Monday, 27 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 12. The cynic

Antisthenes the cynic
photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009)

For the Cynics, the purpose of life was to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.
Wikipedia entry for Cynicism (philosophy) 
This description of the cynic best describes Shaw after he had abandoned his identity as T. E. Lawrence and "Lawrence of Arabia". While not keeping himself free from all possessions, he certainly limited them to the bare essentials and allowed himself only the pleasures of his library and his motorcycle. His rigorous training was not limited to his studies and to his military enlistment, but also included a lifetime of hardening himself to overcome all that nature and circumstance had placed in his path.

But he also, now and again, would express the popular notion of the cynic. as the following two excerpts from his letters reveal:
To Ernest Thurtle, July 29th, 1929:
"I think the planet is in a damnable condition, which no change of party, or social reform, will do more than palliate insignificantly. What is wanted is a new master species - birth control for us, to end the human race in 50 years - and then a clear field for some cleaner mammal. I suppose it must be a mammal?"
(I ended one of my own blog posts in a similarly cynical way.)
To W. H. Brook, 30th December, 1929:
"The poor kid - am I to god-father him? Fathering I've dodged so far: god-fathering is possibly easier, as one doesn't have any financial responsibilities. Don't tell the child he's named after me, because then he would have to change to Shaw, and again to something-else later on, like me! Of course I shall be very pleased: but you say the little misery is only a few weeks old. Perhaps he will turn out a violent pacifist (unlike his father) and curse us both as a couple of blood-stained old dodderers, when he is old enough to curse. They talk, I believe, at about two (parrots not before five) and walk at much the same age. Infant camels, as you have probably told Mrs. Brook, can walk three hours after birth. One up on them. You do not say what you are doing now. I assume that it's not what you did in Arabia: though parts of Brecon would lend themselves well to irregular war. I've come down in the world - enlisted about eight years ago (when the politics of the Middle East got smooth, and let me go) and propose to stay on enlisted till my beard is long and white. It is a life which pleases me - few cares, some friends, a little work, much laughing."
While people can suddenly change as the result of reaction to some thing; a reversal or enantiodromia; Shaw's change was more calculated and discriminatory: he never changed his way of  toughening himself but there were clearly two "hero quests" in his life which were separated by experience and considerable soul-searching. Some people want another to change, but most people reject changes in the people whom they know,The public, in general, found it impossible to let go of "Lawrence of Arabia" as he had been constructed as an archetypal hero and, since the last half of the nineteenth century, materialism had truncated the view of the hero as but one stage in a life. Jung expresses his own brand of cynicism about modern materialism:
"The fact that a metaphysics of the mind was supplanted in the nineteenth century by a metaphysics of matter is, intellectually considered, a mere trick, but from the psychological point of view it is an unexampled revolution in man’s outlook. Other-worldliness is converted into matter-of-factness; empirical boundaries are set to every discussion of man’s motivations, to his aims and purposes, and even to the assignment of “meaning.” The whole invisible inner world seems to have become the visible outer world, and no value exists unless founded on a so-called fact. At least, this is how it appears to the simple mind."
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8: Structure & Dynamics of the Psyche: Basic Postulates of Analytical Psychology (p. 339). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
 Shaw classifies and explains the course of his life from 1914 while talking about Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Frederic Manning, on May 15th, 1930 in one of his most revealing letters :
"Your remarks hit off very closely the obstacles that attended the delivery of The Seven Pillars . I was a rather clumsy novice at writing, facing what I felt to be a huge subject with hanging over me the political uncertainty of the Arab movement. We had promised them so much, and at the end wanted to give them so little. So for two years there was a dog fight, up and down the dirty passages of Downing St., and then all came out right - only the book was finished. It might have been happier, had I foreseen the clean ending. I wrote it in some stress and misery of mind.
"The second complicity was my own moral standing. I had been so much of a free agent, repeatedly deciding what I (and others) should do: and I wasn't sure if my opportunity (or reality, as I called it) was really justified. Not morally justifiable. I could see it wasn't: but justified by the standard of Lombard St. and Pall Mall. By putting all the troubles and dilemmas on paper, I hoped to work out my path again, and satisfy myself how wrong, or how right, I had been.
"So the book is the self-argument of a man who couldn't then see straight: and who now thinks that perhaps it did not matter: that seeing straight is only an illusion. We do these things in sheer vapidity of mind, not deliberately, not consciously even. To make out that we were reasoned cool minds, ruling our courses and contemporaries, is a vanity. Things happen, and we do our best to keep in the saddle. ...
"What you say about the descriptive stuff slowing down the narrative pleases me, rather. I had suspected it. Descriptions shouldn't be more than a line or two. Only I was not really out to make a masterpiece (-or was I? I think I wanted to, and felt that I could not, and had not) and the sense of the country and atmosphere and climate and furniture of Arabia hung so tightly about me that I put too much of them into the story, in hopes that they would make it life-like. I wake up now, often, in Arabia: the place has stayed with me much more than the men and the deeds. Whenever a landscape or colour in England gets into me deeply, more often than not it is because something of it recalls Arabia. It was a tremendous country and I cared for it far more than I admired my role as a man of action. More acting than action, I fancy, there. ...
"The first draft was not destroyed by me, but stolen from me; left behind in the refreshment room of Reading Station, and taken by some unknown! It was shorter, snappier, and more truthful than the present version, which was done from memory. I do not think it was franker and angrier, for I do not get angry much, and 1920 (the date of this text, in the main) was a worse year for me than 1919, the date of the first draft. My compromise with fate you will see happening gradually in 1922-23, as I settled into the R.A.F.; if you read The Mint . Here is the chronology:
1914-1918: the War
1919: Peace Conference: misery
1920-1921 (Aug): Dog fight in London with the British Government
1922: Eighteen months work with Winston Churchill settling the Middle East after my lights.
1922 (Aug)-193O: R.A.F."
Tomorrow, the vagaries of the Intuitive Introvert.

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