I have a sort of pre-emptive dislike-verging-on-loathing of Bukowski, which I think is rooted in my post-adolescent rejection of and disillusionment w...moreI have a sort of pre-emptive dislike-verging-on-loathing of Bukowski, which I think is rooted in my post-adolescent rejection of and disillusionment with the Beat writers (whom I absolutely adored in high school). I’ve never read Bukowski before, but I’ve seen Barfly and Factotum on the screen. I’ve seen two documentaries about him which likewise left me more disgusted and depressed than anything. This is where I’m coming from. There’s also this song that aided in informing me about the man.
One of my poet friends in high school once told me that he only would read Bukowski while taking a shit. This has stuck with me over the years. Once, a girl I became involved with praised Bukowski while simultaneously giving me a caveat about what a terrible sexist he was. This is where I’m coming from.
I started reading this one on the shitter after a long day’s work. Then I moved to the couch where I drank alcohol and chain-smoked cigarettes while zooming through the book. I sneered at the blunt simplicity of the sentences at first, feeling the intense distance between this kind of writing and the George Saunder’s stories I’d been reading recently, as well as the generally more stylistically interesting and intellectually potent books I tend to gravitate towards. But I still felt entertained by this stuff, nonetheless. As more Tesco brand scotch intersected with my veins, I began to see slightly more nuance to this rather thematically repetitive first-person, clearly auto-bio stuff that Bukowski had written about a drunk-as-shit-nihilist/struggling writer who clearly is himself. Very little imagination seemed to be at work here. Just the spilt guts of a self-aggrandizing louse. But yet, I continued to be entertained, so I pressed on, feeling each sentence flow by without much effort on my part. Following the narrative of being employed many, many times, failing and getting fired just as many, drinking, drinking, drinking (to a sickening degree), and barnacle-ing to the hulls of a series of horrendously-depicted females. That’s about all there is to this novel. Working, Drinking, Fucking. Rinse, repeat.
“Even the most horrible human being on earth deserves to wipe his ass.”
But amidst the misspelled words (“he lighted his cigarette”) and dumb-assed factual errors (the USA fighting China in WWII) I gradually found some remarkably “human” moments speckled within the details. There’s a potent dissatisfaction with the exploitative nature of American Capitalism to be found within the job-after-fucking-job experiences the narrator tumbles through. There’s something weirdly edifying in witnessing the details of a severe drunk’s day-to-day physical ailments and triumphs and tribulations, even when nauseating, like most of them are. Even the contemptible attitudes displayed toward women have an oddly true ring to them. This is NOT to say that I agree with treating women like shit the way Bukowski clearly does, but that his shittiness is a stark reminder of certain horrible realities that do certainly exist in the minds of many men. And this I found interesting, in an historico-anthropological sort of way, while simultaneously depressing and upsetting.
And then I thought of Raymond Carver. He also was once a real-life drunk of epic proportions who wrote in tight, blunt, staccato, matter-of-fact sentence-lumps, consistently describing soul-crushing work-weeks, oceans of booze and cluttered ashtrays. Why do I like his writing so much and yet feel this strong, largely pre-emptive aversion to Bukowski? That’s the question. Carver's prose-style is really no more innovative or poetic than Chuck’s, but yet when I read two of Carver’s collections I encountered them with such a different attitude and happy reception. Carver, for one, doesn’t denigrate women the way Bukowski does. That’s one thing. And while he speaks of little else beyond sad, failed, alcoholic people, he manages to make it seem far less about him--the almighty, misanthropic author--and more about said sad, failed, alcoholic people. There’s an extremely off-putting narcissism to Bukowski, so far as I can tell from reading a single book of his, which Carver elegantly transcends, despite similar style and content.
But then I wonder, is there more buried deep within the the wine-soaked walls of Bukowski than lets on immediately? Or, do I perhaps harbor some of the same misanthropy that he nakedly exposes one word to the next? Am I really any better? Well, my answer to the first query is still "NO" and my response to the second still "YES" but contemplating these things during my read was enriching in some way, so I reluctantly give some credit there to ol' CB.
But what was Bukowski, really? A terminally depressed, ego-maniac/self-hater with a bottle permanently pressed to his lips. Some part of me can resonate with this, as much as I high-falutin-ly know that this is the case. There’s a dark knot of nihilism stuck inside my heart, I know this. Perhaps reading these rather bleak and repetitive exploits of Bukowski’s tingles some part of that in me that seeks connection and recognition. I do not know for sure.(less)