bukowski & insanity (1 Viewer)

Any thoughts on the theme of insanity / madness in Bukowski's work? It's a big theme. Almost as big as the role of work.
 
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Pogue Mahone

Officials say drugs may have played a part
I have always loved how he referred to people, dogs, and other living things as "Sub-normal." It makes me feel better that my dog and girlfriend are sub-normal. Is it an old school term for "retarded"?
 
Any thoughts on the theme of insanity / madness in Bukowski's work? It's a big theme. Almost as big as the role of work.
It IS a big theme, even figuring in at least one (obvious) title. For me, the resonance is the whole idea that everyone who allows him/her self to mindlessly march the treadmill of lemming-like life - is insane. And for those who prefer NOT to do so, they wind up GOING insane because of everyone around them. That's the feeling I've gotten from so much of Bukowski's work.

I have always loved how he referred to people, dogs, and other living things as "Sub-normal." It makes me feel better that my dog and girlfriend are sub-normal. Is it an old school term for "retarded"?
I, too, loved his use of "sub-normal." It kind of reminds me in a way, of that other fellow who created the whole "Bob Dobbs" thing - I think it was called "Church of the Sub-Genius."
 
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Pogue Mahone

Officials say drugs may have played a part
But I do think sub-normals were a different animal. Those were just the clueless who couldn't be helped -- and I do think they had a special place in his heart. Insanity is another animal all together. It can be good, bad, or just plain good writing material.
 
I think you have something here, Pogue. I'm inclined to agree with you; yet, at the same time, I also feel that he was exasperated by them at times. And he really didn't like the smug middle-class types. I'm thinking just now about this poem he did. It was some schmuck at the Hollywood Bowl, listening to some "beginner melody" trash during one of their summer concerts. And the bloke was commenting on how wonderful the shitty music was. That they really made him "feel it." He didn't like "normal" in certain ways. I suspect that some of that deep resentment may have come from the manner in which he was treated by his father. And then working all those horrible jobs.
 
I think that the fear of insanity is an overriding motif in much of his work, the attempting to stave off the horrible possibility of truly going mad.
He was saved, I think, with his words. I think that's what's heroic about him for me. Not the drunken, dirty old man schtick, but the very real and
exhausting effort he put into not stepping permanently over that line. I feel his work helps me a bit in that area too.
 
Good stuff. It strikes me that Bukowski wrote about at least 2 types of insanity: people insane because they were content to live unfulfilling lives ("Not a real man in the whole shitload"), and those whose madness took them in interesting directions, like great artists. ("Those mad dogs of glory...")
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
[... and those whose madness took them in interesting directions, like great artists. ("Those mad dogs of glory...")
DS Calonne Sunlight Here I Am Pg 258, Bukowski Reflects: The Street Smart Sage
[...I adored being fucked up and half mad. I adored being in hell, I adored not being able to get the rent up and waiting for for a return response from a short story I sent out to the New Yorker. I felt I was really living high and good. I really wasn't in hell. To another person it might've seemed like hell. To me it was a necessary and great thing and glowing thing, the gamble of it. I loved it.]

What I wonder though is how much of it was a conscious decision on his part to"suffer for his art"and become a great writer, or if it was more an escape and rejection of the horrifying model of suburbia and family life he experienced with his parents.

I can't remember whereabouts he describes this period as being "trapped between my father and the bums". Existing, starving, drinking and writing. He hates the system that crushes people and the bullies who thrive in it, at work and in the home, to me he cares very much about people struggling to cope, or marginalised.

It's brutal and punishing but he seems to crave it's counter of the life he'd had at home and the madness there. He complains about the crazy women he ended up with, but again it seems to me either a conscious or subconscious effort to avoid women like his mother, domesticated and passive.

There is one poem about his mother as she is dying, she admits his father's brutality and mentions how she is put in a psychiatric ward for a period of time (can't find a lot more on this, but would like to, have often wondered if there was post natal depression as well as being a victim of domestic abuse that separated him and his mum). The castration theme that is present in a few of his poems/short stories I think reveals his wariness of women, he wants love but fears intimacy and relationships, rather than the misogyny he is repeatedly accused of.

Can someone post the poem I am thinking of? I am very interested in the relationship (or lack of) between Bukowski and his mother but there is so little about it. Sorry this post is so long!
 

mjp

Founding member
His relationship with his mother seems very typical of families who live with an overbearing, abusive member. He looked to her for help that she couldn't give him, because she was in the same boat. That's a sure way to create a relationship that's conflicted. In addition to the dozen other ways it has to fuck you up.

As for enjoying the struggle, I don't think that's so unusual for a certain type of young person. To leave security or suburbia behind and go out and see what happens. You can look at that as a rejection of where the person came from, and that may be part of it (it certainly would be in an abusive household), but there are also people who just want something else and they'll go to any lengths to get it. And while they're chasing it they are conscious of what they've "given up" in search of their goal. You can mourn what you've given up or you can celebrate it. Bukowski celebrated it.
 
"These words I wrote keep me from total madness."
I have this on a T-Shirt.

Madness is something he mentionned his whole life in his poems, that's for sure, but I have the feeling that it is more present in his early poems, particularly on a stylistic level.
If you have a look at "Burning in Water, Drowning in Flames", there are poems like "The curtains are waiving" where you lose all notions of time and space, and in "The body" you also lose notions of identity -the poet literally lost his head, he has become a headless body, and it is speaking/writing from that perspective.

It's like writing from the inside of madness, and it strongly reminds me of Antonin Artaud's poetry.
 

esart

esart.com
Founding member
I personally do not believe he enjoyed struggle. I believe he was incapable of coping in any other manner. Struggling was familiar to him, and it also was a struggle for him to survive out there since he had alternative ambitions - not the type that fit into mediocrity (which he resented for various reasons) - and so his struggle was very real and he was only motivated to work so much. Not to say anyone here is saying that his struggle wasn't real. I just don't think he set himself up for it on purpose, or even sought out relationships with women as a direct result of his position with his mom. I think he was living with the outcasts of society and the likelihood of the women he came in contact with would also be broken. They would just be broken in a way that didn't mesh with his own mental anguishes. It's not like he, or whatever woman he was with, were ever equiped with enough sanity or tools to carry on a healthy relationship in the midst of all the problems he (or she) were already dealing with.
 
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Skygazer

And in the end...
He sometimes refers to the "bottom" as being a place where he hoped to find "real" men - and the belief he would find some integrity, most times what he learned the hard way, was the place he was looking for didn't really exist. That he sought solace and security in his cheap rooms, for me is a continuance of the only comfort he found at home - his room, especially after a beating.

Many beaten, battered women maintain the capacity and the desire to comfort their children, even if it is done secretly, that is absent for Bukowski. Often the scene where he turns and hits his father is discussed, but for me it's the part where his mum screams at him, then attacks him, scratching and tearing his face, he doesn't retaliate but goes to his room, the next day when asked about it, he says "some woman did it".

I think throughout, there is a definite fear of intimacy, "entrapment" for him with women. Time and again he rejects relationships which border on
normalcy, with a good get out clause of "she was crazy", "she was a whore".

You see this in Factotum with Gertrude, seemingly normal, decent girl, she is beautiful, she makes it clear she likes him,
he dates her once or twice then orchestrates a split "love is for real people" " I hate them".

The misogyny label is wrong, there is no pathological hatred of women, chauvinism yes. But there is for me, definite damage to him by his grim home life and his relationship with his mother, that follows him well into adulthood and his mistrust of women.

I like the poem Cancer where you see him and his mum finally agreeing on where the madness lay in their family (the father).
I can find very little on his mum or her incarceration or how it affected him. But it's interesting.

I like the quote in the interview with Douglas Howard for Grapevine 1975 - in Sunlight Here I Am, pg 119

GV: I wanted to ask you about Women
CB: Women? oh boy I know all about them. I've been on the earth fifty-four years and I've lived with many of them.
GV: Do you...
CB: What the hell are they?


I think the second answer is more accurate for him.:)

Sorry I've veered away a bit from the insanity theme.
 

mjp

Founding member
That he sought solace and security in his cheap rooms, for me is a continuance of the only comfort he found at home - his room, especially after a beating.
It might also be worth noting that when he first left home and headed for the "cheap rooms" on Temple street, his mother paid for them.
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
One of the reasons for leaving was the worry about exactly how much his dad was going to start charging him for his digs wasn't it?
That his mum ensured he was fed, clothed and watered is clear, but there is a definite disconnection between them that isn't normal, but they did hold some kind of relationship and that she loved him, I am sure of. Showing it, seemed a different story.
Brutal fathers weren't thin on the ground in the 20's and 30's, but there is a horrible creepy relish to his.
 
I suppose you have to consider that many of his influences either referred to madness or ended up going mad (see Dostoyevsky, Pound, Celine.) In a similar way Fante or Hamsun romanticising the penniless writer. If these are your influences then it will undoubtedly manifest itself in your writing, especially when coupled with life experience that you can tie it to. As Dostoyevsky said, there is nothing so old that something new can't be said about it, and thank God Buk gave it a damn good shot :)
 
"there are some basic grounds for outlawing lsd, dmt, stp - it can take a man permanently out of his mind - but so can picking beets, or turning bolts for GM, or washing dishes or teaching English I at one of the local universities. if we outlawed everything that drove men mad, the whole social structure would drop out - marriage, the war, bus service, slaughterhouses, beekeeping, surgery, anything you can name. anything can drive men mad because society is built on false stilts. until we knock the whole bottom out and rebuild, the madhouses will remain overlooked."

-tales of ordinary madness, 'bad trip'
 
Any thoughts on the theme of insanity / madness in Bukowski's work? It's a big theme. Almost as big as the role of work.
It always feels to me like, although there is all this crazy stuff going on, that the most purposeful (and in someways content) times in Bukowski's stories are the most memorable. They also seem to be the most valuable. As compared to the average human wallowing in their own filth of mediocrity and lack of purpose.

But I do think sub-normals were a different animal. Those were just the clueless who couldn't be helped -- and I do think they had a special place in his heart. Insanity is another animal all together. It can be good, bad, or just plain good writing material.
That's an interesting point. He does seem to at least feel sorry for the dronish people. At least he sort of relates to the fact they don't see a lot in life to get excited about.

It's something I think is exponentially true now. So much so that reading some of Bukowski's stuff in the context of our own times... Well, it's almost like he's describing reality rather than pointing out something nuanced, which I think it must have been (at least more so) when he wrote it.

In other words, what he was speaking out against has, in a way, now dominates us.

It's the status quo.
 

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