You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

Wir sind im gewöhnlichen Leben beinahe von lauter unreinen Farben umgeben. Um so merkwürdiger, daß wir einen Begriff von reinen Farben gebildet haben.

In everyday life we are virtually surrounded by impure colours. All the more remarkable that we have formed a concept of pure colours.

(Wittgenstein’s journals 1950, published as Remarks on Colour)


Today is a very special person’s birthday. That’s right, today Mr. Ken Kurp turns 23. Oh, and it’s Wittgenstein’s birthday too, though he’s older than 23 and he was nuts and Austrian. Here he is, escaping from Alcatraz in ’33.

i decided to celebrate this dual birthday by teaching a private student in the morning – another German engineer, he designs locomotive engines and has pretty good English. So far my students are either Arbeitsamt types or engineers – the former are hard to teach, the latter generally easy, and for me much more interesting. Today’s engineer even completed my joy by talking about logic, at which point i mentioned Wittgenstein and got a nod of recognition – or so i thought, perhaps it was a head spasm or even a kind of Teutonic dance.

After work i had an ice cream with Morgana – she has decided that regular doses of ice cream cool her otherwise uncontrollable fits of psychopathic rage, so ice cream has become a part of her daily routine, and all is well. Sudden bursts of sunshine gave way to fierce, brief rain, then sun, then more lunatic rain, blown into our faces as we try to eat ice cream like the civilized human beings we aren’t, huddled against the rain and wind under the cafe awnings, squealing against the cold and the wet, catlike. She looks to be escaping an old dark, impishly glad and scheming over ice cream, ancient in her youth and lust, mismatched ocean eyes, blue and green, shining. The sight of her almost malevolently savouring ice cream is not to be forgotten.

Tomorrow i drive out to a company to teach more engineers. The town’s name is a little odd, and tugged at my mind. So today after ice cream i went to the car rental place and a friendly Bosche showed me how to drive their tiny car, advising me “but here we drive on the other side of the road.” A small but important difference.

i haven’t driven for 6 years – apart from once with my sister when she had a mental collapse at the wheel – and i’ve never driven outside of Blighty. The trip home was most amusing, terrifying and delightful as i kept thinking “stay on the right, stay on the right” and tried to decipher the satnav’s barked German commands to get back to Casa Elberry. i had problems with the oversensitive brake, and the automatic transmission (i prefer manual – more control, more sensitivity, more skill). In the end i decided to go at top speed, as, over certain speeds, my mind goes funny and i just do the right things; for a dog of my temperament, any speed under 60 mph is highly dangerous, as i have to deal with it in my normal frame of mind, with predictably terrible results:

Hier möchte ich eine allgemeine Bemerkung über die Natur der philosophischen Probleme machen. Die philosophische Unklarheit ist quälend. Sie wird als beschämend empfunden. Man fühlt: man kennt sich nicht aus, wo man sich auskennen sollte. Und dabei ist es doch nicht so. Wir können sehr wohl leben, ohne diese Unterscheidungen, auch ohne sich hier auszukennen.

Here I would like to make a general observation concerning the nature of philosophical problems. Lack of clarity in philosophy is tormenting. It is felt as shameful. We feel: we do not know our way about where we should know our way about. And nevertheless it isn’t so. We can get along very well without these distinctions and without knowing our way about here.

Wittgenstein, journal entry 1950, printed as Remarks on Colour

i sit in a curtainless room, drunk, wondering if the neighbours are watching me blog through their vintage WW2 field glasses. Bloody Germans. Sophie, the girl who used to live in this room, asked for her curtains back. So i bought new (pimp) curtains and a curtain rod, got the rickety stepladder out of the basement, gazed up at the very high ceiling, and thought, “okay Elberry, old son, this is it” and tried to ascend to the heights. i got as far as the second step before the terror kicked in, like a giant gripping hand. i can usually get to the third step, and once made myself climb a stepladder all the way to the loft, as a test of manliness, and also because i wanted to ransack my father’s booze. However, there’s a difference between climbing a secure ladder to a loft full of vintage booze, and ascending a dubious wobbling ladder to reach up for someone else’s curtain rod, knowing that the slightest imbalance will lead to a Lucifer-like fall and certain death, impaled on a hitherto unnoticed spike.

So i descended and thought, “fuck this shit”.

Instead, David manfully offered to ascend the Ladder of Certain Death for me, so this evening, after a splendid afternoon with Morgana and the sun and some ice cream and burgers, we got drunk and attempted the matter like the men we are. It turned out to be unusually difficult. Sophie came in as we were standing about pondering things; she talked a lot of shit in German then said to me, brightly: “Why are you so brown?”

David and i exchanged weirded looks.

“My father was Indian,” i explained, coldly.

“Ah! Aber you only know this now?” she continued, grinning bizarrely.

“No, i’ve known he was Indian all my life.”

Another weirded look between me and David. Bloody Germans. She took her fucking curtains and rod and now i have to go to Ikea to buy another. i will then have two damn curtain rods  – i bought one yesterday, but the wall is almost impenetrable and we decided it was best to buy the same model as Sophie’s, so we can reuse the old holes.

The first rod will serve as a visual reminder of this evening’s great struggle, and perhaps do good service as a weapon if need be. As i was walking home yesterday, curtain rod in hand, i took the underpass and encountered – bliss – half a dozen unruly German youths, would-be thugs. They were shouting some German bullshit in unison and slapping the walls and generally acting like the kind of punks Charles Bronson beats to death with a 2 by 4. i heard the shouting, amplified by the tunnel, and briefly considered taking a different route; but, being elberry i decided i would rather confront German ruffians than alter my route, and so descended.

There is a great deal to be said for walking at a group of screaming punks, hefting a length of steel. They parted before me, i continued, i got home and confronted my great fear – heights.

Later, i reflected on these two situations. i felt no fear before the punks – partly because West German punks are harmless kids compared to the genuinely nasty, orc-like scum everywhere in England – partly because physical danger triggers a great coldness in me, an emotionless awareness of, e.g. the length and weight of the steel in my hand, the relative positions and movements of the German punks; i don’t even feel aggressive – just very ready. Ladders, however – ladders are genuinely scary.

The monitoring went unexpectedly well, but it was an easy lesson to teach and a nice group. i thought Morgana would sadistically humiliate and punish me for existing, perhaps string me up with piano wire and do horrible things to me with a blow torch, the Present Perfect, and a pack of wild daschunds, but instead she was really helpful and nice and had lots of good pedagogical suggestions.

i am desperately trying to forcegrow my teacherly technique; i hate giving shit or even just mediocre or not-so-great lessons. To some extent i am limited by the materials and the students and the pacing, but i think it should be possible to give good lessons most of the time – and i am furiously trying to get my head around the techniques, the approach, to become the kind of person i must be, to be a good teacher.

Today i celebrated Hitler’s birthday by teaching the same lesson twice, once to a group of typically untypical Arbeitsamters, and once to a soldier who fixes helicopters; the first lesson lasted 5 hours, the second 90 minutes. Totally different dynamics and atmosphere – things that worked well in the first fell flat in the second (for example, he calmly refused to do a role play, saying he would never talk about such things in real life); so i shifted as best i could. The soldier is a type i have often encountered in Germany – stocky, muscular men with Marine buzz cuts, who turn out to be unexpectedly sensitive, humorous, and intelligent – this one likes opera, art, and architecture – exhorting me to go to the local art gallery to see the Rembrandts, and enthusing about productions of Carmen and Otello. A good egg.

i don’t really understand teachers who hate their students. i am annoyed by some students – for example, a disgruntled, sour-faced Russian woman who radiates a total lack of interest in learning English, and who usually sits right opposite me, so as to direct her total lack of interest at me as squarely and unavoidably as possible, Red Army-like. However, i don’t think i even really register on her awareness most of the time – her cynical, bored expression seems a permanent feature, a sort of peasant obstinacy and lack of interest in learning languages. i can’t say i blame her – if you don’t have some aptitude for language acquisition, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is going to be tough.

i do occasionally get mildly annoyed when students talk to teach other when i’m trying to teach, especially if they chatter in German – with one of the larger groups (12 to 14 students) i rapped my pen on the desk and glowered savagely at the gossiping Germans; when that didn’t shut them up, i shouted: “Silence, you rabble!” – which provoked a stunned silence, delighted applause, hootings of laughter, and then proper silence – a row of grinning Germans looking expectantly at me to see what i would do next. i don’t think they know “rabble” but they could guess the meaning from the context, my stabbing finger, my Hitler-like scream of rage and aspect of barely-controllable psychopathic fury.

i love my students.

My first monitoring on Monday – Morgana will descend upon my class without warning – some time between 0800 and 1500 – coldly observe my failings, nod grimly, make notes in human blood, and later advise me of her findings. Earlier she said: “By the way, Elberry, can you arrange things so I don’t have to rip your head off on Monday?” then gave me one of her looks. She could as well have said:

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

There is no sophistry in my body:

My manners are tearing off heads –

The allotment of death.

For the one path of my flight is direct

Through the bones of the living.

Coming home i read Nige’s post about Thomas Browne’s stolen skull:

Sir Thomas’s coffin is in the chancel of the church. It was accidentally opened in 1840, and some bright spark took the skull – theft of skulls was a common weakness of craniologically obsessed Victorians – and presented it to the museum of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where it was on display for 80-odd years before being restored to its proper place (after casts had been taken). Readers of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings Of Saturn will recall his meditations on the fate of Browne’s skull, and readers of Sir Thomas himself will recall that he wrote in his Hydriotaphia, or Urne Buriall: ‘Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?… To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking bowls and our bones turned into pipes, to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations.’

i was reminded of the strange and grisly fate of Milton’s cadaver, torn apart by a mob of drunken souvenir-hunters:

According to Neve’s account, the group fell upon Milton and plucked out the choice bits. Fountain, the guy who ran the pub, wanted Milton’s upper teeth, and when they resisted, “someone hit them a knock with a stone, when they easily came out.”

Laming, the pawnbroker, couldn’t seem to make up his mind; it all must have looked so good. He pocketed a tooth from the upper jaw and one from the lower. He handled the entire lower jaw, but decided against it and tossed it back into the coffin. He reached down into the shroud — one can imagine him plunging his arm into the dark reaches up to his shoulder — and came up with a leg bone that he discarded as well. He settled at last for the hair, which had been carefully combed and tied.

After they left, a gravedigger by the name of Elizabeth Grant took over. With considerable business acumen, she dragged the coffin under a pew. For a fee, she would like a candle, peel back the top and let the customer get an eyeful. She enlisted the help of some workmen to collect admission and keep an eye on the windows to make sure no one got in without paying. Business must not have been very good; she asked for sixpence at first, cut it in half, and then lowered it to twopence.

i know a few living people who were relatively famous in their past lives – not household names, but within certain circles, yes. i think fame is not accidental – it seems somehow a quality of the soul, that it mesmerises even second or third or fourth hand – as Peter Kingsley says of Empedocles, that he fascinates not because we know lots of interesting things about the man, but because he was, in Kingsley’s words, “a sorcerer” – that is, he carried greater native energy. What we call fame is (i speculate) a conjunction of this deeper energy, and something in the person’s life – so, for example, someone i knew in my last life was quite well known at the time but is now strictly a private individual. He continues to exert a certain fascination, but it lacks the amplifying circumstance of his last life, so no fame for him, hurrah.

i was once half-drawn to writerly fame. Now it seems unnecessary. If you do good work you do not require sales, reviews, prizes, awards, titles; you don’t even require readers. The work itself suffices, amply. Everything else is incidental.

They say Orpheus was ripped apart by a mob of enraged women. There are many possible motives – that the women were in a religious frenzy and he just happened to be in their way, or that they were enraged by his indifference to women, after the death of Eurydice. Orpheus was a gifted musician, and it is said the animals and even the trees would move to his song; the women, in one version of the tale, were screaming so loudly they could not hear his music – but i wonder also if they killed him not because they were deaf to his song, but precisely because they were so moved – that like The Beatles’ hysterical fans, they acted out of a kind of adoration – perhaps, also, they were moved by his fame as much as his music. In this version, Orpheus was killed by his fame, torn apart in life as Milton was in death. i think i see why General Patton was circumspect about his other lives – common sense, since most people would just lazily assume he was insane or lying; and if anyone actually believed him, well – think of Orpheus, think of Milton.

We have fought well, we stand on Goth corpses,

weary from the sword-edge like eagles on a branch;

we have won great glory if we die now or yesterday,

after the norns have given their verdicts, no man outlasts the evening.

(Lay of Hamdir, tr. Carolyne Larrington)

Strange, almost nightmare-like dreams last night of an Alien (as in versus Sigourney Weaver/Predator):

The beast was ferociously eating its way into someone’s chest in order to implant an embryo – it seems unrealistic, even in the terms of the films, as the victim would die instantly, but in the dream it seemed to stand for an aggression that devours and possesses the victim.

i occasionally had nightmares in my childhood, up to my early 20s, but i haven’t had one in a decade, so  i spent a while brooding about last night’s visitation. i believe the alien, with its horrific, inhuman appearance, and horrific, inhuman energy, represents the darker energies, which sometimes visit and sometimes possess human beings – in the form of anger, cruelty, hatred, and so on.

i am told that “spirits” (dead people) can communicate with especially open or vulnerable human beings – and if so inclined, they can possess or at least strongly influence the living. However, this is (i think) just a more dramatic and uncanny version of what living people do to each other – my father, who was a terrifying, permanently angry human being, totally dominated my weak, childish mother, till finally some undevoured part prompted her to break away. Likewise, in a less malevolent fashion, i thoroughly dominated my “friends” in my last life.

A couple of weeks ago i tried a cocooning spell to protect someone who may or may not have been troubled by malign and predatory spirits. i felt it would do no harm, at least. During the spell i felt something unfriendly brush my mind. Strange as i am, my mind is in many ways quite normal – that is, protected against such influences (if we were not so, ordinary life would be almost impossible). However, i felt (or felt i felt) an annoyed and malign presence trying to see what i was, if i could be reached. Perhaps it was simply my imagination, since the imagination is unusually vivid during magical work.

It occurred to me that perhaps the thing had tried to reach into my mind during sleep, when everyone is relatively undefended; but i think it’s simpler and less crazy to say i have been thinking about aggression a great deal of late, and what it means to possess another human being – and the dream alien embodies that devouring aggression. i don’t really respond to aggression, to darker energies – or at least not on the aggressor’s terms. This is partly prudence, that i see no point butting heads with anyone; but partly, although aggression, and the will to devour other people, is fairly common among human beings, i don’t see it as an originally human impulse, that is, it is not how we were meant to be. It is more like a virus, a corruption. So aggression, though invigorating and useful, is somehow not entirely human. In one sense, it is “human, all too human”, but when i consider human beings i see different strata, different kinds of energy, some natively good, some malignly imported, and the original nature seems to me realer, more human. The alien-like ferocity is more noticeable, has greater immediate impact, than the original, human energies, but  it has a febrile, not wholly real quality.

And so i usually respond to aggression by shutting down, sidestepping, or going away; or, occasionally, simply throwing my will over the aggressor like a blanket, and draining their darkness (this is harder). i try not to respond directly because when someone is given to their anger, i no longer feel to be in the room with a human being – but rather with something more like the ravening, mindless alien. It’s also good to bear in mind that the “alien” is not the person; it is the darkness they momentarily host; and in time they will turn against it too (though it may be a long time). If they do turn against this darkness, it must be from the midst of their light, their native grace – so one should address that light, respond fully and humanly to it from one’s own grace – and then the real may come through, in time.

i’ve only been properly angry a handful of times in the last decade but i am irritable and saturnine this evening, thanks to the intricacies of international finance – namely how to meet my monthly credit card repayments when the card is English and my available funds are in a German bank. It turns out that the easiest way is to wire money to an English friend, via Western Union, and for her to go to the local branch and deposit it in my name. For this, i have spent 30 minutes on the phone, 15 of those minutes spent listening to muzak and reading G.K. Chesterton. i am tempted to send the phone bill to my English bank, or perhaps the German one, or both.

i wish my banks could take on human form, so i could throttle them, slowly, almost gently, relishing the deed. Come to think of it, i wish the Present Perfect, Reported Speech, and ridiculously tricky Passive voices could take on human form, so i could murder them one by one, using a variety of weapons and killing techniques. i would then mutilate the bodies and dump them in a reservoir somewhere, for children to find.

wordpress hit counter