Sunday, October 18, 2015
GUILLERMO O'JOYCE : "MILLER, BUKOWSKI & THEIR ENEMIES"
[23-9-15] A kid, device in ear, lap-top on chair in front of him, ostentatiously sets up in the full sunshine window at Cathedral end of the corridor overlooking Swanston Street. Now dont give me he's our time's Kerouac and that I should be more accepting! JK, remember, advocated "scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages for yr own joy" not well-heeled youngsters with portable computers etc in full view and treading on toes of ordinary people including high rent paying micro-retailers in classic Nicholas Building in the rejuvenated rag trade quarter, obstructing their customers & small parties of visitors with guides describing the history including adjacent lie of the land or people simply investigating our floor, walking up the corridor to look out on the city street below... Which growl, not so irritated as to botch another potential angle to the eternal plot --writing out of the sensational world, the given, on the platter of whatever leads to perception --refers me straight to yesterday's gift, the book Miller, Bukowski and Their Enemies : Essays on Contemporary Culture by Guillermo O'Joyce --described, "[T]his new edition with nine new essays first published in Great Britain by Pinter & Martin Ltd, 2011" (evidently then, deducing from bio/biblio notes, the first edition comprised five pieces, written/published between '68 & the present edition --he's a contemporary therefore, another brother of the time)--
which I continued reading overnight (akimbo with new book, without child's excuse of ill-abed). Spotted it in a general catalogue, hard to miss such a title & uncommon name of author. Open it on Comments on Work by Guillermo O'Joyce. Appreciative but backgrounding the reverse. Next page entitled How Censorship Operates in the United States. I'm immediately reminded of Bill Knott's self-published poetry books in 2001, to wit, "I think every poem in this book was rejected at least once by some magazine or other, and indeed the majority here never did achieve periodical publication. An 'acknowledgements page' would not be very impressive" juxtaposed with the testimonials on back-cover. 'Over three decades of critical acclaim', for example, "It is no accident that the major British and American poets of the 19th and 20th century were outsiders. The most original poet of my generation, Bill Knott, is also the greatest outsider." --Stephen Dobyns, '95, and one could have chosen blurbs from Kevin Hart, Jim Elledge, Charles Simic, Sandra McPherson, Thomas Lux et al --a literary milieu, by the way, which probably appals Guillermo judging by the argument & examples in the piece, Masturbation in the strophe factory : 4 essays on Contemporary Poetry… Not quite in the same bag as Bill Knott but subject to similar frustration. Guillermo includes a note from Harper's Magazine's Lewis Lapham, "My friends told me that if I tried to publish this [essay] I could put my career in a bottle and cast it in the wine-dark sea." Similarly, Alice Fulton's fulminations from the University of Michigan to her student, David Levine, "I wasn't here this summer, but had I been here and seen William Joyce in your resume, you not only would not have gotten a fellowship but you wouldn't have gotten into this university." Hilarious but horrendous.
On account of what? Guillermo's writing most reminds me of the serious romanticism, simultaneously literary & political, its presumption & pursuit, synonymous with the Young &/or Progressive, even Radical, prospect, once mine too. Unlike Guillermo I was never tested by the commitment which could take one to this or that academic or professional writers' workshop as so many Americans and latterly British & Australians do, although I did teach or facilitate "creative writing" at the community access level for many years... But Guillermo's essays are all guns blazing at academics, publishers, celebrated critics & writers, in short (but at great length) The Writing Industry, --corollary he assumes of the venal & vicious Western Civ, the consequences of whose politics he describes & denounces. He's for the anti-bourgeois often working-class literature, an heir therefore to 19th & 20th Century French, Russian, British & American realism, into which frame the conflation of Bohemian & Beat writing. Outsiderdom opposes middle-class society & culture; the 'little boxes', as it were, enemies of freedom, he poxes & pillories. Anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, promoting a kind of existentialist survivalism against careerism. Yet few of Guillermo's greats were hermits or complete disaffiliates. They were more likely democrats than guerillas, seeking to influence not annihilate. Most contributed their radicalism to the literary or political domain as I said of & to Hans Magnus Enzensberger when we met in Melbourne in 1981, opposing his notion of Australia as tabula rasa ("you can do anything!") as though history & culture were absent or counted for nothing. (Very likely Guillermo would approve Enzensberger's critique of "the consciousness industry" though Hans Magnus was hardly anarchist or outsider.)
[24-9-15] In the chapter on the artist & writer Irving Stettner (1922-2004), whom I surely do recall from a Henry Miller connection including Stroker magazine (via the mail art & small press hook ups in the late '70s), Guillermo refers to "earned innocence, a term invented by Nelson Algren" (p48). Guillermo explains, "It is comparatively easy to be light and carefree at 24 or 34 (….) But how does anyone keep their gusto, verve, humanness when the gray hairs settle in and he has an artistic audience of 14, eats out of tin cans, and buys coarse toiletpaper instead of White Cloud? This is what I mean by earned innocence. In short, how is it that the boy becomes a man, shakes off mentors and becomes a true voice in his own right…" Clearly this is our author's challenge too.
[28-9-15] He sticks with the boy for his estimation of Kerouac's vision, such informed experience predicated upon what Guillermo calls "a host of necessary virtues", thus
faith that we would be treated well by strangers
belief in our own capacity to navigate in strange territory
total belief in the present moment
ability at a glance to take in the world as a whole
the notion that everything was animated" (p202)
maintained through the decades.
The literature per se doesn't age, only the style (as in 'dated'). Narrative & characters are impervious to passing time, inviolable in poetry & prose --a world complete, truth intact.
[8/14-10-15] Three or four pages of Guillermo's take on Buk, His Own Best Friend, promote the brilliant conjunction of Bukowski & W C Fields, as he says (p56), "Fields and Bukowski are two of a dozen of the truly American voices of this [20th] century. Their lives and their work are instructional manuals on how to convert paranoia into galvanising art." Analogy like metaphor, albeit compositional manna, can also be writer's sure way of losing losing the plot. But Guillermo's on the money here. "Out of a paranoia about the motives of others, they hide money under the rug, under the ice-cube tray, in books, and then can't remember the next morning where they put it. Chaos ensues. they threw up their arms, they curse God and Walt Disney; they tear apart the house. Once, upon returning books to the library, Bukowski spotted something green peeking out of one book, and opened it to find three 20s and a10-spot, huge amount of money for him at any period of his life.this absent-mindedness isn't for lack of concentration; Fields' & Bukowski's concentrations are simply elsewhere. They find the world off, and beneath all the hijinks of their respective art forms, mostly loveless."
Guillermo could have included Kerouac in the analogy. Making another point he notes, "Other than jazz and W C Fields, there are no cultural references in On the Road." (p211) --which has become an American distinction, --says Guillermo, "A Europe that is in rubble shouldn't have much to say [post WW2] about the value of Shakespeare, Diderot, Plato, Aristotle, J S Mill, Voltaire, Goethe, Moliere, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Kafka, etc etc". Evidently Bukowski & Kerouac can begin from scratch. Perhaps Kerouac as Fields removes him from the overall sad set and however many sorry instances equips the figure with viable ambivalence about life, which is how the mystically inclined, Catholic, Buddhist, survive the crazy world.
For Guillermo, Kerouac is "the hero we needed", albeit his post-Road life becomes the martyrdom the others (Miller, Bukowski, Stettner et al) evaded, transcended --survivors each, achieving their three score years & ten, prolific to the end. One's happy to read a Kerouac of technical achievement --Guillermo's analysis of On the Road as a 4 part jazz work (and here's me writing this, ears ringing with Kenneth Rexroth's 1957 Cellar Club recording of Thou Shalt Not Kill (i.m. Dylan Thomas), --the jazz punctuation exploding the word "dead" in the most declamatory section of the famous poem!) amply funds it…
"Each of the 4 sections of On the Road culminates in a jazz scene and does so with such intensity and virtuosity that there can be no doubt that music is the foundation with which he spent so much time building his book. So jazz forms not only the inspiration for Kerouac but becomes as well his method of construction. Because he inherits no language to recapitulate jazz's vast terrain, he must invent one and this accounts for the freshness and spontaneity of On the Road. Fifty-three years later [written in 2010?] it reads better than it did when it was first published. Each paragraph is organised along the principle of as series of jazz chords with the principal characters -- Cassady, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and others who receive their solo time wail mightily and brilliantly in the tradition of bebop but don't always make sense…till the reader reviews their rants in the context of the entire novel. This bebop, and I would assert here a host of other jazz forms -- swing, cool jazz such as the version of 'Autumn Leaves' with Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis -- is Kerouac's answer to the slavery (Moriarty would call it "hung up") he finds about himself at all times."
Out of the blue(s), Guillermo's raised up the game from well-drilled sociology to twitching the actual music --sound-shape of existence, thus writer & writing implying & obliging total engagement -- the only hero the rest of us scribes & scribblers ever need.