During lockdown I’ve been really proud of making a little music – you know, updating my old plugins, buying the odd piece of hardware now and again. TRYING TO MAKE AN EFFORT.
I also bought a nice little sea shell to go with it all. Look.
And then someone posted this to the internet this week…
And then this…..
And even this…
It turns out, this is Martin Gore’s home studio. Let me repeat that – HOME STUDIO. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere…
I once met Martin at a Nitzer Ebb gig back in the ’90s. I asked him for an autograph, which he really wasn’t happy about, and then we watched someone being booted offstage by the lead singer. This was at the time when it was very much the done thing for fans to get up onstage to then dive headfirst into the mosh pit – but apparently this wasn’t the done thing to do on this particular EBM night. I think about that moment quite often.
Now and again, when I have a free lunchtime, I usually find myself wandering into the same local bookshop to peruse the latest sci-fi/fantasy reads. I’d like to say this daily quest involves navigating poorly-lit stairwells and fathomless basement catacombs – but it’s all rather mundane really with everything stacked neatly into their various expanding sub-sections and plenty of lighting, air conditioning and coffee. It seems that ‘speculative fiction’ (a term I hate) has been a real hit during Covid.
However, there’s one category that hasn’t faired so well and that’s the much overlooked and unloved PHILOSOPHY section. Over the years, I’ve seen this particular area of the bookshop slowly dwindle in size until it was eventually moved to spot you’d really only find if you were lost. Even an attempt to rebrand it as ’SMART THINKING’ hasn’t seemed to work – and so these vertically-aligned relics of the past remain untouched, gathering dust until the nearest flickering basement light bulb eventually splutters out.
So imagine my surprise when, one day, I noticed a new* book on the shelf adorned with the words ’Nietzsche and Hiking.’ It seemed like a curious mix of topics so I immediately bought it and was immediately hooked. Neither completely all about philosophy, and not quite all about outdoor orienteering, it’s really a rather honest account by an author who was so inspired by Nietzsche, he very nearly imploded.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Way back when I was a student studying English Lit, we were given a brief introduction to what was called the ‘Premiere League of Philosophy’. We were told two things: firstly, that we were ’ships in the night’ and would probably never return to this subject again because this topic was, of course, naturally reserved for full-time philosophy students – and the second was to read two texts and comment on one of them. The first was Plato’s account of the beginning of the Universe which was absolutely crackers (honestly, you should give it a whirl) – and the second was ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’. Thinking back, I wish that second text had come with some kind of health warning because I only gave it a cursory read and I was smitten: it didn’t seem to contain any of those long drawn-out logical arguments the other books seemed to bang on about PLUS it was always being referenced by my favourite artists. What wasn’t to love?
What swiftly followed was a real desire to read everything Mr. ‘Dynamite’ had written, without much context and with certainly very little understanding. I soon became an aphorism-reciting cliche and definitely not the kind of person you’d want to meet at parties and casually ask ‘So, how’s life?” It all reached a very predictable conclusion like a scene from ‘Withnail and I’ which I’ll simply leave here with the truism that there’s nothing like having to pay your first month’s rent to make you reconsider your life choices.
Anyway, I wanted to celebrate John Kaag’s book because I don’t think too many people have written such an honest account of how a philosopher can have such a dramatic affect on the psyche of a reader. We’ve certainly seen that scenario played out in various plays, books and film scripts – but not quite in real-life, and probably not with academic professors. The only book that has a similar approach in it’s sensitivity in this area is Yalom’s ‘When Nietzsche Wept’ although that work is entirely fictional which makes Kaag’s confessional all the more thought-provoking. And even if the biographical element doesn’t appeal to you, Kaag makes light work of explaining some of the more complex ideas and characters in this period of Continental Philosophy. It’s the kind of introduction I wish I’d read back when Guinness was only a pound a pint at the student bar – although, perhaps, that’s also another reminder that there’s sometimes more to life than spending your day thinking about things.
The allure of Nietzsche is that once you start listening to his arguments, the questions never quite go away. We should thank Kaag for giving us a personal insight into where those questions might take you – even if that’s to places many of us would fear to tread.
On Saturday morning I got out of bed and ran 26.2 miles around a lake in the pouring rain. In fact, it had rained so hard overnight that in many areas of the course you found yourself slipping sideways down the banks of the lake towards the water. At mile 2 I felt a slight ache in my ankle which I knew it was going to get worse – and it did. As I spent the next four hours negotiating various waves of pain, I would like to tell you that I spent a bit of that time wondering why I put myself through that kind of discomfort each year. But I didn’t. I just kept on putting one foot in front of the other, kept my head up, spoke to other people, made sure I was taking in the fluids and gels at the right time, examining the ground to stop myself tripping over, adjusting the layers I was carrying, breathing correctly, keeping my hat on to prevent sunburn, taking it off when I got too hot, putting it back on…
The point of me telling you this, I guess, is that, after something like 10 marathons, I think the key of having a really good run, is probably not to think too much about it when you’re doing it. It’s a very odd experience but you have to stop you’re mind from wandering otherwise, when you focus again, you can get quite overwhelmed by it all. How bonkers is that?
Another interesting thing I learnt this weekend is just how powerful your mind can be when you set yourself a clear goal. I met another runner who had a serious leg operation a year ago and was going to run the Boston Marathon in a few months. When I asked him a bit more about it, he said he’d already run 460 marathons and wanted to get to 500.
When I got back to my car with my recently-won medal it all seemed to pale into insignificance. What an incredible achievement. I wonder if I could ever get to 50 marathons. Now, there’s a thought…