The Clare Spark Blog

September 25, 2009

On mobs, teaching, and Jungians

Unabomber shrinked

Here are three blasts from the past (2003): messages I wrote to other Melville scholars while reading Alston Chase’s trashing of Henry A. Murray.

Letter number one: The subject of democratic mobs has once again surfaced. As I reflect upon it, mobs are antithetical to democracies, and have often been stirred up by propertied interests (or the would-be propertied)—especially mischievous antidemocrats who cannot legitimate their rule through rational appeals. So if Melville complained about mobs, he has good company among every democratic theorist I have ever read.

Recall his remarks on the French Revolution in a now rejected preface to “Billy Budd”. He approved of the first phase, then was disturbed, as were many other friends of the people, by the Terror. Even so, my recollection is that, on balance, he thought that the Revolution was needed. Recall too that he liked Wordsworth’s early poems better than the later conservative ones. (This can be found in his marginalia, I recall, though I may be wrong about the location of that statement.)

The test for democratic sentiments in his time would be his orientation to the great revolutions: The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the American Civil War. Even in his relatively conservative Supplement to Battle-Pieces, he espouses many democratic sentiments and values.

As for the classroom as a democracy or something else, obviously the teacher is supposed to have superior knowledge and skills to impart. But the question is this: what kind of environment is provided for learning? Is it authoritarian or does it promote questioning of established authority? Do students learn how to debate, based on facts and research? How do teachers handle conflict?  And so on….

Also, I have in hand, Alston Chase’s _Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber_ in which we learn that Henry Murray was another Ahab, a mad scientist, a sadist, a murderer (he got away with killing his mistress Christiana Morgan, it is more than hinted) and, but of course, partly responsible for the Unabomber’s devolution. I will report back after I read it (as opposed to the quick skim I just did). I can’t believe that Nina Murray gave him access to Murray’s papers.

Letter number two:     I have just finished reading Harvard graduate Alston Chase’s _Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber_, published by Norton this year. Chase is not some kind of outsider to academe, but rather a PhD with a record of publishing in the history of science. The book is a world-class embarrassment. His basic thesis is that a combination of  “positivism” (the empiricist philosophy that claims that there is no objective foundation to morality), “the culture of despair” engendered by the Harvard General Education courses that perpetrated this poisonous epistemology (in the 1950s), the oh-so-kinky-Henry Murray’s sadistic experiments with students testing their ability to withstand negative criticism of their basic beliefs, and the Unabomber’s cold and distant father and controlling mother, created Kaczynski’s primitivism and a rage that was constantly recharged, expressed, and hence exacerbated. Moreover, all terrorists follow the same typology, as (Jungian) Chase claims in the last pages.  [added 9-26-09: keep in mind that TK was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, a condition that is inherited and not socially caused or conditioned. ]

As I stated in an earlier message on this subject, Chase explicitly makes hubristic Murray another Ahab (and possibly a murderer of his mistress), and so is the Unabomber in his indifference to human life/zealousness in destruction. Alston Chase believes that scientists have absolutely no business probing the operations of the human mind. Salvation comes to our decadent society solely through the love of God and an intellect respectful of the boundaries and in balance with other human attributes.

I have read thousands of books published by scholars, and I think it is not saying too much that this is one of the worst, if not THE worst book I have ever read.

Prepare yourselves for the apocalypse. And shouldn’t there be a movement to return the Melville Society’s Murray Prize? Read the book, see the movie. You’ll love the scenes with Murray (Mansol) whipping his mistress Christiana (Wona), with his red fingernails, jangly bracelet, and various brightly-colored skirts and blouses.

By the way, if any work of Melville’s was in the Unabomber Montana library (or ever read by TK), Chase doesn’t mention it.

Clare’s response to objections by the moderator of the Melville list “Ishmail,” John Bryant:

Henry Murray was very nice to me and could not have been more encouraging. I would be the last one to urge that the Murray Endowment be revoked, and surely no one on this list thought that, given the context of my scathing remarks on Alston Chase, I could conceivably have intended such a reading.

Thanks to JB for clarifying what has happened to Murray’s contribution to the Melville Society. Also, I was kidding about the movie, though I can imagine a movie of the week being made on the subject.

JB has asked me to provide the passage that mentions Murray. First I should reemphasize that Murray is the most villainous of Chase’s cast of mind-managers. Much of the book is about him, and where his remarks pertain to my own research, I can say that the scholarship is shoddy and often wrong. But then Chase is not the first Harvard graduate that I have encountered who has an elevated and exaggerated view of his own capabilities. (And I say that as a person with a Harvard degree from the lowly Graduate School of Education, ’59.)

Here are the pertinent passages requested by JB:

“When in 1923, he read Herman Melville’s _Moby-Dick_ for the first time, he became virtually obsessed with the novel and its author. He closely identified, not just with Melville but with Captain Ahab himself, the half-mad sea captain who sought revenge against the great white whale that had taken his leg. To Murray, the whale embodied the cruel and unforgiving God of Calvinism; and Ahab, by seeking to slay it, was a tragic hero. By battling the whale, the sea captain sought to strike a blow for psychic and sexual freedom.

From that time forward, Murray would pursue the whale. In 1949 he named the Harvard Psychological Clinic–that he had directed since 1928–“the Baleen,” adopting a spouting sperm whale as its logo. And his identification with Melville and the author’s fictional character would stay with him.

“Harry-Ahab-Murray Melville,” as Frank Barron described him. “…It was all Harry; the whole universe was inside him; the outside world had no reality; it was mere spectacle.”


  1. […] (Alston Chase blames Murray for creating the monster Unabomber) Murray biography cover art Like this:LikeOne blogger likes this post. Comments (1) […]

    Pingback by Henry A. Murray and the TAT « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 27, 2012 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

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