1. i remain dissatisfied, old, and broke. i have been sucked half into the Arbeitsamt maw, teaching classes of unemployed losers Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon. It’s good money, in that they can’t cancel, unlike companies & one-on-ones. However, while i need the money i feel like Boba Fett being dragged into the desert anus of death (that’s a popular culture reference). After just over five and a half years of teaching, i sometimes feel like i’m dreaming the whole thing: it’s sometimes horrible, sometimes fun, but doesn’t feel real anymore, as if my fate branched off into another job and for some reason i’m still physically in McLingua, outside of fate and meaning.

In truth, it’s not really horrible anymore, because i refuse to teach horrible groups now, and i find myself laughing merrily at things that would once have filled me with rage, like the Arbeitsamt students who have no idea what page we’re on, even when i write the number on the board, jabbing my finger at it and intoning the number two or three times. These classes are a peculiar beast: the intelligent students are usually frustrated and bitter, and the rest are stupid and listless.

2. i try to hold to the notion that this grisly ordeal may be good for my character, even if it does little for my finances or happiness. As Gandalf said “it gives patience to listen to error without anger”, and i must endure a great many errors: mere language errors do not greatly vex me, as English time tenses & prepositions are difficult for the German; but gross stupidity and inattention and daily Krautishness get me down.

i don’t dislike my stupid students. If anything, i find no correlation between intelligence and likeableness. It probably is, in some perverted & filthy way, good for me to have to get on with stupid people, as it requires me to focus on what we have in common – which is just our common humanity, nothing more. Intelligence turns poisonous when not thoroughly rooted in a substratum of ordinariness. This is, i think, part of the power of John Williams’ character William Stoner – an academic without the usual vices of the academic; he has a farmer’s simplicity, a lack of intellectual pretension & neuroses (in contrast to the two typically deformed academics, Walker & Lomax, who set out to destroy him). He doesn’t even seem particularly intelligent; i could perhaps say that intellectualism is the show of apparent intelligence, which can be real but can also be simply a chameleon-like mimicry. i often meet people – colleagues – who seem intelligent, but then go on to say stupid things, and over time i realise they simply parrot popular journalists and can’t defend their views (if they even are “their” views), don’t read anything, drink themselves stupid every weekend & evening, but have “the manner” of intelligence.

Most of my fellow undergrads at university were so – bright and grinning, they had all got A grades at school, then came to university and generally found it was a lot harder, that you actually had to work, and that summarising a lecture and perhaps a hastily-skimread chapter, was not enough to get the highest marks. Not that it made any real difference – these people all probably earn a great deal more than me now, and had no problems at all getting whatever jobs they wanted. Indeed, the great masquerade of intellectualism is no doubt to be preferred to real intelligence; intelligence tends to be harder to apprehend and acknowledge; intellectualism is merely a kind of mimicry, a way of nodding seriously, with a frown, wearing the right clothes, and saying things like “but isn’t that part of the post-modern hermeneutic?”; it requires very little or perhaps no real intelligence, merely an instinct for imitation and go-getting. Much of what passes for intelligence is posturing and mimicry. It would be amusing to see if a regular dolt could be schooled in this masquerade, and if our modern spiritual cripples would notice.

impostor

3. In general, i would prefer the company of my Arbeitsamt idiots to fashionable academics. The former have a limited range of thought & discourse, but it’s solid & unpretentious; and even their ignorance can be amusing – so, we had the following conversation last week:

Big Daddy Bernd: I am drink the Glenfiddich on evening.

Nico: Was? Was ist Glenfiddich?

me: It’s whisky.

Nico: Glonnfadd…?

me: It’s Gaelic.

Nico: Was? Gay?

me: It’s a language.

Extremely Hot Iranian girl [in German]: Really? There is a language for gays?

Another time, when they started giving me aggro about English grammar being hard and making no sense, i used a well-worn example of the hellishness of German, that Brust (man’s chest) is die Brust (feminine) but Busen (bosom, tits) is der Busen (masculine) and to illustrate my point held my hands out to massage the air a couple of feet from a fairly sexy slinky Russian MILF’s bosom, while intoning “der Busen”. And i could get away with it because, like Gary Oldman’s cop in Leon, i was just doing my job. i suppose i could have ripped her clothes off and groped her breasts as long as i kept repeating, der Busen, but i didn’t think of that at the time.

Such is life, one long splendour of missed opportunities and inadvertent sex crimes.

 

 

1. i’m sometimes greatly disillusioned and disgusted by my job, so little good does it seem to do, but tell myself that i often seem to cheer people up or at least poke them like a frotteur on a crowded Tokyo train, and the stories and experiences i absorb perhaps make me a rounder person (as i am slowly losing the 1.5 stone of fat i put on a couple of years ago) and may help with my fictions. Some students i have at the moment, who surprise me:

1.1. The Wolf. Ex-head of Communications for a large engineering company, he left when a new CEO took over and is now improving his rusty English and idly looking around for jobs. He was, as is German, standoffish and alarmed at first, but by the second lesson we discovered an affinity for films and TV and literature, and in the last lesson we talked about Apocalypse Now, Chinatown, Patton, and True Detective. i was surprised to find he’d studied German and English Literature at university, and got a job in Communications without any specialist training, and as he calmly told me, after a decade in his last job, he won’t have any problems finding a new job. He’s early 50s and i guess in that generation it wasn’t necessary to have a MA or PhD in just exactly what you want to do – i think this changed in the late 90s, when i was at Durham, so it wasn’t even possible to work in a library because i only had a BA and MA in English Lit, and apparently required a MA in Librarianship to do a job that, i guess, most people learn “by doing”.

i recited dialogue from True Detective in Rust Cohle’s voice, with his manner; the Wolf said, amused,”You should work in theatre”, something i’ve heard from several students now, as i inadvertently slip into the posture & voice of my “character” when i relate an anecdote or act out a scene from TV or film. i don’t feel i could act professionally – for one thing i’m sure i’m now too old & haggard to begin, and i guess it’s the same as in publishing, that if you don’t suck the right cock you don’t stand a chance. Germans are hopeless at impersonation so they tend to see my fairly normal English ability as astonishing, but i think it’s more an adjunct to teaching for me, not something i could live off.

1.2 Martin. i guess about 50, well-dressed, pleasant, serious, focussed, a project manager for the company the Wolf left earlier this year. He’s an engineer who supervises engineering projects, and has a blue collar hands-on, pragmatic approach. He told me how he once slipped down a mountain while climbing, broke part of his spine, and then managed to walk back to his car and drive home in agony, but then couldn’t get out of the seat so just sat in his car, on his drive, till his wife appeared and asked him, Are you drunk? He didn’t think there was anything exceptional about his behaviour, and when i asked why he hadn’t called a doctor or mountain rescue, he shrugged and said it wasn’t so bad, only a broken bit of bone in his spine after all. When not working he seems to spend a lot of his time skiing on black slopes, and likes “speed hiking” in the mountains at dawn. He recently went on a manly skiing weekend with manly friends; when i asked “does your wife let you just disappear with your friends?” he said, nonplussed, “I am married, not in prison”. Which struck me as amusing, given that my ghetto boxer friend Bonehead could only meet his friends when his power woman girlfriend was working on Saturdays, and often had to lie to her and pretend to be cleaning the flat etc., when he was in fact meeting me in Leeds for people-watching and cranberry juice.

1.3 Miss Threadgold, my 24-year-old fashion sales assistant student. Today, as she stood close to me and measured my head against hers, then said, “I’m taller than you!”, i reflected that she’s the kind of girl i would have fallen in love with, 15 years ago. We have an odd kind of pedagogical relationship, as we talk fairly openly about relationships, tits, Moomins, etc., and last week she told me she’d broken up with her most recent boyfriend. Now that i’m nearly 40 i feel she comes from a different, younger world, and i remarked amiably, “you’re young enough to be my daughter”. Today, i told her “I dislike women” and when she made ungermanly flabbergasted noises of outrage, i added airily, “you’re okay, you’re special“. She said that several men have made exactly the same comment and often say she’s more like a man (she is, in one sense, feminine, but is very untypical, with, for example, an impressive knowledge of action films; she’s also one of the few pretty girls i’ve met who reads real books). i explained that she doesn’t seem masculine to me, but she’s not a standard factory-produced female. For example, she said a friend of hers works in Insurance and groaned “How boring!”, i cavilled “well, some great writers worked in Insurance” and she immediately said “Kafka”. Good girl, i thought, and added, “and Wallace Stevens” and she asked how to spell the name and noted it down, and i will brutally give her Notes towards a Supreme Fiction for homework next week, and demand a lengthy commentary:

The death of one god is the death of all.

Let purple Phoebus lie in umber harvest,

Let Phoebus slumber and die in autumn umber,

Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was

A name for something that never could be named.

There was a project for the sun and is.

There is a project for the sun. The sun

Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be

In the difficulty of what it is to be.

wallace

With Miss Threadgold, as i think with the Wolf, education and a love of supreme fictions has provided insulation from 21st century so-called culture. So the Wolf left his last job because he didn’t agree with the new CEO’s approach or character, and Miss Threadgold has an iron integrity under all that femininity and luxuriant brown hair and mirth. She doesn’t have a smartphone or Facebook account, and say she still writes letters by hand to friends. For a 24-year-old, this is unusual.

2. i don’t watch Top Gear but am saddened that Jeremy Clarkson looks set to be booted from the show. For non-Brits, it’s a manly car show where the 50-something Clarkson drives cars and makes manly comments. Here’s a typical episode, where he tests the awful BMW X6:

It’s probably one of the BBC’s most profitable shows, and i guess most of this is down to Clarkson’s bloke-charisma. He will be about the same age as the Wolf, and comes from a time when i think it was easier to get a decent job without playing the HR cookie-cutter game, of being a team-playing problem-solver and blue-sky thinker with all the right progressive opinions. He apparently bitch slapped some BBC apparatchik who calls himself Oisin, and the BBC are using this as a pretext for a purge. As the Viking once commented, the BBC/Guardianista socialists who call anyone right of Mao “a Nazi” would have been appalled by the opinions of the men (and women) who actually had the cojones and guts to fight and defeat the Nazis.

3. Clarkson is popular because, for all his flamboyant public persona, he doesn’t seem to be pushing a political agenda or carefully tailoring his utterances to score brownie points. In a world of pervasive Public Relations and doublethink, this is exceptional. So, the reason he’s popular is also the reason the BBC are determined to get rid of him – because he’s basically just a real human being who doesn’t censor himself, doesn’t carefully play the right angles, doesn’t consult a PR agency before opening his mouth. He is a younger Prince Philip, a relic from an age where human beings were somehow larger, did not instinctively muffle or mutilate themselves to fit into progressive agendas. Today, it’s shocking to find a real human being, warts and all, who has any kind of public authority, but in the fairly recent past this was actually just how people were.

In our last class, the Wolf told me that the media now prefers to treat everything in terms of character, and the potential for scandal is everywhere to be considered. The result, i think, is a race of insincere, pandering, apple polishing human beings, who automatically have all the right opinions and mouth all the received orthodoxies, a Pravda culture. It’s not that ordinary people have changed so much, as that the very thin stratum of media folk have decided what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. Media people tend to be inveterate polishers and cocksuckers, people without any substantial, private humanity – they are surface creatures, who live only in order to attend nice little cocktail parties where they reinforce each other’s received worldview.

4. In the Pravda culture, a real private human being, unadorned and unpolished, and really unpolishable, is inevitably taken to be an affront to all right-thinking polishers. The real human being is no longer admissible to the precincts of power. Of course, all human beings are human beings, but i think we are highly malleable creatures and a privacy of thought is essential to our full nature; and this is no longer permissible. Clarkson is not remarkable – or wouldn’t be, except that to be an ordinary untrammeled human being is now publicly unacceptable. Like Stallone’s Demolition Man, Clarkson is how human beings once were, and in our time he seems extraordinary, unspeakable, dangerous. Perhaps he should be cryogenically frozen and thawed out to deal with the chav spawn in a generation. That would be, frankly, an awesome film.

1. In an attempt to improve my lousy Bosche, i’ve started reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf in English and German. i’m taking almost nothing in, as the German is way too complicated for me to have more than a vague sense of meaning, and reading the English only sentence by sentence (after reading the German), is too fragmentary a method to follow the story etc. i have, however, read the book two or three times already, in my 20s. It’s very much a book to read when you’re young & alienated, as the hero is something of an eternal teenager, with both the good & bad of that condition. Now i’m nearly 40, and generally enjoy my job (talking to “business people”), Harry Haller’s total disconnection from the world of work gets on my nerves a little.

We went slowly up the stairs together, and at his door, the key in his hand, he looked me once more in the eyes in a friendly way and said; “You’ve come from business? Well, of course, I know little of all that. I live a bit to one side, on the edge of things, you see.

Get a job, hippy. It reminds me of a gross manic depressive who told me he shouldn’t have to work or have to have any contact with normal people, but should (presumably) have his existence subsidized by the normal people who have real jobs, like the god-prince he supposed himself to be. i suppose it’s harder to sympathise with Haller, or the manic depressive, because neither show evidence of any talent (though Haller is in the tradition of Nietzsche, as having inherited a modest income and living within his means). i would regard a life such as Dylan Thomas‘ with amusement rather than contempt, because i like his poetry and if a chaotic selfish life was the necessary background, then so be it. Without that talent, living for oneself only seems a sterile existence to me now.

2. Of course, despite 5 and a half years of teaching, i am far from being a good citizen. After teaching – at the moment, i spend about 12-14 hours a day on the road or in classrooms – i have no desire to talk, to see anyone, and though i enjoy talking to e.g. a group of engineers & project managers, then the ex-head of Communications of a large gas company, then some kind of strategic manager at a truck company (my Friday), i would be no means wish to do their jobs. i require a certain distance, to appreciate these lives & occupations – to be “on the edge of things” as Haller puts it, etwas am Rande.

3. i’ve come to realise that, due to my origins & upbringing, i exist without any clear societal context. i’m neither Indian (my father) nor English (my mother), and i don’t think anyone could guess my hometown from my accent – since my father spoke a barbarous pidgin English and my mother a learned, artificial posh English, and i didn’t absorb any of the local accent. i don’t even really look Anglo-Indian. One of the dandy underworld said i was “a shitty Indian” because i don’t eat curry, and a “shitty Brit” because i don’t drink beer (the Finnish Man in Black suggested later: tell them you come from the secret Nazi base in the Antarctic).

Hellboy-kroenen-011

Because my brain shut down till i left school, i accidentally avoided a typically school-trained intelligence, and because i spent 3 years reading in solitude, before going to university, i was also already too formed to be much influenced by academia (so my tutors either hated me and my mind, or liked it but commented that i wrote very “old-fashioned” essays, meaning uncontaminated by the bureaucrat-prose of modern academia). This meant i couldn’t have survived long in academia and found it harder and harder the longer i stayed.

i tend to startle and affront and even occasionally horrify people, because i don’t exist within a comprehensible context. It’s interesting how often people reflexively label me, as a way of creating an ad hoc context, within which to make sense of me. These contexts often make no real sense but are necessary as a first step, much as i find it necessary to know how long a film will be, and roughly what kind of film it is, before sitting down to watch it. So both Bonehead and my Tai Chi guru teacher called me “an academic”, while people who actually know anything about academia would find this a bizarre judgement. Germans often get over their baffled incomprehension by seizing on something like my fob watch or pipe-smoking and then pronouncing happily, You are classic English guy like Sherlock Holmes, or? Meanwhile, in England, people often asked rather nastily “where are you from?” and when i said “Huddersfield”, “no, where are you from?” meaning what ethnic swamp could produce someone like me. So, naturally i prefer to live in Germany, in a kind of benign misprision where people suppose me to be stereotypically English (despite my not drinking beer or watching football).

4. i had a job interview a few weeks ago, for a magazine for Germans learning English. i didn’t really want the job but it was only 14 hours a week, pay the same as at McLingua, and i thought it could have been a good contrast to my normal work, probably interesting enough part-time. It’s the first such interview i’d had since 2004, and went exactly the same way – an office full of women, women interviewers, a perfunctory “let’s get this over with” sense that they had only invited me because i have high qualifications but actually they want a 21-year-old blonde girl called Tasmin. They gave me a text to work on at home, and three times sent me the wrong version – the kind of brazen incompetence i’ve learnt to expect from publishers, and women, which explains why modern books are so full of typos.

pg-12-bridget-jones

Throughout the short interview, i had the sense that they were staring at me like some kind of thing. The HR manager asked (in German) what i do in my free time and i said (in German) “I read books”. She asked what i was reading at the moment and i briefly wondered if i should pretend to read the standard German fare of “Krimis” (Germans are addicted to crime stories) and 50 Shades of Grey, but instead said i was reading a history of the Abwehr, and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations; i felt that, as this point, i would only appear more sinister by pretending to be exactly like them, and from their looks they had already decided to reject me, just because i’m the wrong gender. The HR director said: “do you do this voluntarily?” with an incredulous sneer, and i smiled blandly and said “yes, it’s voluntary”. i thought this quite typical of interviews and these kind of people.

i’ve found that people who are effortlessly successful, especially in media/publishing industries, are either out & out mediocrities, or able to dissimulate to a high degree. They all are able to identify with a company and job, indeed they need this kind of validation and would go crazy without a job title and the approval of those about them. They often can’t understand why i fail every interview i have, and loftily assume that i deliberately sabotage myself (so one German power frau (i think my closest & extremely bossy sister in my last life) wrote: “I think you need to stop reading events as nothing but an endorsement of your unworthiness” when i said i’d applied for a content writer job at Microsoft thus: “i haven’t heard anything and since it was via a recruitment agency, and Microsoft is a huge company, it’s possible i won’t even get an interview, they might just filter me out as “strange”, but fingers crossed” – her response seemed to have little to do with me, but then i realised that for such people, the only explanation for failing a job interview is “unworthiness”, because only material validation counts, whereas for me i assume that a recruitment agency would scan CVs and filter out anything that seems strange, and this is simply a sound practice when you have 10,000 applications, and it may be depressing but it doesn’t make me worthless).

However, i don’t fit into the polisher category and this is unfortunately written on my face, not to mention on my CV. For the polishers, material success is the ultimate criterion for life, and so they are driven by an avidity and profound servility which serves them well. i’ve learnt that there’s no point discussing jobs and the getting thereof, because polishers are incapable of understanding that someone with a brain might get to 39 with no money and no prospects – it offends their view of the world, as a place where virtue is inexorably rewarded (otherwise, how could they have always found it so easy to get the right jobs?).

5. Not fitting into any societal context on the one hand keeps me from getting a real job; on the other, it helps with English teaching, because it means i can fairly easily meet and engage with a variety of different people – at first, many of my students are standoffish (and, frankly, extremely German), because they don’t know what to make of me; but after the second or third lesson they almost always warm to me and so i now have a set of classes who requested me as their teacher. At the moment, i have four such classes: a young & rather hot sales assistant at a luxury clothes shop (she likes action films and Hermann Hesse); a Russian management consultant; a group from a large semi-conductor company; a group from a large gas company – all of these had other teachers, often actually good teachers, but now only book lessons if they are guaranteed me as their teacher.

6. A student on Friday asked if i’d always wanted to be a teacher, and when i laughingly said i’d hated the idea and only chose it as an alternative to minimum wage temping, she said that i seem nonetheless to be doing the right job now, and to be in the right place, and i agreed. i feel that my life has been a series of naive attempts to fit myself into a context, and each time i have failed and moved more to the margins, managing to survive in overlooked niches. At present teaching is ideal, in that while i seem permanently broke i am able to convince my bosses that i’m doing something highly orthodox & acceptable, and meanwhile do what i (and the students) want in the classroom. i no longer make more than perfunctory attempts to fit, and after provoking an initial surprise, it seems to mostly work. i can’t envisage myself ever publishing anything i write – because my writing, like myself, exists without a comprehensible context – but i no longer require or even hope for such validation.

The further i go to the edges, the less i attempt to be a good little doggy, the easier i find it to engage with people in the contextless space of the classroom, and even without. i can’t imagine getting a real job, or being published, and that’s okay, that is just what one would expect from someone who comes from the secret Nazi base in the Antarctic.

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.

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