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Ferocity of an Enfant Terrible
by Carl Halling
10/30/08
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Ferocity of an Enfant Terrible

My academic life at Westfield was no less remarkable than my social. Thanks to the generosity of my interviewers both at Westfield and Central, I'd effectively scraped in with two mediocre "A" levels at B and C. It came to pass however that the one-time head of the French department and published author Dr Margaret Mein advised me to seriously consider a career as a professional academic. Not bad for a secondary school drop-out. Dr Mein was my principle tutor during my final year, and under her galvanising mentorship I studied the controversial and often disturbing writings of Andre Gide as my main subject. From the outset, she tirelessly encouraged my intellectual and literary inclinations in the firm belief that I had the makings of an academic or writer. She was the tutor I was closest to, but I was also exceptionally close to Dr Maya Slater, who recently published the critically praised novel, "Mr Darcy's Diary".
From the very first essay I produced for assessment at Westfield, I exhibited a frenzied and insolent cerebrality in my writing at least partly influenced by my favourite avant garde artists but also reflecting my own tendency to mental causticity. While some of my tutors viewed these submissions with a dubious eye, Dr Mein thrilled to them and awaited them with the sort of impatience normally accorded a favourite TV or radio series. How close this love of scandalising by way of the written word brought me to a seared conscience I can't say; but one thing is certain, my compassion started to recede. This didn't happen right away of course. Yet, even during those first two golden years, some of those who were drawn to me on a deep emotional level betrayed a certain unease with their words, and I was variously described as aloof, intense, mercurial, mysterious, saintly, disabused and sad.
A French girl friend of mine, Monique, said that they sensed la mort in me, but she was in thrall to the intellectual worldview, and familiar with Freudian analysis. Precisely what she meant by la mort I'm unable to say, but she may have been referring to a certain inner disintegration. If so, I believe she was onto something, and I'd attribute this death to a cocktail of poisons potentially fatal to the human spirit, including alcohol, astrology, and the kind of intellectualism I described earlier, a worship of the intellect for the sake of it leading to hyperconsciousness.
So, why didn't I cross the line beyond which a person can no longer respond to the Holy Spirit? After all, from about 1983, I started to decline as a human being. Perhaps it was something to do with the prayers of believing friends and relatives. Or perhaps something precious was kept alive within me during those dark years. Certainly, I never stopped being a caring person, and I can recall being outraged by those avant gardists who were flagrantly hateful towards other people, or who advocated the actual physical harm of innocents. How then did I square this with my adoration of those artists who thrived on violence and scandal? The fact is I couldn't, hypocrite that I was, and I'm so grateful I'm no longer such a monster and a chaos.

There was something about my combative writing style that was what the French call criant, excessive, flagrant, glaring. In this respect perhaps I was a little reminiscent of Louis Aragon, the Dadaist and Surrealist who was one of the supreme love poets of the Resistance. In the 1930s, his close friend the Surrealist leader Andre Breton described the youthful Aragon as being a little coquettish in his subversiveness. In time though, his desire to shock produced the infamous "Feu Rouge", one of the most disturbing poems I've ever read.
Many artistic cliques have their pet bad boys like Aragon, their enfants terribles, and there was certainly something of this type about me on a very small scale at Westfield. I typically dressed loudly and sought the centre of attention at all times, talked, smoked, drank, partied too much, baulking at every restraint, an intolerable pain to some, a delight to others. I alienated many who'd have gladly given me their exclusive devotion by a desire to be loved by everyone all the time, almost as if my sanity depended on it. But I'd a dark side that warred against this insatiable thirst for approval, and manifesting as the intensest anger imaginable. This was significantly directed towards what I perceived as injustice, and the chief targets of my rage were dictators of every stripe but especially those on the right wing of the political spectrum, indeed right wing politics in general. Throughout the radical eighties I affiliated myself with one lobby after the other including CND, Greenpeace, Animal Aid, Amnesty International and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and I marched against nuclear weaponry in London and Paris, lectured on behalf of Amnesty while blind drunk to an aggregate of middle-aged Rotarians, and had a letter published in the newspaper of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Mine was the fury that fails to recognise that oppression stems from the sin we all share, and that is based on a fallacious notion of the perfectibility of Man, that has no real satisfying motive other than its own existence. In time, it started to turn inwards, and to eat away at the reserves of tenderness that meant so much to me. And my darkness was enhanced by alcohol and dissolute living, and an addiction to astrology and other occult topics, and scandalous art and philosophy. What a contrast to the noble and uplifting purposes of Christianity. My soul didn't stand a chance, and although I was eventually delivered by God from this awful existence, I genuinely believe that my mind has never truly recovered from it.
This second remnant from my Westfield diaries, "Some Sad Dark Secret" testifies to some degree to my former mental condition. It was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I recently unearthed and probably dating from 1982 or '83. The first three sections contain words of advice offered me by Dr Mein. The fourth and fifth sections have as their basis words once spoken to me by another of my Westfield tutors, Dr Harvey. They refer to my former desire to shock by the affectation of an almost hysterical vehemence of tone in my writings, as well as the endless inclusion of ranting lists. .

Some Sad Dark Secret

Dr Mein said:
“Temper
Your enthusiasm,
The extremes
Of your
reactions,
You should have
A more
Conventional
Frame
On which to
Hang your
unconventionality.”

The tone of some
Of my work
Is often
A little dubious,
She said.
She thought
That there
Was something
Wrong,
That I’m hiding
Some sad and dark
Secret
From the world.

She told me
Not to rhapsodise,
That it would be
Difficult,
Impossible, perhaps,
For me to
Harness
My dynamism.
“Don’t push People”,
She said.
“You make
Yourself
Vulnerable”.

Dr Harvey said:
“By the third page,
I felt I’d been
Bulldozed.
I can almost see
Your soapbox.
Like Rousseau,
You’re telling us
What to do.
You seem to
Work yourself
Into such an
Emotional pitch…

And this
Extraordinary
Capacity for lists.

The Boy Who Played With Fire

Monique once described me as a fumiste. A fumiste is someone who prides him or herself on subverting everything taken seriously by the moral bastions of society with a sardonic gaiety verging on the deranged.
It's long been a feature of those on the lunatic fringe of the avant garde. My fumiste image went down well with my fellow students, and most of my lecturers at Westfield, but at the Central School I was kept on a tighter rein, which is not to say that I didn't get on well with my tutors because I did. Only that I had to rein in my more seditious tendencies.
My second year drama project was "Playing with Fire" by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. I was allotted the task of supplying the music; as well as the lead role of Knut. My love rival Alex was played by budding playwright Vince, and my father, by Ondrej, both of whom were almost as wilfully madcap as me, and while Vince and Ondrej didn't get on all that well, I adored them both. In fact I went on to play the lead in one of Vince's plays at college. Like me, Vince was incredibly rebellious, indeed looking back that was one of the key characteristics of most of the young people I knew in the 1980s, rebellion. A degree of rebellion is of course natural to the young, but I can't help thinking that since around 1955, rebellion has grown at a furious rate in Britain, and society has suffered accordingly. Recent statistics from Nation master point to a tragic society, with one of the highest crime rates in the world, higher than the US, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands.
Vince and I were united in rebellion, and we were devoted to one another as such. It saddens me to think that so many of the friends I once loved so dearly would not be able to understand why I am the person I am today, which is to say a Christian, and not a cultural Christian, a born again one, a Bible believer and one therefore for whom rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. I'd love to think they too could come to faith, indeed that everyone I've ever known could come to saving faith, but sadly the Bible makes it clear that at any given time in history, those that know Christ are few. Furthermore, those that do such as myself are urged to consistently test themselves to prove they are in Christ and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the Saints. It is never a time to settle back comfortably in one's faith and live as we please, for life for we Christians is a battle to be won, lest we become cast off. Whether this implies loss of salvation or loss of an effective walk or whatever depends on where an individual believer stands on the subject of salvation, which is to say whether it can ever be lost or not.
I can't remember when it was that we performed "Playing with Fire", but I think it was late in the Christmas term. I also think that the production of "Twelfth Night" we'd staged at Edinburgh was re-performed this term with most of the original cast intact, although it may've been the following one. And then there was "Blood Wedding", which came in the wake of "Twelfth Night" although how soon afterwards I can't say for certain.
The piece below, "Ice Spoke of the Spells" was partly based on several conversations I had with Ged following a performance of "Blood Wedding. I think they took place late one night in late 1982 in Scorpio's, a Greek restaurant opposite the college on the Finchley Road. The second verse, adapted from notes I made during the same time period, I feel provides some indication of my social hypersensitivity and unceasing need for attention, affection and approval within a social setting, and the way it affected close Westfield friends.

Ice Spoke of the Spells

I think you should be
0ne of the greats,
Carl, but you've
Given up and that's sad...
You drink too much,
You think, ____ it
And you go out and get _____,
When I'm 27 I'd be happy
To be like you...
In your writing,
Make sure you've got
Something really
Unbeatable...
Then say...
'Here, you _______!'
At sixteen,
You knew
You were a genius,
At nineteen,
You thought
You were a failure
& Now you think...
What's genius Anyway?

Those sad faces my soul
In knots
I couldn’t speak!
I felt like the nice guy
On the sidelines,
Gentle
But strong…
I spoke
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical
Reactions
Psychic
Exhaustion
Then anxious
Elation
I’d only approached
The latter
By my third
And Gail said
Your eyes are
Sparkling
You must be
Happy…
S. said: “I’m afraid…
You’re inscrutable
You’re not just
Blasé,
Are you?”
I spoke
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical
Reactions
Psychic
Exhaustion
Then anxious elation.


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