VOLUME ONE:
CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS
"The very texture of history....."
Abstract: Very few of my letters are on the internet...
of epistolary material was written during the dark heart of an age of
transition, as the Universal House of Justice charac...
emails received in the first two decades of email correspondence(1989-2009)
was beyond counting, but 99% of these emails w...
Note 3: Some of this section of my autobiography is found under “Personal
Letters” at the Baha’i Academics Resource Librar...
institutions of this Cause on the appointed and elected side of its
administrative structure; and the epistolary work of t...
At some future time, when the tempests we are living through in these early
decades and, perhaps, centuries of the Formati...
As the poet and philosopher Emerson once said: My tongue is prone to lose
the way; not so my pen, for in a letter we surel...
the end amount to an immense pile of stuff with absolutely no value or
purpose.
There is, too, some doubt, some questionab...
complex question of what constitutes a full life.(Frank Kermode, The Uses
of Error,Collins, London, 1990, p.253. Im sure t...
found their place in history(1944-2021), as the first streaks of a Promised
Dawn gradually were chasing away that darkness...
My letters surprise me. If earnestness and sincerity could give them
immortality they would be immortal; sadly in letter-w...
collection usually made after a writer's death and, if one adds
inarticulateness to the recipe, the salt may just lose all...
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1994), these volumes allow us direct access to her
private voice, and we can construct a vivid ...
philosophical and literary capacity to put into words. In some of my earliest
letters, letters to my first wife which we u...
a long letter I found was that I was able to express an idea, even mention the
Cause in some tangential fashion. In a shor...
The outline below of the categories for the collection of my letters has
existed for the last half-dozen years(2001-2007)-...
5. Volume 5: 1997-1999
6. Volume 6: 1999-2001
7. Volume 7: 2002-2003
8. Volume 8: 2003-2004
9. Volume 9: 2004-2005
10.Volu...
7. Hands of the Cause
8. Continental Board of Counsellors
9. BROs and RTCs
10.1 LSAs; 10.2 Auxiliary Board Members and 10....
VI.11 Other:
3. Bill Washington
4. Judy Hassall
5. Writing Articles for Magazines:1980s
6. Dialogue Magazine: Editor of Ar...
above, 99% of them were deleted. Virtually none of the communications
from the job world were kept, except for a few in tw...
have been examined in the original manuscript or typescript, in photocopy or
email;
2. published letters written or receiv...
The technicalities of presentation when complete are those of convention;
namely, (a) intrusions into the text are marked ...
only “the mere semblance of reality.” There is something about it that is
elusive, even vain and empty, like “a vapour in ...
chameleon-like quality for it is necessary that I reshape myself for each
correspondent. Each letter is a performance and ...
centuries ago, are those who never write and people we have only briefly
met. I would add to Hazlitt's analysis here that ...
insights they gain in readings, they will be inevitably partial and will have a
distinct tendency to crumble in a epistola...
whatever degree of imperfection and perfection I attained, were the fruit of
exercise and with the arrival of more leisure...
confined me. If complete answers are found they simply carry the seeds of
more questions. As the years went on, too, my th...
tedium and boredom. The past seems to elude the net of language as that
language gets caught up in minutiae, in the tediou...
Readers may find my letters something like the way that Carlyle found
Scott's letters. They are never without interest, he...
all of these contexts.1 But since the reality of man is his thought and what
endures, after life has completed its course,...
On the dust jacket of The Selected Letters of Marcel Proust: 1880 to 1903
the publishers, Doubleday and Company, have writ...
enthusiasm and eagerness in letters to friends and a variety of institutions.
Success in this life narrative that has been...
context of an interaction process that the letter goes along way to illustrate.
The following Latin expression contains so...
which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved
for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. ...
readers questions are going to be answered by reading the said letters.
Readers may only have partially formulated questio...
comparison one historical example from collections of letters, open a
window onto the real man, a man hidden behind his gr...
reaped no external reward. Also, as Susan Sontag noted parenthetically in
her preface to Letters: Summer 1926, the greates...
It happens, and especially in letter , that in things difficult there is danger
from ignorance and there are so many diffi...
which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which
form the dome of a temple, should be squared an...
In the hope of giving longevity to that which my own nature repels me,
forbids me, to desire, namely, the fame of my lette...
this wish, I look with pleasure on my collection, however defective, and
deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man ...
selection of letters from my spontaneous autobiography will become
available.
Here, then, is some of that essay.....As the...
were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no
fame, no significance in the general public eye...
tempest that had already begun in the lives of my parents and, arguably, my
grandparents.
If one tried to get a picture of...
I have, though, taken a very general interest in the collections of letters of
other writers to help provide useful perspe...
essentially superficial and, if not superficial, it is at least domestic and
practical and must deal with the minutiae of ...
book on its own, but I think from a Baha’i perspective the real me is best
found in thought and action guided by the behav...
side of the Cause will not be found here. The pivotal figures of these epochs
are virtually absent.
That is not to say tha...
original works, while the latter is a collection of previously published
articles on selected themes. International migrat...
yet; indeed, I would think for most people including the pioneers themselves
there would be very few collections of letter...
institutionalization of the charismatic Force, the routinization of that
charisma to use Webers term, in the Universal Hou...
What does occupy the Baháí often appears trifling. Such is the feeling I have
frequently had in relation to these letters....
significance, perhaps even the sense of letters being a small example of what
the Universal House of Justice called nobler...
be. As Clausewitz notes in his series of essays On War to be faithful in
action to the principles laid down for ourselves ...
James “of Emerson’s history.” There is certainly a texture here that is not
present in the other genres of my wide-ranging...
received was in 1990 or 1991, but I have kept few emails before the mid-to-
late 1990s when email traffic began to replace...
A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant
and contradictory clutter. Much of letter ...
education was peripatetic and that of an autodidact. What is here is spiritual
autobiography and psychological revelation ...
by amateurs. I certainly hope I escape the fate of Burgess, at least as it was
held in the hands of biographer Roger Lewis...
lost to society in the years of its disintegration in the previous century and
especially in recent decades, the decades o...
publicize and entertain millions but, unlike Socrates of old, they generally
have no commitment to community except in the...
literary sensibility had implications for my letter writing, but I will not go
into them here.
The media had many function...
Perhaps this is why so many events in my life, events that could be stories,
did not become stories. Baháí holy days, Feas...
though he has returned from a brief trip to the toilet or out of town for a few
hours, even though he may have been in the...
had been such a strong part of my life for half a century. I was more inclined
to think that this social disinclination wa...
pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to
correspondence. It was a handicraft, a tool am...
The drama of my life became largely an inner one as the 1990s came to an
end. The external battle, its pleasures and anxie...
These letters, it seems to me, stand in sharp contrast to what Frederic
Jameson refers to as the four losses that are symp...
with the United States Post Office, examples of epistolary fiction have been
published by the hundreds, among them the wor...
best, can do. They may be written from the Canadian wilderness, a private
school in Geneva, a concentration camp, or beyon...
The tangled root and the tranquil flower is here: cool detachment,
indifference, and an anguish of spirit.4 I leave it to ...
what became the third edition of my autobiography which I wrote later in the
twenty-first to twenty-fourth months of the F...
5 John Sutherland, Apocalypse Now, Guardian Unlimited Books, June 2003
Ron Price
17 February 2003
PS. The genre that Henry...
Keats, the nineteenth century poet, seems to be the most attractive of the
letter writers, at least for those like myself ...
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My Autobiography: Part 2

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A 2600 page, five volume narrative, a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai; poet of that half-century; 6600 prose-poems, 120 pages of personal interviews, 400 essays; 5000 letters, emails and interent posts; 300 notebooks, six volumes of diaries/journals, 12 volumes of photographs and memorabilia, a dozen attempts at a novel, indeed, an epic-opus of material has been integrated into an analysis of my religion, my times and my life. This variety of genres aims at embellishing and deepening my own experience and that of readers. Only a very small portion of this epic work is found here, a portion that readers can dip into anywhere.

This is Part 2 of my autobiography

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My Autobiography: Part 2

  1. 1. VOLUME ONE: CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS "The very texture of history....." Abstract: Very few of my letters are on the internet since they are either personal, private or professional and I prefer to keep them confidential until my passing from this mortal coil. I now have about 10,000 letters, emails and internet posts in 50 volumes. Notes: This collection of letters, what has become by degrees a voluminous epistolarium, comes from my Bahai life, 1959 to 2009, from my years as an adolescent and then as an adult, at the early, middle and late stages of that part of human development as the psychologists call them. Now, into the early years of the evening of my life, the early years of late adulthood, I post this reflection on a lifetime of writing letters within the context of my society, my Bahai life and especially my pioneering life. Although I have not been able to locate any letters before 1962, before my pioneering life began, the first letter I recall writing was in 1959, some 50 years ago, to a fellow Bahá’í-youth in Japan. In addition to the 4000 letters, there are 6000 emails and internet posts. I have not kept the internet posts. They are scattered throughout the world- wide-web and, in many cases, will be untraceable. Virtually this entire body 1
  2. 2. of epistolary material was written during the dark heart of an age of transition, as the Universal House of Justice characterized our time back in 1967. It is an age which was my life, perhaps the darkest in history but also, paradoxically, an age bright with promise. This collection of 10,000 items including, as I say, those hybrid forms of letter--the email and internet post--which emerged as a new millennium was opening are written by and to a homefront(1962-1971) and then an international pioneer(1971-2009). They are communications written to: a friend, a colleague, a fellow Bahai, a person or persons at one of 1000s of sites on the internet, a Bahai institution at the local, national or global level, one of a multitude of other organizations, a family member and some association or other. Readers will find here mainly general commentaries on my letters and letters as a genre, prose-poems on letters, mine and those of others in history and literature. Except for the occasional letter the body of my correspondence is not included here. Another 10,000 letters and assorted items of correspondence were written in connection with my employment from the mid-1960s to the early years of the new millenium, but virtually none of them were kept. The number of 2
  3. 3. emails received in the first two decades of email correspondence(1989-2009) was beyond counting, but 99% of these emails were deleted. The small number of emails that required a response in some detail were kept as were the responses and they were kept in my computer directory after August 2007. On my demise some or all of this collected correspondence may be published. Some of it may be kept in the national Bahá'í archices of Australia if they are interested. We shall see on both these counts. I shall not see for I shall have gone to the land of those who speak no more, as The Bab put it so succinctly. He might have added to the land of those who write no more. Those mysterious dispensations of Providence and my executors will determine what happens to this lifelong collection of attempts to connect with the minds and hearts of others by means of the traditional letter and its modern variants. Note 2: beginning in August 2007 all correspondence of significance was kept in my computer directory files; the only hard copies kept were an assortment of quasi-epistolary and literary material that did not seem to have a logical place in my computer directory. 3
  4. 4. Note 3: Some of this section of my autobiography is found under “Personal Letters” at the Baha’i Academics Resource Library. The description there is as follows: Letters of Ron Price: 1958-2008 Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section VII—Letters by Ron Price Editor:Bill Washington Published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study In Autobiography Section VII: Letters " The thousands of letters and thousands of hours that this homefront and international pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community has spent writing letters, emails and internet posts in the last fifty years, 1959-2009, I dedicate to the great letter writers in Bahai history. I dedicate these hours and these communications to the Central Figures of this Faith, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice--individuals and institutions that have produced a treasure house of correspondence. Then there are the many whose names are on Bahai lists but who have played little to no part in the Bahai community in their years of membership; as well as the not-so nameless and traceless, each of whom has their story and their varying degrees of writing and who, collectively, have written what I have little doubt are literally billions of letters, emails and written communications of an epistolary nature. To these I also dedicate my collection of letters. If I also include in my dedication, the massive quantities of correspondence that has been written by the 4
  5. 5. institutions of this Cause on the appointed and elected side of its administrative structure; and the epistolary work of the two chief precursors of this Faith, those two chief luminaries in the earliest history of this emerging world relgion, and those who also wrote letters in responding to the seeds these precursors sowed and were involved in different ways in the earliest days of the history of this new Faith as far back as the time that Shaykh Ahmad left his home in N.E. Arabia in 1770 to 1783(circa)---the letters of this multitude to whom I dedicate my own epistolary efforts might just reach to a distant star if they were laid side by side! Many, if not most, of the epistolary communications of this nearly two and a half centuries of Babi-Bahai history are now lost to historians and archivists. Saving letters is not a popular sport and, some would argue, neither is writing them. But, still, the epistolary paper trails of this newest of the worlds great religious systems spread back, as is obvious, to well before the French revolution in 1789 and these trails are significantly more than just a trace. No other religion has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange, writes Bahiyyih Nakhjvani in her book Asking Questions.(George Ronald, Oxford, 1990, p.6.) 5
  6. 6. At some future time, when the tempests we are living through in these early decades and, perhaps, centuries of the Formative Age of this Faith, an Age which began in Bahai history in 1921, are over and a relative calm has been produced in the affairs of men, historians, archivists, biographers and analysts of many a kind will possess a literary and epistolary base of a magnitude undreamt of in any previous age for an analysis of the times, the epochs of the first two centuries of this Bahai Era(B.E. beginning in 1844) and the century of its precursors, 1744-1844. My focus here is not on this wide and many-genred literary base, however, it is on the letter and, more recently, the email and internet postings of many kinds, kinds resembling the letter in many basic ways. Letters give us a direct and spontaneous portrait of the individual and they are also useful in providing an analytical resource for social and institutional analysis. I could include here, diaries and journals since they are letters, of a sort, letters to oneself, a book of thoughts to and by oneself. But these genres, too, are not my focus in this review of my letters and this form of communicaton that are part of the history of this Cause. 6
  7. 7. As the poet and philosopher Emerson once said: My tongue is prone to lose the way; not so my pen, for in a letter we surely put them better.(Emerson, Manuscripts and Poems: 1860-1869) This pioneer, in a period going back now fifty years, has often found that one way of doing something for another was: to write a letter, since the mid-1990s send an email and, since the late 1990s, post on the internet. Not endowed with mechanical skills and proficencies with wood and metal; not particularly interested in so many things in the popular culture like sport, gardening, cooking, heavy doses of much of the content in the print and electronic media; indeed, I could list many personal deficencies and areas of disinterest, I found the letter was one thing I could do and write and in the process, perhaps, document some of my sensory perceptions of the present age, perceptions that were relevant to the future of a religion whose very bones spoke of a golden age for humankind which was scarcely believeable, but was worth working for and was at the basis of my own philosophy of action in this earthly life. Hopefully my letters would evince some precision and, perhaps, for a future age they would be of value. I often wondered, though, how useful this interest, this skill, was in its apparent single-mindedness for it was not, as a I say, a popular sport! The exercise resulted, too, in a collection of many a dusty volume of paper which, as T.S. Eliot once put it with some emphasis, may in 7
  8. 8. the end amount to an immense pile of stuff with absolutely no value or purpose. There is, too, some doubt, some questionableness, as to whether anyones letters should be taken as a reliable guide to biography and still less to history. Letters often tell us more about postures that replace relationships than about the relationships themselves. Sharon Cameron points this out in her analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters in her book: Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre(Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1979, p.p.11-12). Some writers of letters spring to an intimacy in their correspondence that they do not possess in reality, in their day-to-day life. I am one of those now in my sixties, for I am not particularly keen on intimacy any more, at least outside of cyberspace. Life has given me decades of it and I have grown tired after the many years of conversation and the many degrees of intimacy that went with it. In letters I can spring to an intimacy and then forget it in a moment. Such was the experience and view of George Bernard Shaw, as voluminous a letter-writer as there ever was. Shaw once said: a full life has to be cleared out every day by the housemaid of forgetfulness or the air would become unbreathable. Shaw went on to add that an empty life is peopled with the absent and the imagined and the full life--well, I'll let you examine the life of Shaw and draw your own conclusions to this somewhat 8
  9. 9. complex question of what constitutes a full life.(Frank Kermode, The Uses of Error,Collins, London, 1990, p.253. Im sure this quite provocative thought of Shaws is partly true, especially in our age of radio, television and assorted media that did not exist in Shaws time when the letter was, arguably, one of the chief means of civilized discourse. No matter how carefully crafted and arranged a letter is, of course, it is harmless and valueless until it is activated by the decoding reader. This was a remark by one Robert McClure in another analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters(The Seductions of Emily Dickinson, p.61). I leave this introduction at BARL, the following commentary and whatever letters I have written that may be bequeathed to posterity to these future decoding readers. I wish them well and I wish them a perceptiveness in order to win, to attain, from the often grey, familiar and accustomed elements of the quotidian in these letters, any glow, flare and light in these 5000 pieces of writing, written at a time which may well prove to be the darkest hours in the history of civilization when a new Faith expanded slowly, imperceptibly in some ways and emerged from an obscurity in which it had long languished since its inception in the 19th century and its earliest historical precedents in the mid- to-late 18th century. Over these four epochs in which my own life and letters 9
  10. 10. found their place in history(1944-2021), as the first streaks of a Promised Dawn gradually were chasing away that darkness; and as this Cause slowly became a more familiar and respected feature on the international landscape, these letters became, for me, an example of my attempt, however inadequate, to proclaim and name and the message of Bahaullah. These letters illustrate, and are part of, the struggle, the setbacks, the discouragements over these same epochs and especially the years after the unique victory that the Cause won in 1963 which has consolidated itself(Century of Light, p.92) in further victories over more than four decades(1963-2007), the period when virtually all these letters were written. These various communications are also, from my point of view anyway, part of the succession of triumphs that the Cause has witnessed from its very inception. However exhausting and discouraging the process has often been--and it has often been--I can not fail to take deep satisfaction on a number of fronts: one of these fronts is these letters and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence that, for me if not for others, are revealed therein. 10
  11. 11. My letters surprise me. If earnestness and sincerity could give them immortality they would be immortal; sadly in letter-writing as in life earnestness and sincerity, however dogged and plodding, are rarely enough. If thirst for contact and intimacy could give them immortality they would be immortal. Sadly, again, thirst is not always present and intimacy is not always desired and even when they are present in letters, these qualities are never enough as a basis for the longevity or the popularity of a corpus of letters mixed as letters always are with a quotidian reality that is enough to bore most human beings to death. The boredom is sufficient to prevent nearly all readers from ever getting past a brief examination of the cover of a book of such letters on library shelves. If immortal they be, it will be due to their association with a Cause that is, I believe, immortal. These letters will possess a conferred immortality, conferred by association, as the Hebraic and the Greek traditions would have expressed it each in their own historic and cultural contexts. The American poet, Theodore Roethke, once said that an incoherent yet sincere piece of writing often outlives the polished product. I'm not sure how much this truth, if truth it be, applies to letters. Letters have enough of a problem surviving and even more of a problem ever being read in some fine 11
  12. 12. collection usually made after a writer's death and, if one adds inarticulateness to the recipe, the salt may just lose all of its savour. The letters will float unread on some literary bath-water, back-water. Letters, in some ways, possess the shapeless urges of the unconscious and try to catch the movement of the mind of the writer amidst a practically practical and a humanly human everydayness. They often remain, for most readers, just that: shapeless and beyond the mind and the interest of the general, the ordinary, reader. Often neither the recipient nor posterity take any interest in the individual product or the entire epistolary collection, as the case may be. Even when given a fine shape, as the letters of Queen Victoria have been given, they come over time to catch fewer and fewer peoples eyes. Still, her letters give ample testimony to her character, her everyday life and the times. One does not write a letter to increase ones popularity and if, as Eliot implies, one writes with one eye on the future, when that future arrives one will be pulling up the proverbial daisies. Words in Air(Faber 2008): The complete correspondence between two American poets, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, is a deep and abundant treasure-trove of letters. It is an unrivalled collection of letters for lovers of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. They will relish the advent of this bulky 800-pager. Added to her equally extensive collected letters, One Art 12
  13. 13. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1994), these volumes allow us direct access to her private voice, and we can construct a vivid sense of Bishop as a person, in all her benign and complex aspects. Perhaps the greatest tribute one can offer to such a wonderful letter writer as Bishop who outshines Lowell is that it makes us wish we had known her. The same is true of Keats, Byron, Sydney Smith, Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Dickens, Nancy Mitford and a select few others. These letters form the perfect accompaniment to one of the most precise, thoughtful and beautiful poetic oeuvres of modern times. Whether this will be true of my letters in relation to my poetry only time will tell and future readers in that future age. Inventivess and humour are two wonderful assets and, if they are possessed by a letter writer, the letter can come alive. The letters of the poet Roger White possessed these qualities and they had a narrative momentum without which his letters would have grown static and repetitive. Sadly, I have often felt that my letters expose the limits of my literary, my epistolary and certainly my humorous sensibility. My letters often grow limp, or so it seems to me, perhaps because I have often felt limp; or they become crowded with quasi-mystical, quasi-intellectual, abstractions as I have tried to deal with concepts that I only half understand and ideas far beyond my 13
  14. 14. philosophical and literary capacity to put into words. In some of my earliest letters, letters to my first wife which we used to call my love-letters, written in the early months of 1967, I fell back into an emulation of the Guardian's writings, hardly appropriate Judy and I often felt later, when we read them on a quiet Sunday afternoon, to express my feelings for her. Of course, the feelings they expressed were ideological and intellectual and not aesthetic and romantic. These letters were, in the end, thrown away. Sometimes, especially in the first three decades of my letter writing, say, 1957 to 1987, a letter will contain a certain inwardness and at other times I gamble with an intensity of emotional expression. And so, by the 1990s and the turn of the millennium, I had gradually, insensibly, found a voice, a balance, to put my emotions and thoughts into a form I was comfortable with. Although I had emerged from a literary milieux in my adolescence and young adulthood(1957-1971) confidence in my literary ability was slow in developing and did not really take on any solid form and shape until I was 28(1972) and living in Whyalla South Australia as an international pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community. Confidence, though, is no guarantee of the ability to connect with a reader or readers. I am sure some found my emails and letters far too long for their tastes and interests. One advantage of 14
  15. 15. a long letter I found was that I was able to express an idea, even mention the Cause in some tangential fashion. In a shorter letter this would not have been possible given the social and cultural climate in which I was writing. Occasionally, someone shocked me with their feedback, especially on the internet and I slowly learned to package my words in small doses on most of the sites on the WWW. Shock is often a useful antidote for some policy one is pursuing or some behaviour one is exhibiting in letter writing or in other areas of life. Letter writing is a little like gambling; you have to stake a great deal, everything it often seems, on one throw. Unlike gambling you often have no idea whether you won or lost. But this is often the case in relationships and in life: one cannot possibly evaluate what happens to our letters, to our acts, to our lives--or anyone elses--in terms of whether they will result in justice, harm or benefit--since their fruition, ultimately, is destined for another plane of existence. But, still, we do judge and we do evaluate, as I do here in this lengthy analysis at the Bahai Academic Resources Library Site. MASTER FILE TO MY COLLECTION OF LETTERS 15
  16. 16. The outline below of the categories for the collection of my letters has existed for the last half-dozen years(2001-2007)--since the official opening of the Arc Project on Mt. Carmel. This collection tends to get altered from time to time due to the changing nature of what is still a live body of work. Only the occasional letter is found here at the Bahai Academics Resource Library or on the internet in various places since these letters are either personal, professional or private. I prefer to keep this body of writing confidential until at least my passing. At the present time there are some 50 volumes under ten major Sections delineated below by roman numerals. Section III below contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards, postings, replies, inter alia. The headings, the categories, of the letters are as follows: I. Personal Correspondence: 1. Volume 1: 1957-1984 2. Volume 2: 1985-1988 3. Volume 3: 1989-1994 4. Volume 4: 1995-1996 16
  17. 17. 5. Volume 5: 1997-1999 6. Volume 6: 1999-2001 7. Volume 7: 2002-2003 8. Volume 8: 2003-2004 9. Volume 9: 2004-2005 10.Volume 10: 2005-2006 11.Volume 11: 2006-2007 12 Volume 12: 2007-indefinite II. Writing to/from Baha’i Institutions 1. Magazines/Journals 2. Individuals 3. Baháí World Centre 4. Universal House of Justice 5. International Teaching Centre 6. NSA of the Baha’is of Australia 17
  18. 18. 7. Hands of the Cause 8. Continental Board of Counsellors 9. BROs and RTCs 10.1 LSAs; 10.2 Auxiliary Board Members and 10.3 Assistants 11. National Committees of the NSA of the Bahais of Australia 12. NSA and National Committees of the Bahais of the United States III. Contacts with Publishers, Magazines and Journals Vol 3.1 to 3.11 Vol 3.12.1 to 3.12.16 Vol 3.13 to 3.17 IV. Communications with Canada: Vol 4.1 Vol 4.2 Vol 4.3 V. Roger White:1981-1992 Vols. 1 to 4 VI.1 Association of Bahai Studies 1. Association for Baha’i Studies: Australia 2. Association for Baha’i Studies: Canada Vols.1 and 2 18
  19. 19. VI.11 Other: 3. Bill Washington 4. Judy Hassall 5. Writing Articles for Magazines:1980s 6. Dialogue Magazine: Editor of Arts and Culture VII. 1. Baháí History in WA and the NT Vol. 1 to Vol.4 -Letters, Essays and Notes VIII Other Individuals: 1. Dennis MacEoin: Issues and Essays 2. Graham Hassall IX. Correspondence For Writing Novels/Essays 1. From 1987 to 1991 X Correspondence For Job Hunting 1. 1960 to 2007 XI. On-The-Job Correspondence 1. 1960 to 2007 Some 10,000(circa)letters were written in connection with job applications, job inquiries and on the job responsibilities: 1957-2007. An uncountable number of emails were received and sent since about 1987 but, as I say 19
  20. 20. above, 99% of them were deleted. Virtually none of the communications from the job world were kept, except for a few in two two-ring binders. Very few letters or items of literary memorabilia remain from the years 1953 to 1967. Even if ninety-nine-hundredths of the emails I received were sent to oblivion since 1987 a small but significant body of this hybrid type of letter was kept in the last two decades, 1987-2007. One day all of the introductions I wrote to each of the many volumes of my letters and emails, internet posts and replies and the several general statements I wrote concerning my letters may be included in a collected letters since half a century has been spent in my Bahai life and in the pioneering process writing letters. For this first edition of The Letters of Ron Price: 1957-2007 on BARL the above outline and comment on the overall layout and organization of my letters and emails that I have written and received and thrown away and deleted will suffice. There are three categories of my letters that one day may be found in the event of my demise and in the event that such a search is desired: 1. extant letters or fragments of letters that I have written or received, in public repositories or private collections including my own collection, that 20
  21. 21. have been examined in the original manuscript or typescript, in photocopy or email; 2. published letters written or received for which no extant originals have yet been located; and 3. unlocated letters for which varying types of evidence--photocopies, emails and complete or partial typed transcriptions have been located. The database of information for these three categories of letters, at this stage far from complete, aims to contain the following fields or information bases for each written and received item:(a) year and date, (b) addressee, (c)place and (d) original. It is hoped that the terms: manuscript, typescript, postcard, photocopy, typed copy, handwritten script, email or some combination of these terms (for instance typed copy of handwritten script) will accompany each item. Minimal descriptive information—fragment or mutilated—is provided parenthetically where relevant. 21
  22. 22. The technicalities of presentation when complete are those of convention; namely, (a) intrusions into the text are marked by square brackets; (b) spelling and punctuation is to be silently corrected; (c) some mannerisms are to be maintained; (d) dates are to be made uniform and (e) et cetera. I have provided below some analysis and some illustration, some context for whatever creativity is to be found by readers when and if this collection is ever published. Letters are always, it seems to me, exemplary illustrations of a writers creative capacity and the significance of his epistolary skills. I do not claim that my letters are masterpieces of the letter-writing art. If they disclose a personality that is well and good, but the world has millions of personalities now disclosed for the public eye, stories of individuals overcoming tribulation and achieving success. Another such story is not required. And I have no intention nor do I wish to make any claim to my life being a representative of that of an ideal Baha’i or a Baha’i pioneer. This is not an account of an exemplum. Claims to representativeness, it seems to me, are at best partial and at worst highly misleading to those who might glean some context for mentorship. I find there is something basically unstable or slippery about experience or, to put it in even stronger terms, in the words of Baha’u’llah, there is something about experience that bears 22
  23. 23. only “the mere semblance of reality.” There is something about it that is elusive, even vain and empty, like “a vapour in the desert.” There are so many exegetical and interpretive problems that accompany efforts to tie down the meaning of a life, of an experience, of a relationship. There is something divided, duplicitous, something that has happened but has yet to be defined and described or, as is usually the case, never described, at least not in writing, depending of course on the experience of the person and their literary skills. There are innumerable and indispensable points of reference in a life and yet so many of them take on the feeling of a mirage, as if they are not really there, like a dream, particularly as the years lengthen into later adulthood and old age. Some of the disclosure that takes place in a selection of letters can make the world better off, but this is not always the case and I certainly could not guarantee a positive result for my disclosures here. For most people, of course, the exercise, my disclosures, are totally irrelevant. If these letters disclose something of the Bahai Faith, some new perspective over these four epochs, I will feel that this amassing of correspondence has been worthwhile. These letters of mine are not so much examples of carefully crafted writing as they are of unstudied informality, spontaneous indiscretions and a certain cultivated civility. I like to think these letters possess a wonderful 23
  24. 24. chameleon-like quality for it is necessary that I reshape myself for each correspondent. Each letter is a performance and an impersonation. These letters contains many voices. On the occasions when I send out form letters, at Christmas and Ayyam-i-Ha, this diversity and variety is not achieved. For some respondents to my letters my reshaping is not appreciated or enjoyed, indeed, no response was forthcoming at all to many of my letters. As in the world of interpersonal interaction, of verbal exchange, so in the world of letters: not every communication is meaningful to both parties and, as in the world of the teacher that I was for years, not every comment of mine was returned. The next section of this somewhat long posting here at BARL comes from chapter 3 of my memoirs. Not all of chapter 3 is included here but enough to give a taste and a critique of the letter-writing process from the point of view of this Bahai who began his pioneering life 45 years ago in 1962 and who wrote his first letter to a Japanese Bahai youth in 1957. It seems to me that those who read these letters one day, if they ever do, will have difficulty grasping the nature of my personality inspite of, or perhaps because of, the extensive literary base I have provided. The only impeccable writers and the only personalities we feel we understand, William Hazlitt noted nearly two 24
  25. 25. centuries ago, are those who never write and people we have only briefly met. I would add to Hazlitt's analysis here that we often feel we understand a personality, but it is always in part. Getting to know people is a bit of a mystery at the best of times whether they are beside you on a bus, a train, a kitchen table or a bed. One is always adjusting ones mask for correspondents and, in the process, one creates a series of self-portraits, a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal. The quality and maturity of my relationship with others is, as William Hatcher pointed out 25 years ago, the best measure of spiritual progress and growth, acquiring the capacity for such mature relationships depends essentially on an intense inner life and self- development. The letter is a reflection of this inner life but, in the end, it is but a reflection of a spirituality which lies at the centre of ones heart and soul.(William Hatcher, The Concept of Spirituality, Bahai Studies, Vol.11, 1982, p.25.) I assume that human personality is essentially unknowable, that it is the revelation of a masquerade in a stage play--for all the worlds a stage. This is not to say that there are not some aspects of life that are revealed through letters, but readers must keep in mind that they are dealing with fragmentary, often ambiguous and decidedly opaque material over which they will be unable to wield any kind of imperial authority and comprehension. Whatever 25
  26. 26. insights they gain in readings, they will be inevitably partial and will have a distinct tendency to crumble in a epistolary world that is often obtuse, dull and vulnerable from the onslaught of the quotidian. Collections of letters are not the most favorite fare in the popular periodical press, journalistic studies and at book launches. They exist, letters that is, in a somewhat secret, fenced off area of privacy, an island of subjectivity, where even the external world is experienced as an inner world. This, the sociologist Georg Simmel once said, is the essence of modernity. Readers will find, too, that however much a letter reveals the springs of action, there exists a nice and secret world to which he or she is never privy. Oftentimes neither is the writer aware of his motivational matrix, for mystery abounds in our worlds. The writer, namely myself in this case, turns his letter like a historical microscope with some sensitivity and with some attention to minute causality, but it is a causality he never fully grasps and a sensitivity he only attains to partially. The road these letters describe I'm not sure I would ever have entered either the road of the letters or the road of the analysis, if I had known of its length when I wrote that first letter fifty years ago. Performance struggles with ideal when one writes and when one lives. That is the name of the game. My choice and my command of language, to 26
  27. 27. whatever degree of imperfection and perfection I attained, were the fruit of exercise and with the arrival of more leisure in my mid-fifties that exercise was able to find much fuller expression. Some of the facts of my past, my religion and my society are presented in these letters in a language that is rich in a type of coherence and a type of embedded comment. I like to think that the cumulative effect of this comment is to predispose readers in favour of a particular interpretation of reality and the world. But my more skeptical self is more inclined to the view that a collection of letters is not likely to change the world view of readers no matter how open and receptive they may be. The stubborn testimony of unexceptionable facts, the facts of my life, gradually bring me to the bar of history and the sober discretion that I trust these same facts embody are a statement about my present age and hour. At the bar there is no final verdict only a series of temporary assessments and the discretion results in no final judgement. These letters present a divergent and unfocused, an unconnected and bewildering mass of material. The collection is just too immense, the expression too forcible, the factual matter too inescapable for my intellect or the readers to close down any questions with definitiveness, decisiveness and precision--with answers. Rather, it seems to me, these letters open questions up and enlarge what is and was a narrow circle in which nature has 27
  28. 28. confined me. If complete answers are found they simply carry the seeds of more questions. As the years went on, too, my thoughts became more complicated and, although my perspective could be said to remain the same, it was within such a different context that my letters came to be written. From the late fifties and early 1960s, to the years as they passed over the decades, my letters might as well have been written by a different person. The questions I dealt with changed from decade to decade, person to person and my inclusion of the responses to my letters provides a thorough contextualization not so much to my influence, an entity which is difficult to measure at best and at worst quite irrelevant to my reasons for including them, but to the letters themselves and the backdrop they provide to a period over several epochs of various urgent and interlocking challenges, painstaking and frustrating individual and community work. Writing often draws attention to itself. This is especially true of letters where attention often does not pass through to the subject but gets stuck on the personality of the writer. For ours is an age, par excellence, of the celebrity. The awkward and tangled reality of the past, though, is displayed for all to see from my perspective in these letters. The surface of my past gazes out upon history, from my letters with all their quotidian dryness, everydayness, 28
  29. 29. tedium and boredom. The past seems to elude the net of language as that language gets caught up in minutiae, in the tedious and the toilsome. And anything called certainty is endlessly deferred, although there are pockets of certainty enough to go on and give us a feeling that the sky will not fall down. At least not in my time. I think there is little doubt that these four epochs are the scene for the greatest and most awful period in the history of humankind. Gibbon once said this of Rome in the 2nd century AD. My account here of the immensity and wonder of this period is an account from a quite personal and limited perspective. It is an account, too, which renders my version of a vision and my interpretation of a plot and script that derives from two god-men in the 19th century. My letters are pregnant with delightful observations that are as deep and as shallow as the person I am and they are pregnant as well with the most trivial images and thoughts as watery and limpid as amniotic fluid. For my letters, like the letters of most others, contain what is often called telephone talk, talk which nullifies serious artistic or psychological exchange, talk about life's simplicities, talk about life's conventionalities like the weather and the events of daily life. 29
  30. 30. Readers may find my letters something like the way that Carlyle found Scott's letters. They are never without interest, he pointed out, yet they are seldom or never very interesting. Id like to think that my letters might impart something of my soul, my joys and anxieties, and something that may engage the sympathies and pleasures of those who happen upon them in their journey. In an age in which communication has become more audible, with animated and electronic emails and sound systems improving in quality decade by decade, it seems that communication has also become more, or at least often, ephemeral; with billions of emails biting the electronic dust each week, if not each day, I offer this collection of letters as one mans record of his age. PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS VOLUME ONE: CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS The very texture of history..... Perception, reflection and social interaction are at least three of the many psychologically diverse contexts in which the word self appears in our everyday discourse. Autobiography is an important part of the narration of this self and this autobiography, like all autobiographies, finds its home in 30
  31. 31. all of these contexts.1 But since the reality of man is his thought and what endures, after life has completed its course, is the soul, it is hardly surprising that there is a curious intangibility,2 an inherently spiritual abstraction, associated with defining, with expressing, who we are. And it is hardly surprising that this work of mine, this autobiography, contains a great deal that is better described as thought and not so much that one could describe as action. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jens Brockmeier and Donald Carbaugh, editors, Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography: Self and Culture, John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001; and 2Hannah Arendt in Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Adriana Cavarero, Routledge, NY,2000, p.ix. Although there is this curious intangibility that makes up any attempt to describe who we are, men’s beliefs in the sphere of human conduct are part of their conception of themselves and are intrinsic to their picture of the world. Both these beliefs and this conduct can be found expressed again and again in my letters.-Ron Price with thanks to Isaiah Berlin quoted by Robert Matuozzi, “When Bad Things Happen to Other People,” Philosophy & Literature, Vol.25,No.1, 2001, pp. 173-177. 31
  32. 32. On the dust jacket of The Selected Letters of Marcel Proust: 1880 to 1903 the publishers, Doubleday and Company, have written “letters are the strongest indicators of personality, perhaps the purest form of autobiography. We look at them as a means of knowing the author as a human being, of gaining perspectives on his life and work and, perhaps, divining the secret foundation of his creativity.” I think there is some truth in this remark. There is also, from my own experience, some truth in the sentiments of Thomas Wolfe who is quoted by Elizabeth Nowell in her introduction to the Selected Letters of Thomas Wolfe “a writer writes a letter in order to forget it.” Once down on paper, I find, the emotion or experience loses its compulsive force and can be stored away and forgotten. I have stored away some 5000 letters in over fifty volumes. Since beginning to collect these letters in 1967(with some retrospective findings and recollections going back to 1957) I have come to see them as an autobiographical tool. I leave it to readers to assess just where this autobiography is strongest and where it is weakest, where it is useful and where it is irrelevant. This is difficult for me to assess. If this autobiography works for readers, it will not be because I have filled it with facts, with details, with the minutiae of life documented with great 32
  33. 33. enthusiasm and eagerness in letters to friends and a variety of institutions. Success in this life narrative that has been going down on paper over many a year will be due to its basis, its centeredness, in ideas, the quality of the writing and this narratives connection with an emerging world Faith. If it becomes a success, at least in the short terms, at least in the next, say, several decades, as I have indicated before, in all likelihood that success will still be one that resonates with only a few people. But whether it resonates with many or a few, I believe, as Gilroy and Verhoeven argue, these letters are marked by and sent to the world. They counter, too, tendencies to flatten out the uniqueness of the individual in some falsely understood egalitarianism or sense of human equality. The Bahai teachings make clear that equality is a chimera. Our uniqueness as individuals derives from our constitutive relation with others, from our living in community, indeed, a number of factors. The epistolary form was long associated in the western tradition with the feminine and the history of female subjection. As far back as Cicero in the first century BC, it was associated with everyday speech. Here in this autobiography my letters function as a crucial form of communication in the teaching and consolidation work of a pioneer. Indeed, one could say that my story, the narratability of my life, my very uniqueness, arises within the 33
  34. 34. context of an interaction process that the letter goes along way to illustrate. The following Latin expression contains some truth: vox audita perit littera scripta manet--The voice heard vanishes, the letter written remains. The dynamics of epistolary writing have been much studied in recent years. Analysts who read and study letters see them as something more than simple documents of a particular time and place. They, or at least some, see the letters as text that are only partly susceptible to explication or decipherability. Such documents bear a different relation to the world for a future reader than for the writer at the point when the letter was originally written. In some ways this is only stating the obvious. The act of reading a collection of published letters is inevitably shaped by a series of decisions made by both the letter-writers themselves and the readers. Letters are often exchanged, perhaps for years, usually without either participant considering them as an exercise leading to publication. There are at least two people I wrote to over more than ten years and a sub-collection of these letters would fill a sizeable book but, when they were written it was for the immediate purpose at hand not with the view to being read at some future time. T.S. Eliot puts this process well: The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don't want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but 34
  35. 35. which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. (T.S. Eliot, English Poets As Letters Writers, From a lecture given in 1933 at Yale University) Certainly the extensive collection of my letters sent and received to these two individuals might take a future reader into the hearts and minds of three people at a unique, a significant, time in history and shed light on the period in question in ways that other genres of writing cannot and will not do. This sub-collection could be said to be (a) a dramatization of the appreciation of one man for the poetry of the most significant poet of the epochs under review and (b) the effort of one Bahai to explore his Faith en passant, indirectly, to a friend, colleague and fellow retiree. These two interlocutors are not so much possessed of a literary calibre superior to others I wrote to, although in most cases that was true, but the correspondence went on for many years, more years than that of others. Eliot goes on:We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written. There are several components in what we could call this selective and personal epistolary machine: the act of writing, the act of reading and the world of interpretation. To focus on reading is to bring to light the complexity of the communication process, to recall that not all of a 35
  36. 36. readers questions are going to be answered by reading the said letters. Readers may only have partially formulated questions in their minds or, perhaps, they may not even understand their own questions. Any message, including a letter, encounters a scrambling process upon entering the readers zone of associations and responses. I wish readers well dealing with the inevitabilities of scrambling which they will have to deal with in my letters. There is a conceptual intersection in each letter between reader, writer and world. And it is a busy intersection. And the discourse that takes place at these intersections possesses a paradoxical entwinement of minds and words. This is true of snail-mail or fiber-optic-borne email. Like the view at a busy intersection, much of what is seen is predictable while at the same time the specific details are to a large extent unknown or seen so differently by each spectator. A recent essay that I wrote introducing a volume of letters gathered in the first years of my retirement will serve to illustrate many of the things Id like to say about this overall collection of letters. They were letters written just before and just after the completion of the Arc Project in 2001. I think, as Emerson wrote, that letters often put things better than verbal communication and provide perspectives that are timely here in this ongoing autobiographical statement. The letters of James Boswell, to chose for 36
  37. 37. comparison one historical example from collections of letters, open a window onto the real man, a man hidden behind his great biography, his biography of Samuel Johnson. Of course, one must be sensitive, too, to epistolary disguise, posing, theatrical attentiveness to the social presentation of self, concern for appearances, standardization of responses and what might be called mannerisms in letter writing. As in life, there are many selves which write letters, many social conventions, courtesies, honesties, et cetera. and there are many worlds about which a writer writes. It is the fate of those who toil at many of life's employments, particularly the more introspective arts of which letter writing is one, to be driven more by the fear of evil, sin, personal inadequacy, regret and remorse, the sense of disappointment and the many discouraging aspects of life, than they are attracted by the prospect of good, of virtue, of praise or of victory, of giving pleasure and peace to readers. Many of the scribblers on the journey of life, ones I have met and ones I have not, are often exposed more to censure, with little hope of praise. They feel the disgrace of their miscarriages, the insufficiency of their language and the punishments they might receive or have received for their neglect of duty, principle or person. Their success, if any, has often been, if not usually, without applause and their diligence has 37
  38. 38. reaped no external reward. Also, as Susan Sontag noted parenthetically in her preface to Letters: Summer 1926, the greatest writers invariably demand too much of, and are failed by, readers. It would be pretentious for me to claim to be a great writer, but I have been aware of the implicit and explicit demands I may make on readers and of the importance of keeping my expectations low. I have tried for many a year to put these principles into practice for Sontag is right. Among these unhappy mortals is the writers of letters. Humankind seems to consider them like pioneers of literature doomed to work in societys private spaces with their home in little mailboxes and, more recently, in optic space. Every other author aspires to publication and praise. Letter writers, while they may enjoy a certain wild exuberance, must resign themselves to the tyranny of time and fashion--and the mind of one or, at the most, several readers. Each letter has no hope of a mass audience. There on the page they must disentangle perplexity and regulate life's confusion for themselves and their lone readers. They must make choice out of boundless variety and do it without any established principle of selection. They must detect adulterations without a settled test for purity. 38
  39. 39. It happens, and especially in letter , that in things difficult there is danger from ignorance and there are so many difficult and complex things in life. In things easy there is danger from confidence and there are many an aspect of life that is easy and hardly requires any thought. The mind, afraid of greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily brushes over the more important aspects of life and/or dwells far too little on the everyday. It withdraws itself from painful epistolary dialogue and from the search required and so passes with scornful rapidity over tasks not adequate to its powers. Sometimes it feels too secure to exercise caution or too anxious for vigorous effort. It is afflicted by a literary idleness on plain and simple paths; and is often distracted in the labyrinths of life and interpersonal exchange. Dissipation stalks his literary intentions as words roll off his pallet onto the page. Readers may wonder what these phrases I have just written have to do with the art of writing letters. I leave you to ponder. In an age when little letter writing goes on, I'm not sure how much meaning readers need to find here in these complex epistolary ideas. A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labour, in the proportion only 39
  40. 40. which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas, and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combinations of words. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the fields of speculation, it will shift opinions. If any custom is disused, especially the literary, the words that express that custom often perish with inactivity. As any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice. Since I retired from full time work in 1999 my mind has been unchained but, as yet, my opinions are not popular. They are, though, growing in the public place at a faster pace than ever. I leave it to readers to assess the junction, the intersection, between my letters and the pace of change in society on the subjects that occupy both me and that wider milieux. By 1999 my life had become more speculative than active, more literary, than people centred with its endless listening and talking. This shift in my literary and daily avocation is strongly reflected in the quantity and content of my letters and coalesced in my first extensive publications on the internet. 40
  41. 41. In the hope of giving longevity to that which my own nature repels me, forbids me, to desire, namely, the fame of my letters and my immortality through them, I have devoted this collection of letters, the labour of years, to the honour of my religion and as a testimony to one of my life's achievements. There is a glory to life from its arts and its letters. Whether I shall add anything of my own writings to these arts and letters, to English literature, must be left to time. Much of my life has been lost under the pressures of illness, lack of direction, a certain frivolity, jobs that were fill- ins, conversations that seemed to go nowhere, activities that functioned largely to fill in time, the desire to be entertained regularly and daily, inter alia. Much of my days have been trifled away. Much time each day has been spent in provision, in functioning, for the tasks of the day that was passing over me, doing what was in front of my nose. I have not thought my daily labour wasted; I have not thought my employment useless or ignoble. If, by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages might gain access to the propagators of knowledge and understand the teachers of truth, or if my labours might afford light to some of the multitude of the repositories of learning, then my employment will be more worthwhile than any contemporary achievement. For vision and a sense of the future inspires so much that I do. When I have been animated by 41
  42. 42. this wish, I look with pleasure on my collection, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. Useful diligence in the microcosm of letter writing may in the end prevail.- Ron Price with thanks to Samuel Johnson, Preface to the Dictionary From Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1755, Edited by Jack Lynch. I wrote the essay which follows as part of the second edition of this autobiographical work, a second edition I worked on from 1993 to 2003. It was one of my essays that was, in that process of ten years in the evolution of this autobiography, simply gathered into an appendix and not integrated into the body of that edition. In the third edition I achieved a better integration of material, of my autobiographical resources. My imaginative function became more fertile in the third edition. As the poet Wallace Stevens writes, referring to imagination: I am the necessary angel of earth/Since, in my sight, you see the world again, I am seeing the world again with greater vividness than I once did. Robert Graves, a prolific letter writer, saw his letters as a sort of spontaneous autobiography and his poems as his spiritual autobiography. I like the distinction. Perhaps, one day, a 42
  43. 43. selection of letters from my spontaneous autobiography will become available. Here, then, is some of that essay.....As the 38th, 39th and 40th years of pioneering took their course in the first years of my retirement, 1999 to 2002, I wrote some of the following about the letter-writing experience.... Across the line of time I thought I would try to make a brief summary of this letter writing experience, an experience which goes back to the first letter I received from the international pioneer Cliff Huxtable in St. Helena in 1967. Cliffs wife Cathy had just died at the age of thirty-five. Cliff is still in St. Helena thirty-five years later. He has remarried. He never wrote again. I replied but I did not keep a copy of the letter; indeed I kept few of my personal letters until about 1982, twenty years into the pioneering venture. As I have pointed out on previous occasions I wrote and received letters going back as far as about 1962 when this pioneering journey began; before this back to the age of 13 in 1957 as a Bahai youth and junior-youth as the period before 15 is now called a few letters were written. But I have not kept the letters from the earlier period before 1967, except a rare item of the species. There were many letters after 1967, at least up to about 1980, which 43
  44. 44. were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no fame, no significance in the general public eye, it is unlikely that many, if any, letters are being kept privately by their recipients. The most assiduous search will, in all likelihood, not come up with the discovery of any epistolary manuscripts. I find it interesting and more than coincidental that virtually the entire corpus of my letters comes from a period that began with what the Universal House of Justice in 1967 called ‘the dark heart of the age of transition.’ Even the letters before 1967 which were not kept come from a period that the Guardian described in 1957 as one hovering on the brink of self-destruction. Such was the widest context for that first letter to Hiroshi Kamatu in Japan in 1957. By those dates, from 1957 to 1967, “a mood of cultural crisis: a sense that something had gone terribly wrong in the modern world, something that we could neither assimilate nor put right,” had entered our psyches. One writer called our society a post-traumatic culture. Indeed there have been, since the fifties and sixties, a host of characterizations of the shift, the crisis, of these days. It was in many ways an insensible process without a beginning date, but it was like a tempest which blew and blew decade after decade, a 44
  45. 45. tempest that had already begun in the lives of my parents and, arguably, my grandparents. If one tried to get a picture of the hey-day of my letter writing I think it would be in the 1980s when I lived, first in Zeehan on the west coast of Tasmania, and then in the north of Australia, north of Capricorn, although in the early years of the new millennium, after my retirement, there was a new lease on letter-writing life in the form of emails. I do not have any interest in going through this collection of letters that I wrote north of Capricorn or, indeed, from the full period 1957 to 2002, now in over 50 2-ring binders and arch-lever files. Perhaps a future day will see me making some minute analysis of the extent and the content of these letters. Perhaps, should their potential value become more evident to me, I shall take a more serious interest in them. Thusfar I have made only the occasional annotation to these letters. As the first editor of this collection, I have given them order and shape; I have set them in context, but I have made no attempt to correct their errors, to improve their expression or comment on their individuality: whom I wrote to, why I wrote and under what circumstances. 45
  46. 46. I have, though, taken a very general interest in the collections of letters of other writers to help provide useful perspectives on my own collection. I have opened a file of introductions to collections of letters obtained from books of the letters of famous writers and have kept additional notes on the genre because I think in the years ahead I may write a history drawing on letters, mine and those of other Baháís in the world during these four epochs. The analysis of the letters of other writers also helps me enrich and understand the context of my own pieces. These letters are like arrows from the same quiver. I send them just as high and far as I can. In my journal it is the same. Perhaps these letters and my journal are simply the product of a peculiar self-centredness. Their appeal I’m sure will not be due to my wit, my humour, the adventurousness or the romance of this narrative, but rather( if there is to be any appeal at all) to the ordinariness of the content and, most importantly and as I have indicated before, their association with this new global Cause. Their appeal for me, for me as the writer, is the sense of surprise. V.S. Naipaul said the same thing in his nobel prize lecture given in 2001. Some of that surprise comes from the fact, says Naipaul, that the self that writes is not the everyday self. They are very different. The everyday self is 46
  47. 47. essentially superficial and, if not superficial, it is at least domestic and practical and must deal with the minutiae of life just to get from one day to another in one piece: fed, housed and clothed-and hopefully loved. I’m not so sure about this characterization of the double self, but that sense of surprise I find on every page I write and this surprise certainly possesses an appeal. It helps to keep me going, keep me writing. “The secretion of ones innermost life, written in solitude and for oneself alone, that one gives to the public,” writes Naipaul. “What one bestows on private life—in conversation, however refined it may be—is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world. While I’m not sure this is entirely true, it certainly is in part. Maugham puts this idea a little differently. I had an impression, this is Maughams summing up of the writer Thomas Hardy, that the real man, to his death unknown and lonely, was a wraith that went a silent way unseen between the writer of his books and the man who led his life, and smiled with ironical detachment at the two puppets. Somewhere in all of this lies the real writer, the real me. Is this real me to be found in the id, the unconscious, the reflexes, the hormones, in a socialization process, the roles of a protean man, in feeling good? This complex question really requires a 47
  48. 48. book on its own, but I think from a Baha’i perspective the real me is best found in thought and action guided by the behavioural principles of this Cause to put the case as succinctly as I can. This is not a collection of letters of a famous person or to famous people, like the collections of letters of Einstein to President Roosevelt, or the collection of Jane Austen's letters or those of, say, one of the Presidents, Prime Ministers or other prominent members of the community. My collection has no curiosity value like the letters to Santa Claus or to lovers or to mothers or from children, suicide victims or entertainers to an assortment of people. Whatever significance this collection has is tied-up with the emergence of a new world Order and a new religion and whatever future that religion may have. These letters bear the traces of contemporary historical practices, literary styles and tastes and they are surrounded by what could be called the envelope of contingency. In this sense they are communications to and with the world, with society, however personal and private they may appear to the casual observer. There are few communications with famous people either in the Bahai world or out. Outstanding thinkers, artists, political figures, scientists or significant Bahais on the elected or appointed 48
  49. 49. side of the Cause will not be found here. The pivotal figures of these epochs are virtually absent. That is not to say that fascinating personalities are not present, that individuals with great charm are not found among the pages, that devotion and faith, patience and understanding are not here. There is a storehouse of humanity, a kalaidescope of personalities, here that I met on my journey. There was a certain excitement which I found pleasant but transitory and, as I look back over it, not something I would want to repeat or make permanent. There is something tumultuous about existence and these letters reflect that quality. This tumultuous quality is due to many causes that are not my purpose to describe here. Even the most intimate of relationships contains a trace of strangeness and, inevitably, this is reflected in letters. These letters are, for me at least, part of a potential global epistolary collection, part of the literary expression of a global diaspora, a national and an international pioneering movement, that was only in its second generation when I got into the field in the 1960s. The recent eighteen-volume series on global diasporas and the six volume work of the International Library of Studies of Migration, will, in all likelihood, have no mention of the Baháí diaspora when they are completed. The former is or will be made up of 49
  50. 50. original works, while the latter is a collection of previously published articles on selected themes. International migration and diasporas have come to constitute distinctive fields of inquiry and there is considerable overlap between them. The study of international migration is broader in scope and partially subsumes diaspora studies. Diasporas arise from international migration. Constant interaction between diasporic communities in dozens of sovereign states and with various homelands is one of the defining features of this international migration. After nearly seven decades of international pioneering as part of an international teaching Plan, this interaction and these many diasporas seem to me, in many ways, to have just been initiated and only briefly been given any academic study. The major events of this pioneering venture, the various processes concerning its growth and development, and aspects of the diasporic life of, say, Baháís from North America in Australia would necessarily interest only a small body of people at this stage of that groups history. Indeed, at this early stage, however massive the exercise involved, and the global pioneering venture is indeed a massive one, the significance of collections of letters is hardly appreciated as 50
  51. 51. yet; indeed, I would think for most people including the pioneers themselves there would be very few collections of letters extant. What are termed Baháí studies or international Baháí pioneering studies will one day, though, I am confident, be a part of an extensive study of the great Baháí international diaspora of the last sixty-seven years(1937-2004), a full two-thirds of the first century of the Formative Age. So I am inclined to think, anyway. These letters are part of what is, in fact, a grand narrative. Specific letters relevant to the history of the Cause in the Northern Territory(NT) I kept for two decades(1982-2002) in special files as resource material to help me write the Baháí history of that region. I have now given them to the Regional Baháí Council for the Northern Territory. Much more collecting of letters written by Baháís in the NT could be done by history writers and archivists with greater enthusiasms than I now possess and I hope some day such an exercise will be accomplished. In the disintegration of society that is part of the essential backdrop to these letters and the contrasting integration, the generation that took part in the pioneering venture of the years 1962 to 1987, marks the first years of the tenth and final stage of history. It is a stage coextensive with a crucial stage in the 51
  52. 52. institutionalization of the charismatic Force, the routinization of that charisma to use Webers term, in the Universal House of Justice. If these letters appear to indicate an aloofness from the controversies of the day, from the endless issues that occupied the front pages of the newspapers and the images and sounds from the electronic media; if they refrain year after year from any association by word or deed with the political pursuits of the various nations of the world, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programmes of parties and factions, it is because this is the advice, the position, taken by the leaders of my Faith following principles and practices laid down by the Founders and leaders of this Faith beginning in the 1840s. I, too, following these considered views, have tried to further the aims of what is to me a beloved Cause and to steer a course amid the snares and pitfalls of a troubled age by steering clear of partisan-political subjects. Many writers do the same. They steer clear of politics and go in for sex, religion, humour, theology, inter alia, in their writing. They belong to no lit crit school, have no followers and simply cannot be easily labelled politically. 52
  53. 53. What does occupy the Baháí often appears trifling. Such is the feeling I have frequently had in relation to these letters. The words of Thomas Henry Huxley, the nineteenth century biologist and educator, I find encouraging. He opened his autobiography with a quotation from a letter from a Bishop Butler, a bishop of the episcopal seat of Aukland, to the Duchess of Somerset. The bishop wrote: And when I consider, in one view, the many things . . . which I have upon my hands, I feel the burlesque of being employed in this manner at my time of life. But, in another view, and taking in all circumstances, these things, as trifling as they may appear, no less than things of greater importance, seem to be put upon me to do. As archaic, as anachronistic, as the style of the good bishops words may be, the point for me is important, namely, that Huxley saw his autobiography, even the humble letter, as something put on him to do, by the interpositions of a watchful Providence, the eye of a necessary Fate or the simple needs of circumstance, however trifling it appeared to be. I am reminded, in this context, of the words of Roger White from A Sudden Music. White says that the highest service a Baháí can often render is to simply do the thing under his nose that needed doing. For me, writing letters was often this thing. And so it was, that over time, as the years went on, what was once seen as a trifling exercise took on a patina of gentle 53
  54. 54. significance, perhaps even the sense of letters being a small example of what the Universal House of Justice called nobler, ampler manifestations of human achievement in their discussion of the subject of freedom of thought. If I was not a good cook, a good gardener, a good mechanic, a good painter, indeed, if I did not operate successfully in so many areas of life, as indeed most of us can say about so many domains of activity, I could at least write a letter and do it well, at least such was my personal view. Perhaps, like one of the greatest letter writers of all time, Voltaire, I would do most of my best and significant work in the years ahead. He did his best writing from the age of 64 to 84. I’ve always appreciated the words of Evelyn Waugh in terms of this particular capacity to write letters. Beware of writing to me,” he once said, “I always answer.” He referred to his letter writing habit as “an inherited weakness,” part of his “great boringness.” It was partly due, he said, to “never going out or telephoning.” Like Thoreau my life showed a devotion to principle, but by the time I was sixty I was only too conscious of just how far my life had been from the practical application of that principle. I have little doubt that were many more individuals, more sincere and more genuine in their devotion to that same principle or principles, than I have or would 54
  55. 55. be. As Clausewitz notes in his series of essays On War to be faithful in action to the principles laid down for ourselves this is our entire difficulty. The many things to which the Duchess’s correspondent here refers are the repairs and improvements of his episcopal seat at Auckland. I doubt if Huxley, the first great apologist of Darwinian evolution, this largely self- educated man, one of Englands founders of primary schools for all, this father of eight children, this coiner of the term agnostic, saw himself as an instrument of the deity. But, like the good Bishop Butler, I'm sure he felt he had things of great importance to do and that they had been put upon him. Even the humble letter. Virginia Woolf wrote that it was not until the nineteenth century that self-consciousness had developed so far that it was the habit of men to describe their minds when they wrote their letters and their autobiographies. I write in this new tradition, although I am conscious, as Woolf puts it plainly, of the worlds notorious indifference. And it may be many years, if ever, before this collection of letters has any interest to even a coterie of people. Letter writing has occasionally been a routine, perfunctory, exercise; occasionally a joy, a pleasure, a delight; occasionally part of some job or community responsibility. “Letters were the very texture” wrote Henry 55
  56. 56. James “of Emerson’s history.” There is certainly a texture here that is not present in the other genres of my wide-ranging autobiography. Some letter- writers are janus-faced and some, like Truman Capote, the author of Capote’s letters in Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote are three-faced. There was the face for gay friends, the face for non-gay friends, and the face for the friends he made in Kansas while writing In Cold Blood. I think I have a multiple-faced letter writing persona: one for Baha’is of a conservative type, one for a more liberal orientation, one for those who are Baha’i in name only, one for youthful types, one for old people and one for...and on goes the list, the persona. Letter writing partly overcomes, together with my writing in other genres, the ancient enmity between life and the great work. And it was apparent that, if I was to achieve any ‘great work,’ it would be in bits and pieces spread out over many years, many decades. Like the great work of inner life and private character, achievements in my life seem to have been small steps backward and forward. The texture of these largely private communications is also a result of a new written form, the email, a form which was present in Volume 5 of my personal letters as well, but makes a strong appearance in this Volume 6(the year I retired from full-time work) of these letters. Nine out of ten communications by then were emails not letters. I think the first email I 56
  57. 57. received was in 1990 or 1991, but I have kept few emails before the mid-to- late 1990s when email traffic began to replace the letter and, for me at least, by 2000 the telephone to a significant extent. Even the emails over the last dozen years, 1995-2007, were largely deleted. So much of what has come in since the email entered my life has not been worth keeping in my archive. Like the ten thousand letters I wrote in the organizations which employed me over more than 40 years and which either lie in files now or are on the scrap-heap, the detritus, of one of historys myriad paper-trails no one will ever follow, a vast quantity of emails I have received have disappeared in an electronic void. Their electronic successors, like the mobile phone and text messages, have not been part of my experience in their early years of operation and so there will be nothing in this collection of messages over 50 years from these additions to the electronic industry and their communications functions. In the early years of retirement, 1999 to 2002, I rarely used the telephone. In retirement I had come to find the telephone an intrusion after more than forty years of my finding it a pleasure, a convenience or a necessity. Of course, I still owned a telephone and answered it when circumstances required with courtesy and kindness and, when possible, with humour & attentiveness. 57
  58. 58. A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter. Much of letter writing falls into this category; it spoils a good story and blunts the theme, like much of conversation, much of life, it is random, routine and deals with the everyday scene, ad nauseam. But these letters tell of a life in a way that is unique, not so much as a collection of letters, for collections are a common genre over the centuries, but as a collection of letters in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age of the Baháí Era. They present pictures that tell of a concrete reality, a time and an age, that I hope will stand revealed to future readers. For these epochs were characterized by what Toynbee calls a schism in the soul in an age of social disintegration. A fully seasoned universal state with its supreme authority and its supreme impersonal law, argues Toynbee, were not part of the cosmology and the basic unit of social organization, for humankind in this half century, although some serious and significant beginnings to that process were made in that direction. What is here in these letters and in my other writings is, in part, some signs and signals of the embryo of that unit of social organization at the global level. The Bahai Faith has been central to my education, my ambitions and my assumptions as far back as the early 1960s and late 1950s. Much of this 58
  59. 59. education was peripatetic and that of an autodidact. What is here is spiritual autobiography and psychological revelation in a different literary form than my poetry and it tells of a period during which the Baháí Faith made a significant leap forward in its numbers and in the maturity of its community. Often, to the Baháís working in their personal lives and in their communities this maturity and this growth was either not evident or not appreciated. So often it was the struggle itself that dominated their perspectives, their emotional life and their thoughts. Often, too, readers awareness of the many Ron Prices that make up my life and whatever maturity I have or have not attained is sharpened by their dip into the pool of my letters. But perhaps most importantly the number of collections of letters from international pioneers during this period may not be that extensive given the busyness of peoples lives and what seems to me to be a quite natural disinclination to keep letters beyond a salient few of some personal importance. If, as Anthony Burgess suggests, artists must be judged not merely by excellence, but by bulk and variety, then at least Id be in the running, if ever I should want to be running. Sometimes, though, bulk compromises quality. Perhaps that is the case here. I leave that to readers to judge. As yet my literary landscape has not been surveyed professionally or 59
  60. 60. by amateurs. I certainly hope I escape the fate of Burgess, at least as it was held in the hands of biographer Roger Lewis who wrote: From an aesthetic viewpoint, all of Burgess relentless productivity was one vast waste of words and paper. But one never knows for sure. Film critic Gerald Peary notes in his essay on the biography Clint: The Life and Legend, there are at least two Clints. I think it is fair to say there are probably more than two Clint Eastwoods. There are certainly more than two Ron Prices with hopefully a golden thread joining all the selves as well as threads of many other colours. On the internet I found by the year 2007 at least 50 Ron Prices: car salesmen, writers, poets, evangelists, Deans, Board Members, harpists,insurance salesmen, etc. etc. After more than fifty years of excessive contact with human beings, the quiet, only child, the self who had learned in his early childhood(up to 1949) how to occupy himself in a solitary way, seemed to want more of that solitude. Price was ready by the turn of the millennium for televisions more metonymic contact with others. He found in this medium, a medium which had been part of his life on and off for half a century, that all of those storytellers, priests, wisemen and elders which in many ways had become 60
  61. 61. lost to society in the years of its disintegration in the previous century and especially in recent decades, the decades of his life, had become restored to cultural visibility and to oral primacy in his nightly fare on TV and in the daily fare of radio programs. With embellishments from the internet and books, embellishments which were usually more satisfying to the mind, he felt little need for any human contact at all. And society, he felt, seemed to have little felt need, for his story, drowned as society had become in a plethora of stories, day after day, night after night and year after year from the tidal wave of productions of the print and electronic media Those storytellers came along in the convincing guise of highly literate specialists: newsreaders, commentators, scientific and artistic experts as well as writers and producers with their endless capacity to generate stories in the form of movies, interviews, who-dun-its, soap-operas, a cornucopia of stuff that rested the eyes and stimulated the mind in varying degrees. It was here in the media that the sophists of ancient Greece were reborn. The sophists with their emphasis on the power of the intellect arose as Greek society in the fifth century BC was becoming more complex. They were rootless people without any commitment to community. And they are very much like many of the worldly wise who come upon the scene and pontificate, 61
  62. 62. publicize and entertain millions but, unlike Socrates of old, they generally have no commitment to community except in the most generalized sense. Our troubled times approximate more closely the conditions of Greece and Rome and comparisons like those I make to the sophists are useful. The media now tend to direct not only our knowledge of the world but our knowledge of ways of knowing it. And the new sophists play an important role in this mix. Not to mention this important aspect of contemporary social and intellectual life in an autobiography of this nature would be a serious omission. A new nonliterary culture had come to exist at about the same time that my pioneering life began. “Its existence, not to mention significance, most literary intellectuals are entirely unaware, wrote Susan Sontag in her groundbreaking 1965 essay, One Culture and the New Sensibility. While this work does not focus on this complex theme, the presence of a large group of people in my society, a group who reads to such a limited extent, is a simple reality of life whose implications I can not possibly dwell on. Readers, if interested in this topic, can examine this article by Skinner and his discussion of the new sensibility of a non-literary culture. This not 62
  63. 63. literary sensibility had implications for my letter writing, but I will not go into them here. The media had many functions. It allowed me to get back to my writing day after day, having been gently and alternatively amused, stimulated, entertained and informed. I could see why millions had no need to write letters for they had had sufficient human contact on TV. Those with a higher degree of need for a particular type of sociability could use the telephone and/or join one of many volunteer organizations that came to be dotting the landscape by the time I retired. As I mentioned above though, by the year 2000, I seemed to be writing more letters than ever. By nine oclock at night my eyes and mind were so tired from reading and writing--usually at least a six to eight hour minimum of the days time and a ten hour maximum--that I was happy to consume televisions products. With an average of two hours of TV consumption nightly I could finish my eight hour reading-writing day after 11 pm and before 3 am. Millions of my words were slowly permeating some of the literally millions of internet sites. Yes, I was writing more letters than ever. 63
  64. 64. Perhaps this is why so many events in my life, events that could be stories, did not become stories. Baháí holy days, Feasts, deepenings, secular holidays by the bundle, a seemingly infinite number of birthdays, annual dinners, suppers for friends, good-grief, the list of repeated activities one engages in over lifes years could go on and on. Over fifty years at, say, fifty events a year, makes for at least 2500 special days, special occasions. And little of it appears here in these letters. One might ask why? Is it the repetition, the routine, the sameness? Is it that these events are part of the very texture of life and, like the air, are difficult to write about in a book like this. They come to occupy two or three lines in a letter; they become the base of an occasional poem; they fill hundreds, thousands of hours of life with a million eventualities. At best, they provide suggestive openings for readers of a letter, unobtrusive patterns of juxtaposition, recurrence, contrast and familiarity out of which fresh and unpredictable understandings may emerge. There is something about the routines, the repetition of events in the ordinary life of the individual and I refer to this repetition frequently in this autobiography, that is like the experience of the criminal in prison. The crim discovers on his release that he is not the only one to perceive the lagging of time in terms of suspended animation. His old friends do also. They act as 64
  65. 65. though he has returned from a brief trip to the toilet or out of town for a few hours, even though he may have been in the nick for a decade, greeting him casually and then going about their business. Ones actions so frequently point to somewhere, some time, when and where one has been before and frequently. One often resumes a relationship as if one has only, as Withnell puts it in that humorous turn of phrase, been to the toilet. This is part of the backdrop that often gives one the feeling that little change has occurred in ones being, behaving. It is this terrible sameness that takes the experience of writing a letter completely out of the realms of meaningful activity and is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why relatively little takes place. My letters were, among other things, strands of experience woven into patterns, patterns in a channel, a channel that in the early years of my retirement became filled with electronic signals; they came to fill many arch- lever files and binders and, after 2007, lists of items in my computer directory. They were an expression of an art, a means of communication. By the time Volume 4 of this collection of personal correspondence was gathered in 1995 I had, as I have indicated, become exhausted by personal contacts. Perhaps this was due in part to my proclivity for solitude in contrast to a more social inclination, a more social mode of existence that 65
  66. 66. had been such a strong part of my life for half a century. I was more inclined to think that this social disinclination was due to many things in a list too long to enumerate here. This may be part of the reason for any apparent aloofness and any insistence on solitude that is found in either my letters or my poetry, especially after about 1995 when I was in my early fifties. In 1985 a second volume of personal correspondence was opened. Part 1 of Volume 1(1957-1974) and Part 2(1974-1984) of Volume 1 opened the series. The first fifty years of my letter-writing life had their home by 2007. The several themes which analysts might want to follow through the letters had begun to be apparent. My autobiography arose out of the juxtaposition of several temperamental disinclinations that rose up in my life over several decades and came to a head in the years 1992/3 to 2002/3. Curiosity about the future and the afterlife among other interests also played their part. Evelyn Waugh says that it is in these temperamental disinclinations that one finds the origin of autobiography. Perhaps, like Rilke, I had been for decades too responsive for my own peace of mind.(1) Perhaps my letters are, like Rilkes, an indication of a great need of imparting the life within me.(2) Perhaps they are simply a matter of pouring experience into a mould to obtain release, to ease the 66
  67. 67. pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to correspondence. It was a handicraft, a tool among several others, that could keep me at work in constant preparation for the creative moments.(3) As the social dimensions of my psycho-social life were waning by the mid- 1990s and, like Rilke, I began to thirst for solitude, the wider world was experiencing 56 wars being fought around the globe. Among other devastating effects, these conflicts created at least 17 million refugees and left 26 million people homeless. Another 300 million individuals suffered because of disasters not related to war. This state of affairs, following the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the proclamation of a new world order, indicated serious disarray among the community of nations. And yet, each day dedicated human beings -- among them international civil servants, government officials, nongovernmental workers, and a broad spectrum of volunteers -- continued to cope with complex and seemingly intractable problems, in efforts to alleviate suffering and advance the cause of peace. This wider drama, a drama that was always present in the background as my own life winding its way down the road, was simply beyond one’s imagination to understand in any detail. I got broad pictures, but the details were usually complex, overwhelming and elusive. 67
  68. 68. The drama of my life became largely an inner one as the 1990s came to an end. The external battle, its pleasures and anxieties, went on but in a much more subdued form. Perhaps, like Thoreau, I lacked a certain breadth and coarseness of fibre and by my fifties I came to prefer, as Thoreau had been all his life, to be more isolated from my surroundings, more insular and solitary. I came by my late fifties to plant myself near the sea with a granite floor of principle beneath me, although often there were layers of intervening clay and quicksand which, even in my solitude, seemed to entrap me. Of course, that trap was the one I had seen all my life: the trap of self, of ego, of natures insistent self and of lifes inevitable complexities. Was I too quick or too slow to answer lifes call, too inclined or not inclined enough to switch off its insistent urgings? Lacking the right words for the right time or failing to come up with the right verbal package did I rush in where angels feared to tread? Was this equally true in the letters I wrote? One could not always frame the words to say-it-right in every letter and email. I hope, I believed, I was saying it better in my poetry which Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said is the poet’s true autobiography. 68
  69. 69. These letters, it seems to me, stand in sharp contrast to what Frederic Jameson refers to as the four losses that are symptomatic of our age of postmodernism. These losses have come to characterize our society increasingly since the 1970s: the suspension of subjective inwardness, referential depth, historical time and coherent human expression. These letters in some basic ways define my identity and my communitys by telling the story of myself, the community I have been part of and the events of the time. There is clearly referential depth here, subjective inwardness, the story of a search, an open-ended drama of personal narratives, a sense of the complexity of these historical times. There is also here in these letters what Roland Barthes calls an image of literature to be found in ordinary culture. This image, he goes on, is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism consists for the most part in saying that my failure is the failure of Ron Price the man. The explanation of a work, he concludes, is always sought in the man or woman who produced it....in the voice of a single person, the author confiding in us. While the art and craft of letter writing have declined in this century, letter stories have thrived. Cast as love letters and Dear John letters, as thank-you notes and suicide notes, as memos and letters to the editor, and as exchanges 69
  70. 70. with the United States Post Office, examples of epistolary fiction have been published by the hundreds, among them the work of many of our most notable authors. Why has this form of fiction writing remained so popular? Gail Pool, the editor of Other Peoples Mail says it has something to do with the rhetorical question: Who is immune to the seduction of reading other peoples mail? I like to think my letters offer a similar seduction. That is what Id like to think. Time, of course, will tell. Although epistolary fiction enjoyed its greatest popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when letters were central to daily life, this style of writing still has a place and a popular one it would seem. Letter stories are about communication and they are effective in framing our modern concerns: the struggle to find meaningful stories, relationships, and lives amid the social and moral disarray of the era and the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, artist and audience, private and public domains. My own letters accomplish this similar framing exercise. Written and received over nearly fifty years, my collection of letters delineates the themes of our time as do the themes of the stories in Other Peoples Mail. Offering seventeen stories written by a culturally diverse group of authors, Other Peoples Mail represents what letter tales, at their 70
  71. 71. best, can do. They may be written from the Canadian wilderness, a private school in Geneva, a concentration camp, or beyond the grave. They may be comic or satirical, poignant or tragic, but all are united in their distinctive format. For letters are distinctively individual. Other Peoples Mail is the first collection of its kind. It is a unique and important anthology. Pools highly informative introduction explores the nature of letter fiction. Literature and writing instructors may find in this lively anthology a useful resource. My collection offers a single perspective, a single individual, a single background to a life, a distinctive format, at times satirical, at times poignant, tragic, humorous and lively and, no doubt and inevitably--as collections of letters are for most people--boring and therefore unread. In that tidal-wave of print and visual stimulation that occupies todays world, collections of letters, for the most part, slip into a quiet niche, unknown and unnoticed and not missed. It often takes many years after a persons death for the entire collection of a writers letters to be published. It took 125 years for Gustav Flauberts letters to be fully published in five volumes. Even assuming my letters get published and, if I was to follow in Flauberts footsteps, readers could anticipate the publication of the full oeuvre of my letters in, say, 2150!--or thereabouts!! 71
  72. 72. The tangled root and the tranquil flower is here: cool detachment, indifference, and an anguish of spirit.4 I leave it to future readers to find these roots and flowers, these several temperaments. I trust their search will have its own reward. I hope, too, that this opening comment on Volume 6 of my personal correspondence in Section VII of Pioneering Over Four Epochs sets an initial perspective of some value. These words above written on several occasions from 1999 to 2002 for the third and fourth editions of this autobiography were completed after living for more than four years in George Town Tasmania. Some writers move to enclaves where many other writers live. Brooklyn USA is a good example. George Town, with its small population of perhaps 6000, has hundreds of gardeners; people who fish, water ski and go boating can be found in abundance. So can artists, cooks, cleaners, factory workers, inter alia. But writers are a rare lot and Im happy with it this way. During the time the letters in this particular part of the collection were written I began work on some thirty-two instalments on The History of the Baháí Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997; I also completed my book The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature, organized and refined the second edition of my website Pioneering Over Four Epochs into fifteen hundred pages and gathered together a body of resources for 72
  73. 73. what became the third edition of my autobiography which I wrote later in the twenty-first to twenty-fourth months of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). During this same period a feeling of approaching apocalypse was tending to drown out humanist beliefs in history as the progressive development towards a better world. Endtimes or apocalyptic thought and theory, of course, is not new. Some argue that it was formulated for a popular audience for the first time in 1970,(5) but I wont go into detail here on the evolution of this line of thought which is really quite complex. Baháís, of course, remained optimistic but often the battle tired the spirit and, in some cases, at least in mine, turned that spirit to letter-writing. I would like to think that readers will begin with an endless pile of words but end up with a world. Perhaps it is a world which will endure, a trace from the twentieth century and beyond into the twenty-first that will last forever. _______________________________FOOTNOTES___________________ 1 Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910, trans: J. Greene and M. Norton, WW Norton, NY, 1945, p. 12. 2 idem 3 idem 4 ibid.p.13. 73
  74. 74. 5 John Sutherland, Apocalypse Now, Guardian Unlimited Books, June 2003 Ron Price 17 February 2003 PS. The genre that Henry Miller enjoyed writing most was the letter. Long letters to close friends, wrote Mary Dearborn,(1) were his favourite pieces of writing. I must add that I, too, have come to enjoy this form of writing much more since retirement, but they are rare occurrences these long letters, if one defines a long letter as, say, four typed pages, 2000 words, or more. The attitude that many have in my time is: why write it if I can say it on the telephone? Many are like famous Samuel Johnson who wrote letters with great difficulty and reluctance. And although I take delight in conversation over limited periods with some people, I am equally happy now to have little to no conversation except with my wife. However fine, too, that my letters may be, the greatest of lifes arts is the art of living. -(1)Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.12. I have read or browsed through many books of the collections of the letters of famous and not-so-famous writers and have found them enlightening. They have served to provide stimulating perspectives for my own work. 74
  75. 75. Keats, the nineteenth century poet, seems to be the most attractive of the letter writers, at least for those like myself who write poetry. He seems likeable, lovable, someone we would enjoy travelling with. But you would have to get him young for he was dead at 26. Unlike Shakespeare or even Jane Austin, who remain impersonal, elusive, inscrutable, enigmatic, we feel we know Keats through his letters. He does not hide himself. My letters clearly bring me closer to a Keats or an Emily Dickinson, than a Shakespeare, although I know I shall never be in the league of any of these great writers. Dickinson tended to blend poetry and prose in her letters and, in the last decade this has been true increasingly of my letters. I strive to fashion a lively interchange between poetry and prose and, as yet, I have really only just begun this process with any effect. A cosmic and cosmopolitan range in the written word is as evident in the literary homebodies like Socrates, Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson as in the literary travelers like Xenophon, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Having been both a homebody and a traveller perhaps I might more easily find that range. Ceremony and necessity, vanity and routine often require something to be written. To be able to disentangle oneself from these inevitable and several 75

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