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My dealings with Theosophical publishers (repost from 1997)

Feb 12, 2006 07:11 AM
by kpauljohnson


One important element in the controversy between Carlos and Bruce on 
one hand, and Daniel on the other, is the ethics of TPH as a 
publisher and John Algeo as the person who has long had power over 
Theosophical publishing.  Also the implications of Daniel's alliance 
with John and TPH as a published author and editorial consultant.  
In digging through the archives for this I found something from 
slightly earlier by John Crocker to which I'll post a link at the 
end.  Here's my post then entitled "Editorial Vicissitudes":

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the process my own
books went through with Theosophical publishers and my attitude
about that process. So herewith an explanation, with apologies
to those who are tired of the subject (as I am). It appears
necessary to put some suspicions to rest.

In Search of the Masters was considered for a year by
Theosophical University Press in 1988-89, and then for a year
simultaneously by TPH and PLP in 1989-90. All rejected it
ultimately, without real comment on the specifics of the
research. Although I never communicated with John Algeo
directly, his advice was cited in the rejection decision. In
l990 I discussed with James Santucci and associates the
possibility of publishing it as a Theosophical History
Foundation paper. There, the time limits imposed by tax law (I
couldn't deduct my 1990 travel expenses unless I had authorial
income in 1990) pushed me to go ahead with self-publication
rather than go through the lengthy editing process that would
have been necessary with THF.

In Search of the Masters was surprisingly well received in the
Theosophical world, and didn't receive many attacks. John
Algeo never indicated any discomfort with the book or desire to
squelch it. When I decided to revise and condense it in the
form of a series of biographical chapters, I offered it to TPH
and the answer was that they would consider it if I was willing
to remove or downplay the identifications of M., K.H., etc. and
focus mostly on the historical people themselves. This was in
1992; I sent the ms. in to Brenda Rosen who replied in essence,
"No, you completely rewrite it *first* and then we'll consider
it." I agreed to do so but the research led in other
directions and ultimately I informed her that I would not be
able to revise in the way she had requested. Not long after,
SUNY Press came through with a contract.

When The Masters Revealed came out in 1994, I had no hard
feelings toward TPH, TUP, PLP or THF although it had been
disappointing that things fell through and that in no case did
I get any substantive feedback on the research (in a cumulative
3.5 years of consideratioon!) I went to Wheaton the week it
was published, was very cordial with John and everyone there,
and felt that the book would be no less politely received than
its far inferior predecessor. After all the SUNY imprimatur
should bring some increased respect, no?

Then the positive reviews started flowing, in and outside of the
movement, and by February 1995 things had reached a peak of
welcoming reception, with the simultaneous appearance of a rave
in the New York Times Book Review and a favorable review by Joy
Mills in The Quest. I was so pleased by the latter that I sent
an email to John Algeo thanking him for letting it appear.
Here's where the story begins to turn sour.

John had sent me warm, encouraging, supportive email just a few
weeks before, saying to pay no mind to the hostile attacks I
was getting on theos-l from outraged Theosophists. And this
time, when I wrote thanking him for the Quest piece, he replied
in a friendly way, saying that he was glad I liked it but that
he had more reservations about the book than Joy did-- and that
he'd like to discuss it with me. My reply was that
reservations were of course warranted; that the book proved
HPB's association with Masters in one sense (that of
recognized experts in various spiritual traditions, from whom
she learned) but not in the other sense of spiritually advanced
beings with paranormal abilities, since that was beyond the
reach of historical research.

Next word from John was a very short note by email, snippy in
fact, saying that he was writing two negative reviews, that I
wouldn't like them, that I was "playing games with words"
(guess that's what Linguistics profs are gonna look for) and
saying between the lines, "And I want no more communication
with you" by his abruptness and finality of tone. This was in
the late winter of 1995. A few months later his review of TMR
came out in the AT, and was considerably harsher than I
expected. Particularly troubling was that he had taken my
remark about different meanings of "Masters", made in good faith 
he wanted an open discussion, and twisted it into the main
theme of his attacks (a much longer one came out later.) That
is, trickery and deception in the use of the word Master, among many
other things, some imaginary and some real, to which he
objected. By this time Daniel and likeminded people were
pouring out the rage and indignation hot and heavy, online and
in letters to the editor. So there seemed to be a climate of
hostility that had taken years to turn nasty but was suddenly
busting out all over.

So the bottom line is I have nothing against John, or Grace
Knoche, or Emmett Small, or Jim Santucci, for having rejected
the book. While I would have loved some substantive feedback
in all that time, not getting any didn't affect my loyalty to
the movement. What *did* was that John posed as friendly and
supportive *while his negative reviews were in the works* in
order to win my trust. He invited a friendly conversation and
then ended it abruptly when he thought he had something he
could twist into a weapon to attack the book. This was not
honorable behavior, and permanently affected my view of him.
As a matter of fact, I resigned fairly soon but was asked by
John to remain as a member since this was simply a
"personality" matter. So I agreed, and remained so until the
by-laws controvery and a host of unpleasant revelations about
Wheaton and Adyar made the future of the TS look pretty
hopeless. At the end of 1996 I allowed my membership to
expire, far more due to things unrelated to my books-- the long
history of dogmatic authoritarianism in the Society-- than to
any personal factors.

The bottom line in comparing dealing with ARE and the TS is
this: TS leaders were always standoffish even while the book
was allegedly being considered by them. I never even met Radha
while I was at Adyar and the look she gave me in the library
made it clear there was no point in doing so. With John, I
never had a single telephone conversation with him, or spoke
for more than a few minutes at some busy meeting. (Grace, on
the other hand, even while vigorously disagreeing with much of
what I had to say, was always accessible and friendly.)
Substantive feedback on improvement or revision was unavailable from
Theosophical authorities for the entire seven years from
beginning of In Search of the Masters to the publication of
Initiates. Maybe I was too shy about seeking contact, but most
of this was due to the way the authorities positioned
themslves. With ARE, on the other hand, I was received with
proverbial open arms from anyone who could help, got massive
amounts of feedback and helpful suggestions (none of a
squelching variety) and ended up with a book which is much
improved. ARE has a long track record of cooperation with
authors many of whom are not members. Whereas the TS has a
long track record of attacking or ignoring anything which
doesn't fit the party line.

I know why Brant and several other people say so confidently
"The problem isn't us, the problem is you, and any other group
will treat you the same way, because it's *normal*."
Similarly, someone in China might say "Oh, there aren't really
more human rights in America, it's all just propaganda." Until
you have been in the position of an author dealing with the
power structures in different groups, you don't have an up
close view of the levels of intellectual freedom they allow or
encourage. TS is better than many, say the Baha'is or
Eckists. But considering the three objects and the explicit
commitment to brotherly exploration of alternative
perspectives, it falls well short of its proclaimed values.


JRC's helpful commentary here:

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