Published: June 29th 2010June 29th 2010
I am not a journalist. I have the greatest difficulty in actually talking to people, or at least in leading the conversation. I’m a factionalist, or maybe something Gonzo: as near as I can gather, ‘Gonzo’ means ‘all about me, really’.
I have managed to set up the computer so I can watch a DVD in the top half of the screen whilst typing in the bottom. I am watching the opening of Apocalypse Now. Regardless of what you might think of the rest of the film the opening sequence is beyond excellent. “Saigon… shit…”
I’m off to Saigon for New Year actually… shit… I lived there in 2001… shit.
“Everyone gets everything he wants,” says Martin Sheen. If you are there at the time, could you make sure they write that on my gravestone? They can carve whatever they like, just make sure that is scrawled in black magic marker. Tag my tomb.
“There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.” That’s Gonzo, isn’t it?
You see, I’m not really terribly interested in depth, or truth. If I was a body of water, I’d be a salt pan, a mirage of a salt pan. I have nothing against people who see themselves as cenotes, but they have no better a clue about their hidden depths than I have about my exposed shallows. Everybody lies. I don’t decide who or what I am, I don’t even know. You decide. And I decide who you are.
You will never find out anything useful or interesting about people by asking them questions about themselves. The process of psychoanalysis is the process of asking questions, then obliging the respondent to listen to their own responses and acknowledge that they are talking cock-eyed baloney. No one knows what they want, who they are, what they like or what they should do. No one knows where they came from or where they are going. No one even knows what they think of their own mother. No one knows their own son. If they do, they generally have very little to say. People have enormous problems with modal verbs: want, like, should, could would, will, can… Conditionals are a nonsense. No one could, would or should have been anything other than they are. There are no alternative pasts, just as there are no alternative futures. One past, one present, no futures. There is no ‘if’.
Everybody lies (sometimes) and everybody tries to be true (sometimes). If there is a single skill that is shared by modern humans it is the ability to answer questions about themselves: to generate answers which in turn generate rewards. The Skinner Box of modern journalism and focus groups. In the UK today, the answer to questions is ‘bullying”. In Western Samoa in the thirties, the answer was ‘circumcision’, while in Vienna it was ‘sex’. I am sure they have answers in China too. You don’t find out anything interesting by asking people for information about themselves. Everything is fiction. Most people make up dreadful fictions, but they make up worse facts. I suppose that is the ‘theme’ of my ‘big’ novel. People don’t know anything about themselves, but they know what to say about themselves. Even in the simplest of matters - food - people rarely know what they like or dislike. They don’t even know how to like or dislike. But they know what to say about food, because they have said it before.
I was in a horrible pub in a beautiful place a few years ago, The Heron, outside Truro in Cornwall. Maybe you have been? It sits on a very steep hill overlooking a bay with just enough boats moored to make it interesting without being cluttered. There is a heronry across the bay which is now home to a number of egrets. The food is overpriced English pub, one step below gastro-. The beer is not quite good enough. Table linen on the terrace. My companion and I are the only people who walked there. I don’t work for a bank, so there few times in pubs I enjoy less than bank holidays, maybe because they are filled with incompetent pub users; conceivably the ‘family atmosphere’. A father with his daughter perhaps three years old, comes out of the pub, and strolls across the road to look at the boats in the harbour. He picks her up. They don’t seem to have much to say to one another. Why would they? “Which boat is your favourite?” he asks. “The pink one,” she replies.
I am not bitter, angry, deranged, unhappy or any of that other stuff, not from the inside. It is the world, not me. You. And everyone else.
This evening I watched David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. Various animals pursued and killed various other animals. Similarly various creatures were chased and eaten. Animals competed in painful and expensive ways to fuck or be fucked. A couple of sheep knock their heads together; a wolf kills a caribou; a baboon kills a baboon; ducks are gang raped; a poor Burmese man kills a tiger and sells its penis to a rich Chinese man who eats it; sharks eat seals; some pheasants have very pretty feathers. I find all of this entirely… normal, explicable and only interesting to a very slight degree (perhaps visually) - the science behind it is all perfectly clear. Now I am watching Apocalypse Now and I see more or less the same going on. Drinking, fucking, napalming, dancing, drug taking, fighting, deception, smiling, fear and greed. I don’t have any stronger an emotional response to machine gunning children hidden under canvas to crocodiles and dogs tug-o-warring an impala. Why on earth would I? How could I? You would have to be mad to! And I don’t think I’m mad. I do, however, find it very interesting that man with freshly killed Cambodian child in his arms behaves as if he were unhappy, while a dog with a dead impala in its mouth exhibits doggy-style ‘joy’.
“Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamned right. Unless you were going all the way…”
In my world, the most interesting thing - perhaps the only interesting thing - is me. Travel writing is fascinating, because I am fascinating. Travel journalism, is kinda dull, because everyone else is kinda dull. Surely that is true for everyone? Sadly perhaps not…
This is a Chinese pirate copy of Apocalypse Now. There is something wrong with the sound. I can hear Martin Sheen’s voice-overs and the music perfectly. But the actual dialogue is behind three feet of cotton wool, almost inaudible. So all I get is Martin Sheen’s thoughts while everyone else remains at a great distance. It is more interesting to be in Martin Sheen’s head than to be in the whole movie. Bunch of dull people surfing, napalming, dancing, whining about fate and being scared.
You convinced me to write what I was thinking, without worrying too much about whether I made sense or if anyone else would like it, or buy it. It is far more interesting to get drunk and peer through a keyhole than to stay sober and walk into a brightly lit room.
Shallow rocks. “That’s Cambodia, Captain.”