Conversations June 20, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

4:45 AM. So, Papa, let me pose the question this way. I am more and more inclined to see your essence as a model — not the only model, but one model — of a complete man, intellectually, physically vigorous. Yet there is the negative evidence, your mental problems, for example. Your inability to get beyond certain fixed ideas — “my mother is a bitch; my father was a coward” — regardless of the facts. I can’t quite phrase my question because I can’t quite grasp it. I’m hoping you can take it and run with it. For all I know, you — or someone but probably you — are suggesting it, in the first place.

No, not Ernest, not at this moment.

Welcome, Dr. Jung. And — before we proceed — I hope you approve of Robert Clarke’s three books I am about to publish.

Of course. They will help your time to understand what has been overlooked and misunderstood and condemned by prejudice. Is this not the question you wish to address about Ernest’s inner life?

We have been presenting aspects of his life in an attempt to use a model apparently well known to show how little anyone can be accurately judged, especially if judged without sympathy, or in other words condemned. His life had mythic stature: That stature inspired and disturbed people, depending on which piece of it resonated. His written work seemed autobiographical but was actually more fictional than was always recognized: Many critics, knowing that his fiction included reference to people or incidents in his life, assumed that he was writing in a sort of code, thinly disguising history in order to carry on a vendetta against those he disliked. What he was doing actually was somewhat different: He was borrowing freely from the people or situations in his life and using them as his palette, his choice of colors. There is a huge difference, and it is more than wish-fulfillment or malicious revenge. You know from your own experiences writing fiction that you can borrow pieces from your life entirely out of context, entirely transformed, because they may serve to create an effect you’re after. He did just that — but because of his compelling decisive persuasive style, and his publicized private life, and his own propensity to mythologize his autobiography, it became difficult for many critics to believe that he was doing less than they thought, or that he was working in a different dimension, not disguised malicious autobiography.

His tragic descent into his final illness

“Tragic” is not a word well understood in your time. It doesn’t mean “sad,” nor “very sad.” Rightly understood, it means, more, fated; beyond the individual’s control; fixed by the gods. It does not mean merely “the result of accident, or of a series of bad choices.” So yes, in its proper sense, Ernest’s life was a tragedy, but the tragedy did not discredit the life, or prove that his ideals or strivings were bad models. They prove nothing. The boiler burst, under too much steam pressure.

So any tragedy would inhere in his having been constructed with too much steam power and insufficiently thick metal in the boiler?

Alternative tragedies would have been — no steam pressure at all; sides so thick that the vessel couldn’t move for the weight of it; no fuel for the steam; no scope for a voyage. You understand? Your times’ saying is that “you don’t get out of life alive,” a sardonic comment meant to imply that “you can’t win,” which is another popular saying. Your own joke on the three rules of life is similar.

[The three rules of life. One, you can’t win. Two, you can’t break even. Three, you can’t even quit the game.]

The purpose of life is not “getting out of it alive” in the sense of the saying. It is a voyage, every life is. I shall step onto more charged ground.

Yes. I know where you are going.

Well? So, if you know, you know also what it is like to be unable to adjust your emotional reactions to a different understanding of the facts — which is what you pointed out Ernest didn’t and couldn’t do.

And it hampers your mobility — mine, I mean in this case.

Your fluidity, your ability to flow with life appropriately. If being stuck, being frozen in place, were of service to you, I should have nothing to say against it. And, indeed, sometimes being stuck is the only alternative to coming apart completely, as in the case of the patient I had who later became a Nazi. I could do nothing for him, because his steam-chamber was dangerously over-stressed even at the slightest of pressures.

To be blunt: In martyrdom is fulfillment in certain cases. Given that we all die from life and the dying is no tragedy, why is the manner of the dying of eternal concern? The legacy and impact of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and others was heightened and sealed by the sudden shocking manner of their deaths. Certain effects followed that would have been harder to attain otherwise, and if bad effects accompanied the good effects, still it remains true that you cannot ever tell — if you look closely enough, and far enough — which is which, good or bad. The evils in whatever path you choose are always obvious enough, so obvious that it may become difficult to imagine or sense the evils of the paths not taken, for evil is always manifested with good in a world of duality, and, again, which is which is often a matter of viewpoint alone. Good or bad often amounts to preference, and preference is rooted in one’s values, and no one’s values are absolutely correct or even unchanging.

So if even martyrdom is not tragic in your contemporary sense of “extremely too bad” rather than in the classic sense of “inherent in the person’s makeup,” or “inherent in the situation,” neither is a life wrecked by a burst boiler, accompanied ahead of time by steam escaping from joints forced open by the excess pressure.

Then if I understand you right, even the things we regret to see in his life, or our own, are to be accepted as part of the pattern; nothing can be done.

Not at all, not in any sense of hopeless resignation. They are to be accepted as the defects of his qualities, or your own — but that is not the end of the story, but the beginning. A deeper understanding sees that qualities have their defects, and it is by the close examination of the effects as they show themselves that you will perceive. No one’s life may be summarized as an epic journey marred by wrong choices. Whatever choices were made, the life would have been “marred” by the defects of the qualities.

Suppose Ernest had been so made that he was a stickler for the truth, in the sense of never deviating from an accurate reporting of the external facts. He might have become an excellent reporter with no insight. He might have lived a blameless (or not blameless) life of absolutely no interest because of no importance to the culture. The defect of truthfulness might have been a lack of imagination, or rather a walling-off of imagination from his work. Imagination might have become confined to fantasy. Ah, but he would have told the truth in all things instead of making up so many tall tales! Yes — but would the world be the better for the exchange?

You know that Thoreau said that a man should live in some fear of his own talents. You have remembered the gist, but have not understood it. It means, in short, that your life may lead you in ways you don’t approve of and perhaps can’t survive, even though by your makeup it is as it should be. So Hemingway.

I see. That’s not so different from the verdict several of his best biographers have reached.

No, except that they, like you, may wish that he had made different choices. That isn’t quite the same thing as realizing that every life is going to be the result of choices some of which will appear to be good, some bad.

Yes. Not a broad nuance, but I see it.

So. I yield the floor to my good friend the famous author.

I get that a humorous affectionate relationship has sprung up between you. Is this a result of this collaboration?

Anytime you play on the same team you’re likely to come closer. That’s bonding, isn’t it?

Have you come across each other actively since you had died?

That’s closer to idle speculation than to real work. Let’s stick to real work.

Okay. But I can’t always tell ahead of time what’s work and what’s a diversion.

I know, and no reason you shouldn’t ask anything you want to ask — but sometimes you’re going to get a closed door. Nothing wrong with either end of that.

You have been talking of my life as it is understood and as I experienced it and as it might be understood by God, or by any all-knowing impartial arbiter. Three very different points of view! What’s the point in it, do you suppose? Why are we bringing it up from different angles?

To show the futility of making judgments on people, for one thing, I imagine.

That, but more. If you are to bring out the real meaning of my life, you have to understand it not only as it was lived but as it was not lived.

If I am to what? I didn’t realize that’s what we’re doing here.

It’s one part of it. I can serve as a pretty good, concrete example of several things we have to say.

Well, well. I’ve wondered.

Take my being Catholic, for instance. You can see that, and you can see how, it was a reality for me. It is widely overlooked, because inexplicable particularly to the scholarly viewpoint. So it is written off as a gesture, or as a hypocrisy relative to Pauline. But you can see how it isn’t, and I can help you get a deeper sense of what it meant in my life — including all the complications that came when Spanish politics and then my own sense of sin divorced me from it — which amounted to divorcing me from the only accessible connection to the divine that I had. Who better to understand than another member of the club?

I’ll explain the reference. [Ex-Catholics share a point of view that neither practicing Catholics nor those who have never been Catholic can understand. For some years, I have called ex-Catholics I have met Members Of The Club.]

So, there’s work for you to do, and it will be fun, as it has been fun to date.

Well, we’ll see what happens. Somehow I always wind up getting into things sideways, thinking I am doing something different. Not that I mind. Okay, Papa, it’s after six, time I stopped. I thank you and Dr. Jung (and all the guys upstairs — this sounds like a DJ dedicating a song). It’s all very interesting to me, and if our readers so far don’t quite see where were ultimately headed — well, neither do I. But I’m enjoying the ride.

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