04 May 2010

Full of sound and fury

Life’s ... a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

When I think of my life in so far as it has been spent on attempting to work towards a situation in which to do research and other things in a tolerable way, which has involved spending a lot of time on hopeless interactions with crazy human beings, the quote from Macbeth is very much the way I feel about it.

I felt very much like that when I found that I had to start quarrelling with Sir George Joy about his determination to turn my proposed research institute into the model proposed by Rosalind Heywood.

My original plan had been that I would be the director, with a panel of academic experts in various fields as consultants, to lend respectability, and perhaps, just conceivably, provide a bit of useful information from time to time. I did not set much store by the latter possibility, as I had gone the rounds of the statusful academics at the Society for Psychical Research and found them to have no ideas at all.

Rosalind’s plan was that four or five retired professors should be paid quite large stipends, as befitted their status, to sit around and share their ideas on how progress could be made. As they had such great minds, this was certain to be the best way of working out how to make some progress in this incredibly difficult and elusive field of research, in which no progress continued to be made.

So far as I was concerned, the only difficulty consisted of the fact that everyone wanted to believe it impossible and to continue to do nothing.

My role in Rosalind’s proposed organisation was to be that of secretary and, presumably, coffee-maker, for these people. There was no suggestion that I would be paid anything at all. I expect Rosalind thought that, if I were, there was a risk that I would add to my tiny capital by saving money.

One can only think that Rosalind, and everyone else, were terrified of my getting to do anything, however small, that was not supervised and prescribed by someone who would only permit futile research to take place.

In many contexts, Sir George had appeared realistic and cynical, so that it was impossible to think that he could consider this a way of making any progress at all, but Rosalind had successfully played on something in him, as she did with everyone else.

I have a particularly vivid memory of my feelings of futility when sitting beside him on the doorstep of the house in Walton Crescent in Oxford to prevent him from returning instantly to London, as I had failed to make the correct responses on being told of Rosalind’s latest proposal. Eventually he defrosted slightly from his catatonic position and came back into the house, but the conversation was no more constructive than it had been before he was threatening to leave.