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.