Den här förlamande blockeringen kring skrivandet som övermannat mig det senaste året — de senaste åren? kanske sedan alltid, mer eller mindre? — måste besegras. Att inte göra det vore för plågsamt. Det är trots allt det enda jag kan; det enda jag någonsin kunnat, vilket bara innebär än sak, att jag var ännu sämre på allt annat. Och så brister man också i detta, det enda. — — — Har på sistone haft anledning att återbekanta mig med min skräck för barn. De är de kusligaste varelser. Små tyranner, våldsverkare, Behring Breiviks i miniatyr, hela bunten. “Du har ju varit barn själv!” har folk ibland sagt till mig. Ja, just det. Jag var rädd för barn då också; ännu räddare än nu, eftersom jag inte kunde fly. — — — Våren har kommit, med tvekan. Första lunchen i skogen i söndags, i solen, vid en ännu istäckt sjö. Rudi säger, som ni vet, att jorden också andas, fast mer i en enbart andlig bemärkelse än vad som gäller vår fysiska, mänskliga andning. Under hösten andas jorden in; inandningens topp nås vid vintersolståndet, vid jultiden. Då, när allting vilar, är jorden som mest levande i andlig bemärkelse; alla de andliga krafterna bär den inom sig. När våren kommer, och jordytan börjar leva, är det en följd av jordens utandning; de andliga väsendena söker sig ur jorden och ut i kosmos. Den andra toppen, den maximala utandningen, nås i midsommartid. I denna levande rytm, denna rörlighet, finner man det andliga; inte i de döda, abstrakta teserna. Nåja, kanske inte, men det är vad han säger på ett ungefär. Människans rytm står i samband med jordens: att riktigt uppleva den innebär ett ökat naturmedvetande under våren, att så att säga följa rörelsen utåt då elementarkrafterna riktas mot kosmos; under hösten, tvärtom en rörelse inåt, in i självmedvetandet. Så mycket som han talar om detta (eller har jag varit ensidigt fokuserad?), finner jag det lustigt att i redogörelser för “vad han trodde på”, oavsett vem som ger dem, har detta väsentliga en så liten plats. — — — Läst Marguerite Duras. Alltid denna besvikelse över att inte kunna gripas av det som griper andra, eller helt enkelt att inte begripa. Den befarade dumheten, som förföljer mig som en skugga. Boken säger mig ingenting; jag läser den mekaniskt.
I made a promise a while ago that I’d write a little about the books I read that are related to esotericism. It’s a promise I haven’t kept, but better late than never, and that’s why I’ll briefly mention two books that I must return to the library today.
The first one is a straightforward academic treatise, Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation by Henrik Bogdan, published in 2007. You’ll find Steiner mentioned, but obviously the book’s focus are other esoteric groups and practices, mainly the rituals and practices that come from freemasonry and have influenced and inspired esoteric movements later, like Golden Dawn. This is of course at least indirectly relevant to Steiner’s project, even directly in that he was to some extent involved in such things. Perhaps more so is the introduction to western esotericism and the chapters on rituals of initiation (this is something Steiner talks about extensively — his visions of ancient practices and so on) and a brief look into the historical background (Rosicrucianism, eg). It’s interesting but (as is usual with such texts) a bit dry. Not really a page-turner.
Which leads me to the second book, which has rather different qualities, as it isn’t an academic book — far from it. But that doesn’t detract from it being informative, perhaps in an unintended way. It is The Secret History of the World by Jonathan Black (2010). The most intriguing thing about this book for an afacionado of Steiner is that it is heavily indebted to him. The author refers to him explicitly many times, but it’s also apparent that Steiner is potentially the source even when he doesn’t. Of course, Steiner takes his stuff from other sources too, so it would take some effort to examine what comes from where; perhaps it isn’t necessary either. As I said, it’s not an academic book; there’s a long list of reading material at the end but there’s rarely clarity as to where specific claims come from. This does not detract from the fact that the book can be read with some enjoyment.
It is quite a splendid account of how esotericists view the world, the history of it and the history and evolution of humanity. One must (perhaps) keep in mind, though, that it isn’t so much an account of history as it is an account of how history is seen and construed by an esoteric worldview. It’s not mainly about what people of the past believed or how they perceived and experienced the world, physical or transcendent, but what esotericists have believed about this. The benefit of the book is that it’s eminently accessible and readable, whereas the original sources, the treatises of esoteric teachers communicating to their followers, are more impenetrable. So in a way it’s an excellent introduction to a certain way of seeing the human being, the world, the cosmos and the evolution of consciousness. For obvious reasons, it stands in contrast to ordinary “materialistic” ways of explaining history; I think, if one read it that way, one would find that factual errors abound. One might perhaps categorize Black as a “believer” — he certainly appears to be convinced of the truths of the views he describes; he’s sometimes disturbingly gullible, though there’s really nothing spectacular about it considering the context — but he possesses an ability to analyse and describe them in a way that most adherents of and insiders to these movements don’t, ie an ability to write engagingly for an audience not restricted to “believers” themselves. But perhaps one is well-advised to look at the book as an interesting piece of entertainment.
You know how Steiner says that during sleep, the astral body and the I leave the physical body and the ether body behind on earth and journey to the supersensible realms. Apparently it’s advisable not to fall asleep on a moving train, in case the departed higher aspects of you can’t find their way back to a body that doesn’t stay put. I imagine it must be confusing, much like finding one’s way out of IKEA.
Anyway, I have an addition to Rudi’s theory — or perhaps an improvement, if you will. It seems obvious to me that the human being, frail as he is, needs guidance and help, and here’s where I’d like to suggest something about the role of dogs. You see, before I lived with mr Dog, I could never fall asleep, in fact, my entire life before him was dominated by a persistent and annoying sleeplessness; I spent the nights tossing and turning and agonizing. With mr Dog in my life, I went to bed and fell asleep (at least if I hadn’t had coffee in the afternoon). Without him, my previous problems returned almost immediately, with a vengeance. I struggle for hours to fall asleep, and when I finally do, I wake up again and again, often in a state of inexplicable terror, as if I were repeatedly kicked out, violently, at the very entrance to the higher sphere. I’m no longer allowed in.
My hypothesis is that either dogs release some kind of calming and sleep-inducing substance into the air, or dogs have a role as canineosophical travel agents during the nightly journey of the soul to the supersensible worlds. Perhaps they help us depart according to time-table, see to it that we travel safely and that we land softly on our two inadequate feet, not on our heads, when we return. And they help us gain entry to these worlds, because who, even among the guardians of spiritual thresholds, can resist a wagging tail and a precious canine face? And we, mere humans, can slip in unnoticed behind the four-legged friends.
That’s how I figure it works.
An attitude favouring secrecy can mean two things (as far as I can tell): either a person wants to be in the position to decide what knowledge others are allowed to seek or he desires that someone else decides in his place what he is allowed to know. I find it hard to believe that an individual who appreciates independence and self-determination would find this system appealing, regardless of where on the hierarchy of decisions he finds himself. But that’s perhaps just me.
Jeremy Smith argues that Frank Thomas Smith made a mistake when he translated and publicized online the formerly secret lessons of the so-called First Class, the instruction Steiner gave to a select group of spiritual students..
There are religious cults and sects that desperately keep their most important or advanced teachings secret from newcomers. For various reasons like manipulation, deception, preservation of hierarchies, et cetera, in other words, reasons that are usually unappetizing. They operate that way knowing that people have to invest in the cult, to become thoroughly committed to it, before being shown what its crasser or more bizarre reality or what is required of them in terms of sacrifice or submission or whatever else they would likely have balked at if presented with it earlier on. There’s another thing I find hard to believe: that anthroposophy would gain from finding itself in the company of these cults.
However, with Steiner’s formerly secret lectures one might argue that there isn’t anything “extra” in them that would repel a beginner or anything that would be particularly shocking — a fact which makes secrecy even more nonsensical. This is because they don’t contain anything more controversial or weird or off-putting than what you find in droves in the rest of his vast work. Yet, for reasons that I find inexplicable, some anthroposophists appear to think they do, for example Jeremy, who writes that the lessons may be “off-putting” to a reader who has not gone through the right preparation. That would be reason to withdraw all of Steiner’s work; fortunately, it’s a little late for that, unless we invent a time-machine.
Surely, there may be some off-putting things, but in my eyes, there’s a hint of manipulation in this idea that the texts should therefore be secret, and also a rather significant potential for abuse of power. When someone is “prepared” for certain knowledge in a group or community context and is then vetted and approved by higher-ups before gaining access to it, he’s not in the same position as a person who at any time can decide to examine the texts independently and in exactly the manner he wishes. The former is at the hands of others, who may or may not be fair (and don’t say that anthroposophists in power of admitting or rejecting people from class lessons are always fair — of course they aren’t), who may or may not subject him to undue pressure or manipulation, and so on. And, needless to say, it’s possible to be serious “student” of anthroposophy (not a mocker or critic or whatever label I’m wearing), without even wanting to be affiliated with the Anthroposophical Society or the local branch of it.
Jeremy also argues that by making the texts public, they become available to people with an intent to scoff at Steiner’s words and ideas. To prove this unfortunate but apparently rather rare event, he has found a very old blog post of mine. Naturally, Frank’s translations have nothing to do with my ability to mock; I’m in the fortunate position of being able to mock texts written in German. I had read the lessons before Frank’s English translation, as they have been available online in German for quite some time now. I think I read them sometime in 2009 or 2010. At this lucky moment in time, I own the nice — but enormous (designed not to be suitable for reading on the bus!) — original edition from 1992, all four volumes; in addition I’ve read the Swedish translations too, which I got from a library. Now, there’s something to mock — or, first, to understand, perhaps (why would someone like me go through all that trouble?). Well, there may be other scoffers out there beside me, but I would be surprised if Jeremy can find much scoffing, in English or in German, of the First Class texts out there.
It may surprise or dismay some anthroposophists, but these texts don’t really contain any additional stuff spectacular enough to delight scoffers and opponents; in fact, they are wholly redundant in that regard, disappointingly so, one might add, if one takes the perspective of a scoffer and opponent. In fact, I think scoffers and opponents would have had more to win from the now utterly hypothetical situation of the texts remaining secret, because an intact culture of secrecy would have its own dire consequences. Not only could one invent malevolent gossip about an unknown content, but the fact of secrecy itself would help prove that anthroposophy is a secretive cult, which may not be the best idea, if your schools and other activities target the general public. (Unfortunately, regardless of these texts, there’s still too much secrecy and too little reason to have confidence in waldorf schools — but that’s another matter.)
And, besides, is it right to deprive English non-class members of the texts because there may be a tiny number of people who don’t read German and who will, at some point in the future, find things to scoff at? That’s quite a significant price to pay, it seems to me. There can’t be many potential scoffers, though I guess that may seem provocative to some anthroposophists. After all, anthroposophy treats enemies as an existential necessity; I’m sure if they couldn’t find any, they would have to invent some. And, essentially, that’s what they do when they designate people like me as enemies, and they do that happily. Even people who are more positively inclined towards anthroposophy, nay, anthroposophists even, are assigned the role of enemies. Add such tendencies to a desire for secrecy, and a pattern starts to emerge. The bottom line, though, is why English-speaking anthroposophists (or people interested in anthroposophy for one reason or other) should be deemed less capable of deciding for themselves what to read than their German counterparts.
Forgetting for a moment that scoffers can learn German, and so gain access to the texts in the original, is there much to scoff at? Not really. There’s no shortage of things to scoff at in Steiner’s work. In fact, if scoffing were ever my main motive, I’d leave the class lessons alone and head for Steiner’s public lectures and books, where exotic and seemingly crazy (or “fantastic and absurd” as Jeremy puts it) utterances abound. My hypothesis is that even a very lazy scoffer would find plenty of opportunity for mockery without much effort at all, and without ever opening the class lessons that would, in fact, only prove to be a waste of time. I suspect that for a committed scoffer, these texts are simply tedious and unnecessary.
It’s different for someone who wants to find out what Steiner actually thought and said in all contexts, for all kinds of audiences. Then you have to get through the more obscure texts, including the class texts. One might even say they don’t need to protected by secrecy, and that their obscurity is protection enough; one might also argue that their “inner” meaning really isn’t reflected by words on paper anyway, and as I’ve said, the content can for the most part be found elsewhere in Steiner’s work or at least derived from it. I don’t think the publication contributes to them being “read or talked about like stories from a newspaper”, to quote Jeremy, or if it does, the culprits will likely be anthroposophists themselves, who (it seems) are no strangers to tabloid type sentiments, sensationalism, gossip or vanity…
That said, I sense many anthroposophists feel the strongest about the mantra verses (rather than the other content), which are thought to be spiritually potent (in lack of a better way to describe it). But the mantras have been available for even longer, and were available in English long before Frank’s new translations. And, despite the vivid language and the monsters (certainly not exclusive to the class lessons…), there isn’t much to mock; in other words, it wouldn’t be easy to make mockery of them, much less to make mockery that would be comprehensible. Successful mockery depends on an audience, after all, doesn’t it? It is, I emphasize, much easier to mock what Steiner said about pregnant women reading Negro novels than to make anything of his esoteric mantras. As for whatever occult potency they may hold (or not), I would suggest this lies in their use, not in the publication of the words.
To save themselves from being scoffed at there are things present day anthroposophists could do rather than trying to hide Steiner; he’s rarely, if ever, the problem, or the biggest asset for a scoffer, far from it. Anyone who is in doubt, is hereby advised to enjoy, for example, some of the comments under Jeremy’s blog posts. There’s enough there to satiate a whole army of anthroposophy scoffers.
Not much happiness will come out of summarizing 2016, but I will write a little about a few of the books I read (below). Mr Dog died, which eclipsed everything else. A bipedal friend died before that; bad enough, and it’s strange how you can miss someone you never met in real life. Much was quite depressing before mr Dog’s death, on that awful November day. Sometime during summer I lost my capacity for fake smiles, the last mechanism of survival among the human species. Without it, you’re fucked. I was always quite good at it (surprising, perhaps, but as I’ve said, my personality is mostly a sham, which explains it). I’d lost my ability to write; now I struggle with it. I find it hard even to tell inane jokes, the last resort of a feeble-minded depressive. Of course, mr Dog isn’t coming back. This night I dreamt that he and I were on a train to London, but got off at the wrong station, ending up in boring nowhere — oddly, it was possibly the last train, all the other trains were going elsewhere, we asked around, nobody really knew if one could get to London at all, it was terribly complicated. Not that it mattered, because at least we were together. We could have started a new life there; it would have been alright. Another night I dreamt I had two dogs, one of them died; I was so relieved it was the other one, not mr Dog.
I read books in 2016. I read 99 books, which, when I was through counting, was quite disappointing. I don’t think I’ve been in the three figure range ever before, so missing by one was a bit annoying for the competitive side of me, weak as it is. 27 were Steiner related, and I’ve excluded them categorically and on principle (though I don’t know which principle) from the list of favourite books. From the remaining ones, I’ve chosen ten — seen in the photo. Michel Houllebecq’s sinister novel Submission almost made it, cleverly written as it is (as all his books are, I should say), as did Paul Auster’s Timbuktu (but I read it in Swedish, and I strongly suspect that the translation lacked a bit of poetry) and a book, in Swedish, by Lena Einhorn about Jesus (indeed — and it reads like a thriller). I have to limit myself. So I’ll just mention these books in passing. There’s one book I should have finished, but didn’t: Faust. I’ll have to do it this year.
My absolute favourite: the dark and satirical autobiographical novels (five — yes, I’m cheating, one of the books on my list is actually five books…) by Edward St Aubyn, who is such a skilled writer that I’m constantly in awe when reading him. I had read one of the novels in this series before, and one of his other novels, too, so I knew what I was getting into, but it surpassed all my expectations. Patrick Melrose, a man with a rage against life itself, struggles for self-knowledge, for the ability to live with and transform the consequences his own past, for coming to terms with the loss of his childhood home in France, which is simultaneously the place of trauma and — through magical thinking, through the capacity of the mind to escape physical reality — the release from it. His wealthy mother, constantly busy saving the world while neglecting the child — an unlucky result of her marriage to his brutal, violent father — donates the large French estate to a spiritual foundation led by an Irish guru, a narcissistic crook with a following of believers, some of them idiots, some of them endearing, as the case usually is. A black sense of humour is often the best self-defence, and the books are truly hilarious, but eventually Patrick succeeds in breaking down his own armour — there is, at the end, with the loss of the estate and with it the hope of release through fantasy and magic, a transformation; he abandons his old strategies, the drugs, the general destructiveness and the flight into detached sarcasm.
I buy most my books in thrift stores, so it’s more or less random what I read nowadays. If I find anything by William Dalrymple or Ryszard Kapuscinski (I have to fight with my computer to write Norwegian letters, I’m not going to try Polish…), I always buy it. Both their books on my list include some marvellous, poetic writing from their travels in India and the former Soviet empire. Why Jonathan Safran Foer’s book deserves a place on the list, I do not know — perhaps because it was an eye-opener even for someone who doesn’t eat meat (it made me feel much less inclined to eat fish, which I occasionally did before). He is a quite decent writer as well.
The Iraqi Christ is a collection of short stories written by Hasan Blasim — an Iraqi immigrant in Finland (of all places!). I was, to put it succinctly, amazed. It’s a book full of brutal realism and — magic. It’s sort of dreamy and quite horrible, at the same time. There’s one short story that includes dogs — in fact, is supposedly told by one, a keen observer (as all dogs are) of human folly. Available in English translation as well as in Swedish. There are several good reviews in English, for example this one.
Then to the Frenchmen, with their air of mysticism… I read four books by Modiano in 2016, and had to choose one — it’s hard, because, in a sense, he seems to write the same book over and over. There’s the search for something hidden or lost. It is, indeed, mystical. Even more so is Le Clézio’s novel The Prospector. In fact, if I hadn’t tried (half-heartedly) to research this but came up with nothing, I’d say, dead certain, that it must be inspired by some esoteric worldview or other; at least by the kind of atmosphere (sorry) that serves as a foundation of such worldviews; or, if not that, at least it speaks to the same needs, to the same drive to discover hidden knowledge of a certain kind. But, no, I came up with nothing.
If one is so inclined, one could use Kundera’s novel to elaborate on the old topic of karma and the threads of karma that bind human lives together (as I said, if one is so inclined…). He’s nothing short of a genial writer, and to make matters better (or in this case possibly worse) there’s a dog (who dies). A classic, obviously, and a great book I perhaps should have read long before — but I’m not sure I would have appreciated it ten years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have.
Eftersom dagarna då jag förmådde säga något intelligent sedan länge är över, avser jag här och nu bara avverka några några småsaker mycket kortfattat. Några av dem har legat som öppna flikar i min webläsare sedan innan herr Hund dog, och jag vill bli av med dem.
Nummer tre av Forum (finns på Antroposofiska Sällskapets hemsida) innehåller fortsättningen av intervjun med Ursula Flatters, som jag skrev om någon gång tidigare, när jag (tydligen) fortfarande fann saker som intresserade mig i den världen. Jag antar att fortsättningen också är intressant eller, ja, den är det faktiskt, nu när jag läser den igen, och försöker applicera en intresseskala från förr. (I all synnerhet de sista en och en halv sidorna.) Den berör också — mindre fascinerande, men kanske mer aktuellt — situationen kring Vidarklinikens uppkomst. Därutöver återfinns följande meningsutbyte om Socialstyrelsens ingripande mot företaget som tillverkade de då förbjudna injektionspreparaten: “Kort och gott, de höll på i timmar och vände på varje låda, men de hittade inga antroposofiska injektionspreparat. De blev klara och åkte och jag ringde omedelbart till regeringen och informerade om att Socialstyrelsen har varit här och gjort en husrannsakan. De frågade tillbaka: ‘Hittade de något?’ Jag svarade: ‘Vadå, det är ju förbjudet!’ Och då visste de att man inte hade hittat något.” Det är fantastiskt återgivet, då varken det ena eller det andra sägs om injektionsprepratens faktiska existens. För så vitt jag har förstått saken lyckades någon (inte någon av läkarna, vill jag minnas) med att smuggla ut dem. Hur det verkligen gick till lär vi väl aldrig få några säkra uppgifter om — att man fintade Socialstyrelsen är möjligen en källa till halvöppen stolthet för obetänksamma, men knappast något för Vidarkliniken att ståta med.
Det nyare numret (nr 4) av Forum har redan hunnit utkomma. Bland annat med ett par snömosfyllda rapporter från en konferens i Dornach. Men också en liten artikel om en (för mig) okänd och sedan länge död finlandssvensk författarinna, som mötte Steiner och skrev om honom: ”Han var smal, i mitt minne nästan späd, men i hans väsen fanns en effektfull spänstighet. Hans ansiktsdrag var vackra men alldeles för spirituella och allvarliga för att uppnå vackerhet i vardaglig mening. […] Det är ett livstida, oskattbart minne för mig att ha fått diskutera med en människa som jag håller som grundare av en ny och stor utvecklingsimpuls, som vår tids viktigaste tänkare. Jag förmådde inte ställa några riktiga frågor, jag var Parsifal, der ”reine Tor”. Men Rudolf Steiner kunde med några sakliga meningar besvara oställda frågor, vilka jag åter och åter igen har i mina studier reflekterat kring. Han var framförallt medveten, fullständigt koncentrerad och gav därigenom intryck av kraftfullhet. Ingen rörelse, intet ord var meningslöst. I hans väsen fanns intet tomt slösande.” Dessutom innehåller tidningen Karen Swartz-Larssons läsvärda recension av Arthur Zajoncs bok, som jag säkert har nämnt här flera gånger tidigare (den engelska upplagan) och en runa över Beata Bergström, fotograf, vars bilder ställdes ut på Musikmuseet härom året. (Min bild nedan, på skoj.)
Steinerhögskolan i Oslo har publicerat det gångna årets mastersuppsatser, varav flera med svensk anknytning (klicka på “Master Thesies Collection” (ja — det står så)). Bland annat en skriven av en lärare vid Kristofferskolan på den tiden då jag gick där. H*n måste vara i pensionsåldern nu. Jag vet inte riktigt vad, eller ens om, det finns ett bakomliggande syfte här, men Waldorflärarhögskolan i Stockholm har ju haft vissa svårigheter då det har saknats krafter i lärarkåren med rätt, eller någon alls, akademisk bakgrund (de kan ju inte utfärda några egna examina i Sverige). Trots en grundläggande apati, kan jag inte undgå att en del funderingar anmäler sig när jag ser uppställningen av mastersexamina i Oslo — hur hänger saker och ting egentligen ihop med situationen i Stockholm? Och så vidare. (Kanske skulle de gå samman?) Om kvaliteten kan jag inte säga mycket; jag har bara läst en — den om svarta tavlan, och den är det inget fel på — men efter att herr Hund dog föll tanken på att läsa de andra bort, även om det är ett par som i och för sig verkar värda att ta tag i någon gång kanske, företrädesvis de som handlar om historieuppfattning och färgsättning.
Med anknytning till utgivandet av boken Kunskap utan gränser anordnas en seminarieserie som filmas och finns tillgänglig här. Jag skulle egentligen ha skrivit något om boken, men har inte lyckats tugga mig igenom den. Jag vet inte varför, men alla dessa försök att lansera Steiner som en äkta, seriös filosof av universell betydelse, i motsats till en “knasig” esoteriker och guru, får mig att bli så kallt ointresserad. Jag inser — utan att egentligen förstå — att det är väldigt viktigt för många antroposofers självsyn att Steiner är en “riktig” filosof och en “riktig” vetenskapsman, en vederhäftig gestalt som inte kan ifrågasättas så som en visonär andlig ledare kan, men spännande är det inte. För sådant torrt och livlöst tuggande kan man lika gärna vända sig till någon annan. Men jag får kanske ge boken (och seminarieserien) en chans någon dag.
Mediokra konservbönor kräver (föga förvånande) dessa åtgärder.
I keep thinking — dreaming, imagining, in my silly head — that somebody will knock on my door and say “Look, I found him! He’s here!” and pull him out of a bag as if he were a bunny being pulled out of a magician’s hat. And he would wag his tail a little, he would move back in, I would have someone to buy sausages and cookies for, and have someone to walk with and talk to, and things would be made good again, and some kind of meaning would return. It’s a damn bad idea, the worst in the world, to get attached to a living being; one should be careful to avoid it, always.
A recycled christmas greeting from three years ago will have to do:
Merry Dogmas to you all. Give the dogs in your lives an extra treat from me.
The mind, apparently, has a kind of protective membrane that rejects, or ejects, knowledge that one can’t bear. I realized in a book shop the other day that there’s literature about aging dogs. For some reason, I wasn’t conscious of that when I had an aging dog. I just went around assuming things, but not wanting to seek knowledge through reading (against my usual disposition). Now I tend to forget that he’s dead (I remember how, many years ago, he and I made a spoof of a Steiner book title: The Dead Dogs Are With Us. Which, it turns out, indeed they are). I keep thinking he’s here or he’ll return; he must return. Then there are the flashbacks to my carrying him to the veterinarian, knowing I’d go home without him. My letting her put the needle into him. His limp and lifeless body, so different from what it was before, despite the lower consciousness he had sunk into; him, gone.
I guess that for normal people, normality continues; you go about everyday life, wipe the snotty noses of unbearable children, and so on. But for me “normality” was being with him and reading a couple of Steiner lectures every now and then, usually at least one a day. And writing nonsense. I guess it wasn’t the Steiner lectures that kept me sane. I’ve read one each day over the last three days, and I see no improvement.
A strange insight that came to me yesterday, a propos normality: nobody talks to you anymore. When you are out with a dog much of the day, life consists of encounters with random strangers, and sometimes perhaps, with dog people in the neighbourhood, less random, but essentially they all remained strangers. I’ve come to the conclusion that among the absolutely normal people, among whom you can never find a place (unless you manage to do that around kindergarten age), there is, let’s say, one percent eccentric people. Where I live, possibly a little more, and possibly with a higher level of eccentricity. Without a dog, you don’t run into these people; of course, you don’t run into the normal people either. You simply don’t talk to anyone at all, and neither do you have a dog to communicate with. The head fills up with your own imaginary voice, echoing back and forth. Not that I regret not having all these strangers and half-strangers striking up conversation; it sometimes annoyed me, and often (perhaps in particular with the eccentrics) left me exhausted; I acutely felt the futility of carrying on these social interactions that led to nothing because, in the end, there was nothing binding us together. Nonetheless it’s odd how much space they occupied. You’d easily think it was insignificant, but that would be untrue.
These five weeks are an increasingly eerie reminder of what my childhood and my young adulthood life was like: first, the constant struggle against my own resisting self to alternate in an even remotely healthy fashion between sleeping and waking existence and, second, the near total absence of any desire for the dawning of the next day. I don’t want tomorrow. Apart from simply being my best friend, I think he did two things: he kept me apart from myself, and that had a soothing effect on the level of drama and violence of the inner war I’m caught up in as if it were my unavoidable fate, and he was a mediator between me and the outer world, which I really can’t handle in a (somewhat) sane manner without the crutch that is canineosophical philosophy. Everything, and every boundary, is broken down, shattered pieces falling into the abyss, where the only sound effect is a resounding cosmic meow.
To add to the misery — and this is a change compared to my past — many people are being terribly nice, and I feel bad about unanswered e-mails, my petulant inability to see the silver lining, my pathological lack of positivity, and so forth. I’m sorry.
(Forest road south of Stockholm, December 7. The plentiful pine trees here grow on sand; there’s sand everywhere, soft sand, light brown. In the vicinity is a natural spring frequented by colourful city hippies, displaced shamans and Indian spirits who spilled herbal tea on their maps and incarnated in the wrong place — supposedly, but I never saw them. I believe they hold seances in the night or something.)
Brief summary: meaningless days, sleepless nights.
If I fall asleep, my old friends, the nightmares, arrive again with a new twist: he loses big chunks of fur, but it’s not too late to save him; he runs into the street, but I run after him in panic, and catch him, and he’s alive; I wake up from dreaming, he’s dead. At breakfast, I dread the day that has only begun; I want it to go away again. At one in the afternoon, I wonder to myself what on earth to do with the rest of the day: take a third or fourth walk, when the first walk was already pointless; cook more food or bake more bread, when I have more than I can eat but no appetite, no hunger for food or life; try to read a book and fail after half a page… because although the destiny chosen for me was to become an “intellectual” with my nose stuck in a book — a semi-failed intellectual would suffice, but a complete failure wouldn’t –, there’s still the small problem of having an attention span no longer than that of a fruit-fly, and that’s in ordinary circumstances. With mr Dog in my life there seemed to be at least some point to struggling, to forcing myself to concentrate a little bit on the arid tasks of the brain, not because he cared much about the tragically insignificant intellectual capabilities of the human mind, but my life consisted of reading some book or other and being with him — and there was at least a minimal balance and harmony to that arrangement, as incredible as it may sound to everybody else. Now, with the latter opportunity gone, the former is more pointless than ever, it is no longer a decent way to spend time between things that mattered. I have all these Steiner books that I managed to lay my hands on short before he died; in the four weeks that have now passed, I’ve managed to read a page and a half. I can’t for my life find a way back to caring about anything, except his impossible return.
(Image: there are still a few withering roses in the gardens where we often walked.)
För att inte falla ur formen helt och för att ge uppmärksamhet åt något annat än min egen hundlösa misär: i Dagens Nyheter förra måndagen kunde man läsa en liten hyllning till tidskriften Balder. Jag har några reflektioner kring den.
Den första är mer än undran. Man får intrycket (av Maria Schottenius text) att Balder är menad som ett vardagsrum, där parnassen kan hänga i trygg förvissning om att inget annat vassare förekommer än mysigt ryggkliande, snarare än som ett organ för att sprida Steiners antroposofi och hans vision för samhällets omdaning, den sociala tregreningen. Nåja, den visionen är numer svår att skönja, så man kan förstå om den missförstås eller inte förstås alls. Men den finns ju där i botten. Balders undangömda syfte är trots allt att “främja förståelsen av människan som andlig, själslig och kroppslig varelse såsom det kommer till uttryck i Rudolf Steiners antroposofi, och den därur framsprungna samhällsbilden – tregreningen.” Jag är inte så naiv att jag inte förstår att en tidskrift trogen det syftet vore svårare att sälja till en större publik. Så tillvida Balder nu alls säljer till en större publik.
Det leder till min andra reflektion. Min smak är förstås alldeles för udda för att användas som måttstock. Jag tycker att de gamla numren av Balder, som man med lite god tur någon enstaka gång stöter på i second hand-butiker, är betydligt intressantare. Antroposofer är (eller var) nämligen ganska ofta intressantare än svenska kulturpersoners trygga navelskåderi och vänskapliga ryggdunkande i ett rum “av vänner, för vänner”. I de senaste årens Balder — de nummer jag har läst på biblioteket, eftersom det inte faller mig in att köpa den — ställer ingen några intressanta frågor, det är aldrig något som skaver, aldrig några världsbilder som krockar… allting är lamt och förutsägbart, lite i samma trygga anda som alla kultursidor; man vet vad man får. I grund och botten tycker alla respektfullt lika; individualiteten är på sin höjd små krusningar på toppen av en ocean av delade värderingar. I tillägg till det finns en förutsägbar estetik, som förvisso ofta är angenäm för ögat, och meningslösa, förment djupa, poetiska försök. För att fatta det kort: det är långtråkigt och jag får intrycket att tidskriften existerar för att tjäna de ständigt återkommande skribenternas självbekäftelse. Så var det förvisso också på den antroposofiska tiden. Men den hade i alla fall vissa nervkittlande element, och det fanns något slags elektricitet i den, till skillnad från den avslagna brygd som presenteras i Balder i dag.
Det där med värderingar, gemensamma och icke-ifrågasatta värderingar, är ändå intressant. Schottenius nämner det i sin text, då hon skriver att tidskriften utgår från “vissa grundläggande värderingar om människa och natur.” Om man nu går till det som är Balders fundament — den syn på människan som Steiner uttrycker och hans idé om en ny samhällsorganisation grundad i denna människosyn — så undrar i alla fall jag hur väl den sammanfaller med den av svenska kulturpersoner försanthållna världsbilden — men, vad vet jag. De är kanske förvånansvärt förenliga.
(Yesterday. I tried to make friends with them. Apparently I speak the wrong language.)
People tell me what to do. Get a job in administration. Don’t try to get a job; you won’t get one anyway. Get a new dog immediately. Don’t get a new dog immediately; it is important to wait before making a decision.
The worst advice of all, which luckily I haven’t heard in a while: ask yourself what you want. Really, asking me? That’s the worst person in the world to ask. I have no opinion. If I had one, I know it would be useless. I haven’t got a meaningful identity. I’ve got an inner ogre that’s better kept hidden under a masquerade costume. It can’t be released in the world.
Getting and following advice by people who are undoubtedly wiser than I am is problematic, though – or rather becomes so because it is contradictory. I can’t both get a dog immediately and wait a long time. To say nothing of the practicalities involved; maybe I can’t get a dog at all. I can’t both get a job and not get a job. I can’t both travel and stay at home. I can’t both grieve and not grieve. And so on.
I’m always left with (at least) two contrary opinions (and often several more) about what to do with my life. I know they’re both better than anything I could come up with – I with my inner void, I with my ogre. I with my black dog following me; kept in place by mr Dog, now speeding up, its fangs touching my neck, drooling down my shirt.
But who’s going to decide, then? Before I decided to have mr Dog, I followed orders – I went to unversity, when people let me know it was my unavoidable destiny (it was a complete fuck-up, despite my degree); I tried to imitate other people, because I never figured out any other way to be a part of humanity (it didn’t succeed); I never stood up for myself because I figured humiliation was the narrow path to belonging (it wasn’t).
Then I had mr Dog. I don’t think anybody thought it was a good idea. One person said to me: you will never manage, you’re too dumb. Other people said: you won’t really want to take care of a dog, when it comes down to it. (It’s true, to an extent. I like the friendship part, not the taking care of part. But I do what I have to.) Others again thought it a strange choice in general – and why a terrier, rather than a nice shih-tzu?
Somehow I knew I needed a dog, and I got a dog, and it turned out to be the best dog and the best friend in the entire universe. And here I am, alone again, as always before, twelve years later. Scolding myself, because self-hatred is the only competitive sport I practice; I am a master, because I can meta-hate: I scold myself, and then I scold myself for scolding myself, because scolding myself proves I’m a self-obsessed person, which I have no right to be.
Could I have done something differently? Surely. I knew he was more tired than he should have been. But I didn’t listen to my own intuition; I listened to my knowledge of facts and the knowledge of others: he’s an old dog, you can’t expect as much of him now as you did before, he’s been ill, and so on. Strangely, he had energy, but less stamina, which was confusing. Strangely, too, he was his old maniac self in the forest. But I sensed it: something wasn’t quite right. Not that there’s any way to know if taking my intuition seriously would have changed the course of things (probably not; he was an old dog). And what if I had trusted my instinct that the veterinary food was good for the tummy but bad for the whole dog? What if… all those what ifs.
If someone is your best friend, it confers a duty upon you. Oddly – and here’s my intuition at play again – over the last six months with him or so, I felt from within myself an urge to be kinder to him: never be too busy to give him a cuddle, always respond to him, always put him first (which I did to a greater extent than before). In retrospect, it looks like a foreboding; something from the unconscious trying to grab my attention. You should have understood, the universe calls at me now; you should have understood why you felt that way. In the voice of a shy mouse I whisper back: he was an old dog.
What does it matter? He was my friend. I come back all the time to the experience of holding his lifeless body; I come back to the moment when life abandoned him and there was nothing more I could do, except fantasize about time travel. Up until that moment, and though his level of consciousness was declining, kindness mattered; after that moment, nothing mattered.
I got him because I knew I needed a dog; I knew not through reason but through intuition (the ordinary kind, not the anthroposophical, obviously). I think it’s the only time ever that I went with what I sensed was right – against everything, against every sound reason not to do it. In fact, there were millions of reasons not to: I’d be less free to do all the things people in their twenties normally do. Which is all the things I never had any talent for, all those things I failed, and all the things that are everything that counts in the lives of everybody here.
Having mr Dog was both a success and a failure. A success, because I was never again alone for as long as he lived; of course, a dog is a different kind of company than that of humans, but it is a living being sharing your life (and you his) and whom you can give a good-night kiss. A failure, because I continued my failure to adapt to the demands of humankind, and had less time to feel ashamed of it. Among people where I live there’s a strict path to follow: you must dress up and party long into the night on weekends, you must have ambition to become something and be hungry for a respectable career, you must travel abroad every year, you must have a big kitchen which you never use because you always eat out, and you must, eventually, submit to family life, which, in turn, must take certain shapes and meet certain conditions.
If you don’t do this, you can have nothing to do with other humans. This is local culture, and there’s a price to your reluctance to participate. I have nothing in common with people of my age group in the place and context I come from; it’s not a complaint but a matter of fact. I still feel the way I did as a child watching the other children play. If I had beaten myself up more when I was in my early twenties – if I had despised myself more than I did – perhaps I would have been able to force myself to adapt to the lifestyle of my local peers, though I think it would have become apparent eventually that my party skills were a sham. Normal people always identify a failure: be it a failure in Kindergarten or a failure at the night club. They know. And then, what?
As a child, I always tried to imitate other people’s lives, and I failed completely; I wanted to become them, but became a nobody. To try to imitate people around me at this point so that I could gain a place among them – no, it’s too late now. I would fail worse than I did in Kindergarten. The standards where I live are so high; it would be like for an ant to try to jump to the top of an elephant’s head. And so is trying to do what other people tell me to or even to negotiate a compromise between the contradictory things they tell me. On the other hand, if I don’t follow what other people tell me, who should I follow? If I don’t imitate, who should I be?
And then begin the bad dreams, including the moment of waking up which provides yet another nightmare: we were walking by the rim of a lake on a winter day, the air cold and crisp in the pale sunlight, the temperature dropping to -26 degrees Celsius, I know this because in the dream I told him (he didn’t seem interested in numbers), and suddenly he went into the water and began to swim, but then, overtaken by the cold, to sink, and struggling for his life he sank under the surface, in water that was very clear, like a clean pane of glass, he sank further, and I had to wade into it to fish him out, it wasn’t deep and strangely not frozen over, and I had no difficulty seeing him and to catch him and I lifted him up, and put him inside my layers of sweaters, put my parka coat on and closed it around us, and he was cold and shivering, but he was alive, he was going to make it, and be alive.
Confirming to myself that he was going to live, I woke up.
For the collectors of Steiner facts out there, I think somewhere he says that those we dream of are those we are karmically connected to — thus, have met before in another incarnation. I wish I could find where he says it, but it seems only blindingly apparent that I have too many silly books in my bookshelves.
When this occurred, in the dream, when mr Dog was sinking into the cold lake, an insufferably cheerful man turned up, arriving from the opposite shore — oddly lined with green willow trees — riding on a giant water buffalo, as though we had been out walking by a watering hole or a river in Africa rather than in a snowy and frozen landscape in the north, and this is obviously the part of the dream truly in need of some serious interpretation. The dog part of it is almost self-evident — but how did the water buffalo get there?
Absorbed by nature and doing his thing. In a magic forest in the province of Södermanland. Summer of 2015.
He loved the woods, and once he set his paws on a forest path, you could be sure of being ignored; for the rest of the hike he was mostly in his own world and (I presume) at one with nature. For an otherwise highly social dog, he then became remarkably uninterested in social interaction with the human race, least of all with me; but of course, I was more like an old piece of furniture that, for some unfortunate reason, had become his fate and he had to drag along with him. Luckily, despite being unbearably dim and hopeless, I was able to carry snacks, which worked to my advantage because sooner or later the needs of a civilized city dog began to compete with the instincts of a dog, a small hunter and a wolf, who was a being of nature, albeit one attached to a bipedal laggard by a flexi-leash.
We usually spent a minimum of three hours a day outdoors, unless the weather was absolutely atrocious (with age, he found bad weather less and less tolerable). Often more. Every now and then we spent the whole day in a forest somewhere. Those were almost always wonderful days — he did his thing, and I assume, by the look of things, that it pleased him. Tracking, scenting, experiencing a world that is as imperceptible to us humans as is, one must assume, the supersensible realm to the logical, rational mind (– or whatever, and if it existed). Travelling far away from the world of abstractions that people like me are destined for since childhood and into a world of direct experiences and of weak human senses pulling themselves out of sleep slowly, very slowly, to glimpse something of what is there: not that many elemental beings, I hesitate to admit, but quite a few supersensible rabbits.
This pleasure with him is gone. Habits tend to stick, so I still go out, I maintain our routines, except the short morning walk around two neighbouring blocks. But it does seem strange: what on earth is this human being — walking, for the sake of walking itself, without a dog? Such an unnatural act. It’s like doing something just slightly forbidden or immoral; there’s hint of shamefulness to it. The pavements should be spared; they’re there for usefulness and for useful people (and dogs), not for idle walking without a meaning, a purpose or a cause.
I have yet to go on a hike in the woods without him. I long for it, but my experience of the forest is connected to that of being a more or less passive follower of the dog experience that my human mind can’t understand — and without a dog, how do you go about it? Dogs are natural forest beings. They know through instinct what it’s all about, unlike us — confused and with a vague scent of something in our noses, at best, but without any sort of meaningful framework for interpreting it, if indeed we sense anything at all. He helped me to love the forest more, because my eyes saw something through his nose.
On a rainy day only some weeks ago mr Dog and I walked to one of the few remaining record stores and bought a cheap collection of Leonard Cohen songs; the first CD I had bought in ten years. The songs are of such supreme and transcendant beauty that I can only digest one or two at a time (and didn’t want to continue to do it on YouTube). In the weeks before mr Dog’s death I was obsessed with this song. How odd life is. How odd this year is.