Conversations July 26, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

4:40 AM. Well, here we go again. But I am blank this morning, so I hope somebody is primed to go. Who’s up?

Nobody? Maybe I’ll just go back to sleep. Good thing for you the coffee’s on. How about you, Papa?

Sure. Your queued-up questions refer to my relations with my parents.

Yes because (a) I don’t think your biographers quite have it and (b) I wonder about how much you have reconsidered, after the fact. I guess we have talked about your having lost the father you had had, and your being unable to accept the man he had become, but what about you and your mother, really. Or, no, what about the layer upon layer of different reactions to them within you? For I sense that you were more than one person to them, and you perplexed yourself, perhaps, as you experienced the cross-currents.

I suppose you’ll wind up bringing me to the defense of biographers, if this goes on long enough! I can see the limits of what they can do, and I can see that it is worth doing.

If they had more humility —

If they had more resources. It isn’t enough to have the external evidence, because that can become a matter of picking and choosing what will support a simple — perhaps simplistic — view of a complicated subject. And it isn’t enough to have the evidence and have some ideas about psychology and then practice what you call psychiatry without a license. And neither is it enough to accumulate many points of view — external evidence, all of it — and sort of average it out. And this is more or less what they have to work with, along with intuition and insight and prejudice.

Oh, I hear you. What they need is several excellent biographies, and biographies and memoirs centering on other people that mention you, and direct contact to meld the external and internal evidence.

They do. They don’t realize it, but that’s exactly what they need and can have, but in the present state of things, even if they use the direct-contact approach, they dare not admit it. It would be fatal to their respectability. It would be as disgraceful as informing their work by using theology, or by astrology, or by any other discipline or art that is outside the range of narrowly defined “intellectual”

Lost the thread.

You didn’t quite lose the thread, you came up blank looking for the last word in that sentence.

Can you provide it?

Oh, “pursuits.” Not worth worrying over.

My biographers are in a quandary, always, because they know they can’t count on me to serve up facts instead of tall tale, or grudge, or self-serving myth, or faulty memory, or just lies. Partly this is because so much of my past was painful for me to admit, partly because I was making up a story that I found plausible to explain otherwise inexplicable actions and reactions of mine. Partly, too, there was resentment of people prying into my own business, the inner springs of my emotional life. And of course, having started off reinventing myself in order to move from being a near-sighted kid from a well-to­-do town into a sophisticated men of the world, how could I go back and rewrite the story as it had really been — particularly since so much of the story as it had been was not accessible to me?

The boy who had been, was not the young man who succeeded him, and was that much farther away from the man — or men, rather — who came after that.

This is closely tied in to your continual growth, isn’t it? You kept swapping out bits of your person-group, and they didn’t connect all that well.

Now, as long as you can avoid the temptation to look at this as a psychological malady, I think we can explain it using the new concepts you’ve been given.

I rather think I can explain it already. Your person-group was only loosely linked, with your will, or your central drive, or the underlying part of your over-all being that was directing your life as a whole, the only part of you that provide continuity.

You could put it that way. My life was growth, and it was the movement from where I started, away. I mean, it wasn’t exactly aimed toward a final goal. It isn’t like I was born intending to have to blow my head off. But it embodied the myth of the boy who made himself into something different, using will and steady purpose and endurance. But what he made himself into was less a part of the fabric than the inborn need to change, to grow, to move.

I hear Martin Eden, though I’m not sure that’s a good comparison.

Jack London was very much aware of the external obstacles that held people down. Perhaps he wasn’t all that aware of why he wrote that story that way, because of course the part of him that was setting it down — taking dictation, in a way — didn’t know he was going to kill himself, didn’t know that money can be a trap if there is too much of it, just as much as if there isn’t enough. You might talk to him sometime. You’ll find him to be quite a different kind of voice than you’ve met so far.

Well, maybe later. I’m interested in Papa Hemingway, at the moment.

I haven’t lost sight of your question. The point is this. If you have a person-group that has external goals that aren’t necessarily the ones that are obvious to the conscious personality, many of his actions are as puzzling to him as to anybody else. You’ve experienced it. Maybe everybody has. People up to now have been mostly aware of the disparity in perception when they get into trouble, and so this fact of life has been associated with pathology, what they call mental illness. But that would be like saying that nearly everybody who is treated for paranoia, say, has two hands and two feet, so clearly having two hands and two feet is a suggestion that you are prone to paranoia. Or, breathing! If you’re breathing, chances are, you’re subject to this or that, because without fail, everybody we treat for this or that also exhibits a habit of breathing! You see? It’s a human condition that is mostly unnoticed unless it is seen in connection with a problem. This is true partly because there is no theory that would explain it as normal (because the prevailing theory is taken for granted, hence is unseen) and because in a pathological condition it is usually there in an exaggerated form.

So when the boy that I was came home from the war, obviously he was chafing at being back in another man’s house with another man’s rules and expectations that sought to return him to his childhood state. That’s how the boy experienced it — and certainly Reynolds got that aspect of things. There isn’t any need to jump to your present-day one-size-fits-all theories about post-traumatic-stress syndrome, either. Sometimes being honorably wounded is a tremendous validation.

What Reynolds sort of got, sort of missed, is the mechanism of rebirth. He like most biographers imposes a unity on my life that wasn’t there, and sometimes misses the unity that was there. But it’s complicated to describe, because it’s a thin line, and it is nearly quibbling, and yet it is important.

Well, we have a little time still.

The unity that was there is the unity that can be seen in a horoscope. It is the overall drive and composition of the life, but it is well beyond the conscious personality’s grasp. Just as you may be born with an innate talent and never suspect you have it until something reveals it to you, so most parts of the total bundle that you are remain mostly unknown and even unmanifested. Some biographers grasp at this but usually they come off sounding mystical and theoretical. Besides, so much of a man’s life seems to contradict the idea of a central driving force. It can just as easily be read as a series of chance occurrences “and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Sherwood Anderson was still there, and that they met,” there wouldn’t have been any Ernest Hemingway as literary phenomenon. It isn’t so, but if the biographer or the reader of biographies isn’t aware of the existence of the driving force as a real phenomenon, not as a metaphor, that may be the only “common sense” interpretation of the life that they can come to. In that case, Hemingway’s life was shot with luck and it was only by a series of miraculous coincidences that we got what we got. In the absence of the right concept, you see, the evidence can seem to point to an inevitable conclusion that in fact is merely the result of unconscious assumption.

The unity that isn’t there but is assumed is the unity that would result from the same person directing the show first to last. Doesn’t happen. It probably can’t happen. In most people the changes are slow and seem like a progression rather than a changing of the guard. In a few people, it looks like they never change. In people like me, the composition of the active members of the group changed sometimes moment to moment, or anyway, in a short time in rapid sequence. When you come to write this up, part of your task can be to unpack this and show how it manifested.

We already touched on it in terms of the results of alcohol. I can expand it.

But you’re tired now and should stop.

Very true — and somehow we still didn’t get to talking about you and your parents yet. Resistance, maybe?

Maybe. Time will tell, won’t it?

We’ll see.

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