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My head is empty but here are some things i’ve read in the last few days:
1. From Douglas Robertson’s translation of Thomas Bernhard’s Die Berühmten (The Celebrities):
At Sils Maria mankind would have been forced to listen
The whole thing in front of Hitler, by God.
2. ‘I once asked a very talented seducer named Connolly,’ he said in his best didactic manner while lounging in one of the Fremont’s battered, once maroon leather chairs, a cigar in his hand, ‘how he did it. He told me, “When you can put a stiff penis in her hand and weep profusely the while, you’re getting hear any woman’s heart. But don’t forget the tears.” I’ve never yet managed the tears.’ (Bryan Appleyard, Bedford Park)
Surprisingly good book. i wrote a short review here.
3. If I missed the boat at university – they started to want to give jobs to people who knew about Structuralism and Semiotics, things I thought were simply frightful balls; and my simple pleasure in language, paint and performance for their own sakes was considered quaint and old-fashioned, a throwback to the days of David Cecil and John Bayley – then I next made the mistake, on returning from Normandy, of never living in London. If I was hiding away in the provinces, it was because I needed a big house for my money, which you’d think wouldn’t be a controversial decision, or one worth penalising. With three children I was requiring the Gentleman’s Residence in Herefordshire, not a bijou former artisan’s cottage in Ealing or Wandsworth. But this has meant that I have never been part of the London literary clique. I am not an operator. I am part of no network. Sad mother Julie Myerson asked me only the other day, “Is writing what you do full-time? Sorry, I probably ought to know this.” Arseholes to you, then.
Unlike Julie (b. 1960 in Nottingham, which must be as bad as Wales, but she now lives in Fulham) I have never been on Newsnight Review, or been asked to judge literary awards, or go to all the parties as a matter of course. When Mark Lawson had me on his radio show once, the expression on his blubbery face said, who the fuck is this? I met Rosie Boycott up the River Amazon – it was like she was being courteous and doing her best with a half-witted lowly heathen. Clive James said recently, “the literary world in London is quite small and everyone knows everyone.”
(Roger Lewis, Seasonal Suicide Notes)
Lewis is a would-be literary celebrity but constantly complains of being paid in pennies & overlooked & slighted etc. Given he publishes articles everywhere, and presumably lives off this, i’m not very sympathetic – since i haven’t been paid for anything i’ve written, and my work has been rejected from every real publication over the last 12 years. On the other hand, i probably get paid more per hour as an English teacher and i don’t have three children to support; and i was clear-sighted enough to take Peter Hitchens’ advice and emigrate from a country gone to the dogs; and also, i no longer really write anything.
Lewis is a very English type – catty, atheist, self-deprecating, fat, trivial, amusing. i had more or less the same experience, of being too interested in literature to get a career in academia; then i just didn’t want to go to London as i had no money – because i didn’t have a job – and also i hated the feel of London, the grimy, loud, gangsta, self-consciously World City, violent, sordid, debased, ridiculously expensive, avaricious, grubbing, go-getting, brassy, crotch-grabbing, shit-smeared bestial pestilential atmosphere; i despised most of the people i met there, and felt increasingly Northern with every minute i spent being crudely patronised by these black polo-neck-wearing apple polishers. And if you don’t live there, no one will take you seriously: you can’t get a job and you can’t publish anything. And the more i experienced this “oh, you live in…Huddersfield?” contempt, the less i wanted to move to this self-satisfied belly-patting Alasdair Campbell lepers’ cesspit. Anything south of Barnsley should be nuked.
4. ‘se novella vera
di Val di Magra o di parte vicina
sai, dillo a me, che già grande là era.
Fui chiamato Currado Malaspina;
non son l’antico, ma di lui discesi:
a’ miei portai l’amor che qui raffina.’
‘if thou hast true tidings of Valdimagra or of the parts near it, tell it to me; for there I once was great. I was called Conrad Malaspina, not the old Conrad but descended from him. To my own I bore the love which here is purified.’
(Purgatorio, Canto VIII, tr. John Sinclair)
As often in Dante, you can read this a dozen times before asking, what exactly does this mean? Incest, i guess, but you could read it and walk away with nothing. Dante was an esoteric thinker; he has two esoteric tactics: heavily veiled and tedious symbolism, and this kind of too-brief reference – i prefer the latter as it encourages the lesser reader to glide over the further significance; if such a reader misses much, he has only himself to blame. At least with the symbolism one might suspect there is a hidden message; and if you don’t have the key, it will forever remain locked – as, i suspect, is the case with many passages in the Commedia.
5. I have never been partial to savoury snacks, and certainly not to the Japanese variety that it has recently become fashionable to serve at all Viennese receptions. It really is an impertinence, I said to myself, to make us all wait for the actor, to demean all the guests, including myself, by turning us into a stage set for this man from the Burgtheater. At one point Auersberger remarked that he detested the theatre. Whenever he had had more to drink than his wife permitted, he would suddenly reveal his innermost self, and on this occasion he suddenly started inveighing against the actor, who had not even arrived, calling the Burgtheater a pigsty (admittedly not without justification) and the actor himself a megalomaniac cliché-monger, but his wife immediately rebuked him, rolling her eyes and telling him to go back to the piano where he belonged and keep quiet. They haven’t changed, I said to myself, sitting in the wing chair: she’s anxious to preserve the harmony of her artistic dinner, and he’s threatening to destroy it. They’re both committed to the same ends, the same social ends, I thought, but late in the evening he puts on a show of wanting to escape, remembering what he owes himself, so to speak, as an artistic personality. Essentially, they’re both taken up with society, I thought, without which they couldn’t exist – the higher reaches of society of course, because they’ve never been able to make it to the highest – while on the other hand they’ve never abandoned their artistic pretensions, their links with Webern, Berg, Schönberg and the rest, which they’ve always felt obliged to harp on at every opportunity in their craze for social recognition.
(Thomas Bernhard, Woodcutters, tr. David McLintock)
Bernhard was an oddbod. He was, i think, something of an exhibitionist & narcissist, at the same time as he increasingly loathed the kind of smug, self-satisfied “artistic” society of which Roger Lewis also writes. In the end he coped by isolating himself for long periods of time. For myself, i lost the desire for fame years ago. i’ve even more or less accepted that i probably have no real talent and will expend my life trying & failing to teach grammar to Bosche. i think my solution has always been to simplify, to get away from intolerable situations and worthless people. The price i’ve paid is to forego a family, financial security of any kind. At present, i only exist in Germany because the Bosche haven’t noticed i haven’t paid any pension contributions – when they do, i will probably have to leave the country. But at least for the moment i feel fine.
i went to Oulu last week to see the Man in Black. My observations:
1. While i expected Finnish women to look like hideous trolls, they are often exquisitely & bizarrely beautiful. i had also expected them to be surly and miserable, like über-Germans, but they were in fact quite friendly, much more so than German and English girls, who generally respond to even the most cursory glances with a look of fear and aggression and discomfort. The Finnish honeys seemed mildly surprised & mildly pleased to be ogled by a diminutive Anglo-Indian Germanic tweed-clad sorceror. My Finnish friends told me this was down to the rare sunshine; normally, Finns are savage killers.
2. Anything stronger than cider is only available from state-run liquor stores. The cheapest wine was 8 €; in Germany, you can buy a respectable Cabernet Sauvignon for 2 €. i bought two bottles of 9 € stuff, hoping this would represent a substantial increase in quality over the 8 € dregs. In fact, it was vile and it took all my manliness, and several sausages, to consume as much as i did. Whiskey is twice as expensive as in Germany – a sickening fact, which explains why the Finns are ordinarily so miserable.
3. Oulu is a shithole like Kassel or Huddersfield – about the same size, in the middle of nowhere, with about 2 nice buildings; the rest is generic awful concrete/plaster modernism. Each street was being ripped apart by construction crews (it’s too cold to do roadworks except in summer). The only part of the city i liked was the market on the waterfront, frequented by aggressive low-flying seagulls on the lookout for free nosh – it was guarded, however:
i was surprised that the girls were so beautiful, given that in England and, to some extent, Germany, the hot girls usually move to a bigger city to get work; with the result that towns like Huddersfield, Bradford, Birmingham etc., become bad gene places where only the trash live to breed with each other and spawn a new generation combining the ugliness & werewolf eyebrows & grotesque obesity & sports attire & iphones, and lack of intelligence & opposable digits & waistcoats & redeemable humanity, of both godforsaken parents. The Man in Black explained: “In Finland, only whores go to Helsinki.”
The Man in Black lives outside the city and so a lot of the time we managed to avoid seeing the full horror of Oulu. Also, there are some nice parks and woods:
Though, in true Finnish fashion, they are usually infested with man-killing mosquitoes. i was lucky – there were none during my time, perhaps because of my repellent heathen blood, saturated with tobacco and whiskey; perhaps because of the constant breeze.
4. The most popular luxury car is Mercedes; there were a few Audis, and i only saw a couple of BMWs. There are a few Opels and VWs but the most common car is the Toyota – these were everywhere. i guess Audi are trying to break into the market, as i saw many Audi adverts (and none for BMW or Mercedes). Not sure why this is so; i suspect Mercedes appeal as they are aimed for older folk and Finns strike me as a conservative folk (not a single Porsche – a common sight in Munich); Audis perhaps because of the old marketing about their snowy prowess.
5. A strange week; in part, because i can’t make any sense of Finnish, whereas my reasonably large Italian and French vocab, and my German, mean i can usually guess at European languages west of Poland. i only felt halfway at home when i saw Swedish, e.g. Bokhandlung for a bookshop (Buchhandlung in Bosche). The rest of the time i just stared in wonder at these strange, elvish folk speaking their strange elvish tongue. Finnish at least sounds beautiful – full of trilling “r”s and whatnot.
The Man in Black’s English is heavily Viking-accented & Satanic; he speaks a kind of baroque English full of words like defiled, worm, brutal, whore, soiled, perverse etc. And then the light – this was my window at midnight (as dark as it gets):
6. But it wasn’t all strange light and languages. The food was good and Germanic. i went to a Viking restaurant with my host and consumed moose, boar, and reindeer. The decor:
There are also excellent Karelian pies available from the supermarket. You have to heat them in the microwave then put cold ham and cheese on top:
Then you eat them with alcohol, making nom nom nom noises and spilling bits of food & whiskey/cider on yourself. It is a successful event when you are eventually soiled & untouchable.
7. And now i am back in Germany among the lesser men.
Going to Finland to eat blood foods. Fuck all y’all.
Wie er Kartoffelsalat gesagt hat zur Kellnerin in der Eisernen Hand, hatte mir beinahe Übelkeit verursacht, dachte ich auf dem Ohrensessel, von welchem aus ich die Gäste im Musikzimmer beobachtete […]
The way he pronounced the words potato salad to the waitress in the Iron Hand almost made me want to vomit, I thought, sitting in the wing chair and watching the guests in the music room.
Thomas Bernhard, Holzfällen