Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bukowski scholars, take note

It's hot in Pasadena and Linda Lee Bukowski has donated ol' Hank's papers to the Huntington Library to keep company with Chaucer and Shakespeare. The papers are being moved 'cross town "bit by bit" in an effort to keep both men -- the Henrys Bukowski and Huntington -- from turning over in their graves. At least according to the Pasadena Star News.

From the article, we also learn that:

"There's an irony to it," she [Linda Lee Bukowski] said from her San Pedro home. "Bukowski was known to be a garrulous old S.O.B."
I'm not sure that it's actually ironic. Maybe ironic in the strict Alanis Morissette sense of the word. But I wouldn't be willing to bet that either of the literary giants mentioned in the article was never referred to as a "crusty old fuck" in his day. [Note the suspect double-negative here: I like to keep my bases covered by introducing an element of confusion.]

What I mean is that neither man was self-consciously literary. On the contrary, like ol' Charles Bukowski, they demonstrated a taste for the vernacular, for the dirty joke, for the entertaining story. "Old" may be the only element of the epithet that bears quibbling with -- Bukowski had at least 20 years on the older of the two others. Probably from all that clean living.

Here's what I like about the idea of the Huntington Library being home to Bukowski's personal papers: it will become a magnet for Bukowski scholars. Bukowski scholars. Bukowski scholars work with a variety of legitimized topics: big steamy beer shits; systems for picking the horses at Santa Anita; dive bars downtown; manual typewriters and so on.

Bukowski scholars. Makes me smile.

Bukowski scholars note: I must confess to thinking of Post Office as a fine ethnography of postal work. Seriously. I once saw a letter carrier in Pasadena drop an entire bundle of mail and just walk on. It sat there in street, on Maple, near Marengo. He didn't even turn around. I took one look at his face when I bicycled by him; I decided not to mention it. The bundle of undelivered mail was gone by the next day.

What makes me smile even more is the effect of making the Huntington Library a magnet for Bukowski scholars: they'll want those tenure-track jobs on the faculty of Caltech. Caltechnicality as the decal on the window of my decrepit Opel stationwagon used to read.

I was told that Shakespearean scholar Hallett Smith had been lured to Caltech because of its proximity to the Huntington and some kind of arrangement they'd worked out such that he could work in the library's closed stacks. Certainly he wasn't drawn to the California Institute of Technicality for the sheer joy of discovering the one earnest English major per class, a "where's Waldo" sort of exercise in which a closet humanist is hidden in plain sight. Rather, the teaching load is light and the Huntingon is close by.

Of course, scholars who take on the literary output of a particular writer don't really assume much of the other baggage. Burroughs scholars aren't themselves junkies; Hemingway scholars may not even know how to fish; and Pynchon scholars no doubt have a higher rate of output than their subject.

So Bukowski scholars aren't apt to be quite as colorful as the "garrulous old S.O.B." that they study. (And Bukowski is, of course, somewhat different than the Hank Chinaski character, the vessel for his appetites. A quick foray into the documentary Bukowski: Born Into This is ample evidence. All this does argue for the value of the literary letter as opposed to the literary blog or the magazine interview. If you don't believe me, read some of Burroughs's later-in-life off-the-literary-grid writings. I find the sentimentality more shocking than anything Doctor Benway can dish out.)

I've curbed my enthusiasm here, but still I can see new offerings in the staid old Caltech catalog:

En 151: Garrulous Old S.O.B.s of 20th Century American Letters
En 152: Poetics of Midcentury Crusty Old Farts
Caltech's a small place: there shouldn't be much of a waitlist for these courses.


Blogger Hanna Beach said...

Don't know if you can answer this question or not but its worth a shot...I have a signed copy of Crucifix in a Deathhand, an original copy. The book itself should be the most valuable of all his work, as it is painstakingly made with brillance, and beauty, the artwork, the pages, everything about it is lovely. a signed copy I thought would be priceless. Upon further research, I saw that copies of other books of his, some from the 90's, were valued at more than $2,000, unsigned. They were also, and obviously, not originals. I found a copy of Crucifix, signed by Bukowski the day after mine, and it was on ebay for $700. Why is that?? It makes no sense to me, at all! If you could email me at with any information as to why or how, I'd greatly appreciate it! I never wanted to sell my copy, but at this point in my life, I may unfortunately have to. But I can't part with it under conditions like these, lol, unless I know why, or unless the value of mine is actually worth more than 700 bucks. Thank you for your time

7:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home