1. i taught my favourite group again this week, and did a series of polar bear roleplays:
i) A rival company has sponsered a Siberian tiger and now people are buying their products and saying you are shit. How will you deal with this?
The solution was to send two of the students to the North Pole to look at polar bears.
ii) The two students brought a polar bear cub back and have installed it in their office. It roams freely about eating chairs and computers, moaning, and attacking people. A haughty manager must take the students to task.
This was a particularly productive roleplay. i was the polar bear, who they named Wolfie after their detested waste of space department manager. For added realia i snarled and took a violent swipe at the students as they were saying: “Oh but Wolfie is so nice and gentle and friendly!” i also made low bear-like moaning sounds, ranging from the lecherous (staring at their tits) to morose & inconsolable (when the managers proposed shooting me).
iii) The rival company have a dog who goes from department to department so borderline burn-out cases can pet and coo over him, as a stress-relief device. i nominated one student as a busybody who wants to use Wolfie the polar bear in this role.
In the end they decided to build a special zoo for me, on top of the company headquarters.
2. This is one of the few classes i would teach for free, if i had enough money. The rest are pleasant enough but it is work and i’m glad when i can go home. i have a German-English tandem with Bettina, one of the students in the polar bear group, and moaned that my job is pointless buffoonery and almost none of my students really improve. She said they’d had teachers in the past and made absolutely no improvement with their grammar exercises and business articles; my lessons at least help a little, as i get them to talk and provide new vocab, and correct heinous grammar failures.
i feel that my job is worthless and i am a fake. Bettina replied that most people have worthless jobs and the more adroit the faker, the higher he goes. This is of course true and i suppose every civilisation, once it advances beyond subsistence farming, tends to waste money on apparently pointless work. i feel sanguine about the huge expenditure of the burial tombs in Luxor but irritatedly depressed about the mass of useless and highly paid middle managers i saw in the NHS, in my hospital job. Perhaps it’s that non-utilitarian work, such as illustrating manuscripts, writing music, building tombs, can express an aesthetic or religious need, and while such needs are not essential for basic physical survival they are nonetheless part of being human (thus there often seems something weirdly non-human about people whose aesthetic or religious sensibility is either lacking or just radically different to ours).
3. At present i’m attempting to convince myself that the aesthetic impulse is not wholly ridiculous and despicable. Teaching manager types at large multinational companies, in the most expensive & conservative city in Germany, is a sobering ordeal. Many of them appreciate art, some even read from time to time, but in their world there is no real monetary value in creativity, it’s just a peculiar hobby. Several of my students, i realise, regard me as a bizarre but diverting oddity. One, a regional manager at a big American company, asked if i’d thought about moving to a different country, where the cost of living isn’t so high. What he meant was that in Germany it’s not easy to survive without real skills, such as accountancy, law, engineering. English Literature is not merely useless, it is absurd. The chap is friendly and enjoys our lessons but i get the feeling that for him our lessons are like a visit to the zoo, to see some weirdly maladapted creature.
When i began teaching a group here in Munich, a dry-as-dust HR lawyer student remarked acidly that it’s stupid to study literature, or anything artistic, at university, as it won’t lead to a job. i kept my old poker face and just nodded agreement (and i half-agree with her). She continued, waving a hand generously, that of course if people want to read books they can and no one should stop them, but first you must get an education in engineering or law or finance, because it’s not sensible to think you can survive in this world by reading books.
i still teach this group and feel the lawyer’s grim disapproval of me and my character in every lesson. She embodies for me the materialist, utilitarian drive of this civilisation. After being rejected for about 250 jobs in 3 years, i came to realise i have no value in this world, that even worse the talents i have are absurd and frivolous, and it would be better not to have them. i am in this a polar bear in a world without ice or snow, only black rock and desert sun. Yes, the white fur and blubber is kind of interesting but really, such a thing should not be.
It’s difficult to persuade myself that my talents are anything other than absurd and contemptible, when i spend all day talking to engineers, lawyers, accountants. It is their world.
4. i have lived under the influence of this belief for the last decade. It’s not that i am wrong, exactly – i was certainly ill-suited to minimum wage data entry, and while i doubtless could have done conventional graduate jobs, i couldn’t get past an interview, no matter how i shuffle and dissemble and what have you. Outside of technical jobs (engineering, science, finance) you need a certain blandness, to be apparently predictable, sane, safe. The ideal is Bridget Jones:
All the successful people i know in England are variants of Bridget Jones. They like London. They have children. They go to gyms. For them, art is ancillary to their self-satisfaction, like having an Audi rather than a Volkswagen: it has no real functional significance but it’s entertaining and gives them something to talk about at their cocktail parties.
5. The mistake i’ve made – which reflects my flawed character – has been to try and keep up with the Joneses, out of a belief that since it’s their world if i want to live here i must be like them. It’s never worked.
i’m trying to extricate myself from my misprision. At first glance, the lawyer is correct. Knowing about HR law and financial regulations is valuable; knowing about Shakespeare is not. However, this doesn’t stand up to examination. Why exactly are the former valuable? Why live?
Ultimately, the HR lawyer and her ilk locate value in providing services that businesses value; but they stop here. If businesses considered it valuable to juggle multicoloured balls, and financial regulations were disregarded, they would despise the financial experts and praise the jugglers. It is impossible to validate the HR lawyer’s valuation: it takes too much for granted, and without thought-training she would not even realise how much she cannot comprehend.
Certainly, you do not require philosophy to do well in this world. You need only be a Bridget Jones, that will suffice.
So i am trying to move beyond this world, to fully accept that its verdicts are of no account. Hard, as without money i cannot afford real medical insurance and so have nearly died twice in the last year. But the lawyer could not provide an argument for life, only for making money. To get beyond the lawyer’s worldly frame one needs something else.
Within this world there is no justification for art. Within the categories of the world, art is merely entertainment and since people can live without entertainment – can indeed work 12 hours a day and spend the remaining 12 sleeping, exercising, and eating – there is no reason to think or write or do anything except work & consume. The lawyer and all the Joneses exist wholly within the world and cannot query its determinations. They will only see beyond the world when they die, and then it will be, if not too late, then at least not the best time for re-evaluation.
6. Last week, thinking over this, i got on the s-bahn and decided to continue reading the Psalms. The first was Psalm 37:
Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
i doubt i’ll ever do more than barely survive in this world but i feel i should just continue as i am and trust that things will more or less work out, over time. Instead of pandering to the Joneses, i am trying to escape this world altogether.