1.Still alive though i’ve found myself uninterested in writing anything beyond emails. i sent the first few thousand words of my 40,000-word draft to a friend, who responded by telling me i shouldn’t write this book, that it was hate-filled and horrible and so on. To be fair, the opening is the most depressive part of the entire book, as it begins with my hero suffering in the trenches of minimum wage data entry, and he is only propelled to escape this world because it’s so horrible – in the same way that i would never have come to Germany had my jobs not been so terrible.

Hate-filled etc. are of course subjective judgements but my feeling is that if an intelligent reader could react so negatively it must have failed. i ditched it and have now more or less forgotten about the plot & story & characters, which suggests it had no real life to begin with. i do not despair; taking the long view, i am still (nearly 38, Homer Simpson & Colonel Kurtz’s age) finding a new way.

2. At present i’m trying out ideas. i get what seem to be good ideas, write them out in what seems to be nice enough prose, and the result makes me want to cut my head off and force it down my throat into my stomach, so it can eat my guts out before exploding in a ball of endless nuclear fire, consuming not merely my body but my soul, hard drive, all the files i’ve ever sent over the internet, this blog, anyone who’s ever read anything i’ve written, and of course all the hand- and type-written papers in my room. My whisky & tobacco could be spared, as i hope they could be of some use to some deserving minor (much as some enlightened soul threw a load of softcore porn over the wall of my school playground when i was 6).

3. i note that while i have good ideas, they never seem to escape the orbit of what has been thought by others. So, while reading Rene Guenon’s Reign of Quantity it occurred to me that we can only measure time by space – so i tend to think of 15 minutes as the time it takes me to walk a mile at a slow saunter; or the clock hands moving through space; then, about 50 pages on, Guenon makes exactly the same point. This happens to me with tiresome frequency; just off the top of my head, it’s also with Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare book, with a lot of literary criticism, with Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, with Rumi, with Alan Watts. i even think up fiction ideas which i later find have been developed into books or films, for example Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, JCVD (in 2004 i created a plot about Jean-Claude Van Damme as a washed-up action hero alienated from his family). i have a feeling that i’m nothing more than a mirror for other people’s ideas, that i somehow pick them up and develop them to some degree, then find someone’s already made a book or film out of it.

4. To some degree, there are no original ideas. For example, Milton’s Satan is, i think, a blend of Marlowe’s Mephistopheles and the Satan of the Old English Genesis B. i feel the former was based on someone Marlowe knew, or perhaps was Marlowe himself in a certain frame of mind; the latter is simply the Old English hero as one can see in The Battle of Maldon. It’s pleasing to think that Milton’s Satan ultimately traces his lineage back to real people, to real English people at that. There are clearly archetypes of a culture – one could draw parallels between Odin and Gandalf, for example: the hooded old wizard scheming against destruction. Another could be Tolkien’s Aragorn and Tove Jansson’s Snufkin – both wayfaring, more or less homeless, mysterious pipe-smokers (all pipe-smokers are mysterious). While Tolkien was well aware of Odin, i doubt Jansson had read Tolkien (she had, i think, already created Snufkin before Aragorn came into print).

aragorn snufkin

(Snufkin pic from here)

Academia is full of people who like to draw such parallels as if this explains everything. It doesn’t explain anything except that writers read books by other writers, and we all live in the same world and so absorb more or less the same ideas, and that human beings are fundamentally the same, while capable of enormous surface difference. It is interesting, if you’re (like me) of an academic frame of mind, but it is not essential.

i’m unsure if i will ever substantially move beyond mirroring that which has already been. If i do, i think it will be down to a development of my own self, because for me language is a direct function of my self: or you could say i feel language to be inherently magical, and so try not to lie (very occasional, tactical white lies, and even those are wearying), or even to speak or write without purpose. This makes it difficult to use language at all. Or rather, like Thomas Bernhard’s Roithamer, i can produce enormous quantities of words, but then immediately turn against them, and correct them out of existence, in the clearing, a silence, Lichtung.

1. Glendronach Revival is a superb whisky, if sadly too expensive for me to drink in the quantities i would like.

2. Re-reading Molloy and struck by the effortless transitions from Biblically mythic passages to scenes of Irish squalor. i read this aloud to an intermediate class who couldn’t follow more than one in 10 words, i wager, the German filth:

But was not perhaps in reality the cigar a cutty, and were not the sand-shoes hobnailed, dust-whitened, and what prevented the dog from being one of those stray dogs that you pick up and take in your arms, from compassion or because you have long been straying with no other company than the endless roads, sands, shingle, bogs and heather, than this nature answerable to another court, than at long intervals the fellow-convict you long to stop, embrace, suck, suckle and whom you pass by, with hostile eyes, for fear of his familiarities? Until the day when, your endurance gone, in this world for you without arms, you catch up in yours the first mangy cur you meet, carry it the time needed for it to love you and you it, then throw it away.

3. To my dismay, i’ve now been teaching for 4 years. i have enough experience to cope with most situations & questions, and just enough enthusiasm to muddle through, and feel the latter will wane and then i’ll be left with nothing but experience. Experience alone is as sterile as pure intellect or technical craft. i went to a philosophy meeting in Munich the other day, my first & last, and felt how pointless all this talk is, when it comes from a modern machine understanding. The discussion was about artificial intelligence; i’d vaguely hoped it would be a discussion of AI from a philosophical standpoint, since it had been advertised as a philosophy meeting; but it was a discussion of AI from a computer programmer standpoint. Everyone there seemed bright enough, most were computer people, but i felt how futile & purposeless it all was. For example, one geek said that anything which can’t be empirically tested, if only in principle, is meaningless. i thought of asking him what he meant by meaning and meaningless, but just settled back into Beckettian silence and left early.

No one there seemed to know anything about philosophy outside of computing theory and watered-down Logical Positivism. The whole discussion was trivial, to do with mathematical possibility and processing power, and they couldn’t understand anything outside of this frame. The aforementioned geek said that human beings are imperfect, because not as rational as a computer, and i wanted to ask “what do you mean by rational?” but realised he would just stare blankly then go on about algorithms and processing units and binary. It was a striking case of how the tools we fashion and use come to determine our understanding of the world and, worse, of ourselves. Trying to talk to these people – all of whom, i guess, are well-paid & respected – was akin to trying to talk to a computer about Wallace Stevens.

4.  Just before the meeting i’d been reading Rene Guenon’s The Reign of Quantity; it could have been written this year though it’s actually from 1945. It describes a world in which only the quantifiable and inertly calculable is deemed to exist, and in which all will be perfectly levelled, reduced to numerical equivalence. He writes:

Nonetheless, a world in which everything had become ‘public’ would have a character nothing short of monstrous. The notion is still hypothetical, because we have not in spite of everything quite reached that point yet, and perhaps it never will be fully attained because it represents a ‘limit’ [...] In order to induce people to live as much as possible ‘in public’, it is not enough that they should be assembled in the ‘mass’ on every occasion and on any and every pretext, but they must in addition be lodged, not only in ‘hives’ as was suggested earlier, but literally in ‘glass hives’, and these must be arranged in such a way that they can only take their meals ‘in common’.

5. Philosophy is a very vague and general term but real study and thought should allow one to partly break away from the dominant culture, to look at things from new (or very old) angles, not to mindless parrot gibberish about rationality and meaningless-because-not-empirically-testable statements. For that to happen, philosophy has to go deep, deeper than trivia about what a computer can do. i am impatient with these arguments, because they don’t go beyond the contingent; if it turns out that your facts are wrong, or if there are new developments, then your entire argument falls apart; and for me this is not philosophy.

6. i feel a growing lack of interest in surfaces, publicity, the public account of things. Writing to friend about my many grossly abortive drafts, he replied “you should be like kafka and put it [writing] under the bed”. As i now have enough money to live from teaching, i no longer need the bad pipe dream of publication to save me; even if more than one in ten thousand writers made any real money from their work. i’m sure this is the right thing to do, for me (writing being as various as every significant human activity, it takes many forms with different people). i gave up hoping to make cash from my brain years ago but there is a residual hope, which is of no use and indeed distracts me from just doing what i want to do.

i am trying to turn away from the reign of quantity and to see things as they would be outside of our passing human life. i think modern media make this almost impossible, as they are almost entirely inseparable from computers (the ultimate symbol of quantitative power); and rely entirely on quantitative measurement, e.g. number of hits, number of fans, number of tweets. This kind of public, glass-hive, quantitative valuation is of no real account; it is quantity in the absence of quality.

7. Most of the things i remember from my last life would appear in no biography or history; some – odd meetings & brief explosive friendships & favours from the powerful – while i suppose being scandalous etc., have remained private; the rest are just little things, often to do with my family then, things which i guess made an impression on me, e.g. a sister showing me a copy of Die Fackel she had smuggled into our home, against our father’s interdict. i guess this is the way of it with every life, that the things we value would bore others, and the things which others would want to publish for titillation & gain are too private to be shared.

And so i try to see my life now in this light, to see spots of intense fascination in the midst of an apparently mundane life, and to suppose these will endure when everything else is jettisoned as trivia. And with writing i try to see the things stuffed under the bed as those of most value. As with the Epic of Gilgamesh, lost for several millenia, the things lost may be found, none the worse for a long sleep.

1. i’ve managed to half-wrest myself away from the internet most evenings, and read books and smoke my pipes like a gouty Victorian gentleman. At the moment i’m reading Browning and Plato – the latter a monstrous 1500 page edition i bought 3 years ago, but have only really got into now, in my pot-bellied dotage. One of the odd constellations that sometimes befalls me – all this fell out over an hour:

i) i was reading The Spine blog and thinking about caricature and representation, then:

ii) This post on The New Psalmanazar:

The hard part of drawing is to actually see the things you’re looking at. Your idea of a tree, a mountain, a person, will tend to devolve into symbol. You are constantly lured into seeing through your brain, by abstraction, rather than through your eye. But the wild, absurd, incredible fact of a thing in itself is always more than you can grasp.

iii) Then the next poem in Browning was Fra Lippo Lippi:

I’d like his face —

His, elbowing on his comrade in the door

With the pike and lantern — for the slave that holds

John Baptist’s head a-dangle by the hair

With one hand (“Look you, now,” as who should say)

And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped!

It’s not your chance to have a bit of chalk,

A wood-coal or the like? or you should see!

Yes, I’m the painter, since you style me so.


The Prior and the learned pulled a face

And stopped all that in no time. “How? what’s here?

Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!

Faces, arms, legs and bodies like the true

As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!

Your business is not to catch men with show,

With homage to the perishable clay,             

But lift them over it, ignore it all,

Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.

Your business is to paint the souls of men —


Do you feel thankful, ay or no,

For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,

The mountain round it and the sky above,

Much more the figures of man, woman, child,

These are the frame to? What’s it all about?              

To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,

Wondered at? oh, this last of course! — you say.

But why not do as well as say — paint these

Just as they are, careless what comes of it?

iv) Then onto Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates’ ideal, discarnated philosopher:

Do you not think, he said, that in general such a man’s concern is not with the body but that, as far as he can, he turns away from the body towards the soul?

I do.

So in the first place, such things show clearly that the philosopher more than other men frees the soul from association with the body as much as possible?



Then he will do this most perfectly who approaches the object with thought alone, without associating any sight with his thought, or dragging in any sense perception with his reasoning, but who, using pure thought alone, tries to track down each reality pure and by itself, freeing himself as far as possible from eyes and ears and, in a word, from the whole body, because the body confuses the soul and does not allow it to acquire truth and wisdom whenever it is associated with it.


2. Reading Browning, i thought of a repulsive music journalist i knew almost twenty years ago – a penpal, back in the days when such things were. He was a standard trendily left-wing London-based Guardian-reader, though at the time i had no opinions about left or right or even London. He seemed clearly mental to me, badgering and hysterical and vindictive – for example, sending me music compilations and demanding i review each track, to the point where i didn’t even want to play them (merely saying “it was good” would provoke a contemptuous “your comments were inadequate”); he also doggedly harassed me for liking U2 and Bruce Springsteen (this was in 1997, before U2 began their downward trajectory), insisting “your alleged fondness for the Irish songsters remains IMPLAUSIBLE and UNACCEPTABLE – EXPLAIN”. i was young and naive and tried to explain but he would just reply something on the lines of “I fail to see how you can CLAIM to dig Trane [John Coltrane] and the leftfield maverick underground brilliance of Miles [Davis] and also CLAIM to “appreciate” the millionaire Irish balladeers! Explain!” And so on.

Outside of my family, he was the first truly obnoxious, unthinking “intellectual” i met, and the first of many to try to dominate and bully me into submission. Amusingly, he reported burning through something like 15 penpals in six months, some of whom accused him of badgering and harassing them. He was also the first “it’s not me, it’s them” maniac i met, who could report something like this without drawing the obvious conclusion.When i asked if he was religious he replied: “religion, in any shape or form, is for weak-minded simpletons without rationality or intelligence” (so, there you have Milton, TS Eliot, Kierkegaard, Dr Johnson, Dante, etc.) At the time i was living with my father in the middle of nowhere, and only knew one person who read anything or liked any music not to be found on Radio 1 – my then-Muslim schoolmate Shrekh. The journalist seemed, at first, astonishingly cultured. He apparently just spent all his time living with his father, writing vast letters to penpals and listening to obscure music. i introduced him – via letters – to Shrekh, who shared my amazement at someone who had actually heard of Bob Dylan and Shakespeare, and sure enough came to see him as a mentally unstable and spectacularly nasty piece of work. At one point i stopped writing to the journalist, disgusted by his latest tirade (which recalled the hectoring emails i occasionally got from my tai chi tutor, when he was on the verge of a psychotic frenzy); he wrote back telling me i wouldn’t find anyone as inspiring and stimulating to write to, “unless Friedrich N [Nietzsche] rises from the grave”. i showed this letter to my father, explaining that it was written by a 24-year-old unemployed, occasional music journalist and that Nietzsche was one of the greatest thinkers of human history. My father indulged in one of his explosions of uncontrollable mirth, then suddenly sobered up and asked, warily: “Egh, well where does this blessed man live?” (my father had run a psychiatric ward and had plenty of experience with violently mental patients).


i finally stopped writing to the blessed man altogether. It felt like i’d suffered him for two years but i think it was more like six months. In his last letter, he likened our relationship to that of Wagner and Nietzsche, as recounted by Colin Wilson, saying that whereas i was the complacent, self-satisfied bourgeois Wagner, he was the “self-transcending” Nietzsche.

Shrekh continued to write to him a while longer, increasingly infuriated by his total witlessness (the journalist claimed that rap wasn’t hip hop – because he thought rap was shit and hip hop was something underground and therefore worthwhile – and when Shrekh patiently set out the reasons why rap is a form of hip hop, the journalist wrote back “WHAT DO YOU WANT – BLOOD???”), till he too stopped writing and eventually burnt all his letters and tapes, saying he felt polluted to have them in the house.


i wish i’d kept the journalist’s letters but i too was so sickened and depressed by their venom that i binned the lot. Some fragments i remember:


i) He wrote me one of his huge 10,000 word letters about Spiritualized’s Ladies & Gentlemen album, then enclosed a clipping from some music magazine, and i realised that most of what he’d written had been copied almost word for word from someone else’s review; plagiarism aside, i wondered if he had copied it out then somehow thought it was his work, or if this was his idea of original response;


ii) When i mentioned my dog, he said he despised “pet/dog culture”;


iii) When i said i wanted to read a Frederick Forsyth novel he demanded to know why, telling me that FF was “a Tory”, as if that somehow made his novels worthless;


iv) He kept re-using the same words, over and over again: eclectic, maverick, left-field, underground, brilliance, epiphany, groovy, spiritual, existential, fusion, life-affirming, transcendent, revolutionary, outsider;


v) Although he had read seemingly every book ever written, and seen every film, and heard every album, it all seemed to go in one ear and out the other. He said Conrad was shit, explaining that he had no interest in jungles. He said Henry James and Jane Austen were tedious and worthless. Apart from Colin Wilson’s drab The Outsider, he didn’t seem to have been affected by a book in his life. i got the feeling he simply culled names and hurled them at his penpals to demonstrate his massive intellect (somewhat like Dean Moriatry in On The Road, who – as far as i can remember – had read and memorised plot summaries and would hold forth on them, before finally admitting he hadn’t read a single book in his life).


vi) When i mentioned i was trying to learn French, he said that learning languages was a total waste of time and that only idiots bother with it.


vii) He demanded to know why i wrote to anyone else (i had about 3 other penpals, who i stuck with for a year or two before we drifted apart). When i vaguely said they were interesting people, he demanded to know how such non-outsiders could possibly be interesting, and then suggested i was lying.


viii) Whenever he found something difficult to believe, he accused me of lying. After a while, reading the contradictions in his own presented self-image (as a Nietzschean superman) i came to suspect he often lied, and that it was therefore natural for him to suppose deception in others.


Rather an odd person, in fact. i thought of him today because i remembered him asking if i’d read Browning – in his usual “I have read everything” way; and so while smoking my pipe and reading Fra Lippo Lippi i wondered if he’d ever actually read Browning, and if he had what he would have made of the poem, since he didn’t seem to remember or remark on anything he’d read (except Colin Wilson’s The Outsider). He claimed to have read every poem ever written but i got the feeling he was too literal to understand poetry; for the same reason he didn’t like Conrad because he didn’t live in a jungle. He was, naturally, extremely political and Marxist.


i was moved to Google him and found he’s still a music journalist. He’s a Guardian-reader; he seems to subscribe to all the conventionally left-wing sentiments of that publication – that the wilfully, lifelong unemployed are “the working class” and need more money from “the rich” to escape their squalor, that the Tories are in some way right-wing and hate the poor (despite increasing State expenditure), and so on.

He has a blog, which i skimmed through. His style has matured, so he doesn’t constantly reuse the same dozen adjectives; it’s good professional writing, but everything he writes sounds like a blurb. i read a few of his reviews and found my mind disengaging, as when i read the rants a manic depressive stalker used to write; the words advertise their profundity & significance, but lack roots.


3. So much for that. In Phaedo – concerning the last days of Socrates:

Cebes intervened and said: ‘By Zeus, yes, Socrates, you did well to remind me. Evenus asked me the day before yesterday, as others had done before, what induced you to write poetry after you came to prison, you who had never composed any poetry before, putting the fables of Aesop into verse and composing the hymn to Apollo.


Socrates replies:


[...] the same dream often came to me in the past, now in one shape now in another, but saying the same thing: ‘Socrates,’ it said, ‘practice and cultivate the arts.’ In the past I imagined that it was instructing and advising me to do what I was doing, such as those who encourage runners in a race, that the dream was thus bidding me do the very thing I was doing, namely, to practice the art of philosophy, this being the highest kind of art, and I was doing that.


But now, after my trial took place, and the festival of the god was preventing my execution, I thought that, in case my dream was bidding me to practice this popular art, I should not disobey it but compose poetry. I thought it safer not to leave here until I had satisfied my conscience by writing poems in obedience to the dream. So I first wrote in honour of the god of the present festival. After that I realised that a poet, if he is to be a poet, must compose fables, not arguments.


i didn’t remember this from my last reading of the book (15 years ago). i’m presently only a quarter finished, and wonder if anything will be made of this oddity. It is strange and jarring, given Plato’s general inclination to (alleged) logical clarity and his later condemnation of poetry altogether. i think of Thomas Aquinas’ late vision, before which all he had written seemed as straw. If i consider the course of this and my last life, it describes a turn from arguments to fables. People like the journalist were a part of this, as unpoetical and unfabulous and argumentative, and vile. It is fitting that almost nobody reads poetry today, for it is not part of the machine world where everything can apparently be reduced to code (“algorithmically compressible”). Paraphrase a poem and it’s gone. The peculiar force of a poem comes from the slightest of manoeuvres; it is sensed – by those still able to sense anything – but cannot be reduced to politics or machine code, to argument.

It makes me mad to see what men shall do

And we in our graves! This world’s no blot for us,

Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:

To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

And here, one might note that there is meaning and then there is meaning, and perhaps Socrates was turning to the subtler and more enduring (in its subtlety) of the two.

[postscript: WordPress screwed up my formatting so i had to insert dashes to separate some paragraphs]

1. i continue to read mainly on my Kindle, for convenience; nonetheless i find it unsatisfactory, i can’t read poetry on it, and end up buying paper copies of anything i like enough to re-read. i’ve now bought my third copy of Alan Furst’s Dark Star (one in England, one given away), as i wanted to re-read it and like it too much for the screen. It’s a book in love with the mystery and matter-of-factness of the physical, reminding me in this of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Roughly speaking it’s a spy thriller with little plot, centred about a Russian journalist who does occasional work for the NKVD in 1930s Europe. On my second reading i realised the seemingly unconnected scenes are all threaded through with an Okhrana document secreted in an old leather bag in a train station locker. The journalist Szara is manoeuvred into taking possession of the bag at the beginning, and all follows.

2. Here is the bag, in all its physicality:

He examined it and realised he’d never seen one like it: the leather was dense, pebbled, the hide of a powerful, unknown animal. It was covered with a thick, fine dust, so he wet his index finger and drew a line through it, revealing a colour that had once been that of bitter chocolate but was now faded by sun and time. Next he saw that the seams were hand-sewn; fine, sturdy work using a thread he suspected was also handmade. The satchel was of the portmanteau style – like a doctor’s bag, the two sides opened evenly and were held together by a brass lock. Using a damp towel, he cleaned the lock and found a reddish tracery etched into the metal surface. This was vaguely familiar.  Where had he seen it? In a moment it came to him: such work adorned brass bowls and vases made in western and central Asia – India, Afghanistan, Turkestan. He tried to depress the lever on the underside of the  device, but it was locked. [...]

He put one finger on the lock. It was ingenious, a perfectly circular opening that did not suggest the shape of its key. He probed gently with a match, it seemed to want a round shaft with squared ridges at the very end. Hopefully, he jiggled the match about but of course nothing happened. From another time the locksmith, perhaps an artisan who sat cross-legged in a market stall in some souk, laughed at him. The device he’d fashioned would not yield to a wooden match.

He gets it open finally:

At dusk, André Szara sat in his unlit room with the remnants of a man’s life spread out around him.

There wasn’t a writer in the world who could resist attributing a melancholy romance to these artifacts, but, he argued to his critical self, that did not diminish their eloquence. For if the satchel itself spoke of Bokhara, Samarkand, or the oasis towns of the Kara Kum desert, its contents said something very different, about a European, a European Russian, who had travelled – served? hidden? died? – in those regions, about the sort of man he was, about pride itself.

The objects laid out on the hotel desk and bureau made up an estate. Some clothing, a few books, a revolver, and the humble tools – thread and needle, digestive tea, well-creased maps – of a man on the run. On the run, for there was equal clarity, equal eloquence, in the items not found. There were no photographs, no letters. No address book, no traveller’s journal. This had been a man who understood the people he fled from and protected the vulnerability of those who may have loved him.

The clothing had been packed on top, folded loosely but perfectly, as though by someone with a long history of military service, someone to whom the ordered neatness of a footlocker was second nature. It was good clothing, carefully preserved, often mended but terribly worn, its wear the result of repeated washings and long use in hard country. Cotton underdrawers and wool shirts, a thick sailor’s sweater darned at the elbows, heavy wool socks with virtually transparent heels.


The service revolver dated from pre-revolutionary days, a Nagant, the double-action officer’s model, 7.62mm from a design of 1895. It was well oiled and fully loaded. From certain characteristics, Szara determined that the sidearm had had a long and very active life. The lanyard ring at the base of the grip had been removed and the surface filed flat, and the metal at the edges of the sharp angles, barrel opening, cylinder, the trigger itself, was silvery and smooth. A look down the barrel showed it to be immaculate, cleaned not with the usual brick dust – an almost religious (and thereby ruinous) obsession with the peasant infantry of the Great War – but with a scouring brush of British manufacture folded in a square of paper. Not newspaper, for that told of where you had been and when you were there. Plain paper. A careful man.

The books were also from the time before the revolution, the latest printing date 1915; and Szara handled them with reverence for they were no longer to be had. Dobrilov’s lovely essays on noble estates, Ivan Krug’s Poems at Harvest, Gletkhin’s tales of travel among the Khivani, Pushkin of course, and a collection by one Churnensky, Letters from a Distant Village, which Szara had never heard of. These were companions of journey, books to be read and read again, books for a man who lived in places where books could not be found. Eagerly, Szara paged through them, looking for commentary, for at least an underlined passage, but there was, as he’d expected, not a mark to be found.

Yet the most curious offering of the opened satchel was its odour. Szara could not really pin it down, though he held the sweater to his face and breathed in it. He could identify a hint of mildew, woodsmoke, the sweetish smell of pack animals, and something else, a spice perhaps, cloves or cardamom, that suggested the central Asian marketplace. It had been carried in the satchel for a long time, for its presence touched the books and the clothing and the leather itself. Why? Perhaps to make spoiled food more palatable, perhaps to add an ingredient of civilization to life in general. On this point he could make no decision.

Szara was sufficiently familiar with the practices of intelligence services to know that chronology meant everything. ‘May God protect and keep the czar’ at the end of a letter meant one thing in 1916, quite another in 1918. With regard to the time of ‘the officer’, for Szara discovered himself using that term, the satchel’s contents offered an Austrian map of the southern borders of the Caspian Sea dated 1919. The cartography had certainly begun earlier (honorary Bolshevik names were missing), but the printing date allowed Szara to write on a piece of hotel stationery ‘alive in 1919′. Checking the luggage label once again, he noted ‘tentative terminal date, 8 February 1935.’ A curious date, following by two months and some days the assassination of Sergei Kirov at the Smolny Institute in Leningrad, 1 December 1934, which led to the first round of purges under Yagoda.

A terminal date? Yes, Szara thought, this man is dead.

He simply knew it. And, he felt, much earlier than 1935. Somehow, another hand had recovered the satchel and moved it to the left-luggage room of a remote Prague railway station that winter. Infinite permutations were of course possible, but Szara suspected that a life played out in the southern extremity of the Soviet empire had ended there. The Red Army had suppressed the pashas’ risings in 1923. If the officer, perhaps a military adviser to one of the local rulers, had survived those wars, he had not left the region. There was nothing of Europe that had not been packed on some night in, Szara guessed, 1920.

3. This passage expresses much of why i prefer paper to electronic books: the tactile sensory resonance, the marks of previous owners, of previous readings, the expanding network of historical associations, the occasional flashes of insight – these latter in particular seem to tap into something in the physical object itself, as i felt once with an SS dagger. And the books made to be read and re-read on the road, in small Asian market towns: if i delete or lose a Kindle file, i can just download it again and there is no difference between the book i read and lost, and the book with which i replaced it: the electronic does not allow this palimpsest of experience, or only in the crudely mechanical way that the NSA (etc.) can view a person’s entire browsing history. i think probably most good readers know what it is like to replace an old copy, and to feel – even if the replacement is exactly the same imprint – that it is not the same. When my last edition of John Sinclair’s Inferno translation finally fell apart, after about 30 readings, i used the pages as decoration, or as packaging for gifts, because i felt something of those 30 readings in the paper, and i did not want to simply toss it in the bin and so eliminate a decade’s reading. The replacement was apparently exactly the same edition, and lacking; not the book i bought in Dillon’s second-hand section in Durham in 1997, before the shop was consumed by Waterstone’s.

4. Furst has a strong sense for the distant networks of history, and their manifold and undislodgeable connection to the present; this is one reason i would never become a socialist/progressive – i am at home in the negotiation between my present and past, and the pasts of many others, and wouldn’t want to simply destroy the past and its echoes, even if i thought such an undertaking were possible. The bright new utopias of socialism do not interest me; they seem as plausible as Disney cartoons; as flatly inhuman as an electronic book; as repulsive as the dreams of a Yagoda, or for that matter, that other great progressive, Hitler: to such fools, the elder locksmith laughs from another time.

And so i like living in Munich, learning a barbarous ancient language, smoking pipes and reading old books – to understand myself through these myriad, overlapping, incalculable networks of thought and action and being; to take my own being from this meeting and friction; to acknowledge my own part in this, as observer and actor both, patient as i am.

1. i’ve been internetless for a couple of weeks. My internet provider doesn’t have any English-speaking call centrists and my listening comprehension for German isn’t up to the task, so one of my students called & pretended to be me – an amusing episode, as he did it on loudspeaker in the middle of class, charming the pants off a Frau Hofmann.

There was a connection test and the problem was deemed to lie in my router. A new router was sent, and deemed undeliverable because i don’t have a standard German name so the courier couldn’t find me on the door buzzer. At the moment i’m using a weak & unsecured signal emanating from somewhere in the building, though i only connect for brief moments.

2. i’ve come to pay close attention to coincidences; everything is patterned, which means both that there are no coincidences and that, in a sense, there’s nothing so remarkable about remarkable coincidences – these latter are just a more obviously concentrated pattern. It is not chance that you meet an old friend on the street after a decade’s absence; nor that you forget a hat and it rains; nor that you woke when you did, and the weather was as it was, and your tea or coffee or juice was as it was.

Human intentions count for something but not in the way we suppose, i suppose. This is one reason i don’t really like films with flawless villains and masterminds, where some clever plot is seamlessly executed because someone is clever enough to plan everything. i prefer stories where things go wrong (or right) for small reasons, because somebody is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or trips on an unseen sausage dog (Tarantino films take their energy from this pattern of mishap). One reason i like Tolkien – he comes very close to how our human wishes and blunders are nonetheless part of a wider pattern of things, and “even the wise cannot know all ends”:

‘You give the choice to an ill chooser,’ said Aragorn. ‘Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.’ He fell silent, gazing north and west into the gathering night for a long while.  [...] ‘Ours is but a small matter in the great deeds of this time. A vain pursuit from its beginning, maybe, which no choice of mine can mar or mend.’

3. The last couple of weeks have been an interesting constellation of happenstance and chance. i adapted quickly to no internet, simply watching my stock of DVDs or reading; and i went more seriously to work on my latest attempt-at-a-novel: 34,000 words in about a month, something i couldn’t have managed with constant, high quality internet. In part it went so quickly because i’ve been plotting this book for years, and wrote the 30 to 40 thousand words earlier this year, in a different narrative voice. At the same time, i fell into the snares of a sexy Afghan girl, one of my old students, and while it’s troublesome to negotiate some kind of “relationship” (to explain, to an extreme extrovert, that i’m strongly introverted – it seems in the nature of extroverts that they cannot understand introversion), it’s also proved stimulatingly difficult.

4. In the midst of this difficulty, i was jostled out of my dread of human society by a Carlos Castaneda book of all things. The more i read Castaneda the more i feel he straddles the border between philosophy and magic (as does Ursula le Guin in her first three Earthsea books). i have no idea if what he writes (encounters with a Yaqui sorceror) actually happened and in a sense it is irrelevant; even if it is pure fiction it gets close to the border between philosophy and magic, where seeing aright starts to alter one’s reality. For me, philosophy is about useful perception – since there is no way of determining whether one is right or wrong, the test is pragmatic: does it make you happier, does it make you less conflicted, less hypocritical, less delusional, less egotistic, less anxious? And can you engage with normal earthy folk (like my Afghan lover) without seeming bizarre and offputtingly unearthly? – and in this sense, my job is the supreme test of my philosophical sorcery.

As i see it, Castaneda’s central point is that our ordinary human personality – the lesser man – is a parasitic element, keeping us drained and fearful and unable to achieve anything worthwhile. He names this the foreign installation. His work is directed to the elimination of this element, the lesser man. From The Power of Silence:

the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerors or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image [...] What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of the mirror of self-reflection.

This is a project i have undertaken for the last 13 or so years, since incessant self-reflection brought me to a point of near insanity (a wilderness of broken mirrors). Tai Chi and then the magician’s path gave guidance and impetus, for nothing worthwhile can be achieved without abandoning the lesser man: vanity, pettiness, anger, fear, jealousy, spite. i am still largely embroiled in the tentacles of self-reflection, though i can see some progress when i compare myself with my younger self. Castaneda again:

For the nagual Julian self-importance was a monster that had three thousand heads. And one could face up to it and destroy it in any of three ways. The first way was to sever each head one at a time; the second was to reach that mysterious state of being called the place of no pity, which destroyed self-importance by slowly starving it; and the third was to pay for the instantaneous annihilation of the three-thousand-headed monster with one’s symbolic death.

i tried the first and it didn’t work. Then i found the second but could not thoroughly assimilate it into my daily life. The third – i have nearly died (of asthma and suicide) often enough to unsettle the edifice of vanity, but the relentless energy of the “three-thousand-headed monster” is difficult to thoroughly displace. i think the key is what Castaneda calls the point of no pity, where you cease to feel any pity for yourself or others. It is difficult to reach, because pity is the last comfort of the lesser man; and because, if nakedly perceived, it would strike most as monstrous and terrifying – what Castaneda calls the dark touch of the impersonal.

This coldness must be experienced within the midst of human encounters, or it is of little value (i think of Buddhist monks giving seminars in America, suddenly flustered by the sight of women in shorts & t-shirts). It is not easy to reach this point in solitude, but once one has it is then necessary to be tested in society – my extroverted Afghan lover is a means of conditioning & proving my point of no pity, for myself or her; and things would have become hellishly complicated, had i not been balanced in my deepest impersonality, my cultivated absence of pity.

5. It is essential to my philosophical sorcery that i don’t suppose one requires esoteric knowledge of demonic names and whatnot – something i always found questionable in Yeats, with his so-called Golden Dawn – as long as one dissolves the self, it is well. My 5 years of temping taught me the value of secrecy and apparent submission; teaching has taught me to exercise a modulated dominance. Castaneda talks of the man: “whose worldly task was to sharpen, yet disguise, his cutting edges so that no one would be able to suspect his ruthlessness” and this is apt for my work. i regard my students primarily as a testing ground for my will and the dissolution of my self, and on the whole they love me for it – they regard me as a jolly, entertaining, serious, Sherlock Holmesian teacher; one of the ironies of this path, it seems.

6. You do not require special lore. Wittgenstein: Wenn der Ort, zu dem ich gelangen will, nur auf einer Leiter zu ersteigen wäre, gäbe ich es auf, dahin zu gelangen. Denn dort, wo ich wirklich hin muß, dort muß ich eigentlich schon sein. Was auf einer Leiter erreichbar ist, interessiert mich nicht (if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now. Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me). One requires only discipline, which is i think one reason this day abounds in the lesser man, those thoroughly in thrall to the foreign installation. For those seeking power, matters will arrange themselves to allow him to attain the point of no pity. For me, this involves a degree of otherworldliness, but it is essential that this is merely an extension of what one could achieve in an ordinary, purposed life. It is, in any case, pointless to present lore: such teachings can only be understood by those ready to understand, and that comes by experience and hardship. Tove Jansson from Moominland Midwinter:

‘Why didn’t you talk like that in winter,’ said Moomintroll. ‘It’d have been such a comfort. Remember, I said once: “There were a lot of apples here.’ And you just replied: “But now here’s a lot of snow.” Didn’t you understand that I was melancholy?’ Too-ticky shrugged her shoulders. ‘One has to discover everything for oneself,’ she replied. ‘And get it all alone.’

And for that one should be grateful for these odd coincidences, for broken internet, stupid Germans, sexy Afghan babes, adventures and escapades and Moomins.

moomin values

1. So i went to Vienna to meet the Viking and drink Glühwein amidst the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Vienna is distinctly scuzzier than Munich. i walked from the train station to the u-bahn and immediately saw an unimaginably disgusting sight – two giant punks resting their feet on the seats opposite, shouting in Bosche and playing shitty punk music. They also had an amiable-looking dog. No one was sitting anywhere near them and the good citizens of Vienna were shooting them fearful glances. Perversely, i felt as if i was back in England; nostalgia pulled me to sit right next to them and grin at their dog. It’s not that i want to live in a city where young ruffians deliberately dismay the gentry, but after living in Munich (of almost Swiss respectability) i felt a certain pleasure in these villains & their dog. Besides, they seemed to me mostly harmless and far from the genuinely psychopathic monsters abounding in the sceptered isle.

2. Then on to the Viking. Exiled from Germany, he now practices heretical chemistry in nearby Slovakia. Here he is, looking for sin:

viking draws in vienna 2013 (1)

We immediately went to the Am Spittelberg Christmas market. Last year, Glühwein was 1.50 € and there were many strange stalls selling things like rose honey and jam and handmade leather artefacts. It’s now the usual 4 € for a Glühwein and there no interesting stalls. It has become standardized and in line with all the other Christmas markets, and so there was no reason to linger. Once again, the modern world has discovered and eliminated a niche of cheap Glühwein and human splendour.

We moved on, disgusted. But at least we chanced upon an excellent, cheap restaurant close by, the Kojote as i called it (“Gasthaus mit Wiener Küche” and “Zum hungrigen Kojoten”). It was a haven of normal humanness in the midst of all the chain restaurants and highly-priced & swanky hipster establishments. There was nothing at all polished or managerialized or machine-like about it.

Excellent Schnitzel for a tenner, plus you can smoke.

3. Being able to smoke indoors is one of the great and naturally brief & soon-to-be-destroyed advantages of Vienna. One waiter told me the EU will end this freedom in the next couple of years; a strange thing, since the militant non-smokers could easily find many non-smoking establishments, but in the name of managerialized standardization all must be the same, that is to say bland and unsatisfying (if it’s not specifically allowed, it is forbidden). For now, i enjoy my brief freedoms. Here in the Zum Leupold:

me in zum leupold (3)

i bought some cigars for the Viking so he wouldn’t feel left out, but before turning to the Church he spent three decades as a fundamentalist Calvinist Protestant, so has no idea how to enjoy anything except gay Manga, let alone how to smoke. Here he is,  failing a cigar:

viking botches cigar (7)

4. We went to one swanky bar, not sure which one but it was expensive and we had to hand over our manly coats at the door. Good leather sofas and real wood. We got there for happy hour and tried their cocktails, while i smoked. Every cocktail was either 95% ice or presented in a tiny glass, about three tablespoons of real booze for 7 Euros. Good cocktails, if you don’t mind having to order 10 to get enough. They were playing shitty Christmas songs, like most places we frequented. Given the dark wooden tones, the leather sofas, the well-accomplished atmosphere, these jollily bland Christmas tunes were a horrific modernist false step. i asked if they had any Leonard Cohen and to my surprise they played some LC for the next 20 minutes, before reverting to the same dozen shitty seasonal jingles. Later, i wondered why it was so offensive to have to listen to Christmas garbage. i think it was because everything else (bar the miniscule cocktails) was so perfect, that this single jarring mistake ruined everything forever. The tighter the weave of decor and colour, the worse the blunder. We had to listen to a lot of seasonal bollocks, this being the only acceptable offering. We would have preferred this:

5. And then there is Vienna in general. It has, for me, far more literary history than any other city i know. i kept seeing street signs and thinking, That’s in a Thomas Bernhard novel or interview – Türkenschanzpark, Heldenplatz. This is a city where the waiters add up your bill on paper then do mental arithmetic, old school by god. In one cafe, the waitress was frowning her way through mine & the Viking’s account and i could see him twitching with the desire to apply his formidable Chemical Brain to the sums. The streets are a strange mix of modern & traditional. The traditional:

vienna street (1)

Glühwein in the centre, looking up:

avienna street (7) vienna street (9) vienna street (10)

There are, however, many modernist streets, for example the view out of my hotel:

hotel view vienna 2013

6. We moved on to the Cafe Bräunerhof. i chose it purely because Thomas Bernhard used to read newspapers here. The clientele are mainly locals, as far as i could tell – it’s too far from the u-bahns (10 minutes’ walk), and too nondescript, to attract tourists. It hosts a mixture of normal-looking people and oddities. Here i photographed Theodore Dalrymple (in red) and a doomed poet (in black suit):

bräunerhof dalrymple

Myself, squinting at the Viking:

me in bräunerhof 2013 (2)

It hasn’t changed much since the days of Bernhard. Pleased to discover my heavy jumper vaguely resembles TB’s:

bernhard in bräunerhof

Breakfast on my last morning, alone. The furnishings seem largely unchanged since TB’s time; not tatty, but dated like some of the teahouses i remember from the 80s. It looks a good generation out of date and is the better for it. It has the look of a place removed from the modern world, from any overt agenda, from any kind of advertising. There is one photograph of Bernhard (above) on a wall but apart from that the cafe doesn’t try to make anything of its famed guest. The uniformed waiters, all in their 50s or 60s, greet regulars with hearty handshakes, and me with a look of surprised wariness, as if to say, A tourist has accidentally wandered in, how strange.

On my last morning i enjoyed breakfast alone:

bräunerhof food (1)

Later i realised i was sitting next to Bernhard’s spot in the famous photograph.


i spent 4 hours there on my last morning, as i had no one to meet. It’s easy to spend hours; something about the place is semi-private; you can write, observe others, eat your eggs, and feel to be more or less protected from too much attention. It was encouraging to find at least one place which hasn’t succumbed to the modern world of managerialization and Southron filth.

7. i briefly pondered moving to Vienna but i like it because i don’t work there. If i lived in Vienna, apart from probably earning less than i do now (the Munich McLingua gave us all a pay rise and i’ve found it’s almost impossible to cobble together enough work from smaller, higher-paying schools) i would have to live in a ghetto and only see the places i work, most likely industrial parks by dual carriageways. Part of a city’s appeal comes from my not working there (the same with Kassel).

It was good to get away from my colleagues, who are all gossips and from whom i have to keep many things secret. In Munich, i only know people with normal jobs or English teachers who are terrified of being fired. The Viking, as a heretical Chemist, is immune to such troubles. He is apt to launch into Gay Manga shops or suddenly start drawing pornography in public. Here, he demanded pen and paper and without explanation launched into yet another Viking Atrocity.

viking draws in vienna 2013 (2)

The glorious result of 2 minutes’ frenzy:

vikings obscene drawing

And let that be a lesson to you.

1. i feel my enthusiasm for work rapidly dwindling. This last week or two has been full of strange blunders & mishaps, for example i was in the teacher room in McLingua’s Arbeitsamt centre (classes just for the unemployed) and suddenly and for no reason jerked my hand back, caught my finger in the ginger tea bag string and yanked it out of my cup and onto my lap, scalding my majestic belly and equally majestic groin. i was at the time talking to two rather bland female teachers, a hamster-faced young American (with a great ass) and a rather know-it-all black American woman in her 50s. They thought this was hilarious. i pretended to be equally diverted but in truth i blame them and will try to destroy them. Toddball came into the room a few minutes later and i announced, soberly: i have soiled myself. i then pointed at the women and said, They incited me to it.

i’ve now spilt tea three times in the last two weeks. This is unusual for me and suggests some strange malaise or hereditary insanity or black magic. It is however of a piece with my now total lack of interest in my job. i’m simply working too much and have some slightly or very difficult classes, for example i just had a late evening class with two software engineers, one – a dour, square-headed Bulgarian – kept demanding to know why English grammar is the way it is. i occasionally get students like this. He couldn’t understand why i can’t say “I’ve been teaching 3000 students” but can say “I’ve been teaching for 3 years”, and also  “I’ve taught for 3 years” and “I’ve taught 3000 students”.

i told him, breezily, that languages have no logic and he must just accept it. He kept arguing and then decided he understood and explained the Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous to me and the other student. i had to point out that his so-called explanation was totally wrong, whereupon he looked thoughtful and then returned to Bulgarianly demanding to know WHY, and so on.

Finally i roared: Why is Tisch der? Why is Schnitzel  das? Why is Auto das? Why is Wagen der? Why does die become der in the dative? Why? Why? Why?

Unmoved, he merely leafed through his Bulgarian teach-yourself-English book, trying to puzzle it all out.

When the class ended (at 2045) i felt close to physical collapse and could barely make it downstairs and to the s-bahn. Earlier, with my Arbeitsamt class, i had likened English teaching to prostitution (one of the students, a hot German biotch, said she had joked with her mother about becoming a whore). In truth, teaching isn’t too far from being a whore.

i am, i suppose, a competent teacher. But while i sometimes feel like running through McLingua like Nicholas Cage, shouting I Am The Greatest, i rely on the cooperation of my students, like a prostitute. If they don’t respond, i am helpless. In fairness, with non-responsive students even a by-the-books McLingua drone would flop, but i flop harder (the drones always flop, so it’s nothing too dramatic for them).

i am a fairly good whore, i would say. i can generally find whatever my students need to positively respond, and can usually even manage large and diverse groups. But it requires sometimes hideous expenditure of energy and since English teachers are paid – by German standards – the minimum wage – i have to work a great deal more than i can manage, which leaves me feeling evacuated and deathly most evenings.

2. i usually cope by regarding this not so much as a viable means of surviving but as a form of initiatory work, requiring secrecy, self-effacement, concentration, authority, and sensitivity. Concentration is fine and i learnt my own humility through five years of minimum wage temping, but the others are new. Secrecy is the only quality i consciously work at. It is necessary in class, as my form of teaching usually encourages confidences (one student said i was more like a psychiatrist). My natural tendency is to blab everything i think people will find interesting or useful, provided it’s not too personal; and it’s really not natural for me to compartmentalise, but i’ve learnt it’s necessary – not so much because people will be fired because of my related anecdotes, but because patients don’t trust a psychiatrist who casually relates other patients’ tales.

In addition i’ve found it unwise to speak too much in front of my colleagues. Unfortunately, i now spend a lot of time hanging around in the McLingua Arbeitsamt teacher room, due to my scheduling (an unpaid 90-minute gap twice a week), and it’s hard to avoid talking to my colleagues. But unfortunately they are women and hence naturally bitchy and resentful. i’ve realised they often take my casual remarks and store them away. For example, the know-it-all American teacher – who says things like “I could have took the train” and thinks correct grammar is a white man’s ploy to keep the black man down – has started getting in a few odd jibes at me: so i said my students had complained that an ex-military Canadian freak teacher was very strict & intense, and then i cautiously added “but i like him from what i’ve seen of him”, and she said: “Well Elberry you might want to think before you idealise him and say he’s so great. He has issues.” i replied that i just found him amusing; she looked clever and all-knowing and contemptuous. i realised from the faces of the other female teachers that they had all been discussing me and had Come to Conclusions.

i’ve decided to just try to avoid spending any longer in the teacher room than i have to, though this is not easy given the absence of alternative killing-time-spots. Failing that i will try and practice the bland, non-committal, superficial chit-chat of Toddball and the other male teachers – they generally say nothing, very little, or confine themselves to the most harmless remarks about the u-bahns or the weather or beer. The situation at times reminds me of office work, surrounded by vindictive, ignorant females.

3. While this is all very terrible i’m coming to see it as an initiatory ordeal. Secrecy is essential to any real power – because real power is founded in isolation and unworldliness. If i saw this as just another unpleasant work situation i would feel grim and probably murder at least one of my female colleagues (who also bitch at length about each other). As an initiatory ordeal it is more in the way of a sign, showing that one has progressed to a certain point, and now one must go this way.

There once was a rapping tomato,
That’s right I said rapping tomato,
He rapped all day from April to May,
And also guess what, it was me.

1. i’ve been taking great delight in Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. He has an overwhelming, inscrutable strangeness which could as easily go for Moriarty.


i feel this is essential to Brett’s Holmes – a coldness, lack of apparent compassion, lack indeed of any ordinary humanity. The character could as easily be a villain: that is part of his power. It’s an odd thing that the great villains of cinema – Brando’s Kurtz, Brian Cox’s Dr Lecter, De Niro’s Jimmy Conway, Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth, Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher, Tom Berenger’s Sgt Barnes, Ian McKellen’s Magneto, Henry Fonda’s Frank, Christopher Walken’s Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, Javier Barden’s Anton Chigurh – often seem strangely more authoritative, stronger, than the heroes. Goeth, Logan, Bill the Butcher, Magneto, and Sgt Barnes are clearly unstable, barely kept in balance by acts of frequent rage, but all the same they outshine all the other characters.

Robert-De-Niro-as-Jimmy-the-Gent day lewis bill brando kurtz cox lecter fiennes goeth

Power is inherently sinister, because it comes from a reality beyond the mundane, the safe, the ordinary. That doesn’t make it, or its wielders, malign – but they will tend to seem so. Even Christ, if you actually read the Gospels, is far from the smiling Sunday School John Lennon fantasy of modern Christianity; he is, rather, inscrutable, unpredictable, given to irony and pessimism and frequent coldness.

This is perhaps one reason i gravitated so readily to the old gods, who are even further from modern Sunday School John Lennon smiling niceness than Christ. They are, in a sense, beyond good and evil: such categories simply don’t apply. And this is why modern Christianity is wrong for those with an instinct for power – it denies the uncanny, the dark and sinister, as if their god could be a tambourine-shaking cartoon.

2. Fifteen years ago, i tried to be good, to eschew rage & violence. At the most i was able to restrain myself from acts of savage aggression. It was only when i began to study magic that i found it easier to forego vengeance – though i still very occasionally indulge, in my weaker moments. i feel that my “pagan” view of things is in some sense truer to reality (or to my reality) and so causes less psychological friction; i now try to go without bloody vengeances because such acts seem petty and pointless, not because i really see anything wrong with my enemies suffering or dying. The power frau student came to the last class with a burn on her arm – from baking power frau Christmas biscuits – i wondered if my irritation had somehow brought this about, and felt no chagrin at all, and would i think feel no remorse if she lost an arm or died (it’s hard to say for sure as i don’t know of anyone dying after incurring my terrible wrath). But she’s far safer from my beyond-good-and-evil present self than she would have been from my trying-desperately-to-be-good younger self. i see nothing really immoral about using magic against such people, and would happily kick her down the stairs were it not for the law, but i feel such acts would be stupid and petty, and as ludicrously wrong-headed as praying to become a reality TV star. The desire to kick her down the stairs isn’t evil – it’s just childish.

3. It is typical of my nature that things often happen in total opposition to my expectations and surface drift. i share an Arbeitsamt (Job Centre) class with a stupid, highly aggressive American anti-MILF teacher. All of our colleagues detest her, and her students likewise. She seems totally oblivious to this and even thinks she’s a great teacher. Unfortunately, she has this class all day Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning and Friday afternoon. The students are generally deliriously happy to see me, simply because i’m not her. i try to establish control & rapport immediately, but with this group i also feel a need to buffer them against the anti-MILF; so for example when i’m teaching another group i go in during the break just to say hello and let them joke or bitterly complain about my wretched colleague.

They had a level test last week. i did my usual thorough test preparation, because some of the questions are stupid and ambiguous, and some of the grammar is too hard for their level. After the test (administered by the anti-MILF) the group thanked me, saying i had saved the group from failing. i just smiled, but they became insistent that they would have got about 20-50% less without my help. It’s possible, as the anti-MILF is such a bad teacher that they learn almost nothing with her. A student in her 50s thanked me and, flustered, said she’s terrible at tests and is “blocked” when the anti-MILF is in the room. She waved a hand agitatedly and said it’s some kind of leftover nastiness from her school time long ago.

It’s a strange thing but for all my grammar examples about murder, sex crimes, cocaine, dead prostitutes, etc., most of my students think i’m some kind of caring Jesus figure, to the point where some invite me to dinner etc., and don’t understand that i don’t actually want to socialise with them outside of class, that if i seem all fluffy and wonderful it’s because i take my job seriously and can only do it well if i establish a thorough rapport. My fluffiness is not an illusion, but it can only exist within the structure of my job. Within the class, however, i feel that i occasionally do some kind of good – as, for example, helping those who had such hideous experiences at school that they are easily stunned and shaken by a test, or by a nasty piece of work like my anti-MILF colleague. When one student remarked that i’m so totally different to my aggressive colleague, i replied that i had had such teachers at school and consequently learnt almost nothing till i left, and that in general i don’t derive any satisfaction from inflicting fear and misery upon people.

My students would, i guess, be taken aback to know of my other interests, my lack of goodness, my contempt for the John Lennon happy smiling Sunday School enterprise of modern Christianity and indeed modern culture. i could say that i act not out of any sense of goodness or virtue, but out of power. Power itself impels me, and if one wanted an image for this force it would not be a Disney Jesus with a big friendly grin, but rather the gallows god, cold and inscrutable – and for all that, intensely concerned with human beings and their survival. It is just that we have lost an understanding of the uncanny, of the necessary strangeness of all gods, angels. So Rilke:

Träte der Erzengel jetzt, der gefährliche, hinter den Sternen

eines Schrittes nur nieder und herwärts: hochauf-

schlagend erschlüg uns das eigene Herz.


David Young’s translation:

(If the dangerous archangel

                 took one step now

                                  down toward us

  from behind the stars

                  our heartbeats

                                    rising like thunder

  would kill us)


just another day in Bavaria


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