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ELLA WHEELER WILCOX
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
The poetess Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) is seldom heard of today. Her fall from grace coincided with the rise of the so-called New Criticism, the domain of the stronger sex. Ella had committed the unpardonable mortal sin, according to the largely failed and frustrated poets of that empyrean realm, of being sentimental, optimistic, and wildly successful. Anyone who is truly interested in succeeding in any walk of life will find Ella's life illuminating, especially women who find themselves living in a man's world. That world is, as everybody knows, fundamentally a reasonable male world as opposed to the feminine sentimental one, even though we do find a few foolishly romantic men crying over silly poems throughout recorded history.
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Fortunately for Ella, she did not live in Marguerite Porete's time: Marguerite was burned at the stake in 1310 for daring to elevate Love over Reason in her wonderful book about annihilated souls. Nevertheless, Ella was in her own time subjected to scathing, contemptuous, scientific criticism for identifying Heart with Art. A stanza from 'Communism' suits the occasion: "When the court of the mind is ruled by Reason, I know it is wiser for us to part But Love is a spy who is plotting treason, In league with that warm, red rebel, the Heart. They whisper to me that the King is cruel, That his reign is wicked, his law a sin, And every word they utter is fuel To the flame that smolders within." Heart and Art have always been and always will be one, yet that does not keep imbeciles from trying to rip them apart. New Criticism worshipped mechanical literary contraptions, employing pseudo-scientific methods to dismember what cannot be set asunder by any man. Consequently, the critical works of the New Critics, the literary conclave that literally pushed aside many Nineteenth-century female writers, are some of the dreariest ever printed for any private club of self-congratulatory gentlemen. To this very day, their critical progeny are writing tedious tracts about how to write poetry. With some of the finest poetry of the greatest minds available in public libraries, only the naive would pay so much as a thin dime for the advice of such narrowminded pedants. In the interest of being fair, however, we should sum up the statements the critical harpies, parrots, and magpies, led by I.A. Richards, brought to bear on Ella's work. They said her productions were facile, fatuous, easy, immature, lowbrow, bad, stereotyped, conventional, a pure phenomenon of democracy, middle-class, lawless and wanton. Furthermore, this poetess of passion, leader of fireside sentiment and facile optimism, had created a ridiculous record of sentimental feminine attitudinizing. Her biographer Jenny Ballou rendered the oft-quoted final assessment: Ella was "a bad major poet." We of "vulgar" taste prefer to decide for ourselves, and, despite a vague feeling of incompetence, we are doing so more frequently now that the gate keepers are being put into the right place by new technological advances; buried by their own intellectual abstractions, which at bottom reveal that taste is like an anus: everyone has one. Hence with renewed innocence we may now rely on Ella's work rather than dwell on the perversities of her arrogant detractors. She is known to us today through these lines from 'Solitude':
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"Laugh, and the world laughs with you Weep, and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, But has trouble enough of its own. Sing, and the hills will answer Sigh, it is lost on the air. The echoes bound to a joyful sound But shrink from voicing care." Ella's burning desire was to lift herself and her family out of poverty; she chose writing as her means. She was born in Wisconsin. Her parents were Marcus Hatwell Wheeler—a dance teacher, music teacher and farmer—and Sarah Pratt—a woman who sought solace in literature from the drabness of her frugal life. Sarah, who memorized prodigious amounts of poetry, encouraged Ella to write. When Ella was nine, she produced an eleven-chapter novel bound in kitchen wallpaper. Her professional career began at fourteen when she submitted prose to the New York 'Mercury' to pay for an expired subscription. Along with the 'Mercury', 'Leslie's Weekly' and 'Waverly Magazine' accepted her prose sketches. Eager to get her family out of poverty, Ella quit school to devote her time to writing. From the very outset, she was hardly interested in a formal education, attending the University of Wisconsin for one miserable year. Writing was her all, her way out, her path to freedom, and she meant business. Ella made her dream come true: she succeeded. She wrote syndicated columns and books, in prose and in verse. Her claim to fame was as a newspaper poet. For instance, when Queen Victoria died, Ella was invited to join reporters of the New York 'American' as their official poet at the royal funeral. The Britons already loved Ella's poems, which were taught in schools and quoted throughout the land. They loved her even more for her 'The Queen's Last Ride', from which we quote the opening lines: "The Queen is taking a drive today They have hung with purple the carriageway. They have dressed with purple the royal track Where the Queen goes forth and never comes back. "Let no man labor as she goes by On her last appearance to mortal eye With head uncovered let all men wait For the Queen to pass, in her regal state." Ella wrote about love, optimism, marriage, temperance, the labor movement, classless society, history, life crises, and so on. Much of her prose consists of moral platitudes, little sketches o f about 500 words. She often wrote about letters she received: she was the Dear Abby, the Ann
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Landers of her time. Those of us who have been criticized for using platitudes can certainly appreciate her platitudinous statement about platitudes in 'Women Who Want to Succeed': that all successful people study the platitudes; they know them already or find them out. "We are given to sneering at platitudes in this age, and we sometimes forget that principles are platitudes. "We despise the commonplace, yet the virtues are commonplace qualities, when we come down to the facts." In the same, typically brief, moral essay, she addressed the question whether one should seek advice in order to succeed: "In the first place, do not ask advice. Look about you, and observe people whom you admire and wish to emulate, and those whom you do not admire, and whose example you would avoid." What excellent advice to follow! If only more writers would start studying the best literature in the world rather than the horrid how-to-write articles plaguing the world today. Most of Ella's moral pieces proceed from some maxim or platitude hence each article can easily be summed up in a few words. In 'The Abuse of Children', she argues that puritanical repression of natural desire makes vice more attractive to children. "The devil must laugh his sides sore to see how straight-laced virtue whips her children into his ranks." As for 'The Management of Husbands', a good marriage requires compromise, respect for differences, and mutual expressions of affection and praise. And, 'A Husband's Duty' is to give his wife not only a fine home to live in but also, on regular occasions, his undivided attention. She says, in 'Society Smiles on the Man', that a double standard prevails because it is not condemned. In 'Women's Influence Over Man', she states matter-of-factly that "The light words of a woman, lightly spoken, of times weigh heavily on the scales of fate." Furthermore, "More than one prison door has been opened for and shut upon a bank defaulter, or a forger, by a woman's words." 'The Woman Who Knows it All' holds that "Nothing is more terrible in human form as the woman who knows it all." She succinctly avers, regarding 'People We Do Not Like' that "If we cannot like them, let us not be like them."
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Most importantly, in 'Believe in Yourself', Ella advises that it might take many years to succeed, but if you believe in yourself and persevere with a good idea, you shall succeed. Ella was not adverse to receiving money. In, 'Literary Confessions of a Western Poetess', she said, "I received my first cheque, and felt fully launched on the great sea of literature." Again, her poetry was not an end but a means to save her family and to raise her social status. It was, to wit, her work. She further confessed, "Thank God for the gift that enabled me such broadening pleasures and advantages in life." As for the critics, she claimed that, if critics had trained her, "I should have been a better poet, but a less useful financier and citizen. I should be remembered longer by critics, but less gratefully by those to whom I owe my existence." She retracted that statement later, when she became more aware of the true character of the critics and their intellectual gallimaufry and charlatanism. Of course women want to know where Ella stood on the "Women's Question" of her day. She was no radical feminist by our standards. She put her foot down most firmly in her insistence that women have bodies; therefore girls must be taught both the physical and spiritual aspects of life: "Our grandmothers and mothers never confessed to the possession of bodies and knew nothing about themselves physically." She expressed her physical feelings in POEMS OF PASSION. Her vague eroticism therein would not cause anyone to blink or blush today, but a Chicago publisher "inadvertently" rejected it as "immoral". Milwaukee citizens gave her $500 and a testimonial. Another Chicago publisher saw the possibilities of scandal and published the book. It was a success: in two years, 60.000 copies were sold. Therefore, when seeking the secret of Ella's success, we must pay some obeisance to Luck, inasmuch as the mistake of one publisher worked to another publisher's advantage. It was her big break. She was thereafter called, derisively by the critical harpies, the "poetess of passion." She went on to say such scandalas things as, in 'Poems of Sentiment' (1892): "So vast the tide of Love within me surging, It overflows like some stupendous sea...." (!) And, most prominently, in the same poem: "And couldst thou give me one fond hour of passion, I'd take that hour and call my life complete." And here is a brutally orgiastic line of hers, I do not remember from whence: "Here is my body, bruise it if you will, And break my heart I have that something still."
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What of Ella's real love in this world? In 1884 she married Robert Marius Wilcox for life. He died first, in 1916, of pneumonia. They had been fascinated with Theosophy and Spiritualism they had also studied under Swami Vivekananda. After her husband's death, Ella tried to reach him in the spirit world by means of a Ouija board. She believed he instructed her to make a tour of the Allied forces in France. She did so, reading her poems and giving advice on such subjects as venereal disease. Unfortunately, she had a nervous breakdown; she returned to her home at Short Beach, where she had once reigned as queen of her own salon, and died shortly thereafter of cancer. Her friend, the poet Edwin Markham, read the Spiritualistic service. Why do we often appreciate people more after they are gone? Why do we wait until their death to sadly rejoice in a greatness that looked all too small to us in the flesh at the time? Is it reason that interferes, a reason enslaved by self-love, by fear of losing one's own self? As for critics, I am one of the critics I mock. And why do I mock my kind? Am I to be a master of mockery who mocks himself in others to teach them well of our mutual faults, and then by bad example? Inside POEMS OF PASSION we find the poem 'Mockery': "Why do we grudge our sweets so to the living, Who, God knows, find at best too much of gall, And then with generous, open hands kneel, giving Unto the dead our all? "Why do we pierce the warm hearts, sin or sorrow, With idle jests, or scorn, or cruel sneers, And when it cannot know, on some tomorrow, Speak of its woe through tears? "What do the dead care for the tender token— The love, the praise, the floral offerings? But palpitating, living hearts are broken For want of just these things". For people looking for Keys to Success in this life, Ella's were: 1) Motive: she wanted to help her parents and raise her status. She did not want to be a starving artist: she wanted to get ahead. 2) Ambition: she was all for Progress, in America! 3) Productive: she churned out her poems, worked hard, persevered, and she flooded the magazines and papers with her work. 4) Chance: the scandal of her "prurient" interest was "discovered" due to a publisher's inadvertent refusal of her book.
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5) Genius: do not dismiss her guardian spirit. She spoke, accordingly, from her heart. 6) Optimism: she remained optimistic, believing in herself and her work. 7) Informed: she was a world traveler to exotic places who still spoke to the hearts of housewives who had been nowhere—and she knew their hearts from personal experience. 8) Occultism: she spoke to those who had lost husbands and sons in the war and longed to reach them. 9) Generosity: she was always willing to give of herself, to offer advice to those in need. 10) Circumstances (related to Chance): poetry was popular in newspapers and magazines of the day. References: Wilcox, Ella Wheeler, THE WORLDS AND I, New York: George Doran, 1918 Wilcox, Ella Wheeler, EVERYDAY THOUGHTS AND VERSE, Chicago: Conkey, 1901 Wilcox, Ella Wheeler, POEMS OF PASSION, Chicago: Belford, Clarke, 1885 Ballou, Jenny, PERIOD PIECE, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940 Pulos, C.E., THE NEW CRITICS AND THE LANGUAGE OF POETRY, Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Study #19, March 1998
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ELLA WHEELER WILCOX AND MADAME BLAVATSKY
Ella Wheeler Wilcox was an "extraordinary ordinary" woman who rose from poverty to international acclaim by writing little poems and moral articles for the newspapers. Later in life, she became fascinated by the possibility of paranormal experiences. I followed the generally accepted 'feminist' thesis when writing Ella's biographical sketch (Ella Wheeler Wilcox); to wit, that her work is not very well known today because influential male chauvinists took over poetry and suppressed her work as well as the work of other female poets. Ella was a wildly successful poetess and role model in her day. Many of her fans were housewives who tried their hands at poetry from time to time. No doubt quite a few husbands believed the ladies were wasting their time with poetry and wanted to keep them otherwise occupied - with their marital or household duties, of course. No doubt certain gentlemen went so
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far as to tear up any poems they managed to find hidden away around the house and to otherwise discourage the aspiring poetasters. Professional critics resented Ella's success, I think because they had themselves failed dismally as poets, or had enjoyed some repute and turned to criticism when the muse abandoned them because they lacked the very sentiment they disparaged women for possessing. Women's success at poetry was not the only blow to the male ego; even worse, some women were making good money, and worldly success during the early phase of the scientific-industrial revolution was supposed to be the rightful domain of the stronger sex. The feminist slant I took for my little essay about Ella angered several male intellectuals. On the other hand, women for the most part responded enthusiastically. As pioneers of the virtual world know, the advent of the Internet and open publishing in the form webzines released a flood of poetry previously dammed up in homes for want of enough media to exhibit it. It seemed as if almost everyone had become a poet overnight. Poetry was by far the favorite category on every writing site, more popular than recipes. The servers were so inundated by poems that information managers attempted to eliminate Poetry from the taxonomic scheme of things. Literally thousands of new poems were being posted on the Internet everyday. It was at that time that I chanced upon a few of Ella's poems at the brick-and-mortar library. I inquired further into the public catalogue and was suitably impressed by Ella and her work, and concluded that Internet poets would be interested in her, especially since the Internet affords talented women with a revolutionary opportunity to express themselves poetically and to lay claim to their literary deserts in the literary world. I believe that some of the turns we are taking in this Information Age have certain parapsychic implications for those of us who are more comfortable with the Age of Aquarius if not with the American Transcendentalists and Spiritualists. I did not dwell on Ella's occult life and the fact that Ella was under the influence of Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society in my little biography, hence I am moved to bring forward some of that information here. Ella was particularly captivated by Annie Besant, the formerly atheistic sociologist who fell under the spiritual spell of Blavatsky and became her primary protégé. Mahatma Gandhi, among many other renowned spiritual leaders, was deeply influenced by Madame Blavatsky, Besant &Co. Madame Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled are her main written texts. Blavatsky the person was denounced as a charlatan, a sort of spiritual nomad who wandered over the face of the earth consulting spiritual masters and smoking a lot of tobacco from the cat's head pouch that she carried on a thong about her neck. She mesmerized many of the scientists who investigated her, although they were not too impressed by her tricks; for instance, the letters from the secret Masters that dropped mysteriously out of the curtains. Séances to contact the dead were in vogue in the deathly days: millions had died violently in the Great War; the aggrieved wanted to contact their beloved ones. Of course the séances were
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roundly denounced as fraudulent - Harry Houdini went out of his way to expose the frauds. Yet even today people claim to be in regular contact with the departed. Who knows for certain that contact has not been made? Houdini's obsession with exposing the frauds certainly indicates an unconscious wish that someone, perhaps his own dead mother, would communicate from the other world. I sometimes get an overwhelming feeling when I am intensely studying a particular historical period or person, a feeling that I am personally in touch with the living souls of people long gone from the face of the Earth. So I wonder, Can contact be made with departed souls? Ella Wheeler raised that very Question in her book, The Worlds and I. And, in 'The Search of a Soul in Sorrow, she claimed that her departed husband had never lied to her about the subject. The poem begins thus: You Promised Me That was a mighty promise you made me; - not once, But many a time Whenever we discussed the topic death You promised me that there were such things possible In God's vast Universe, You would send back a message to my listening soul, Now I am listening with bated breath... Moses, Elias, Matthew, Mark and John Paul and Cornelius, Buddha, Swedenborg All talked with Angels. Science, which once denied, now publicly investigates. I do not seek alone. The 1916 poem speaks to those of us who are still seekers even though we discount the old séances as outright frauds. We seek skeptically, however. Houdini allegedly made a similar commitment, to give some sign to Bess, his beloved wife, from the other world, if possible. If anyone, besides Sisyphus, the infamous trickster who cheated death, could loosen Death's bonds long enough to speak, surely Houdini could. Ella Wheeler was certainly not easily discouraged: she gives us a considerable account of her frustrating quest to make contact with her beloved Robert. She was no fool: she was not deceived by charlatans nor was she drawn in by the bigots who tried to hustle her. Nor was she much interested in what she considered to be mundane paranormal phenomena, the sort of thing that many thousands of people are intrigued by to this very day in one peculiar form or another. For example, she wrote about her experience with an occult phenomenon called "precipitation." "I began to visit reputable psychics. Many interested me, some distracted me, a few comforted me with what seemed real messages from the Great Beyond. Others gave only what might have been read from my mind. Still others gave the babble of elementals. None of them satisfied me.
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One man gave me my first illustration of that curious phenomenon, 'precipitation.' He sat at one end of a room flooded with southern California sunshine, I at the other. On a table beside me were fifty or more slates. He told me to select two and strap them together (after sponging them well) and to place them under my feet. Then I was instructed to take a sheet of paper from the table, write the names of three people who had gone away from earth, and ask one question; to seal this in an envelope and hold it in my hand. I held this for a half hour, while the man with the occult power sat quietly writing at the opposite end of the room. Suddenly he said: 'Look at your slates.' I looked at the slates and found a forget-me-not flower, in water colors, on one corner, and both slates were filled with a message signed by my husband name. No human hands had touched the slates. They were blank when placed by me under my feet. Yet I was not thrilled or stirred... I knew it was a genuine phenomenon, known to occult students... It is a peculiar mental power which enables the possessor of it to obtain facts from the sitter's mind, and precipitate them upon paper or slates... I did not believe for one instant that my husband had sent the message. It was not the message of a spirit, longing for months to communicate with the dearest soul on earth, would send when first the door was opened. It left me utterly cold, and simply curious." Thus Ella believes paranormal phenomena may exist, yet she is not about to be hoodwinked. I, for one, share her attitude. I believe it is possible to contact departed souls and spirits in the 'Beyond', but I have seen no convincing evidence to convince me that any such contact has been made. As for Madame Blavatsky, I believe that she had paranormal powers, and that she was a charlatan as well - I do not believe that 'precipitation' was caused by a magical psychic power. I know that we are the dead alive, for I can literally see the faces of those who lived before us in the living faces around me. I know the spirit of Ella Wheeler communicates with me when I think about her and read her poetry. I enjoy that experience, and that is why have rejoined her with this second little essay, which I hope will pique the psychic reader's interest.
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Excerpts from the Exchange between Kritik and Author, In reference to the Essay entitled ‘Ella Wheeler Wilcox’ by David Arthur Walters. On Moral Resentment & Indignation "Moral indignation is only a refined form of ancient vengeance. Once anger spoke with daggers, now words will do. And happy is the man who, loving and thirsting to chastise his offender, yet is appeased when the offense is punished. On account of the gratification it offers to the passions, morality which has replaced bloody chastisement, will not easily lose its charm." Leo Shestov, All Things Are Possible "That the moral concepts are ultimately based on emotions either of indignation or approval is a fact which a certain school of thinkers have in vain attempted to deny." Edward Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas "Farther, since men by natural passion are divers ways offensive one to another, every man thinking well of himself, and hating to see the same in others, they must needs provoke one another by words, and other signs of contempt and hatred, which are incident to all comparison;
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till at last they must determine the pre-eminence by strength and force of body." Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law Preface Subsequent to the publication of my Essay, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the Fallen Poetess, I (Author) received from an Internet friend of mine (Kritik) his criticism of Ella's poetry and my essay. I present our casual exchange below with his permission, under the proviso that his name not be revealed. I regret to say that my friend has passed away since then. When I first encountered him, he had recently retired from a career at the F.B.I. which had brought him into association with leading sociologists and psychologists of his day. My best critic was a true conservative in the classical sense; that is, of Lucan's Cato. He enjoyed crossing swords to keep his intellect sharp. He was usually fair and always tolerant, yet he had his pet peeves, two prominent ones being the feminist assault on the university curriculum especially literature and history - and the 'cult of poverty' ideology. As for me, I was a sort of self-educated "street fighter" when I met him. I tended to act conservatively and think radically. Part of my exchange with my friend, may he rest in peace, is disingenuous, to put it euphemistically. I intended my essay on Ella to be provocative: I was in fact delighted that I had goaded a man of his intellectual distinction into making his response. He was even more indignant when I said the students in Germany, before the Great War, should have dragged their professors, including Professor Weber, out of the classrooms and hung them on campus instead of adulating them. In the final analysis, my friend’s critical approach wins the day, at least in civilized society, yet I believe several of my points are well made. KRITIK Perhaps one reason Ella Wilcox lost her popularity was not that she was a woman, not that I. A. Richards attacked her, but rather that twentieth-century taste had changed from the Victorian love of shallow thoughts expressed as sentimental drivel. It was not her excess of "emotion" but rather her lack of depth that repels many twentieth-century readers. To understand this point, compare her emotive style with the first Thomas Wolf, who seems even more emotional than Wilcox and gushed even more than she did. But the Wolfe of "You Can't Go Home Again" was well read, highly skilled with words and let us behind his mask, the opposite of Wilcox's work. That is why I like Wolfe's writing.
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Wolfe's main problem was not his emotional excesses, but his excess of words. Wolf was not a shallow thinker, but an over-enthusiastic writer. In contrast, Wilcox had the discipline to trim her words but her thoughts seem shallow due to a lack of serious reading on her part. Wilcox's shallow thoughts expressed with a sentimental style seems quite dated, not only today, but also stuck in time so that those before, say Thomas Jefferson or Henry Adams would not have praised her writing. Wilcox would probably be out of place almost anywhere except for anti-intellectual and poorly uneducated readers who dislike serious reading and prefer to try to "feel happy" by avoiding the difficult task of thinking about life. The shallow nature of Ella's writing would have benefited a lot from reading the great books. Unfortunately, instead, of being guided by an imaginary dialogue with the best writers and philosophers from the past, her prose and poetry lack the fresh, firm feel of original thought, and instead seems guided by an over-ripe, maudlin approach which weakly slides around like the muscle flab under a fat woman's arm and has the soft, sweet smell of over-ripe fruit.... The relative excellence of a work should be independent of how pleased your are with the author's personal life. A wonderful person can be a terrible writer while troubled souls like Poe, Kafka and Schopenhauer can produce world class work. The literary critic who praises the author's personal life may be acting like "a butcher with his thumb on the scale." 1) Did Wilcox get ten extra points from Author for being female? 2) Did you give her another ten extra points for her work ethic and family values in moving from "rags to riches"? 3) Did you give her a further ten extra points for being attacked by I.A. Richards, a writer that you don't like? If history has given Wilcox an almost failing "D" grade of 65, have you cooked the books and given her a bogus extra 30 points that moved Wilcox to an 'A" grade of 95? Have you given Wilcox extra points as a writer for being a female with a personal life you like and enemies you dislike? If this trend continues, eventually both the critics and the public can avoid the trouble of actually reading anything. "Literary excellence" will come to mean that the author was the "correct" sex and lived her personal life to high standards of excellence, while making the right enemies. AUTHOR "Whenever we hear or read any not too nonsensical opinion, a tendency so strong and automatic that it must have been formed along with our earliest speech habits, leads us to consider what
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seems to be said rather than the mental operations of the persons who said it. If the speaker is a recognized and obvious liar this tendency is, of course, arrested. We do then neglect what he has said and turn our intention instead to the motives or mechanisms that have caused him to say it." I.A. Richards, Practical Criticism But of course! And aren't we all liars to some extent in self-defense, in necessary hypocrisy, whether wittingly or unwittingly? Nonetheless, since the Devil is the only true monotheist who truly hates man and loves God (= Truth?), he from time to time deceives man the most by telling him the truth. Your attempt to anal-yze me rather than my discussed object was not truthful; and in terms of critical form it was bad form as you, like Richards, hate Sentiment. My native reaction to the analyst who pulls his beard in self-contemptuous criticism of others would be to refuse the cup of meds and to shoot him in the head. But that would make me a hypocrite, so I reflect again on this: "If thou hast not sovereignty over thine own beard, how wilt thou exercise sovereignty over good and evil? Without thy wish, thy beard grows white: be ashamed of thy beard, O thou whose hopes are perverse!" Jalal Rumi You provided no objective assessment of the work you criticized. Your reference to the shoving aside of Victorian sentiment is hardly objective. We can resent those doing the shoving, and point out how they were brainwashed with the cold, hard calculating drivel of the scientificindustrial revolution, causing diseased, or, as you say, "troubled" minds to pollute the world with their vile confused smog: alienated artists, get help, for crying out loud! Read Ella and be positive. Stop bellyaching about it and be successful. Besides, those doing the pushing are not the artists you deem great - most were critical hacks who controlled access to the media, malcontents who pushed discontent: fine, if there exists a demand for same; but there was instead a great demand for talent like Ella's, and they pushed her aside. Still, you do have great points on your side, I'm afraid. But look, I never said she was evil enough to be a great troubled artist, did I? But she was great for what she was, and I think you should read her little moral sketches - never mind the floral scent. She wrote good books. I suggest you actually read her work, and compare it with your own for its moral value rather than resenting her moral success. Finally, your analysis of my article in terms of motives and mechanisms can be summed up as follows: The author is a damned liar. KRITIK Perhaps that could be read into what I said, but that was NOT my goal, objective or feeling at the time... I am a psychologist, interested in the more subtle aspects of motivation that are beyond the awareness of most people, or at least seldom discussed by most people... I am interested in what is behind the mask, what is thought but not said, and how to detect, understand and block
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any attempt to influence me that is out of my awareness. My training in Social Psychology Research and later as a family therapist was rich in learning to look for "leakage", "incongruity", "sequence in time, and "shift of topics" as clues to hidden thought process, secret agendas and unconscious meaning as well as hidden wishes and fears." I like to look for hidden communication, reciprocity, manipulation, pacing, and implicit contracts by reading between the lines and looking at the sequence of topics et cetera. I like you and did not say anything out of negative feelings toward you. When I studied at Oxford University, they sent me a list of books to read before I got there. I read I.A. Richards' Seven Types of Ambiguity on the student boat from Canada to England and thought that Richards was very rational (which my thinking side likes) but since his book was about how to analyze poetry, my intuitive reaction at the time was: "Wait a minute, "there is a lot more to poetry than the rational part of the mind can understand or discuss using linear thinking." I must confess that I found Richards’ style rather tedious and pedantic, although quite intelligent. I just skimmed through his book to get the main point s. Today, I view Richards’ approach as like Star Trek’s "Data" trying to understand humor. I must tell you the opposite advice of two of my graduate school professors: A professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois who wrote boring books said: "Tell the reader what you are going to say, then say it, then say what you have said." A professor of Social Psychology at the U of Chicago said: "Make it a mystery. Start with an interesting question. Take the reader with you as you tell the story of interesting attempts to solve the problem. Make the reader turn every page, like a mystery story, until the solution is finally revealed at the end. Guess which professor understood human psychology better? Richards seems to have followed the advice of the professor who was a boring writer; someone should have told him to use the "detective story" method of writing prose. AUTHOR I think much socio-psychoanalysis is, under its facade of charitable intentions, built on the same foundation as criticism: moral resentment... At its basis, I have noticed that every psychological theory and critical theory is at bottom ambiguous, based on un-provable, absolute presuppositions no better than and usually worse than those of religions - do you see how critical I am?
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I see theorizing in the human "sciences" as myth-making. I know psychology is useful for the manipulation of human behavior. It is science to those who believe it. I don't. When I wrote about Ella, I cast her in a favorable light. She was a good human being in my opinion. I take your word for it, that you were unconscious of any hostile intentions when breaking down my work and making propositions about my personal motives side by side with your propositions about Ella's character; but I believe it is reasonable for anyone to suppose from it that such criticism is to wit saying the author is a liar about his object. And any effort to refute that is most likely "resistance." I am probably wrong, but will never know it because I do not trust the analysts. KRITIK My attack on Ella Wilcox was a test to find out if I should let you into the secret world behind my mask. You passed the test which is why I am sharing this with you. While I respect and admire you a lot, and have no malice toward you, nevertheless I let myself act in an offensive way without knowing why, but trusting my intuitive sense that there are good reasons which I will understand later. I realize that many people find it offensive to be "tested" so I am prepared for you to tell me that this was an unfair, immoral and hurtful tactic which ruins my chances to remain at our previous casual level, let alone for us to advance to the higher level of psychological intimacy that I want. However I need to find out how thin-skinned a potential friend is: how easily a candidate for friendship feels hurt and how quickly they get angry. I need to know how they react to a glimpse of my dark side (kept in a cage, but still not a comfortable experience for first time viewers) before I show them my vulnerable areas behind the mask. Your question: "By the way, may I borrow your credentials for awhile?" OK, whatever that means. I might be more helpful if I knew what you had in mind. By the way, I like these two quotes of Ella in your essay: "We are given to sneering at platitudes in this age, and we sometimes forget that principles are platitudes." "In the first place, do not ask advice. Look about you, and observe people whom you admire and wish to emulate, and those whom you do not admire, and whose example you would avoid." I agree with the first quote. I agree with all but the first sentence of the second quote. Why not do both: why not ask for advice AND also emulate those you admire? Not asking for advice is a form of insecurity; even world class experts can learn from the diverse skills of people they would normally avoid contact with. One of the best ways to learn new skills is to find out the techniques used by someone who is quite different from you.
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I learned this in a workshop that instructed us to pair off with someone so different from us that we would normally not seek them out as someone to share common values and similar techniques with. AUTHOR You do not have to bother on my account to reveal your true motives, assuming you can identify them and express them adequately to my limited understanding. We know motives have or seem to have - how shall I say it - an ambivalent character, and it is unfair to dwell exclusively on the down side, like the pessimist who ignores virtue for the love of vice, finding only wrong in friend and foe. Woe to the world then! so why does he not kill himself? and be done with his part of it? Because the world will persist despite his absence, and he would not miss the opportunity to hate it. Love is his life - not my life or your life, but his life, and he loves to hate the world and us. And rest assured, I do not resent your intuitive process, or "unconscious" operations as it were, followed by reflection and apologies. My vaguely expressed point is, We are in fact dragged about by unknown forces, no matter how reasonable and sophisticated we may be. Of course we have the opportunity to do some steering, and I wish you well with your wheel. By borrowing your credentials, I meant that, with your Oxford degree and other certifications awarded for your academic effort and practical experience, I could present myself as an (author)ity behind a myth (great truth) which might not revolutionize human evolution but would enable me to pay the rent doing what I love to do. You do not know how many times that, after listening to or reading "my" propositions, there is a long silence, then the question, "But what are your credentials? What degrees do you have?" And this even when my proposal is that each person should strive to be their own authority by, for instance, studying the Great Books and engaging in the Great Conversation. Then they would know my sources, and realize the propositions are not my exclusive property, and that "individuation" happens to be socialization. So I figured my project would be more practicable if I could slip into your credentials - I assume you have no criminal record...? Regarding the second quote, I noticed the ambiguity there and wonder if Ella did. I think of both verbal and non-verbal behavior as potential "advice." KRITIK I never accused you of lying about your affection for Ella's work. I just accused you of "breaking the rules" of literary criticism which says the main focus should be upon the work not the author. Perhaps it was wrong of me to speculate (really a question for you to deny or confirm) that perhaps you may have been influenced to break the rules by the "illiberal politics of closedminded coercion" from "women's studies" and other biased advocacy departments that have
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corrupted the intellectual climate of so many universities. However I consider this a fair question. My mistake was in asking the question in the form of an accusation, which was not polite, but much more dramatic and interesting. In terms of "polite" vs. "dramatic and interesting" I tend to favor the later, which is why I love Nietzsche's style so much and dislike the style of Norman Vincent Peal and other sugar-coated, very polite, very plastic, probably rather inauthentic writers. Before I got interested in psychology, my main interest was in English, French and German literature. I had read everything I could find in this area, including all the critical analysis, professional book reviews and guidelines for those engaged in literary criticism. Just as therapists have values (don't sleep with your patients) and lawyers have values (don't rat out your client even if he tells you he has committed a crime) in a similar way literary critics have professional values about the right and wrong ways to review a work. What I learned at the time was the knowledgeable lover of literature respects the work enough to analyzes the work on its own terms, in contrast to the freshman high school student who makes up for his ignorance about how to analyze literature, by talking about the life of the author. The rules of literary criticism I learned was to and never introduce into my discussion whatever I might know about the life of the author since if I did so, I would show myself to violate the rules of literary criticism, and so whatever I have to say is suspect or illegitimate in this area because I have chosen to contaminate my analysis of the work, with the methods and values of those who specialize in sociology, history or gossip. Later when I specialized in Sociology and then in Social and Clinical Psychology, I compartmentalized; I tried to analyze a work on its own terms in the context of the other works by the same author. There was always at least a ninety or ninety eight percent focus was the work and only two to five percent discussion of the life of the author. I agree strongly with The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, In the 1960's, students took over the universities in the name of freedom and equality. This had the terrible unintended consequence of tenured radicals as professors who promote the illiberal politics of closedminded coercion, censorship of opposing ideas, the trashing of the open and honest search for truth and the justification of Machiavellian deception and lies in the service of politics. The new special interests of female chauvinists, black racists and haters of Western Civilization obtained advocacy departments where they preached bigotry and hatred. These political advocacy departments replaced the old study of Western Civilization and the great books. World-class writers of Western Civilization were dismissed as "dead white males" and replaced with third-rate female authors and narrow-minded fanatics who hate the same Western Civilization that enables their shrill voices to drown out the wisdom of the ages. I hate and detest this corruption of the university.
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Anyone who sounds like they may have been indoctrinated by this cancerous movement is fair game for my probe to find out the extent of the infection and whose side they are on. The purpose of the probe is to find out which set of values they defend, and if the object of the probe can stand up to my strong views in this area. My intention was not a personal attack but rather to chide you for talking so much about the author and her life while saying almost nothing about what makes her work more worthy of using up some of our limited time on earth than the hundreds of thousands of other works of poetry we could be reading. I suspect that you promote her poems because you like her as a person. I suspect that your liking her as a person influenced your judgment so you like her poetry much more than you would if you did not like her as a person. You did not fail the test; you just mistakenly took my speculation that your judgment of the works was biased because you like the author. I did not accuse you of being a "liar" but rather as someone that lets his judgment of excellence of a work be influenced by his affection for the author. AUTHOR First of all, my brief biography of Ella Wheeler Wilcox was not intended to be a criticism of her poetic prowess. It is obviously a cursory biography which does give little snippets of her work, and I did relate the well-known assessment of many observers, whom I believe are correct, that her work along with that of other women poets dropped out of sight not because it was mediocre or there was no demand for it but because male critics, namely the New Critics, brought their influence to bear on the poetry market, an influence welcomed by men who felt threatened by sentiment as well as the rather slight - at that time - incursion of women into business in general. There is no doubt in my mind or that of any fair man who inquires into the conditions of the scientific-industrial revolution that there was a tendency for men to dominate it and to consider the business of making money the exclusive province of men. But it was by no means my intention to argue sexual politics in my biographical sketch of a Ella, who was in fact very threatening to male dominance because of her business success. Rather, it was my "duty" to raise the issue as it is considered an important factor in her life, just as I quoted some of her poetry since she was a poet. In fine, I am not a literary critic nor do I pretend to be one: that is your problem - or should I say "issue"? Secondly, you want to have it both ways with your critical principles - which run cover for your prejudices; on the one hand, to insist on impartiality or objectivity; on the other hand, to accuse me of the opposite while denying your accusation is really a personal attack based on the same
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moral resentment or indignation you feel because your male feathers are ruffled by my compliments to a good lady who wrote simple and decent, enthusiastic (god-possessed) poetry. But duplicity works both ways, and the cover of your academic and professional credentials, which you constantly mention in an apparent effort to defend your authority, is transparent. For, if we must insist on your own practice of looking to motives, you are obviously motivated by your sexual insecurity or gender identification problems. You resent anything that smacks of infidelity to male superiority, to which you respond with one of your thematic critical jihads. And of course you are not intentionally hostile, but only being intuitive, giving your Unconscious free reign; while on the other hand, you profess the highfalutin faulty reasoning of your university education. Yet you defame the very institution you lean on for your authority, for your masculinity was threatened there. Perhaps a year in Siberia will cure you of the ivory-tower horrors. Et cetera, et cetera, and of course no offense is intended by moi; not at all! I am not being intentionally hostile but intuitive, and besides, this is really just a test you know, another university examination as we careen around the curriculum in a vicious circle of moral resentment and indignation. In any case, I can see we inhabit different worlds. The motivations and conditions you charge me with under cover of innocent questions are not mine. You are laying your own experience on me and I really do not blame you for that, at least not until your psychoanalysis is completed. I understand what you are saying, but please do understand me: I am not obsessed with sexual politics, and the issues of same are not really important issues for me. As far as I am concerned, being President is a woman's job. I do not think like you do, and those who do amuse me, and not because I think they are right or wrong but because their world is a foreign country to me. So perhaps you can put yourself in my shoes and see how it appears to me that you are laying your own trip on me, a trip that is really not my thing, and you are doing so unfairly, perhaps because you do not know yourself - what you know is the education you tout, the conditions you flout. But to answer your statements posing as innocent questions, you mistook my motives and my message. Please be considerate of this: I did not present Ella as an intellectual giant but as an extraordinary ordinary woman, an popular poet who with others lost access to the media NOT because there was no demand for them from the reading public but because the sentiment of those in charge changed. What struck me in comparison to today is the NEW opportunity for ordinary people including the housewives Ella spoke to take advantage of the open publishing sites to publish their little poems and moral essays, and they are doing so - and most of it is god awful - but some will rise, and all deserve encouragement. Finally, allow me to address more explicitly your "test." I refresh your memory with your own words:
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"My attack on Ella Wilcox was a test to find out if I should let you into the secret world behind my mask. You passed the test which is why I am sharing this with you. While I respect and admire you a lot, and have no malice toward you, nevertheless I let myself act in an offensive way without knowing why, but trusting my intuitive sense that there are good reasons which I will understand later." The world behind your mask is no big secret. We are all too familiar with it because to a certain extent it is every actor's other world, one side of hypocrisy, the underlying crisis of existence. During my conversation with a friend last night, she remarked how much she regretted she had not told a mutual friend of ours, who recently died, how much she loved her. That brought to mind Ella's poem, the one I concluded my essay with. In it she asks why people wait until someone is dead, then say nice things over the dead body. To which you responded, to her and to me, with what was really on your "unconscious" mind. Your response was in fact hostile. And your subsequent explanation of how you "test" casual friends with hostile remarks to see if they are competent to be your intimates struck me as a plea for abusive relationships. In connection with that, I thought of the best friend and worst enemy of the Mongol warrior Timur Lenk, Tokhtamish, whom Timur repeatedly defeated and forgave, while brutally murdering anyone else who contested his rule or disagreed with his administration, leaving towers of skulls behind - he was not much of a hypocrite. The contests between the two resulted in countless deaths on both sides, the defeat and disintegration of the Golden Horde, and the rise of Russia. Rather than consolidating his northern empire, securing for Samarkand the enduring prestige of being the northern center instead of Moscow, the great chess player busied himself in senseless attacks on what should have been his Muslim friends in the southwest. That sort of relationship is really not my cup of tea. My first or native feeling toward others happens to be one of affection with judgment suspended rather than one of hostility, an affection that I wish to maintain. People in real life know me as naively affectionate. Yet when I am provoked, I can be extremely violent, so I prefer to walk away rather than wind up in a morgue, hospital or prison. I realize conflict has its rewards, but as I approach my death the value of conflict with "friends" diminishes. It is my great honor to have a few intimate friends with whom I have no conflict, no need to "test" and to "tease." Of course there are trials, but we never think of deliberately testing each other or starting fights or playing phony games. I suppose we are not that bored with each other. In any case, I am not interested in an abusive friendship. But, hey, no hard feelings. Since you initiated this exchange, I figure I should have the last word. I was caustic with you in order to illustrate the moral resentment and indignation that is the foundation of criticism. Your comments are not only fascinating but instructive. We have many tastes in common. I probably
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love and hate the university system as much as you do - I enjoy being the outsider. I am glad to have this opportunity to engage in a dialogue with you wherein you can speak your mind from behind your Mask. Now, then, shall we change the subject and give peace a chance? XYX
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