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"You have rescued me from academicism": selections from the correspondence of Henry Nash Smith and Mary Hunter Austin.

In 1932, the Book Club of Texas decided to publish Miss Zilphia Gant, a short story by William Faulkner, in a limited edition of three hundred copies. The tale of a sheltered woman--Zilphia Gant--and her violent, gender-bending mother, Faulkner's story included an explosive scene in which Zilphia compares herself to Mary, mother of Jesus, as she yearns to procreate without a man through masturbation. The book's introduction was written by Henry Nash Smith, an editor of Southwest Review and an assistant professor on the English faculty at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In these years before making a name for himself as a literary critic and historian, Smith gladly accepted the invitation of the Book Club to travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to interview Faulkner and obtain the author's permission to publish the story. According to an account of the visit in The Dallas Morning News on February 14, 1932, Smith found Faulkner to be a "quiet, courteous man" who was fascinated by the young professor's journey on a tri-motored American Airways cabin plane and "seemed prouder of the hand-hammered locks on the doors than of anything he has written."

Given the Book Club's exclusivity (membership was limited to three hundred) and usual emphasis on typography rather than new literature, the publication might have received little attention had it not been for John O. Beaty, the chairman of SMU's English Department. Shocked by the involvement of a faculty member in the publication of the story, Beaty urged the president of the university, Charles Selecman, to fire Smith immediately. Beaty sought support for his position in a letter to dozens of pastors around Dallas. "A situation has arisen," he wrote, "which threatens to destroy all the Christian usefulness of Southern Methodist University" and "make it a center for the propaganda of obscenity and degeneracy." In private explanations of his vendetta, Beaty condemned the book's "homosexual implications" and was particularly disturbed by Faulkner's use of the word "philoprogenitive," an archaic term from the literature of phrenology, meaning "love of offspring" or "prolific."

Persuaded by Beaty's charges, Selecman wrote to Smith in Europe requesting his resignation. Smith refused. The standoff led to an unexpected outpouring of support for Smith, particularly from members of the Book Club of Texas who perceived the episode as an attack on their own reputations. As one man explained to Smith's colleague, John McGinnis: "It looks to me that the charge against Henry Smith is silly, but when the President of the University is after him it makes it serious even if there is no sense in it." To quell the outrage, Selecman backed off his request, but the damage had been done. Alter nearly six more acrimonious years in Dallas, Smith left the University to begin his doctoral work in Harvard's newly created Program in American Civilization. He went on to become a pioneer in the field of American Studies, an interdisciplinary movement that sought to bridge history and literature and make academic work more accessible to the general public.

Although the story of Henry Smith's departure from SMU has become the stuff of campus legend, nowhere did he describe the episode in such detail as in his correspondence with Mary Hunter Austin, the California intellectual who spent the later years of her career in New Mexico. Austin is perhaps best known for The Land of Little Rain (1903), a meditation on the rhythms of life and land in Owens Valley, California. Over the ensuing decades, her path-breaking work on the study of culture and environment made the case that literature cannot be understood apart from the places in which it is created. Although she held appointments at several universities over the course of her career, Austin never embraced the academic world and instead gravitated toward publishing, lecturing, and other forms of public scholarship. It was through her role as a contributing editor for Southwest Review that Austin met Smith. Their correspondence reached far beyond the Faulkner controversy to discuss everything from the mysteries of religious experience to the nuts-and-bolts of the publishing industry.

Over six years (1928-1934) and dozens of letters, Austin served as an intellectual mentor for Smith--debating ideas, providing references, and encouraging him to think outside the boundaries of the modern academic disciplines. As early at 1928, in a manifesto on "Culture" published in Southwest Review, Smith had grown skeptical of the Arnoldian impulses behind the burgeoning cultural institutions of Dallas. In his view, these "citadels of sweetness and light" represented a "superficial striving" for European culture. From the posturing of campus bohemians to earnest public lectures on Beowulf, Smith believed the social life of Dallas was failing to recognize the region for what it was:
    a queer milieu patched together from the shreds of the musical
   ideas of New York song-writers, the artistic and ethical
   conceptions of California moving-picture producers, the mechanical
   triumphs of Detroit automotive engineers, the journalism of
   national syndicatewriters, and the skill of professional athletes. 


Smith went on to make the case for a more holistic, clear-eyed approach to the study of regional culture, an approach that he discussed extensively over the course of his friendship with Austin. In 1931, Smith published an essay on Austin in New Mexico Quarterly, where he argued: "She dwells in no ivory tower, but at the meeting of all the highways of modern life."

Where others pushed Smith in a more traditional direction, Austin served as a powerful example of freedom from the disciplinary and institutional constraints of the academic world. In a 1931 letter to the Amerika-Institut in Berlin, well before the Faulkner controversy exploded, Smith inquired about the prospects of interdisciplinary graduate work: "Would an attempt to work out the influence of anthropology on modern literary criticisms have any chance of being accepted as a doctoral dissertation at a German university?" In their response, the Institute rejected Smith's idea, suggesting that he seek a "more practical" combination of subjects. Smith mentioned the same idea in a 1932 letter to B. A. Botkin inquiring about graduate work at the University of Nebraska, but quickly backed off the idea despite Botkin's positive feedback, explaining: "I really think that my wild idea of writing something about anthropology and literary criticism was a wild idea, mainly because I do not know anything about anthropology." A friend of Austin's and editor of the journal Folk-Say, Botkin, too, saw traditional disciplinary boundaries as inadequate for the study of regional culture. Indeed, Botkin saw his work as a blend of history and poetry, explaining to Smith that "if at the present I seem to be riding two horses at once it is because they are inseparable and also because I have no precedent for what I am trying to do and have to feel my way." In this respect, Austin was an inspiration for both men. As Smith put it, she found ways to bridge the domains of "botany, geology, archaeology, the psychology of genius, history, anthropology, literary history, sociology, prose fiction, regional culture, religion, and verse for children."

It was in this context that Smith wrote to Austin to share the story of the conflict over Miss Zilphia Gant. Despite Smith's frustration with "the whole question of ecclesiastical control over the University," his letter covered a range of topics, noting his travels in Europe, surprise at the popularity of American movies, and high regard for Thomas Mann. With characteristic irreverence, Austin dismissed her friend's critics as unworthy of his talents:
    I have just gotten around to Miss Zilphia Gant, and I am saying
   pouf-pouf! to your Faculty. I cannot imagine what they have in their
   minds.... I am at least convinced that you have a positive flair for
   literary criticism and that you ought to be in a better place than
S.M.U.
   More power to you. 


As it happened, the controversy coincided with the publication of Austin's autobiography, Earth Horizon, which included lengthy descriptions of her childhood encounter with Methodism and later turn toward mysticism without dogma. On November 4, 1932, Smith wrote to Austin expressing his enthusiasm for the book. Since his own education had been "confined to that academic atmosphere" that accepted scientific materialism as axiomatic, he found it "little short of astonishing" that Austin's account so strongly attracted his attention, offering spiritual insight without the dogmas that "cloud and conceal and distort ordinary accounts of religious experience." Linking the autobiography with the dispute over Miss Zilphia Gant, Smith speculated that "being an American" was a "mystical undertaking" unmoored from inherited traditions, and that the problem with ecclesiastical control of the University boiled down to its inability to step outside dogmas to engage honestly with American experience, as Faulkner did. In Smith's view, the problem was amplified by the alliance of religious authorities with "conservative elements" of the community, namely, "the business men who give the money and who regard every departure from the accepted canons of economics, good taste, style of dress, architecture, or even music as a threat to a status quo of which religion and the careful structure of the church are only minor parts."

Smith's appreciation for Austin's support echoed her own homage to William James, whom she credited in Earth Horizon with affirming, during a brief visit to San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century, her interest in spiritual wholeness and creative prayer as legitimate objects of intellectual attention. Many decades later, Austin pointed Smith to the work of John Dewey and exchanged thoughts on William James, recognizing in her young friend a similar unconventionality and breadth of imagination. Although Smith disavowed any capacity for spirituality, Austin nevertheless helped clarify his interest in avenues of intellectual activity outside the academy, an interest that he later channeled into American Studies. "It may interest you," Smith wrote to Austin on April 18, 1933, "to know that more and more I find my thinking dominated by several ideas which came to me through your work. You have rescued me from academicism: I could so easily have been lost!"

Documents

Document One: Mary Hunter Austin to Henry Nash Smith, June 11, 1930, Mary Hunter Austin Collection of Letters and Papers, MSS C-H 48, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.
    Mary Austin
   Santa Fe, New Mexico
   June 11, 1930
   My dear Henry:
   I am delighted to know that my last letter was of use to you with
your
   Chamber of Commerce. It is too bad that you should be held up in this
   fashion. What you must do is to put a ring in the nose of your
Chamber of
   Commerce and lead it around with a string, the way we do here. The
best
   way to begin that is to have someone of your group, preferably
someone
   who does not live in Dallas, write something about Dallas for an
Eastern
   paper, giving an outside view, which is, of course, that the
Southwest
   Review
 is almost the only thing in Texas which entitles Texas to rank
   with other Southwestern states on a cultural basis. Chambers of
Commerce
   are more sensitive to that sort of thing than to anything else. A
little
   later I'll try and think out something myself which will get you
into the
   news. Perhaps I can do something in Mexico.
      I think it's all right to go on to France since you've
arranged it. You
   will need that European background, although I am convinced that
France
   is more important to our past than she will ever be to our future. If
you
   can stretch your hard cash, do try to get down to Spain before you
   return. They are having a renaissance of art and culture in Spain
which
   is likely to be felt even here in the Southwest, and you should place
   yourself as advantageously toward it as possible.
      As for writing something for the Fall number, I don't feel at
all
   certain. If I'm far enough along with my autobiography I might
snatch you
   a bit out of that, or it is just possible that I may write you
something
   of what is going on in Mexico in relation to what is going on on this
   side of the border.
      Margaret Larkin, of whom you already know something, will be in my
house
   while I am gone, and I am suggesting to her that she may find
something
   to write you about things here. I think, on the whole, that you are
doing
   well to dig into your Texas material, but you must not neglect the
really
   important things happening around Santa Fe. Look up Ezra Pound in
France
   and tell him I sent you. Let me know if you go to England in time so
I
   can send you a few letters there.
   Hastily,
   Mary Austin 


Document Two: Henry Nash Smith to Mary Hunter Austin, October 2, 1932, AU 4715, Box 112, Mary Hunter Austin Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
    3431 Cedar Springs
   Road Dallas
   Sunday October 2
   Dear Mrs. Austin:
   I have been back from England for several weeks, but I have had my
hands
   so full that I have not been able to do anything with the REVIEW. On
   August 24 I received in Europe letters from President Selecman and
   Professor Beaty, head of the English department, asking me to resign
from
   the faculty of the University because I had written a preface to a
book
   (Miss Zilphia Gant
) by William Faulkner, which was brought out
   privately by the Texas Book Club in June. They considered the book
   "obscene and immoral in tone"; and although my preface was
a fairly
   objective essay on Faulkner's work, they are determined to get
rid of me.
   I returned as soon as possible, and since then have been submerged in
a
   mess of Methodist politics. I have refused to resign, and my case
must be
   referred to a committee of the board of trustees. Meanwhile I am on
the
   payroll but have been assigned no classes. We are trying to get to
the
   committee, most of whom are business men in Dallas or prominent
   churchmen; but my hands are tied because I am afraid of doing
anything
   that might be construed as sabotage and thus made the basis for
firing me
   even if the other incident could be straightened out. Sentiment in
the
   University is I believe on my side, and some of the executive
committee
   will favor my case; I anticipate a successful issue, but it will take
   perhaps a month to get through all the red tape. Copies of the book
in
   question are scarce, and my two are lent at the moment to members of
the
   committee; but as soon as I can get hold of one I shall send it to
you.
      All this, of course, is mainly for your information. It is a nasty
scrap
   which is beginning to draw into play a great many other minor
wrangles
   out of the past, and which of course focuses the whole question of
   ecclesiastical control of the University. However it turns out, I am
not
   long for SMU and must look elsewhere even if I manage to hold on here
   until I can make other plans. The REVIEW is at a standstill. A summer
   issue was ready to go press when this thing came up, but when our
   financial support from the University seemed threatened we did not
feel
   like incurring further obligations to the printers. I don't know
whether
   or not we shall be able to get the REVIEW away from the university
and
   try to finance it elsewhere, in Dallas or in some other place.
Naturally
   I am faintly disgusted with universities in general and hope that
some
   unacademic set-up may be found for the REVIEW.
      I shall let you know whatever happens. My summer in England makes
me a
   more violent American than I was before, but I had an ecstatic week
   walking through the Black Forest. That is a region expressly created
for
   the purpose of being walked through. I learned from the English just
how
   profound a change in the human type the American idea of democracy (I
   don't want to be trite) may bring about. Granted that you do
nothing more
   than set up a new hierarchy, a new caste system based upon
money-making
   ability or cunning or what-not--at least you have disturbed the
feudal
   European rhythm in its modern set form, and have set free forces that
   ought to bring about a reorientation of personality. Americans are
more
   like Germans than they are like either English or French,--because
the
   Germans have really no longer a history as a nation than we have?...
The
   most astonishing single phenomenon in Europe is the popularity of
   American movies.
      Are you making any lecture tours this winter? I should like to see
   you--perhaps if I am ultimately fired I can run out to New Mexico
before
   I go to work somewhere else. I have not had a chance yet to read your
   autobiography, though McGinnis tells me he has proof sheets. Have you
   read Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain? He is probably the
greatest living
   European writer (you will allow me a schoolboy enthusiasm and
hyperbole!)
   Sincerely--
   Henry Smith 


Document Three: Mary Hunter Austin to Henry Nash Smith, October 6, 1932, Mary Hunter Austin Collection of Letters and Papers, MSS C-H 48, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.
    Mary Austin
   Santa Fe, New Mexico
   October 6, 1932
   Mr. Henry Smith, 3431 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, Texas
   Dear Henry:
   I am not at all surprised to hear that you have been requested to
resign
   from the Faculty, and not nearly so much distressed by it as I might
have
   been. I think that you have done quite right in refusing to resign,
and I
   have no doubt that you have handled the situation as wisely as could
be
   done. Except for its being a rather bad time for universities all
around,
   I would really rejoice over your being free from the trammels of
   Methodistism [sic
]. It is time for you to get into a larger school
   where your special abilities will have more scope. I shall be very
glad
   to see the book which you have incurred so much in sponsoring. I
don't
   care a great deal for Faulkner myself. I can't always make out
what he is
   driving at, and he is occasionally, if not actually obscene, at least
   careless of the ordinary conventions of English speech. But I shall
be
   very glad to read what you have said of him. I shall be more than
   interested to hear the discussion of ecclesiastical control of the
   university. You must be sure to send me anything that is written
about
   it. I hope that you can get separate control for the Review
;
   unacademic control will be much better for it, and ought not to be
too
   difficult in so rich a state as Texas. If there is anything I can do
to
   help you in these matters, please do not hesitate to call upon me. I
   understand that you would not feel like issuing another number while
the
   present imbroglio is on. I suppose that this delay will interfere
with
   your publishing anything of the autobiography, since the date of book
   publication is set for November ninth.
      I am very much interested in what you have to say about what
England
   taught you of America. I am not, however, surprised that you are
struck
   with the popularity of the American movie. After all, the American
movie
   is based upon the very thing that made America--realization of the
   subconscious aspirations of lower middle class people, in which all
the
   appurtenances of desirable living, in the free play of middle class
   emotion, fall into the hands of lower middle class people. There are
an
   astonishing number of people in Europe who want to think that America
is
   like that.
      Yes, I have read Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain
, and agree with you
   as to his place in European letters, and I shall be delighted to see
you,
   if you could manage a few days at Santa Fe, although I don't
want you to
   have to be "fired" in order to achieve it. And by the way,
if it comes to
   getting another job, if there is anything I can do for you about
that,
   let me know. I used to have rather wide connections with
universities,
   although these have lapsed somewhat of late years.
      Yes, I am going east on a lecture trip this winter, and I am
trying to
   get some lectures in Texas. If you have any suggestions to make, I
should
   be glad to hear them, although the lecture outlook everywhere is less
   promising than it has been for a number of years.
      With best wishes for the outcome of your affairs, I am,
   Sincerely yours,
   Mary Austin 


Document Four: Henry Nash Smith to Mary Hunter Austin, November 4, 1932, AU 4716, Box 112, Mary Hunter Austin Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
    3431 Cedar Springs Rd
   Dallas, Texas,
   November 4, 1932
   Dear Mrs. Austin:
   I have delayed writing you in reply to your solidly reassuring letter
   until I should have some definite news about my status at the
University.
   But apparently they are going to keep me dangling about for some
time;
   and meanwhile I have read your autobiography. I want to write you
about
   that.
      I should begin by saying that as I read, for instance,
James's
   Varieties of Religious Experience
 or Fox's journal, or even as I
   hear some of my friends talk, I realize that I am almost if not
entirely
   devoid of the slightest capacity for the type of experience which you
   call in your foreword Mystical. I can not even remember any
adolescent
   emotional crisis in which I felt a trace of support from outside
myself.
   I have never had anything approaching an intuition or premonition. I
have
   never experienced knowing-at-a-distance; and I even believe I am
devoid
   of hunches. My education, to the extent of its formal course, has
also
   been confined to that academic atmosphere which accepts as axiomatic
   (without always accepting explicitly) the Newton-Kant-modern-science
   materialistic presuppositions. At Harvard I was exposed to Irving
   Babbitt's denunciation of all primitivism as a dangerous
end-product of
   Rousseau.
      Under these circumstances, it is little short of astonishing that
I
   should be so intensely interested in your own point of view in
   particular, and in the consequences which necessarily follow if
several
   of your specific experiences are valid. But I believe few books I
have
   read have absorbed me more completely than yours--the autobiography,
of
   course, appears to me as the summing up of what you have touched upon
in
   other places, particularly in Everyman's Genius
 (which I reviewed
   while I was in college as the first of your books I had read) and
   Experiences Facing Death
. As I read, I realize that here is the
   core of religious experience without the Hebraic trappings which,
made
   into dogmas, cloud and conceal and distort ordinary accounts of
religious
   experience. It occurs to me that the peculiar emotionalism you
observe in
   others in their approaches to mystical experience, but which you
could
   not share with them, may be due to this Hebraic (accidental) cast: an
   emotionalism arising out of the persecutions suffered by the Hebrews
and
   their suspicion of art which made rhythmic and pictorial adjustments
of
   emotion almost unavailable for them without immediate association
with
   specific religious dogmas. This emotionalism, however, once taken up
into
   the medieval tradition and made part of the orthodox Bible,
perpetuates
   itself through the written word and unconsciously suggests an
emotional
   form for whatever religious experiences proceed from within the
dogmatic
   structure.
      I have also just been reading Bergson's Les Deux Sources de
la Morale
   et de la Religion
: he makes an interesting point of the way in which
   mystical experience is usually colored by whatever dogmas the
believer
   has assimilated. But he postulates a central sore [sic] of such
   experience which is independent of dogmas; it is interesting to me
that
   you find Indian terms convenient in trying to avoid the confusion of
   commonplace images and idioms.
      The question to which all of this leads up is: apart from belief,
apart
   from some set of orthodoxies, how is such experience transmissible?
It
   seems almost entirely private, ineffable; it can be described, but
   lacking a common ground of belief, it can not, so far as I can see,
be
   conveyed. Yet the immense importance of such experience makes me
wonder
   if some way could not be found for conveying it. I am aware that in
   Everyman's Genius
 you have described certain elementary techniques
   which apply without distinction to artistic and to religious modes.
But
   somehow these techniques have not touched a responsive chord in me.
      This discussion is the more interesting because it seems to me
that
   being an American is in itself [a] sort of mystical undertaking. The
   powerful European traditions and modes which serve to bolster and
guide
   other peoples are completely invalid here; and the peculiar value of
your
   account of your own life seems to me to lie in its revelation of how
the
   experiences of art, religion, nature, can all be undertaken in
America
   where the aid of the European systems is not available.
      But I find myself in between: neither European nor American modes
are
   available for me; and I am thrown back upon a sterile individualism
of
   the sort which I discern, for instance, in Sinclair Lewis, John Dos
   Passos, Robinson Jeffers, or (with some Platonic fringes) in George
   Sterling: in fact, in almost every one of the many writers of
   contemporary America, who have genius perhaps but no deep source of
power
   and consolation.
      This unexpectedly brings me back to Faulkner; for the principal
thing I
   have to say about him is that he belongs also in this class of
writers
   who have no tradition and who are too honest and too genuine in their
   artistic perceptions to pretend to have one. I am sending you a copy
of
   the book. Of course the University authorities completely missed the
   point--I really can't blame them. If you once grant the
impossible
   premise that a church with a fixed set of beliefs can undertake to
teach
   anything but these beliefs, you have still to take into account the
close
   alliance of the church with the most conservative elements in any
   community--that is, the business men who give the money and who
regard
   every departure from the accepted canons of economics, good taste,
style
   of dress, architecture, or even music as a threat to a status quo of
   which religion and the careful structure of the church are only minor
   parts. That is the real trouble. The administration of the University
is
   sensitive to the point of hysteria about anything which might seem to
a
   prospective donor of money "radical". They are not really
prudish
   themselves if they would only admit their own motives; they are
prudish
   out of policy. And, granted the conditions under which they are
trying to
   run a university, they could hardly be anything else. Thus I agree
with
   you that my trouble with them is in a real sense inevitable. When I
   finally get fired, or when (as in any event will be the case) I have
to
   leave at the end of the year, I shall be very grateful for your
   assistance in finding a place.
      What we are going to do with the Review
 does not yet appear. We
   have decided to try to get our appropriation for this year to bring
out
   the now long delayed summer number, but beyond that we can not see.
It
   might be possible to get the Carnegie people interested in it if we
could
   get it away from the University and show them a non-academic set-up;
but
   debts to the printer and unexpired subscriptions which any new
   arrangement would have to assume responsibility for, are deterrents.
The
   Arnold Foundation for Pubic [sic
] Affairs at SMU (through S. D.
   Myres, a friend of ours who teaches government) dangles the
possibility
   of an alliance with some other university and the conversion of the
   Review
 into a political science journal; they say literary
   policies can remain intact, but they of course are using
"literary" in
   the common acceptance of the term as meaning poetry and fiction, and
are
   not aware that the life of the Review
 has depended upon a
   conception of regionalism which embraces politics and poetry in one
   indistinguishable policy.
      I have not been able to find out anything about lecture
arrangements.
   Groups here usually arrange for their lecturers far in advance, and
they
   don't want to pay anything. Texas is rich in cotton and oil, but
when the
   bottom drops out of both these markets and out of the wheat market as
   well you get the immense amount of unemployment which we now have. No
one
   thinks himself even approximately solvent.
      It is a shame that we were delayed so long we couldn't use
the material
   from the autobiography. Mr. McG and Karl Elmquist, a young man I had
   taken on as apprentice, had arranged the best issue of the Review
   we have ever had while I was gone this summer; the loss of your essay
   breaks up the unity of the issue and destroys their program. But
we'll
   get out with some kind of an issue.
      I hope you do, however, get to Texas sometime this winter. We
extend
   every invitation and promise of a cordial reception.
   Sincerely,
   Henry Smith 


Document Five: Mary Hunter Austin to Henry Nash Smith, November 28, 1932, Mary Hunter Austin Collection of Letters and Papers, MSS C-H 48, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California.
    Mary Austin
   Santa Fe, New Mexico
   November 28, 1932
   Mr. Henry Smith,
   3431 Cedar Springs Road,
   Dallas, Texas.
   My dear Henry:
   I have just returned from my trip to New York for the launching of
   the autobiography, which went off remarkably well. The New York
   reviews were all astonishingly appreciative, not to say
   enthusiastic, and the advance sales were very satisfactory.
      And now I will try to answer your letter of November 4th. I have
   decided that I must write an article about it. It seems to me that
   your problem is one that affects the younger generation very
   markedly, so that in this letter I shall probably not be as
   explicit as in the article, which I hope to be able to send you as
   soon as it is published. I think we do get at the core of mystical
   experience in Bergson's book. It is colored by the dogmas which
the
   believer has at times entertained, but it is also quite true that
   there is a core of such experience which is entirely independent
   and which appears to be universally human and discussable under
   common terms among all races of people.
      In my autobiography, I think I have touched upon the way the
   experience began to rationalize for me through the knowledge I had
   of Indian mysticism as an explicit motion of the mind. That motion,
   I think, is the movement of the subconscious perceptivity coming
   through to the threshold of consciousness, and it is a genuine
   motion; that is to say, there is an emergence of subconscious
   perceptivity which, by whatever names it gets itself called,
   universally occurs. For example, the prophetic quality of dreams. I
   am convinced that dreaming true is one of the things we all used to
   do, and if you have read Dunne's "Experiment with
Time," you will
   see how easily that can be restored, and what is the rational basis
   of dreaming true. Dunne reduces it to a mathematical formula which
   I cannot always follow, but am willing to accept. All the other
   phenomena are of a piece with this--hunches, premonitions,
   foreknowing, and perhaps perceptions of destiny.
      I say that these things were formerly much more universal than
they
   are now, when they have been overlaid by the high excitations of
   the centers of consciousness which prevail in modern life. I use
   Indian terms because I find them the least colored by attempts at
   rationalization, but I believe that the processes and evolution of
   mystical phenomena were identical for all peoples in the early
   stages of society. It was not until we began to try to rationalize
   them that we got into difficulties about them. The highest points
   of evolution of the mystical processes are found among the
   religions of the Far East and in Christian mysticism.
      There has not been very much advance in mystical practice since
the
   Fifteenth century of Christian mysticism. After the advent of
   Protestantism, the associations of mystical practice were all of
   the offensive Catholic quality, so gradually the secret of mystical
   practice was lost, and in modern Protestantism only partially
   replaced by pure emotionalism. I think I made that fairly clear in
   my autobiography, that what separated me from the Protestant
   religion in which I was brought up, was the difference between the
   pure mysticism in my own experiences and the emotionalism of my
   Protestant ancestry. The emotional experience fails to get you
   anywhere; it merely repeats itself and does not evolve into a
   larger practice.
      In your case and in the case of your generation, to the old and
   deeply imbedded prejudice against Catholic practice there has been
   added the revolt against emotionalism, so that you and your
   generation have developed inhibitions against mystical experience.
   I think it is quite true that you are unable to enter into my own,
   but I do not feel that that incapacity is in any way to your
   advantage. What I tried to do in Everyman's Genius was to
restore
   the lost capacity for making those explicit motions of the
   subconscious which are the basis of genius experience as well as
   religious experience. I feel that it is highly important that this
   capacity should be restored, and that skill in making such motions
   should be inculcated as part of our education. If you stop to think
   about it, you will realize that all of the mental motions
   inculcated by our modern system of education are objective; that we
   have nothing whatever by way of training for the subconscious, so
   that it is not at all surprising that your generation should have
   lost the power of making effective movements of the subconscious
   such as I have described as happening to me quite naturally.
      I hope that this will make the matter a little plainer to you, and
   I shall take great interest in sending you the article I mean to
   write.
      I hope very much that you will be able to make a suitable
   arrangement about the Review. It seems too bad that so promising a
   regional journal should be allowed to decline. Wishing you every
   possible success, I am,
   Sincerely yours,
   Mary Austin 


Note on Sources:

The Austin-Smith correspondence, which included approximately fifty letters spanning 1928 to 1934, is divided between two repositories: the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California. Other quotations are drawn from the Marshall Terry Papers, John McGinnis Papers, Lon Tinkle Papers, and boxes 22 and 35 of the Southwest Review Records--all at the DeGolyer Library in Dallas, Texas. Cited publications by Henry Nash Smith include: "Culture," Southwest Review, Vol. 13, no. 2 (Winter 1928): 249- 255, and "The Feel of Purposeful Earth: Mary Austin's Prophesy," New Mexico Quarterly, Vol. 1, no. 1 (February 1931): 17-33. The dispute over Miss Zilphia Gant is recounted in Stanley Marcus, Minding the Store: A Memoir (London, 1974), 327, and David Farmer, Stanley Marcus: A Life with Books (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1993), 15-19.
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Author:Olson, Alexander I.
Publication:Southwest Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:6271
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