1. i watched The Dark Knight again last night, my third viewing. It improves with rewatching. An excellent fan-made trailer:

The film is, i think, about 20 minutes too long, and has some plot incongruities – so after a frantic road chase, the Joker is apprehended, only to bust himself out, and Gordon says, as if this is obvious or makes any sense, “the Joker planned to be caught”. Given how nearly he wasn’t captured, this is nuts. The film would have been vastly improved by some trimming and streamlining.

On my third viewing, i found myself as it were editing the film in my head, maintaining thematic continuities when they are submerged under unnecessary subplots. The Joker is the star, of course, Batman being a largely silent and masked presence, reacting to the Joker’s machinations. The Joker is the chaos at the heart of things, in pointless opposition to the manmade order, an order which is both imperfect and necessary. He is the absolute revolutionary, akin to the bandit in Alfred’s tale, the man who robs and kills but discards his loot as irrelevant. If Dent is a kind of fascist authority, the Joker is the opposite, willing a permanent revolution until all civilised order disintegrates. For all his destructive actions, he does not wish to destroy it from the outside, like the Muslims; he is a figure like the cultural Marxist, who wants to persuade all others to his nihilism (a trend which now dominates). He will triumph when those who live and are sheltered within the imperfect civilised order destroy it themselves. In his unvarnished chaos, he is also, finally, opposed to the criminal mob (who have their own kind of order). If chaos is seemingly inevitable, so is order. There will be the Joker, as there is the Batman.

The-Joker-heath-ledger-2934218-800-330

2. The superheroes and supervillains are human – this is not a supernatural tale – but they have powers which set them above those they protect or destroy, the merely human. When Harvey Dent, a fairly ordinary DA, becomes Two Face, he suddenly has the power to slip through plot holes like the Joker or Batman, to survive what looks like a fatal car crash. Masks, grotesque make-up, facial disfiguring, accompany this transfiguration. Even if one supposes the Joker or Batman to have some kind of armour or exceptionally high pain tolerance, they both swiftly recover from beatings which would leave a human being crippled or dead. This kind of power goes with an abstention from normal human life; it requires a concealed identity (Batman); an unknown real identity (the Joker, with his multiple “how I got my scars” origin myths, “Nothing. No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name, no other alias”); or a new identity which maintains only the most vestigial and unreasoning attachment to the old human life (Two Face). A good account here:

The Joker’s complete detachment from the material world, from life itself, renders him beyond simple good and evil and into another category altogether, the complete and impersonal danger of anarchy.

i think the Joker is evil but more in his actions and effects than in his essential character – that being anarchy, to destroy order, all human bonds and faith, all continuity and meaning:

They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.

Not that this is likely to be manifest except as what i would call evil, and perhaps all evil characters necessarily have some other, if malign, essence (evil being somehow too insubstantial to be the groundstone of a sentient life).

3. i see the Marvel and DC characters as akin to the gods of yore. Just as Batman has his many different versions – Keaton, Clooney, Kilmer, Bale, different origin stories, so we find multiple, often contradicting accounts in ancient mythology. It is a sign of an inherent imaginative power, when a figure like Batman, or Odin, is subject to interpretation, cast in different guises, contradicting tales (as one might say a good song can be covered and transformed by others).

Monotheism is a different understanding, but even here there is a natural fragmentation and coherence, as we see in the many different Christs – starting in the four gospels. Monotheism is a product of scripture – something lacking in polytheism – with organised schools of theology, and, in Catholicism, a central authority. One need only regard Protestantism, with its thousands of vociferous, embattled and battling sects, to see how naturally symbols are refracted through human interests and passions. Even what i would see as the most monolithic monotheism, Islam, has its sects and divisions.

Perhaps, lacking a concrete idea of god – no imagery, no human incarnation – Islam is something of a special case. It also seems to have passed untouched by Greek philosophy (unlike Christianity), and never to have experienced Jewish nitpicking and theorising, not that i know much of Judaism (or Islam). i note that people who never pray, have never read the Koran, and more or less ignore the tenets of Islam will still call themselves “Muslim”, just because they were born in a Muslim country. But then, 20 years ago it was more normal for people to call themselves Christian on similar grounds. i don’t think many now, in Europe anyway, will call themselves Christian unless they actually do something about it – go to Church, read the Bible, etc.

4. Taking the long view of things, it seems dangerously naive to suppose one can just destroy a culture, or a belief, and expect everyone to get along to the strains of John Lennon’s grotesque ‘Imagine’. Beliefs, gods, are often enough malign but that’s because they are part of human life and we are often enough malign – we contain something of everything that impinges upon us, everything we perceive and can think about. So, The Dark Knight is – for all its flaws & bloated length – also an account of our own late disorder and ambivalence to the civilisation we have inherited and partly destroyed. Perhaps, in this fictive universe, Batman is the closest to a hero because he is neither totalitarian – he himself lives beyond the order he protects, and has a basic reluctance to kill – nor is he the “agent of chaos”, but rather a strange compromise figure, recognising the deceits we live by, because he himself operates so; as Bane will remark in the sequel:

Theatricality and deception, powerful agents against the uninitiated… But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?

There is a certain kinship between the superheroes and supervillains, for they are initiated into the power of secrecy; they have more in common with each other than with those they either protect or destroy. It would be inconceivable for Batman to be an unmasked, public hero. In this universe, those who operate without a mask or persona, within the matrix of society, accepted, legitimate, human, are unable to effect much. To change the world, you must be unworldly. As Gordon says in the closing scene:

he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight. 

and so it is, that those who stand on the very margins are the real centre. They determine the world, because they stand outside of it.

1. Knob Creek bourbon whiskey, 50%. Cost something like 37 € here in Munich. It’s like licking burnt caramel off a slightly plump harlot’s naked back, on a grassy bank at night, and you start to roll downhill. Bizet plays distantly, you bang your knee on a tree root but just laugh like a crazy man.

2. Springbank 10 year old single malt, 46 %. About 45 €. Crawling through the grass to your target, a NVA General, your senses acute and sharp, a knife in your hand, you hear the soon-to-be victim whistling to himself. You are 19 and have a handlebar moustache.

3. The Drop.

tom-hardy-in-the-drop-movie-5

Tom Hardy has the quiet gaze of a saint much disappointed in the world. There is a dog. Similar feeling to After Dark,  My Sweet. Almost contrived, neat, but satisfying and with a lingering finish and hope.

4. Fury.

brad pitt fury

Brad Pitt as an enraged cracker who speaks American German. Pitt really looks like a retarded hillbilly. War without apology. Painful scene where American GI louts lick fried eggs. Just what it is, approaching Homeric and a wonderfully incongruous gentle note from Pitt in his dying: “please don’t”.

5. John Wick.

john wick

Keanu Reeves can act. Michael Mann-esque in its visual exuberance, occasionally Bill Murray-esque in humour; rewarding and balletic. There is a dog.

6. Wild Card.

jason statham

Jason Statham can act. 95% mood and character, Statham the tough guy who is vulnerably himself when not pounding villains. The film is 5% action and this is the more enjoyable as you by then know who is pounding whom. Unexpectedly fine and Statham should do a Matthew McConaughey and start doing manly moody thrillers where he has dialogue and emotions and a character.

7. The Greek Anthology.

ezra pound

Ezra Pound’s Anyte:

This place is the Cyprian’s for she has ever the fancy

To be looking out across the bright sea,

Therefore the sailors are cheered, and the waves

Keep small with reverence, beholding her image.

1. Still here, by god, grim and swaggering like a dying cowboy in the snow. i’ve had very little work since November so am stone broke and even dipping into my UK credit card to stay alive buy whisky. i finished work at 1030 on Monday, came home and because i only got about 4 hours’ sleep on Sunday evening i decided to sleep for a bit. As i dozed the sun came out over the snow, that almost painful brightness and blue, wintersun. The sudden weather change took me back to the times i slept in the sun at university, where i usually went to bed in the early hours, curtains open (by preference i am nocturnal, and feel a surreal freedom at being awake when others slumber, and sleeping when others are about their horrid business).

At university i just assumed i would get a good job or an academic post, though even then i found the latter a strange and unlikely prospect. Looking back, the 4 years at Durham were useful and it’s hard to imagine how i could have survived 5 years in the temp trenches without having learnt to see things as it were from afar, in a kind of depth, as i learnt by reading and re-reading – perverse though it doubtless seems, reading Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil & Stella eleven times was good training and helped me resist the attrition of what people call the real world. People are likely to sniff at the idea of studying English Literature but without writing or talking about a book, one tends to skim lightly over the surface of action or language; it’s not merely that i usually read a work several times before writing an essay: i was looking for patterns, apparent contradictions, deeper resolutions, and i got much closer to e.g. Sir Gawain & the Green Knight by consciously working through to the truly strange depths. Before writing the essay i felt that Gawain was a poem of high intelligence and sophistication, but really couldn’t say more than that; to write i had to get closer, and it passed into my understanding of the world; and while it has probably made me even more unemployable than i was to begin with, it has value for me. And perhaps, it helps in my job now, such as it is.

2. Being broke and generally disillusioned with so-called teaching, i’ve been miserably looking at job ads, a gruesome experience. Here’s a sample of the horror with which i am confronted:

shitty jobs

i could probably do most of these jobs after a few weeks watching someone, but naturally employers want someone who’s done a similar job in the past and won’t wander gormlessly about chewing gum and saying, Gee, so what exactly is a Cooperation Project Manager?; and naturally i would rather teach English than be a Senior Power Management Unit Component. A friend suggested i rewrite some websites for free and use this to get paying work, and this seems like a good idea, but one for which i lack any enthusiasm, in part because i’ve learnt that almost all German companies would never hire someone who doesn’t work for a “preferred supplier” like McLingua, so it would i think be just so much time and labour lost.

3. But really, i just feel a deep-seated aversion to anything to do with business, sales, the hustle. Asking for money strikes me as vulgar and those, like an American ex-rock-star colleague in Kassel, who has a MBA and used McLingua to pay for his moving costs to China, then quit the job and started his own business, strike me as amusing but also bizarre and repellent with their thrusting elbows, wide sales grins, and total absorption in money and the getting thereof. The MBA rock star, for example, used something a student told him to make money on insider trading, and wanted to make some cash by writing an article about a defective piece of military equipment – he knew about the latter because a student at the company told him the product was unsafe, and being a shiny MBA my colleague immediately thought How can I make money out of this? He was untroubled by the thought of betraying a confidence or of probably instigating a “mole hunt” in his student’s company; and my colleague, thanks to his old rock band, certainly doesn’t need money.

4. i’m aware that not everyone in business is a spiv, but it seems hard to survive in that world without being so. Talking with my students, who are mostly fairly normal and generally some kind of lower to middle manager, i hear the same stories again & again: grotesque pep talks from the higher bosses, cancerous bureaucracy, vile politicking, apple polishing, networking, incompetence, everything oriented to reward those in power and their favourites, and the shareholders – or even to simply placate or gull the shareholders with manipulations or outright falsehoods. My students regularly chortle bitterly at the latest piece of corporate bollocks, so in one company, let’s call it Squeezy Ball, more than a thousand staff were laid off to boost the share price, and this “project” was called Squeezy Ball Excellence.

This is the world of business and i want as little as possible to do with it. i feel like puking when i read about companies’ vision and beliefs and goals and mission. It’s true that it’s not as abhorrent here in business as it was in academia, but i feel incapable of doing more than skirting the very margins of this world. The loathing i feel for this meretricious and conniving nonsense paralyses me, one reason i guess that i’ve failed almost every job interview i’ve ever had.

i enjoy human to human interactions, but human to institution/ organisation interactions are preposterous & sinister to me, not even real interactions but rather a kind of enforced fantasy, like going to an Acid party and having to pretend to be ecstatically hallucinating when actually the drug just makes you nauseous and lethargic.

Going through a job interview usually puts me in mind of a reversed Maoist interrogation, the victim boasting of how perfectly he embodies the fashionable lunacy, how little human and unaccountable remains to interfere with total corporate identification. i feel, entering this world, like a sheep-carrying peasant going into a shining government office to plead his case.

5. For me at least, philosophy isn’t really about politics or making good arguments for specific causes, and so i feel puzzled when political thinkers occasionally call themselves philosophers. At its heart, i see philosophy – the love or pursuit of wisdom – as an attempt for an extra-worldly perspective, the Archimedean point (and the death of Archimedes suggests how the world will treat philosophers). One is impelled by the world, to move beyond, to be able to comprehend the world in all its passing variety and specificity. Philosophy isn’t about facts and knowledge, but about wisdom – an interpretation of facts & knowledge which, i would say, requires the Archimedean distance and almost indifference.

So the early Socrates doesn’t put forward any worldly proposals or manifestos – he merely knocks arguments down (even if his methods are often just a kind of nitpicking wordplay); he seems to be searching for an approach to the world, and starts by finding himself dissatisfied by the sophists who are the Ancient Greek equivalents of my MBA colleague or fashionable academics today. It is the later Plato, of Republic, who has become akin to these youtube bloggers and commentators, calling for specific political changes and calling themselves philosophers therefore.

This makes philosophy sound so unworldly as to be sterile and pointless, and of course it is if you want to market the latest Apple product or change healthcare or deal with unemployment, because for that you need to be totally engaged with facts, knowledge, things that stand within the world – but the world is ultimately determined by that which stands outside of the world. i don’t see that philosophers can’t opine or decry or propose, but then it’s not philosophy, it’s just politics.

The philosophers i like have the inutile purity of the early Socrates, either knocking down unsteady constructions (Wittgenstein), or pursuing an idea so far removed from the world as to be uncontaminated thereby (Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard). Even in my youth i didn’t agree with Schopenhauer, but i enjoyed The World as Will & Representation because i felt, and responded to, the impulse to understand the world by getting outside of it. i have no idea if there’s any culture-wide value to studying philosophy, but as with English Literature it has helped me to understand my own alienation from, discomfort with, a world that demands one be immersed up to one’s eyebrows in  self-serving bullshit, servile acquiescence, and amoral calculation.

6. My preferred teaching technique is to instigate and direct a conversation, correct grammar, feed them vocabulary, and do grammar instruction if it’s required. This only works if i can quickly and consistently establish a human connection, and most of the time i can, and the lessons go well enough. My students are often surprised to learn that i usually spend my weekend alone, since i seem so lively & sociable, but perhaps i can be what one called a Spaßvogel because i go home and read and think and try to win free of the world, to get to the skeletal origins, where there are no facts, no knowledge, nothing to argue about or for, just the sharp angular forms by which all this was made.

1. This fell out of a notebook when i returned to Munich from my pre-Xmas bunse in the Austro-Hungarian empire, a picture the Viking drew of me very quickly as i was smoking my pipe at him in Vienna (one of the last refuges of tobacco sanity):

portrait by vkg dec 2014 (1)

Being able to smoke in bars is a surreal pleasure, like being able to slap anyone you like, or to just get in any parked car, Bourne style. This time i found a fucking commie bar, Pub Bukowski, and smoked at length, sometimes with the Viking, enjoying cheap and potent and good cocktails, gazing up at the fucking commies on the wall:

vienna 2014 (7) vienna 2014 (10)

On the whole, i would rather be in Vienna than Munich, to be able to smoke, and to more easily conspire with the Viking (in nearby Bratislava), but lack the money and energy for yet another relocation, and besides, Munich is quite tolerable and i have the dandy underground here, and some kind of professional reputation, making it easier to get work.

2. Nonetheless, my teaching resolve is weakening of late. Very few teachers can do this job for more than year without burning out or just slacking off and trying to get by without doing much. i’ve fallen into the latter trap and am steeling myself to read TEFL books and do lesson prep, even though it actually feels kind of pointless – most of my students make very little progress, inevitable perhaps since they only have 90 minutes once a week, and rarely use English outside of class, and then they make do with a kind of degenerate “business English” which is actually sufficient (comprising a limited vocabulary of words like: project, roll-out, deadline, problem, implementation, meeting).

It’s a strange occupation since improvements are hard to measure, especially with my (usually 30 – 60 year old, already intermediate-level) students, one reason i like having low levels from time to time, where it is possible to teach something that will stick. Students are the customer and generally know nothing about language acquisition or pedagogy, and so occasionally make strange complaints, based on a vague platonic idea of how teaching should be.

Quite often, i have absolutely no sense that my students have improved, and am taken aback when they say that the lessons have helped a lot, though i’m too tactful to say “really? i didn’t notice.”

3. At times, the gap between my private world of reading and thought, and the world of my students can seem almost unbridgeable, but as long as i can suppress my own interests and be thoroughly absorbed in theirs, it more or less works. i enjoy learning about e.g. gas separation chambers, canteen supply management, aeronautical engineering, fashion, but it can feel strange, after a week of mostly one-way interactions, with me simply nodding and asking questions, and providing error correction; so when one student asked me “how was YOUR week?” i was flustered and could only say, “don’t really remember, lots of teaching”. There would be no point trying to talk about the things bouncing around in my head, at the moment: St Paul’s epistles, Helen Pinkerton, the Abwehr, the Philosophical Investigations, Stalin, Stalin’s pipe; and since almost all my social interactions are in class, i’ve got out of the habit of communicating anything about myself.

After finishing my temp memoir and deciding it’s boring shit, i feel a disconnection from not merely those 4.5 years but also from my past; coinciding with a recent and mildly horrific inadvertent drug experience, where i could only really remember the last few seconds and everything before this seemed like a dream of a dream. It only lasted a few hours but i realise that whether it caused or merely independently paralleled my current mood, i feel as if i have no past, just a memory which may or may not have any significance, probably not. This sounds like wonderful zenlike clarity and in a sense it helps: i feel unencumbered and simplified, but also with almost no significant connection to the present. Without memory and continuity, the present can be extremely clear and solid, but as if it’s just something that has entered my field of vision and has no real relevance for me. i perceive these things, i listen to my students, and feel that really it’s not my world, because i am now little more than a set of perceptual organs.

4. The other day, i came across this picture on Tumblr; it seems to be Austro-Hungarian stormtroopers from WW1:

soldiers

Second from left looks quite a lot like Wittgenstein and though as far as i’m aware he was a mechanic for the first couple of years of WW1, then an artillery spotter, i suppose it’s possible that this is him. i wonder how many of these men survived the war, and if any, how they adjusted to life in the broken empire and the horrors of the next three decades. It was a world where in a sense the cultural memory was nearly destroyed, and i think just as one requires personal memory to be more than a recording apparatus, so with cultures – and the more complex the society, the more this is necessary. For many in these times, an imagined future provided a kind of illusory continuity – the bad dream of so-called progress; but roots go into the ground and memory into the past; the future does not exist.

1. Being a damnable heathen and pagan sorceror, Christmas largely passes me by, though i enjoy all the Glühwein and gluttony and whores. Madeley wrote recently of his Christmas loathing. i suppose i enjoy it because i usually travel to see people, in England it was my mother, in Germany Juniper-in-Kassel; and i like the sense of exceptionality, of a certain ritual. For atheists, i suppose religion seems baffling and implausible, pure nonsense & fairy tales (as if the fairy tale of money by which most people live is more credible). i was a peculiar kind of agnostic for many years, because i lack faith; i am of the spiritual generation requiring signs & wonders before i believe anything, but then i had signs & wonders and that was that. i was always able to sympathise with the idea of Christianity – the dominant religion of the west, though looking to be soon superceded by Saudi-style militant Islam – but wondered, from the outside. Now i am in a sense within my own particular bubble – a bubble inhabited solely by me since i have no interest in joining frightfully earnest “pagan” societies and consorting with gabbling Wiccans – i see things differently.

As an outsider, i thought that being Christian must transform the believer, so one’s everyday life would be utterly altered. Perhaps people become Christians because they suppose this will initiate a wholly new life, and are then disappointed to find it’s more or less the same as the old life. They then get tattoos and denounce all religion as vile superstition, and fall into the mud and mire of apostacy, where passers-by piss upon them and throw semen-encrusted eggshells at their sorry faces, a fate they richly deserve, for their unbelief and, as it were, frowardness.

2. In my disgusting old age i see that human life requires a certain boring stability and predictability, and that the periods of exaltation are usually limited to youth, when everything is developing and all is new, and the small self provides little ballast to new experience. i don’t think it is possible to sustain this high course without insanity, and when i remember how difficult and kind of insane my 20s were, i’m glad to have settled into a pot-bellied, cardigan-wearing torpor and ease. My great period of spiritual unrest was in 2008/9, but this passed and now i just take these things for granted.

Perhaps spiritual enlightenment is akin to romantic love, that it is most clearly felt when it is a new and shocking transformation; thereafter, it is just how things are. i note that back in my tai chi days (i.e. before i grew fat and slothful), i felt little when i practiced every day, but if i did nothing for a few weeks a simple chi kung would affect me powerfully, with tingling hands, trembling eyelids, etc. And just yesterday i prayed for the first time in a week – normally, i do so every morning, as i walk to my local s-bahn station – and could feel an immediate rush of awareness, reminiscent of the 2008/9 days of glory. It could, then, be that we cannot sustain these grand impulses in their full vigour, and that while our life is subject to a general transfiguration, after the initial shock it will be so pervasive as to be subtle and even mostly imperceptible. So i would say that i don’t really feel different to my pre-2008 days, and yet from time to time i react as my old self would not have, and people occasionally regard me as they would not the consumptive atheist i then was. The sense of exciting transformation is felt mostly when entering a wholly new life, or when it has been interrupted – akin to the white of breaking surf, where the ocean collides with a different reality. There are surfers of the spirit, who will to remain always in this moment of exaltation, always on the wave as it breaks in brightness, but this is rarely to be sustained; i am more interested in living daily in a greater understanding, which will rarely be showy or even noticeably different; but the general concourse of things, that will be thoroughly and subtly transformed.

3. Protestant Christianity aims at a vision unencumbered by ritual, decoration, aesthetics, beauty, grace – so the Viking’s Evangelical Christian mother swears by one of these awful modern Bibles, with stick figure drawings, presumably seeing the King James Bible as damnable Popery (the Viking once uttered something on the lines of: “That stupid James Bible is like really stupid shit because you cannot understand it without thinking and it is like not written in modern English, so, like, all this stuff is like not clear and stuff. A Bible should be like a Chemistry textbook for children, so you can just read it and find the answers, and there should be stick figure drawings of God so like you can relate to God like he is Magneto and be a good Christian and go to Heaven and stuff”). These dreadful Christians have cartoon strips of their deity, nor do they shrink from Kumbaya with electric guitars, performed by earnestly-grinning mongoloids who will later embezzle the Church funds, molest deformed children, and run away to the Philippines to live with someone called Juan.

One can sympathise with plain-speaking, plain-minded, plain folk who like an undecorated so-called spiritual reality. One is then, i suppose, is no danger of mistaking the external trappings for the informing reality, since such folk have no trappings; but i think one requires a certain ritual to consciously step a little aside from the everyday, and without it one will either lose all faith – and then grow embittered & angry that it did not last – or just go a bit strange and be subject to oracular pronouncements, spastic fits, speaking in tongues, frothing at the mouth, rolling sexually about on the ground (covered in couscous), playing Kumbaya on the bongos, indulging in schismatic heresies, and foretelling the imminent Apocalypse, like the Viking’s mother, clad wholly in white robes and carrying gold nuggets about one’s person for a well-provided afterlife with stick figure Jesus and stick figure Jehovah.

4. It’s fashionable to suppose that rituals develop as an attempt – by stupid neanderthal pre-scientific folk – to understand reality, and if we just had enough Science we would dispense altogether with all ritual. This seems part of the general modern attempt at understanding, which looks at everything as a machine or practice, and asks, Why do people do this? – as if everything can be rationally disposed of in this manner. Not being Scientific, i prefer to think pragmatically, to wit, What effect does this have? – since i don’t see how a so-called explanation can be anything more than an (untestable) hypothesis. i wouldn’t ask, Why do people send Christmas cards? – since the original cause (assuming there is only one) will have long evanesced into the practice of yearly human motive. i would rather ask, What effect does it have?

There are people who are as it were spiritually Protestant, living an unadorned and apparently rational life. They tend to grunt suspiciously at those whose life flowers into meaningful ritual, seeing all that which gives human life value as somewhere between wasteful extravagance and damnable and despicable deceit. i had a student of this sort, a HR lawyer at a large engineering company; an intelligent woman but, by god, arid and charmless and awkward, and even the other students (all finance and IT experts) found her offputtingly so. i prefer to live otherwise, and if people say it is illusion, then by their standards (that i could not replicate and empirically test and statistically analyse the experiences i had in 2008/9) just about everything is illusion and we would all be better off living some kind of sanitised sci-fi life, drugged into happiness since all experience is apparently biochemical (and that only if these folk will admit that happiness if in any way desirable) and riding around a tedious sci-fi city in Sinclair C5s, grinning emptily at our ipads and playing Angry Birds like drooling retards from Beeston.

5. i think, had one gone back to the Middle Ages, stormed into a Cathedral like Russell Brand, and angrily demanded to know the origin and purpose of e.g. the Mass, nobody would have understood; it’s not so much that people (i dare say) supposed these rituals to come from God, as that they lacked the machine-age mind to expect everything has a rational cause and can be so analysed and then rejected or accepted by a committee. And i think it is our modern need for final explanations and step-by-step clarity which is awry – or rather, it is fine for designing a machine but not everything. Machines have become our new model of humanity, and as we once constructed idols of stone and wood, now we construct and worship machines, and suppose ourselves to fall short in having emotions, in requiring something beyond a machine’s mindless purpose. The more people devote themselves to servicing the machine, the more it is necessary to operate like a machine, the more we feel our own humanity is inadmissable and a kind of ghastly mistake.

Perhaps humanity alone does not suffice to counter the deadening impulse of the machine and its Nazgûl attendants; humanity alone does not, in a sense, even exist – humanity is rather the way we perceive ourselves in the varyingly warped mirror of our arts and creations and purposes. Humanity is not the apex of reality, but rather a capacious middle room, influenced by all about it, by the divine and demonic – and our greatly fallen world is such that one could discern both impulses in all religions, to varying degrees – suggested by the inclusion of figures such as Loki in the Norse pantheon, or the peculiar God of Job (Jung’s Answer to Job). i am not qualified to say whether, for example, Odin was originally a man, or if someone just made him up one day after eating the right mushrooms, but he exists now, as a god.

No one can, i think, understand the genesis and purpose of gods, but their effects can be perceived – dark or benign as they may be, they are the essence of extravagance, of that which one does not require for base biological survival, of that which flowers and is in the presence of vigorous human imagination, without which one is not fully human, though one may always become so. A one-sidedly and lunatically imaginative person, in thrall to a demonic impulse, is no advertisement for religion, but, for me, no more does the geek or boffin sell Science and so-called Progress.

Purely personal, my taste for extravagance and flourish, for the one-eyed god of the north, or this Christ in his fury, over a Sinclair C5 and ipad and grinning sci-fi drone pumped full of happy chemicals. But for god’s sake, if we have to use mobile phones and cars, let us also smoke and wear ridiculous clothes and be men.

cardinals

It’s been a strikingly crummy year, though i trust i am being forged to some dark purpose and all this grimmery and malhappence is but a necessary fire. Probably the only good thing about this year are the people i’ve met. Some of my fellow freaks (teachers), not all a joy to meet but there it is:

1. The Cop.

A short, muscular shaven-headed Canadian a bit older than me, did beat cop work back in the snowy New World, came to Germany after making a good marriage, and now lives in a penthouse, the building owned by his wife’s family. He is intense and aggressive and shares many of Henry Oak’s mannerisms (Narc), including the disturbing cold laugh and psychotic glare.

He had been repeatedly kicked out of the JobCentre McLingua centre (purely for classes of the unemployed) for refusing to let the students speak German, gossip with each other, or come in late, drunk, stoned, etc. Slavic students tend to respect him, as they are usually highly motivated and disciplined; the others are divided, but often complain until he is taken off the schedule; he always returns, as McLingua finds it hard to retain staff and he is reliable and competent.

He is almost British in his need to constantly perform, to be always telling a joke or otherwise demonstrating his wit. There is a contained, manic energy to him which can be bright and weird in its intensity, or dark and likely to bubble over into rage (as he said once, “I’m tetchy as hell this week”).

i’m one of the few McLingua staff who enjoy his company, i think in part because i am exceedingly tolerant; and we share a broadly conservative view of things. He alienates most people through his slight weirdness (he quit policing for almost exactly the reason Marty did in True Detective, and there is an echo of violence about him) and his know-it-allness, which comes across as laboured and tiresome; i get on with him – or have so far – because i don’t care if he knows more about cars or Tuscan wine cellars or poker or whisky.

i went for Glühwein with him and some other teachers in early December; our table was crashed by a spindly tall German who was drunk and slightly belligerent; the Cop bummed a cigarette from him:

German: So now we share a cigarette we are friends, or?

Cop: Sure we’re friends. We’re friends as long as this cigarette lasts. [throws it down and treads on it]. Friendship’s over, beat it, pal.

2. Susan the American.

A 24-year-old from Minnesota or Minneapolis or one of these other ghastly nowhere places. She allegedly came to Germany to learn German, her family being of good Kraut stock. She had studied English Lit, actually liked Shakespeare, prompting one of my older matchmaking colleagues to muse, Maybe she could be something for you, Elberry! i just snorted, Too young.

Susan came from moderate wealth, her parents having arranged and paid for a flat in the poshest part of Munich. She was one of these ultra-squeaky-clean girls who only talks about the weather, food, clothes. i joked that if my mother visited again, i would pay Susan to pretend to be my girlfriend, because she is exactly the kind of girl my mother would like me to settle down with. Susan tittered nervously, probably imagining this was a come-on, when it was a fuck-off.

Susan failed to learn German, because she couldn’t stand Germans and they couldn’t stand her. Actually, no one could stand her. She would whine that she only had 20 units of work, but went on lengthy holidays to e.g. Barcelona every other month; i found her complaints hard to take seriously given her parents were paying for everything and i’ve survived on the same amount of work for the last year. On her first day in the JobCentre building, she told the students she was 30, had a boyfriend, and had been teaching for 5 years (all lies). The students told me she was unusually nervous for a teaching veteran and i put them right without realising she had lied to them. i thought it curious that someone so ostentatiously pure, bearing a huge crucifix necklace, would reflexively lie but perhaps this is the way with these saccharine Christian go-getters, that reality is too abrasive and simply frightful, and lying is always preferable to the truth.

She only stayed in Germany for about 6 months, returning without regret to Minnesomewhere. i dare say she has effortlessly acquired a job in Publishing or Marketing, her natural habitat, i feel.

3. McGuinness

One of the few real teaching veterans, who somehow existed in the same building as Susan without ever exchanging more than a dour good morning, McGuinness is my age, from a small village in the west of Ireland, Galway being the big city and Gaelic a secondary but real thread in the everyday weave of things. He’s been teaching all over the world for nearly 20 years, in Munich a few years longer than me, and has a very old-fashioned schoolmastery air, despite his time-torn longshoreman’s garb. He reminds me very much of my stepfather, now in his late 60s, one of the last real working class, a man with an ingrained aversion to bullshit, management speak, offices, bureaucracy, technology, the State (and socialists wonder, irritatedly, as they quaff their champagne, that their chosen cannon fodder either don’t vote or vote Tory).

McGuinness is Irishly cagey and secretive, answering almost all questions with a gruff mutter, shrug, or brusque joke. He is probably the only McLingua teacher i would absolutely trust with both information and money. His decency is of a Bartleby kind, formed from absention – from almost everything. He refuses to teach at companies because the students don’t learn anything (90 minutes once a week, with frequent cancellations), even where the JobCentre classes that comprise his workload are frequently hellish. He refuses to work weekends. He has a few private students but refuses to work at schools except McLingua, because it involves hustling and trouble; his lessons are mostly grammar.

McGuinness reminds me of me, taken to an extreme in certain directions. i suspect his refusals come from years of hard experience, and he has learnt not to answer questions because people (women especially) love to give unwanted and wrong-headed “advice” to men, which rapidly escalates to nagging and hysterical rage and clawing. i’ve now adopted some McGuinnery, so i didn’t tell my matchmaking colleague that Susan was clearly a bland rich kid with whom no meaningful friendship would be possible; i just said, Too young.

He forms friendships principally with Slavic women students but remains single. i even tried to push a buxom and ripe Russian girl in his direction, since she clearly lusted after his dashing Irish ways, but nothing came of it; i guess that he has had bad relationships and learnt, as have i, that after a full day of teaching the last thing you want is a woman who expects you to take her to restaurants and charm and entertain her.

Despite his total lack of charm he’s one of these people who most people like, the ideal confidant since nothing you tell him will ever be passed on, and he has a decency and warmth to which we respond in spite of his gruff Irish manner.

4. The Prima Donna

Another teaching veteran, i think the same length of service as myself, though she worked in South Korea till a couple of years ago, the Prima Donna is early 30s, an opera singer (there’s even footage of her in quite reputable productions online), Wagner fan, of truly Valkyrian aspect – about 6 foot tall and i would guess a good 1oo kilos or more of muscle and fat. Despite the bulk she is radiantly pretty, comes from a rich family, and will, i guess, make a good marriage as they say, or even control her heavy drinking and discipline herself to learn German and work on her voice. She is a curious person, one of the few i’ve met with “star” charisma, so it’s hard not to be impressed. Unfortunately, she’s also narcissistic and insists on being the centre of attention, so she will burst into the teacher room and interrupt every conversation with a bawled, God! I’m so hungry!!! and then launch into some diatribe or anecdote without caring that she immediately stills every other conversation.

She has a politician’s fluence and flexibility, which i have come to distrust (it is telling that she dislikes McGuinness). Everyone instantly feels that she will be famous and rich and we will all be a very minor footnote to her life. She seems to dislike me a little, though i’ve been careful to shut up as soon as she interrupts me, and to either discreetly leave the room or just let her drown out everything i’m saying (she’s one of these people who will also interrupt quiet private conversations with a snide remark, so it’s impossible to say anything to anyone when she’s in the room). After 5 years of temping and the same teaching, i’ve learnt to shut up as soon as anyone else demands to speak, but all the same i think she senses that i am sitting there watching and listening, and forming dark judgements, and she cuts me down to size every time i say anything, and even when i say nothing she will often make some sarcastic remark about me. For example, a week ago she said we should let the students go home early (from the JobCentre building) because it was test day, they finish at 1400, and don’t need to stick around to the mandatory 1615; i said i did this once in Kassel but then the Centre Director unexpectedly showed up – whereupon the Prima Donna bawled: Oh God Elberry, not another of your Kassel stories! No one is interested, Elberry! God! Nobody CARES!!!

She’s a good example of how charisma is usually unconnected to goodness, for she is a self-seeking, mercenary go-getter and first rate apple polisher, who tends to talk about her friends & acquaintances purely in terms of their money and status; i think she despises McGuinness mainly because he’s poor. Another time, when she and i were alone in the teacher room and she decided she had to cast her spell over me, she put down her iphone for a few seconds and bellowed that i should do a MBA and get a real job instead of wasting my education on teaching. And yet she has a curious magnetism, so it is hard to resist her spell when she elects to cast it – hard for lesser mortals, that is, i find it quite easy. Amusingly, a Polish student who liked McGuinness (but it ended in recriminations and fury) hated the Prima Donna, and every time i mentioned her she would expostulate: Die Prima Donna ist furchtbar!

Teachers are a strange lot.

1. In Kassel to drink whisky and flaunt my expensive silk garments before the foul scum of North Hessen (actually, though i wouldn’t want to live here again, i enjoy the contrast to Munich with its Lederhosen-clad BMW-driving managers). i had almost no work in December so managed to finish 4.5, my temp memoir. It’s i think as good as it will get in this form, but still kind of shit and worthless drivel, with the same problems as The Better Maker – too closely-tethered to fact, too circumscribed by the dull protagonist (i.e. me). The prose is perfectly serviceable, it’s often funny, but it lacks a commanding sense of things, a purpose to draw all these episodes together into a single shape. As one of my test readers, Bonehead, wrote: “Is hard to view your life in terms of a singular or a few singular goals which is how fiction trends to be pinned. It’s easy if you’ve survived a war or been an addict or something but if your life has been the standard quest for enough money to survive that’s more difficult to dramatise.” (sic where necessary)

2. i’m half-way through Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, which i began with the idea of getting some insight, but inevitably there was none to be had, except that i’m no Nabokov. It is a beautiful read, and while i could do all kinds of fancy prose, i could not match his casual mastery of judgement and observation; and against this calm aristocratic distance, prose is of little value anyway (i wonder, could a memoir work without this Olympian distance?). A view of the world emerges from one’s character and background, so it isn’t too surprising that Nabokov often reminds me of Proust’s world of cold & energetically decadent aristocrats. Character & background can’t be faked or laboured at in writers’ workshops, and i think if you have the impetus to write, technique will take care of itself (typically, most writers forge a style in millions of words of juvenile letters and works they sensibly discard).

3. Bonehead also wrote: “I think your big challenge will be pinning yourself down and trying to understand the meaning of this period of your life in terms of some wider personal context, conflict or quest. That is the golden thread that could be drawn out of every page to give the reader a handrail through the oblivion. Without that, it’s a journey that starts and ends, circumstantially rather than emotionally.” Though i finished these jobs in March 2009, i still see them from within the matrix of this elberry life, and cannot get outside to view it sub specie aeternitatis, as part of a completed whole. And when i consider scenes from my last life, i see them in relation not only to that completed tale, but in relation to this and the others (where i can draw connections), and so i could probably write a purposeful memoir of that life, but not this.

For me, art is in part an attempt to attain the vision sub specie aeternitatis, to get at least momentarily outside of the maelstrom of daily becoming and chance. One cannot arrive at a still being, but at least many completed becomings may offer a wider perspective; so when i am frustrated that i haven’t had a good writing run since i wrote most of my short stories over about 6 months in early 2003, i then reflect that in at least one other life my 30s were a fallow period where i felt my fire had banked and nearly died, later to burst into open flame. And in another sense, i feel that the completed tales of Lear, Sir Gawain (of Green Knight fame), William Stoner, Almasy, John Grady, offer themselves to the reader as a vicarious life lived and understood, inasmuch as one may understand any life (perhaps, as TS Eliot said, great poetry communicates before it is understood).

4. One of my students, Beate, gave me a copy of John Williams’ Stoner for Christmas, saying she kept thinking i must read it. i had already read it and have a copy, so i will give my old one to an teaching colleague when we meet tomorrow, keeping Beata’s for myself. Juniper (with whom i am staying) asked what it’s about and i said vaguely, A guy who works at a university, has a horrible wife, dies. But it’s a great book because of the way it’s told.

The book itself tells you that this is an unremarkable life, offering nothing beyond an ordinary human life:

Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.

“or their careers” quietly tugs at the reader, and then one goes back to “associate themselves”, and perhaps one then sees it as a counter-work to the confessional literature of the era (the 1960s), and the burgeoning selfishness of our time. Stoner himself is a plainly decent man, who has no grand ideologies, does not advertise himself; he is just an ordinarly good human being – in a time where morality has been corraled and subjugated to political movements, where one is expected to have a creed, to be loudly & fashionably (meretriciously) moral. Williams’ novel is of a piece with its hero; it’s enough to present a life as a completed whole, and a pattern will emerge, the more powerful as it is unstated and perhaps even develops without the author’s volition or design.

In order to write fiction or even memoir, i think one needs a sense for this completed whole, not to get bogged down in the detail and uncertainty of mortal life. This is something one just has to have, and perhaps even too much conceptual intelligence will just get in the way (i think of George Steiner’s well-written, crafted short stories, which as he admits, read like a theorem). Doubly ludicrous, then, when novelists give their opinions about politics, as if they have anything worthwhile to say on the subject.

1. Nothing much to report. i finished my tax declaration (a relatively short but always hellish process) and am now grimly drinking tea and awaiting the inevitable demand. That’s right, tea – i have become a frightful tea snob and invested in a fascist teapot, here on display with my other toys:

teapot2

2. The Jack Daniels, i should explain, is fudge; i wouldn’t drink Jack Daniels whisky, indeed i can’t. One of the problems of whisky is the generally close correlation between price and quality, and the difficulty of accepting rotgut once you’ve grown accustomed to the good stuff. My heaviest drinking days were in Kassel, when i was working so much i could only cope by being permanently drunk outside of work; i drank 8 € whiskies and even abominations like Korn (about 5 € a bottle, 40% alc), and they did the job. At that point, my favourite whisky was Jameson’s, a sign of an untutored & green palate, befitting my youth and inexperience. i had drunk some fine malts in my 20s but had no idea how to drink them and so they were more or less wasted. When i for some reason ventured into the attic of my father’s house in 1998, in the university summer holidays, i found a good two dozen bottles of Glenfiddich, port, cognacs, etc. – Christmas presents from patients – and since my father drank at most one can of Grolsch a year, he let me take them up to university with me. i can sadly report that the only one i made anything of was Taylor’s 10 year-old port, a real delight even then. The rest just went down the hatch and i decided i didn’t like whisky.

i was converted to Jameson’s in 2000 and this was perhaps the best introduction – a whiskey which requires no knowledge or skill in drinking; and so, the ideal mass consumer product. But it took a good decade more to move beyond the facile pleasures of Irish whiskey. Even in 2001, when i experimented with Lagavulin – something like 50% alcohol – i drank it without water, experiencing nothing but an alcohol-numbed tongue and near death by peat.

My malt-drinking days began i think a year or two ago, when i recalled a line from Charles McCarry’s Old Boys about the smell of Laphroaig, and felt moved to investigate. i found the vblog by Ralfy, a bothy-dwelling Scot, very useful for this wonderful new world:

3. Wonderful but also expensive. i calculated that i spend something like 100 € a month just on whisky, and tried to switch to my old 8 € Kassel glory, but after a good six months of Laphroaig, Ben Riach, Springbank, “George Washington” is abysmal and impossible. i’m not too perturbed to be spending over a thousand euros a year on whisky, as i spent easily that much on pipes, tobacco, and smoking paraphernalia in 2013, and on boots, shoes, coats, and sundry clothing in 2012. i seem to need to spend a certain amount to justify working, since merely being alive isn’t interesting enough (as though to breathe were life) for a life of waking early, 2 – 4 hours a day on trains & buses & the underground, and then entertaining, teaching, placating, humouring, dealing with many varieties of German. Perhaps i could claim this as a legitimate business expense.

4. i bought the teapot because i noted that i usually just want something warming in a cup and was drinking too much booze. It seems to have worked, though possibly i’m just drinking the same amount of whisky and also drinking lots of tea. i’m not too worried about the money, since i seem to have enough to manage, and even when work dries up & i get e.g. tax bills, it always works out, somehow. At least, i haven’t yet sunk to the near-homelessness i experienced twice in England, staying with friends because i couldn’t find work. This has been on my mind recently, as i’ve nearly finished my temp memoir, 4.5 (the years i spent in offices), and i can only favourably compare my situation in Germany with that in England. Frustrating as teaching can often be, it’s usually far better than data entry, and as long as i forego a pension & real health insurance i have more spending money.

i contemplated promoting 4.5 by writing some kind of “6 things i learnt as a temp” for Cracked, but gave up when i waded through their writers’ forums and decided i couldn’t be bothered. Maybe if anyone made any real money from writing, i would gird my writing loins, but nobody does, so i won’t. Thus far, from writing i have earned:

i. 500 pounds from an A-level TS Eliot study guide i did in 2000; the company didn’t use it, saying they disliked my “tone”, and it was besides a highly frustrating ordeal since the person who gave me the task replied to all queries (e.g. about word count, section formatting, JPEG size) with a blithe “Oh, who can say?” or “ha ha, ha, I don’t know!”.

ii. About minus 10 pounds for ‘Wake’, a short story i published in a magazine in 2004; minus, because i had to buy a train ticket to Leeds and then buy my own copy of the mag.

iii. About 20 quid for The Better Maker, because i sold about 20 copies and got 1 pound per, however i also bought at least 4 copies to give friends, and each cost me a tenner, so actually i lost 20 quid.

iv. About a fiver for Visitants, which sold about 5 copies, but again i bought copies for friends and lost about 30 quid.

v. Nothing for the translation i wrote of Kurt Maloo’s memoirs, published – with his title, against my advice – as The Captain of her Heart’s Log. It took 3 months of my life and i was supposed to get a percentage of royalties but have got nothing, so i imagine it hasn’t sold even a single copy.

vi. Something like 1000 pounds from readers, via Paypal, mostly in the year between when i left office work and, having survived the Kiel ordeal, got to the shores of Kassel, with all its George Washington whisky.

Actually, it occurs to me that this isn’t too bad, for a writer. i once ludicrously fantasized about making a living from writing but am more & more coming to see money as a wayward and perplexing phantom, with its own whims. i have never had a normal relationship with money; there seems little correlation between my work and the money i have, and since i have survived so far without having any worldly success, i have lost interest in financial scheming, much as one might turn away in final uninterest from a woman who is unpredictably & variously loving and cruel and cold, with no apparent pattern to her moods. i am now trying, as i finish my book, to awaken from the nightmare of money, to trust that things will work out, as they always have.

5. In any case, i feel such total uninterest in arguing with people, pimping myself, that the world of money is more or less alien to me. Perhaps i was born so; or perhaps years of reading Dante et al. have ruined me for the hustle, much as Laphroaig has ruined me for 8 Euro George Washington whisky.

Listening to the amusing audio accompanying this article on Political Correctness in the university, i wondered if the feminist had read much outside of her field (cognition) and feminist ideology. It’s not that reading e.g. Shakespeare will immunise you against cant, since even a great reader like Virginia Woolf wrote stridently 2-dimensional polemics, like Three Guineas, but then she also wrote the intelligent and worthwhile A Room of One’s Own. i wouldn’t say that reading good books will make you a better human being, but it can present a standard of high intellectual rigour, of accurate and honest language and complexity, which will show political ranting up as the tawdry gimcrack nonsense it is. After drinking Laphroaig and Bunnahabhain for six months, Jameson’s seems anodyne, and the 8 € stuff is outright horrific; likewise, a good education would mean years in the company of one’s betters – so a few thousand hours with Plato, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Yeats, would make one ashamed to use language for cheap effect and ideology, ashamed to shout down dissent with a “two legs bad, four legs good!” chorus. So Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees his Death would show up all i have written here as secondary and inadequate enough, and the ranting feminists and ideologues as, well, 8 Euro whisky. And if Harold Bloom as usual takes things too far when he claims that Shakespeare invented the modern human, it is hard for me to read Hamlet or Othello or Lear, and then give the slightest credence to the two-dimensional ideologues, with their pre-prepared answers, their shallow certainties, their lack of humour and irony and nuance, their humanity beaten flat, their self-righteous hatreds, their causes and easy sinecures, their Polonial idiocies & bombast:


1. i am a U2 stalker. Just as i have had a few blog-stalkers who left comments of the “u are gay/Hitler/right-wing/wrong you fucking faggot/Nazi/Tory/asshole” variety, who seemed to violently loathe me yet couldn’t stay away, so i with U2: i dislike everything they’ve done since Pop yet listen to every new album, even though it’s like returning to a city you once loved to find it swarming with chavs and polishers, old buildings covered with H & M and Starbucks fronts, your favourite bar now a McDonald’s. Some of my old stalkers hated me from the first, others saw what they wanted, mainly because i diplomatically avoided certain topics or took their occasional swaggering finger-jabbing reprimands with a shrug, and so when i decided i’d had enough they perhaps felt i had changed and become a terrible person and a Nazi and Hitler and Satan.

Actually, the new U2 album isn’t as bad as their last three, which were overproduced pap. It’s still not great but isn’t as bland as i’d feared and i’ve even played it a dozen times with some enjoyment. The opening track, ‘The Miracle’ has a pleasingly discordant guitar and many other songs wander a little off the most-beaten-path. The weak point is Bono – his voice used to be somehow both sweet and rough, with an almost-breaking clear high and a deep murmur; it’s now just a thin warble, actually emphasized by his current balladic Michael Bolton efforts. In whisky terms, it’s a chill-filtered 40%, not concentrated enough to carry much complexity.

Another problem is just U2. They seem to equate sales with quality, which seems perverse given Bono’s standard left-wing on-the-side-of-the-marginalized politics. They have aimed to be a kind of universal rock band, who should appeal to everyone – hence, the ideal product to be virus-loaded with the itunes update, because everyone should like U2 – and if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. In Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, a euthanasia camp sets up a Jesus billboard, summoning the diseased to come and die in peace; the picture is a collage of facial features identified as unthreatening and compassionate by focus groups. This is U2 for me, a lowest-common denominator rock band who strive to appeal to every human being by getting rid of every trace of individuality, rawness, authentic life; music produced by focus groups. In this, they resemble Jameson’s whiskey – a nice, inoffensive mid-price drink, mass-produced, a worldwide brand. designed to be identical in every country, to appeal to everyone by eschewing real taste, real individuality, complexity, anything you have to work at with patience and attention. Jameson’s is fine, as are U2, but a standard Laphroaig or Bunnahabhain show it up for the drink-to-get-pissed brew it is, just as the relatively mainstream Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, or Kate Bush make U2 look flatly uninspiring and tedious.

2. Loading a U2 album into an itunes update, without asking users if they even want it, seems preposterously arrogant, the kind of thing you would do if you surround yourself with sycophants who only tell you who awesome you are and how surely everyone on the planet will love you. Inevitably, many Apple users were unhappy. i usually pay no attention to an artist’s personality, outside of their art, but couldn’t help but smile that the ostentatiously left-wing, tax-evading, let’s-end-poverty Bono responded to the general revulsion by saying it’s “enough to put you off democracy”.

i find this typical of these mouthy do-gooders; i once (on my old blog) called these people “the kindly ones”, who come with help and smiles and platitudes about universal love and peace, and then turn on you with savage frenzy when you disagree with anything they say. They call themselves anti-fascists and hold up democracy as the ideal, because in their left-wing circles everyone agrees with them about everything, everyone talks heatedly about how America is the great Satan, how Islam is the religion of peace, how we the people need to shut down right-wing thinkers, how we the people need to end poverty and discrimination – having, usually, not much idea what poverty actually is. They are feted and titled and given plum jobs with e.g. the UN or universities or quangos, and think “poverty” is when you can’t afford a three meter flat-screen television. These folk believe whole-heartedly in democracy, until they meet someone who doesn’t agree with them – and then, the secret police and the gulag are, of course, a tragic necessity, to remove appalling reactionary dissent and ensure a placidly revolutionary uniformity in which everyone lives inside John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and the only whiskey is Jameson’s. And of course this is all okay because they are on the side of the light and those who disagree are Hitler, as Bono put it: “They’re the haters; we’re the lovers.”

On which topic, i recommend the social justice cat calendar.

social justice cat

3. And now i’m going to have some Quarter Cask Laphroaig and listen to Neil Young’s A Letter Home.

1. Life after Arbeitsamt is mighty fine. i have no money but don’t hate my students or my life, which is a significant plus. Some of my hideous exploits:

i) Taught a 15-year-old sheltered rich kid who will now be in a posh English boarding school; curiously, the day after he told me the school’s name, i came across it in a Charles McCarry novel – a Nazi in hiding in South America says he went there as a youth. First day, the boy broke my wonderful Space Pen and i considered a punishment beating but instead pretended not to notice because i am a man of peace now. Last day he suggested we leave McLingua as it was our last class, so i said okay and we had a jolly couple of hours: i showed him where i buy whisky (Tara Whiskey), tobacco, and at the latter we had a look at the booze section; they had some highly expensive boozes on tap so i pretended to be interested in a bottle of 150 € rum and procured a small glass, took a tiny taste and let the kid drink the rest, then said urbanely, “nicht schlecht, vielleicht später” and we sauntered out. Not bad for 11 am.

ii) Taught an Abitur class, kind of like A-levels, 17 – 18 year olds, my first such, two hot girls and one surly boy who looked like a 12-year-old Mark Wahlberg. A doll-like blonde with piercing blue eyes told me she had ripped her jeans dancing. i cackled like a paedo.
girl: do you dance?
me: Ha ha, let me read you a text from a colleague. [digging out my phone] Okay, here it is: “Do you dance at concerts or just stand there nodding rhythmically with one hand in your pocket and the other clutching a whiskey?”
i stand and illustrate, clutching my tea.
me: This is how i dance.

Another time, drilling 2nd Conditional:

me: Girl, what would you do if I gave you a kilo of cocaine?
girl: If you gave me a…?
girl: kilogram of cocaine. Pure.
girl: I would sell it!
me: good girl.

i also had them doing a task-based activity where the doll-girl and Wahlberg were terrorists and the other (a sultry Persian minx) was a fascist dictator. Group 1 had to devise a strategy to fight the Man, and the minx had to find a way to annihilate the rebels.

Group 1 came up with some good stuff, including assassinations, arson, graffiti; alas the minx said she would open talks and compromise with the dissidents. i gave her a disappointed look but conceded, That won’t wash in this classroom but it’s probably the right answer for the school exam.

2. i had dreaded this class as i’ve never enjoyed teaching kids, but on the first day i broke them in, telling them “we have to be in the same room for 15 hours this week so i want it to be as painless as possible. i don’t like being bored and i don’t want to bore you, so let’s just find something we can live with and we’ll all be okay.” i did some of the Abitur book but found all the texts (on medicine, the economy, etc.) tedious, as did they. i feel that if students can use English for dirty jests and terroristic ideas, they should be able to use it for anything, so i concentrated on mirth and violence and all was well (even Wahlberg laughed a few times).

On the last day, we talked about the school system. Bavarian schools are extremely hard and old-fashioned, so to do an Abitur – which is essential to go to university – you have to do Mathematics. While i think everyone should be able to do basic arithmetic, i don’t see any point pursuing Maths beyond this point unless you have some talent: you will inevitably forget everything if you don’t regularly practice it, and i found GCSE Maths an unbearable affliction so wouldn’t have even got to university had i been obliged to take it to A-level.

i’ve taught a few 14 plus rich kids and find them mostly strained, disciplined, terse and somewhat unbalanced, having a great deal of knowledge and no experience – a 19-year-old could read Latin and Ancient Greek with ease, but was nervous, shy, and unable to project power in his voice (he wanted to be an air traffic controller).

2. Wahlberg said little (teenage boys seem considerably less mature than girls), both girls told me they have almost no free time, are constantly studying, doing extra-curricular activities; Doll Girl vehemently agreed when i suggested you need some time to do, well, nothing, to just lounge and think and smoke pipes. i realised that just as many of my senior management students have no one else to talk to, so with these students; we spent a good hour just talking about school and how little it prepares you for either university or work, or life outside of school.

Doll Girl asked if i could edit an essay she has to submit for her Abitur, on Harry Potter. i agreed, even though technically this is slavery as i would be working for free. However, i believe one should not be motivated solely by financial considerations and i was appropriately amused when i read it – she had written a study of the magical systems in HP, and while i only read the first HP and don’t remember anything, she had done some research on our-world magic. i duly edited it, refraining from adding my own comments.

Later, i fell to reflecting on my own teenage Fantasy-consumption. i think we are drawn to tales which reflect our deeper sense of reality. i once thought i had read so much Fantasy – while indifferent to Horror and Sci-Fi – because my own childhood was so banal and uninteresting. Over the last 6 years i’ve come to see it as partly a reaction against this early tedium, and partly a joining to sources of reality in my previous lives, a sense that the physical Newtonian reality is not finally definitive (and in spite of 20th C ideas, i think the modern man’s day-to-day understanding is Newtonian). Horror for me is kind of pointless, and i’ve only recently started to appreciate Sci-fi films because they seem able to speculate about our reality under the guise of some technological mastery – though i still feel a lack of interest in reading Sci-Fi.

3. Undoubtedly, much of childhood & adolescence is an error, as actually is much of adulthood; but i think the sense of utter absorption in things, which i very distantly recall, and the looser sense of causality, are glimpses of a wider reality. Neither should, i suppose, be adhered to, unless you want to end up wearing a bin bag and sleeping under a bridge, but there it is. Ideally, one could integrate childhood elements – curiosity for example – into adulthood, though people usually fail and either abandon all childlike qualities, or stubbornly cling to them and become sadly grotesque & somehow neither childlike nor adult – but as it were an abortive fantasy of both.

4. In German, Fantasie is one word for imagination; in English, it has largely pejorative, juvenile connotations. It’s curious that the Bosche often read Fantasy – Jack, a Vice-President, told me he was driving & playing the audiobook of some book about a dragon (Eragon?) and ended up staying in his car an extra 15 minutes, in his rich man’s garage, to finish the CD. He was an intelligent, competent, mature individual, paid vastly and according VIP treatment in Redmond, and imagination seemed essential to his job, e.g. persuading other highly-paid people to do what he wanted.

In some way, i think i’ve found a way to integrate my fantastical elements, so probably (hopefully) my students would be astonished to know of my fully sorcerous doings.  The Aleister Crowley lifestyle/persona seems absurd and kind of childish to me; ideally, no one would have the faintest idea that the wizard is a wizard: they would think him an amusing oddbod or maker of fireworks or waistcoat-wearer and pipe-smoker; because magic is not a fantasy or illusion but merely how things are – so the wizard would not be anything too evidently magical, but simply a human being, albeit a little unusual because seeing things from a wider perspective – which is, after all, just what you should gain from a good few years of reading & thinking, slowly drifting a little aside the 21st Century, and slowly becoming more fully human.

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