Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grant's book

Once anything is in print it takes on a powerful validity regardless of its content. It becomes a part of the canon on that topic and thus part of the "truth" about it. In reality it is A "truth," the truth of that particular author, rather than what it can easily be taken to be: THE TRUTH. It is not possible for anyone to write THE history of Therafields because each of us who lived it and were shaped and affected by it has our own stories and understandings of that history. There are "objective" facts to be sure -- dates, names numbers, and so on. The rest is dependent upon the recall and interpretation of each "subject" of that history. Just as each member of a family will have his or her own narrative of the life of that family, each of us who lived within the "family," or "community" of Therafields will have our own vision of the community, shaped not just by the whole of what we experienced there but also by the whole of who we are and who we were before and since that experience. Grant's interpretation is but his own. It is not neutral because neutrality in historical writing is not possible. Any author shapes his or her work within his own personal narrative whether consciously or not. To pretend otherwise is naive at best.

For me a a major difficulty with Grant's work lies in his unproblematical use of Lea's manuscript "Not For You Tea in the Afternoon." All of Lea's writings were autobiographical in nature, and all were written as thinly disguised apologia for her own life and work. It is hard to find anything remotely like a confessional note in her writing. Susan, her protagonist and alter-ego, is portrayed as the universally good woman, the woman who struggles valiantly against all odds, all evils, and prevails through her own intelligence, courage, and creativity. This is not said to denigrate the reality of these aspects of Lea herself. She was intelligent, courageous, and creative. But that was only a part of her truth. She had her own dark and secret places that she was unwilling or unable to share in any effective manner to receive help. It's not that these elements went unexpressed but they were revealed only to people who were in some manner dependent upon her and in no position to challenge her increasingly disturbed behaviour especially in the late 1970s as Lea moved closer toward the total collapse that engulfed her in the early 1980s. It was during this period of gradual disintegration that Lea wrote "Tea," a book that Grant quotes from uncritically as not how Lea wanted to portray the past, but as the way that things actually had been.

My sense of the book is that Grant wanted to write an ode to Lea. This is fair practice but his ode ought not to be written then as a history of what happened among us. In the book members of the community are bundled into two groups: the older, Hypno I-based crowd and the newer "counter-culture" group who came after the aforesaid. Both sets are given common attitudes and characteristics, seemingly opposed to one another in their views of Lea and the purposes of the developing community. One has only to speak with people across that divide to brush up against the enormous diversity of locations, understandings, and ambivalences about every aspect of the life of Therafields and of Lea during the periods that Grant is writing about.

The subsuming groups and attitudes into a general "them," occurs throughout the work. Grant writes as though "the community" moved along as an integrated organism toward clearly identified and agreed-upon goals. For example, he says that "In 1974 the community committed itself to finding sufficient land to feed a community of a thousand. A fourth one hundred acre farm was purchased..." Pg 135. "The community" -- if he is speaking here of the several hundred who were then members -- had not only no forum to discuss such a project, but no knowledge of the purchase until after the fact. Even then it became known only gradually as people heard of it while up at the farm. Decisions of this nature were made by a small group, by Lea with Rob, Barry, and Visvaldis. Rik would be involved as he handled financial details. There may have been some talk with, for example, John Dean, who was then farm manager, and others from the seminar who might have been visiting the Willow. She may have spoken of the idea in the seminar itself or in another of her groups, but it was never the practice of any of these individuals or groups to effectively dialogue with Lea about issues that she felt strongly about, certainly not in a way that would impact upon actual decision-making. These decisions and their implementation happened only at the top. To my knowledge this farm was never used for an expansion of organic farming. The resources for yet more labor-intensive work were simply not available.

That Grant's book is written as an ode to Lea seems clearest in his use of quotations from his former colleagues whom he interviewed. Rather than using their thoughts as springboards to explore the diversity and complexity of feeling and opinion within "the community," he uses them as examples of what has become known recently in political circles as "the bad apples" arguement. Philip, Jim, and Mike Quealey are quoted about their discontents with directions that Lea took in the early 1970s. In various places in the book these Hypno I men are labelled conservative, bitter, and too rigid to go along with Lea's expansive agenda, an agenda understood and embraced by the others, the "counter-culture" crowd. Refuting the statements made by "the apples," Grant declares that "Lea had preached from the first the broad, European sense of therapy, which for her included a community and social revolution, as opposed to the narrow, medicalized American sense of specialization." Now that is a considerable mouthful, one that demands not only an examination of the sources of this "European" sense of therapy, but also of Lea's own ambivalence stated periodically in seminar groups, about the developing community. "It was you people who wanted this, not me," she would direct at the former religious. Another important piece to critically examine is the evolution of Lea's ideas and theories about "social revolution" and the medical model.

1 comment:

  1. I have not read Grant Goodbrant's book because the mere description of it in Philip Marchand article stirred up so many painful memories, I pushed away the idea of dislodging more. I didn't think my point of view would be represented in Grant's book as I never felt a forum for my voice in all those years. Still I was curious to know what had happened in the early years. I appreciate you taking the time to clear up some long held misconceptions and some very troubling doubts I carried around with me since then. These were as a result of having my concerns dismissed or considered anti"Therafieldien". I will say that through that experience I made many lifelong friends who contiue to be supportive along the way of real life.