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Re: Reply to JHE re criticism

Dec 18, 1996 01:14 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

>I'm back on theos-roots for a week before signing off all lists
>to revise my Cayce manuscript for the next several months.  By
>inadvertently posting roots material on theos-l, you pulled me
>back into the debate with Daniel Caldwell, which I did not wish
>to pursue beyond my to-be-published reply.

I don't understand.  I pulled you into a debate with Caldwell by
posting my remarks on theos-l, because it was "roots material"?
Don't most subscribers get all theos-xxxx anyway?  Or is this all
based upon some kind of agreement between you two?

>But actually, it is your comments to which I wish to respond
>rather than his or Tim's.


>I had commented that Daniel was publicizing his piece as
>"debunking the thesis of Johnson," when in fact he was
>attacking just two out of 32 proposed identifications of
>Masters, and did not even identify "the thesis" he was
>allegedly debunking.

Fact?  Sounds like the real "fact" is that you and Dan just see
his essay differently.

>You replied that "It took Caldwell months of research and 42
>pages to discuss two people in your book.  At that rate, for him
>to discuss the other thirty would take volumes and years to
>write."  Since some of the material in *House of Cards* first
>appeared in a letter I received from him in April 1993, the
>number of months we are speaking of here is something like 42,
>which comes out to one page per month.


>But that is beside the point; my intention was not to suggest
>that he should have attacked all 32 (God forbid, but it may
>happen) but rather that he was making wildly excessive claims
>for his work.

Nor was mine.  My point was that critical essays always deal with
aspects of a work--never with the entire thing.  Caldwell
challenged your thesis by bringing into question selected points.
This is standard operating procedure.

>As to Tim's comment, seconded by me, that the tone of
>Caldwell's essay is inappropriately personal, snide, rabid,
>etc., you replied that you "believe the tone... was within the
>normal limits of what is being published today" based on the
>experience of reading books and articles of literary


>Then you went on to praise John Algeo as a
>respected scholar who has published widely,

Not "praise."  I just recounted his credentials.

>and "assure" me that his review of my book was "professionally
>written and within normal limits concerning its pejorative


>My career for the past twenty years has involved daily reading
>of book reviews, as a basis for deciding what to buy for the
>library.  That works about to about 100,000 reviews read at
>work, not just in short-review media like Library Journal but
>also in places like the New York Times Book Review.  Add to
>that every review in Theosophical magazines, Gnosis, and so on.
>I have *never* seen a review comparable in tone to Daniel's
>essay as best I can recall,

I'm sure that is so.  My experience has also been that book
reviews published for library journals and for the popular media
like the "New York Times" tend to be a lot kinder in tone than
critical essays published in academic journals.  But I never
mentioned book reviews.  I said that I was reading critical
literary essays and rhetoric.  These essays don't appear in the
"New York Times" or "The Library Journal."  They appear in
academic journals.  Theosophical magazines and "Gnosis" are not
academic journals either.  Caldwell's essay and Algeo's extended
essay published in Theosophical History were in the style of
critical essays published for academic journals.  So we are
talking about apples and oranges here.

>except for Mark Jaqua's self-published magazine.  (Guess who the
>lucky target of that one was!)


>As for Algeo's I'll have to take your word for it that English
>professors are always so nasty among themselves.

You mean among other academics who have published in an academic
journal or published a book through an academic press.  Yes.
They can get pretty critical.  Since you published with an
academic press, you are fair game for them.

>His TH review of TMR was in the top 1% for long-windedness and
>hostility among all that I ever read.

You mean compared to reviews written for the popular media?  That
is mixing apples and oranges again.

>But I suggest that you are placing these events in the wrong
>context in order to minimize their severity.

Seems to me that by comparing popular book review to academic
critical essays, you are putting Caldwell's and Algeo's articles
in the wrong context resulting in maximizing their severity.

>What we have here are attacks by Theosophists on another
>Theosophist whose intentions were basically friendly.

That is another way of looking at it.  By looking at it this way,
it can be taken as a personal assault.

>Questions for you as a historian:
>1. Has any national president of the TSA ever published a 15
>page attack on a book by a member of his section?  On any book
>at all?

If I'm not mistaken, William and Loftus Hare were originally
Theosophists.  I have a couple of books by written Theosophists
dedicated to criticizing their book "Who Wrote the Mahatma
Letters?".  I recall other instances too, but they were shorter
than 15 pages.

>2. Has the *Theosophist* ever run a non-review, in which a
>book's title is used as the article title, but the book itself
>is never mentioned, although the article's author is clearly
>attacking the book indirectly?  If this has ever been done
>before, was the attacked author a member?

What month and year of "The Theosophist" did it appear?  Sounds
like the same basic kind of strategy they used on Tillett.

>2. Has any Theosophical book in the last 50 years been attacked
>as ferociously and longwindedly as mine by Algeo and Caldwell?

Not that I know of.  How is this question relevant?

>It is the inappropriateness of their attacks within the context
>of Theosophical values and claims of openness that strikes me

I think you raised this before--suggesting that Theosophists
write critical academic discourse at a different standard than
other academics.  I support you making this suggestion, but I
don't think it will fly, unless non Theosophist academics agree
to follow the same rule when writing about works of Theosophists.

>You write that you doubt that Theosophists will follow the
>example I have tried to set in answers to Algeo and Caldwell
>(free of personal insults and appeals to authority, respectful
>and patient tone, dealing with issues thoroughly but at
>reasonable length) and expect that they will continue to follow
>"the norms."

Right.  For the reason I just gave above.

>THE norms?  What norms?  There were norms of civility in
>discourse that I had seen observed for 17 years in Theosophical
>publications before my books came along, and suddenly they are
>meaningless.  The norms followed/exemplified by Algeo and
>Caldwell may strike you as just fine, but they have not been the
>governing norms in Theosophical writing.

I wasn't aware that Caldwell published his critical essay in a
Theosophical magazine.  I knew that Algeo published a book review
"The American Theosophist."  But it has been the much stronger
and extensive review that he published for "Theosophical History"
(an academic journal) that I thought you are complaining about.
Again: apples and oranges.

>If I had *ever* seen *any* author, Theosophist or not, attacked
>by a TS official the way Algeo did me, before joining the TS, I
>would never have wanted to belong to it in the first place.


>In your conclusion, you write: "Actually, the only thing I see
>to be unusual about the circumstances surrounding publication of
>your book has been the extraordinary efforts you have made to
>defend it and to criticize others who have been critical of it.
>It is hardly typical behavior for authors to carry on public
>debates with their critics."
>Extraordinary efforts?  All I did was let myself get sucked
>into a week or two's worth of back-and-forth arguments with
>Caldwell, in late 1993 or early 1994, before deciding this was
>not worth my time and effort.

Maybe it is a subjective and inaccurate observation on my part,
but it seems to me that the overwhelming vast majority of your
posts, from the time you stated on theos-l, have been about your
book; about defending your book; about reviews of your book; or
about how you feel about being "attacked" concerning your book;
about positive reviews on your book; about experiences with
theosophists you have had concerning your book; about how
different people at A.R.E. are concerning your book etc.  If I'm
wrong, perhaps someone else who has been following your posts can
set me straight.

>Later, at your request I think, I did the same thing with you
>about one aspect of my work for a week or so.

I recall the exchange, but don't recall requesting it.

>The Internet has certainly made authors a lot more
>accessible to their critics, so what you call "typical
>behavior," if based on print media, is anachronistic (ALAS!).

Its up to the author to respond.

>You criticized me back then for not giving Caldwell carte
>blanche, answering every challenge and complaint until he ran
>out, even if it took months.

Yes, I recall.  But it wasn't "criticism" but meant to be
friendly advice.  At the time, you had already been well engaged
with Caldwell, then suddenly you wanted to pull out in the middle
of the debate.  I didn't think that looked good on your part.  I
thought you should have finished it.

>Now you blame me for "extraordinary efforts" to do what you once
>blamed me for not doing enough of.

Not blame.  If I were you, I would not have engaged in any
debates in the first place.  If I did, I would go to the bitter
end.  Anyway, we are back to apples and oranges again.

>Apart from those brief mistaken forays into debates (debates
>that you implied I had a moral responsibility to engage in for
>the good of Theosophical scholarship), I haven't debated my
>critics publicly.  It is *absolutely* typical behavior
>for authors to *answer* their critics, as I have with Algeo,
>Crews and now Caldwell.  Look at the *New York Review of Books*
>or the Times Book Review or any other literary rag and you will
>see that authors answering their critics is "the norm" to use
>your phrase.  Debate?  I'm not interested.

Exactly what I have been trying to get across to you.  Glad we

>In fact, I offered to let Daniel have my reply to him to put on
>his website, with the condition that this be the end of
>discussion.  If he wants to answer my answer, challenge me to
>explain more things, generally continue to harass me as he has
>off and on for years-- forget it.  I have better things to do.
>He refused this condition, apparently *will* answer my response,
>but I won't get sucked into any more exchanges with him.

Better late than never.

>You conclude "Rather, they embrace both the critical and the
>friendly reviews in the joyful knowledge that their book is
>being read and debated."  I might be joyful about the reception
>of my books if the attackers were a bunch of strangers, and the
>praise came from people I had invested 17 years of my life in.
>But when it's the other way around, can't you see that
>circumstances affect response?

Don't see it in this case.  Academic criticism is done by
academics to academics.  They all know each other.  If I
published a book with SUNY and Algeo mopped the floor with it in
"Theosophical History,"  I would say "par for the course."  But I
am me and you are you.

>If I could have simply said "To hell with them, they're just
>silly Theosophists" the amount of pain in my lifetime would have
>been drastically lessened.  But having acquired the illusion
>that this movement was one without fixed dogmas, open to new
>ideas, and devoted to discussing them in an atmosphere of mutual
>respect, I was motivated to struggle to *make* those things a
>reality when it became clear that they were *not.* Quite a waste
>of time and energy, but perhaps there has been a karmic
>recompense for it all.

I joined the TS in 1963.  When I attended the National convention
in 1965 and saw how they went about pushing Henry Smith (then
National President) out of office with cat calls and all, I never
again for a moment held the allusion that Theosophists were any
better than anyone else.  I remember writing a letter to my Lodge
in Los Angeles describing the fiasco and telling them that "I was
ashamed to be a Theosophist" if this is what it means to be one.
I looks like it took you a little longer to get over your

>Jerry, your theme song about me has been "there is no problem
>with any of your critics, the only problem is with you and your

No.  My "theme song" about you has been: "There is no problem
with any of your critics, and there is nothing you can do about
it if there was.  So lighten up."

>When I announced that I was writing about Cayce, you
>said something like "Well, we'll just see if you get along any
>better with the ARE than the TS"-- clearly implying that you
>placed all the blame for my painful experiences with the TS on
>my own shoulders, and predicted more of the same with the new

My point was that TMR attacked a central dogma of the ES.  Your
hurt reactions to TS members who have attacked you (I'm not
talking about Caldwell and Algeo now) strikes me a very naive.
I predicted that if you attack the central dogma of the A.R.E.
inner circle (whatever that is), you will get the same treatment.
I stand by that prediction.

>How could things be different with the ARE, since the whole
>problem was my [scholarly ineptitude, neurosis,
>argumentativeness] whatever bad traits you consistently blame me

You mean the naivete I think you carry around?

>Well, here's some news I've been reluctant to post, for fear of
>sounding "Nya na na na nah."  I interviewed Charles Thomas
>Cayce in August, and just got a phone call from him last week.
>In our half-hour talk, he said he was "just very excited" by my
>manuscript, which he had read as a reader for SUNY.  He told me
>that his column in the next Venture Inward would be devoted to
>informing members about new scholarly approaches to Cayce,
>including my own book and two other writers he had met
>recently.  In his end of year letter to members, he listed 11
>highlights of 1996.  One was working in the Edgar Cayce
>Foundation with "an author whose book on the life and work of
>Edgar Cayce will appear in the SUNY Press series on Western
>Esoteric Traditions."  And when the book is about to come out,
>it will get some sort of sendoff in one of the magazines.
>You might think, "Surely this new book is less controversial and
>critical than his other ones."  Not so.  This will be the most
>skeptical, critical look at Cayce ever published-- and yet folks
>at ARE aren't scared, or mad, but delighted.  They are
>enthusiastic about the burgeoning of scholarly interest in
>Cayce, and accept my work as a harbinger of future developments.

I'm glad to hear that things are going well for you with SUNY and
the A.R.E.

>What this tells me is that there *are* spiritual groups that
>don't share what you as a Theosophist call "the norm."

Again, my reference to "the norm" concerned academic criticism,
not the TS.

>Maybe you have gotten so accustomed to the ugly features of
>Theosophical culture that you have become completely cynical.

You are probably right.  But I don't believe that my cynicism is

>Even when you see someone who was once a friend getting attacked
>and ostracized in a most untheosophical manner, the most
>compassionate response you can come up with is "Serves you
>right, should have known better."
>Well, now I do.

I'm glad that you know better now.  But I feel bad for you that
it was such a long and painful struggle.  I take it from the
above that we are now ex-friends.  I'm very sorry to learn this.

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