If you cannot get control, then achieve at least the illusion of control.

In the German Gymnasium, no swordsmen but liqueurs. Spectacular arrangements of flowers, their seductive display of pure nudity — is there anything more naked than a flower? — and green and white geometry, architecture of sulphur and cream. A muted air of the glasshouse, a waxy residue of plastic-wrapped passages through the conduits of commerce, attaches itself to the lilies, and the establishment’s ambiance is subtly compromised: dead feelings. Contrived into position, the petals emit a faint under-image of barcodes and spreadsheets and vans.

In the German Gymnasium.

The joy of modernity is over, the forced games of post-modernity are over, or should be over, but both hangover.

This is no longer the London of Karl Marx and Rimbaud, nor of the Blitz or of a brutalist concrete revival. The city has settled eerily, like a sunken ocean liner on its side. The damage is ingeniously massaged away and dispersed. Neither fascist excess, nor revolutionary zeal, nor liberal decadence hold sway: that would be absurd, any significant re-structuring of the capitalist vessel seems to belong less to the domain of necessity or possibility than to the arena of taste, of manners. Bad taste, and bad manners. If you cannot gain control, you cannot lose control either.

I am of Puritan stock, a whey-faced, doughty roundhead among cavaliers. The clink of my pike and pot helmet and breastplate can easily be heard in the charming landscape dotted by the translucent, ethereal volcanoes of martini glasses. Tramping up the stairs in my Paul Smith armour, I feel guilty, incapable of taking pleasure in a place designed for pleasure and the performance and embodiment of style. No matter how hard I try, I cannot relax into the present era, the fashionable scene. I am clunky and humourless, and of course no less narcissistic than the cavaliers around me — indeed, probably more so.

The new has become a brand, like sonnets, like handguns, like Tarantino. Modernity is a sheath over the past. Make of that what you will, o my masters!

Calmness is a signature look in the German Gymnasium. Not sabres, not rapiers, but mobile devices and Tissot watches. Complete command over the syntax of the efficient expenditure of wealth is highly desirable. We speak in control. We express success.

No Prussian hard-cases, no punch bags the dark tobacco colour of gleaming tropical beetles.

The poets of that era, with their dueling scars of hashish and an innocent belief in art and in the efficacy of iconoclastic weekends in mountain retreats or dingy bordellos, each carrying the neat, jumbled prospectus of the future in suitcases of glass or ivory or petroleum, would not fit in with the clientele of the German Gymnasium.

The icons come self-broken. The weight has gone — for all the impressive floodlighting around the latest urban grand design — the substance has been syphoned off into the realm of the digital, the bombs begin as pixels and the dead have their twitter accounts, their extensive menu of clichés to choose from, the bereaved have information packs on funeral services and coping strategies, the astringent snow to heal in Norwegian fjords or Swedish cabins.

The poor and their “explosive cause”… The magma of history, churning away, unseen, in the chamber below ground: only when it is extruded onto the surface does it become lava.

In my notebook, “social injustice”, “relative deprivation”, the policy statements of politicians haunted by the notes from silver horns — a cold jubilance on winter mornings calling to the hunt — fluttering pearl-decorated fans or strutting in tight breeches. The prophylactic of modernity. The glass pyramid of I.M. Pei, stretched over the treasures.

In the German Gymnasium, the energy of coherent errors is no longer available to pump the situation up into the status of a symbol.

I wondered, as I looked around, whether the sensation of gaining control, or of losing control, offers the greatest bliss?


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)
(this poem, September 2016)