The New Freewoman: No. 13, Vol. 1, December 15th 1913.
by Dora Marsden
It is proposed that with our issue of January 1st, 19l4, the title of THE NEW FREEWOMAN be changed to THE EGOIST.
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Although THE NEW FREEWOMAN has been in existence only six months, it has become clear that its present title can be regarded only as a serious handicap. It contrives to suggest what the paper is not, and fails to give any indication whatsoever as to what it is. The implications following upon this suggested false identity are so clearly indicated in a letter addressed to us by a group of contributors, to whose generous support the paper has owed much from its start, that we may allow it to state this aspect of the case, and in publishing the letter we take the opportunity of acknowledging the courtesy of its authors. It runs:
" We, the undersigned men of letters who are grateful to you for establishing an organ in which men and women of intelligence can express themselves without regard to the public, venture to suggest to you that the present title of the paper causes it to be confounded with organs devoted solely to the advocacy of an unimportant reform in an obsolete political institution."
" We therefore ask with great respect that you should consider the advisability of adopting another title which will mark the character of your paper as an organ of individualists of both sexes, and of the individualist principle in every department of life."
The letter bears the signature of regular contributors to the paper-Allen Upward, Ezra Pound, Huntly Carter, Reginald W. Kauffmann, Richard Adlington. Our own dissatisfaction with the title is due to the fact that it fails to suggest itself for what it is.
The critic who accuses us of selling "Aeonian harps under the name of tin whistles" indicates the positive element from which the paper suffers.
We offer a commodity for sale under a description which is not only calculated to attract a section of the public for which in itself it can have no attraction, but which would be an active deterrent to those who should compose its natural audience. At the time the title was assumed there existed considerations strong enough to lead us to its adoption; these now no longer exist and we therefore propose that the change be made.
In adopting the neutral title THE EGOIST and thereby obliterating the "woman" character from the journal, we do not feel that we are abandoning anything there would be wisdom in retaining. The emphasis laid on women-and their ways and works was, as was pointed out in the early days of the first FREEWOMAN, more in the nature of retort than of argument. "Feminism" was the natural reply to "Hominism," and the intent of both these was more to tighten the strings of the controversy than to reveal anything vital in the minds of the controversialists. What women could, should, might, would do if they were allowed was the retort to those who said that such things they could, should, might, would not do and therefore should not be allowed. The feminist argument was an overture many times repeated to a composition voicing the great works of women. The controversialists are now tired, and the spectators can reasonably expect to have something of the main composition. What women-awakened, emancipated, roused, and whatnot-what they can do, it is open for them to demand judgment as unbiased as ever- it is likely to be, is ready to abide by the evidence of their work's quality.
The time has arrived when mentally honest women feel that they have no use for the springing board of large promises of powers redeemable in a distant future. Just as they feel they can be as "free" now as they have the power to be, they know that their works can give evidence now of whatever quality they are capable of giving to them. To attempt to be "freer" than their own power warrants means -that curious thing-"protected freedom," and their ability, allowed credit because it is women's, is a "protected" ability. "Freedom" and ability "recognised" by permission, are privileges which they find can serve no useful purpose.
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The moment when we propose attaching to ourselves a new label seems the right one to answer an objection raised by a contributor, Mr. Benj. R. Tucker, in the present issue, against a former statement that we "stand for nothing." THE EGOIST (we suppose he will say) at least will stand for egoism.
The irony of "standing for" a thing lies in the fact that the first return the thing stood for makes is to bring its advocates kneeling before it. A man will lie down prone before the thing he "stands for" and serve it, and the one assertion of egoism is, to our minds, that a man shall make it his concern with things to force them to minister to him. Standing for anything whatsoever means setting that thing on a pedestal, demanding that all around it shall pay it tribute. "Let Justice be, though the heavens fall": if for Justice we read, all or any of the things which have been "stood for" in human history-and their number is legion-we assemble the hosts of tyrants to which men have presented their souls to be scourged since the world began. From among these tyrants there is nothing to choose. They apply the scourge with equal zest. Liberty is as tender as Moloch, Justice is as white-handed as them all. The egoist stands for nothing: his affair is to see to it that he shall not be compelled to kneel; and provided that he remains standing, all that he needs of those things, before which men have bowed down because they first consented to "stand for" them, shall be his for the getting. Mr. Tucker rakes up our past propositions against us: it is a kindly service as it enables us to strain them a little clearer. "We stand for the empowering of individuals" we have said. Our usual modesty, we fear! We hope that we may empower individuals: we think we shall. We know we do empower ourselves, our contributors, and those who find pleasure in reading us: three admirable achievements of which the most admirable is the first. But ourselves apart we do not "stand for" the empowering of any. We are not, for instance, deterred by the knowledge that the effect of much in THE NEW FREEWOMAN upon some of its earlier supporters has been as disconcerting as a blow struck upon the face of a child. We go forward, following our own lead, and allow those whom it hurts to fall back. We are not dedicated to their service or to their empowering. Only in so far as their condition becomes part of the landscape over which our understanding must travel does it become vitally our concern. With the pictures and paper on our walls we are concerned because our eyes daily feed on them. But to wall papers- and pictures which do not come within the stretch- of our experience, we are dead. And so with people in general, and readers of this journal in particular. Primarily the paper is not written for them, it is written to please ourselves. If, while making things clear to ourselves, we make difficulties for our readers, we have done nothing alien to that which we set out to do. If however our readers apprise us of the difficulty we make, and we are sufficiently sensitive to be rendered uneasy thereat, the resolving of the difficulties becomes part of what is required for our own satisfaction. If in carrying through our work in this spirit one cares to believe that we "stand for" anything beyond the satisfying of ourselves, they are welcome to remain in their belief. We prefer to say we "stand" for nothing since the "selves," to whose power and satisfaction this effort administers, are too changeful for anything which "stands" to keep up with; their satisfactions must move forward. Accordingly we feel no fear of being the "dumping- ground for miscellaneous wits," since we have more respect for wits than for their creeds or works. Any work therefore bearing the marks of first-hand vision, and the ring of honest and economised expression will, if it interests us (it is necessary always to allow for a wide streak of personal preference) have a chance of finding its way herein.
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The endeavour to keep an enterprise fixed firm by attaching it to a stationary idea, the disproportionate amount of respect which is paid to a man's opinions compared with that paid to the man himself, and the deep seated uneasiness felt in regard to a person who asserts that to allow himself to change is the first step towards allowing his powers the opportunity of being themselves, are merely aspects of the distrust and fear of self which is the most articulate though not the most powerful impulse in the human world. A man who subscribes to a fixed idea is a "safe" man. The "idea" can be relied upon to keep him anchored. But one who trusts to himself is an incalculable, unreliable unit which no safe and respectable body of opinion would tolerate.
It would appear that the small frail glow of sensitiveness which is a man, hung isolated in an inanimate world, split its experience into two parts: the pleasurable which it believed itself to have come by through the benevolent kindness of a remote Patron: the Lord or any other sufficiently remote; and the painful whose origin it ascribed to itself. Hence the fear of the power of the self. The self pays the price; the self is the culprit; therefore the self must be put into bondage, restricted in its power to do mischief. The states, the churches, laws, moral codes, duties, conventions, public opinion are the variant forms which the efforts to put the self under restraint have taken. The dividing up of experience into parts with the responsibility for the least desirable falling to the self has enabled the ingenuity of men's fears to work out a neat little comedy, the naive plot of which appears and reappears in the religions of the world. The articulate part of the self takes sides with the Saving Grace against the self as a whole. The articulate part, when uttering its counsels of perfection proposes the overcoming of the self: its sacrifice and abandonment, in favour of the higher power. Hence down to the actual moment, self sacrifice retains the high tone, the elegance and unction, no matter how the blind inarticulate instincts of men have brushed its precepts aside. The only change in the setting of the comedy has been in the name of the "Person" in whom the Saving Grace is supposed to reside. The role of the Self has remained constant as the scallawag. In these latter fraternal and democratic days it is the "Person" of the "All" which supplies for it the efficient sacrificing motive. Humanity, the sacred " Unity of the All," has in some mysterious fashion acquired a worth which the reputation of its compounding units does nothing at all to explain. Worthless, meet only to be "overcome" individually, unhouseled and graceless, taken en bloc they acquire worth in the mere act of aggregation. Addition is the saving grace, division is the sin. Let men cluster together therefore and compound the Holy Unity: as they do, hence Democracy, the Brotherhood of Man, the cult of Humanity and The Race-all holy entities requiring capital initial letters!
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If we could get into the habit of describing a man as he feels himself instead of in the terms of the physical image under which he presents himself to sight, we should break through this deadening concept of unity. If we described him-as an artist would- that is, as he feels himself, we should say an intense flaming heart of sensitiveness in a sheath of material substance, in and out of which it can send piercing fingers, keen tongues of itself as foragers into an external world. We should say that a man was confined with his bodily sheath no more than the rays of an arc lamp are confined by the transparent globe; that unlike the rays of a lamp which, once shed, dissipate with degenerating potency, the rays of sensitive life return to their source with increased power; we should say that this is the inner meaning of "building up" an organism: that it is the withdrawal of the living threads, heavy with gathered impressions, back within itself that distinguishes life from energy: distinguishes that which is being built up into the egoistic unit from that which is turning down towards disintegration; that experience is the food of life: that the senses of sight, sound, and scent, sympathy and understanding, and a vague growing awareness too immature to be given a name, stretching out into the world pass outside the limits of the body to ransack the universe-for experience. With a million tentacles they invade the world of appearance; pierce, scour, scan, scoop up as with a mighty arm the panorama of the world: but they return an army laden with spoil always to their own. They have lost nothing of their individualised uniqueness in their excursions. They have scooped impressions from that with which they have had contact- all they were capable of assimilating: but they have in no way merged their identity in what they have fed on: rather they have intensified it: made the distinctness from all that was not of itself more definite. Nor does experience-which is awareness-absorb or diminish the thing it grows on. Each retains its integrity. Contrary to the testimony of the hymn which tells us "We are not divided, all one body, we, One in hope and doctrine, one in charitee," we are divided, and division grows increasingly as our growth. Because an individual is not confined within the cover of his skin, he is not therefore limitless; because he can make excursions beyond the limits of his body he is not therefore merged in the "All" and the "All" in him; because the self gleans among that which is not itself it does not thereby become part and parcel with it-democratic opinion and the devastating blight of an Oriental philosophy, now everywhere spreading, notwithstanding.
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NOTE-Owing to the exceptional circumstances under which the present issue has been made up, the Editor was compelled to make a forecast as to the amount of space which would be required for the above comments. The forecast was inadequate for the length to which the actual article ran out and the Sub-Editor was compelled to cut off several paragraphs. Apologies are therefore offered to Mr. Tucker and Mr. Byington to whose article and letters respectively are appended notes in which references are made to the amputated sections. The paragraphs containing the replies referred to will appear in the next issue.