I posted the first part of a paper a few days ago (to read it, click here), promising then to post the rest in sections as the days yawned by. Here is part 2, enjoy.
Arundhati Roy described the storyteller as one who “tells stories of the gods, but his yarn is spun from the ungodly, human heart.” (On Stories, pg. 9) It would be a difficult task to find an author better than Charles Bukowski to represent the extreme end of Roy’s postulation. Notes of a Dirty Old Man (hereafter Notes) is a collection of columns written by Bukowski for an underground newspaper called OPEN CITY. One of its overarching themes is the notion that truly seeing the world around oneself enables one to survive the suffering, confusion, and loneliness of that world. Implicit in this theme of seeing is the belief that the same help comes when one is seen. Thus for Bukowski, truly seeing the world implies observation, but it also has to do with acceptance; acceptance of himself and acceptance of those around him; acceptance thus implying what it means to “be seen.” Bukowski’s somewhat auto-biographical notes parallel the maxim,“whatever is denied cannot be healed.” The Bukowskian maxim could be expressed as “whatever is denied is the normal stuff of human life; if we’re honest about a few things, that’s real progress!”
The stories he relates in Notes weave in and out of truth and fiction, constantly blurring the line. They also constantly invoke the paradox of practices in life which, though they are admittedly destructive, have healing properties, have drops of grace in the folds of their clothes. Gambling at the track, bedding a 300 pound woman (and breaking the bed), drinking from morning till night; all these episodes celebrate what he’ll call the “tragicomic” aspect of life. For him, the tragicomic is life, and anyone who tries to spin it differently is “boring” or “full of shit.” As he himself says, “sex is obviously the tragicomedy. I write about it as a stage play laugh where you have to cry about it, a bit, between acts.” (Notes, pg. 132)
Bukowski had an uneasy relationship with the Beatnik movement. Though Bukowski has often been filed in the same category as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, he had harsh words for their lopsided view of the world, going so far as to claim that Kerouac used Neal Cassady for his literary dreams and was even the cause of his death. In Notes, Bukowski writes that “Kerouac had set him up for the sucker punch and Neal had bit, kept biting… Jack had only written the book, he wasn’t Neal’s mother. just his destructor, deliberate or otherwise.” For Bukowski, the beatniks were tragedy without comedy and comedy without meaning.