Re: Theos-Roots digest 245
Dec 18, 1996 06:41 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins
> >"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.
He acknowledges he's only dealing with two out of the 32, and
nowhere *in* the piece claims to be debunking anything called
"the thesis." That claim only appeared later. So the number
of Masters discussed in his piece and the claims made in it are
indeed a matter of fact. The disagreement appears to be about
what can be claimed to have been accomplished after the fact.
Yes. As I said above, it sounds like the real "fact" is that you
and Dan see his essay differently.
> 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 with Algeo, I find my rebuttal to Daniel taking up just about
half the length of the original critique. So your SOP is true
enough both ways. The problem, as I see it, is when a critic
writes, in essence, "There are some good things and some bad
things about this book. I'll grudgingly acknowledge the good
things in one paragraph, even if they constitute 90% of the book
(i.e. in my case the historical and biographical information) and
then spend 90% of my essay attacking the 10% of the book that I
hate." There's not an ethical system in the world that could
justify that kind of negativity, AFAIK.
I'm not aware of any "ethical" standards concerning what
percentage a critical writer is supposed to spend upon what
aspect of a book, or how negative or positive it must be. But my
experience reading critical essays tells me that Algeo's and
Caldwell's were well within what is ordinarily done.
> 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.
I am somewhat familiar with such essays as well, and can only
say that I agree with Tim Maroney about the unacceptability of
Daniel's tone in any scholarly setting. You are right about
Algeo though; the "take no hostages" approach in its latter
portions is at least balanced by an objective first half. He
did indeed fall within the guidelines of a *certain* kind of
academic writing. But no such attack has ever appeared in
*Theosophical History* on anyone else's book. [snip]
The book I reviewed in April in TH received a very angry reply
from the author. This and my answer will be in the coming issue.
I think part of the problem you are discussing here concerns
expectations of what a review in an academic journal should be
like; perhaps that it should inform the reader of the book's main
thesis and perhaps how it is argued; perhaps that it should have
a balance of complementary and uncomplimentary things to say--
preferably for the author, mostly complementary etc. The truth
is that there are no rules. I'm sure that in your *Library
Journal* there is a form, because the reviewer is trying to give
the book buyer an idea of what the book is about. But no such
rules exist in academic discourse. The entire review could be
about how the book is bound or the quality of the illustrations.
It could discuss a minor theme and ignore the major one etc.
As you may know, the viciousness of what Algeo did was more in
the behind-the-scenes manoevring than in the review itself. He
sent me supportive, friendly, encouraging email just a few weeks
before the positive Quest review came out. The gist then was
"Don't be bothered by all these attackers; they don't amount to a
hill of beans." When I emailed him to express my appreciation
for Joy's review, he replied that his own opinion was less
favorable, but that he was open to discussing it with me. I
wrote one friendly response to some of his points, and then got a
very short snippy answer, telling me he was writing two negative
reviews and making it quite clear that he wanted absolutely
nothing to do with me. The TH review contains-- no, is in
fact largely based on-- a distortion of something I wrote to
him in good faith thinking he was really open to discussion.
As it turns out, he was just drawing me out to try to get
something to use against me. I've never had someone's tone
change from cordial to cool to hostile in the course of 6 weeks
before! Which relates to my naivete, see below.
I know nothing of this. I know that John is a political animal.
On the other hand, it seems that if John wanted to do a negative
review, he is quite capable of doing it without using any
information you might have supplied him.
>>1. Has any national president of the TSA ever published a 15
>>page attack on a book by a member of this section? On any book
> 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.
They were entirely devoting themselves to attacking HPB, which
I was not.
Indirectly. More to the theme of *Who Wrote the Mahatma
Letters?*, they were showing the ES beliefs concerning the
Mahatmas to be a myth. Sound familiar?
But that's not in the last 50 years anyhow-- or just
barely. I mention that timeline because in CWL's lifetime God
only knows how long some of the attacks were-- from Stokes, for
Your original question above did not mention anything about 50
years. That was in your third (numbered "2.") question, which I
answered separately. Nor did your original question limit the
subject matter of the book. I'm not sure why you think these new
parameters to your original question are relevant anyway--Stokes'
articles notwithstanding. Again, in response to your original
question above: There have been cases in the past were members of
the TS wrote things that the TS took to be negative or damning,
and TS officials, including Presidents wrote 15 or more page
answers to the perceived negative information in those
I think the Hare Brother's book might be especially relevant in
your case, because like your book, they threw question upon the
dogmatic party line ES beliefs concerning the Mahatmas, and like
your book, they received extensive replies from a TS President.
In their case, it was from Jinarajadasa, and in yours, from
Algeo. Though you may not find significance here, I do.
> >2. Has any Theosophical book in the last 50 years been
> >as ferociously and longwindedly as mine by Algeo and Caldwell?
> Not that I know of. How is this question relevant?
You are telling me there is nothing unusual about their
treatment of my book, and I'm telling you it's not just unusual
but unprecedented to the best of my knowledge.
I disagree. My reasons already given above.
> 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.
Actually, ULT members have been the worst.
That surprised you?! I bet I can tell you the names of the ULT
members who gave you the most flack.
> 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.
Wait a minute! Who defines "middle of the debate"? You are
giving the indefatigable Caldwell exclusive right to do so.
I started answering him without any idea that he'd continue to
escalate post after post, never letting up. Finished it? How
could *I* have finished it when you are giving my attacker the
exclusive right to decide when to stop? At the time you said I
should go on until he was exhausted or satisfied. And he never
would have been, and hasn't to this day.
I define "middle" is that part that comes between the beginning
and the end. That is my definition. I don't know Caldwell's,
but I'm not giving him the right to define it for me or you
anyway. I know that you still insist that Caldwell would never
finish. I still disagree. Again, my point is that when engaged
in a debate, it doesn't look good to suddenly pull out in the
middle. My philosophy is either to stay out of it in the first
place, or dig in to finish it. That is my philosophy, and that
was my advice to you, which you were free to take or leave. You
left it. So that's OK too. Every decision has consequences.
Like everyone else in this world, you make your decisions and you
live with their consequences.
> 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.
They seem not to have one. How's that for naivete?
An outstanding demonstration of it!
> 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
That was my conclusion when you ceased private communication
with me 18 months ago, and said you wouldn't even read email
I sent you.
I have no memory of this. Does this have anything to do with the
time you accused me of telling people not to read your book? As
I recall, that was you breaking off the friendship. I emailed
John Shafer about this, as I said that I would do. Shafer said
that you had already contacted him and that he was resolving it
with you. I called Brett about it too. He was very clear that I
never said or intimated such a thing to him. Further, he got
real insulted that you would think that I or anyone else could
tell him what to read or not to read. But knowing Brett, I
expected that he would feel that way. With two strikes out of
three against you, I didn't bother to ask Coker. But Coker's
story was already second hand anyway. Right?
I was very sorry then that you chose to say/do that,
but don't know how to be friends with someone who won't talk to
me. If you have changed your mind, please let me know
privately and I'll be glad to resume friendship with you.
Won't talk to you? What have we been doing for the last couple
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