Diderot (Jacques le fataliste)
‘If the (bandits) had refused (to scram)’
‘Because they didn’t’.
There is a book fair in Collioure. Sixty local writers sit a table displaying their wares. I know none of them and wonder where they have been hiding. Their books have come-on covers with too tight binding. These are my rivals, I think, and perish the thought. The authors outnumber the readers.
A radio journalist put a microphone in my face and asks me if I am a writer? I say no I’m a reader. He spots the guest Swedish author of polars. She is wearing the obligatory ruby-red shift and heavy yellow brogues. Excuse me, he says, and I notice his recording light has been turned on before he has presented himself to her.
A comparison between Albert Camus’s and J-P Sartre’s smoking habits is a handy guide to their difference as thinking men. Camus went for the cheapest French brands. His hold was the classic pucker grip (clenched between teeth while lips work as bellows). The salient-style feature was brisk, quick draws. Skills include whistling while smoking, talking, making love and correcting proofs. His de-ashing technique was widely admired in smoking circles: left thumb and index rivet the cigarette while the little finger tips. His consumption moderated with tuberculosis, but three packets a day was nothing to him when the work was going well. Smoking for him was a revolt against ‘the incompleteness of human life, expressed by death’. A lesser evil.
Sartre smoked what he was given, anything free (‘freedom is the apparition of nothingness in the world’). He waved the cigarette in his right hand as he spoke, and when listening fixed the roll between the teeth and grimaced (fear of asthmatic attack). His main style-feature was, if it went out he didn’t bother re-lighting. In cafe company, he passed the cigarette to somebody to hold while he looked up something, and invariably forgot to take it back. Never a serious nicotine-user except when posing for photographs with groups of male smokers. Then he was seen to smoke like Mount Etna, aggressively, competitively. As a puff and part man, his consumption was a gift to clochards. He littered the streets of Paris with free smokes.
In sum, he was a social consumer and his own needs were secondary.
Bored with Late Beckett
Beckett in his late work removed the redeeming humour and play. It's insufferably sure of its own nullity. He's trying to do the opposite to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and the result is similar, a feeling of pointlessness (the Wake is the longest dirty story in literature).
Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle
I died before I was heard of…
descended into her son’s vault to see how it feels to be dead.
I’ve long mislaid my youthful insouciance. Once it gave people confidence in me.
But it did not give me confidence in myself. Bitter sweet experience has taught me that it’s trick and once found out you’re the object of mocking laughter, like the child that has spoken out of turn at the table of common knowledge. However, insouciance hasn’t been replaced by brother humility or sister modesty. It lingers on with the wicket uncle of auto-derision and maiden aunt of self-deception. You’re left with the dying mother and father of self-doubt. They pass away quietly. Eternity is acceptance of qui sais je, what do I know? The company is good. Socrates, Montaigne and Allez-Bernard.
A Conversation with Bernard, Resident of La Maison de Retraite
Ils prennent tout mon fric .They take all my money.
Eux. Ils le prennat. They. They take it.
Qui ca? Who are they?
Les femmes qui s’occupent de moi.The women that look after me.
C’est bien. That’s good.
Elles sont si chic avec les visiteurs que tout le monde dit que vous devriez etre heureax. They are so nice to visitors everybody says I must be happy.
Et toi, tu l’es? And are you?
Pourquoi? Why should I be?
Elles s’occupent avec ton flic. They look after your money.
Des fois elles rendent-le-moi un peu. Sometimes they give me a bit of it back.
Si je leur donne à nouveau. So I can give it to them again.
Je ne sais pas. I
Les femmes prennent ton argent. The women take your money.
Et m’en rendent un peu. And give me some back.
Donc tu leur rends à nouveau. So you can give it to them again.
C’est ca. That’s it.
Landing at Prat airport in Barcelona in the small hours due to a misunderstanding between me and the travel-agent (I thought she meant two in the afternoon) the queue for taxis was long and boring, and organised by a female traffic warden. I asked to be taken to the nearest hotel and she said take the bus. Prat is possibly the largest airport in the world. It covers more square miles than your average city.
I got off at the first hotel, a tower-block in the middle of nowhere. The beefy, young desk clerk told me all the rooms were taken. I asked him to ring me a taxi, and he said he couldn’t do that because I wasn’t a guest. I asked him what I should do? He said wait outside, a taxi might pass. The steps of the hotel were swarming with mosquitoes, and I spent the time fending them off.
A taxi pulled up to deliver a guest. The desk-clerk came out and helped with the luggage. I approached the driver and he told me that he was going straight home and couldn’t take me to Barcelona. I remonstrated and the desk-clerk told me go away. He stood chatting and joking with the taxi-man, ignoring my presence. I intruded, saying that I hoped when he was an old man someone treated him like him me. He paid no attention. So I shouted at him, ‘Esperma de Franco’. The taxi-man promptly got into his car and opened the door for me. I was taken to the Central station and he didn’t overcharge. I asked him if there was a hotel nearby and he said they are all full.
The station was inexplicably closed. I sat outside with the vagabundos and other sin hogar, sin casa. It was a humid summer night, and to appease my beautiful temperament I opened an ornate bottle of grappa that I was carrying as a gift for Gilbert. Noticed by the drifters, I passed it around. One of them took pity, and explained there was a small hotel behind the tower-blocks. ‘Try that’, he said. I did. And slept till mid-day.
The Reality of Philosophy
1939 (letter to Von Wright)
‘In today’s shameful and depressing situation I have the impression that one is treating with philosophic questions people who are not interested in reality.’
What would Ludwig make of the 700 or so prime time reality shows on American television which fake spontaneity and have given Trump a support base.
Hume, and even Hegel, baulked at the pure abstraction that their thoughts led them to, and recanted rather ignominiously. One reason I listen to Kierkegaard is that reality keeps interrupting his ideas. It doesn’t make him happy, but it gives a context for his theories. Whether we like it or not, there is light, and that colours existence. Excluding the world that is beyond our mental control, with its noises-off and gathering dusks, is to betray life. Bertolt Brecht says, ‘Give me ideas that you can pick up and feel and smell. The little white ones with eyes that bleed when pricked’. I must say I’d prefer to be a first-aid Mary of the mind than an intellectual Martha.
None the Wiser
Supper with three philosophers and a professor of Greek. I’m the dunce at the symposium as I do not love ideas for themselves alone. I like to skim the surface like the boy with the flat stone on the sea-shore. The philosophers laugh a lot and the professor of Greek smiles indulgently. She represents the wisdom of the Occident without having to argue. I asked for the meaning of Hegel’s owl of Minerva spreading its wings at the gathering of dusk. I got three different explanations. Each making perfect sense. Before flying off because it was getting dark the professor of Greek remarks, ‘It was the wise bird that took to the air at the time of the day Zeus was prowling’.
‘The veritable measure of life is in memory’, says Walter Benjamin.
His ideas had reached a dead end with the first principle of the Greek
philosophers, which has been, alas, superseded in retrospect by psychologists.
French theory has reinvented the toilet. The depths are plumbed, the chain is pulled, but what happened to bowel movements?
William Empson was disgusted by Jacques Derrida’s ‘complexity for complexity’s sake, a quest that was always pretending to be plumbing the very depths of reality, but in fact was only congratulating himself on his own cleverness’.
‘My humour changes from day to day. One day I’m quite mad, the next day I’m phlegmatic. But at source my soul is on-the-boil like a hot spring. And I continue to hope that one fine day that it erupts and I will become another man.
Political Can CansWar Head
In my head I have several worlds. They clash by night.
Julien Assage, Nigel Farage, Marin le Pen, Nicolas Sarkozy, Trump (and Hilary Clinton). Open the gates of hell and let the human race begin again.
Brexit evoked the right to love yourself. However, it’s the love of others that’s sustaining. Loving yourself in isolation is for sad sods.
Bataclan Terrorist Attack, 13 November 2015
The singer of the Angel of Death Metal band, Jesse Hughes cancelled his tribute concert as he strained his little finger opening a can of beer. Over ninety young fans died for supporter of the Second Amendment’s arms for all and Trump. He might be considered a legitimate target. Unfortunately Isis missed.
Politicians going back to school
Sarkozy before he lost the last Presidential election panicked into a campaign of high culture, quoting literary greats out of context. Machron, the new man, started his bid by releasing his credentials as a philosopher. His teachers at university said he learned nothing, except how to pass exams.
The Hundred Metre Dasch
Le preparation medical il n’est pas religieux, mais sportif. Allez, Allah.
The medical preparation is sporting, not religious. Allez, Allah.
La France Douce mal cache son sangsue. Son histoire est mal saignee, garni du fuite atroce…
Soft and gentle France’s leeches show. Its history is of blood-letting, garnished with hit and runs.
Sarkozy’s mea culpa
The failed President’s comeback is signalled by a book, La France pour la Vie. He apologizes for his mistakes. But France for life? Is he canvassing to be a dictator?
England, you colonised the world, exploiting where you could, and now that the rump of what you damaged is coming to haunt you as lower paid workers, you exclude yourself to exclude them.
On the other hand
The European Union wants Ireland to claim millions in dollars in tax from an American firm in order that it goes towards the repayment of the two hundred billion euros that the country owes it. The firm gives employment. An electoral concern.
‘I know men of good-will who baulk at burning harvests, draining waterways and killing women and children. But it’s an unfortunate necessity for any people who have to wage war on Arabs’. And he is remembered as a man of tolerance.
I’ve given up tennis and taken up the violin again. The dull thud of the ball did not accord with my heart-beat. Now I make real music. Even my scraping soars sometimes.
The Soul of the Earth
In the small hours there was a tremblant de terre, an earthquake. It was marked by a sudden gust of wind which made my palm tree bend. The bourasque lasted twenty seconds. I'd say it was 4.5 on the Richter Scale. I was reading in my veranda Buffon's Traite des Animaux, and the roof shook. Good to know the earth is alive and kicking.
For the record
People don’t look around them anymore. They take photographs on a tablet of plastic. Instead of living they are registering stills for an archive. If they left the photo to chance it would have historical value. But they pose the world and touch it up afterwards. This is not life-enhancing. It is to snap shut the world like butterfly collectors close their book.
I stole a handbag. It had been separated from its owner. I threw away the money and valuables and kept the personal effects. Now I live with my victim.
Improper Marriage Guidance
‘It takes more than a radio to keep a man at home.
You can’t hold a dog without a bone’ (Ma Rainer)
Ah! Les caresses
Dani Derff, song writer in the Belle Epoch, changed his name to
Fernande Niquet ( ‘Quand je pense a Fernande je bande, je bande’ George Brassens).
Jim Harrison , the American novelist, started out writing about Indians, moved on to horses and ended up with dogs. My doctor has just retired to look after the hunting pack.
Wooden spoon (again)
The solution to the lowly status of the Italian Rugby Team is for all the
players to shave their head so Serge Paresse is not targeted for crocking.
M. Brice the Walker
Brice walks old people and/or their dogs. Chain smokes, dissociated from his charges by several lateral strides. But should they get ahead of themselves, he stubs his butt-end and pulls them back with a lasso look.
M et Mme Canaille
They brought into the world delinquents.
And now breed dogs that savage infants.
has its hazards. Walk on it in your favourite pair of knitted slippers and you
stick to the ground. I’ve become circumspect. But yesterday rushing to catch an
early morning plane I didn’t wash my hands thoroughly.I
had decided that for the car toll I wouldn’t bring money but use my plastic
card. When I reached the exit with a few minutes to spare for my flight, I
searched in the dashboard for the card, but the open pocket where I left it was
empty. I panicked. Without paying the toll I would be trapped in the motorway.
I turned the car up-side-down, but distinctly remembering I put it in the
pouch, I tried again and found it stuck to the roof.
Miel est mon peche mignon, I’m stuck on honey
holds a Chair for Distinguished Achievement. I hope it is not pulled under her.
Un affrontement entre Français du souche et les immigrės de la troisieme
A confrontation between the native sons and those of the third generation immigrants.
Plan Vigipirate (French security protocol against terrorism):L’Etat d’urgence means my shoulder bag was searched several times a day in Montpellier. It’s military green and multi-pocketed. Each has its function. 1. Pipe and tobacco, 2. Spectacles, comb and purse for loose change. 3 Medical details - ointments, bandages, pills and a toothbrush. 4. The interior contains a mini-Larousse, and emergency reading (currently Verlaine’s poems and E.M Cioran’s Syllogismes de l’amerture).
The security guards are not unamused as I display my carriage system with a running commentary. But I have got blasė, and today as I unfurled the interior I wearily remarked, ‘Et, voila, mon Verlaine et mon Cioran. My pronunciation of the latter caused a sudden stiffening, and I was body searched.
Briefly in my London job I was a grosse bonnet.
But I never wore it.