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1. Miraculously still here, on a warm Tuesday afternoon. i took today & yesterday off work as i had some kind of Germanity-induced fever and had to lie abed, moaning and clutching my entrails. i feel my endurance for teaching is almost exhausted, though i’ve felt that a good dozen or two dozen times in the last three years. After this winter/spring’s fairly hellish gumbo of emotions & what not, there seems little left in me to care.
i feel to have fallen outside of my own time, as if the continuity is awry and there’s no link between today and yesterday. i think this is normal when an emotionally-charged situation abruptly ends, as was the case with my last Arbeitsamt class. In this case, i unwillingly expended vast emotional energy in the group, i think because it was so huge (14 students), went on so long (i took it over from a departed colleague in January, and it ran 7 hours a day, 5 days a week), and had so many problems, factions, cliques. My heart also unwillingly gave much to two women, firstly the radiant giantess (about 6′ 2″, i estimate) and then the Bulgarian Wittgenstein fan. In the latter case, i tend to form an easy rapport with anyone who has a non-academic and non-preening interest in Wittgenstein. In the former, the giantness had a tremendous physical energy and animal-like directness, with enough intelligence & acuity to give spirit. i spent the last month of the course training myself to a Kierkegaard-like acceptance of our utter incompatibility. One could observe this simply in our movement: i have an uncertain connection to my own body so tend to move in short, controlled gestures; she sprawled and exploded, rather, with more than enough physicality, dobermann-like.
This abundance was compelling. i noted that even my dour and highly self-controlled Irish colleague, Molloy, was drawn to her. On the class’s last evening we went out for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. i cunningly manoeuvered to sit next to her and after a few beers she got me in a headlock, dragging me pleasingly against her breasts, and told me it was useless to resist because she had done karate for ten years. i thought that explained a lot and broke her hold with a simple joint manipulation and a tai chi sneer “karate is nothing”, though on reflection i should probably have stayed where i was and enjoyed the situation, or even provoked her to rip her clothes off.
Later we talked about slaps versus punches. i mentioned this great scene from True Detective:
and she invited me to slap her, so i did; then she slapped me back; and i reciprocated, and it went on for a good half dozen slaps while Molloy stared in horror. i only gave her some slight slaps, as you would a red-headed stepchild or a hysterical woman, not a Rust Cohle manly copslap, and she was gentle enough. It was good clean fun. i was surprised when Molloy – ordinarily highly professional and somber – said “I feel left out. Hit me. No, not you -” when i volunteered to reach across the table and slap him. But later i reflected that the giantness exerted a dobermann-like spell over those she encountered.
2. The effort of resisting this spell every day, with 14 German faces staring expectantly at me, over about 4 -6 weeks, left me emptied of sensation; i feel as if my life ended and i continue as a recording device, passively observing. With typical elberry-fate perversity, even as i burnt out my emotions accepting that we really had nothing in common (she’s a surfer party girl who doesn’t seem to read anything) and that this would pass through my life and be gone forever, she’s just invited me to her 30th birthday this weekend; and i’ve now so completely accepted matters that i’m not sure if i’ll go, because i feel as distant as i would from someone i once knew in another life.
On the whole, despite the daily rigours of teaching her group, i feel glad to have known her, because she seemed different to anyone i’d met before, and so i felt the world was a larger, more colourful & stranger place.
3. After finally finishing The Sopranos a few months ago, i moved on to shows i’d vaguely heard of. i’ve so far managed to avoid The Wire but House of Cards, Utopia, and True Detective fulfill a similar role to the giantess: they make the world stranger. House of Cards is basically Kevin Spacey – if you enjoy hearing a Deep South cracker Spacey saying: “I’m a white-trash cracker from a white-trash town that no one would even bother to piss on. But here’s the difference– I’ve made something of myself. I have the keys to the capitol. People respect me. But you, you’re still nothing. You’re just an uppity dago in an expensive suit turning tricks for the unions. Nobody respects the unions anymore, Marty. They’re dying. And no one respects you. The most you’ll ever make of yourself is blowing men like me. Men with real power. Yes. I can smell the cock on your breath from here” then you’ll enjoy House of Cards.
Utopia is stranger, with a cheerful colour scheme and one of the best soundtracks i’ve heard in television, and a great dead-eyed sociopathic killer:
4. True Detective is the series i dreamt of for a good week after the final episode. Critics have attacked it for being pretentious, by which i think they mean they don’t understand Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle, and they confuse him with the show as a whole. You may as well attack Apocalypse Now and say you had a bad day when Starbucks gave you the wrong frappuccino but that didn’t make you go to Cambodia and put heads on stakes like Colonel Kurtz, so clearly the whole film is absurd and pretentious. It’s testament to the show’s excellence that these frappuccino-drinker critics grudgingly admit it’s not too bad, even while they grumble that there are no “strong female leads” and that they would never have dark thoughts like Cohle, not even after their Prius broke down two months out of warranty.
The show is a good example of what you can do with a good script and director, and competent actors. In this case the leads (McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) are so totally subsumed in the roles it’s hard to remember Harrelson in anything else, and for a moment i assumed Cruise’s assistant in Tropic Thunder was just someone who looks like McConaughey. The show makes no effort to be original, openly using standard tropes: the alcoholic angsty cop, the cop with a bad marriage, the serial killer who leaves arty/literary clues, the corrupt senator, the stupid chief, but the commitment and purpose of the script, direction, and actors makes it somehow bullshitless and true. It’s a good example of how you don’t need anything new, you just need to mean it – even if a million people have done it before, if it’s done with purpose it may as well be unprecedented and original. Much of the script comes alive in the cold, controlled bitterness and intellect of Cohle, and the frustrated stupidity of Hart. i don’t know what a frappuccino-drinking Southron would make of this scene:
Cohle: I’d consider myself a realist, but in philosophical terms I’m what’s called a pessimist.
Hart: Um, okay, what’s that mean?
Cohle: It means I’m bad at parties.
For me it works because i’ve had conversations like this, or had them (past simple versus present perfect) until i learnt not to talk openly to more than maybe two or three people in this world. And so when the frappuccino-drinking Southrons say it’s pretentious, i think they just mean it comes from a part of reality they have never experienced and never would, because if they lived through Cohle’s experiences they would commit suicide or go insane, or take refuge in asinine vacuity and Guardianista memoirs about how they went to counseling and pulled through and learnt to turn the page and move on with their lives and buy a new house, get a foot on the mortgage ladder, get their kid into a good school, buy a second home in Tuscany, like the Prius-driving frappuccino-drinkers they are.
The critics are in a sense on Hart’s side when he responds to Cohle: “well that sounds god-fucking awful, Rust”, but they lack Hart’s ability to eventually trust that Cohle’s “philosophical pessimism” is, in the terms of his experience, justified; the critics don’t understand that they are only spared this “pessimism” because they have lived ferociously sheltered lives and lack intellect or taste for inquiry. And, as Hart finds, it is only Cohle – the creature of darkness, come out from the dark underground – who can understand the evil they seek. And, through Hart, we also agree that Cohle is kind of nuts, that human beings can’t conduct daily life with this kind of understanding. When Hart sighs “I’m begging you to shut the fuck up” this seems a sane and ordinary human response.
To set the seal on its greatness, they use a few seconds of Swan’s Avatar at the end of the “got an old sniper pal” scene, 1.52 as Cohle says “l’chaim, fat-ass.”
After True Detective, i felt things stranger & better than before. i’m not sure why a show of such darkness would cheer me up, perhaps because it ends well, perhaps because it’s not really necessary that you have a happy ending; it’s enough that the world is enlarged and that the proportions are more or less true (so no Thomas Hardy-esque determined misery, or romcom-esque determined jollity). In this sense, i would say the two defining experiences of 2014, thus far, have been the young giantess and True Detective, for both have challenged & coloured my understanding, made my world seem grander and more possible & vigorous, with more slaps.
1. i’ve been going through a Hagalaz time since January, with various shocks coming within a fortnight of each other in late January/early February, playing themselves out over the turning to spring, and now seemingly exhausted & spent. At the time these were mostly grim, one was blissful and mildly agonising at the same time, and now all are done and i remain.
A difference in age – even while a certain melancholy lingers from the blissful agony (ir liebez leben, ir leiden tôt/ir lieben tôt, ir leidez leben) i no longer look to the things outside of myself for cause or solution; i know it lies in me. And with this you pass from Hagalaz to Dagaz.
This was first borne upon me in 1998, when i read Kierkegaard’s Either/Or and Stages on Life’s Way: a balance between necessary passion and acceptance. This doesn’t come easily to youth. In my early 20s it was almost impossible, though Kierkegaard at least nudged me from murder/suicide/atrocity. It’s easier now, as i have outlived youth and can discern a pattern in my desiring & chaos, the working out of my Hamingja (ethos anthropos daimon).
2. A man’s fate is his innermost character, and his daimon/ Hamingja. In my case, much of my life becomes easier as i accept the compulsion of my Hamingja. There is a similar acceptance in Hamlet (between Act 4 and 5) and Unforgiven as Will Munny ceases to resist the bloody working of his character and fate.
This isn’t to say that one’s life becomes as one would wish it; but it becomes easier to bear; and in a sense even very grim situations are just as they should be and no more. For me, this is the great lesson of the great late 80s/early 90s action films, as the heroes come to face an enemy that is willed by their Hamingja. It is this concordance of character and enemy one sees in Predator, Lethal Weapon, Unforgiven.
3. i sometimes wonder why i know of my other lives, and remember the bits & pieces i do. It isn’t normal, since amnesia is almost essential to an ordinary, healthy human life. In my case, i think part of this elberry life is a moving-beyond elberry, not to become my other lives but to as it were simultaneously inhabit this & other attempts, as one might play a score while remembering other versions, other interpretations & partial failures. At least, knowing what i do makes it possible to discern lineaments of fate. So when i meet people “by chance, as we say in Middle Earth” i can sometimes perceive an order nonetheless.
4. In my last & difficult Arbeitsamt (JobCentre) class, which i taught from January to April, there were:
i) Dieter, a stern, humorous German in his 50s who planned to give a class presentation about Vikings; he took to referring to me by military rank, and on his last day we saluted each other, as seemed natural;
ii) A pretty, early-30s Bulgarian woman. She has a warm character and studied Philosophy. On our first day i asked after her favourite philosopher and she said “Wittgenstein”. We drew closer to each other over time and she gifted me her warmth.
iii) A radiant 30-year-old German giantess who is, i think, a “young soul”. Contrary to some New Age shite i’ve heard, old souls like me are often more confused and fucked up than relative youngsters, because we have so many divergent, contradictory lives – all exerting an influence on the present. The giantess flirted with me out of boredom & some curiosity, for example she got her neighbour Dieter to call me over to her side of the (large) room then as i bent to look at his notes she scattered confetti all over my head, laughing; or she offered me some of her lunch then made it clear i was to eat it out of her hand, so i did.
Some of the group went out drinking and there i fell into talk with the giantess. i knew she liked birds so asked which birds she favoured; crows, she said. We talked about crows and i felt that though she had no acquaintance with the Germanic god, she had an instinct.
i note such patterns and attempt some understanding. Such attempts are always against the grain of our world, always difficult and uncertain; it is important not to overextend reason. Much is beyond me. i can only see that there has been a conjunction of emotionally strenuous demands this year, beginning with the sense that my last book-attempt was shit; this coincided with more ordinarily human problems. i can’t will away my emotions: but i can see them with the eye in the well, with both mortal attachment and spectral distance; i can choose to inhabit this fraught clarity:
dem lebene sî mîn leben ergeben,
der werlt wil ich gewerldet wesen,
mit ir verderben oder genesen.
5. At present i have survived these tests, but they have so absorbed my attention & desire that with their passing i feel blank and void, much as i did after nearly-dying in France two years ago. It seems that my old life has been erased and i merely continue the mechanical processes from inertia, without heart.
This makes it difficult to write, since i no longer feel a centre from which to communicate. But i retain my old “toys of fire and smoke” and may be reborn.