I grabbed a bunch of books from out a box earlier to show my upper-intermediate class so they could read some blurbs and learn vocab and write some blurbs. This instead of the textbook exercise, wherein within pairs one of them would claim to be an author writing a life of Truman Capote and the other an interviewer interviewing them about Capote (n.b., no-one in my class had heard, ever, of Truman Capote, even when I showed them the cover of A Capote Reader and asked, “Truman Capote: would you?”—anyway, no one had heard of him, except one German or possibly Dutch student who was familiar with the song ‘Breakfast At Tiffanys’.) One of the books I had grabbed was William Mayne’s A Game of Dark, which not vetting the blurb I didn’t realise had a critical claim that said novel
without a trace of melodrama, but not without mystification, the story, balanced with two sets of symmetrical characters, carries the reader from discovery to discovery, in the manner of a classical drama.
Which doesn’t mean a lot for an upper-immediate learner, and, I imagine, doesn’t mean a lot to you if you’re twelve either (and I’m not convinced it means much to the general reader; while I see what they’re going for, the only novel with sets of symmetrical characters is Flatland.) On the other hand, reading it, now, I’m struck by how little Mayne is writing for children:
In the next hour the wind ran out of breath, even up on the hill. The wetness left the sky, and the horizon of the sea became bright and distant. Donald sat at the table in his room and looked from the window, over the front hedge, over the road and the houses beyond, to the edge of the tide and the silken washed beach. Still in the gutter over the window the last of the fallen rain dripped, and now and then, in its last erratic puffs, the wind sighed in the roof over him. Outside the window the top of a small bush, looking in with its highest twigs and loaded with raindrops, refracted and focused its surroundings in gems. In the kitchen next to his room Donald heard tea being prepared. In the grass of the lawn a three-fingered flower danced alone, and lay still: a fallen and dried sycamore leaf, each lobe rolled, the palm curved.
Like more here than in anything else of his I’ve read he’s doing a Style: a weird attempt to reconcile 19th-centurisms with Joyceanisms (a devotion to syntactic parallelism in clauses separated by colons and fragments separated by commas: an interest in optical phenomena: a tendency towards adjectival pileups not so much demonstrated in the above but e.g., “a dog … put out a sly invisible enquiring tongue to lick his cheek”) in this way which is interesting in its failure.
12:00 pm • 22 July 2014
Also when I found said bird I went and greeted one of said housemates by holding the bird out round the corner of the door and exerting pressure on the back of its neck such that its head twitched up and down as I said “hellooooo,” because, I mean, what else are you meant to do with a dead bird.
8:43 pm • 21 July 2014
Of course, I am now living with my ex’s housemates, which is fine, except, and I wouldn’t want to claim that these people are slobs, exactly, that’s not what I’m claiming, exactly, except that, earlier this evening I found, and I mean, this is the first time this has happened, I wouldn’t claim it as a regular occurence, I wouldn’t want to claim that it’s a regular occurence, and I wouldn’t want to claim that they’re slobs, not exactly, I wouldn’t want to claim that, except that I found a dead bird while I was cleaning the kitchen earlier, and I wouldn’t want to claim that they’re slobs, except that it was under a substantial layer of dust, one indicating it had been there for a week or more, but I wouldn’t want to generalise from that, I wouldn’t want to draw any spurious conclusions.
8:07 pm • 21 July 2014 • 1 note
This got me added by two Freud themed twitter accounts, which I think but I am not sure are both bots. Something here, some kind of comment, about what it means to be perpetuating Freud via a necessarily post-industrial form of automated communication, I’m not sure what, I don’t know, there’s probably something in it, you work it out.
12:00 pm • 21 July 2014 • 4 notes
So R. moved out today. Originally, since R. had to be in London today and tomorrow for some kind of Rilke-themed event, the plan was we’d go in and have one last brunch and then R. would head to that, but nowhere was open so R. went to that and we met up again and had what was still, nominally, brunch, midafternoon, in a café that had spelt in every item on the menu. I found it when I was googling “places to work with laptop in central London”; the blog post that mentioned it said something about how the baristas played ‘hip indie music’; two out of three times I’ve been there I have heard John Mayer’s ‘Waiting for the world to change.’ Anyway, now I’m single, I guess.
When I got back, this evening, I moved all the stuff from the basement room I’ve been in to R.’s attic room, which I am now subletting; this is, for those keeping track, my fourth new room in six months. It is about ten degrees warmer here, all the time. I bought deodorant today, incidentally, for the first time in about a year. It’s a fancy deodorant; it came in a linen bag. Someone asked if I had been “using hippy crystal shit instead” and I said, no, I just haven’t been wearing deodorant. I told my mum I’d moved from a basement room to an attic room, omitting many details, and she laughed and said “well, maybe now you can write that novel.” Last week I came into class wearing a sort of quasi-houndstooth snapback and one of my students said, why are you dressed like Sherlock Holmes. It’s a good week for scoring points off me, is the point of this paragraph.
11:35 pm • 20 July 2014 • 1 note
bob weir, ‘ace’
"I’m going back home. That’s what I’m gonna do. / You did better than me than I did by you."
"Then way way up in Heaven, for whatever it was worth / God thought he’d throw a party; thought he’d call it Planet Earth."
Biggest rhyming couplet quality fall-off in rock history.
Have also noticed of late that by ‘77 Weir (and Donna Godchaux, I guess) have taken to appending to John Barlow’s at-least-competent “I’ll still sing you love songs / written in the letters of your name / and brave the storm to come / for it surely looks like rain” the supremely bathetic ” / yeah / and it feels like rain.”
4:41 pm • 19 July 2014 • 2 notes
Though for anachronous modern phenomena nothing yet beats the discovery that the good suitor in Our Mutual Friend was a hipster racist.
3:28 pm • 13 July 2014
more confused notes about trollope
And Burgo, if it was so that he had not heart enough to love truly, could look as though he loved. It was not in him deceit,—or what men call acting. The expression came to him naturally, though it expressed so much more than there was within; as strong words come to some men who have no knowledge that they are speaking strongly. At this moment Burgo Fitzgerald looked as though it were possible that he might die of love.
So I quoted this bit before but then R. and I started talking about how it was basically Tao Lin. Put quote marks around the last three words and it functions a lot like the last sentence of Taipei.
There’s a queer half-modernity at work in Can You Forgive Her? — or it seems so to me, anyway. That everyone’s problems are problems of inaction and self-sabotage: Glencora accepting that she would be happier if she eloped with Burgo, but choosing instead to stay in a comfortably painful marriage; Alice throwing over potential suitor who is imperfect for one who is, she is entirely aware, a long way away from lovable. And the odd irregularity of register in which they articulate their problems is quite something: “My dismay was at first so great that my reason for a time deserted me,” Alice writes to Cora at the climax of her break with George, “and I could only sit and cry like an idiot.”
The scene where George breaks Kate’s arm is followed by some of the weirdest register-switching, a vacillation between Victorian pietism and an almost-recognition that he an abuser, an odd scramble to find a realignment of motives and actions that will permit the novel to resolve. When, later, after contemplating suicide, he goes offstage with a loaded gun in his pocket and we hear he’s “gone to America”, there’s a bizarre echo of Svidrigaïlov. In fact his whole vibe throughout is of someone who wishes he were in Dostoyevsky, but was born too early and in the wrong place.
I have been trying to think out some broader ideas about the ethics of the novel within this book’s sphere but I am getting nowhere. I can’t decide if Trollope’s invitations for the reader to disagree with him as to what the novel’s women are capable of —“she was, I think, (etc.)” — constitute an ethical move or a cop-out or both. Like the claim for an ethics of the narrative artwork is something like, I don’t know, that in providing the novel’s actors with motivations and action-sets such that we are refused an external position from which to judge? I don’t know? no, that’s definitely wrong — but there’s certainly something interesting about this here particular book, the title, the direct address to the reader, the ironical spirit in which this is uttered, and in which which the broader editorialising about female emancipation takes place that makes the book of value as a moral object in a greater context than of being the utterance of an upper-middle class British Victorian gent. That said the occasional kneejerk anti-semitism is unredeemable, and there is probably not enough prophylactic irony in the world for it to sit comfortably with us that John Grey and Plantagenet Palliser can unquestioningly accept that it’s probably, in the grand scheme of things, okay, that the only way into government is via money.
2:26 pm • 13 July 2014
I got the CELTA certificate (Cambridge English Language Teaching Something-or-other, one of the prime means for (mostly) middle class kids with no career goals to try and ‘do something interesting for a bit’) what must be the better part of five years ago, now, and never did anything with it; I went back to the bookstore for a minute, which seemed a good enough place to be I didn’t want to rush to leave the country, and then I started dating J., which at the time, certainly, had seemed another reason, and then J. convinced me I should apply to do the master’s at Oxford; when I got in that was obviously a reason, and then I decided I wanted to do a PhD instead. And then when Oxford didn’t give me any money I hung around for a bit working on applications to American schools, and when none of them let me in (around the time of my ill-starred trip to Chicago last year) I found myself bereft of life plans, hence the factory work, and the call centre job, and the temping, and so forth. R. told me I could get summer work with the CELTA in Oxford despite having taken it five years ago and having no experience and I sent in some applications to prove them wrong, which has backfired spectacularly in at least two ways.
The first school I came up to interview at had told me I should drop in for a chat or somesuch, and that they had some classes I could maybe cover the next week. ‘Some classes’ was a thirty-hour week, which meant my total teaching experience doubled, and then doubled again, before the week was over. I wasn’t sure how competent I was, but when the teacher I was covering for came back the next week and turned out to be middle-aged and uninspired and racist* I decided I was a little better than that. Also that week they’d asked me to stay on to teach a conversation-and-pronunciation class to a Polish PhD student writing on Chesterton, of all things, and an Italian lawyer wanting to brush up his English for his work in EU law. This was a good week: I needed to be put in a situation where I had to use my own resources to come up with stuff, but also they both had enough linguistic and other mental resources that I could give them a nonsense issue to debate (“Which is better for humanity — Mexican food, or dogs?”) and leave them to “This house believes …” for twenty minutes. The week after I had some awkward three-hour-plus one-on-one sessions with a Japanese consultant which brought on some sort of crisis of confidence, not least when he disclosed he was missing his daughter’s first birthday for the privilege.
But the week after that I moved on Larger, More Corporate School, who are both those things in both good and bad ways. The place is huge—the building is a converted seminary with additions, up by Oxford Brookes, and houses hundreds. There is a buzz to the staff room, rather than three young people awkwardly listening to one middle-aged person hold forth about good Muslims (see fn.): the resources are consistently available, and consistently bad: there is a coffee percolator. I have my own class who were assembled as a class the day I started, which is probably the chief good of the move for me; that and guaranteed hours. I do miss my boss from the last place, though; contra the usual vague philistinism that results from an industry comprised solely of middle class people in their twenties wanting to do ‘something, you know, interesting’ he had been an engineer, given up, and gone back to UEA in the 80s to study creative writing in a faculty including Paul Muldoon and W.G. Sebald. He dressed like a cop from a low-rent British drama of years past—ever-present roll-up, dilapidated suit, Brylcreem—and told me I really ought to read Lorna Sage.
*I mean, a certain sort of quasi-racist utterance seems endemic to the EFL classroom: Chinese students are X, middle eastern students are Y, etc. “Good luck getting anything done with them in Ramadan.” But over fifty per cent of the conversations I was in with this person came round to whether the various Muslim kids in her classes (of which there were, like, three, total) were or were not good Muslims. “I think Taha was drinking last night—isn’t that meant to be haram (giggle.)” “Oh, I don’t think Abdul would have slept with anyone—he’s not that sort.” She never at least in my presence was heard to evince this concern over whether, for example, the Italian teenagers were being good Catholics.
12:00 pm • 13 July 2014 • 2 notes