August 27, 2004

I have some good news to report: Vinicius Figueira, a Brazilian scholar and translator who translated the first three chapters of my book into Portuguese, showed these chapters to a Brazilian publisher, who said he would publish my book in Brazil. Vinicius is an experienced translator, part of a translation team called Verso.

I put a new version of my book of aphorisms on my website. Of the 12 chapters in the book, the first 9 were recently revised and enlarged; all 12 have a new appearance/format.

1. A Literary Dispute

When our book group read Forster’s Howards End, we chose the Norton Critical Edition, as we often do. In fact, we chose Howards End because it’s in the Norton series; otherwise we might have chosen Room With A View or Passage To India, or a work by a different novelist. When I opened up Norton’s Howards End, I noticed that the editor, Paul Armstrong, was a professor at nearby Brown University. I sent him e-mail, told him we were discussing his edition of Howards End, and asked him if he wanted to participate in our discussion. He said he would join us, and sent me his essay, “The Narrator in the Closet: The Ambiguous Narrative Voice in Howards End.”1

I was astonished by this essay. I had never read an essay that I so completely disagreed with. I didn’t think it was possible to interpret Howards End in a way that was so completely opposed to my interpretation. I never knew much about Deconstruction, or Post-Modernism, or contemporary literary theory, but now I realized how profoundly my approach to literature differed from the modern approach. Disagreement is one of the most inspiring of the Muses, and my disagreement with Paul’s essay inspired me to write about contemporary literary theory. It also inspired me to try to refute Paul’s view in our discussion. But Paul was firmly attached to his own view, and my attempt to change his view had little chance of succeeding. I struggled, I became carried away, I made little headway.

The rest of this issue of Phlit (except for the last section, “Einstein”) was inspired by my dispute with Paul, and by my reading of Forster’s Howards End and Forster’s essays.

2. Deconstruction

Perhaps the best way to approach Deconstruction is by looking at its antecedents, its foundations.

Scientific truths (for example, that the earth is round, not flat) aren’t really understood unless they’re challenged and questioned. As Mill put it, “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.”2 To understand a widely-accepted scientific truth, we need to look at the arguments for it and against it, we need to bring ourselves back to a time when it was fighting for acceptance. If we simply tell a young student, “the earth is round, though it appears to be flat,” he won’t understand it as well as someone who has to look at the evidence, make up his own mind, and defend his view against people who maintain a contrary view.

What is true in the intellectual sphere is also true in the religious sphere. A religion that is widely accepted receives passive assent, while a religion that is fighting for acceptance receives enthusiastic adherence. If people are born Christian, and raised in a predominantly Christian society, they passively accept Christianity. Kierkegaard asked, “how does one become a Christian in a country where almost everyone is born Christian?” How can we bring ourselves back to the time when Christianity was fighting for acceptance? How can we regain the passionate faith of early Christians, who suffered and died for their belief?

Kierkegaard tried to awaken people from their Christian slumber, and make them realize what it meant to be a Christian. He wanted people to think for themselves, choose for themselves, not just receive the official religion of their nation. Kierkegaard argued that if we simply give people The Truth, they won’t understand it. They must reach it by themselves, fight for it.

In Either/Or, Kierkegaard presented two worldviews — the aesthetic worldview of a young art-lover, and the ethical worldview of a mature family man. Then he said to the reader, “you choose. You choose either the aesthetic or the ethical. Don’t expect someone to tell you who you are, to tell you that you’re a Christian. Don’t expect someone to tell you what is The Truth. Find it for yourself. Choose.” Kierkegaard opposed Hegel’s approach because Hegel attempted to set forth The Truth. Kierkegaard felt that Hegel’s approach would put the individual to sleep; Kierkegaard wanted to awaken the individual, present him with choices, insist that he fight his way to truth.

Kierkegaard admired Socrates because Socrates didn’t claim to possess Truth; Socrates said, “the only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates questioned established views, and tried to rouse people to think for themselves; Socrates referred to himself as a midwife, because he tried to draw out of people what was within them, instead of handing them Truth on a platter, and saying “swallow.” Socrates spoke not with authority but with irony. Socrates and Kierkegaard used an indirect approach, while Hegel used a direct approach. The Socratic method has long been respected as an educational technique because it stirs students to think for themselves, to earn truth instead of just passively receiving it. Kierkegaard created various pseudonyms to present various viewpoints, and force the reader to choose among them; he didn’t want to build up his own authority as a author, he didn’t want the reader to receive Truth from him. Existentialism, which Kierkegaard pioneered, says we must choose for ourselves, we can’t rely on Truth — objective, absolute, universal Truth — to tell us what to do.

Kierkegaard’s indirect approach has influenced Deconstruction, which concerns itself with what an author doesn’t directly state; Deconstruction reads between the lines, it interprets an author’s silences. This enables critics to keep themselves busy, but it can lead to some wild and groundless interpretations. A commentator on Kierkegaard, for example, after pointing out that Kierkegaard never mentioned his mother in his writings, declares that “Kierkegaard’s mother, who was not well educated, is represented in his writings by the mother-tongue (Danish).”3 This without even a “probably” or a “perhaps”!

Deconstruction is popular with academics, but of no interest to laymen. Deconstruction leads to over-reading and over-interpreting.4 Among modern critics, “simple” has become a pejorative term, and the most strained interpretation is considered the deepest. Modern critics have forgotten that simplicity has long been considered a sign of truth, an aesthetic virtue, a moral virtue — even a virtue for literary critics. One of the greatest critics praised Tolstoy for the “rock-like” simplicity of his literary criticism.5 Modern critics have forgotten that simplicity is a characteristic of good prose; their prose is an obscure, technical jargon.

Surely the Deconstruction trend will fade away, just as earlier trends in literary criticism faded away. The next generation of critics will take a different tack; as Proust said, “the critics of each generation confine themselves to maintaining the direct opposite of the truths admitted by their predecessors.”6

3. Deconstruction and E. M. Forster

Now let’s see how one of today’s deconstructors deals with a classic of modern fiction, Forster’s Howards End. Forster’s genius shows itself in deep thought, as well as in sparkling wit and superb prose. Like many modern intellectuals, Forster realizes that Christianity has had its day: “I cannot believe that Christianity will ever cope with the present world-wide mess.... It was a spiritual force once, but the indwelling spirit will have to be restated if it is to calm the waters again, and probably restated in a non-Christian form.”7 Forster was a great admirer of Whitman, and read Whitman just before writing Howards End, which is suffused with the Zen spirit of Whitman. Here’s an example of the Zen spirit in Howards End:

The present flowed by them like a stream. The tree rustled. It had made music before they were born, and would continue after their deaths, but its song was of the moment. The moment had passed. The tree rustled again. Their senses were sharpened, and they seemed to apprehend life. Life passed. The tree rustled again. “Sleep now,” said Margaret. The peace of the country was entering into her. It has no commerce with memory, and little with hope.... It is the peace of the present, which passes understanding. Its murmur came “now,” and “now” once more as they trod the gravel, and “now,” as the moonlight fell upon their father’s sword.8

When Forster says, “the indwelling spirit [of Christianity] will have to be restated,” it suggests that there is a kernel of truth in Christianity, a mystical core that deserves respect, a mystical core that is similar to (perhaps even identical with) the mystical core in Islam, Buddhism, and other religions. An example of the mystical spirit in Christianity is this passage from the New Testament: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink.... Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?.... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.”9 In Howards End, Forster often expresses a similar thought, often says that we shouldn’t spend the Present preparing for the Future. When one character says, “‘It’s as well to be prepared,’” another character responds, “‘No — it’s as well not to be prepared’.... She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.”10

Forster points out that the thought of death focuses us on the present moment, the thought of death leads us to Zen. If we lived forever, it might make sense to accumulate for the future, to accumulate money, but since we can die tomorrow, we should experience today, we should appreciate the present moment. When Leonard Bast, plagued by poverty, says “The real thing’s money and all the rest is a dream,” Helen responds, “You’ve forgotten Death.... If we lived for ever what you say would be true. But we have to die, we have to leave life presently.... I love Death — not morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of Money.... Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him.”11

But today’s deconstructors don’t find any Zen in Forster, or any philosophical ideas except those that they discover “between the lines.” They believe that Forster hides behind the narrator of Howards End, that Forster is being ironic, duplicitous, evasive, that Forster is “playing games with the reader,” that Forster doesn’t mean what he says, or say what he means, that the countless thoughts and feelings expressed by the narrator aren’t those of Forster himself (though the narrator’s thoughts frequently agree with the thoughts that Forster expresses in his essays, letters, etc.). “He winks at us as if to acknowledge that the beliefs he offers are only that — beliefs that can be played with and used to create a posture.” In short, today’s deconstructors regard this delightful novel as a complicated game of hide-and-seek — so complicated that generations of readers missed Forster’s irony, and failed to join in the game.12

Even when Forster expresses his love for his native land, the modern critic finds ambiguity and irony. Forster writes thus of the Isle of Wight:

Seen from the west, the Wight is beautiful beyond all laws of beauty. It is as if a fragment of England floated forward to greet the foreigner — chalk of our chalk, turf of our turf, epitome of what will follow. And behind the fragment lie Southampton, hostess to the nations, and Portsmouth, a latent fire, and all around it, with double and treble collision of tides, swirls the sea. How many villages appear in this view! How many castles! How many churches, vanished or triumphant!13

Though it may seem that here, surely, Forster is speaking from the heart, the modern critic speaks of “the irony of the extravagant prose,” which calls for “critical scrutiny.” The modern critic fails to see that writers usually mean just what they say; the modern critic is “too clever by half.”

Forster himself was a literary critic, and wrote a book called Aspects of the Novel. There he says that critics have “overstressed” the role of the narrator, the “point of view” of a novel. Forster says that critics are preoccupied with issues that are unique to the genre of the novel. Likewise, Shakespeare critics are preoccupied with issues that are unique to drama, and often overlook philosophical issues that transcend genre. Shakespeare critics are fond of discussing the structure of theaters in Shakespeare’s time — whether they were built of oak or pine, what kind of saw was used to cut the wood, etc.

While Forster’s humor entertains the reader, and his profundity impresses the reader, perhaps Forster’s chief virtue as a writer is his taste. He treats the reader well, he treats the reader as a friend. Every sentence is clear, every page is a pleasure.14 Wit and wisdom is everywhere. Even Miss Avery, a minor character, expresses the deepest wisdom when she says that the world is better than nothing.15 A pessimist can point out many flaws in the world — death, suffering, injustice, etc. — but only the most extreme pessimist could take issue with Miss Avery’s view that the world is better than nothing. Forster makes the same argument in one of his essays: “Though I am not an optimist, I cannot agree with Sophocles that it were better never to have been born.”16 Though life has many flaws, it is better than non-existence.

Miss Avery’s deep wisdom is completely missed by the modern critic, who is convinced that Howards End doesn’t contain philosophical ideas, because it is a novel, and novels don’t contain philosophical ideas. But Forster himself said that he had large ambitions; when he was asked what he had learned from Jane Austen, he replied, “I learned the possibilities of domestic humor. I was more ambitious than she was, of course; I tried to hitch it on to other things.”17

If Forster’s chief virtue is taste, one may wonder, where does taste come from? Forster’s taste probably stems from his sunny disposition, from his deep understanding of literature, and from his deep love of literature. He was suffused with literature, it ran through his veins. He knew that literature could take over one’s life, hence he struggled against it. In Howards End, he often says that culture isn’t an end, that great writers are only sign-posts, and we shouldn’t “mistake the sign-post for the destination.”18 One of the novel’s chief characters, Margaret, grows in wisdom as the novel proceeds, and at the end of the novel, she has little interest in new books, or in other forms of culture:

As for theaters and discussion societies, they attracted her less and less. She began to “miss” new movements, and to spend her spare time re-reading or thinking, rather to the concern of her Chelsea friends.... She had outgrown stimulants, and was passing from words to things. It was doubtless a pity not to keep up with Wedekind or John, but some closing of the gates is inevitable after thirty, if the mind itself is to become a creative power.19

Of Nietzsche, too, it may be said that he was suffused with literature, it ran through his veins, and of Nietzsche, too, it may be said that he struggled against it. Nietzsche agreed with Forster that the mind can’t be a “creative power” if one is continually reading and learning:

Scholars who at bottom do little nowadays but thumb books... ultimately lose entirely their capacity to think for themselves.... They respond to a stimulus (a thought they have read).... They themselves no longer think.... Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one’s strength — to read a book at such a time is simply depraved!20

Great minds think alike, and whatever genre they choose becomes a vehicle for their thoughts.

Forster’s view of love is similar to Schopenhauer’s. In a journal entry, Forster wrote, “We like the like and love the unlike.”21 Friendship is based on similarity of character, while love is often based on difference (“opposites attract”). Howards End deals with ‘loving the unlike’, it deals with love between a Schlegel (Margaret) and a Wilcox (Henry), it deals with love between two opposite types. Schopenhauer also believed that opposites attract; Schopenhauer argued that a masculine man would love a feminine woman, and a feminine man would love a masculine woman. Jungians argue that people usually marry their opposites; for example, an extrovert-rational person will marry an introvert-feeling person. According to Jungians, marriage means seeking wholeness by joining with someone who complements you, someone who supplies your deficiencies.

Margaret speaks of “personal relations, that we think supreme.”22 Margaret is here expressing Forster’s own view; in an essay called “The Challenge of Our Time,” Forster wrote, “My books emphasize the importance of personal relationships and the private life, for I believe in them.” This suggests that Forster’s novels are vehicles for Forster’s own views, that Forster meant what he said, that he wasn’t hiding his meaning, that he wasn’t being ironic.

The epigraph of Howards End is “Only connect...” and connecting is one of its chief themes. The following passage deals with Margaret’s attempt to guide Henry toward spiritual growth:

She need trouble him with no gift of her own. She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.23

Here, surely, Forster is giving us the best advice that he has to offer. The theme of connecting complements the mystical theme. Eastern mysticism doesn’t emphasize connecting since the opposites (conscious/unconscious, reason/feeling, etc.) aren’t as far apart in the Eastern psyche as in the Western; there is no need to connect what was never disconnected. In the West, however, the opposites are far apart, and there is an urgent need to connect in order to reach wholeness. Forster sees this, and speaks frequently of the need to connect. But today’s deconstructors insist that Forster is being “deeply ironic”24 when he speaks of connecting. And if generations of readers thought that he meant what he said, and took his advice to heart, aren’t the deconstructors forced to conclude that Forster has deceived generations of readers, has led them astray?

Margaret’s attempt to foster Henry’s spiritual growth is a brave attempt for “it was hard-going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox’s soul. From boyhood he had neglected them. ‘I am not a fellow who bothers about my own inside....’”25 Henry is a “persona character”; he has a well-developed persona, plays his social role competently, and achieves success in the business world, but his inner life is undeveloped. One might compare him with Tolstoy’s “persona character”, Alexey Karenina (Anna’s husband).

Henry’s wife, Ruth Wilcox, is the opposite of Henry, and while Henry is depicted in a negative light, Ruth is idealized. One might compare Ruth to Prince Myshkin, the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot. Myshkin is Dostoyevsky’s attempt to depict an ideal person, Myshkin is Christ-like. But Forster’s ideal person isn’t Christ-like because Forster’s ideals don’t come from Christianity; Forster’s ideal person is connected to nature and to herself, devoted to things rather than words, Zennish. Ruth and Myshkin both have undeveloped personas, they’re somewhat naive, and somewhat awkward in social situations.

Forster himself aspired to live the quiet life that Ruth lived. “Let me not be distracted by the world,” Forster wrote in his journal in 1910; “never forget nature and to look at her freshly. Don’t advance one step more into literary society than I have.”26 But for today’s critics, Ruth isn’t Forster’s ideal, she is merely the narrator’s ideal. Today’s critics, influenced by the deconstruction fad, rob Howards End of its ideals and its wisdom, and leave nothing behind but irony and humor.

4. Queer Theory and E. M. Forster

Another modern literary theory that has been applied to Howards End is Queer Theory. This theory sees Forster as a “queer artist” who is trying “to pass for normal even while secretly rebelling against the normative.”27 Thus, instead of trying to communicate thoughts and feelings, Forster is playing another game of hide-and-seek, “a game so subtle and slippery that it can pass without notice.”28

Queer Theory, Feminist Theory, Race Theory — all these theories view writers in terms of their group, rather than their individuality; these theories politicize the humanities. A great writer is highly individual, transcends his group, attains universality, and speaks to people in distant times and places. Shakespeare, for example, transcends his nation and class, and speaks to people in distant times and places.

Instead of speaking of a “queer writer,” a “female writer,” etc., we should speak of a writer who happens to be queer, a writer who happens to be female, etc. Forster himself said that though he opposed asceticism, “this is not a major point,”29 an intellectual can be of any sexual orientation or none at all. The mystical theme in Howards End is similar to the mystical theme in the work of Thoreau, who wasn’t queer. Likewise, the connecting theme in Howards End is similar to the connecting theme in Jung, who wasn’t queer. Forster’s sexual orientation has little impact on the major themes of Howards End.

Today’s colleges strive for racial diversity, gender diversity, etc. But diversity isn’t about race and gender, it’s about individuality. The Concord intellectuals — Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Alcott — were a diverse group, though not diverse in terms of race or gender. The diversity of the Concord intellectuals is real diversity, the diversity of individual thought and personality.

5. Skepticism

The modern critic believes that Forster is hiding behind the narrator, playing games with the reader, and being ironic, not striving to discover truth, and communicate truth as clearly as he can. Likewise, the modern critic believes that Kierkegaard hides behind pseudonyms, he doesn’t strive to discover and communicate truth. And the modern critic thinks that Nietzsche doesn’t believe in truth; he refers to Nietzsche as a “German philosopher who argued that truth is not absolute but varies with perspective.”30

The modern critic is a skeptic, and doesn’t believe in truth, hence he sees Forster, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as skeptics. The modern critic overlooks the fact that Nietzsche explicitly rejected skepticism, and that Nietzsche’s “perspectivism” is one more theory, one more attempt to discover and communicate truth. “Skepticism,” Nietzsche wrote, “is the most spiritual expression of... nervous debility and sickliness.... Our present-day Europe [is] skeptical in all its heights and depths.”31

Truth entails responsibilities, and affects one’s life. Skepticism is alluring because it doesn’t entail responsibilities, it lets one live as one wishes. Furthermore, truth is threatening because someone else may lay claim to truth, and may act on it. Hitler, Marx, bin Laden — all lay claim to truth, and all act on it. Nietzsche wrote,

When a philosopher nowadays makes known that he is not a skeptic... he is henceforth said to be dangerous. With his repudiation of skepticism, it seems to them as if they heard some evil-threatening sound in the distance, as if a new kind of explosive were being tried somewhere... perhaps a newly discovered Russian nihilism, a pessimism... that not only denies, means denial, but — dreadful thought! — practices denial.32

Since truth brings responsibilities and threats, today’s intellectuals eagerly embrace skepticism, they turn to what Nietzsche called “the mild, pleasing, lulling poppy of skepticism.”33 Today’s intellectuals are fond of saying, “there is no truth,” or “all truth is relative,” or “all truth depends on one’s perspective.” Skepticism corrodes the life of the mind. We should believe in truth, and strive to discover it and communicate it, though it may be elusive, though it may bring with it threats and responsibilities.

6. Does Culture Matter?

Forster came of age before World War I, and lived through both World Wars. Forster came of age in a world that respected culture, and lived to see a world that had little use for culture, and little respect for tradition. Forster decried this change, and championed culture and tradition. “That clamor for art and literature,” Forster wrote, “which Ruskin and Morris thought they detected has died down.... There is a hostility to cultural stuff today which is disquieting.” Forster realized that, in the modern world, “there will be work for all and play for all. But the work and the play will be split; the work will be mechanical and the play frivolous. If you drop tradition and culture you lose your chance of connecting work and play and creating a life which is all of a piece.”

Forster argues that culture isn’t a pastime for epicures: “The higher pleasures.... resemble religion, and it is impossible to enjoy them without trying to hand them on.” Forster tried to “hand them on” through his criticism, his essays, and his lectures. The best way to champion culture, Forster argues, is to enjoy it, and let others see that you enjoy it: “Let one’s light so shine that men’s curiosity is aroused, and they ask why Sophocles, Velasquez, Henry James should cause such disproportionate pleasure. Bring out the enjoyment. If ‘the Classics’ are advertised as something dolorous and astringent, no one will sample them. But if the cultured person [is] obviously having a good time, those who come across him will be tempted to share it and to find out how.”34

Forster is one of the 20th century’s great humanists; he reminds one of Bernard Berenson and André Gide. Forster was a champion neither of popular culture nor of scholarly culture, but rather of culture that is connected to life, that aims at The Good Life, that is as serious as religion and as playful as a child’s game, that links our generation to previous generations in a great conversation.

7. The Occult in Howards End

When our book group discussed Howards End, one person said that Mrs. Wilcox, though she died early in the novel, brought about the final result of the novel through a kind of occult presence, occult influence. It’s true that the final result is consistent with Mrs. Wilcox’s wishes. And it’s true that several books we read in the past have had examples of occult influence.35 And it’s true that Howards End often speaks of the seen and the unseen; for example, when Mrs. Wilcox dies, and her family reads her handwritten will, Forster says, “the unseen had impacted on the seen.”36 And it’s true that Forster mocks Henry and Dolly for dismissing the occult.

I find it hard to believe, however, that Mrs. Wilcox can influence events from beyond the grave, and I find it hard to believe that Forster believed it. Rather, I suspect that Forster regarded Mrs. Wilcox’s occult influence as a useful literary device, and if this is so, then it should perhaps be regarded as a weakness in the novel, contrived rather than profound. At the time he wrote Howards End, Forster doesn’t seem to have had a keen interest in the occult, and the occult doesn’t figure prominently in the novel.

8. Einstein

As I’ve said before, the best book-related show on American TV is C-SPAN’s Booknotes (with Brian Lamb). Most of the old shows are archived at; there you can browse around, and choose from a wide variety of authors and subjects. Once you find something that interests you, you can watch the interview, or read the transcript; sometimes I watch the interview, and use the transcript to mark interesting sections.

Since I’m reading a book on physics, I recently watched an interview with Denis Brian, author of Einstein: A Life. Brian says,

[Einstein] had a tremendously hard life as a young man. When he finished college, he almost starved because he couldn’t get a job. He had antagonized his professors at the Zurich Polytechnic, and he was the only one of his colleagues who didn’t get a job directly after college.37 And the problem was he didn’t know how to handle authority. He treated the professors in the same pleasant, easygoing way that he treated the cleaning women. And the professors in those days in Germany expected to be treated like minor royalty. And they said he knew it all, he wouldn’t listen to them. And he missed all the lectures that didn’t interest him, such as math, and the math professor said he was “a lazy dog” — his summing up of Einstein. But to his friends, he was intriguing, dynamic, spontaneous. And to one, a man called Marcel Grossmann, who knew him at college only in these early days, Grossmann went home to his parents and said, “I’ve met a man who one day is going to be a very great man,” which was an incredible prophecy when everybody else was saying, “He’s a lazy dog. He’s not going to make it.”

In my discussion of Howards End, I said, “Ruth and Myshkin both have undeveloped personas, they’re somewhat naive, and somewhat awkward in social situations.” Einstein, too, lacked a persona, a social mask. Perhaps because he was strong-willed, he couldn’t hide his nature, he couldn’t play a role, he was completely natural, even childlike. If one lacks a persona, and doesn’t respect those in power, one is unlikely to be a success in the world.

Einstein’s career difficulties remind me of the difficulties that Jung had when he was starting out. Jung says that he was more interested in a scientific career than a medical career, but he didn’t have enough money to study science at a foreign university, and “I possessed a personality that made me disliked by many of my schoolfellows and of the people who counted (i.e., the teachers) [hence I didn’t have] any hope of finding a patron who would support my wish.”38 So Jung abandoned his dream of a scientific career, and decided to pursue a medical career.

Brian contrasts the mature Einstein with the young Einstein. “I’ve heard his voice,” Brian says, “on radio and also in documentary films of him. It’s a very quiet, gentle, slow, musical voice, which is an incredible contrast from this dynamic young man. As a young boy, he had a terrible temper, and he hit his sister Maja, over the head with a garden hoe in one of his tempers, so that she said, ‘To be the sister of a thinker, you must have a very thick skull.’” There are two kinds of gentle people: those who are simply gentle, and those who are very aggressive by nature, and become gentle as a “reaction-formation”. It seems that Einstein was the latter sort — an aggressive, strong-willed, dominating person who gradually learned to control himself, to reign in his impulses.

In my chapter on genius, I said “the infant doesn’t distinguish between itself and the external world; the infant hasn’t established the boundaries of its own ego. The infant is one with the universe. Genius lingers in infancy, and never completely loses the infant’s feeling of oneness with the universe. This feeling of oneness with the universe, this unbounded ego... helps the scientific genius to understand nature and the cosmos.” The young Einstein probably had an unbounded ego, probably identified with the universe, and if you tried to limit him, you ran the risk of being struck on the head with a garden hoe.

Nietzsche’s sister tells us that, as a child, Nietzsche was “very hot tempered.” But “he soon learnt to control himself,” and he became “very decorous”; his nickname was “The Little Minister.”39

Marie-Louise von Franz says that aggressive people need to learn to release their aggression “a little at a time.” “Very aggressive people,” she writes, “generally knock their own heads against a wall. They get hit over the head by parents and teachers and so learn repression.... Such people also do not know how to hit back; they confess that if they hit back they go too far, so they prefer to do nothing, and then naturally they become the underdog and build up resentment since they are living below their own level, or they develop persecution ideas.... They need to learn the art of letting the thing out consciously, a little at a time.”40

© L. James Hammond 2004
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1. Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (Summer 2001): 306-28 back
2. On Liberty, ch. 2 back
3. McDonald, William, “Sřren Kierkegaard”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2001 Edition) back
4. Deconstruction might be compared with the Straussian approach, developed by Leo Strauss. As I wrote in an earlier issue, “Strauss believed that philosophers concealed their views from fear of persecution, and from fear that their views would have a harmful effect on society. Straussians argue that many philosophers, from Machiavelli on, were atheists, but concealed their atheism. When I was an undergrad at Harvard, I heard a Straussian argue that Locke was an atheist, a concealed atheist; I took issue with that view then, and I take issue with it now. In my view, the search for hidden meanings is more likely to lead one astray than accepting a philosopher’s words at face value.” Strauss looked for hidden meanings and secret codes; he even hired someone who had been a code-breaker for the U.S. Army to study Machiavelli! Like Deconstruction, the Straussian approach is very popular in academia, but of no interest to laymen. The Straussian school is known for its emphasis on The Classics, and for its conservative politics. back
5. see G. Wilson Knight’s Wheel of Fire, “Tolstoy’s Attack on Shakespeare”, §2 back
6. The Guermantes Way, Part II, ch. 1 back
7. Two Cheers For Democracy, “What I Believe” back
8. ch. 40 back
9. Matthew, 6:25 back
10. ch. 7. Forster expresses the same idea in Chapter 12: “Our national morality.... assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering through life fully armed.... Margaret hoped that for the future she would be less cautious, not more cautious, than she had been in the past.” Thoreau also speaks of the folly of spending your life preparing for the future, the folly of over-preparation: “Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”(Walden, ch. 2). A writer on Zen, Alan Watts, wrote a book on the folly of over-preparation (The Wisdom of Insecurity). Watts points out that “[Christ’s] life was from the beginning a complete acceptance and embracing of insecurity. ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.’”(ch. 1) How can anyone deny the Zen element in Howards End? I don’t know, but if someone does deny it, you should mention that Forster explicitly admires the Eastern approach, Eastern introversion: “There are moments when the inner life actually ‘pays,’ when years of self-scrutiny, conducted for no ulterior motive, are suddenly of practical use. Such moments are still rare in the West; that they come at all promises a fairer future.”(ch. 23) back
11. ch. 27 back
12. see Paul Armstrong, “The Narrator in the Closet: The Ambiguous Narrative Voice in Howards End”, Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (Summer 2001): 306-28 back
13. ch. 19 back
14. Forster uses a colloquial style in Howards End, trying to capture the style of everyday speech. In his essays, he uses a more elaborate style. Forster’s “essay style” is one of the great English styles. Here’s an example from his essay on Proust in Abinger Harvest (he’s discussing Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust): “All the difficulties of the original are here faithfully reproduced. A sentence begins quite simply, then it undulates and expands, parentheses intervene like quick-set hedges, the flowers of comparison bloom, and three fields off, like a wounded partridge, crouches the principal verb, making one wonder as one picks it up, poor little thing, whether after all it was worth such a tramp, so many guns, and such expensive dogs, and what, after all, is its relation to the main subject, potted so gaily half a page back, and proving finally to have been in the accusative case.” back
15. ch. 33 back
16. Two Cheers For Democracy, “What I Believe” back
17. 1952 interview. See Howards End, Norton Critical Edition, p. 293 back
18. ch. 14 back
19. ch. 31. Wedekind was a German dramatist, John a British painter. Like Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox, Zen aims at a direct, non-verbal relation to the world. The Zen master prefers gestures to words, and doesn’t try to codify Zen in a book. “When the Governor of Lang asked Yao-shan, ‘What is the Tao?’ the master pointed upwards to the sky and downwards to a water jug beside him. Asked for an explanation, he replied: ‘A cloud in the sky and water in the jug.’”(Quoted in The Way of Zen, by Alan Watts, II, 2) back
20. Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Clever,” #8 back
21. See Howards End, Norton Critical Edition, p. 269 back
22. ch. 4 back
23. ch. 22 back
24. Paul Armstrong back
25. ch. 22 back
26. see Howards End, Norton Critical Edition, p. 274 back
27. Paul Armstrong back
28. ibid back
29. Two Cheers For Democracy, “What I Believe” back
30. see Howards End, Norton Critical Edition, p. 329 back
31. Beyond Good and Evil, §208 back
32. ibid back
33. ibid back
34. Two Cheers For Democracy, “Does Culture Matter?” back
35. Click here for more on the subject of occult influence. back
36. Howards End, ch. 11 back
37. The transcript says “didn’t get a job directly at that college” but that seems like a mistake, so I’ve changed it. Booknotes transcripts are, alas, rife with mistakes. back
38. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 3 back
39. Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, The Life of Nietzsche (in two volumes), ch. 2 back
40. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, ch. 6 back