1. Sitting on my balcony in the sun, drinking gin, smoking my pipe, and reading John Connolley’s The Book of Lost Things, i glanced down as an antique German woman cycled past. She must have been over 80, perhaps over 90, but was erect and graceful on her bike. This is typically German self-sufficiency. As i watched she pulled a compact mirror out and inspected her make-up without the slightest wobbling or difficulty.
2. Michael of the Michael Report fame moved to Cologne after burning out all his friends in Munich. Probably only a matter of time before he leaves Cologne for the same reason, but in the meantime he’s been busily bassing and this is quite good:
3. My work continues. A year or two ago i was beginning to hate it and wished an escape. Now McLingua has given us all an astonishing pay rise, according to our qualifications (i now get 17 € for 45 mins), i can survive on relatively little work and am relishing my freedom. It’s not enough to buy a car, a 2-room flat, or go on holiday, but i have just enough breathing space. i realise i look at things somewhat like Michael – he’s 25 and expects he will sooner or later become rich & famous for being himself, so it doesn’t matter if he’s broke now because it will all work out. i don’t share this belief but i nonetheless have a sense that money is essentially irrelevant and i will be given enough to manage. So far it’s been thus.
4. My mother & stepfather are here for a visit. i realise how much i’ve changed since 2009, the last time we spent any time together. i don’t feel older though i am fatter – i have a paunch, despite cutting my calories and walking more. My stepfather said it happens with age and contentment. This seems true – i eat less when miserable, and can sleep for long periods, waking without hunger. i haven’t really been miserable since last Christmas and that was due to external causes (my now ex-woman berating me for not being sufficiently Germanic). Even in the Kangarhaus in 2011 i only felt miserable because of the house itself; the last time i really made myself miserable would probably be back in England, when i was doing the wrong jobs and living in the wrong country (and the wrong life). Now i feel to be in the right place and more or less doing the right job. i am content, and fat.
With contentment comes a volitionless drifting, as i feel more or less able to enjoy life as it is. With this comes dissatisfaction, which for me manifests as a desire to write; and an inability to do so without the heat of unhappiness. In any case, most of my time and energy is taking up translating a book from Swiss German to English. The almost daily discipline stimulates the desire to write, but then i find my ideas won’t cohere – as if my usual unhappiness is necessary for that. In an interview, Thomas Bernhard says something like “I only write when something is lacking, if I feel happy why would I disturb myself and write?” (it was in Austrian-accented German so i’m not 100% sure).
i can imagine becoming wildly unhappy once more but i’m not sure if it could happen for internal reasons now. i respond to external difficulties by withdrawing into myself, so i didn’t even feel distressed when i nearly died last year in France; my body was desperate not to die, but i myself felt very little (though once the blood oxygen drops below a certain level, i’ve found i can no longer think or even feel emotions). Most of my literary heroes – Dr Johnson, Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, Kafka, Dante, Milton – seem to have written out of need and dismay or rage; and my own & few good writings likewise. So perhaps i will merely persist in this dissatisfaction and contentment.
5. Nonetheless, i have begun writing a new novel – just to satisfy my occasional cravings. It’s called Descent and, i recognise, uses elements of the 4 or 5 or 6 novels i began and discarded earlier this year. i can also see literary influence but don’t want to make them clear as stupid people like to think a writer mechanically recycles his favourite authors, and so any mention of influence is taken as an admission of conniving intent. In the case of Descent, the idea came to me when i was idly fantasizing, Michael-like, about being rich, then wondered how such a grotesque state of affairs could ever come about, and then began to complicate it for myself. Only when i’d sketched out the entire story did i see the clear literary influence – and that Descent seems to be revisioning this influence, to turn it in a completely different direction – as if one wrote a play about a melancholy Danish prince who decides to kill his uncle but ends up joining a troupe of wandering players and they wander into the Forest of Arden and find a court in exile.
So far, the story is fine but i’m having problems with the narrative voice. i don’t feel these are insuperable difficulties; sometimes it clicks and feels right, so i guess it’s just a matter of contemplating these moments until i work my way deeper, to the taproot. In a sense, Descent is also about this attempt to work deeper (as i realise now, writing this).
Getting the narrative voice right is the only really important thing – the story itself is almost nothing. It’s also an attempt to find some way of understanding how my present vaguely dissatisfied contentment can be, in a world full of hatred & suffering. i feel – as is my way – that to be happy in this world is akin to living a stolidly bourgeois life next door to a concentration camp; and yet i know this feeling is wrong, that being miserable doesn’t help other people; and i’m not interested in bluster, propaganda, Guardianista grandstanding, self-important lefty hatred & crass intolerance. The story itself cannot deal with these things – it must all be contained in the voice, without becoming programmatic. Ideally, if i finish the book most people won’t even notice these elements. If it works, it will be because the voice succeeds in forming a coherence from my own dissatisfaction & contentment; and the book itself will develop from this, so much so that the roots will be invisible.
i am not optimistic about finishing it, but the worst failure is to never fail, to make il gran rifiuto and fail to fail. In this, i am a good old-fashioned pagan and believe in the nobility of attempt.