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

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

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

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

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

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

holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What are you thinking?’ asked Waylander.

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

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

Dardalion nodded and added two sticks to the fire.

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

‘Are you disappointed?’

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

‘Shall I tell you?

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

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

‘In other words you will die.’

‘Perhaps.’

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

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

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

‘I do not understand you.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.


From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

tolkien2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

impostor

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

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

Nico: Was? Was ist Glenfiddich?

me: It’s whisky.

Nico: Glonnfadd…?

me: It’s Gaelic.

Nico: Was? Gay?

me: It’s a language.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The death of one god is the death of all.

Let purple Phoebus lie in umber harvest,

Let Phoebus slumber and die in autumn umber,

Phoebus is dead, ephebe. But Phoebus was

A name for something that never could be named.

There was a project for the sun and is.

There is a project for the sun. The sun

Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be

In the difficulty of what it is to be.

wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hellboy-kroenen-011

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

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

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

pg-12-bridget-jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Drop.

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

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

4. Fury.

brad pitt fury

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

5. John Wick.

john wick

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

6. Wild Card.

jason statham

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

7. The Greek Anthology.

ezra pound

Ezra Pound’s Anyte:

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

To be looking out across the bright sea,

Therefore the sailors are cheered, and the waves

Keep small with reverence, beholding her image.

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

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

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

shitty jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

portrait by vkg dec 2014 (1)

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

vienna 2014 (7) vienna 2014 (10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

soldiers

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

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