Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 7, 2020

Homage to Charles Bukowski

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,literature — louisproyect @ 2:42 pm


Among my favorite writers, Harvey Pekar and Charles Bukowski share an uncommon distinction. Despite having lowly jobs as a Cleveland veterans hospital file clerk and sorting mail in the post office, they received the highest accolades for their work. In a 1985 New York Times book review, David Rosenthal wrote that “Mr. Pekar’s work has been compared by literary critics to Chekhov’s and Dostoyevsky’s, and it is easy to see why.” As for Bukowski, Jean-Paul Sartre described him as “America’s greatest living poet today,” although his biographer Howard Sounes discounts that as a tale Bukowski circulated. As for me, I don’t need Sounes’s imprimatur to evaluate Bukowski’s literary merits. I regard him as one of our best writers of the past half-century, and the kind of writer that helped me keep me feeling less isolated in a mammon-worshiping nation. Writers who have held down regular jobs like Herman Melville on a whaling ship or Jack Kerouac as a railway brakeman are closer to our reality than those churned out on the Iowa Writer’s Workshop assembly line.

Charles Bukowski died in 1994, not from cirrhosis of the liver but leukemia. Well-known for his alcoholism, it surprised me that he made it to the age of 73. As was also the case with Pekar, it was like losing a friend. As I read all of Pekar’s comic books, I always made time to read a new Bukowski novel. Since both writers mined their workaday lives, disappointments, and loneliness for deeply affecting literature, you felt as close to them as if they were good friends. Moreover, once they became celebrities, you appreciated how ambivalent they were about such glory. Pekar refused to make any more appearances on the David Letterman show, even if it meant cutting into comic book sales.

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  1. Kudos to Charles Bukowski for getting John Fante’s books reprinted. Fante had not been forgotten in Italy where there was always a romantic interest, even under Fascism, in the fate of their immigrants abroad. Bukowski was a wartime and postwar writer when there were low-level jobs available. Fante, 20 in 1929, was a Depression writer. The men he sat next to in the L.A. public library weren’t so much bums as jobless working-men. So young Fante as an aspiring writer was closer to 19th-century famished artists than those struggling on the margins of 1950s prosperity. Looking again into ‘Ask the Dust,’ I find the slow awakening Fante’s stand-in, Arturo Bandini, to his typical American racism, powerfully described. That’s because it’s shown to be a poison within the character and not only in other ‘bad’ Americans. There’s nothing so desolating in Bukowski as Arturo’s put down of the Mexican waitress. Actually he’s very attracted to her but sexually mixed up, crippled by religion. So he can only insult her: “Those huaraches—do you have to wear them, Camilla? Do you have to emphasize the fact that you always were and always will be a filthy little Greaser?” Then, “I tossed my shoulders and swaggered away, whistling with pleasure.” […]. “I was an American, and goddamn proud of it.”[…]. “From sand and cactus we Americans had carved an empire. Camilla’s people had had their chance. They had failed. We Americans had turned the trick. Thank God for my country. Thank God I had been born an American!” While turning over these noble thoughts, Arturo has to go home and eat shriveled oranges. He has spent his last five cents on a cup of bad coffee.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — August 9, 2020 @ 9:53 am

  2. I enjoyed this one about Charles Bukowski. His book about the USPS brings back many warm thoughts about life in the neighborhoods of this society. I lived the dream for 28 years; never intending to enter that portal, but simply appeared on the inside through a simple twist of fate. I never got to follow the degree, BS in education, into the classroom; the teachers union didn’t cover my special needs son’s pre-existing RTS condition. My wise father in law who designed adds for newspapers handed me a copy from his news room folded to the want adds. You need a job with health insurance or you will be broke all your life. There it was right before my eyes as they surveyed the print; Postal Exam. “Take the test, government insurance covers pre-existing conditions.“ That’s a fate I swallowed hard and accepted. It was an education into the benefits of a proud union, the NALC. I served as a steward for over half of my career in a 1% enclave of hard right thought processes that were baked in an ever increasing oppressive sun bearing down on the Gulf of Mexico. I worked hard to get that right wing of society to accept a long haired Advaitist in search of the I Am and the understanding of the no state state of selflessness. The public never knew what to make of me and management never did get used to my questioning of their misguided dictatorial authority. But I did walk away from the joint with a profound respect for the cause of unions; and a deep gratitude for the health insurance and benefits paid for through the public’s purchase of stamps; that gave me a better future. Thanks for all you mailed and for doing your part in helping so many stop the grind in their 60’s. I could talk stories about the intimacy of the letter carriers connections with the public. But I’ve said more than I probably should have by this point. I’ll leave you with a page from our monthly union rag. It has some links to stories about what the USPS does for the average citizen and the affections developed over it’s history. I enjoy following your trains of thought. Thanks for polishing my perspective. ✌🏼❤️🙏 from just another reader…. gary

    Sent from my iPhone


    Comment by utejack — August 14, 2020 @ 3:20 pm

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