Re: Responses to Nostalgic Yearnings…

Brethren,

It is good to here from you all! Letting fly with zeal – from the gut rather than from some or other assumed posture. It seems I’ve provoked something of a reaction! Not entirely my intent, but not a bad thing either. The offending piece has a long history. I wrote it almost a year ago, and as Groover suggests it was not aimed so much at the Queen Street days as at a miserable spell of time which I have sometimes termed the Northern Exile. I spent that damp dank dingy winter feckless friendless and fouled-up, which accounts for some of the blackness of the psychic backdrop.

I wrote what I wrote looking back mainly on that particular experience, during which I would say I was thrust up against the naked nastiness of mainstream pop-culture without the buffer of our camaraderie and brotherhood. So said piece was something of a soul enema, evacuating the residual poisons of that time rather any other in particular. Though of course the imagery is drawn from other sources as well: The Carleton surely looms large in the background and with it our nation’s host of comparable dives. And as the reaction attests it has as its general target a rather more pervasive cultural atmosphere.

That was probably enough ‘exegesis’, I don’t want to get to po-faced about things, because my entry was intended to be somewhat funny.

And at this point I’d like to say it is excellent to hear from you all, Mr Knaggs these are probably the first words we’ve directly exchanged since that conference call from Beenie’s wedding: I salute you sir! And of course I remember the apocalyptic evening to which you refer (at least parts of it), I believe I brought it to a conclusion by threatening to banish you from my Scarborian kingdom… a thousand apologies… And on the flip side, my heart is of course still warmed by innumerable great memories, amongst which the unparalleled comic-genius of the “corkscrew” ranks highly: Your love is reciprocated, my man.

Bob (I don’t remember if you had an alias or not) again, it’s been a while. Salutations! I trust you’re well and content. I’m a little surprised you took my spiel personally, though I can see that if you took some of the lines (“Regurgitating second hand opinions, we sat around take-away trays panhandling for profundity in this spasm’s stream…”) as pertaining directly to our friendship you might legitimately be a little pissed. In addition to what I said above I’ll add that my view of our time at university is a good deal more nuanced than you might suppose. As far as good tunes, ideas, culture, courage, celebration, the great feast of life, brotherhood, and embattled defiance of bullshit goes… count me in. As far as considering Mick Jagger and his addled band of copyists as mediators of the Bacchantian meaning of life… count me out… I’m not looking for life in bourbon bottles and popculture postures anymore.

On the flipside I still love literature – and for the first time in two years I’m launching back into it with gusto. Dostoyevsky is the bomb: please read Brothers Karamazov. I think it might be the finest novel ever written. Another novel of note, though by no means of equivalent rank, was the recent Nobel-prize winner entitled Snow. It was written by a Turk by the name of Pamuk. It’s very interesting, at times beautiful, and it does a fine job of communicating the political, historical, cultural and religious tensions that animate generate and threaten his nation. Topical reading that manages to explore the Islam problem at somewhat closer quarters than we’re capable of in the post-Christian west.

Something I’m soon to read, but have not yet, is entitled The Road it’s written by an American, Cormac McCarthy, who writes something like Faulkner crossed with Hemmingway. The setting is the post-apocalyptic Mid-West and its central characters are a father and his young son attempting to find safety amidst a nuke-ravaged cannibal-scoured landscape. It’s supposedly incredible. Some say it might be the first great novel of the twenty-first century. Within a couple of weeks I’ll have read it. I’ll post my assessment. My literature love affair is, as I say, rekindled and if anything it burns more brightly. I still adore TS Eliot and have committed Prufrock to memory along with Yeats’ two Byzantium poems.

Also worth reading: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (by Sokal and Bricmont). Bob and Groover will no doubt be as delighted as I to learn that postmodernist theory (Lacan, Kristeva, Baudrillard) we were forced to ingest is indeed as largely void of meaning as our cursory readings had surmised. Here is the proof to substantiate our intuitions: two physicists systematically and rigorously exposing the poststructuralists’ shameless attempts to baffle and intimate the uninitiated reader with esoteric references to complex mathematical theory. To surmise: it seems that in most cases they’ve simply read journalistic popularizations and intuitively grasped the broad concepts and then woven elaborate rhetorical documents from their newly pirated (though often badly or mis- understood) conceptual vocabulary. The experience is akin to that of the kid in the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Only in this case the ‘kid’ is a professor of physics at New York University. The origin of the book is a now famous hoax in which Sokal published an article entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the postmodern journal Social Text. It was by its author’s admission utterly meaningless. Though this fact did not raise a single editorial eyebrow until he revealed the hoax. Cue controversy. As it happens the book was published in English around 1998, just about when we started at Lancaster (getting close to 10 years ago!). Although some of these authors were still revered when we were at Uni, the effects of this book should by all rights finish them. Here’s hopping. Read it, tell a friend, do the world a favor. Anyhow hopefully we’ll hash it out over a curry or at the back of some northern pub sometime next summer. That at least is my plan.

Back to things literary: A little novel entitled The Fuckup is a blinding read. It’s set in New York’s East Village and it follows this everyman slacker as he loses his girlfriend, home, job and very nearly sanity within a few brutal months. A minor masterpiece of self-destruction and redemption. Last, for now, on the soapbox reading list is a very tiny though magnificent linguistic analysis of the idea of ‘bullshit’. Seriously. The book’s called On Bullshit and as the author writes: we all think we know it when we see it, we know that there’s a lot of it around, but what actually is it? and why do we make use of it so much? These prove to be interesting questions and the conclusion is like a swift surprising blow to the gut: it leaves one felled humbled and hobbled.

And back to our own little controversy: Bennie, when you say “moderation thy name is not soapbox” you hit the nail squarely on the head – because it’s true I take things ‘seriously’, for want of a better word. For what it’s worth when I take a thing for true I throw my full weight behind it. Taking rock-and-roll, or whatever one calls it, full-dose nearly killed me. The reason Jagger’s still alive is that at heart he’s more of a businessman than a Bacchante, the reason I’m still alive is that I switched affiliation. The reason Jim Morison and Hunter S Thompson are dead is that they played their parts to the finish. I only mention my name amongst theirs because, talent-barrier notwithstanding, it was my variation on their theme that I aspired to be. And I’m damn sure I was not alone in that. If people are pissed at me for taking a few potshots at celebrity idolization – don’t anticipate a retraction anytime soon. And at this juncture it seems fair enough to add that you might consider being a little less sensitive about my jabs at clubland. As I say, if you interpreted the remarks as aimed at or, callously ignoring, our genuine solidarity and fraternity then I can understand your irritation.

If on the other hand you’re pissed because I parodied the egotism absurdity of a mainscene in which everyone swaggers around aping moments from movies or music videos, as if life only attained meaning when it basked in the reflected glory of Hollyworld – give me a break. I haven’t cried or pissed my pants when some of you blasphemed or waxed lyrical, in the style of Bertram Russell, posturing as enlightened sweary sages standing noble and defiant before the harsh truth of absolute meaninglessness. I barely raised a whisper before the spectacle of “we real men have no need of the religion crutch … that stuff is for the masses… we have our own opiates” spiels. Yet when I took one little pop at clubland everyone’s pissed and indignant. Do you see what I’m driving at? I don’t mind talking about it, I don’t mind taking it, I don’t mind letting it drop, I haven’t taken offense, I hope you haven’t either. And further, and for the last time, I was not suggesting that my entire experience of life in Lancaster (and thereby of our lives and friendships) could be reduced or boiled down to that one bleak and bitter rant. It had a limited target, as Groover and Beenie generously concede, I think I struck it with a somewhat savage panache, though it was not, I reiterate, an attempt to surmise three definitive years of love loss and life in a single shot. I don’t care for a world molded in the FHM mold. I did and do consider you my brethren. See where I’m coming from?

And that brings me to my last point. Bennie sent me an email following my missive, saying that your reactions might surprise me. And in a sense they do. For if one thing attests to the depth and generosity of our friendships – it is precisely that they can and do span our ideological differences. This is, in my experience, pretty unusual. Most converts wind up getting ditched by their friends. To your great credit you buck the trend. Yes indeed our Queen Street days were formative and in truth there’s as much continuity as rupture between my then and now. I conclude assuring you of my good will. I do in fact miss you all. I hope to see you next summer when Godwilling I will be setting foot once more on our Sceptered Isle. Home is home however troubled it becomes. And kin is kin however misguided we might in reality consider each other. Anyhow, I’ve got something a little different brewing… stay tuned…

peace


6 Responses

  1. Bennie says:

    A well reasoned response and a lot more to be said another day via a more civilised medium. For now though, I think it worth mentioning that Mick Jagger plays in an expat cricket team in the South West of France. Rock and roll until the very last over…

  2. breakingstein says:

    As an outsider, I must say I am intrigued to hear the glimmers from a filmreel history. Sounds like emotionally drenched tribulations have filled the past of this clan.

  3. Bennie says:

    It’s reassuring to hear that this stuff has been of interest to those not part of the story. I was worried that we’d been boring people. You’re right though Breakingstein, there were a fair few adventures and misadventures…I think Groover has some of them on minidisc, the fiend.

  4. theunholynag says:

    Mate, good to hear about what you’re up to these days. Sorry about jumping the gun back there, it was all Bob’s fault – I kind of got carried away when reading his comments and picked on a few choice lines from your peice whilst ignoring the overall. Still, we’ve had far worse misunderstandings than that.

    Glad to hear you may be coming back for a while next year, give us all some advanced notice and we’ll arrange some central hook up in a remote location.

    I’m not big into literature currently, but if you can find it out there I suggest you give a little known comedy called ‘The Mighty Boosh’ a try. I know Bennie has shared my love of it for a while & I just got the Groover hooked last weekend. It really is the bollocks.

  5. Bob says:

    No gun-jumping took place on my part Naggyboo.

    I read, digested, and reacted and I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

    Enough for now – a tedious meeting calls.

    But keep an eye out for a lengthy ramslegged rant imminently…

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