Have been too enraged to blog, but here’s a story i wrote a couple of weeks ago:


The Commission


In the seventeenth year of the fifth Emperor of the Third Dynasty, this humble servant was appointed to the Imperial Commission on its research tour of the Empire with special reference to historical monuments, ancestries, songs, and customs and folklore. I was at this time young and enthusiastic. I had no qualms about leaving my family, I had no wife, I was eager to take on official duties and gain a name for myself.


Time passes, youth is no more, and I suppose my name is now nothing at all. Certainly, when we arrive at a new settlement, even at a major city, we usually find ourselves unwaited and unheard of, and after lengthy explanations and the proper flourishing of certificates and letters and the imperial seal, we are accorded a generally baffled reception; sometimes grudgingly and barely civil, sometimes clumsily warm and fawning. The locals often take us for spies, naturally enough, and shy away from even the most innocuous questions regarding their organisation, rulers, markets, customs. But then we are only tasked with history, and here they are willing to satisfy, even if they almost always fail to appreciate the importance of our mission. For them, history is a tale told to children, something you half-forget and take for granted. They could not be more incredulous if we came to study their children’s games of stick and stone.


Nonetheless, we learn much about present arrangements. But we impart more, for as we are eager to learn of their ancestries and folk legends, they are eager to learn of the Capital, of the wars, of the Emperor and his court, of neighbouring provinces, of trade and trade disputes, of the Great Army, of nomad incursions against the Wall, of torture and cruelty and massacre. Much of our news is old, for we have now been in this service for just over eight hundred years, criss-crossing the empire with our notebooks and our pens and inks. Of course, these eight hundred years are not ordinary human years; for one thing, the Commission has effectively removed itself from ordinary human affairs, and for another there have been four complicated calendar reforms, through which our reckoning of time has been considerably warped, though it is now hard to say if these eight centuries should be adjusted up or down.


We dispatch reports to the Capital at every reputable station. Occasionally we arrive at a town or city to find a sealed letter waiting, in care of apprehensive officials; and then we find we are to proceed to such-and-such a province. Sometimes we find a new Imperial seal and learn that the one we had thought of as “the new Emperor” is now the old, and then we sit at a table in our lodgings, and drink whatever (usually dreadful) wine is available, and tally up all the Emperors we have outserved, in our patience.


More and more, when the people ask for news, we merely relate our more recent observations, how the Wall stands, how the nomads have taken this or that outpost or town, razed it to the ground, taken the young women and boys as slaves, slain all others, how the Great Army has retaken the outpost or town, or at least the ruins thereof. And the captives? they ask. Then we tell of the great desert beyond the Wall, and of expeditions swallowed by that unmeasured space, of the army of a million who disappeared under the ninth Emperor. Then the people shudder and tell their children, Behave, or the nomads will take you!


When we tell of the fifth Emperor and his court, of the great university, the planetarium, the Sky Hall, the astrophysics optic, vast libraries laboriously crafted into the mountain, the endless trains of wagons and barges, the prosperity enjoyed even by the peasantry, our listeners smile and nod at each other, and disbelieve, for these tales are now coeval with the histories we seek, and we ourselves seem as unreal and unreckonable as the fifth Emperor of the Third Dynasty, in our age. The eight centuries are not to be seen in our hair or limbs, we bear none of our time so; but in our speech and our manner we are, it seems, somewhat antique.


We were long accustomed to striking trepidation into the hearts of villagers and country folk, with our courtly vestments, our haughty airs, our perfect speech. But over time we lost much of our airs, and since our silks and sashes and tassles wore away and proved impractical, we are, from afar, indistinguishable from merchants. Close to it seems we appear somewhat outlandish, wearing modern garments with something of an older, incongruous grace, like actors who leave the stage as slain kings, remove their tinsel crowns and robes, undaub their faces, dress in their accustomed dun, proceed to a mean tavern in a beggarly quarter, and yet sit on a rickety chair as it were a throne, and hold a cracked wooden cup as it were a goblet of silver and gold. The sixth son of the Duke of a province that no longer exists sits at table in a barbarous city, and as he orders wine he would be almost unrecognisable to his long-dead family, and yet to the locals – whether base villagers or gaudy barons – he seems to have come from a distant realm; that is, the past, the era of the fifth Emperor. When we speak, however we strive for the modern tongue there is still the accent of vanished kingdoms, of courts that have entered the history we study.


Zig-zagging the Empire we see much, we hear and record histories we have slowly come to precede. In my old province, I see the old town almost unrecognisable, and eventually hear of a certain young scholar and Duke’s son called to the Imperial Court, and never seen again; a very minor tale, in which I slowly recognise myself; and slowly recognise my father and my brothers in the eyes and about the lips of this village cobbler and rumour-monger and storyteller, and I wonder how my lineage has fallen into obscurity and myth; where the great house of my father once stood, there are now huts of mud and twig, pitiful chickens and pigs, shrieking whores, children plastered with filth in lieu of clothing. Where there was once a good library, there is now a kind of rubbish heap on which the children play, hurling stones and shards of broken pottery at each other, tumbling headlong down the mounds and screaming.


The Empire is still the Empire, though to us it has now a dreamlike quality. Old customs are forgotten, old ways despised. We do not bewail this; were it not for our longevity, we would know nothing of the knowledge and art gone into oblivion. As it is, we have been spared to observe, and to rue; yet with age comes patience, or perhaps our original patience has kept us so, exempt from the ordinary toll.


In our youth the Wall was strong and well-manned; some centuries later it fell slowly into ruins, the soldiers fewer and fewer, the nomads bolder and louder. Some years ago the hordes broke through the gates and surged hundreds of miles into the Empire, sacking and burning and raping and killing, and were not so much driven back as bought off, one of these new Emperors paying their chiefs for a time, forever he thought, a few summers as it transpired. For while our Empire has become progressively barbarous, the nomads of the desert are as they have always been. It would do no good to warn the new Emperors or their viziers and counsellors – though I have wondered, what would happen if we returned to the Capital, after eight centuries, introducing ourselves as the Commission, yes the Commission of the Fifth Emperor, these people who have periodically sent historical reports from all over the Empire. Perhaps there would be a fuss, perhaps the doorkeeper would send for the lowest official who would send for the lowest librarian and exhume our reports, and demand explanation. Or upon our return we would collapse in little clouds of dust, and become another minor historical footnote and legend for future days.


It is unclear how the Court would account for us. Presumably, whoever receives our reports, whoever instructs us to proceed to such-and-such a province, takes us for pupils of pupils of pupils (etc.) of the original Commission. Or maybe this is normal, it may be that every Commission, every delegation, every spy, immediately becomes immortal upon leaving the Capital, and if we returned some pomaded courtier would greet us with a sneer, Oh, another lot of eternal vagabonds, and which century are you from, pray?


It is at any rate probable that far from being welcomed as exemplars of the fifth Emperor’s time, we would prove highly inconvenient and be sent on our way with blows or little bags of gold, or disappear into one of the many dark places set aside for this purpose. The degradation and decay we see in the Empire is, we hear, also to be found in the Capital. In the city touted as the second Capital, we were given place at a banquet for some visiting dignitary, a lowly place of course, at a table far removed from the latest Duke, we were in fact stationed by a draught and they would have given us the poorest wines but that my colleague – actually distant ancestor of the fat perfumed Duke at his distant high table – appropriated several flagons of the best; and this was accepted because although clad as merchants, we relaxed into our old customs and speech and the servers and the courtiers and the guests assumed we were of good blood and standing, and my neighbour (wife of a minor baron) asked, Wherever did you learn such perfect Classic? and being rather drunk I smiled and told her, From the court of the fifth Emperor of the Third Dynasty.


No, we would not be welcome at the Capital, with our old manners and our fantastical tales. These are forward-thinking times, the courtiers said in this so-called second-Capital, even as we were advised not to walk home without ample weaponry, even as we found no real libraries and no learning, the scholars half-read idiots, the scholarship a gallimaufry of demotic jargon and nonsense. It should not surprise, then, that the nomads are no longer regarded as a threat; for what should fashionable barbarians fear from barbarity?


The latest Emperor recently announced a so-called alliance with the nomads. Pacts and agreements were signed, with a people who cannot read and are at best entertained by paper. They are our cousins, quoth the Emperor, they will bring us prosperity and enterprise, the Empire will profit from their labour and their energy. Well. Some say he has been bought by those his forefathers sought to buy, others whisper he is senile or has a demon. No matter, he merely marks the Empire’s final form. At his edict, the soldiers unlocked the colossal portals and retreated from the Wall, and even five hundred miles away we find refugees, bearing their few goods and tales of mass rape, torture, and murder, the burning of cities and the cries of women.


The Emperor’s Court has relocated to an unfashionable city, and depending on the speed of the nomads’ little horses, he may live out his days in peace. In a sense, it is no concern of ours, it does not touch our work. We found ourselves in the nomads’ path and observed the destruction of a city, and since there were no survivors we asked the nomads their history, their legends and ancestries. Here there were new tales, and perhaps they will interest future generations, if not this.


We have not heard from the Court for some time, a century perhaps. Presumably our historical researches are filed away somewhere. It is alas possible that our reports are now incomprehensible, for when we write we make no concessions to the modern demotic. My latest report, taken from a nomad chief over a campfire with roast lamb and vile milk, was of a perfect classical idiom. The illiterate nomad chief was highly amused when I explained the marks on the page, the nature of my research, as the city burnt some miles off. He indulged in an enormous laughter, clapped his hands, and then invited me to enjoy some of the captives – girls, boys, young women – and when I declined he surprised me with some knowledge of our demotic: Fucky fucky!


So, as my colleagues surmise, it is possible that no one has been able to read our reports in many years. I privately wonder if anyone read them, after the passing of the fifth Emperor; for we were his men, and this was always his mission. He was far-sighted and subtle, his successors lesser and cruder men. Perhaps, as the old Capital is sacked and destroyed, eight centuries of our carefully-gathered and written history will also burn, one little flame, in the conflagration.


We are not unduly saddened. We will continue to travel and inquire, and record. I suppose we will post our reports to the new capital, as long as possible. The futility of our endeavour is apparent, and of no consequence: when the Emperor orders a thing, it is duty and pleasure to obey. The service itself is enough; and this perhaps explains our longevity.


And the fifth Emperor perhaps intended otherwise than we once thought; it has occurred to me that our purpose was not, truly, to write up the histories and legends of our people. Perhaps we were instead intended to become immortal. We went into the past before memory, seeking after the roots of things, the first causes and origins of our people and our selves, and we accordingly became memory and history. In our dogged perseverance and obedience we have set ourselves at odds with a wasting civilisation; we are all that now remains of the court of the fifth emperor of the Third Dynasty. That was, perhaps, his purpose.


It is late and tomorrow we have a cold breakfast and an early start.


Walter Aske

Munich, January 16 2016

1. Was too idle and scrofulous to blog, though i have laboured on the latest (and hopefully) final version of my grotesque Bildungsroman, The Better Maker. For the first time since the beast arose in 2002, i have a good feeling but of course wouldn’t be surprised if it actually turns out to be a pile of moronic shit. i feel the crucial difference, between this & other versions, is the distance between me as writer and me as protagonist (yes, it’s a Bildungsroman, hence autobiographical). Now in my gouty middle years, nearing 40 and paunchy like GK Chesterton, i regard my 21-24 year old self with pity and occasional contempt.

2. Went to Vienna for my annual bunse. Smoking now banned save in small cafes & bars, and to be totally so by 2018. Curious to think that, when i go in December 2017, settle with pipe and cup in a cafe, i will know it is the last time i will smoke save in my own meagre home (it is rare to know this is the last time you will enjoy an ordinary human activity). Even when i was a total non-smoker, i felt the smoking ban was somehow pointless and tyrannical; i see it now as propaganda according to Theodore Dalrymple’s definition – its purpose is to humiliate. Smoking is widespread and only harmful to the lesser man, and pipe-smoking leads to a long happy life, so the real purpose of the ban is, clearly, to say “we are the Government, we own you, we can ban your ordinary pleasures and you can’t do jack shit. Now fuck off and pay your taxes, oh and by the way a million 3rd World Muslims are going to move into your house next week and you are a racist.”


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As usual i met the Viking, who drew various obscene depictions of myself:

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The Viking at the 12 Apostles beer cellar, relishing the Catholicism:

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and his depiction of myself therein:

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Then to Pub Bukowski, one of my favourite places to smoke, the Viking looking sordid as is his custom:

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They always play sehr cool music, including the Drive soundtrack.

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And naturally the Viking was provoked to draw Catholic obscenities:

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3. It was a bit chilly and the Viking decided he wanted to stand on the train platform in a blizzard (he lives in some awful Communist ghetto east of Vienna, so returned every day). i blamed him for the weather and he gave me his hideous Russian hat, here is my baleful “this is your fault” look:

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4. Last day alone, Viking preparing to fly back to England to commit Catholic atrocities. Vienna continues to be scuzzier than Munich, many boarded-up shops, but some with style:

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And Cafe Kafka, a good smoking place, i ordered a gin & tonic for breakfast and got an amused look, and a gin & tonic:

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i started re-reading Kafka’s short stories and found them much more interesting now than when i first read them, 10 or so years ago. They retain their original strangeness, even after millions of secondary whotsits. With truly strange works, such as the poetry of Hart Crane or Wallace Stevens, re-reading is (for me) essential – i remember, or rather don’t remember, reading Hart Crane in 1998 and taking nothing in; the second time i was gagging and slobbering like a dobermann, thinking,  How was i not astounded & moved & delighted by this 6 months ago??? Kafka is similar, one needs to attune to the length and rhythm of his stories, to learn what to expect and (more important) what not to expect.

My last night in Vienna, at Bukowski:

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Had i only known of the Cologne New Year Muslim sex attacks, i would have gone up to this girl and groped her, leering “bitch, ficki, ficki!” as a multicultural diversity thing. Unfortunately, that hadn’t happened yet, so instead i just drank a lot and then went to bed.

1. My Carlos Castaneda re-reading has brought me to A Separate Reality, a book i haven’t read in over a decade. In my youth i many times read, without really absorbing, passages on the nihilism/detachment of Don Juan, the Socrates to Castaneda’s Plato. i approached this detachment in my own way in my early 20s, through Camus’s Sisyphus, and through Kierkegaard’s reading of Genesis 22 – at the time i was much affected by the certain transience of friendships, and love, and could only just about manage this knowledge by thinking of Kierkegaard’s Abraham, for whom Isaac is both his most treasured earthly love, and something given, which could be taken away at any time. i had read the Castaneda book by then, but had evidently ignored the central coldness:

You should know by now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting. A man of knowledge chooses a path with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and knows. He knows that his life will be over altogether too soon; he knows that he, as well as everybody else, is not going anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else.

In other words, a man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly.

Thus a man of knowledge endeavors, and sweats, and puffs, and if one looks at him he is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of has life is under control. Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him.

His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn’t; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn’t, is in no way part of his concern.

This kind of minimal intention, abstention from customary fuss and ambition, is no doubt one reason i proved unemployable, but has also been necessary for my survival. It is the purity of Tsunetomo Yamamoto.


2. As i perceive the wider workings of my other lives, with their various lunatic strivings, i tend to a kind of quietism, even as i daily meet and entertain and supposedly educate the Bosche. In two of my most recent (parallel) lives i was passionately concerned with cultural matters which have, naturally, only grown worse in the intervening decades; the third of these recent lives was, as best i can judge, totally disengaged & uninterested.

i cannot but worry about the 21st Century – for example, it seems fair to say that Angela Merkel’s decision to open the doors of Germany to anyone who wants to come here, whether or not they can speak German or English, or even read or write, or want to assimilate to European culture, will have grave consequences. For my first 4 years in my little suburb of Munich, i saw not a single altercation or fight, and heard sirens once or twice a month; since late September, the sirens are pretty much every day, and three weeks ago i saw a young black guy walk out of a supermarket, pursued by a diminutive female cashier who was saying (in German) “You haven’t paid!”; she followed him down the street, every few metres he turned and shouted at her (not in German) and then continued walking, and she continued crying “you haven’t paid!!!” While all the other pedestrians avoided even obviously looking at the fracas, i walked over with the intention of laying the Slap of Odin down if things came to a pass; it was predictable, given Germans’ cowardice, that i was the only person to even acknowledge a disturbance, all other Bosche pretending nothing was happening. Luckily, two of the cashier’s colleagues (also diminutive women) ran after her and i decided to leave it to them and go home to drink and smoke and nod gravely to myself at the villainy of things.

It shows some of Germany’s sheltered and Shire-like nature that the cashier sounded surprised and aggrieved – in a few weeks i imagine cashiers will just accept that this is now the way things are, and do nothing. They can call the police but as in England they will have their hands full.

There’s nothing anyone can do about this, since the political elite have made their decision without considering the wishes or interests of the electorate. So i try to take the long view, that every civilisation crumbles, sometimes swept away by foreign armies, sometimes betrayed from within.

3. As i logged in to my blog i noted a referral from D.G. Myer’s blog. He died last year and though i never met him i felt disorientated by the referral; it was, for a moment, as if he were still alive. His death was inevitable, as is mine, and yours, and in a sense it is nothing to take too seriously – or rather, as Castaneda writes, take death as your advisor, and then your life is volatized, and then open to what purpose you will. The individual death is inevitable, it is harder to accept the wider cultural death, in this case the death of Europe. Juniper told me that she felt almost guilty to be affected by the Muslims’ destruction of monuments in Palmyra, as mere buildings should be insignificant, set against all the people murdered in the name of Allah. Personally, i feel sadder if a work of art is destroyed than if someone i don’t know from Adam is hacked to death by the Muslims; human life is always limited and rarely unmixed with pettiness, rage, ugliness, so i would say the average human being is probably of no real value for me; but Durham Cathedral has lasted a good 700 years and while it was originally (i guess) a statement of brute Norman domination, it has given a purer pleasure and meaning than most human lives. There is probably also a natural lifespan to buildings, but i see no reason to simply accept their destruction, whether at the hands of Muslims or Le Corbusier-esque progressives. And a culture is longer in the building than even a Cathedral, and more significant. Naturally, Muslims destroy artefacts of non-Muslim civilisations, because they stand as a rebuke to a religion dedicated to death and cruelty. The Muslims could echo Iago’s animus against Cassio: he hath a daily beauty in his life/that makes me ugly.

There seems nothing one can do to stop the political and liberal elite destroying Europe with the WMD that is mass Muslim immigration – a kind of biological/cultural weapon – so like Ludwig Beck, i am thinking of earlier times.


4. In the last few weeks i have (somehow) managed to shut off what Casteneda calls “the internal dialogue”, the usually constant repetition of thoughts and feelings by which the personality reaffirms its hold and identity. My father would often lurch about the house muttering aloud – for hours – and i always got the feeling he has a strong and incessant internal dialogue, so strong indeed that it often shuts out the world about him. i don’t know exactly how i got here, but i find i can suspend my own internal dialogue by willing it. It’s not that i no longer feel emotions, but they feel different, unadulterated by the constant reinforcement of the personality. i find i can also simply disengage from my emotions. My entire self feels different, unconditioned, though of course i have my limits & peculiarities.

5. At the moment i’m in Kassel, doing a 2-day job for an old student (helping him prepare for an English-language speech). Pleasingly, his company paid my train and would have paid for a hotel but i said i can sleep on Juniper’s sofa. It’s a tech company so full of young lefties, and the marketing person took me to dinner and went on about how we should have no borders and everyone should be allowed to live where they want, and also she hates anyone conservative, etc. i thought it was funny that she thinks of herself as democratic and liberal but thinks people should be forced to accept vast influxes of foreigners who hate their culture and want to destroy them, as if you should have no say over what goes on in your neighbourhood – presumably, she would staunchly resist an influx of Europeans into Tibet or Pakistan or Iran, because we might harm a fragile and beautiful culture, but millions of machete-wielding Muslims can only be good for Germany, and if anyone disagrees he is scum and should be silenced, because, in her words “I hate conservative people!!!”

i would once have argued with her, but now i just smiled and nodded, wondering what it would be like to be both so educated and so dumb. Kassel is now full of weird-looking refugees from all over the shop, and they certainly don’t look to be fleeing tribulation or war – they have a look of gloating superiority and contempt for the Germans who avoid making eye contact (much as the Germans avoided looking at the black shoplifter). i feel appalled at the prospect of millions of uneducated Muslims flooding Germany, especially since they seem to be entirely young men, and yet i accept that Europe is succumbing to a long-coming suicide, that the birth rates of Germany indicate the Germans’ unwillingness to continue their culture. While i would prefer an uninhabited wasteland full of Gothic ruins, to Arabia-on-the-Rhein, that’s just the way of it – there may be centuries of a new Dark Age, with Islam dominant over most of the planet, all books save the Koran burnt, women enslaved & genitally mutilated, all religions save Islam annihilated, the great artworks of the last millenia systematically razed amid much cheering of Allahu Akhbar!


but then i suppose, after a few centuries, the human race itself may die out, succumbing to disease, or perhaps God will be merciful and send an asteroid to destroy the planet. Everything has a lifespan and this perhaps includes the human race and our planet. If there were other worlds, i would go there, but i fear there is only this, so here it is, welcome to Planet Jihad.

1. Been lazy, was also ill for about 2 – 3 weeks, tired all the time, sleeping massively when not at work, in a vile despond. Each summer is difficult for me, as i am not naturally given to follies such as sunlight and heat. i am a distinctly autumnal elberry,

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– and so was surprised that autumn began with this long exhaustion. i have very little work and also feel a sudden disengagement from my social circles in Munich. For some, for example the dandy bohemian underground, i have merely had no energy; my other principle form of social interaction is with my fellow teachers and due to mainly teaching Arbeitsamt (JobCentre) groups, in the shitty McLingua building dedicated to the unemployed, i have been forced into company with two teachers i mistrust: the Prima Donna and Californian-Jesus. Prima Donna’s animosity towards me has heightened over the last few months, to the point where we can’t even be in the same room without her attempting to ridicule or boss me around (accusing me of being “gay”; ordering me to hand photocopies out like a serf) – the last time this happened i just laughed “yeah, sure” and walked out.

Californian-Jesus is a classic American type, mid-30s, favours a hippy-Jesus look, could pass for Brad Pitt in a dark alleyway, utterly feckless and unreliable and superficial, most of his students adore him and think he’s their friend (and are shocked when he fails to come to their parties or won’t tutor them for free), like many American males of my sordid acquaintance (also Toddball) he is a thief, and told the teacher room an amusing anecdote about stealing a bicycle, pimping it up, and then by chance coming across the owner, who reclaimed it – C-Jesus’s comment “I wanted to say, what the fuck man, I fucking painted this shit up and fucking made it fucking badass! Man, Germans is such losers!”

Californian-Jesus is very much in the Prima Donna mould, a superficial charmer who despises most of his students as “lame” and “losers” and is all “hey man how’s it going? we should grab a beer sometime!” when he passes them in the corridor. i can tolerate him, because he’s not as nastily domineering as the Prima Donna, but i don’t trust him an inch. The Prima Donna i never trusted and have now grown to dislike with a settled, easy loathing. She and C-Jesus both have an effortless and glib charisma, a quality i have learnt to distrust.

2. Unfortunately, the Prima Donna & Californian-Jesus are the main Arbeitsamt teachers, C-J because he can’t teach anywhere else (Arbeitsamt are the only classes where charm alone suffices), Prima Donna because she lives close by and doesn’t want to travel to companies; i think also because in companies one is always a visitor, on the students’ territory, and in the Arbeitsamt centre (which usually has no McLingua admin staff or bosses) the teachers are boss – and she must always be Boss. Prima Donna is actually a very good teacher, much better than me i would say, though a few students have responded negatively, or been untouched, by her facile charisma and technique, and preferred me – a good example of how character is inseparable from this job.

Prima Donna monopolizes the teacher room, bellowing like a maddened cow, so it’s impossible to even talk quietly with another teacher if she is present. i have had several run-ins with Prima Donna, until i found myself telling her “i don’t listen to people like you”, and then decided enough was enough, and i then avoided even being in the same room. Two other teachers adopted this policy months ago – an elegant MILF from Chicago, and a black Brooklyn pimp both avoid her as much as possible, the latter telling another teacher the Prima Donna is “fake, she ain’t what she presents.”

3. During my illness, i was lying in bed one weekend, after a 12-hour sleep, incapable of getting up due to sloth, and felt a need to read esoteric literature. Most of this is frankly shit but i’ve always found Carlos Castaneda stimulating so began re-reading his works. He’s a funny-strange-and-ha-ha writer, one i came to via William Burroughs 20 years ago. Even in my puny youth i felt unsure if his books were other than fictive. i now feel that he was probably initiated but that his books are heavily edited and probably even invented. His initiator, a Yacqui Indian called Juan Matus, or Don Juan, i think existed either as a real person or a non-physical being (who could have been a product of Castaneda’s subconscious, or an independent entity). But i note that over a 20 year stretch Castaneda wrote several books in which he is always a bumbling beginner, much as if Plato had written his Socratic dialogues from the perspective of an unchanging ephebe. i suspect that there was a real but brief initiation and after this Castaneda just continued using Don Juan as a literary figure. My own magical tradition is so far removed that i can do little other than surmise and suggest.

4. i Googled some Castanedry and inevitably ended up wading through forums with earnest seekers and hipsters arguing about things they would, i think, not understand without an initiator – certainly not by sitting at home reading the internet. It reminded me a little of the Hippy in Kassel, who was convinced my Indian father had passed on esoteric Indian doctrines, which i was refusing to share, so i told the Hippy’s irritating Buddhist-bullshit friend Gordon about a kind of meditation technique i had created, and the Hippy later drooled at me “elberry, the Gordon had me said you have a uh meditation, ja? It is from your Indienisch father, or? Is very good Indienisch meditation, or?” and so on, while i kept saying flatly “no”.

One of these internet “sorcerers” had cut out all the Castaneda narrative and compiled the “sermon”-like passages, a mistake i felt. There are many good passages but the seemingly trivial narratives are also significant. For example, in The Power of Silence, the sermons stress that the sorcerer must attain “the place of no pity”

‘I’ve been trying to make clear to you that the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerers or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image,’ he continued. ‘What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of their mirror of self-reflection.’

The place of no pity entails a lack of compassion for others and oneself. Castaneda the ephebe arrives at this in a curious way – Don Juan demands C drive him to a town in Mexico, becomes progressively feebler en route until he seems to be suffering from a stroke and senility, then on the street by their car he screams that Castaneda is trying to murder him; a mob threaten Castaneda, who flees, hides in a tourist shop, then decides to buy tourist kitsch as a guise, then returns to find Don Juan mysteriously normal once more.

Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly. I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience, either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.

Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he was wearing a black jacket. He threw his straw hat inside the car and carefully combed his hair. He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the packages in the car. When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they had nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage.

Re-reading this, I felt a subtle shock: Don Juan’s literally turncoat behaviour forces Castaneda to disengage his trust from the mentor, and rather than bewailing his personal fate he experiences instead “the place of no pity”. He has become an actor in this play and realises his own personal fate is of no significance, that one must ultimately attach no significance to personal relations, or to one’s own apparent self. These narratives most likely mean nothing to most New Age self-declared “warriors” who want, at the worst, talk of psychedelic plants, or at the best direct sermons. But one can learn a great deal from stories; that they are indirect and unexplicated does not detract from their power – it means that the uncurious and uninitiated will impatiently turn the page, deterred by theatricality and deception; but a chosen few read and go beyond the veil. i think this is why Wittgenstein wrote Philosophical Investigations as he did – it deters the uninitiated, but those who are prepared learn far more than they would through straightforward exposition.

Theory and explication afford intellectual diversion and can become integrated into one’s understanding, but i seem to learn rather through experience and stories. When i can take something from explication or philosophy, it is typically poetic and inseparable from a certain turn of phrase. Stories communicate differently, presenting a concentrated form of our diffuse and vague daily experience. In the case of Castaneda, i think if one truly enters into the stories they have the power to jolt & adjust one’s perspective; so in the above-quoted anecdote, i felt the narrator’s distress as his mentor becomes abruptly senile, the narrator’s confusion, the narrator’s sudden & ice-cold realisation that Don Juan had played and manipulated him, and in the reading i felt a shiver of cold disengagement from all i have trusted & feared & longed for & been otherwise bound up with. It was a faint shock but because i was ready, in my own life, i immediately stopped and allowed this ice to expand, estuarial, until when i arrived at work i felt absolutely nothing for these people, that they, and i, were alike insignificant. And, perhaps surprisingly, the lessons i then gave were some of my best, however profoundly alone i may then have been.

5. In the last 18 months, i disengaged, or was disengaged from, two friends – one was Toddball, who became increasingly crazed and belligerent after the birth of his daughter in April 2013, the other a very old friend from England, who just stopped writing, and i decided not to send unanswered emails, and so we dropped out of contact for a good year. Of course i saw Toddball from time to time in McLingua but i felt he was just another American asshole, his natural rage amplified by sleep deprivation and the frustration of an American kidult (he’s 39) who suddenly has responsibilities and can’t stay up drinking, taking coke, stealing & fighting, as seems normal with American males. Recently – after his main drinking buddy moved to Berlin – we’ve drifted again into socialising, and we’re playing a game called Stronghold Kingdoms together, brutally ganging up on anyone we don’t like and burning their villages (we recently destroyed a village owned by “Killer Chick”). Likewise, in the last couple of months i was drawn into email contact with the friend from England, with whom a year’s unexplained silence means nothing.

i would once have either refused to resume contact with either, or have harboured resentment and boiling distrust. i feel instead a total lack of personal involvement, and simply acknowledge whatever energies draw us together. Both are truly turncoats, but then consistency is rare and perhaps not even human – in fact my only consistent friend has been the Viking, who is distinctly abnormal.

6. One of the hardest lessons of the Castaneda books is to accept that most or even all the things you care about are insignificant. i feel that the stories are important because they illustrate how one could be, without pity:

“As I have told you before, many times,” don Juan said, jolting me out of my concentration, “every sorcerer I know, male or female, sooner or later arrives at a breaking point in their lives.”

“Do you mean that they have a mental breakdown or something like that?” I asked.

“No, no,” he said, laughing. “Mental breakdowns are for persons who indulge in themselves. Sorcerers are not persons.”

The distinction between personality and true being is subtle but vital. For Casteneda, what we call the personality, our everyday thoughts & feeling, are an implanted virus, what he calls the foreign installation. i had a similar feeling when i began to awake, 20 years ago – that my surface personality often seems at odds with my realer being; the mental technique i created when i was 24 was designed to wedge a knife between personality and being, and to widen the gap until one could see them as two different modes of being. It worked and for a while i assumed it was what Buddhists call meditation, until i talked about it with such folk – my tai chi tutor said it was mere “stupefaction”, then told me i was a liar and hypocrite and apple polisher and asshole; and Gordon said it had nothing to do with Buddhist practice.

For me, the crucial thing is firstly not to be like Gordon or my tai chi tutor, or the Prima Donna or California-Jesus; but more, to cease to be a person at all. The Castaneda story above has become a widening chasm in my mind – on the other side, i perceive the Prima Donna, my old tai chi tutor, Gordon, and also all my friends, and then myself; and on this side, there is something like a minuscule dot of awareness, which is far realer, and yet scarcely to be observed.

1.   It was also strangely enjoyable to visit my mother, we have absolutely nothing in common, except an interest in food, but there it is. With both my parents, i came to see them as children in adult bodies, and though i have no happy memories of either in my childhood and teen years, i feel we still have some basic connection. In truth i feel more kin to my stepfather, a dour, chuckling Yorkshireman born in ’45, left school at 6, worked in the mines, on the buses, etc. – one of these archetypal old English types, Orwell would have been all over him like a cheap suit, seeking the Wisdom of the Proles. He’s from Marsden, one of the Last of the Summer Wine locations, and really has that Scrutonian Oikophilia, attachment to one’s ancestral land, without any conscious reflection – just as instinct. He is one of these people who can do anything manual with ease, who naturally dominates without any sense of effort or aggression, so you simply accept that yes, he is in charge – he’s about 5 foot tall, or even shorter, so it’s curious that he can cow a bus full of teenage chav schoolkids. There’s nothing remotely uncanny or mystical about him, he just seems to have come from some pre-Roman Britain, where everyone was 5 foot tall and grew up with beasts – but in our age, he is an exception, closer to one of Alan Garner’s dwarves than a 21st Century human being. As with me, he prefers dogs to cats, though he & my mother recently acquired a cat and i note he has somehow trained it to behave like a dog.

He is in many ways the decent hard-working Englishman that socialists and Commies froth about, yet he is, like me, a Daily Mail reader who has never voted in his life; and when some political candidate knocked on his door he snapped: “Not interested, thank you – you buggers are all the same.” He has an aversion to froth and highfalutin talk & people, so he would regard all the lefties i know (either plummy-voiced champagne socialists or greasy-haired drawling potheads) as workshy loudmouths. It is a curious feature of both fascism and socialism/communism, that the leaders & intellectuals claim to represent a type very very far removed from these often clinically insane, bullying, obscene individuals – as a 30s joke went, the ideal German was tall like Hitler, athletic like Göring, blonde like Goebbels, manly like Himmler. Intellectuals, especially political intellectuals, simply want power over others – hence they violently resent anyone who abstains, who stands apart, who doesn’t vote and doesn’t militate for the Party – they believe everyone should be political, of course in the right way, meaning their way, and it is not permitted to simply get on with your life and be a decent human being – that is precisely what they cannot tolerate.

2. i took the opportunity to eat pie every day – the Bosche think pie is some kind of cake, because they are stupid. i reacquainted myself with Denby Dale pies, one of the finest works of humanity:

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And most days my mother & stepfather took me around West Yorkshire. Colne Valley:

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And Marsden, Standedge Tunnel:

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We sat and waited for the next barge, and i ate a pork pie:

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And then on into the dark:

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About three miles into the subterranean labyrinth, we met a race of cave-dwelling folk who all look like Peter Hitchens. Unfortunately, they were smoking crack.

Back on the surface, Marsden:

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And a local cat, with one green, one blue eye (sadly, i was unable to get this on film):

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Amusingly, as i was stroking the cat a man came out, smoking a cigarette, and gruffly dragged it off, muttering that he used to have two such cats but one was stolen. Everywhere i went in England, people seemed to be stealing strange things – cats, drystone walls, etc.

3. We went to Saint Bartholomew’s, which has a WW1 exhibition honouring the Marsden dead of 1915, including my stepfather’s grandfather.

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The custodian let us in and we had it to ourselves.

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i found it unexpectedly moving, perhaps because i was also reading Geoff Dyer’s The Missing of the Somme and so had a clearer idea of this war. My mother followed me about, burbling incessantly, Ooh look, Elberry, there’s one of those pictures you see! Ooh, it says “don’t waste food!” I don’t waste food, do I Elberry? I had a big cake yesterday, ooh it was ever so nice! It had chocolate in it! and so on, till i tactically distanced myself by simply moving rapidly away from her every time she approached, maintaining an unpredictable (to her) zigzag motion so i could be alone.

My stepfather’s grandfather, died 1915 aged 27 from a leg wound – no doubt he would have survived such an injury with today’s medical care:

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and my mother’s father, gassed at the Somme, still in his teens:

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For a long time, i had thought of WW1 as too distant to be of interest – like the Crimean War. This exhibition left me saddened & troubled, i think because of the small, local focus – the Marsden dead:

4. Outside again, and the hills around Marsden:

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A little fair with some local tractors and local ciders and local mutton chop whiskers and so on:

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Almost Bavarian, bäuerlich. i found the people in Marsden, even the young people, a different breed to the townies in Huddersfield just 6 or 7 miles away. i didn’t hear the usual violent swearing (my objection to profanity is that it’s used idly, as a filler adjective, and yet with a kind of fury, so the speaker sounds permanently enraged, and indeed your swearers are, i’ve found, much more likely to suddenly attack a chap, verbally and/or physically).

5. We had a good English summer, i.e. no more than about 22 Celsius, often a good 10 lower, with lots of good English rain – slow and determined, not like this flashy Continental rain, which is all sudden downpours, soon over and forgotten like Mussolini. My students think i’m joking when i say i miss English weather, but for me this is perfect, and Heaven for me would be so – for perhaps 9 months of the year:

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1.  i coped with the 8 days by going for walks and visiting my mother every day. My father lives just below Castle Hill, a Stone Age settlement where for sure my ancestors used to drink the blood of the living human sacrifice. 20 years ago, i would walk my savage dobermann here at dawn in summer, it’s about 20 minutes from the house up through the fields to the Castle:

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And the view from the top:

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i remember walking my dobermann up here one summer evening, a chap was sitting and painting this view and the dog ran up and drank thirstily out of his mug of beer (from the pub, now razed to the ground). i was appalled but the victim just laughed, as if having a slavering huge German monster steal his beer was quite a passable way to spend the evening, and actually why not, it could be a part of the local tourist attractions, a folklore item?

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i didn’t go up to the tower, as there were young people taking selfies up there, and i would have had to smite them with my fist and sacrifice them to Wotan. Twenty years ago there were no selfies but even if there had been, i would have just unleased my dober, and let him tutor these foolish interlopers with his enormous maw and mighty forepaws  (he especially enjoyed leaping up, enthusiastically smashing people across the face with his paws, then gripping the victim’s neck and clumsily licking their bruised and sometimes bleeding faces, breathing absolutely unspeakable fumes and horrifying them with his glistening sharklike teeth – he would even look affronted when the victims screamed, writhed, and tried to escape; i generally stood there laughing and saying, No boy, bad dog, don’t do that, let the nice man be, but would later give him a dog biscuit).

View from the other side:

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2. The next day i approached from a different angle, walking these lanes till i came to a familiar bench to take my luncheon, a pork pie and some wine, and a book:

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Two parties passed as i sat there, the first was a 60-something woman with, i guess, her grandchild, they both said hello and i waved my pie affably at them; the second was a 20-something pushing a pram, with two small children – as they passed, she screamed at one child, Shut your mouth! Now! – and declined to Good Morning me.

3. Pie finished, i walked up to the castle, noting litter anywhere wide enough to park a car. The local chavs like to drive up here to fuck and get high, then throw their litter out of the window. i picked up a McDonald’s offering to put in the nearest bin. Littering is one of the things i find both obnoxious and incomprehensible – why would you want to drive to a pleasant location, in order to sully it? – but then, that’s the way English people are these days. A horse observes me smoking and carrying a McDonald’s carton:

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i get to the top and find a litter bin:

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i was reminded of a Theodore Dalrymple article about littering, where he writes of people walking up to a bin and throwing their refuse in its general direction, then walking away. Presumably, the Government will clean it up for them; in this case, i was the cleaner. i don’t suppose any of the litterers would even notice if their litter were still there on their next visit to Nature. It would be interesting to conduct a study of these people: their age, gender, education level, job or lack thereof, would they still drive to these locations if the litter were left to accumulate to obscure the sky? Or would they then complain that it was “spoiled”? Where Germans, Bavarians especially, have a kind of pride in their surroundings, sizeable numbers of the English seem, rather, full of resentment and a desire to destroy or defile. They feel no attachment to place, so there were even signs on the drystone walls warning stone thieves that the stones can be traced, and threatening punishments. It reminds me of a book, i think, James Ashcroft’s (superb) Making a Killing, where the Iraqi locals cause blackouts by digging up the electricity cables and stealing the copper, and when the Americans say, Help us to help you! the Iraqis say, We are helping ourselves. One could say that a land with no trust, no natural instinct for cooperation, is unlikely to prosper. How can you have a working economy, let alone a reasonably liveable country, if people see nothing wrong with digging up the electricity cables then complaining about blackouts? – short of having armed police guarding absolutely everything, there’s no way of bringing such a country out of the Stone Age, which explains a great deal of wealth disparity across the globe.

4. Much as i like the land here, i would never want to live here again, because of the people – not the older generation, nor those who actually work the land, but the chavs, the Pikeys, the Southrons and polishers, all the various Children of Blair, basically anyone younger than me, anyone who lives in London, actually everyone really. There has been a generational change, i think beginning with those born in the 80s and accelerating as English culture has disintegrated. In my maternal grandmother’s generation – she was born in the 20s – there seems to have been an ingrained independence and prickly self-reliance, and people then would have been ashamed to borrow money or to litter, or to have an unkempt house or garden. This general attitude seems to have begun to fall apart in the 60s, where any kind of societal obligations or self-respect came to be regarded as bourgeois stuffiness, man, harshing my buzz, man, viva la revolution, man, hey man, I’ve got a Che Guevara t-shirt, man, I read the Guardian, man, I smoked weed in India, I’m not religious but I’m like really spiritual, man.

Although only a minority, i suppose, fully espoused the libertarian 60s dream, it’s now become the norm to live by Blake’s  Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires – any consideration for others is seen as lame and a sign of weakness, and men and women now bluster with a constant belligerence, which i found a daily weariance in England. The 60s hippy intellectuals and drop-outs showed a way to the herd – the way of self-gratification, rage, ease, entitlement, and behold, the herd followed.

In some ways, English culture has reverted to a state of nature, close to a Mad Max post-apocalyptic battlescape: so, i felt very strongly that only the presence of a police van in the Manchester street market deterred the two chavs from attacking me on my first day back, and the pusillanimity of the police, in the 2011 riots, showed what chavs will do when they need not fear retribution. It’s not that everyone under, say, 40, is a chav – but if the percentage was previously 0.001, it’s now grown to 0.01, and since chavs have a massively destructive effect, even one in a hundred is enough to make a night walk through Manchester, on a Friday night, ill-advised – if you pass a thousand people, ten will be chavs and if each has a 10% chance of spitting at you, making a grab at your bag or wallet, or knifing you, then you’re statistically guaranteed some variety of Chavattack.

Needless to say, if i had to live in England it would be on a hill somewhere, with a brace of unruly dobermann and several rifles, and booby traps, and mortars, and pits full of spikes and snakes and dead chavs. i would dress like Roger Scruton and look highly disdainful, because England today really is a can of shit.

1. And so on to my father. The last i saw him, in 2010, the house was full of junk – entire rooms packed with cardboard boxes, the hallway and stairs lined with newspapers (hundreds) he wouldn’t throw away because, in his words, Egh well I have PAID GOOD MONEY for the thing, egh? I must read them, egh! At one point he had a huge cardboard box full of empty and meticulously-scrubbed glass (jam, honey, etc.) jars, which he planned to ship to India, when he thought to return to his vile ancestral lands. He had eleven radios in his room, three the same model. He had six second-hand cars, all shit.

The house is now largely uncluttered. i was able to sit on a sofa and he treated me to one of his Dreadful Monologues. i took the precaution of breaking out a pipe and smoking at him, a useful screen i found. As is his wont, he was belligerent and full of querulous rage and grandiose self-pity. He burnt out when he was 67, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was like a zombie for years afterwards, i was sure he would die at any moment, then after i left in 2004 (actually, he kicked me out of the house for eating one of his ready-made meals) he apparently found a “cure” (B12 injections, i think) and spent thousands on herbal remedies and whatnot. i am generally sceptical of such things but he is physically only slightly worse than in 2004, and mentally sharper than i remember. i would say, after Apocalypse Now, that his mind is clear but his soul is mad. He has no friends, never had any, and i am the only family he has any contact with (and i have only seen him twice in the last decade).

It transpires that he met some nurses from his home state in India, who cleared his house and removed all the junk, presumably keeping anything valuable and binning the rest. They were nice to him and brought their small children to entertain him, he made a will giving them 2/3 of whatever paltry sum he will leave (he has virtually no money saved, but there is still the house), then they wanted power of attorney and he apparently realised all was not well and flipped over from his nice side to his horrible side, kicking them out and cursing them, Lear-style (he also kicked my sister out of the house on Christmas Day, about 25 years ago).

All this took a good hour or two of enraged monologue, while i sat and smoked and thought, God, how horrible. Every minute or two he bellowed, Egh? Are you with me? DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Egh? and i had to shout, Yes!

He wanted me to become executor of his will, and to receive his worldly goods, but i refused the former and said i’d be as happy to get nothing. Any disagreement with my father is ill-advised, as he is more or less incapable of accepting that another human being might have an independent existence or will, so i said i can’t be executor because i’m too busy, and that he can leave me the house if he wants but i really don’t care, because i find money largely insignificant. Actually, i would prefer to get nothing because anything i bought, even if i just used it to pay off my debts, would in a sense be a homage to him, come courtesy of his life. i managed to persuade him to give some to my sister’s children, suggested he leave them everything but he wasn’t having it – however, he’s so emotionally volatile that i have some hope he will decide on this. It’s also possible he will just will everything to the postman or a random taxi driver or a dog or stone.

2. i slept in my old bedroom, having bad dreams and a bad feeling about the whole thing. Although i respect my father as a physician, it’s somewhat like respecting a mathematician as mathematician – it has little bearing on the broader character, and for all his medical experise one could say he hath ever but slenderly known himself. i found several brand new expensive cashmere jumpers in my old wardrobe, too big for either him or me, and a (again, brand new) cashmere coat i guess would have cost several hundred pounds, again too large for him or me. It seems that the Indians cleared out dozens of identical cashmere garments that would fit them, leaving only these. It’s rather depressing to think that my father wasted his considerable salary on things like this, leaving him now nothing except his pension. Even before the Indians removed his things, he wore the same clothes every day, and had no use for the things he bought – buying them was the point, not to derive any pleasure from their craftsmanship or quality. His approach to the world has always been one of attempted dominance, with no interest in, or understanding of, either people or things – so he buys things because in doing so they become his, not because he has any use for them. i can’t really understand how it was possible for him to be a good doctor, except that, perhaps, it was another expression of domination. His drama of the Will has a Lear-like theatricality, which i mislike.

3. In many ways, i realise how little people can integrate to another culture. My father was born in 1931 (six months after Thomas Bernhard) in south India, and has never moved beyond what seems a Stone Age culture to me. He can’t use the Present Perfect or PP Progressive; he regards women as slaves and whores; he is distrustful to the point of paranoia, but also highly gullible, with virtually no understanding of people, except as medical cases. He is convinced that people are bad and just want his largely non-existent money (one of his mantras is “eghh well NO ONE DOES NOTHING FOR FREE!!!”), yet easily adopts a grotesque, clownish bonhomie, grinning hideously, if people seem friendly. It doesn’t surprise me that he never had a single friend and that i’m the only family he has any contact with.

He has a constant emotional intensity, much like that of my old Kassel boss, Morgana (though she had intellect and softness), which makes it impossible to be in the same room unless you agree with him. Emotional force is the fuel for magic so i often felt a kind of impingement upon my sanity in his presence, as if a raw and untutored magic was splashing about from his cauldron of rage. In the past i simply endured it, and avoided him as much as possible. This time i found myself smoking a screen of tobacco (Dunhill 965) and occasionally popping to my room for a new pipe and some impromptu runework and beseeching of the gods.

4. Over time – i spent 8 days in his house – i found myself deflecting his will, though it was always difficult and left me feeling troubled and anxious that, perhaps, my life in Germany was just an illusion. It’s not that my father is evil or even particularly bad, more that he has an unfortunate combination of autism and emotional force, and anger was always his way of coping with what he perceived as opposition. i’d be as happy to never meet him again, in this or any other life, but also recognise that i’ve had similar fathers in other lives (and similarly passive mothers), and so presumably choose to be born into such circumstances, because it matches my fundamental view of existence. It’s also true that rather than crushing me, such fathers have merely driven me to make my own life elsewhere, and to resist domination, so i perceive him with some distance, akin to an end of level boss who has been defeated.

As Nietzsche said, if you do not have a good father you should acquire one. i’ve picked up various role models, some younger than me, and my true father now is the gallows god. Curiously, this made it easier to talk to my merely biological father, and proved indeed necessary.

5. This trip was a reliving of situations i thought i had long departed. i had wanted to meet Bonehead, my fascist friend from school; and a friend from Durham; but Bonehead was in Boston to visit his brother, and the Durhamite at a conference in the South, so i had nothing to buffer me from the Horror – i saw my mother, and Shrekh, an old schoolfriend – but both are remnants of my old life.

My father kept trying to drag me back into the life i had 20 years ago, even attempting to persuade me to abandon my life in Germany to live with him and nurse him for the rest of his life. i would rather commit suicide, but i have become Dr Tact and so simply said i couldn’t, because i had invested too much time and money in my German life. It wasn’t simply that i dislike the ugliness & violence of my father’s mind, as that being in that house was like being dragged back into the considerable hell of my youth. He occasionally treated me like i was a small child again, with the mix of contempt and rage i remember well from my hideous youth. i noted that he didn’t treat outsiders so; i think it is, in its way, as bad for him as for me, for us to be in the same place – it brings out the worst in him, i.e. the way he was for most of his life – though these attacks were intermittent and fairly easily deflected.

With tobacco, whisky, and god, i could meet and repel these attacks, here’s one that i remember, he gave Shrekh some unsolicited medical advice and medication:

Father: Egh well eggghhh you JUST TAKE these pills, eghh!!!

Shrekh: Okay, I’ll give them a go.

Father: Egggghhh well LISTEN, you TAKE and you are ONE MILLION PERCENT better!!! Egh? Are you with me? Egh?

Me: How long would it take to have an effect?

Father [suddenly bristling with suspicion and fury]: Egh well DON’T YOU LISTEN, egh? I SAID, egh? Well YOU PEOPLE JUST DO NOT LISTEN, EGH??? EGHH? I said HOW LONG, egh? Egh?

Me: I wasn’t really listening to be honest.

My absence of either fear or aggression seemed to calm him, so all his attempts to draw me back into the twenty-year-gone nexus of contempt and misery quickly fizzled out. It was nonetheless mildly gruelling.

Family are a special case, as one doesn’t so easily have the option to just avoid them. i tend to think one should try to find some form of communication, something worthwhile in the inevitable relationship. With my sister, i found nothing at all and so haven’t had any contact with her since 2008 or 9. With my father, we can have conversations but i found they only worked in the evening, when i was full of pie and had a glass or two of Glenturret, and a pipe of Dunhill 965. It would be an exaggeration to say i treasure these conversations but i enjoyed them – for example he assured me that “eghh well the English people are SO UGLY because the English women HAD SEX with egh the AFRICAN SLAVES so English are all part-African, egh, they are NOT EUROPEAN!!!” – i found this highly amusing and it was almost worth losing a week’s work just to hear it.

His monologues about various supplements and pills were also diverting, as he has a very Indian tendency to hyperbole; so he instructed me to only drink matcha green tea, assuring me that, “Egh well YOU JUST TAKE and you will feel TEN MILLION TIMES better than with the normal green tea, egh?” i found i like making matcha, and bought a bamboo whisk when i got back to Munich (he had an electronic whisk), but i haven’t noticed any significant difference to normal green tea – the taste is different, that’s all. All in all, these pep talks reminded me most humorously of Jesse Ventura’s chopper scene in Predator (from 2.00 to 2.20)

If (God forbid) i’m reborn after this life, it would be interesting to briefly meet my father again in another guise. In the meantime, i noted the Indians had overlooked virtually the only thing i remembered with interest – a pipe stand from my father’s pipe-smoking days. Since he hasn’t smoked pipes in over 30 years, i asked if i could have it, and took it back to Germany with me, along with an ashtray my mother gifted me:

pipe stand and ashtray

1. i haven’t been back since 2010, not sure why. When i have free time i prefer to stay at home or visit Juniper in Kassel or even go to Finland. England is 33 years of bad memories and rejection and chavvery. Nonetheless, i go.

On the shuttle bus from Munich Airport to the plane. Some Bosche, some Brits. i can see the difference immediately, confirmed when i overhear conversations: the Bosche are expressionless, or rather look vaguely irritated at everything, the Brits look glaringly aggressive or vaguely apologetic. i recognise the pre-emptive let’s all get along smile frequently dispensed by Brits as a societal lubricant, so if you bump into someone you smile apologetically and say Sorry; the Bosche just ignore everyone, or stare flatly.

The little bus is packed, i offer to swap standing places with a woman in her 50s, as i have a rail to cling to and she looks to need the support. To my surprise, i speak in a West Yorkshire accent i’ve never really used in my life.

2. Deeply strange to be in Manchester Airport, stranger than Oulu. Everyone queues to slowly go through Immigration, however i note machines for automatic scanning and try these, put my passport in a slot and am amazed to see a huge live image of myself staring at myself, i shake my head and start muttering, Amazing, then a guard behind the glass screens asks me to take my glasses off. i remove them and continue shaking my head at my own image, a red light flashes, the screens open, and they ask me to go to a desk. A grey-haired guard examines my passport, me, and says genially, You fooled us with your specs, then you kept moving about. i laugh and proceed to the next desk, where another grey-haired guard says, Derek gave you the speech? Yes, i say, Sorry, never seen one of these things before. We’ve got jet engines now too, he says, and waves me through. i reflect on the daily banter of English life, the half-apologetic smiles, jokes, utterly lacking in Germany.

3. Regional train to Manchester Piccadilly, stopping everywhere. Train conductor jokes with passengers, i miss the words but catch the laughter, the good humour, reminds me vaguely of the regional train i took to Kochel a few weeks ago. And on into Piccadilly. Chavs everywhere. Ethnic diversity everywhere. i pass quite a few Shane Jenkin-lookalikes on the mile. Everyone seems tattooed. There are tattoos in Germany but usually just an ankle or wrist; here it’s like the population have been dipped in woad and emerged with disfiguring and rapidly fading coloration. i attract a few glances, not because i’m half-Indian as it would be in the Reich, but because i am scowling at everyone, and muttering things like Sordid and Degenerate.

i stop to have a fancy burger (ostrich or lion or something) at a street market and note a pair who look like Shanes eyeing my shoulder bag and suitcase as i eat; my old watchfulness has by now clicked into place after 5 years of Germanic sleep, and as they circle me i circle to keep facing them, not exactly looking at them but always directly looking their way, till they snarl and plod on.

i buy trousers, a near-impossibility for a man of my dwarfhood in Germany. i stop into a whisky shop and note that almost everything costs a good 10-20% more than in Germany, chat with a sales assistant, mention chavs and he says, If you go up to Piccadilly there are chavs galore. It’s now 1100, i’ve had a burger, so when he offers “a dram” i say Why not, and end up buying a bottle of Glenturret for 45 quid, no age statement but it’s a fine whisky, fruity and light with a surprising peaty finish.

i need lighter fluid for my Old Boy, having drained it before leaving home, so go to Alston’s, a pipe shop, ask the counter guy for the cheapest, saying i just need it for a week and will leave it behind when i return to Munich. Well if it’s only a refill you want, we could do that now, he says, and it takes me a second to understand that he’s offering to do it for free; i’m so shocked i say, No no, i would feel bad if i don’t pay for it, and leave with a 2 pound can (cheaper than in Munich).

4. Train to Huddersfield, i read Thomas Bernhard’s Beton, in German, feeling, I need to maintain my spiritual supply lines to Germany, i must never forget that i belong there and not here, must not stay here, must return. Meanwhile i note that i haven’t once used my usual Queen’s English, that i have without thinking spoken West Yorkshire the whole time – doubly strange since i never had a local accent, but it now feels unnatural and difficult to speak here as i do to my students or American colleagues (i have almost no British colleagues). i realise that most of my readers probably don’t fully grasp the intricacies of North of England accents, so let me present DJ Smile of Huddersfield:

This is basically what i sound like.

My mother & stepfather pick me up and we walk across Huddersfield to their car. i haven’t walked these streets in over a decade. It is small town, not exactly squalid but certainly a little grim. i find one single good photo opportunity, which doesn’t make it look like it is:

england july 2015 (138)

5. i lunch with my mother & stepfather in their scenic little village – which is much more idyllic than i remember it, i say Weren’t there lots of teenage hoodies hanging around here? and my mother, They all grew up and moved out. In the evening they drive me to my father’s (nearby) house, where i find he’s in good health for someone who’s nearly 84, and not dying at all. i resist the urge to say, If you’re not dying, why the hell did you tell me i had to visit now and it was urgent etc? The full sordid tale will be divulged in my next post, if i can get around to it.

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:

kochel july 2015 (1)

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):

kochel july 2015 (7)

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!

kochel july 2015 (11)

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:

kochel july 2015 (25)

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:

kochel july 2015 (22)

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:

kochel july 2015 (34) kochel july 2015 (36)

Tengelmann shops usually look like this:


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:


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


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