Monday, April 11, 1983

A modest man, a poor weak dog

As I read Demian in bed, the unpleasant thought occurred to me that I'm a kind of Pistorius figure, intellectualising coldly about things, unable to “discover my destiny and live it out wholly and resolutely within myself,” to “put myself quite unreservedly at the disposal of fate.” I hanker too much after company and society: “I am not capable of standing so naked and alone; I am a poor weak dog who needs warmth and food . . . The man who really wants nothing beyond his destiny no longer has his neighbours beside him; he stands quite alone.”

I want to look into myself and see my ‘destiny,’ clear and bright, but it’s so difficult. I want to discover my own fate and follow it and live it—I feel all this strongly. Sometimes I feel “proud and conceited” but more often it’s the reverse of this: “depression, self-reproach.” I want to live intensely and be true to my inner fate, but if this means the solitary, outcast way of behaving then I’ll fail, because I am a poor weak dog.

If I’m doomed to be a Pistorius, able to see the way but unable to give up the comforts around me because I’m a coward; it will be awful—no answer, just cruising onward through life filled with dissatisfaction and the constant feeling that something is missing.
We are seeing the reign of cooperation and the herd instinct, love and freedom nowhere. All this communal spirit from student club to glee-club to the same spirit in government is an inevitable development, it is community life based on anxiety, fear and opportunism . . . the will of humanity is never and nowhere to be identified with that of our present communities, states and nations, clubs and churches.
I can see how my student reveling at Watermouth can be equated with that life described by Emil Sinclair—the “escape from fate and flight to cosy firesides! . . . Student stupidity; at least it is not so stupid and evil as countless other stupidities.” But like Pistorius, I’m too weak to do anything about it! I don’t have anything to replace the “fireside.” I’d be cutting myself adrift without a single guiding star to give me strength and confidence. Sinclair has his Demian, his Beatrice, his Abraxas. I look inside and only see churning frustration. Until I find my ‘way’ (will I ever?), won’t it be best to stick with what I’ve got rather than take another path without any inner conviction that it’s right for me?

Perhaps I’m just one of the many who “do not bear the mark.” I can see but maybe I’m doomed never to solve or do anything, doomed to just strain and bend intellectually, without ever feeling or living a path. I have to sort out for myself what my “deepest purpose” might be.

My mind aches perceptibly with the blind battling grind of thinking out everything. I’m sure all this ties up somehow: feelings of ‘déjà vu’ while reading, the subsequent decision to do an American Studies degree. I naively hoped that the act of going to Uni would somehow make things clearer, but I realise now that I must sort myself out. Maybe I should have done Philosophy or the History of Art. This still draws me a lot (—bad pun!).

Over the last week I’ve done nothing towards my essay for my Black Americans contextual. I went to the library this morning and renewed All God’s Dangers, Life of Jim Crow, a critical text on Emily Dickinson, The Negro in Reconstruction and an introduction to Nietszche (someone who worked unshrinkingly towards his own destiny, the strain sending him mad, but perhaps that was his solution!).

I’d intended working in the library; instead I spent an hour or so looking idly through the film and art books.

At 12.30 I met Andrew and we went for a curry at the Bahawal, near the old Prentiss Lane bus station, now decayed and smashed and ragged, although you can still see the old bus shelters and pull-in spaces. I had a chicken curry. Then it was back to the library where Andrew enrolled in the record library and took out LPs by Wynton Marsalis, Albert Ayler and the World Sax Quartet. We got home at three or so.

Lee rang to tell me he’s going down to Watermouth for an interview on the 20th, the Wednesday after I get back down.

In the evening Dad reminded me that I’d promised to go with him to the Police Boys’ Club as our old neighbour and my childhood friend Roy Huber had expressed a desire to see me again after six or seven years. I really wished I hadn’t said I would and trudged unwillingly to the car.

It turned out that Roy wasn’t there for some reason. The rifle range was out of action, its licence having been revoked a few weeks back because it had failed to come up to required standards. Dad is gradually becoming embroiled in the Boys’ Club again. I hung about feeling generally conspicuous and idle while a couple of other members and young son in similar predicament measured wood and discussed technicalities. Next door I could smell the sweat and hear the reverberating clang and cries of the weightlifting fraternity.

We were visited by the head of the National Boys’ Clubs Association, a balding, fattish, red-faced man with white hair and a BBC accent. He showed interest in me and my American Literature course so we exchanged strong handshakes and platitudes and he bored me with tales of international Boys’ Club dinners in Chicago and his opinions of Henry Cooper (“good with the boys . . . a modest man”).

I was glad to get away. Dad and I soon left and went back through the crowded upstairs hall full of lounging pool players. Outside I was stared-out by two Sharons on their way home; they made some comment about me as they disappeared.

Well, yet another day has slid swiftly by, another day nearer my return, another day to tick off under the heading ‘Wasted In Idleness.’ Five days remain.

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