Saturday, 28 November 2015

Too fucking bad



It's funny. You read articles in printed media saying 'This book reads like one of those piddling blogs on the internet no-one reads.' Or you often read a published writer claim, 'Hah, I'm so great! I read all of those unpublished novels and - ha, ha, ha! - I can tell why this piece of shit didn't get published!'

Well, fuck. I'm no fucking artist - who am I kidding? But then, people feel a need to label you and it embarrasses me beyond belief. I feel a burning need to write books. I feel a burning need to read high-brow novels and philosophy books. When people hear this, they say, with a grin on their face, 'Oh, so you're a writer!' or 'you're an intellectual!' Ufffff. I usually reply, 'no, I am a pseudo-intellectual!' Even then, when I say that I feel like I'm being unfair to myself because I really don't feel like I'm pretending or that I am trying to impress anyone. But then, I don't feel like I have the, uh, intellect to be an intellectual, nor the ginormous critical abilities, nor the knowledge to merit this label. I feel like I am limited, but still curious enough to want to look into this stuff. I try to avoid mentioning what I do with my time when I meet people now. Even then, people ask me what I do with my time and I have to be honest, no? I don't go out that much - I actually spend most of my time indoors reading. The label 'writer' wouldn't bother me so much if it meant what it really meant - just a descriptive term. But it's so fucking loaded and carries so much gravitas that it pains me to identify as one. 

I've been getting really fucking bitter of late. When I read columnists and journalists, it actually pisses me off. Most of them write so much fucking shit and write so fucking badly. Most of them don't have a line - most of them don't have anything to say. They just want fifteen minutes of fame! I actually respect those columnists who don't write very well, but they at least have an ethos, a 'philosophy.' I hold them in much higher esteem than those dullards who write these anodyne formulaic pieces which don't really say anything.

It all comes down to competition, ultimately. I am not in the slightest bit competitive. An established journalist either is where he is because 1) he was a pest and annoyed a lot of editors, 2) he published a lot of crap in university papers, took a lot of apprenticeships and arrived where he is or 3) daddy/mummy paid for his internship at a newspaper after he finished his degree at Oxford. It's not in my nature to do any of that stuff. Well, if I could do the last one I would, but my parents aren't that rich/posh and I didn't go to Oxford.

In my first year of university, I was miserable. I was in this corridor, surrounded by people I couldn't connect to at at all. They didn't really read anything - even though a lot of them studied literature. The girls completely ignored me. One of them I saw is now writing articles for the Huffington Post. (She followed career path no. 2.) When I read her pieces, I thought - 'why, just why, are you publishing this? Honestly! If you want a career, why don't you go into accounting or something?' There was another guy who stressed me beyond belief next door to me. He was very, very loud and kept me up all night. He had his pretensions. He is having some success making inordinately loud You Tube videos. They are not creative, or funny, or inventive, or anything really.

I am currently working on a novel I am 99% sure won't get published. Actually, I am pretty sure I am going to lose the faith of my current readership of 6-7 friends! Even they will lose interest! I actually think it's much, much, much better than my previous stuff, but it's just too fucking opaque and obscure for anyone to read and enjoy (anyone apart from me...). This is the kind of novel the most niche publishing house in the whole world wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Ok, that publishing house might have very noble principles, but at the end of the day they still want to sell copies of what they publish and try to profit. There is no possible demographic you could market my book to. It's a bit too much even for the most rarefied weirdo. The best you can hope for with these kind of books is to make the critics tell everyone 'Ah, this book has literary quality - read it!' When that happens, thousands of people buy it to decorate their living rooms, but they never actually read it. The thing is that my book doesn't have anywhere near enough 'literary quality' to reach that elevated status. I'm sure that it would get poor reviews everywhere - if it were even reviewed in the first place.

I mean, it's healthy to think 'look, I'll just do my own thing - if I get published, good - if not, ah well.' The thing is, when I see all of this crap getting published it does make bitter. I do want people to read my stuff. At the moment, hardly anyone is reading it. My fiction, for instance, has a readership of 6-7 people. I do think that I have some original and unusual things to offer. I really want people to read my stuff. The problem is that it is probably a little too original and too unusual - and lacks 'craft.' Too fucking bad.

The thought of having some dull job terrifies me. It means that I probably won't have time to write. The thought of doing a PHD is worse. Recently, I've stopped caring about academia - and I received the lowest mark for a piece of work since my first year as an undergrad. I'm just fed up with it. Staying in the fortress of academia is like a death sentence. But then, the glowing comments I've received for some of my essays might be telling me that I'm more of an academic than an 'artist.' Ech.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Woody Allen land

Ah, Woody Allen. There is only so much Woody Allen a person can take – even me. I actually enjoy some Allen films that are universally reviled. Often, though, the acting is so wooden, the dialogue so poor, the philosophical premise so sophomoric and the scenes so cloyingly unfunny that even the most hardcore Allen aficionado recoils in horror in his seat.

The reason why I – and others – have such a strong stomach for a lot of these films is that in many ways it is a tailored fantasy for a specific type of person. Woody Allen land is completely removed from reality. But so am I, in many ways. I am shy, neurotic, anxious, horny and self-obsessed. I really like to randomly shift conversations to big philosophical questions. I write, I listen to jazz and I am a loser
.  
In Woody Allen Land, this would make me the centre of attention. Beautiful pristine girls would chase me all the time. They would revere me for my ideas. As it stands, if I, say, give a seminar presentation on a topic I am passionate about, a girl is unlikely to suddenly become infatuated with me. In Woody Allen land, the thing most likely way to get a young impressionable hot for you is to give an original interpretation of Critique of Pure Reason.

Woody Allen Land works like that, but the real world most certainly does not. Girls, even uber studious/clever ones, would rather you impressed them through different methods. As a semi-autistic person, I do not know how to read these situations most of the time. I do not know what to say. Recently, I was with a nice girl I really liked. I tried to ‘chat her up.’ My brain was not co-operating at all. I couldn’t think of what to ask her. I ended up asking questions about her PHD… Then, another guy on the table, asked her a blindingly obvious question that had not crossed my mind… ‘How close do you live to Rome?’ …

I have started getting really self-loathing recently. I looked around my room the other day and thought ‘you wanker’. I am 25 and I am still a student. I keep waking up very late in the day. I keep telling myself I shouldn’t do this. I am studying topics that I was really passionate about aged 16-22. (I would rather read about philosophy, political theory, history and religion than keep studying literature and film my entire life.) I want to move on, but I am stuck in this protracted adolescence. I looked at my room and thought, ‘Fuck me, you even have that clichéd Caspar Friedrich painting displayed in the centre of the wall, you pretentious turd.’ I only realised recently that I am actually quite handsome after I have overheard girls speaking about me. I thought for years that I was ugly. That only makes me more depressed. Then I realised that self-hatred is, again, one of those clichés about neurotic Allen-types and that makes me hate myself even more.  


So, for a shy cerebral man who can’t make any progress in getting a date, he can watch a Woody Allen movie and find it really, really comforting. You might be a loser, a failure, a cruddy writer, a pretentious idiot etc. etc., but you can watch this and feel better.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Poor Mr. Pickles


I rarely look back at my school days with any fondness. Ok, there are some aspects that I certainly look back on with great fondness. These were school breaks and truancy. That still doesn’t really constitute school, does it? By definition, both involve getting as far away from school as much as possible.  I have great memories of my school friends, with whom I would arse around in breaks. I socialised with them because we were the school’s consummate misfits. There were the stereotypical nerds who socialised with each other because they liked stereotypically nerdy things – namely, video games. With my circle of friends, at the time we didn’t share the same interests. (Was there any one else in school who shared my obsession with Frank Zappa, Beefheart, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Stravinsky and Ravel? Go figure.) We were not stereotypical nerds. We all had our own interests. The thing that tied us together was that we were all very weird and very individualistic. I look back on my prolific truancy with fondness, too. I would usually do it alone. I would go to the woods and the countryside and get uber introspective about everything. As befits the stereotype of the sensitive adolescent, I had a notebook where I wrote dreadful poetry. In the class room, meanwhile, you would usually find me asleep. If I happened to be awake, I certainly did not pay attention to the dreary dreary drivel been taught.

I had certainly lost the will to live in the class room. I am sure that if I went back in time now – I am actually really qualified seeing that I have a first class degree! – I would still struggle. It was just oh so mind-numbingly dull. I had extremely long, messy, wild hair. It was not intentional, nor was it a statement. I hated the barbers and couldn’t bring myself to go to one. I was droopy. My eyes were half-shut. My mouth was ajar most of the time. I looked comatose, brain-dead and ‘out there.’ My clothes were too short on me – again, I couldn’t bring myself to get new ones – which gave me a dishevelled appearance. In short, I did not care – and the appearance I projected confirmed that. My abysmal academic performance, coupled with my tousled appearance, must have led my teachers to think that I was extremely stupid. Oh, if only they knew that when I truanted I was contemplating my very existence whilst looking at fronds, horizons and meadows! As much of a cliché as that is, at least I was not smoking dope!

Several of my teachers were unnecessarily horrible to me. You could say that they bullied me. (The students, to their credit, did not do this, even the rough ones. On occasion, they would tease me. At worst, this would be mean-spirited, but that’s as far as it would go.) I have horrible memories of my English teacher, whom I’m convinced deliberately gave me shit grades for certain assignments because she didn’t like me. She picked on me in class all the time. She thought that she was being witty and that she was beyond this demonstrably Neanderthal specimen. I would usually respond with grunts and monosyllables and she would priggishly claim, ‘Oh, Simon I was being ironic.’ (I remember thinking in my head at the time – I really should have said it – something like this: ‘No, you were not being ironic, you were being sarcastic. By your dubious metric, everything is ironic. This table is ironic, this English class is ironic, my being more intelligent that you is ironic. Stop calling everything ironic and learn the basic definitions of the words and concepts that you use, you stupid bitch.’ But I didn’t say it, so there.)

Anyway, so I can’t forgive her. I don’t think I ever will. But then I started thinking of another figure, a certain Mr. Pickles. I remember him stating with glee, ‘Simon will not come back to do sixth form!’ By lord, this guy is a heartless monster – as bad as that English teacher!

But then, as I thought about him and I realised what a sad, pathetic and tragic figure this guy really is. I could only feel sorry for him. I looked him up and found his Linkedin profile. This only compounded those feelings. I even felt sorry for him when I saw his profile picture. He has a bald oblong head. He wears glasses. He bears an insincere smile. He is well-groomed and sports an immaculate suit. (He looks vaguely similar to Eric Pickles.)

The thing is, Mr. Pickles at the time didn’t really teach anything. In the ICT room, as befits the context, ICT teachers gathered there. But then, they would also shift over there all of the useless hangers-on the school did not know what do with. They had no real function. Most of them just laughed and bantered next to the computers and occasionally enquired as to whether you needed any assistance. Mr. Pickles was different. He approached it like a belligerent army officer. He patrolled all of the computers. He always caught me looking at different websites completely unrelated to the work. (Usually, these were actually quite arcane essays about composers like Edgard Varese. Later on, I found that I could write academic essays with relative ease, maybe because I spent so much of my time poring over this type of writing so early on.) He would apoplectically shout at me. This was at the start of year 10. By the end of year 11, I was exactly the same. My portfolio was strikingly skimpy – and I ended with a lowly U in ICT. Still, Mr. Pickles seemed pleased about this. He clearly didn’t like me.

At the time, my head was filled with angsty adolescent ideas. (Have I moved on from then? Read this blog post and go figure.) I always spouted the buzzword ‘conformity.’ Mr. Pickles embodied the very idea of conformity. His Linkedin profile only confirms this. When he wasn’t patrolling ICT classes, he would teach PSE. These classes easily ranked as the worst. Oh, to think of all the platitudes and quasi-moralistic advice that those idiotic teachers dished out!

Mr. Pickles didn’t really study anything at university. He went to Nottingham Trent and later Sheffield Hallam where he obtained degrees in ‘Education’ and ‘Careers.’ I found a letter where he writes that being ‘well-groomed’ is of the utmost importance, as is ‘responsibility,’ ‘attendance’ and ‘punctuality.’ (I easily violated all of those precepts.) He is still in the same school. Most of the teachers, I learned through my snooping, left. They probably became chronically depressed there. Mr. Pickles, quite clearly a careerist, has risen in the rungs and is now assistant head teacher. His prime ambition, it is clear, is to be head teacher.

His main role, from what I gather, was in ‘careers.’ Well, he almost wrecked my life and seemed quite intent on doing so. I went through a pretty rotten period after I finished school, but in time I overcame it. But how can I begrudge Mr. Pickles? This rather sad tragic figure? Although he is sad and tragic, I’m sure that he is perfectly happy. You have to have a modicum of intelligence to get depressed. To get depressed, you have to think about specific things again and again and again. I’m sure Mr. Pickles is perfectly content, instructing bored teenagers about the value of ‘career choices’ and ‘responsibility.’ He is not aware of what an idiot he is and of the idiotic guff that pours out of his mouth because, again, that requires intelligence. I actually feel sorry for him.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Notes for a novel

It is set in a world in the future (or non-future). It could well even be a parallel reality. This is left unclear.

The human body and the human mind are seen as means to an end, not as ends in themselves. Men objectify the female body and women objectify the male body. The body is just used for procreation and for sexual gratification. The mind is used to propagate ideas about natural science, philosophy, maths, general theorising, moralising and creative endeavours. The mind is used, generally, for ‘pure’ ideas. Even creative endeavours are generally seen as a systematic endeavour, not as ‘expression’. Novels, for example, aim to approach problems - societal, theoretical, philosophical, moral, etc. - and solve them.

The intellect and sex, once seen as polar opposites, are seen as integral in this society. Sex is often referred to as ‘dialectic copulation.’ Argument is seen as the interchange and debate of ideas. Sex, meanwhile, is seen as an interchange of energy.

Concepts like ‘love,’ ‘empathy,’ and ‘affection’ are seen as hokey and outmoded. There are no relationships, or even friendships. The nuclear family does not exist. New-born infants, who are invariably created by accident, are reared in blocs. They are given basic training in language and arithmetic. After they hit a certain age, they shown certain books and told to pursue their main interests.

The economy works in different ways. There is a total end to commodity fetishisation. The love of objects is, again, seen as ‘hokey’ and ‘outmoded.’ Books and music albums are completely stripped of any kind of marketing appeal. They have no covers. This means that the person purchasing albums and books engage with the ideas on a ‘pure’ level. They don’t fetishise the packaging. The kind of cultural posturing associated with global capitalism - i.e. behaving and dressing in certain ways because you have certain cultural tastes - is put to an end. One simply listens to music or reads certain books because one has an interest in the ideas that they propagate. All cars look the same. All computers look the same. Clothes largely look the same. Etc. Most sectors of the economy - and all unskilled labour - are completed by robots. The society is a mixed economy, though private enterprise is heavily regulated. This does not stress anyone, as there is hardly any entrepreneurial incentive anywhere. There is no real ‘competition’ anywhere. Selling one’s body for sex is seen as a healthy and noble practice, not as something illicit. Sexual promiscuity, and the financial transaction of sexual promiscuity, is encouraged.

Parliamentary politics, meanwhile, is much closer to the Athenian model. There are no ‘politicians’ as such. People go in and out of parliament and determine policy. The discussion is more theoretical than practical. There is no partisanship. Parliament is more like a giant seminar room.

The society is founded on the assumption that human beings can overcome any supposed limitations. Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’ is taught and is seen as being wrong on every front. As this is not a demagogic or fascistic society, Hobbes is not ridiculed or bedevilled. He is simply seen as a great thinker who did not get things right. Humans are autonomous agents. Although the society is collective, it is also very libertarian. Humans have a great deal of freedom. There is no ‘social contract.’ Although people are, to a degree, limited and flawed, they are constantly pushing themselves to achieve new goals. Meanwhile, society is also collective in the sense that wealth is distributed equally, there is no competition and people constantly meet each other and engage in seminar discussions.

The novel sees all this as utopian, not dystopian. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Ambivalence


How sure are you of what you preach? Even as I make this grand pronouncement, I feel ambivalent. Maybe I am sure of what I preach. Then again, I may have doubts.

Now what’s wrong with that? If you think about it carefully, you’ll find that we are all thoroughly ambivalent. There is always a tinge of doubt in anything you say. Your professor is ambivalent when he claims (I am going for a somewhat generic example) that the French Revolution means this. Your girlfriend/boyfriend might be ambivalent when she/he says I love you. What is love? Am I sure what love means? Your partner must surely 1) feel besotted by other people every now and then and 2) get the hots for other people. But then, how do we distinguish love from lust and love from infatuation? Every time you try to arrive at a position, you become embroiled in maddening semantics.

So this makes me a sceptic. Good, then. We should really revive the type of scepticism practiced by the Ancient Greeks, not the scientific community. I can, say, go to Canterbury cathedral, have a lovely experience and admire the sacredness of it all. I can go to a scientific conference and agree that science is useful in some regards. That still doesn’t mean that 1) I believe in God or that 2) I believe that science is the most enlightened field of study. I can look into these two fields, absorb what I like from them and emerge with a wholly wishy-washy synthesis. This is true scepticism. When a lot of scientific thinkers claim that they are sceptics, they are being completely disingenuous. How can they claim to doubt everything and often make ludicrous assertions claiming (for instance) that science can solve anything, we need to follow science to have an enlightened society, etc.?

But we want absolutes; we don’t want callow relativism! Still, my ambivalent tendency would ascertain that some things are absolute and others are relative. That in itself is (callow?) relativism! There is a type of intransigent relativism peddled by thinkers foisted upon frustrated undergrads/postgrads the world over. (I have in mind the Holy Trinity of French post-modernism: Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze.) If you were to claim that everything is relative, that in itself is a absolutist statement! Surely, if you were truly ambivalent, you’d say – look at I’m not sure, I think that morality is absolute but knowledge is relative. This stuff over yes, the other stuff over there no.

Ultimately, we are all ambivalent about everything. The real reason we say we aren’t is down to politics. It’s that simple. When it comes to party politics, I for example might be a synthesis of a conservative, a socialist and a liberal but I will support party X because I believe that it will have positive outcomes (a practical conclusion) or that they may match my own political beliefs (a more theoretical one). If I am an academic, I might assert that knowledge is relative despite having many reservations. If I suppress these reservations, politically I will rise in the echelons of academia. As an academic making claims to be a relativist, the more absolutist I am about my relativism the more I will prosper. If we act in certain ways, concretely define why we support X policy, we become less ‘embroiled in all these maddening semantic definitions.’ We also present a clear and cogent debate, although we repeatedly have reservations about our arguments.

If this weren’t the case, how come do people change their political affiliation all of a sudden? How is it possible to have a complete 180 degree turn? Are you really capable of believing stolidly in Marx and then being a fervid believed of ‘neo-liberalism’ the next? All thanks to an epiphany? Surely, as a Marxist, one would have seen elements of truth in a certain amount of market freedom and entrepreneurialism. (I think that most people feel happy for someone when they open their own niche business and make a living off it.) Upon becoming a right-wing ideologue, you might see elements of truth in Marx’s analysis of capitalism. You might recognise that widening inequality isn’t good and that some measures, albeit non-Marxist ones, must be taken to curb it. A statement of a political affiliation is largely a pose, albeit a useful one. As stated above, it contributes to a cause and it can be helpful in offering the most clearest possible label for your type of thinking. This is even the case if you claim to see the world in black and white terms. You might claim to believe that 1) capitalism is rotten to the core and we must foster a class war to overthrow it, or 2) if we let the upper crust get as rich as possible that wealth will trickle down without any kind of state intervention. But, even if you claim to think in these binary terms, you will realise that, upon introspection, there are a lot of shade of grey in your thinking. Tell all that to an ideologue.

Complexity


I like complexity. I like complexity for its own sake. I am not altogether sure why I developed this curious predilection. This might entail a fascination for hard subjects like maths and science. As it happens, I do not have an aptitude for mathematics. Actually, I am pathologically stupid at maths. I am sure that if I did have a knack for it that I would have pursued it. I would probably spend all day racking my brain over labyrinthine equations. When it comes to science I find that I have a disturbing apathy towards natural phenomena. I read something written by David Berlinski recently. Please, for the love of God, don’t look the guy up. You’d be wasting your time. The man is a poseur and a wind-bag, albeit an entertaining one. Anyway, this little bit of writing sadly resonated with me: ‘I have never been particularly eager to know how it is that the universe was formed, or how a magnet works, or why, for that matter, water flows downhill. … There it is—a certain implacable lack of physical curiosity.’ (Unlike Berlinski, I am interested to how the universe was formed, but that’s down to ‘teleological’ arguments about philosophy than any interest in nitty-gritty science…)

I had an amusing and interesting experience recently. I was about to call it epiphanic, but I won’t get ahead of myself. I went to a celebration of Chile’s independence (18th of September). I ran into a computer science student. In these situations – in gatherings – one of the following outcomes will transpire: 1) I will stand awkwardly in a corner of the room, or 2) I will strike a conversation with the nerdiest boy in the room. So, in this particular gathering, I ended up the entire night speaking to the nerdiest boy in the room. We prattled at each other about political theory, philosophy and other tangential topics.

At one point, I looked at young children playing. I wistfully said something like, ‘I was once like that – completely carefree, childlike, spontaneous.’ He was visibly annoyed by what I said. He beamed back with ‘Stop talking about thing as if they were transient!’ As is my wont – I swear to God that I do it naturally, not to show-off – I did a bit of arcane name-dropping. I mentioned Heraclitus. (Yeah, right! Mentioning a name like that in a conversation is really natural!) I said that, for Heraclitus, a guy who lived 500 years before Christ, everything changed constantly, but that there was an underlying order governed by reason. He replied with, ‘For you, everything is the meta of the meta of the meta.’

He is right. Which leads me to the following. I like to look for underlying complexity. Surely science looks for underlying complexity, right? I look for it in topics in the humanities. I get excited by classical and jazz music where a lot of musical activity transpires simultaneously. (Organised by quite a mathematical structure. My mathematical ineptitude is probably why I never became a composer, an early dream.)  I get excited by arty and ambiguous films which are open to endless scrutiny. I get excited by huge, sprawling, digressive novels. My ambition is to write such novels. I am writing one right now. I like to read – and write – dense complex books for fun.

It has become clear to me that I am a tad too over-ambitious. I become attracted to complex subjects with little in the way of introduction. As an undergrad lit student, I always went for complex interpretations of texts. Although I graduated with a first, my lecturers must have sensed when reading my essays that I was getting ahead of myself most the time. These trained scholars, must have seen my essays as confused, hyperlexic and over-ambitious.

So I look for complexity in the ‘meta of the meta of the meta,’ not in empirical data or anything like that. It might mean that I have a scattered brain or that I am crack-pot. It might even mean that I am interested in pseudo-complexity! I see it like this: immerse yourself in the sea of complexity in a dense symphony, a novel, a film or a philosophical tract and you may emerge confused, enlightened or you simply be a richer person. Constructing something similar – i.e. a complex novel – is even more enlightening, confusing and enriching. So there you have it. This why I like complexity for complexity’s sake.