Feminist criticism - real, actual, recorded in black & white? (1 Viewer)

Hi guys,

I'm new here, so howdy to everyone. I'm also just beginning a PhD on Bukowski (obviously having a desire for punishment after previously studying Hemingway for my Honours thesis ... not exactly favourite sons of many in the academy).

Anyway, I'm wondering if anyone might be able to help with a specific inquiry - that is, what, if any, actual feminist criticism exists of Bukowski and/or his work? I've done a few searches already and come up fairly empty handed, which is strange considering how the existence of vast "feminist criticism" is almost a mantra when discussing Bukowski among fans, academic studies and in general pop culture.

If such material doesn't exist, that would be an interesting point itself. But I'm sure that at least some does - whether in the form of interviews with feminist figures, reviews of Bukowski works or performances, etc. Any mentions at all and of course they don't have to be negative - I'm just really keen to a look at all the material available with a feminist perspective on Buk, particularly contemporary stuff (from the 60s - 90s).

Cheers, look forward to hearing any thoughts/references/suggestions. ANy help will be much appreciated!
Hello: I'm relatively new to Bukowski but of the books I've read, it seems he might have been a misogonist--lot's of typical disparaging remarks about women. I remember reading somewhere this remark by Buk: "the woman who go to the race track look worse than the 5000 claimers". Stuff like that.

But maybe others--more long time fans--can help you with more specific references.

Good luck and welcome to the Forum!

I'm guessing most of the feminist criticism of Bukowski back in the 1970s was verbal, rather than written. They dismissed him, disliked him, thought him unimportant, so why would they bother writing about him? There wasn't much to be gained in attacking him. He was a marginal figure to feminists, and most everyone else. If he had political power, or represented a mainstream male chauvinist point of view (like, say "Archie Bunker"), they would have gone after him. But he was an admitted drunk and dirty old man. They didn't waste five minute thinking about him. The one place you might find some writings by feminists against Bukowski would be in the underground newspapers and little magazines of the day, where a lesser known feminist or two may have gotten some print space by attacking a popular controversial alternative culture figure like Bukowski. Most of these pieces won't come up in a Google Books search because (I'm guessing) they are rare and fragile and haven't all been scanned into text. To find such writings (if they exist), you'll have to dig in physical archives. I can tell you first hand, feminists (and most academics) did trash Bukowski in conversation back in the 1960s and 70s, so the sentiment was there. Hope this helps, and good luck.
My tip would be to look for recent theses on Feminism and West Coast literature in 1960s and 1970s. If you can get copies through a university library (or even get a friendly librarian to scan some pages) the bibliographies might give you some sources and leads. I'm with David (Rekrab) on this - check out the underground press. It will all be American and mainly West Coast. Unless you can read German, in which case you might get something in the 70s/80s published in Germany. Again, underground press. Universities weren't really teaching him until the 90s, I guess.
They think I'm a woman hater, but I'm not. A lot of it is word of mouth. They just hear "Bukowski's a male-chauvinist pig," but they don't check the source. Sure I make women look bad sometimes, but I make men look bad too. I make myself look bad. If I really think it's bad, I say it's bad -- man, woman, child, dog. The women are so touchy, they think they're being singled out. That's their problem.

Charles Bukowski interviewed by Sean Penn for Interview magazine, September 1987
What was that 70s mag that had a headline like, 'Is this THE MALE CHAUVINIST PIG?" with his photograph?

Edit: it was "IS THIS MAN THE MALE PIG?", Berkeley Barb (Issue 454) April-May 1974.

My tip would be to look for recent theses on Feminism and West Coast literature in 1960s and 1970s. [...] I'm with David (Rekrab) on this - check out the underground press. It will all be American and mainly West Coast. [...] Universities weren't really teaching him until the 90s, I guess.

Yes. Look at San Francisco & Los Angeles area underground newspapers. He's more likely to be discussed there than in any other part of the U.S. in the 60s and 70s. I was in the L.A. area in that period and a Buk fan, so I was about as aware of what was being said about him as anyone, in those analog, word of mouth days.
Oh, another line:
Get friendly with a Feminist (careful now! no touching!) and find out if there are published private diaries and letters of prominent women writing in that era. Getting published criticism from that time might be tricky but you can get first hand criticism published retrospectively. Another source would be letters sent directly to Buk himself but how you would get access to those archives is something the experts on this forum would know, not me.
joseph k is right on with his suggestions... you also may want to jump back a level and look for feminist/marxist criticism that looks at class divisions through a feminist lens. this won't deal with bukowski directly, but it could give you an interesting perspective that you could apply to bukowski's work and, you know, say something that hasn't already been written.
From someone who was reading feminist philosophy around the same time discovering Bukowski, I'd like to say that from my own perspective, his works were considered fictional. Yes, the character was considered very much a misogynist to the feminist point of view, but like someone else mentioned early, it was more or less like going after Archie Bunker. What Carroll O'Connor thought of the character, only he knew in his private thoughts. I read enough of his poetry, and Ham on Rye... I knew he wasn't really like this, and if he was a little bit, I understood why. And trust me, I was "touchy."
Hi BB:
Not sure what you mean with"actual feminist criticism", but you might find some scholarly papers linking Buk to gender studies the past few years. Perhaps you can find more info via this thread.
I don't know if you would consider Camille Paglia a "feminist" [or whether she does--she is a very gifted guerilla fighter in the gender wars] but she mentions Buk in her essay "Love Poetry" in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays, p. 327.
I'm with Synomymist on this. If you find any good links or scans, perhaps you can post then here? I'm curious to know what was written at the time - even if I just want to pick holes in the arguments.
Wow, thanks so much guys for some great suggestions and specific references too. I'm only just starting out but will definately keep you up to date with anything of interest that I find.

My basic aim at this point is not necessarily to "defend" Bukowski (though I'm a great admirer of his work) but to rescue him from reductive accounts. To get at the heart of what makes him such an intelligent and appealing writer. Look forward to keep up the conversation with you guys...
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[To Neeli Cherry - ca. April 12, 1970]
[...] There's a new movement here now"”The Women's Liberation Movement"”there are a lot of clever lesbians in it and some man-haters, and they have certain piteous points"”like their breasts, but damn if I don't think the ladies have rather ruled the cock-and-ball set right along. But they claim they are not represented with dignity"”not enough female doctors, so forth, and then some guy says, there aren't enough female garbage collectors, and then it goes around and around. [...]
(Living on Luck, p.94)

[...] I'm also just beginning a PhD on Bukowski [...]

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I'll warn you I'm wary of the way the media (including academic presses) co-opt, if not downright strangle, whatever it is that they claim to be 'studying,' so don't take my criticism as just about you, but more about my general attitude towards this kind of cooption and strangulation.
My basic aim at this point is ... to rescue him
He's dead. One of the many great things about death is that you don't need anybody's help any more :) You make it sound like Bukowski is drowning and you have a lifeboat. ergo:

To me the trick when you're writing about somebody for three hundred pages, is you can't just appropriate them for your argument or your discipline or your career goals. You have to really let that person talk to you. It's more about letting bukowski get to the heart of you, than the other way around.

A lot of folks get that backwards and in my opinion end up looking like just another quack with a scalpel, and I for one am not eager to watch somebody cut bukowski's chest open. I don't think it's impossible to do sincere and respectful and even vibrant work in lit crit and/or lit hist. Hugh Kenner did some amazing stuff in those fields (cf. flaubert joyce and beckett, or a colder eye, or even his work on pound which i haven't read). You can tell by his writing that not only does he know a shit-ton of history, but he also lets his subjects get through to him, let's himself risk becoming lost in the writers' worlds, and not just kindof keep it all at a sterile distance via the dry analytics of academe. If someone wants to do sterile work, they don't need to go to the trouble of jumping through hoops, they can just let somebody cut their balls off.
I agree with much that's been written here about the potential sterility of academic work. The idea of appropriating a writer/artist to fit one's own thesis was spoken of not unkindly by Hemingway, in response to one of the first critical studies of his life & work that put forward the "wound" theory.

I thought I'd implied it, but let me make clear: I am definately an admirer of what Synonymist called the "sincere and respectful and even vibrant" school of lit criticism. For me, when you get down to it, there's no difference between what many people would be doing on these forums (talking about and sharing their various thoughts/feelings and reasons for appreciating Bukowski's work, why it's important to them/society, etc) and writing an "academic" study.
You have to really let that person talk to you. It's more about letting bukowski get to the heart of you, than the other way around.
Exactly. I've done a few interviews of writeras/musicians/artists in my time and the same principle applies. Obviously you might have your own ideas about a person/their work, but you've got to let them speak first and foremost if you want to produce a really engaging/interesting study or interview.

Oh and when I said "rescue" perhaps that was the academic side coming out more than normal: it was a bit of a trite phrase. My point there was pretty much as above, to express (in 300 odd pages, yes) exactly WHY Bukowski (or any writer, this is a general point about academic study) SHOULD NOT be reduced to any one simplistic reading/thesis/interpretation.

Critical study does not HAVE to be dull, boring, obtusely theoretical or mind numbingly jargon filled. Indeed, it should not be. And perhaps if more people choose to express their ideas and thoughts on the value of great, good, interesting, touching, emotional, rational, funny, sad, grotesque, political, unpolitical, philosophical, bodily, HUMAN writing, there won't need to be this automatic division for so many people between expressing thoughts in a novel and expressing them in the form of an essay (or whatever).

Hope that makes sense. Trust me guys, I'm not a theoretical-hack :)

Also thanks again for the help ... I'm going to be seeing if there's any way I can get access to some of the 60s/70s underground mags, etc over the next week or so. Right now I'm finding quite a few interesting connections/mentions in reviews of Buk's books (and works by related authors) in the London Times Literary Supplement archives ... no joke.
betty friedan did an article published in playboy some years back which i recall as "constructive" criticism, however they both may have had the same publisher for a time back in the day, so it might have been cross-promotional to mention each other, but i don't really know

hey frankD, can't find any Friedan article for Playboy, but did you mean the 1992 interview? Still looking for the full text of that as well but perhaps she mentions Buk then...
it was something about "why men die younger than women" or similar and addressed the notion that feminism had its limits

i'll see if i can find the magazine in my random and haphazard collection
BadBadams said: ↑
[...] I'm also just beginning a PhD on Bukowski [...]
OOh Roni, why so discouraging? ;-)

So many words on that thread.
I won't enter the debate on whether there should be Phds on Bukowski or not, but if I may drop my two cents, it's not the first time that the question of gender studies has been treated on that forum, and my opinion is pretty close to that expressed by Erik (careful Erik, I might write you a private message someday :aerb: )on a thread dealing with a Bukowski blog that also takes the perspective of gender studies.
I believe that perspective is so...OBVIOUS, that it only leads to a very superficial reading of B's work, like anything that is, at the end, purely thematic. I'm not saying that your research is not legitimate, Badbadams, on the contrary, there should be such research anyway, but for me it stays on the periphery: as far as I know (tell me if I'm wrong) what still lacks in the field of Bukowski academia is research that deals with his WRITING as such, I don't know how you would call that in America, close-reading? A linguistic approach? We heard a lot about his macho man persona (or his persona in general) but what about, say, a close analysis of his early surrealistic poetry, which are so different from his late narrative ones? What about trying to explain which features of his poetry gives that impression, which you probably got, that the man is right here, talking to you?

Ach, more words that I intended, 2 nights of insomnia don't help, and if they made me write nonsense without my realizing it(as it is very possible in my state) just let me know ^^
I think Buk's attitude on women, in general, start with his mother, then the girls he went to school with who ignored, shunned him - on and on - until he started getting some fame, and the groupies started fucking him. But he never lightened up too much. He was a hardass on men and women - people.

Sorry for the run-on, I'm in a hurry. Good luck; you picked a hell of a PhD.
I like your Phd idea, sounds great. I'm starting my MRP on Bukowski right now and also looking for the elusive band of feminists who bashed him so sorely. If I find anything, I will send it your way. Best of luck!
What is it in this Phd project that you don't like? It's a sincere question out of mere curiosity.

as a question just out of curiosity, it would have been okay.
But this guy wants to do a PhD and:
[...] - that is, what, if any, actual feminist criticism exists of Bukowski and/or his work? I've done a few searches already [...]
sounds a bit like he hasn't even done "a few" searches.

I may be unfair here, as I don't know anything about the guy, but what I would expect from someone who wants to write a PhD (not just any university paper!) on a subject, is having some knowledge about that subject even BEFORE I start and he just didn't really sound like someone who had done any deeper inquiry so far.

I was just asking myself, whether it's not only a mood talking here ("Oh, I'd love to do a PhD on Bukowski or maybe Burroughs or something equally cool!"). But I didn't want to call him out here, so I limited my 2 cents to this one word. Maybe I did him wrong and he's a great knower and wonderful scholar and absolutely serious about his PhD - I'd LOVE to see it come out this way!
nah. I try to keep away from those hipster fads like dental care. it might be good for Williamsburg and Portland, but not this hombre.
Please, if you intend (not "are intending") to refer to Ph.Ds, use the correct abbreviation!


Anyway, I have a monkey who got a Ph.D, and he can't spell for shit. Don't worry about it. No one takes those things seriously.

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