My Double Life 1 – This Dark Wood by Nicholas Hagger
Reviewed by David Lorimer
As one of his friends remarked, Nicholas Hagger’s double life not only refers to the contrast between his mystical journey and intelligence work for MI6, but also to the fact that he has crammed in double the amount of experience into his life. In this first volume, he describes his background, upbringing and education, then his career up to 1973. The book consists of 15 episodes of contrasting dualities such as literature and law, wisdom and intelligence, establishment and revolution, illumination and nationalism, meaning and disenchantment. Nicholas uses the symbolism of 8 clockwise and 13 counter-clockwise spirals in a pinecone to illustrate these tensions.
Worcester College Oxford plays an important role in the story. His knowledge of Roman coins enabled him to gain a place and be in contact with Sir John Masterman, the Provost, whom he later found out had played a crucial role in World War II intelligence, and gave him the necessary introduction to Whitehall. Later, in 1978, he was discussing his experiences with the then Provost, Lord Asa Briggs, who urged him to write up the full story of his experiences, especially the Gaddafi revolution in Libya. His father wanted him to go into law and politics, but he chose literature and poetry instead. He was an early reader of Colin Wilson’s Outsider and took life as an existentialist very seriously, even knocking on Sartre’s door in Paris as a form of free act. He also visits Colin Wilson on a number of occasions, which he finds extraordinary stimulating intellectually. Among other important meetings are those with Montgomery, Hemingway, Blunden, E.W.F Tomlin in Japan, a drunken Peter O’Toole in Oxford and Ezra Pound in Italy. Pound told him that T.E. Hulme has said to him in 1915 that a writer should be able to put his essential message down on half a postcard, and that the rest was application and elaboration.
Nicholas’ main teaching postings were in Iraq, Japan and Libya. In Japan, he also becomes a private tutor to Prince Hitachi, the brother of the Emperor, and speechwriter for the Governor of the Bank of Japan. He immerses himself in Zen and has an important encounter with Junzaburo Nishiwaki, who summarises the manifestation of the Absolute and the wisdom of the East in the formula +A +-A = 0, which Nicholas applies to the dialectic of his life episodes. During this time in Japan, he has a chance to visit China in the spring 1966, and is the first to discover the Cultural Revolution by interviewing senior Chinese officials – Western journalists were about six months behind. In late 1968, he becomes a lecturer at the University of Libya and begins his intelligence work while also writing as a journalist. A number of his articulate articles are printed in the appendix.
Nicholas has written separately about this time in his life as he was on the inside of another pro-Western coup that was meant to take place on September 5, but was pre-empted by Gaddafi on September 1, partly as a result of an article published by Nicholas on 24 August. This leads to a tumultuous period where his marriage collapses and he is beaten up and nearly executed. He vividly describes the challenges of life under this regime, but puts up an inner resistance so as not to succumb to these psychological terrorist tactics. His personal encounter with Gaddafi is fascinating – he tells him that his is the power of the pen rather than the sword. The reader learns in detail how the intelligence services operate in such a scenario, which gives everyday life a tremendous intensity. In the meantime, he is going through a purgation of suffering and loss that a personal level.
The next important development is his work as an unofficial ambassador for the Prime Minister Edward Heath in relation to black Africans and their liberation movements, but more especially with respect to the influence of China and the Soviet Union. He makes significant trips to Brussels and Tanzania. In the meantime, he takes work at an ESN school and lives in London. Here one gains an insight into what it is like to be a spy in terms of surveillance, bugging and one’s room being ransacked for papers. One has to be in a constant state of vigilance and acquire techniques for shaking people off. During this period, he also has his most important mystical experience in September 1971 (an appendix tracks these experiences in more detail). He was aware of the timeless flow of light and love, to which he surrenders. All this is described in detail with diary entries from the time. It gives him the insight that his vision of truth was in conflict with the deceptive world of intelligence, itself in thrall to the agenda of the New World Order, about which Nicholas has written separately. This deception even extends to his relationship with his first wife’s new husband, who is in different branch of security.
Even at Oxford, Nicholas had been warned that working for intelligence would eventually take over his life and control it. The culmination is a meeting with a senior intelligence officer where he is asked to sign a document saying that he will never see his daughter Nadia again. It is, of course, an impossible demand and they don’t expect him to sign. Later, he finds out that the reason for his severance is a change of attitude to China and that the Prime Minister can no longer take the risk of having an unofficial ambassador. The official warns him that if the Chinese try to recruit him, they will know. He reflects that his exposure by the KGB in Fleet Street following the defection of a man he had been working with meant that he was operating with the full knowledge of the KGB and was therefore too much of a risk for the SIS to work with. Hence this ruthless demand to secure his severance and his conclusion that the SIS was ultimately an insensitive and inhuman organisation. He has had no contact with them since 1973 but has written this extraordinarily revealing account to set the record straight. He mentions one other significant aspect, namely that his projects would be denied publicity, and indeed it is surprising that his voluminous writings have not received more recognition. His experience of nationalism at this time was an important factor in his development of a universalist philosophy.
In the epilogue to this volume, he reflects on his double life as lecturer, poet, then teacher, agent and journalist. The layered pairs of opposites in the 15 episodes represent the tension between the positive and negative aspects (+A and+- A or double helix) that impel a transformation within the central self. I think he is right that this pattern and unity of episodes and layers is universal ‘as an archetypal pattern of transformation and progress through experience towards a vision of the unity of the universe.’ We all have a chance to live at this soul-based contemplative level beyond our ego-based activity of hedonistic enjoyment, but we do not all avail ourselves of this opportunity. However, I also agree that nothing is wasted in terms of our experience and that ‘all experiences are essential to the final form of the self and to the pattern of its life…. in all lives the potential for a successful quest is present.’ It is the work of what he calls the central self to unite and reconcile these episodes and conflicting sequences so that ‘behind the unity of each being is the unity of Being’ and the same transforming law of Nature that governs not only the process and structure of pinecones but also that of human lives.
The inner and outer journey that Nicholas describes in this first part of his autobiography takes the reader to the heart of the human condition with its tension between opposite forces and the significant choices we all have to make in the course of our lives. One of these concerns the depth at which we ultimately live – things may be more comfortable on the surface, but there is greater intensity and fulfilment if we engage with the depth of life as well, with plus and minus, time and eternity, life and death, each of which is necessary to the other and to the unity of the whole. Nicholas has made a profound statement with this account of his life, and I look forward to reviewing the second volume in the next issue.