1. Bitterly cold in my bunker today. Even when it’s warm outside, my room is so cold i shiver myself awake. i pay 40 €/month for heating but heating there is none. The dogs half-accept me now, in that their snarling & barking seems a little half-hearted, and one (my favourite of the circus hounds, a big black beast called Paris) seems to have decided i’m all right. My plan is to suborn Paris to my service with covert gifts of salami and brandy, and if the shit really goes down with the other dogs, he will take my side like Lancelot at the close of Excalibur.

2. Walking home yesterday, a small child riding his bike said “hallo!” brightly as he passed. i was nonplussed but managed a sinister, knowing nod. A week or two ago, a child walking on his own kept running to keep up with my longer, Aragorn-like strides. We didn’t exchange a look or words but i felt he felt somehow comfortable so. Peculiar but pleasing. i am reminded of this great essay by Theodore Dalrymple.

One of my students, when i remarked on the great & benign changes in German culture since the war (and how England now seems very like Germany in the 20s), said it was in part because, during & after the war, the women had to raise the children themselves, the men being dying or dead, and the women on the whole imparted a sense of the need for family structure, for good order, decency, for practicality over idealism. Perhaps it is so; in any case, i prefer the Krauts to the chavs.

3. i read Alex Kudera’s Fight for Your Long Day the other day, a grimly amusing, joyless, scatological, half-crazed, episodic tale of a fat, ugly, incontinent adjunct literature tutor in Philadelphia. i guess it is to some degree caricature, or selectively grim, but it nonetheless confirmed my sense that it’s better to teach the English language to adults, than English Literature or Philosophy to 18-year-olds. The hero spends most of his time trying to find a clean public toilet to shit on (no easy matter, it transpires), in the meantime fighting his way past genuine American racists/tramps/political nuts, and trying to teach opinionated or braindead students. It is in one sense very different to my experiences at Durham but the general atmosphere – of futility – is the same.

i enjoy most of my classes in Germany, and if i can’t talk about literature or philosophy or what not, it doesn’t greatly matter. My students generally want to learn the language, and even if, at 0730 on Monday, they are not initially enthusiastic, i quickly attune to their mood, their energies, and can rouse them to life by talking about raccoons or cheese or sex toys, whatever interests them. Contrast this with trying to teach literature or philosophy to Generation Zombie – the average 18-year-old has not suffered enough to have anything to say about King Lear or The Waste Land or The Portrait of a Lady (my current tram book), or if he has, he most likely hasn’t survived it. One must suffer and survive, and neither are easy. Without some measure of suffering, opinions will be theoretical at best (this is, in a sense, the point of James’ novel).

i can imagine 18-year-olds for whom there is some purpose in Maths or Logic – for this, you need no experience, no character. But for literature, you may as well be teaching dogs as young people. Give me a class of engineers any day, with some badass hardcore grammar and some amusing role plays – better that than the dogs.

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