha'i. It's about linking happiness to understanding, keenness of our tests, the test to be happy and confident both within and without the Baha'i community, a whole of life process. forcing, you're not responsible 50
  51. 51. for the present condition in the community, only a small part. Trust to the life processes set in motion within our life in this Cause and in your own dear life which seems to take the whole of life to decode, process, interpret. Ron Price 22 January 2002 updated 18/6/09 ----------------------------- A POET AT LAST Stephen Coote writes in his biography of John Keats that Keats "was battling to preserve the integrity of his vision, and what he described as the pride and egotism of the writer's solitary life formed as a protection against the intrusion of merely practical matters."1 Keats saw his development as an inward process, a long and patient observation of the rhythms of his consciousness. True poetry, he believed, came from this, not from manufacturing verse for the marketplace. 51
  52. 52. Price had battled for years, at least until the early years of the new millennium, to acquire that solitary life which was protected from the intrusion of the endless and inevitable practical matters of life. As 1999 evolved insensibly to 2006, he was able to move beyond those endless volunteer activities and responsibilities which occupied so much of his time in his middle adulthood. By 2006 he had been able to focus on the inward processes of development that accompanied writing for at least eight hours a day keeping practical intrusions to a limit. He felt he had written about that process as much as he had written poetry itself. Poetry, he had concluded, was impossible to define. At best, it served for him as a form in which he could deal with that first attribute of perfection which 'Abdu'l-Baha describes, and which it was his task to acquire, in The Secret of Divine Civilization: learning and the cultural attainments of the mind.2 -Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.268; and 'Abdu'l- Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.35. By the time I had arrived here 52
  53. 53. in this town by a river by the sea, at the bottom of the Antipodes, I had defined and refined that inward process and the rhythms of my consciousness and mind. I had found the form in which I could deal with the vast tracts of learning and those cultural attainments of mind’s lifeline. I occasionally toyed with essays, with novels but, in the end, turned, always returned to this form and these processes which enabled me, at last, to declare myself a poet. I did not so much collapse into late adulthood, although there was 53
  54. 54. some of that tedium vitae, as die to my former self as much as I was able, but so much still remained like honey and poison making me seek from a cup a pure and limpid water. Ron Price January 2002 to March 2006 (updated 6/3/09 and 18/6/09) -------------------------- A STRONG CONSITUTION? This afternoon, in mid-summer here in Tasmania, I sat under a tree near the beach at Low Head on Bass Strait and read Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography by Peter Alexander.(1982). This South African poet(1901-1957) had, according to Alexander, a magnificent constitution. According to the famous psychiatrist, Laurens van der Post, Campbell was a man "born on fire." He could only live by burning himself out: drinking much and eating 54
  55. 55. and sleeping little. It is difficult, it seems to me, to determine what, in fact, is a 'magnificent constitution.' Have my history of manic-depression, the slow development of a mild emphysema, a certain psychological fatigue as I came into my sixties and, perhaps, several other illnesses like pneumonia and some polio-like disease contracted in my childhood, had the effect of weakening my constitution? Is writing millions of words a sign of a strong constitution? I don't know, but I do know I have experienced varying degrees of burn-out several times in my life. It would appear that, like Campbell, burning myself out was part of my central life experience, although the causes of the burn- out(mine and Campbell’s) were quite different. It would appear that, in this the early evening of my life, I have learned to live without burn-out and without its tragic consequences thanks to psychiatry’s medications. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 22 January 2002(updated 6/3/09). A million impressions, 55
  56. 56. impressed themselves over these several epochs in the last half-century,1 pressed themselves upon me and annihilated me2 as Keats said;3 I surrendered, lost myself to these poetic acts of creation, acts of love4 in which I imagined myself intensely, merging with a great sea of life beyond the me and becoming one: mystic, seer, poet... integrated circuits with the past containing the seeks of its future. 1 1952-2002 2 Looking back it would appear that at least 3 reconstructions of personality were required: 1968, 1979/80 and 1999; inevitably there were some continuities, one of which was poetry in 1999. 3 Keats, Letters, 27 October 1818 56
  57. 57. 4 The World of Poetry, p. 92. Ron Price 22 January 2002 AM I WORTH SAVING? "A biographer can be a most uncomfortable visitor for a living author and his family. Skeletons clatter in all our closets; everyone's life has black patches, shames and sorrows: no one, you would think, would willingly submit to Judgement Day come early." So writes Peter F. Alexander at the start of his book Les Murray: A Life in Progress(Oxford UP, 2000). But when such an author, like myself for example, is a virtual unknown; when he has never published a book; when virtually no one in the literary world has ever heard of him, then such a discomfort would not be experienced by that author. Indeed, such an unknown author would probably think to himself that no one in his lifetime would ever venture to seriously consider writing a biography about him at all. Skeletons in his closet and the darker side of his life would, therefore, concern him not a twit, for he would know that no writer 57
  58. 58. would ever be likely to probe into his private life while he was alive. Such is the way I feel as I approach the age of sixty-five. When I eventually pass from this mortal coil, though, I would be more than happy to grant any aspiring biographer complete access to everything: manuscripts, letters, diaries, various documents private and public, even accounts now found on the internet and memorabilia of all sorts. I would be equally happy for such a biographer--should he or she ever exist--to interview whomever they want and as frequently as they want, ever mindful of the courtesies required of such potential intrusions into other people's lives. I would like to think that such biographers should feel free to prod, probe and uncover whatever they could find, for we are seen by others in such varied ways. Such is the attitude, I currently hypothesize, that I shall possess after my demise as I gaze at this world from the domain of light. -Ron Price with thanks to Peter Alexander, Les Murray: A Life in Progress, Oxford UP, 2000, p.9. Should I give full and exclusive 58
  59. 59. access to my voluminous papers? How easy should I make detective work for the possibly impertinent, not especially skilled, wanting to save a life for future generations? Am I the sort of man you might want to see live again and dance in the pages of a book? If you know of my battle on the road, will it help you with yours? Whatever will help future generations. Do you need all my sordid details, my hind parts and their contemplation and an exploration of mountains of trivia?...whatever will help and only if it helps...... Ron Price 16 March 2002 -------------------------- 59
  60. 60. PS I have come to feel the way the Russian writer Boris Pasternak did when he wrote on January 15th 1960 three months after I became a Baha’i: “the artist starts to get to love his new design and it seems to him that the slowly developing work is larger and more important than he.” For me this ‘work’ is both my life and my writing.-Evgeny Pasternak, Boris Pasternak: The Tragic Years: 1930-1960, Collins Harvill, London, 1990, p.244. --------------------- CONNECTIONS The sociologist C.Wright Mills tried to make his readers aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of our own lives and the course of world history, as ordinary men do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of men they are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world.1 The Baha'i Faith, in contrast, gives to its votaries an historical consciousness that is both providential and humanistic, 60
  61. 61. that stimulates the process of making connections and finding patterns between individual lives and the course of history.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 C.W. Mills, the Sociological Imagination, 1959, p.4. A lot of things relate to a lot of things, big- and-little-pictures in this tenth stage of history and a lot of isms and wasms have collapsed as explanations of the world and ourselves.1 Meanwhile, there has been an influence not dwelling elsewhere in literature or philosophy that shatters the cup of speech that we cannot contain-we cannot dam the sea.2 61
  62. 62. This influence asks us to stretch ourselves beyond the here-and-now and present awareness, subtlely reminding us of what we already know in the big world that has made us what we are, as sub-creators in our own understanding of our own life. 1 Immanuel Wallerstein, "Louis Horowitz, C. Wright Mills: An American Utopian," Theory and Society, Vol.15, 1986, pp.465- 474. 2 Horace Holley quoted in the Ocean of His Words, J. Hatcher, Wilmette, 1997,p.3. Ron Price 8 November 2002 --------------------------- CONSTRUCTED "The world of everyday life is not only taken for granted as 62
  63. 63. reality by the ordinary members of society in the subjectively meaningful conduct of their lives. It is a world that originates in their thoughts and actions, and is maintained as real by these members."1 The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim did not see it this way. The world of everyday life, for Durkheim, could never be said to originate in the thoughts and actions of "members" because everyday life is irreducibly external to any individual or plurality. It is always already there when one enters it, as a child, or as an adult when one, for example, joins the Baha'i Faith or moves to a new Baha'i community as a pioneer. The implication is that the social world is made of historically constituted positions or situations through which people move and differently exist.2 In my poetry I have tried to both describe the world I've lived in and the one I have created in, assuming as I do that both have some reality, especially a metaphorical one. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality, 1967, pp. 19-20; and 2 Herve Varenne, "The Social Facting of 63
  64. 64. Education: Durkheim's Legacy," Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol.27, 1995, pp.373-389. There's an intersection here of self and other, biography and history requiring some virtuosity to get at it, at the story, subtle and mysterious. Much of the data is slippery, elusive, tentative, something that has seized my life, startling and bewildered, sometimes wrenching: is there an essential whole? Are there patterns and nodes? 64
  65. 65. Is the truth of my story deeper than my life itself? Have I provoked and illuminated it?1 1 R. Bullough and S. Pinnegar, "Guidelines…of Self-Study," Educational Researcher, Vol.30, No.3, pp.13-21. Ron Price 12/11/'02. --------------------------- LIFE-ENHANCEMENT In the prelude to his biography of Henry Moore, Roger Berthoud tells of Moore's life-enhancing quality. Both Moore's personality and his work, Berthoud writes, had this quality. "One felt the better," he continues, "for having talked to him or for having contemplated his creations."1 There is no doubt that in my life I possessed this life-enhancing quality. I possessed it in many of my years as a teacher. But I did not possess it all the time. You just have to ask either of the women I married. I did not possess it with 65
  66. 66. all my students; I'm sure there would have been dozens of students over those thirty-five years who were not impressed with my qualities as a person or as a teacher. For, as a pioneer, I was in many ways just an average bloke, certainly no saint and, if distinguished, only from time to time and not as a consistent feature of my life from the word go to woe. -Ron Price with thanks to Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, Faber and Faber, London, 1987, p.15. I, too, Roger, am more complicated than I seem and am also addicted to this poetic work, as my restless mind wanders over the world's mystery settling for the partial and incomplete portion that is our lot due to life's contingencies, mysteries and paradoxes. For whatever truths I find there's so much that is provisional, with an emphasis here 66
  67. 67. but not there.1 And whatever confidence I have found there is worry still about the apparently trivial, this complex and difficult product that I have created to market2 in the interstices of these my latter days. 1 Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Hogarth Press, 1991(1940), London, p.xi. 2 Roger Berthoud, op.cit., p.13. Ron Price 14 December 2002 ------------------------------------ MACRO-MICRO Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. Yet men do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction. The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. The first fruit of this imagination and the first lesson 67
  68. 68. of the social science that embodies it is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within this period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances. We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and that he lives it out within some historical sequence. -Ron Price with thanks to C.W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959, pp.3-10. There's a massive complexity here. But, at the core, there's been a fine compression, an intensification of global consciousness, making of this world a single place, coexistence in a single spot, humankind's oneness, yes, taking off, by stages, since 1475, 1875, 1975 with more and more world images in this single place.….since I was playing 68
  69. 69. baseball and we went to outer space and I joined the Baha'i Faith by stages beginning with that most wonderful and thrilling motion which appeared from that point of light the spirit of teaching…..1 Half a century, since then, since that inception of the Kingdom of God on earth2 when I was nine and John and Hattie Dixon served us rose-hip tea in that little town by that great lake in southern Ontario’s golden triangle. 1 'Abdu'l-Baha in God Passes By, p.351. 2 idem. The completion of the temple in Chicago inaugurated this inception. Ron Price 8 November 2000 ------------------------------ PROJECT OF THE SELF According to Ulrich Beck, the most dominant and widespread desire in Western societies today is the desire to live a 'life of one's own'. More and more people aspire to actively create an individual 69
  70. 70. identity, to be the author of their own life. The ethic of individual self-fulfilment and achievement can be seen as the "most powerful current in modern societies." The concept of individualisation does not mean isolation, unconnectedness, loneliness or the end of engagement in society. Individuals are now trying to 'produce' their own biographies. This is partly done by consulting 'role models' in the media. Through these role models individuals explore personal possibilities for themselves and imagine alternatives of how they can go about creating their own lives. They are, in effect, experimenting with the project of the self, with strategies for self. -Ron Price with thanks to Judith Schroeter, "The Importance of Role Models in Identity Formation: The Ally McBeal In Us," Internet, 11 October 2002. I define myself in community which is not the same as being surrounded by people ad nauseam, nor does it mean doing what I want as much of the time as I can or being 70
  71. 71. free of difficulties, stresses and strains-- which seem unavoidable. I've been creating my own biography--my own autobiography--for years and getting very little sense of who I am from the media and their endless role models. I've been in a community with two hundred years & fifty years of models historical models and hundreds, over the years, of people I have known who have shown me qualities worth emulating, helping to make me some enigmatic and composite creature on this God’s earth. Ron Price 11 October 2002 ---------------------------- SOCIAL SEDIMENTATION 71
  72. 72. Experiences become sedimented in that they congeal when they are recollected as recognizable and memorable entities. For me, they become part of my autobiographical poetry and narrative. Intersubjective sedimentation occurs when several individuals share a common biography, the experiences of which become incorporated in a common stock of knowledge. This social sedimentation can become recognizably objective and shared by others in a sign system. Language becomes the basis and the instrument of a collective stock of knowledge. It becomes the depository of a large aggregate of collective sedimentations. The objective meanings of institutional activity are conceived of as ''knowledge'' and transmitted as such. With the full institutionalization of charisma in 1963 in the Baha'i community, the institutional transmission of knowledge has been mostly in the form of letters. It is difficult to achieve consistency between institutions and the forms of transmission of knowledge pertaining to them. But, for the most part, this transmission in the Baha'i community has possessed a consistency and a logical coherence. 72
  73. 73. The problem of logical coherence in the transmission of this knowledge arises first on the level of legitimation and secondly on the level of socialization. In the Baha'i Faith the former is not a serious problem. -Ron Price with thanks to "Sociology Notes from Reading in the 1990s," 15 November 2002. We've been sedimented, this community and I, for several decades, but noone is kidding no one that the sharing of His Signs is a totally consistent, smooth, run from year to year. Yes, there is grace and favour to joyously press on in battle; then, too, there is whimpering, fright, trembling and shaking. There are veils which shut me out.1 73
  74. 74. There is a life congealed in recollection, a thousand memorable entities and an aggregate of sediment with seeds sown in a forest of wild trees, pebbles with some fruit and rare precious stones.2 1 'Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, p.181. 2 'Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1977, p.87…..Ron Price 16/11/02. ---------------------- SOME CONTINUOUS COMPOSITE WHOLE The spiritual, mental and emotional autobiographies of the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived have never been recorded. For many thousands of people in the last two centuries, though, a detailed, a scanty, a fascinating or a tedious record has been left. In recent decades writing biography and autobiography has become somewhat of a popular sport or discipline. In the case of a very few, people like the French novelist Gustave Flaubert, the preservation of documents about the self has been carried to the 74
  75. 75. point of mania. With Flaubert, the student of the individual creative process has a microscopic view for perhaps the first time in history of the development of the creative process in one individual. My own particular poetic narrative presents what I am to myself, how I see myself and how I have lived with this self for sixty-five years. I go about this exercise with a certain style. Style to me was what it was to Flaubert "the rendering of content in a form in which both style and content would be one."1 Style is the filter, the means, of rendering externality. -Ron Price with thanks to Benjamin F. Bart, Flaubert, Syracuse UP, 1967, Preface and 1 p.340. Style is, ultimately, a matter of the precise words used and their arrangement in some structure, some form, some continuous, composite whole, a physiological-anatomy, in the cultural repository of history.1 Content, the work, came to me insensibly 75
  76. 76. over several years so that, now, it is the work of my whole life. It is always on my mind. I am always preparing for it. Even my rests are rests for the work ahead down the road. 1 Some of Flaubert's view of 'style' Ron Price 13 April 2002 -------------------------------- MY 'BIG BOOK' A symbol of poet Les Murray's vastly eclectic interests "The Great Book' was a large, hard-covered ledger-book which he had adapted as a scrapbook.1 Into it went postcards, newsclippings, poems he liked, cartoons, inter alia. My mother kept a similar book which was sent to me from Canada when she died in 1978. Not as large as Murray's, it contained the literary memorabilia she had collected from about 1930 to 1955. 76
  77. 77. The symbol of my own eclectic interests can be found today in my study here in Tasmania. Of postcards and cards there are few; of cartoons and assorted newsclippings there are more. The absences, the empty spaces, in my Big Book are voluminous, for one cannot record it all. Quotations abound in some 300 arch lever files, two- ring binders, A-3 loose-leaf and other sized files on a host of subjects: history, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry, fiction, drama, psychology, media studies, anthropology, Greek and Roman history, various religious themes, graduate study programs, journals, novel writing attempts, biography, autobiography and much else. inter alia. -Ron Price with thanks to Peter Alexander, Les Murray: A Life in Progress, Oxford UP, London, 2006, p.255. So this is my 'great book.' I've divided it into a library of files over the years. Part of my soul is there on the shelves of my study, 77
  78. 78. extremely agreeable friends from everywhere in the world, past and present, always at my service; they come and go as I am pleased. Sometimes they are difficult to understand and require special effort on my part. My cares are often driven away by their vivacity. They teach me a certain fortitude. I keep each of them in a small chamber in a humble corner of my room where they and I are delighted by the happy symbiosis of my retirement and their presence.1 78
  79. 79. 1 Plutarch, On Books. Ron Price 16 March 2002 That’s all folks! THE LIGHTHOUSE In discussing the character of a man, there is no course of error so fertile as the drawing of a hard and fast line. We are attracted by the salient points, what seems to stand out in his life, and seeing them clearly and repeatedly we jump to conclusions. That is natural. These conclusions may even have some validity. These qualities that stand out may be likened to a lighthouse guiding our way in the night or, in the day, serving as a landmark in our travels. 79
  80. 80. But they are only a guide. They tell us little of the surrounding landscape, none of the geology, the history, the botany, the geography of the nearby terrain. This is even more true of a man's life, so far removed from the general sketch, the highlights, which at best are all that is usually passed down to succeeding generations. The man of letters on the other hand is, in truth, ever writing his own biography or autobiography. What is in his mind he declares to the world, to whoever reads his works. If he finds a readership, if his work is well written, this memoir, this biography, this autobiography will be all that is necessary. It will take us far beyond that lighthouse into geology, history, botany, geography--a total view. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Trollope, The Life of Cicero, quoted in Trollope, Victoria Glendinning, Pimlico, London, 1993, p.v. There are some lighthouses here. 80
  81. 81. I've set them out along the coast to guide your way through the night of my life and there has been much night, black clouds and darknesses. I've also provided rich and varied collections of flora and fauna to tell you something of the living tissue of my days, some of its green shoots, its flowers, its bright colours and some of its exotic texture. I've even left you a map to help you connect with nearby towns and villages; for I have belonged to a community where people knew me 81
  82. 82. and would tell you something of me. But, again, do not jump to conclusions about the nature of my person and self. What I have left behind can only, like the lighthouse, guide your travels. I have tried to be faithful to the Covenant of God, to fulfil in my life His trust and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of divine virtue.1 But how successful I have been that is a mystery to me, as much as thee. 1 Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, Introductory passage. Ron Price 82
  83. 83. 17 January 2002 THE AGE WE LIVE IN It is not so much authorial ego or that I am a compulsive self- historiographer which compels me to document my life more fully than most. All this poetry is my workshop where my awareness of life expresses itself quintessentially. I also see myself as part of a global pattern, a representative figure, part of a mytho-historical process which may be of use to future generations. I was born into a new age with the Kingdom of God just beginning when I was nine years old. In my lifetime the Baha'i administrative process, the nucleus and pattern for a new Order, went through a radical growth period. I have been committed to the promises and possibilities of this new way of Life.1 As F. Scott Fitzgerald was committed to and had a belief in American life in the 1920s, as American was going through new beginnings so, too, do I feel 83
  84. 84. strongly, passionately, a new commitment, a new belief and new beginnings. George Bull points out in his introduction to his massive biography of the life of Michelangelo that people are often best understood "in the crowded context of the significant changes and continuities of the age."2 The age I have lived in and through has also faced "significant changes and continuities." My life, I have little doubt, can be understood, too, as Michelangelo's and so many others have been understood, in this same general context of their age. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Matthew Bruccoli, editor, The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, NY, 1945, p.vii; and 2 George Bull, Michelangelo: A Biography, Viking Press, 1995, p.xviii. I, too, saw myself as coming at the end of a complex historical process 84
  85. 85. that had its beginnings in the district of Ahsa, those birds flying over Akka and those Men with beards and I identified with it. I was born near the start of yet another Formative Age: would it last as long as the Greeks?1 I understood profoundly well the claims of this new belief as you did the claims of your craft.2 I was, like you, fortune's darling in this new age and I was, too, the shell-shocked casualty of a war that was more complex than any of us could understand. 85
  86. 86. 1 Their Formative Age lasted from 1100 to 500 BC; this one began 23 years before I was born. 2 F. Scott Fitzgerald, arguably the major American writer between the wars: 1919-1939. Were my poetry to become significant enough in the public domain I would certainly like to direct the attention of scholars to adaptations of and responses to its contents in music, drama, dance, and the visual arts. I’m confident that studies of my poetry in music, for example, could take the form of, say, something like Aaron Copland’s song cycle of 12 of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.27 Copland completed this creative work in 1950. While the poems of Dickinson that Copeland chose centered about no single theme, they treated of subject matter particularly close to Miss Dickinson: nature, death, life, eternity. It was Copeland’s hope, nearly a century after Dickinson’s poems were conceived, to create a 27 Dorothy Z. Baker, “Aaron Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson: A Reading of Dissonance and Harmony,” The Emily Dickinson Journal, Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2003. 86
  87. 87. musical counterpart to Emily Dickinson’s unique personality. However desirable such an exercise might be to my spirit, I leave that activity to a posterity that I can scarcely imagine. Whatever aspects of my work that a future age might seek to highlight through song or indeed any other form of the creative and performing arts is, for me, a tantalizing consideration that can scarcely occupy any of my time at present, indeed, it seems somewhat pretentious to do so. I can not help but offer one thought in this direction; namely, that the poems which a future composer, for example, might select would, of necessity, be filled with the dissonant noises of the life of these four epochs. A counterpoint was developing, of course, but they were still early days, early days of the Kingdom of God on earth. I have never understood music and my experience of it in a vacuum, as a pure structure of sounds as if fallen from the stars onto my faculty of musical perception. Music seems rather inextricably embedded in my several forms of life, forms that are, 87
  88. 88. as it happens, essentially linguistic. Music is necessarily apprehended, at least in part, in terms of the language and linguistic practices that define me and my world. These words, this memoir, has for me a musical context and texture. Music is manifested, as the philosopher Wittgenstein once wrote, by a complex of behaviours, such as illustrative gestures, apt comparisons, suitable hummings, and appropriate movings, incarnations, of thought. Gesture, in music, can be defined as "a movement that may be interpreted as significant."28 So is this true in words, in writing. Indeed all the musical terms seem to me to have literary analogues. Some analysts of music see gesture as affecting performance and experience more directly than the thematic and harmonic categories of conventional analysis. Gesture is seen as central to the performer’s conception of the musical work--and mine. 28 Jerrold Levinson, "Musical Thinking," The Journal of Music and Meaning, Fall 2003. 88
  89. 89. Performers, like writers, attend primarily to the ‘shape’ of a piece. Shape is analogous to structure but it tends to be more dynamic through its sensitivity to momentum, climax, and ebb and flow, comprising an outline, a general plan, a set of gestures unfolding in time. I say this because these considerations lie at the background and in the texture of my work. To say one final thing about gesture, its definition in musical terms has some application to my writing and so I include it here in full: "a holistic concept, synthesizing what theorists would analyze separably as melody, harmony, rhythm and meter, tempo and rubato, articulation, dynamics, and phrasing into an indivisible whole. For performance, these overlapping strands must be further melded into a smooth, and at some level undivided, continuity. That melding is achieved most efficiently by means of an apparently natural, human gesture. Performers strive to create a shaping and shading of each phrase that is more than the sum of the motivic and harmonic units of which they are composed." 89
  90. 90. Gestural analysis in music, like analysis of this memoir, should focus on short events---motifs, figures or short phrases. The sense of unity in a composition and in this work is forged through a recognition of the gesture’s internal continuity and coherence, and of the interconnections between gestures. This enables performers like myself to recognise and project seemingly disparate and distinct “motifs” as manifestations of the same “gesture”. This work is like one single gesture. Language, like music, is manifested in a complex of behaviours. Both music and language are forms of thought. Understanding music should therefore be analogous to understanding language. Both are a matter of use, that is, of knowing how to operate with the medium in question in particular contexts of communication. This 'knowing' is not about propositional knowledge but, rather, about behavioral and experiential abilities and dispositions. Hence, if music is thought, we should naturally come to understand it as 90
  91. 91. we come to understand thought in words. This is done not by learning how to decode or decipher it, but by learning how to respond to it appropriately and how to connect it to and ground it in our lives. How I respond to language and how readers respond to my language is at the core of this memoir. Intelligible music stands to literal thinking in precisely the same relation as does intelligible verbal discourse. If that relation is one that takes its form in expression, then music and language are, at any rate, in the same, and quite comfortable, boat.29 The performer and certainly this writer allows the articulation, accentuation, even the tempo to be different from page to page or on every few notes if that seems to be the natural shape of the lines. Everything is dynamic, fluid, in flux. That is certainly how I felt as I wrote this memoir. 29 idem 91
  92. 92. Musical performers who over-emphasize their gestures through exaggerated emotional expression are similar to an actor who accompanies every movement with exaggerated facial and bodily expressions. I am conscious of having over-emphasized some gestures in this work as I have also over-emphasized some gestures in my life. This is not surprising given the bi-polar nature of my experience, my various enthusiasms and their gestural performances which undoubtedly have disrupted the overall architecture of my life and both enhanced and disrupted its continuity. Musical sounds and these words flow in the same world and, although these comments comparing music and writing say nothing about my life, they are an appropriate inclusion as this memoir winds its way to its conclusion. VOLUME FIVE CHAPTER SEVEN 92
  93. 93. ABOUT MY POETRY I find writing poetry is somewhat like the way a stream flows down from the mountain to the sea, its course changed by every boulder it comes across, which never goes straight for a minute unless the terrain dictates otherwise. It follows one law, is always loyal to that law which, curiously, is no law. There is nothing for it to do but make the trip to the sea.-Ron Price with thanks to Alfred Kazin in Mark Twain, Harold Bloom, editor, Chelsea House, 1986, pp.132- 33. ______________________________________________________ 93
  94. 94. I have tried in my poetry to overcome the problem that Milton refers to in Paradise Lost. I spoke, I wrote poetry and other genres and, in the process, defined the who, the where, the cause. I trust that very little of my poetry verges on the incoherent,1 although I have had enough people in the last 15 years(1990-2005) either express the fact they did not understand what I wrote or they simply did not enjoy my poetry enough to bother commenting; perhaps they did not want to hurt my feelings by being honest.-Ron Price with thanks to John Redmond, “Review of Les Murray’s Subhuman Redneck Poems, Jacket, Vol.1, 1997. My self I then perused, and limb by limb Surveyed, and sometimes went, and sometimes ran With supple joints, and lively vigour led: But who I was, or where, or from what cause, Knew not; to speak I tried, and forthwith spake, My tongue obeyed and readily could name What e'er I saw. 94
  95. 95. - Milton, Paradise Lost, VIII, pp. 253-73 ______________________________________________________ Finally, before I include some of my poetry here, I would like to set its context in the framework of epic poetry and epic history, the epic story of the Baha’i Faith. EPIC JOURNEY/EPIC CONTEXT I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon acquired the initial inspiration and concept for the magnum opus of their lives: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Three years ago I began to think of writing my own epic poem and fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. The poetic work of my own life, my epic, I have come to see in terms of all the poetry I have written, the poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library and what I have entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs. 95
  96. 96. I have begun to see all of this poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print, or the Confucian Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and written over more than fifty years(1916 to 1968ca), are a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of my poetry. The conceptualization of my work as epic has come long after its beginnings. My poetry slowly defined itself as an epic after half a dozen years of intense and extensive writing and more than 30 years of occasional writing. I began to see my poetic opus as one immense poem. I like to think this poetry gives voice to the Baha’i culture I’ve inhabited all these years. I see my poetic epic as furnishing, among other things, a host of images. The images I provide are those which should be seen within the context of that famous definition of image that Pound wrote in 1913: "An 'image' is that which presents an intellectual 96
  97. 97. and emotional complex in an instant of time.”30 Understood in this way, image does not seem to be distinguished in any special way from a traditional understanding of it. Something very similar was stated by Poe in his explanation of poetic character found in writing: "A poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul.”31 To a large extent, this is so since the poetic character of human beings is universal and their poetic works seek, above all, to excite our emotions: "If we are moved by a poem, it has meant something, perhaps something important, to us; if we are not moved, then it is, as poetry, meaningless.”32 For many, if not most, my poetic epic will be to most people, in Eliot’s terms, meaningless. Pound was twenty-nine when he began to write his epic. I was fifty three when I began to see all my poetry, poetry I began writing at the age of thirty-six or, perhaps, as far back as eighteen, as part of 30 Ezra Pound, Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, editor, T.S. Eliot, Faber and Faber, London, 1954, p.4. 31 ibid., p.71. 32 T.S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets, Faber and Faber, London, 1957, p.30. 97
  98. 98. one immense epic. Pound was acutely conscious that the cultural, the historical tradition had broken down and he was searching for a new basis, “new laws of divine justice.”1 His task was to reassemble this tradition or, at least, search in history where not only the fall from innocence was located but also the locus for the process of redemption could be found. I, too, was aware of this breakdown. I, too, felt the need to reassemble history, not as Pound did, but rather to find truths which were perennial but not archaic within the broad framework of a new Revelation from God, a Revelation which defined and described the continuities and was Itself the basis for redemption. Written now, for the most part, over a little more than eight years(1992-2000), the epic I am writing covers a pioneering life of 39 years. It also covers much more. I have now sent 39 booklets to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of this pioneering venture. But the epic journey that is at the base of this poetic opus is not only a personal one of over forty years back to 98
  99. 99. the time I became a Baha’i, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah, which has 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 have their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences. Generally, the way my narrative imagination conceives of this epic is itself an attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life, as far as possible, to that of the religion to which I belong. I have sought and found, in recent years, a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference and of a certainty mixed with and defining itself by the presence of its polar opposite, doubt. 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 99
  100. 100. 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 of battle in their contemporary and historical manifestations. It involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause as it has expanded across the planet. 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, are found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information-giving lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in my inner life more than in its external story. In 100
  101. 101. some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. The Muses were the inspiration of artists. 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 poetic and artistic tradition of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leaven that leavens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.”(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 1956, p.161.) 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 101
  102. 102. life.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Source Unknown) Much could be said about inspiration but I shall leave the topic with the above brief analysis and comment. Mary Gibson says in Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians(Cornell U, 1995, p.96) 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 Baha'i Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its embryonic form in the last years of the second decade of this century, a form that would in time manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy. At the heart of my own epic is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from a belief in an embryonic World Order, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. Wallace 102
  103. 103. Stevens’ sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice”(Jay Parini, editor, the Columbia History of American Poetry, Columbia UP, NY, 1993, p.543) is also at the centre of my conceptual approach. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a didactic intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape is in no way predetermined. In many respects, this long poem is purely speculative philosophy, attempting to affirm a romantic wholeness on a fragmented world, something Walter Crane tried to do in the 1920s. This long poem, or seemingly endless series of poems, is an immense accumulation of fragments, like the world itself, but they are held together by a unifying vision. So, too, was Pound’s epic. 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 103
  104. 104. 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; the groups I have worked in and with have been small. My style, my 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.” Also, for Pound, was a new world order based on the poet’s own visionary experience. It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain old ground from the novelists. But, unlike Pound, I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future. The visionary experience that will guide world order is not mine, but that derived from the Central Figures of my Faith. Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman often merges himself with the reader. 104
  105. 105. 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. He can be looked at in two ways: there is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even to attempt, to represent an entire epoch, this private/public dichotomy is an important underlying feature of this epic poem (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, Harcourt, Brace and Co., NY, 1994, pp.447-78). I also like to think that, while this poetry has a focus on my own experience, this experience is part and parcel of the experience of my coreligionists around the world. In my poetic opus, my poetic epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the reader should sense a merging of reader and writer, 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 105