You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2014.

1.Still alive though i’ve found myself uninterested in writing anything beyond emails. i sent the first few thousand words of my 40,000-word draft to a friend, who responded by telling me i shouldn’t write this book, that it was hate-filled and horrible and so on. To be fair, the opening is the most depressive part of the entire book, as it begins with my hero suffering in the trenches of minimum wage data entry, and he is only propelled to escape this world because it’s so horrible – in the same way that i would never have come to Germany had my jobs not been so terrible.

Hate-filled etc. are of course subjective judgements but my feeling is that if an intelligent reader could react so negatively it must have failed. i ditched it and have now more or less forgotten about the plot & story & characters, which suggests it had no real life to begin with. i do not despair; taking the long view, i am still (nearly 38, Homer Simpson & Colonel Kurtz’s age) finding a new way.

2. At present i’m trying out ideas. i get what seem to be good ideas, write them out in what seems to be nice enough prose, and the result makes me want to cut my head off and force it down my throat into my stomach, so it can eat my guts out before exploding in a ball of endless nuclear fire, consuming not merely my body but my soul, hard drive, all the files i’ve ever sent over the internet, this blog, anyone who’s ever read anything i’ve written, and of course all the hand- and type-written papers in my room. My whisky & tobacco could be spared, as i hope they could be of some use to some deserving minor (much as some enlightened soul threw a load of softcore porn over the wall of my school playground when i was 6).

3. i note that while i have good ideas, they never seem to escape the orbit of what has been thought by others. So, while reading Rene Guenon’s Reign of Quantity it occurred to me that we can only measure time by space – so i tend to think of 15 minutes as the time it takes me to walk a mile at a slow saunter; or the clock hands moving through space; then, about 50 pages on, Guenon makes exactly the same point. This happens to me with tiresome frequency; just off the top of my head, it’s also with Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare book, with a lot of literary criticism, with Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, with Rumi, with Alan Watts. i even think up fiction ideas which i later find have been developed into books or films, for example Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World, JCVD (in 2004 i created a plot about Jean-Claude Van Damme as a washed-up action hero alienated from his family). i have a feeling that i’m nothing more than a mirror for other people’s ideas, that i somehow pick them up and develop them to some degree, then find someone’s already made a book or film out of it.

4. To some degree, there are no original ideas. For example, Milton’s Satan is, i think, a blend of Marlowe’s Mephistopheles and the Satan of the Old English Genesis B. i feel the former was based on someone Marlowe knew, or perhaps was Marlowe himself in a certain frame of mind; the latter is simply the Old English hero as one can see in The Battle of Maldon. It’s pleasing to think that Milton’s Satan ultimately traces his lineage back to real people, to real English people at that. There are clearly archetypes of a culture – one could draw parallels between Odin and Gandalf, for example: the hooded old wizard scheming against destruction. Another could be Tolkien’s Aragorn and Tove Jansson’s Snufkin – both wayfaring, more or less homeless, mysterious pipe-smokers (all pipe-smokers are mysterious). While Tolkien was well aware of Odin, i doubt Jansson had read Tolkien (she had, i think, already created Snufkin before Aragorn came into print).

aragorn snufkin

(Snufkin pic from here)

Academia is full of people who like to draw such parallels as if this explains everything. It doesn’t explain anything except that writers read books by other writers, and we all live in the same world and so absorb more or less the same ideas, and that human beings are fundamentally the same, while capable of enormous surface difference. It is interesting, if you’re (like me) of an academic frame of mind, but it is not essential.

i’m unsure if i will ever substantially move beyond mirroring that which has already been. If i do, i think it will be down to a development of my own self, because for me language is a direct function of my self: or you could say i feel language to be inherently magical, and so try not to lie (very occasional, tactical white lies, and even those are wearying), or even to speak or write without purpose. This makes it difficult to use language at all. Or rather, like Thomas Bernhard’s Roithamer, i can produce enormous quantities of words, but then immediately turn against them, and correct them out of existence, in the clearing, a silence, Lichtung.

1. Glendronach Revival is a superb whisky, if sadly too expensive for me to drink in the quantities i would like.

2. Re-reading Molloy and struck by the effortless transitions from Biblically mythic passages to scenes of Irish squalor. i read this aloud to an intermediate class who couldn’t follow more than one in 10 words, i wager, the German filth:

But was not perhaps in reality the cigar a cutty, and were not the sand-shoes hobnailed, dust-whitened, and what prevented the dog from being one of those stray dogs that you pick up and take in your arms, from compassion or because you have long been straying with no other company than the endless roads, sands, shingle, bogs and heather, than this nature answerable to another court, than at long intervals the fellow-convict you long to stop, embrace, suck, suckle and whom you pass by, with hostile eyes, for fear of his familiarities? Until the day when, your endurance gone, in this world for you without arms, you catch up in yours the first mangy cur you meet, carry it the time needed for it to love you and you it, then throw it away.

3. To my dismay, i’ve now been teaching for 4 years. i have enough experience to cope with most situations & questions, and just enough enthusiasm to muddle through, and feel the latter will wane and then i’ll be left with nothing but experience. Experience alone is as sterile as pure intellect or technical craft. i went to a philosophy meeting in Munich the other day, my first & last, and felt how pointless all this talk is, when it comes from a modern machine understanding. The discussion was about artificial intelligence; i’d vaguely hoped it would be a discussion of AI from a philosophical standpoint, since it had been advertised as a philosophy meeting; but it was a discussion of AI from a computer programmer standpoint. Everyone there seemed bright enough, most were computer people, but i felt how futile & purposeless it all was. For example, one geek said that anything which can’t be empirically tested, if only in principle, is meaningless. i thought of asking him what he meant by meaning and meaningless, but just settled back into Beckettian silence and left early.

No one there seemed to know anything about philosophy outside of computing theory and watered-down Logical Positivism. The whole discussion was trivial, to do with mathematical possibility and processing power, and they couldn’t understand anything outside of this frame. The aforementioned geek said that human beings are imperfect, because not as rational as a computer, and i wanted to ask “what do you mean by rational?” but realised he would just stare blankly then go on about algorithms and processing units and binary. It was a striking case of how the tools we fashion and use come to determine our understanding of the world and, worse, of ourselves. Trying to talk to these people – all of whom, i guess, are well-paid & respected – was akin to trying to talk to a computer about Wallace Stevens.

4.  Just before the meeting i’d been reading Rene Guenon’s The Reign of Quantity; it could have been written this year though it’s actually from 1945. It describes a world in which only the quantifiable and inertly calculable is deemed to exist, and in which all will be perfectly levelled, reduced to numerical equivalence. He writes:

Nonetheless, a world in which everything had become ‘public’ would have a character nothing short of monstrous. The notion is still hypothetical, because we have not in spite of everything quite reached that point yet, and perhaps it never will be fully attained because it represents a ‘limit’ […] In order to induce people to live as much as possible ‘in public’, it is not enough that they should be assembled in the ‘mass’ on every occasion and on any and every pretext, but they must in addition be lodged, not only in ‘hives’ as was suggested earlier, but literally in ‘glass hives’, and these must be arranged in such a way that they can only take their meals ‘in common’.

5. Philosophy is a very vague and general term but real study and thought should allow one to partly break away from the dominant culture, to look at things from new (or very old) angles, not to mindless parrot gibberish about rationality and meaningless-because-not-empirically-testable statements. For that to happen, philosophy has to go deep, deeper than trivia about what a computer can do. i am impatient with these arguments, because they don’t go beyond the contingent; if it turns out that your facts are wrong, or if there are new developments, then your entire argument falls apart; and for me this is not philosophy.

6. i feel a growing lack of interest in surfaces, publicity, the public account of things. Writing to friend about my many grossly abortive drafts, he replied “you should be like kafka and put it [writing] under the bed”. As i now have enough money to live from teaching, i no longer need the bad pipe dream of publication to save me; even if more than one in ten thousand writers made any real money from their work. i’m sure this is the right thing to do, for me (writing being as various as every significant human activity, it takes many forms with different people). i gave up hoping to make cash from my brain years ago but there is a residual hope, which is of no use and indeed distracts me from just doing what i want to do.

i am trying to turn away from the reign of quantity and to see things as they would be outside of our passing human life. i think modern media make this almost impossible, as they are almost entirely inseparable from computers (the ultimate symbol of quantitative power); and rely entirely on quantitative measurement, e.g. number of hits, number of fans, number of tweets. This kind of public, glass-hive, quantitative valuation is of no real account; it is quantity in the absence of quality.

7. Most of the things i remember from my last life would appear in no biography or history; some – odd meetings & brief explosive friendships & favours from the powerful – while i suppose being scandalous etc., have remained private; the rest are just little things, often to do with my family then, things which i guess made an impression on me, e.g. a sister showing me a copy of Die Fackel she had smuggled into our home, against our father’s interdict. i guess this is the way of it with every life, that the things we value would bore others, and the things which others would want to publish for titillation & gain are too private to be shared.

And so i try to see my life now in this light, to see spots of intense fascination in the midst of an apparently mundane life, and to suppose these will endure when everything else is jettisoned as trivia. And with writing i try to see the things stuffed under the bed as those of most value. As with the Epic of Gilgamesh, lost for several millenia, the things lost may be found, none the worse for a long sleep.

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