Tuesday 19 January 2016

The advantages of obscurity?

I have spent the last couple of years intensively studying an utterly obscure and deeply insightful and profound writer called William Arkle.


Arkle was pretty much unknown; and several of his books were home-published as pamphlets. He attracted a handful of disciples and admirers, he sold some paintings, he was a friend of Colin Wilson up into the 1970s (although Wilson apparently never mentioned him after the mid 70s) and was once the subject of a locally made and broadcast TV programme... but that was it.

Apparently very little to show for about fifty years of solid work.

What role did the obscurity have in this mix?

One effect may have been that in his writings he seems utterly uncorrupted - the work is uncompromising in its truth seeking and truth speaking, without any hint of hype, spin, distortion, fame-seeking or pandering.

How rare that is among modern mainstream writers! - although perhaps Arkle does not count as modern, since he was born in the 1920s. But so were many of the writers who came to fame in the 1950s and 60s, and they were in most cases very thoroughly corrupted by success.

To be a career failure as a writer may, of course, lead to negative emotions such as envy, bitterness or even hatred. It seems to have had the opposite effect on Arkle, since his latest works are even more serenely optimistic and joyful than his earliest (which is saying something!).

I know very little about the man outside of his books; but one of his disciples told me that Arkle was puzzled at people's lack of interest in the good news he communicated - apparently people found what he said very inspiring and enthusing, but seldom 'came back for more' or made any discernible changes.

A couple of other people who met him told me that he had never mentioned his 'spiritual' interests but was simply a quiet man who mostly listened intently rather than spoke.

So, my assumption is that one benefit of obscurity for Arkle was a serenity and purity of vision that lasted and probably grew right up until his death; whereas in almost all the cases of well know writer on spiritual topics there is a very obvious corruption, populism and lack of integrity that rapidly overwhelms their work and makes it ring false.

Of course his audience must number, at most, hundreds - whereas popular writers have audiences a thousandfold greater.

And while Arkle made his living in the manual work of renovating houses for sale and rent (his wife as business manager); successful spiritual writers make their living from lecturing, media work and selling books.

But, in the end, I cannot help but conclude that while obscurity does not lead to integrity; the obscurity was necessary to Arkle's integrity.

And there may well be a lesson in this - at least for those who care about integrity.

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