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.