You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2012.

i’ll return to blogging on 1 April. If i have anything interesting to say, and feel up to it, i’ll resume properly;if not, i’ll just blog to say i still don’t want to blog. No point checking back before then as i won’t blog even if i want to.

i did a rune casting over the weekend, focussing on my inability to write anything of value, my feeling of being spiritually abandoned. A simple five rune cast. The past was an inverted Kenaz; the present, inverted Ansuz; the future, Jera; the challenge/difficulty or obstacle to overcome was Naudhiz, and the inner resource, Thurisaz. The past and present require no interpretative genius, they flatly describe what i already know, that i have fallen. The future offers hope or at least change, consequence. Naudhiz is typical for me, for i achieve nothing without difficulty, without intense need (the ox is driven to pasture by blows). Thurisaz is curious but i believe indicates a need for decisive action, perhaps a murder or rape, or at least a heist of some kind.

i did various different rune casts about my job, my future “career” and Kenaz appeared in all but one, either as a deficiency or as something i require. The odds of Kenaz appearing in all but one are very slim (even in the one rune cast, the one rune was Kenaz – a 1 in 24 chance) – i tried to calculate the probability and ended up guessing it would be about 60 divided by 300,000. A vestige of teaching myself theoretical Statistics in my insufficiently-wicked youth, i tend to automatically think in mechanistic, mathematical terms.

i must mull over Thurisaz. i believe it indicates a need for ruthless action and chthonic, non-human energies – energies which are nonetheless part of the human, as the thurses are oft kin to the Aesir (note the symmetries between Thor and the thurses). Thorn is the divider, a force which breaks apart, and so allows for the destruction of stagnant forms, the recasting of energy (hence, Jera). It demands reaction; it tests, and if there is anything worth defending, it will awaken deeper energies (Naudhiz).

Right now i feel i should stop blogging for a while. All my blogging energy is dead and must be allowed to either pass wholly away, or to return howsoever it wills. i dare say i will return, as is my wont. In the meantime, i will write more book reviews for the Dabbler, and if the Southrons run them you can read me there.

Taught the Kid again on Friday. He asked to do exercises summarising texts and describing pictures, so i gave him articles about military aviation and various horrible airport/airplane disasters (hundreds killed, etc.), and i brought in my print of Titian’s Bacchus & Ariadne.

i guessed that for his test (to be an Air Traffic Controller) he might have to do such exercises while ignoring planned distractions, such as loud noises off, invigilators chatting with each other about hard anal sex, and so on. Accordingly, i asked Todd, a teacher from Chicago, to disrupt the class; he barged in without warning and we had a loud conversation about sex, rape, torture and murder while the Kid worked on his summaries. The Kid did a good job so i went on to bounce about him, making animal noises; when i tired i sat down and stared at him, then read aloud from the Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in my West Yorkshire-accented German, then some songs from Schubert and Rammstein.

He seemed able to ignore these without problems, only looking bemusedly up when i began chanting: “Eins. Zwei. Drei” to say: “Is this Rammstein?” For indeed it was. He said he finds it hard to ignore Rammstein, because he knows the songs (i would find it harder to ignore the unknown). So for tomorrow’s class i’ll recite some hip hop songs at him, by some guy called Akon. i may even do some Tom Cruise-esque hip hop dancing.

These are the lessons i most enjoy. On Saturday i “taught” some apprentices, an impromptu thing as the normal teacher is dead or in prison. A class of ten 18-20-year-olds, this is not my idea of a good time. They are impossible to teach. They all talk continually to each other, in German, fondling their iphones; they completely ignore error correction, don’t even look at the board when i give them new vocab. i had them for 3 hours, tried to teach them for the first 90 minutes then gave up and just kept giving them coffee breaks every 20 minutes, and chatted with the only bright student there, ignoring the rest, who were happy to be ignored.

They weren’t as horrible as the apprentice shits i “taught” in Kassel. When i barked “silence!” yesterday’s brats all immediately stopped talking, and stared at me apprehensively, probably expecting a meritorious & well-deserved thrashing. In Kassel, it was necessary to scream and hammer on the table. i recall in one lesson shouting: “Silence, you dogs!”, which worked for about 30 seconds then they began giggling in German again, the disgusting little fucks.

i’ll be paid 100 € for the 3 hours i spent pretending to teach these filthy scum, 26 € for the 90 minutes with the Kid. The first is for a small independent school, the second for McLingua. McLingua has a steady stream of students like the Kid, for whom one has to do out-of-the-ordinary lessons, but the pay is shit. i tire of ordinary teaching, which includes the pretend-teaching of apprentices. One can only teach the same tense, or vocab, so many thousand times before it becomes stale & tedious. It helps that each student is different; but not different enough, alas. My mind goes onto stand-by mode when i teach Comparatives or the Present Perfect, because i’ve done it so many times.

It’s still a billion trillion times better than minimum wage data entry in England. However, i would prefer a job only tangentially to do with teaching English, for example giving people articles to summarise and then chanting Rammstein at them, or sending my armies to war in my name – that is the right kind of job for me.

Another week begins tomorrow and i know i will find it hard to concentrate to do any real reading or writing. When i get a seat on the s-bahn i read, otherwise not. At McLingua – even with 6 hour gaps between lessons – i can’t focus to do anything but listlessly surf the internet. i generally leave my flat at 0630 and get home around 2200 so there’s no time for focussed reading/writing, only at the weekend, if i don’t sleep it away.

i feel i have fizzled out like a bad firework, and my present life resembles a burnt-out rocket, such as i found on the McLingua balcony last week. Incongruous and pointless but there it is.

Here’s a review originally intended for the Dabbler, however they destroyed it with a hammer when i instructed them to either format it correctly or delete it, so here it is, formatted correctly (i hope). It’s of George Steiner’s latest, The Poetry of Thought. The book is good; my review is just a review, i.e. of no significance, but i got the book by telling the publisher (New Directions) that i was a Dabbler book reviewer so i feel obliged to post it somewhere, even if only my dozen-or-so regulars see it. So here it is.

Born in Paris in 1929 of Viennese Jewish parents, Steiner has lived a nearness to the great and terrible. He is something of an anachronism, an old magister in love with language and learning and art. His prose is baroque and overtly rhetorical, and this not with the fashionable gibberish of Literary Theory; it is rather a sinuous and massive articulation. Here he broods superbly on the ambiguous relation of thought to linguistic expression, that is, can thoughts be conceived, let alone articulated, without submission to language and style:

Hence the recurrent trope, so urgent in Plotinus, in the Tractatus, that the nub, the philosophic message lies in that which is unsaid, in the unspoken between the lines. What can be enunciated, what presumes that language is more or less consonant with veritable insights and demonstrations, may in fact reveal the decay of primordial, ephiphanic recognitions.

Steiner is animated by this ambiguity, that language is evidently inadequate, and yet it is the only carrier of thought. The same coin for God and Caesar.

It follows that philosophy and literature occupy the same generative though ultimately circumscribed space. Their performative means are identical: an alignment of words, the modes of syntax, punctuation (a subtle resource). This is as true of a nursery rhyme as it is of a Kant Critique. Of a dime novel as of the Phaedo. They are deeds of language.

There is something fastidious about Steiner; fastidious and gritty. He desires Platonic clarity, pure thought, but he will not deny the murkiness of our executive means, of language in all its inadequate variety. If even the heights of philosophy must be communicated in language, then we must attend to language. It is a messy, unsatisfying business; it would be so much easier to simply apprehend. But such immediacies are no longer possible, having been long since shunted aside by language; so he writes of Wittgenstein:

In many ways, the Investigations invite the conjecture that there is “behind” or between their lines another text. In which formal logic would irradiate everyday speech. That other text remains just out of reach but its mute presence is ethical. It prefigures a condition in which falsehood would be immediately visible and absurd.

As in Genesis 2.19. From this we came, to this we may perhaps return. In the meantime, ordinary language is the means by which we explore and articulate our experience of being alive. Philosophy is consciousness exploring itself, as a mode and energy of being:

We tend to take this revolution for granted, being its products. It is in fact strange and scandalous. Parmenides’ equation between thought and being, Socrates’ ruling that the unexamined life is not worth living are provocations of a truly fantastic dimension. They incarnate the primacy of the useless, as we intimate it in music.

Grossly physical, we often regard consciousness as a quirk of evolution or just one of those things; not an energy to equal physical being. Philosophy is the examination of this energy and form of being. But no matter if philosophers aspire to bloodless clarity, they necessarily think and communicate in words – the same words we use to buy apples and ask for directions, and threaten and curse. We must use these words; and that which we consider is itself not separate from language, and so what exact clarity could there be, how could we possibly examine our own means of examination? Metaphorically perhaps, not by reference to an objective point of external reference, but by internal echo, by internal comparison and suggestion:

I have suggested that the “discovery” of metaphor ignited abstract, disinterested thought. […] It is out of a metaphoric magma that the Pre-Socratic philosophy seems to erupt (the volcanic is not far off). Once a traveler in Argos had perceived the shepherds on the stony hills as “herdsmen of the winds,” once a mariner out of the Piraeus had sensed that his keel was “ploughing the sea,” the road to Plato and to Immanuel Kant lay open. It began in poetry and has never been far from it.

Not, that is, to exit the world and stand outside, serenely judging, but to come to some sense of things by metaphor and simile, perceiving the structure and symmetry from within (a barbarian reading Paradise Lost, knowing absolutely nothing of Christian myth). Steiner therefore examines the interactions between style and thought in, among others, Wittgenstein, Heraclitus, Lucretius, Marx, Hegel, Descartes, Bergson, Heidegger, Plato. There is often no sense of an overarching argument; it is rather close-reading and appreciation, an essay in the etymological sense of the word, a sweet attempt. I learnt that Marx isn’t as dull as one might lazily suppose, and that Hegel’s prose is atrocious but worth the trouble (apparently). Steiner dedicates several pages to Wittgenstein, following Guy Davenport’s observation of the similitudes between Wittgenstein and Heraclitus:

“When you are philosophizing you have to descend into primeval chaos and feel at home there.” Was Wittgenstein, in his notebook for 1948, transcribing a fragment of Heraclitus not yet available to the rest of us?

Astutely worded. Steiner is a close reader of Wittgenstein:

Wittgenstein fought with valour on some of the hellish fronts during the First World War – again, that Socratic analogy. He seems to have experienced combat as exhilarating. This may be more significant than his hagiographers and imitators realise. A deep-seated capacity for charring rage inhabited his tensed consciousness, a vital terribilità.

Thematically, Steiner is close by Wittgenstein. Language, culture, meaning – and a simultaneous attraction to, and wariness of, academia. Steiner has long understood that language is central to our consciousness, and so to our culture; and of late he has become reassuringly melancholy about a civilisation long gone into decline, in which language is publicly devalued, and consciousness as an energy and mode of being is summarily (if spuriously) dismissed:

On the horizon lies the prospect that bio-chemical, neurological discoveries will demonstrate that the inventive, cognitive processes of the human psyche have their ultimately material source. That even the greatest metaphysical conjecture or poetic find are complex forms of molecular chemistry.

This is not a vision in which an obsolescent, often technophobic consciousness such as mine can take comfort.

Steiner intuits that if anything can oppose this technocratic horror it will be a kind of philosophy. If so, I think it will be philosophy in the pre-Socratic sense, as Peter Kingsley contends – a form of magic, a means of transforming consciousness and the world. It will be initiation, not entertainment, not matter for doctoral theses and conferences and academic reputation. The true work of philosophy would be a work of magic; and vice versa.

For all its complications and muddle, language is the bridge between consciousness and the world. The bridge binds and alters. Our kind of consciousness cannot do without language (as Steiner notes, even deaf mutes can learn to read); language makes consciousness physical, joins us to our world and to each other. This is ubiquitous and so almost beyond reason; we do not see the air. To turn the mind against language – to cleanse our expressive, and therefore experiential, means – this is brutal and subtle both, this is the philosopher’s task, and he must be brutal and subtle also.

1. i had another session with the artist before Christmas. In the first painting, he made me look like a 60-year-old Ashkenazi Jew. In the second he made me look like a gay Puerto Rican dwarf. It was so horrible i refuse to disseminate it.

Every salient detail seemed exact – the nose, lips, eyes – it looked very vaguely like me, but somehow totally different. As diplomatically as i could, i put this to the man responsible. He said it’s not only hard to portray distinct features (e.g. the nose), but he also has to put them in the right relation to each other. So the nose, lips, eyes, are all correct, but not in exactly the right relation to each other, and so i look like a gay Puerto Rican dwarf, like it or lump it.

i guess this second part is harder, because subtler. To represent a complex form (e.g. a face) you have to accurately picture each component (e.g. a nose), but also to place each component in exactly the right place; so if the bottom lip is accurate in itself, but placed just a few degrees or millimetres out of the true, you look like a gay Puerto Rican dwarf.

This helped me understand the way our bodies and personalities change, from life to life. Apparently, i look like my last life; i don’t see it myself, for in most respects we look totally different. Perhaps it is that the patterning logic of our faces is the same, that though my nose is longer, my ears bigger, etc., these components stand in the same relationship to each other as do his, to his.

In the same way, a man’s lives can seem very different, yet there is a deep and subtle continuity. The essential nature acts like a hinge about which many lives can turn, often with enormous surface variation. For myself, knowing something of my “hinges” helps; i won’t take the same grim path as in my last life, but nor will i go too far the other way, and be too nice, in an effort to please. As i get older i feel this is who i am and i shouldn’t try to make doomed compromises with idiots & Southrons.

2. i taught the Kid again today. He passed his initial air traffic control exam (47 out of 5o applicants failed) and faces a tougher test in 3 weeks, in which he will have to chat with strangers to observe his social skills, and read & paraphrase texts. i wanted to find an article about airports but the McLingua PCs were all in use, so instead i photocopied a page from Ian Donaldson’s life of Ben Jonson and told him to summarise it. He did an extremely good job in under 10 minutes. i suggested that in the test they might purposely distract him from his task, e.g. two supervisors may talk about sex orgies to confuse & bewilder; and that i should therefore try to distract him from future exercises. He agreed so on Monday i’ll give him some articles about airports, planes, prostitution, and ask him to summarise them while i talk loudly about horrible orgies with anyone i can cajole into helping me. i will also stride about the room making pointless remarks about dwarves and then rummage loudly about in my bag for Puerto Rican pornography.

3. Three of my students, in different groups, have asked if i’ve thought of acting or doing stand-up comedy. i thought they were joking but it seems not. The latest was an intelligent, thoughtful woman at a large German company, she remembers bits & pieces of another life so we have some odd conversations and she made me ginger lebkuchen for Christmas. When i realised she was serious, i said that i feel no interest in performing for money, for people who expect me to make them laugh. My lessons often cause mirth, as i enjoy setting up Frank Keyian roleplays and grimly narrating my various torments & afflictions & hatreds, but i wouldn’t want to do this for money, with the expectation that i will always make people laugh or i’m back on the streets hustling for pizza crusts.

She argued that if i marketed myself as a comic i could have a bigger audience. Putting aside the sheer improbability of my being able to break into what i imagine is a very tough circuit, i don’t want a big audience. It seems to me that the more one tries to appeal to a broad spectrum, the shriller & louder one becomes, until one is nothing more than a man standing on a box shouting into a megaphone made out of leftover cereal packets and posting one’s CV on the internet. There is no need for an audience. To quote the 80s classic Robin of Sherwood, nothing is forgotten.

4.  i once wanted to be published, to get money so i could (maybe) escape a lifetime of minimum wage data entry jobs. Now i have a bearable job that just about pays enough to live, i am content to write for myself. i am wary of representation. Any representation will fall short and the better the attempt, the more likely it is to be mistaken for the thing itself. Human consciousness is fundamentally to do with representations (language, metaphor, art). It is natural to wish to represent reality, and to try to apprehend reality through representations; it makes me profoundly suspicious and prone to destroying my own writings and, if i could, others’.

Even now i don’t like the idea of being read by too many people. i am a northerner, suspicious of big city types. They are all damnable Southrons, belly-patting fools and apple polishers. The terrible fire will come upon them and consume them as the dry leaves are consumed by a sudden blaze, and they will cry, ah, ah, we are eaten in the flame, we are stricken, we are devoured, our guts spill out. As dry leaves in the furnace the Southrons will be burnt up, none will come hence, none will remain.

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