16: Charles Bukowski

The following is a quote attribute to Mr. Bukowski.

For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

Friends can hurt you and annoy you more than enemies and strangers ever could. The reason Heinrich Karl Bukowski unnerves me so much, and should unnerve you, is that he gets so much of this world right. Much more than that even, he sees things for what they are, and still more than even that! – he knows we're playing a rigged game. He is a function, a component part of the few, the proud; the truly honest. That's what makes his blasphemy so hard to swallow.

This is not about religion. Not really about god. It is about life. It is about truth and the ways in which we seek it out.

Bukowski is dead. His tombstone reads simply: don't try. Here is a man worthy of my pity because, for all his ambulations and drinking and whoring, he did try. Or rather, he begun to try. At some point along the way, I cannot tell if it occurred before or after his relative fame, he gave up. And that would be one thing. A man can give up whenever he likes. There's no shame in that; to know with certitude that you've failed. Nothing at all wrong with that. Bukowski infuriates because he didn't stop at giving up. He didn't stop at not trying. By no means! He flew himself, and many others along with himself, head-first into delusion.

Let's take the above quote. He says he's his own god. That could be true, if he could do anything. He knows he can't. That's one of the thematic resonances of Bukowski's poetry. You can't. Thematic nihilism. He perhaps rails against organized religion, but is it not King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible who cries out this very hymn? There's nothing new under the sun. A true god makes new things. A true god creates what hasn't yet been. Bukowksi is no god. He knows it too. How do I know this? The last line of the quote: we are here to laugh at the odds and live so well that death will tremble to take us. It sounds good. Beautiful, even. Look closely. The sentence can be parsed into two statements. We are here to laugh at the odds; that's part one. It means this: Bukowski knows his fate is overwhelmingly likely to end as it does for everyone --- in seemingly pointless, fruitless death. Part two – death will tremble to take us. Bukowski died of leukemia at age 73, March 9th, 1994. That's a long time ago. Many, many, many people have died since then. Death is still doing its thing. I don't think it trembled when Mr. Bukowski crossed the veil. Not even a bit. But I would wage a bet that at that final hour, Charles trembled.

REMEMBER REMEMBER: If the game is rigged, rage. Rage against the dying of the light. Or, if you prefer, aquiesce. Give in. Don't try.

But don't pretend. Don't lie to yourself. Don't delude yourself into thinking you're fighting some holy war by drinking yourself stupid. Flee hypocrisy. Fight your best, fight for your life, or don't. Don't try. Just don't fake trying. And don't fake not trying.