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2006.09 =>

[AUGUST 2006.]

I was nervous about teaching; then I upped my meds and now I feel great. I dreamed about giving a pellucid explanation of Emily Dickinson. "You can never—fully—encompass—the ABSENCE!!!"

I was told: “I actually picture Kafka having a personality like yours, or like a combination of all my friends who love Kafka and are Kafka-like: alternately energetic and despairing.”

The clean and empty campus in the morning does seem too good for me, or for anyone; up the hill into mist spreading sunlight, the lawn, the trees, and by what right do I hold this brown paper bag with its walnut scone?

 

I dreamed that the southern half of China was an independent country called Tiger or Tigon, and we were wondering why it hadn’t been in the news. I think this is a forgotten link from childhood: on my world map the USSR and China were both large countries, largely coextensive, but China was smaller and placed beneath, so obviously secondary. The USSR was a lion, and China was a tiger.

 

I had to go to a conference on teaching methods. Was it required, or “strongly encouraged?” Unclear. I grabbed the useful stuff (sample syllabi and so on), ate an uninteresting catered sandwich and left before it was over, so I didn’t get my Certificate of Completion. If this causes them to barge into my section halfway through the semester in order to halt my inexpert teaching, I will laugh and laugh. As it is, I’m not sleeping much.

they CHARGED ME for the graduate assistant orientation that I skipped

No icebreakers without ice picks, says J.

I have taken to reminding myself that stupid people teach and don't die, so I'll probably be okay.

Unless they are too stupid to realize their own stupidity, like the Stegosaurus, and survive by inertia? Oh dear....

 

I was sitting in the library and then I lost all respect for myself. I hate it when that happens. If it were just a potion or fruit that I could ingest daily—

Someone is playing The Shins over a loudspeaker and the paths are full of children giggling about titration, so school must be starting. I’ve been assigned 33 students and a room. What I want is time—no, what I want is a better grip on time as it spools by. Experience is slick, ungraspable. I forget it as it happens. I stare without blinking. Not awake, not asleep.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven's Lonely Hearts Club Band

I've been meaning to post this mp3 for a while: a little bar song about the anxiety of influence, one of last year’s from The Pacific Theater. Cheers.

 

So the jet lag wants to go a few more rounds. It was finishing Middlemarch at five in the morning that crystallized a realization which has been a long time coming for me. If I say that a book affirms the essential worth of human life, that could mean: it makes me think that the worthwhile kernel of my life lies not in its difference from other lives, but rather in those aspects which are the most typical. So starting on Monday, I’ll finally have a kind of regular job. And at five-thirty in the morning, falling back asleep beside her (because she lives here now), I felt knotted to the world with the warmest threads.

 

We remarked afterwards that we had never seen so jovial a couple stand to take their wedding vows—not that it wasn’t also solemn, but they repeated the old promises with such simple and artless happiness. One could have believed that those words were being spoken for the first time.

 

Not that Berlin was boring! All the punk rock kids hang out in the east; Neukölln is the Mission, only everyone's Turkish, with the occasional plucky blue-haired gal carrying her cello on her back past the bakeries and coffee ships and fruit stands and sidewalk shoe displays. Kreuzberg, meanwhile, is where you get the good authentic pizza, if by "authentic" you mean "made by actual Italians who put horse meat on the toppings menu." In conclusion, bless the U-Bahn.

Now I’m in Oxford. The university press bookstore was closed, but I ran into my American friends on the street. I haven’t been here since I was nine, but it seems to be roughly the same genus of city as Cambridge. I remember that one.

 

Also, Berlin is much greener than I expected, in many places as green as Portland. (In all senses; die Grünen are one of the four parties currently plastering the city with election posters, and J. claims she saw biodiesel for sale at a gas station.) But above all I love the space and quiet. Aside from a few transit stations and the unfortunate mega-mall, nowhere have I felt the crowd density that makes my skin crawl in New York and London. Walking the rain-slick flagstones along the canals, under clouds and gray breeze, you’ll meet with hardly a soul. Those you do pass are doing restful things: sipping espresso, feeding the sparrows. And after spending the day hearing no English except that in my head, the words do seem to get cleaner. That aspect of the expatriate life hadn’t occurred to me before, but I think in some ways it would be easier to write here. Less noise.

 

The Dussmann Kultur-Kaufhaus has a magnificent classical music selection at insupportable prices; but I did shell out for a couple recordings of Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic (Brahms Nos. 3 and 4, Shostakovich No. 8), which don't seem to have made it to the States. I think that records on Melodiya actually have less American distribution today than during the Cold War—so there's the capitalist world-system for you. Anyway, J. is at school and Brahms is keeping me company while the rain is keeping me indoors, because in order to make room for the 98422489 books I've bought so far in Germany I didn't pack a raincoat.

For a few days J. and I were entirely serious about the idea of moving here for a couple of years. It made perfect sense; she could get a master’s in Germanistik, I could get at least a year’s funding and write my dissertation without anyone bothering me. (The Philologische Bibliothek at the Freie Universität has an entirely respectable collection of Joyce criticism, if not quite the equivalent of Berkeley’s.) A better command of German is essential for J.’s studies, highly desirable for mine... and you can’t beat Berlin rent... but the German academic system is not cooperating and wants to send her to a remote castle or something in one of the southern Länder, which I imagine as populated only by goblins and bears....

I love Berkeley, but I’m going to miss this place.

 

I walked down Unter den Linden to Alexanderplatz, because the word "Alexanderplatz" had caught me in its gravitational field, and discovered an inferno of broken ground and steam shovels ringed by expensive glass-fronted shops, as if someone had decided to do the world a favor and take Palo Alto to pieces.

Having won, after much effort, enough Spanish to travel around Latin America without feeling like an utter ass, it is demoralizing to find myself kicked down the stairs with another language—every time someone behind a counter speaks to me in English, I feel like I’ve failed a test. (A test I haven’t really studied for, of course.) I have enough German to read signs, and awkwardly order food, and offend people every time I ask for the check, because it seems you aren’t supposed to do that here; which raises the question of how Germans get out of restaurants. And I can read the poetry and philosophy that I’ve been buying, more or less. But what’s been in my head for the last two days is actually a Lorca poem I found in a book of “Spanische Lyrik” (one of the tiny Reclams, orange for bilingual):

Canción

Por las ramas del laurel
van dos palomas oscuras.
La una era el sol,
la otra la luna.
Vecinitas, les dije,
¿dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Y yo que estaba caminando
con la tierra a la cintura
vi dos águilas de mármol
y una muchacha desnuda.
La una era la otra
y la muchacha era ninguna.
Aguilitas, les dije,
¿dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Por las ramas del cerezo
vi dos palomas desnudas,
la una era la otra
y las dos eran ninguna.

 

I walked down Unter den Linden to Alexanderplatz, because the word "Alexanderplatz" had caught me in its gravitational field, and discovered an inferno of broken ground and steam shovels ringed by expensive glass-fronted shops, as if someone had decided to do the world a favor and take Palo Alto to pieces.

Having won, after much effort, enough Spanish to travel around Latin America without feeling like an utter ass, it is demoralizing to find myself kicked down the stairs with another language—every time someone behind a counter speaks to me in English, I feel like I’ve failed a test. (A test I haven’t really studied for, of course.) I have enough German to read signs, and awkwardly order food, and offend people every time I ask for the check, because it seems you aren’t supposed to do that here; which raises the question of how Germans get out of restaurants. And I can read the poetry and philosophy that I’ve been buying, more or less. But what’s been in my head for the last two days is actually a Lorca poem I found in a book of “Spanische Lyrik” (one of the tiny Reclams, orange for bilingual):

Canción

Por las ramas del laurel
van dos palomas oscuras.
La una era el sol,
la otra la luna.
Vecinitas, les dije,
¡dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Y yo que estaba caminando
con la tierra a la cintura
vi dos águilas de mármol
y una muchacha desnuda.
La una era la otra
y la muchacha era ninguna.
Aguilitas, les dije,
¡dónde está mi sepultura?
En mi cola, dijo el sol.
En mi garganta, dijo la luna.
Por las ramas del cerezo
vi dos palomas desnudas,
la una era la otra
y las dos eran ninguna.

 

What a clean city. How clean and rapid and reliable are the buses and trains—it kind of makes San Francisco seem like the Third World. Every time I visit western Europe, I think that I must find a way to live here, at least for a while.

 

Airplanes

Fake coffee, fake cheese, a fake movie on the television monitors. The sun came up deep pink over the Irish Sea, a color I´d never seen before; it vanished and returned hot yellow a moment later. Berlin is not uncomfortably hot this morning, and surprisingly quiet and green, at least in the gay district where I apparently am. On the bus I passed a “Balzac Cafe” and “Idee Cafe.” I had better check them out.

 

I've found the best seat in the house, and if you live in Berkeley you can find it too: take the westbound lane of University Avenue and follow its line of sight eastward, past where the road dead-ends into campus, a short distance up the hill to a modest outdoor table beside some sort of medical building, with a lawn and trees holding off the cars, a reliable wireless collection, and a fine view of the bay. I've spent most of today up here. At noon Marin was pale blue and the bay a deeper blue, with white flecks of enormous ships; now the bay is fogged over and the sunset is a smoky white glow, probably how one would picture Absolute Spirit if the people who thought about Absolute Spirit went in for concrete imagery.

My last day in this troubled country. And I can’t help my country, so I did what I could for the house; the vacuum cleaner, a fine aerosol poison fog to kick off two weeks’ starvation for the fleas. I had to go around the kitchen covering all the food-related items with plastic wrap, like a low-budget Christo. Now I am back at my perch above the bay, waiting for the permethrin and s-methoprene to diffuse. I had been teasing Pica, a little, about buying the complete Virgil in Latin (which she doesn’t read) and taking it to Berlin; but before climbing this hill I stopped at Black Oak Books and discovered they had acquired more of Donald Davidson’s classical library, including the complete Thucydides in Greek (which I don’t read), so I tried to fight sentimentality, but guess what. Θουκυδιδησ ‘Αθηναιος ξυνεγραψε τον πολεμον των Πελοποννησιων και ‘Αθηναιων—and I know I paid too much for it. (But ladies and gents of the jury, I let alone the even more expensive, handsomely annotated edition of Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics, also from Davidson’s library, because the syllogistic logic is not so interesting. If it had been the Nicomachean Ethics I might have caved.)

The Absolute Spirit in the west is brilliant orange now, and I’m hungry, so I should go air out the house. My train comes tomorrow at 5:17 a.m. So “À Berlin! à Berlin! à Berlin!” I say, like the Parisian mob at the end of Nana, but with milder intent and (I hope) happier results.

 

Almost done testing the Perl (4)

If I haven’t broken it.

 

Almost done testing the Perl (3)

If I haven’t broken it.

 

Almost done testing the Perl (2)

If I haven’t broken it.

 

Almost done testing the Perl

If I haven’t broken it.

 

05.08.06

The cover art on The Eraser is exactly the sort of thing that plays havoc with my vision. (When you unfold the sleeve it turns out to be a picture of London underwater.) I've cycled through all the highly paid specialists and the consensus is: 1) probably not related to migraine or other neurological conditions; 2) maybe an inner ear thing?; 3) maybe it will go away at some point? The cluster of symptoms is identical to what these people report (the first two, before the weird and frightening stuff farther down) or the less severe version described here (again just the first couple of posts). At its worst, when it was preventing me from reading, it bore some resemblance to the congenital condition described as Irlen syndrome, which is held at arms' length by the medical establishment because it seems suspiciously like a way to make a fortune selling colored glasses.

Conclusions? First, Modern Medicine does not seem to know very much about the vestibular system. Second, my best guess is that it's a relatively rare and underdescribed consequence of mild damage to the inner ear; it may not get better in the near future, but it also seems unlikely to get worse. So that's all right, and I am finished talking about it now.

The Eraser? I admit I'd be sad if Radiohead split and all of Yorke's records sounded like this from now on; but the record is pretty cool in itself, much better than the strangely unengaging B-sides that Radiohead has been putting out lately. "And It Rained All Night" sounds like one of the PJ Harvey duets off Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, and "Skip Divided" will be in my head for a while. When you walk in the room, I follow you around like a dog, I'm a dog, I'm a dog, I'm a lapdog, I'm your lapdog. Good songs for airports. They'll be coming on the iPod to Berlin.

 

04.08.06

In the sickroom. The walls are blue, the earth is blue, the air is blue. The nausea is blue. We lie very still and have conversations with ourselves.

Is there no private language?
I believe there is no private language.
Then what?
Something else. Not homologous to speech, not a tool for manipulating the world. An ebb, a crest. The ability to move or the inability to move. The particulars of the gut. The ache of drawing breath.

 

03.08.06

Hey, you made it through the secret passage. It will move again; what I want is to keep the blog at a subdomain atem.metameat.net, for reasons German and Egyptian, but my usually excellent hosting company has not gotten back to me about this. (Update: they came through.) In any event it will be quiet, with room for a few friends, and we can listen to the rain and marching boots outside.

 

01.08.06

Happy August, welcome to the flora and fauna and undiscovered riches of August, the pristine waterfall, the authentic cuisine, the overgrown architecture of vanished civilizations that trembles on the horizon as you jounce by on your rented burro. Here's where we start:

The best episode from Wittgenstein's biography.

Fans of Pica should go here.

 

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