A Long Look at History: 500 BC To My Memoirs
Many are concerned at the pulverizing of society into a sandheap of individual atomizing particles each claiming their natural and sovereign rights. We could call this group conservatives with their concern for the inevitable arrival of collectivist nationalism. For the conservative, individual freedom lies in the interstices of social and moral authority. Think of the great cultural efflorescences of the 5th century B.C. in Athens, of 1st century, Augustan Rome, of the 13th century in Europe, of the Age of Louis XIV, and Elizabethan England. One and all these were ages of social and moral order, powerfully supported by moral codes and political statutes.
The Aeschyluses, Senecas, Roger Bacons, Molieres, and Shakespeares flourished in ages of social and moral order, powerfully supported by moral codes and political statutes. Far from feeling oppressed by the hierarchical authority all around him, Shakespeare, about whose copious individuality there surely cannot be the slightest question, is the author of the memorable passage that begins with "Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark! what discord follows; each thing meets in mere oppugnancy."
It might be noted finally that the greatest literary presences thus far to appear in the twentieth century Western culture have nearly all been votaries of tradition and cultural authority. Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Yeats, and others all gave testimony to authority in poem, essay and novel, and all, without exception, saw the eventual death of Western culture proceeding from annihilation of this authority in the names of individualism and of freedom. Writers and artists, creative types of all kinds, in the late twentieth century do their work in the freest air the imagination and the rational faculty have ever breathed, while composing their literary works. But it is apparent from the wretched mess of narcissism, self-abuse, self-titillation, and juvenile, regressive craving for the scatological and obscene that the atmosphere has become so rarefied as to have lost its oxygen.
It is not liberty but chaos and license which, conservatives would and do say, comes to dominate when moral and social authorities: those of family, neighborhood, local community, job, and religion, have lost their appeal to human beings. It was strong social and moral authority these creative minds were living under not the oppressive, political-bureaucratic, limitless, invasive, totalitarian governments of the twentieth century.
Another group, call them libertarians if you like, in which the coercions of family, church, local community and school seem almost as inimical to freedom as those of the political government. The gulf between libertarians and conservatives seems to be widening.
The Baha'i Faith is going to need pioneers for many generations to come. As I have been writing this lengthy statement of my pioneering experience I have often felt that my story is but one of the first to make it onto paper from the generations beginning in 1937 when the formal teaching programs began. Some narratives, some genres, like westerns and gangster stories, are dead or are dieing out. The political agenda changes with the seasons, although some problems seem to be perennial. My father used to say "there is always trouble in the Middle East." When the news came on and he was in his latter years, he would leave the room muttering about the endless warfare in Israel. That was in 1960. Nearly fifty years later the story is the same. And the historian AJP Taylor said it was wisest never to have an opinion about the Middle East. The pioneer, in its many forms, has a long life ahead of it and a long life behind it. Opinions about the pioneer, in some ways, have just begun.
Since literature takes as its subject all human experience, and particularly the ordering, interpreting, and articulating of experience, it is no accident that the most varied literary projects find instruction in the great mass of literature and its history and that the results of these projects are relevant to thinking about literature. What is true for literature, is also true for the other arts, such as painting and film and—autobiography. Within this great mass of literature, metaphor always plays a crucial role in autobiographical self-recognition and self-creation since it provides a ready means of perceiving order in an otherwise inchoate experience. The voyage paradigm or metaphor is used time and again in the history of western autobiography. At the close of the only Latin novel to survive, the poet Apuleius writes: "You have endured and performed many labours and withstood the buffetings of all the winds of ill luck. Now at last you have put into the harbour of peace.... Neither your noble blood and rank nor your education sufficed to keep you from falling a slave to pleasure.... But blind fortune, after tossing you maliciously about from peril to peril has somehow . . . landed you here in religious felicity."
This work of nearly 2000 years ago could very well apply to me and my life, at least in some major dimensions before I, too, landed in a region of religious felicity. The metaphor of journey as travelled by others has its applications to my trip as well.
The reader should also keep in mind as he reads this work that there is what autobiographers calls the interstitial self—the self that emerges in life’s multitude of interstices, some in discourse, others in private. Sometimes this interstitial self emerges only for a moment to deal with and negotiate a conflict, a particular point in a relationship, indeed, many of life’s especial situations. Sometimes the person is unaware of some of his interstitial selves. He is drawn back into familiar territory where there is a more stable position, a more familiar self and his interstitial self disappears as fast as it came into being. At other times, this interstitial self is grasped as a way to escape the restrictive discourses that so often arise in social life. In addition to this interstitial self there is another conventional autobiographical term, the hybrid self. This is a self that can be seen as shifting among positions and discourses, sometimes combining them into a true hybrid. At other times I am very aware of the contradictions and contradictory situations in life and that I must maintain quite separate and independent discourses, languages, so to speak, of the self. Then there is the unfound self, a self that seems unfindable. It took me 19 years(1984-2003) to finally find a voice that spoke to me of me so that I could write this autobiography in a satisfactory way. Beginnings are often difficult for novelists and autobiographers. People think of writing their story or some story for years but may, in the end, never pick up their pen. I shall say no more on what can be a complex subject, the subject of selves. But it is an important aspect for readers to consider as they delve into this autobiography. -Ron Price, Tasmania
married for 47 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, writer and editor for 15, and a Baha'i for 55 (in 2014)