It is well-known that I am a fan of Johannes Speyer; that the casket of respect I carved for him is an extravagant one; that I may be, quite possibly, inordinately fond of bringing the great man’s name into conversation whenever I can.
Still, I wouldn’t say that I was an uber-fan: a ‘Speyer nut’, so to speak. If there’s a framed photograph of him in our bedroom (and there is) it’s not because I like to stare into his mossy eyes before I go to sleep every night – but because he just so happened to be standing next to a startlingly pretty tree at the time. And who doesn’t like a nice photograph of a tree on their bedroom wall?
Whatever you say, when it comes to obsessing over the life and work of that noble man, I am only – relatively speaking – a fair weather follower. I was a duteous pupil, that’s all: a mildly reverential adherent. But a ‘Speyer nut’? Not at all. And trust me – I’ve met some Speyer nuts.
Take Ernst Burbäng, the Austrian student who has been arrested, twice, for breaking into Speyer’s old home when its current tenants were on holiday, lighting twenty-two large candles in the living room and filling the bathtub with his own urine. I’ve never met Burbäng, and (as you have probably surmised for yourselves) there is a very good reason for this. Like anyone, I fear coming into contact with someone who believes that anybody or anything related to Speyer is an object deserving of some perserve ritual.
Lord knows, however, that Burbäng has tried to meet me. As things stand, he has written to me ninety-seven times, tried to abduct me at a literary festival twice, and is said to have lain in wait at my cottage in Vladivostock for seven weeks before realising that I only go there irregularly (he has not, as yet, tracked down my London address). That he is willing to spend this amount of time hunting down someone on the basis that they were once taught by someone else proves that this is a man who takes literary pilgramage very seriously. I hear that he is often seen skulking around the hospital where Speyer died, clutching a blood-stained copy of his last work (Riding on the Crest of Culture), and that he owns three houses in the town where Speyer grow up.
But why such an obsession with Speyer? I can’t say for sure, though it is worth pointing out that Burbäng has, for about nine years now, been working on the first ever Speyer-based thesis. Nine years on a thesis isn’t so bad (I’ve been working on mine for much longer) but something tells me that Burbäng won’t be crossing the finising line anytime soon. In fact, I can almost guarantee that he will never finish his masterwork. How Speyeresque! The poor man will, of course, take Speyer’s word when it comes to the impossibility of ever knowing a subject enough to write about it – thus denying the chances of ever completing his doctorate.
This, of course, is where I have always differed from my old master – which is not to say that he wasn’t right, but that I don’t think there’s too much harm in our being wrong.