Hafez Meets The Modern World – A Pastiche

Thinking lakes and Alps as seen from mountain trains are simply boring;
No, I won’t do it.
Texting instead my pal to ask what beauties he is ignoring?
No, I won’t do it.

To travel around the world and not offer anything a glance
Because blogging about nothing gives me a better chance;
No, I won’t do it.

To leave my lover’s arms the moment my smartphone starts its beeping
And turn my back upon her, unsatisfied and not yet sleeping;
No, I won’t do it.

I’ll never understand myself, I’ll never really know me
Until I’ve joined some trendy website, and that alone will show me;
I have to do it.

To accept that in any foreign city I will never find my way
Because no one can hear me asking, with their headphones on all day.
No, I won’t do it.

If I keep my treasure only as strange symbols on my phone,
The sultan can take it all away by his will alone;
And I won’t do it.

To give my rival poets reviews where just one star appears,
Pretending to be an independent jury of my peers;
No, I won’t do it.

Hafez, real life is back in your own time, and I am sure
I’ll never cease to miss my lover’s world of flesh and blood, and more;
No, I won’t do it.

No More Meddling

A character in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury tells another, “You’ll have a hell of time in heaven without anybody’s business to meddle in”. Now, that particular novel is full of unreliable narrators, but even these may tell the truth by accident, and this remark seems to me intrinsically sayable. There is undoubtedly a human type, whom I myself have encountered in three different countries, who would indeed have a hard time with any heaven that did not allow them to meddle in other people’s business. Nevertheless they want to go there, or take it for granted that they will inevitably go there.

From this it would seem to follow that their heaven is a meddling sort of place. In whose business would they then be meddling? It may be assumed that this sort of person is quite certain that our sort of person is bound for the Other Place. If that is the case then they have simply failed to think it through. In that case, in whose business would they meddle? That heaven has two classes, the meddlers (them) and the meddled-in (us), is so bizarre an idea that I have never encountered anyone who believed in it, or at least admitted to doing so. That the meddlers of heaven would have special rights over the denizens of hell, same applies. So the only conclusion left is Faulkner’s, that such people will have a miserable time in heaven.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 7, 2011)

Posted on September 24, 2020 at 19:08 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Longest Con, Miscellaneous

On Not Standing Out

I originally wrote this during a heatwave – nothing much by the standards of the Continent in 2018, but by Bergen standards enough to have all the women under 50 displaying their legs, backs and breasts. I am now old enough for this to make me philosophical rather than excited, and so what struck me was how many such semi-bare women there were. I took to wondering what it would feel like to be showing off what thousands of people around you were also showing off, to such an extent that it was doubtful whether you would get noticed at all. And this is a very small city; so what would it be like to flaunt the flesh in a world metropolis where the just-as-nice-as-yours legs number in the millions? For obvious reasons, I am never going to find out.

The same wonderment has often occurred to me in connection with the new-rich mainland-Chinese tourists in which we were knee-deep in all weathers until the 2020 lockdown. What does it feel like to be the ultimate in “being one of the crowd”, owing to the sheer numbers the ultimate in not standing out? It then occurred to me that the main driver of social media was probably a desperate thirst for non-nullity, in an overpopulated world that may fatuously call itself a village but is actually the very opposite of our evolutionary heritage, namely a group of about 120 in which everyone can be known.

I once touched on the former theme in conversation with a young lady who was extremely intelligent yet had her generation’s attitude of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” and its unconcern with the evils of being looked at that so bothered her mother’s generation (or should that be grandmother’s?). I made the point that I could not begin to know what it felt like to have a millimetre here or a millimetre there of your costume sending a sexual signal. About my costume, nobody cares; I can no more imagine being looked at with concupiscence than I can imagine seeing in the ultraviolet. She countered that a woman does not always arrange those millimetres consciously. True, no doubt, but men have no idea when the woman is thinking about the skin she is showing and when she is thinking about mathematics. It is not as if the mathematician can take her boobs off and hang them up.

The term “objectification” is misleading; the problem is not so much that you are an object of desire (which a woman wants to be when it suits her and not otherwise) as that you are taken for a player even when you are not playing – either because you never play, or because right now you are taking a break. It must be really annoying when other people keep right on playing. How dare they!

The Party Programme

In one way we can understand why in its manifesto a certain Green Party called children “our most important resource”. They just wanted to say that our children should be valuable to us, represent our future, should be secured a decent life and so forth. What our society is actually doing, namely consuming the very basis of their survival, is obviously a very bad thing. When I pointed out the nasty implication of their formulation, namely that a resource is something you use in your own interests, and often use up, they got it immediately.

The very casual and unthinking use of the word “resource”, however, itself let this particular cat out of the bag. The horrible truth about the human species is that we use children as tools, above all as economic and emotional tools, as various forms of slave labour. Often (though not always) they are deliberately brought into being to serve these purposes. I have done many bad things, but I am quite proud of never having done this particular bad thing.

Posted on August 25, 2020 at 17:40 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Breeders And Thinkers

Trademarking Fodder Itself

From Robert Musil’s magnum opus I picked up the fact that late-Habsburg Vienna had a product called “Benger’s Food”. I later saw an old drawing of an imagined Kumasi in Ghana before and after colonialist enlightenment; instead of being almost naked and doing nothing in particular, almost the entire population stood in a long line wearing Western suits and bowler hats and bearing sandwich-boards. The foremost of these was for “Mollin’s Food”.

An immediate reaction to this might be to marvel at the assumption that Africans would be better off if all of them were advertising something to everybody else. Given that sandwich-boarding is not an excessively rewarding job, and that an economy in which this is the primary industry seems most improbable, this idea remains weird. But there is also another angle of approach. I have no idea what either Benger’s Food or Mollin’s Food actually was, but I was deeply struck by the impudence of implying that the good folk of Kumasi had not been able to feed themselves until Mr. Mollin came along.

My own lifetime has been dominated by advertisers’ attempts to brand their over-refined and sugary rubbish in such a way as to imply that association, so that children ate their Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies instead of generic “cereal”. Even better, they ate Frosties or Cap’n Crunch, names that do not actually mention the underlying agricultural crop. This replacement attempt was never completely successful, however, in that the generic term “cereal” has survived to this day – even if no one remembers where the word originates.

Besides, none of this is as radical as calling the product “Somebody’s Food”. This can be taken two ways: one, that there is out there something called “food”, of which Benger and Mollin are offering versions in some way valuable. The other way is that in your location, “Food” is not something that exists other than in the form of the Benger or Mollin products. I am expecting this radical claim to resurface any moment now: a spot of diversification will give us “Bezos’ Food” or “iFood”.

(Fiddle date stamp to October 25, 2015)

Céline And Bébert At Sigmaringen

My attention was first drawn to Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s final trilogy by the bizarre fact that he travelled though an almost-crushed Germany with both his wife and his cat. Travelling with a cat is quite hard at the best of times, and the bouncing rubble can hardly have made it easier. Bébert seems to have been a highly unusual cat, coming when called.

I was also curious to discover why this once so avant-garde writer had become an anti-Semite (so rabid that the Nazis found him embarrassing) and a quisling. Just as I was reading about the make-believe enclave created for the remnants of the Vichy government, a picture of Sigmaringen Castle appeared in the news; for his widow had just died, at the age of 107 our last living link with the place and time.

Céline’s anti-Semitic pamphlets have long been banned. He was writing this memoir in the Fifties, and had either lost interest in the Jews or had learned from his Danish imprisonment to shut up about them. So I never did discover directly what had been driving his animus. There was certainly nothing to be found in the trilogy by way of admiration for Hitler, the Nazis or the Germans, and he talked about collaborationists and liberators as being the same kind of opportunist scum.

He seemed upset by the use of white phosphorus on Dresden, but there was something else that exercised him even more: the Senegalese soldiers of the Free French general Leclerc and their alleged penchant for beheading civilians with their sabres. Again and again he returns to this theme, in connection with a massacre at nearby Strasbourg. If this really happened, I wonder idly what sensation of black empowerment might have accrued from decapitating whites. More to the point, being beheaded by a black man held a special horror for Céline, greater than other ways of dying. I myself could think of many worse ways to go, and I cannot see why the skin colour of my executioner should matter to anybody.

Indirectly, I thought I could see an aetiology for his anti-Semitism. For Céline seemed terribly upset by all and any “miscegenation”, especially with Asiatics, under which rubric he seemed to consider the Jews. Lumping Jews and Chinese together seems bizarre to us, but this does in fact seem to have been his mental furniture.

In addition, his obsession with “carriers” must have had something to do with his profession of doctor in the slums of Paris. Nowadays we are more inclined to believe in “hybrid vigour” than in “racial purity”, and cannot see the least analogy between ethno-religious minorities and typhus. Perhaps Céline had purely personal reasons that he did not share with readers of his final trilogy, or perhaps the cognitive mistake was inherent in the medical science of his day. The hero of Ford Madox Ford’s quartet is an old-fashioned Tory and a wannabe Anglican saint, but nevertheless stands for the lethal-chambering of unhealthy children. Such eugenics were originally about handicaps, alcoholism and syphilis, but could all too easily be extended to an ethnic group you did not like. In which case I have to wonder what other awful “scientific” blunders we might be making right now. My money is on permitting blanket coverage of electro-magnetic radiation.

(Fiddle date-stamp to March 1 2020)

In Four Words

A Russian SF writer caught my attention with a throwaway remark about the “female thirst for promises”. Well, I myself had often noted that if a young woman is given the choice between a taciturn man who cares for her in practice and another who avows his love in empty words, she almost always goes for the purely verbal extravagance, but this Glukhovsky impressed me by nailing the issue in a mere four words.

But what is the attraction of a promise? Very few people do what they say they will do, even in the most trivial matters. They are clearly using promises as a way of currying favour, and the wise person learns to tune promises out altogether. Not that this is necessarily easy, as false promises are what our parents bring us up on, and it takes quite serious abuse to overcome a child’s inherently trusting nature. As adults, many of us never find the balance, if there even is one.

Now, if Glukhovsky is right about the thirst for promises being even more marked in the female than in the male, why should this be? My only suggestion is that the performance is attention later, but the promise is attention right now, so that the underlying cause of the female thirst for promises is the general human inability to defer gratification plus the specifically more severe female need for attention. That the latter abyss can be neither filled nor bridged, however, merely displaces the problem; if female need for attention is so much greater than the male, why should that be?

Of course, we are not allowed to ask such things, as correct discourse about human nature may invoke design flaws only in the male, and as much as possible must be blamed on testosterone without actually knowing anything about the secretion and effects of that substance. This is the modern equivalent and reversal of ancient bio-essentialist misogynies like the Sin of Eve. But if men have their characteristic faults, which I would not dream of denying, why is it so unthinkable that women might have their characteristic faults too? And can there be a better candidate for characteristic fault or besetting sin than a “thirst for promises”?

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 23, 2013)

One Drop Of Rain …

Elsewhere in this body of work Hugo has made the point that the oppressor invariably perceives himself as the victim, indeed as fighting for his very existence under the threat of extinction. Weird as it may seem to those on the wrong end of their struggle for survival, this applies to the Nazis, modern white supremacists, and many homophobes. Even short of the spectre of extermination, it is surely a general principle that one does not understand how vulnerable one’s opponents feel. Louis-Ferdinand Céline has a startling line, which in double translation through Danish (never a good idea, but I have no choice) goes something like this: “Women, whose sexual ability is never lost, fail to comprehend that for men, despite all their priapism, one drop of rain and everything shrinks in upon itself!”

It is certainly true that men are sexually fragile creatures, and the more a man’s sense of self-worth depends on his ability to get it up, the more dangerously he is living. I think Céline is correct also in pointing out how little aware women are of this. But suppose we turn it around. When men are paralysed by female beauty, sometimes resenting its possessor, are we sufficiently aware how precarious the Girl from Ipanema feels? Those who know beautiful women as something other than sex objects, know that none of them feels beautiful. They may have noted the reaction of others as a bizarre fact, which they then milk for all it is worth, but nobody actually feels it. They may think themselves only average and be interested in other things, but it is commoner for them to yearn desperately after beauty without being aware that they already have it.

That yearning is very profitable, in a way not limited to the beautification industry itself, already vast though never counted properly; we must include “shopping therapy”. Without female insecurity the global economy would immediately collapse. The Man knows that unhappy women spend more money, and therefore seeks to make them unhappy through advertising. This is often condemned in terms of “unrealistic ideals”, which is often true but not the whole story. Because most women feel, by nature or indoctrination, that they have already fallen short of even objectively realistic ideals. Nobody has the right boobs, or nose, or hair, or whatever – nobody. In this way, therefore, women share in what Céline describes as a male vulnerability: one drop of rain and whatever you have, shrinks to nothing.

Posted on June 14, 2020 at 11:19 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Unbeautiful

On Never Having Been Down t’Pit

I used to have the conventional reverence for cultural heritage, and visited a certain proportion of the European cynosures, from the Hermitage in the then Leningrad to the Mezquita in Córdoba, and from the Sainte-Chapelle to the Hagia Sophia. Plus Kyōto and Nara, although nothing in China, India or Central Asia. Not quite an updated Goethean Grand Tour, therefore, but in conjunction with my intensive reading about the twelfth century world-wide, perhaps not altogether to be despised.

Then at some point a switch in my head seemed to be thrown, and I became suddenly unable to see a castle as anything other than a base for bad guys to issue forth and kill and rape the producers, or a cathedral as anything other than a revenue-generating machine. This happened almost overnight. That the French revolutionaries demolished Cluny thereafter evoked approval rather than the previously compulsory horror. An example I use more often is the Soviet repurposing of Yalta palaces as homes for retired coal-miners. I then challenge the audience to explain why the bling-bling of Tsarist aristocracy, overdone even by contemporary European standards, should be more important than the declining years of men doing a horrible and extremely unhealthy job. What do you have against coal-miners and why?

Perhaps this irreversible Miserific Vision was a belated apology for the atmosphere in which I grew up, in which Middle England, what one might call the Telegraph-reading classes, did indeed evince a ferocious contempt for miners – who worked in geographically and culturally very separate communities. To hear them talk, one would think that the colliers of County Durham were over-privileged layabouts. None of these Torygraph-readers, of course, had ever gone down a mine. I myself absorbed this contempt in the way schoolboys absorb certain other attitudes, which with greater understanding of the world in my old age created chagrin and shame.

In the Seventies the bourgeois contempt for coal-miners turned into active loathing, as people the middles thought of as the servant classes, merely dirtier, had the temerity to oppose their betters. Everyone knows how the Miners’ Strike helped bring Mrs. Thatcher to power and keep her there, and yet I have a suspicion that this went deeper than the undoubted inconveniences of the Winter of Discontent and the power cuts that were actually chronic in those days.

The Tories used to make a big deal about the “politics of envy” and the evils of class war, while amply proving that class hatred runs in both directions. In our present age that has restored the nineteeth-century levels of wealth concentration, an age in which foreigners, either here or somewhere else, do all the heavy work, while the natives are owners, managers, cube-rats or social clients, this is more relevant than ever. Because “Down t’Pit” has now met the ancient Yellow Peril, while the green utopia depends on Congolese cobalt miners. Why do we not talk about “blood batteries”?

(Fiddle date-stamp to April 21, 2012)

Cultural Odds And Ends, Fortune Cookies

The purpose of the entertainment industry is to distract you while your pockets are picked.

Is it a coincidence that we talk about “staging” a coup d’etat? After all, the best coups are pure theatre, with no casualties. We might also say that the audience contributes its suspension of disbelief, and comes away purged of pity and terror.

Is it merely a satisfying linguistic coincidence that other products “make” or “earn” money, while Hollywood films “gross”?

Some men have claimed that women can never be comedians, because they are intrinsically not funny. This is ridiculous, because there are such things as female comics, and perhaps there would be more on a level playing field. If being a comic demands a certain black view of the world’s follies, plus good timing, they can certainly do that. On the other hand, the relative scarcity may be due, not to discrimination, but the fact that too many women are much too busy being intrinsically right to be funny or indeed anything else.

Once upon a time the kitchen of a middle-class home was relegated underground or to the back. The master never set foot there, the mistress came only to supervise. But the servants cooked, uncomfortably. In the 1950s the kitchen migrated to the front, so that the housewife could welcome hubby home. It then became the social centre, although the French and Iberians persist in having a dining room. The terminus of the trend may be found in Germany and Scandinavia, where people spend vast amounts on the appearance of their kitchens and then buy the cheapest possible processed food to microwave there.

One-liner ideas for films:
* Three hundred liberals hold Thermopylae against a million knuckle-dragging rednecks.
* A film from the point of view of Ernst Stavro Blofeld – or his cat.

In another life I should like to write a Bildungsroman about a young girl who wants to explore the real world as opposed to fishing for attention and hand-me-down moralising. It might be interesting to explore the forces that would be opposed to her becoming a rational adult.

Douglas Adams pioneered robots with Genuine People Personalities™. This might be closer than we thought. The place to start would be add-ons to Siri, for nagging, boasting, guilting-out and passive aggression.

The last scene of Woody Allen’s All You Wanted To Know About Sex… is a conceit about the interior life of a man on a date and getting laid, with the actors playing body or brain functions and in Allen’s case a spermatozoan as parachutist. I propose that the scene be remade with the woman instead. We might learn something from her “control room”.