You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

(A.E. Housman)

1. i wrote to my friend the lecturer that Coleridge: “naturally abandoned himself to outside influences, to the point where he couldn’t distinguish between the internal and the external. Thus he was a lifelong addict and his Mariner kills the Albatross for no reason, and he presents himself as the passive mouthpiece of his poems. Kubla Khan seems full of this – the mystic powers to which he surrendered himself.”

He replied: “yes i think that coleridge did abandon himself – or perhaps had no choice! – the mind being able to unleash forces beyond what we can understand or make (evident, diurnal) use of”.

Of late, i’ve felt increasingly drawn from the diurnal. After about 2.5 years of almost constant teaching i feel disastrously overexposed to human beings. i took Monday off, the first time i’ve called in sick without being actually ill. The thought of leaving my flat and schmoozing and charming and trying to placate the Bosche filled me with disgust. When i was younger i would spend hours in bed, staring vacantly; after a few hours the mind empties and you just stare & stare. This is a useful practice, magically – it opens doors in the mind. Some of my best stories came out of this state. i feel a need to stare vacantly, for hours; i was gratified and surprised to find this was a form of meditation about 2500 years ago – incubation, as Peter Kingsley calls it.

2. On Saturday i had my last class with my favourite student, a 32-year-old ballerina/accountant with green eyes. Her other main teacher was a shuffling, dry-as-dust octogenarian who uses the pure McLingua method (no chit chat, no digressions, no tangents, just absolutely structured questions & answers & grammar drills). Despite being an accountant, the ballerina has a soul and could not respond to this. i seemed, by contrast, lively, spontaneous, my lessons being largely improvised and yet technically capable. Over 3 months we came to know each other fairly well. i often taught her on a Saturday, when McLingua is almost deserted.

We drifted closer and i introduced her to Juniper when she visited in September (i was leaving McLingua at the same time as the ballerina, and asked if she would like to meet my woman, who was waiting on the street). She in turn told me of herself and her past, and i realised she felt for me also. When we parted she gave me a great bounty in booze & chocolate & German books, and a fierce hug.

In a fortnight she goes to Oslo for a new job. In a sense i’m glad, as it makes my emotional life easier; or at least means i do not need to make further choices. i made a choice when talking to her of love in our last lesson; i said that you cannot control your heart, but you can control your actions, and so you may, for example, love someone near to hand (for example a ballerina/accountant) but choose to be faithful to a distant love (who you rarely see) because you made the choice to do so. And if your choices are to be overruled by passion you are emptied of purpose. It is not important to be happy; only to make a choice and stick to it – even if it destroys you. Even a ruined, hollow life is better than caprice (however deep that caprice).

3. i am grateful to have had this experience. Perhaps as a consequence of this, i feel disinclined to teach. i merely wish to secrete myself within some grim fastness and stalk grimly about in heavy pirate boots, running a hand through my greying hair and looking grim. i have, at least, resumed work on my temp memoir, which now stands at about 25,000 words.

i often wonder if there is any point to writing. i can read or blog without bothering if it “does” anything but i find it hard to write otherwise if i feel it is nothing more than diversion. For myself, writers like Hermann Hesse, Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Dostoevsky, have had a real and obvious effect on my life – to Shakespeare in particular i owe something of my present personality. And i know readers who are amused by my blog. And people whose lives i changed for the better by my thought & words, in two other lives. But the circle of influence always seems very small. i only affect other writers, or dedicated readers; and i wish to help others – even accountants and ballerinas – i feel it is pointless to write if it only helps a tiny fraction of the human race. It seems shameful to devote so much time and energy to a minority hobby as civilisation disintegrates (into totalitarian socialism or Islam, or just random post-apocalyptic violence). In this, i feel like Tolkien’s Denethor, paralysed by the vision of a crumbling world:

‘He lies within,’ said Denethor, ‘burning, already burning. They have set a fire in his flesh. But soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire, and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!’

i fight myself, feeling that writing is, in the end, useless; that the West has failed. i need to make an accommodation with myself, with my own imagined gifts. i think of these words: “the mind being able to unleash forces beyond what we can understand or make (evident, diurnal) use of”. Increasingly, i become aware of the vast energies we mostly do not see, and cannot understand. They exist and continue to influence us, and to cause effects in the physical world. These effects are rarely direct. They gather underground and emerge in unexpected forms; but those forms can be extensive and horrific.

Rationally one can make little headway with these noctural energies. They are inherently irrational. For several years i struggled to understand gods, using my 21st Century reason. It’s rather as if you always tried to scientifically analyse sexual response, while having sex – somehow it just wouldn’t work, not with all these diodes and patches and thermometers. You would then conclude that sex is bullshit concocted by pimps to control humanity. But leave off your rational investigations and all is well.

4. Perhaps, art is some means of allowing a grip upon the nocturnal. Hence, really good literary criticism seems to edge into the poetical, the nocturnal, to stand as an inscrutable work of art itself. Modern literary criticism and Literary Theory is an attempt to thoroughly expel the nocturnal; it is almost all either fraudulent or pointlessly nitpicking trash.

In my last post i expressed my preference for poetical works (the Romantics) but in truth i also enjoy highly structured writers like Dante and Pope. As long as the nocturnal, poetical energies survive the carapace of diurnal form & reason, these works can be extremely powerful. It is possible that art is a means of capturing something of the chthonic, noctural energies of being – of our being – within daylit form. Art is, or could be, a bridge between day & night in the soul. And one could say this is part of civilisation.

1. i’ve been listening to a friend’s lectures on poetry & prose (covering Donne, Coleridge, and Berryman). He begins by drawing a distinction between poetry & prose, the latter deriving its authority from what comes before & after the prose, from external sources; and the former being a spontaneous emerging in the mind. He qualifies it later but if you alter poetry & prose to poetical and prosaic it has something in it. The exemplar of the prosaic here would be neo-Classical, Dryden, Pope, etc. – anything new is deeply suspect; you require the consent of your audience, and also their complete understanding of everything you say, before you say it. No surprises, however mild. Nothing indecorous. Nothing even faintly wild. All must be powdered and perruqued and respectable, structured to the point of dessication. Of poetry, one could cite Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Marlowe, or Hart Crane: their poetry seems to simply occur (and quite often such poets die young or only briefly flower). Personally, i prefer the poetical to the prosaic although i find Shelley a little unbearable, i think because he exists almost totally in his own imagination.

The lecturer continues to say that whereas prose can easily bear an account of itself, as it were holding up a little tag telling you where to file it, poetry cannot (“the poem is the cry of its occasion/Part of the res itself and not about it” – Wallace Stevens, ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’).

This is also one reason i dislike all the Beat poetry i’ve read – it seems to be describing itself as wild & revolutionary, which for me means it’s not poetry, and probably not really all that wild/revolutionary either. Prose is easier, hence i switch off with Dr Johnson’s poetry but love his prose. His age was, like all ages, an uneasy mix of the wild & ordered: so characters like Richard Savage abound, and Johnson himself was far from decorous; and in his prose, Johnson strives always to create, delineate, maintain order. The “rage for order” was the stronger as he feared the dissolution of death, and the anarchic violence in human beings and himself.

In the Coleridge lecture, my friend suggests that the poet was unable to control his poetic impulses – that they simply emerged, violently and dreadfully, as nightmarish visions of fear & retribution (likewise his addiction). And so, to survive he turned his gift off and wrote prose; but lacked, it seems, the sustained concentration to take anything through to its end. Poetry does, i think, deploy and require different energies than prose, and while poetry may be largely harmless, these energies are not.

2. i’ve been learning about gods. You could use other words to describe them: relatively independent, non-physical forms of consciousness; not, i think, given to our kind of intellection, subtlety, self-doubt – they are more like conscious forces of nature, as if a hill became aware. It would not reflect on its own existence. It would simply be aware of itself and that which affects it. They still exist – some are old indeed – as Vergil wrote, sed cruda deo viridisque senectus – the old age of gods is green & raw. They are not, as far as i’m aware, like Neil Gaiman’s clever, fearful American Gods. They may feel that people no longer worship, and perhaps this affects them, but they persist. i’m unsure how they see us, how our lives join to theirs. They seem quite independent of place though i think they favour certain terrains. With the god they called Wodan, he came through to my mind through the runes, very early, without much effort. Perhaps because gods are non-physical, they respond to consciousness – so they don’t even really see most people, because most people’s consciousness is secular and dull. They notice certain individuals; these are brightly lit up.

3. Peter Hitchens writes about the dissolute Church of England:

Beneath the ancient arches of our parish churches we shall soon be enduring the music of the Sugababes and watching trained owls deliver matching rings to overdressed couples sitting on fake thrones, as photographers lean in as close as they can, to film the crucial moment. With the support of the strangely overrated John Sentamu, Archbishop of York,  parsons are to be instructed to swallow their doubts and permit any kind of rubbishy vulgarity. The excuse is that, in some way, this treatment will persuade the men and women involved to forsake the cocktail bar and the tanning parlour, and become regular churchgoers. Everyone but a bishop can see quite clearly that it will do no such thing. The victims of these nasty, extravagant ceremonies will never enter a church again.
Just as Groucho Marx wouldn’t belong to a club that would have him as a member, people will have no respect for a church that is obviously so desperate to welcome them that it will take money in return for ditching its principles. The whole point of churches is to disturb our day-to-day lives with the haunting rhythms and poetry of eternity. If we go into them and find that they are just like the nearest shopping mall, only with nicer architecture, then we will turn away disappointed.

Further in my friend’s lectures, he notes that we live in a world devoted to fact and the prosaic. In this world, poetry must be given a secular, economic, prosaic reason for existing. As he puts it (memoritor): “you surround poetry with health and safety regulations. You say it must be useful. You put it on the underground. You say, this is poetry week and so we will write a poem about this or that topic.” Or you say a church must become secular, must prostitute itself to all that is mendacious and glittery and prosaic.

The “poetical” energies – the wild, unpredictable – have been steadily suppressed and made disreputable & pitiable in our culture. i think it’s to do with cities, with science, with a world supposedly determined & predicted & manipulated by human beings. In this world, we are – as in an American shopping mall – absolutely within the manmade, surrounded by it, to the point that we cannot even see the sky. Non-human life continues of course, but we can destroy it, so it’s really trivial, a tourist attraction at best.

4. This is a false account of reality. The world is wild at heart and weird on top. If you hold this is not so, if you cannot make conscious room for the wild & the non-human, you live in a carefully arranged garden where everything has its place, every tree and flower and bird and insect has its name and fits into a reassuring taxonomy. But it is false.

Bureaucracy, secular materialism, the rise of the State, the denigration of culture and especially of Western religion, these are consequences of the prosaic triumph. The prosaic mind seeks to suffocate all genuinely human activity, whether of mind or body – because the genuinely human is constantly informed by the non-human, by the wild, by gods. The fully human adjoins onto the non-human. One could see terrorism, militant Islam, the violence now endemic in England, as symptoms of the denied wild. An emasculated world cannot defend itself from savagery.

5. In the emasculated world, one must always bear a little tag announcing one’s provenance, category. This is a world for apple polishers, city men. They regard non-polishers with contempt, ranging from amused to vitriolic. It is today very hard to financially survive without being an apple polisher, and almost impossible to get on. Some of my successful students are non-polishers but they have usually climbed high by virtue of technical (engineering) knowledge; and by the time the world realises they are non-polishers they have too much power to be dislodged. i have chosen to live as far from Munich as possible, on the edge of the country; my evening walk takes me through fields and Roman ruins. To be far from the city is best (North Face: “I’m not going back to Berlin. There are too many people like you there”).

6. A culture cannot live without spirit, without wildness. One could say religion and art are a way of directing and reconciling the wild to the tame, to justify the ways of god to men (and vice versa). Without these mediators, a culture comes apart. The worldly powers try to compensate with bureaucracy and lumpenly prosaic commandments:

‘Collective Cultural Belonging’ is what the Culture Minister (don’t ask) has been banging on about, a phrase a wise person would think twice about using in the aftermath of Stalin and Pol Pot. But Margaret Hodge sips from a poisoned chalice. Terrorism, immigration, integration, assimilation, identity, nationhood – all awaiting the salving balm of culture. If we can get everybody together – ‘associating their citizenship with key cultural icons’ is how she puts it, which sounds like having your photograph taken with Elton John and pasting it on to the back page of your new British passport – all will be well.

(Howard Jacobson, Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It)

We all speak & write prose. Poetry is something else. Probably most people only encounter it now in song lyrics, most of which are of the “oh baby baby baby” variety. Poetry is not ordinary; it is useful for memorisation but this wasn’t its sole purpose for existing (scientists in particular like to identify one side effect and then solemnly declare this as the reason something came into being). It is not really useful for conveying raw information. It has no real use, in worldly terms. This is scandalous and disgusting to the prosaic. For example:

A Communist-looking slob asks: “Can the panel please recite a poem that they learnt by rote at school and explain how this has been useful in their subsequent careers.”

About 2.30 in a Communist-looking teacher in hipster glasses says that it’s a waste of time to learn poetry.

And then at 2.45 Peter Hitchens commences his assault: first he spells accommodate correctly and then recites the following poem by Housman:

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

 

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

He continues: “And I’m very pleased that my head is full of things like that and also lots of hymns which I remember, and I feel very sorry for anybody who hasn’t had the chance to learn them, and I think it is a great condemnation of our school system that so few people, and particularly only those whose parents are rich, can actually afford to have their children taught things like that and have their minds furnished with beauty for the remainder of their lives. And to pour scorn on it and to say that it is unimportant is to declare yourself a spiritual desert.”

It is typical of the prosaic that they should suppose everything you’re taught should be “useful” for your “career”. As if the only purpose of education is to equip boys & girls to earn money, and every element of school must be directly connected to the getting of more money, of contributing to the Gross Domestic Product.

Poetry is not useful; it is merely essential. Without these energies a society becomes a mechanical race to generate more GDP. Perhaps, for the ugly Communists, that is the ultimate end of human existence, a race of frenzied ants producing and consuming.

But it is wildness which determines meaning. It cannot be incorporated into the prosaic, cannot be ascribed a function. Its “function” is to have no function. It stands outside of the worldly (“The whole point of churches is to disturb our day-to-day lives with the haunting rhythms and poetry of eternity”). Hence, i can read mediocre prose, just about, but cannot stomach run-of-the-mill poetry. Merely nice or interesting or well-executed poetry is, for me, almost unbearable. Poetry is, by definition, unworldly. It is language as you would never use it for day-to-day communication. It seems to communicate nothing except itself. Most of the finer works of humanity are useless.

But it is precisely in the unworldly, the uncanny, the wild and useless and indeed disturbing and destructive, that we have our true life.

1. My days pass in a whirl of salad. i have begun to experiment with healthy foods after noting the onset of middle-aged girthiness, brought on by Schnitzel & booze. At first i thought it mere Winterspeck (winter fat), as i put it on over Xmas, but it’s been in my possession for 10 months now so could well be a permanent addition to the elberry physique (woe).

2. In addition to a paunch, i’m developing my Boschesprache. Thus far i’ve read 3 children’s books in German, without a dictionary or parallel text, and am halfway through my fourth, Hermann Hesse’s Demian. i read most of Hesse’s work in my early 20s, and divided it into the very good (Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Demian), the interesting (The Prodigy/Peter Camenzind, Narziss & Goldund and The Glass Bead Game) and the atrociously dreadful (everything else). Most of my favourite bloggers hate Hesse and want to burn his books and slaughter everyone who reads him, so i was curious to see how i’d feel about the chap now, with my girth.

i gather that Demian is reheated Jung but it has an inextinguishable power; i feel that, even if i read all of Jung, it would still be good. Perhaps it’s that Hesse’s characters are interesting, unusual & sometimes weird, but also convincing; and the situations & emotions – the fear, anger, wonder, etc. – draw me. i like philosophy but on the whole it lacks this fictive immersion, this sense of being within a situation, a character, feeling fictive emotions. And perhaps for Hesse’s work in particular, this makes a vital difference. There are books (much of Thomas Mann) where one sees the theoretical framework too clearly, and one can resent having to read all these speeches & events when the whole thing is neatly reducible to a bit of Nietzsche/Jung/Freud – though with Mann, it may be different in German. Hesse’s (good) books are in a sense reducible to an idea one could elaborate on a single side of A4, but the experience of understanding the idea is profoundly altered when one, as it were, comes to the idea through the perceptions, thoughts, & emotions of a character; then, the idea can alter you, because you live it.

3. Demian, like Siddharta and Steppenwolf is an initiatory work. That is, it describes the experience of seeking, then finding a spiritual power; and then the entrance into this power. It begins with the protagonist, Emil Sinclair, as a small child at school. He is troubled & intrigued by the “two worlds”: the lit, familiar, safe world of his family and the dark, sordid, violent world he sometimes glimpses, the world of screeching fishwives & drunk yokels. When he’s about 10 he is blackmailed by an older boy, who takes advantage of a bragging lie to demand money and favours in return for silence. The older boy has no real power over Sinclair, and it seems, in a sense, so trivial; at the same time, we feel Sinclair’s anguish and daily fear, which i remember from my own childhood – the way that a fear can become all-encompassing, coterminous with the world.

Sinclair is rescued in the end by Max Demian, an older boy who in an instant sees the situation and has words with the blackmailer. Sinclair finds Demian alarming and years pass with little contact between the two. When he is in his late teens, Sinclair starts to feel lost in the world, bereft, and in need of something beyond a career, prospects, drinking. At this point he once more encounters Max Demian, who is now something of a spiritual master.

There is almost no plot to the book; the external scenes merely act to develop the initiatory experience. i found it astonishingly good when i was 20: i read it then as a book about “becoming the being you are”; now – fat and old and sorcerous – i see it is an initiatory work. It describes the process of becoming openly at odds with the world; then of seeking a way of becoming reconciled to, or escaping, this world; of taking the first steps on the path of the magician.

4. One (non-Hesse-hating) blogger noted that most of his or her favourite books are what you could call “spiritual”. And at the time i was reading Viking sagas (for my rune work), Dante, Spinoza, Wallace Stevens, and Alan Garner’s latest book, Boneland. i do like evidently ordinary books, PG Wodehouse for example, though there is something superbly unworldly about his worldliness. However, on the whole the books that mean most to me are about reconciling oneself to the world or escaping it. There is no obvious escape, at least not as far as i’m aware – but one can become subtly free, within the world (a note in Wittgenstein’s journals: a man suspended by a rope above the earth; his feet touch the ground but he is able to perform extraordinary movements because his weight does not rest on the ground).

5. Emil Sinclair talks of finding himself, or the way to himself. i naturally want to sneer at this, since every drooling hippy freak and Starbucked hipster talks the same “hey man, I went to India to find myself, man the people there are so spiritual, we smoked weed every day” jive. But as is often the case, the cloud of bullshit conceals a core of wisdom. One requires both the internal movement, in introspection & self-analysis; and the external movement towards others, to learn things, to help others. My father spent most of his life solely in the latter, with the result that he knew a lot about cars and was an excellent doctor, but an appalling human being; and aged 65 or so realised he had no idea who or what he was. A friend likewise avoided introspection and lived for her children and her students: she was, and is, a lovely person and has done a great deal of good, but was also staggeringly ignorant about not merely herself but other people too (with almost disastrous consequences for herself). It’s more common that people avoid introspection, than that they take no interest in the world.

For myself, i feel that one requires some self-knowledge to apprehend the world (hence my father and friend, neither of whom seemed to understand others), and this will only come through solitude, thought, and – probably – reading (Dr Johnson “he who never thinks never shall be wise”; i would add “to think deeply, you must read”). A passage i read today in Demian:

Die Dinge, die wir sehen sind dieselben Dinge, die in uns sind. Es gibt keine Wirklichkeit als die, die wir in uns haben. Darum leben die meisten Menschen so unwirklich, weil sie die Bilder außerhalb für das Wirkliche halten und ihr eigene Welt in sich gar nicht zu Worte kommen lassen. Man kann glücklich dabei sein. Aber wenn man einmal das andere weiß, dann hat man die Wahl nicht mehr, den Weg der meisten zu gehen. Sinclair, der Weg der meisten ist leicht, unsrer ist schwer.

6. When my father was about 65 he became so ill he was unable to work. He fell back upon himself, and realised he was wholly self-ignorant. This was not an easy experience for him. He began to read a great deal and the old house is now full of books; they have an almost talismanic quality for him, as mine have for me, because they represent the keys to one’s own soul.

Self-knowledge sounds a little prissy and la di da but without it your life will be built on sand; and sooner or later the structural weaknesses and damage will become apparent, in collapse or just increasingly tortuous warping. i went through a collapse akin to my father’s when i was 19 or so, and found it spectacularly unpleasant. In this state it is impossible to conduct a normal life, to have discourse with others, to do anything except attempt to shore up one’s damaged, imploding world. It reminds me a scene in Das Boot, where the submarine sinks to about 400 metres and the men have to repair the electrics, the walls, the communications, the steering, the compasses, etc., as water floods in through the bursting hull.

7. It is only when one has some deep equilibrium that it is possible to perceive & experience the world without disastrous imbalance. i think of certain craftsmen – mostly fairly uneducated – who almost seem to become one with their tools & materials; and even without their tools they seem at one with things.  Alas, in addition to being useless at everything, my opposition to the world and to other human beings goes deep. i require more unusual means of reconciliation; this takes the form of an escape from the world, but as i am coming to see, this escape is more an adjustment of balance. It seems very slight but takes enormous work.

Because my problem is so fundamental, i can’t make use of ordinary solutions – Christianity, career, drugs, etc. To become reconciled to the world i must escape it. Hence, the path is now the wizard’s way. And for all that, i am in the world, with my girth and my salads and my German books. It is by means of the friction between myself and the ordinary, that i leave it.

He left them together on the stack, where no beast would reach and steal, but birds could take them to the circle of life in air and earth, and he turned to the lodge. At the end of day, he looked out and saw that they were safe under ravens.

(Alan Garner, Boneland)

image from here

and

1. The Simpsons Series 9, Episode 6, Lisa tries out for the Springfield youth football team. The boys are doing their stuff under the eye of Coach Flanders, and Lisa appears, proudly clad in ridiculous American body armour:

Lisa [menacing]: What position have you got for me?!? That’s right, a girl wants to play football! How about that!

Ned Flanders: Well that’s super dupa Lisa! In fact we already have four girls on the team. [gestures to the four girls practicing in the background]

Lisa [downcast]: You do?

Ned: Uh huh! But we’d love to have you on board!

Lisa: Well…football’s not really my thing…[wanders disconsolately about, perks up as a new feminist idea occurs to her]. After all – what civilised person would play a game with the skin of an innocent pig!

Ned: Well actually, Lisa, these balls are synthetic.

Female Footballer: And for every ball you buy, a dollar goes to Amnesty International!

Lisa (looking sick): I’ve got to go. [flees]

2. Ron Todd [then leader of the Transport & General Workers’ Union] made the point with deadly accuracy just a couple of months ago when he asked: ‘What do you say to a docker who earns £400 a week, owns his house, a new car, a microwave and a video, as well as a small place near Marbella? You do not say,’ said Ron, ‘let me take you out of your misery, brother.’

(Neil Kinnock, 1987, cited in Going South by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson)

3. i think in every time there are people who need a mission. It’s common with adolescents, who usually outgrow it and become General Managers and accountants. i don’t want to sniff at this impulse, as i feel it too – ordinary, treading-water-and-getting-older does not interest me (to tread water i need to swim). But most of the time it is corrupt and baleful. There are those who genuinely help; without these men & women the world would be markedly grimmer. But i would guess that most of these missionaries are, on the whole, malign. Heart of Darkness:

Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.

There are empires and empires. i can imagine some Conradian missionary, bringing English rule to the heathen, reborn as a feminazi or neo-racist insisting that Shakespeare be banned. The impulse is, i guess, most of the time perverted into blind self-righteousness. i think this fuelled Commie scum in the 30s – they felt they were fighting the good fight, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. Now that almost everyone has accommodation & food in England, the self-righteous have found other fights – as amply catalogued by David Thompson, for example here and here.

i wondered from whence this grotesque phenomenon had issued but in truth it is not new. 100 years ago these same left-wing vermin would have been Christians wagging their fingers about pubs, or red-faced toffs bellowing about uppity workers. Now they are academics and Lisa Simpsons. The cause is different, the people are the same. They would be unhappy, to see they once held diametrically opposed views with just the same bigoted confidence and stupidity. But the bigoted confidence and stupidity are the crucial thing, that which endures, both in individuals across many lives, and in cultures.

Er ist das Gute, das Edle, das Väterliche, das Schöne und auch Hohe, das Sentimentale – ganz recht! Aber die Welt besteht auch aus anderem. Und das wird nun alles einfach dem Teufel zugeschrieben, und dieser ganze Teil der Welt, diese ganze Hälfte wird unterschlagen und totgeschwiegen. Gerade wie sie Gott als Vater alles Lebens rühmen, aber das ganze Geschlechtsleben, auf dem das Leben doch beruht, einfach totschweigen und womöglich für Teufelszeug und sündlich erklären! Ich habe nichts dagegen, daß man diesen Gott Jehova verehrt, nicht das mindeste. Aber ich meine, wir sollen Alles verehren und heilig halten, die ganze Welt, nicht bloß diese künstlich abgetrennte, offizielle Hälfte! Also müssen wir dann neben dem Gottesdienst auch einen Teufelsdienst haben.

Hermann Hesse, Demian

image from here

In no particular order, the greatest clothes in cinema:

1. Withnail’s coat.

It’s a tweed with a rainbow lining. The designer, Andrea Galer, sent me a sample when i emailed a query for my novel.  i toted the sample about for a few weeks, contemplating it under different lighting. It has many different colour strands so looks quite different under different illumination.

2. The Driver’s jacket, Drive

Gosling’s character never seems to change out of it. He beats 2nd rate mobsters to death and then carries on wearing it, covered in blood and brain matter. Nobody notices. It has a scorpion design on the back.

3. Vincent’s suit, Collateral

An extremely badass suit, no doubt specially tailored in Thailand to conceal weaponry.

4. The Joker’s assemblage, The Dark Knight

A waistcoat. Green and purple. Make up. A sense of humour. Panache.

5. Han Solo

Unlike the peasant hippy Jedi, Solo is always clad in some kind of shirt and jacket. Mostly, he wears a nicotine-stained shirt and black waistcoat, but in Empire he wears a deep blue jacket over a fairly respectable Rebellion shirt.

6. Max Fischer, Rushmore

Fischer’s habitual garb is his Rushmore academy blazer. He marks his low point – expulsion from school – by dressing in drab browns like an old man. His blazer is the symbol of his pride and youthful ambition.

7. Sailor Ripley’s jacket, Wild at Heart

Sailor: Did I ever tell ya that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom?
Lula: About fifty thousand times.

8. Al Pacino’s boss suit, Godfather 2:

You may only wear such a suit when you have sold your soul to the Devil.

9. Martin Riggs’ cowboy boots, Lethal Weapon

(see 1.54)

These boots are imbued with the power of Riggs.

10. Boba Fett, Return of the Jedi

Fett is a bounty hunter, called in by Darth Vader when the Imperial forces are unable to apprehend the Millenium Falcon. Whereas the Imperial troops and ships are shiny and perfect, Fett looks inscrutable and scuzzy. His armour looks like some Cold War-era junk thrown into a bunker and then salvaged and rewelded by gypsies. He hardly says anything. He is, we gather, exceedingly cunning. He is one of the few people seemingly undaunted by Darth Vader; not that he says or does anything to suggest this: he merely seems unaffected:

11. Morpheus’ everything, The Matrix

Morpheus. He wears big heavy overcoats and loud ties and seemingly opaque sunglasses but can still move, somehow:

12. Maximus Decimus Meridius’ battle dress, Gladiator

Appropriate for German winters.

13. Bill the Butcher’s everything, Gangs of New York

Stovepipe hat, leather waistcoat, knife belt, knives, pipe, glass eye.

14. Almasy’s desert garb, The English Patient

Thus equipped you are ready for the sandstorms and treachery.

image from here


Even the best of academics simply panic at the prospect of any significant contacts between ancient Greeks and the dreadful emptinesses of Central Asia.

They groan, complain. And to try and disguise the centuries of unspeakable terror that should never be mentioned, they will come up with a hundred very sensible reasons why such interactions could never have taken place. It would all be much too difficult; the culture shock would be just too traumatic; the language obstacles would be quite unsurmountable without a modern dictionary or decent training course; the distances would be impossible to cover without planes or trains or a rental car; the people would be hostile, the changes in climate way too extreme.

But there is one fine detail they always seem to miss: that if those who make history were like those who write it, nothing would ever happen. Those who make a difference do so because they are different, because they are prepared if necessary to walk thousands of miles; learn as many languages as needed word by word; ignore the warnings and rewrite the rules; push back the barriers of the impossible.

(Peter Kingsley, A Story Waiting to Pierce You)

i am reminded of a friend who, recalling in detail a 4th Century life, went to academic conferences in the field, perhaps naively supposing that academics would be interested. In fact, as he shruggingly told me, they really really didn’t like his 4th Century Latin nor the idea of knowledge not arrived at through periodicals and weighty tomes and peer review and promotion and salaries. The academic orbits the flame from an exceedingly safe distance and is venomously, casually disparaging about those who have entered and emerged, even with singed wings.

i was once, like Michael Mann’s Dillinger, drawn to my own hunters. This was foolish and vain. One should not expect to be believed or even half-believed; at most, contemptuously tolerated. Secrecy is freedom.

wordpress hit counter