You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2015.
1. At a low ebb struggling with modernity, in the form of smartphones. i foolishly decided to buy a smartphone after my recent annual internet black hole. i chose a Motorola as they seem relatively cheap. Then i bought a Sim card. Ah. that took a week to arrive and then i accidentally broke it out of the case in Nano form (Motorola uses Micro, which is slightly bigger), so the card got lost in the sim card slot, as i optimistically pushed it in, thinking, Well it seems far too small but i presume it will all be okay. Shit, no, it’s just got lost inside the phone, what am I going to do now? Fuck. So i had to extract it with the savage tools i had to hand, irreparably destroying the sim card slot in the process. There is a second sim card slot, presumably because people like me will immediately mangle the first, so i inserted it there and behold! – i have virtually no internet connection and only sporadic mobile reception, despite having the same package as a student who says he has no problems at all, but lives in the wilderness to the south of Munich. i contemplated just sending the phone back, cancelling the sim card contract (only monthly, mercifully) and returning to my gloriously robust 50 € beast, but will instead spend hours anguishing over mobile networks and probably end up cancelling the sim card – after losing a day’s money ordering it – and go for some ridiculously expensive contract that will have me in the poor house.
2. To paraphrase General Patton in the film: “God, how I hate the 21st Century”. i wasted an entire day struggling with this shiny little bastard, and was seriously tempted to smash it with a hammer, film this on my 2007 phone and then ask viewers to send me money to recompense my loss. Just the idea of an industry run on advertising and referrals bewilders me.
i know people who seem to have instantaneous internet access on their phones, but mine is virtually non-existent – it takes hours for my piece of shit to access the app for s-bahn connections, by which time there will have been another strike (a near-constant feature of Munich) and all disrupted and cast aside by filthy communists.
3. After writing the above, i felt impelled – against my post-work agoraphobia – to leave my flat and walk in the wind, and found that my shiny new smartphone works fine outdoors. It uses the 02 network and when i briefly had an o2 surfstick it was also largely useless inside my flat (so i had to use it on my balcony). For most of yesterday & today i felt frustratedly enraged at myself for being too stupid to understand how to use the smartphone, despite doing everything according to the instructions. Now, i feel irritated at myself for not thinking to check the reception outside, despite knowing 02 can’t penetrate my building walls. My colossal idiocy, in not thinking of something so simple, perplexes and infuriates me.
For most of my life, i have suffered under an intense awareness of my own stupidity. Everything comes to me with difficulty, and i am bemused when people say i’m “clever” (which seems to mean “intelligent in a cheap way”), because i feel incapable of surviving in this world, only barely managing with the help of those charitable enough to assist me with e.g. money and Germanity. i called Juniper as i was tramping furiously through the old fields near my flat, ranted about my stupidity with the smartphone and Sim and internet, and she laughed, “Do you think you are the first person who has had this problem?”
It’s curious, aged 39, to realise that one of the defining concepts of my life has been that of my own stupidity. Even at university, where i never met another under- or postgrad, or even tutor, who i thought of as really intelligent, i felt that i was at best groping dimly at literature i could never write or more than vaguely understand. i didn’t regard myself as more intelligent than others; it was more that i seemed to see things they didn’t, by chance, or rather by hard work, by reading and re-reading. And without the need to study and write, i have lapsed into a hebetude of the mind for the last decade or so. i feel that the effort to survive – through 5 years of data entry, then nearly 6 years of teaching – has absorbed my entire spirit, leaving nothing over.
4. i’ve just watched the modern Sherlock Holmes series, called simply Sherlock. i assumed it would be shite but it’s actually extremely good – intelligent & discerning. There is no typical BBC pandering to minorities and the masses; Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is superbly “elitist” as it would now be derided – that is, he is a type of the higher man, absorbed in intellect and self-mastery, and untroubled by lesser urges, except nicotine. i only bear two cavils: that he doesn’t smoke a pipe (he instead applies nicotine patches), and that his Watson is a little too nice and Hobbitish for an ex-Army doctor who was in the shit – i would have preferred a Watson with some real violence and darkness under the Hobbitry – not much, but a little less the Bilbo Baggins he plays in the childish Hobbit films.
There’s an excellent scene where an apple polisher London cow tries to pass herself off as a fan to get a quote from Holmes, and he reads and dismisses her with a cold: “you repel me”. i was astonished that a BBC show would have a typical Southron BBC-polisher being eviscerated by a cold asexual (i.e. not gay) white “elitist”, but perhaps as with Top Gear, it will always be the case that people will respond to the real. It is curious that people will feel affection for a character as coldly superhuman as Holmes, but there it is.
Holmes, i guess, is always determined by his sense of his own overwhelming intellectual superiority – my obverse. Amusingly, students sometimes say i remind them of Sherlock Holmes – purely because i use a pocket watch to keep track of time in class (most classrooms have no clocks, and i don’t care for wristwatches). My father, i realise now, adopted some Sherlockian mannerisms – he smoked a pipe when i was a child, and sometimes wore a deerstalker hat (actually quite practical for the ear protection, and for keeping the rain out of your collar). He was a doctor and as coldly unfeeling as Holmes, in some ways. My mother told me he had an uncanny diagnostic faculty, and the last time i talked to him (in 2010) he had self-diagnosed himself as autistic – which makes sense: i often felt that his mind would simply close and refuse to engage with new possibilities, but as a doctor he had a truly strange precision of judgement.
5. i see that i am at least mildly autistic, though my job has forced me to negotiate a bridge to others. i wouldn’t consider myself a good teacher, but i seem able to more or less manage the confidence trick of “teaching” English. In Munich, most of my students are already high level and too old to make noticeable improvements, so i instead talk to them and correct them when they make mistakes; they rarely learn anything but there it is; they usually request me as their teacher in future and many of them have helped me with e.g. the tax office or my internet, and i suppose they get something out of the “lessons”, even if it isn’t English.
My rampant idiocy continues unabated. It inconveniences me in many respects: i could, i suppose, have got a job with some security, health insurance, holidays etc., were i not so stupid; on the other hand, i feel blissfully untroubled by many of the curses of intelligence: i was telling a class about the dobermann i used to walk at dawn, 20 years ago in England, by a Stone Age fort, and remembered how i felt closer to the dog than to people, and indeed i still feel so – my understanding of people is from the ground up, as one might say. It puts me at odds with this civilisation of ours, and yet somehow i manage to survive and now i have a sporadically-functioning smartphone and am reasonably content, amid my idiocies.
1. i was surprised at how fresh The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LoTR) was for me on this last re-reading, given that i’ve seen the shite films, and on the last reading (2008) i found i could remember vast sections almost word for word. It took about 10 days this time, a goodly length for a 1000-page book that’s too big to take on trains. As ever, it is a joy and consolation, to use a Yard/Scrutonword.
2. In my teens, i read Fantasy voraciously and LoTR was always among my favourites; as i aged & became cruel & bookish many and indeed most of these books fell by the wayside, though i have re-read some with pleasure – but in general my standards for prose and characterisation are higher, and so well-made Fantasy books, designed for 14-year-old pre-internet boys would no longer appeal to me. The only books of my teenage years i would still regard as worthwhile are LoTR, Ursula le Guin’s first 3 Earthsea works, Stephen Donaldson’s first six Thomas Covenant books, and Katherine Kerr’s original Deverry quartet. i did re -read Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance series in 2001, and found them still enjoyable, with some good characters and many striking moments – for example, the weird desolation of the elf wood, after the king unwisely uses a dragonorb; no doubt borrowed from Tolkien’s palantir, but with a strangeness of its own. i’ve also recently re-read some David Gemmell books with pleasure – his Jon Shannow and Waylander series are excellent. Here’s a sample of his dialogue – the killer known as Waylander has saved a priest from being tortured to death, then burns the priest’s soiled robes and lends him some garments, and they make camp for the night:
‘What are you thinking?’ asked Waylander.
‘I was wondering why you burned my robes,’ said Dardalion, suddenly aware that the question had been nagging at him throughout the long day.
‘I did it on a whim, there is nothing more to it. I have been long without company and I yearned for it.’
Dardalion nodded and added two sticks to the fire.
‘Is that all? asked the warrior. ‘No more questions?’
‘Are you disappointed?’
‘I suppose that I am,’ admitted Waylander. ‘I wonder why?’
‘Shall I tell you?
‘No, I like mysteries. What will you do now?’
‘I shall find others of my order and return to my duties.’
‘In other words you will die.’
‘It makes no sense to me,’ said Waylander, ‘but then life itself makes no sense. So it becomes reasonable.’
‘Did life ever make sense to you, Waylander?’
‘Yes. A long time ago, before I learned about eagles.’
‘I do not understand you.’
‘That pleases me,’ said the warrior, pillowing his head on his saddle and closing his eyes.
‘Please explain,’ urged Dardalion. Waylander rolled to his back and opened his eyes, staring out beyond the stars.
‘Once I loved life and the sun was a golden joy. But joy is sometimes short-lived, priest. And when it dies a man will seek inside himself and ask: Why? Why is hate so much stronger than love? Why do the wicked reap such rich rewards? Why does strength and speed count for more than morality and kindness? And then the man realises…there are no answers. None. And for the sake of his sanity the man must change perceptions. Once I was a lamb, playing in a green field. Then the wolves came. Now I am an eagle and I fly in a different universe.’
‘And now you kill the lambs,’ whispered Dardalion.
Waylander chuckled and turned over. ‘No priest. No one pay for lambs.’
3. The Fantasy genre, indeed the concept ‘genre’ is curious. Within a genre, you understand that certain things will occur and certain things are excluded. If you like a genre, you will tolerate even the not-so-well written; if you dislike the genre, even the best will likely repel you. A reader’s preferences seem to indicate something of his character. i only really like Fantasy and spy thrillers.
i find Crime almost totally boring; i can read a well-written crime thriller but with the exception of Donna Leon’s Venice books, and Norbert Davis, i feel no desire to re-read them. i think i like Leon because i like Venice, but even there i was most interested by one (i forget the title) which edged more into spy thriller territory. Davis is really special – i only tried him because Wittgenstein liked him – the books are witty and appeal to my sense of absurdity, with a huge dog to boot.
Germans are crazy about crime books (Krimis) and their favourite TV show, Tatort, is a long-running crime series. i fail to appreciate Crime, but i think Germans like it because such stories are always about society and its mores, and treat of a violation to the law, and its punishment; and Germans are naturally bourgeois, and hence obsessed by social order.
i like spy thrillers because, i think, they are essentially Gnostic parables about the secret knowledge and secret power which order the world. The actors are always limited and at the mercy of these vast, impersonal forces, but able to manoeuvre slightly by cunning and craft and will. i like almost all spy thrillers i’ve read, since they seem a much smaller genre than others, and so what is published is usually good – with a larger proportion of informed authors like le Carre, McCarry, Alan Judd, who were intelligence officers, or at least connected.
4. Fantasy, i suppose, is about magic and the world before technology (and hence the genre has flourished as technology has taken over our lives). One could say that the pervasive and all-comprehending world of the manmade, of technology & science, is the exact opposite to magic, so i find almost all Science Fiction off-putting and somehow incomprehensible – because for me, this is merely a deception and trumpery. It is notable that the only Sci-Fi i’ve liked is Frank Herbert’s Dune series, which take place in a world where science has limited itself (so force fields necessitate hand to hand combat) and are more like bizarre Alchemical parables about the ascension of man to a higher being.
Fantasy had its heyday in the 80s, i guess from those who grew up reading Tolkien. After that, there are authors like David Gemmell, who repeated his themes & interests, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but very little that is new. Fantasy written over the last 20 years or so seems to me tedious, with a lot of swearing and sex to compensate. i don’t think it would now be possible to write in this genre without just repeating what others have done.
5. The Fantasy genre, and Tolkien, have attracted contempt and bile from the start. Edmund Wilson dismissed LoTR as “juvenile trash”. i have yet to read an attack on Tolkien which wasn’t either full of inaccuracies or based on total ignorance, like one of my tutors who dismissed Tolkien as “crap”, then admitted he hadn’t, of course, read anything by Tolkien (because, after all, why would you read crap?). Though Wilson claimed to have read the book to his daughter, judging from his review i think he was lying; i suspect he rather skimread parts or asked her what it was about and based his article on such evidences.
It’s not that i think anyone who read LoTR would like it, but all the attacks are so wrong-headed and inaccurate that it is perhaps a book you could only finish – given its girth – if you had some sympathies for Tolkien’s worldview; and naturally most journalists and men-of-letters – hard-drinking, womanizing, atheist, materialist, amoral, cowardly – would feel an extreme aversion to a heroic, moral, traditionalist, Catholic-infused work. That it is, on some level, appealing to children would only prove its childish crapness to those who have made a career on talking and writing authoritatively about Finnegans Wake et al., and think real literature is only comprehensible to PhDs; or – the other prong – angry drunks in bars who know about Real Life and die in their 40s, choking on their own vomit in a prostitute’s rancid bed. The latter, which seems the norm now, is i suppose the worldview of those who live without enchantments – religion, magic, any kind of reality beyond the human and the humanly-comprehensible. Incidentally, Tolkien inserted two such characters into LoTR: Boromir, and Ted Sandyman. Such folk are naturally incapable of understanding Tolkien, or Völuspá, or Isaiah, or Dante; though they would not dare to dismiss e.g. Dante as “Catholic trash”.
The difference between Dante and Tolkien, in this respect, is that Tolkien wrote against the grain of his time, against the world – so there is always something unnatural and mannered, and i would never suppose LoTR could have been written before about 1800. If you have a sympathy for the older, more human world – more human because turned to that which creates humanity, rather than that which humanity has created (the machine) – then i dare say you will enjoy Tolkien; if you are a thoroughly modern man, a city-dweller, as was Wilson, in love with the machine, then it will seem merely trite and childish, “juvenile trash”.
6. i do suppose there is such a thing as genius, and talent, and that some books are crap and others good, but i don’t think there is any way of decisively sorting the two – so some attacks on Tolkien seem so insanely wrong-headed, yet i suppose the authors would simply dismiss any objections a lowly blogger like myself could make, and there is no end to argument. Within our mortal life, the only criterion which i think everyone could agree on is longevity – so the Beatles were routinely outsold by e.g. the Bay City Rollers and other novelty acts, but things seem clearer over a 40 or 50-year timespan. Likewise with literature, i don’t think anyone today would think Marie Corelli is any good, but she was once famous indeed. That Tolkien is still widely-read, 60 years after he published, suggests i’m not merely foolishly infatuated, and i think if the human race survives and can maintain literacy for another thousand years, that LoTR will always have some readers, with occasional peaks of popularity. And Tolkien, who wrote for himself and his friends (as i do), seemed intensely relaxed about the vitriol poured on his works by the machine man and city-dweller. For the machine and the machine man, and that which drives them both, will pass in time, and humanity, rightly understood, will endure:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
And there will surely be pipe-smoking and fine ales.
My Vodafone box stopped working as it does every year or so. It took 3 weeks to get a replacement – thanks to my laziness, and the incompetence of Vodafone and GLS, and the intervention of Satan. As in the past, i adapted very quickly, i think because i didn’t have internet at home till i was 31, and i now get too much social contact in my job, read only my Kindle on the trains & buses, and so relish a quiet evening with a paper book and some whisky and a pipe, and albums rather than youtube song-hopping. i don’t have a smartphone so was only briefly connected to the irreal, a few minutes for email at McLingua each day.
This time i feel i wholly transitioned to the 19th Century, feeling no desire to email or surf the internet, only some irritation that i couldn’t check the (Englishly changeable) weather or if the trains were running on time. The internet is so involved in things today that in these 3 weeks i felt i’d gone back in time to gloriously waistcoated Europe, with a mad Kaiser running about goring the unwary with his moustaches and spiked helmet, and the Tzar gobbling Fabergé eggs for breakfast, and Queen Victoria drinking tea, because she was sensible. In this time i re-read The Lord of the Rings, and somehow managed to actually enjoy an entire Wagner opera. i also discovered that you can use Vat 69 as a blending platform – it’s a cheap but good blend, 15 € in my local shop – but i added a glass of a peated Connemara and found the taste vastly improved.
One of my students today asked what i would like engraved on my tombstone. i said i just want to disappear and be forgotten, when the time comes, and would prefer my body to be cast into the ocean. However, i think it would be okay to write “you can use Vat 69 to make your own blends”, this being the most important wisdom i have to impart.
i made some notes in my re-reading of LoTR and may write some of them up here, to spite you.