Always be a poet, even in prose. That’s good advice from the father of prose poetry, Charles Baudelaire. He also said, always be drunk. Some of us are always poets. It’s a twisted gene that we inherited from a loony ancestor, and it’s not recessive. It’s pretty dominant, although we aren’t. We’re uncontrolling, unassuming folks who let people be. We like to look at the sky, at the wandering clouds, and when we spot a sad old man walking down the street, we sigh. But we’re no angels, you and I. We’re whimsical, lackadaisical. We’re playful, pathologically unfaithful, and we follow Baudelaire’s advice to a tee.
The legend goes that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in 21 days. It was supposedly a drug-fuelled rush while his wife put bowls of soup and mugs of coffee at his desk. The spontaneous confessional prose describing his hedonistic road trips across America with Neal Cassady was typed onto a “scroll”: sheets of tracing paper that he cut into long strips and taped into a roll that fit into his typewriter, allowing him to type incessantly for days on end.
Twenty-one says? Seriously? I was very skeptical and I decided to dig deep. I stumbled upon a novel called Kerouac’s Scroll, a site called Kerouac Cafe, a bookshop called the Beat Book Shop that held a 12-hour nonstop public reading of the book, and a YouTube clip where Kerouac reads out his famously long and stupefying last line himself. What I unearthed was that the novel didn’t sprout from a purple haze. Kerouac diligently kept notes throughout his adventures and worked on several versions of the novel before putting it down on the monumental scroll. Seven typescript versions of the manuscript have been found. Then it took him a couple of years and rejection letters to find a publisher. When he finally did, he was asked to cut the book down to a third its size. Then he wrote the book in 21 days.
Gustave Courbet might have created a scandal in 1866 with his Origin of The World, an oil on canvas closeup of a woman’s genitals, but more recently, on May 28th, 2014, a young unknown performance artist, Deborah de Robertis created a bigger scandal. She showed up in a gold sequinned dress at the Musée d’Orsay, stretched out in front of the Origin of the World, pulled up her dress, spread her legs and showed her vagina to the world. There were just a smattering of unsuspecting visitors at first, but thanks to people drawing out their smartphones and catching it on camera, it was the world that got a new glimpse into the Origin of The World. It infuriated many who thought it was exhibitionism on the part of de Robertis, but I think she did Courbet a service. She gave a face to the genitals in the painting and put him back in the spotlight.
A micro-mini film by cinematographer, Preetha Jayaraman, inspired by my poem, On the rocks.
Remember them? Remember 6th Avenue Heartache? One Headlight? Remember Jakob Dylan? His sea blue eyes and curly brown hair, and that look he had about him as if he were looking into your soul? I guess like he said, prophetically, nothing is forever. Hey, come on try a little, nothing is forever, there’s got to be something better than in the middle. But me and Cinderella, we put it all together, we can drive home with one headlight. But we can’t drive home with one headlight. Not in these times.
“When I was younger,” said David Foster Wallace in an interview, “I saw my relationship with the reader as a sort of sexual one. But now it seems more like a late night conversation with really good friends when the bullshit stops and the masks come off.” Oddly, my relationship with Infinite Jest borders on the sexual. For me, its charm goes beyond its ingenious volubility and originality and rests on the shoulders of its doomed cast of characters. Its troupe of addicts and depressives – from Madame Psychosis to each of the Incandenzas to Gately to the smaller Tinys and Kates – is so grotesque and provocative that I want to reach out and touch one of them. Wallace said that he wanted to write something that would make somebody say, “Holy, shit, I’ve got to read this,” and then seduce them into doing some work. But the work that they have to do is like sex. It’s pleasurable to a fault.
We almost forgot about him till he was found dead in his Manhattan apartment with a hypodermic needle still stuck in his arm, and ironically, he was one of the greatest actors that lived. Philip Seymour Hoffman was so great that he stole the scene from the greatest stars in two minutes of celluloid. But he was the champion of losers. He played outcasts and underdogs, and he made us love those fractured, tormented characters who broke our hearts. That’s why we don’t remember him. He lived those roles and disappeared into them. But it’s not his versatility, his hilarity, it’s not even his humility that made him great. It’s the pain that went into his work. He said that acting was so difficult for him, that it was absolutely torturous to be great at it. “You know the circus performer who spins the plates in the air you know, and he’ll spin six or seven plates in the air?” he said once to a journalist, “Acting sometimes is kind of that guy spinning all those plates in the air but in your head and in your body.