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Sympathy for the Devil 
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Eric, I agree with much you have to say, and have only quibbling disagreements. Certainly, Panshin has concentrated focus on the one statement. There are certainly many ways one could interpret "I left my soul in that room," permitted by the multiple definitions of "soul." Deciding that one possible interpretation -- turning a metaphoric statement into a literal -- is not an act of interpretation in my opinion; it's an act of creation de novo.

Now, it's certainly a clever conceit and used well for the purposes of the essay, but it also wanders very far from Heinlein. Heinlein told a story about human beings struggling with moral dilemmas; Panshin tries to recast it as a morality play -- and in fact, during the reading, I kept having the impression I was reading some reversion to nineteenth century/Victorian moral criticism, something that has been thoroughly (and deservedly imo) rejected in 20th century criticism. Heinlein's speculative exercise is something I find useful; Panshin's, not so much.

The way (one of the ways, I should say, but it corresponds well to Derrida's own comments about the abuses of Deconstruction) to do negative space criticism is to show now the negative space critique is occupied by the contents, and to do that a solid grasp of the author's parole is required. Panshin's moral critique is so disconnected from the parole that I believe his critique fails in the most fundamental way possible -- that is, by failing to talk about the material one is supposedly critiquing. Panshin literally demonizes Manning; Heinlein I believe wants to see him -- wants US to see him -- as a Promethean figure, a tragic figure, but above all as a human figure. Panshin's analysis makes this very human tragedy impossible to view.

The Gods Must Have Blood, to be sure, but blood, surely, rather than ichor.


Wed Apr 30, 2008 7:24 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Bill Patterson wrote:
in fact, during the reading, I kept having the impression I was reading some
reversion to nineteenth century/Victorian moral criticism

... or possibly even to medieval exegesis ?

Allegorism then called for four different levels of reading : litteral, allegorical,
moral and anagogical. The first two are obvious in "Solution Unsatisfactory" :
it's both a good yarn in its own right, and the K-O dust stands as an allegory
of every weapon of mass destruction Heinlein knew were unavoidably to be
derived from the fission of the Uranium nucleus.

It's also obvious that there are moral reading too — too many of them, in fact,
since I, for one, don't agree with Panshin's ; but the whole story is about
moral dilemmas.

And the new element of his analysis is the introduction of a supernatural
(that's close enough to anagogical...) level of reading.


Quote:
Panshin's moral critique is so disconnected from the parole that I believe his critique
fails in the most fundamental way possible -- that is, by failing to talk about the
material one is supposedly critiquing. Panshin literally demonizes Manning

There are thus, in my opinion, two distinct problems here : Panshin's moral critique,
which I agree is seriously flawed ; and Manning's demonization, on the mystical
level, where he might have a point.

By the way, "demonization" it is only if you follow him in his moral appreciation
What his essay actually describes is a very powerful being, able to bring
others to give him what he wants ; but that's not necessarily evil.
(well... it is in Panshin's essay, and at great lenght ; so I understand why you
wouldn't have any of it !)


Quote:
Heinlein I believe wants to see him -- wants US to see him -- as a Promethean figure,
a tragic figure, but above all as a human figure. Panshin's analysis makes this very
human tragedy impossible to view.

Why is that ? We can have many levels of reading, and enjoy them all...


Fri May 02, 2008 8:47 am
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Some very good points, Eric, and I want to address the "middle ground" you have laid out -- but it's nearly midnight, and I'm going to have to put it off till tomorrow. Instead, the following is reposted from alt.fan.heinlein. I thought it worth reposting here. I believe it is self-explanatory.

On May 2, 6:46 pm, Alexei Panshin <bz...@entermail.net> wrote [not to me]:
>
> > "If Heinlein didn't lie -- and I have it from both Jim Gifford and
> > Bill Patterson that he did -- and care about the difference between an
> > effective lie and an
> > ineffective one, why would he say what you quasi-quote him as saying?
> > "
>
> > I'm drawing a blank on this assertion. Were you referring to the
> > discussion of the "official version" of the anecdote of how 'Life-
> > Line" came to be written as differing from the historical facts? -- or
> > to some other specific anecdote, or to some general or blanket
> > statement? The coupling of Jim's name and mine suggests the "Life-
> > Line" anecdote, but there may have been some other discussion I don't
> > immediately recall.
>
> I did some thinking about your posting while taking a walk this
> afternoon, and I do believe that you're right. "Life-Line" did figure into my statement.
>
> What I have in my head is the moment where I marveled to myself, saying,
> "My, now both Jim Gifford and Bill Patterson, who know the personal Heinlein
> much better than I ever have, have assured me that what he said about
> himself wasn't necessarily to be believed!"
>
> That's the kind of aha that would stay with me. What I can say about
> this is that I don't believe both assurances came at the same time. It was more
> like one shoe dropping and then sometime thereafter the other shoe. And I don't
> remember which came first, you or him.
>
> And, yes, I think at least one of the cases did concern "Life-Line."
> As Heinlein had it, he wrote the story in response to a story contest in Thrilling
> Wonder Stories, but when he was done thought so well of it that he submitted it
> to the slick magazine Collier's instead. Then after they'd turned it down, he sent
> it to John Campbell at Astounding, who bought it, paying him more than the story
> contest would have if he had won it. Heinlein told this story a number of times
> over the years. A good anecdote, but not actually so.
>
> I worked out for myself that the Thrilling Wonder part of the story
> probably wasn't so, but I still gave Heinlein the benefit of the doubt on the Collier's
> submission. Then, someone knowledgable -- either you or Jim -- informed me that the
> Collier's part wasn't true, either. And assured me that nothing Heinlein said
> about his doings should be believed without corroboration.
>
> However, I haven't been able to find the original exchange either
> online or in an email, so I can't nail down the exact details
>
> Alexei Panshin
>
> "There are more to everything than its appearance."
> -- Chinese Fortune Cookie- Hide quoted text -

I thought that might be the case. Neither Jim nor I would characteristically have said anything like "lie" because it's much too strong a term, and in fact the wrong term for the divergences from strict and full fact that we found.

I think it would be closer to the meaning to say you can't fundamentalistically interpret every statement Heinlein made, and particularly in public Q&A situations, since he was not a natural platform speaker and relied heavily on prepared and memorized material. Does "not in a fundamentalist way" mean it's a lie? No, not at all.

I believe at the Centennial we had the videotape of the MidAmeriCon GoH speech, which he didn't have time to prepare and you can see him doing some kind of mental cut-and-paste of "canned" material -- i.e., not spontaneously told but literarily-prepared and therefore subject to polish (particularly, probably, to prior audience reaction -- a trick circuit speakers are particularly prone to -- and so, I understand, are concert pianists accorfding to Gary Graffman's memoirs and Glen Gould. So it may be at least part a professional hazard.)

In some cases also there were ordinary lapses of memory, and I believe the Collier's submission is one of those. In other cases there was abstraction of a complicated story into a simplified telling; in still other cases there was embellishment or rearrangement of fact that seems oriented to making a more interesting or elegant story. There may have been a bit of all three in the "Life-Line" story; there are, for example, three different versions of Heinlein's immediate reaction on receiving the check for "Life-Line, and the fullest one "How long has this racket been going on? And why didn't anyone tell me?" seems to me to have the ring of "I shoulda said" about it -- an anecdote polished for most effective retelling. There is no way of settling the point definitively, so all I have in the impression to go on.

Ginny once said to me that she believed she had never heard him tell a lie -- except for the social sort, "oh, how nice your new hat looks." Perhaps she (or perhaps he) thought this kind of thing fell under that rubric. (and considering the whoppers Twain told on himself in his public lectures, there's certainly a long tradition of that sort of embellishment the "Life-Line" anecdote got as essentially harmless). Some very interesting biographical notes have come out of people comparing Heinlein's actual statements to recorded data -- Tom Perry's highly interesting "Ham n Eggs and Heinlein," for example.

You can look at it from both sides -- yes, Heinlein's tellings of the "Life-Line" story has certain departures from strict mimetic writing; but the texts nevertheless contained enough true detail that the full context could be reconstructed. It looks to me like Heinlein was indulging his favorite form of misdirection: tell the truth -- and the exact truth -- but not all of it. "This will gratify some people," to adapt another statement in another context," and astonish the rest." There is something of the technique of literary irony in this, in Quintillian's definition, of saying one thing while meaning another.

There is a particular hazard, however, in interpreting this kind of misdirection: it relies on the hearer/reader supplying his own assumptions to fill in the missing parts -- supplying an implication that isn't actually there. The effect of misdirection only comes off when the auditor/reader approaches the statement uncritically -- i.e., it is a gambit that deflects only a certain portion of its audience.


Fri May 02, 2008 9:47 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Bill Patterson writes:

Quote:
There may have been a bit of all three in the "Life-Line" story; there are, for example, three different versions of Heinlein's immediate reaction on receiving the check for "Life-Line, and the fullest one "How long has this racket been going on? And why didn't anyone tell me?" seems to me to have the ring of "I shoulda said" about it -- an anecdote polished for most effective retelling. There is no way of settling the point definitively, so all I have in the impression to go on.


A parallel experience is hunting for information about Heinlein's involvement, if any, with pressure suits, based on brief remarks in his 1957 University of Chicago talk. What he says is not "I wore pressure suits," nor "I tested pressure suits," but rather weasel-worded:
Quote:
A long-time science fiction fan, Scoles read my story. When we got into the war he sent for me, put me in charge of a high-altitude laboratory of which one of the projects was the development of a space suit (then called a high-altitude pressure suit). I worked on it a short while, then was relieved by L. Sprague de Camp, who is an aeronautical and mechanical engineer as well as a writer; he carried on with this research all through the war, testing and developing many space suits. The war ended; I wrote a story involving space suits in which I applied what I had had the opportunity to learn.

And de Camp's memoirs contradict Heinlein's statement: de Camp claims he and Heinlein, never went near a pressure suit, but merely knew others working with suits.

Worst of all is a 1945 newspaper article based on a phone conversation with John Campbell, which claimed that three SF writers had been working on pressure suits for the Navy:
Quote:
"Here's your lab," they were told in effect. If there's any other equipment you need only ask for it. Let's see if you can actually build some of these super-weapons and atom-powered space ships you've been creating on paper."

The three were Robert Heinlein, Sprague de Camp and Isaac Azimov [sic], the top writers for Astounding Stories magazine. They went to
work with a will.
[...]
The three science-fictionists decided the answer was a pressurized space suit-- the opposite, as it were, of a diving suit. They made
one and turned it over to the air science laboratory experts at Wright Field, Dayton, O., for a test.

It worked fine except for one handicap: When the pressure was on it made the sleeves and fingers so stiff that the wearer couldn't move
his hands and arms enough to manipulate the plane's controls.

Air force experts are still working on the problem and it hasn't yet been reported solved. Heinlein, De Camp [sic], and Azimov, however,
have been separated from the service now and have gone back to their typewriters, where it is so much easier to invent things.

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Sat May 03, 2008 12:47 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Alexei Panshin on alt.fan.heinlein wrote:
> What I have in my head is the moment where I marveled to myself, saying,
> "My, now both Jim Gifford and Bill Patterson, who know the personal Heinlein
> much better than I ever have, have assured me that what he said about
> himself wasn't necessarily to be believed!"

Well... I think that it was Poul Anderson who, from the very begining
(the « By His Jockstraps » paper in Shangri-L'Affaires, as early as 1963 ?)
pointed out that Alexei Panshin's analysis were based on the assumption
that the author's personnal ideas and attitudes can to some extend be
deduced from those of his fictionnal characters, and reciprocally.
It's still part of his dialectics.

I do not agree with this assumption, and I thus consider that his point in
the discussion you quoted is futile, and not related in any way to the literary
analysis of "Solution Unsatisfactory". An author who is absolutely (un)thruthful
in real life can draw characters who are pathological liars, or not, or any
combination.

(this does not mean that I don't respect Alexei Panshin's works : Heinlein in
Dimension
was brilliant, in some ways, and "Sympathy for the Devil" does
bring some brand new insights into a text that has been discussed for decades !)



Bill Patterson wrote:
Ginny once said to me that she believed she had never heard
him tell a lie -- except for the social sort, "oh, how nice your new hat looks."
Perhaps she (or perhaps he) thought this kind of thing fell under that rubric.
(and considering the whoppers Twain told on himself in his public lectures,
there's certainly a long tradition of that sort of embellishment the "Life-Line"
anecdote got as essentially harmless).


I guess that, besides the "social" lies, one must except the — uh, "commercial"
white lies ? Nobody expects a commercial talk to include the complete history
of all the problems that had to be solved before the product worked, as well
as a list of its possible weakness. Since Heinlein, who was a professionnal
wordsmith (and word-seller), had shelved For Us the Living and "Week-End
Watch") and didn't want his customers to see them, how is it not legitimate
for him to present "Life-Line", his first sale, as his first story ?

As far as I understand it, making up false biographies for his various pen names
fall into the same category as bruhing up the golden legend of Robert Heinlein,
the author — standard business practices, I mean, not lies ! — and have nothing
to do with the private ways of Robert Heinlein, the man. Moreover, I don't think
that he considered that he owed to his readers-customers anything more than
to give them good measure, as any professional man — good texts, that is,
but definitely not full access to "all the truth" about his life, or even about his
professional practices.


Sat May 03, 2008 4:44 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Eric Picholle wrote:
Nobody expects a commercial talk to include the complete history
of all the problems that had to be solved before the product worked, as well
as a list of its possible weakness.

"Advertising is legalized lying." - G. Orwell

"Advertising is institutionalized lying." - A. Hoffman

I like the second formulation better. Anyone who disbelieves either needs a reality check. IMVHO, o'course.

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"Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders." - Luther
In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Sat May 03, 2008 8:05 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Yes, indeed. One thing that should be pointed out is, when Heinlein began putting together this kind of "public biography" for commercial purposes, such public biographies were not expected to have any association with biographical fact at all -- see, e.g., Photoplay for the 1930's and 1940's. That was simply the nature and practice of the art at the time -- conventional and tells us little or nothing about Heinlein-the-man. The purpose of such public statements was to make commercial activity possible. (There are still people today who believe Liberace was a nice, misunderstood straight boy. And as for Rock Hudson -- )

And this remained pretty much true into the 1970's, when investigative "journalism" began to make such "commercial lies" impossible to maintain. But the 1955 Modern Biographies piece he presumably composed seems fairly straightforward and biographically accurate, if limited.

Oh, btw, Panshin has continued the discussion; I keep refusing gambitsto argue and engage in dispute, but the latest round of clarification might also be of interest -- it has to do with how much of what Leon Stover said about himself and the decommissioning can be taken at face value.

Anyone who has read my obit of Dr. Stover can see the respect I think the man deserves, but that doesn't mean you can take his narratives-of-the-self uncritically.


Sun May 04, 2008 10:10 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Sidebar: It occurs to me that over the years it is likely that Jim and Bill have probably had occasion to converse in person with Alexei both one on one and as a group - possibly multiple times. I'm curious as to the mood during such encounters with Alexei Panshin. Strained? Good natured disagreement? Openly hostile???

Just curious.

Also, has Alexei Panshin ever stated why he focused in on Heinlein? What event started it? It occurs to me that he did not go after Asimov or Clarke...or did he?

As to the topic of truth was it not one of Heinlein's character's own quote that went something like:
"Autobiographies are usually honest but almost never accurate." I always took this to mean the speaker believes what they are saying - but it is not necessarily what happened.

Also, it was good to hear Eric Picholle say something here that I had said to Jim in email a few weeks ago. I had made a statement that I was amused by people who thought they could know Heinlein the man by knowing his fictional writing. Now, I don't have that email right in front of me so I don't recall the exact language - hopefully it won't turn out that I am lying!! (I will however concede that one might make some determinations about people by their non-fiction writing depending on topic)


Sun May 04, 2008 6:38 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
I've never met AP in person. I am pretty sure Bill has not, either. I invited him to a gathering back in 2001 and he initially accepted, then found reasons to decline. (Which was for the best, in the long run.)

I had two long correspondences with him in which I established that it is not possible to have a rational, progressing exchange with the man. To put it mildly, nits distract him. After endless nit-picking and dissembling demand/inquiries, you find you've utterly lost the thread of whatever was under discussion. See any of his public exchanges in AFH or elsewhere for examples.

Bill is either more persistent or a very slow learner. I've lost count of how many such correspondences he's had with AP. It's Bill 0, AP n. (Not that Bill hasn't scored a touch or two, but when you do manage to score a point, Halley's Comet appears on the horizon and you're off again.)

I actually have a very specific idea of what makes conversation so difficult with the man - based on something he told me early on - but it would do little good to disclose or discuss it. Suffice it to say it is not something fixable. He is also nearly 70 years old and I wager that there is zero chance of him ever becoming more... comprehensible.

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Sun May 04, 2008 8:54 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
For those with a strong stomach... peruse http://groups.google.com/group/alt.fan.heinlein/browse_thread/thread/bfcd906fbb2a9b01 . Read to the bitter end, then that should get every urge to expend any time on Mr. Panshin out of your system.


Mon May 05, 2008 6:38 pm
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