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Hemingway and TGU on viewpoints

Thursday, April 8, 2021

5:45 a.m. It took until now to sink in, Papa, but yesterday you said, “It was all me interacting with not-me.” I heard that at the time in its own context, but just now it strikes me: That’s practically a definition of fear, isn’t it? Me and not-me; separation, not unity.

That is a valid insight easily drawn too far. Both, at once: valid, and easily overdrawn.

Well, I’d love to look at it.

How can anybody look at anything without considering it separate from himself? Yet it is true that if you don’t have it within you, you can’t see it. The second part isn’t as obvious as the first, but they’re both true. How it strikes you is going to depend on

Went wandering, lost it. Sorry. Again?

Let’s talk about what is really on your mind.

Okay. Yesterday I was participating in a group meeting and I asked if anybody had been watching the Ken Burns special on your life, and the only other person who had been watching, of the eight of us, herself a writer, highly intelligent, seemed unable to see you except through a feminist lens, even rearranging the facts to support her bias.

Not that you or I or anyone else would ever do that.

No, but you know the point I’m getting to. I thought, a few minutes ago, that just as Churchill once said, “There’s no use arguing with a communist,” so there’s no use arguing with a feminist. All you get is a sort of strained sympathy that your views are so warped. Writing this, I see that of course it may be expanded to read something like, “There’s no use arguing with anybody about anything.”

Very true, although hard to live that way.

My arguments with liberals, with conservatives, with anybody who has a fixed set of certainties, really doesn’t ever accomplish anything.

No, and how could it? You are assuming that your own position is correct, and every other position is in error depending upon how different it is from yours. Everybody does it. It’s so easy to see the rigidity of others’ positions, and so hard to see the rigidity of your own.

It makes it hard to believe in the possibilities of working together.

But you do work together. What it makes you think it is impossible is being together, mentally, spiritually.

I’m not talking just to Papa here, am I?

Does it matter? Yes but no.

Well, I can feel things shifting more to a philosophical level, or let’s say a more abstract level.

As if he – as if you – as if anyone – didn’t / doesn’t do it all the time? You all think of your mental lives as more linear than they are. In actual fact, you jump around all over the place, and it’s only in remembering, in reconstructing, that you make it look linear.

Okay, I can see that. So to continue with the point you were making –

Your ambition – whether you realize it consciously or not – is to be a part of a 3D group mind that operates together to bring you all to another level, and to affect the conditions of 3D life in general; that is, to affect the shared subjectivity as well as your personal responsibility.

I started to say, “Isn’t that what everybody wants to do?” then realized, not consciously.

Not consciously but also not necessarily. Life represents all parts of the human psyche, necessarily. That means, automatically it represents the things you hate, the things you don’t notice, the things you can’t be bothered with, no less than the things you love or notice or do bother with (that is, do value). So it isn’t like more consciousness is going to mean, “The universe agrees with you!” It’s more like “The universe is firmly on your side of the argument and also every other side of the argument.” So how is anybody going to convince anybody of anything?

I think of Emerson writing, in a moment of exasperation, “If I knew only Thoreau, I would think the cooperation of good men impossible.”

Gee, what a bum Emerson was, to write “good men” instead of “good persons.”

You’ve got me smiling. I didn’t expect that.

Well, we’re on your side of the argument too, you know. Just because we’re saying it’s broader than you, it doesn’t mean we’re saying you’re wrong.

I suppose you’re merely underlining the fact that we all have to exercise tolerance in our interactions, because we will always see each other’s limitations, certainly easier than our own.

Isn’t that what you’re going to encounter, to the degree that you experience a larger group mind?

I guess we don’t usually think in those terms. We think of greater communication as overcoming differences, more than as revealing them.

But you don’t get one side of the duct tape without the other. But now if you are restless to go do other things, go ahead. You don’t have to do this.

No, it’s just a stray impulse. Let’s keep going. It’s interesting how what started out as a discouraging experience for me has broadened out to a helpful generalization about communication.

That’s what usually happens when you look at something less as how it relates to you as a position and more as how it exists in itself.

That could do with some exposition, I think.

Well, let’s see how to say it. It is a simple thought, but perhaps not so easily put into a vivid metaphor.

Geocentrism?

That will do, yes. It’s just like what happens when you turn a geocentric view into a heliocentric view – or vice versa. The importance is not “Which view is correct?” but “What do you learn by seeing it this way?” The planets, the stars, the earth itself, are just what they are regardless how you think of them, but thinking of them in different relation changes everything in effect. In the same way, temporarily adopting another point of view won’t change whatever the “real” facts may be, but it will very likely show you things you were previously unable to see, and may reveal that some relationships you had seen as true were in fact less true, or even false, when seen from another viewpoint.

Now, I can imagine people saying, “But there is one view that is true, and others not. The sun is the center of the solar system, and that’s all there is to it.”

And you know how we would answer that.

I do. Geocentrism works better than heliocentrism when you’re drawing horoscopes, for instance. That is, this earth we live on is in the center of our lives, just as our experiences are the center of our world.

That’s right. And you could generalize farther and say, every system of measurement skews the data.

Skews the data, or skews our reading of the data?

That’s less of a distinction than you might think. Data you can’t see or can’t properly appreciate is non-existent to you, even if it is non-existent “merely” because your own psychology won’t let you see it.

To finish our analogy: When you look at something as it relates to you, it presents certain aspects. When you look at it as it relates to itself, or (more usually) as it relates to the person exemplifying that view, it presents other aspects. Not, usually, entirely different; more usually, partly different. And that is a portrait of a 3D life in miniature, isn’t it? A partial view, determined mostly by where you stand.

Okay. Well, given that I don’t have to run upstairs and type this up (having no internet connection, so being unable to email or post it), let’s return to the initial question, me and not-me.

More like “me and not-me, but also me as not-me.”

Absorbing the world into yourself, to express it.

That’s one way to look at it. Or you could say, “Absorbing the world into yourself, to become it, or to identify with it.” It goes on all the time.

Hmm.

Leave it, for the moment. You can always come back to it.

Okay. Thanks for all this.

 

Hemingway on his three fears

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

6:15 a.m. If I learned anything from the first two parts of the Burns / Novick series on Hemingway, I don’t know what it would be. I have been more aware of what it had to leave out, than of what it said that I hadn’t known. But I am struck by how much he feared being alone. A writer, afraid of being alone, when his very writing life depends upon being alone? But of course, that’s an example of words misleading.

Papa?

Fear of being alone, fear of death, fear of the dark: three fears you do not understand.

It’s true. Do you, now? And did you, during 3D life?

It depends what you mean by the word “understand.” If you mean understand abstractly, that’s one thing. But if you mean, understand viscerally, that’s another. Intellectually, abstractly, I understood why I was afraid of the dark and afraid of death: I had been killed, in 1918, in the dark, out of nowhere, when that Austrian shell full of scrap metal blew me out of my body. So my body associated darkness with danger – with danger out of nowhere – ever since. But rational knowledge only goes so far. You don’t get rid of a fear like that just because you become aware of it and become aware of where it came from.

No, because that only gets you to the “how” of it rather than to the “why” of it. The fear came as a result of specific events, but the same events on a different person might have, maybe even must have, produced different results.

Yes, but I didn’t really understand that. The cause-and-effect was so plain, I never got to the “why” of it. Why did that cause produce that effect? I stopped at realizing what had happened, not at why what had happened had produced one effect rather than another.

So, now? Can we take them one by one?

No, your initial instinct, to group the three, is better. They reinforced each other.

Okay then, go about it your own way.

You will notice, you began with wondering about my fear of being alone. I went immediately to link fear of death and fear of the dark.

Meaning, you’ve figured it out.

Well, you know, I’ve had enough time! And I’ve chewed it over not only in non-3D, but by interacting with a good number of people in 3D, many of them thinking they were only thinking about me.

Writing that, I got all choked up. So many people loved you. I thought of Morley Callaghan, after he heard that you had killed yourself, thinking about you, remembering you day and night until his wife pointed it out to him and he sat down to write his memoir of your relationship.

Here’s what you people usually don’t realize.

“You people”?

Yeah, I heard that as soon as I said it. I don’t mean it as a slam. I mean, people in 3D who think about the connection between 3D and non-3D and sort of scheme it out in their minds.

People like your mother.

No, people who think about these things, not just feel about them, or accept the opinion of others. You try to understand – and that’s good, of course; what else did I ever try to do, but understand and then express? But in thinking about death and connection you tend to make separations where there aren’t any separations. I don’t mean to imply that I was any different. If anything, my thinking about the subject was more fragmentary and more self-isolated.

Like the thinking you did about the soul, writing in the African night in the early 1950s.

You pointed out, I didn’t have  a lot of the concepts that would have made things clearer to me. But there was always my mother in the way of it, you know. I wasn’t going to become like her. [Hemingway’s mother was mystically inclined in a way that he rejected.]

A friend got me her question to Edgar Cayce and Cayce’s answer. But I imagine you and she will have come to terms by now. I mean, she has been dead since 1951, and you since 1961, and the passage of time in the non-3D isn’t the same as it is in 3D, but it isn’t nothing, either.

But that’s what I’m trying to say. “You people” in 3D underestimate the extent to which we in non-3D rely on you, because you can still change, you can still remember us, think about us, interact with us, and it gives us a point of departure.

I think you mean, some place to use as springboard.

You can’t jump if you don’t have anything to jump from. Your remembering us is more a form of interacting with us, though you don’t realize it. It lets us see ourselves from other points of view – points of view that didn’t exist when we did our immediate “past life review.” In other words, it is a continuing process, and helps us.

Kind of a big thought.

Live with it, examine it, see where it takes you. It may rearrange your mental furniture in surprising ways. Almost all of you will never interact with the culture the way Ken Burns and his team are doing; most of the work will be done anonymously. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a real contribution. And like everything, the more consciously you do it, the more useful it is for you.

This would be a diversion (from a diversion) but I am put in mind of prayers for the dead. I wonder if this is the original thought behind that idea, that degenerated into praying to God for mercy upon sinners. But, the thought is a diversion. You were saying that you have linked your three fears, and understand them now.

What is fear of death, when you look at it closely, but a specific form of fear of being alone? If it were only fear of ceasing to exist, well, maybe some people feel that,  but obviously any suicide had come to the point of seeing anything – even oblivion, if that’s what had to follow – as preferable to continuing as they were. I think for most people, fear of death is mostly fear that they are going to go through some unknown process and they’re going to have to go through it alone.

Not fear of judgment, and then heaven or hell?

Sure, but they’re afraid of facing that judgment alone.

I’ll have to think about that. Anyway, so –?

In one moment, that 18-year-old boy learned a hell of a lot about life and death. Now, I’m not saying that everything I “learned” in 1918 was true, but it was true for me. It shaped the life I let from there.

Okay, I can see that. And those lessons were that life is fragile and precious, first of all.

I already knew it was precious. I enjoyed life from the time I was born. What I learned, though, was that I wasn’t invulnerable in the way I had assumed. So in a way, it taught me that death is always about a heartbeat away from life (for anything could happen) and at the same time, that micro-second moment of death-and-life was almost even more precious than life itself. It was a glimpse of immortality as a fact of life. Now, bear in mind, I couldn’t have told you this then, nor in 1961. As I said, I’ve had lots of conversations with lots of people, and the seeing myself reflected in so many people’s minds has given me new understandings.

I get it. People have puzzled as to why your fascination with the dealing and receiving of death. I personally was puzzled that somebody who had died and returned could be afraid to die again. But if you were fascinated by something about it that you could feel but not understand, naturally you would do puzzling things, think in ways others would find puzzling.

Puzzling to me, too, when I wasn’t taking it for granted because the feel of it was so general.

I think you mean, because you were taking the mood for granted, because it was your mood; you were inside it.

Writing isn’t any easier when you have to dictate across the static.

I’m smiling. Okay, so – somehow we have written through almost an hour – can you give us your three fears in a nutshell? If not, we can do this again, of course.

It isn’t hard. If you live mostly in your head, but what you live is centered in the world around you, that’s a terrific dependence, you see? Yes, I could go out into the wilderness or onto the sea and concentrate on the physical world around me, but I’m still in the center of this processing machine, this thinking, pondering, analyzing, feeling, absorbing machine. I read all the time, and put together elaborate trips with friends. I studied things, and studied people and studied myself. It was all me interacting with not-me. Not that I would ever have thought about it in these terms, but that’s what it  amounted to. Can’t you see that always being in the center like that left me feeling alone, made me want human warmth around me?

You remind me so much of what I have read of the young John F. Kennedy (one of your big fans, as you know), who needed people around him, who devoured the world with his curiosity, although he didn’t seem to be afraid of death, having lived with it as a continuous probability from an early age.

As you know (you would say, “as you suspect,” but in fact you know), he and I share strong bonds, and we felt them in life, although he, young enough to have been my son, naturally felt them stronger than I did. I influenced his youth; he could not have influenced mine.

I guess maybe we will continue this next time? I don’t know if my side-trails prevented us from doing it all at once, but in any case it is always good to connect with you. and it is very satisfying to think that our connecting with our heroes or role models or whatever may help them as well. Not to mention the family we belong to biologically. Thanks, papa. Next time.

 

Papa’s Trial: Available now

My favorite photo of Ernest Hemingway

Papa’s Trial, now available in both print and electronic versions. (with my deepest thanks to my friend Chris Nelson of SNN Publishing).

Short link for the print version: https://amzn.to/3uqZNJ0.

For the ebook version: https://amzn.to/3uqZNJ0

For those who came in late, and don’t know what the novel is about:

Reliving that life

July, 1961. Ernest Hemingway, the world’s most famous writer, has just used his shotgun to get himself out of a life that had become insupportable.

Only… apparently death is not the end.

Apparently death and life have rules and possibilities he hadn’t suspected. And here he is on trial, required to examine his life as it looks from the other side, after the fact, not only from his point of view but also from those he interacted with.

His wives. His parents. His friends and adversaries. Everyone he touched in sixty years of intense living. His loves and almost-loves and sometimes-loves. His fellow authors, his publishers, his rivals and his mentors. He will confront them all.

In the course of the trial, he looks more closely at his achievements and failures, in the art he created and the people he touched. Mostly, he is faced with absorbing the impact of a life that stretched so far in so many directions: writer, voracious reader, connoisseur of fine art, fisherman, hunter, raconteur, warrior….

How well did he make use of his opportunities and talents? Who was he, and what did he do? What did it all mean? And how might it all have worked out differently?

No easy job, examining such complexity. But what he learns, how he changes, will determine where he goes from here.

Hemingway was the greatest writer America has yet given to the world. Papa’s Trial tells the story of his life, as it appeared to him and to those around him. Even long-time Hemingway devotees will find themselves looking at him in a new light as they consider what his life was, why it was that way, and what it might have been.

TGU on transforming society

Monday, April 5, 2021

4 a.m.

[From Martha D. MacBurnie, 4-4-2021 in response to “TGU — and me — on the virus and warfare analogy”:

[Frank, can you ask the Guys why there’s not a more gentle way to transform society? Warfare, disease, famines, floods, revolutions – so violent! Wouldn’t you think there would be a better way to accomplish similar levels of change? Or some way to have people address causes before they get to the boiling point of catastrophe? The history of humans on this planet seems so unnecessarily destructive, unnecessarily hierarchical, and stupid. Will we fare any better when we’re more in touch with our more-than-3-D parts? It mostly seems to me that whoever is running this show is sociopathic, homicidal, or inept. Or maybe I’m just unclear on the concept. Maybe cliffhangers and disasters are really what people and the more-than-3-Ds like best?]

Martha asks a sincere question, so I ask you for comment, though the answer seems obvious to me. I she has this question, presumably others do too.

Of course. What we have asked of you – of any who read this, we mean, of course – is a fairly radical readjustment in point of view. Until – unless – you make that change, not much that we have to say will make much sense to you.

Yes. She seems still to think it is about society, though you have said often enough that 3D life is about individuals.

This time we’re going to ask that you recalibrate – focus your attention and your energies – not so that you may write clearly but so that you may hear nuance. And we ask this of anyone reading this. There isn’t much point in skimming this, saying “I know all that,” and failing to stop and consider it with your emotional center, rather than merely with your intellectual (rationalizing) center.

“To see takes time,” Georgia O’Keefe said.

Yes, whether that means seeing what a flower looks like or seeing what an emotional connection feels like, or a set of situational connections.

Okay. [Recalibrating.]

Perhaps the way to emphasize interconnection of argument is to use bullet points, as we would in showing interconnection of fact:

  • It isn’t about transforming society as end; it is about transforming society as means.
  • Violence is not inherently bad or good. Slow-motion change is not inherently less painful than short, sharp changes.
  • In any case, it isn’t about people addressing causes, not in the way this implies. It is not a matter of social engineering.
  • History will appear to be a certain way – violent, destructive, stupid, etc. – mostly in response to the filters one applies. A different filter emphasizing non-violence, creation, intelligence, will find plenty of evidence as well.
  • “Whoever is running this show” implies an intelligence and will [that are] separate from humanity as a whole. This is and is not an accurate statement, as we shall explore.
  • It is not a matter of what people and non-3D parts of people “like best”; it is a matter of what results from a given set of actions (including thought).
  • And most important of all, perhaps, the question of how you will fare, and why, when you are living a 3D life in active connection with your non-3D component.

Now, that’s quite a few negative statements. Let us rephrase it all into the positive view that corresponds to this negative space.

“Negative space” in the sense of the space around the object, that defines it even if it itself goes unnoticed.

Yes. We do not mean positive and negative here in the sense of good and bad. As you say, the negative serves to outline what we do not mean, so now it is up to us to state what we do mean.

And I get that the reason you asked us to focus carefully is that he temptation will be strong to resist changing our point of view, in considering all this.

Yes. And if you will not look at matters from a different point of view, you will in effect merely dig in your heels and say, “No, this goes against my principles,” as if you were more moral, more compassionate, more sensitive, than we.

Well, you did say, long ago, that we might find you emotionally chilly by comparison.

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that a hot spot is the only valid measure of what is normal or desirable.

Far be it from me to defend you. Proceed.

We’re smiling too, but you know, in a way it might be said that the only way to defend anyone from any charge is to try on their point of view.

“To understand everything would be to forgive everything.”

Yes, and we suggest that you remember this, in considering society and 3D humanity. If you will begin by really understanding yourselves and being willing however tentatively to forgive yourselves, you can make real progress, because you will gain the ability to really move off your present point of view.

In other words, we will be actively choosing what we want to be, rather than merely drifting with what we already believe and see.

That’s right. Now, the positive-space equivalent of the negative-space bullets:

  • We have said repeatedly that “society,” as an abstraction, is not as real as any individual. That doesn’t mean “society” doesn’t exist; it does mean, it isn’t what it appears to be. Like statistics, like scientific laws, it expresses sets of relationships. It itself does not exist without what it is expressing, which is – individuals.
  • Therefore, what society looks like as a whole is vastly less important than the opportunities and situations it presents for the individuals it comprises. A society that is chaotic and seemingly a jumbled mess (when seen as if it were a thing) may in its details provide a quite endless series of possibilities each of which is coherent in itself.

That needs expanding, I think. I get that you mean that just as Bob Monroe described the sum total of earth’s mental production as a raucous jumble of noise – M-Band energy, I think he called it – but within that noise were all these meaningful interactions —

We wouldn’t say your paraphrase is much of an improvement.

No. Let me try again. If you had 500 symphony orchestras playing at the same time, each playing a different piece of music, the result would be unendurable. But listening to any one of them might be beautiful.

Yes, better. And focusing on harmony rather than discord will show that there is plenty to focus on.

To continue:

  • The question of social engineering needs to be addressed. Is it anybody’s business to rearrange the world, or rather to judge the world that declines to be rearranged, to suit any one person’s opinions of it? Or any one group’s, large or small? You aren’t here to improve upon the world, but to live in it.

As Thoreau said, long ago.

Many people have said it, and been criticized for it as being unfeeling. Now, three important points, if we can express them:

  • “Whoever is running the show.” Yes, there is a sense in which your 3D reality is scripted, but it is easily misunderstood. If you cannot understand the external world as an expression of your shared subjectivity – that is, of all of you (present and past, in 3D terms, but of course all present and alive in non-3D terms) – then you cannot see that whatever is, is because of what you are. We may have to expand upon this another time, if it is not understood.
  • Cliffhangers and disasters occur. You can’t say “This is what people want” unless you also say of routine life that “This is what people want,” as well. And, given that both statements are equally true, where is the dysfunction?

Even a very dramatic movie has a basis in normal life. Even normal life has scope for drama.

You can’t have one side of duct tape without having the other side as well. One side is smooth, the other sticky. Which is preferable? Which is even meaningful in the absence of the other?

  • And finally, for the moment, the most important question, and we can’t quite see why it isn’t obvious. When 3D players are living with full non-3D awareness (“as well,” not “instead of”!), all motivations will be different. The errors and offenses that take place because of one’s relative isolation will no longer occur. You won’t be the same people, you will be more. Can society fail to change in response? Or, to put it another way, can you name an equally effective way to transform society than to transform those it expresses?

Seems to me you packed a lot of information into our time. Thanks as always.

 

TGU on following our bliss, and on the virus and society

Sunday, April 4, 2021

4:40 a.m. So I posted a short piece telling how Papa’s Trial came to me – all at once – and then took nine years to be worked out in practice. That’s the 3D/non-3D predicament in a nutshell: Non-3D says, “Say, here’s a great idea, take care of it for us, will you?” and 3D groans and says, “You really don’t have any idea how hard it is to do anything down here, do you?”

But, I’m kidding and yet it is also more or less true. They provide the inspiration, we provide the perspiration, whether we’re talking about a work of art, or dealing with a life-situation that somebody decided would be productive even if challenging. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t a case of us spending a certain amount of time as non-3D gadflies (or coaches; pick how you want to see it), and at some point life says, “Oh, you think it’s so easy, do you? Here you try it for a while!” and off we go again.

What if life is an alternation of having bright ideas and then having to remember how it is to try to execute them, a sort of series of episodes of, “Here, hold my beer and watch this”? It would explain so much!

Seriously, though, I remember one Sunday afternoon in 1967 or ’68. I came down to the living room of the fraternity house I was living in, so pleased with myself. I had spent several hours wrestling with a term paper of some kind, for the hardest-marking history professor in the school, and finally I realized, all I really needed to do to make it come out right was move two paragraphs around. The time and efforts spent, the mental exercise involved in taking the raw material and fashioning it, the aesthetic pleasure when I knew I finally had it – it was so delightful, and if I am not mistaken, it was the first time I experienced that combination. Why did I not know immediately that this was the bliss that Joseph Campbell would later advise us to follow?

I suppose a closer look would reveal that indeed I did know it, and knew it in advance. Nothing that others did, be it tinkering with cars or playing sports or anything you could name, ever was more “me” doing what I do best than me manipulating words. Then it was only a matter of learning to have something to say. (Pretty big “only,” though!)

So, my friends, I get the feeling that the 20 minutes I just spent writing this hasn’t been merely self-indulgence, but has a wider application. True?

Nothing wrong with self-indulgence when it comes in the form of retrospection and introspection. In fact, in a way that is one of the main purposes (and one of the main satisfactions) of your lives in 3D, even if you do tend to cast the blame upon us.

Very funny, and it isn’t like you don’t deserve it. But seriously, I never had something come to me the way the idea for “Papa’s Trial” did, complete with beginning and ending scenes, and title. That by itself would have been enough to get my attention.

And yet that sort of thing happens often to you all, it’s just that you don’t so often recognize it.

No, can’t say we do.

That’s what “following your bliss” looks like close up. It doesn’t come with bells and whistles, as you sometimes say. In the first place, you take it as your own idea (and nothing wrong with that), and as the logical outcome of your own train of thoughts, or of a long-standing preoccupation.

Wilbur Wright and the cardboard box.

Exactly.

He was standing at the counter of his bicycle shop, talking to a customer, and in his hands he was holding an empty flexible light cardboard box that a tire tube (I think) had come in. Unthinkingly, his mind on the conversation, he was flexing it back and forth, each end now twisted up, now twisted down – and something went “Click!” and right there he had solved the problem he had been obsessing over for a good while: He had the wing-warping method of turning airplanes in flight. Because of the content of the conversation? No. Because the conversation was occupying his surface-mind, allowing the idea to connect with the deeper layers, to connect with the answer to the question he was continually pondering. The idea came to him via the unconscious motion of his hands, playing with the carton, but you can scarcely say it was the hands that solved the puzzle. Neither can you say it was a random physical motion that did it. It seems clear to me, it was the long mental preoccupation, plus the keeping the surface-mind out of the way, plus the non-3D part of his mind suggesting to him that he unconsciously make such movements, plus his receptivity to the spark that suddenly leaped the gap.

As we said, it happens more than you recognize, because only a few such incidents get recorded, like the scientist whose dream gave him the key to figuring out the structure of the benzene ring.

So I guess we’re not going to discuss the virus and society today, huh? Given that we have burned half an hour on this?

So you’re saying, “That would have been important; this was a waste of time.” You all do that all the time. But how do you know? Or rather, what makes you think you could ever know?

Like Gurdjieff saying maybe the doodling we do while talking on the phone turns out to be more important than the conversation.

Exactly. Not the product, either, necessarily. Sometimes it is the process. But in fact there is no reason we cannot segue to the other topic. It’s up to you, as much as anything. After all, you could choose to close the book and do something else.

Well, let’s talk about how the virus may be attacking our society’s weak points, which is where we paused yesterday.

It would be more careful if you said how society’s response to the virus attacks society’s weak points. The virus itself merely provides the opportunity for weaknesses (and strengths) to show themselves.

I am put in mind of young Jack Kennedy writing during the war that it seemed to him Americans operated best only when things were very easy or very rough, not so much in the middle.

He was perhaps describing something that he (and you) saw as an American trait, but that others might see as a characteristic of any heterogeneous society.

So you sign off on that?

It is a truth, yes. Not the truth, of course.

It doesn’t seem that our society has gotten any less heterogeneous since 1943.

But focus on the question at hand. That heterogeneous nature: How does it manifest in your society’s reaction to the challenge the virus is?

I can feel a couple of ideas stirring, but why don’t you save us time and energy with a series of bullet points?

We can try to do it that way, we’ll see. Here are a couple of fault lines that are obvious.

  • Belief or disbelief in science as an explanatory principle.
  • Or as an establishment that is or is not politically or economically corrupted.
  • Belief or disbelief in government as well-intended, transparent, and/or competent.
  • Belief or disbelief in life as making sense or life as being a meaningless chaos.
  • Gnawing fears as to whom to trust, what to trust.
  • Belief or disbelief in what sources of information may be believed as both knowledgeable and honest (i.e. not tendentious). This almost overlaps the previous point, but not entirely.
  • A sense or an absence of a sense of, “We’re all in this together.”

Now, none of this ought to be new to anyone, but it may be that it hasn’t occurred to you to consider these points not separately but together. Separately, each point may seem more like pathology than

That sentence was getting out of hand. I think you meant, we might look at certain positions in any of the bullets and think, “That’s crazy, how can they believe that?” but we’d be better off to see that all of the positions, taken together, can give us a better understanding of various people’s worldviews.

Yes. Thank you. Nobody is only his or her economic or political or ideological beliefs, nor are any of these unmixed with one’s beliefs about science, metaphysics, etc., even if one doesn’t realize that s/he has such beliefs. In fact, such beliefs are most powerful (and potentially most destructive) to the degree that they are unconscious, hence beyond the individual’s awareness.

I see the connection. The more homogenous the society, the narrower the spectrum of opinion.

Let’s say, the less range for widely shared extremes. We realize that sounds like saying the same thing. But you can see, perhaps, how difficult it is for your society to arrive at a meaningful consensus about diagnosis or response.

Yes. We’re inclined to blame other opinions on malice or ignorance, and there is no shortage of either quality.

There never is, but they don’t always wreak such havoc. That is the example of a weak spot that the virus situation is probing, and revealing. Don’t assume that just because a condition becomes obvious, that it is therefore dealt with. But we can say that if it does not become obvious, it cannot be dealt with.

We can only deal with whatever we are conscious of.

Well – you can only deal consciously with whatever you are conscious of. You’ll deal with unconscious content one way or another, but not consciously, and therefore probably not very well.

And there’s your hour.

Our thanks as always, and see you next time.

 

Papa’s Trial — the novel that announced its own coming

My favorite Hemingway photo. Would have used it on the cover it we could have figured out permissions.

I’d never had a novel announce itself in quite that way.

A long time ago (June 3, 2012), I was driving to my friend Nancy Ford’s house, which was a journey of about half an hour from doorstep to doorstep. Within \that time, suddenly the idea for a novel presented itself in a couple of jumps.

I even knew the title: “Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife.”

The spine of the story is simple enough. After Ernest Hemingway kills himself, he finds himself accused in an afterlife venue, one indictment after another. He is allowed a defense not only of his actions but of his thoughts, feelings and motivations.

The idea came complete with the scenes that would be prologue and epilog. All the rest would have to be figured out, but I knew that this would be only a matter of sitting down and doing the work.

It wasn’t without reason that this happened as I was driving to Nancy’s. For the previous few years, she had closely watched as I had become increasingly involved with Hemingway, reading his books, reading books about his life, talking to him in a series of conversations that I finally turned into a non-fiction book I called Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway. When I told her about the idea that had come to me, I said, “I’ve missed him,” and to my surprise I found myself all choked up, which told me something.

Of course it is one thing to have a great idea, and quite another to turn that idea into reality. So many angles to figure out! So many possible approaches to take! So many promising dead-ends to work my way out of. Does he have a lawyer, or a “friend” such as the British Navy provided accused officers in the 1700s, as described in the Hornblower novels? Would the trial closely resemble trials in the 3D, and if not, how would it differ? Would the charges be general or specific? If specific, would he confront his accusers, many of which would be still in the body? Should I draw up a bill of particulars? The novel would have to build to a climax. What would it be?

I asked, and Papa said, “It wouldn’t have to be the question itself, but what the impact on me was of all the questions, all the answers. The bursting forth from a lesser sense of self to a greater.”

I said, “An emotional climax for Papa?”

“Not necessarily, though that would help. An emotional and mental climax for the reader!

So then I began the process of writing. I tried this and that, retaining some things, eliminating others, and at a certain point giving up on that draft and beginning again. For a while I included abrasive interaction between the prosecutor and the defense attorney, but ultimately I decided it was disruptive and diversionary, and I took that out. But lots of times, the only way to find out if something would work was tor try it, only to see that indeed it wouldn’t. On the other hand, sometimes it would.

I can’t remember how many full drafts I wrote in the past nine years. Seven, anyway, and innumerable variants of each. Not that I spent all my time writing and re-writing Papa’s Trial. Long months would go by when I would leave it, unable to think how to proceed. But each period of rest would be followed by another period of activity, and I must say, I never enjoyed anything more in my life than the time I spent reliving Papa’s life, sometimes discussing it with him as I went along, creating and recreating confrontations, reconciliations, and sometimes renewed hostilities, as he dealt with the testimony of witness after witness. And because the story takes place in the afterlife, it gave me plenty of opportunity to discuss what our 3D and non-3D life is really all about.

So many tales to tell! So many tales he spent his life telling, retelling, reworking to suit his emotional needs. Some were true, some true but embellished, some false, some false but illustrative. Life in the Midwest, and slices of his life in France, Italy, Spain, Cuba – even several months in China just before we entered World War II. The process of creation, and the politics of getting his creations into print. Love and its endless complications. Fear and “afraid of nothing.” His religious feelings, so little suspected. His breadth of experience, encompassing opera, fiction, painting, sports fishing, hunting, war…

And what a cast of characters! His parents. His four wives. So many famous and not so famous people he knew. (Oddly, the story had no place for his children. I still wonder why it didn’t.)

Quite a story, and of course I couldn’t tell all of it, nor anything like all of it. But what I was able to tell ought to be an education for those whose knowledge of Hemingway is confined to the Hemingway Myth.

Finally, last year life kicked me in the tail when I learned that Ken Burns was going to do a special on Hemingway, so I took another look at it, polished it, shortened parts of it, and finally persuaded Chris Nelson’s SNN Publishing to get the book out. It is set to be published this month. So now we’ll see. I am hoping that at least a few of those who will be intrigued by the Burns/Novick special will be motivated to take a look at Hemingway’s life with an upbeat ending, after the ending we all know about.

As a teaser, here’s how Papa’s Trial begins.

Prologue: The End?

His 62nd birthday was approaching, and he didn’t want to be there to see it. He wasn’t Hemingway anymore, he was a frail old man. The doctors had him at 50 pounds under his fighting weight. He couldn’t fish, couldn’t hunt, couldn’t write. Couldn’t read. Couldn’t fuck or fight or do one damned thing he loved doing. He couldn’t even remember!

This was worth clinging to?

In the early morning he went downstairs, quietly. Mary wouldn’t thank him if he forced her to prevent it again. She had left the keys where he could get them.

He had the shotgun out of the case. He thought of his father, long dead, remembering how bitterly he had criticized the old man, and for how many years. “It took a while, dad,” he thought, “but I finally saw your point. Sometimes there just isn’t any going on.”

He had the shotgun loaded. Where to do it? Somewhere where she couldn’t help seeing it. “Take that, you bitch! You were hand in glove with them, you’ve whittled me down, you’ve got me where you wanted me, at least see the result.”

(Was that fair?  Was it Mary’s fault, really? He pushed aside the whisper of doubt, as he held off any thought of his sons, of anyone he had loved. The Hemingway they had loved was gone. This was just clearing away the debris.)

He pulled the triggers, expecting it to be the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TGU — and me — on the virus and warfare analogy

Saturday, April 3, 2021

4:50 a.m. As so often, I sit down to work feeling that I should know where we go next, yet don’t quite know. Here, for instance, I get that there’s a logical continuance to your argument about the virus and our civilization, but without re-reading the past few entries, I don’t know what it would be – and I get the sense that my reading them is not the thing to do. Sometimes it seems okay to, other times not. So I hope you have today’s lecture prepared, professors.

As it happens, we do, only it is not a prepared script, but an intention to wander through a certain territory. The exact path we travel depends upon where the interaction takes us, as usual.

As opposed to Seth’s way of working, say.

Everybody’s style is different, in non-3D as in 3D. What else would you expect?

I still sometimes slip into thinking of the non-3D as more homogenous, more undifferentiated.

Yes, just as we know everything, etc.

In any case —

The trend of our talk is that World War III, like its military predecessors, is out to transform society, and an analogy that comes to us is one you may not care for, at first blush, but may grow on you.

Yes, I feel it – and for what it’s worth, that’s exactly what happened within me, in a matter of seconds: First revulsion, then acceptance, then a sort of appreciation of the aptness of the analogy.

Remember that it is analogy, not literal description, but still it has its uses. So set it out for us and we will correct if need be.

Well, a virus attacks a body’s weaknesses, not its strengths. Just as a plague takes out the weakest, or a plant infection takes out the compromised plants, so this is a way of culling a society not in the way a war does – by taking the most vigorous – but

No, let me say that more carefully, because as I was writing it, it clarified on me.

Good. Continue.

In the first war, — well, how far back do you want me to go? Even starting at World War I is starting at the middle, in a sense, or rather, there isn’t any beginning to the process. You can always go back farther to show prior changes.

Begin with the conventions of 1914 and take them as given. As you say, you have to start somewhere. And remember, this isn’t a history lesson, it is an analogy. Oversimplify.

[Putting my stuff in Roman rather than italic, because most of what follows is from me, and Roman is easier to read than italic.]

Okay. In prewar 1914, war was understood to involve primarily combatants, not civilians. War always involved collateral damage, to property particularly, but civilians, though they might be liable to robbery, rape, imprisonment, etc., were not regarded as legitimate targets of warfare. For that matter, warfare at least in Western Europe was not expected to involve massive destruction of civilian property. Such things as churches, universities, etc. were just not legitimate targets of military activity. People had been working for decades to hedge warfare around with rules to civilize it, you might say. That’s one reason that the German invasion of Belgium was so incendiary. It wasn’t just that they invaded, it was how they invaded, because the German army, infuriated that the Belgians resisted rather allow them free passage, took to them with fire and sword. Photos of churches and libraries reduced to single standing walls shocked the world, and of course the Allied governments knew how to channel that shock into anti-German sentiment.

One thing led to another. Whereas in July 1914 [that is, before the war], everyone agreed to certain rules of warfare, by the time “peace” returned after November, 1918, all the rules had been destroyed or ignored. Entire civilian populations (beginning with the Belgians) were being starved. Artillery barrages were attacking cities. Taxicabs had been mobilized in one case, to move the French army to meet an emergency. [An example of the blurring of the lines between military and civilian.] Poison gas, unrestricted submarine warfare (which involved the sinking of civilian ships without prior warning and without allowing crews and passengers to save themselves in lifeboats) were blurring the lines between military and civilian. Within months of the declaration of war, the British were attempting to starve out the Germans by interdicting all seaborne commerce. Zeppelins bombed English cities without any pretense of seeking military targets; they were out to spread civilian terror if possible, thinking that then English, having been immune to invasion since 1066, might panic if they got a taste of warfare at home.

I’m sorry to go on at such length, but it’s hard to say even the barest bones of the change in a few words. The point is, the reason the people of the 1920s – the survivors of this massive social earthquake – were so demoralized, hysterical, rootless, was because they knew at an unconscious level and to a lesser extent at a semi-conscious level and to a still lesser extent at a conscious level, how mortal a blow the prewar world had suffered. Parenthetically, this is why Hemingway’s first books made such an immense impact, and, to a lesser degree, those of others like Remarque and dos Passos. The artists – the sensitive fingertips of human society – sensed and expressed something that neither they nor their public yet understood, but did feel.

The second war continued the process and made it even more brutal, moving from the destruction of Poland in two weeks to the deliberate and needless destruction of undefended Rotterdam by air raids, to the street-by-street destruction of Stalingrad and the 900-day starvation of Leningrad, to the air raids that destroyed Dresden and so many other cities, and on to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I assure you, this is only the most superficial of glances at the continued downward spiral of brutality, that led all involved to do things by the end of the war that they would never have dreamed themselves capable of doing at the beginning.

But the point of our analogy —

Yes, I sort of buried it, didn’t I? The point is that at the beginning, war took the most physically fit, the soldiers and sailors and airmen, boys and young men in the prime of life. But as the war stretched on, not only did the combatants take older and older, and younger and younger – the war spilled over and took women, and children – even babies, who starved to death because of food blockades, or who were malnourished and stunted. It took old men, it took everybody, and it spared nothing by category. By 1945, it was clear that war itself had become the enemy of human existence. Some leaders – Eisenhower, Macmillan, Kennedy, even Khrushchev, finally – saw it more clearly, more quickly than others, but gradually it became clear to even the stupidest. (In 1963 the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that ended testing in the atmosphere, which had become routine, was very controversial. Who would advocate such testing today?)

Refocus, a bit. This is useful but still leaves the essence unsaid.

War can no longer be counted on to concentrate on the fittest; now it may be said to concentrate on the most defenseless. (That’s a half-truth at best, but I’m trying to get this out.) The virus may perhaps be carrying on where the warfare left off, attacking the most vulnerable.

No, that isn’t quite it. Let us take it from here. We couldn’t have produced this summary so easily; perhaps you couldn’t produce the prognosis.

[Reverting to TGU in Roman, me in itals]

Go ahead, it’ll be a pleasure to merely write.

As if you ever confined yourself to that! But here it is. Just as a medical virus is most deadly among those with the most compromised immune systems, so a social virus attacks a society’s weakest points, not its strengths Or rather, so a broad unfocused attack is most destructive to the weak points, not the strong points. And that’s what you’re seeing, as we will explain next time.

I feel like I got carried away, but even what I did say didn’t scratch the surface.

No, it’s fine. People need the perspective, and they aren’t going to spend years acquiring it. A few pages won’t overwhelm anybody, and remember, these are words used as sparks, not as building blocks. You will have set some people to seeing things in a new way, and you’ll never know who, nor is there any reason that you need to know.

Okay, well, I feel like this time you should be telling me, “Thanks for all this.” 🙂  Till next time.