December 18, 2004

1. Selling Philosophy

In a recent issue of Phlit, I mentioned that I had sent my manuscript to a literary agent, and was awaiting a response. The response came: she isn’t interested, and she said that if I didn’t send her a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE), she would recycle it (discard it). All my lofty ambitions end in a recycle bin! The manuscript to which I’ve devoted my life is going to be turned into a paper cup or a napkin! Next time you drink from a paper cup, pause and reflect: “this may have once been a work that attempted to extend the boundaries of knowledge, to start a new religion, to synthesize the various branches of the humanities, and now it’s a container for my coffee. Sic transit gloria mundi.”

Then I got more bad news: the Argentine publisher to whom I sent my manuscript (at considerable expense) says he isn’t looking at any manuscripts until further notice. And my Brazilian contacts, in whom I reposed such high hopes, are complaining that my work isn’t politically correct.

At this moment, when the blows of Fortune were raining down on my head thick and fast, lo and behold, I receive an e-mail from Japan: “we’ve received your manuscript, and will give you a decision in January.” I answered their e-mail, and they wrote me again, saying that they publish books in English, and sell them around the world, especially in the U.S. They wanted to know if I would give them U.S. rights to my book.

My spirits rose: the Japanese publisher seemed interested in my work, perhaps they thought it has the sort of international appeal that is suitable for an international publisher. Stay tuned.

2. Chappaquiddick

If you’ll permit me to “blow my own horn,” I’d like to share with you a flattering e-mail that I just received, an e-mail about my JFK essay:

“This is just a quick note to say your essay is one of the best things about the JFK assassination I’ve ever read. Great insight from a psychological point of view.”

Pleased with this feedback, I decided to set down my thoughts on another controversial incident involving the Kennedys, The Chappaquiddick Affair:

About six years after John Kennedy was assassinated, his younger brother, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, became involved in The Chappaquiddick Affair. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the incident thus: “On the night of July 18, 1969, [Ted Kennedy] accidentally drove his car off an unmarked bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and his companion in the car, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, was drowned. Kennedy was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident.”

The local police chief, Domenic Arena, first learned of the accident when he received a phone call, not from Kennedy, but from a Chappaquiddick resident. “‘I went over there and saw a car in the water upside down. You could just about see one of the tires,’ Arena said. ‘I borrowed a bathing suit and dove in. I couldn’t see much, because of the strong current. The top of the car was crushed. I couldn’t get in, so I sent for a scuba diver,’ he said. ‘He attached a rope to the girl and I assisted him in pulling her up,’ Arena said. He said it was after the body was on land that he received a call that Kennedy had arrived at the police station. ‘I have no recollection of how I got out of the car,’ Kennedy said.... Kennedy said he dove several times attempting to rescue her from the car.”1

Most people believed Kennedy’s story that he was driving the car when it went off the bridge; the Britannica article accepts that version of events unquestioningly. But most people didn’t think that Kennedy acted properly (he didn’t report the accident for about ten hours), and most people didn’t think that Kennedy told the whole truth about the affair. The affair cast a shadow over Kennedy’s political career. Before the affair, Kennedy was a front-runner for the ’72 Democratic nomination for President, but after the affair, he backed out of the Presidential campaign.

I believe that Kennedy’s version of events is completely false, and that he wasn’t driving the car when it went off the bridge. Here’s my version of the affair:

Mary Jo Kopechne was driving the car when it went off the bridge; she was alone in the car. The car was unfamiliar to her (it belonged to Kennedy), and the area was unfamiliar to her. It was late at night, she had been at a party, perhaps she had been drinking. She was driving fast, trying to get away from a sheriff. Kennedy had been in the car with Mary Jo; they were on Dike Road, which was known as a “lovers lane”.

When a sheriff walked toward their car, they drove off fast, Kennedy at the wheel. Then Kennedy got out of the car, because he didn’t want to be caught with Mary Jo, caught speeding, caught driving drunk. Mary Jo, alone in the car, sped off to escape the sheriff, and skidded on the bridge. The bridge was narrow, and had no railings. The car skidded off the bridge, and landed in the tidal pond upside down. Once the car was in the pond, it probably filled with water (since it was July, windows were probably open in the car). Mary Jo may have been unable to open the car doors because of the pressure of the water. Or she may have been jolted by the accident, and unable even to attempt to open the car doors.

Kennedy returned to his guest house, and assumed that Mary Jo was okay; he didn’t know that the car had skidded off the bridge. People at the guest house found Kennedy normal and composed late that night, and early the next morning. Kennedy phoned no one — neither his friends nor the police — until morning. Once he learned of Mary Jo’s death, he conferred with his advisers, and they decided that since it was his car, since people knew that he was with Mary Jo, and since he couldn’t admit to leaving the car when the sheriff was in pursuit, he had to pretend that he was driving the car when it rolled into the water. He invented a string of lies to save his career; he even appeared in public with a neck brace, as if he had been injured in the accident.2

3. Genius and Gender

I recently received the following e-mail: “Read with interest your thesis on genius but would have liked to have read about both genders and how women may arrive at and display genius.”

I responded thus:

The point that you raise is an interesting one. In recent years, I’ve developed a deep interest in Jung, who emphasizes the genius that is in everyone, the genius that is in everyone’s unconscious. In a recent issue of my newsletter, I wrote, “Jung argues that every individual carries deep wisdom in his unconscious, and every individual is capable of listening to this wisdom, learning from it, and adjusting his life in response to it. Jungians find deep wisdom in fairy tales from all races and nations.” Most people don’t tap into the genius that is in their unconscious. Women can tap into this genius just as well as men can; in this respect, the genders are equal.

Perhaps there are two kinds of genius, the universal kind that’s in everyone’s unconscious, and the particular kind that manifests itself in novels, paintings, scientific theories, etc. Examples of the particular kind are Shakespeare, Einstein, Leonardo, etc. The particular kind is, in my view, very rare, and is beyond the reach of the vast majority of people. On the other hand, people can surely create novels and paintings of value even though they don’t have the talent of Shakespeare, etc.

4. New Edition: Politics

[This section is now Chapter 11 of my book Conversations With Great Thinkers.]

© L. James Hammond 2004
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1. An AP news story, quoted in Microsoft Encarta. back
2. I don’t claim that my Chappaquiddick theory is original, just as I don’t claim that my theory of the JFK assassination is original. Both theories were influenced by TV documentaries. My Chappaquiddick theory was influenced by a 2-hour “Investigative Reports” documentary that I saw in July, 1994. Click here for information about a TV documentary (the same documentary?) that makes the same argument. Click here for an online essay that makes the same argument. Wikipedia’s article on the incident mentions my theory. back