Adam's Reviews > The Devil Never Sleeps: and Other Essays

The Devil Never Sleeps by Andrei Codrescu
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's review
Jul 12, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir-autobio, essays-and-criticism, cities-and-planning
Read in July, 2011

Reading Codrescu's collections actually slowed my pace and gave me a different kind of peace for thinking. Generally I look to stimulation for thought from good stimulants like coffee or Coltrane. Instead, I lay, reclined on my sofa, with July heat of Chicago spilling between my linguine window blinds. I thought about all of the things I'd like to do and the people I'd like to see. For a moment, the oppression of summer heat didn't keep me down, and I managed to enjoy the passing of the late afternoon. Maybe some of the inspiration came from noticing that despite the inhumane weather that Codrescu endures by living in the endlessly decaying New Orleans, he creates incredibly fresh and incisive writing.

Like New Orleans, Codrescu celebrates celebration. He believes art is for celebrating life. For love and writing and drinks and companions and walks and old buildings.
But, celebrating art also means to speak up and speak out--to defend and to fight. He praises the San Francisco poet laureate for delivering a critique of the city at the city's event to crown him. And he supports the "poetic terrorism" of the “Assault Poetry Unit" who delivered a variety of aesthetic demands to the New Orleans newspaper, among which that local police occasionally recite poetry. He joins a famous Russian poet who is disgusted by literati at a party who are more concerned with socializing than to respond to the recent news of Rabin’s assassination. For Codrescu, art has a purpose. Even his most poetic musings are mixed with cultural commentary, or opinion, at least:

“For myself, the pleasure of eating in an old restaurant is intimately linked to the comfort of death. “Ah,” I think to myself at Antoine’s, or Commander’s Palace, or any of the grand establishments, “One hundred years a go a man sat where I sit now, had a fine meal, and died.” This makes me inexpressibly happy. I feel that my pleasure is authorized by continuity, that it is not ephemeral the way it is in all those horrid, brand-spanking-new, automobile-riddled, and soulless clusters that pass for cities in America” (37)

Codrescu is just as strong when he leaves poetic musings and delves straight into personal essays about his Romanian homeland and the Soviet experience which read like Harper’s journalism:

“In 1989 the official narcotic ideology that went by the name ‘socialism’ was officially kaput, but the people who had been in charge were not kaput at all. Their way to hold on to power was to remind people of the undying hatred they once felt for their neighbors. Suddenly, all those sentimental songs and nasty ditties recording all the slights suffered throughout history at the hands of people with whom they had gotten along just fine for about forty years, bubbled up and started intoxicating everybody with the bittersweet juice of eternal victimization” (129).

In Codrescu’s eyes, the artist has a role here, too, which he states explicitly: “We are no longer living in the era of the Cold War. How is it possible for some politicians to revive racism by using coes like ‘crime’ ad ‘IQ’ to mean race? Racial purity is a myth. It is an artist’s job to expose and subvert these insidious codes, as well as to thoroughly mix the palette” (174).

Published in 2000, reading The Devil Never Sleeps is like reading the 1990s. Codrescu rails against prosperity-induced complacency, that seems so distant in our recession-induced politicization and polarization. There are references to Seattle, the quintessential city of the 90s, Bill Gates, the 90’s celebrity, AOL, and the use of the prefix “cyber,” perhaps the prefix of the 90s. But only in the topical territory of the Internet does the datedness of the book interfere with Codrescu’s keen observation.
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