You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2015.
1. Back in 1995-6, the Journalist demanded to know if i’d read Geoff Dyer. Dyer, born in 1958, has written about jazz and photography, and so seemed to fit right into the Journalist’s expected repertoire of avant-garde bollocks.
The Journalist’s reading was broad and seemingly undiscriminating – he read apparently everything, without forming any opinion – the only book which left an impression on him was Colin Wilson’s The Outsider; assuming he read as quickly as me (i read about 2 – 3 times as quickly as my fellow undergrads at university), he had either begun reading “literature” in his infancy, or just skim-read everything without thought; the latter seemed probable, and i note that his current blog is mostly about avant-garde art exhibitions and avant-garde film. His literary tastes were all good, but i don’t believe they were really his tastes – i think he just read everything “literary” without consideration. And so i long regarded Geoff Dyer with distaste, as the kind of trendy London writer the Journalist wanted to be.
2. i finally got round to reading Dyer. His essays won me over immediately, and i can’t remember a collection i’ve enjoyed more, since George Steiner’s No Passion Spent, a collected Gore Vidal 15 years ago, and Theodore Dalrymple’s online essays in 2007-9, though Simon Leys is now also on my List. Dyer:
As i was whining about my shitty life to a Polish girl, she said (in German): “and what good things have happened?” – and i immediately replied, “I have discovered a new writer, Geoff Dyer.” In a sense i feel even closer to him than to Steiner or Vidal or Leys, because he is English and of a recognisable generation – so in his interviews he looks and sounds like one of my old tutors (of roughly the same age) – a mumbler who came through the 80s.
3. Pleasingly, Dyer and i share two tastes – George Steiner and Thomas Bernhard. Both are writers i discovered and then gorged myself on, both are masters of unordinary language and share an inhuman quality i love; Dyer is in some ways the opposite – his English is closer to Vidal’s and Ley’s – human and earthy and devoid of side. Dyer’s finest work, as i see it, is his Out of Sheer Rage, a study of DH Lawrence. i put off reading this, as i don’t like Lawrence, though i recognise his strange talent. i was reassured to find that Dyer doesn’t actually like Lawrence’s novels (i find them really unbearable) but prefers his essays and some of his poems, and his letters. i shrunk somewhat here, as i’d read Vol 1 of DHL’s letters and found them strident and egotistic and tedious – very like the Journalist’s letters – and, reassuringly, Dyer says this volume is the worst.
Lawrence is an interesting writer but i would agree with Dyer, that his supposed achievement, the novels, are not finally as good as his essays & poems. The novels are bombastic and laboured, to my taste, and his shorter writings stay closer to his real talent. Dyer has an instinct for the lodes of real talent, and has followed it in his own works, eschewing stifling forms.
i am a fan of fragments and marginal works, so i prefer Borges’ essays to his stories, Kafka’s Zurau Aphorisms to his novels, Kierkegaard’s journals to his published books, and i suspect most of Heraclitus’ worthwhile work is in the fragments that survive. If we see writing as a form of speech (and we must learn to speak before we can write), then writing is often an attempt to make concrete an originally momentary impulse. i feel that one of my difficulties has been to write without sacrificing overly to form – hence, my only really good works are my short stories, which as it were emerged from me without much thought.
4. Dyer never seems to have had difficulties finding a way of writing true to the original speech-thoughts. Crucially, he wasn’t ruined by academia, and Out of Sheer Rage has a good passage on fashionable garbage:
Hearing that I was ‘working on Lawrence’, an acquaintance lent me a book he thought I might find interesting: A Longman Critical Reader on Lawrence, edited by Peter Widdowson. I glanced at the contents page: old Eagleton was there, of course, together with some other state-of-the-fart theorists: Lydia Blanchart on ‘ Lawrence, Foucault and the Language of Sexuality’ (in the section on ‘Gender, Sexuality, Feminism’), Daniel J. Schneider on ‘Alternatives to Logocentricism in D.H. Lawrence’ (in the section featuring ‘Post-Structuralist Turns’). I could feel myself getting angry and then I flicked through the introductory essay on ‘Radical Indeterminacy: a post-modern Lawrence’ and became angrier still. How could it have happened? How could these people with no feeling for literature have ended up teaching it, writing about it? I should have stopped there, should have avoided looking at any more, but I didn’t, because telling myself to stop always has the effect of urging me on. Instead, I kept looking at this group of wankers huddled in a circle, backs turned to the world so that no one would see them pulling each other off. Oh, it was too much, it was too stupid. I threw the book across the room and then I tried to tear it up but it was too resilient. By now I was blazing mad. I thought about getting Widdowson’s phone number and making threatening calls. Then I looked around for the means to destroy his vile, filthy book. In the end it took a whole box of matches and some risk of personal injury before I succeeded in deconstructing it.
I burned it in self-defence.
i entirely understand this, have indeed gone through similar paroxysms of rage. i would feel no compunctions about burning academic books, because they contain nothing of the author – except his or her cringing apple polishing zeal, always looking slyly to the accepted strictures of the time, to make sure their worthless Polonial polishing drivel will be accepted and published, if not read, since virtually no one reads academic books, not even other academic polishers. One could say that modern (say, from the early 90s) academic writing is the triumph of form over humanity; not even inhuman like Steiner, but rather below human, a kind of corruption and mockery of the human, whatever original nature there is, subdued, fit to be burnt. i don’t think any academic today would really care if their books were all burnt, as long as they could keep their titles and gross emoluments.
5. Dyer has said that Out of Sheer Rage was influenced by Bernhard, and indeed i almost stopped reading it after the first page, which is almost a pastiche of Concrete. However, it breaks free of TB, and Dyer manages to assimilate that coloration to his own native wit and perception. This is somehow both Bernhardian and also Dyer:
If I’m stuck in traffic I mutter and curse beneath my breath. If I am kept waiting at a shop or supermarket I curse and mutter beneath my breath. Whatever happens I curse and mutter beneath my breath. When I am not reacting to some immediate cause of anger I am rehearsing what I am going to say to X or Y the next time I see them, thinking how I’m really going to give them an earful so that beneath my breath there is a constant rumble of abuse. You fucking stupid twat, you slow-witted mother-fucking asshole, you fucking piece of shit…That’s it, that’s what’s going on in my head. Laura has said that it is obvious I am a writer because as I walk along my lips move, as if I’m mentally going over some passage I’ve written. Yes, that’s it exactly, I say, except this particular book consists entirely of variations on ‘you fucking stupid cunt, I’m going to smash your fucking head in if you don’t hurry up.’
So, ladies and gentlemen, you have the great Geoff Dyer.
Been weary and afflicted by mishap of late, in no mood to do other than drink and smoke and fume. The following things have stuck in my mind:
1. Sending a letter to the New World, i found myself cackling “Amerika!” as i wrote on the envelope, for, i realised, i don’t believe that America actually exists. i don’t know where exactly the letter will go, but it’s certainly not going to Amerika. While this may seem ludicrous, when you stop to think about it there is actually no reason to suppose Amerika exists. The whole idea of some vast continent on the other side of the western seas, once full of Indians, who were slaughtered by a bunch of dagos and grifters, and then there was Clint Eastwood, and so-called “American football” – of course, it is possible, but i find it far more probable that someone just made it up. Certainly, a lot of time and money has been expended on this stupendous fiction, but that merely proves the extent of the deception. Someone has something to hide.
2. Saw some good films recently:
i) Anchorman 1 and 2. i previously felt some revulsion at Will Ferrell’s colossal head and tiny eyes, but i am now won over. His blind scene is excellent, as is his fatherly advice:
ii) Spike Lee’s Oldboy – actually, this was a shit film but as i was watching it kept remembering the superb Korean original, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. It was a strange experience, as i couldn’t fault the film’s technique, it just lacked any sense of purpose or clarity, and had an ugly, brutal feel, actually hard to watch whereas the equally violent original was hard to stop watching, and had a grace and fevered beauty to it. Whereas i could scene by scene explain why i feel Red Dragon is shit and Manhunter is The Shit, i can’t find much to specifically criticise in Lee’s remake. It just lacks depth and suggestion and the peculiar beauty of Park Chan-wook‘s original – so in the original, the bodyguard, Mr Han has a tiny part but bears a compact, intriguing character, with a felt strength of purpose and poise, i might even say a spiritual power; the female equivalent in Lee’s remake is somehow kitschy & perfunctory, utterly forgettable.
iii) Mad Max: Fury Road – so magnificently over the top, so well done, so Hardy. Tom Hardy has a Brando-esque inwardness, so even with his face masked (as in The Dark Knight Rises) his eyes communicate a watchful power and capacity for pain.
iv) Watchmen – the third time i’ve seen this, it gets better each time. A good dissection – as i saw it – of the progressive wish to destroy the world in order to remake it to the elite’s vision. Dr Manhattan as pure intellect unbalanced by spiritual depth; so his emotions are wild and frequently childish; lacking anything one could call humanity, his intellect and power are dangerously untethered. Ozymandias is the typical Ivory Tower leftist, smug, knowing, and in a sense ignorant and inhuman, in love with utopian projects and mass omlette-broken-eggs-violence. Night Owl 2 and Jupiter are fairly normal, capable of small scale violence but appalled by genocidal mania. Naturally, my hero is Rorschach, a true dark knight of insanity and violence, but utterly & commendably incapable of Ozymandias’ grandeur and grandiosity.
Rorschach is clearly the least pleasant, least humanitarian, least giggly left-wing of the characters, and also the only one to take an absolute stand against utopian mass murder. He has no love of humanity; he is, rather motivated by rage and a Swiftian savage indignation – but that in itself springs from an instinct that one should not kill the innocent; his disgust at humanity is born from a loyalty to what is noble in humanity. Ozymandias and Dr Manhattan, by contrast, seem to regard humanity as a mathematical problem, to be solved. It is fitting, in my view of things, that the unhinged right-wing vigilante is the only one to refuse to take a part in mass murder: “never compromise – not even in the face of Armageddon”. i feel that, of all the characters, he is the only one who would have nothing to be ashamed of, in the final account.
Alan Moore’s comic dates from 1986, when nuclear war seemed, i guess, more likely. The bad guy’s scheme – to destroy most of the human race by apparent alien attack, so that the West and USSR would join forces and thus avoid nuclear war – had perhaps some slight justification then, but still seems 99% ill-thought-out. Looking back from the film’s date, 2009, it is simply foolish, humanitarian concerns aside. As Dr Manhattan says, “I can change almost anything. But I can’t change human nature”. And it seems clear to me that hostilities would inevitably re-arise, because that is human nature.
Perhaps the difference between Rorschach and the utopian slaughterers, is one of focus – Rorschach’s focus is tight and narrow, to his immediate locality, to what crosses his path; the utopian progressives prefer to sit in the distance bought by wealth & ideal, and to dream up and dispense total solutions, disposing of billions of human lives with the practiced ease of the true leftist. Increasingly, i feel that goodness is only really possible in a Rorschachian immediacy, on a case-by-case basis; but our human reason and desire for totality leads us into visions of mathematical neatness, and the actual human is experienced as an irritant, to be erased. i would always place my trust in the local and the specific, and distrust the desire for comprehensive answers – just because there is a question, there need not be an answer, and often there is not – as if human civilisation has not accumulated a considerable number of attempted answers: dishonest, brutal, inhuman, eventually, one might say, Satanic.
3. A student today (The Wolf) asked if i feel closer to Hitler or Stalin. Well, i demurred, they both had a lot going for them but Stalin was the survivor. Living in Germany, i often feel that it is, in its way, as mythical as Amerika, and naturally less obnoxious and vile than England. i think that as bees organise a hive, so we naturally form a collective sense of ourselves, which becomes mythical and fabulous. It is, to borrow from Dr Manhattan, human nature, and we are drawn to inhabiting the unreal, the imaginative, that which gives meaning to the real, the physical. The Wolf sometimes remarks that i seem surprisingly happy and energetic – despite my occasional lethargies – and i tell him that i like talking to people, and learning from them, though i could also have said – i have a mask as surely as Rorschach, i have allegiances, and by these i survive – so, a photo i took in Munich in dusk last week: