Dialogue Two focuses on the main philosophical threads in Hope’s work and attitude in which he detaches himself from all beliefs, engaging with them only when he thinks such an engagement might open up a new way of seeing. Hope is adamant that there are no existing theories that provide an answer to life’s questions. His way of living in this world of uncertainties and shifting faiths and ideologies is to create ‘being’ poetically. This acceptance of knowledge’s provisionality does not however mean that he is not intensely interested in each theory that emerges in the theatre of thought. See Dialogue One for details of the following exchange.


AM: Alec, you are not very keen on psychological theories, are you?

ADH: I’m very critical of them. When I went to the Blue Mountains, and to Canberra on similar research and ‘spying’ jobs [with the N.S.W. Education Department], I still had the title of psychologist. I was no more a psychologist than any one who can give an intelligence test, but all the young people with young children–the fashionable thing to have done in those days to have children psychoanalysed as soon as they threw a tantrum–they would gather around me and take it all too seriously. This is Freudian psychology, of course, and that I have been suspicious of; it was mostly a fake!

AM: Freud is a fake?

ADH: I think his system is a fake. Any system of getting people to remember back and so on! There are dozens of them in the world all working perfectly well; all that menagerie is ‘unconsciouses’ and ‘subconsciouses’ and so on and the way he uses them.

AM: You don’t believe in the unconscious?

ADH: Yes, of course.

AM: But not Freud’s way of attempting to reach it.

ADH: Not in the way it was arranged in a mechanical menagerie, largely of illusory persons and personalities. Later on, I took to Jung’s theories much more. I’m not against psychology, but against the particular form Freudianism took at that time. I think it has improved since then, since he died.

AM: You don’t think that sexuality is the basis of people’s being?

ADH: I think it is one of the bases. Of course, he made such a fetish of it. Besides that, I had a friend who left Germany because he was Jewish, left Germany and Hitler and went to Austria. He was a very small boy about 12. His parents took the fashionable thing of having Freud psychoanalyse him; he read out the material beforehand and led Freud a merry dance. He knew all the things to say to which appeared to be a terribly complexed, mixed-up boy; there was nothing in it at all. I always remember that before I was easily hoaxed by anyone who took the trouble. Jung wasn’t; he was a much smarter man.

AM: Alec, you wrote a poem called Private Dick (1963) which was really a comment on perhaps some kind of psychiatry.

ADH: A Freudian; I had one of these Freudian characters who attempted to cure you of all your suppressed things.

AM: Did you ever show that to your psychiatrist friends?

ADH: I did on one occasion show it to the Professor of Psychology at the A.N.U. He was totally a different kettle of fish: he drew on the usual psychoanalysts–he used some of their methods–but didn’t believe in Freud at all; I don’t know what he thought of Jung, but he was rather offended.

AM: Did he think you were making some sort of personal comment, that you were making fun of him?

ADH: I may persuade him in time that this had nothing to do with the way he acted at being a high flyer. Psychoanalyst!!! Yet there are other systems; some of them are very good indeed, including the ordinary Catholic priest who knows his job.

AM: The Catholic priest works on guilt.

ADH: Yes, that’s true!

AM: Do you have any guilt?

ADH: Yes, plenty of it; it doesn’t seem to worry me much.

AM: Do you want to share it?

ADH: I don’t think it would be of any interest to others, except you.

AM: Not here or now?

ADH: No!

AM: You had a great friendship with James McAuley and yet you have very different attitudes and beliefs. You also come from a different type of background, don’t you?

ADH: Well, I was laughing about that to myself the other day as I read Harold Stewart’s Japanese poem thinking most of them found comfort, deep comfort in the assurance of a religion: McAuley in the Catholic religion and Harold Stewart in Buddhism. He implicitly believes if you recite the name of Buddha you get an answer back. Here I am the same old sceptic–not changed a bit–in between the two of them. I’m glad they found a reassurance. I was a little suspicious of reassurance, particularly of that kind.

AM: Do you think that believing something very firmly narrows the field of enquiry?

ADH: Why don’t you keep the options open?

AM: Do you think you will make a decision about believing something in particular? Do you see yourself turning to God?

ADH: I think–I cling to the ‘river world’, and prefer to do that. However, my beliefs are in many directions and I prefer to not go to a social denial. It’s just a attitude of mind that I suppose I can’t defend it in any way–just the way I am.

AM: Have you ever prayed?

ADH: Often. When I am in a jam!

AM: You don’t direct it in any way in particular ?

ADH: It’s just a cry of help! Help!

AM: Have you wished even momentarily that there was some political belief that you could have attached yourself to and act upon?

ADH: Certainly not! I’m suspicious of all political rostrums and theories and so on! They are all very partial. Some of them I have found more attractive than others. I don’t believe in any of them. I’m intensely interested in other people’s political beliefs and actions, but…

AM: You are a bit like a spectator, Alec, aren’t you? You sit back and you are fascinated by other people.

ADH: I think I could be described as a spectator in most things.

AM: You wouldn’t lead a demonstration on anything.

ADH: Never met one that I could really believe in. Anybody who has read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I think, would be instigated against taking any sides in these things. There’s the other things history teaches you: that these fierce oppositions of belief in the past very often in time become reconciled and you can see how they keep building up to things, each of the parties believing that the other was destroying everything in the world. That makes me cynical, too. At any rate, sceptical.

AM: What about the Vietnam War? Did you have feelings about Americans’ involvement in Vietnam?

ADH: Yes. Naturally Australia’s involvement in it, but not to the point of saying, “They shouldn’t do that!” I’m too well aware that politics is the art of the possible; people do what they feel they have to do. I took part in one demonstration… Where people read poems–a short poem called “Inscription for a War” (1971). I read it straight as if it were just for the Vietnam War.

AM: Were people cross that you would not identify yourself specifically with that cause at the time?

ADH: I don’t know; they probably were. I refused to march in protest. Particularly I refused to join in festivals of the arts in protest or support for this thing or the other; I think that’s nonsense; I keep out of it, so don’t know what they say or what they think about it.

AM: But, on the other hand, you know a lot about politics, you observe what goes on, and you are interested in the way people behave. You were telling me one day about watching–I think it was James McAuley and Bob Santamaria actually deciding to start the D.L.P.

ADH: Yes, I did have lunch with them at that period when they were building up the strategy and Jim asked Santamaria a question. He was saying the thing to do was to form cells in our new movement, which work within the Labour movement, and implied, at any rate, that they would control it from within. Jim burst out: “That’s what the Communists do.” Santamaria laughed and said, “Of course, of course – they were very successful…learn from your enemies. Don’t go for their beliefs, but learn from their strategy.” I didn’t say a word during the whole of the lunch, but I was fascinated.

AM: And you also knew the other side of the Catholic question; you knew people like Vincent Buckley, and Vincent Buckley, of course, wasn’t in favour of what Bob Santamaria was doing. You told me about Vincent being called to see Archbishop Mannix and being scolded.

ADH: Yes, I’ve more or less forgotten the politics of my friends in those days– something like that, I know.

AM: Alec, could you explain how you use and understand the concept of ‘negative capability’?

ADH: I can’t remember the two John Keats’ letters where he uses the term, but there are explanations in the essay called “The Three Faces of Love”( in The Cave and the Spring: Essays on Poetry (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1974), pp.17-28) where I talk about the education of artists, poets and so on. Roughly, I can remember, but, this is like my note-books, once I put things down I forget about them. Of course, I know where to look for them again; I meant to look it up while we were waiting, because you are sure to have a copy of Keats’ letters somewhere.

AM: Well, let’s talk about “The Three Faces of Love” first?

ADH: Types of life.

AM: Yes. So, could you talk about the kinds of lives. Could you explain what they are?

ADH: The notion is explained fully in St Thomas Aquinas’s two great theological works and in mediaeval thought in general. It was his idea that there were two sorts of life, and St Thomas makes it very clear how they differ, the active life and the contemplative life, and I wrote the essay, partly from his idea, and I thought the description was incomplete because there is the third way of life, the creative life. Active life expends itself by its name; you aim at acquiring something, doing something, and you just have to work to do it. A contemplative life, which has an association with religious orders and things like this, is where you don’t wish to acquire something, but to understand it. This applies to scientists and artists perhaps, to a very large extent, but I went ahead to distinguish the creative life, because neither of those aims, as a creative life essentially does, to bring something new into the world, to make something that wasn’t there before and was not planned before, but comes by a sort of inspiration. That I think covers the main ideas. Talking about the education of people–our education is aimed almost at the active life; the contemplative life is hardly mentioned these days with the decline of interest in religion and so on, and the education therefore we get aims at something that you can formulate and turn out citizens able to do that sort of thing. Nobody provides for the creative life and, if they did, they would probably go badly wrong, because those people have to do it themselves, and after this comes education and negative capabilities as Keats explained it in one of his letters. The poet is not aiming at anything definite. Something is coming out of him, and he doesn’t even know what it is at first. As he goes ahead with it, he gets more and more aware of what he is doing, and we ought to have more education for that kind of life.

AM: Tell me about your interest in cosmology.

ADH: It just seems a natural interest, particularly in my life time. So many new things have been discovered–the universe they tell us is expanding, but it has expanded in knowledge–so enormously that I can’t say very much about it. When I was a boy, when I was born, our view of the universe was largely our view of the Milky Way, that single great galaxy. Who could tell if there were other bodies of stars behind, but now we have reached a point where the galaxies occurred in millions and the distances we can see have reached something close to the speed of light, and the other great thing, of course, we have discovered is that the further we look, the further back we are looking and that has given rise to the ‘big bang’ theory and the city-state theory and all the attempts to explain how it all started. I found that fascinating and always have–pure amateur in these fields– but it just seems to me so obvious that it is probably the most fascinating piece of knowledge we can keep venturing into

AM: One of the things you have written about is your distrust of the scientists’ tendency to believe that their way of seeing the world at a given point is the correct way.

ADH: Yes and no. I think in their fields the scientists are probably right, although they keep on changing their views and so on

AM: Well, that’s the point.

ADH: And, again, in the field of cosmology, what the people are doing with elementary particles transforms the whole view… two things have joined up in my time where they weren’t in the past. My view of what you might call my simple world view is that each of the sciences keeps within itself on the whole; they tend to ignore feelings that they have experienced which can’t be reduced to scientific terms, nor is it a whole view getting closer to a whole view, but the universal knowledge seems to me to be rather scrappy ones. Still there are lots of things to be filled in–nobody has been able to do it yet. The psychologists have been bitterly attacking the human side and I don’t think they have got very far yet. There have been a lot of advances in psychology since I visited the university–that all looks very old-fashioned–it still has enormous gaps that can’t be explained. That is why I worry about the scientists who say, “All the explanation lie with us.” Perhaps it does, but they haven’t done it yet.

AM: And because one of the things perhaps we learn is that every age is really blind to its own limitations.

ADH: Yes, exactly. Several little poems I’ve written which dwell on this thing that what we believe today or think we know might look like a child’s scribble in 300,000 years time. You might say that I live more in the future than some other people do–think all the answers are there.

AM: What do you mean by that–you live in the future? You project towards something–a view that hasn’t come rather than to believe what exists now?

ADH: A poem that I’m working on at the moment mentions the growth of cosmology and so on. Most of the stars that are now in the galaxy, they tell me, have more than one sun, sometimes two, sometimes three. I reflect that it is only because we have only one sun and live half of our time in the darkness that we become aware of what is outside us to its enormous extent and intricacies….. I was just starting on this part of the poem…. another gift of night is that we spend at least a third of our lives in dreams and in sleep and that’s a world that never has been explored yet. You only have crude attempts at it like the Freudian system.

AM: Which you don’t like.

ADH: Which I think is just a crude attempt at interpreting dreams.

AM: You told me once that you had a dream in which, in the dream, you were saying, “There goes a Freudian symbol.” Do you remember?

ADH: There was a dream about a place I had never seen, the Alambra in Spain. I was being conducted through the gardens of this delightful pleasant city the Moors put up. He was pointing out the splendid cypress trees and a palatial building. I said: “You know perfectly well that the cypress trees are phallic symbols and that Palace is really a woman; it has a door where you go in and out.” And he laughed and said he’d heard about that too. But he didn’t believe it! But oddly enough in the dream I said: “Neither do I.” I think it’s a big joke!

I’ve got a much better theory of dreams and I’ve embodied it in a poem called “On the Night Shift” (1985). I don’t know whether you have seen it. “The Night Shift” roars into the brain and starts making up fantastic stories, plays inconsequent things, dragging up images which sometimes come through in poetry, and have a whirl of a time until you wake up and get back to earth again. Nobody, as far as I know, ever has put forward a very simple theory of dreams like that. Of course, dreams of the future are symptoms of interpretations of dreams going way back.

AM: Do you believe that dreams express things that you may feel during the day, but are released at night?

ADH: Obviously, a lot of dreams are simply recalled, particularly things that are worrying you, and quite a number of my dreams, for instance, the dream-workers promote me to stand in front of an orchestra and beat time and I compose the music in my head, and the orchestra by some form of instinct plays what I am composing in my head. That’s quite impossible, of course, but it’s a nice game for me to play. At [an]other time, I give lectures in subjects like mathematics which I know practically nothing. I had one of my dreams when I was playing the piano with my Mother. I had two pianos and a peaceful four hands and, on this occasion, she said, “Where’s your music?” I said, “Oh!” She said, “You can’t play unless you have a score.” We never played! But I was absolutely certain that I knew what we were going to play at that time again–a frustration dream, of course. That is another kind of dream when the dream-workers set out to punish me.

AM: You are at their mercy.

ADH: You’ve read the notebooks. I’ve made some disparaging remarks about them in places: what they can really know and what they can really do. They quite often punish me in another dream in the next night or the next two or three nights.

AM: Do you meet your friends in your dreams?

ADH: Yes, oh yes! Quite a lot of them. As I draw on towards the end of life, a very frequent dream is one in which I meet my father or my mother or Emily, my daughter–on one occasion my Irish wolfhound–they came up with a deliberate interesting view. At other times, of course, meeting friends who are still alive and so on, but the dream which happens occasionally is one in which in the dream [Hope becomes inaudible at this point] and it becomes commoner as I draw towards the unknown goals.

AM: So, you are quite happy when you go to sleep at night because you know you are going to be entertained.

ADH: Entertained, sometimes terrified! You were talking about flights from wild bulls, but really it didn’t happen, but was really a subject of dreams, and I thought that it was gone years ago. I was getting away from wild bulls charging at me two or three nights ago.

AM: I want to move on now to one of your favourite topics, the literary critics. You like them?

ADH: I’m one myself. I do not like entirely, but I’ve been pursuing that, in double harness, for a good many years, and I think there is a place for the literary critic. One of his jobs is to tell people and give a ‘demo’ that the book or poem is just bad. You should be an expert in evaluation. But I’ve written an attack on critics since the new criticism came in and all the simplification of new schools of criticism. It’s running very wild– and all this–the latest one–what do you call it?

AM: Deconstruction or structuralism?

ADH: Leading our young students away from real literary criticism–trying to disguise Marxism–only talks about the thing in social terms, not literary terms. But I wrote a book against critics in a satirical mode, which was fun to do because I had always wanted to practise the mock epic–a literalist attacking a younger period of simplification of theories of criticism which I said was really just a help to Ph.D. students, naturally.

AM: A great industry!

ADH: You see, there is a small worry–in English, for instance–that’s worth talking about. I once calculated that there were at least four to five thousand theses every year in literary criticism and that, when this criticism gets directed on a small body of work, it soon gets exhausted. But if you get a new theory of criticism, you can do the whole lot over again and you’ve got the right books about it. Most academics grew up writing a thesis themselves and were unconsciously following the path–if you invent a new theory you can do it all again.

AM: Well, you said somewhere, quoting Richards, that two thousand years of theorising since Aristotle had established nothing.

ADH: I think he was quite right. But that was due partly to another cause, theorising in one theory; one that Aristotle started off in the Poetics that poetry is an art of imitation or literature is an art of imitation. In my own theorising, you see, I’m very interested in being a critic. The true comparison should have been: poetry is the dance of language. Aristotle only slightly touches on this, not in the Poetics, but in one of the studies of society, where he is talking about music, and hasn’t got very much to say.

AM: You also said that the University of Chicago invented economics in order to provide a mystique for the barren techniques of commerce…. And you said that this was like literary criticism.

ADH: I could almost adopt that now, unaware that I had ever said it, but, like psychology, I’ve always thought they both invented theories to provide a kind of mystique for what they were really doing.

AM: And you also said that, when you went to India and saw a mosque, that, on seeing all the scaffolding around the mosque, that you thought that it reminded you of the work of art, the scaffolding being very much like literary criticism. Do you remember that?

ADH: Vaguely. It’s a natural use of arguing about an analogy.

AM: By an analogy, yes! Before we talk about arguing by analogy, I would like to just read–no, I’ll ask you to read it–four lines which you wrote in a facetious mood about the critics.

ADH: Oh, yes! That’s a very long time ago. It’s called “The Critics” [from Notebooks of the ‘seventies]…
The poet, the devoted Cook,
prepares us this delicious book –
it’s critics’ work –
there is no question is
the by-products of digestion.
Well, that was written shortly after reading Oscar Wilde’s brilliant, tongue in cheek argument that literature is just raw material for criticism. I thought that was delightful, because it seemed to me just what these theories of modern criticism are doing: they’re putting the cart before the horse. It’s not to be taken seriously, my theory, but not entirely without a point.

AM: So many of your poems draw on analogy or argument within them.

ADH: Having had to decide whether I was going to pursue philosophy or literature, to keep myself alive during my philosophic training, of course, I was warned against argument by analogy, quite rightly, people pointing out that if there is an analogy between two things you can’t argue from one to the other because there’s usually a lot of things in which they’re not analogous and you can’t prove anything that way. The part I’ve always held worked more by way of analogy than by–what shall we call it?–strict reasoning– something like this as you perceive illuminates both of the things; you see likenesses. One tends to illuminate the other first and the other one illuminates it back again, but, when you are drawn to this, it’s like a revelation really and it grows. It often grows into poems just seeing an analogy of this sort. I think it is essential to the imaginary life, although it may not be to the philosophical, scientific life, and I just remember an occasion which one of our great scientists was talking about the training of scientists and, apart from the great group of scientists who just follow along rails, the great scientists spoke in a different way; they learn, if they are studying the qualities of soap and cheese, that there’s an analogy between them. I got up and said, “If you learn to push the analogies aside and apart, isn’t it true occasionally you hit on some real truth by following the analogy in the first place?” He came down to speak to me later on and said, “Of course!”

AM: You wrote in your notebooks that living is merely writing at second-hand, nothing seems quite real unless it is turned into words.

ADH: Yes. I remember once I wrote that, but it was a feeling that I used to have; I would no longer stand by that!

AM: That’s interesting. What do you think has changed you–that changed that response?

ADH: Just more contact with real life, I suppose; an acceptance of what it is! It sounds– as I probably was–a statement of a pretty young man. Those books go back perhaps thirty or forty years. I don’t think I would make a statement like that today.

AM: Don’t you think it was a very wise statement?

ADH: Not very. It just isn’t the case today; I just don’t feel that nothing is true, until I turn it into words or put it into words.