You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2013.
1. A friend alerted me to the suicide of “right-wing” historian Dominique Venner. i’d never heard of him as i have little interest in politics and usually find extreme left or ring-wingers unsettling and overly consumed by black hatred & fantasies of vengeance. It was, nonetheless, a striking act; i thought of Tolkien’s Denethor, who immolates himself as his city is under siege from the scimitar-waving orcs. He first attempts to burn himself and his wounded son:
‘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!’ […]
‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,’ answered Gandalf. ‘And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.’
Then suddenly Denethor laughed. He stood up tall and proud again, and stepping swiftly back to the table he lifted from it the pillow on which his head had lain. Then coming to the doorway he drew aside the covering, and lo! he had between his hands a palantír. And as he held it up, it seemed to those that looked on that the globe began to glow with an inner flame, so that the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire, and it seemed cut out of hard stone, sharp with black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. His eyes glittered.
‘Pride and despair!’ he cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.’
Denethor was corrupted by using a palantír, a kind of scrying stone. It showed him only the vastness of Sauron’s armies, and so he despaired. Palantír means “far-seeing”: he saw too much.
2. A couple of days after Venner’s suicide, in London, a soldier was hacked to death by two followers of the religion of peace. i’m not surprised and only glad that i now live in Munich, where there are relatively few such folk. Most likely, there will be more Muslim attacks in England and eventually there will be Balkan-style genocide and everyone will die leaving nothing but rubble and ash and dead chavs and one half-eaten Greggs pasty. Most of this one could lay at the doorstep of New Labour, which encouraged immigration to pave the way for the Workers’ Paradise. The socialists were not interested in integrating newcomers into the native culture; they wanted to destroy the native culture (because, after all, that culture had mainly voted Tory in the past).
In general, socialists despise anything traditional, anything that took centuries to evolve, anything organic and not subject to State control. They fantasize about a revolutionary society which, because it has never existed, must perforce be radically new. Since the natural human instinct to manage our own affairs and work for what we have cannot co-exist with socialism, the socialists require a practically omnipotent State to crush human individuality and opposition. They require gulags and secret police, as has been the case in North Korean, Cuba, China, the USSR. If every society in the past has been hierarchical and involved exchange of goods, then for socialists everything about the past is damnable and evidence of Nazism. The past must be overwritten and replaced with a State-organised machine of production and labour and enforced equality; at least for those not in the Party – the good Party members will, of course, have special dachas and cars, and their own private lanes and shops. And if you don’t like this you must be a Nazi (as, in the past, one would have said “you are a witch” or “you have a devil”).
3. From my small but comfortable flat in Munich, i contemplate all this with some distance: i live in a conservative heartland; i can walk down the street without being hacked to death by Muslims. i like to keep a grim eye on things in England, via the Daily Mail, but i am not unduly agitated. i feel as might a European Jew who had escaped to England in the 30s, reading about the disintegration of his homeland under the socialists (National then, Global now). With the difference that most of the things i like about England pre-date me (old buildings, gruff old working class types like my stepfather) so there is in effect nothing i value about contemporary England. i feel loyalty neither for England nor Germany, much as i like the latter. i feel loyalty for the idea of Englishness – not, a chimera conjured up from P.G. Wodehouse, but rather an extrapolation from the older villages and people i knew. What i loved were the last embers of a spent fire.
In Tolkien’s book, Denethor is right to be appalled at the scale of Sauron’s might. But nonetheless, in the end Sauron is defeated. He is not defeated by armies, but by small human (or hobbit) actions, by ordinary decency and ordinary courage. Denethor’s vision is neither final nor wholly accurate – for example, the “fleet with black sails” is led by one of his own allies, under a false flag. The shitty films privilege action scenes over characterisation or plot, but in the novel the large battles are little more than a diversion. i don’t think military might and politics are irrelevant; but there seem other, subtler factors at work, and those interest me.
4. The historical forces – battles, armies, politics – are the surface manifestation of deeper causes. You can’t walk through an army with a haughty sniff; it does really exist; but the fundamental causes are not as we would suppose. i’ve come to see politics and so on as akin to a bullet: it exists and it is dangerous; but it doesn’t just fire itself. The first cause seems to lie within the human mind. This doesn’t offer itself to scientific investigation; it is too subtle and unpredictable; and much is to do with how people are between their lives, when they are unphysical (or dead, if you like). i’m beginning to feel that things can be determined by a surprisingly small number of people; that there are determining souls who naturally order those about them, both within & without physical life:
[…] that we should ride with seven thousands, scarce as many as the vanguard of its army in the days of its power, to assail the mountains and the impenetrable gate of the Black Land. So might a child threaten a mail-clad knight with a bow of string and green willow! If the Dark Lord knows so much as you say, Mithrandir, will he not rather smile than fear, and with his little finger crush us like a fly that tries to sting him?’
‘No, he will try to trap the fly and take the sting,’ said Gandalf. ‘And there are names among us that are worth more than a thousand mail-clad knights apiece. No, he will not smile.’
Denethor could not have believed that anything other than armies mattered. It is hard, looking at the daily disintegration of England, not to despair, and i’m sure that if i still lived there, crushed by minimum wage data entry, i would be permanently (rather than sporadically) enraged. i would be “full of passionate intensity“. Living in Germany, near some Roman remains, i try to disengage myself from all this, to instead concentrate on my own understanding of that which orders and gives worth to human life – to gods; and to deal well with those i meet, as best i can. i feel that there’s more chance of doing lasting and extensive good in private human-to-human encounters; far more than in Denethor-like fury and despair, or in propaganda and campaigning. This is why i habitually infuriate socialists, who believe that everyone should and must be political; they cannot tolerate abstention: they regard it as pusillanimity, because they cannot credit anything outside of politics and worldly affairs, capital and GDP and committees. They would sneer at the idea that a prayer – or sorcery – could accomplish more than standing on a box and shouting about capitalism till you’re red in the face.
But in the end, these matters will be settled by what one could call prayer, or sorcery.
1. i’ve seen some good action films of late, to celebrate my freedom from Communism: first, The Raid:
i didn’t have much interest in it from the trailer and reviews, as it sounded like a film of a particularly 2-dimensional computer game. However, it’s extremely well done, with Penkak Silat to boot. The pacing is particularly sensitive, a necessity in a film consisting mainly of combat. It’s a good example of how a formulaic work can excel by adhering to the genre and respecting the difficulties and necessities thereof. The film doesn’t try to build sensitive character portraits; it gives enough that you have some idea who these people are, and the action scenes do the rest. Bad action films have bad action, showing up the sketchy characterisation; or they try to do things you can’t easily do within the genre, and fail. They often have bad directors shooting bad actors playing cartoonish characters uttering cartoonish quips. In such films the scripts are bad, the directors are hacks, the actors can’t act.
The interplay of director, script, and cast is crucial. A bad script can’t be rescued. But a halfway decent script, with a good director, can be worked up into some worth watching. Predator, for example, has an excellent script, an excellent director, and a mixture of limited to terrible actors, who all give excellent performances – i think they act so well here because the director (John McTiernan) created an atmosphere where they did not need to move beyond their range; and within that range, they are fine. It’s a strange fact that many of these actors seem cartoonish and weak, insubstantial, in other films, but here they have a mesmerising physicality, a presence. i can’t find any of the scenes i like on youtube, but you see this physicality in, for example, the way the men move down a steep hill in the forest, always maintaining formation and discipline; or the stillness with which Billy (Sonny Landham’s 6 ‘ 8″ native American) stares into the trees, when he feels the creature watching.
2. In an action film, character is revealed in combat. The extreme nature of these situations brings out the inner lineaments of soul. And fighting is certainly as individual as the way you breathe or write or walk. A good action film develops enough character by plot and dialogue, that combat is not merely combat – it is a further development of the individual. My favourite action film, Lethal Weapon, is unusually character-heavy: but this would, i think, not have worked without a great actor in the lead. Mel Gibson has always had an edgy, lunatic energy to him; his best characters cannot be satisfied by mere life; they have lost too much. The character is a 30-something suicidal Vietnam vet (a sniper), who just lost his wife and is now unswervingly headed to his own death. Here, for example, is Gibson’s cop Martin Riggs, answering an emergency call (this is a deleted scene):
With a lesser actor, this would have been another cartoonish moment. Gibson’s fragility, those wounded eyes, make it real. In a later scene, he tells the staid family man Murtaugh: “When I was 19, I did a guy in Laos from a thousand yards out. It was a rifle shot in high wind. Maybe eight or even ten guys in the world could have made that shot. [pause] It’s the only thing I was ever good at.” Having lost his wife, Riggs becomes devoted to death, the only thing he was ever good at; but he isn’t seeking to kill: he wishes to be killed.
3. A few days ago i saw Jack Reacher. The critics were unanimously anti-Cruise, as they generally are; admitting that everything is very good but Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise and nobody likes him, oh, and he’s only 170 cm (that is, about 5′ 8″ – the average height). The film is in fact very good and Cruise is, as ever, somewhere between highly competent and superb. If anything, his merely average height and build help: it makes it the more likely that the 5 local punks who jump him would be so cockily over-confident; and also that a final mano a mano showdown with a 185 cm brute would begin with the tall guy sneering confidently, proceed to desperation, and end as these things end.
Jack Reacher was as good as The Raid but for different reasons. The Raid is pure action with a dash of character. JR is about 80% plot and character, and 20% violence. It also makes room for quietness, giving the actors room to breathe; there are more long shots than are normal in such films – something i value, as it encourages a sustained concentration, whereas too many cut shots make me feel tricked, and my deeper attention often disengages as my VDU-brain just admires the pretty changing images. Whereas bad action films feel a need to punctuate the violence with cartoonish scenes where the characters say supposedly funny and manly things, Reacher has some good moments of genuine quietness, which make the acceleration into action more powerful. Character is developed partly by having good actors (Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall), partly by small but well-placed details. For example, with a few remarks you feel the rivalry between the Marine Corps and Army (Duvall’s character is ex-Corp, Reacher is ex-Army), and this gives, as it were, a momentary glimpse into a rich and extensive country on the other side of the door.
It’s also a surprisingly funny film; whereas “comedies” usually leave me with a grim, Kurpian scowl, scenes like this amuse me no end:
The violence is fairly realistic, for once. Cruise takes a few blows and in the final fight, both men are winded and gasping after a few brutal punches. What else? There’s a good chase scene where Cruise’s stolen Chevrolet Chevelle slips all over the road like a drunken Viking (a BMW would have taken those corners).
Reacher is covered in scars and the film doesn’t try to make him look younger than he is (Cruise looks younger on interviews for the film). And Werner Herzog is Werner Herzog.
1. i finished Fatal Revenant today. In some ways i wish Donaldson had just left the series alone after finishing the last trilogy 20 years ago: the new books are, so far, fitfully interesting and largely mediocre. Things pick up in the last 100 or so pages as Giants appear. Donaldson’s Giants are Falstaffian creatures of enormous vitality and humour and interact amusingly with the other characters, especially with the sternly fascist Haruchai – a race of mountain dwellers who spend all their lives learning to kill with their bare hands (they disdain weapons as “impure”). In the current books, set a few thousand years after the last, the Haruchai have usurped a kind of lordship over the Land, believing that all ills come from magic of one kind of another – from any kind of supernatural extravagance, though the “good magic”, Earthpower, is itself an emanation of the land. In the original 6 books (from the 70s & 80s) the Haruchai were an army of largely unthinking Meine Ehre heißt Treue enforcers, who trusted in the Lords (magicians) to make decisions for the best.
In the present series, they are now called “Masters” and have carefully suppressed and censored any magic of any kind, believing that such powers will only lead to disaster – with some justification. They have dissuaded Giants from visiting the Land, as Giants are naturally talkative story-tellers who will inevitably remind the humble folk of the great deeds and magics of the past, and suggest – by their very presence – a greater world. In Fatal Revenant, the Giants encounter a broken Haruchai called Stave, who has rebelled against his kin:
Coldspray strode forward sternly for a moment. Then she said. “Permit me to comprehend you, Stave of the Haruchai. Have I heard you aright? Were the choice yours, would you welcome the return of Giants to the Land?
In response, Stave made a sound that was as close as Linden had ever heard him come to laughter. “Rime Coldspray,” he answered, “Ironhand of the Swordmainnir, since the Chosen’s coming I have been humbled both profoundly and often. I no longer deem myself wise enough to discourage the friendship of Giants.”
One could read the “Masters” as akin to the socialist-controlled education system, which more or less smears Western civilisation as fascist imperialism and tries to teach history via Mr Men cartoons. Since patriotism, manliness, pride, valour, were bandied about by the Nazis, they are now reprehensible and we must instead inhabit an emasculated, dwarf-world in which it’s racist to be English, sexist to be a man, fascist to prefer to have a job rather than take money from the Government, bigoted to have any religion except Islam, and so on. While the Masters are genuinely trying to ward off catastrophe, the new breed of managerial spiders are, i believe, motivated principally by self-interest: psychological (the glow of self-righteousness) and material (high salaries for apparatchiks).
In Donaldson’s world, real power only comes from extravagance. Thus, in The Power That Preserves, a character realises that the new Lords have made little progress in the old Lords’ sorcery because they made a vow to hinder and control their own actions – the Oath of Peace. Psychologically, i believe this is true. For myself, i am determined not to become the raging monster my enemies – the Communist, for example – believe i am; but without suffocating my native vehemence: i thus allow myself to joke and taunt those who would bully me into acquiescence. My own extravagance is mainly expressed & controlled in humour; and those who would intimidate me into silence or bien pensant mouthings take this as evidence of my being a Nazi and a racist and thoroughly intolerable. But then, for these people reading the wrong newspaper is tantamount to running a Concentration Camp (but not a gulag because these are sadly necessary re-education camps for capitalist saboteurs and anyway there were no gulags or they were actually rather jolly and only bad people (right-wingers) went there anyway).
2. The distinction between humbled and humiliated is important. Discussing Fraz, an old & rather weedy schoolmate who is obsessed with martial arts, Bonehead told me a tale: Fraz was sent to an empty classroom for disrupting the class, then Rock (a 6 foot tall psychopath) said he had to go to the toilet, went into the classroom, broke Fraz’s nose, and returned. Fraz has spent the last 20 years fantasizing about meeting Rock and beating him down with Wing Chun or jiu-jitsu or Krav Maga. i like martial arts but have more or less forgotten my schooltime beatings. Bonehead suggested i was never really given a humiliating beating, something i would remember forever; that Fraz was humiliated by Rock and thus can’t forget about it.
i was occasionally humiliated by my parents, as is everyone, but since they’ve both changed a great deal it doesn’t mean much to me – those people no longer exist and those forms of humiliation no longer mean much to me.
While i would say humiliation is never more use than it costs, to be humbled is invaluable. Those who are destructively humiliated often resist humbling and are hence enraged by the slightest taunting; for me, a sign of strength is one’s ability to take punishment and taunts. For example, i visited one of the classes i share with Toddball and encouraged him to tell them about the time a whore stole his cologne; he wasn’t exactly thrilled and reciprocated by telling them about the time i was drunkedly caressing one of our MILF students at the student/teacher booze up. He’s occasionally irritated, as am i, but we both came from rough schools and recognise this as a form of friendship, a sign that you are not readily humiliated. The crucial thing is the tone – there is a difference between the surly & witlessly predictable comments my Communist enemy used to leave on my Facebook posts, and Toddball’s generally amusing and basically friendly jibes.
3. i order my life to avoid being humiliated, but i seek out humbling; for example, being naturally bad at languages and trying to learn German – a language far harder than the Romance tongues; or trying & repeatedly failing to write a novel. i didn’t come to Germany to be humbled but there it is. In some way, humility is even useful in these arts. i don’t ask questions like “but WHY is it der Computer?” because i recognise it’s just the way it is and you have to accept it; in this case, it’s good not to question.
Likewise with writing, i’m toying with ideas for my next novel and began just with ideas, like a Medieval allegory. Characters started to appear in my mind and when i allowed them to develop they changed the ideas; these fictions – which i haven’t even written down yet – dictate the situations that surround them. i had a similar experience with The Better Maker, where the two best characters surprised me, and made surprising decisions, which i felt i should allow. If there was any worth in this book, it came from these characters, from things which in a sense came from beyond me.
The problem with Donaldson’s latest book is a preponderance of ideas and not enough character. Thus, i was cheered by the Giants. In a sense, every novel has giants – figures who assume prominence and exercise their own will. i’m trying to allow them in my own novel – not to discourage the friendship of Giants – and this is itself an exercise in humility. i don’t see any contradiction between extravagance and humility; it is simply a question of perspective; and there are powers which you cannot approach without both – the extravagance to credit something beyond the drearily material, the humility to attend, when power speaks. Perhaps it was in this sense that Moses was said to be humble, above all men which were on earth.
1. Germans don’t speak perfect schoolbook English. They have far better English than the Italians, who usually can’t speak or understand anything even after 6 years of classes at school; but the Bosche speak their own special barbaric English and so i get paid to beat them.
2. Every working day i get to the s-bahn (short-distance train) about 3 minutes before it leaves. The trains are sometimes a few minutes late but never leave early. Nonetheless, when the train comes early all the Germans walking to the station will as one break into a frenzied run, trying to look dignified and miserable but instead looking bizarre and miserable. For my first few weeks in Munich i used to half-run because i felt there must be a good reason for all this Hunnish hullabaloo, but after a couple of months i felt it was distasteful and unbecoming an English colonial gentleman. i now saunter, deliberately, ostentatiously slowly, langourously even, casting a disdainful eye upon all these frightful running natives.
3. This is the closest thing i’ve seen to my life in Germany:
1. i have very little paying work but am nonetheless flummoxed & kept busy, firstly by my 2012 tax return (dreadfully in Bosche), and secondly, i got my first semi-paid writing job since 2000 – i’m translating a 80s rock star’s memoirs from German to English. Naturally, my German isn’t good enough to do it alone so i’m badgering friends and students. It looks like it will take about 200 hours. It’s the first time i’ve translated anything longer than a poem. Although i’m rewriting to some degree, i want to stay faithful to the original as much as possible, perhaps because i myself feel intensely possessive about my written work and didn’t take well to a student plagiarising one of my essays at university, 13 years ago (he’s now Head of English at a school in England). i say semi-paid as i will supposedly get 20% of the royalties, which most likely won’t come close to what i would have got from 200 hours of teaching, and it would be easy for the author to simply tell me no copies were sold and so pay nothing.
2. i’ve meanwhile been getting broody, wanting to write something for myself, fiction. i’ve felt i could write a good novel since i was a teenager but to date i’ve only written a dozen good short stories and some essays; the stories mainly came in early 2003 with two stragglers in 2009 and in 2011. i can’t coerce them, they either come or they don’t; the only logic i’ve observed is that they tend to come when i’m highly isolated: in early 2003 i was living with my father in Huddersfield and rarely talked to anyone; in 2009 i’d left my last office job but not yet begun my teacher training course and so was just sleeping massively and avoiding human contact; in August 2011 i was utterly broke, miserable, was enraged at my fraudulent medical insurance company, and having almost no work only ventured out of my flat to curse God and the Bosche.
3. i sometimes compare this life to my others, to get some idea of a larger pattern. i’ve never been good at writing long, extended works; the closest i came to anything extensive was in my university essays, where i used the structure of the original text to support my own fitful illuminations. i discussed this with a friend, who wrote: “all the energy of your mind, when it is at rest, accumulates in formulaic categories. The energy-at-rest which these categories carry makes them seem vivid and alive, but you’re not convinced by it, not fooled by it.” i am briefly deluded by my stagnant energies but as soon as i try to write them out their worthlessness is apparent.
i feel i want to write a novel but while i gather ideas i see, as yet, no connections between – or rather the connections are always formulaic, derivative. The ideas themselves are good, it’s just that every mental projection ends in disgrace. i find the connections impossible; hence i favour these numbered blog posts, where i am not required to do more than state some vaguely related points.
4. i think the events of my life are designed both to free me from the path i trod in the last, and (perhaps) to bring me to be able to write a novel. Why a novel? you may snarl. Well, it just feels right, it’s like a shape in my mind. As a teacher i’ve learnt to more or less subdue my own rampant self and encourage students to talk. i still talk too much – probably half the time (the “ideal” is about 30%), but this in turn enables the students’ own disclosures and thoughts. And 50% isn’t too bad. i try to aim my language a little above their level so they encounter new words and have questions and manageable difficulties. The closer i come to my personal ideal, the better the lesson. Jack noted that i’m more like a psychiatrist than a teacher and said he tells me things he wouldn’t tell anyone; he added that he only does so because i reciprocate. It’s a subtle balance and i automatically adjust to the individual student. It’s also, for me, important to be professional – even with the ballerina; because i want to be paid for doing a job, not for being charming and amusing.
The rock star’s book i see as another aspect of this freeing; that i have to see how he saw things and stay more or less true to that; i have to subjugate my own self without however becoming just a language-robot: i have to find a way to accommodate myself to others. My elberry persona may seem abrasive, and those who have turned against me in real life would consider me an insufferable, appalling human being, but i take heart that i don’t thrust my blog under anyone’s nose and the general pattern of opposition runs thus: i get to know someone; they hector me for bearing different opinions; i joke or ignore it; they at some point explode and call me a Nazi, a sponger, precious, a cunt, etc., after i’ve patiently borne their know-it-all hectorings for some time. With these people, the slightest insubordination, irony, weary stating-of-fact, is taken as an assault; and then they must defend themselves by calling me a cunt. i don’t see any reason to placate these people. i placated managers for 5 years because it was part of my job; as long as someone isn’t my manager i find myself unable to eternally humour and pacify his rages (which means i’m Hitler).
5. My fragmentary imagination seems central to my character, across lives. This is perhaps why i withdraw from associations, gilds, ideologies: my very brief moments of clarity are too distant and inscrutable to easily yield to any kind of systematic approach. i am sure of the moments; but i cannot forge connections between. Ideologies have always struck me as unconvincing and ludicrous; hence i nearly failed my Literary Theory exam at university.
Our age is rotten with ideology, principally left-wing Politically Correct variants – emasculated, insincere lies perpetrated by self-interested manager types, men with soft hands. It would be an error to oppose their ideology with another ideology, even one of my own making. These ideologies – socialism, fascism, capitalism – are all in some way a product of the machine age; capitalism at least allows for the unforeseen but in a capitalist society most of the things i care about would disappear since they have no immediate and clear economic justification. In a capitalist society miserable commuters crammed into an underground train are apparently better off than their medieval forebears because they will live longer and have more luxury goods. This is, it seems, how economists look at the world.
i’m slowly getting a sense for the right way, more by exploring and then turning away from wrong ways than by any kind of real illumination; but at least a shape is developing in my mind. i feel sure i must not coerce connections; i must simply allow them to arise. Whether that is possible, i don’t know. At present i feel like Virgil at the beginning of Inferno Canto 9, awaiting the angel:
Attento si fermò com’ uom ch’ascolta:
chè l’occhio nol potea menare a lunga
per l’aere nero e per la nebbia folta.
‘Pur a noi converrà vincer la punga’
cominciò el, ‘se non…Tal ne s’offerse:
oh, quanto tarda a me ch’altri qui giunga!’
(He stopped attentive as if listening, for the eye could not reach far through the dark air and dense fog. ‘Yet we must win this fight,’ he began, ‘or else…! Such help was offered us! How long it seems till someone comes!)