A few weeks ago I wrote about Susan Sontag's essay "Illness as Metaphor". Sontag's concept was to analyze society's response to a disease the same way a literary critic might analyze society's response to a text. In the 80's, she wrote of AIDS as the tragically metaphorical illness of that age.
I wonder if autism might be the metaphor for our new millennium, or at least our new millennium's first decade.
Autism is a psychological syndrome characterized by emotional shutdown. Severely autistic people shy away from human contact and social enjoyment, often absorbing themselves instead in repetitive tasks or private fascinations. They tend to be quiet but needy, warm but remote. They are not mentally retarded, and can be extremely smart and talented -- in fact it's hard to tell if autistic people are even victims of a disease, or rather just "different". To use a grossly reductive simile (not a metaphor, just to clarify), an autistic person simply doesn't seem to be running the same operating system as everybody else.
Tama Janowitz was born in 1957 in San Francisco, California. She was the daughter of a pysychiatrist father and a poet and literature professor mother. Tama's parents divorced when she was 10 and she was then raised by her mother. She had an interesting childhood and traveled to Israel. She later graduated from Barnard College in New York, where she majored in Creative Writing.
Janowitz published her first novel in 1981, titled American Dad. This achieved a bit of critical success. Following the release of this novel, she wrote four more novels which were rejected. The author then decided to approach writing from a different angle. She decided to write a collection of short stories. She called this collection Slaves of New York. This book, published in 1986, won her almost instant fame and qualified her as an '80s "it" girl author of sorts. Slaves of New York was a book of short stories focusing on artists, prostitutes and other city dwellers. This book was thought to be somewhat biographical, based on the author's experiences of living in the artistic world and Soho area of New York City in the 1980s.
The success of Slaves of New York put Janowitz in a certain class of authors who had written popular fiction set in 1980s-era city life. This group also included Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney.
Janowitz became a bit of a staple on the New York City nightlife scene in the 1980s, befriending and partying around the likes of Andy Warhol. Slaves of New York was even turned into a 1989 movie; although the plot of the movie was a bit different and paled in comparison to the greatness of the book.
Janowitz' career as an author continued with several novels, including A Cannibal in Manhattan(1987), The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group(1991), and By the Shores of the Gitchee Gumee(1996). However, these novels were recieved in a critical backlash, compared to the greater success of Slaves of New York. Nonetheless, these novels had retained Janowitz' unique flair for describing New York City life or, indeed, life in general, from an innocent bystander's viewpoint. I personally think that all of Janowitz' novels up to the Male Cross Dresser Support Group captured the verve of New York City life best and unlike any other author that I have read who wrote about such a subject. I knew that Janowitz would bounce back, critically speaking, with an awesome book and many of her fans indeed remained.
After the critical backlash of Janowitz' second through fourth books died down, the author took some time off to focus upon creative renewal, family, and perhaps to take a break before getting inspiration for further writing. I imagine that many fans of her writing, and indeed many literary critics, were wondering 'what had happened to Tama Janowitz?' Would she ever write another book that was as "good" as Slaves of New York?
Tama came back onto the literary scene in 1999, with a novel called A Certain Age. Even before it was published, various parts of the literary publishing community had been excitedly comparing it to the earlier novel, Slaves of New York. However, A Certain Age is a more mature offer from Janowitz and contains a different plot and subject line than Slaves did. A Certain Age is about the character of a 32-year old woman, who is on a search for a rich husband, in both New York City and the Hamptons, during one summer. As a fan, I would say that while Slaves of New York had a decidedly 20-something feel to it, A Certain Age had a decidedly 30-something feel to it. In any instance, Janowitz' books can be read at almost any age; starting with the "young adult" age. I started reading her novels as a young teenager.
She has recently also written another novel in 2003 called Peyton Amberg. This is another novel which is different from Slaves, and touches on Janowitz' ever creative but also further maturing type of writing style.
No matter what comes, Tama Janowitz will remain in the hearts of many as an important author of city life -- namely New York City life. I cannot think of any author who has taken her place in this respect since. And, honestly, I do not want anybody to.
Today, Tama Janowitz lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her daughter.
The young couple meets at the Washington mall in 1939 at the epochal performance of Marian Anderson, a world-class African American singer whose song, at the foot of the Washington monument, is ultimately ironic. It is there David Strom, a white German/Jewish immigrant, meets Delia Daley, a classically trained singer, an African American doctor?s daughter from Philadelphia. An unusual connection is made when the pair discover a lost boy in the crowd and assist the child in finding his family. It was there and then the two fall in love, but the path to their love was destiny.
David and Delia marry and produce three fine children Joseph, Jonah and Ruth. Needless to say the issue of mixed race enters the tale before it?s begun and saturates it throughout. While David?s family are lost to the Nazis during the war, Delia's own family retreat when the young couple decide they will raise their offspring "beyond race".
The children are an amazing combination, the best of both parents. Exceptional, all three seem to have music in their blood. The family, who spend evenings immersed in music soon realize that young Jonah is a prodigy with the voice of an angle. His brother Joseph, who is devoted to his older sibling, learns to accompany him on piano. The boys are home-schooled until it becomes evident that Jonah will suffer unless his gift is properly trained. Off to private school he goes with Joseph tagging along for support, flying uncertainly on his bother's coattails, while little Ruth feels abandoned by both of her siblings.
The story is tragic on a grand scale, the sense of loss profound. The boys having lived under the protective aura of their parents are not prepared for the ravages of the world, steeped in anti-Semitism, racism and hatred. But, the boys learn quickly and spend their youth hiding their traumas to protect their naive parents.
Only Ruth grows to hate the life and what she sees as the failing of her parents to deal with reality. "The bird and the fish can fall in love, but where can they make their nest?" The story unfolds as each of the Strom children suffer the loss of their mother, struggle in search of identity and create what they can of a life. Joseph, who narrates the story, tells the sad tale of living in his brother's shadow and of Ruth?s forays into the militant world of the Black Panther party. It?s all here, everything from the death of Martin Luther King Jr. to the beating of Rodney King and the Million Man March. The book reaches across time and back again, another metaphor simultaneously conveyed to readers by the physicist David Strom, whose preoccupation with the subject prevents him from seeing the lives of his children now.
The book is artfully written with music as a central metaphor and emotional anchor. Powers literally sings the heart-- from graceful passages of musical evenings spent with the Storm family singing "Crazed Quotations" to the hymns of mourning after Delia's tragic death in a fire. Powers is so articulate even a musical novice will feel the emotive power of song throughout this amazing novel-- songs of love, rage, triumph, passion, courage and loss-- songs ringing in the hearts seasons while heralding the turning points of history.
It's a complex piece of literary architecture that weaves elements of music, history, and time, like a chrysalis spinning out from the foundation of the Storm family, giving birth to itself in a surprising end that is the book's own beginning.
The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness ... What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.
This way of telling tale fantastical tales in deadpan style would come to be considered under the general label of 'magical realism, along with other writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, Gunter Grass, Ben Okri and John Fowles.
At the age of 8, Garcia Marquez' grandfather died and he went to live with his parents in the town of Sucre, and soon after began his formal schooling. He obtained a scholarship to a Jesuit secondary school for gifted students and at 18 entered the Universidad Nacional to study Law. It was during this time that Garcia Marquez met his future wife, a 13-year-old girl of Egyptian decent named Mercedes, whom he called simply "the most interesting person I have ever met." Before leaving for University, Garcia Marquez extracted a promise from the girl to marry him after she finished primary school.
Garcia had little interest in law and often skipped classes, while developing a love for literature. One day he was given a Spanish language copy of Kafkas Metamorphosis, and the course of his life was changed forever.
"I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago", he said later.
He quickly made a name for himself as a journalist and after the assassination of Colombian President Gaitlan in 1948 he moved to Barranquilla and joined a literary circle known as el grupo de Barranquilla and began reading the works of Hemingway, Joyce, Woolf, and particularly Faulkner, who was to become one of his literary heroes. It was from Faulkner that Garcia learned that it is best to write about what is closest to you.
Garcia Marquez spent a time living in a brothel in near poverty, but he was surrounded by friends and considered himself mostly happy. In 1955 he left Colombia after publishing a politically unpopular story in a newspaper. He spent the next several years as a foreign correspondent traveling Europe and living in Venezuela and New York City, taking more heat for unpopular political stances, before finally settling in Mexico City in 1959. It was in Mexico City that he achieved his greatest successes as a writer. No One Writes to the Colonel was published in 1961 and Big Mama's Funeral in 1962. But it was in 1965, while driving to Acapulco with his family, he had the revelation that would become his most famous book. He immediately turned the car around and drove home to begin writing.
"All of a sudden -- I don't know why -- I had this illumination on how to write the book. . . . I had it so completely formed, that right there I could have dictated the first chapter word by word to a typist", said Garcia Marquez.
Writing every day for 18 months, consuming 6 packs of cigarettes a day, selling the family car and almost every household appliance to feed his family and keep him with a supply of paper, he produced his masterwork. Pawning a few more appliances for postage, he sent it off to a publisher and it was published in June of 1967.
One Hundred Years of Solitude won many prizes and brought Garcia Marquez instant fame and accompanying wealth. He funneled much of his newfound wealth into leftist social causes in Colombia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Angola, and he helped found and strongly supported HABEAS, an organization dedicated to correcting the abuses of Latin American power and freeing political prisoners. In 1975, he published The Autumn of the Patriarch, fictionalizing the experience of living under a dictator, an experience all too common to Latin Americans. In 1982, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. 1986 saw the publication of Love in the Time of Cholera, which included the fictionalized tale of his playboy father's courtship of his mother, continuing Garcia Marquez' mining of his own experience for his writing. Among his other works are The General in his Labyrinth, Strange Pilgrims, and Love and Other Demons.
In the late summer of 1999, Garcia Marquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. In fall 2002, Garcia Marquez published the first volume of his projected three volume memoirs, To Live to Tell It, in Spanish, the first printing of 50,000 copies in Mexico selling out in two weeks, prompting a second printing of 100,000 books. He currently lives in Mexico City.
The second youngest of five children, Achebe was the son of Isaiah Okafor and Janet Achebe. His father, Isaiah, was a teacher for the Church Missionary Society. Achebe was raised in the shadow of two cultures: that of the British colonialists and his native Igbo people. Early in life Achebe found that he identified with both cultures. He was curious about African culture and age-old religious practices, as well as the Christianity injected into the skin of Nigerian life by British colonists. Rather than feeling oppressed by traditional African practices or erased by European influences, Achebe felt he was enriched by his upbringing "at the crossroads of cultures."
Education began for Achebe at parochial schools where English was introduced as the sole instructional language during the third year. The future author discovered an interest in books as a young student. His father's library consisted primarily of church literature and old school books. The library was limited but served as Achebe's only source of early reading material. Achebe also listened to the history of the Igbo people as his mother passed the oral tradition to his sister. Upon entering a government secondary school in Umuahia, Achebe gained access to the well-stocked library of his dreams. He later commented that this vast reading opportunity was an important experience for his development as a writer.
Achebe graduated secondary school In 1948 and continued his education on a medical scholarship at the University College in the city of Ibidan. It was during this time that Albert Achebe became Chinualumogu Achebe. Through this name change, Achebe rejected his British moniker and opted for his traditional African name meaning, "my spirit come fight for me." After a year at Ibidan, Achebe switched from medical studies to a liberal arts education focusing on English, history and religion. During his time at the University, Achebe began to write and published several articles in University publications. The young author contributed stories to the University's magazine, the University Herald, and became its editor during his junior year.
Achebe graduated from the University with a B.A. in 1953. Following graduation, he pursued a career in broadcasting. He worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation in London where he achieved great success in a short period of time. After the significant promotions to head of Talks Section in 1957, and controller of Eastern Region Stations in 1959, Achebe became head of Voice of Nigeria in 1961. It was in the middle of this career in 1958, that Achebe published his first novel, Things Fall Apart. This work was a direct answer to Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson (1939). Achebe was offended by Cary's novel during his years at the university. Mister Johnson was assigned reading and Achebe was appalled at its depiction of Africans as "violent savages with passionate instincts and simple minds." Achebe resolved to fight this unfair depiction of his people from his congenital access to the insider's point of view. Just a year after publishing this first novel, Achebe was awarded the Margaret Wrong Memorial prize, in 1959. No Longer at Ease, the sequel to Things Fall Apart was published in 1960. Following this second novel, Achebe won the Nigerian National Trophy for Literature.
Nigeria fell prey to political corruption and infighting between Nigerian factions. Acutely aware of his country's political perils, Achebe addressed this political corruption in "A Man of the People" (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). Coincidentally, civil war broke out in Igbo speaking Eastern Nigeria in 1967, a year after A Man of the People was published. Eastern Nigeria, led by Igbo officers during a coup d'etat in 1966, seceded from the rest of Nigeria and became the nation of Biafra until it was defeated and re-assimilated in 1970. Achebe traveled to Europe during the war campaigning for the sovereignty of Biafra. He claimed that "no government, black or white has the right to stigmatize and destroy groups of its own citizens without undermining the basis of its own existence." A second coup d'etat led by non-Igbo officers six months after the first, led to the deaths of thousands of Igbo in Eastern Nigeria. Achebe and his family were forced to flee the capital city of Logos as refugees during this time. Following his experiences with civil war, Achebe wrote a set of poems that won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972.
Achebe believes that writers have a responsibility to address social maladies. He offers an observation of the difference between European and African artistic endeavors. He asserts that Europeans "create art for art's sake" whereas African art exists as an inherent component of society. Achebe is the founder and editor of two journals, a novelist, poet, essayist and lecturer. Over the years, he has spoken and lectured extensively throughout the United States.
Achebe's other novels include Girls at War (1972), Arrow of God (1964), and The Trouble with Nigeria (1983).
The movement was never quite a movement to begin with; more a ragged group of hopeless romantics and scoundrels united by vague quasi-Buddhistic concepts, potent sexism, Rimbaud-esque spontaneity, intellectual snobbery and a jazz tinged bohemianism.
Undoubtedly there are glimpses of utter genius; Ginsberg's Howl is a modern epic of immense scope and beauty, Burroughs's Naked Lunch, when read as a demented Joycean autobiographical collage is superb and several of Kerouac's journeys of travel and homoeroticism are worth accompanying him on.
Yet step beyond these early works and the myth begins to crumble.
Keroauc was the first to break. Petrified of the too-muchness of life he retired to the security of living with his mother and cut off all ties with the outside world. Sadly it was the beginning of a path that saw him compromise and reject all that he had stood for, stumbling into alcoholism and right wing conservatism. He emerged from his self-enforced exile on two notable occasions. One was on a talk show, bloated and bitter, where he drunkenly attacked and denounced all the youthful adventure and awe and passion the world had loved him for, in one of the saddest pieces of television footage. The second was when he was at a last party with his soul mate Neal Cassady and the young writer Ken Kesey; Keroauc, furious that someone intended to burn the stars and stripes, rescued the flag and left in acrimony. A disillusioned man he died when his cirrhotic liver could no longer function. He was found on his hands and knees vomiting blood, which he later drowned in after twenty-six transfusions.
Ginsberg never quite lived up to initial expectations, scribbling Kaddish and Death to Van Gogh's Ear in the shadow of Howl.
Burroughs's infamous queer, junkie, wife-killing William Tell and self-styled outlaw joined Ginsberg in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and released a series of gradually diminishing works, self-consciously avant garde and strangely devoid of any sense of humanity.
All three were safely assimilated into the mainstream by becoming characters in advertisements for large companies; Ginsberg did an ad for Gap and Burroughs, despite believing that advertising was a form of social control and materialism a destructive form of madness, did a Nike ad (both thus endorsing the beatific joys of sweatshops and third world slavery).
When Kerouac's turn to sell out and do a Gap ad came, he at least had the excuse of being dead. One beat writer (Ferlinghetti) somberly saw entering the academy and the advertisements as the last nail in the counterculture's coffin. This served to prove Marcuse's theory that the dominant capitalist mainstream has an enormous capacity to ingest its dissident elements thus defusing the danger of their message. The establishment did not swallow all of them however.
Neal Cassady ("the side burned hero of the Snowy West" -On the Road) continued on a path of exploration with LSD before one night wandering onto a deserted Mexican railroad, intending to walk fifteen miles to the next town. He fell asleep on the way, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. The night was filled with frost and then rain and he was found the following morning beside the tracks in a hypothermic coma, and died in a hospital later that day. His last words were "Sixty-Four Thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-Eight," supposedly how many railroad ties he had counted before his death. It leaves the conclusion that his fictional alter ego Dean Moriarty (On The Road) had asked so much of him that he had killed himself living up to the legend. It was burn out or sell out.
You are left with the feeling that this movement, so incandescent with genius at its birth, never became what it could have, should have been and eventually mutated into all that it had opposed. For every one of their libertarian masterpieces there are a thousand lesser works diluted of enthusiasm and imagination and for each of their glory years there are decades of silence or worse self-renunciation. Even those writers operating on the Beat fringe like Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson faded into lazy self-imposed obscurity after the magnificent One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Once it petrified the powers that be by being a libertarian and radical counter-culture. What it became was an apathetic cosmetically-radical luxury for fashionable middle class students to entertain themselves whilst delaying their entry into the workforce.
The thing with the Beats is that it shouldn't matter if they are not all they are cracked up to be, writers rarely are, and the movement could through its eventual self destruction appear a glorious disaster, a literary James Dean that flickered out in the midst of some youthful passion. Where it becomes a problem is when their self-mythologizing eclipses greater literary talents. One of those lurking in their shadows goes by the name of Richard Brautigan.
Brautigan was an outsider amongst a gallery of outsiders and was possibly the most remarkable of the lot. And the shocking thing is his works, almost ceased to exist.
There have been many cases when the world has or almost has been deprived of important literary works. Kafka wished for his entire output to be destroyed as he wasted away with tuberculosis, thankfully a friend, who covertly went against his wishes, preserved them. Others were not so fortunate. Byron's journals were burnt for fear of their explosive content; namely admission of the act of sodomy at the time carried the death penalty. Sylvia Plath's final diary documenting her decline into depression and suicide was destroyed by her ex husband Ted Hughes in an act that to this day threatens to cause riots and effigy burning amongst her cult of admirers. And in an act of literary crime the works of Richard Brautigan remained unpublished since the sixties. You could walk into a bookstore and find the complete ramblings of the other Beats clogging up the shelves and yet searching for Brautigan was like rummaging for the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Thankfully the publishing press Rebel Inc. realized the insanity of this neglect and resurrected his work. It is not difficult to see what is so remarkable about his writing. There is a cool obscurity about him, like a book version of the Velvet Underground or the Beta Band; all the more overwhelming because few people know of it. People horde knowledge of him and ration it out to those whom they think are worthy, operating like a guild of alchemists, possessors of secret powerful knowledge. It is the stuff of knowing glances, winks and Masonic handshakes. I cannot say that he doesn't deserve mainstream recognition, rather the mainstream doesn't deserve him for he eclipses it.
He writes of apparent non-events. It aspires not to be a manifesto or a treatise but simply enjoyable stories that are close to life. This is something I envy of him. His lack of pretension makes his work all the more profound than those who proclaim brilliance, those that shout it from the rooftops. He trusts his readers enough to tell them a story rather than to preach or teach. In the Confederate General of Big Sur he mentions a wealth of other writers i.e. Nietzsche, Babel, Steinbeck, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Henry Miller- not in the belief that he is educating the reader but that he is suggesting sublime paths that the reader might consi der taking. Sometimes he writes so emphatically and with such trust that rather than reading the book seems to talk, to develop a dialogue with the reader.
In his introduction to the Confederate General Duncan McLean comments, "I don't know much about Richard Brautigan as a person. In fact I think I only know one thing about him and I wish I didn't know it." This of course is the fact that Brautigan killed himself in the early 1980s with a .44 caliber gun in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other. Why the act is so unthinkable is because it goes seemingly unannounced, where others gave hints, clues to suggest they were toying with the idea, Brautigan does not. There are no "to be or not to be" questions pondered here. A reader, blissfully ignorant to the fact he killed himself, would probably think he was still living a life of elderly hedonism out in the Mojave Desert or in the backwoods of New Orleans. Suicide is unthinkable for one reason because his books are filled to the brim with humor. From the unlikeliest of sources he conjures images of missing eyebrows, a symphony of frogs that are only silenced by the cry "Campbell's Soup", the incompatibility of the Bible with electricity and the remarkable figure of Lee Mellon. It should be remembered that the border between comedy and tragedy is as difficult to define as the borders of territories at sea or in deserts. Comedy is best when it is self-deprecating, when it allows us to laugh at our fears and anxieties but it does not, cannot remove them. Like all other intoxications humour is a distraction, a temporary reprieve from the unbearable. The private lives of the world's greatest comedians are enough to remind us of the fact that primates grin when they are petrified and as a desperate attempt to defuse dangerous, traumatic situations.
Another reason why it is so hard to believe he killed himself is that his outlook on life is not bleak or nihilistic but rather is life affirming, a celebration of all that makes life worth living; sex, friendship, intoxication in all the forms sung by Baudelaire. This is constantly reiterated in his work, which like all real "magic realist" works, hints at the immense potentials of life and the extraordinary that lies beneath the mundane. Writing of impossible imagination and stunning beauty is often juxtaposed with events of the most everyday, the way epiphanies of beauty occur in life; the Southern accent that reads German philosophers and insists on quiet "when a man reads the Russians", the daring cavalry attacks on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a hand resting on the crack of an ass like a bird on the branch of a tree, a bird that sings when you are impotent. Reading Brautigan, a stoner with the soul of Blake or Whitman, reminds you of the Oscar Wilde quote that seems to define Magic Realism: "We are all in the gutter but some of us are watching the stars".
Some examples are worth simply reading without commentary:
Night was coming in, borrowing the light. It had started borrowing just a few cents worth of light but now it was borrowing thousands of dollars worth of light every second. The light would soon be gone, the bank closed, the tellers unemployed, the bank president a suicide.
The whiskey went well. I wish I could have offered the stars a drink. Looking down upon mortals, they probably need a drink from time to time, certainly on a night like this. We got drunk."
What a wonderful sense of distortion Lee Mellon had. Finish that slice of bread. That thing I was holding in my hand never had anything to do with a slice of bread. I put my hammer and chisel aside and we went up to the truck.
And even though the Brautigan mentality to women is occasionally cliched he avoids the traditional Beat means to an end/sperm receptacle school of thought and displays a brave and haunting romanticism. "We went away with each other like small republics to join the United Nations" and "her lips parted and I ran my fingers gently along her teeth and touched the sleeping tip of her tongue. I felt like a musician touching a darkened piano" -- for anyone who has ever been in love such lines are almost painfully beautiful.
It is easy to be hypnotized and delighted by the sad delirious beauty of Brautigan's writing. And yet there are darker undercurrents, as there always are in humour that aspires to truth and knowledge. The book is littered with jokes; indeed it's one of the only books to make me wake myself up laughing, having remembered some line mid-dream. And yet when the book is finished there is one scene, one chilling instant that haunts the reader; the moment when bugs stare out at the narrator from a burning log. It is at this point that Brautigan's real life connects like electricity to the book. The drinking binges, the electro-shock therapy, his refusal to utter a single word to his mother, his need for "some tranquility . . . a little more distance between the frustrations and agonies in my life" hidden through the book like elements in the air, at this point make themselves known.
Duncan McLean in his introduction to the work suggests, as an explanation of his suicide, that the bugs are Brautigan looking out at us, his readers. I'd go further and say the insects represent all of us, Brautigan's vision of a doomed humanity living on borrowed time. This is not to say that this is a hopeless tragedy rather we are liberated in a sense as our actions and relationships are all the more profound and precious because we are running out of time. Life ends in tragedy so the rest of it might as well be a comedy for there is nothing to lose. And I bet those bugs scuttling around that burning log, staring out at Brautigan, have no other options than to tell each other jokes.
Nobly undaunted to the last
And death has now united him
With ... heroes of the past
No sound of strife disturb his sleep!
Calmly he rests: no human pain
Or high ambition spurs him now
The peaks of glory to attain
(James Joyce, Ivy Day in the Committee Room)
November 22nd, 2002 marks the 9th anniversary of the death of British writer and composer Anthony Burgess. He died on that date, of lung cancer, in a London hospital, leaving behind an output of works that ranged from novels to non-fiction books, from articles to short stories, from an extensive and impressive range of musical compositions to television documentaries and screenplays. Aside from his works, Mr. Burgess is being survived by his family, a whole load of some pretty darn good friends, an inimical force invading his memory in the form of a wanna-be biographer (Andrew Biswell) to whom Burgess would most likely have a Joyce quote to throw at:
May everlasting shame consume
The memory of those who tried
To befoul and smear the exalted name
Of one who spurned them in his pride
(Joyce, Ivy Day in the Committee Room)
For the occasion, Carcanet Press in the UK will release a volume of poetry by Burgess, titled Revolutionary Sonnets, on November 25th, his "official" death date. He would have liked that, especially since the volume's title is the fictitious title of the poetry book of Burgess's character Enderby, whom Burgess had created to showcase his own poetry works that did not find a publisher while he was alive. Burgess wrote "old" poetry, in the style of Hopkins and Shakespeare; he paid great attention to old verse rules and, had he lived some 500 years earlier, he would have probably become one of the greatest poets of that time. Being born, and having lived, when he did, however, he became known primarily for his novels. Now, posthumously, he may find acceptance as a poet as well.
For Anthony Burgess, it was never enough to excel in only one sphere. He was a great writer, but it was one intrinsic merit of the man that he wanted more, much more, than that. He also wanted to succeed as a composer, a journalist, a critic, a translator, a biographer, a scholar, a teacher, a professor. What a steep task for one mere human life span! Some of this he managed to achieve before he ran out of time, while others of his goals are still in the processes of being achieved now, including establishing his standing as a poet and a composer.
It has been said that behind every great man stands a great woman, but in Burgess's case, it should be expanded to saying behind some great men stands an entire army of great people. It is a testimony to the writer's endearing character that, following his death, those he had left behind, wife, friends and son, all began dedicating their lives, or big parts thereof, to keeping his work alive and finishing whatever tasks he had been unable to complete by the time lung cancer cut him down, all too soon.
His widow, Liana, established the Burgess Center at Angers and started holding symposiums there on many aspects of Burgess's life and works. Aided by a former Burgess student, she tracked down his friends and asked them to contribute their articles and research, and not one of them declined. They traveled from all corners of the world to Angers, to attend conferences on Anthony Burgess and his life, to present papers, to partake in panels.
It is as though Joyce had called them all together, in honour of a writer who had fought throughout his life for a deeper understanding, of layman and scholar alike, of Joyce's works:
If they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least,
that in gatherings ... we shall speak of them with
pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the
memory of those dead and gone great ones whose
fame the world will not willingly let die
(Joyce, The Dead)
Further, Liana went through all her papers and sold them collectively to the University of Texas at Austin, to give the after-world access to her husband's works. She traveled tirelessly, despite her fear of flying, to be present at symposiums honouring her husband.
Ben Forkner, an American friend of his, edited some unpublished Burgess writings and released them in a book titled One Man's Chorus.
His Goddaughter junked a well-paying job at Penguin publishing to work for free to transcribe Burgess's interviews.
A former student and friend traveled to Brown University in Rhode Island, collected scores of forgotten Burgess music, and helped convince the Brown music scholar Paul Phillips to dedicate himself to categorizing and performing the music of Burgess. As a result, Burgess the composer was adopted by Brown, turning him posthumously into a veritable Ivy Leaguer; he received an entry in the Grove Dictionary of Musicians, and many of Burgess's pieces have already been performed by and at Brown. Phillips traveled to Monaco, on several occasions, for research of his upcoming book on Anthony Burgess the composer, and he joined the Burgess Center as musical advisor as well as becoming the world's foremost Burgess music expert.
As this example shows, even those who did not know him personally became infected by the enthusiasm of those who did, and loved the man all the same, enough to also start working to keep his name alive and ensure that everyone knows, even the generations to follow, that Anthony Burgess was about much more than merely his little novel A Clockwork Orange.
While he tended to portray himself as friendless and often stated that soon after his death he would be forgotten, Anthony Burgess's perception of those around him fell far, far from the truth. He was probably unaware of the love and affection he inspired in those he met, but the aftermath of his departure from this world is a living testimony to it. Touchingly, nobody of the hundreds of people, strewn across several continents, who work on Burgess's work do it for the money. Many of them use their own finances and resources to keep the Burgess archives growing, often putting in long hours after work, until the wee hours of morning, to fit their "Burgess work" around their regular work requirements that earn them a living. They all work for the sake of their love and admiration of the man. They are idealists, perhaps, or literary experts, but they are all people willing to dedicate parts of their lives to Burgess and they share one common denominator, that they were his friends. Not only were they his friends, but they are willing to work for the privilege, meaning, in effect, to put their labour where their mouths are.
Somebody once said: "a man can count himself lucky if, by the time he dies, he has made even a handful of true friends". Anthony Burgess, as the past decade has shown, has done better than that, much better. Perhaps, aside from his literary standing, this is where his true success in life lies. It is only when one's professional success is accompanied by personal success as well that a man, by the end of his life, can say that he has done truly well during his time on earth.
One wonders how many other writers can say of themselves to have, during the course of their lifetimes, made such impact of a personal nature to warrant this extent of dedication to their persona, even a decade after their deaths. This article would not do Burgess justice without evoking Joyce's images often and with gusto, so here is another fitting one:
There is no friends like the old friends, when all is said and done
(Joyce, The Sisters)
It is, perhaps, his ever-growing circle of friends that makes sure Burgess lives on, as he had always wanted. To Burgess, surviving through one's artistic works was a manner of surviving one's own death. He wished for that, but thought he would not achieve it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The year 2002 saw the release of his first biography, a satiric piece of work by a former Punch journalist that Burgess would probably laugh his head off about, and in 2003, a more serious biography of a scholarly nature, by the official biographer, Dr. Andrew Biswell, will follow. There will be books on Burgess's music, there will be the commercial release of his compositions, and Burgess himself is going to "keep writing" as further books are going to be published of his collected writings and correspondence. Other biographies are going to follow. There will be symposiums on Burgess as a Joyce scholar, on Burgess and Shakespeare, on Burgess and Marlowe. Movies are going to be made of his books, some of them based on his own screenplays. Students, perhaps, will one day be writing the Joyce theses that Burgess left behind, in titles only, for their consideration.
Over the next decades, the public is likely to learn more and more fascinating and undiscovered aspects about Burgess the man, Burgess the writer and Burgess the composer.
In many ways, Anthony Burgess gave his life to his reading public, seeking to entertain and educate with his works. He gave from his pen until its final run of ink, and from his vast knowledge until his final breath, writing even on his deathbed, not one, but three books. Joyce is qualified to comment on this, so much better than I am, that I have decided to hand the rest of this passage over to him:
better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and whither dismally with age
(Joyce, The Dead).
At the time of his death, Burgess was, very evidently, still in the full grip of his passion, for language and for his beloved, favourite writers, Joyce and Marlowe, for even as (here is Joyce again)
his soul approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead and he became conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence, and his ... own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling, ...
(Joyce, The Dead)
The shapes he recognized most of all were Joyce and Marlowe, and it was those two, largely, that Burgess packed his final writings with.
He gave freely, not only of his art but also of his time, always willing to dispense generously with advice or a kind word, always concerned that his friends had good careers and were doing well in their lives. Despite his massive work schedule, he found the time to cook for his wife and son, to write long letters, to help friends in need. As Joseph Heller once said of him, Anthony Burgess, as a person, was boundary-less in his generosity, and now history seems to be in the process of showing us that this Manchester writer's generosity paid off because he succeeded in touching his public not only as a writer but as a person as well, a rare feat to achieve for a novelist.
Nine years after his death, Anthony Burgess is probably as alive as ever, at least when it comes to his art. His loss is still felt painfully by those who knew him, including one friend who maintains a library of recent Burgess books without back covers for having removed all the back cover references to his demise, but the pain of their loss has been channelled, by all of the writer's friends with a very few exceptions, into a touching and admirable quest to keep his name and works alive and continue to establish him as one of the greatest English language writers of our time. They don't seem to have much time to hang around, moping, for the works ends when the work ends. Not before and rarely after (Burgess, The Clockwork Testament). Here is Joyce again, speaking on behalf of all of them:
There are always sadder thoughts that will recur
to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes,
of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through
life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to
brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go
on bravely among the living. We have all of us living duties
and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our
(Joyce, The Dead)
That Burgess, recipient of countless awards such as the Commandeur des Arts et Lettres and the Critic of the Year Award, should have won a Booker, Pulitzer or Nobel, or all three, is increasingly clear to literary critics, but even without those, his name will survive, not only through our generation, but into the coming generations as well. Joyce wants to take over again, so I am going to hand the keyboard to him:
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow
falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling,
like the descent of their last end, upon all
the living and the dead.
In some ways, Anthony Burgess still continues to be among the former.
Throughout his lifetime, Burgess, who had an endearing sense of British humour, cracked many jokes, some of them understood by the public, and some not. But his biggest joke, though not intended to be one, was probably the, somewhat hasty, statement:
After my death, I will soon be forgotten.
But, to paraphrase from Burgess's own words, in one of his last novels, A Dead Man in Deptford: nine years on, the dagger continues to pierce and it will never be blunted. But that inimitable voice sings on, as loud and clear as it always has, and it will always keep singing.
Saleem's large nose is seen as repulsive, snot-ridden and bothersome, yet it is his tool of power giving him the magic to be able to telepathically converse with hundreds of other children in his mind. They create a sort of 'freak society', united by their respective birthrights. Saleem's grandfather could smell when danger was approaching and this trait, atleast symbolically, has been inherited by Saleem in his later youth. Saleem begins his first several years as a boy who cannot smell anything very well due to a constant stuffed and dripping nose and blocked sinuses. A painful washing bin accident and later a concussion through a bike accident ignites his gift of telepathy. In order to "see more clearly" Saleem's nose is clogged even deeper with snot, touching a virgin place within his mind. It is interesting how pain incites reward in this story, with the suffering of senses for atonement (Saleem brushing his teeth with coal tar soap) or fasting for the religious Mulsim holiday for a month (with the children awarded trips to the cinema) or Aadam Aziz going on a hunger strike to reverend Mother's silent refusal...and later her counter protest of food denial until Pia shows her suffering and cries.
Pleasure of the senses also comes into play with "food and erotica" in which a film that is censored for sexual contact uses the eroticized images of a young woman kissing an apple, mangoes, pink cups of kashmiri tea, and passing it to her "lover" to kiss. In the Pioneer Cafe, similiarly, Amina's forbidden love with Nadir-Qasim is indirectly taking place with Amina holding her mouth and pressing her lips to the glass of her lassi and then passing it to Nadir, who in turn applies it to his mouth. Meals act as more than mere taste pleasure or simple nourishment for the body as they are repeatedly used as "comfort foods" to compensate for sexual or emotional repression or loss of parental love as in the case of Saleem's "first exile" when Mary wants to feed Saleem after his hospital stay after losing his finger (to cover the rejection by his parents) with the familiar comfort of food.
There are many scents described here, including Ahmed's "scent of failure" thinly diguised by perfumed Coca-Cola girls and fizzy drinks, and the stench of Tai the fisherman's filthy body, purposelly noxious to make a statement to a young Doctor Aadam. While Tai makes sure to show his feelings through offensive body odor, the Aziz and Sinai family try to cover or mask their emotions: anger, shame, guilt or envy through calculated "so-called helpful or kind gestures"; well spiced meals, or false words. All of which Saleem begins to understand more clearly as the novel progresses (even as he loses his telepathic sense of smell with a later nose drainage operation). His psychological sense of smell deepens and alters with the addition of a literal one and he can now smell the true properties of human nature along with the emotions in food, city, streets and homes, and even within himself as the "cesspit of his own inequities". Saleem begins to sniff out the filthy bad smells of his country , and encounters with the 'dirtiest' whores, including old Tai Bibi, who can master the scent of any one on earth, and in the heat of "passion" with Salleem brings out the scent of his beloved sister. When Saleem goes to his sister he can smell the "shame and horror" of her reaction and seems to be attracted by love in purity and attracted by sexuality in filth.
Saleem has an almost Proustian connection with scents and flavors of people and food that makes one recall past with nostalgia, reliving a memory through the present senses, marked by reminiscent smells or tastes. He remarks at one point that the "pickle-fumes stimulate the juice of memory." Saleem has many incarnations and developments with his nose, in losing one power and gaining another; in losing the ability to discern all people and even his country's inner nature with his sensitive nose. He uses the "pungent inescapable fumes of what-had-been-excised" as groundwork for the life of his psychic inheritance, displaying the psychological ties of his senses to his family history.
O'Connor was educated at Georgia State College for Women, and graduated in 1945. The following year, she published her first short story, "The Geranium". She then went on to study creative writing at the University of Iowa, where she received her M.F.A. in 1947.
In 1950, she finished the novel Wise Blood, which tells the tale of Hazel Motes, a man who tries to start the Church Without Christ. Later that year, she began suffering from lupus, and returned home to the family farm in Milledgeville, where she raised peacocks and wrote. She was given cortisone injections, which managed to stop the disease, but the cortisone weakened her bones to such an extent that she had to walk on crutches from 1955 until the end of her life. After a trip to Lourdes, she said she had "the best-looking crutches in Europe", a comment that is characteristic of both her humor and her refusal to feel sorry for herself.
Wise Blood was published in 1952 (John Huston turned it into a film in 1979). Her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, was published in 1960, and it was also religious in nature.
O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic, yet the characters she portrayed in her work were Protestant. She explained this by saying that Protestants are more likely to express their faith through dramatic action. This fit with her philosophy on writing about religious matters, in that she preferred not to approach the subject directly, but rather through the depiction of human actions.
Her first book of short stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find, was published in 1955, and contained pieces such as "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" and "Good Country People." Her short stories are darkly comic, and feature a deep understanding of the rhythms of everyday Southern life, and a keen ear for Southern speech patterns. Critics referred to her as a maker of grotesques, as she often focused her tales on the darkness of human nature. To this label she commented, "Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
Flannery O'Connor died from lupus on August 3, 1964 at the age of 39, leaving behind 31 short stories, various letters and speeches, and two novels. Posthumous collections include Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969), The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor (1971 - National Book Award Winner), The Habit of Being: Letters (1979), The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews (1983), The Correspondence of Flannery O'Connor and the Brainars Cheneys (1986), and Complete Works (1988).
By writing about the death of his anti-heroine, the complex femme fatale Nicola Six, Samson Young can now 'live' on. He says who lives and who dies and then he gets to write about it. He suddenly feels uplifted and sexually and emotionally resurrected with knowledge of the impending murder. For him there is no question of his involvement in this plot, he must be a part of it somehow so he can feel real again.
Three days in and I am ready-I am ready to write. Hear my knuckles crack. Real life is coming along so fast that I can no longer delay. It's unbelievable. Two decades of fastidious torment, two decades of non-starting, and suddenly I'm ready. Well, this was always destined to be the year of behaving strangely.
I think I am less a novelist than a queasy cleric taking down the minutes of real life. Technically speaking, I am also, I suppose, an accessory before the fact, but to hell with all that for now. I woke up today and thought if London is a spider's web, then where do I fit in? Maybe I'm the fly. I'm the fly."
Is Samson the fly in the spider's web or the spider himself? He could also simply be the web. He has spun a 'story web' to catch the flies (his characters) in order to weave his very own tale as it happens. He plies himself as the 'fly' - the one to be consumed by the story and it's people, and by his consuming disease. He is determined to make his mark in or on the world strong, poignant and real - whether he triumphs over his disease or becomes martyred as the fly who offered himself up to the web and the spider all for a good yarn. This is the most poignant story of his life and he'd kill or be killed for it.