They say about geniuses that they are troubled, they are mavericks and they are miserable.
Charles Bukowski was a mad man, with terrible views on women, a pessimist who could wear down the happiest of souls, a not-very-good man, but he wrote like a scarcely believable dream.
He was my favourite writer’s favourite writer. That’s how I came to know of him.
I had read other books before, never poems. I hated poetry, what with all it’s fancy metaphors and characteristic exaggeration.
But, boy, was Bukowski’s poetry magic. I wonder how I became addicted to it. Maybe because it wasn’t writing about the beauty of trees, but of ordinary activities like finding jobs and drinking beer.
I don’t even know whether I treat it as poetry. It’s so unconventional it has got to be something else. Art, maybe. Or a slice of a life we’ve all lead for varying lengths of time but have qualms admitting to even ourselves.
Writers are powerful people. They are an important species. But not all of them are brave. Only a few maybe. Bukowski was.
He didn’t write about things that were all good and lovely and mushy and easy and nice. He didn’t write about things that were out there in the world somewhere which could be found with enough research.
He tore himself down, looked at what was inside of him, the little good, the slightly more bad, and the most ugly and he wrote about that. He constructed not sentences, but the pain that made him.
In a world which is afraid of reality, which craves drops of goodness like a teen rebel does acceptance, he didn’t go looking for what would give him an escape route. Instead, he chose to go to war with that which would without any doubt destroy him.
When he wrote about how his father beat him up or how he pretended to be pro-Nazis just so he could stand out, when he wrote about the despair which made him and surrounded everything he saw and felt, I felt that indescribable something which I haven’t ever while reading or watching stuff.
There was a truth to it that struck out, not the hard facts type of truth but a truth that only a person who has confronted their own ghosts and come to peace with all that is horrible and bad and mean and disgust worthy about them can talk about.
He wrote at a level so profound I think he should be classified as a philosopher. I have read Kafka as well. He was magnificent, powerful too. But with Bukowski the truth was more blunt, more personal, more everyday.
I have conflicting views, often.
I am a Jeremy Bentham fanboy as well, a firm believer in his utilitarian philosophy that what the ultimate aim of life is pleasure and happiness.
Maybe Bukowski’s was too, in his youth when he would still have hoped. But later, it was as if he knew he couldn’t be happy, that his life would be nothing but years of struggle and unwinnable battles with misery.
Going by what he wrote, and if his writing was one thing, it was the truth, he had stopped hoping. And that, I feel was a level of self realization theoretically mentioned in different philosophies but unheard of practically.
How can anyone continue if there is no hope? When they can’t even feel what good is? When they can’t even imagine happiness?
My friend told me that once, when he was a kid, he asked his father what keeps beggars going. He told him that it’s the hope that one day they may graduate from sleeping on pavements to sleeping in the slums and from slums onto the next stage. It all depended on hope, that’s what drove them.
But in Bukowski’s struggle of an entirely different kind, he didn’t even have the one thing even those who possess nothing have.
In one of his books he has written that he didn’t want to kill himself. He was a coward, he said. He couldn’t do it.
And that probably was the mother of all ironies. A man who exemplified bravery with what he wrote considered himself a coward.
Bukowski wrote about the life we experience, he wrote about things like sleeping late into the afternoon and the nuances of working odd jobs and through it gave us a tiny glimpse into his world of pain.
One of the questions in an application I filled recently was to write a sentence on a person who has influenced me massively. This is what I wrote on Bukowsi:
I spent my whole life looking for magic and wonder, for greatness and genius since those were only things that were truly special in this world, always frustrated with the rigours and monotony of daily life, and then I read Bukowski, who wrote not about the unreality of the hopeful sunlight but of the reality of the pain of the night, a man who made the monotony of everyday, magic, carved out greatness from the ordinary, a man who glorified the life we live and not the life we seek, and made me quit the race which had no finishing line.
I’ve read and felt disgusted by some of his work. It is vile and nauseating, some of what he writes.
But it still affects me, sticks to me because it is the truth of the man who has written it.
The kind of truth we refuse to believe we also have.
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