I can't post this on social media because haaaaaaaate speeeeeeeech. But this is a piece of mine on Jack London's wonderful book The People of the Abyss.
I can't post this on social media because haaaaaaaate speeeeeeeech. But this is a piece of mine on Jack London's wonderful book The People of the Abyss.
Is it or isn't it? A hair salon in Costa Rica
Just a quick snap-shot of what is happening in the bizarre emporium the world has become. Apologies to those of you suffering withdrawal symptoms without your shot of Traumaville. My time has been consumed by attempting to get some paid work, writing a few unpaid pieces, being a news junkie, and some drinking. But let’s dive in.
RACE BAIT AND SWITCH
Anyone who has seen the Mayor Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, and is also a fan of H P Lovecraft will be convinced that she should be the Mayor of Innsmouth. But this reptile-faced creature was in the news last week not because of the steadily rising number of shootings and homicides being perpetrated in the city under her charge, and almost entirely by blacks, but because she will now only grant press interviews to blacks. That should fix the problem, because the brothers are bound to write the truth about this negroid version of Dodge City. Nice work, fish-face.
WELLY WELLY WELL, LITTLE ALEX
I was one of the first (and only) journalists in the world to write about ex-BBC journalist Alex Belfield. I let his people know the fact that I wrote the second feature (after the Yorkshire Post piece and before the Express got involved) via his website. They never replied, I suspect because Counter Currents, the site that carried my piece, is extremely Right-wing. It’s funny how some dissidents hold their noses when other dissidents write about them despite their story being ignored by the MSM. Anyway, he is finally suing Nottingham Police Force, and as I said in my piece, the wider ramifications of this action may one day make him the man who brought down the already-tottering BBC. You heard it here first…
My view of the Royal Family has always been on the side of Her Maj, and one cannot help but feel sorry for the monarch. What did she do to deserve the family she has had to put up with? A family of Scouse smack addicts-cum-car thieves would have given her an easier life. She must hold in her hand a small locket with a photograph of Kate Middleton, as she seems to be the only one who isn’t perverted, mental, drunk or queer. And even she is only extended family. I hope the Her Royal H. lives to see sillybollocks Harry divorce the mulatto bitch. The day must surely come.
While I grew up admiring north America, there was always something nagging at me, someone pulling on my coat. It took my reading of French nouvelle droitiste Guillaume Faye to bring it into sharp focus. America is actually a fucking nightmare the world has had to live through. Now, after having fucked the world in the arse culturally – and not in a nice way – chickens are looking at flight schedules so that they might come home to roost. The gutmenschen Yanks who thought Trump was literally Hitler and interim President Biden and the black chick VP who fucked her way to the top of Capitol Hill were saviours are about to find out why goofy people say ‘be careful what you wish for’. And whereas there was a time I would have lamented the passing of Uncle Sam, now I am just going to crack a cold one and have a good laugh.
The world has become a freak show. Step right up! See the dog-faced boy! How did it get here? Many journalists write ‘how did we get here?’ I had nothing to do with this shit-show, sunbeam. This is the last days of the Roman Empire but with mobile phones and transgender toilets. Every day now I fire up the computer wondering where it will take me today. Remember that advert for PCs, quite early on? Where do you want to go today? Well, for those of use not drenched in Netflix, garden centres and motor-cars, we can see perfectly well where we are going. At least the handcart was designed by Elon Musk. See you soon! Stay safe and sane.
The sort of technology I like.
Replacement tuning pegs and head plate
on an Ibanez guitar by a local craftsman, Costa Rica
Look out honey 'cos I'm using technology.
Iggy Pop, Search and Destroy
When I was a boy my parents would take me to the cinema. It would be either my father or my mother, as I had brothers five years younger than me, identical twins, and my mother and father would take turns looking after them while the other one took me to see a movie. I remember seeing Walter Matthau in the movie Prisoner of Second Avenue with my dad, and both my mother and I being scared out of our wits seeing Carrie. I also remember two Disney films, both classics.
The scene in Disney’s 1970 animation The Jungle Book in which the monkey king Louis (voiced by musician and band-leader Louis Prima) sings the song I Wanna be Like You (also known as King of the Swingers) and is later joined by Baloo the bear poorly disguised as an ape is still a favourite of mine, to be visited whenever I feel gloomy. My father took me to see that one. But it was a scene in the Disney cartoon Mum took me to see, Fantasia, which lingered in the memory even more strongly.
The film’s most famous scene (although my mum preferred the hippos in tutus dancing ballet) is Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice. Scored by composer Paul Dukas, the cartoon was a separate piece until Disney realised it would never make its money back alone and amalgamated it into Fantasia. The original story – and this is almost unthinkable in today’s idiocracy – was written as a poem by Goethe in 1797. As this was less than a decade after the French revolution, it is tempting to search in Der Zauberlehrling for some symbolic commentary. Whether Goethe would have liked it or not, however, I believe there is something more in the tale of the hapless student of magic who uses his master’s spells with disastrous results.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a tale of Faustian excess not on the part of the apprentice but owing to the master’s work misused. The plot is simple, as the magician’s pupil waits until the master is sleeping before trying out his spells for himself. He has been attentive, a good student, but lacks his teacher’s knowledge of when to use the dark arts and when not to;
‘I have watched with rigour
All he used to do,
And will now with vigour
Work my wonders too’.
Like Goethe’s even more famous practitioner of magic Faust, however, the apprentice uses his master’s arts for frivolous reasons. Where Faust asked Mephistopheles to provide him with fruits out of season (something any supermarket does now without the need for an infernal pact) and the power of invisibility enabling him to play pranks, the magician’s pupil runs a bath with supernatural help.
The problem is that the broom animated by the apprentice – and by Mickey Mouse, resplendent in his master’s wizard hat and outsize robe – simply continues to fetch water until the bath is overflowing. Not only that; the apprentice has forgotten the command to make this magical mischief stop;
‘Ah, I see it! Woe, oh woe!
I forget the word of might.
Ah, the word whose sound can straight
Make him what he was before!
Ah, he runs with nimble gait!
Would thou were a broom once more!’
Like many a fictional conjurer, the apprentice has forgotten that just as spirits may be summoned by words of power, so too they must be put down by others.
The Sorceror’s Apprentice is beginning to look as though it were telling the story of technology. And just as technology may be, today, in danger of running away like a ‘galloping’ diesel engine, unstoppable and potentially ruinously dangerous, so too the pupil is discovering that one really must be careful what one wishes for, as he implores the broom;
Never please thee?’
In desperation, the pupil takes his hatchet and splits the broom in two, only to watch in horror as two brooms form and double the workload, a scene wonderfully imagined by Disney as hundreds of brooms bearing sloshing pails of water march up the hill from the river to Mickey’s abode, becoming in Goethe ‘servants of my dreaded foe’.
But who is this foe of whom the apprentice speaks in terror? Not his master – who eventually arrives, like Prospero, to make all things well. Rather an artificially created and maintained domination over the world and its resources which appears at first to be a source of good before the apparent master realises he has called up what he cannot put down.
Technology comes from the Ancient Greek technē, a word with many nuances: to make, to do, to fashion, to craft. I have described it as science’s handmaiden just as philosophy was once described as the handmaiden to theology. Technology is the provisional wing of science, and is worshipped in the modern world in a way that would have made Jehovah a very jealous god indeed. But not by all.
Martin Heidegger is known to a certain type of philosopher as the ‘secret king of philosophy’ of the 20th century, and to those of a more political inclination as a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party, Hitler’s favourite Rektor, or Dean of universities, and the giver of what, to Germans, is a speech as infamous as Enoch Powell’s so-called (and incorrectly referred to as) the ‘Rivers of blood’ speech is in Britain. Heidegger’s speech also contains blood; blood and soil.
Here, I will compare two texts by Heidegger and reduce them into one question; not ‘what is science?’, but rather ‘what has science become?’ Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics [MSMM] is strictly speaking a lecture from a series given in the 1930s, while The Question Concerning Technology of 1953 is an essay, though heavily revised from lecture notes, in its own right.
What will detain Heidegger across these two linked works is the fate of the concept of science and what we might term the provisional wing of science, technology. I intend to show in introductory form that the consequences of Heidegger’s analysis of technology shows a desire for its simplification and a return to its origins.
It’s the warmest December for eighty-eight years but things change. Furious McKenzie, for example, talks as though he has about a week to live. He tells me he has arrhythmia. It sounds like some wild, jazzy thing, doesn’t it? It isn’t dangerous, but Furious thinks it’s going to kill him and that he’s close to dying a syncopated death. Nonsense, Furious, I say. He hates the nickname his placid gopher’s nature has earned him in the office. Nonsense. I tell him that dying people have a peculiar light on their faces, a storm light, that the features stand out in a curious relief. Furious McKenzie does not have the light of death on his face. Nevertheless, Tanner and Norris pick up the idea and begin a low, threnodic humming which drives Furious out to an early lunch in a gloomy sandwich bar. While he is out, Tanner sets up a mock of a newspaper’s front page on Furious’s screen, and we spend our lunchtime discussing the exact wording of the headline. FURIOUS McKENZIE TAKEN FROM US is an early favourite. FURIOUS – BUT NOT FORGOTTEN comes close. But it is Norris, as ever, who out-drolls Tanner and me. HE HAD ARRHYTHM – WHO COULD ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE? I buy a sandwich from the young entrepreneur who delivers to the local offices. His name is Lennie and, for the prices he charges, Lennie puts together a sensational sandwich. Tiger prawn, kelp and ginger today. Sometimes I walk at lunchtime but today the sky is brooding and when you’ve seen one urban park once you’ve seen them all a thousand times. So today I don’t walk. Today I help the boys with Furious McKenzie’s obituary.
In the words of my good friend Barry Shand, successful crime merely requires convivial criminals. So it is that Tanner, the gangling systems analyst, Norris, the dapper legal expert, and myself convene a post-work symposium at Sinister Dexter’s, a restaurant we have recently discovered and which boasts a dazzling range of expertly mixed cocktails. Tonight, we are sans Furious McKenzie, just the Yin and Yang of Tanner and Norris flanking me around a table laid with Manhattans and Silver Streaks. We are here to discuss the invisible world of information, to exchange promissory notes which will never be written down and which concern things which are not, in the ordinary sense, things. The evening is unremarkable until I make a trip to the bar. It is that part of the evening in which people are arriving to eat and the drinkers must fend for themselves while the waitresses attend to the diners. As I walk into the bar area I see the slick-haired barman who greeted us as we arrived. He is talking to a girl who has her back turned to me. I can’t see her face but I can hear a transatlantic accent, north-east American in dialect, a trace of Canuck. From what I hear of the conversation she works at the restaurant, although I have never seen her on the three occasions the counter-cell has repaired to Sinister Dexter’s. She is not working now, she seems to be here simply to see the barman. But, although he calls her ‘angel’ at one point, I take this to be Mediterranean panâche. They are not linked romantically. There is no trace between them of the bee-dance of sexual intimacy. Their conversation turns around the finalisation of a work arrangement, an exchange of shifts to their mutual benefit. They share no inflection and the rhetorical tone is one of amiable disinterest. I wait for their conversation to end. The girl senses my presence behind her in the visible distractions of her colleague, and she turns to leave. We see one another. She smiles at me and I notice a small circumflex scar at the very corner of her mouth. How nice to be able to freeze the moment, to utilise a professional skill outside of the workplace, the two of us caught there like figures in a stained-glass window.
An office resembles a neurosis in that symptoms of disturbance and those of normal behaviour may resemble one another very closely. That sounds like one of my good friend Barry Shand’s, but I think it’s one of mine. Perhaps I customised one of Shand’s. Kaufman, our cell uncle, is away at some executive seminary until after the weekend. Furious McKenzie is watching Kaufman’s Virtual TV in Kaufman’s office and still sulking over what I thought was a rather generous memorial notice. Tanner is looking through a subscription program which reconstructs great bullion robberies of the twentieth century. I think he might be reviewing it for Universal System or someone, so he’s moonlighting. In fact, given Kaufman’s absence, I suppose this is workers’ playtime. Certainly, no one’s doing any company work. For us though, it’s all work. Nothing is wasted. Norris is reading a biography of Meyer Lansky. I am studying an enlarged photoscan of the working rota for the bar staff at Sinister Dexter’s. The original hangs just inside the staff room, and I snapped it during a visit to the toilet in that establishment. Her name actually appears to be Angel, and she’s working this afternoon. Tanner says idly,
‘You think Kaufman fucks anyone while he’s away?’
‘Can you imagine? Je reviens, my sweet. I’ll just sweep the room for imaging equipment.’
Tanner looks at me and spins his eyes in that way he can, like a cartoon character whacked with a frying-pan. He says,
‘Psycho. Does Kaufman get laid?’
‘Yes, I would say Kaufman probably does get laid. But I would also say that he may have, um, specialist requirements.’
‘Bullshit. Kaufman’s been briefed from arsehole to forehead against unsolicited psychemetric assessment.’
‘Then why ask me, Tanner?’
‘You wouldn’t know his real signals from the forgeries.’
‘You can’t get me going, Tanner. It’s a Friday.’
Well, now. The bar at Sinister Dexter’s, and I talk with the infamous Angel, who is tending the bar. The tiny scar at the corner of her mouth flexes and curves as she speaks. She says,
‘Hi. What can I do for you?’
‘Vodka Collins, please.’
‘Hey. Where’s the smartass quip?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘You say What can I do for you? in this country and suddenly everyone’s a comedian.’
‘I see. Luckily for you, I’m not a very funny person.’
‘The English always put themselves down.’
I become Norris.
‘My dear, whatever led you to surmise that I was of English stock and lineage?’
‘Ha. There you go. Vodka Collins. Run a tab?’
I give my name, then my company credit card. I say,
‘And you’re American?’
Actually, she is not only American, she’s Maine American, up near the Canadian border. Timber and cold winters and maybe bears? I’ve never been. I’ve never been anywhere, really. But the world comes to you these days. Isn’t that so? She says,
‘What do you do?’
‘Why do you assume I do anything apart from this?’
‘Because you do.’
‘You I like.’
‘It’s an affectation.’
‘Ha. I study. I’m a student.’
And there it is. Just a split-beat too long. Whatever she studies, if she studies, it isn’t what she’s about to tell me it is.
‘You modern girls.’
‘You want to talk about it?’
‘Yeah. I finish here in, uh, about three hours?’
‘See you here then.’
‘Where are you going now?’
‘To have a bath.’
‘I shan’t. Three hours.’
I arrive at my apartment and put my eye to the reversed fish-eye lens on my front door, allowing me to see a panoramic view of the interior before I enter. The apartment was once part of a block of warehouses, when those things were needed, and it is spacious and well appointed. Outside the main window, down there in the darkness, the river slinks past. The room looks more or less as I left it. I stand up and take a small remote control from my pocket. I press a button and there is a smooth sound, between a click and a hiss, from the lens. I reposition my eye and look through again, this time seeing nothing. There is another small click-hiss. I stand back, and iris-activated hydraulics open the heavy, cast-metal door. I enter my apartment and the lights automatically begin to dim, some more than others, until the room is lit like a cameraman’s dream. On the sofa sits a man in evening dress. His dark hair is slicked back, away from his matinée idol face. He says,
‘What kind of a day have you had?’
My flatmate, Pico, physically speaking, is a dull black metallic cube, smooth and seamless, weighing just over 4kg and measuring 25cm square. There is something inside the cube, a loose object which rattles around, but otherwise, that is Pico described totally, in physical terms. He sits in a titanium mini-safe in one of the other rooms. He doesn’t need ‘plugging in’ or ‘booting up’, or any of the other rude mechanics of early-day IT. Other than that, Samuel is really the one to ask about what – or who – Pico is, because it was Samuel who gave Pico to me. Samuel it also was who arranged for the customisation of four Krender-Pacöwitz HoloSpray Tri-D Image Projectors – the expensive ones that come with top-end VTVs – which allow Pico to roam about (in the main room, at least) in the body, or the form, of his choice. The man on my sofa is Tyrone Power, the mid-twentieth century American actor known for his dark, chiselled looks. And so there is usually someone in my apartment when I arrive home. Depending on Pico’s whims, in the last month alone, those by whom I’ve been greeted beneath my own roof include Mata Hari, J Edgar Hoover, a fourteenth-century Jesuit minister with one arm, Alfred Hitchcock, Daredevil, the Duke of Wellington, Moses, the Phantom of the Opera, Albert Camus, Madonna and Daffy Duck. It all depends on what kind of mood he’s in.
‘Uneventful. How was yours?’
‘I’ve been reading about entertainment.’
‘The whole concept.’
‘What’s most interesting is what you decide it is, you fellas.’
(Yes, he’s speaking like Power too. Can be amusing, but it’s not possible to concentrate fully on a conversation about, say, nanotechnology, with Dick Dastardly.)
‘We don’t decide what it is, Pico. It’s what entertains us.’
‘But a Teheranese crowd might be entertained by a stoning, but wouldn’t be by a Bond film. Whereas a Western crowd would find the reverse.’
‘No. Wrong. Both crowds would be entertained. They just might not admit it. Entertainment transcends culture, Pico. It’s just the content that differs.’
‘But even in one culture different things entertain different people.’
‘Now that is true.’
‘I had the taps run a bath.’
‘Thanks. Actually, I’m going back out. On a date.’
‘I hope it’s entertaining.’
One takes a bath, of course, not simply for considerations of hygiene but also for its restorative powers. It’s something to do with surrounding the body with a cocoon of heat or some such. I believe I read that in one of Furious McKenzie’s crappy little body-building magazines. With some people, you don’t need psychemetrics to know how they tick, you can just hang about at their newsagent. Most people though, no. You need the other stuff. So she’s a student who works part-time. She’s not standard student age, though, she’s older, around my age. Age is recorded in the mouth, along with intelligence and sexual expertise. You cannot dissemble if you have a stupid mouth. Its shape, its inscription, will give you away like the dusted whorls of fingerprints. My larval physiognomic prognosis indicates guile, inquisition and a certain amount of cruelty in the calligraphy of Angel’s mouth. The tiny scar, although incidental and clearly irrelevant in physiognomic terms, is an endearing codicil.
Angel and I eat Italian food and drink dark, bloody wine and talk. I let her choose the restaurant because, if the situation is appropriate, I believe you should always let the person with the professional interest use their skills. Angel works in a restaurant so she should choose where we eat. If we had needed, say, a full psychemetric security assessment of the seater-and-greeter of this particular establishment, I would have expected her to leave that with me. Not that she knows that’s anything like what I do. Indeed, she asks,
‘What do you do where you do what you do?’
‘Are you asking if I work for The Man?’
‘Everyone works for The Man. Even me. Don’t worry, I don’t have an anti-globalisation website or anything. I was just interested. Don’t worry about it.’
‘It’s just that it’s very, very dull. It’s IT work. We investigate security systems for companies.’
‘Keeping people out of the orchard.’
‘More like mending the gate when half the apples have gone.’
‘You like what you do?’
‘Yes, I do. It’s boring, though. I advise you not to get me started.’
‘I like the way your mouth moves when you talk.’
Don't put it in your pocket, sir
That way, it will become just another coin.
Which it is.
You're so close to the way you're going to catch him, Clarice.
You know that?
Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I don’t want to confront him. I know he’s real. I have seen his work.
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
We routinely leave our small children in day care among strangers. At the same time, in our guilt we evince paranoia about strangers and foster fear in children. In times like these, a genuine monster has to watch it, even a monster as indifferent to children as Dr. Lecter.
Thomas Harris, Hannibal
Gambolling in the playground area of the internet, something made me laugh. Some basement room knob-jockey was promoting a sort of comic-book confrontation between Anton Chigurh, the killing machine from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychiatrist from Thomas Harris’s trilogy of thrillers. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in that line since I was given a promotional torch-pen years ago embossed with a graphic novel rendition featuring Nietzsche vs Dracula.
But, wait. Could this childish nonsense be instructive? As Nietzsche wrote – when he wasn’t busy fighting Dracula – why should we not speak like children? Perhaps we could pit Chigurh and Lecter against one another, not in some clanging cage fight, but in the more shadowy arena of the moral.
The two fictional characters are serial killers, a breed of (mostly) men traditionally associated with the complete absence of a moral code. But precisely such a code looms large in both personalities. In fact, it is the combination of brutal murders with a rigid adherence to an inexorable moral programme that makes the two men so entirely other, les étrangeres.
Chigurgh is hunting money, but not for himself. For him, retrieving the drug-deal stash is the performance of a duty chance has thrust upon him, and he must perform it unswervingly, guided as he is by a moral compass pointing exactly at the opposite pole to other such devices. When Carla Jean asks him why she has to die, he replies that he made a promise to her husband before he died. This is simple moral consistency, albeit as a negative print.
Lecter seeks only the continuance of his freedom. His exquisite manners, his culture, his intellect are all geared towards liberty enjoyed within a structure imposed by his personal deity, chaos. When the rookie Special Agent Starling attempts to understand what created him, he rebukes her; Nothing happened to me, Clarice. I happened.
Both men have a moral antipodes. Chigurh never meets Sheriff Bell, while Hannibal ultimately elopes with Clarice Starling (ignore the film Hannibal; the end is pathetic and makes redundant the whole point of the story). Both men are fascinated by what the moral practices of others have led them to in comparison with what they both view as their own moral and ethical health. Chigurh, shortly before he shoots the captive Wells, asks;
“If the rule you follow led you to this, of what use was the rule?”
Lecter, dissecting Clarice’s fragile sense of duty with the skill of a vivisectionist, asks;
“Have your supervisors demonstrated any values, Clarice? How about your parents, did they demonstrate any? If so, are those values the same?”
Chigurh watches his victims die with the disinterested objectivity of a scientist, curious as to how such people came to be so. Lecter collects clippings about church collapses involving fatalities. Both men feed from the destruction of faith in others, and what is fed is their sense of cosmological order with particular reference both to their own place within that cosmogony, and that of their slain opponents.
McCarthy’s and Harris’s scenes of genius are miniaturist moral productions in extremis. The gas station scene in which Chigurh forces the store owner to stake his life on a coin toss, and Lecter’s speech in Florence to the academic studiolo, in which he lectures on Dante, Judas Iscariot, and the classical connection between avarice and hanging, are both highly concentrated existential homilies which teach us much about both men.
Superficially, the two men could not differ more. Chigurh eats cashew nuts and drinks from a milk carton. Lecter eats oysters from the Gironde and drinks Château d’Yquem. Chigurh murders those who stand in his way. Lecter kills the flautist from the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra for musical incompetence. Chigurh dresses like a mestizo cowpoke. The bounty hunter Florentine Commendatore Pazzi finds Lecter’s clothes ‘beautifully cut, even for Italy’.
But each man, in his own heart of darkness, resembles the other in precisely the area in which the modern world is so deficient; morality. Their moral behaviour is impeccable, absent the values we take for granted. When the store owner is questioning his need to call the coin toss, Chigurh tells him;
“I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t even be right.”
Dr. Lecter prides himself on the fact that he never lies. Exemplary moral behaviour, then, if morality is gauged simply by consistent adherence to its formal codes. Many of us would kill if we could. What stops us is the fear of punishment rather than any post-Kantian moral imperatives. Chigurh and Lecter have no such burdensome encumbrances; they are moral imperatives.
The novel is one of the great schoolrooms for the subject of morality. It is a far more effective medium than the tedious tomes of moral philosophy, Nietzsche excepted. Moral philosophy is a waste of time after Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals. Spinoza’s Ethics was the last heroic attempt to codify and rationalise something which can only ever be at best a heuristic device for combining societal approval and personal advantage.
Anton Chigurh and Hannibal Lecter remind us of Moosbrugger, the horrific child-murdering pervert from Robert Musil’s 1942 masterpiece, The Man without Qualities. If mankind could dream collectively, writes Musil, it would dream Moosbrugger. So too Chigurh and Lecter, our modern nightmare bogeymen. In the end, we are fascinated more by the moral monster than by his immoral or amoral co-workers.