Monday, September 27, 2010
c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)
There should come a time in every man's life when he is no longer impressed by the tales of outlandish (and even wretched) excess that some of the last couple of generations' literary heroes seem to have employed to find fame and fortune. Apparently the yearning for vicarious experiences of debased debauchery runs pretty deep in our culture. That's why a memoir like Mike Edison's "I Have Fun Everywhere I Go" gets a number of positive reviews on Amazon, despite the fact that it is rehashing a lifestyle that has been overexamined throughout the last 50 (or so) years.
And who can we blame for such a situation? Was it William Blake, who first wrote accounts (fictional and otherwise) of his stumblings through the demimonde of drug use and nascent bohemia? Or should we pick on Henry Miller, who seems to have pioneered the Western tradition of extolling the sex-crazed preocuppations of the modern literary male? Perhaps the blame should instead fall squarely on the heads of the "Beat" writers, who appropriated the lifestyle and rhythms of the criminal underclass in order to stake out their legacies? Maybe Hunter S. Thompson or Charles Bukowski are to be held responsible for popularizing the modern day account of chemically-dependent hedonism?
Regardless of who we target as the scapegoats, it should be well understood by now that such ground is now well-trodden. The extent to which an individual must go to shock his readership nowadays within this tradition should reasonably kill him, and if the resultant lifestyle fails to do this then the chances that he can write a cogent, meaningful summary (with what is left of his brain) are no doubt minimal. Either there is a whole lot of hyperbole happening, or the work is ghost-written.
I'll readily admit that I'm guilty of playing in to this trend. I've actively sought out extreme tales of the underground for years now. There is something somehow appealing about tracking the decscent and inevitable degradation of another human being. It can be funny if the reader is cynical enough. And it can be comforting to realize that some have made mistakes so much more egregious that one's own. Still, this type of material must eventually lose its edge, and in the process it is likely to have dulled the senses of anyone who has regularly indulged in such "literature".
Believe me, I'm really not becoming a prude in my tastes. It's just that I find must of this stuff simply boring. No one is going to blaze new ground recapitulating their experiences with drug and alcohol binges. Their personal stories may provide temporarily amusing diversion, but very little of substance (other than ennui) is likely to stick with the reader.