Sunday, December 2, 2007


I spent my 36th birthday in a Beirut bar with Ian. This was a sober change from last year’s drunken experience in Shanti’s marvellously friendly International Bar in Fukuoka, Japan, although it was still appropriately inebriating. It had taken us ages to find a place to drink, weirdly enough, since there are so many bars in Beirut. I fully appreciated the copious quantities of nuts and titbits adorning our table. Ian for his part expertly played the role of egging on the birthday boy to drink an above average quantity, while I was glad not to be alone on this ‘special’ day of the year when we are supposed to feel happy about getting older.

Ian had been travelling with an Aussie guy in Syria for a while and he had seen pretty much the same places as I. We seemed, through whatever process that brings travellers together, to have decided to hang out with each other for a while. Certainly, from my side, finding a travel companion was very welcome. I’d not had one on the trip so far, only having found company in very particular places and for short periods of time: Jody in Athens, Geoff and Barry in Albania, Jana in Skopje, Emily in Gallipoli and then Damascus, Carlos, Justine and Olivia in Hasankeyf, Alfredo in Aleppo, as well as various random local characters encountered along the way. All this talk that I’d heard about people picking up proper companions for the road was beginning to sound like embarrassing baloney. Others can attract hangers on but obviously not I. So perhaps I was subtly sending out messages to the Universe to find me a certain someone, preferably female and gorgeous, or if not then at least intelligent, funny, with whom I could commune. Or more likely, especially if one is not given to the hypothesis of meaning and occult significance delineating the events in one's life, it was sheer accident that the universe dug Ian out from its infinite resources and plonked him beside me at Damascus bus station. It’s not often that with genuine conviction one is pleased with the manifestations the Universe presents one with, but in this case I can say that I was. Well done Universe……keep up the good work, ok?

Ours was not an erotic bond, it need not be stated but just was. Rather, it was essentially cerebral. Ian is very bright and likes thinking deeply. Not a quality one often finds in people – here in this world of vicarious existence, where many are often very happy for powerful, influential people to think and live their lives for them. People such as those who work in the media and the celebrity industry; people such as certain parents, teachers and priests, who dish up for the multitudes minds nailed down into ossified, fossilised forms; minds that render it quite a painful process for independent thoughts to take flight and autonomous delight in; people such as politicians and academics who crucify our expressive mechanisms, our language, with various forms of sclerotic abuse, such as salesman-sloganeering or political correctness; people indeed such as salesmen and advertisers, whose job it is to shamelessly manufacture previously non-existent desires in a career pitting them as far from the example of the Buddha as it is possible to get.

That said of course, Ian is an Academic. Well, nobody’s perfect. And of course one must worship at Mammon’s throne somehow, or so it’s insisted. I’m pretty sure there are many worse ways of living ones soul’s time on the blue planet than being a Sociology lecturer. Actually, Ian is trying to get me into academia. He says, with a great deal of justification it must be said, that I should become an academic or at least do a Phd because I’m so often reading and thinking and wanting to engage in the depths. I tell him I may do this, that I’ll think about it. Am I being sincere? He says I lack confidence, that it's this which stays my enthusiasm. I don’t think he’s right. I think it’s mainly a money thing. Doing a Phd is expensive. I don’t particularly want to be poorer than I have to be. Nor do I especially want to study ‘part time’ and hold down a job, though this makes study more feasible, I realise. Also, if you’re not certain you’re going to become a lecturer afterwards, serious questions have to be raised about the vocational wisdom of doing a Phd, I'd have thought. Then the question of what to do it 'in'. The desperate need for originality in a world already splintered in a mass mosaic of fragmented specializations leaves the soul panting for some kind of remedial holism, does it not? And what of readership? Who will read my Phd except those few other stranded souls, equally lost on a nearby, equally remote, island of whatever specialised research archipelago we'll have chosen to inhabit.

You might well at this point declaim: ‘But nobody reads your blog!’ And you may very well be right (though I know a handful of people who do, though beyond this I don’t know). But the thing about my blog is that I write from my heart and soul in an idiom that makes me feel that when I write I haven’t put my existential reality into cold storage at the bottom of a cellar behind a thick iron door marked ‘Thou Shalt Not Be Thyself’. So, I have an investment in writing my blog that pertains to the genuine meaning of ‘communication’ as a reality of inter-connection between two authentic beings - the reader who reads because he or she wants to, and not because of some secondary, pretended or ulterior purpose, and the writer who is giving of themselves in their act of writing. How much communication goes on, exactly, between the dusty pages of a Phd and the tired, dutiful eyes that read it I'm not entirely sure? You tell me.

Of course I realize what will be thought:...but Jonathan, you are not interesting. Except to yourself and perhaps some close to you such as family and friends, or perhaps a few you might possibly manage to beguile, you are not interesting. Nor do you matter. Like all individuals, wriggling in their subjective psychodramas, it’s all been seen and it’s all been done before. There is nothing about you which in-itself is significantly different from, or therefore remotely interesting to, the world in general. The point and purpose of academia, indeed of all intellectuality, is not to navel gaze in a manner more sophisticated than the one that one might pursue if one lacked rational or expressive tools to be complicated, but to actually address and try to compass objectivity, or, to put it bluntly, to engage with and confront that about the world which is not you….

A crushing retort to my narcissism I know…:)

But the thing is, I have no argument with this - that the focus of intellectuality should be on a content which is not private or merely personal. I have never denied this. Academia’s interest in the depersonalized is not what I object to. It is its manner of being interested that worries me. By approaching objective topics in a style, in a way, that is depersonalized, we humans, we thinkers, have basically abdicated our humanity and devised for ourselves a world to discover that in-itself is alienated from our actual experienced reality and become drenched in the appearances of the strange, the mysterious, the inert and the oftentimes hostile.

That is my charge against the academic method, not at all that it doesn’t give me a platform to rant on, about my personal dramas, dramas which I assure you often bore me as much as they would or already do you.

Anyway, that said, it still could be true that, as Ian said, in the academic milieu, I could meet a lot of like-minded people. It's also true that I have very warm, nostalgic memories of my times at Durham. But then, there are the questions of what subject and under whom I should study. And do I really want to get back into the minefields of academic theology again, after having almost had my brain fried to a cinder during my MA. Maybe I've calmed down since then in crucial ways. Maybe. We will see.

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