So Telemachos spoke, and the broad-seeing Zeus sent him
Two eagles from above the crest of a mountain flying.
They for a time flew down along with the blasts of the wind,
Stretching their wings out close to one another.
But when they came to the midst of the many-voiced assembly,
Then they whirled about and beat their wings rapidly.
They went to the heads of all and destruction was in their look,
As they tore each other’s cheeks and throats on both sides with their claws.
— Homer, The Odyssey: chapter 2, lines 146-153
27/IX/12 4:04 – So, I decide to head, after a look at another bookshop, to the library for another campaign against The Odyssey. As I walked I noticed a friend of mine in conversation and I carried on, then decided that I should speak to her, stopped to talk to another friend who was also in the area then lent against a tree until she arrived. We decided to get a coffee in the library cafe, which I was owed (in her words), and we sat down to discuss national identity and music.
Suddenly she shrieked, got up and embraced a man who entered the venue and they spoke rapidly together – it was a moment of unabashed and unconditional gratitude, two friends who were pleased to see each other after my friend’s long stay abroad. The new arrival bought us all a coffee (my third in the last four hours), they caught up, and we discussed sexism and other important topics.
Then the new arrival left to seek a train. I looked at my friend; When you said to me that we should have a coffee, was this what you expected? I said, indicating the multitudinous cups on the table. Not really, she said, it was rather a lot. I considered; Ah, the occasional act of excess is beneficial. She then followed the trend and left too, to meet another of her friends– I decided that it was time for me to leave, to find the venue at which I was due at five with generous time to waste in getting lost.
* * *
12:23 – I’m sitting in the Egg Cafe, Liverpool, overlooking the sundry skyline; with a cappuccino and a slice of cake large enough to choke a horse – from where I sit, choosing to look away from the purple and florally-painted joists and the other inmates, I can see out to the metropolis, the glass Anderson-shelter of Liverpool Central Station, the courts, banks and businesses; buildings which look to the future or lament the past, and the occasional monstrosity which seems to lament nothing and look nowhere.
I’m a student now, of English, the novel and freelancing will have to fit in. Beside my laptop is a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey – a work of literary brilliance alongside almost an impenetrable density when presented to a moderate Classics-novice such as me. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the edition which I am borrowing from the Sydney Jones Library imposes the verse form in which the original was written in Ancient Greek upon the modern translation. I’ve always been in favour of setting ambitious targets, and can testify for their occasional efficacy: yesterday I set myself the target of reading fifty pages of the tome, I got to seven. This is not to say that I only read seven pages, more that I read the pages up to that point several times before I felt that I was actually digesting the book with my literary ectoplasm. Something gives me the impression that this venue will be a good one in which to begin my second attempt, I shan’t add another fifty pages to yesterdays target – the relationship between ambition and suicide is close, subtle and dangerous.
I shouldn’t say that I have explored this city to any great extent, but I think that I have caught the feel of few of it’s quirks; the bookshops are certainly of fine quality. Today I visited News from Nowhere – the name suggests, existentialism, Nihilism or Dada? the opposite is true (I know, now, that the name is taken from the book by the socialist William Morris, as displayed in the shop – in the story he describes a society with no war, no private property, no crime, no class and without many other ills of this type, which, to lean on Christopher Hitchens, sounds like Nowhere, to me). Some bookshops don’t label their shelves, some alphabetise, some organise according to genre, and News from Nowhere categorises it’s wares according to an exhaustive and partisan system: LGBT, Banker Bashing, Benefactors of Capitalism, Arab Spring etcetera; I located the second-hand shelf and bought two books by Orwell, for which I tendered the princely sum of two pounds sterling to the bespectacled woman on the till who gave the impression that she was the most kindly individual within a three-kilometre radius.
Yesterday I patronised some other bookshops. Reids of Liverpool is an establishment of quality, I walked in and approached the desk; seeing a man who looked like a version of Lemmie from Motorhead with the gain turned down a little. When he opened his mouth to address me he spoke with a kindly mid-American accent, telling me that he was just watching the shop for it’s owner and that he could not take me to the hemi-obscure titles which are required for my English course.
Henry Bohn Books has a impressing vibe associated with it; as I enter I see a round faced man in conversation with the proprietor concerning classical music, specifically with reference to particular recordings of Mendelsson concertos; two men wearing suit-jackets and mackintoshes stand together and, as is the birthright of any man, talk about war. I list the titles for which I’m looking to the owner and he charges off to the shelves, shredding his finger across the backs of books, commenting rapidly about the additions and the tomes which he doesn’t have or which he has but which are ‘in a box upstairs’. I asked whether they had any William S Burroughs, but they he said no, very few people have Burroughs. I secure a copy of the Marlowe which is required, settle up for the Norman Mailers which I located on the discount shelves and pass the gentlemen – now talking about tank-battles in North Africa – on my way out.
The sun rose up, leaving the beautiful water,
Into the bronze-covered heaven, to shine for the immortals
And also for mortal men upon the grain-giving earth.
– Homer, The Odyssey: chapter 3, lines 1-3
We don’t write like this anymore, do we? It’s an interesting consideration: to imagine a narrative in which the gods so readily stop by for a drink, in which the mortal an immortal worlds so readily collide. I’m sure whether I’m correct in saying that these gods, the gods of Homer, are unashamedly anthropomorphic, like proles with supreme powers; while the gods of the monotheisms (deities of lucid, terrifying and often hilarious human tenets) stake a claim to perfection, abstract divinity and perhaps even the platonic absolute morality. I’m not qualified, and I suppose that few are qualified, to act as arbiter between the civilisations which are affected and produced by these systems of belief, but it should be an interesting difference to split.
That which I think is important, however, is that the monotheistic gods wish to occupy the territory of perfection but behave like monsters, children, humans and heroes; the gods of the classics behave, speaking crudely, as one would expect humans with supreme powers to behave. One might be able to claim that the more dangerous belief is the one in which it is claimed that an entity and it’s doctrines are perfect when actually they’re human; as compared to an imperfect being and doctrine accepting imperfection or even not making a claim. The more mature activity is to look at ourselves – the first increment of progress is diagnosis – rather than creating creators and controllers who are really ourselves, just disguised beneath a thin veneer of infallibility. News form Nowhere tells us that a place of perfection is a nowhere, Nirvana is nothingness; the belief that perfection is in possession is the end of the line.