This blog was prompted by a question from my new intellectual friend, the Australian philosopher David Turnbull (No Dangerous Thoughts), in regard to the elderly artist in my book, Tally: An Intuitive Life. My Guest Blog in Angela Lam Turpin’s site will appear March 13, 2014: a brief look at my own occupational life profile (still in progress thankfully!).
Tally was a Bohemian artist. That is part of his occupational form. The thing to explore is what constitutes that? What did it amount to? One would expect him to defy sexual conventions and other conventions about getting a job. He would relegate everything to his art. He may even use people for the sake of his art. He wouldn’t be “moral” in the conventional sense. So how did this get worked out occupationally?
As you know from the book, PJ (Tally) came to Greenwich Village to study art, but after a few exhibits was disenchanted with fine art as a career. Still, he loved the hands-on experience of being an artist, experiencing that intuitive flow with which the work begins and which also defines the end of the work. He “transited” into fine press printing, as an apprentice to a printer who published books and broadsides of art and literature. In this way, PJ could remain in touch with fine art and expand his love of reading and writing.
You may have a point, one that PJ would agree with, since he said “intuition has no morality,” because he dragged his wife and small child from one place to another while pursuing this career. At the same time, he told me that he was aware of not adequately taking care of his family, and the guilt, as always repressed, was building up.
He wrote articles on fine printing and at least one book, but the monetary compensation was small. All along he doggedly followed the “intuitive thread.” Eventually, the Great Depression intervened and he took a day job as a book designer. By this time his marriage was on the rocks.
While it looks like he was going from one form of art and occupation to another, this occupational flexibility was actually all part of the same quest, that is, integrated: to work on himself and on his relationships as an artist.
The idea of occupational integrity places a person’s occupation into a moral and political context. It has three aspects: (a) the occupation of the person (b) personal integrity and (c) a moral-political aspect that relates to family, community, and wider environment.
PJ and Occupational Integrity: A Life Profile
by Mary Clark
PJ (the Old Man, Bohemian, Tally), the subject of my book, Tally: An Intuitive Life, talked about an “intuitive thread” that led him from one seemingly different occupation to another, but in fact showed they were all connected by and expressed in action a set of values and certain interests.
PJ’s idea of “intuition” is not a kind of ESP or other paranormal activity. It is a mental/brain function that involves processing thoughts, emotions, memory, and self/identity/relationships to others and the environment. In this way, we develop an “intuitive program” or memory storage of positive and negative experiences which influence how we act and react. The building of this program is an unconscious process, and the “many, small unconscious choices” we make, beginning in childhood, guide us in one direction rather than another.
Through an expansion of consciousness, however, we can access “the subliminal stream of consciousness” and there discover our “true motivations” and the “comprehensions and contradictions” of our lives. In this level of consciousness we are always assessing the state of inner life, our behavior and the reactions of others, and our environment. As we are better able to attend to this level of consciousness, we can study and critique what is going on in our lives, and adjust our intuitive program and our behavior.
PJ was a young man in the 1920s when the ideas of the conscious and unconscious mind were popular. As an artist, he was particularly attuned to the intuitive source of his work. And as many artists feel or believe, their work enhances our mindful and spiritual life as human beings. This is usually not, as with science, a conscious contribution, or broadening of our knowledge base. One of Jung’s statements is echoed in PJ’s work: “All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.”
PJ’s attraction to the Bohemian, or non-traditional, culture began in his teens. He said, “I spent hours in the Atlanta Library reading the latest literary journals. I fell in love with an illustration of a woman in Bruno’s Weekly, a literary magazine published in the Village. I found The Quill there, too, so I was already following the Village in my teens.”
He came to the Village to study painting, but was soon distracted. He “transited” into the art of fine press printing, working for Egmont Arens’ Flying Stag Press. There he helped print books and portfolios of art.
Egmont was my first connection with the intellectual people of the time. He became a strong influence in my total life, a source of direction.
PJ traced the influence of his interaction with the older man:
Nobody can prove that one is ever directed by an intuitive inclination. Yet before he was thirty, that young husband, with his wife, both were indicating the values of what the writer was to call consciousness of the experience of living…
This consciousness, in its material way, must have been the outcome of the influence of Egmont Arens. … Egmont had never been the young man’s leader or mentor, but in association with the febrile perception of the older mind, the seeds of living intuitively (unconscious of it) with some perception of what was going on in life and why to keep trying for fulfillment, were planted.
Yet Egmont was never a conscious source of direction in the young man’s life, though, more than most his age, then he was developing an intuitive self-guidance…
It was his interest in thought, literature and fine art that led him to the bookshop where Arens had his press. He soon discovered he had a talent for fine press printing, and a liking for the “abstractions of printing and typography.” Each book was a work of art, and involved working in a community of artists: writers, illustrators, typographers, papermakers, binders, and book designers.
After his marriage, he took a job for pay as a book designer for Knopf. That lasted one year and he and Knopf realized it wasn’t a match. As he wrote years later:
In terms of money, Egmont’s salary was not enough for the married man he had brought into being. A letter to Alfred Knopf brought a change, and Egmont gave him his blessing… He served his term with Knopf. But leaving the job did not help the ego of the young husband, and he determined he would never again work for money. More significantly, he decided that painting representations in imitation of objects in sight was not an occupation for a man who had a wife and child to support. All these were conscious, inner decisions, and he lived with them for the rest of his life.
PJ’s ability to self-critique is evident. This is essential for any artist, or for that matter, scientist, doctor, or other professional. It is important for artists and writers to have their work evaluated by others, including the public and critics. Critics say this is good, this is interesting, and they may be wrong, but it sets up a dialogue that brings in different views and requires clearly defining and explaining those views. PJ lived in an active and vibrant arts community, where opposing views and critical thinking were encouraged.
PJ had come to the big city at twenty, to study art, the art of painting and did so for ten years. He was exhibited in the Woodstock Art Gallery and the Whitney Studio Club. When he saw that art was a profession, he rejected himself as a painter and turned to abstractions to earn his bread, which he barely did. He never abandoned sketching and painting as the avocations he took them to be, but he never took them seriously.
Isn’t such reasoning for a young man just past thirty years unreasonable?
But the writer has the old man living his life conscious of all the moments of his life, built on the unconscious logic of the past.
He decided not to work for money, but he needed to support his family. Representational art as an occupation did not satisfy him intellectually and artistically. Creating “abstractions” was risky, but he had the perception to realize its intrinsic link not only to his skills, but to his values. It gave him security in his marriage, as someone worthy of his wife, and in his occupation in the Bohemian and intellectual world.
The young opportunist went to Knopf. But, separated, Egmont Arens was still a source of awareness of what was transpiring in the young man’s life. The intuitive thread that brought them together continued to hold them until Egmont’s death.
All his life, boy, becoming conscious of sex and being alive, adolescent, man, lover, printer, and husband and father, that young man had been prompted by a strong intuitive directorate…
He started his own press and decided to publish a literary magazine:
He called it Latterday, fathered material for it, and (bang) a keen intuition stopped him in a common amateur intellectual pursuit.
Instead he presented the idea to Random House and they hired him to print two fine press editions, one of poetry and the other prose. During the next decade he printed books and newsletters, in Greenwich Village, and Silvermine, CT, and Woodstock, New York; all three were working artists’ communities.
Egmont became entangled with Elbert Hubbard’s misconcept of technocracy. He became separated from amateur pursuits and made a good living in industrial design.
PJ rejected the commercial art world, and consumerism. He personified the highly skilled craftspeople who wanted to bring art to the widest possible audience. (All art: fine arts, literature, theater, dance, film.) This was a combination of keeping high standards and finding new ways to reach an audience. To do this without crass commercialism was a challenge. To do this cheaply enough while keeping those high standards meant being inventive. He may have hoped for a blend of fine printing with the promotional capability of major publishers. Random House, led by Bennett Cerf who had been part of the Village crowd, was the obvious choice. However, a small press could not publish large quantities of a book if the demand was made. Major publishers found cheaply produced books were selling. People did buy well-made and designed books, though, when available. Charles Boni, another Village printer and publisher, invented a high-quality, mass-produced paperback: in 1929, he began Paper Books “to place good books, well designed in carefully made, within the reach of any reader.”
The integrity of the Village experience itself went through times of realization and times of submergence to other forces, such as World Wars, the advent of modern advertising and a consumer-dependent economy, and gentrification.
For instance, during WW1 and WW2 many young men went to fight overseas. Some of these young men came from the Village, and some from the country: the latter included those who would have gravitated to the Village. In the Great Depression, the demand for art and books fell and artists and writers had to find whatever work they could, as other did, to survive.
Some, like PJ, continued with the exploration of ways to live as self-guided, positive and creative individuals, in spite of, in response to, or in opposition to societal norms and changes in these norms. To the extent possible, he did this through interaction and dialogue, or through his art and writing.
In mid-life PJ suffered a near-death experience. His “swinging Bohemian lifestyle” confronted him with questions of guilt and innocence. It is possible that the lifestyle was a good fit for the artists at first, but then became excessive, leading to moral qualms. It seems this was the case with PJ. It led him to a stark and honest evaluation of his life, especially his personal life.
His guilt came from the apprehension or knowledge that he had hurt someone else, and in particular, his family. For a long time, apparently he repressed this, so that when his personal life fell apart, all the guilt surfaced and nearly drove him crazy. After that, he was more conscious of having done harm, or being harmed, and dealt with it by a continuing, conscious evaluation of the situation.
His interest in expanding his consciousness of what he was doing, and what was going on around him, became a constant part of his life. He developed the ability, which he believed innate in all humans, to perceive, reflect, consider and critique his intentions, motivations, actions, reactions, and the consequences, holding them to a set of values that aimed at living amiably with others.
David Turnbull noted the resolution in the notion of amiability, which struck him as “a very communal idea, a kind of live and let live philosophy of life… easy to do in the easy-going Village, not so easy confronting hard-nosed politicians, militarists and industrialists.” PJ did not view amiability as passive. An amiable person understands that others can be hostile, even violent, and works to find ways to bring about dialogue. It may not be possible or productive, but the effort is made. He said his “aggressive amiability” had been too much for many people. He wanted to get to know people, and interact with them, but his nosing into their business seemed abrupt at times. An important element of amiability is a sense of humor. With this, he said, an amiable person can take a “threat of disaster and turn it into a memorable and valuable experience.”
He often said that the civilized world had come to an end before the turn of the century (1900). He believed society was in decline, corrupted by materialism. People were easily diverted by the amusements of civilization and lacked awareness and intellectual curiosity. They rationalized their behavior, so no one knew right from wrong anymore, and denied the harm they did others. Of course political leaders and corporate monopolies were suspect. Although PJ lived on the margins of society, he was not a lawbreaker. He would not have swiped anything; he had his own moral evaluative process.
As a living human being, though, of course, he had his share of mistakes and transgressions. He damaged several important relationships, in his personal and professional life, and sometimes with full consciousness. In one case a famous printer and typographer made a comment on PJ’s book about the history of printing, and asked that PJ not use it in the book. However, PJ in his evaluation of the book decided that it was too important not to use. While the relationship suffered, in retrospect, it appears that PJ’s choice may have been the correct one.
PJ’s last job as a book designer was working for someone else, but he had complete freedom to work in his own way and leave when the work was done. Past middle age, he worked for a while as a freelance textile designer, where he explored making abstract patterns using forms he had created. Later he matted some of these designs and showed them along with other work at an art gallery and on the street in what he called the “Fair Weather Gallery.” He also wrote erotica, some of which was published. This was part of his need to re-identify himself after his mid-life crisis. It may have reflected an ongoing conflict between the body and the mind/spirit, that so plagued 18th and 19th Century thinkers. For instance, he separated love from sex: love being non-physical, and sex physical. Ultimately, he arrived at a concept of amiability as the highest form of love. In his last years, he devoted himself to thinking and writing about the large questions that intrigue philosophers.
There are elements that appear in each occupation: love of beauty, design and visual presentation, substance as important as style. He went from being an art student and artist (fine arts) to an apprentice fine printer of art and literature, to an independent fine press printer (choosing literature, designing and printing the books), at the same time writing about fine printing, printers and typographers, and then to book design. Writing was common to all, but so was visual art.
More than this, though, he always remained true to the non-traditional, independent life he felt had the highest value for human beings. It was the life of “a man integrated” rather than fragmented, honest rather than dishonest, as he envisioned and tried to live in a “new world” where people were free of non-essential materialism, free to express and identify themselves, and live without fear of coercion or violence.
Mary, this makes the reader want to read the book. By concentrating on the central theme of occupational integrity, being able to describe it in the life of one person, makes everything else in that person’s life coherent. It maps the pattern. It is the essential form of the identity of the man.
Now this is the level of writing we want to establish. It took you many years to arrive at this standard yourself, Mary. It took your own occupational integrity to do it; far more than personal or professional. It is ethical integrity. It is about bridging the gap between the topic of your writing and the audience who reads it. It is about creating accessibility and comprehension.
Exploring the topic of occupational integrity and related topics such as “distance” is the currently emerging theoretical phase in the development of The ECHO (Enabling Communities of Human Occupation) Model.
It was a long, long labor to try to write clearly about this man’s life, as you have noted. To put into the simplest words the complex is the art of poetry. My slight poetic talent helped me with this effort. To write about another person, who is quite different from yourself, is to fall down the rabbit hole, but you as a writer/thinker have to be able to resurface to your own reality and bring it in as well. That means keeping a distance, logically, emotionally and ethically.
Of course, there were areas of affinity between us, without which as you have said, if the world of one individual was completely different from another, then it would be impossible to bridge the gap.
We need to set the context for how your piece contributes to the ECHO model and demonstrates it in practice. It does this by its contribution to level 6 (providing justification of a Bohemian artistic lifestyle, via the concept of occupational integrity with admissions of any shortcomings), and the context would be to go back up some levels and discuss the man in terms of his myth (the professor of love in Greenwich Village, for instance) and some of the discourse around his relationship with the other key identities at the time, involving the worldview of the Village, as an occupational community (a multi-faceted one).
What this analysis does is open up some future questions about how the initiatives that were made by PJ and his friends, travel to us in time, and how they open up possibilities for the future (of artistic communities in general and Bohemian ones in particular).
So PJ’s myth was of being an artist, and this he decided was best done by living outside the directive and controlling traditions of society, pursuing intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression. From his teens on, he had a process: expanding his access to the layers of his own consciousness, and connecting to the universal stream of consciousness which he conceived of as having all the knowledge of those living and dead. He had a goal: the apex, as you call it, of making a valuable contribution to the life he had chosen to live (non-traditional artist; also living for the personal experience of it) and to the universal stream of consciousness, giving his life meaning.
I have gone further to say:
Ultimately, his stream of consciousness would mingle with the universal stream (overcoming death).
The reason I say this is taken from, and may be too much of an extrapolation, a comment of his. This conversation is in the book:
“You see, at first, you begin to get understanding, then you get really great, greater understanding, then you get complete understanding, then you begin to get realizations and then you get penultimate realization. And in my life now, I’m living with a penultimate realization. Nothing I can think about doesn’t have a quick organization into perceptible and expressive thought.”
“You said you had entered into a particular part of the universal stream of consciousness,” I reflected, “and took that into your life. Can we tap in completely to the universal stream of consciousness?”
“That would be too much for a living person.”
“Or after we die, we return to it and our stream of consciousness mingles with all others?”
“Even now,” PJ said, “from time to time we tap into the universal stream of consciousness. We’ve all had such epiphanies.”
He did not say “After we die,” I did. This was as close as he got to spirituality.
To your explanation of PJ and his explorations of consciousness. This is spirituality. If the universe is conscious, and is infinite in complexity and depth (not in its space time materiality necessarily) it readily follows that any finite being within it would not be able to absorb or comprehend universal consciousness entirely. Consciousness is a stream, and we are part of it. “Theories of everything” are mistaken in principle.