You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2011.
i find that Dickens is very much on my side against the perfidy of insurance companies. Read this today on the u-bahn, in Martin Chuzzlewitt:
Strange things have been done in the Insurance way before now, by strange sorts of men, and I mean to take care of myself.
1. i’ve been reading Martin Chuzzlewit the last few days, amused and a little horrified, as is the way with Dickens. i admire him more & more as the years pass; as a stripling, i gobbled up Dostoevsky, Conrad, Proust, James, and while recognising Dickens’ rhetorical power, dismissed his work as quaint, made-for-BBC-costume-drama silliness.
My younger self would have judged Dickens a very crude psychologist, with his evident caricatures. However, i find that Dickensian caricature is often a precise concentration of some human trait, not tediously inert like much Medieval allegory, but imbued with enough weird life to evade total categorisation. The power is evident in this, that over a century and a half, some of his characters seem acutely illustrative of very modern types. For example, the smiling hypocrite Pecksniff, introduced thus:
Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr Pecksniff: especially in his conversation and correspondence. […] He was a most exemplary man: fuller of virtuous precept than a copy-book. Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there: but these were his enemies: the shadows cast by his brightness; that was all. His very throat was moral. You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie, for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr Pecksniff, ‘There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace: a holy calm pervades me.’ […] So did his person, which was sleek though free from corpulency. So did his manner, which was soft and oily. In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower, and dangling double eye-glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’
Another character addresses him:
‘Why, the annoying quality in you is,’ said the old man, ‘that you never have a confederate or partner in your juggling; you would deceive everybody, even those who practise the same art; and have a way with you, as if you – he, he he! – as if you really believed yourself. I’d lay a handsome wager now,’ said the old man, ‘if I laid wagers, which I don’t and never did, that you keep up appearances by a tacit understanding, even before your own daughters here. Now I, when I have a business scheme in hand, tell Jonas what it is, and we discuss it openly.’
Pecksniff, with his blandly superior manner, his relentless self-satisfaction, and his ability to combine exploitation, greed, and mercenary wickedness, with an unwavering belief in his own ineffable goodness – one need only add a fixed, lunatic grin and it would be the person Peter Hitchens calls Anthony Blair.
i once argued with a conspiracy theorist who believed that all politicians and all journalists were Jesuits, that they performed human sacrifice and knew the inside story on everything. When i suggested it would be logistically very difficult to have so very many people “in the loop”, and that, furthermore, i felt people like Blair and Bush were merely absolute hypocrites, the theorist told me i was naive. For him, they were Satanists, avatars of pure evil, as were of course all other politicans, all journalists, and everyone who disagreed with him – they knew they were doing evil, and they rejoiced in it, like the Simpsons episode where an evil villain toasts his confederates: “Gentlemen – to evil!”
Dickens would have had fun with conspiracy types. It’s not that i don’t credit conspiracies – conspiracy is, and always has been, human nature, and it would be very strange if there had been conspiracies, assassinations, provocations, etc., at every point in human history, except ours. But i also have faith in human stupidity and hypocrisy. i guess the reason people like Blair and Bush were able to proceed so directly, without doubts, and to gull so many, is that they had the Pecksniffian ability to gull themselves first, no doubt aided by their own mediocre intelligence and the ardent need to be right, all the time.
Tolstoy likewise notes that (his) Napoleon was never troubled by doubt, because his starting position was this, that whatever he did or thought was the right thing. Working from this a priori foundation, he merely had to adjust the facts to his interpretation, an increasingly automatic process of ignoring, dismissing, or forgetting the incompatible. i’ve observed this in many people, just in this life. For example, i knew a self-professed Zen/Taoist master who was in his life a petty, aggressive egomaniac, demanding absolute submission from everyone. Those who obeyed were fit to be his disciples; those who dissented were his enemies; there was no middle category. Sifu Pecksniff had a barbed sense of humour – directly wholly at other people; he couldn’t take the slightest criticism or even hint of insubordination, and would react with violent hatred against anyone who differed from his divine understanding. He once wrote a page on his I Am Very Zen website about compassion, criticising people who think they are compassionate but delight in being cruel to others, and in the same week he wrote me an email gloating about how he had “destroyed” colleagues at work with deliberately sadistic remarks. i wondered if he was being ironic, but after some time realised he wouldn’t have even seen that the apparently Zen article contradicted his personal cruelty; he was such an accomplished and pathological hypocrite, he wouldn’t have noticed. i felt the email was the real person; the “Zen” always felt hollow and automatic, something a machine could produce after assimilating enough Alan Watts.
i have no problem with a little recreational cruelty, to the deserving; but i won’t pretend to be a good person, let alone a Pecksniffian Zen master in my white robes, drifting serenely about to the soundtrack of authentic Chinese folk music, untroubled by merely mortal matters. (i think i understand now why a real Zen master wrote a book and immediately burnt it – for otherwise people would parrot it and think they knew something about Zen).
2. Well, one can learn something from books but it seems best if the process is indirect, almost to the point of being untraceable. When I was about 20, after half-dropping out of my first degree (Psychology, at a grim northern university), i decided to try either Philosophy or English Literature. i tried to shift to the Philosophy, then the Eng Lit, departments in the same northern university, this being easier & quicker than going through the whole application system from scratch. Luckily, i was rejected by both and so ended up studying English Lit in Durham, a commendably old-fash place somewhat shielded from Lit Theory and the late 20th Century (at my school we said it was for “Oxford & Cambridge rejects”). Although this education left me unemployable in England, i learnt enough to keep me psychologically intact in the subsequent trenches of minimum wage data entry, just about.
i sometimes wonder how i would have managed a Philosophy course, at a modern university; very badly, i think. A fellow English teacher at my first school, in Kiel, had done Philosophy and said he had always got marked down for not citing enough sources, not merely regurgitating what Aristotle or Kant had thought. i’ve always hated reading tedious commentaries, and footnotes enrage me with their servile pointlessness (Bush, p 6), so it would have been worse for me. In addition i have no real interest in philosophers like Aristotle or Hegel or Kant, being far more interested in “poetic” thinkers like Niezsche, Schopenhauer, Camus, the pre-Socratics, the Plato of Phaedrus and Symposium. i get the feeling these are not quite reputable in academia, not dry & abstract enough, no doubt.
There is another danger in studying Philosophy – the transmission of knowledge, or wisdom if you like, is too direct; this encourages discipleship, cliques, the mere parroting of jargon and phrases, as we see in Literary Theory (transgressive, jouissance, différance, liminal, aporia, marginalised, hegemony, patriarchy, feminine, structures, post- anything, construct, homo-anything, gendered, discourse, Foucault). Just as with Sifu Pecksniff, who could reflexively and unthinkingly emit a Zen/Krishnamurti saying for every occasion, so with academic philosophers.
It’s easier to learn about one’s world and self by reading novels and poems, precisely because it is indirect. There are fewer temptations; one is not misled by jargon, provided one steers clear of Literary Theory. Being indirect, this transmission cannot be defended against people who, naturally enough, think it doesn’t exist (for actually, it is fairly rare – i think only one out of ten English students at Durham seemed at all interested in reading or thinking; and Lit Theory has further discredit the whole of the Humanities).
Roughly speaking, in reading and understanding a poem or a novel or play, you contemplate a mental structure, and absorb it into yourself. If you cannot, it remains an external structure, incomprehensible and closed (like most of Wallace Stevens, to me). But when you really get beneath the surface of, say, Lord Jim or The Waste Land, it as it were yields its substance to you, and becomes part of you. Thereafter, the mental structure acts as a psychological shortcut, a reference point by which one can comprehend other fictions, or one’s own life. So, for example, i found Tolkien’s Galadriel enormously accelerated my understanding of narcissism, as i saw it in a girl i loved – like Galadriel, she was charismatic, beautiful, and desired power over others. Without Galadriel, perhaps i would have long remained frustratedly aware of the girl’s contradictions, and mentally circled about her image, wondering how someone could be beautiful, in spirit and body, and yet (often it not always) so cold and manipulative and vain (the beauty and the vanity existed in a dynamic relation, so as her vanity grew, her beauty became less persuasive, less real). Or i could say that i am so ruthless about my position here in Germany – that i will not return to England, will not live off others, because, like Lord Jim with his bulkhead, i am deeply ashamed of submitting to data entry for 5 years, when i should have committed suicide as soon as i left university. This is a great sin, which i cannot undo; i can only make sure i don’t do it again. So Jim accepts his fate, in the end, because he once tried to evade it.
These absorbed mental structures – Jim, Galadriel, or the movement through death to regeneration in The Waste Land – these underpin and give resonance and solidity to my otherwise precarious life. No one who has not felt this in himself, not felt how a poem or fiction can enter the blood, would understand it. So there is no point defending the Humanities to politicians – for i would suppose very few have joined their substance to a poem or book, just as very few English Lit students will read a book after their last exam.
i see more now, why i don’t take to Aristotle or Kant – they are too direct, as if truth can be arrived at as a man might take the train to another town. The Symposium, or Camus’s The Fall, interest me more, in their indirection, poetry as philosophy. As one sees with the pre-Socratics, philosophy once was poetry, because wisdom was initiation, a mystery, and one does not arrive at the gods in a very easy and direct fashion, as on a train; though perhaps it could be likened to a trip on an English train, full of surprise cancellations, heavy delays, suicides, the wrong leaves, stones hurled from bridges by youths, ripped-up seats, bottles of booze rolling down the aisle, abortions, emergency surgeries, psychotic passengers, half-eaten Greggs pasties, murders, rapes, and general fuss and inconvenience and bother.
i wrote this over the weekend, just tidied it up a bit now and feel ready to inflict it on my victims (you):
The Prince’s Tomb
I have been working on the great prince’s tomb for a decade now, since I came to his attention and so merited this commission, this honour, this terrible labour. For it is not easy, to devise and construct any tomb, let alone his. There is really no science to it; there are no procedures, no models, nothing one can do by rote, as it were from a generic type. One works through the science merely in order to come to the point of unknowing, where tradition and scholarship end, where one pores over blueprints and demands and limitations, all night, every night, alone, until sometimes an answer comes before morning. Then one knows, yes, a small ancillary chamber here, with an arched ceiling, will provide the required echo and draft, the sense of extra (but half-hidden) space so necessary to his peace of mind, when living. For when he is dead, perhaps it will seem otherwise.
But then, it would be a false tomb if it did not also correspond to his self in eternity. It could be argued that no one would ever know, that if my tomb failed to suit the dead prince, he would hardly be in a position to punish me; that he could not even wag his finger in reproof. I might reply, that I would not wish to gamble so, even at seemingly good odds. That is not, however, why I spend thousands of hours ensuring my tombs will suit not only the living but the dead, even when the two may be quite different in their tastes and aversions. Building a tomb, it slowly becomes apparent that certain features jar with the inhabitant’s eventual character, that such and such a construction may please the living but is inadequate for eternity. And then one makes revisions. Hard, time-consuming, but necessary. The conscientious craftsman must give thought to the totality, to the patron’s truest nature; that nature is to be most fully realised in eternity, in death; if one can comprehend that eternal self, in all its imbalance and fury and dread, the living takes shape also, quite easily, as a particular and lesser form, as the specific, limiting occasion.
No other has achieved this, nor do I think it likely. This is why my tombs please: the patron, if he chooses to inspect my work, feels I have satisfied all mortal desire, somehow more profoundly than could any other. His present wishes are upheld and contained in eternal desire; by satisfying the latter I more than satisfy the former. And this is the case even where these two appear mutually alien or antagonistic. The point where the two are simultaneous, that is my art.
So there are these thousands of hours of careful thought and plotting, brooding on the patron, the space, the materials, the money. Then there are the difficulties of construction. The craftsmen come from their village for 8-day shifts, and being as they are specialists, their village carefully set apart in a grim, arid place, they value themselves too highly. They turn up drunk, or not at all. They quarrel and fight. They argue. They complain, constantly. Even as they work, no matter how absorbed, they complain. The work is too hard or too easy, the dimensions not to their liking, the ceiling threateningly high or low, the stone bad, the paint cheap, not up to their usual standards, the beer weak, the bread stale, and so on and so on until I must raise my voice and curse and threaten, and mention the prince, and even then they grumble.
Still, there is progress. By sheer will, by ingenuity and belligerence, i have accomplished much. If the great prince dies tonight he will have a private house for his slumber in eternity. But if he lives another two or three years, without dying of excess, or being murdered by his brothers or cousins or sons, or the angry husbands or fathers of his victims, or even by one of his victims, then he will enjoy a palace in death as in life.
For he insists. He will enjoy himself in death also. There will be gold, much gold, and jewels, and great art, and fine paints, and vast spaces, and of course little nooks and escape passages, and there will be grandeur and magnificence, as befits so great a prince. There will also be chambers for his dead wives and servants and horses. They will be arranged for his use, in adjoining rooms. I suggested one great central chamber, his sarcophagus in the very eye, the wives and servants and horses to hand about, but he said no, they must abide in separate rooms. One room for the great prince, though it must be vast.
I nodded as if this were normal, when in fact it is irregular and created new difficulties. But I saw the look behind his look, and incorporated his fear into the construction. And he was pleased. He is afraid that he will awaken in that other world, but on an equal footing with his wives and servants, perhaps even with his horses, though he would have least to fear from the horses. He will tolerate much from horses but less so from people; and he is not gentle. No, he would not want to awaken so.
I have created spaces both public and private. The former are accessible to his retainers. The latter are particular to the prince. So if all awake together and without distinction of puissance and rank, they can batter on his doors while he thanks all gods that his architect made it so. But could they do him harm? And what would happen, if they killed him, since he will already be dead? Is there another world, beyond that? Or only utter destruction?
There are some who would will this destruction upon him. He is not, perhaps, untypical of great princes, though he has pursued lust and cruelty and greed further than most. He is, in my understanding, unusual in his doubts. Princes usually assume they will remain princes forever. They expect a regal afterlife and if anything they suppose it will be a good deal easier than their merely mortal life, without fear of insurrection or illness or disastrous war. My patron is otherwise, though perhaps only i know this, and I am careful to conceal my knowledge. The tomb reflects, and guards against, his fear. The workmen sometimes grumblingly ask why I insist on such and such, and I say, the prince wills it. That is enough to silence opposition. They know that, specialists though they be, they are not safe from his justice, his means and devisings. No one is exempt.
He has toured the tomb. He is pleased. He sees that I have divined his deeper fears. After death he will have no concerns. His wives and servants cannot rise up against him. There will be no vengeance. If all is well, and his regal power carries over into death, he can go out from his private chambers, and command these retainers, with his customary assurance. If not, he can remain in state, in his considerable privacy, in the inner tomb of my making and his desiring.
It is important that he not know that I know. He is pleased but, I think, is not entirely sure why he is pleased, and he certainly cannot know just how deliberate and calculating I am, that I have considered his nature, his fear, and made a monument against that fear. Naturally, he thinks himself quite fearless, and if queried would probably admit to nothing more than a certain unease at the thought of sharing his inner sanctum with wives and servants.
There will always be earthly justice and the machines and techniques of pain. I recognise the expertise involved, that just as there are master architects and expert painters and stonesmiths, so there are experts in suffering. The prince takes an amateur interest in the matter, confesses himself fascinated by justice.
Perhaps the prince’s fear is that the gods’ justice is not as ours, that earthly justice will not hold good in the world beyond. If so, he is right to doubt. Accordingly, I have made his tomb a giantly complex protection against whatever dangers may attend, when rank is no more. As I say, this is not apparent to all. To even the craftsmen, it is just another princely tomb, albeit of peculiar design. To him, it is restful.
A good tomb will have two natures, the apparent and the deep. The apparent nature is for the uninitiated, for would-be tomb robbers and labourers. The deep nature is for the inhabitant. The separation is important, for just as one likes one’s secrets in life, so in death. The prince has many secrets though they are mostly, I think, unimportant – concealed vices and horrors.
My tombs are exceptional because they contain not two but three layers. The third gives a sense of greater depth, of unusual solidity. The first layer is fairly simple, it is that which everyone would expect (a tomb for a great prince). The second layer is known only to the inhabitant and myself (to protect the great prince from his retainers). The third is known only to myself. Just as the second must be a mystery, to have full power, so with the third.
All three levels must hold good at once. There is no detail – no twist in the corridor, no sudden drop, no height or enclosure, which is not true to all three. If there is a magnificent gold working on such and such a wall, it is because a great prince requires opulent decoration; and it contains secret magics to separate the prince from his retainers, lest they rebel; and – it fulfils the third and deepest purpose – it separates the prince from his retainers.
The third purpose mirrors the second. Once placed in his private chamber, the dead prince cannot leave. The tomb is in fact his eternal prison. The slaughtered retainers will awake and find themselves unlorded, their prince apparently forgot or mislaid in the passage from death to life. Most will, I suppose, immediately depart. Some may seek their master; but he will be securely bound in his regal isolation, undetectable. Even if they knew his location they could never break through the dividing wall. It is fashioned of sorceries and stone and very careful thought. He will remain. He will have his private eternity to himself; and none can intrude, and nor can he escape. Pacing that total world, exploring his many chambers and corridors and stairs, his niches and oddities, he will fully inhabit my creation; he will have as long as he needs, to survey what he is (for my tomb is the prince, his deepest nature). If he ever departs it will only be upon his dissolution, if he finally disintegrates – which may come to pass, eventually – when he is not who he is.
It may seem perverse that the prince should be so pleased by his tomb. But, one may argue, he is deceived, he mistakes a prison for a sanctuary, you have fooled him. And to some extent this is true; he would be extremely displeased. But the third purpose is not my desire only. It is so pleasing to the prince because it is his wish also, because some dark kernel craves a very long solitude. If this were not so, people would not call him the great prince.
The nature of this solitude – now that is unknown to me. There is solitude and solitude. I would not presume to guess at the purpose of his longing, whether it is of fear or hope, if it is for some end or for itself. In any case, I have built a vessel for solitude. He often comes to walk about, much pleased. It is, he tells me, a great comfort to know he has such a home. It seems even more opulent than his earthly palace, more perfectly crafted to his character and greatness. But that, he reflects, nodding up at the golden ceiling, is as it should be – no earthly palace could suit so well, for every man longs only for a perfect tomb, to be fixed in eternity, to be whole and perfect, forever. Isn’t it so? I nod, and am pleased that he is pleased, or it would be more accurate to say, I am relieved; no one would presume to feel pleased in his company: that would border on insolence and so merit the machines of justice, the racks and screws, the irons, fires, waters, all darknesses and terrors of his pleasure; his strange experts, and their crazed dogs, the rats, wasps, hooks, acids, tearings and rapings and manglings, all his great and necessary arts. But certainly, I am relieved. I follow at his shoulder, attentive, deferential, but secretly and intensely considering every aspect of his stance, his walk, his manner, to further inform my work. And he continues to pace about, smiling and nodding, satisfied with my work, already almost at home.
(13 August 2011)
Another weekend in Elberryland, i ran out of asthma medication, realised i wouldn’t make it to Tuesday (Monday, is a holiday) so asked Juniper how much an emergency doctor would cost; she thought about 50 €, erroneously as it happens, for it was instead 800. This strikes me as quite a lot of money for 15 minutes’ work, especially as my medical insurance company, the DKV (Deutsche Krankenversicherung) won’t pay for it. i was already worried that i would need to borrow perhaps another 500 € just to survive to October, and now i have an extra 800 to conjure out of nothingness.
A curious thing with the DKV – apparently, i pay them 550 € a month but they only pay my medical costs if i’ve already paid over about 700 € a year. So, maybe, maybe, they will refund me 100 € from the doctor, though i wouldn’t be too surprised if they have a wriggle-out clause in the contract. The reason, incidentally, why i had no medication is because i couldn’t afford any – after paying 550 € a month for medical insurance, i have no money left for medication, i don’t even have enough money left for rent, and have had to borrow money the last two months, just to survive.
It would have been much much better to go with public health insurance (DKV is private), as the public won’t charge extortionate sums just because a chap has asthma. However, i had lived in Germany for more than a year without any medical insurance before i was earning enough to consider it – and the public company said i had to cover the backpayments from my arrival, about 3500 €, i think; but the monthly amount would only be about 350 €, and so after i’d paid the 3500, i would have had 200 € less than with the DKV.
One might ask, why did i go with the DKV, who charge me their maximum tarif? Well, because they told me that after 9 months my monthly premiums would go down to about 400, so it looked like it would be immediately much better, and over the long term only slightly worse, to go with the DKV. However, when i rang them last week, to ask why the premiums haven’t gone down, my consultant told me they will never go down, that he has no idea what i’m talking about, and there are no contracts where the premium goes down after 9 months.
So i am fucked. The DKV fucked me. The DKV lied to me in order to get me to sign the contract. i wasn’t suspicious enough – i should have said “show me where it says the payments go down after 9 months”, but i presumed they wouldn’t do something so mercenary, unethical, and immoral. But, well, they did and now i can’t even afford to buy medication because of their monthly kilo of flesh.
i feel old and extremely tired. Tired of fighting Germany, tired of fighting a country where it seems impossible to even survive on less than twice my paltry scrapings. An apposite Facebook update by my friend Bonehead, who is my age:
Another year sneaks past me. I figure I have ten more good ones before my teeth and my bowels loosen. Then, no longer of any use to the tribe, I will go to the mountains to seek a noble end, preyed upon by wild beasts and driven blind by starvation, I will perish alone with my wounds beneath a gnarled weather-beaten tree and my miserable nutrients will return to the soil.
i feel like this now. i feel like there is nothing left of me, it’s all been ripped out and consumed by Germany, by – among others – the Deutsche Krankenversicherung, the blood-sucking vampires, on whom i wish the foulest & most appalling curses of the darkest gods.
1. i had an interview of sorts yesterday, with a big HR boss at a German car company. i’ve been teaching there since May but my name seems to have finally appeared on the big boss’s radar, after a new student said she wanted me and not some other (no doubt lesser) teacher; there was apparently some kind of tug of war, won on my behalf by my “school” (in reality an older teacher who does the marketing work and engages teachers to do the work). i teach some of the new student’s colleagues and though i’m only a reasonably competent teacher, they seem to like me, so there it is. The boss wanted to meet me, to see what all the fuss was about, and i duly went. It was fairly routine except for one point, where i likened a good lesson to a productive torture session; i fancied i saw a momentary unease in her eyes. i probably shouldn’t have said it but it was too amusing not to.
2. i had my first lesson with Eva, the new student, on Tuesday; she’s a delightful, tall, pretty woman, late 20s i guess, shy, but willing to be tempted into speech. She believes her English is terrible; it’s actually pretty good, but it’s not yet been made “live”. My job is mainly to let her feel English as a living language, to talk cogently, and to encourage her, to listen with attention and interest. The listener is important. When i attended an “Italian group” in Manchester, the other participants being elderly, jaded schoolteachers, i found myself unable to manage even functional Italian. A couple of years later i had Italian lessons in Kassel, with a friend, and found i could talk in basic Italian without much difficulty, for the whole 90 minute lesson. In Manchester, the others were typical teachers, i.e. pretentious non-entities who disapproved of my entire being (i had the same experience doing my CELTA in 2009 – the trainers disliked me intensely); in Kassel, my teacher was a beautiful young Sardinian woman, a friend, an architect by training; she worked in an ice cream salon and only taught Italian for a couple of hours a week.
The only difference, by which one might account for my enormous difficulty in Manchester, and my fluency in Kassel, is the listener. A good listener welcomes one’s words, is interested, sympathetic, enabling. i was pleased to note that Eva was at first embarrassed, awkward, tentative, but after about half an hour became bolder and passionate, forgetting to be shy when, for example, i asked why she had hated her first job (a secretary), or why she didn’t want to live in the city. She was surprised to find i’d worked as a secretary for 2 years, and that i’d done even worse work before, for 3 years. i find these variously hideous temp jobs useful now – without them, i doubt i’d have the same understanding of office-world, of just how bad bad jobs can be; and since almost everyone has had a bad job or dislikes elements of office work, we can readily connect on this.
After finishing her apprenticeship, she was told she must be a secretary. She had hated this first job because she was under constant supervision, and would, for example, be ordered to make the boss coffee. i am no feminist but i was rather taken aback, and ventured frowningly: “that sounds like something from the 50s.”
“It is normal,” she said, resigned. “In Germany if you are a woman you will be a secretary and make coffee.”
“No one ever asked me to make them coffee.” i felt retrospectively offended, that my coffee-making-skills had never been valued. “Though that was probably because they knew i would have spat in it.”
She was greatly pleased with this image, laughing. A milestone in learning a language, this, the first real laughter. Her boss stuck his head in the door and found us chortling away; a good thing he missed the spectacle of me miming spitting into a cup of coffee and presenting it to someone with a charming smile, though i’ve done worse in some lessons.
1. i am increasingly mesmerised by Busta Rhymes. A classic Busta line: “I’m slick like Fonzarelli and rich like Cunningham”. i wish to inflict this line upon my students.
2. Reflecting on yesterday’s post, i must qualify my apparent indifference to money. i am actually extremely keen on money and probably spend at least an hour a week brooding on how much, or little, money i will make this month, compared to how much, and much, i must pay for medical insurance, rent, interest repayments, etc. etc. etc. Money is freedom, if you have the mind to use it well; it is freedom from office labour, from the majority of life’s cares, from worry about the near and distant future.
i wish to be obscenely rich. i wish to own a vintage Mercedes (i hate the new models, but today i passed an older model, a beautiful dark metallic green, and moaned in lust) – or, at the least, a BMW or Audi, painted elberry (a special colour i devised myself); i wish to travel, and not as a backpacker; i wish to try Amarano wines (recommended by a student); i wish to buy a decent stereo and have a house or flat large enough to accommodate my hundreds of CDs, DVDs, and books (all now in England). i wish to repay my increasingly hideous debts, and to have my enemies brutally murdered. i wish to have many beautiful, big-assed whores, and to explain them to Juniper thus: “just a little something to divert my lusts when you’re not around, none of them can put curtains up like you, or nag me like you” (she is a first class nagger, like all German women).
But it is a matter of priorities. My work must come first – but i have faith that it IS possible to do good work, and yet make enough money to walk about Munich in a gold Elvis suit, surrounded by expensive whores.
3. A great interview with the great Werner Herzog. The more i hear about him, the greater he seems. Some samples:
“The Spanish Inquisition had one goal, to eradicate all traces of Muslim faith on the soil ofSpain, and hence you had to confess and proclaim the innermost deepest nature of your faith to the commission. And almost as a parallel event, explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans. We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever—you cannot live in a house like this anymore. And you cannot live with a person anymore—let’s say in a marriage or a deep friendship—if everything is illuminated, explained, and put out on the table. There is something profoundly wrong. It’s a mistake. It’s a fundamentally wrong approach toward human beings.”
In the documentary that Herzog made about Kinski after his death, My Best Fiend, he alludes in passing to one other time when he sincerely entertained murderous thoughts toward his leading man, when he planned to firebomb Kinski’s house until deterred by Kinski’s dog. I’d like to know more.
“We had plans to kill each other, strangely enough, at exactly the same time,” Herzog begins, a little hesitantly. “But you have to see it as these beautiful plots, like in a detective story, and those were mostly plots, I would say, in sheer fantasy. But at some moment it got closer than just a pure fantasy.”
What were you going to do?
[pause] “Well, as I said, I plotted to kill him.”
Did you actually have the firebomb?
[long pause] “I can’t answer that. I only can answer that he had this very vigilant shepherd dog, and the presence of the shepherd dog dissuaded me.”
This is a great man. i wrote yesterday about the enabling proximity of death; the easiest way to this power is by near suicide, but now i think about it, being willing to firebomb Klaus Kinski is a pretty good alternative.
Herzog is not a modern man. i would love to know of his other lives; i vaguely imagine some Medieval wandering lunatic preacher, the kind of maniac who is actually 100% sane, but has arrived at insane positions through perseverence. It’s a pity he doesn’t make a film about Wittgenstein; i doubt it could be as wrong-headed as Derek Jarman’s effort, and there are certainly strange scenes in LW’s life, episodes which would appeal to the creator of Aguirre (building Gretl’s house, serving as an artillery observer on the Eastern Front, beating schoolchildren, etc). Karl Johnson, who played LW in Jarman’s film, looked vaguely like the man but utterly lacked his depth, his power and resolve; the result is a brittle, charmless neurotic. Herzog would probably cast Busta Rhymes as Wittgenstein, and it would be completely convincing.
One of these men is Wittgenstein, one is Busta Rhymes, but less than 2% of philosophy professors can tell them apart.
1. i’ve been reading Paul Johnson’s Heroes, a splendid book inexplicably available for free here. A sample excerpt, from his chapter on Sir Walter Raleigh:
He spent his last night not in the tower but in the gatehouse prison at Westminster, and was killed on a scaffold erected in Palace Yard. He was in a jaunty mood and said he would rather die on the scaffold than of a fever. He said he was not afraid to meet God, who had forgiven him his sins. He ate a hearty breakfast, and smoked one last pipe. His death is one of the best documented of all public executions, replete with fascinating detail. Palace Yard was rammed with people, and he had to push his way through them to get to his own scaffold. A man offered him a glass of fine sack wine, and he drank it, cracking a joke: “It is a good drink, if a man might tarry by it.” On the scaffold, Ralegh looked around and saluted all he knew, friends and enemies. It was a great turnout of old Elizabethan grandees and new Jacobean celebrities. Among them was John Pym, the great future parliamentarian, and Sir John Eliot. The latter, after witnessing Ralegh’s death, changed from a fervent monarchist into a bitter opponent of the Stuarts. The condemned man was allowed to make a tremendous speech. Then he knelt down to pray. He then stood up, gave away his hat and whatever money he had.
He shook hands with all the gentry on the scaffold and embraced his friend Lord Arundel, and said: “I have a long journey to go, and therefore I take my leave.” He insisted on the executioner showing him the axe, ran his thumb along the blade and said: “This is a sharp medicine but it is a physician for all diseases.” His last words were “Strike, man, strike!” His head fell off after two strokes, the lips still moving. The headsman held up the head by its hair but declined to speak the traditional words “Behold the head of a traitor.” A great groan went up from the crowd, and a voice cried: “We have never had such a head cut off.” The killing of Ralegh was judged a miserable act of cruelty and meanness of spirit even at the time, and drove a hefty nail into the cause of the Stuart absolute monarchy. It gave dignity to a man who had not always possessed it in life, and ensured him a heroic immortality. Did he deserve it? A hero is not judged by ordinary moral standards. He becomes heroic by the image he fixes of himself in our minds. Ralegh’s image, brash, bold, proud, brave, adventurous, scintillating and rash, is enormously potent. With all his faults he is an overwhelmingly attractive figure. If he came into the room, now, we would recognize him instantly, and be delighted to see him.
Modern academics would despise this excellent prose style as insufficiently jargon-ridden, lacking in grovelling references to Foucault and Derrida and Lacan, and altogether not adequately sterile and lumbering and dishonest. It is an interesting if unsavoury phenomenon, that over the last two decades, in academia at least, lucid, graceful, exact prose has come to be regarded as disreputable, old-fashioned, old hat (akin to Morris Dancing), whereas murky, ugly, almost incomprehensible, and often totally meaningless, prose is taken to be authoritative, and the closer it comes to the incomprehensible, the fraudulent, and meaningless, the greater its authority. It seems part of a general revulsion from the human, from elegance and meaning and precision.
Further in Heroes, there are good chapters on Wellington and Wittgenstein, among many others. In the former, i read:
When the Earl of Winchelsea, a booby, said that Wellington’s emancipation of the Catholics was the prelude to reintroducing popery, the duke called him out, and a bloodless duel was fought in Battersea Park.
A booby. i have long desired such a word. It perfectly fits a certain type of idiot, not so much malign as ridiculous, almost beneath contempt, almost. i aim to use this word more in the future, and will no doubt encounter many fitting objects.
2. Reading of Raleigh’s death i think of my own – not the death to someday come, but the last, a generation before elberry was sadly born. i mostly remember being young and old from that life; the intervening years must lack the force to press easily through, to now. That death was not unwelcome; i died well, in good company, and felt the simple care & affection of the last person i saw. Though my life had gone badly wrong, at the time i felt relieved to have come to the finishing line in at least recognisable shape, that is, not insane. One of Dr Johnson’s last notebook entries is for a prayer “against despair”, and both Johnson and my last self would have been much relieved to quit this life in something other than utter destitution of mind and spirit. There was nothing terrible about that death, and the only judgement after was what Eliot, in Four Quartets, calls the rending re-enactment of all you have been; then fools’ approval stings and honour stains.
Death is casual; it is life which must be attended to. i have often been accused of being morbid – the first accuser being my mother, when i was 9, and i first realised we would all die (she screamed at me to shut up, telling me that “people don’t say things like that,” and “it isn’t the done thing!” – quite rightly, too: people don’t say things like that). i have had many accusers since, mostly women. But when i consider these rosy-tinters, those who imagine they won’t die, and that one should not be aware of death or the dead, it seems that they live purposeless, trivial lives, avid of distraction and gossip. Gossip can be interesting; but i think one must also lucidly acknowledge death, as true mother of all – for i suppose most people have died before, and certainly will again.
It is this certainty which gives us leverage on life, otherwise so uncertain, so curious, so unmapped and hazardous and fell. That we have died, and will die, is certainty enough to light a course through the dark of life. This will strike the modern man as inexplicably morbid, for to him death is a terrifying denial, a blank, a sterile nothing. For the rad trad, the chap in love with tweed, death is rather a strange illumination. He is at home with death. Thus the “holy place” i found in Kiel, a large, usually deserted graveyard full of trees, unmistakeably close to the gods. Wodan, Thoth, Ishtar, Hermes – gods of secret wisdom, of death and initiation. The gods come to us through death; the house of the dead is a light to men; in death we find the great yew, fatal, immortal, ours. So in Egypt; so now.
Another difficult month, financially, as most of my classes have been put on hold for August and part of September. Yesterday, i received my tax demand – surprisingly low, only €1100 or thereabouts; surprisingly merciful – i think the Kaiser deducts some of my obscenely high medical insurance, and also i earn almost nothing. It’s still roughly €1100 more than i have, but perhaps i can defer the payments.
It is a useful exercise, to really need money, and be tempted. It occurred to me i could put adverts on my blog, and i thought about it for a moment. i imagine my revenue would be slight – in any case, i doubt it would equal the amount i’ve received via paypal donations from readers. Why do i feel uneasy about adverts but quite pleased with donations? – it is the mechanised & manipulative nature of advertising, that everything is done by statistical models, and marketing tends to have a meretricious stink to it. Donations i see as evidence that someone values my work; there is no side to it.
Adverts would make me feel i wrote for money, that the activity of writing was incidental to financial gain. i am unable to commit much energy to peripheral activities, anything one would not do for its own sake; it is, however, hard to escape completely. Some tedious duties, such as queueing or memorising vocabulary, are immediately comprehensible; and as Juniper observed, the English even seem to enjoy standing in line. i can spent ten minutes in a queue, i can memorise vocab, but i could never convincingly perform in minimum wage office work, not day in day out, for years. That i spent most of my waking hours, from 2004 to 2009, doing things that had either very little or no value, purely for money, is testament to the modern world’s dreariness, and to my peculiar resilience. Five years in the trenches of data entry worked their changes; i am no longer willing to consider peripheral activities as a way of life. And so although i require money, i will not allow it to empty my life of meaning. It is not, however, easy to negotiate an uncompromised way of living.
It is important only to refuse to be compromised; one may well regard death as a kind of safety net – so one does not need to live an empty life; one can always die, and that is some hope. In any case, i turned my back on emptiness more than two years ago, and i have not died yet. Instead, things have (so far) always worked out, one way or another, and i have a job i like, a job i can do without hideous effort. i think my students respond well because they sense i am thoroughly present; it is only when they are not (as with the grotesquely wealthy little brats i taught this week) that i feel myself becoming perfunctory, distant. But this is the exception, and a good reason not to teach children (and these lessons were not wholly pointless, just difficult).
Last week i suggested my lawyer student have some classes with a teacher called Lucy, to improve his voice; she is a trained singer (Handel), and he needs to work on projecting his voice. Both liked the idea but Lucy, while welcoming the work, didn’t want to take units away from me. i suppose it was imprudent to suggest one of my few students go to another teacher; prudence, however, is a waste of energy, has never done me any good. A teacher’s first loyalty should be to the students – if he will benefit from professional voice work, this is more important than whether or not i get paid. To have done otherwise, to have kept quiet about Lucy, would have been to empty my lessons of significance, to teach purely for money – and then i might as well go back to £6/hour data entry.
It is a difficult balance and i don’t suppose many of my readers will understand me. Perhaps one needs to have wasted 5 years doing data entry, to feel the difference between peripheral and central activities, between two opposing ways of living. It’s also perhaps true that having nearly died of asthma about a dozen times in those years has given me a closer feeling for death. It is a mistake to suppose death is in any way undesirable; it is the certainty of death, as defining negation (or termination) which gives clarity and substance to life. Being the negation of life, death is in a sense a part of life, as one could say, in logic, that not-p contains the possibility of p, and vice versa. Beyond the surface oppositions one sees how it stands.
In a few minutes i go in to teach the children again. Yesterday i learnt that two out of the three of the mothers had complained – the 12-year-old girl’s mother said it was too hard, and one of the boys’ mothers said it was too easy. Nothing i can really do about that, it’s my school’s fault for putting a 12-year-old girl together with two 15-year-old boys. It’s not so much that her English is weak as that she’s still a child, whereas they are young adults. She can’t concentrate and seems to have almost no manners – for example, she spent Tuesday ripping up bits of paper, and then left the confetti scattered all over the table and floor. A moment of anger as i contemplated the mess, after she’d gone, and had it been legal i would have called her back and lightly whacked her across the head with my textbook. This kind of punishment was common at my school – it didn’t hurt, it was just a little humbling, without being humiliating. However, i would have then told her to pick up every piece of paper, individually, and construct a papier mache idol of Wittgenstein, and to read the Tractatus and present her 5 minute summary to the class. i would also probably have told her to devise a child-hurling catapult and then cruelly used it to hurl her across the Atlantic to Patrick Kurp, who i’m sure would be delighted to babysit a confetti-spewing 12-year-old German brat, presuming that she didn’t liquify on impact, covering Kurp in blood & viscera & confetti & bits of a papier mache Wittgenstein (what joy).
After only 5 units with the children, i felt exhausted & vaguely homicidal. i feel reluctant to see them again, though at least the school “assistant director” moved the girl to a group for younger brats, and i hope not to see her again (unexpectedly, she asked to stay in the class, so i suppose she enjoyed it, somehow). For these 5 units i will be paid € 65 – this seems like a lot of money, especially given i was paid about 35 pounds a day, after tax, in my office jobs. But when one factors in my € 550 a month medical insurance, anything less than € 20 a unit (45 mins) isn’t adequate, unless the school can provide at least 8 units a day. i work mainly for three schools, and over August i only have classes with one, a big chain which pays a measly € 13/unit. The school charges the customers about € 50 a unit, so they naturally expect high quality; but i find it hard to motivate myself to spend hours of unpaid time doing lesson prep, marking homework, finding supplementary materials, for € 13 a unit. When one factors in medical insurance, and the € 200/month i should be paying to the state pension fund (needless to say, i haven’t paid a pfenning), and the irregularity and uncertainty of the workload, €13 is equivalent to the 6 pound an hour jobs i did in England – that is, a subsistence wage.
Reflecting on my post-confetti exhaustion, i realised that, much as i enjoy energetic & successful human interactions, i feel stunned & horrified by insurmountable failure or rejection. This seems central to my nature. Perhaps because i am quite happy alone, reading, walking, peering at birds, scowling at dogs, examining trees, runing & crooning, occasionally even thinking & writing, and because i only had good experiences with human beings after my 21st year, i hesitate to involve myself with others – in any way – i do not require such grisly complication. Any involvement, and so any communication, is a difficult, fraught business.
This extends to my writing, and is the main reason i disabled comments, have no interest in publication, and why i very rarely comment on other people’s blogs; because my writing involves basic, not easily disengaged energies, the hostility i arouse is especially unsettling & irritating, leaves me unwilling to write at all, to anyone. i seem to enrage women in particular, though i also had at least two malevolent male stalkers (also a few lunatics), and the frequent drive-by boobies, a parade of patronising, abusive, superficial, arrogantly idiotic misreaders & dolts & vermin, human trash. Since disabling comments, the only feedback i have is from emails – and it is in the nature of the internet stalker, that if they cannot publicly spew out their venom, if they must deal with one directly, without an audience, they suddenly lose all interest, and are heard no more. And so the emails are friendly, courteous.
One of my malevolent stalkers, when i disabled comments, told me my mind would go stagnant without his valuable abuse. Likewise, Morgana became enraged when i told her i prefer to write in a vacuum; she told me i wouldn’t survive in academia if i was afraid of criticism and feedback, etc., etc. Well, yes. One more reason to avoid academia – just in this life i’ve had the unenviable experience of trying to explain myself to academics (in English Lit and Theology), who half-listen to the first few words, engage the relevant intellectual reflex, then rebut my point with something bearing no relation to my actual argument. i have no interest in talking to such great, tenured boobies.
This is the right path – away from the hectic silliness of any kind of fame, of crowd-pleasing, which must be a great dilution of force. i am uneasy with the tone of many blogs: at one end, the standing-on-tip-toes straining to please, or the self-conscious swagger; at the other, the hearty, self-satisfied camaraderie, the stout-bellied regular at his usual stool, surrounded by his usual, red-faced drinking companions, each with a loud opinion, each confident of their place in the world, of their belchings & mouthings. Nothing wrong with social gatherings – some of my favourite groups are more like a weekly get-together; but i won’t write like that. i do not require an editor, i do not need feedback from any human being. i could say, in Wodan’s words to his valkyrie daughter, when i talk to you, i take counsel only with myself.
1. i am enraged to find my medical insurance is still nearly € 600 a month; i was told it would go down to about € 400 after 9 months, and lo, it has been 9 months and it’s still 1.5 times as much as my rent. This month’s payment bounced, again, so i’ll have to explain myself, again, to these fucking vampires. i feel my asthma worsening as murderous rage excites & perturbs me. If i could, i would strangle my medical insurance company and hurl its livid corpse into a ravine, but alas their customer service has not yet developed a Strangle Me And Throw Me Into A Ravine option, the parasitic bastards.
2. Taught the class of kids today, the girl was only 12 and nice, giggly, vivacious, but about 30 years too young for a chap like me. One of the boys looked permanently jaded and too-cool-to-participate, the other was great fun, talkative and had very good grammar. i quite enjoy these groups because it’s amusingly surreal, how much money these kids have – the girl says she goes on holiday to Crete because “my parents have a house there”, and the talkative boy says his father has his own ship, and one of their friends “owns the Russian internet”. i by contrast can’t even pay my medical insurance; i am not envious, merely irritated to find myself older than Christ and still broke and murderous. It occurs to me that if i hadn’t signed up for medical insurance i would have saved approximately € 5000, and since i haven’t used it, this is a clear case of the 3rd Conditional: if i hadn’t wasted my money on medical insurance, i wouldn’t have spent the last few months worrying about money.
3. Rememorized 700 German words yesterday, in one of my feats of insane & pointless willpower. i’d forgotten about 1/4 of them, and of the ones i remembered, i couldn’t recall the genders of most nouns. It took hours; every time i approached exhaustion i told myself to keep going, until finally i entered a strange mental zone where i lost all sense of a world outside of vocabulary, and the weariness seemed normal. Later, i reflected that i couldn’t have exerted myself so, in Riem, or in Kassel, or Kiel, or England (after leaving university, anyway). i realise how much energy i wasted, enduring variously intolerable or just awkward digs, and how much is freed up now i can live alone, in a peaceful, clean place. i think it’s also a wider transformation; that i am shrugging off some of the broken carapace, becoming undetermined & strange & wayward, unmollified and barbarically insured.