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577. Revolution (XI)

For a brief period, about eight months, I smoked a pipe. At my age—in my generation—this can come across as an affectation, although I never smoked it in public. I read in some hipster publication a complaint a few years ago about “a cunt with a pipe”, and although I dislike the resentment and conformity behind this expression it is probably right as far as anyone my age or younger goes when it comes to pipes smoked in public. There is a website called The Art of Manliness that sums up this spirit; it is a place where you could probably read all about the different tobacco types you can buy for a pipe—or how to rigidly wax your little Edwardian moustache.

These websites, broadly retro, pretty much sum up masculinity in the 21st-century West: masculinity as a consumer product where you self-consciously adopt the fashions worn by an Edwardian gent; and this whole outlook is hipsterish—it is also camp, campness being to take a trivial thing seriously. So to pedantically fuss over tobacco types or moustache wax products is itself inherently camp and unmasculine. Basically, you are allowed masculine simulacra in the West, not the actual attributes of masculinity. This has been so since at least the 1990s, when “lads’ mags”—FHM (For Him Magazine), Zoo, Nuts—would retail articles such as “How to wrestle a bear (and not get your undercacks in a twist)”; similar articles then became a staple for listicle-type websites in the 2010s.

Pipes are different to cigarettes. I never cared for cigarettes, really cigarettes are thin and mean and bitter—very harsh. As a teenager—in a genuinely affected act—I used to smoke cigarillos and wear a cream white suit, as if I were a colonial planter (not the intended effect, but objectively how it came over I realised later).

The bowl in a pipe is fairly stuffed with tobacco—being a decadent large child, mine was cherry flavoured—so the pipe packs a real psychogenic punch. The pipe is not hallucinatory, but it does help your mind to form images—and the amount of tobacco per bowl means that you can easily smoke the equivalent to two packets of cigarettes in two pipe sessions. I often found it hard to sleep after I had smoked a pipe because the thoughts would rush through my mind all night. Unlike cannabis, the pipe keeps you alert as you experience the quick thoughts—increases alertness.

The pipe itself encourages a meditative stance because you naturally watch the bowl to make sure it has not gone out. You concentrate on a little fire at the pipe’s end—and to look into a fire has always been taken as a scrying act. The pipe provides concentration and fire accelerated with tobacco—and so the pipe is a good instrument to think with (hence its association with professors and wizards). A pipe is not really sociable, as with cigarettes or even weed (pass the dutchy…)—although it can be smoked in company it encourages you to pause and consider before you speak. It cannot be shared—pipes are often unique to the owner in burn marks and carvings. You cannot offer someone your pipe anymore than you can offer them your shoes. This makes the pipe somewhat like an old fiddle with a negro’s head carved at the end. For certain thinkers, such as the Merlin-shaman CG Jung, their thought would not be possible without a pipe—without pipe concentration.

Pipes are on the way out. The tacky tobacconist where I used to buy my pipe tobacco recently closed to give way to (yet another) Turkish barbershop—mostly, as I understand it, fronts for drug-running. The Turkish barber has bright neon lights and CGI-effect beards shaved Ken-doll close to the face and perhaps runs a sideline in THC vapes—even vapes are suspect though, being a bit too like unholy cigarette smoke for priestly sensibilities. The pipe is in abeyance.


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