Chapter three- “Circumstances alter cases; broken noses alter faces.” *
“Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.
You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.”- Berholt Brecht “Verhoer des Guten” (The interrogation of the Good)
Mostly when we think of violence we think of crime and injustice- we think of muggings and of state repression. We think these things and we feel fear but nothing is so simple and violence, like any other idea that is capable of stirring the endocrine juices, has its positive aspects.
Connor would sometimes joke that his whole family had been in the business of organised state repression. It was an uncomfortable joke and he would employ it in situations where he felt he needed to ‘get his retaliation in first’. He employed it more often than he would have liked. Perhaps this might have something to do with insecurity on Connor’s part but it was also clear that people often had a very conflicted attitude towards the police. In some sense they liked the idea of the protection of the police but they also feared and resented the power they held over them, power which in the end is based firmly in the fact that the police have a legal right to use violence against other citizens; which made for some awkward conversations in pubs.
He had once been introduced to some friends of a girlfriend, now ex, who had used the term ‘Pigs’ so often in the course of the evening that Connor, who admittedly had drunk a little too much, began to make oink noises until someone asked him why. The evening had not ended well. As a person who tended towards the left in his politics Connor found he had a lot in common with a lot of people who sincerely disliked his profession.
He understood the difficulty though and didn’t even resent it that much anymore. What better definition could there be of the state than ‘that which holds the monopoly of legitimised violence’? Why shouldn’t people resent that?
We tend, as I have said, to use the word ‘violent’ in everyday life as a by-word for the negative; however, the definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘violent’ include along with the obviously negative such things as ‘intensity of’ and ‘involving great physical force’. Surely there is nothing wrong with intensity or physical effort. There are many circumstances in which those are desirable things. We need not even always be talking about the realm of the physical. Can’t you make a violent effort of the mind.
Violence itself is basically neutral; it’s all in how it’s applied and our own opinions of those applications. ‘Subjective Violence” and ‘Objective Violence’ even have a life as philosophical terms.
In his professional life Connor dealt with violence in a conflict resolution sort of way, talking people down; in his personal life he had seen it from both sides.
They tell you to let go of your ego and avoid the parts of town where trouble will find you but when home is one of those parts of town you cannot avoid trouble. As a child and teenager Connor had been on the wrong end of beatings and he had learned that, as no one can fix the damage and the pain afterwards, it was better to sink your feet into the ground and fight back. In his experience you never got a worse beating by fighting back.
There were many people who liked to think they were fighters but who really only liked to beat people up. If you made it a fight they faded and went to look for easier fun. There were also, however, others who really did like to fight and when you met them you were likely to end up with blood pooled in your shoes. In fact many of the serious concerns with assault Connor might have at his stage involved the possibility of blood born infections.
Now in his mid thirties he enjoyed a much more comfortable relationship with violence. Most of what he dealt with in the course of his job was much easier than the things he had dealt with growing up and he had also found a way to develop a positive interaction with violence.
These days he went to the FTM Gym (or the Fair to Middlin’ Gym) several times a week. It was a Mixed Martial Arts gym that sat on the first floor above a Chinese restaurant in George’s Street. It was run by John Murphy and there were classes in Boxing, Kickboxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Wrestling singly as well as the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Like a lot of MMA gyms it was a very cosmopolitan place. The teachers of the various arts were from all over the world and the students reflected the great variety of world citizens now calling Dublin home.
It was a happy place. No one had an inflated ego as everyone was tested and keep humble on a regular basis. To do well required hard work, co-ordination, balance, an understanding of the best ways to absorb pressure, issue force or relax under pressure.
The name reflected Murphy’s sense of humour as well as his interest in the work of Samuel Beckett. Many MMA gyms give themselves exciting and exaggerated names that involve lots of adjectives like EXTREME and INTENSE and Murphy, a huge, clam middle aged man with the particular slightly concave shape of an aging grappler that results from the great development of the pulling muscles of the back was the sort of understated person who preferred to ‘let his actions do the talking’ and enjoyed a small joke in naming his gym.
Connor found a place there in which he could concentrate on skill and physical development in an atmosphere that was the closest to a team that he had ever experienced even while they sincerely tried to choke each other unconscious.
Of course I could be guilty of over-thinking all of the above. Perhaps Connor just wanted to convince himself, over and over, that no one could hurt him.
After the gym Connor would usually go straight home. There is a feeling of peace that comes after training that he liked to enjoy in private. This night, however, he dropped into the station on the way home. He wanted to read something of the notebooks found on the dead man earlier in the day. There were maybe twenty notebooks, large and small on the desk in his office. Different colours; different brands. He packed a few of the notebooks into his gym bag and headed for home.
In his apartment he took his used gym clothes and put then in the washing machine. He got a beer from the kitchen and his smallest glass, the glass that made you feel you were drinking more than you really were. He went to the living room and turned on one lamp and sat at his table. He poured out his first little glass of beer and took up one of the notebooks at random. He flicked through the pages. There seemed to be sections written in at least three different languages, mostly but not exclusively in black pen, two of which were definitely English and German.
Stopping more or less randomly at one of the sections in English he read-
“Always cold in Berlin and the cheap brandy from the kiosks helps for only a little while and then makes everything worse. It may be that I will have to move again as the junkies, the term that American author uses for opiate addicts, seem to be increasing in number and they are making my little bolt hole here almost impossible to defend. Strange how they remind me so much of the monsters from that American horror film I saw directed by someone with an Italian name. “Zombies” he called them, borrowing from the Haitian legends of corpses brought back to life by the use of magic. A clever film, these junkies only represent the natural progression of things here in the west- consumption made absolute. Even the graffiti (a wonderful Italian word so well employed against another Italian coinage ‘totalitarismo’) excites me less these days. Years ago they used just one letter, the letter F simply to mean Freiheit^, now they use more words.. and they mean less. Still there is wit and colour. There would be more warmth in Italy though I think.
Why have I such a tendency to live in these strange, readymade places, these false homes. Could it me my history and the way it meets the history of Europe before- but especially after- 1945, all that movement in those times, finding a safe cubby hole to shelter in. Half of Europe on the move and living in hiding places and refuge; families rotting on the platforms of Polish railway stations.
No, that is too grand. Being honest it was in me since childhood. I was always the rodent, I was always the burrower, I was always the one to be found in unlikely places building a home. My childish gaze was always on the alert of some silly place that I could turn into a home in my imagination. I always wanted to live in a place of my own creation.”
On it went. Connor took small sips on his beer until it was gone and kept reading. He tried to piece together an image of the man writing. This section of the notebook appeared to concern the late sixties or early seventies in Berlin. The man seemed to be basically homeless but not really to consider himself so. There were quite a few references to rats and other rodents but no real clue as to the origins of them man, family connections etc. It did not seem like he was German by birth. One of the other languages appeared to be Russian but he couldn’t be sure of that. He trained with a couple of Russians at the gym, perhaps he could ask one of them.
By now the adrenaline from training was beginning to drain and fatigue was setting in. Connor closed the diary and did a few stretching exercises before he settled into bed.
*A favourite phrase of Connor’s grandmother
^ Freedom- as represented in graffiti by the single letter “F” during the early period of Soviet control in East Germany.