Wednesday, October 28, 2015

4a Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Radovan Richta wrote to Professor Diemer: ‘Tomin … is worth nothing in philosophy … It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred … he was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately …’

I did not take any part in any competitions for scientific positions. When Richta wrote his letter to Professor Diemer, he must have been sure that I would not be given any opportunity to expose in public media the falsities he wrote in his letter.

I returned from Hawaii in the late summer of 1970 (see ‘1 Lasting repercussions …,’ October 15). My aspirantura (a kind of fellowship) ended with my return. Under the normal circumstances I would have been entitled to defend my Candidate Dissertation (which I had submitted for assessment before I went to Hawaii, in 1969) and would have been provided with an academic post. But in the summer of 1970 universities and the whole academic establishment were in complete disarray. Commissions were everywhere established that were about to purge the Communist Party of ‘undesirable elements’, i.e. of all those who were active in an attempt to humanise socialism in Prague Spring of 1968. Since all educational and cultural institutions were in the hands of those who were about to be purged, this meant chaos. I was never a Member of the Communist Party, which in those days was a ‘tremendous advantage’. Soon many of those, who could not get a decent job during the 1950s and 1960s because they were not CP Members, found all the doors open for them, and many used that opportunity. This was not a road for me. On the day my aspirantura officially ended I became a turbine operator in the Prague Power-plant; it was ten minute walk from my house, half of the way through Stromovka, the largest and most beautiful park in Prague.

This was an experiment: an attempt to combine work in a factory with the work in philosophy. The overcoming of the social division that separated manual labour and intellectual work was the proclaimed aim of the socialist society on its way to communism. My experiment raised two question marks. The first was directed at all those at the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University and at the Institute of Philosophy who had held their privileged positions at those institutions as Communist Party Members. Will they remain true to their Marxism and join me in questioning the new regime in its proclaimed care for Socialism, Communism, and Marxism when they lose their CP Member cards? – In 1975 I wrote ‘An account of an experiment’ (‘Bilance experimentu’), which I submitted for publication to samizdat Petlice. After reading it, Ivan Klíma, a famous Czech writer and a prominent Member of the editorial board of Petlice told me: ‘Mr Tomin, you must be the only Marxist in this country.’ (‘An account of an experiment’ was published in Petlice in 1975 as the second part of my Questionnaire.)

The second question mark was directed at the regime with its proclaimed faithfulness to Marxism, socialism and communism. Thanks to the samizdat Petlice I could give voice to my questioning of the regime’s proclaimed loyalty to Marxism. The first part of my Questionnaire consisted in ‘My correspondence with Rudé Právo’ (from which I have quoted in ‘3 Lasting repercussions’ posted on October 18). The second part, ‘An account of an experiment’ was conceived as a letter to the ‘Institute of Philosophy’ (the Director of which was Radovan Richta). I ended it with a request: ‘I intend to write A journey into the Ancient Greece, and in preparation for it I should like to travel to Greece. I saved the society a lot of money by working as a factory worker while continuing to work in philosophy [during those five years I wrote an essay on Aristotle, a book on Descartes entitled I think – I am, and the Questionnaire]. And so I am addressing you with a request: allow me to spend a time in Greece which will be paid for by the money I saved the society during the five years of my experiment.’

How did the establishment view my five year experiment? Kořínek and Pulcman wrote in the Tvorba article: ‘Tomin asked to be called to the University or to the Academy of Sciences to replace philosophers working there.’ (For Kořínek and Pulcman see ‘Lasting repercussions’ 2 and 3, posted on October 16 and 18.)

If I am not mistaken, my ‘An account of an experiment’ is reflected in Richta’s Letter to Professor Diemer: ‘Tomin … was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately …’

In 1978, just after I sent my invitation to academics at Oxford University, I was visited by Ludvík Vaculík, a prominent Member of the Prague Intellectual Ghetto and the moving spirit behind the samizdat Petlice. He told me that I was about to get a summons to the police, and that it was very important that I should go to the summons. (In the autumn of 1977 the police tried to destroy my philosophy seminar by summoning me each Wednesday, the day my seminar took place. I wrote to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Obzina, that there was no legal ground for such summons, and if I were taken to the police by force, I would start a ten day hunger-strike. This then did happen, and the hunger-strike was a success. For a whole year the police refrained from summoning me.)

At the police station two secret policemen (i.e. men in plain clothes) informed me that the Minister Obzina wished to solve my situation; I was offered substantial money for translating Plato’s dialogues. In preparation for this work I could go for a few weeks to Greece.

I replied: ‘I should gladly accept the offer, if it was offered to me by the Institute of Philosophy. I cannot accept it from the hands of the Police.’ – The two men were appalled: ‘But Mr Tomin, if you are not paid for your work, your work is worth nothing.’ – ‘A little bit of Marx would do you good,’ I replied.

A few weeks in Greece remains an unfulfilled dream; there is little hope of my fulfilling it on my state pension of £26.95 a week (see ‘It is all wrong – a letter to the Pension Service’, posted on June 15, and ‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’, posted on June 19). Luckily, I went to Greece for a week on a cruising trip, which my wife’s father gave her as a present for her fortieth birthday. The week in Greece had two impacts on my work: 1) A day in Athens inspired me to write ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’, the most frequently visited item on my website both in its English and in its Czech version. 2) When we visited the ‘Odysseus’ cave’ on the Island of Ithaka my wife gave me Homer’s Odyssey and asked me to read some of it, so that she could film and record it. For years I had read Homer ‘aloud in my mind’, and so I thought it would be easy. It was not. To make one’s vocal cords, the tongue, and all the other muscles involved in speech engaged in actually vocalizing Homer’s poetry, is something very different. This experience was one of the factors that compelled me to start recording the Greeks soon after we returned to Britain from our trip.

The ensuing recording of Plato and Aristotle, Isocrates and Xenophon, Pindar and Homer, in which I have been engaged since then, deepened the links between my study of the Greeks and my interest in the subconscious. Ever since I began to study the Greeks I became fascinated by the fact that German, English and French translations and commentaries could elucidate for me the Greek texts. In what form must Greek language ‘exist’ in my sub-conscious to make this possible? I just regaled in having my subconscious formed in this way. But reading the Greeks aloud brought a completely new dimension into all this. In my reading the text without vocalizing it my subconscious transforms the information as it exists in my brain in the form of electric action potentials, chemical transmitters, and neural circuits into the Greek text perceived by my consciousness. On top of this, when I read the text aloud, my subconscious must make the brain form new neural circuits, new nerve connections in motor centres of the brain.

Let me use this opportunity to thank my wife’s father, for my thanks can be expressed properly only if the importance of his present is viewed within the context of my work.


Richta’s words ‘Tomin … is worth nothing in philosophy … It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred’ find an interesting echo in Oxford philosophers’ verdict registered in Barbara Day’s The Velvet Philosophers: ‘it had become apparent that Julius would not find a job answering his ambitions … his knowledge of certain parts of Plato’s work was more thorough than that of any philosopher in Oxford, but his limited acquaintance with the breadth of western philosophy would have been unacceptable in any of the posts for which he diligently applied.’ (The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 67; I am discussing the Oxford verdict in the preceding post entitled ‘An Appeal to the Master of Balliol’)

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