Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Richard Brautigan on one shoulder and Harlan Ellison on the other

Being a hermit is fine if you're in an ice cave on a mountain thinking great thoughts or something. I'm just hermity because I hurt all the time. I'm actually tired of vicodin, and let me tell you how much I thought that day would never come.

I just finished reading The Tokyo-Montana Express, by Brautigan, which is one of the saddest books ever. Sure, it's quirky and charming and funny and delightful, like he always is, but beneath all that is a profound and awful sorrow. You can take as given that all literature is about pain somehow, whether it's heartbreak, guilt, loneliness, despair, jealousy, ennui, indignation, loss, love - or any of the other permutations thereof. A good writer can take their personal angst, be it trivial or deep, and make it feel universal. I think that Brautigan and Harlan Ellison have the opposite gift, of starting with pain as a universal constant, and making that massive concept feel acutely personal. While Brautigan takes a gentle, bemused approach, as if to tell us that we're all in it together after all, every word a benediction, Ellison wants to scream at us about it, furious at the world and all of its horrors. Comparing the two, it seems as if Brautigan's path of compassion would be the Right Choice. He blew his head off, though, while Ellison is still kicking around making a magnificent ass of himself. So, should we instead choose rage?

I suppose context can't be ruled out; Brautigan lived in the Bay Area in the 70s and 80s, which would probably be a lot like spending your whole life living in the B dorm at Evergreen, surrounded by coke snorting trustifarians who give self-righteous speeches about whatever they heard on NPR that morning and blast terrible music and tell you to mellow out, man, before they drive off in their SUVs. Which would make blowing your head off look like a pretty good option.

I think about this a lot, because I really wish Richard Brautigan had stuck it out. I think this mostly because it's like he saw where our train was headed and decided to get off early, and we're all left here to ride it out. I wish compassion didn't always lose.

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