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1. Vienna, my fourth or fifth time i think. Whether the recent Multicultural Enrichment or my own perception/memory, it seemeth sore beset with infestation of criminal & evil-doer. In bars, pubs, restaurants, it is much like Munich; on the streets & u-bahns, German seems a minority language (20%), the rest being half Muslim-tongue, and Slav. There are, as in Munich now, roving packs of military-age Muslim, and lone predators, but unlike in Munich they seem to rule the roost here, with a cocky sneering arrogance – i guess word travels quickly, that Vienna police do nothing, and rape is fine. Not that German courts would do more, but the police are everywhere to be found in Munich, in pairs, armed, serious of mien & girth, and they will act.
i wander aghast from my hotel to Stefansdom, muttering “the sand people! the sand people!” and glad of my Uzi and pepper spray. Even the Viennese slavs look more prone to Adidas than the Munich variety.
2. It is a faintly evil & weird city. Clown graffiti:
Though i am tempted to investigate this creepy-looking cafe, just for the name:
Most of the city is banal and ugly, with too much traffic, noise, and especially in winter little colour; and yet it often has a strangeness to it; gruesomely modern and sorcerous, with a vision inimical to men:
At first disturbing, and then stimulating. It reminds me at times of Edinburgh in winter; unlike Munich, this is a city you could disappear into. Munich, for all its history, seems to me a city without magic – too clean, too orderly, too civilised; Vienna has, to my eyes, its own magic, a kind of seedy, leering, alien presence.
As ever, a lot of beggars, and many crazies – folk shambling about grinning at nothing, dressed only in, e.g. shabby pinstripe suits and slippers (no socks).
3. i meet the Viking. He has a cut on his nose, looks as if he tried & perhaps even succeeded in a Muslim-style sexual assault but the victim put up a struggle. i tactfully inquire, “did you rape someone?”. The usual response, a Hmmm, and then: “I walked into a glass door.”
We drink at Siebensternbräu, where i note many Hs cut into the walls, i put forward my own, sinister interpretation:
We go to the usual Pub Bukowski, where the Viking finds a woman in the toilet. At the time i just shrugged, thinking “that is the kind of thing that happens to him”; only later, i thought “he probably went into the women’s toilet”.
We defile many other bars etc., including Das Torberg, The Sign, in search of gin, whisky, pig flesh, and smoking facilities. We fail to have any real adventures, by which i mean the Viking doesn’t smash anything or commit any assaults, or get smooth with the ladies, or set his absinthe on fire. i play him one of my favourite Varg Vikernes videos
and he later draws this tribute while talking about how he wants to become an Augustinian and experiment on himself:
We walk the streets for miles. The Vienna strangeness continues:
i presume the shadow figure at the bottom was some intended artistic effect, but i don’t recall seeing it at the time, and so it was probably Vlad Dracul – about whom i talked at length, gleefully wondering if the Order of the Dragon is still extant.
4. i wander a bit around Vienna alone. Some strange juxtapositions:
and find myself on Argentinierstraße, looking up at Karlskirche
i wander down it, feeling memory tugging, then remember – i was here 3 or 4 years ago, looking for the so-called Palais Wittgenstein.
5. i go to Bratislava to meet the Viking and his Intended. It is hideous:
We walk down a horrible road, then get a horrible Slavic bus down a horrible dual carriageway, to an incongruously excellent restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Superb menus:
Soup is base! The Viking scowls, “I will take this home and edit it for free.” And i: “That’s blasphemy, you would ruin the whole thing.” And he: “Hmmm.”
Sated by duck and cabbage and blueberry pancakes, we stagger into the old town, which is small but very pleasant:
The city is full of Slavs. i am the only darkie to be seen, and there are Adidas-Slavs a-plenty, and scrofulous-looking scum slouching about looking like crippled orcs waiting to pounce on a hobbit, but on the whole it seems safe enough. The cops are fat and look vaguely embarrassed and cold, lacking gloves in the winter chill.
It’s a genuinely Muslim-free zone and in my heart i know that i will end up fleeing here and will live with the Viking and his Intended, teaching their 20 blonde children good Odinic values and the Way of the Uzi.
6. The Viking springs one of his Surprises and introduces me to Patrik Slažanský, a local pipe-maker. Patrik arrives with an orange suitcase full of his creations:
The Viking generously purchases a pipe for me, i opt for what is probably the most expensive, “Dark Beauty”, a real wonder of the art:
i’ve smoked it twice now and find it finely balanced in the hand and mouth, with a cool, clear smoke. It sits happily in the hand, with something of a battleship’s stately poise, and a living lightness. As Patrik said (in Slovak), his pipes are made from his love of the art, and he hopes they carry that value and intensity with them, to their eventual owner.
7. The train home, i get a carriage to myself from Salzburg to Munich, and luxuriate, re-reading Dune and drinking:
i admire the pipe, noting how its coloration changes easily in sunlight, a good sign:
And now i am back in Munich.
1. Am off to Vienna tomorrow, will likely have no internet access for a few days, so will try to write something now. Not much time or energy of late, on top of 12-hour days i’ve been slaving at my hideous Bildungsroman the last few months, actually the last 14 years, and am now reasonably content but still of course unsatisfied, on each edit finding yet more gross imperfection & lewdness. My only consolation is that each version is slightly better than the one before, this latest noticeably more than the one i published on Lulu in 2008. It’s been hard work because i had no idea how to write a novel when i began in 2002, and so one can see it like renovating a house built on bad foundations, unable to just rip the whole thing down but instead preserving the essential structure and bit by bit figuring out how it should have been to begin with. The 50 or so rewrites are not testament to the novel’s excellence, but rather its (and my) original inadequacy; much as the Japanese swordsmiths folded the steel umpteen times because their iron was low grade, and this folding served to even out the carbon content.
2. My life has been a long process of painful refinement, because, presumably, the original ore was so low-grade. And yet, i find myself partially conscious, unlike many – not intelligent exactly, but able to simultaneously live, think, and observe my own thought processes & emotion. Most people, it seems, are not. Last week i realised why i am so panicked by complaints, by surly-looking students; i noted that every time i have a great group or class, and think “i like my job!” i almost immediately have a shitty class as if to say, “hey, you bastard, you should die.” i believe such recurrent patterns are (for me, at least) intended to instruct, and so i dwelt upon the matter, and after 7 years of fairly frequent complaints, 7 years of fearing i will be fired and die in a ditch, in Bradford, 7 years of nonetheless surviving all, it became clear that the particular shape and urgency of this fear is what one could call a past life residual stress. Being outcast and despised, and destroyed, is part of my essential nature, but in this context, particular and explicable.
3. i am presently going through a kind of convergence of times and selves, manifesting partly in odd coincidences, and some kind of “telepathy” – with the latter, i find myself knowing what people will say, before they say it, and while some of it is probably easily explicable since i know my students, their core vocab, and can thus occasionally anticipate almost exactly their next few words, there have been enough weird moments where, realistically, no one could have imagined what would follow, and i was sitting there nodding & smiling encouragingly, thinking the words which my student then uttered.
4. i attended the McLingua Christmas Party, getting a plate of disgusting Indian food (actually quite nice), a glass of red wine, and locking myself in a classroom to enjoy the party without distractions. i then read some of a Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon novel (well-written if sometimes predictable spy thrillers about a Mossad agent; more or less okay though i notice that Germans are always described as stupid bigots and, well, it’s no surprise the author’s wife works for CNN) till California Jesus and Doug the Greaser came in, stared at me, and said, “What the fuck, are you READING?”
Later, i met a fellow pagan more or less by chance, as we say in Middle Earth. Curiously, i am far more radical than he – he’s my age, Welsh, an archaeologist, but a soft polytheist, whereas i am very much one of the heardingas (runic pun). For me, there is no point pursuing this if one is merely adoring and beseeching figures in one’s own head – perhaps it works for some; for me not.
5. Age now 40, i feel i have outlived my self and rather pleasantly exist in a volatized space where it makes no real difference if i physically live or die. Almost all my human contacts are in class, and i have to read English for hours every day to maintain some connection to the language. My students are of course just my students, i am friendly, cordial, encouraging, but there is necessarily no real connection; i rarely socialise, having learnt to avoid and distrust my colleagues; the last time i met anyone i trusted was the last time i saw Juniper in Kassel, a month ago; but tomorrow i will cavort with the terrible Viking in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sacrificing Christians and quaffing
mead gin in the name of the old gods.
1. i’ve survived summer, the most perilous time of year for an elberry. Spring and autumn are always the seasons of change for me, after the hard stasis of summer & winter. At the moment i feel like the last rat on a sinking ship, as the whole of Western Europe will collapse into Balkans-style civil war in the next ten years or so; and a surprising number of my colleagues are quitting:
1.1 The Cop: he was knocked off his bike, and then got a complaint from a hotel where he’d taught a McLingua crash course for a large engineering company. His version runs that everything was disorganised, no one knew where equipment was, and in true Cop fashion he let them know this was unacceptable. i dare say he got in people’s faces, and i can’t imagine him going beyond the limits of standard venomous German grumbling, but he has an aura of violence which amplifies matters somewhat; in this, similar to Morgana who could say things which, on paper, would sound merely aggressive and nasty, but with her evil goblin/Borderline look, talking with her was somewhat akin to being stuffed in a bag with a dozen rabid raccoons, and then being thrown into the sea, and eaten by a shark.
The Cop had always nurtured the illusion that, because he can be a good teacher (i.e. when students cooperate fully), and is reliable, McLingua valued and respected him. After his bike accident none of the management or sales team even asked if he was okay (he had “bone bruising” and could hardly walk, but continued working for McLingua). And then they chided him for getting in the face of the incompetent hotel staff. He had, apparently, garnered a reputation as a Nazi, amusing given he is a Zionist and i’m far more to the so-called Right, but then i don’t look the part.
The Cop has a rich wife and doesn’t need money, so quit. It’s quite a shock, strange as it sounds, for he was a decade-long-staple of the McLingua teachers, one of the few who persisted while young pampered millennials came & went. It’s like David Bowie dying all over again.
1.2 Big Ben – an American, think i wrote about him earlier but can’t find the post (perhaps deleted). He’s probably mid-30s, well over 6 foot, fat, alcoholic, from some rich man town outside Detroit, left his family when he was a teen and worked construction, went to university and studied History, speaks now a faintly-American English accent, vaguely 19th Century to my ears; he said he spent some time in his late teens locked in a room watching Anthony Hopkins films, and absorbed the voice. A deeply strange individual, he speaks excellent German, doesn’t read but speaks literate English (unlike most of my colleagues), is a fan of shows like True Detective and The Thick of It. i always found him fascinating to talk to, but at the same time couldn’t trust or get a sense for whoever he really was – perhaps much as the lesser man has always responded to me, which suggests Big Ben is actually the Übermensch, by god.
A month ago he told me he had to give up alcohol after a hernia, and also feels generally weakened by “German meat” – he said he visited his family in America and “after eating American chicken, I felt power in my body again”. He does, at times, radiate a slightly serial killer vibe. And now he will move back to America, to eat meat, after a decade of McLingua.
Curiously, he is a very good teacher; between classes he groans lugubriously about the job – much the same problems i have – but his students universally admired him, and i walked in on one of his classes and was faced with a totally different persona. As he said, when last we met, – I never applied myself to this job. I couldn’t accept this as a career, so I never learnt anything about how to teach languages, or teach anything. This was always temporary. But then it went on too long to be temporary.
– What are you going to do back in America? i asked.
– Anything except this. I have to get my car fixed up, then I want to drive around. There are wastelands, like Mad Max territory but without the cannibals and warlords, there’s just nothing there. I’d like to drive around these places, eating meat and feeling strong again. Germany took my balls away. I have to regrow them.
1.3 Hillary – a hipster from, of all places, Texas, probably early 30s, utterly deracinated (as California Jesus noted “she don’t be speaking or dressing like no American”), a weird hybrid accent, weird lesbian haircut, lived a few years in Helsinki without learning any Finnish (“only the whores go to Helsinki”), has worked mostly in IT & Marketing. She worked at McLingua for about two months before getting a real job in Marketing. Our first conversation as follows, about a week after Brexit:
Hillary: Oh yeah, you’re, like, a Brit, that’s fantastic. So will Brexit affect you here?
elberry: Probably, but i voted for it so i can hardly complain.
Hillary: What? Like, you voted in Brexit, or you voted to leave?
elberry: i voted to Leave, by god.
Hillary: Oh. And you regret it now?
elberry: What? No, i’m absolutely delighted.
After this, all our interactions were marked by a sneering hostility on her part, and shrugs on mine. Like many women she is a natural scold and know-it-all who enjoys policing others, witness the following conversation in the teacher room:
elberry: That Bundeswehr class was pretty cool.
Toddball: A lot of beards.
elberry: But real beards, not hipster beards.
Toddball: Yeah, them niggaz weren’t hipsters.
elberry: You should only be allowed a beard if you’ve been trained to kill. It makes me sick to see hipsters with beards, when they’re just vegan Che Guevara-loving losers who couldn’t kill a squirrel with an Uzi pen.
Hillary [listening the whole time with a tense female look]: Whoah! There’s a lot of stereotyping going on here!
elberry: Yeah, there is. [elberry leaves without another word]
i was puzzled by her “do you regret it” question, then realised she’d been reading BBC and Guardian articles claiming that people voted to Leave as if on a whim and then immediately regretted it, before anything had actually happened (these articles came out within a few days, and so far nothing at all has happened politically). She probably also believes the stories that Britain is suddenly suffering a Brexit-earthquake-driven tsunami of racist massacres, and the only solution is to reverse the referendum and restrict future voting rights to Guardian-reading millennials who live in London, because they know best.
Nasty piece of work, really.
1.4 Two other teachers are leaving soon, both nice, neither remarkable or blogworthy. They will probably die in a ditch.
2. i’ve now been in Germany just over 7 years. Astonishing – that i speak still virtually no German (by my standards), can’t read anything serious without intense effort. i thought about relocating to Eastern Europe, as Germany will soonish collapse into civil war. i can predict that one of the safest places on the planet will be Slovakia, for the simple reason that the Viking lives there, and while he often says things like “God has plans for me, He does not want me gallivanting about having fun” he also has an odd habit of always living in the safest places on the planet, which are also the only places someone like him could survive. If he ever leaves Slovakia, you can be sure the Major Shit is going to go down there within the next few years.
But i feel rooted here, especially in Bavaria. There seems, as best i can discern, a kind of presence here, protecting the natural human culture – it could be that the culture has always been a bit different to “Germany”, so it resists in some sense the crass tide of modernity. i note many Leftist assholes come here for work, and live in quiet villages and towns, and then decry the CSU for trying to protect the state from millions of 3rd World rapists. The Leftists appreciate the safety and order, and don’t understand these exist because of the Catholicism, the conservatism, the traditions they hate and would destroy. Sorry, pal, but that’s the way it is – if you want to live in a cool hipster city where the police don’t do anything, and you’re surrounded by sand peoples, that’s fine, but you’ve also got to accept you’re going to get raped on average four times a week, and your dog will be stolen and made into a kebab, and your daughter will eat it, before she gets raped by a 42-year-old Algerian who will escape prison because he says he’s a 12-year-old Syrian called Mohammed, all praise the prophet.
3. i have wanted to leave this job for the last 4 years but there’s nothing else i could do, save cleaning and bar work, neither of which appeal. And an office job would drive me crazy now. So i try to make the best of it; i enjoy most of my classes, it is merely that i feel how little of my mind and knowledge is engaged – so today, i managed to talk about metallurgy with a steel Sales Engineer, and as is my wont talked about WW2 in terms of raw material supplies, and then with some regret turned back to the shitty McLingua books, with a heartfelt, – Well, i suppose we’d better get started on this chapter.
As Europe – thanks to people like Hillary – is now inexorably plunging into the great Race War, this all seems rather besides the point, but i take a certain pleasure in the fact that the Sales Engineer was a very genteel North African in his 50s, and the other student a kind of dim but sweet Turkish woman, and i hope that they survive the coming slaughter, that if the Titanic is going down, there are enough lifeboats for the good eggs. Not likely, of course, but if anything human survives the coming War i’ll count that a victory.
1. i’m mainly teaching Arbeitsamt these days, as the whole of Bavaria (including my usual company groups) go to Lake Garda from June to September, to wish they could be Italian, and to complain about the Italians. Only the unemployed are compelled, by iron bonds of bureaucracy; only they abide in wretched durance, under my rule. There’s a big-titted blonde MILF in one class, Karen by name, nice, but desperate for cock and attention. She apparently told a mid-60s black American colleague of mine, Maya, that the whole group were worried that i was depressed and might kill myself.
me: eh? What? Is she going to complain to McLingua about that?
Maya: Well, uhh, no she was just, she said she was just, uhh, worried about you. She said you are seriously depressed and uhh stuff like that.
me: i’m actually quite cheerful.
Maya: Well I think she just wants to cause trouble and talk, and she probably, uhh, doesn’t understand your sense of humour. I told her that’s just elberry.
i realised that my life – teaching, hours of unpaid travel, and then home to drink and read and watch TV shows like True Detective, would strike most Germands as depressing and even horrific. Karen has repeatedly said that i need to marry a rich German woman, and seemed taken aback by my Burzum-esque laughter.
Odd, that a life of reading and gin could seem marks of depression, when in fact i generally enjoy my existence, as long as i don’t expect “recognition” for my writings, or money, or success, or any sense of being useful. But then Germands are a peculiar lot, generally quite bright (compared to the average Muslim) but almost totally ignorant of any culture outside the pap of German TV, dubbed American blockbusters, and – for the few who read – crime thrillers and sappy romances. On the rare occasions i have a student who enjoys reading poetry or real novels, it’s almost always a Russian or East European. For Germands, as for the English, reading is mere entertainment; you would never read a novel twice, because the whole point is to kill time, and the prose, the characterisation, the technical proficiency, are irrelevant – and so, like the Viking – who watched Boorman’s classic Excalibur and then grumbled into his beard, – It was impossible to enjoy because I already knew the story – the Germands are incapable of enjoying Rilke or Thomas Mann or Kafka.
2. It does sometimes strike me odd, that i am 40 and considerably more in debt than when i came to the Reich 7 years ago (almost to this day), and have failed to really learn any German since my job forbids any tongue save English, and after teaching i have little heart for social interactions with anyone, and those few tend to be base colleagues.
And yet i have my pleasures.
i’ve started drinking more gin, though perhaps when the colder weather comes i will take again to whisky. It’s a fairly cheap and uncomplicated pleasure – i will die of liver failure but given the whole of Western Europe will be under Sharia law in the next generation, this is a trivial consideration. My two childered colleagues, California Jesus and Toddball, seem to hate their lives, and spend all their free time placating their angry German wives and their angry German children. A bottle of decent gin, by contrast, is a simple and fortifying pleasure, and by the grace of God cheaper than a bottle of decent whisky, thus winning the war on both fronts.
3. Reading remains a great pleasure in these pre-Shariac days (don’t expect much in the way of libraries after the Muslims become more than 25% of the population). Here are some excerpts, of the last few weeks:
3.1 Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. Very English, leading on to Larkin – depressed, satirical, mostly hopeless. i’ve yet to finish the third but so far almost all the characters are somewhere between selfish trivial fools and monstrous psychopaths. i wonder, at times, what life was like Evelyn Waugh if he really saw his fellow men so; i expect he drank rather a lot of gin. Here’s a splendid account of the father of the protagonist (Guy Crouchback):
He was an innocent, affable old man who had somehow preserved his good humour – much more than that, a mysterious and tranquil joy – throughout a life which to all outward observation had been overloaded with misfortune. He had like many another been born in full sunlight and lived to see night fall. England was full of such Jobs who had been disappointed in their prospects. Mr Crouchback had lost his home. Partly in his father’s hands, partly in his own, without extravagance or speculation, his inheritance had melted away. He had rather early lost his beloved wife and been left to a long widowhood. He had an ancient name which was now little regarded and threatened with extinction. Only God and Guy knew the massive and singular quality of Mr Crouchback’s family pride. He kept it to himself. That passion, which is often so thorny a growth, bore nothing save roses for Mr Crouchback. He was quite without class consciousness because he saw the whole intricate social structure of his country divided neatly into two unequal and unmistakable parts. On one side stood the Crouchbacks and certain inconspicuous, anciently allied families; on the other side stood the rest of mankind, Box-Bender, the butcher, the Duke of Omnium (whose onetime wealth derived from monastic spoils), Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain – all of a piece together. Mr Crouchback acknowledged no monarch since James II. It was not an entirely sane conspectus but it engendered in his gentle breast two rare qualities, tolerance and humility. For nothing much, he assumed, could reasonably be expected from the commonality; it was remarkable how well some of them did behave on occasions; while, for himself, any virtue he had came from afar without his deserving, and every small fault was grossly culpable in a man of his tradition.
Akin to Proust’s Baron de Charlus, but finer and without Proust’s ubiquitous perversions. There is also an excellent Victorian slaughterer, Ben Ritchie-Hook, who somehow survives the 19th C to slay Germans, which all self-respecting Leftists would encourage:
“I’ve had fun in Africa too,” said Ritchie-Hook. “After one of my periodical disagreements with the powers that be, I got seconded to the African Rifles. Good fellows if you keep at them with a stick but devilish scared of rhinos.”
3.2 Andrei Znamenski’s Red Shambhala, where i learn of an apposite ancient legend regarding our Muslim guests, a final battle between the so-called Mlecca and the (Buddhist) faithful:
Besides the millions of wild and mad elephants and thousands of warriors and horses that Rudra Chakrin would gather for his final battle, the legend mentioned the variety of weapons to be used against the “people of Mecca.” There were not only chariots, spears and other conventional hardware of ancient combat, but also sophisticated wheel-shaped machines of mass destruction. There would also be a special flying wind machine for use against mountain forts. According to the Shambhala prophecy, this prototype of a modern-day napalm bomber would spill burning oil on the enemies. Moreover, the protectors of the faith would use a harpoon machine, an analogy of a modern-day machine gun, designed to simultaneously shoot many arrows that would easily pierce the bodies of armoured elephants.
4. i’ve been watching the youtube channel Thulean Perspective for a while with joy; ’tis the work of a Norwegian in France, by the name of Varg Vikernes; i have been long fortified by his unrelentingly pagan and European beard, and delighted by his soft, lullaby voice.
It was clear that this is a man you could trust as your babysitter, a man who could record audiobooks for children’s bedtime stories. A kind of Werner Herzog figure, with hints of extreme manliness but basically a big Germanic teddy bear. He talks in one video of his experience in Norwegian prison, and i assumed it was perhaps 6 months for so-called hate speech, or just for being white or perhaps shoplifting or some hysterical Feminist accused him of rape because he held a door open for her.
Then i Googled him.
He’s motherfucking Burzum.
He stabbed Mayhem guitarist Øystein Aarseth to death, burnt several churches down, and got 21 years in prison.
By God, i would still let him babysit my non-existent children, and if he were not to be available, i would play his audiobooks of The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh, to lull my non-existent brood to sleep, and dreams of Narnia.
1. The Viking visited ruination upon me earlier this week, as is his wont. A profoundly lanky and uncoordinated person with a huge Christian beard, he inhabits his own private reality of, basically, numbers, largely oblivious to anything else. i have decided he is autistic although any human categories must needs fall short of his appalling Protestant potency. We watched The Wolf of Wall Street, Sicario, and Batman v Superman. He seemed to enjoy the first to some degree, at least he didn’t say anything negative about it. He thought the second and third mediocre, as best i could tell – it is hard to gauge his reactions, as he rarely, to the point of never, says anything good about anything except CS Lewis and Pope Francis and the EU, so a favourable response consists of contemplative beard-stroking and a series of incomprehensible mumbles, or just “Hmmm.”
Raised as an Evangelical Protestant, he converted to the most anodyne form of Catholicism available a few years ago, and has remained Protestant in his habits & tastes. i encouraged him to go to the rad-trad SS Catholic mass in Munich but he demurred, – Hmmm. They are schismatics. Hmmm.
Instead he went to the most happy-clappy guitar & joyous tambourine & hippy dancing “Catholic” Mass he could find. i stayed in my flat, had a cup of tea and worshipped Wotan.
2. It occurred to me that taste is fundamental, and even religion is merely layered thereon. The Viking dresses, for preference, in torn and stained beige rags, eats mashed potato and overboiled peas, and lives in a student room in student squalor, despite being 37. He cannot smoke even cigars without coughing fits and beard ignition. Conversation with the Man in Black as we were smoking on my last visit to Finland:
MIB: Does he smoke, this so-called Viking?
elberry: No. He is essentially a materialist atheist.
MIB: Ruined by a Protestant upbringing. Does he drink?
elberry: He can drink to some degree.
MIB: That is something, at least.
The Viking cannot, however, be judged by normal human, or even fascist, standards. Last year, i gave him a black bag i was reasonably fond of, thinking “well, i like it, but he really needs a new bag.” He took it. This time, i asked after the bag. He frowned and stroked his beard, then, with a careless shrug: – Oh. I left it in England somewhere.
i then proceeded to ask what happened to a great cybercriminal coat i bought him in 2004/5 from Zara, back when they actually made decent clothes. He frowned and tugged his beard, then, with another careless shrug: – My mother threw it away.
elberry: What? When? Why?
Viking: It fell apart after a couple of years and she said I couldn’t wear it anymore.
For a moment, i wondered if the coat – which i calculate cost a week of my wages – had been much frailer and badly-constructed than i had thought; then i realised he meant it had fallen apart after “a couple of years” of being thrown on the floor, kicked about, burnt, ripped apart with scissors, used to mop up piss, dragged behind a bus, thrown into a vat of silage, the usual Viking treatment. Money itself isn’t very significant for me, but when i think of how much suffering and grief a week of minimum wage office work represented, it was, briefly, horrible to think of him treating it so – but then, i also reflected, it was my fault for thinking he wouldn’t do this.
There is a long catalogue of things i bought him, all lost, discarded, destroyed. The first was a handmade leather case i bought for his Dungeons & Dragons dice back in 2001 – it was a beautiful piece, and comparably expensive; i asked if he still had it, the usual serene frown, beard-tug, then, – It’s probably in Canada somewhere.
3. i had a day’s respite when he went to Regensburg alone – i had to do laundry and sundry chores, and to be alone. i thought about my irritation at his Vikingry, and then realised it was basically self-inflicted irritation, for i was expecting him to be something he isn’t. Twenty years ago, i let my dobermann into the living room, and since he wasn’t properly trained, he promptly began ripping the cushions to pieces, and was much aggrieved when i threw him out. It was my fault for not training him, though at that point (aged 19) i knew nothing about such things; but nonetheless, one cannot blame the dog, and nor can one blame the Viking – it was my fault for letting the dog into the living room, and it was my fault for thinking the Viking could be other than a Viking. As the Man in Black judged, once a Protestant, always a Protestant.
4. As ever with the Viking, he managed to attract some vague danger. In this case, we were on the bus and a German chav was staring darkly at us, probably because we look so bizarre (Vkg in a linen hat and red cord jacket i bought for him, which he has probably already “left in China somewhere” or perhaps they “fell apart” or “they got on fire” or “a dog ate them” or “my mother confiscated them”), and were speaking English (and the Viking is incapable of moderating his voice, because he is autistic, so everyone in a 100 meter radius can hear him). The Viking yawned and the German chav immediately yawned, to me evidence of his attention. When he was about to get off, the chav stared menacingly at us and hissed, – Schöne Sachen, Leute! – translated directly, “nice things, people” – it could i suppose be taken as a compliment, but not with that look of Left-wing hate.
The Viking had no idea what was going on – despite speaking German, better even than me since he did it at school for 7 years, and besides told me in 2011 “You make my head hurt when you speak German. You should, like, stick to Italian or something, because you are brown and that is, like, a brown language because, like, all the Italians are, like, brown and stuff” – he insisted on speaking Slovak to everyone he met, which was met with uniform incomprehension as one would expect.
– Didn’t you notice him staring at us the whole time? i asked, amazed despite my long acquaintance with Vikingry.
– Didn’t you notice him yawning immediately after you did?
– Look, I was not obsessively monitoring him like you, the Viking snapped.
Given the chav had been directly in front of us, about 10 feet away, facing us the whole time, i found this rather odd. But then this is the Viking, who looked over a woman’s shoulder in a bank in Kiel, and then boomingly announced, – Hmm, interesting: she is paying in American dollars!
At least he didn’t start reciting her account number outloud, then backwards, then multiply it by Pi (he has, naturally, memorised Pi to 10,000 decimal points) and inform her of the result. He is totally oblivious to ordinary danger, but throw a number in his field of vision and he will memorise it, Rainman style.
5. On our last evening, waiting for the s-bahn, he suddenly announced, – Oh shit, I just remembered: I need your underpants. Give them to me.
– I mean, umm, I am out of underpants. So I need to borrow a pair of your underpants. Obviously you can have them back.
i considered him. He stared at me without shame. i sighed. – If, for some inexplicable reason, i gave you a pair of my pants, and you then chose to wear them, i certainly wouldn’t want them back.
– Hmm. But I need underpants. Give them to me – now.
i was amused, in spite of my natural horror, at the idea of him “borrowing” a pair of my pants, and then years later he would tell me he left them “in Chernobyl somewhere” or “my mother took them” or “they fell apart”, no doubt shrugging at my stupidity in ever trusting him with anything. i informed him: – A man will not ask his friend for pants. A man goes commando, or reuses his old pants.
The Viking just frowned and said, after much thought: – Hmm.
And how was the Pant Question settled? Reader, i refused him.
1. Been lazy, was also ill for about 2 – 3 weeks, tired all the time, sleeping massively when not at work, in a vile despond. Each summer is difficult for me, as i am not naturally given to follies such as sunlight and heat. i am a distinctly autumnal elberry,
– and so was surprised that autumn began with this long exhaustion. i have very little work and also feel a sudden disengagement from my social circles in Munich. For some, for example the dandy bohemian underground, i have merely had no energy; my other principle form of social interaction is with my fellow teachers and due to mainly teaching Arbeitsamt (JobCentre) groups, in the shitty McLingua building dedicated to the unemployed, i have been forced into company with two teachers i mistrust: the Prima Donna and Californian-Jesus. Prima Donna’s animosity towards me has heightened over the last few months, to the point where we can’t even be in the same room without her attempting to ridicule or boss me around (accusing me of being “gay”; ordering me to hand photocopies out like a serf) – the last time this happened i just laughed “yeah, sure” and walked out.
Californian-Jesus is a classic American type, mid-30s, favours a hippy-Jesus look, could pass for Brad Pitt in a dark alleyway, utterly feckless and unreliable and superficial, most of his students adore him and think he’s their friend (and are shocked when he fails to come to their parties or won’t tutor them for free), like many American males of my sordid acquaintance (also Toddball) he is a thief, and told the teacher room an amusing anecdote about stealing a bicycle, pimping it up, and then by chance coming across the owner, who reclaimed it – C-Jesus’s comment “I wanted to say, what the fuck man, I fucking painted this shit up and fucking made it fucking badass! Man, Germans is such losers!”
Californian-Jesus is very much in the Prima Donna mould, a superficial charmer who despises most of his students as “lame” and “losers” and is all “hey man how’s it going? we should grab a beer sometime!” when he passes them in the corridor. i can tolerate him, because he’s not as nastily domineering as the Prima Donna, but i don’t trust him an inch. The Prima Donna i never trusted and have now grown to dislike with a settled, easy loathing. She and C-Jesus both have an effortless and glib charisma, a quality i have learnt to distrust.
2. Unfortunately, the Prima Donna & Californian-Jesus are the main Arbeitsamt teachers, C-J because he can’t teach anywhere else (Arbeitsamt are the only classes where charm alone suffices), Prima Donna because she lives close by and doesn’t want to travel to companies; i think also because in companies one is always a visitor, on the students’ territory, and in the Arbeitsamt centre (which usually has no McLingua admin staff or bosses) the teachers are boss – and she must always be Boss. Prima Donna is actually a very good teacher, much better than me i would say, though a few students have responded negatively, or been untouched, by her facile charisma and technique, and preferred me – a good example of how character is inseparable from this job.
Prima Donna monopolizes the teacher room, bellowing like a maddened cow, so it’s impossible to even talk quietly with another teacher if she is present. i have had several run-ins with Prima Donna, until i found myself telling her “i don’t listen to people like you”, and then decided enough was enough, and i then avoided even being in the same room. Two other teachers adopted this policy months ago – an elegant MILF from Chicago, and a black Brooklyn pimp both avoid her as much as possible, the latter telling another teacher the Prima Donna is “fake, she ain’t what she presents.”
3. During my illness, i was lying in bed one weekend, after a 12-hour sleep, incapable of getting up due to sloth, and felt a need to read esoteric literature. Most of this is frankly shit but i’ve always found Carlos Castaneda stimulating so began re-reading his works. He’s a funny-strange-and-ha-ha writer, one i came to via William Burroughs 20 years ago. Even in my puny youth i felt unsure if his books were other than fictive. i now feel that he was probably initiated but that his books are heavily edited and probably even invented. His initiator, a Yacqui Indian called Juan Matus, or Don Juan, i think existed either as a real person or a non-physical being (who could have been a product of Castaneda’s subconscious, or an independent entity). But i note that over a 20 year stretch Castaneda wrote several books in which he is always a bumbling beginner, much as if Plato had written his Socratic dialogues from the perspective of an unchanging ephebe. i suspect that there was a real but brief initiation and after this Castaneda just continued using Don Juan as a literary figure. My own magical tradition is so far removed that i can do little other than surmise and suggest.
4. i Googled some Castanedry and inevitably ended up wading through forums with earnest seekers and hipsters arguing about things they would, i think, not understand without an initiator – certainly not by sitting at home reading the internet. It reminded me a little of the Hippy in Kassel, who was convinced my Indian father had passed on esoteric Indian doctrines, which i was refusing to share, so i told the Hippy’s irritating Buddhist-bullshit friend Gordon about a kind of meditation technique i had created, and the Hippy later drooled at me “elberry, the Gordon had me said you have a uh meditation, ja? It is from your Indienisch father, or? Is very good Indienisch meditation, or?” and so on, while i kept saying flatly “no”.
One of these internet “sorcerers” had cut out all the Castaneda narrative and compiled the “sermon”-like passages, a mistake i felt. There are many good passages but the seemingly trivial narratives are also significant. For example, in The Power of Silence, the sermons stress that the sorcerer must attain “the place of no pity”
‘I’ve been trying to make clear to you that the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerers or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image,’ he continued. ‘What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of their mirror of self-reflection.’
The place of no pity entails a lack of compassion for others and oneself. Castaneda the ephebe arrives at this in a curious way – Don Juan demands C drive him to a town in Mexico, becomes progressively feebler en route until he seems to be suffering from a stroke and senility, then on the street by their car he screams that Castaneda is trying to murder him; a mob threaten Castaneda, who flees, hides in a tourist shop, then decides to buy tourist kitsch as a guise, then returns to find Don Juan mysteriously normal once more.
Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly. I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience, either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.
Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he was wearing a black jacket. He threw his straw hat inside the car and carefully combed his hair. He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the packages in the car. When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they had nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage.
Re-reading this, I felt a subtle shock: Don Juan’s literally turncoat behaviour forces Castaneda to disengage his trust from the mentor, and rather than bewailing his personal fate he experiences instead “the place of no pity”. He has become an actor in this play and realises his own personal fate is of no significance, that one must ultimately attach no significance to personal relations, or to one’s own apparent self. These narratives most likely mean nothing to most New Age self-declared “warriors” who want, at the worst, talk of psychedelic plants, or at the best direct sermons. But one can learn a great deal from stories; that they are indirect and unexplicated does not detract from their power – it means that the uncurious and uninitiated will impatiently turn the page, deterred by theatricality and deception; but a chosen few read and go beyond the veil. i think this is why Wittgenstein wrote Philosophical Investigations as he did – it deters the uninitiated, but those who are prepared learn far more than they would through straightforward exposition.
Theory and explication afford intellectual diversion and can become integrated into one’s understanding, but i seem to learn rather through experience and stories. When i can take something from explication or philosophy, it is typically poetic and inseparable from a certain turn of phrase. Stories communicate differently, presenting a concentrated form of our diffuse and vague daily experience. In the case of Castaneda, i think if one truly enters into the stories they have the power to jolt & adjust one’s perspective; so in the above-quoted anecdote, i felt the narrator’s distress as his mentor becomes abruptly senile, the narrator’s confusion, the narrator’s sudden & ice-cold realisation that Don Juan had played and manipulated him, and in the reading i felt a shiver of cold disengagement from all i have trusted & feared & longed for & been otherwise bound up with. It was a faint shock but because i was ready, in my own life, i immediately stopped and allowed this ice to expand, estuarial, until when i arrived at work i felt absolutely nothing for these people, that they, and i, were alike insignificant. And, perhaps surprisingly, the lessons i then gave were some of my best, however profoundly alone i may then have been.
5. In the last 18 months, i disengaged, or was disengaged from, two friends – one was Toddball, who became increasingly crazed and belligerent after the birth of his daughter in April 2013, the other a very old friend from England, who just stopped writing, and i decided not to send unanswered emails, and so we dropped out of contact for a good year. Of course i saw Toddball from time to time in McLingua but i felt he was just another American asshole, his natural rage amplified by sleep deprivation and the frustration of an American kidult (he’s 39) who suddenly has responsibilities and can’t stay up drinking, taking coke, stealing & fighting, as seems normal with American males. Recently – after his main drinking buddy moved to Berlin – we’ve drifted again into socialising, and we’re playing a game called Stronghold Kingdoms together, brutally ganging up on anyone we don’t like and burning their villages (we recently destroyed a village owned by “Killer Chick”). Likewise, in the last couple of months i was drawn into email contact with the friend from England, with whom a year’s unexplained silence means nothing.
i would once have either refused to resume contact with either, or have harboured resentment and boiling distrust. i feel instead a total lack of personal involvement, and simply acknowledge whatever energies draw us together. Both are truly turncoats, but then consistency is rare and perhaps not even human – in fact my only consistent friend has been the Viking, who is distinctly abnormal.
6. One of the hardest lessons of the Castaneda books is to accept that most or even all the things you care about are insignificant. i feel that the stories are important because they illustrate how one could be, without pity:
“As I have told you before, many times,” don Juan said, jolting me out of my concentration, “every sorcerer I know, male or female, sooner or later arrives at a breaking point in their lives.”
“Do you mean that they have a mental breakdown or something like that?” I asked.
“No, no,” he said, laughing. “Mental breakdowns are for persons who indulge in themselves. Sorcerers are not persons.”
The distinction between personality and true being is subtle but vital. For Casteneda, what we call the personality, our everyday thoughts & feeling, are an implanted virus, what he calls the foreign installation. i had a similar feeling when i began to awake, 20 years ago – that my surface personality often seems at odds with my realer being; the mental technique i created when i was 24 was designed to wedge a knife between personality and being, and to widen the gap until one could see them as two different modes of being. It worked and for a while i assumed it was what Buddhists call meditation, until i talked about it with such folk – my tai chi tutor said it was mere “stupefaction”, then told me i was a liar and hypocrite and apple polisher and asshole; and Gordon said it had nothing to do with Buddhist practice.
For me, the crucial thing is firstly not to be like Gordon or my tai chi tutor, or the Prima Donna or California-Jesus; but more, to cease to be a person at all. The Castaneda story above has become a widening chasm in my mind – on the other side, i perceive the Prima Donna, my old tai chi tutor, Gordon, and also all my friends, and then myself; and on this side, there is something like a minuscule dot of awareness, which is far realer, and yet scarcely to be observed.
1. This fell out of a notebook when i returned to Munich from my pre-Xmas bunse in the Austro-Hungarian empire, a picture the Viking drew of me very quickly as i was smoking my pipe at him in Vienna (one of the last refuges of tobacco sanity):
Being able to smoke in bars is a surreal pleasure, like being able to slap anyone you like, or to just get in any parked car, Bourne style. This time i found a fucking commie bar, Pub Bukowski, and smoked at length, sometimes with the Viking, enjoying cheap and potent and good cocktails, gazing up at the fucking commies on the wall:
On the whole, i would rather be in Vienna than Munich, to be able to smoke, and to more easily conspire with the Viking (in nearby Bratislava), but lack the money and energy for yet another relocation, and besides, Munich is quite tolerable and i have the dandy underground here, and some kind of professional reputation, making it easier to get work.
2. Nonetheless, my teaching resolve is weakening of late. Very few teachers can do this job for more than year without burning out or just slacking off and trying to get by without doing much. i’ve fallen into the latter trap and am steeling myself to read TEFL books and do lesson prep, even though it actually feels kind of pointless – most of my students make very little progress, inevitable perhaps since they only have 90 minutes once a week, and rarely use English outside of class, and then they make do with a kind of degenerate “business English” which is actually sufficient (comprising a limited vocabulary of words like: project, roll-out, deadline, problem, implementation, meeting).
It’s a strange occupation since improvements are hard to measure, especially with my (usually 30 – 60 year old, already intermediate-level) students, one reason i like having low levels from time to time, where it is possible to teach something that will stick. Students are the customer and generally know nothing about language acquisition or pedagogy, and so occasionally make strange complaints, based on a vague platonic idea of how teaching should be.
Quite often, i have absolutely no sense that my students have improved, and am taken aback when they say that the lessons have helped a lot, though i’m too tactful to say “really? i didn’t notice.”
3. At times, the gap between my private world of reading and thought, and the world of my students can seem almost unbridgeable, but as long as i can suppress my own interests and be thoroughly absorbed in theirs, it more or less works. i enjoy learning about e.g. gas separation chambers, canteen supply management, aeronautical engineering, fashion, but it can feel strange, after a week of mostly one-way interactions, with me simply nodding and asking questions, and providing error correction; so when one student asked me “how was YOUR week?” i was flustered and could only say, “don’t really remember, lots of teaching”. There would be no point trying to talk about the things bouncing around in my head, at the moment: St Paul’s epistles, Helen Pinkerton, the Abwehr, the Philosophical Investigations, Stalin, Stalin’s pipe; and since almost all my social interactions are in class, i’ve got out of the habit of communicating anything about myself.
After finishing my temp memoir and deciding it’s boring shit, i feel a disconnection from not merely those 4.5 years but also from my past; coinciding with a recent and mildly horrific inadvertent drug experience, where i could only really remember the last few seconds and everything before this seemed like a dream of a dream. It only lasted a few hours but i realise that whether it caused or merely independently paralleled my current mood, i feel as if i have no past, just a memory which may or may not have any significance, probably not. This sounds like wonderful zenlike clarity and in a sense it helps: i feel unencumbered and simplified, but also with almost no significant connection to the present. Without memory and continuity, the present can be extremely clear and solid, but as if it’s just something that has entered my field of vision and has no real relevance for me. i perceive these things, i listen to my students, and feel that really it’s not my world, because i am now little more than a set of perceptual organs.
4. The other day, i came across this picture on Tumblr; it seems to be Austro-Hungarian stormtroopers from WW1:
Second from left looks quite a lot like Wittgenstein and though as far as i’m aware he was a mechanic for the first couple of years of WW1, then an artillery spotter, i suppose it’s possible that this is him. i wonder how many of these men survived the war, and if any, how they adjusted to life in the broken empire and the horrors of the next three decades. It was a world where in a sense the cultural memory was nearly destroyed, and i think just as one requires personal memory to be more than a recording apparatus, so with cultures – and the more complex the society, the more this is necessary. For many in these times, an imagined future provided a kind of illusory continuity – the bad dream of so-called progress; but roots go into the ground and memory into the past; the future does not exist.
1. Being a damnable heathen and pagan sorceror, Christmas largely passes me by, though i enjoy all the Glühwein and gluttony and whores. Madeley wrote recently of his Christmas loathing. i suppose i enjoy it because i usually travel to see people, in England it was my mother, in Germany Juniper-in-Kassel; and i like the sense of exceptionality, of a certain ritual. For atheists, i suppose religion seems baffling and implausible, pure nonsense & fairy tales (as if the fairy tale of money by which most people live is more credible). i was a peculiar kind of agnostic for many years, because i lack faith; i am of the spiritual generation requiring signs & wonders before i believe anything, but then i had signs & wonders and that was that. i was always able to sympathise with the idea of Christianity – the dominant religion of the west, though looking to be soon superceded by Saudi-style militant Islam – but wondered, from the outside. Now i am in a sense within my own particular bubble – a bubble inhabited solely by me since i have no interest in joining frightfully earnest “pagan” societies and consorting with gabbling Wiccans – i see things differently.
As an outsider, i thought that being Christian must transform the believer, so one’s everyday life would be utterly altered. Perhaps people become Christians because they suppose this will initiate a wholly new life, and are then disappointed to find it’s more or less the same as the old life. They then get tattoos and denounce all religion as vile superstition, and fall into the mud and mire of apostacy, where passers-by piss upon them and throw semen-encrusted eggshells at their sorry faces, a fate they richly deserve, for their unbelief and, as it were, frowardness.
2. In my disgusting old age i see that human life requires a certain boring stability and predictability, and that the periods of exaltation are usually limited to youth, when everything is developing and all is new, and the small self provides little ballast to new experience. i don’t think it is possible to sustain this high course without insanity, and when i remember how difficult and kind of insane my 20s were, i’m glad to have settled into a pot-bellied, cardigan-wearing torpor and ease. My great period of spiritual unrest was in 2008/9, but this passed and now i just take these things for granted.
Perhaps spiritual enlightenment is akin to romantic love, that it is most clearly felt when it is a new and shocking transformation; thereafter, it is just how things are. i note that back in my tai chi days (i.e. before i grew fat and slothful), i felt little when i practiced every day, but if i did nothing for a few weeks a simple chi kung would affect me powerfully, with tingling hands, trembling eyelids, etc. And just yesterday i prayed for the first time in a week – normally, i do so every morning, as i walk to my local s-bahn station – and could feel an immediate rush of awareness, reminiscent of the 2008/9 days of glory. It could, then, be that we cannot sustain these grand impulses in their full vigour, and that while our life is subject to a general transfiguration, after the initial shock it will be so pervasive as to be subtle and even mostly imperceptible. So i would say that i don’t really feel different to my pre-2008 days, and yet from time to time i react as my old self would not have, and people occasionally regard me as they would not the consumptive atheist i then was. The sense of exciting transformation is felt mostly when entering a wholly new life, or when it has been interrupted – akin to the white of breaking surf, where the ocean collides with a different reality. There are surfers of the spirit, who will to remain always in this moment of exaltation, always on the wave as it breaks in brightness, but this is rarely to be sustained; i am more interested in living daily in a greater understanding, which will rarely be showy or even noticeably different; but the general concourse of things, that will be thoroughly and subtly transformed.
3. Protestant Christianity aims at a vision unencumbered by ritual, decoration, aesthetics, beauty, grace – so the Viking’s Evangelical Christian mother swears by one of these awful modern Bibles, with stick figure drawings, presumably seeing the King James Bible as damnable Popery (the Viking once uttered something on the lines of: “That stupid James Bible is like really stupid shit because you cannot understand it without thinking and it is like not written in modern English, so, like, all this stuff is like not clear and stuff. A Bible should be like a Chemistry textbook for children, so you can just read it and find the answers, and there should be stick figure drawings of God so like you can relate to God like he is Magneto and be a good Christian and go to Heaven and stuff”). These dreadful Christians have cartoon strips of their deity, nor do they shrink from Kumbaya with electric guitars, performed by earnestly-grinning mongoloids who will later embezzle the Church funds, molest deformed children, and run away to the Philippines to live with someone called Juan.
One can sympathise with plain-speaking, plain-minded, plain folk who like an undecorated so-called spiritual reality. One is then, i suppose, is no danger of mistaking the external trappings for the informing reality, since such folk have no trappings; but i think one requires a certain ritual to consciously step a little aside from the everyday, and without it one will either lose all faith – and then grow embittered & angry that it did not last – or just go a bit strange and be subject to oracular pronouncements, spastic fits, speaking in tongues, frothing at the mouth, rolling sexually about on the ground (covered in couscous), playing Kumbaya on the bongos, indulging in schismatic heresies, and foretelling the imminent Apocalypse, like the Viking’s mother, clad wholly in white robes and carrying gold nuggets about one’s person for a well-provided afterlife with stick figure Jesus and stick figure Jehovah.
4. It’s fashionable to suppose that rituals develop as an attempt – by stupid neanderthal pre-scientific folk – to understand reality, and if we just had enough Science we would dispense altogether with all ritual. This seems part of the general modern attempt at understanding, which looks at everything as a machine or practice, and asks, Why do people do this? – as if everything can be rationally disposed of in this manner. Not being Scientific, i prefer to think pragmatically, to wit, What effect does this have? – since i don’t see how a so-called explanation can be anything more than an (untestable) hypothesis. i wouldn’t ask, Why do people send Christmas cards? – since the original cause (assuming there is only one) will have long evanesced into the practice of yearly human motive. i would rather ask, What effect does it have?
There are people who are as it were spiritually Protestant, living an unadorned and apparently rational life. They tend to grunt suspiciously at those whose life flowers into meaningful ritual, seeing all that which gives human life value as somewhere between wasteful extravagance and damnable and despicable deceit. i had a student of this sort, a HR lawyer at a large engineering company; an intelligent woman but, by god, arid and charmless and awkward, and even the other students (all finance and IT experts) found her offputtingly so. i prefer to live otherwise, and if people say it is illusion, then by their standards (that i could not replicate and empirically test and statistically analyse the experiences i had in 2008/9) just about everything is illusion and we would all be better off living some kind of sanitised sci-fi life, drugged into happiness since all experience is apparently biochemical (and that only if these folk will admit that happiness if in any way desirable) and riding around a tedious sci-fi city in Sinclair C5s, grinning emptily at our ipads and playing Angry Birds like drooling retards from Beeston.
5. i think, had one gone back to the Middle Ages, stormed into a Cathedral like Russell Brand, and angrily demanded to know the origin and purpose of e.g. the Mass, nobody would have understood; it’s not so much that people (i dare say) supposed these rituals to come from God, as that they lacked the machine-age mind to expect everything has a rational cause and can be so analysed and then rejected or accepted by a committee. And i think it is our modern need for final explanations and step-by-step clarity which is awry – or rather, it is fine for designing a machine but not everything. Machines have become our new model of humanity, and as we once constructed idols of stone and wood, now we construct and worship machines, and suppose ourselves to fall short in having emotions, in requiring something beyond a machine’s mindless purpose. The more people devote themselves to servicing the machine, the more it is necessary to operate like a machine, the more we feel our own humanity is inadmissable and a kind of ghastly mistake.
Perhaps humanity alone does not suffice to counter the deadening impulse of the machine and its Nazgûl attendants; humanity alone does not, in a sense, even exist – humanity is rather the way we perceive ourselves in the varyingly warped mirror of our arts and creations and purposes. Humanity is not the apex of reality, but rather a capacious middle room, influenced by all about it, by the divine and demonic – and our greatly fallen world is such that one could discern both impulses in all religions, to varying degrees – suggested by the inclusion of figures such as Loki in the Norse pantheon, or the peculiar God of Job (Jung’s Answer to Job). i am not qualified to say whether, for example, Odin was originally a man, or if someone just made him up one day after eating the right mushrooms, but he exists now, as a god.
No one can, i think, understand the genesis and purpose of gods, but their effects can be perceived – dark or benign as they may be, they are the essence of extravagance, of that which one does not require for base biological survival, of that which flowers and is in the presence of vigorous human imagination, without which one is not fully human, though one may always become so. A one-sidedly and lunatically imaginative person, in thrall to a demonic impulse, is no advertisement for religion, but, for me, no more does the geek or boffin sell Science and so-called Progress.
Purely personal, my taste for extravagance and flourish, for the one-eyed god of the north, or this Christ in his fury, over a Sinclair C5 and ipad and grinning sci-fi drone pumped full of happy chemicals. But for god’s sake, if we have to use mobile phones and cars, let us also smoke and wear ridiculous clothes and be men.
1. So i went to Vienna to meet the Viking and drink Glühwein amidst the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Vienna is distinctly scuzzier than Munich. i walked from the train station to the u-bahn and immediately saw an unimaginably disgusting sight – two giant punks resting their feet on the seats opposite, shouting in Bosche and playing shitty punk music. They also had an amiable-looking dog. No one was sitting anywhere near them and the good citizens of Vienna were shooting them fearful glances. Perversely, i felt as if i was back in England; nostalgia pulled me to sit right next to them and grin at their dog. It’s not that i want to live in a city where young ruffians deliberately dismay the gentry, but after living in Munich (of almost Swiss respectability) i felt a certain pleasure in these villains & their dog. Besides, they seemed to me mostly harmless and far from the genuinely psychopathic monsters abounding in the sceptered isle.
2. Then on to the Viking. Exiled from Germany, he now practices heretical chemistry in nearby Slovakia. We immediately went to the Am Spittelberg Christmas market. Last year, Glühwein was 1.50 € and there were many strange stalls selling things like rose honey and jam and handmade leather artefacts. It’s now the usual 4 € for a Glühwein and there no interesting stalls. It has become standardized and in line with all the other Christmas markets, and so there was no reason to linger. Once again, the modern world has discovered and eliminated a niche of cheap Glühwein and human splendour.
We moved on, disgusted. But at least we chanced upon an excellent, cheap restaurant close by, the Kojote as i called it (“Gasthaus mit Wiener Küche” and “Zum hungrigen Kojoten”). It was a haven of normal humanness in the midst of all the chain restaurants and highly-priced & swanky hipster establishments. There was nothing at all polished or managerialized or machine-like about it.
Excellent Schnitzel for a tenner, plus you can smoke.
3. Being able to smoke indoors is one of the great and naturally brief & soon-to-be-destroyed advantages of Vienna. One waiter told me the EU will end this freedom in the next couple of years; a strange thing, since the militant non-smokers could easily find many non-smoking establishments, but in the name of managerialized standardization all must be the same, that is to say bland and unsatisfying (if it’s not specifically allowed, it is forbidden). For now, i enjoy my brief freedoms.
i bought some cigars for the Viking so he wouldn’t feel left out, but before turning to the Church he spent three decades as a fundamentalist Calvinist Protestant, so has no idea how to enjoy anything except gay Manga, let alone how to smoke.
4. We went to one swanky bar, not sure which one but it was expensive and we had to hand over our manly coats at the door. Good leather sofas and real wood. We got there for happy hour and tried their cocktails, while i smoked. Every cocktail was either 95% ice or presented in a tiny glass, about three tablespoons of real booze for 7 Euros. Good cocktails, if you don’t mind having to order 10 to get enough. They were playing shitty Christmas songs, like most places we frequented. Given the dark wooden tones, the leather sofas, the well-accomplished atmosphere, these jollily bland Christmas tunes were a horrific modernist false step. i asked if they had any Leonard Cohen and to my surprise they played some LC for the next 20 minutes, before reverting to the same dozen shitty seasonal jingles. Later, i wondered why it was so offensive to have to listen to Christmas garbage. i think it was because everything else (bar the miniscule cocktails) was so perfect, that this single jarring mistake ruined everything forever. The tighter the weave of decor and colour, the worse the blunder. We had to listen to a lot of seasonal bollocks, this being the only acceptable offering. We would have preferred this:
5. And then there is Vienna in general. It has, for me, far more literary history than any other city i know. i kept seeing street signs and thinking, That’s in a Thomas Bernhard novel or interview – Türkenschanzpark, Heldenplatz. This is a city where the waiters add up your bill on paper then do mental arithmetic, old school by god. In one cafe, the waitress was frowning her way through mine & the Viking’s account and i could see him twitching with the desire to apply his formidable Chemical Brain to the sums. The streets are a strange mix of modern & traditional. The traditional:
Glühwein in the centre, looking up:
There are, however, many modernist streets, for example the view out of my hotel:
6. We moved on to the Cafe Bräunerhof. i chose it purely because Thomas Bernhard used to read newspapers here. The clientele are mainly locals, as far as i could tell – it’s too far from the u-bahns (10 minutes’ walk), and too nondescript, to attract tourists. It hosts a mixture of normal-looking people and oddities. Here i photographed Theodore Dalrymple (in red) and a doomed poet (in black suit):
It hasn’t changed much since the days of Bernhard. Pleased to discover my heavy jumper vaguely resembles TB’s:
Breakfast on my last morning, alone. The furnishings seem largely unchanged since TB’s time; not tatty, but dated like some of the teahouses i remember from the 80s. It looks a good generation out of date and is the better for it. It has the look of a place removed from the modern world, from any overt agenda, from any kind of advertising. There is one photograph of Bernhard (above) on a wall but apart from that the cafe doesn’t try to make anything of its famed guest. The uniformed waiters, all in their 50s or 60s, greet regulars with hearty handshakes, and me with a look of surprised wariness, as if to say, A tourist has accidentally wandered in, how strange.
On my last morning i enjoyed breakfast alone:
Later i realised i was sitting next to Bernhard’s spot in the famous photograph.
i spent 4 hours there on my last morning, as i had no one to meet. It’s easy to spend hours; something about the place is semi-private; you can write, observe others, eat your eggs, and feel to be more or less protected from too much attention. It was encouraging to find at least one place which hasn’t succumbed to the modern world of managerialization and Southron filth.
7. i briefly pondered moving to Vienna but i like it because i don’t work there. If i lived in Vienna, apart from probably earning less than i do now (the Munich McLingua gave us all a pay rise and i’ve found it’s almost impossible to cobble together enough work from smaller, higher-paying schools) i would have to live in a ghetto and only see the places i work, most likely industrial parks by dual carriageways. Part of a city’s appeal comes from my not working there (the same with Kassel).
It was good to get away from my colleagues, who are all gossips and from whom i have to keep many things secret. In Munich, i only know people with normal jobs or English teachers who are terrified of being fired. The Viking, as a heretical Chemist, is immune to such troubles. He is apt to launch into Gay Manga shops or suddenly start drawing pornography in public. Here, he demanded pen and paper and without explanation launched into yet another Viking Atrocity.
The glorious result of 2 minutes’ frenzy:
And let that be a lesson to you.
1. i chanced upon an American pagan woman’s blog earlier this week. i immediately disliked the swagger, the malapropism in the first paragraph, the crass teenage Americanisms; it sounded like it was written by a vacuous snarky 14-year-old but she is actually in her 40s. i forced myself to read on and found she probably knows more about heathenry than i do (i am a protestant heathen); but nonetheless i found it impossible to take her seriously. i won’t quote but it ran more or less thus: “So like [a god] stuck his head in and said yo peeps whassup? And I was like, OMG, it’s [a god]!!! Now I TELL Y’ALL this ain’t my first run-in with a god but I nearly shat myself! My bad!” and so on .
Later, i wondered if i was just being priggish about it. After all, real knowledge need not preclude childish frivolity. But the more i thought about it, the more i decided that it rang as false as when the Viking talked of “getting Poped up” (becoming a Catholic). It’s a way of denying the strangeness of this encounter; it denies the sacred, tries to make it profane and ordinary and matter for cheap jokes; it is of a part with the modern Catholic Mass and Satanically awful modern translations of the Bible (the Viking objected to the King James, saying it is impossible to understand).
2. My own understanding of these matter is, in a sense, aesthetic. i’d read hundreds of books, and written several hundred thousand words before i had any real, direct experience of non-worldly power. A good decade before my weird year in 2008, i had encountered power in another form – in art. There are works which are worthwhile but flawed, for example John Cowper Powys’ A Glastonbury Romance, which i nearly ditched before more or less attuning to its bizarre extravagance; then there are works which are flawed but beyond rebuke, for example Dante’s Comedia, the King James Bible, much of Shakespeare; and works which seem to me flawless: The Great Gatsby, The Waste Land, some Shakespeare (the flaws in, for example, Hamlet, don’t detract from its greatness; if anything, they just make it stranger). The latter two categories provide a standard. In the last circle of Inferno, Dante writes:
S’io avessi le rime aspre e chiocce,
come si converrebbe al tristo buco
sovra ‘l qual pontan tutte l’altre rocce,
io premerei di mio concetto il suco
più pienamente; ma perch’io non l’abbo,
non sanza tema a dicer mi conduco;
chè non è impresa da pigliara a gabbo
discriver fondo a tutto l’universo,
nè da lingua che chiami mamma o babbo.
Had I the harsh and grating rhymes that would be fitting for the dismal hole on which all the other rocks bear down I would press out more completely the sap of my conception; but since I have not it is not without fear I bring myself to speak, for to describe the bottom of all the universe is no enterprise to undertake in sport or for a tongue that cries mamma and babbo. (John Sinclair)
This should stand as rebuke to those who would make the sacred plain, or worse than plain – coarse and japing. Perhaps because of mass media, pornography, science, and ubiquitous marketing, people find it hard to imagine any area of human understanding which could be private, incommunicable. The private core of experience remains, however; all public attempts at it – for which pornography is the most explicit example – result in a caricatural form, and this then makes it harder & harder to arrive at true speech, whether on or off camera.
My more rarefied diction is not greatly dissimilar to my ordinary speech; but it is far removed from the lower reaches, the way i tend to speak with, for example, Toddball (a jovial hustler & petty crook from Chicago). It seems to me that the vulgar pagan woman has no other tone; or that she chooses to talk of the sacred in the language of MTV. This is typically American – egalitarian – and it’s notable that the Viking speaks a strange, Germanic-inflected trans-Atlantic idiom, to the extent that Germans assume he is American and even English speakers assume he’s a foreigner. He sounds like a Germanic Californication character.
3. A couple of days ago i went to a Swans concert in Munich. i arrived early and managed to stand near the front, probably unwisely since i’d forgotten to bring ear plugs and they have a reputation for ear & brain-destroying volume. Most of the audience were my age or older. Just before the band came on, a young German couple – students, by the looks of it – pushed their way in front, with the casual “ja, ve are the best, ve drive a BMV, out of ze way” insolence of rich Germans. They both looked like the students i saw in Durham: rich, affecting a carefully bohemian look, well-scrubbed and characterless. The girl had carefully coiffured hair and spoke a prissy, complaining High German; the boy reminded me of the hipster from Lonely Island’s ‘I Threw It To The Ground’
Michael Gira came on stage, looking professorial in his glasses, and planted a stand with the set list. Throughout, the two clean German kids craned forwards to read his set list, with that peculiarly brazen German insolence. Given Gira used to leap into the audience to attack headbangers, i hoped he would at least kick them in the face, repeatedly. i was about a meter away from the man himself and kept making meaningfully disgusted eye contact, nodding at the German hipsters and making strangulation gestures to indicate he should commit an atrocity. For some reason, he didn’t. He even shot me the occasional irritated glance.
Swans began with a slow, eerie piece, Gira holding his arms out and moaning “there are millions and millions of stars in your eyes”. The clean German girl gave her boyfriend an incredulous, unimpressed, sneering questioning look, and he shrugged with an equally Germanically unimpressed and critical look. i could imagine their disgusting German thoughts: “ughh, we thought this vas to be some bohemian hipster punk band ja but it is an old timer talking about ze stars. I vill sue them for many moneys.”
Then the noise began.
i don’t know what songs they played as most of it was so unbearably loud that i was only aware of volume and rhythm and madness. The German hipsters immediately inserted ear plugs. i’d brought chewing gum, deciding that if it grew painful i could use them as rudimentary aids. But it was just this side of painful; appallingly loud with a strange stillness to it; like qawwali or Arvo Pärt. And it was all superb:
The noise they created on The Library’s stage didn’t feel like an isolating wall, it didn’t block out audience, it enveloped them. It felt like you were within it, hurtling with it through dark and unsettling scenes, becoming ever more willing to hand yourself over to its all-consuming power, not even caring that it was turning anything caught in its wake to dust.
Gira cavorts and wobbles like a drunk Sufi, sometimes directing the other musicians to a different rhythm or noise. He’s a commanding, strange presence; he can look abruptly startled by his own music, then lunge into it and snarl or laugh. Near the end, he walked menacingly over to the drummer, then squatted slowly down, swan-like, and fluttered his hands gently. The drummer tilted his head and gestured with his sticks, as if to say “like this?”, Gira assented, and the drummer began a rapid, light movement; Gira stood and raised his hands, summoning more volume, then directed the others to follow, the swan beating wings.
After about 30 minutes the German hipster girl shouted complainingly into her hipster boyfriend’s ear and left. After another 15 minutes, he left too, presumably to drive her in his Audi TT to an exclusive hipster party where they would talk about how they went to a dingy club to watch a subversive transgressive American band. Swans continued and now i was right by Gira, praying he would submit to kick me brutally in the face so i could photograph my wounds for posterity (he didn’t).
After what seemed like another decade of noise, they came to a halt. The band lined up at the front and Gira introduced them in good German (one of the members, Christopher Hahn, is a German) and they all performed light, graceful bows, smiling broadly.
i walked 15 minutes in the rain to the nearest s-bahn, wondering that passing cars sounded like part of the show. It took 2 days for my ears to recover.
4. i rarely go to concerts, as i’m broke and don’t like big arenas (the Munich gig was commendably small and grotty). Thus far i’ve been to a big REM concert in 94 (shit), a Tori Amos concert in 95 or so (good, though i don’t like her music now), a few classical music concerts at Durham, Spiritualized in 98 (akin to Swans in magnificence) and 2001 (the same), and Alasdair Roberts in Manchester in 2007/8 (wonderful), and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Der fliegende Holländer (astonishingly and quite good, respectively) in Kassel. Swans, Spiritualized, Roberts, and Die Meistersinger are the closest i’ve come to a public experience of the sacred. One has a veneer of superficial understanding – Swans are a punk band, Spiritualized are a British trance/electronic rock band, Roberts is a Glaswegian folk singer, Wagner is Wagner – but the experience was das Ding an sich, something you can talk about if you want but all your talking will fall far short. For hipsters, only the superficial is of importance; i can imagine the clean, pushy German students heard Swans were radical and underground and wanted to go to as it were add another feather to their Southron apple polishing hats; they wanted to go to talk about it. They were in fact repelled and humiliated by the thing in itself.
i wondered what kind of people would pay 30 € and then walk out; what did they expect? – and what kind of people would lean forwards and crane around to see the set list; what kind of people (Southrons) wouldn’t respect the band’s space and privacy? But then for this kind of rich polisher everything exists for their own hipster gratification. They have no understanding of raw, unmediated experience; hence they left early. For such people, everything is known; everything is subject to, and exhausted by, talk. If they were Christians they would read modern translations of the Bible and talk about it at Bible Study meetings, earnestly talking about everything, because they would talk themselves into reality.
5. In our times, there is almost nowhere to encounter that which is beyond talk. In the universities now, one reads Shakespeare – or rather, attends a lecture – and then vomits forth an exam paper about white privilege and “patriarchy”; and if you do otherwise, you will be penalised. The Christian religion has become a kind of MTV “spirituality”, where everything is made plain, easily digestible by idiots and the profane. There is nothing to look up to, nothing which deafens.
i don’t think the gods have departed; they just have nowhere to come to, in our culture. There is no longer a place for them set aside at the table, and so they walk the streets, or the forest.