The World as Will and Misrepresentation. Essays by Hugo Grinebiter

Why The Waltz?

One of the earworms from which I suffer from time to time is the Radetsky March by Strauss Senior. If the Blue Danube (by his son) can be regarded as an unofficial Austrian national anthem, so too can this.

Meeting Viennese popular music again in Claudio Magris’ travelogue of the Danube inspired me to research the waltz. When I was about 13 my parents, who conceptually belonged to a nineteenth century that they had never actually seen, wanted me to learn it and thereby meet girls. They claimed that failure to do so was due to my inability to ballroom-dance, though this being already the Sixties I was not entirely convinced.

I have previously waxed sarcastic about the finding of “romance” in mossy castle walls when it is not detected in Camp Bastion or Abu Ghraib, which fulfil just precisely the same function. Something similar might be said about the way in which costume dramas venerate what is essentially teenage gallantry in extremely expensive clothes – while at the same time mocking the disco era and its successors. But how exactly did the Saturday Night Fever of our own time differ from that of the late Habsburgs?

If we look at the waltz from an evolutionary perspective, we shall probably recognise it as a display of physical mastery. The same goes for all dancing, of course, but grace (something hard to define but we all know it when we see it) may even be a supreme biological signal.

The waltz was quite a revolutionary departure from the stately court dances in which the participants did not actually touch – although the peasants, to whom the waltz can be traced, certainly did. No, as compared with the minuets of Mozart’s day the waltz was an excuse for a good grope, and thus sociologically belongs together with the drive-in movie. In the Renaissance there had been even a step called the volta, in which the man more or less lifts the woman by the pussy, but the Viennese waltz turned such trumpery goings-on into middle-class property. If, as some aver, young people now go to clubs in order to fuck perfect strangers on the dance-floor, then the waltz was the first step on that particular road, and so perhaps its critics had a point.

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 22, 2011)

Posted on August 15, 2018 at 17:51 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers

The Inadmissible Drive

As late as the end of the Seventies, my second university held a Rag Week at which students were put up for sale as “slaves” to other students. It was stipulated that the acquisitions were to do the purchasing students’ housekeeping rather than provide sexual services, but nobody appeared to have had compunctions about modelling the stunt on the institution of chattel slavery as such – until students of Afro-Caribbean descent, none of whom had been on the student committee, understandably protested.

The initiative was stupid and horrible, but might nevertheless serve to remind us of a truth that dares not speak its name – that everyone wants to have slaves. Whatever they like to pretend about their superhuman virtue, women in reality want to get off their knees and put someone else onto them. I have elsewhere touched on Sisera’s mother in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:30) and on the wives of the warriors of the Homeric Age. Their menfolk might have enjoyed the coercive sex with the enemy princesses, but who had the greatest interest in acquiring new warm bodies to do the heavy housework?

Can we understand Hitler’s immense popularity before about 1943 without remembering the little people who were promised new land in the East, complete with Ukrainian serfs to till it for them? Had Operation Sealion succeeded, the plan was to transfer the entire male British population to Germany as slave labour. They would have attracted as much sympathy as the other wretches whom the German civilians passed every day, no more no less. The Holocaust, which had been about disregarding precisely these labour economics, has distracted us from what the Third Reich has to teach us about human nature ¬– that not everyone wants to exterminate the outsider, but by jingo, everyone wants to take his stuff and have her scrub her floors!

What, then, would happen if we offered Mrs. Average Briton and Mrs. Main Street American a domestic servant, free, gratis and for nothing? The era that put the Rosie the Riveter back into “the home” also saw, let us remember, the zenith of the robot genre. Not only did the Fifties embrace nuclear power that was safe, clean and too cheap to meter – they also looked forward to flying cars that would take off from suburban lawns tended by metal men who needed no paying, feeding or fuelling (thus probably in defiance of the laws of thermodynamics, but never mind) and who never disobeyed you. The dread that a robot might subvert the Asimovian laws to schtup the master’s wife (yes, really, there were stories like that) shows us exactly where this dream came from.

Nowadays our human slaves are far away and invisible. The ordinary people of the rich countries certainly protest about no longer having factory jobs to go to. About the slave-labour prices of the clothes and trinkets they can buy with their doles, not so much. Perhaps globalisation has been misorganised and missold: instead of exporting the jobs, the elite should have imported even more people, with so-and-so many assigned to each freeborn citizen, to scrub the floors of Middle America. Or even have their babies – Margaret Atwood saw this coming as far back as 1985.

Posted on August 8, 2018 at 20:02 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE ENSLAVING MAMMAL, The Universal Template

It Is What It Is

Apparently the Mongolian word “Tengri”, so often translated as “God”, actually means “Things as they are”. I am also told that the Chinese word “ziran” does not mean nature in our sentimental Western sense but something more like “Just as it is”.

And yet most Westerners conceive of a God who is very much not the same as “things as they are”. Except in Spinoza, he stands apart from things as they are and often passionately wants them to be different. That things are not what God wants them to be is generally our fault.

Perhaps, therefore, we are all really Zoroastrians, or else dualistic Gnostics, at heart, backing a deity who wins some and loses some.

Sometimes this “personal” Occidental god, standing in opposition to nature, even appears to stand for “things as we would like them to be, so as greatly to inconvenience everybody unlike ourselves”.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 6, 2011)

A Gene For Agnosia?

As I have written elsewhere, simple ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Wilful ignorance is a different matter. At first sight people can seem stupid, when what they are is really incurious. They can think well enough if they care, but mostly they don’t care. What they already know, or think they know, is enough for them.

Now, according to Aristotle the negative labels denote not an actual something but a privation – for example, cold is the absence of heat. Again at first sight, ignorance may seem like another privation, this time the lack of knowledge. And yet we may wonder whether sometimes the parallel breaks down. Could there be an active kind of ignorance resulting from either genetic or memetic dissemination?

Well, that this AGNOSIA should be genetic seems unlikely; how would a lack of the normal mammalian curiosity come to spread? There would have to be some survival or reproductive advantage for incurious individuals, and it is hard to see in what that might possibly consist. On the other hand, if curiosity were genetically coded for, and individuals carrying this quality were more likely to move somewhere else, then the individuals who stayed at home would be selected for incuriosity. I know a place like this.

As for memetic dissemination, there would seem to be no a priori reason why lack of curiosity should not be culturally transmitted – a habitus. It would then be a matter of the messages on which the young are fed. “Avoid knowing this!” might be justified in terms of some kind of superiority that would be endangered by new information. Obviously many religious communities have gone in for this, but it probably works on an ethnic basis too: “Avoid knowing anything about the Not-Us!”

Such constant restriction of the mental environment probably sets up a feedback howl: the less you know, the less you even realise there is to be known, or want to know. Last but not least, the external world can be simply drowned out by an emphasis on a volatile peer-group status conferred mostly by consumer trivia, as in what I call Starbucks Culture. “I am superior because I have more like-bots than thou!”

(Fiddle date-stamp to December 24, 2013)

Posted on July 16, 2018 at 19:43 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Anatomy Of Stupidity

No To Political “Movements”

I have just been reading about the nineteenth-century assumption that too much sitting caused constipation, which in turn caused political disgruntlement. Could it really be that simple?

That a sedentary lifestyle conduces to constipation is probably quite true. The trouble comes with the second step of the argument. “Disgruntlement” is a heavily loaded term, implying a regrettable deviation from how things ought to be. When applied to politics, the assumption is that we should all be so to speak perfectly gruntled – that is to say, with our betters. “Disgruntlement” thus shares a rhetorical universe with froward “malcontents”, ranting “rabble-rousers”, insolent “tub-thumpers”, and other purportedly objective condemnations of those who have their enthusiasm for their rulers well under control.

If healthy sports and games really built the Empire, not only by rendering the British able to venture into the challenging terrain of exciting new peoples and kill them, but also by reducing the disgruntlement with one’s social superiors consequent upon constipation, then perhaps we should make a case for eschewing dietary fibre. A more sluggish digestion might help us to look around and see more clearly what is being done to us.

The Ultimate Division

The most fundamental dichotomy running through humanity is not between male and female, it is between dominant and subordinate. This division runs between those whose will is done and those who do that will. It by no means follows that a purportedly mistreated woman is in actual fact an Alpha exploiting the complaint – as a tactical device to have her will done or to distract everyone’s attention from the fact that it is her will that is being done – but the enquiry is always worth making.

(Fiddle date-stamp to January 1, 2013)

The Strongest Force In The World?

I was once asked to name the strongest force in the world, by an African Christian who very obviously required my answer to be the conventional “love”. She was quite discombobulated by my awarding the palm instead to “stupidity”. As soon as we regard love as the only way long-gestating mammals can be suckered into reproducing at all, however, then she would be in a way vindicated.

And of course this is the very essence of the Gnostic critique; “love”, in the sense not of charity or compassion but of the drive to mate and reproduce, is indeed the strongest force in the world – but why should the strongest force in the world be a good force? Anyone who makes that assumption, however atheist he may imagine himself, has actually hidden a beneficent god in the baggage.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 28, 2011)

The Expatriate Excuse

There is a tremendous advantage of being a foreign resident that nobody ever cites: you can take absolutely any bad quality of human beings and attribute it to the host culture. So convenient is this that expatriates succeed in utterly forgetting what they witnessed in their own native land; everything negative is now treated as typical, not of human beings as such, but of the culture in which they now live. In fact, many expatriates take care never to move back home, for if they did they might have to rethink their knee-jerk habit of blaming every conceivable vice or foolishness upon their host nationality.

Admiring oneself as the one-eyed king in the country of the blind is much more fun.

(Fiddle date-stamp to November 10, 2009)

Posted on June 17, 2018 at 14:36 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

The Locomotive Modellers And The Weed

In my youth it was a social law that no adult ever criticised another adult in front of a child. (This rule was one of the things that facilitated sexual abuse by Catholic priests and others, but that is another story.) My parents must have really strained themselves in not saying that a given family in our village were total weirdos, but they managed by hinting that I should provide the son with some company. The word “nerd” had not yet been coined. Aged about forty, he lived at home with his parents, worked at the steelworks as had his father before him, did some photography and had as his annual and perhaps only joy a two-week hiking tour of Austria with the Ramblers’ Association.

So far, not so unique; but I have still never seen anything quite like his parents. Their consuming hobby was the making of working models of steam locomotives from steel and brass. I would guess the scale at 1:10. These were not kits, but made from bar stock on a lathe and so forth, with a simply astonishing level of craftsmanship. Now, in those days for an upper-working-class husband to pursue solo hobbies in his garden shed was pretty well normal; the gentility-aspiring wife could keep her house unsullied by him, and the spouses lived largely separate lives. The bizarre aspect of this particular couple was that, far from staying in the house and leaving him to it, the woman was an equal partner in the machine shop. I could see no signs of coercion, she seemed as committed to the day-long fabrication of steam locomotives from raw metal as he was. Whether her manual skills were inferior, equal or superior to those of her husband I cannot begin to say.

I admire all craftsmanship. That a woman should have such a “masculine” hobby and craft is not the objection here; the doubt arises from the fact that they did, after all, have a child (no doubt an early mistake, before they discovered their true calling). A child whom these monomaniacs seemed utterly to ignore. The parents were not alcoholics or criminals, and they must have fed and clothed him, in between the milling of miniature components, so that there was not the slightest prospect of his being “taken into care”; and yet one may wonder whether perhaps he ought to have been.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 20, 2011)

On Pathetic Male Neediness

In Isabel Allende’s novel Daughter of Fortune, I read how the Californian Forty-Niners used to walk miles merely to look at a woman. Her just sitting there was enough. In the miners’ dance, moreover, having a kerchief in your belt meant that you were playing a woman, and would be asked to step out. The second item reminded me of the origins of the tango, danced by customers outside the brothel with one another. If any thinker about gender has mentioned the latter two habits, it would surely have been Camille Paglia; but I do not know whether she ever encountered Allende’s marvellous example of the male need even for the most trivial amount of female company.

Paglia’s work on the history of art concentrated on paintings as a source of nekkid wimmin; Boucher was essentially for jacking off to. The more high-minded approach to “Art” seems to require a belief in some kind of female spiritual superiority, of which men can vicariously partake – either by looking at an Old Master nude, or walking miles just to gaze at a seated woman. But if we suggest that this male belief in Das Ewige-Weibliche comes from having a mother, then we need to ask why women do not have it too? Well, perhaps half the women honestly believe that they are themselves a window onto a better world, while the others find the scam lucrative.

However that may be, the extreme example of those footsore Forty-Niners may suggest something to the present generation of men. We have all grown up as the product of centuries of quasi-religious veneration of women and many decades of ruthless mockery of what used to be considered specifically male values. Which need not mean killing people in duels over silly points of honour; that equation is just precisely what has been so long foisted upon us. The fact that ninety-nine people out of a hundred assume that male separatism, literal or psychic, must be synonymous with rape or at least Trumpish groping is the fruit of this long eclipse of the masculine. Let us therefore develop a new creature: a modest, courteous, and celibate gentleman, all his energies devoted to science, arts and letters. Or even gardening!