Bukowski is a "puzzling" author (1 Viewer)

cirerita

Founding member
Or so someone claimed in Matrix in 1948 after reading Cacoethes Scribendi... and it is kind of a puzzling story, to be honest. So puzzling that Whit Burnett had previously rejected it because he felt it was about him.
 
I found the lines in Juvenal, Satire VII, 50-52:
nam si discedas, laqueo tenet ambitiosi
consuetudo mali, tenet insanabile multos
scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senescit.

These and surrounding lines translated by Peter Green:
You can't
escape you're caught in the noose of bad ambitious
habit; there are so many possessed by an incurable
endemic writer's itch
that becomes a sick obsession.
But the outstanding poet, one who mines no common seam,
smelts down no reworked slag, strikes no debased
poetic currency, minted with populist platitudes--
I can't hink of one just now, still I'm sure they exist--



Etymology is kakos/Greek= "bad" and ethos/Greek="character/dispostion" so "the bad disposition to write" [scribendi/Latin/write]. It's odd but I always had the feeling that it meant a "shit eating writer" but I'm too lazy now to look up whether English slang "ca-ca" for shit is related to Greek "kakos" for "bad". It may be. OK. There's a thread somewhere where someone mentions that Kenneth Rexroth was called Cacoethes in Kerouac's Dharma Bums so there's another interesting connection



Ola, Cirerita! und wie gehts Johannes in Osterreich? Here is a scan of Cacoethes Scibendi. Cheers!

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bospress.net

www.bospress.net
Or so someone claimed in Matrix in 1948 after reading Cacoethes Scribendi... and it is kind of a puzzling story, to be honest. So puzzling that Whit Burnett had previously rejected it because he felt it was about him.

Hi,
Amazing! Did Buk ever meet Burnett? Did the description fit him? Anyone else it could have been?

Bill
 
Non-Meeting with Burnett

:)Are you referring to the scene in "Dirty Old Man Confesses" when Buk says he saw Burnett on the street and thought he was so unlike how he pictured him he burst out laughing and didn't even say hello?
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
Where did "Dirty Old Man Confesses" appear?

David, thanks for the scan of Cacoethes Scribendi!
 
Yes, it's curious. "Hard Without Music," "The Reason Behind Reason" and "Cacoethes" all have this weird, mysterious quality.
 

cirerita

Founding member
Love Love Love is closer to the Bukowski most people know. No cleverness there. And I can see the seed of the Frozen Man stance in that story.

That 1948 letter in Matrix talking about the Bukowski story is his first "review" ever. The next one would be in 1960.
 
Well, you could also say that he was an immature writer in the 1940's. All of that early stuff reads a bit clever to me. Maybe the near-death experience of the bleeding ulcer knocked all the bullshit out of him. ;)

Hard Without Music.

Thanks! Edit: Turns out I read that one when that thread was posted. I like that one.

Cacoethes did read much like the work of an academic. Evolution once again rewards us. ;)
 
The Reason Behind Reason

Found "The Reason Behind Reason." Am curious what y'all think of this one.
 

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No problem, Petey.

As for the story; it's funny (strange) because it involves Buk as an "outsider" (I know this discussion has occurred elsewhere; outside the mainstream of society - alone yet with people, is what I mean), but with a much more innocent/less jaded persepective. I liked it, but I suppose part of why I liked it is because it was Buk and it gave me some insight into his very early work. If someone else had written it, it probabaly wouldn't have been as interesting to me.
 
Yes, I think it becomes a kind of metaphor for "don't try." The baseball game of life, and he just doesn't see the point of it. He's in the game, but it's absurd. Note the odd details throughout: the woman with the green dress in the stands, the bird flying about, the crowd...Everything narrated from this sort of detached point of view.
 
Yes, so in that way it is thematically similar to much of his later work, but stylistically it is quite different. And the subject matter is more pop culture than dirty underbelly. So he already had the same point of view we've come to read about in later work, but the subject is more pedestrian. It seems mjp was correct when he mused that the ulcer incident knocked the bullshit out of him.
 
...It seems mjp was correct when he mused that the ulcer incident knocked the bullshit out of him.

i agree with you on this mjp and Purple.
still i wouldn't consider it 'bullshit' or 'bad writing'. it's still far better than most things you read elsewhere.
and there seems to be a reason for his writing-style in these days.

well worth detailed analysis.
 
I think you can see him groping his way towards his own style. But it's already there the prototype is there. I've been playing Beethoven's C-Major Piano Sonata--I think It's Opus 3, number 1--and it's very early Beethoven and he sounds a little like Haydn but the thunder is there already. This Chelaski guy out there on the field, isn't he a bit like Camus' Stranger? He doesn't want to play the game. Can you blame him? Anyway, I like the story alot.
 
Interesting; very much like Meursault in his detachment. And yes, you can see the seeds of something that we eventually saw in full bloom. I'm not sure one could see the same thing without having read the later successful material. I'm fairly sure that I could not.
i agree with you on this mjp and Purple.
still i wouldn't consider it 'bullshit' or 'bad writing'. it's still far better than most things you read elsewhere.
Yes, I would have used a milder word. But the concept is there; it looks like that ulcer really put him into another zone.
 

cirerita

Founding member
Many of the poems published after 1955 seem a bit pretentious / contrived to me. Have you read "Treason" or "Passport"? C'mon! Is that the Bukowski you like? I think that the charity ward episode did change things, but not as much as it's commonly held. He was beginning to be published in many places and I have the feeling he was both cautious and careful. The pretense was not entirely gone.
 
Can one not be pretentious?

"Pretentious" is one of Buk's favorite words. He often said "pretensive" which I didn't think was a word, but it is an alternate version of pretentious. This gets to an interesting question which is what is the OPPOSITE of pretentious? "Natural," "open," "honest," "sincere." But also this is a question of "class" and subject matter. Pretentious means phony, and could mean "high culture" or "pretending we are really not animals but something higher." I ran across a quote from Kingsley Amis and he says something like he feels it necessary to make a pass at a pretty woman just to make her admit she is really an animal, and not anything "higher" or "better" than an animal.
Don't know if that makes any sense, but I think Hank wrote ALOT about animals for a reason. They aren't PRETENTIOUS. Remember too Walt Whitman: "I think I could turn and live with the animals--they do not weep or cry for their sins or bow down to one of their kind who lived thousands of years ago" (I'm paraphrasing here).
So Buk's challenge was to try to find the language and style to record his experiences in a DIRECT way. Easier said than done.
Remember too old Holden Caulfield in "Catcher in the Rye." He didn't like "phonies".
I also suddenly remember the scene in "Barfly" when the Chinaski character is in traffic behind a typical bullshit LA couple: the guy has a sweater draped over his shoulders with sunglasses and he's with some dumb blonde bitch and they are kissing in their open convertible so Mickey Rourke bangs their bumper. Exactly. (Buk has a poem about men who wear their sweaters draped over their shoulders with shades on too). ( I try to avoid doing that myself, ever since reading that poem)
 

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
Reaper Crew
Moderator
Founding member
Remember too Walt Whitman: "I think I could turn and live with the animals--they do not weep or cry for their sins or bow down to one of their kind who lived thousands of years ago" (I'm paraphrasing here).

I've not yet really looked at Whitman but was interested to look this up and its from Leaves of Grass:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd;
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied"”not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
 
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Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
Found "The Reason Behind Reason." Am curious what y'all think of this one.

Thanks, David! It's interesting to read those early Buk stories. It gives you an idea of how he evolved as a writer. But as a short story there's not much "meat" in it, I think. He lacks a good ending, a punch line of sorts.
 
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But don't you think that's the point? This guy playing baseball, but he doesn't want to be out there because none of it means anything so the ending of the story just confronts the reader with the absurdity of it all. It's not supposed to have a punch line because there ain't no punch. But yes, it's clumsy, it's a beginner's work, but it's also very sensitively written. There's alot of detail and suggestiveness there if you look closely.
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
You're probably right! Him not wanting to be there and the absurdity of it all (from his viewpoint) could very well be the point. And yes, there is a lot of detail. I think I'll read it again. Perhaps it makes more sense the second time. That's often the case.
 
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Animals are completely without pretension...

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

David Herbert Lawrence
 
Much appreciated

David, thanks for the scans and your research into the meaning of 'scribendi cacoethes,' and your other thoughtful comments. It's fascinating and instructive to see Bukowski's genius as it develops. I read the story 3 times and to me many of the characteristic Bukowski earmarks are there:

-the love of unusual language that straddles the line between prose and poetry. When he says, "His writing was mostly a tautology of the popular mode..." I can't imagine any writer putting it quite like that other than Bukowski. The same as when he later says... "sometimes a little too valiant with experimental pageantry." The use of language is something other than straight prose, at least to me.

-the even, steady, rhythm and flow, though the prose sometimes sounds a little stiff, flat and laborious. I had a hard time wadding through it to the end but got more out of it the second time around.

-his journalistic eye for taking in and recounting an incredible amount of human and circumstantial detail.

-his writing about his failure to get the job rather than his success - not being the hero but moving onto the next situation.

-he brings the article full-circle with the recurring use of the word 'abstraction.' He appears to have a fascination with the sound of certain words in and of themselves. He seems to come across a word or term, fall in love with it, then find a way to work it in as a recurring theme or build an entire story from it. (Bukowski's 'Ignus Fatuus' is another mystical-sounding term that was part of his great poem on solitude, loneliness, and death.) So I think certain words set him off beyond their literal meanings and he liked to roll them around in his mouth.

This story might somehow be an example of the numerous kinds that Bukowski repeatedly submitted to publishers that were repeatedly rejected in his earlier days. (We know they were rejected because Bukowski said they were rejected. So either he just wasn't good enough at the time, or he had to wait for the world to catch up with him.) I would imagine that some of his stories just missed and he had to bring all the areas of writing that he loved into a sharper focus before he would finally gain acceptance. Plus it appears that he was not trying to write the standard story with the standard punch-line. That hadn't been done before and he had to find a way to make it work. But I believe that many of the elements of his later writings are already here.

Thanks again.
 

cirerita

Founding member
I know: I have gotten away with some awful stuff
but not nearly such awful pot as I read in the journals;
I have an honesty self-born of whores and hospitals
that will not allow me to pretend to be
something which I am not.

from "A Word on the Quick and Modern Poem-Makers," (1962)

Some terms traditionally valued as highly poetic, such as "green," "blue," or "stars" seemed to annoy Bukowski especially. He commented in 1966 that "the use of "green" is now mostly an ultra-poetic Romanticism. of course, the word "green" is not outlawed but it is generally used by the pretenders and most poetry is written by pretenders. the living are busy doing something else." (Screams, 243) The overuse of Nature elements seemed to irritate him: "Too much poeticism about the stars and the moon when it's not properly used is a bunch of bad hash." (Robson 1970: 33) In an as of yet unpublished 1968 letter to "the mother of my child," as he called her, he stated in a much more macho voice that "I've written 5,000 poems and for each word "star" or "moon" you can find (outside of jest) I will pay you $5. get rich, babe."

I just found this little something in the footnote of a paper I wrote years ago. The last quote is quite funny... and true.
 
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