1. i saw the Master & Commander film and was surprised to love it – it’s a somewhat Top Gunny film, with jargon unexplained, good violence, homoeroticism, and music:
and so decided to give the novels a shot, starting with Post Captain. This is great, a bit hard to fathom as it veers from a Dickensian dark comedy (our hero Aubrey is even broker than me, and in danger of debtor’s gaol), an Austen-like social comedy as Aubrey and his evil sidekick Maturin court various young(ish) damsels in an English country house, and then to full-on naval violence.
2.1 Aubrey is refreshingly unmodern, an individual with his own mind & preferences, pleasingly described as “a vile ranting dog of a Tory” who likes huge pies and vast quantities of booze; he is at dinner with a French captain, Christy-Pallière, who speaks thus:
‘But what is the case with us? Republic interest, royalist influence, Catholic interest, Freemason interest, consular or what they tell me will soon be imperial interest, all cutting across one another – a foul hawse. We might as well finish this bottle. You know,’ he said, after a pause, ‘I am so tired of sitting on my arse in an office. The only hope, the only solution, is a -‘ His voice died away.
‘I suppose it would be wicked to pray for war,’ said Jack, whose mind had followed exactly the same course. ‘But oh to be afloat.’
‘Oh, very wicked, no doubt.’
‘Particularly as the only worth-while war would have to be against the nation we like the best. For the Dutch and the Spaniards are no match for us now.’
In these wars, there is some room for a man of independent mind & disposition, as there is little in peacetime, and in 2016, there is almost none anywhere – only the God Emperor Trump stands proud and alone, quaffing bottles of human blood and pinching maidens’ behinds and smiting his foes hip & thigh with his spare toupees. There is a pleasing lack of sentimentality & romance in these novels. Jack Aubrey is as violent as any, and does not prettify his actions; so when he is an honoured captive on a French vessel that is doing battle with an English, the English is damaged and the French captain Azéma opens fire on the repair crew (as far as i remember, Aubrey was on the Nelson, which was captured by the French, and then later they are attacked by an English ship, the Seagull):
Captain Azéma had been bent over a gun, laying it with the greatest care: he gaged the roll, fired, sending a ball plumb amidships into the repairing party. He waited for the flight of the shot, said ‘Carry on, Partre,’ and stepped back to his mug of coffee, steaming on the binnacle.
It was perfectly allowable; Jack might have done the same; but there was something so cold-blooded about it that Jack refused a draught from the mug and turned to look at the Lord Nelson’s damage and at the coast, barring the whole eastern horizon now. The damage was heavy but not crippling; Azéma had not made quite the landfall he had expected – that was Cape Prior right ahead – but he would be in Corunna road by noon. Jack ignored the second gun: he tried to make out why it should wound him so, for he had no particular friend aboard the Seagull.
In our social-media-saturated world, such instinctual feeling, untrammeled by virtue-signalling and thought of audience, would be very difficult. Teaching the Bundeswehr last week, we discussed the migrant/rapist situation, and the Platoon Leader said we should take in the legitimate war refugees but not all these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi/Afghan/Pakistan/etc fake refugees. The whole group seemed slightly taken aback when i said, – i wouldn’t even help the genuine refugees. i don’t feel any obligation to anyone i don’t know and don’t personally owe. If i see someone collapse on the street, i don’t have an obligation to help them. I can, if i want, but i don’t have to – i have absolutely no moral duty to help someone i don’t know.
i still feel so, that to say “but we’re all human beings!” is meaningless in a 7-billion-human-being planet. One might as well say one is morally obligated to help an amoeba, because we’re both living organisms, or to help a stone because we’re both physical beings. i think most people actually feel as i do – that unless you owe someone, you are not morally obligated to help them (leaving aside that a substantial number of the migrants are coming to rape, steal, and destroy, and the rest to sponge and live off welfare into which they have not contributed), but they feel compelled to pretend; and this compulsion is so ingrained that they don’t even realise it is a learned addition; it only becomes clear, indeed, when one considers the totality of their words & deeds, and the hypocrisy stinks to high Trump.
And so, when i help people to whom i owe nothing (and in “owe” i include long friendship), it is not because i feel remotely obligated, but because it costs me either nothing or little, and in the moment i feel it is right, as Aubrey felt it was somehow wrong to take a drink from the French captain’s coffee; so, i often edit my students’ cvs etc. for free; and 2 years ago, as i was walking to the s-bahn a very serious-looking boy (maybe 9 or 10) asked if he could use my phone, and though i had then a pay-as-you-go deal i let him, because it felt right; he called his mother and was very German and serious, and i missed my s-bahn and so was late for my class, but i felt it was the right thing to do in this moment.
2.2 Aubrey, i feel, is the man without this layer of 21st-C Marxoid superego, this constant posturing for attention as a good human being, as a warm-hearted blah blah blah (and one need only consider the actual venom and cruelty of these “good human beings” to realise their hypocrisy). Trump i see as a man without superego – just id and ego, to use Freudian terms. He is so shocking because many today carry a heavy carapace of superego, so it is often hard to see the real individual struggling under this weight of social posturing & fear. The God Emperor Trump may not be nice, or good, or sane, or even able to manage the compromises of high politics, but he has, i feel, no side – what you see is what you get.
With the typical modern, i see something like a ghost, a flickering show of received opinion, and since these are mostly similar it is hard to engage with most such folk.
3. Aubrey’s “superego” is fairly limited – it would apply to simple customs, actions – not to opinions, beliefs. But this is the privilege of a soldier and a sailor, for action tends to burn away the unnecessary, the fraudulent. i enjoyed the Austen-like passages, where Aubrey woos the daughters of the rather horrid Mrs Williams – an early 19th C Leftist bien pensant, who today would be agitated about global warming, the evils of Christianity, the glories of Islam, etc. etc.:
Whether Mrs Williams liked her daughters at all was doubtful: she loved them, of course, and had sacrificed everything for them, but there was not much room in her composition for liking – it was too much taken up with being right (Hast thou considered my servant Mrs Williams, that there is none like her in the earth, a perfect and an upright woman?), with being tired, and with being ill-used.
Now that is very fine. The big words, love, or humanity, for example, are co-opted by the Left; and one should rather linger about the little words: like, affection. Aubrey is a marvelous character not so much for his qualities as for what he is not – not a worrier after good opinion, not a conniver after public acclaim; not given to self-pity or self-dramatisation; but rather a man after his pleasures – war, drinking, eating, and women, and music. His foil, Maturin, is far more intelligent but similarly unconcerned with the opinion of others, possessing a strange lyrical soul:
Tides, tides, the Cove of Cork, the embarkation waiting on the moon, a tall swift-pacing mule in the bare torrid mountains quivering in the sun, palmetto-scrub, Señor don Esteban Maturin y Domanova kisses the feet of the very reverend Lord Abbot of Montserrat and begs the honour of an audience. The endless white road winding, the inhuman landscape of Aragon, cruel sun and weariness, dust, weariness to the heart, and doubt. What was independence but a word? What did any form of government matter? Freedom: to do what? Disgust, so strong that he leant against the saddle, hardly able to bring himself to mount. A shower on the Maladetta, and everywhere the scent of thyme: eagles wheeling under thunder-clouds, rising, rising. ‘My mind is too confused for anything but direct action,’ he said. ‘The flight disguised as an advance.’
The physicality of Aubrey – man shorn of unnecessary thought – and the deep privacy of Maturin, seem to me emblematic of a greater human world. A decade ago i wrote of the dark side of the soul, that which is turned to the gods, necessarily invisible to man – and this is one benefit from reading old books; a glimpse of that dark and strange, that which gives men strength to doubt the well-lit world of society and its little fears & strivings.