And no better way to kick off Kerouac month than with a reading from "October in Railroad Earth" from Lonesome Traveler, 1960. Steve Allen provides the wonderful piano accompaniment. I have the Grove Press Black Cat 1970 paperback edition. Bought it on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, 12 April 1973. I was travelling East by thumb, but mostly I 'rode the dog' (Greyhound bus), a mode of transport I wouldn't put up with today: two guys behind me chain-smoked and talked all the way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. New Orleans proved to be memorable, including the flophouse on Carondelet I stayed in for $2. It was there that Lonesome Traveler joined On the Road in my rucksack.
Here is a shorter (3:58) excerpt with great images. It includes the first section and about half of the second, pp. 37-39 in the Black Cat edition. Here is the second, longer excerpt (7:10), which contains the whole of the first two sections of the piece, pp. 37-40.
A Bukowski binge appears to be in the offing, following hard on the heels of Beat October, all part of ongoing ruminations on styles of life and modes of muddling along the via dolorosa of this vale of samsara enroute to points unknown. Here is something that came out of my pen early in the predawn:
Barfly and gambler, flâneur and floozy fritter away their time. And they are condemned for so doing by the solid bourgeois. But the latter thinks, though he may not say, that the pursuits of the monastery and the ivory tower, though opposite to the low life's dissipation, are equally time-wasting. Prayer, meditation, study for its own sake, translation and transmission of culture, the vita contemplativa, Pieperian leisure, otium liberale, moral scrupulosity, mindfulness, the various disciplines of palate and penis, heart and memory, working out one's salvation with diligence -- all will evoke a smile from the worldly bourgeois fellow, the man of substance solidly planted in the self-satisfied somnolence of middle-class mediocrity. He's tolerant of course, and superficially respectful, but the respect becomes real only after the time-waster has managed to turn a buck or secure a livelihood from his time-wasting by becoming a teacher in a college, say, or a pastor of a church.
Both refused to live conventionally. The Laureate of Low Life and the Red Virgin. Both said No to the bourgeois life. But their styles of refusal were diametrically opposed. Both sought a truer and realer life, one by descent, the other by ascent. For one the true life, far from the ideological sham of church and state and family values, is the low life: drinking, gambling, fornicating, drug-taking, petty crime like busting up a room and skipping out on the rent, barroom brawling. Not armed robbery, rape, and murder, but two-bit thievery, whoring and picking fights in dingy dives. Nothing that gets you sent to San Quentin or Sing-Sing.
For the other the true life is not so readily accessible: it is the life in pursuit of the Higher, the existence and nature of which is only glimpsed now and again. (GG 11) The succor of the Glimpse -- this is indeed the perfect word -- is unreliable, a matter of grace. One is granted a glimpse. A matter of grace, not gravity. It is hard to rise, easy to fall -- into the the bed of sloth, the whore's arms, the bottle. The pleasures of the flesh are as reliable as anything in this world. In that reliability lies their addictive power. Satisfaction of crass desire breeds a bad infinity of crass desires. Desire is endlessly reborn in each satisfaction. One is not granted the rush of the lush-kick by a power transcendent of the natural nexus; it is a matter of determinism once you take the plunge. Drink, snort, shoot and the effect follows, which is not to say that one does not freely decide to drink, snort, shoot. The point is that the free agent's input sets in motion a process utterly predictable in its effect. Not so with the "lightning flashes" (GG 11) that reveal the Higher.
At best, one positions oneself so as to enjoy the gusts of divine favor should any come along. Like al-Ghazzali in search of a cooling breeze, you climb the minaret. There you are more likely to catch the breeze than on the ground, though there is no guarantee. One cannot bring it about by one's own efforts, and the positioning and preparing cannot be said to be even a necessary condition of receipt of the divine favor; but the creaturely efforts make it more likely.
Bukowski versus Weil. The Dean of Dissipation versus the Categorical Imperative in skirts. Self-indulgence versus self-denial as opposed paths to the truer and realer life. Dissipation versus concentration, versus Weil's attention. "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." (Gravity and Grace, p. 106)
The low life (Buk) will not renounce but dives head first into the most accessible goods of this world, the lowest and basest and commonest. The angel in him celebrates the animal in man thereby degrading himself and 'gravitating' towards food and drink, sex and drugs. You just let yourself go and gravity does the rest. The fall is assured. No self-discipline in matters of money either. Our man worships at the shrine of Lady Luck, betting on the horses at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park, all within striking distance of his beloved Los Angeles.
The spiritual aspirant who aims high and beyond this life, though tempted by booze and broads and the whole gamut of the palpable and paltry, seeks the Good beyond all finite goods. Pursuit of the Good demands detachment from all finite goods (GG 12 ff.).
The Aporia. Positivistic dissipationism versus a concentrationism that is hard to tell from nihilism. Self-loss via dissipation, the dive into the diaspora of the sensory manifold versus self-loss by absorption into a Transcendence that cancels individuality. Salvation of the self by annihilation of the self. ". . . the object of all our efforts is to become nothing." (GG 30)
October's scrounging around in used book dens for Beat arcana uncovered Barry Miles' biography of this laureate of low life. It has been holding my interest. Bukowski, though not an associate of the Beat writers, is beat in the sense of beaten down and disaffected but not in Kerouac's sense of beatific. A worthless fellow, a drunkard, a lecher, a misogynist, a shameless user and betrayer of his benefactors, Bukowski (1920-1994) is nonetheless a pretty good scribbler of poetry and prose. (I call him a worthless fellow, but child is father to the man, and Bukowski had a terrible childhood.) If I need an excuse to poke into the particulars of his paltry life, there is my masthead motto, "Study everything, join nothing," and the Terentian homo sum, nihil humani, etc. The other night I read about him in bed, a mistake, since the night mind should be primed for its nocturnal preconscious ruminations with ennobling rather than debasing images. In compensation I read Simone Weil in the predawn hours of the next day. A comparison of the two would be an interesting exercise.
The Dean of Dissipation versus the Red Virgin. A celebration of the base, sordid, cheap, tawdry, depraved, degraded, of the complete abdication of the spirit to the flesh and its lusts, versus an anorexic asceticism bordering on nihilism.
How wild the diversity of human types! How impossible to be bored in a world so populated. How should we live? There is no substitute for finding your own path.
Originally published in 1896 by Gelett Burgess in The Lark, the following curiosity I found on the inside front cover of Albert Parry, Garretts and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America, 1933, rev. 1960 with a new chapter "Enter Beatniks" by Henry T. Moore (New York: Dover Publications). The Book Gallery on Mesa Arizona's 1950s-reminiscent Main Street wanted ten dollars for this 50 year old paperback, but I gladly paid it particularly because of the 'new' chapter. I was disappointed, however,by the exiguous coverage of Joe Gould on pp. 148 and 346.