1. i need to rewrite bits & pieces of my nauseating Bildungsroman and so have started reading novels to recover the mindset, after a few years of fascist non-fiction; i just finished Lermontov’s superb A Hero of Our Times and skimmed through my Kindle’s huge library for the next, musing that 20 years ago i wished i could have already read everything, and felt alarmed to reflect that i didn’t know e.g. Thomas Dekker or Flaubert; i now gloatingly gaze upon all the allegedly great books i haven’t read; i am now grateful that i hadn’t read A Tale of Two Cities (my favourite Dickens) until this year.

2. i decided to read Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, and am enjoying it so far although i recoiled from this passage:

For all good soldiers are sentimentalists – all good soldiers of that type. Their profession, for one thing, is full of the big words, courage, loyalty, honour, constancy. And I have given a wrong impression of Edward Ashburnham if I have made you think that literally never in the course of our nine years of intimacy did he discuss what he would have called “the graver things.” Even before his final outburst to me, at times, very late at night, say, he has blurted out something that gave an insight into the sentimental view of the cosmos that was his. He would say how much the society of a good woman could do towards redeeming you, and he would say that constancy was the finest of the virtues. He said it very stiffly, of course, but still as if the statement admitted of no doubt.

Perhaps the narrator’s idea of a “good soldier” differs from mine but i am for example now teaching a Bundeswehr class, half admin people, half mountain infantry and airborne and one in (i guess) KSK, and just to give an idea, i had them doing a chain-spelling game (each student has to provide a word beginning with the last letter of the previous, e.g. doG, golF, finisH, hoteL) and among the usual vocab they managed to produce: tank, kill, LAW, widow, war, rape, erectile dysfunction, Nazi, idiotic, clown, nigger, racist, thief, faggot. i returned from one of my many tea breaks to find two mountain infantrists playing a youtube video of some guy with Tourette’s shouting and screaming, and i thereafter started referring to one of the students as “Tourette’s”, much to the mirth of the others. They are excellent chaps but like most professional soldiers their humour is basically akin to mine (murder, rape, genocide) and they are more interested in practical details (e.g. differences between French and German parachutes) than in grand words and ideas. i haven’t had a single bad Bundeswehr class or student; the only one who reads (a cold-eyed sardonic killer) remarked that their humour was “special” and i said “well, it’s more or less my humour; i went to an all-boy school where a boy was raped by another boy and we all thought it was funny and jeered at him because nobody liked him anyway.” i later reflected that especially in the military, this kind of humour helps to desensitize one to the inevitable dark side of reality and human nature.

The student i dubbed Tourette’s drew various map symbols on the board for the admin students, explaining how you indicate medium-range, long-range, mortar fire units, etc., and then drew a symbol of a kind of inverted u with two as it were antlers pointing upper left and upper right, and said cheerily “this means rape”. And i: “That’s useful, so the high command can look at the map and say, Engage the enemy with mortar fire; now send in a platoon of rapists.”

Throughout this, two highly hot Bundeswehr babes were sitting there looking mildly amused; i guess they had heard all this talk a gorillion times already.

3. i share this class with an Amercan blowhard called Frank, who is doing an English Lit PhD at the university here and teaches a few hours for money he doesn’t need. His wife is a Gymnasium teacher and makes more money than he or i could ever make; they have two blonde kids and i awoke her ire by commenting seriously “you’re saving the white race, good work” at the McLingua Christmas party. The year before, Frank and i got in a fight when he tried to stop me going home after midnight and i was a bit drunk so naturally we ended up rolling about on the carpet trying to kill each other until my boss intervened. Frank is smart – a Democrat of course like all my American colleagues, but not dumb like most of them, he actually knows something about politics beyond “Trump is like going to gas all the Jews, dude”. He suffers however an unfortunate combination of being almost wholly financially dependent on his wife, and being a belligerent know-it-all. The former makes him a mangina sponger who is openly proud to have bought nothing for himself or others in the last decade; and the latter is displeasing unto elberry.

The Bundeswehr group despise him. i heard him teaching them the Past Progressive (he left the door open in the heat) and it was both simplistic and overly theoretical, and of course delivered in his usual blowhard manner. One of the two hot babes is a bit dim and so the others often explain things to her in German – i allow this, Frank stormed over and told the helpful student “hey, you, yeah you, you don’t take your car to the mechanic then grab the wrench out of his hand and say, I know this better than you, so shut up and let me do my job”.

For all of Frank’s macho American routine he doesn’t understand that the Bundeswehr will naturally cover for their weaker members, and naturally assist their comrades. For him, this is merely an opportunity to pull his Californian cock out and swing it about in their faces.

i give him a pass because he despises Lit Theory and is, in literature, a traditionalist.

4. In The Good Soldier:

No, we never did go back anywhere. Not to Heidelberg, not to Hamelin, not to Verona, not to Mont Majour – not so much as to Carcassonne itself. We talked of it, of course, but I guess Florence got all she wanted out of one look at a place. She had the seeing eye.

I haven’t, unfortunately, so that the world is full of places to which I want to return – towns with the blinding white sun upon them; stone pines against the blue of the sky; corners of gables, all carved and painted with stags and scarlet flowers and crowstepped gables with the little saint at the top; and grey and pink palazzi and walled towns a mile or so back from the sea, on the Mediterranean, between Leghorn and Naples. Not one of them did we see more than once, so that the whole world for me is like spots of colour in an immense canvas. Perhaps if it weren’t so I should have something to catch hold of now.

i’m not sure one can extract the essence from a place, person, or book in one go; but i understand i think the narrator’s sense of having nothing “to catch hold of” (and the very beauty of his fragmentary impression suggests he was the one with the “seeing eye”, and that his wife – who felt once was enough – was in fact oblivious). Harold Bloom somewhere said the mark of a good book is, Can it be re-read? It seems impossible to do more than take a sketch from any first contact; one must assimilate that experience, be altered; and then return. And i think this holds good for most: for people, for books, for music, for films, for places. Frank, like most of my colleagues, strikes me as a man to make a judgement and stick to it, “as if the statement admitted of no doubt”; hence his finger-stabbing manner, his fashionable politics, the icy reception he seems to arouse in his students. Oddly enough, Frank touts himself as a grammar expert but the students told me they understood virtually nothing of his long-winded explanations and mine were easier to grasp; in fact, i don’t really give explanations as such, i find it better to provide examples till they have a general idea, and then conclude with an “explanation” to synthesise it all, e.g. we had a break and as i was about to go for tea the hot girls asked me about the Past Progressive: the cold-eyed killer was eating a banana and a huge mountain infantrist returned to the room, so gesturing grandly i said: “Cold-Eyes is eating the banana, this takes 2 minutes – relatively long; the Mountain comes into the room, naked and smeared with Schnitzel, that takes 2 seconds – relatively short; Cold-Eyes sees the naked Mountain and chokes on his banana and dies (i then mimicked choking to death while pointing at the Mountain in horror), you tell your officer: Cold-Eyes WAS EATING a banana when the naked Mountain CAME into the room. Now Cold-Eyes is dead” and this made sense. After the break i gave more examples before trying to  “explain” – and behold, they understood.

5. Having taught now for nearly 8 years, and being perpetually focken broke, i realise the occasional look of sudden comprehension in a student’s eyes is enough to keep me at an essentially minimum wage job, i mean apart from my inability to do anything else because i’m stupid and old. i like teaching English because i’m not really teaching; i merely guide the students to a closer sense of the language, the language not being my possession or secret – they can read English books or watch English films without me. Frank, as befits his California know-it-all manner, i think sees teaching as the imparting of secret knowledge to the uninitiated. i merely accelerate a process of comprehension; a process my students could undergo alone and unaided. i wish them to have a discerning ear and seeing eye, and so i do not impart information, but rather induce a way of perception.

Oddly, while “teaching” i became aware of Cold-Eyes’ cold eyes upon me; he is the only reader in the group, and wants to do a Psychology degree when he leaves the Bundeswehr. He sees, and i note that there is something unusual in his manner of observation, a kind of immediate focus on a person’s centre of being and degree of falsity or truth. As i was teaching, a blackbird suddenly flew onto the windowsill and looked about the room for a few seconds – it was odd indeed, as birds typically attend me when i am walking in a mental silence (the “internal dialogue” switched off) but here i was about my dirty intellectual business. i made my accustomed runic sign to the bird, which quickly glanced at the students – half of whom (facing the window) were silent and attentive – and then it flew away.

 

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