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1. Friday evening at McLingua, my biggest school, killing time till a date with an artist, i was chatting with Tod (an American teacher) and Sybille (an Italian who works on reception). i was talking about rape and murder and suicide, chortling as usual. Sybille was a little shocked. Tod told her this is normal for me, adding an anecdote from earlier in the week:
Teacher room in McLingua, top floor, high above street level. Elberry pacing by the windows, mimicking shooting pedestrians with some kind of assault rifle; he is talking about a cool student, a macabre woman full of black lore about suicide methods and the way your head explodes when you shoot yourself, and so on.
Tod: You talk about suicide with your students?
Elberry: Why not? It gets them talking. You could structure a whole lesson around suicide. Has anyone here tried to commit suicide, are you committing suicide now, will you commit suicide in the future, do you know anyone who has? Then give them a task-based activity, how to dissuade someone from suicide, how to commit suicide using common household items, how to kill a hated enemy and make it look like suicide.
As Elberry is talking, Tod looks in the bookcase and finds a book of horror stories.
Tod: Hey, look at this, you want to read it?
Elberry: God no. Not my cup of tea at all.
Elberry resumes pacing up and down blowing away pedestrians with his imaginary rifle.
As Tod told the tale, i realised i am a little peculiar. It’s strange to see yourself from outside in this way. i’m both interested in how i appear to others, and largely indifferent – that is, i lack the energy to pay much attention but occasionally someone relates such a tale, and i ponder the matter with momentary interest.
In the evening i went to have myself painted by an amateur artist – i was paid 25 € for sitting still for 2 hours. i took a photo of the result and will post it on Monday, from the McLingua PCs (my home internet is too shit). i look about 60, and apparently Ashkenazi, but i don’t really feel young, never have, and given my pen name Aske (which came to me out of the blue about 8 years ago), and the ARI (Isaac Luria), i have no problems with this. Ashkenazi is also a cool name and suggests some kind of hybrid of the Vikings (aescling), Nazis, and Mossad. When the War comes i will form a cadre of Waffen SS/Mossad killers and we will kill Jihaddists and chavs and NHS managers and hippies and Tony Blair and stupid people and fat idiots, with ash spears.
2. When Sybille is on reception alone the kitchen is unattended. She does as little work as possible, never fills or empties the dishwasher, never makes coffee, and often ignores the phone if she can’t be bothered answering. Truly Italian, she is lovely but totally unreliable for everything. This sums up the whole of Italy, i feel – nice, largely harmless people, totally unreliable and workshy. It’s fitting that the Euro (and hopefully the EU) will most likely be destroyed by Italy and Greece, the cradle of our western civilisation. i’m not optimistic about the future. i know a girl who featured prominently in some recent London protests (her face appeared on the front page of a UK newspaper) – an irresponsible, violent, feckless, prodigal (with other people’s money), cocaine & cannabis-using strumpet, a classic case of “aggrieved entitlement”, in Theodore Dalrymple’s words. She got a credit card and immediately bought the biggest TV she could find for her student flat. Then she went to London to protest against university cuts. Her (impoverished) mother gave her 50 pounds for new shoes; she spent it on drugs. And so on. i guess these are the kind of people most drawn to things like Occupy Wall Street – hippies and scumbags, though i’d hope at least some of the protestors are decent human beings. Incidentally, i quite like the girl, probably because i’ve known her since she was 9 and she minds her manners with me, but i certainly wouldn’t trust her with anything important, such as five quid or the future of western civilisation.
3. On the other hand, i don’t see any future in the past. As Nicolas Berdyaev writes in The End of Our Time:
[…] and return to the past is impossible […] there are no such things as restorations. There are sporadic convulsive movements of forces to which revolution has brought final decomposition; and then later on there are new activities taking shape from forces bred by the revolution trying to consolidate their vital gains. It is senseless to want to restore anything that led to a revolution: as well shut oneself up in a magic circle. It is no good looking for a way out in a lateral movement to right and left; it can only be found vertically, in height and depth. The counter-revolution of ideas must be headed towards the making of a new life, wherein past and future shall be one in eternity, and at the same time be rigidly set against all forms of reaction.
As Berdyaev stresses, to try to turn the clock back, to, say, 50 years before the Revolution, would just mean the Revolution would come again, bred from the same conditions and tensions. Assuming the new order isn’t to resemble Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, i think it must draw greatly from the past, but with unforeseen mutations. It is characteristic that the survivors look back to the past, so Heidegger with the pre-socratics, TS Eliot with Dante. At least four of the most powerful imaginers in human history are alive now, two in their teens, the other two much younger; the youngest have been “between lives” for a long time, so the timing seems significant. One of these four is redoing his last, disastrous, life, as it should have been. The two in their teens are already fledgling artists, one in music (Murtaugh’s 15-year-old son Leo), the other in painting (not the artist i saw yesterday, indeed i only know him through non-physical visions). i think the new order will arise spontaneously, not from politicians or protesters; not from the kind of people who wave banners and march self-importantly about mouthing slogans. It will develop from a deeper connection with the past, with that which deserves to survive. A way of life cannot be restored. But the forces which created that way of life can be allowed into the present.
My own recipe for survival: be prepared to fight gangs of chavs & Jihaddists; know your edible from inedible plants; have lots of nuts in the house; study German; read Shakespeare and Dante; try to use language well. The rest will take care of itself.
dark gold hair, green eyes
Today is my first free day in about two weeks (last weekend spent on the road to and from Bratislava). My days pass in a muddle of grammar. i leave my flat before 0700, return around 2200, not however working all day – there are often sizeable gaps between lessons, just not long enough to go home. i try to learn German, with middling success – e.g. i can read Rilke, slowly, but could not make myself understood in Burger King last Saturday, when i asked if the Sixt leasing company was nearby (the cashier stared at me like a dying cow; he finally mooed, painfully: “Sex? I cannot understand”). i age. i read. i write reviews for The Dabbler (they send me the books for free, so it saves me money, not that i think my opinions are of any importance). i survive on fast food, green tea, and nuts.
Teaching continues. It’s a strange job, half-entertainer, half-technician. For example, i taught a pleasant East German woman all day on Saturday, from 0930 to 1615. She had had an old school teacher all day on Thursday & Friday, and she was sick of relentless grammar drills, so we spent most of the time chatting, about: the goodness of trees, stone buildings, Kafka, ginger tea; the badness of concrete, cars, modernity. i corrected her grammar but she tended to brush it aside as of no importance. The time passed very quickly. i felt half-guilty about not really sticking to the “business English” in the book, but at least taught the important words and grammar. i only felt half-guilty as i know, beyond a certain basic level, a student needs living speech, to feel the language can be vital; when they really connect to the language, so they feel they are the language, then they learn. i am good at this, with most students – and when i can’t do it, i usually just give them lots of business English articles to read, and lots of grammar drills. It is highly enjoyable but all the same requires enormous output of energy – when it works, i get the energy back, from the students; afterwards, however, i feel too abuzz with words & thoughts & echoes of the student, so i often dream of my students and analyse their characters as i would Iago or Rosalind. So though i enjoy this part of the job, 13 €/45 minutes (at my main employer) is paltry; it’s enough to subsist, in a small flat, without a car, without holidays, getting books for free from the Dabbler. Given the students pay 50 €/45 minutes, i feel quite weary and uninterested in trying to survive as a teacher. i suppose it’s possible, but a lifetime of these 15 hour days, with at the end just enough money to pay the rent and buy a pizza on Fridays – this does not thrill.
The other half of the job, the technician, is trickier. This is all grammar. It is often difficult to explain why we use a particular grammar; i feel that such & such a use is right, but to deduce general principles, and to teach them, is not easy. For example, teaching the difference between which and that, or by and until. There is always a simple definition but it doesn’t cover all uses. Consider:
The meeting will end by 6 pm.
The meeting will last until 6 pm.
The first means the meeting will end no later than 6 pm; it could end at 5.45 or 5 pm, for example. The second means it won’t end before 6 pm. It suggests it will end at 6 pm but this is not certain. This looks like a simple rule. But consider:
Send me the data by 6 pm.
You have until 6 pm to send me the data.
Here, the meaning is the same, the earlier distinction between by and until does not hold. So, it seems, there is no definition i can present, i am reduced to saying “you need to feel the difference”. The student needs to hear enough sentences, until (hah) they feel the difference. i suppose i could say by tends to come at the end, just before the time bracket; and that until comes earlier, but what kind of help is this? These are Germans, they want orderly rules, grammar that makes sense.
Relative clauses, now. Here, there is some clarity. An example i used with the Kid:
Dobermanns that are German are ferocious.
Dobermanns, which are German, are ferocious.
Here the difference is clear; i could even, i think, express it in logical notation though i would rather not. However, consider:
McDonalds is a company that sells cheeseburgers.
McDonalds is a company which sells cheeseburgers.
Here, both feel fine. i would tend to use which here but that also sounds okay to me; it even depends on my mood. We spent a good 30 minutes just thinking of examples of that and which and trying to discern some logic in the difference. In the end, all i could say is that sometimes there is a clear difference, sometimes not. Nice, good work Elberry, no wonder you don’t get paid more than the minimum wage.
So this is my life at present.
postscript: i realise that one difference between by and until is that one can’t really use a verb like end or start or begin or finish with until; and in the “send me the email” examples, i think until goes with have, not send – so one could say “you have until 6 pm to finish”. Perhaps (perhaps) therefore i have found a rule. But it is typical of me that such things do not come easily, as if my mind does not want to look at language in this way; and indeed, it does not.
1. It is common to share a s-bahn with screaming infants, for whom i feel a mixture of loathing, irritation, murderous hatred, amusement, and curiosity. Women look quite openly at other people’s children, and make funny faces at them: this has always seemed odd to me, that one should feel at liberty to gurn at a stranger’s children. However, women do it and feel no shame.
i saw opposite a beautiful girl on the s-bahn yesterday, the girl accompanied by a dog, the dog sniffing me curiously. i eyed the girl fairly discreetly (that is, not rubbing my thigh and making low, sexual moans) but felt strangely at liberty to gurn at her dog and encourage it to sniff my ankles. And in this much is revealed. Dogs are the children i wish i could have. i feel broody.
2. Another oddity about the travelling Bosche, i.e. on the s-bahns – they quite openly try to read each other’s books, newspapers, confidential documents, love letters, staring intently over their neighbours’ shoulders, craning and swivelling and peering like Stasi goons. i can half-understand reading someone else’s newspaper, but i’ve quite often seen one Kraut openly reading another Kraut’s homework (schoolkids) or work documents (businessmen). In England, such behaviour would merit a savage beating/knifing, but here it seems…normal.
3. A busy week, this, but there will be almost no work in December, and probably little in January, so i must take everything i’m given and spend absolutely no money on anything. i think back to Vienna. Jana said one can live in “sub-standard housing” there for about 200 € a month, including utilities, this being popular with what she called artists, (hippies and drug addicts and filthy goucher scum and English teachers).
i rarely get time or energy to write these days, as every day i have a class beginning about 8 am, meaning i leave my flat at 7 or earlier, and i usually have a class ending at 9 pm, meaning i get home for 10. There are often gaps in between but not long enough to go home, so i just surf the net and drink free coffee at one of my schools. i can’t write anything long like this, because for longer works one needs daily or at least regular writing sessions; if i tried to go back to rewriting my accursed novel now, it would take me hours just to recover the mindset, and then i would have to break to do lesson prep, chores, and then the working week would commence once more, and so on.
i feel i should be in Munich, for whatever strange reason, but i like the idea of becoming a Viennese hippy. The city is beautiful, and though one should take the Sunday into account, on my visit it was far quieter, less tourist-ridden, than Munich. There are many quiet streets, cobbled even; as the Viking said, it’s nice to walk down streets not designed for cars. Cars indeed are the enemy.
i first saw Durham and Cambridge on a day like this – bright blue skies, the same in spring and autumn, when the light seems a translucent veil, the city glänzte klar durch ihre Frühlingsschleier, clearly shining through her springtime veils. Perhaps it’s to do with stone and trees. Vienna is full of trees, which i think of as the opposite of cars – quiet, and quietly beautiful, still, graceful, harbouring & allowing life, and not fabricated. Talking with Jana, i mentioned the “ugly trees” in Königsplatz in Kassel; she said, dubiously: “is it possible for a tree to be ugly?” A good point, and it emphasises the achievement of Kassel in populating the town centre with ugly trees.
i feel my life at present is more car- than tree-like, full of frantic busyness, noise, fuss, requiring too much money, and not really getting anywhere. Treelife would, i suppose, mean stepping out of this nonsense and not, apparently, doing very much, as the world reckons things. We shall see.
i was going to write a long and tedious blog post about my hideous adventures driving 1500 km in 2 days, accompanied by a Viking, encountering my ex-sister Jana, and so on, but i don’t have the time or volition so instead please take these photographs as a starting point for your own Elberry’s Viennese Adventure story. i will include some brief pointers:
An English breakfast with my ex-sister. There was some sort of hobgoblin in the coffee, hence the improvised trap on top:
Ex-sister attacks, i leave you to invent a reason:
The Viking wanders aimlessly about looking for liquorice:
Parkgasse 18, dwarfed by the back office for a sex toy company:
While wrestling the Viking, my keys are thrown through the gate:
1. An otherworldly sight, often met here in Munich – girls reading books, on the s-bahn, u-bahn, ascending the escalator to the surface world. i’ve never seen so many girls with books as here, though the books mainly seem to be “Krimis” (crime thrillers). However, crime thrillers are often well-written and certainly several thousand cuts above Dan Brown. Earlier this week i gazed upon a lovely maiden reading a book on the s-bahn, both of us intently gazing – and since i sometimes wonder why i bother writing anything at all, i thought, happily, “it is so pretty girls and MILF may read my books after i’m dead.”
2. Read an article about PG Wodehouse the other day, and reflected on the oddity of the man – a great genius who didn’t want to grow up, was unable to be serious, with his relentless “what ho!”s and bally bally nonsense, and so on. This didn’t jibe with my view of genius, that one must be fundamentally serious, though this profound gravity may often take the form of surface levity & japes. There is a difference between vacuous & unballasted levity – what Theodore Dalrymple would call “frivolity” – and the truly serious levity of, say, Proust or Dostoevsky, or Dr Johnson or Beckett – or Dante or Shakespeare.
i’ve come to see Wodehouse as a man who used his art to reconcile his inadequacies & difficulty, to as it were dissolve his personal problems. It’s not that his art cured him; but within the medium of his art he found a balance of energies, where his refusal or inability to take anything seriously became a fully energetic act – not, finally, an act of refusal, but of affirmation (i am reminded of Danny Glover’s comment on Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums: “it was a film which celebrated people in a way, and didn’t demonize people”). Since Wodehouse must have spent a goodly proportion of his waking hours writing, or thinking about writing, his art became a means of transcending his own failure, or rather of using it – the stories of Jeeves & Wooster are so powerful, in their levity, because they are driven by his energy of refusal; but in this wholly safe, fictive realm, that energy flips over and becomes festive & fearless.
Perhaps many of the great artists are thus: they use their art to transcend their weakness. i think of Jung’s comment on Lucia Joyce (a schizophrenic), that she had James Joyce’s soul, without his genius. Likewise, one wonders what would have come of Hitler, had he possessed real artistic talent; he had a raw imaginative force, but the channels to full expression were blocked, it seems by rage, and by his sense of having been humiliated; and so that imaginative force was diverted elsewhere, tortuously, violently.
3. The Viking got a job in Bratislava in September, but being incapable of operating machinery, including cars, he had to leave his thousands of manga comics and rare liquorice & Catholicry in Würzburg. And now the time has come for me to help him shift this to Bratislava. Tomorrow i must drive to Würzburg, pick up his worthless possessions, and then drive them and his scowling & bearded self to Bratislava. i’ve booked an affordable VW though i hope that like last time they won’t have any mid-range cars in stock and will upgrade me to an Audi or better yet a BMW or some kind of badass Nazi tank.
The plan is to roll down through Central Europe, crossing the border to Austria and then Slovakia at speed, throw his manga into a Bratislava sewer where it belongs, sleep on his floor, then i will return solus to Munich on Sunday, stopping off for a few hours in Vienna. i feel quite excited about seeing Vienna for the first time. At first it was just an afterthought, that since i’d be driving very close, i could possibly stop to eat a schnitzel or five, but then i contacted a Bosche i know, Jana, who used to be my closest sister, is from the same small town as Morgana, but now lives in Vienna, where she was born and where she died, and we agreed to have a drink in the morning. i’m looking forward to it, as i’ve known her since 2007, when we left death threats on each other’s blogs, but i’ve never met her. i don’t expect any flashes of light and revelations but this will be the first time i’ve met someone i know i knew i knew i know from another life.
i was pleasingly flustered & humphlous to find we’ll be meeting about 20 minutes’ walk from the location of our old family house, so if she doesn’t kill me (she is a Feminist), after our coffee i’ll stroll over and perhaps strike a visionary, stricken pose where our house once stood, sighing and saying things like “alas! it is all gone!” just loud enough for passing girls to hear and wonder if they should offer me cake and naughty sex in case i am the Kurgan. It’s a little strange to think i’ll be back in my home city on Sunday morning, and will doubtless walk down streets i knew of old, when i was a filthy Bosche.
i am carefully not expecting anything, though of course i hope i will experience a mystical strickening and return to Munich able to speak fluent German and do all the things i could do in my last life but can’t do now, because i was clever then but i’m thick now. Still, i have an important advantage over the person i once was – he’s dead and i’m alive.
i’ve been slowly reading through the grandly-titled Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, a collection of some of Camus’ essays. He seems resolutely sceptical about just about every abstraction going, noting somewhere that he can at most summon up a vague, general benevolence towards Mankind, but can love individuals. To a Communist apologist he writes:
For you are willing to keep silence about one reign of terror in order the better to combat another one. There are some of us who do not want to keep silent about anything. It is our whole political society that nauseates us. Hence there will be no salvation until all those who are still worthwhile have repudiated it utterly in order to find, somewhere outside insoluble contradictions, the way to a complete renewal. In the meantime we must struggle. But with the knowledge that totalitarian tyranny is not based on the virtues of the totalitarians. It is based on the mistakes of the liberals.
Like an Alan Furst character (i think of the protagonist of Furst’s masterpiece, Dark Star), Camus didn’t want to belong to any empire, or ideology. His French even is not – in my limited experience of French – exactly typical (i read La Chute in the original 10 years ago). It is more akin to Wittgenstein’s German: concise, unrhetorical, lucid. But then he was born and raised in Algiers, in real poverty, and this perhaps made him atypically French; he was not indulgent. In some quarters he has a bad reputation, which, like Bruce Springsteen’s, rests on the kind of people who misread him (from The Magnetic Fields’ ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’: “I could make a career of being blue/ I could dress in black and read Camus/ Smoke clove cigarettes and drink Vemouth/ If i was 17 that would be a scream”)
We seem to be at one of the larger junctions in human history, with many people running around flapping their hands and yelling “what the fuck are we going to do?” i have no faith in political solutions, and almost none in human beings. The good human beings i know are not the kind of people to occupy Wall Street, waving banners, playing the bongos and so on. It is not that i favour the bankers – from what i know of the situation they have acted like immoral shits, that is, like human beings. Any political solution will come from human beings and therefore from our integrally flawed human nature. So i am uninterested in this drama. i await events and transformations having nothing to do with politics, with greed or self-righteousness, bankers or hippies. The problem isn’t just that the financial and political system is corrupt; the problem is that human nature is corrupt.
There is no need to do anything political, nothing on a large scale. As consciousness is altered, as it expands (including animals), one need only be true to one’s immediate sense of things. To quote from Da Mayor, “always do the right thing”. The rest will work out, one way or another. But to move beyond the singularity of this human being or that, to address crowds, wave banners, mouth platitudes – that is the danger. The inflation of language, so it is emptied of content; the manipulation of vast sums of money, all electronically – the story of 2011; best fought by not really fighting, at least not in political terms. Be as the elk sedge, apart.