Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Rest My Blog

I will be out of town until the end of August, maybe until the first week of September,and will rest this blog until then.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Faust #2


II. How Doktor Faust Entered into the Realm of Sorcery

Thus was Doktor Faust even as a student of such a character that he loved what should not be loved and devoted his spirit day and night to the things to which no spirit should be dedicated. He strived with the arrogance of fallen angels to seek out the very foundations of heaven and earth that have been shrouded in mystery by God's grace from the very beginnings of time. For if we knew the secrets of creation we would equally know the secrets of God himself, and to seek to know the secrets of the Divine Father is to strive to set oneself on the same station as the divine God. Therefore beware, O Man, of him who speaks of the nobility of the search for knowledge, for in his heart he is driven by an intoxication brought on his soul by haughtiness, pride, hubris, insolence and folly. For it is folly not to know one's place in creation but instead to seek to elevate oneself even equal to the Divine. Such was the fire that fueled Faust's heart and so excited him that upon seeing that the mysteries of creation are closed to mortals he determined to overcome the barriers of the heavens by applying magical vocabula, figuræ, characteres and coniurationes in the hope of compelling the Devil himself to appear before him.

To this purpose Faust journeyed to the great, dense Spesser Forest near Wittemberg and at a crossroad in these woods in the first of evening he described in the dirt a complex of circles with his staff, one within the other and overlapping at certain points, so that two small circles stood apart from a larger circle but intersected it, and at the edges he inscribed certain symbols in Chaldean, Persian and Greek. When he was finished he stood inside the larger circle and waited in the gathering darkness until between nine and ten o'clock, when the darkness had settled firmly among the trees. That was the time he conjured the Devil.

But the Devil did not come. Instead, such an unexplainable and terrifying tumult arose in the forest that the very foundations of the world seemed to shake. The wind howled about the trees with such force that they were bent to the ground. It seemed as if the forest was filled with devils that flew through the shadows. In flashes of fire and shadow, Faust glimpsed flaming coaches hurtling through the trees. Lightning bolts burst in upon him from the four corners of the forest with loud explosions, and made Faust shiver with fright and foreboding. Just as suddenly as it had begun, it was finished and gone, and in the midst of the forest there arose a light as clear as the morning, and sweet instruments played and ethereal voices sang a song he did not know. It seemed as though the heavens had descended on the forest to drive away the demons of hell. Through the trees he saw a great heavenly festival, with the lovely figures of young girls dancing blithely in the air and strong knights atop their chargers clashing overhead in joust and turning on each other in a melee of swordplay and a great thrusting of spears in a divine spectacle. It occurred to Faust now that these appearances may have been sent by the Devil or they may have been sent by God and that as frightening as the Devil may be, to be punished by God would be even more terrible, and at last he considered fleeing his circle. But before he stepped out of it, he instead pulled his professor's robes tightly about himself and straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin in haughty defiance so that he might regain his reckless determination and persist in his intention, come whatever God or the Devil might send.

Once more he repeated his conjurings, and now the dancing girls and jousting knights disappeared and the light faded into an eerie twilight filtered through tree and leaf. He heard a mighty thrashing of leathery wings and there appeared above him a griffon and above that a dragon and further up in the air yet other wondrous and horrible beasts that he could not identify, and in the night sky unseen there were more, hovering and flattering above the circle. But Doktor Faust applied a spell he had learned in a book from Arabia and the beasts shrieked piteously and fled. When they had fled, a flaming star fell down from the heavens, a glowing ball of fire glowing and sputtering and falling right toward his head. This greatly alarmed Faust, but he knew now for certain that the Devil had taken notice of him, and that if he survived this night the Devil would surely become subservient to him. That gave him courage, and so he threw one, two, three spells at the falling star as it hurtled toward him, until it stopped and hovered in the air above his head so that its heat singed Faust's hair and eyebrows and made him fairly wilt with its power. As it quivered and jumped and rolled and exploded above him, it sent gushings of fire that jettisoned into the air in every direction and took on the forms of a man until they landed on the grass and dirt and vanished. After this had happened six times, a seventh column of flame shot out of the ball of flame and this too took on the form of a man, with calves like pillars and shoulders like flaming boulders and a burning black hole where his gaping mouth should be. This one did not disappear, but instead burned brightly as it walked up the path toward Faust and then walked around his circle, watching Faust with fiery eyes. But Faust held it's gaze and did not flinch not look away nor shy away from the heat, and when the fiery man stood directly across from Faust, he said unto the apparition: "It is twelve o'clock midnight, send me your master whom I have conjured, servant of hell!"

Suddenly the fiery man was gone, and with him the ball of flame, and the strange lights and everything else that had appeared that night, and the forest was calm and dark once more. Then Faust heard a faint noise, a mere shuffling on the path outside the circle, and he squinted into the darkness until there appeared, approaching him along the way, the figure of a wizened, stooped friar with a gray beard and a staff crowned by a crucifix. The figure stopped outside the circle and gazed Faust in the eyes, until finally he asked Faust, "What is your desire and intent?"

Only then did Faust see that the cross was affixed upside down to the staff. "I wish that you should appear at my lodging in the morning at nine o'clock by the ringing of the church bells to do my bidding."

"I do not do the bidding of fools and sinners; they do my bidding," spoke the gray friar.

"You cannot refuse," spoke Faust, "for I have power over you by the strength of my spells which are descended through time by compact with your very master, for you believe you stand above men but in truth you are doomed to forever stand below our feet and will never be our masters, but only our slaves, thus it is commanded and the will of God."

At this, the gray friar's eyes turned suddenly dark, as if he had none, but instead blank, black holes, and his lips curled in a hateful sneer, and he said, "I will appear, but be not too sure, O Man, that you will enjoy the fruits of your arrogance for long, for your understanding of this world will never be enough to save your soul from the likes of me."

Then the friar was gone, and the forest was quiet once more.

To be continued…

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Next Time, Remind Me Not To Take You Seriously

Well, it looks like Günter Grass, too, was a Nazi. Or at least he fought for them and took an oath to serve Hitler to the death, if he wasn't actually in the party. Yes, the leftist voice of a Nation's conscience, the man who always has a politically correct answer to everything, the man who acts like God with a pipe and long sentences, and who also just happens to be a true genius of words, he, too, not only did wrong but hid it like everyone else – like everyone's grandmother and grandfather who was once a two-bit army guard, like every ex-Stasi informant now working in a grocery store, like every other actor, writer, poet, sculptor of the time.

He's admitting to it voluntarily. His autobiography will appear in the next few weeks and he tells the truth in it, and has now spoken to the press (FAZ) in advance about it – what can I say, he knows how to sell a book. His story: When he was 17 he joined the Waffen-SS, an elite troop of soldiers (not the SS). Though he says he was drafted, he also says he was enamored with the idea of being an elite soldier. It's not clear whether he was actually a member of the party, but I don't see how that matters - the Waffen-SS was a creation of the party and founded on Nazi ideology, not just military necessity. But that's a technicality that doesn't matter one way or the other. It was already 1944, he didn't have much time to do evil and at 16 or 17 he was too young to figure out what was going on. So the whole thing doesn't make him into a monster or a war criminal. That's not the problem.

What bugs me about it is: He – this is Germany's only living Nobel prize winner for literature - sat around watching while his leftist compatriots made a big thing about former Nazis in the seventies and went on a (much-needed) witch hunt and dragged their parents and grandparents through the mud for being part of the Nazi Reich and not wanting to talk about it – how could they not want to talk about it! And he sat around watching in the 90s while practically everyone in the former East Germany turned out to have been Stasi informants, including his co-intellectuals. And he sat around again while intellectuals of his own age like PEN-president Walter Jens and the great medievalist Peter Wapnewski were revealed to have joined the party as teens too. And didn't admit to his own faults.

Sure, there weren’t many heroes in the Third Reich, and it's unfair to expect heroism from a 17-year-old, especially from a writer, ha ha, so it's easy to forgive Grass for his two years in the Waffen-SS. But he didn’t have to keep his mouth shut all this time like all the others. That much of heroism – having the guts to admit to his guilt – he could have done that. But he was too busy playing the all-knowing morally superior super-intellectual. The moment of guilt was not 1944/45, it was all the years after that, when he had the chance to be honest but didn’t want to ruin his public standing (or maybe he was already saving up this hot little tidbit for his memoirs). Now that the old Nazis are dead and the ex-Stasi agents have stolen the show, and now that he has a book to sell, it's easy to come out and admit it.

It makes me embarrassed to think I used to take him seriously. Just goes to show you: no matter who's up there preaching at you, whether you like what they say or not, don’t forget to imagine them naked. Puts things in the perspective they deserve.

Best Word #1: Male Entitlement

Recently I read a great term in a very good article in the New York Times about AIDS in Africa: "male entitlement to sex":

"No one really knows why. South Africa has astronomical rates of sexual violence — more than a quarter of the time, a young woman’s first sexual experience is coerced — and a strong culture of male entitlement to sex, but so do many other countries." (Tina Rosenberg, "When a Pill Is Not Enough", August 6, 2006)

It's surely been around a while, but I haven't really noticed it until now. I wonder what other kinds of entitlement there might be? Male entitlement to the good spot on the couch? Female entitlement to male money? Male entitlement to guilt? Female entitlement to being right in any argument?

I seriously like the term. People make fun of modern psychobabble words and politically correct vocabulary, but sometimes words pop up that fill a gap. "Entitlement" seems to me to be a counterpart of "empowerment" – both terms describe an attitude that we've always known is there, but never really got around to naming.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Happy Birthday Fotoboy

Fotoboy had a birthday party last night in his Kreuzberg studio, just a little dinner get-together. When I walked in I sensed something slightly out of the ordinary, and counted the women at the table. There were six women and two men (besides himself). I asked about what he is doing nowadays photography-wise and he spoke too low for me to hear him over the music. All I heard was "Mexico... New York... Edinburgh... London..." And there seemed to be girls names mixed in with each of those locations. I knew then that no matter what present I would have gotten him, it would have been wrong.

Happy Birthday, Fotoboy!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If Noel Sanssouci Can Do It, So Can I

Noel Sanssouci got me so jealous by updating and rewriting "Candide" that I decided to throw my hat into the ring as well with a rewriting of "Faust." Not Goethe's Faust, not Marlowe' or Mann's Faust, but the very first Faust from the 16th century, written only 50 years or so after the death of the real-life conjurer, magician and charlatan known under that name.

That first Faust novel, known as the "Volksbuch" or the "Historia," is basically a trashy recounting of all his adventures in sin with the Devil at his beck and call. (The original texts are available online – in the German original and as an excellent English translation; the German original is also available from Klett and Reclam.) It is the Harry Potter fantasy – all the cool things I would do if I knew magic – only cruder. Literarily speaking, this is the first grandfather of Harry Potter – the very first novel (at least that I know of) in the genre "Adventures in Magic." But unlike Harry Potter, it was born from a time when people took magic very seriously and when they also believed in and were afraid of the devil. That's where the comparison with Harry Potter ends: These guys were serious, and I'm sure a lot of people believed that the real Faust had really done all this stuff. That also explains the heavy dose of Protestant fire and brimstone all through the book.

However, when I say "modernize," I don’t mean it in the way Noel Sanssouci means it. Alas, I am not such a modern-thinking man as Noel – my thinking is much closer to the Middle Ages (or in this case, the early Renaissance) than I should be proud of – thus I will not really update the story, i.e. place it in a modern setting, only modernize it, meaning I will try to make the narration a little more attractive to modern tastes and flesh out many passages that the anonymous author – clearly a hack – skimmed over just to get through the job. But I will leave the setting in the German Renaissance and try to emphasize some of the conflicts of the period that had so much influence on the way our society has evolved. Plus, it's a great opportunity to write all kinds of fire-and-brimstone stuff about going to hell and staying away from the Devil.

Oh, one more thing:

I don’t know how this book goes. Sure, I know more or less how it ends, but I've never read it all the way through, so as I go along, there may be one or two surprises I'm not prepared for.

Here is chapter 1:

Faust #1


Being the tale of the infamous sorcerer, including the specific and detailed description of his whole life and death, and how he made a pact with the Devil, and all his sins, magics, sorceries, conjurings, blasphemies, seductions, orgies, rapes, robberies, murders and the very blackness of his soul, yea, and how he thereafter went to his terrible and much-deserved reward.


Of the Satanist's Blameless Parents and Misspent Education

The ignoble and iniquitous Doktor Faustus was born, innocent and sinless, to righteous, goodly Christian parents in Roda near Weimar. They were peasants both, but had kin in Wittemberg, which would soon be blessed by God to become the place where the inspired monk Martin Luther, God's instrument, would nail to the door of the Castle Church 95 Theses against the apostate and decadent Catholic Church – a city whose name the Devil is only too eager to besmirch. One of these kin in this blessed city, an uncle, was a merchant of good standing, influence and wealth. Hoping to give their son opportunities they did not have, and hoping he would take to the world of commerce and influence, they gave their boy into the care and keeping of his uncle, who quickly came to love the child and rear him as his own, being himself without progeny. Grateful to the Lord for his adopted offspring and mindful of the parents' wishes that the boy should grow to please God, the uncle adopted this Faustus, made him his heir and sent him to university in Heidelberg to study theology. How could he ever have guessed how far Faustus would stray from this godly purpose?

There are those who would blame Faust's parents, but to do that is only to sin against one's fellow man. Neither his parents nor his patrons should be blamed for the later turn of Faust's life, for they were pious parents who desired only the best for him. It has become a most regretful fashion of the day to too quickly blame one's parents for one's own sins; this is a habit that reflects not on the father and mother, but on the sons and daughters, who seek to absolve themselves from responsibility for their own actions, but think, oh children, in the eyes of God you are adult as Adam and Eve were adults when cast out of the garden of Eden; the weary world into which you have been cast is a world of your own; the cursed ground on which you walk is cursed not only for the sake of your parents but also for your sake, and the thorns and thistles it brings forth are brought forth also for you; it is the devil, Lucifer himself, who desires for you to put blame on those who cannot walk that ground for you, so that you will walk it without recognizing your own sins nor gaining forgiveness for them, and thus shalt thine own soul be cast down into hell. Therefore blame not your parents for the wasteland in which you walk, but blame your sinful self and repent, and learn to walk it with the dignity and grace that God hath lent unto you and which the Devil wishes only to conceal from you, saying, O Man, you have no dignity nor anything Godly within you, yours is only to complain and wail and blame instead others for your fate, therefore do not look inside thyself for the spark of the divine as you make your way from the Garden of Eden through the wilderness and back to heaven, but go without God, that I my wait to receive you before you reach the gates of Heaven and bring you instead unto mine own kingdom of doom!

But I digress.

The young Faust was perceptive and smart and a lover of books, study and knowledge. Thus his days in Heidelberg passed quickly and soon the rectors examined him for his Magister Degree, at which time he proved himself so superior to his fellow students in knowledge, exposition and discourse that he was immediately confirmed not only Magister, but also Doctor Theologiæ. Yet the praise of his professors was mistaken, for they had seen only the signs of his learning and ignored the signs of the progress of his soul, for his superiority in things of learning matched a dark deficiency in the things of humanity, for he was a stubborn, unreasonable and vain person who had no love for his fellow students, nor for anyone but himself. Instead of looking up to his fellow students and striving to learn from them and showing gratitude for a situation which allowed him to be in their presense, he scorned them and berated them, with words such as:

"You disgust me, you who have come from good homes of wealth and education, who have grown up with books and learning and with polite ways and who have always communed with other of your ilk, for you have never had to fight to get what you want, you have never had to overcome yourself to prove who and what you are, you have never had to raise yourself above your origins, as i have, and that is the hardest achievement in life, and you will never know it, but will remain weak and content and stupid, thinking all the while you are better than others but not knowing that you are the sheer essense of banality; I do not weep that you reject me and my ambitious ways, for to belong to your kind would be for me the greatest failure of all. Is the majesty of a king flattered by the presense of a dog from the streets? Neither am I flattered to drink with you, converse with you or walk with you, for to me who have strived to become more than I was born to be, you are like dogs of the street, content to remain what you are. I can not but despise you!"

In return, his fellow students referred to him only as "four-eyes."

Thus, seeking companionship and finding it not among his fellow theologians, he fell into the meanest and most despicable of company, among whom it was fashionable to lay the Holy Word behind the door and under the bench, and not to revere it but to live shamelessly and godlessly in gluttony and lust, as we shall indeed soon see in colorful detail.

It was in the back rooms, stinking alleys and smoky taverns of Heidelberg where Doktor Faust found true companionship among those of his own kind: The twisted, sick fellows who believe they are studying the world but in fact are in the throes of the devil, those who seek and learn the secrets of the dark languages of ancient time, Chaldean, Persian, Arabian and Greek words, figuris, characteribus, coniurationibus, incantationibus, and other forms of writing that summon demons and disrupt nature; here he learned the arts of dacryomancy, necromancy, cheiromancy, astrology, aeromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and whatever you care to call such conjurings and sorcery. Doktor Faust was pleased to discover such hidden and forbidden arts, for they made him feel superior to those who walk the righteous path, and he entered into the study of them with all his waking spirit night and day. Soon he discarded the title of Theologus and took instead a worldly title, calling himself Doctor Medicinæ, and also Astrologus and Mathematicus and other such worldly titles that know nothing of God and therefore serve little purpose on this earth. At first, still listening perhaps to the quiet voice of reason and goodness still within him, he applied his doctor's arts to help people, using medicaments, herbs, roots, waters, lotions, elixirs and physics to succor their ailments. But that was not enough to satisfy the hunger inside him to place himself above his fellow doctors and fellow man, yea, even above God. To do this he would must throw all that his parents, his uncle, his professors and all others gave to him to the wind, even unto throwing away his very soul, for which there can be no pardon on earth or in heaven.

To be continued...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Dinner with Noel

I finally got Noel Sanssouci into my living room with a Dunhill cigarette in one hand and a glass of Irish whiskey in the other, but still he wouldn't speak. Finally I told him: "Noel, I'm waiting for something witty, intelligent, scholarly and insightful, but I'm not getting anything." He stuck to platitudes, truisms and vicious literary gossip.

I have a great deal of respect for Noel Sanssouci for many reasons, the latest being that he had the guts to rewrite – without a publisher, just for the hell of it – Voltaire's "Candide" into a funny, weird and devastating modern version, in which young Vox bounces back and forth between Neo-Nazi paramilitaries, Balkan butchers and Al Quaida bombers, bumbling FBI agents, quasi-retro-modern slavegirls and African mass murderers until he – and the reader – has an undiluted picture of the world we read about every day in the newspaper but never in this intense, ugly-only form. In the end you are exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. If you think we have made progress in the direction of reason over the last 250 years, read this online book ("The Optimist"). Compared to the rest of the lukewarm, overformulated navel-gazing that is coming out of Germany today, an absurd/true rewrite of Candide is something special, and it makes you expect something special from Noel Sanssouci once you get him on your couch. (Even if he kept slipping off it the whole evening and had to prop himself back up again regularly.)

But nothing came. So finally I said, "That's it, no more whiskey until you give me something memorable. And no more Bush bashing either."

He thought about it a while, cigarette and glass in hand, and finally said:

"Der Würger und die Würgerin
gingen in den Burger King,
würgten Rind und Hahn und Henne,
doch Zuhause gab es Penne."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Victim Envy

Red the Mad Canadian has gone back to Cologne now, where he will hang out with his fellow Mad Canadians in all those dark Mad Canadian bars and smoky Mad Canadian backrooms. But before he left we of course discussed cultural imperialism, a subject no good cocktail party can do without, and which in my opinion does not actually exist except in the minds of some whiny liberals and of course Mad Canadians.

The entire theory was embraced by European intellectuals who looked at their own imperial past – in which they were always the perps, never the victims – and discovered that victims get more sympathy than perpetrators. This is especially true in Germany, where people will do anything to disassociate themselves with their Nazi past (wouldn't you?):

"We want to be victims too! But how? Victims of poverty? Nah, no one will ever believe that. Victims of imperialism? Nah, we invented it, that's not going to hold for long. But wait! If only we could invent a form of victimization that is so abstract, theoretical and untestable that no one will ever be able question it. Something that seems to obvious, no one will ever think twice about it. I know: Cultural imperialism! At last! We can be victims too!"

Best Joke #1

Red the Mad Canadian is gone now, but before he left we of course discussed Mel Gibson - the historian Mel Gibson, not the drunk Mel Gibson - and Red mentioned a cartoon he had seen in a newspaper:

Two traffic cops pull Mel over and they pop the trunk. Inside they see two Israeli soldiers, bound and gagged. "It's even worse than we thought," says one to the other.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

So excited

Noel Sanssouci is coming to town Friday! I'm so excited! Check out his cool new pseudo-Voltaire novel on Telepolis...

Red the Mad Canadian

I had breakfast with Red the Mad Canadian this morning and he submitted the idea that Germany is more democratic than America. Canadians have to say things like that. I disagree: Germany is too clean and decent to be a real democracy.

A real democracy has to have something dirty about it. There has to be the element of the unwashed masses making their way into the White House. There has to be the element of trial and error in it, a sense that non-professionals, even immature children have taken power and don't know what to do with it. All our American presidents take power with no real international ambitions - they don't want to bring democracy to the Middle East, etc. But once they take power, they realize that they can do that (or try to do that) if they want to. They feel like kids locked into a toy store overnight. So they start bombing other countries.

Germany doesn't have that feel about it. Their chancellors are glorified clerks, they don't see the office as a candy store, they see it as a job. (The one major exception was 1933 of course, when democracy got a look at what the unwashed-in-the-candy-store can really do if they put their minds to it, but that was before German democracy was stable.) They think they have a boss who is always watcing them, even though there is no other power above them, really. Sure, Germany is in fact a perfectly functioning democracy - one of the most perfectly functioning democracies in the world - but the demos are so well-raised that it makes you wonder if it is really a demos at all.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Books & I

This is my next book (appears November 2006):

This is my first book:

This is me: