1. Felt i was going nuts from teaching too much, also my Motorola’s screen went dead down the left side, sent it off to be repaired and Deutsche Post mislaid it for 2 weeks, all in all i felt it was time for a trip to the Bavarian wilderness. i persuaded Juniper to escort me, lest i be undefended amidst the Bavarians. A roomy holiday flat, 35 € for two, a mile from the Kochel train station, about 70 km south of Munich. View from balcony:

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Kochel is a strange little place, not at all touristy but i wondered where the economy of the region lay – were these people commuters to Munich, or farmers, or rural-themed pornographers? i’m guessing the property prices are significantly lower than closer to Munich, as only a multi-millionaire could afford a house of this size in a Munich suburb (and there are many such houses in Kochel):

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2. Catholicism everywhere, even more than in Munich.

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Every greeting, without exception, is a Grüß Gott! – to which Juniper responded coldly, Guten Tag, telling me later she doesn’t want the word “god” in her mouth. She regarded the locals as an alien species, leather-clad yokels born of Catholic incest, whereas for me they are just a rougher, more hillbilly version of lower-class Munich folk, mixed with a Yorkshire-like lack of side – she remarked that the bus driver wasn’t very friendly, and then, listening to his gruff utterances to passengers and other drivers, she realised he wasn’t unfriendly, just devoid of polish. This is the German equivalent of my retired-bus-driver-Yorkshire-stepfather, welcome after the polisher vibe of Munich, so when we returned from Walchensee the bus driver (who had driven us there in the morning) said in German: Oh aye, it’s you again.

A typical conversation between me and Juniper:

Juniper: Bavarian is very cute, almost kitschy, but I prefer the north of Germany.

elberry: Why?

Juniper: There people are more alternative –

elberry: What, like fucking hippies? Do you mean the north is full of hippy scum and chavscum?

Juniper: In Hamburg they are more legere. You see people with tattoos and things in their nose –

elberry: You’re describing hippies and crackheads. Fucking hippies. i hate hippies, they are an abomination against God and Man, a disease on the face of the Earth.

Juniper: And there are cute little shops with alternative things, and they are more open-minded.

elberry: Fucking hippy scum, they’re out there, smoking crack and ruining this society. I hate them, with their so-called open minds and their lifestyles and their shitty hippy clothes, they should all die. Hippy vermin.

Juniper: Bavaria is cute but I like the north more.

elberry: They should all be nuked.

Der Schmied von Kochel waits to strike you down!

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Look at those magnificent moustaches. Those moustaches mean business. This chap stands in the centre of Kochel, grimacing. A couple of minutes after passing this statue, we found an identically-moustachoied, black-leather clad biker lying on the pavement by a Road of Death. A good Samaritan told him the doctor would come soon and the biker grunted: “Passsch'”, expressing a lack of fuss and a willingness to let time and events unfold as God and His moustaches will.

3. It was beastly hot and we managed to tramp about in circles looking for Kochelsee (the lake) till we stumbled upon this water trough:

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Welcome, in 35 degree heat. In England, it would have been vandalised immediately – even in the remotest villages it wouldn’t have lasted a week. 8-year-olds would have drowned babies in the water, then filmed it for youtube, and got a free holiday because they need love.

We finally found an easy path to Kochelsee about a mile uphill from our flat. We came to this place, unsure if it was private:

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A sign on a nearby tree indicated that the moveable chairs were provided for anyone who wanted to sit, but please put the cushions in the basket when finished, and don’t leave rubbish. Again, in England this would have been vandalised within a week, even in the quietest of places. Like zombies on the prowl, chavs would have scented out the basic decency they were Blairspawned to destroy, ravening, playing hip hop on their iphones, wearing baseball caps, chewing gum and saying Innit, they would have descended upon this place and defiled it. But here in Germany we have Der Schmied von Kochel, his mace and his moustaches. And so Juniper and i sat and complained about the heat.

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4. That evening we sat on the balcony and i smoked and drank a bottle of Slyrs, gift from a class. i was dissolute and haggard:

me on balcony kochel 2015

i faced the forest:

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The tobacco was Royal Yacht, Stalin’s baccy of choice, apparently. i can easily imagine Stalin smoking this – it’s not bad but a heavy nicotine pipeweed, with a rough, Communist dictator taste. The forest was fascinating to observe; whereas Juniper loves lakes & seas and can’t see water without wanting to dive in (to escape my interminable monologues about hippies), i am largely indifferent to bodies of water and feel a strong pull to trees, especially when there are enough together to appear as something of a single, great organism.

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At about 9 pm a teenage girl in a short green dress, barefoot, stumbled out of the treeline, looking lost and bewildered. Look! i exclaimed to Juniper, She’s probably been raped! They’re probably chasing her now! They’re not finished with her! They want a second go! The girl made her way through the long grass while Juniper said, disapprovingly, That is not the correct dress for walking in fields! (a very German remark). The girl reached the road and headed up, to the lake. Half an hour later a group of barefoot teenage girls came down the road, with the first, and walked laughingly down the road, while i smoked my pipe in awe.

Later, Juniper went to bed and i stayed out, smoking and drinking and thinking. i found my thoughts unfolded faster and without hindrance, whereas in Munich i often feel like my thoughts hit a wall and abruptly run out of steam, and fizzle out. i heard a horse neighing from the forest, and three horses appeared from somewhere in the trees, and started running through the fields.

5. The next day we took the bus to Walchensee, quite close but you have to get over a mountain first so there was a perilously winding road with hideous falls just a few inches from the wheels. It was crowded, being a hot Sunday, but we still managed to find a bit of beach, where Juniper changed and went off into the water while i sat surrounded by huge-titted young German women in bikinis, thinking to myself, This is a bit of alright, and reading John Keegan and Viktor Suvorov.

Walchensee I

Waiting for the bus back, we watched people frolicking in the waters. It is too hot, Juniper said flatly. Look at those fools, i said darkly, Frolicking. Just wait till the shark gets them. There are no sharks in the lake, Juniper chided me. How do you know? i continued grimly, Today could be the day he reveals himself, then they’ll all be sorry. Look at those idiots with their pedal boat, imagine if one of them got sucked into the mechanism and we were sprayed with blood. Enjoy your holiday, Juniper said. Imagine if the boat overturned and it turned out they can’t swim, i continued dreamily, Imagine if that stupid woman started screaming and thrashing about and everyone just stood here laughing, and then she died.

6. On Monday, we went to Bad Tölz. This is where i will retire to when i am rich and bloated. They must have some local building/architectural law, as the big chains don’t use their usual store fronts; so here is the Bad Tölz Müller and then Tengelmann:

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Tengelmann shops usually look like this:

tengelmann-supermarkt-1

that is, they usually look like piss. i’ve never seen these remade store fronts before but it’s a good idea – much of York’s Medieval core is ruined by a series of store fronts for Starbucks, Body Shop, H & M, blotting out the original building and making the city look just like Huddersfield or Bradford or Sunderland, that is, like piss. i remember sitting in a bookshop cafe in Kassel, looking out onto the main drag and suddenly having no idea where i was, since the view could as easily have been any denatured, branded city centre anywhere in the world. Here’s a photo of me improving one of Juniper’s scenic tourist shots (i thought i’d seen a chav over her shoulder):

kuck kuck

7. We tramped about, with Juniper complaining about the heat, then went down to the Isar. To my delight, it was almost deserted, so we easily found a quiet spot and sat down, i even made my only concession to the idea of bathing and walked barefoot into the cold water, grimacing and enjoying my holiday.

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As we were sitting in the grass, a beautiful & elegantly-dressed woman in a white twin set came towards us, and suddenly took her skirt off – amusingly, what looked like an Iraqi refugee was just behind her and stood there staring in horror and lust, can’t exactly blame him given he’d probably never seen a woman out of a burqa before. The woman walked into the water and then carefully returned to land and took her top off. Look, i whispered to Juniper, A horny Bavarian whore is putting on a show for us. Let’s see if she takes her bra off. And she then did, i groaned, and now clad only in pants and a necklace, she launched herself into the water and floated there, her perky breasts poking out of the water while i thought, Germans are a strange lot, but they have a good side.

Later, we walked back and saw some apple polisher go-getters playing football, the ball bounced down to the river and a polisher ran after it, just failing to catch it and having to wade out into the river. Look, i said to Juniper, imagine if the shark got him now and we all had to watch him being eaten alive. There are no sharks in the river, she said. Well, i conceded, imagine if he’d flung himself after the ball, dashed his brains out on the stones, then his body floated downstream to that bathing beauty and she’d got entangled in his limbs, and there was blood everywhere.

8. Monday night we had thunder and lightning. i woke up to hear what i thought was artillery, Juniper entered my room and i shouted: Burgdorf, was ist los? Woher kommt die Schießerei? Do you lie there thinking of Hitler speeches? she asked. We had a real proper hours-long storm on Tuesday, moving south right overhead. Juniper, being a mere woman, was afraid and retreated indoors. i stood on the balcony smoking, doing rune magic, and invoking Thor & Wotan, and thought it would be interesting if my pipe were struck by lightning, while i was smoking Stalin’s baccy, and i inhaled the lightning and became Stalin.

9. But all good things must end so on Wednesday i went home in the rain, to find my father is dying, so i have to return to England for a bit, to see the chavs once more, and Motorola had returned my phone without repairing it. i became enraged at the latter and stormed onto my balcony, muttering Fucking Motorola, fucking cunt, fucking German cunts, I hate you, you’re all going to die, and then a butterfly (black wings with a red splash) suddenly spiralled crazily out of the sky and landed on my shirt and we blinked at each other, and i laughed.

1. Back in 1995-6, the Journalist demanded to know if i’d read Geoff Dyer. Dyer, born in 1958, has written about jazz and photography, and so seemed to fit right into the Journalist’s expected repertoire of avant-garde bollocks.

The Journalist’s reading was broad and seemingly undiscriminating – he read apparently everything, without forming any opinion – the only book which left an impression on him was Colin Wilson’s The Outsider; assuming he read as quickly as me (i read about 2 – 3 times as quickly as my fellow undergrads at university), he had either begun reading “literature” in his infancy, or just skim-read everything without thought; the latter seemed probable, and i note that his current blog is mostly about avant-garde art exhibitions and avant-garde film. His literary tastes were all good, but i don’t believe they were really his tastes – i think he just read everything “literary” without consideration. And so i long regarded Geoff Dyer with distaste, as the kind of trendy London writer the Journalist wanted to be.

2. i finally got round to reading Dyer. His essays won me over immediately, and i can’t remember a collection i’ve enjoyed more, since George Steiner’s No Passion Spent, a collected Gore Vidal 15 years ago, and Theodore Dalrymple’s online essays in 2007-9, though Simon Leys is now also on my List. Dyer:

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As i was whining about my shitty life to a Polish girl, she said (in German): “and what good things have happened?” – and i immediately replied, “I have discovered a new writer, Geoff Dyer.” In a sense i feel even closer to him than to Steiner or Vidal or Leys, because he is English and of a recognisable generation – so in his interviews he looks and sounds like one of my old tutors (of roughly the same age) – a mumbler who came through the 80s.

3. Pleasingly, Dyer and i share two tastes – George Steiner and Thomas Bernhard. Both are writers i discovered and then gorged myself on, both are masters of unordinary language and share an inhuman quality i love; Dyer is in some ways the opposite – his English is closer to Vidal’s and Ley’s – human and earthy and devoid of side. Dyer’s finest work, as i see it, is his Out of Sheer Rage, a study of DH Lawrence. i put off reading this, as i don’t like Lawrence, though i recognise his strange talent. i was reassured to find that Dyer doesn’t actually like Lawrence’s novels (i find them really unbearable) but prefers his essays and some of his poems, and his letters. i shrunk somewhat here, as i’d read Vol 1 of DHL’s letters and found them strident and egotistic and tedious – very like the Journalist’s letters – and, reassuringly, Dyer says this volume is the worst.

Lawrence is an interesting writer but i would agree with Dyer, that his supposed achievement, the novels, are not finally as good as his essays & poems. The novels are bombastic and laboured, to my taste, and his shorter writings stay closer to his real talent. Dyer has an instinct for the lodes of real talent, and has followed it in his own works, eschewing stifling forms.

i am a fan of fragments and marginal works, so i prefer Borges’ essays to his stories, Kafka’s Zurau Aphorisms to his novels, Kierkegaard’s journals to his published books, and i suspect most of Heraclitus’ worthwhile work is in the fragments that survive. If we see writing as a form of speech (and we must learn to speak before we can write), then writing is often an attempt to make concrete an originally momentary impulse. i feel that one of my difficulties has been to write without sacrificing overly to form – hence, my only really good works are my short stories, which as it were emerged from me without much thought.

4. Dyer never seems to have had difficulties finding a way of writing true to the original speech-thoughts. Crucially, he wasn’t ruined by academia, and Out of Sheer Rage has a good passage on fashionable garbage:

Hearing that I was ‘working on Lawrence’, an acquaintance lent me a book he thought I might find interesting: A Longman Critical Reader on Lawrence, edited by Peter Widdowson. I glanced at the contents page: old Eagleton was there, of course, together with some other state-of-the-fart theorists: Lydia Blanchart on ‘ Lawrence, Foucault and the Language of Sexuality’ (in the section on ‘Gender, Sexuality, Feminism’), Daniel J. Schneider on ‘Alternatives to Logocentricism in D.H. Lawrence’ (in the section featuring ‘Post-Structuralist Turns’). I could feel myself getting angry and then I flicked through the introductory essay on ‘Radical Indeterminacy: a post-modern Lawrence’ and became angrier still. How could it have happened? How could these people with no feeling for literature have ended up teaching it, writing about it? I should have stopped there, should have avoided looking at any more, but I didn’t, because telling myself to stop always has the effect of urging me on. Instead, I kept looking at this group of wankers huddled in a circle, backs turned to the world so that no one would see them pulling each other off. Oh, it was too much, it was too stupid. I threw the book across the room and then I tried to tear it up but it was too resilient. By now I was blazing mad. I thought about getting Widdowson’s phone number and making threatening calls. Then I looked around for the means to destroy his vile, filthy book. In the end it took a whole box of matches and some risk of personal injury before I succeeded in deconstructing it.

I burned it in self-defence.

i entirely understand this, have indeed gone through similar paroxysms of rage. i would feel no compunctions about burning academic books, because they contain nothing of the author – except his or her cringing apple polishing zeal, always looking slyly to the accepted strictures of the time, to make sure their worthless Polonial polishing drivel will be accepted and published, if not read, since virtually no one reads academic books, not even other academic polishers. One could say that modern (say, from the early 90s) academic writing is the triumph of form over humanity; not even inhuman like Steiner, but rather below human, a kind of corruption and mockery of the human, whatever original nature there is, subdued, fit to be burnt. i don’t think any academic today would really care if their books were all burnt, as long as they could keep their titles and gross emoluments.

5. Dyer has said that Out of Sheer Rage was influenced by Bernhard, and indeed i almost stopped reading it after the first page, which is almost a pastiche of Concrete. However, it breaks free of TB, and Dyer manages to assimilate that coloration to his own native wit and perception. This is somehow both Bernhardian and also Dyer:

If I’m stuck in traffic I mutter and curse beneath my breath. If I am kept waiting at a shop or supermarket I curse and mutter beneath my breath. Whatever happens I curse and mutter beneath my breath. When I am not reacting to some immediate cause of anger I am rehearsing what I am going to say to X or Y the next time I see them, thinking how I’m really going to give them an earful so that beneath my breath there is a constant rumble of abuse. You fucking stupid twat, you slow-witted mother-fucking asshole, you fucking piece of shit…That’s it, that’s what’s going on in my head. Laura has said that it is obvious I am a writer because as I walk along my lips move, as if I’m mentally going over some passage I’ve written. Yes, that’s it exactly, I say, except this particular book consists entirely of variations on ‘you fucking stupid cunt, I’m going to smash your fucking head in if you don’t hurry up.’

So, ladies and gentlemen, you have the great Geoff Dyer.

dyer  ship

Been weary and afflicted by mishap of late, in no mood to do other than drink and smoke and fume. The following things have stuck in my mind:

1. Sending a letter to the New World, i found myself cackling “Amerika!” as i wrote on the envelope, for, i realised, i don’t believe that America actually exists. i don’t know where exactly the letter will go, but it’s certainly not going to  Amerika. While this may seem ludicrous, when you stop to think about it there is actually no reason to suppose Amerika exists. The whole idea of some vast continent on the other side of the western seas, once full of Indians, who were slaughtered by a bunch of dagos and grifters, and then there was Clint Eastwood, and so-called “American football” – of course, it is possible, but i find it far more probable that someone just made it up. Certainly, a lot of time and money has been expended on this stupendous fiction, but that merely proves the extent of the deception. Someone has something to hide.

2. Saw some good films recently:

i) Anchorman 1 and 2. i previously felt some revulsion at Will Ferrell’s colossal head and tiny eyes, but i am now won over. His blind scene is excellent, as is his fatherly advice:

ii) Spike Lee’s Oldboy – actually, this was a shit film but as i was watching it kept remembering the superb Korean original, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. It was a strange experience, as i couldn’t fault the film’s technique, it just lacked any sense of purpose or clarity, and had an ugly, brutal feel, actually hard to watch whereas the equally violent original was hard to stop watching, and had a grace and fevered beauty to it. Whereas i could scene by scene explain why i feel Red Dragon is shit and Manhunter is The Shit, i can’t find much to specifically criticise in Lee’s remake. It just lacks depth and suggestion and the peculiar beauty of Park Chan-wook‘s original – so in the original, the bodyguard, Mr Han has a tiny part but bears a compact, intriguing character, with a felt strength of purpose and poise, i might even say a spiritual power; the female equivalent in Lee’s remake is somehow kitschy & perfunctory, utterly forgettable.

iii) Mad Max: Fury Road – so magnificently over the top, so well done, so Hardy. Tom Hardy has a Brando-esque inwardness, so even with his face masked (as in The Dark Knight Rises) his eyes communicate a watchful power and capacity for pain.

iv) Watchmen – the third time i’ve seen this, it gets better each time. A good dissection – as i saw it – of the progressive wish to destroy the world in order to remake it to the elite’s vision. Dr Manhattan as pure intellect unbalanced by spiritual depth; so his emotions are wild and frequently childish; lacking anything one could call humanity, his intellect and power are dangerously untethered. Ozymandias is the typical Ivory Tower leftist, smug, knowing, and in a sense ignorant and inhuman, in love with utopian projects and mass omlette-broken-eggs-violence. Night Owl 2 and Jupiter are fairly normal, capable of small scale violence but appalled by genocidal mania. Naturally, my hero is Rorschach, a true dark knight of insanity and violence, but utterly & commendably incapable of Ozymandias’ grandeur and grandiosity.

Rorschach is clearly the least pleasant, least humanitarian, least giggly left-wing of the characters, and also the only one to take an absolute stand against utopian mass murder. He has no love of humanity; he is, rather motivated by rage and a Swiftian savage indignation – but that in itself springs from an instinct that one should not kill the innocent; his disgust at humanity is born from a loyalty to what is noble in humanity. Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan, by contrast, seem to regard humanity as a mathematical problem, to be solved. It is fitting, in my view of things, that the unhinged right-wing vigilante is the only one to refuse to take a part in mass murder: “never compromise – not even in the face of Armageddon”. i feel that, of all the characters, he is the only one who would have nothing to be ashamed of, in the final account.

Alan Moore’s comic dates from 1986, when nuclear war seemed, i guess, more likely. The bad guy’s scheme – to destroy most of the human race by apparent alien attack, so that the West and USSR would join forces and thus avoid nuclear war – had perhaps some slight justification then, but still seems 99% ill-thought-out. Looking back from the film’s date, 2009, it is simply foolish, humanitarian concerns aside. As Dr Manhattan says, “I can change almost anything. But I can’t change human nature”. And it seems clear to me that hostilities would inevitably re-arise, because that is human nature.

Perhaps the difference between Rorschach and the utopian slaughterers, is one of focus – Rorschach’s focus is tight and narrow, to his immediate locality, to what crosses his path; the utopian progressives prefer to sit in the distance bought by wealth & ideal, and to dream up and dispense total solutions, disposing of billions of human lives with the practiced ease of the true leftist. Increasingly, i feel that goodness is only really possible in a Rorschachian immediacy, on a case-by-case basis; but our human reason and desire for totality leads us into visions of mathematical neatness, and the actual human is experienced as an irritant, to be erased. i would always place my trust in the local and the specific, and distrust the desire for comprehensive answers – just because there is a question, there need not be an answer, and often there is not – as if human civilisation has not accumulated a considerable number of attempted answers: dishonest, brutal, inhuman, eventually, one might say, Satanic.

3. A student today (The Wolf) asked if i feel closer to Hitler or Stalin. Well, i demurred, they both had a lot going for them but Stalin was the survivor. Living in Germany, i often feel that it is, in its way, as mythical as Amerika, and naturally less obnoxious and vile than England. i think that as bees organise a hive, so we naturally form a collective sense of ourselves, which becomes mythical and fabulous. It is, to borrow from Dr Manhattan, human nature, and we are drawn to inhabiting the unreal, the imaginative, that which gives meaning to the real, the physical. The Wolf sometimes remarks that i seem surprisingly happy and energetic – despite my occasional lethargies – and i tell him that i like talking to people, and learning from them, though i could also have said – i have a mask as surely as Rorschach, i have allegiances, and by these i survive – so, a photo i took in Munich in dusk last week:

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1. At a low ebb struggling with modernity, in the form of smartphones. i foolishly decided to buy a smartphone after my recent annual internet black hole. i chose a Motorola as they seem relatively cheap. Then i bought a Sim card. Ah. that took a week to arrive and then i accidentally broke it out of the case in Nano form (Motorola uses Micro, which is slightly bigger), so the card got lost in the sim card slot, as i optimistically pushed it in, thinking, Well it seems far too small but i presume it will all be okay. Shit, no, it’s just got lost inside the phone, what am I going to do now? Fuck. So i had to extract it with the savage tools i had to hand, irreparably destroying the sim card slot in the process. There is a second sim card slot, presumably because people like me will immediately mangle the first, so i inserted it there and behold! – i have virtually no internet connection and only sporadic mobile reception, despite having the same package as a student who says he has no problems at all, but lives in the wilderness to the south of Munich. i contemplated just sending the phone back, cancelling the sim card contract (only monthly, mercifully) and returning to my gloriously robust 50 € beast, but will instead spend hours anguishing over mobile networks and probably end up cancelling the sim card – after losing a day’s money ordering it – and go for some ridiculously expensive contract that will have me in the poor house.

2. To paraphrase General Patton in the film: “God, how I hate the 21st Century”. i wasted an entire day struggling with this shiny little bastard, and was seriously tempted to smash it with a hammer, film this on my 2007 phone and then ask viewers to send me money to recompense my loss. Just the idea of an industry run on advertising and referrals bewilders me.

i know people who seem to have instantaneous internet access on their phones, but mine is virtually non-existent – it takes hours for my piece of shit to access the app for s-bahn connections, by which time there will have been another strike (a near-constant feature of Munich) and all disrupted and cast aside by filthy communists.

3. After writing the above, i felt impelled – against my post-work agoraphobia – to leave my flat and walk in the wind, and found that my shiny new smartphone works fine outdoors. It uses the 02 network and when i briefly had an o2 surfstick it was also largely useless inside my flat (so i had to use it on my balcony). For most of yesterday & today i felt frustratedly enraged at myself for being too stupid to understand how to use the smartphone, despite doing everything according to the instructions. Now, i feel irritated at myself for not thinking to check the reception outside, despite knowing 02 can’t penetrate my building walls. My colossal idiocy, in not thinking of something so simple, perplexes and infuriates me.

For most of my life, i have suffered under an intense awareness of my own stupidity. Everything comes to me with difficulty, and i am bemused when people say i’m “clever” (which seems to mean “intelligent in a cheap way”), because i feel incapable of surviving in this world, only barely managing with the help of those charitable enough to assist me with e.g. money and Germanity. i called Juniper as i was tramping furiously through the old fields near my flat, ranted about my stupidity with the smartphone and Sim and internet, and she laughed, “Do you think you are the first person who has had this problem?”

It’s curious, aged 39, to realise that one of the defining concepts of my life has been that of my own stupidity. Even at university, where i never met another under- or postgrad, or even tutor, who i thought of as really intelligent, i felt that i was at best groping dimly at literature i could never write or more than vaguely understand. i didn’t regard myself as more intelligent than others; it was more that i seemed to see things they didn’t, by chance, or rather by hard work, by reading and re-reading. And without the need to study and write, i have lapsed into a hebetude of the mind for the last decade or so. i feel that the effort to survive – through 5 years of data entry, then nearly 6 years of teaching – has absorbed my entire spirit, leaving nothing over.

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4. i’ve just watched the modern Sherlock Holmes series, called simply Sherlock. i assumed it would be shite but it’s actually extremely good – intelligent & discerning. There is no typical BBC pandering to minorities and the masses; Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is superbly “elitist” as it would now be derided – that is, he is a type of the higher man, absorbed in intellect and self-mastery, and untroubled by lesser urges, except nicotine. i only bear two cavils: that he doesn’t smoke a pipe (he instead applies nicotine patches), and that his Watson is a little too nice and Hobbitish for an ex-Army doctor who was in the shit – i would have preferred a Watson with some real violence and darkness under the Hobbitry – not much, but a little less the Bilbo Baggins he plays in the childish Hobbit films.

There’s an excellent scene where an apple polisher London cow tries to pass herself off as a fan to get a quote from Holmes, and he reads and dismisses her with a cold: “you repel me”. i was astonished that a BBC show would have a typical Southron BBC-polisher being eviscerated by a cold asexual (i.e. not gay) white “elitist”, but perhaps as with Top Gear, it will always be the case that people will respond to the real. It is curious that people will feel affection for a character as coldly superhuman as Holmes, but there it is.

Holmes, i guess, is always determined by his sense of his own overwhelming intellectual superiority – my obverse. Amusingly, students sometimes say i remind them of Sherlock Holmes – purely because i use a pocket watch to keep track of time in class (most classrooms have no clocks, and i don’t care for wristwatches). My father, i realise now, adopted some Sherlockian mannerisms – he smoked a pipe when i was a child, and sometimes wore a deerstalker hat (actually quite practical for the ear protection, and for keeping the rain out of your collar). He was a doctor and as coldly unfeeling as Holmes, in some ways. My mother told me he had an uncanny diagnostic faculty, and the last time i talked to him (in 2010) he had self-diagnosed himself as autistic – which makes sense: i often felt that his mind would simply close and refuse to engage with new possibilities, but as a doctor he had a truly strange precision of judgement.

5. i see that i am at least mildly autistic, though my job has forced me to negotiate a bridge to others. i wouldn’t consider myself a good teacher, but i seem able to more or less manage the confidence trick of “teaching” English. In Munich, most of my students are already high level and too old to make noticeable improvements, so i instead talk to them and correct them when they make mistakes; they rarely learn anything but there it is; they usually request me as their teacher in future and many of them have helped me with e.g. the tax office or my internet, and i suppose they get something out of the “lessons”, even if it isn’t English.

My rampant idiocy continues unabated. It inconveniences me in many respects: i could, i suppose, have got a job with some security, health insurance, holidays etc., were i not so stupid; on the other hand, i feel blissfully untroubled by many of the curses of intelligence: i was telling a class about the dobermann i used to walk at dawn, 20 years ago in England, by a Stone Age fort, and remembered how i felt closer to the dog than to people, and indeed i still feel so – my understanding of people is from the ground up, as one might say. It puts me at odds with this civilisation of ours, and yet somehow i manage to survive and now i have a sporadically-functioning smartphone and am reasonably content, amid my idiocies.

1. i was surprised at how fresh The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LoTR) was for me on this last re-reading, given that i’ve seen the shite films, and on the last reading (2008) i found i could remember vast sections almost word for word. It took about 10 days this time, a goodly length for a 1000-page book that’s too big to take on trains. As ever, it is a joy and consolation, to use a Yard/Scrutonword.

2. In my teens, i read Fantasy voraciously and LoTR was always among my favourites; as i aged & became cruel & bookish many and indeed most of these books fell by the wayside, though i have re-read some with pleasure – but in general my standards for prose and characterisation are higher, and so well-made Fantasy books, designed for 14-year-old pre-internet boys would no longer appeal to me. The only books of my teenage years i would still regard as worthwhile are LoTR, Ursula le Guin’s first 3 Earthsea works, Stephen Donaldson’s first six Thomas Covenant books, and Katherine Kerr’s original Deverry quartet. i did re -read Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance series in 2001, and found them still enjoyable, with some good characters and many striking moments – for example, the weird desolation of the elf wood, after the king unwisely uses a dragonorb; no doubt borrowed from Tolkien’s palantir, but with a strangeness of its own. i’ve also recently re-read some David Gemmell books with pleasure – his Jon Shannow and Waylander series are excellent. Here’s a sample of his dialogue – the killer known as Waylander has saved a priest from being tortured to death, then burns the priest’s soiled robes and lends him some garments, and they make camp for the night:

‘What are you thinking?’ asked Waylander.

‘I was wondering why you burned my robes,’ said Dardalion, suddenly aware that the question had been nagging at him throughout the long day.

‘I did it on a whim, there is nothing more to it. I have been long without company and I yearned for it.’

Dardalion nodded and added two sticks to the fire.

‘Is that all? asked the warrior. ‘No more questions?’

‘Are you disappointed?’

‘I suppose that I am,’ admitted Waylander. ‘I wonder why?’

‘Shall I tell you?

‘No, I like mysteries. What will you do now?’

‘I shall find others of my order and return to my duties.’

‘In other words you will die.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘It makes no sense to me,’ said Waylander, ‘but then life itself makes no sense. So it becomes reasonable.’

‘Did life ever make sense to you, Waylander?’

‘Yes. A long time ago, before I learned about eagles.’

‘I do not understand you.’

‘That pleases me,’ said the warrior, pillowing his head on his saddle and closing his eyes.

‘Please explain,’ urged Dardalion. Waylander rolled to his back and opened his eyes, staring out beyond the stars.

‘Once I loved life and the sun was a golden joy. But joy is sometimes short-lived, priest. And when it dies a man will seek inside himself and ask: Why? Why is hate so much stronger than love? Why do the wicked reap such rich rewards? Why does strength and speed count for more than morality and kindness? And then the man realises…there are no answers. None. And for the sake of his sanity the man must change perceptions. Once I was a lamb, playing in a green field. Then the wolves came. Now I am an eagle and I fly in a different universe.’

‘And now you kill the lambs,’ whispered Dardalion.

Waylander chuckled and turned over. ‘No priest. No one pay for lambs.’

3. The Fantasy genre, indeed the concept ‘genre’ is curious. Within a genre, you understand that certain things will occur and certain things are excluded. If you like a genre, you will tolerate even the not-so-well written; if you dislike the genre, even the best will likely repel you. A reader’s preferences seem to indicate something of his character. i only really like Fantasy and spy thrillers.

i find Crime almost totally boring; i can read a well-written crime thriller but with the exception of Donna Leon’s Venice books, and Norbert Davis, i feel no desire to re-read them. i think i like Leon because i like Venice, but even there i was most interested by one (i forget the title) which edged more into spy thriller territory. Davis is really special – i only tried him because Wittgenstein liked him – the books are witty and appeal to my sense of absurdity, with a huge dog to boot.

Germans are crazy about crime books (Krimis) and their favourite TV show, Tatort, is a long-running crime series. i fail to appreciate Crime, but i think Germans like it because such stories are always about society and its mores, and treat of a violation to the law, and its punishment; and Germans are naturally bourgeois, and hence obsessed by social order.

i like spy thrillers because, i think, they are essentially Gnostic parables about the secret knowledge and secret power which order the world. The actors are always limited and at the mercy of these vast, impersonal forces, but able to manoeuvre slightly by cunning and craft and will. i like almost all spy thrillers i’ve read, since they seem a much smaller genre than others, and so what is published is usually good – with a larger proportion of informed authors like le Carre, McCarry, Alan Judd, who were intelligence officers, or at least connected.

4. Fantasy, i suppose, is about magic and the world before technology (and hence the genre has flourished as technology has taken over our lives). One could say that the pervasive and all-comprehending world of the manmade, of technology & science, is the exact opposite to magic, so i find almost all Science Fiction off-putting and somehow incomprehensible – because for me, this is merely a deception and trumpery. It is notable that the only Sci-Fi i’ve liked is Frank Herbert’s Dune series, which take place in a world where science has limited itself (so force fields necessitate hand to hand combat) and are more like bizarre Alchemical parables about the ascension of man to a higher being.

Fantasy had its heyday in the 80s, i guess from those who grew up reading Tolkien. After that, there are authors like David Gemmell, who repeated his themes & interests, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but very little that is new. Fantasy written over the last 20 years or so seems to me tedious, with a lot of swearing and sex to compensate. i don’t think it would now be possible to write in this genre without just repeating what others have done.

5. The Fantasy genre, and Tolkien, have attracted contempt and bile from the start. Edmund Wilson dismissed LoTR as “juvenile trash”. i have yet to read an attack on Tolkien which wasn’t either full of inaccuracies or based on total ignorance, like one of my tutors who dismissed Tolkien as “crap”, then admitted he hadn’t, of course, read anything by Tolkien (because, after all, why would you read crap?). Though Wilson claimed to have read the book to his daughter, judging from his review i think he was lying; i suspect he rather skimread parts or asked her what it was about and based his article on such evidences.

It’s not that i think anyone who read LoTR would like it, but all the attacks are so wrong-headed and inaccurate that it is perhaps a book you could only finish – given its girth – if you had some sympathies for Tolkien’s worldview; and naturally most journalists and men-of-letters – hard-drinking, womanizing, atheist, materialist, amoral, cowardly – would feel an extreme aversion to a heroic, moral, traditionalist, Catholic-infused work. That it is, on some level, appealing to children would only prove its childish crapness to those who have made a career on talking and writing authoritatively about Finnegans Wake et al., and think real literature is only comprehensible to PhDs; or – the other prong – angry drunks in bars who know about Real Life and die in their 40s, choking on their own vomit in a prostitute’s rancid bed. The latter, which seems the norm now, is i suppose the worldview of those who live without enchantments – religion, magic, any kind of reality beyond the human and the humanly-comprehensible. Incidentally, Tolkien inserted two such characters into LoTR: Boromir, and Ted Sandyman. Such folk are naturally incapable of understanding Tolkien, or Völuspá, or Isaiah, or Dante; though they would not dare to dismiss e.g. Dante as “Catholic trash”.

The difference between Dante and Tolkien, in this respect, is that Tolkien wrote against the grain of his time, against the world – so there is always something unnatural and mannered, and i would never suppose LoTR could have been written before about 1800. If you have a sympathy for the older, more human world – more human because turned to that which creates humanity, rather than that which humanity has created (the machine)  – then i dare say you will enjoy Tolkien; if you are a thoroughly modern man, a city-dweller, as was Wilson, in love with the machine, then it will seem merely trite and childish, “juvenile trash”.

6. i do suppose there is such a thing as genius, and talent, and that some books are crap and others good, but i don’t think there is any way of decisively sorting the two – so some attacks on Tolkien seem so insanely wrong-headed, yet i suppose the authors would simply dismiss any objections a lowly blogger like myself could make, and there is no end to argument. Within our mortal life, the only criterion which i think everyone could agree on is longevity – so the Beatles were routinely outsold by e.g. the Bay City Rollers and other novelty acts, but things seem clearer over a 40 or 50-year timespan. Likewise with literature, i don’t think anyone today would think Marie Corelli is any good, but she was once famous indeed. That Tolkien is still widely-read, 60 years after he published, suggests i’m not merely foolishly infatuated, and i think if the human race survives and can maintain literacy for another thousand years, that LoTR will always have some readers, with occasional peaks of popularity. And Tolkien, who wrote for himself and his friends (as i do), seemed intensely relaxed about the vitriol poured on his works by the machine man and city-dweller. For the machine and the machine man, and that which drives them both, will pass in time, and humanity, rightly understood, will endure:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.


From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

tolkien2

And there will surely be pipe-smoking and fine ales.

My Vodafone box stopped working as it does every year or so. It took 3 weeks to get a replacement – thanks to my laziness, and the incompetence of Vodafone and GLS, and the intervention of Satan. As in the past, i adapted very quickly, i think because i didn’t have internet at home till i was 31, and i now get too much social contact in my job, read only my Kindle on the trains & buses, and so relish a quiet evening with a paper book and some whisky and a pipe, and albums rather than youtube song-hopping. i don’t have a smartphone so was only briefly connected to the irreal, a few minutes for email at McLingua each day.

This time i feel i wholly transitioned to the 19th Century, feeling no desire to email or surf the internet, only some irritation that i couldn’t check the (Englishly changeable) weather or if the trains were running on time. The internet is so involved in things today that in these 3 weeks i felt i’d gone back in time to gloriously waistcoated Europe, with a mad Kaiser running about goring the unwary with his moustaches and spiked helmet, and the Tzar gobbling Fabergé eggs for breakfast, and Queen Victoria drinking tea, because she was sensible. In this time i re-read The Lord of the Rings, and somehow managed to actually enjoy an entire Wagner opera. i also discovered that you can use Vat 69 as a blending platform – it’s a cheap but good blend, 15 € in my local shop – but i added a glass of a peated Connemara and found the taste vastly improved.

One of my students today asked what i would like engraved on my tombstone. i said i just want to disappear and be forgotten, when the time comes, and would prefer my body to be cast into the ocean. However, i think it would be okay to write “you can use Vat 69 to make your own blends”, this being the most important wisdom i have to impart.

i made some notes in my re-reading of LoTR and may write some of them up here, to spite you.

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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