On Pornography

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Sexual fantasy is as old as civilization (as opposed to as old as the race), and one of its outward and visible signs is pornographic literature, an entirely middle-class phenomenon, since we are assured by many investigators (Kinsey, Pomeroy, et al.) that the lower orders seldom rely upon sexual fantasy for extra-stimulus. As soon as possible, the uneducated man goes for the real thing. Consequently he seldom masturbates, but when he does he thinks, we are told, of nothing at all. This may be the last meaningful class distinction in the West.

Nevertheless, the sex-in-the-head middle classes that D.H. Lawrence so despised are not the way they are because they want deliberately to be cerebral and anti-life; rather they are innocent victims of necessity and tribal law. For economic reasons they must delay marriage as long as possible. For tribal reasons they are taught that sex outside marriage is wrong. Consequently the man whose first contact with a woman occurs when he is twenty will have spent the sexually most vigorous period of his life masturbating. Not unnaturally, in order to make that solitary act meaningful, the theater of his mind early becomes a Dionysian festival, and should he be a resourceful dramatist he may find actual lovemaking disappointing when he finally gets to it, as Bernard Shaw did. One wonders whether Shaw would have been a dramatist at all if he had first made love to a girl at fourteen, as nature intended, instead of at twenty-nine, as class required.

Gore Vidal
Pornography (1966)
United States: Essays 1952-1992

Photo by Frank KovalchekWhat’s been on man’s mind for a long time! Carnivale mask, Venice (2007)

The Poets

From room to hallway a candle passes
and is extinguished. Its imprint swims in one’s eyes,
until, among the blue-black branches,
a starless night its contours finds.

It is time, we are going away: still youthful,
with a list of dreams not yet dreamt,
with the last, hardly visible radiance of Russia
on the phosphorent rhymes of our last verse.

And yet we did know – didn’t we? – inspiration,
we would live, it seemed, and our books would grow,
but the kithless muses at last have destroyed us,
and it is time now for us to go.

And this not because we’re afraid of offending
with our freedom good people; simply, it’s time
for us to depart – and besides we prefer not
to see what lies hidden from other eyes;

not to see all this world’s enchantment and torment,
the casement that catches a sunbeam afar,
humble somnambulists in soldier’s uniform,
the lofty sky, the attentive clouds;

the beauty, the look of reproach; the young children
who play hide-and-seek inside and around
the latrine that revolves in the summer twilight;
the sunset’s beauty, its look of reproach;

all that weighs upon one, entwines one, wounds one;
an electric sign’s tears on the opposite bank;
through the mist the stream of its emeralds running;
all the things that already I cannot express.

In a moment we’ll pass across the world’s threshold
into a region – name it as you please:
wilderness, death, disavowal of language,
or maybe simpler: the silence of love;

the silence of a distant cartway, its furrow,
beneath the foam of flowers concealed;
my silent country (the love that is hopeless);
the silent sheet lightning, the silent seed.

Vasily Shishkov (1939)

Poem for the Fall

Painting by Francis Danby: Apocalypse (c. 1828)

When the light poured down through a hole in the clouds,
We knew the great poet was going to show. And he did.
A limousine with all white tires and stained-glass windows
Dropped him off. And then, with a clear and soundless fluency,
He strode into the hall. There was a hush. His wings were big.
The cut of his suit, the width of his tie, were out of date.
When he spoke, the air seemed whitened by imagined cries.
The worm of desire bore into the heart of everyone there.
There were tears in their eyes. The great one was better than ever.
“No need to rush,” he said at the close of the reading, “The end
Of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.”
How like him, everyone thought. Then he was gone,
And the world was a blank. It was cold and the air was still.
Tell me, you people out there, what is poetry anyway?
     Can anyone die without even a little?

Mark Strand
The Great Poet Returns (1995)
Blizzard of One: Poems

Painting by Francis Danby: Apocalypse (c. 1828)

Related: Morris Berman: The Waning of the Modern Ages

The Ruined City

A Silence That Is Better

Illustration by R. Crumb: From Despair Comics (1971)

Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity: speech is shallow as Time.

Thomas Carlyle
Sir Walter Scott (1838)

Illustration by R. Crumb: From Despair Comics (1971)

Against Communication

The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1985)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

[Before you deplore citing the “genius” of Adolph Hitler and Idi Amin, look the word up in a reliable dictionary. It is a morally neutral term.]

GREAT POETS DIE IN STEAMING POTS OF SHIT

Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness

let me tell you about him. with sick hangover I crawled out from under the sheets the other day to try to get to the store, buy some food, place food inside of me and make the job I hate. all right. I was in this grocery store, and this little shit of a man (he must have been as old as I) but perhaps more comfortable and stupid and idiotic, a chipmunk full of beatlenuts and BOW WOW and no regard for anything except the way he felt or thought or expressed…he was a hyena-chipmunk, a piece of sloth. a slug. he kept staring at me, then he said:

HEY!!!

he walked on up and stood there staring. HEY! he said HEY! he had very round eyes and he stood thee staring up at me from out of those very round eyes. the eyes had bottoms like the dirty bottoms of swimmingpools – no reflection. I didn’t have but a few minutes, had to rush. I had missed the job the day before and had already been counciled – god knows how many times – for excessive absenteeism. I really wanted to walk away from him but I was too sick to gather myself. he looked like the manager of an apartment house I had once lived in a few years back. one of those who was always standing in the hall at 3 a.m. when you entered with a strange woman.

he kept staring so I said, I CAN’T REMEMBER YOU. I’M SORRY, I JUST CAN’T REMEMBER YOU. I’M JUST NOT VERY GOOD AT THAT SORT OF THING. meanwhile thinking, why don’t you go away? why do you have to be here? I don’t like you.

I WAS AT YOUR PLACE, he said. OVER THERE, he pointed. he turned around and pointed south and east, where I had never lived. worked, but never lived. good, I thought, he’s a nut. I don’t know him. never knew him. I’m free. I can shove him off.

SORRY, I said, BUT YOU’RE MISTAKEN – I DON’T KNOW YOU. NEVER LIVED OVER THERE. SORRY, MAN.

I started to push my basket off.

WELL, MAYBE NOT THERE. BUT I KNOW YOU. IT WAS A PLACE IN THE BACK, YOU LIVED IN A PLACE IN THE BACK, ON THE SECOND FLOOR. IT WAS ABOUT A YEAR AGO.

SORRY, I told him, BUT I DRINK TOO MUCH. I FORGET PEOPLE. I DID LIVE IN A PLACE IN BACK, SECOND FLOOR, BUT THAT WAS 5 YEARS AGO.

LISTEN, I’M AFRAID YOU’RE MIXED UP. I’M IN A HURRY, REALLY. I HAVE TO GO, I’M REALLY DOWN TO THE MINUTE NOW.

I rolled on off toward the meat department.

he ran along beside me.

YOU’RE BUKOWSKI, AREN’T YOU?

YES, I AM.

I WAS THERE. YOU JUST DON’T REMEMBER. YOU WERE DRINKING.

WHO THE HELL BROUGHT YOU OVER?

NOBODY. I CAME ON MY OWN. I WROTE A POEM ABOUT YOU. YOU DON’T REMEMBER. BUT YOU DIDN’T LIKE IT.

UMM, I said.

I ONCE WROTE A POEM TO THAT GUY WHO WROTE ‘THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.’ WHAT’S HIS NAME?

ALGREN. NELSON ALGREN, I said.

YEAH, he said. I WROTE A POEM ABOUT HIM. SENT IT TO THIS MAGAZINE. THE EDITOR SUGGESTED THAT I SEND THE POEM TO HIM. ALGREN WROTE BACK, HE WROTE ME BACK A NOTE ON A RACING FORM. ‘THIS IS MY LIFE,’ HE WROTE ME.

FINE, I said, SO WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

IT DOESN’T MATTER. MY NAME IS ‘LEGION.’

VERY FUNNY, I smiled. we trotted along, then stopped. I reached over and got a package of hamburger. then I decided to give him the brushoff. I took the hamburger and stuck it in his hand and shook his hand with it, saying, WELL, OK, GOOD TO SEE YOU, BUT MAN, REALLY I’VE GOT TO GO.

then I shifted into high and pushed my basket out of there. toward the bread department. he wouldn’t shake.

ARE YOU STILL AT THE POST OFFICE? he asked, trotting along.

I’M AFRAID SO.

YOU OUGHT TO GET OUT OF THERE. IT’S A HORRIBLE PLACE. IT’S THE WORST PLACE YOU CAN BE.

I THINK IT IS. BUT YOU SEE, I CAN’T DO ANYTHING, I DON’T HAVE ANY SPECIAL TRAINING.

YOU’RE A GREAT POET, MAN.

GREAT POETS DIE IN STEAMING POTS OF SHIT.

BUT YOU’VE GOT ALL THAT RECOGNITION FROM THE LEFT-WING PEOPLE.

left-wing people? this guy was crazy. we trotted along.

I HAVE RECOGNITION. FROM MY BUDDIES AT THE POST OFFICE. I’M RECOGNIZED AS A LUSH AND A HORSEPLAYER.

CAN’T YOU GET A GRANT OR SOMETHING?

I TRIED LAST YEAR. THE HUMANITIES. ALL I GOT BACK WAS A FORM-LETTER OF REJECTION.

BUT EVERY ASS IN THE COUNTRY IS LIVING ON A GRANT.

YOU FINALLY SAID SOMETHING.

DON’T YOU READ AT THE UNIVERSITIES?

I’D RATHER NOT. I CONSIDER IT PROSTITUTION. ALL THEY WANT TO DO IS…

he didn’t let me finish. GINSBERG, he said, GINSBERG READS AT THE UNIVERSITIES. AND CREELY AND OLSON AND DUNCAN AND…

I KNOW.

I reached over and got my bread.

THERE ARE ALL FORMS OF PROSTITUTION, he said.

now he was getting profound. jesus. I ran toward the vegetable department.

LISTEN, COULD I SEE YOU AGAIN, SOMETIME?

MY TIME’S SHORT. REALLY TIGHT.

he found a matchbook. HERE, PUT YOUR ADDRESS DOWN IN HERE.

oh christ, I thought, how do you get out without hurting a man’s feelings? I wrote the address down.

HOW ABOUT A PHONE NUMBER? he asked. SO YOU’LL KNOW WHEN I’M COMING OVER.

NO, NO PHONE NUMBER. I handed the book back.

WHEN’S THE BEST TIME?

IF YOU’VE GOT TO COME, MAKE IT SOME FRIDAY NIGHT AFTER TEN.

I’LL BRING A SIX-PACK. AND I’LL HAVE TO BRING MY WIFE. I’VE BEEN MARRIED 27 YEARS.

TOO BAD, I said.

OH NO. IT’S THE ONLY WAY.

HOW DO YOU KNOW? YOU DON’T KNOW ANY OTHER WAY?

IT ELIMINATES JEALOUSY AND STRIFE. YOU OUGHT TO TRY IT.

IT DOESN’T ELIMINATE, IT ADDS. AND I’VE TRIED IT.

OH, YEAH, I REMEMBER READING IT IN ONE OF YOUR POEMS. A RICH WOMAN.

we hit the vegetables. the frozen ones.

I WAS IN THE VILLAGE IN THE 30’S. I KNEW BODENHEIM. TERRIBLE. HE GOT MURDERED. LAYING AROUND IN ALLEYS LIKE THAT. MURDERED OVER SOME TRASHY WOMAN. I WAS IN THE VILLAGE THEN. I WAS A BOHEMIAN. I’M NO BEAT. AND I’M NO HIPPY. DO YOU READ THE ‘FREE PRESS’?

SOMETIMES.

TERRIBLE.

he meant that he thought the hippies were terrible. he was being profoundly sloppy.

I PAINT TOO. I SOLD A PAINTING TO MY PSYCHIATRIST. THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS. ALL PSYCHIATRISTS ARE SICK, VERY SICK PEOPLE.

more 1933 profundity.

YOU REMEMBER THAT POEM YOU WROTE ABOUT GOING DOWN TO THE BEACH AND CLIMBING DOWN THE CLIFF TO THE SAND AND SEEING ALL THOSER LOVERS DOWN THERE AND YOU WERE ALONE AND WANTED TO GET OUT FAST, YOU GOT OUT SO FAST YOU LEFT YOUR SHOES DOWN THERE WITH THEM. IT WAS A GREAT POEM ABOUT LONELINESS.

it was a poem about how HARD it was to EVER GET alone, but I didn’t tell him that.

I picked up a package of frozen potatoes and made for the check stand. he trotted along beside me.

I WORK AS A DISPLAYMAN. IN THE MARKETS. HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR A WEEK. I ONLY HIT THE OFFICE ONCE A WEEK. I WORK FROM ELEVEN A.M. TO FOUR P.M.

ARE YOU WORKING NOW?

OH YEAH, I’M WORKING ON DISPLAYS IN HERE NOW. WISH I HAD SOME INFLUENCE. I’D GET YOU ON.

the boy at the checkstand began tabbing the groceries.

HEY! my friend yelled, DON’T MAKE HIM PAY FOR THESE GROCERIES! HE’S A POET!

the boy at the checkstand was all right. he didn’t say anything. just went on tabbing it up.

my friend screamed again: HEY! HE’S A GREAT POET! DON’T MAKE HIM PAY FOR HIS GROCERIES.

HE LIKES TO TALK, I said to the checkstand boy.

the checkstand boy was all right. I paid and took my bag.

LISTEN, I’VE GOT TO GO, I said to my friend.

somehow, he could not leave the store. some fear. he wanted to keep his good job. wonderful. it felt very good to see him standing in there by the checkstand. not trotting along beside me.

I’LL BE SEEING YOU, he said.

I waved him away from under the bag.

outside were the parked cars, and the people walking around. none of them read poetry, talked poetry, wrote poetry. for once the masses looked very reasonable to me. I got to my car, threw the stuff in and sat there a moment. a woman got out of the car next to me and I watched as her skirt fell back and showed me flashes of white leg above the stockings. one of the world’s greatest works of Art: a woman with fine legs climbing out of her car. she stood up and the skirt fell back down. for a moment she smiled at me, then she turned and moved it all, wobbling, balancing, shivering toward the grocery store. I started the car and backed out. I had almost forgotten my friend. but he wouldn’t forget me. tonight he would say:

DEAR, GUESS WHO I SAW IN THE GROCERY TODAY? HE LOOKED ABOUT THE SAME, MAYBE NOT AS BLOATED. AND HE HAS THIS LITTLE THING ON HIS CHIN.

WHO WAS IT?

CHARLES BUKOWSKI.

WHO’S THAT?

A POET. HE’S SLIPPED. HE CAN’T WRITE AS WELL AS HE USED TO. BUT HE USED TO WRITE SOME GREAT STUFF. POEMS OF LONELINESS. HE’S REALLY A VERY LONELY FELLOW BUT HE DOESN’T KNOW IT. WE’RE GOING TO SEE HIM THIS FRIDAY NIGHT.

BUT I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO WEAR.

HE WON’T CARE. HE DOESN’T LIKE WOMEN.

HE DOESN’T LIKE WOMEN?

YEAH, HE TOLD ME.

LISTEN, GUSTAV, THE LAST POET WE WENT TO SEE WAS A TERRIBLE PERSON. WE HADN’T BEEN THERE MUCH MORE THAN AN HOUR AND HE GOT DRUNK AND STARTED THROWING BOTTLES ACROSS THE ROOM AND CUSSING.

THAT WAS BUKOWSKI. ONLY HE DOESN’T REMEMBER US.

NO WONDER.

BUT HE’S VERY LONELY. WE SHOULD GO SEE HIM.

ALL RIGHT, IF YOU SAY SO, GUSTAV.

THANK YOU, SWEETIE.

don’t you wish you were Charles Bukowski? I can paint too. lift weights. and my little girl thinks that I am God.

then other times, it’s not so good.

Charles Bukowski
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972)