Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Who needs heroes

Allan Ginsberg , as much as anyone, influenced me to get a typewriter and strive to write poems that cut through what I perceived, in teenage fashion, to be the falseness of cultural norms . His counter cultural assimilation of all things that ran contrary to the middle class life I knew was an attractive one, and it seemed, for a summer and an naive spring, that this might be the way the world once the young, the poets, the musicians took the reigns of the culture from an aged one that was sounding a protracted death rattle. He was, once, a good poet who cared how his poems resounded, all this before his full immersion into Spontaneous Bop Prosody ,first thought best thought, and all the rest. Afterwards the poems were transcriptions of journal entries, chatty, repetitive, self absorbed, artless in their flow, although artful in the presentation of Ginsberg as a transparent celebrity who was only what you saw. On balance, Ginsberg has written a handful of the best poems of the later twentieth century, but there is that element in him that makes you cringe, especially his support for NAMBLA. He's someone with a character have to compartmentalize, creating firewalls between his good and his bad writings, and certainly a thick barrier between Allen the artist and Allen the lover of little boys. It's something a great majority of his vast, nominally liberal audience doesn't want to deal with.

Camille Paglia, from who's column the above question was cited some time ago, expressed an overwhelming admiration for the poet for both his work and his support of man-boy love. She connects him (figuratively) with Whitman as an artist of Vast Vision who wouldn't separate their expanding verse styles from their over riding conviction about the power of erotic love. Paglia, of course,is a libertarian in politics and personal choice, and her admiration of Ginsberg's interest in young boys leaves me ill at ease. It seems something those of us who admire Ginsberg's best writings will have to live with and offer up a shrug, a sigh; yes, this writing is great and fantastic, and no, this belief or action is repugnant and horrible. Pound was a fascist supporting anti-Semite, Mailer stabbed a wife, Ginsberg advocated sex between grown men and small boys. It reminds us that audiences are not drawn to writers because they embody ideas of mainstream sanity. Writers bring something extra to the table, and not all of what's in their gift basket is attractive.

It seems something those of us who admire Ginsberg's best writings will have to live with and offer up a shrug, a sigh; yes, this writing is great and fantastic, and no, this belief or action is repugnant and horrible. Pound was a fascist supporting anti-Semite, Mailer stabbed a wife, Ginsberg advocated sex between grown men and small boys. It reminds us that audiences are not drawn to writers because they embody ideas of mainstream sanity. Writers bring something extra to the table, and not all of what's in their gift basket is attractive.What shouldn't the two things be brought up in the same sentence as examples of famed author behaviors that are morally reprehensible? Mailer had a life-long interest in exploring the nature of violence, and even hypothesized in his famous essay "The White Negro" that acts of violence might work as a curative to help people, men especially, to lead more authentic lives. Mailer has modified his take on violence, but the fact that he wrote romantically of violence and of "encouraging the psychopath within oneself" (to slightly paraphrase from the essay) and ends up in that tragic episode merits comment , and it's not beyond the pale to consider the act a culmination of a major part of his thinking; his idealization of personal violence, I think , can be very much be considered a "lifestyle" choice. That Mailer, my favorite writer , expressed regret for his violence is well and good, but it doesn't change my point, that the stabbing, like Ginsberg's desire to legitimize his attraction to young boys, is a nasty fact of the respective artist's lives an admirer has to come to terms with. The point is that heroes have clay feet. Heroes exist to inspire you to do as they have done, and then inspire you in different ways when their actions or words clash with your expectations. The anxiety of influence continues apace—you move on, you do better, until someone else notices you, admires you, does as you have done, and then comes to despise you for daring a human quirk rather than a godly gesture.

3 comments:

  1. What can one say except: BOHEMIAN EDGE!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What can one say except: BOHEMIAN EDGE!

    ReplyDelete
  3. you can say that again

    ReplyDelete

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