October 20th, 2003


Five Books

There is a conclusion to the story of about a week ago, when I promised to send a list of five books I recommended to two women that I'd met outside a pub. It would seem a shame not to conclude this story and what lazier way to offer one than to cut and paste the email into the journal.

I don't really anticipate a response to this email. People who are high make all sorts of promises and plans that never see fruition and I suspect that they quite possibly forgot the incident until they received the email. I'd like to live in a world where people did respond, but that's beyond my power, other than to satisfy my part of any contract.

This is a list that makes sense perhaps only in my memory of them. The Bataille is included largely because it might illuminate A.'s experience of Frank UK (his name is FUK! I realised later. A. said it was because this was his number in Britain and his homeland of Italy. Frank to me will always be Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet), the Philokalia because it offers a substantial opposition to those forces. Valis and Manyoshu because these are two of my most favourite literary works. The one on Russia isn't such a great book, but what a title! Perfect for reading on the tube if you want to intrigue other passengers on their way around town:

Senorita Y., Mademoiselle A., Madame S.,

I’m well aware that almost seven days ago, I made a commitment to come up with a list of five books. If I take any longer, the whole subject will slip from anyone’s memory and this email will seem like left-field spam.

I wasn’t too sure about the general nature of these books, but I’ve kept away from fiction. Well, almost...

The Slave Soul of Russia: Moral Masochism and the Cult of Suffering by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere.
I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on Russian culture recently so I’ve stuck this one in. Very useful if you want to know more about birching, bathing and the Russian breast.

Guilty (Le Coupable) by Georges Bataille
The old ‘metaphysician of evil’ as someone called him. I bought this book years ago as an impressionable lad. It scared the life out of me then and it still does. You may well have read him already. During this period of libertinage, I once tried to impress a potential girlfriend by writing a letter quoting large sections from the Catechism of Dianus that was included in the English edition:

‘You must know to begin with that every thing that shows a face to the world also has one that's hidden. There is nobility in your face: it has truth in its eyes, which you use to seize the world. But your hairy parts--those beneath your dress--are no less true than your mouth. Secretly do these parts open onto the world's filth. Without them, without the shame that is always linked to their use, the truth ruled over by your eyes would be stingy at best.’

It wasn’t a success...

Philokalia (4 vols, Various)
Following Bataille, I feel a strong need to wash my hands and mouth. This work assembles the thoughts of a number of Orthodox monks over a thousand years of history. It’s hard going at times, since their lives are so very remote in almost every nature to our own. However, when you meet a saint, just shut up and listen for a while. Evragios writes:

‘If the intellect has not risen above the contemplation of the created world, it has not yet beheld the realm of God perfectly. For it may be occupied with the knowledge of intelligible things [my italics] and so involved in their multiplicity .’

It’s the closest you’ll get to Mount Athos unless you stage an armed beach assault. However, if you’re in the area, hanging out on a beach may be a more attractive idea, it’s not as if I know either of you well enough.

Valis by Philip K Dick
Fiction, or is it? I love this book and if interviewed on daytime tv by Vanessa or whoever, I would flutter my eyelids, look meaningfully into the camera and say ‘It changed my life for the better.’ In part it’s another fine work of easy to read amphetamine-fuelled sci-fi paranoia by him, but it’s also an excellent work on the borders of mysticism and madness. Dick has insights in this book equal to anything I’ve ever read in my life. It’s the first part of a trilogy but it stands alone. A., you mentioned some series called Hyperion last week, I saw this in a bookshop. I can’t compare, but it will fit into a jacket pocket more easily for certain!

I’ve been trying to think of some Japanese book to recommend, but the only one that comes to mind is the Manyoshu, a collection of court poetry from the 6-7 centuries. This is before the Japanese decided that poetry should only be 17 syllables long and, what makes it more interesting, before later traditions decided that you should reserve your opinions and emotions whenever possible. In this way, it’s not Japanese in the way you might expect. Contains the work of Kakinomoto Hitomaro among others. I tracked down his shrine in Japan and made offerings in gratitude for his work. I also burst into tears, but then so does he. It’s been published a few times, but the only version in print would be The Ten Thousand Leaves, translated by Ian Hideo Levy, which isn’t complete, but has all the best work. This choice is a bit of a cop out really, but it’s my favourite work of Japanese literature and often overlooked in favour of The Tale of Genji. Here’s one from the master, although it’s another world in the Japanese:

She was my wife,
to whom my thoughts gathered thick as the spring leaves,
like the myriad branches budding
on the zelkova tree on the embankment
-a short step from her gate-
that we would bring
and look at together
while she was of this world.
She was my wife,
on whom I depended,
but now, unable to break
the course of this world,
she shrouds herself from me
in heavenly white raiments
on a withered, sun-simmered plain,
and rises away in the morning
like a bird,
and conceals herself
like the setting sun
...etc, let’s not take up your whole day for f**** sake....

That’s it. I’m happy to receive suggestions too.


Sarmoung xxx

More Pearls...

I've forwarded a few of those dating emails to The Professor and he continues to enlighten us all:

Yep, i'm sure these are clever filter-defeating efforts. They also passed our spam filtering system which does a great job identifying Nigerian cash scams as "spam". (e.g. my recent dead relative Mr. D___ V_____ who, along with his wife and three children, perished in a car accident along Sagbama Express Road, leaving unclaimed bank account containing FIFTEEN MILLION FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS) [please allow a digression here where i point out one of my favorites in the noble time-wasting pursuit of "scam-baiting",
http://www.scamorama.com/ignatius-winnie.html ]

I also like the fact that the Dating site emails contain different links to the same site, i bet so that they can further tune their auto-mailers to be more like the most successful ones, cull the less successful ones, etc. All sorts of interesting (to some) computational techniques come to mind, I would like to think the emails are evolving by means of genetic algorithms or some such clever AI approaches by which these emails become more and more successful at eluding filters but also convincing readers to click through to their website, untouched by human hands (whoa, serious ambiguity here, in which the emails, algorithms, filters and [potentially] readers are all untouched by human hands).

Exactly as I suspected. I owe you two dronks now. The dronk is an ancient Ossetian currency or possibly a typo.

Arse over Tit

Why on earth does the media continue to believe that Osama Bin Laden is still alive? There was a long piece in yesterday's paper about some recordings released yesterday, in which the actual evidence for accepting he was remained among us was never really questioned. And the radio is going on about it again now.

If he is alive, the issue that troubles me is the lack of reference to contemporary events. He could clinch it by mentioning football scores or congratulating Arnold on his election victory. No, the few mentions are too bland and not sufficiently tied to the here-and-now.

So, either he's dead or alive and these are faked/re-edited by somebody or another, in which case their non-specific nature is deliberately engineered for the sake of intrigue. As it is, dead or alive, both the US and Al-Qaeda sympathisers have a mutual interest in maintaining the illusion that he is. The war, such as it is, is about far more than one bogeyman and his henchmen. But people need rallying points and OBL is a convenient one for both sides. Maybe he'll become a Lord Lucan style figure, who, it seems now, definitely wasn't living in Goa. So come on, Osama, what exactly do you have to fear? It wouldn't surprise me if he's being held prisoner by other Islamist forces. It would be to their advantage not to have the truth revealed. And those bank transfers via Zurich would keep the burgeoning homeland industries going. The whole thing, not just Osama, stinks like fish in the summer sun.

And now, Diana's letter reveals she suspected that a car accident was being arranged for her. For my money, I think this could just as easily be an indication that her new circle of friends had introduced her to partying hard in more ways than one. One thing that was very unmentioned at her death was the results of any blood tests.

For one final conspiratorial note, I would like to mention that just before her death was announced in the early hours of that day, they had shown the whole of Reds on Channel 4, thereby inducing Bolshevist tendencies in large quantities of the population. I have to report that the experiment was a relative failure as I am apparently the only person who sprung out of bed and shouted "That's right, kill the bloody aristos!". I think I was the only person watching in the country. No one ever mentions this curious piece of tv programming that night and should these journal entries cease at some point soon, you can find my secret diaries....