by Robert Priddy

A Search for Identity Writing turned out to be a search for identity in ways other than I had intended. My having mixed widely and the consequent openness to persons of other class, country, race and opinion caused me to take all sorts of viewpoint seriously. This internalising of others' views exerted pressures on my thoughts even before they took shape, and hence on each word or sentence I tried to write. Moreover, I felt that what I expressed must be suitable to address all persons without offence, whatever their race or beliefs. As a result of openness, I was all at sea as to the right approach, or where I was in it all.

My first thoughts about writing were to 'become a writer', my mother having answered that the best of all kinds of work, in her view, was being a writer. From then on I began to consider it, there was not much else in the way of occupation or lifestyle my mother liked that appealed to me. Still, without striking out on my own to discover the truth of things, I would not have continued to want to express myself in writing.

The process of learning to write was frustrating and took me very long, as if layer after layer of my acquired maturity, my apparent selfhood was being pulled off and no final core was revealed. I could not get ahead with any text, it would disintegrate in a hundred considerations, some serious, some trivial... was I being honest, or naive? Should I invent or was it falsity to do anything other than describe from my own experience? What was fact and what was fiction... was there really any difference between the two. Who could understand my real meaning... did it only depend on skill with words? What did I want to achieve, or to let people know about myself... if anything? How far can any kind of compromise be made?

On Mastering Language On top of these considerations came those of language itself. In time I came to study the philosophy of language deeply through many and varied thinkers, not forgetting the subtlest and most misunderstood of them all, Ludwig Wittgenstein. For many years thereafter I taught a practical form of pragmatic semantics, logic and hermeneutics. I became sharply conscious of the fallacious pitfalls of all varieties of verbal expression. This was an advantage, but also slowed writing a great deal due to the care required in proper application of these ideals. Due to all this, I did not write anything of length (apart from some necessary academic textbooks and materials) that achieved results that really satisfied me sufficiently until I was in in my 50s.

Broadening Horizons by Travel It is a fact that travel broadens the outlook, firstly by showing us the relative narrowness of the world in which we grew up, and that the customs we were nurtured with are not the only way of life. Secondly, it helps one look back and see one's origins more clearly and distinguish what was of most value among all that we took for granted. Residence in a foreign country for some length of time helps one to see many things in a new light. When one knows the place really well, its language and culture, its lacks and shortcomings assume prominence. At least, that is my experience after nearly 40 years of residence abroad, mostly in Norway. The contrary process perhaps applies if the country to which one moves is a much safer and easier place to live in that the one one left behind. In any case, acquiring a foreign language and culture is a definite asset to writers, for it throws into perspective much of one's own language and ideas and enriches the mind's penetration of verbal as well as mental depths.

Inspiration from Childhood Reading From early days I was taken up by the world that books conjured up, particularly good fiction. There were plenty of intelligent and well-written stories for children by leading writers like Stevenson and Conan Doyle in English, and these were the first real scriptures of my early years. They led on to many another from whom I learned of the otherness of different people and peoples, while yet expanding my conceptions to include and identify with them. Not all, of course, for there were persons both in fiction and alleged fact who put themselves beyond the pale and for whom one would not wish to have too much understanding.

As I grew up and moved out into the physical and social world, the implanted taste for good writing bestowed by books that interpret the world and inspire the spirit grew, expanding into the very real world of the mind... which is no narrow sphere. The soul can vicariously experience all manner of dimensions - the base, mundane or ideal and the brutish, human or divine - which deeply instils both vision and vigilance.

The 'World of Letters' The entire so-called 'world of letters' is as important for a man's life as the ABC is for language. Yet life is primarily to be lived rather than read about. A bricklayer needs bricks but he does not build his life with them. Brick or book, there is no ultimate difference... both are only means, not ends. Thoughts are as important to action as light is to growing things, but mere thought alone remains a mere shadow-picture of being. Literary persons or writers cannot construe a worthwhile being for themselves from sentences and paragraphs or obtain a healthy and happy condition of selfhood from it. Living is seeking the true and good and practising good qualities to the utmost of one's abilities, because without this it becomes what has aptly been called 'Living Death'. But the search can be aided and advanced by literature of many kinds in finding one's way and reflecting over its value.

However, the times no longer call for mere entertaining and exciting fiction, there is far too much of it, as - for example. Naipaul has discovered. The novel is everywhere and many have almost perfected the art. Being fictional, however, remains by its nature partly artificial at the best, and hence very seldom has the stamp of full authenticity. Only a tiny percentage of literature clearly manages to use fictional invention to convey unsullied truth or inspire to anything in real life... and so qualify as genuine art. This latter occurs most often when real experience is transformed into fiction by the author in such a way as to protect the identity of living persons or to decant the essentials from otherwise unedifying circumstances of a complex or boring nature.

Literary Degeneration The search for sheer novelty, constant excitement, the bizarre and the perverse has almost killed fiction as a medium of communication to develop understanding and inspire the reader. That there is a huge public for novels that make a virtue of unreality, and a vast one for thrillers of every variety, is more of a tragedy than a success for literacy. Therefore, the sacrifice writers should make is to abandon fantasy and directly plumb the mind, the self and the soul for true understanding. Very few writers, of course, would then have much at all to write about, until they actually sought and attained such understanding. This means shunning literary ambition as such and making writing secondary to human and public duties. Of course, royalites would be much reduced too. Nevertheless, some people still do make these sacrifices in the pursuit of truth and wait until they reach the full conviction of having something of lasting value to convey and then doing so uncompromisingly, whatever the cost.

The level of such higher intelligence among intellectuals has apparently sunk to an all-time low, if one is to judge by the leading pundits of science and the brains displayed on the modern media... such as by those with the narrowness of vision and lack of personal inner experience as all your Hawkings, Dawkins or Lawkins. The modern crisis of the mind is the sheer lack of serious higher thought. It is not a lack of fact that is the problem, but of what once was rightly known as philosophy (before it was professionalised), that is, real insight based on wide life experience and illumined by deep inner understanding in the sphere of the heart.

Writings preserve, if preserved Dimensions of accumulated experience and wisdom on every aspect of life and being that have been stored in the written word lie beyond the compass of even the most constant and lifelong reader. No one can know the amount of excellent material that has been lost in one way or another, or has not been published or printed up sufficiently to be discoverable.

Like people, books come and go. They are often remaindered before their time, but can also outlive their authors indefinitely. The Internet as yet spans only a tiny fraction of what has been written, and it is doubtful indeed to what extent it will ever make much of what has already gone by available or findable. The world wide web opens for a flood tide of written material, but it is also one bearing all manner of flotsam and jetsam, popular trash galore, misguided information, wild theories, unverifiable allegations, image-laden texts, interactive books... and the lost world of books is likely to remain so. Every decade of progress has also driven ahead and mislaid great tracts of literature...

The empty shells of books read and discarded strew our trail through life, and along with them the forgotten pearl or two - accidentally found but lost. Every now and then some aged library, a trunk in some loft, or a jumbled second-hand bookshop throws up as if from oblivion an unknown piece of surprising writing, say a mind-inspiring essay, or other written copy which contains gems within otherwise bland and quotidian text. Reaching across a time and space, they can lighten our mental skies, 're-minding' us, perhaps, of some part of the self we once were. If a good book makes the reader want even more of the same, then it is an even better one that returns us to life, eager to realise ourselves further.

The Written Word's Impact Books talk much more directly to our minds and emotions than to the senses... to be genuine classics they must enliven the sphere of meaning and understanding. Their essence invariably escapes their being 'dramatised' in other media, for this is not of the eye or ear but for discriminating intelligence and reflection.

To be able to write so as to move the soul deeply may require that one has lived for literature as well as for living... but this will depend on the condition of the soul of the reader too. An immature mind can be enraptured by the banale... a person without much life experience is enthralled by novelties that are old hat to others. The book that contains seeds deep within it have a way of falling into one's life just when the plot is ready.

The Book Angel? One summer, when I had come to an impasse in my life and was hoping for some opening towards fresh illumination or energising of my faith to appear, I was invited by some people renting a ramshackle house near us to look over some books there and borrow anything I fancied. It was a rather sturdy old summer house, set back about 100 yards from the fjord, which had neither been lived in nor changed since two elderly sisters had lived there between the 1920s and 1940s.

It was a small goldmine to me at that time... mostly esoteric books and limited editions from the early part of the century. I found some good old novels, such as the colourful and historically compendious 'The Cloister and the Hearth' by Charles Reade, based on a Latin account of an artist's wanderings through Europe of the Middle Ages, and some by Walter Scott, including his perceptive 'Kenilworth' and 'The Bride of Lammermoor'. There was a work on Indian philosophy by a swami who had visited Norway and started a movement for a peace university on the top of a mountain, Tronfjell, dying (or simply leaving the body) on the day the 1st World War ended. That was Sri Ananda Acharya's 'Brahmadarsanam. Intuition of the Absolute'. A stranger volume was an anonymous volume 'The Teachings of the Temple'; a kind of tour de force of spiritist and occult ideas. Which temple was involved it did not say.

There were theosophical tracts by Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater. Among these was Blavatsky's peculiar but fascinating 'The Lives of Alcyon', being an illustrated account obtained through alleged astral projection and reading of the akasic records. It recounted 80 lifetimes of a reincarnating spirit of a high level of advancement with his various companions, claiming to describe their lives in societies from 80,000 years ago onwards. There was C. W. Leadbeater's 'Invisible Helpers', about disincarnate spirits who assist mortals from other dimensions and his 'Masters and the Path', with its amazing claims about the supposed hidden sages of Tibet behind the theosophical movement.

Though much of it was beyond my credibility, each of these books provided some nurture to my mind and soul, somewhat dessicated as they were at that juncture from overdoses of science, logic and philosophy. Their messages about worldly futilities and what counts in life's long run were like a catalyst to a change of mind I was ready tio undergo at that time, one which reoriented me... and one might add, 'deoccidented' me.

The Book of Life? The truly inner book is the one that the moving finger inscribes with our lives. Many writers have tried to capture their unique 'inner book' in literature. Whether autobiography or novel, its entire structure and every detail should embody it's essence. Yet even if the author has lifetime recall and the requisite overview in understanding, the message will always be more than the medium of style and content. Either that, or some vital part of the message wll have somewhere fallen into oblivion.