Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

Literary Highs & Lows

16 Sep


The poet Charles Bukowski


Originally published on September 16, 1996 as an email to Lynn Landry in San Francisco

Finished the Bukowski book, and am 75% finished with D'Sousa's 650 pager which I unabashedly declare as the most thorough and well-adjusted look at the sociology of racial nativism in the literature to date. But to dash off that old egotistical drunk with a few passages, I either am forced to reflect my own struggles, or claim lines I find fascinating for a variety of reasons of which I suppose I'll mark up in the appropriate pauses. So have a laugh, attack of superiority, goof, or gaff. Be assured that I'm not trying to browbeat you with anything particularly profound, but am simply exercising the most available form of verbal flatulence not essentially my own:

Bukowski wrote:
" per a 'literary conspiracy' against me, I suppose that a great many do hate me—much of it caused by my writing style which is rather unpoetic, also in my drinking moments I have caused difficult feelings, I suppose. No excuses, man, also in my own short stories I am often the bastard villian of the pieces. I guess I am convincing. Also I don't mingle much with the literatti (sic) New York City or North Beach up at Frisco, none of that. I am the loner. People come around here, I beer-up, and I have a tendency to run them out the door. All in all I suppose I have given off rays that I am a son of a bitch. They almost have me believing it myself."

Well, Buk nailed me on this one, although I believe my own grammatical intuition is in lot less need of an editor than CB's, who throughout this book of letters was found railing against the "gross impertinences" of that particular class of literary befrienders, and yet appears as sloppy a writer as I've ever seen in print, much less world famous. Now where is my baseball bat. There are a couple of vaguely familiar intruders with a case of Black Label at the door again...

"I'm an asshole in many ways, I even enjoy my assholeness. I can tear a man in half in a short story; I can also tear myself in half, but I'm no knifer, I don't whisper things into editors' ears. I'm no destroyer. Nothing can be destroyed that has the power to move forward into its own thing. Fame or acceptance or politics or power has nothing to do with it. Nothing is needed but self going-on as self must. One only need realize this small realization."
Bukowski wrote:
"Well, the female is a clever creature. She knows how to regulate her affairs. Most often it is the man who falls apart; it's the man who jumps off the bridge. When we give over our feelings they run off with us. There's no regulating them. I give over my feelings too easily, and it's not all regulated to suck and fuck (as the sculptress calls it). I get as much or more, out of other parts. Small talk. Breakfast together. Sleeping while touching. Waiting while the other goes to the toilet. Lovemaking after a stupid argument. Drinking beer with maddened friends. Hundreds of tiny things. I am never bored when I am with my women. I get bored in large formless crowds. Bored, hell, I get desparate, I lather and blather at the mouth, my eyes roll, the sky shakes. What am I talking about here?"

Uh, Gabriel. You're talking about Gabriel...

Bukowski wrote:
"I think that what has happened with Hal is that he has put total importance upon POETICS and what a poet is supposed to be. A good poet never knows what he is, he's a dime from the edge, but there's nothing holy about it. It's a job. Like mopping a bar floor. I can't rail too much about him; I suppose that the things he has imagined in his mind seem very true to him. Who is to judge? I rattled around his place in Venice a couple of nights drunk but it was more in energy and clowning than malice or a wish to destroy. I'm an asshole in many ways, I even enjoy my assholeness. I can tear a man in half in a short story; I can also tear myself in half, but I'm no knifer, I don't whisper things into editors' ears. I'm no destroyer. Nothing can be destroyed that has the power to move forward into its own thing. Fame or acceptance or politics or power has nothing to do with it. Nothing is needed but self going-on as self must. One only need realize this small realization."

Well, so far I have done nothing but quote what I presume to mirror my own thoughts, but this brings me to a question about the language you used in your last letter, Landry.

You wrote:
Your individuality schtick as an artist and a human being is very interesting. For one thing, I think that you are one of the few people I know who really is asserting their individuality. So many people think they are doing it when all they do is change uniforms.

INTERESTING? Does your usage of this word best translate to clever, queer, peculiar, noteworthy, what?


Bukowski's Sweat

You wrote:
However, I do not think that whenever me [sic] or anyone else brings up generalizations about minorities or women they should be dismissed as bunk. I think that white males (at least in Western Culture) are socialized into a world that allows them to see the world differently. It must feel pretty good to come in on top. Then, if you fail, you only have yourself to blame. While I don't think anyone should use their group's oppression as a crutch or an excuse for any flaw they may have, I don't think the general population of blacks, Asians, women, Hispanics can escape some of the hardships put upon them throughout history by white men.

Now we are tiptoeing into the pond best swam within the context of D'Sousa's book. I just got off the phone with Len Bracken who does not share my enthusiasm for D'Sousa's points of view, he having heard him on a radio talk show (I caught him on Donahue), although I challenged him to read the book before dismissing him out of hand. I am throroughly convinced of the integrity of D'Sousa's work, perceptions, and remedies for what ails us as a culture, although admitting it will take a cold day in hell to convince the Boasian liberal establishment to nudge an inch off its pedastal, but I'd rather postpone that commentary until a more appropriate time. Because I do have many personal anecdotes to throw around like monkey wrenches to this idea that life is so simple for a particular white male who has taken the time to look around the workplace today. Now back to the asshole of the hour:

Bukowski wrote:
"Norse? I understand his viewpoint. We simply come out of different poetic backgrounds. And when I'm drunk I am generally rude and boorish and stupid to everybody alike. I don't just select Hal. If he could understand this he might feel better. Before a man can ever meet the gods he must learn to forgive the drunks. Alta? I understand her viewpoint, and it must certainly seem plausible and right to her, but creation, art, is the breakthrough. We hardly do what is proper or kind, though often, in life, we are kinder than most, much more. Without flying flags about it. Alta does not know how to write a sentence down. It hurts her pitch. I don't want to rape Alta. I don't want to rape anybody. I never have. But if an artist wants to go into the mind of a rapist or a murderer and look out of that mind and write down that mind, I don't think that is criminal. Furthermore, I didn't say my stories in NOLA were "sarcastic." I don't apologize for my work. If I write a story about a shitty woman then that shitty woman did exist. One form or another. Blacks can also be shitty as can whites. I refuse to be restricted in the materials I can paint with. It's really all so ridiculous to defend anything as JUST that thing, can't they even understand that? Oh Alta, I HAVE love...that's why I can write other things..."


Charles Bukowski

Ditto again. Hence my own niggardly kept reputation. A capsule rant of the reality of a consciousness which seems to have predicted "me" since a child, if I may: I presumed at the insidious sterile age of seventeen to wreck my whiteness, my elitehood, my natural intelligence by lowering my standards to the world's. I have refused time and time again the higher education the world says I must have in order to achieve the level a strong native intelligence requires. I have stated on several occasions and to surprising acclaim that I drink to excess so I can be as stupid and as forgetful as the rest of the world. I tattooed my body, not in a jones to appear chic and confrontational but because a Navajo wanted to mark me and because I dared toss away any hope of worldly respectability my native intelligence and white skin supposedly entitles me to receive by throwing in with the foolish and the irresponsible, blackening it. I fattened up to escape the hype of my earlier thinness, and to test the women who claimed to love me for my mind when time has proven it was my body these older women desired, and to bulk up later when self-defense became an issue among the thugs of Eighteenth Street, probably doomed by the genetic horseshoe with these big bones of mine. I dare to remain jobless so as not to take a job from those who claim the system is rigged in my favor. In my uneducated but highly observant 20s back in the 1970s there was a period I was popular and found myself in friendly proximity to many of the Corpus Christi and Atlanta gay masquerade, and also infiltrated the hispanic and black cultures, and as a result often had projected onto me what I was reading was the sole domain of my own kind, the white cetera ad nauseam. But enough of this blather. Not the place. Not the stuff of email where it simply sounds like histrionic self-rationalizing apochrypha, but the iron truth is in God's own magic pocket calculator. As long as my memories sustain me, I will not relinquish the my own justification of my own experience any more than a thousand subsets of humanity do with their own slant after their own fashion.

This has gotten rather long, and I have three more bookmarks to exploit for your perusal, so until next time....



"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""