Actually, it is perfect running day: sunny, fresh and clear, so I thought I would make it all the way up the hill behind the house, to the point at which, somewhere below, “ruhig fließt der Rhein” in a way that always strikes me as a flimsy imitation of the Mekong delta. I had hoped that this blissful experience would prepare me for another long day at the desk.
If only each and every suburban dog owner had not had the same idea.
Now, my favourite (please note the pungent sarcasm here) type of dog owner is the one who drives his beast to a nice spot with a view where the animal can have a good crap on the greenery, while he or she sits smoking and/or texting behind the wheel (sometimes with the engine running). This way, he or she usually doesn’t notice in time when their slobbering Cerberus has spotted the unassuming runner and gone for the prey.
This is not to say that I hate dogs on principle. I just hate dogs that quite obviously serve as penile extensions for their moronic owners. And that goes for female owners, too!
Dear God – would you please make it so that dogs know that swiftly moving creatures on two legs, sheathed in Gore-Tex (trademark) and Lycra (trademark), are not rabbits? That would be awesome, thank you.
As I said, I was getting ratty by having my run cut short by the presence of black, sniffing things in seek-and-destroy mode, and began to think myself into a frustrated rage … about the course prep for next week and the various exam theses I have to read and comment upon and the fact that the bathroom needs cleaning – and the absolute imbalance between the work that needs to be done and the hours available to do it.
For instance, I really ought to be making headway with a novel an MA-student of mine is working on: Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar (1995). The problem: The book bores me stiff. You know, I’m not that young any more and really have to be a tad more discerning about my reading matter (this is also the reason, in case you have been wondering, why I have weaned myself off my daily dose of the Daily Mail).
Not every book needs to be read, especially when it contains passages like this one:
The superstore was quiet with most lights out to save electric. That fly devil Creeping Jesus would be in his office with the one-way glass. I knew he would be looking at me through the mirrors.
I stacked the Delicious in shiny piles. I put all the soft fruit and perishable veg in customer service trolley then shoved them twoat a time down the tunnel into the fridges. I covered the tatties with sacks to slow down shooting and I swept the section. I washed the shelves, tipping the buckets down the drain in the meat-cutting room. You could see the pale yellowy maggots still there under the grate.
I used to work in the meat. You cleaned up each night. Afterwards you smelled of blood and it was under your nails as you lifted the glass near your nose in the pub. You pulled the bleeding plastic bag of gubbins, cut open by bones, to the service lift. Blood spoiled three pairs of shoes. You were expected to supply your own footwear (11-12).
Of course, stacking shelves in the supermarket is not all there is to the protagonist’s life, and by the time we read the above we know that drama - in the form of a boyfriend who has slashed his throat – has entered her life. In the novel's opening sequence we see her standing in a pool of her boyfriend’s blood, frantically fiddling with her fags and the kettle – yes, life’s a bitch.
Now, we all know that, among other things, literature is about rendering the ordinary extraordinary. But does the ordinary really have to be that banal? Do we really need the cheesy little trick of self-immolation to breathe a little significance into this protagonist’s insignificant life? Upton Sinclair did a better job with The Jungle, sentimental though this novel may be (but then I’m a sucker for realism and unashamedly admit – see my profile—that I love “The Bourgeois Novel”).
And what the heck do we do with these sly little theory pointers at “The Lacanian Mirror Stage” (“I knew he would be looking at me through the mirrors”) and “Julia Kristeva’s Concept of Abjection” (“You could see the pale yellowy maggots still there under the grate”), inserted, no doubt, to lend this book of depressing banality some kind of deeper meaning? Of course, one could write an essay along those lines about this novel – but surely that is not what novels are all about in the first place.
Maybe the current fad for shallow Spartanism laced with superficial theoretical insight will sort itself out in the long run, what with people all over the globe starting blogs about their banal existence (note the pungent sarcasm directed at myself). One lives in hopes.
The other kind of book that I find infuriating at the moment is the exact opposite to the narrow-minded little tales exemplified by the aforementioned novel: 835-page tomes written by prodigal 24-year olds whose parents work in advertising/publishing/"the media." They are usually set in Paris, (increasingly) Dresden during the bombing of the city, an unidentified Bulgarian concentration camp and a lovely brownstone just on the right end of Harlem on the morning of 11 September 2001. They typically feature frustrated suburban transsexuals, unusually intelligent gay pets and African-American grandparents who’ve spent their lives passing for white, thereby developing a major depression that manifests itself in aphasia/dermatitis/irritable bowel syndrome. At the end, all these different plot strands miraculously come together in an epiphanic conclusion, to which the reader is meant to go “Aaahh!”
What these books are trying to say is: Dude, isn’t life complex? It's so complex I've composed nearly one thousand pages about it. But really, because their youthful authors don’t have a clue about the complexity of life (having spent theirs in a lovely brownstone just on the right end of Harlem and/or an Ivy-League campus) they typically amount to little more than novelistic versions on the undergraduate essay topic “What I’ve learnt in Literary Theory 101.”
It seems that some readers get a kick out of all this, gobbling down one door stopper after the other and going “Aaahh!”
Aaahh! – isn’t this … no, aren’t I clever because I could trace this passage on page 456 back to one in A Thousand Plateaus that sounds almost exactly like it? I'm told that these are deep books about the fragility of life, the inevitability of death and the sheer complexity of being. Our existence is so fragmented – we don’t know who we are …. I'm covered in zits and Clearasil (trademark) won’t do the trick any more …. Wasn’t 9/11 terrible? Wasn’t it our personal Holocaust? And aren’t we the most traumatised generation ever?
Oh, go away you spoilt, blackberried and amexed egotists. You are nowhere near being traumatised.
So there. Got it off me chest. Now I don’t feel so ratty anymore. To work!